RF: Read All About It

Today’s big education news story seems to be the IES study on the effectiveness of Reading First.  For those who have missed the IES announcement of the study, or the USA Today or NY Times piece, or the countless blog entries, the good researchers over at IES determined that Reading First has been ineffective, to date.  Looking at elementary schools implementing RF programs, the researchers found that teacher behavior has changed, but student performance still has not improved.

Some are already questioning the methodology, asking if the type of poor-performing school studied by IES impacted the outcome.  And more criticisms are sure to come.

Ask Eduflack, and he thinks it is still too soon to know the true effectiveness.  If you ask a good educational researcher, they’ll tell you it typically takes at least five years to see the effectiveness of a reform.  RF was signed into law in 2002, with state grant applications soon following.  That means the earliest checks were likely cut for the 2003-04 school year.  So if we’re lucky, IES has looking at year three, maybe year four of implementation.  So let’s give it another year or two before we eulogize Reading First.

The bigger issue, though, is the implications of the study.  Many will use this to reinforce the IG findings and to validate the attacks that RF has faced from the beginning.  Think about it — if the implementation was bad, the awards were skewed, and the impact non-existent, the law must be no good.  Right?

But we’re truly missing the bigger picture.  The IG investigation and the recent Sol Stern/Fordham Foundation report have reached similar conclusions.  RF is a well-intentioned and well-conceived program.  The flaw was in the implementation.  The feds, the SEAs, and the LEAs have not followed the true letter or spirit of the law.  Some cut corners.  Some skipped sections of the law.  And some simply didn’t understand it.

Read Stern’s report closely.  Talk to the brains behind the law — the Reid Lyons and the Bob Sweets of the world — and they will tell you the same thing.  The law is strong.  We need to better enforce it.  We need to better follow it.  We need to better live it.  

Instead, we let the status quoers use RF funding to support non-SBRR programs.  We let schools continue so-called balanced literacy programs.  And we failed to ensure that “what works” was really getting into the classroom.

I’d still like to believe that RF can be saved.  We have the technology to rebuild her.  If the IES study tells us anything, it is that we need to enforce RF with greater fidelity. We need to follow both the letter and the intent of the law.  If we don’t, we may hasten the death of RF and the implementation of SBRR.  And that’s no good for the teachers who have already changed their practice and for the kids who need to be reading at grade level.

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