SBRR Fights Back

It’s no secret that Reading First has been education’s biggest punching back these past few years.  Earlier this month, IES released its interim study on the report, causing great glee with the whole languagers and the defenders of the status quo.  Some used the study to write RF’s obituary.  A few voices, including Eduflack, used the opportunity to highlight the flaws in the study.  (

For years now, Eduflack has been unabashedly supportive of RF.  I still believe, when all is said and done, it could have a greater POSITIVE impact on education policy than any other piece of federal legislation.  For that to happen, the law needs to be properly funded AND it needs to be implemented with true and complete fidelity.

Having worked with the National Reading Panel, I am a true believer in the principles embedded in RF.  We know students need a comprehensive, integrated reading instruction platform that focuses on phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.  We know that scientifically based reading research should rule the roost, with schools implementing only that which has been proven effective and proven to work in schools.  We know that teachers must know the science.  We know that students must be regularly assessed, with targeted interventions used to get all students reading at grade level.

Yet, we still debate on the value of RF and SBRR.  And its been far easier to scream into the wind questioning RF.  Few have been out there defending the law, calling for the need for proven research and proven instruction in our classrooms … particularly those classes who need it the most.

In RF’s darkest hours, though, we are now starting to see SBRR’s strongest proponents rising to its defense.  It would have been easy to just awkwardly swallow the IES study, accept Congress’ funding slash, and forget the RF era.  But we will not go quietly into the night.

When the IES study came out, the Fordham Foundation released a study — penned by Sol Stern — looking at the real failures of RF.  The piece was strong, citing the operational weaknesses we’ve all heard.  But it maintained that the law itself was still strong, worthy of our support, and needed by our students.

This week, the latest issue of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal came out, and Stern was at it again.  Under the headline “Reading First Still Works,” Stern presents a strong and cogent analysis of the IES study and the flaws in its methodology.  We can only hope that IES will take his critique seriously, and will correct the flaws before its 2009 report is complete.

The Stern piece is well worth the read time —  Its helps even us amateur researchers see the difference between strong and weak methodology.  More importantly, though, it reminds us that programs like RF are well worth fighting for.

Here’s hoping that Stern’s continued work can serve as a rallying cry for RF and SBRR supporters and advocates throughout the country.  Teaching our children to read is of paramount importance.  Using proven effective methods is the only way to go.  We need to remember that.  Results should trump politics, particularly on an issue like student reading achievement. 

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