Lessons Learned from Music City

Eduflack has definitely enjoyed his time down here in Music City for the National Reading First Conference.  The entire experience strengthened my commitment to evidence-based reading and made even clearer (if that was possible) that Reading First is working, particularly for the schools, teachers, and students it was designed to help.

Yes, the experience has led to some rants (from me) this week.  But it also has left me with a few general observations:

* Particularly impressive was the bulletin board for attendees to “plant their flag” on a map of the United States.  If you don’t think RF is having an effect, all you need to do is take a look at how many people have come from near and far to continue RF information sharing.

* For years, we have heard that RF was “wired” to promote certain curricular programs.  If that were the case, the RF Conference would be the perfect place to showcase those on the “golden list.”  But did you know conference organizers do not allow an exhibit hall, and haven’t since the conference first began five years ago.  Why?  Organizers say they don’t want to be seen as endorsing any commercial product.  It is a strong statement to make, particularly when virtually every other education industry conference has an exhibit hall bursting at the seams.  The Reading First Office and conference leaders deserve kudos for taking such a noble stand and are worried about even the perception.

* Branding is important.  A strong, unifying logo can go a long way to promote a movement’s message, goals, and efforts.  But sometimes, too many logos can just be clutter, and Nashville is the case in point.  Virtually all materials down here at the conference are branded with three separate logos — the old U.S. Department of Education tree of knowledge seal (which is seldom seen in recent years), the official Reading First logo, and a special Fifth Annual Conference in Nashville logo.  It is all a little too much, with little to hold all three together.  And where’s the NCLB logo?

* Reading guru Tim Shanahan is now leading the charge to crosswalk what we know about reading research through the National Reading Panel with what we know about teaching reading with ELL/ESL populations.  His presentation, found at www.shanahanonliteracy.com, is well worth the look.

* RF seems to be a veteran educator game.  There were few newbie teachers making the rounds in Nashville.  Those veterans MUST take what they have learned here and in their classrooms and share it with all of the teachers back home.

* All of the sessions and the strands have Eduflack thinking.  Do we really know how to effectively teach adults?  Do we know how to teach professionals?  Gathering thousands of adults in big ballrooms so they can hear lectures seems to conflict with what many say is necessary of an adult learning community.  Is the time coming for a sea change in professional conferences?

Moving On From RF

What comes next for Reading First?  Do we accept that the law is finished with, and prepare to move on?  Do we fight the good fight, hoping that saner heads will prevail?  Or do we look for new ways to ensure that the foundations and goals of the law continue, well after the funding dries up?

There is little doubt that federal funding for RF is nearing its end.  Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have zeroed out the program from the next Labor-HHS-Education budget.  Even if Congress fails to approve that budget this fall, and education is level funded based on last year’s levels, it simply provides RF a one-year reprieve before it must step aside.  Reading First has likely met its official end as a federal funding priority.

But that doesn’t mean we are done putting reading first.  Reporting from down at the National Reading First Conference, EdWeeker Kathleen Manzo reports on her Curriculum Matters blog (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/) of the establishment of the National Association for Reading First.  Launched by concerned state Reading First Directors, this new group is committed to further promoting the goals and priorities of RF.

The group is crystal clear in its objectives on its new website (www.nationalreadingfirst.org). 

Its purpose — “To advocate for inclusion of the tenets of Reading First in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  To advocate for K-3 models of effective, scientifically-based reading instruction in legislation related to addressing the literacy crisis on our nation.  To promote and disseminate applied scientific research-to-practice information to guide effective reading instructional practices and interventions for all students.  To foster a mutually informative relationship between scientific researchers and members of the professional educational community.”

Its vision — “All educational professionals will provide research-based instruction ensuring literacy success for all students.”

Its mission — “Bridging scientific research and classroom practice to increase student literacy achievement.”

All noble goals.  And all necessary steps.  The folks behind the National Association for Reading First are to be commended.  It is easy to shout into the wind and whine and complain about RF coming to an end.  It is easy to sit around and ask “why” and wonder “what if.”  And it is even easier to try to assign blame to those “responsible.”

It is hard to take action.  It is hard to do something to change the hand we’ve been dealt.  It is hard to stand up and actually do something.  And it is harder still to effectively advocate for change you truly believe in.  But the hard stuff is usually well worth it.

It is too early to tell if the National Association for Reading First will be successful.  To date, less than 100 people have visited their website.  But if the group can harness the power and networks of state RF directors, combine it with the vast network of RF advocates and champions around the country (current author included), and set a few hard, specific goals it can succeed.

What sort of goals?  Off the top of Eduflack’s head:
* Recommit our nation to ensuring all children can read at grade level by fourth grade
* Ensure that reliance on scientifically based education research is included in ESEA’s reauthorization next year, and that the definition of SBR is clear and strong.
* Require continued investigation into the efficacy of reading programs, providing our SEAs and LEAs with clear data (disaggregated, please) on the effectiveness of the programs they are adopting

There are clearly others, but these should get the discussion rolling.  There is a lot of good we can learn from Reading First, and we should take advantage of it all.

As for Eduflack, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year howling into the wind over RF and the U.S. Department of Education’s failure to save this needed program.  The National Association for Reading First, though, shows us that the future of RF cannot and should not rest solely in the hands of ED leaders.  If the program is working on Main Street, USA, if it is working in real districts and schools across the nation, it is up to those communities and those community leaders to help save the foundations of the program and ensure they are continued for many years to come.

I’m ready to join the Association and do what I can do to help.  Anyone committed to student reading achievement should be doing the same.

Where’s Spellings?

It is just incredible to see, hear, and feel the energy that seems to surround the Fifth Annual National Reading First Conference.  Just walking the halls, and you hear educators talking about hiring the right people, selecting the right materials, capturing the right data, and just plain doing what works.  Those gathered in Nashville are committed to making a difference and improving reading ability in all of their students.  And at the end of the day, nothing is more effective promoting the value and impact of RF than hearing from those, like attendees, who are on the front lines.

This passion and commitment has been received by a strong group.  Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon was here.  Reading First Director Joe Conaty has been presiding.  First Lady Laura Bush found the time to celebrate with her fellow educators, highlighting the success stories and calling on congressional leaders to support a program that deserves their full endorsement.

There is a glaring absence down here in Nashville, though.  Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.  This was a prime opportunity for Spellings to rise to the defense of RF.  It is an enthusiastic, supportive audience.  They are eager to hear from those in the know.  And they all want to do whatever they can to keep this valuable initiative moving forward.  It’s even a short flight over from Washington, DC.  Yet no EdSec.  (And for those worried she was too busy, her current public event calendar for the week shows NO PUBLIC EVENTS for the entire week.)

Spellings has been out there trying to protect the general NCLB concept, working with states to show some flexibility and defending the law to all that will listen — including Steve Colbert.  She’s opined on the need to protect vouchers in The Washington Post, penning an oped (one of only one or two a year the Post will allow from her).  She’s been out there on higher education, convening summits and establishing commissions.

On Reading First?  She wrote a couple of Dear John letters to Congress, the legislative equivalent of breaking up with someone via email.  No passionate defense of the program.  No rallying of the troops.  It is almost as if she wants to let the whole thing drop, now believing that RF simply isn’t worth the trouble.

That’s just a cryin’ shame.  As Bush’s domestic policy advisor, Spellings was one of the prime actors responsible for establishing the Reading First law.  In her years at the DPC, she was a passionate advocate for RF, doing what was necessary to get it off the ground and get funding and guidance to those who need it most.  In many ways, it is as much her legacy as it is the President’s.  But since moving over to Maryland Avenue, she’s seem to have forgotten WHY RF is so important and WHAT the U.S. Department of Education can do to ensure we achieve those objectives.

All of this presents us with one very clear reality — Reading First has run its course.  Despite the goals, despite the need, and despite the results, we must accept that RF is nearing the end.  The big question, then, for all of us is how do we extend the passion and commitment found here in Nashville, even when the funding faucets are shut off?

Hey Congressman, Read(ing First) Me

As this is Eduflack’s de facto Reading First week (I know, how is this week any different than the others), I thought I would share a very interesting and powerful document that has just passed our desk.  Any reader knows that Eduflack has refused to accept the premature demise of Reading First. Here at the National Reading First Conference, there are thousands upon thousands of educators who share that view.

Now we have an open letter to Congress from Steve Underwood, who has been running RF point out in Idaho.  For those in the dark, Idaho is one of the great RF success stories.

I’ll let the letter speak for itself.


July 27, 2008

Honorable Members of Congress:

Early reading skills are very closely matched to the lifelong ability to read.  This is why Reading First targeted Kindergarten through 3rd Grade.  Reading First has been tremendously successful throughout the nation over the course of the past few years and is worthy to receive continued funding and support.

Reading First is a school improvement model that works at many different levels to improve the practices among schools that have traditionally had significant struggles in teaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds how to read at an early age. Two very large obstacles must be overcome in this process of school improvement: 1) the professional knowledge of teachers, principals, and other district leadership, and 2) the emotional challenge involved with the significance of what is known as “second-order change” (e.g., not simply minor adjustments in practice and systems of organizations, but large-scale change).To have the knowledge without the second-order change, or vice versa, does not result in a changed school nor in the improvement Thus, these processes of change are at the root of Reading First, making it a very worthy, but difficult task.

Despite these two very large obstacles, the Reading First model has succeeded in causing monumental changes in student performance throughout the United States over the course of the past five years.  Traditionally, large scale improvement in reading achievement is not seen in overall populations or in subpopulations.  This is the very reason for Reading First.  Therefore, it is significant when we see Reading First populations, which are made up of thousands of students, improving by even as much as 5%.  However, when improvements of 10-20+% are seen, it is unheard of.  This is exactly what is happening in Reading First schools and states.

In Idaho, for example, we have seen tremendous gains in student achievement over the past five years.  Here are a few of the highlights.


 






































Idaho 2002-2007: Fluency


Gain in Percentage of Proficient Students


Kindergarten


All Students


+21%


Grade 1


All Students


+12%


Grade 2


All Students


+7%


Grade 3


All Students


+7%


Kindergarten


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+22%


Grade 1


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+25%


Grade 2


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+20%


Grade 3


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+17%


 
The significance of the growth happening can been seen especially when comparing Reading First schools to the rest of the state.  In Idaho, all students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 take the same fluency test, regardless of participation in Reading First.  Here is a chart that demonstrates the difference in growth in just one year (SY 2007-2008) when comparing Reading First (RF) schools’ fluency gains to the state of Idaho (State) as a whole.  Please note that all RF grades are greater in gains than the State, with the exception of Grade 2 which is equal.  Particularly noteworthy are the very large gains in achievement in Kindergarten and Grade 1 which are nearly double that of the State. 

(Editor’s Note: The original letter contains a power graph, that tracks the following in Idaho
GRADE                                        Non-RF Gain                        RF Gain
Kindergarten                                    +16                                    +30
First Grade                                         +17                                    +28    
Second Grade                                   +7                                       +7
Third Grade                                        +10                                    +13


 


Similar improvements are seen in comprehension assessments, especially when looking at economically disadvantaged students who are at the very core of the Reading First model.  The following diagram illustrates the vast improvements among this subpopulation of Idaho’s students. 


 


















Idaho 2002-2007: Comprehension


Gain in Percentage of Proficient Students


Grade 1


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+20%


Grade 2


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+24%


Grade 3


Economically Disadvantaged (Low-SES)


+22%



Between the requirement to report data for comprehension and fluency which is disaggregated by many subpopulations, there are 18 data points per state per year per cohort.  States often have 3 cohorts.  That creates about 54 data points per state per year.  It is true that not all 54 points are improving in every state every year.  If they were, this would be nothing less than miraculous.  However, many data points are moving in very significant ways.  This shows the success of the Reading First model.  The chart below gives a synopsis of many such improvements occurring in the Western region of the United States based on both the US Department of Education Annual Performance Data for Reading First and data collected and shared in a report given by the Western Regional Reading First Technical Assistance Center in April, 2008.  It is by no means a comprehensive summary of the improvements; it simply highlights some of the significant growth occurring in this school improvement model.


 












































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































State


Grade


Students[i]


Improvement


Reported Measure[ii]


Timeframe


Alaska


1st


All


+9%


Fluency


2004-2007


Alaska


2nd


All


+14%


Fluency


2004-2007


Alaska


3rd


All


+10%


Fluency


2004-2007


American Samoa


1st


All


+2%


Fluency


2004-2006


American Samoa


2nd


All


+5%


Fluency


2004-2006


American Samoa


3rd


All


+12%


Fluency


2004-2006


Arizona


3rd


All


+13%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Arizona


3rd


All


+25%


Fluency


2004-2007


Bureau of Indian Education


1st


All


+4%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


2nd


All


+6%          


Comprehension


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


3rd


All


+6%          


Comprehension


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


K


All


+11%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


1st


All


+18%


Fluency


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


2nd


All


+11%       


Fluency


2004-2006


Bureau of Indian Education


3rd


All


+21%       


Fluency


2004-2006


California


“Since 2002, Grades 2, 3, and 4 teachers and students in high implementation Reading First schools have outperformed all non-Reading First schools in the increase of the percent of proficient scores” on the California Standards Test (E. Jankowski, WRRFTAC Western States Directors Meeting, April, 2008).


California


2nd


All


+22%


Comprehension


2002-2007


California


3rd


All


+12%


Comprehension


2002-2007


California


4th


All


+20%


Comprehension


2002-2007


Colorado


3rd


All


+11%


Comprehension


2005-2007


Colorado


1st


All


+20%


Fluency


Winter 2006-Winter 2008


Colorado


2nd


All


+13%


Fluency


Winter 2006-Winter 2008


Colorado


3rd


All


+12%


Fluency


Winter 2006-Winter 2008


Colorado


K


All


+16%


Fluency


Winter 2006-Winter 2008


Hawaii


3rd


All


+26%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Idaho


1st


Low-SES


+20%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Idaho


2nd


Low-SES


+24%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Idaho


3rd


Low-SES


+22%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Idaho


1st


Low-SES


+17%


Fluency


2004-2007


Idaho


2nd


Low-SES


+18%


Fluency


2004-2007


Idaho


3rd


Low-SES


+14%


Fluency


2004-2007


Minnesota


1st


All


+4%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Minnesota


2nd


All


+5%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Minnesota


3rd


All


+13%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Minnesota


1st


All


+6%


Fluency


2004-2007


Minnesota


2nd


All


+6%


Fluency


2004-2007


Minnesota


3rd


All


+4%


Fluency


2004-2007


Montana


4th


All


+8%


Comprehension


2003-2007


Montana


1st


All


+16%


Fluency


2004-2007


Montana


2nd


All


+16%


Fluency


2004-2007


Montana


3rd


All


+16%


Fluency


2004-2007


Montana


K


All


+18%


Fluency


2004-2007


Nebraska


2nd


All


+27%


Comprehension


2005-2007


Nebraska


3rd


All


+16%


Comprehension


2005-2007


Nebraska


1st


All


+20%


Fluency


2005-2007


Nebraska


2nd


All


+18%


Fluency


2005-2007


Nebraska


3rd


All


+24%


Fluency


2005-2007


Nevada


3rd


All


+1%


Comprehension (ITBS)


2005-2007


Nevada


3rd


ELL


+14%


Comprehension (ITBS)


2005-2007


Nevada


3rd


All


+15%


Comprehension (NV Crit. Rf. Test)


2005-2007


Nevada


3rd


ELL


+18%


Comprehension (NV Crit. Rf. Test)


2005-2007


Nevada


1st


All


+18%


Comprehension(ITBS)


2005-2007


Nevada


1st


ELL


+17%


Comprehension(ITBS)


2005-2007


Nevada


2nd


All


+11%


Comprehension(ITBS)


2005-2007


Nevada


2nd


ELL


+23%


Comprehension(ITBS)


2005-2007


New Mexico


1st


All


+21%


Fluency


2004-2007


New Mexico


2nd


All


+20%


Fluency


2004-2007


New Mexico


3rd


All


+19%


Fluency


2004-2007


New Mexico


K


All


+24%


Fluency


2004-2007


North Dakota


1st


All


+13%


Comprehension


2005-2007


North Dakota


2nd


All


+5%


Comprehension


2005-2007


North Dakota


3rd


All


+3%


Comprehension


2005-2007


North Dakota


1st


All


+28%


Fluency


2004-2006


North Dakota


2nd


All


+15%


Fluency


2004-2006


North Dakota


3rd


All


+51%


Fluency


2004-2006


Oregon


K


All


+23%


Alphabetic Principle


2004-2006


Oregon


1st


All


+14%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Oregon


1st


All


+15%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Oregon


2nd


All


+10%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Oregon


3rd


All


+4%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Oregon


2nd


All


+22%


Fluency


2003-2006


Oregon


3rd


All


+18%


Fluency


2003-2006


South Dakota


1st


All


+8%


Comprehension


2004-2006


South Dakota


2nd


All


+13%


Comprehension


2004-2006


South Dakota


3rd


All


+6%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Utah


1st


All


+18%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Utah


1st


ELL


+12%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Utah


2nd


All


+4%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Utah


2nd


ELL


+6%


Comprehension


2004-2007


Utah


3rd


All


+8%


Comprehension


2004-2006


Utah


1st


All


+19%


Fluency


2004-2007


Washington


4th


All


+23%


(*The entire state only gained 13% in same timeframe.)


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Washington


4th


Native American


+25%


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Washington


4th


Black


+20%


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Washington


4th


Asian


+31%


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Washington


4th


Hispanic


+28%


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Washington


4th


White


+15%


Comprehension (WASL)


2003-2007


Wyoming


3rd


All


+17%


Comprehension


2006-2007


Wyoming


1st


All


+26%


Fluency


2004-2007


Wyoming


2nd


All


+26%


Fluency


2004-2007


Wyoming


3rd


All


+25%


Fluency


2004-2007


Wyoming


K


All


+52%


Fluency


2004-2007


 


As is readily seen in this small sample of data from Idaho and other Western states, the Reading First model is making great strides in school improvement as in pertains to early literacy for our nation’s most needy children.  There are aspects at the school, district, state, and federal level that can be improved, but overall the program has been highly successful.  It is essential that the United States continue to provide this opportunity to our nation’s children by continuing what has worked well and improving upon the model for the future.


Sincerely,


Steve Underwood


Idaho Reading First Consultant







[i] All students or identified subpopulation.



[ii] Fluency or Comprehension: the two types of measures required for the annual performance report data due to the US Department of Education.

Rewriting RF History?

Today at the National Reading First Conference, Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon accused Reading First opponents of “changing the truth” of RF through appropriations and reauthorization.  And for this he gets resounding applause from Eduflack (in addition to the thousands of teachers on their feet). 

Over the past two years, RF’s vocal opposition has invested its time, efforts, and professional reputation to rewriting history when it comes to RF.  We’ve all but forgotten the goals and intent of the law.  Many have ignored the wide and deep research base upon which the law was based.  We’ve given up on the thousands of teachers who have improved their craft through RF professional development offerings.  And in denying funding for the law, we’ve abandoned the countless children who have improved their outlook on education, their enthusiasm for school, and the host of potential opportunities before them.

The Deputy Secretary noted that a better way to teach reading was put into place through Reading First.  Nothing could be more true.  Just look at the schools cited by First Lady Laura Bush, listen to the teachers and administrators gathered this week in Nashville, or take a closer view at the RF schools and the non-RF schools who have all improved their practice, their instruction, and their results because of the tenets of the law.

There are some RF truths we simply shouldn’t allow anyone to change.  Virtually every child can be a proficient reader.  The research on how to get to that level is clear and incontrovertible.  Proven-effective reading instruction has been embraced by teachers across the nation.  And if implemented with fidelity, RF can work.  These truths should be self-evident.  Unfortunately, to far too many people, they are viewed as heresy, white noise, or rants of a misguided few.

The clock may be running out shoring up these truths.  The power of RF is likely run its course by the end of the Administration.  Even if the program receives CR funding for FY2009, the money is but a shell of what was intended, and what is needed, for schools in need to make a real difference.  But maybe, just maybe, the truth can win out.  After all, who can argue with the need to get every kid reading … and reading proficiently? 

A Road Map to Success

A map to student success.  It is an intriguing concept.  Today at the Reading First Conference, Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon proudly placed the label on the Reading First program, boldly proclaiming we needed more RF.  “We need more Reading First, not less.  That makes sense!” he said to a cheering room of 5,000 educators.

In doing so, Simon offers an intriguing idea.  Let’s set aside the politics of RF.  Let’s ignore the whole language zealots for a while and try to mute out those critics who have sought to sabotage one of the most significant public investments in student achievement in recent years.  Instead, let’s just think about the notion of a map to student success.

How do we become such cartographers?  First, we set goals.  Check, all children reading at grade level by fourth grade.  Then we identify the research base.  Check, see National Research Council and National Reading Panel, among others.  Then we correlate the research base to an instructional approach.  Check, thanks to Reading First.  Then we train teachers to deliver the instructional approach with fidelity.  Still a work in progress.  Finally, we equip our educators and instructional leaders to effectively capture data to determine if the delivery of our approach is achieving our goals.  And on that point, we all know the verdict is still out.

I share Simon’s and First Lady Laura Bush’s desire to see RF funding continue.  The program hasn’t been in place long enough to truly measure its effectiveness.  Zeroing out funding now just adds RF to the pile of good ideas lacking the complete follow-through to know if they really worked.  But even if RF doesn’t see another dime of federal money, Simon is absolutely right.  RF has provided us a clear map to student success, a map that can be replicated to help build effective student learning opportunities, be they in reading, math, and science, or even social studies, foreign languages, or the arts.

RF has also provided us a map of how — and how not — to move a good idea from concept paper to legislation to law to the classroom.  It has shown us the need for a big tent of advocates, supporters, and champions.  It has demonstrated the need to secure buy-in from both the ivory towers and Main Street, USA.  And it has firmly declared that good data and better student performance numbers will always rule the roost.

The challenge, and opportunity, today is getting that map into the hands of every teacher, parent, policymaker, funder, and concerned citizen.  We know how to get to a nation where virtually all children are proficient or better in reading.  That path is available to all those who care.  Now we just need more people to use the map for its intended purposes, whether the map’s developer is defunct or not.

Forget the Drumbeat, Its a RF Orchestra

Need proof that Reading First is working in classrooms throughout the United States?  Need to see for yourself that teachers have embraced the law and the impact it is having on students?  All you have to do is check out the throngs of teachers and school leaders assembled here in Nashville for the National Reading First Conference.

In Tennessee this week, representatives from RF districts across the nation are here to continue to learn and improve their practice.  They are here to ensure that research-proven practice will continue to permeate the schools.  They are here to continue building on their understanding of the research base.  And they are here to celebrate the law.

Eduflack will be posting observations from the conference throughout the week.  We have First Lady Laura Bush addressing the assembly today.  Noted reading researcher Tim Shanahan is slated to discuss ELL.  But the important discussions will be in the breakouts and the hallways, as these passionate educators share their personal experiences with one another, turning the entire week into an extended teaching moment.

Hopefully, this isn’t the swan song for RF.  If Congress continues its ways, and fails to pass the FY2009 budget, Reading First will receive an additional year of funding (albeit at the lower FY2008 funding level).  And maybe, just maybe, a new President and a new EdSec will find a way to save the law.  We owe that glimmer of hope to each and every educator gathered here this week, who refuse to give up and remain committed to ensuring every student gains the reading skills they need to succeed.