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 ( 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 ( 

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.

One thought on “Moving On From RF

  1. Over 9 BILLION dollars have been spent on the Reading First one-size-fits-all program over the past 6 1/2 years without comprehension gains according to the Department of Education’s own evaluation. RF is a magnet for conflicts of interest. Insiders profit through sales of child tests, sales of mass-produced curriculum, and “professional development.” Educators have been misled about the “reading science” outlined in the National Reading Panel report. Several researchers linked to the report have financial ties with curriculum/testing corporations and profit off Reading First in the form of royalties. Best practices in reading are not based on corporate products; therefore, best practices in reading are not profitable for the insiders. The program has little accountability and oversight. Taxpayers and parents deserve answers. Congress should launch an investigation and Congress made the right decision by cutting all funding to Reading First.

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