As we have reported many times before, far too many people have written Reading First off for dead. Eduflack doesn’t want to go through the litany of reasons why. It is simply too depressing. But I will say for the record, just one more time, that Reading First works. The science behind the program, making sure we are implementing what works in the classrooms that need it. Collecting data and putting it to use effectively. Implementing research-based reading programs with fidelity. All are no-brainer steps in boosting student reading ability and reading achievement in schools and classrooms across the country.
Yes, I am pleased by the notion that RF seems to be getting a one year reprieve before it heads out to the ed reform gallows. Thankfully, Congress’ inability to move on most FY2009 federal spending bills means that the federal reading program will be continued for yet another year. One more year of funding for SBRR. One more year for reading data collection. One more year for research-focused reading professional development. One more year of doing what works and doing what is right (before we figure out what comes next).
Often forgotten in this whole debate of RF is the fate of its baby sister — Early Reading First. To a casual observer, the two programs appear joined together, bearing a similar fate. It only makes sense to some that Early RF should be punished for RF’s sins, even though the program is different, the funding is different, and the intended audience and impact are different.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a major uptick on Early RF news over the past week. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that 19 states would share more than $100 million in new Early Reading First grant moneys. EdSec Margaret Spellings began talking about Early RF last week (likely because of the release of new funding). And just yesterday, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) released a new report — “The Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement.” (Thanks, Kimberly, for the tip.) Add to that the What Works Clearinghouse’s re-examination of early reading programs, and it seems beginning reading is the HOT topic in literacy once again.
This is a refreshing and positive development for those who have been fighting in the scientifically based reading trenches all these many years. Yes, there have been some real problems with the implementation of Reading First. But whether we are Republicans or Democrats, liberal or conservative, reformers or status quoers, we all have to agree that solid reading skills are essential to student success. Those kids who are unable to read at grade level by the end of third grade or the start of fourth grade are, unfortunately, in an academic hole they may never be able to dig themselves out of.
Reading ability is indeed a civil right. To participate in school, participate in the workplace, and participate in this democracy, we need to be literate. The era of working hard and signing your name with an X is no over. Reading ability is the great equalizer. A kid who can read (and one who can comprehend what she has read) is able to accomplish anything. And proficiency only becomes a reality when one begins learning the skill as early as possible.
That is why the focus on Early RF is so important. Reading at grade level by third grade requires work at the earliest of ages. We know what skills students need before they reach kindergarten. We know what parents should be doing at home with their toddlers to develop skills they need to become readers. We know literacy instruction does not begin at the age of five. And we know it is much harder to make up the lessons that can be learned early on than it is to teach them right at the right time.
In the long term, Reading First works when Early Reading First has done its job. If we’re going to agitate for increased attention and increased support for RF, we need to make sure that Early RF remains a part of our educational fabric. And we need to make sure we are conducting the proper students to measure its effectiveness. Those committed to Early RF interventions know they work, now let’s show the world the data to prove it.