The Neverending Saga of RF Data

Even the most zealous of Reading First advocates/agitators (yours truly included) recognize that the headstone for the federal program has been carved.  At this point, we’re all just waiting to see if RF will officially be laid to rest on October 1, 2009, when a new fiscal year takes affect or in March 2009 or so, when a new Congress decides to abandon a continuing resolution for the federal budget and actually passes a Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill (and as former appropriations folk, Eduflack would be shocked if anything new happens with the budget this spring, regardless of who is president).

Earlier this year, we heard much media trumpeting of the failure of RF.  Flying a banner of an IES interim study of RF effectiveness, RF opponents and many members of the media flatly stated that, after billions of dollars, Reading First just didn’t work.  The proof?  While reading scores have improved since RF’s passage, the initial differences in proficiency increases in RF schools and non-RF schools weren’t that much different.
As we’ve stated here before (and as others have more prominently stated in other more prominent forums) that interim study was significantly flawed, methodologically.  More importantly, it never took into account the effect that RF had on reading instruction throughout the nation.  What does that mean?  Publishing houses changed their textbooks and their support materials to meet the RF research standards.  Teacher training and PD programs evolved to meet the research standards laid out in RF.  Whether a school received specific RF funding or not, all schools were and are benefiting from the policy, mandates, and expectations of the Reading First law.
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new study on RF.  This study, prepared by Abt Associates and meant as a follow-up to a similar 2006 study, declared “limited benefits.”  This study did look at the RF schools versus the non-RF schools, noting that all are likely affected by the law, but that RF schools adopted the law with more fidelity.
At the end of the day, the ED study found limited gains for third-grade reading proficiency in half of the 24 states surveyed,  For fourth graders, six of 17 states surveyed saw improvements in reading proficiency.  Data came from 1,000 RF schools and from 500 Title I schools that did not receive RF funding.  The full story can be found at Education Week, courtesy of Kathleen Manzo — <div><br></div><div>While”>www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/15/08reading.h28.html?tmp=326752502.

<div><br></div><div>While”>

<div><br></div><div>While”>While I like to pretend I am, I am not a researcher.  I’ll leave it to the real experts to tell us what’s under the topline data and what these findings really mean, both for Reading First and for schools throughout the nation.  There is still a lot to be written about what this study truly finds, just as there is a lot to be said in what IES will report in its final study, hopefully cleaning up the problems of this year’s interim study.
What troubles Eduflack, though, is how little attention this study has received.  I recognize it was only released late last week.  To date, I have only seen Education Week take the time and consideration to cover this issue.  In the past, publications tripped over themselves to report on the failures of RF or the finding of no findings.  Where is the media coverage of this study?  Here, we have data that demonstrates benefit, and real benefit in half those states surveyed.  Sure, I wish the results were stronger.  But this data — hopefully one of many studies to come in future years, demonstrates there is benefit to Reading First.  And that means we have something to learn from.
RF’s research base, instructional goals, priorities, and potential impact on quality instruction are all positives for our education system.  Hopefully, once that headstone is erected, we can take these parts — a multiple organ donation if you will — and use them to add real life to a strong research-based reading policy.  As a federal government, we’ve invested in reading instruction for decades now.  That won’t stop when RF stops.  With luck, though, we will build and evolve, and not simply scrap and start new.

2 thoughts on “The Neverending Saga of RF Data

  1. Sadly, it seems there are no true advocates for Reading First on Capitol Hill.  Some are indeed supportive, but no one is going to go out on a limb to support or endorse a program that is now DOA when it comes to reauthorization.  Last year, EdSec Margaret Spellings send Congressman David Obey — the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — strong data showing how RF had vastly improved the reading ability and reading test scores of students in his district in Wisconsin.  His response?  He ignored the letter and led the fight to end funding for Reading First.  Unfortunately, it is now a political issue, not a policy or student achievement issue.

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