The Rumble Up at TC

Last week, we had a presidential debate that spent a good 10 minutes focused on education policy and the future of education reform at the presidential level.  This past weekend, Eduflack has been watching the Obama television commercials (broadcast in Virginia/DC) focused on education, touting both early childhood education and the need to invest in recruiting and rewarding teachers.  So what comes next in education policy?

For those seeking the next phase in the presidential education debate, turn your attention up to Teachers College at Columbia University.  Tomorrow evening, McCain Advisor Lisa Graham Keegan, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona, and Obama Advisor Linda Darling-Hammond, the current Stanford University professor, will square off to promote and defend their candidates’ education policies.  While this isn’t likely to have some of the same fireworks as a Keegan/Jon Schnur debate (particularly like the one at the Aspen Institute National Education Summit), it should provide plenty of red meat on real education improvements.
Education Week will be webcasting the event live.  The debate begins at 7:00 p.m.  Go to www.edweek.org/ew/index.html and find the upper right corner banner on the event to register.  It should be weill worth the time investment.
(Hat tip to Fritz Edelstein and the Fritzwire for reminding me of the webcast.)

An Educational Future for the Edu-Daughter

Later this morning, Eduwife and I will board a plane in Guatemala City with our new 13-month-old daughter, Anna Patricia.  At 10:35 a.m., we will touch down in Houston.  Once we deplane and pass through Customs, our first order of business it taking little Anna to the Homeland Security Office in Bush International Airport and have her sworn in as a U.S. citizen.  Before lunch time today, Anna will be part of the American dream, gaining access to the greatest public education system one can find on the planet.

All week, I’ve been down in Guatemala thinking about family, thinking about what is possible, and thinking about what may have been.  I do so knowing that we did not adopt Anna to give her a better life.  No, we did it because my wife and I are selfish and we wanted a better life for ourselves and a bigger family.  Anna provides us both.
But I can’t help but think about the educational path now before her, and the opportunities to which she will be exposed.  I spend so much time railing against the problems in the current system, advocating for the issues that may be unpopular to some, and generally agitating the system in hopes that such agitation will ultimately result in change and improvement.
I watch my two-and-a-half year old son, and Anna’s full birth brother, soak up every educational opportunity made available to him.  He wants to be read to and he models reading behavior.  He is growing more and more computer literate by the day.  He is passionate about art and music and athletics.  He is now working on counting and beginning math skills.  He is putting together full sentences (lots of them declarative), using subjects and verbs.  And he is bilingual to boot.
I am expecting Anna to follow down the same path, modeling herself after her brother.  Yes, she’ll be interested in playing the Wii, but she’ll also embrace the written word.  She’ll enjoy watching Franklin or Little Bear on TV, but she’ll also figure out the puzzles that are recommended for those far beyond her age.  I expect both my children to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them, and I expect to do all I can to offer a clear path to high-quality learning.
What is my vision for my children?  Let me nail Eduflack’s 10 tenets to the electronic wall:
* I want every kid, particularly mine, reading proficient before the start of the fourth grade.  Without reading proficiency, it is near impossible to keep up in the other academic subjects.  And to get there, we need high-quality, academically focused early childhood education offerings for all.
* I want proven-effective instruction, the sort of math, reading, and science teaching that has worked in schools like those in my neighborhood with kids just like mine. 
* I want teachers who understand research and know how to use it.  And I want teachers to be empowered to use that research to provide the specific interventions a specific student may need.
* I want clear and easily accessible state, district, school, and student data.  I want to know how my kids stack up by comparison.
* I want relevant education, providing clear building blocks for future success.  That means strong math and technology classes.  It means courses that provide the soft skills needed to succeed in both college and career through interesting instruction.  And it means art and music right alongside math and reading.
* I want national standards, so if my family relocates (as mine did many times when I was a child), I am guaranteed the same high-quality education regardless of the state’s capitol.
* I want educational options, be they charter schools or magnet schools, after-school or summer enrichment programs.  And these options should be available for all kids, not just those struggling to keep up.
* I want schools that encourage bilingual education, without stigmatizing those students for whom English is a second language.  Our nation is changing, and our approach to English instruction must change too.
* I want a high-quality, effective teacher in every classroom.  Teaching is really, really hard.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  We need the best educators in the classroom, and we need to properly reward them for their performance.
* I want access to postsecondary education for all.  If a student graduates from high school and meets national performance standards, they should gain access to an institution of higher education.  And if they can’t afford it, we have a collective obligation to provide the aid, grants, and work study to ensure that no student is denied college because of finances.
Is that asking to much?  I’d like to think not.  I’d like to believe we are there on some points, and getting there on others. But I recognize we have many roads to travel on quite a few.
If we’ve learned anything from this blog, we know that empty rhetoric is often worse than no rhetoric at all.  If we believe in these principles, we need to do something about it.  We need to move to public action.  I am committed to building a public engagement campaign around these principles, helping parents, families, and communities throughout the nation take these on for themselves and demand them of their local schools.  I am ready to lend a voice to such an effort and do what I can to promote these tenets.  I’m ready to do my part.
The question that remains is who is ready to take up the cause and build a national commitment to such principles?  Who will call on a new president and a new U.S. Department of Education to embrace these ideas?  Who will pick up the flag?
In many ways, this is the sort of thing that a group like Ed in 08 could have embraced.  Maybe the Gates and Broad Foundations are willing to lend a little of their cost savings to building true national understanding and commitment to high-quality education in this country.
I yield the soapbox.  Welcome home, Anna!
 

Engaging the Public on Math Reform

When the National Reading Panel released its landmark “Teaching Children to Read” report in April 2000, the obvious question to follow was, “what’s next?”  The federal government releases studies like “Teaching Children to Read” all the time.  The report comes out, copies are distributed, and they usually end up in someone’s closet, on someone’s bookcase to get dusty, or as a doorstop in a state department of education.

As loyal readers know, NRP was a passion project for Eduflack.  I was involved from the very beginning serving as a senior advisor to the panel and helping with everything from qualitative research to editorial.  For two years, NRP was my life, and I wouldn’t change a day of it.
During the NRP process, the we recognized that we needed to do more than just traditionally “disseminate” the findings.  Informing key stakeholders on reading research was an important step, yes.  But if the NRP was going to have the lasting effect it intended (and the lasting effect, I argue, it has) we needed to reach far deeper.  We needed to move beyond simply informing to engaging.  And we needed to move from engaging to changing behavior.  
Ultimately, we needed to change the way the education world dealt with reading instruction.  We needed to change how teachers taught kids to read.  We needed to change what parents asked about reading in the classroom.  We needed to change how school administrators made decisions on the programs they purchased.  We needed to change how local, state, and federal elected officials prioritized funding for reading instruction.  And we needed to change how the community at large, particularly the business community, addressed the issue and focused on reading.  Most importantly, we needed to change student reading ability, ensuring that virtually every student gained the research-based instruction needed to be reading proficient by fourth grade.
Such change is no small undertaking.  Following the release of the NRP report in 2000, we spent two years engaging in a range of communications and public engagement activities.  Conference presentations.  Interviews with the media.  Interactions with key stakeholder groups and influential individuals.  Armed with just the massive Report of the Subgroups, the Summary Report, and the NRP Video Report, we began the process of informing, engaging, and changing thinking.
After the tenets of NRP were included in No Child Left Behind (Reading First in particular), a new phase of engagement began.  The U.S. Department of Education created the Partnership for Reading, a joint effort led by all federal agencies involved in one way or another with reading.  This included ED, HHS, Labor, and NIH.  Together, these agencies pledged a shared support to promote a unified commitment to scientifically based reading instruction.
Through the Partnership (another project Eduflack played a leading role in), we were able to launch a national public engagement campaign to ensure that all audiences 1) understood scientifically based reading instruction; 2) knew why it was important; and 3) began implementing it in their schools, classes, and communities.  Originally, the work focused on a broad range of stakeholder audiences, including policymakers, the business community, school administrators, researchers, teacher educators, teachers, and parents.  During the two-year process, we winnowed down our audiences, seeing the key actors in getting SBRR into the classroom as both the teacher and the parent.
To accomplish this effort, we engaged in a wide range of communications activities, far more than those used following the NRP release.  Development of strong, audience-specific messages.  Creation of specific materials designed for specific stakeholders.  Media relations.  Public service announcement campaign (both print and radio, in both English and Spanish).  Conference presentations and exhibitions.  A speakers bureau.  Partnership development.  And any and all marketing and communications activities designed to spread the word about the need for and the impact of SBRR.
At the end of the day, I am proud of the results we accomplished.  Yes, we secured significant media coverage (millions of impressions worth millions and millions of ad-equivalent dollars).  But we also built a strong network of supporters and advocates.  Through a working partners group, we brought together organizations like NEA, AFT, AASA, and IRA (organizations not exactly friendly with ED or NCLB at the time) and joined them with NGA, NAESP, BRT, and the Chamber as a sign of shared commitment to scientifically based reading.  How?  At the end of the day, all of these organizations, regardless of their political leanings, shared a common belief that every child needed to learn to read and we needed to use instructional approaches that worked to get all children reading.
I don’t take this walk down memory lane to toot any particular horn or wait for an applause line for the hard work of all of the people at NICHD and ED who helped move this forward, from 2000 through 2005.  Instead, I reflect on this experience because of an article in this week’s Education Week.  In it, Sean Cavanagh reports on the current efforts underway to promote the recently released report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. The full story can be found here — <a href="http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/10/08mathpanel.h28.html
The”>www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/10/08mathpanel.h28.html
The Math Panel is to be commended for its work, and it is especially noteworthy that they were able to pull together a conference earlier this month for policy folks and practitioners to focus on how to move the Panel’s findings into U.S. classrooms.  The NRP shared a similar goal, but those conferences quickly evolved into RF conferences after the passage of NCLB.
Cavanagh also focuses on efforts to print more than 160,000 pamphlets for parents on elementary and middle school math.  Again, a needed step.  For change to occur in our schools, parents must be effectively used as a lever for action.  Lasting change does not come without real, sustained action from the parents.
EdWeek also notes the work of the ED’s Doing What Works website (http://dww.ed.gov) to move the Math Panel’s findings into teachable moments for educators and professional developers.  (Full disclosure, Eduwife is managing DWW for ED).
But I also hope the Math Panel is thinking bigger, thinking bolder, and thinking more audaciously.  Yes, it is unfortunate that ED will soon change hands, and a new EdSec will have new priorities.  And yes, it is unfortunate that the Math Wars make the Reading Wars seem like Cub Scout jamborees.  But the findings of the Math Panel are too important to fall by the wayside come January 2009.  The need to equip all students with real math skills is too important for our schools, our community, our economy, and our nation for the Math Panel’s report to hit a dusty shelf come next year, forgotten for the “next big thing.”
Someone needs to launch a massive public engagement campaign to reform math instruction.  Building from the work, infrastructure, and results of the Partnership for Reading, someone needs to work with parents, teachers, and policymakers to focus on getting what works when it comes to math into the classroom.  And, ideally, someone outside of the federal government needs to make this their national priority, allowing such a campaign to move swifter and more nimbly than a government effort.
Interested?  I’m happy to give you my cent-and-a-half to get it off the ground.
 

Education Chicken and Egg at the Presidential Debate

I don’t know about you, but Eduflack was quite surprised to see the final 10 minutes or so of this evening’s presidential debate being devoted to the issue of education.  Kudos must first go to CBS’ Bob Schieffer for asking the right question.  It wasn’t about NCLB or teachers unions or any of the traditional hot-button issues.  Instead, Schieffer asked about the United States spending more per capita on education than any other nation, yet being outperformed by many of our international counterparts.

The initial responses from both candidates should be of no surprise.  Both Barack Obama and John McCain stuck to their campaign’s educational talking points.  For Obama, it was all about early childhood education, teachers, and affordability of higher education (and a tip of the hat to the Illinois senator for calling out parents as part of both the problem and the solution).  For McCain, it was charters, vouchers, and expanded opportunity.
Also of no surprise, neither candidate really addressed the question.  Sure, Obama focused on the need for greater investment in education and the notion that NCLB was severely underfunded.  And McCain called for greater dollars for vouchers, pointing to the DC voucher program as a shining success.
But back to the original question.  What Schieffer was really asking, or should have been asking, is whether greater investment in the schools results in greater achievement, or whether greater achievement gets rewarded with greater investment.  It is the ultimate educational chicken and egg question.
We know that some of our best-funded school districts, at least in terms of per pupil spending, are some of our lowest performers.  Will more dollars turn them around?  Unlikely.  It may help bring some better teachers into the classroom, but real turnaround requires a change in culture and a change in approach.  Both are free, its the implementation that costs money.
I’d like to believe we should reward achievement and encourage innovation.  We invest in what works.  We help fund those programs that can make a difference and boost student achievement.  We reward those schools and those teachers who are boosting student performance.  We should place results first and foremost.  That’s the answer so many families should be hearing.
 

21st Century Skills with a 21st Century Vision

Earlier this year, Eduflack got into a very heated offline “discussion” with a reader about the role of the American high school.  Personally, I believe it is the role of every public high school in the United States to help prepare every student for the challenges and opportunities before them, be it in education, the workforce, or life.  That means relevant courses, a focus on preparation, and the recognition that virtually every student today needs some form of postsecondary education to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

My treasured reader, a professor at an institution of higher learning, took issue with my notion of high schools (and colleges) as “trade schools.”  To him, career preparation came later, and well after a student had secured a good traditional liberal arts education, both in the secondary and postsecondary environment.
For the past two years, I’ve worked closely with organizations on STEM (science-tech-engineering-math) education.  For the past five years, I’ve worked just as hard on high school redesign and high school improvement.  If I’ve learned anything from these experiences, it is that it is never too early to begin to engage students on their futures and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.  Even with our focus on high school improvement, I hear in more and more states we should be starting in middle school, and not wait for high school.  If we don’t prepare today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow TODAY, they will never be prepared.
This isn’t a new concept.  Back in the 1980s, the SCANS Commission believed much of the same thing.  And as we’ve seen a greater focus on high schools and STEM in recent years, it has taken center stage. It’s all been helped along by the Gates Foundation, Jobs for the Future, the American Diploma Project, and other such programs at the national, state, and local levels.
Now, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has gotten in the mix, and they are taking the fight directly to the state level — exactly where it needs to be to make a lasting impact.  Working with nine states, the Partnership is helping its project states to work through the skills, curricula, and standards for success.  The full story on this initiative can be found over at Education Week — www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/15/08skills.h28.html?tmp=982428651  
Do we need this shift and this added attention?  You betcha.  American public schools — particularly our high schools — need to become incubators for creating the workforce of tomorrow.  That means equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need, not just for today’s jobs, but for tomorrow’s as well.
It is an unfortunate reality that many of today’s high schools are built on an instructional model that is 50, maybe even 100, years old.  Then, it assumed all kids would find jobs.  A third of them would do so after graduating high school and going on to college.  A third would move directly to the workforce with their high school diploma.  And a third would leave high school before completion, contributing to the economy at an early age.
No one believes that model holds today.  Every student needs some form of postsecondary education, whether it four-year college, two-year college, or workforce training program.  Virtually every employer will tell you that a high school diploma is not sufficient for a long-term career (at least that’s what I’ve learned from surveys I’ve done with the business community in many states).  And skills — particularly math, literacy, problem-solving, and teamwork — are non-negotiables in today’s economy.
We look at the economy and at the national unemployment rate, and we wonder what the future holds, both for us and for our kids.  One thing is certain, a worker with relevant, up-to-date skills has a far better chance of staying employed than one with out-of-date skills or none at all.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills recognizes that, and now they are working with nine states to put this vision into practice.  Here’s hoping for scalable solutions we can continue to model.
  

As Goes Brownsville, So Goes the World

This morning, the Broad Foundation unveiled the big winner of the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education.  Heading into the announcement in New York City, many believed that Miami-Dade would be the big winner.  But when the name was announced and the check was awarded, Brownsville, Texas stood proud and tall.

For those not in the know, Brownsville is a “border community” on the southernmost tip of Texas.  According to the Houston Chronicle, “Brownsville Independent School District serves nearly 50,000 students — 98 percent Hispanic and 43 percent learning English.  Ninety-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a common measure of poverty.  Surrounding Cameron County had the highest poverty rate for a county of its size in the country at 34.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
The full Chronicle piece can be found here — www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6057934.html.  
So why Brownsville ISD?  According to Broad, the answer is clear — student performance.  Brownsville simply outperformed other districts across Texas when it came to reading and math achievement.  They made dramatic steps in closing the achievement gap between Hispanic and white students.  And they did so despite the demographics and with 2,000 new students coming in from Mexico each school year.
At the announcement ceremony, Eli Broad noted that “Brownsville is the best kept secret in America.”  Not for long.  By winning the Broad Prize, Brownsville has demonstrated that student achievement and school improvement is possible, period.  No excuses.  No data sleight of hand.  No exclusions or “recalibrations” of the system.
For most, it would be easy to write off a community like Brownsville.  Too many at-risk students.  Too many language barriers to overcome.  Too much poverty.  Too many first-generations.  Too little funding.  Too little hope.  
What many failed to see, and failed to respect, is that Brownsville is a true community.  For nearly a decade now, Eduflack has heard from a native daughter of Brownsville about all of the good that was going on in this community.  The investments made to boost student reading achievement.  The commitment to early education and getting every Brownsville child ready for the start of kindergarten.  The partnerships with businesses and institutions of higher education to make postsecondary education a possibility and a reality for virtually all, and not just a select few.
Brownsville is a testament to the good that can happen from collaboration, an unwavering sense of community, and a commitment to results.  They refused to make excuses, and now they’ve got the hardware to show they are doing what works.  Congrats to Brownsville ISD, the city, and its many proud citizens.  Felicidades!

Real Scientifically Based Reading Results, Courtesy of AFT

If it is Tuesday, then it must be time for Eduflack to get up on his scientifically based reading soapbox.  And while I am out of the country this week (down in Guatemala, preparing to bring our 13-month-old daughter home), the trip down South provided me with a great deal of time to catch up on reading and generally think.

Anyone who has read this blog or has generally been within the sound of my voice for the past decade knows that I am a passionate advocate for scientifically based reading instruction.  We know what works to get kids reading.  We know the instructional approaches and building blocks necessary for most kids.  We know the interventions needed for the others.  We know the content-focused professional development our teachers should be receiving.  And we even know how to effectively measure student reading achievement and how to determine the true efficacy of a reading program, basal or otherwise.
We know what works.  We know scientifically based reading works.  And even if Reading First is destined for the great policy heap in the sky, we know that the core tenets of the program — the research base that was to guide instruction and evaluation — works too.
It isn’t just the rabid phonicators who are out there talking scientifically based, though.  Case in point, this month’s edition of American Educator, the publication of record from the American Federation of Teachers.  The Fall 2008 edition of American Educator has two terrific articles that are well worth the read.  The first, authored by American Educator’s Jennifer Dubin, discusses the success of scientifically based reading in turning around performance in struggling schools in cities such as Richmond, Virginia.  The second, authored by NWREL’s Teresa Deussen, Kari Nelsestuen, and Caitlin Scott, touts the initial impact Reading First is having on our schools and advocates for giving the controversial program a second chance.
I’m not going to provide my rhetorical musings on these pieces, because I think the work of the authors speaks for itself.  What is important to note, however, is that AFT has long been a supporter of the notion of scientifically based reading.  From their “Teaching Reading is Rocket Science” publications to their investment in classroom based reading to their support for the U.S. Department of Education’s Partnership for Reading Efforts from 2002-2005 (an effort Eduflack helped direct, at least on the communications side), AFT has long gotten it.  AFT teachers know what works in the classroom, and its leadership has not been afraid to stand up and support it, even if it was unpopular with other education organizations or other teachers unions.
So a tip of the hat to AFT for publishing these two pieces, particularly in this political climate.  Dubin’s piece, in particular, is an important read for those who want to understand how these recently released interim and final RF implementation studies actually relate to what’s happening in real classrooms across the country.  And isn’t that what is most important?
 

What Works for the WWC

Last week, This Week in Education revealed that Russ Whitehurst was leaving the Institute of Education Sciences.  That should come as no surprise, as Whitehurst’s congressionally appointed term expires in November 2008, and he has made clear he was not seeking reappointment.  TWIE’s announcement was followed by Fordham Flypaper’s news that Whitehurst was moving over to Brookings’ Brown Center for Education Policy, presumably to fill the very capable shoes of the departing Tom Loveless.

Interestingly, no one in DC education policy circles seems to be talking about what comes next for IES.  Who will serve as the next director?  What will the priorities be?  Heck, we don’t even know where an Obama or McCain administration stands on IES, its mission, and its programs.  One thing seems certain, though, the future of the Institute won’t be determined until well after the next president is sworn into office. 
The defining experiment of IES has been the What Works Clearinghouse.  Released six years ago with much fanfare, the WWC was intended to be a Consumer’s Reports of sorts for education practitioners.  It was to sort through all of the education research data, determine what works, and provide guidance to school district officials, building leaders, and teachers on what was most effective and how education dollars should be spent.
A noble goal, and a much needed role in today’s education universe. Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to implementation.  WWC became a methodological monster.  In its zeal to distinguish itself from the past work of the U.S. Department of Education’s former Office of Education Research and Improvement, WWC laid out strict and complicated criteria for every piece of research it would examine.  The result?  Most research was kicked out during the initial stages, found to lack the methodological rigor WWC called for.  For these studies, we never got to the issue of effectiveness or impact because they lacked effective control groups or didn’t form the proper study structures, as called for by WWC and its advisors.
Over the years, we have accepted the WWC process as fact.  Some organizations have pleaded mea culpa, asking WWC for advice on what to do.  Others have carefully constructed a single study to meet WWC criteria so they could claim approval (while claiming their competitors were rejected).  And still others refused to acknowledge the value and authority of WWC, and continued to do things their way, stating that their research was true, clear, and effective.
In recent months, WWC has drawn some real attention, mostly for its negative findings on the instructional impact of reading programs Open Court and Reading Mastery. For those watching WWC all these years, we just chalked it up to WWC being WWC.  Eduflack was of similar mind, reminding individuals that, at the end of the day, decisionmakers at the district or school level are simply not making decisions based on WWC findings.  While it may have been the intention, WWC is now merely a forum for researchers to try and outresearch each other, for methodological masters to do their jousting and determine who the true jedi was.  Despite the best of intentions and the most noblest of needs, WWC had become irrelevant.
Then an interesting document crossed my desk.  Under the headline “Machinations of the What Works Clearinghouse,” Zig Englemann provides a terrific analysis on the WWC’s decisions regarding Reading Mastery.  The headline?  “What Works Clearinghouse is so irreparably biased that it would have to be thoroughly reoriented and reorganized under different management rules to perform the function of providing reliable, accurate information about what works.”
With regard to Reading Mastery, Englemann points to the fact that there are more than 90 research studies on the program (and its predecessor DISTAR Reading), with most of these studies appearing in “refereed journals.”  Yet WWC found that “no studies of Reading Mastery that fell within the scope of the Beginning Reading review meet WWC evidence standards.”
Honestly, Eduflack is just plain tired of hearing that no studies fell within the scope.  For years, I defended WWC and IES, seeing both as necessary components to strengthening the research base of the education field.  When Mathematica announced that it was reopening and re-examining the Beginning Reading field — a prior review that had caused much heartburn across the reading community — I was heartened that change may be in the works.  But my atypical optimism has quickly been replaced by my real and necessary skepticism.  Englemann is right, we need to build a new, better, and more effective IES before it dies from within.
Englemann does a terrific job in looking at the WWC methodology, identifying the problems in techniques, approaches, and analyses undertaken by WWC (who knew that research conducted prior to 1985 didn’t count, even if it met every methodological standard laid out by WWC and its methodological advisors).  I would highly recommend the study for all those seeking to better understand how good research has been deemed outside the federal scope these past few years.
But yelling into the wind only gets us so far.  For the record, I still believe in the mission and goals of WWC, and I particularly believe in the mission, goals, and objectives of IES.  We need a strong, independent voice in the federal government that can tell us what works and can point us to valuable research on improving practice and instruction.  We need a voice that ensures what is proven effective is what is being practiced.  We need the evidence, plain and simple.
Now is a unique time for IES and the Board that oversees it.  Currently, a number of board member nominations are pending before Congress.  Clearly, a search for a new IES director must be underway.  So what’s the message IES and its Board should be spending in the near future?
* The voice of the practitioner is just as important as the voice of the researcher.  Methodology is important, but it is no more important that ensuring an intervention works in a school like mine, in a class like mine, with kids like mine.
* We cannot exclusively value process over results.  Again, the methodology is important, but so are outcomes.  Which is more valuable to our schools — methodologically strong programs with middling results or middling methodology with extremely strong results?  Yes, we want strong methodology and results, but if I have to choose, I want to invest in what works and what’s working on a large scale.
* We need to broaden the audience.  IES should be playing to a wide range of stakeholders, and not merely the research community and the education publishers it happens to review at a given time.  It should be a resource for teachers, school leaders, and policymakers.  To do that, we need to simplify the message and broaden the appeal.
* IES can become a Consumer Reports for the education sector.  But to do so, it needs to change its thinking and approach.  It needs to be user friendly.  It needs to be collaborative.  And it needs to think more broadly about the impact it is having, not just on research but on education and the community at large.
* IES needs to inspire and lead.  This isn’t just about being the stick to ED’s funding carrot.  It isn’t just about good, methodologically sound research.  IES needs to invest the time and effort into educating stakeholders as to why scientifically-sound education is important.  Why do we care about methodology?  What are the benefits to scientifically based instruction?  And what can I do to get the science into my kids’ schools?  It needs to demonstrate how education sciences improves student achievement and boost student options for both school and
life.
Recent attempts by IES and WWC to quickly turn around focused research reports are a good first step. But if the Institute is going to build its legacy, it needs to focus on building both public awareness for its mission and objectives and establishing public support and enthusiasm for achieving those goals.  It’s not a simple process, but it is doable.  And it is necessary for IES to survive and thrive.
Regardless of who is EdSec come January, IES should be a priority for either administration.  It possesses enormous potential and opportunity.  Hopefully, someone will remember that and we can build on its best qualities, learn from its worst, and do what is right by states, districts, schools, and students.

An Important RF Clarification

Earlier today, I wrote on the new Reading First evaluation study released late last week by the U.S. Department of Education.  (http://blog.eduflack.com/2008/10/13/the-neverending-saga-of-rf-data.aspx)  As I noted, this was an Abt Associates study, released by ED, and a follow-up to a 2006 study the Department conducted on RF effectiveness.

The links to the highlights and the full report can be found here — www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/other/readingfirst-final/index.html.  
It is important to note that these promising results are coming out of ED’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.  Yes, Virginia, ED still has an evaluation office, even after IES has picked up and moved off to quasi-independence.
Why is this important?  I don’t want some to get the impression that these promising results are the FINAL results to come out of the Institute of Education Sciences’ work on Reading First implementation.  We are still waiting on the Final Study for that 2008 IES report, and we’ll likely continue to wait a while longer.  While the ED/Abt study may be looking at similar issues and determining similar impact of RF, they are, indeed, two very different studies.
What does it tell us?  Well, apparently the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development understands and appreciates the concerns and criticisms that were raised of the IES Interim Study.  It addresses the issues of contamination in the samples, and notes that all schools — not just RF schools — have benefited from the Reading First program.  It also shows that the contamination problem — one raised by Dr. Tim Shanahan on this blog and in other locations — was very, very real.
I guess it also shows us that duplication of effort isn’t necessarily a bad thing sometimes.  Here’s hoping the researchers assembling the final IES study can learn a thing or two coming out of OPEPD and its PPSS division.
  

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.

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<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.