Sometimes, it is just tiring being Eduflack, particularly when it comes to the area of reading instruction. Time and again, I’ve pledged that I’ve written my last post on Reading First. Between the IES study and Congress’ dismissal, RF has been written off for dead more times than a cat on her ninth life. It seems the final nail in the coffin has been hammered time and again over the last year or two.
But then along come a series of actions that just make you see that while the Reading First brand may be dead and buried, its impact and its infrastructure are not going anywhere. The bright spot is Understanding Reading First, a new white paper from MDRC. The piece is worth a quick read. No, there is no groundbreaking data or unread news in the document. But it is a strong summation of RF, its foundations, and some of the results.
And read in the current context, it also shows that scientifically based reading research may indeed have a longer shelf life than any of us, including those stalwart supporters, ever thought was possible. Thanks to the economic stimulus money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, states and school districts are now discovering they can use their newfound education riches to extend RF-based programs for another year or two. In fact, some could say the spending on reading coaches, scientifically based instructional materials, and professional development for reading teachers is exactly what ARRA is intended for.
Then we have the data, including the state research that has come from bellwether states like California, Texas, Ohio, and others demonstrating the positive impact that RF has had on student achievement. Couple that with last fall’s RF study from the US Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) and there is more than enough strong data to show that the original IES study was flawed and one has to look at its nil finding with skeptical eyes.
Now we can mix in the K-12 reading instruction bill that has been circulating around town, which I am still trying to brand “Yes, We Can Read.” Thanks to key education groups and key congressional leaders, we are actually working on a literacy bill that will build on RF’s elementary school focus and offer a reading continuum from preschool through high school graduation. Even more important, the draft language being circulated around Washington, DC reflects a strong crosswalk with the SBRR language in the original Reading First. An expansion here, some rewording there, but the intent and the embrace of the research is still there.
Hopefully, Understanding Reading First will get more attention and play than those that came before it, particularly the OPEPD study. There is a growing pool of research demonstrating that RF worked, particularly when you factor in the positive impact it has had on schools and classrooms that didn’t receive specific dollars for Reading First programs. Across the nation, all schools adopted scientifically based reading instruction and materials. All teachers were trained in the research methods. And virtually all kids benefited from it. And for those who don’t want to listen to the state data, the NAEP results, or the results of other such assessments, MDRC reminds us of that once again.