Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The road to hell...

...Is apparently not only paved with 'good intentions' but with gold, as well...
Students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study.

The final version of the study, released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education, found that students in schools that use Reading First, a program at the core of the No Child Left Behind law, scored no better on comprehension tests than students in similar schools that do not get the funding.

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

In all fairness, the program was not found to be totally without merit

Whitehurst said the study showed some benefits. First-graders in Reading First classrooms were better able to decode, or recognize, printed words than students in schools without the program. Decoding is a key step in learning to read.
But simply teaching decoding skills in and of itself doesn't lead children to approach reading critically, nor to read for meaning (a skill sadly absent given today's schools' propensity toward indoctrination vs. education). But the money quote here is the long-honored government approach of putting good money after bad, in spades (emphases mine):
Reading First, though popular with educators, has been tarnished by allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement in recent years. Federal investigators have found that some people who helped oversee the program had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has assured lawmakers that measures were taken to prevent future management troubles.

"Reading First helps our most vulnerable students learn the fundamental elements of reading while helping teachers improve instruction," Spellings said. "Instead of reversing the progress we have made by cutting funding, we must enhance Reading First and help more students benefit from research-based instruction."

Apparently, Margaret Spellings never got the memo that the program isn't working in the first place!! Given the now apparently dismal results of Reading First, perhaps reversing that so-called 'progress' would be a good thing. Despite its success in teaching early decoding skills, putting additional funding into Reading First in its present form is much akin to paying full price for a Rolls Royce with one axle, putting caviar in the gas tank, and expecting it to take you to work.

Why would a United States Department of Education Secretary not only extoll and defend the virtues of a $6 billion failed program as beneficial in terms of research-based instruction, but actually call for its expansion, when the research itself indicates that the program doesn't work??

Somehow, either the time-honored definition of insanity or abject waste of taxpayer monies borne of greed (or both) are at work here.

At any rate, this program is proof positive, IMO, that allowing a federal bureaucracy to run our educational system is about as effective as having Stevie Wonder run an air traffic control center.