Friday, May 2, 2008

Reading First Is Last

The news concerning the “No Child Left Behind” program just keeps getting worse and worse. What originally had the potential of revamping the education system in America for the better is now becoming another in the long list of failures of the Bush administration. When it was trumpeted in 2001 by the Bush administration as the answer to the failing education system, it was met with cautious optimism. On the surface it appeared to offer some much needed direction to the lack of standardized measurements of student progress, teacher skill levels, or school accountability. Other components of the bill offered school choice to public school students and parents, federally mandated testing and ratings of schools, and a reading program targeted at low income children.

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department's research arm.

Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read. About 1.5 million children in about 5,200 schools nationwide, including more than 140 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District, participate in Reading First.[1]

I don’t understand how we can spend over 5 billion dollars and have little if anything to show for it. How is it that after all of these years of public education and studies of public education techniques we still don’t know how to educate children from low income families? I don’t believe that the answer is we don’t know how to educate these children, unfortunately I think it is something more insidious than that. I think we do know how to educate these children, but that we don’t want to. A capitalist system needs to have a pool of cheap low skill workers to fuel the astronomical profits of America’s corporations. Keeping low income children uneducated or undereducated provides such a pool. Between the unskilled low income kids and the low skill immigrants flooding across our borders, Wal-Mart will have a pool of workers well into the future.

Reading is the building block of education, if you can’t read you will not be able to learn. So are we to assume that we can not teach our children to at least read? How is it that our best educational minds with a billion dollars a year for the last 6 years still have no clue how to teach our children to read? Every major university in this country has education departments that study and train our teachers and educators. I can not believe that with all the research grants and empirical studies that we are no closer to closing the education gap than we are right now. I understand the complexity of the issue, but I also understand the amount of resources and personnel that we have expended on the problem. Not only have we not been able to close the wealthy versus the low income gap here in America, but we have not been able to close the gap between America and the rest of the world.

Education Department officials said the study will help them better implement Reading First and said the program has the support of many educators across the country. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently likened the effort, aimed at improving instruction in schools with children from low-income families, to "the cure for cancer."

During a speech to educators in March, Spellings said that Reading First was one of most effective education programs she had encountered. "If ever a program was rooted in research and science and fact, this is it," she said.[2]

Well, if they are likening this program to the cure for cancer then anyone diagnosed with cancer is in deep trouble. If this program is rooted in science and these are the results it is no wonder we are losing the technology wars. This program despite what the secretary is saying has been riddled with rumors of mismanagement and kickbacks. The No Child Left Behind program has been criticized for emphasizing scores over teaching and for being under funded for the herculean task involved. The results of this study will do little to quiet the controversy.



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