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A $1b a year failure, courtesy of NCLB

Submitted by on Thursday, 20 November 2008 2 Comments

I’ve done a fantastic job showing Big Guy how to tie his shoes. He knows everything he needs to know to tie his shoes. But he still can’t tie his stinking shoes.

And there are accusations that I’ve taken payola from certain shoe companies.

In a nutshell, that’s the state of the $1 billion-a-year — $6 billion total so far — Reading First. The program, which is supposed to help get students off to a good start, is central to the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind.

It helps, all right, much in the way the guys’ help me with dinner every night. They’re not really providing that much assistance when it comes right down to it.

Which is pretty much the state of Reading First, according to audit released today.

  • Reading First has increased the amount of time spent teaching reading.
  • Students in the program are getting better at “decoding” — identifying letters and words.
  • Students in the program are not any better at reading comprehension than their peers.

Skeptical that we can afford President-Elect Obama’s $10 billion-a-year preschool plan? I think I see a way to get us 10 percent there.

What’s the worst that could happen? Failure? Reading First’s doing that already.

Even federal officials are at a loss as to how to make this one look good.

“Advocates for the program will be pleased that it’s shown a positive correlation on (improved) decoding skills … the focus of the program,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the outgoing director of U.S. Education Department’s research arm told “Education Week.” “I don’t think anyone should be celebrating the fact that the federal government invested $6 billion in a reading program that has shown no effects on reading comprehension.”

The program already was under fire, with Congress slashing its funding 60 percent this year in the wake of a report this spring that questioned its effectiveness and accusations that a high-level administrator steered work toward a company that paid him to lobby.

Others, such as Fresno State education Professor Elaine Garan, have questioned the program from the start, challenging the data used as the basis for a “scientific approach to reading.”

The damage, of course, extends far beyond the children who aren’t being helped in schools where we’re investing $1 billion a year. The true cost is in the “drill and kill” mentality that’s sacrificed the joy of reading on the altar of sight words.

Big Guy’s a victim. He loves a good yarn and, consequently, wants to jump ahead and figure out what’s next based on pictures and what he thinks the logical story progression is. Except that’s a negative in today’s classroom. Must do the diabolical DIBELS first!

I play the game, because that’s the way he’s being evaluated and judged and because I get that the building blocks are important. But late at night, in the still of storytime, we still get rolling drunk on the story itself. It didn’t cost me a billion a year to figure out how to do it, either.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Patrick Giblin said:

    Amen. NCLB was a disaster from day one. It was an attempt by the Bush administration to make claims that education was important to them, when the program was really designed to bust teachers’ unions. Terrible program from a terrible president.

  • Debra said:

    Not to mention a slick way to funnel money to dear friends in the standardized testing industry. Because we are all about accountability.