Pulling the Plug on Reading First

  • 09 July, 2008

I wonder if you have seen the various editorials that have been appearing about Reading First recent weeks? These are reactions to the Reading First impact study and Congressional efforts to defund Reading First that I wrote about in this space recently. The Boston Globe came out for reauthorization of Reading First, as did USA Today.

In a deft unsigned editorial, USA Today called for continuation of funding for Reading First, albeit with some needed reforms. Their position: “let’s keep funding a good program even as we try to improve upon it” was their very reasonable position. They paid attention to reports by the GAO, the Center on Education Policy, and a recent U.S. Department of Education review of state reading data and concluded this experiment to improve reading for kids should continue. They still claim this is mainly phonics reform (it is not, or at least, it is not supposed to be that), but their overall view of this is sound and reasonable.

For this kind of editorial, USA Today fairly invites an opposing view to counter their position. Fair enough, but that means if they come out pro-Mother in their Mother’s Day paper, they need to find someone who is anti-mother to state the opposing view. In other words, the opposing position can just be an ill-advised and ridiculous position, as was the case today.

Two things stand out in this editorial: one, the politicians who are leading the charge to stop improving reading instruction for young kids didn’t have the courage to respond. They apparently were ashamed of their political position and figured the fewer people who knew they were voting against Reading First the better. Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa and Congressman Obey from Wisconsin want to hide their dirty work for some unknown reason (I suspect Senator Harkin knows that schools in Iowa have been doing great with Reading First—what an impressive group of teachers and principals—and he probably doesn’t want to make it too public that he is willing to undermine their efforts for some political reason).

USA Today couldn’t get any of these brave political souls to explain why they were going to swipe the kids’ reading money, so they brought in Steve Krashen to do it. Krashen has opposed teaching kids to read for years (he believes that if we just give kids books they will read just fine without all that messy teaching). He manages to pack an amazing amount of misinformation into 300 words, including claims that 99% of American adults can read at a basic level (a finding at variance with all data that have ever been collected on this population), and that the impact study shows that Reading First has made no difference on children’s reading.

I worked on the impact study and think the results are important, but as I have written before, this study can’t possibly prove what Krashen now claims. I appreciate that USA Today seeks opposing views, but Krashen knows nothing about why Obey and Harkin want to swipe the kids’ reading money and, therefore, he couldn’t possibly provide insightful commentary on this issue.

I suggest readers ignore Krashen’s irrelevant opinions, and reply to Harken and Obey directly. Krashen loves libraries, but he continues to show little respect for the work of teachers. (In this piece he says nothing about improving reading instruction for kids, professional development for teachers, or the organization and management of challenged schools—claiming that if we just put more libraries in poor neighborhoods we won’t have a reading problem). Write to Obey and Harkin or your friends and family in their districts. I appreciate that they hope to tweak the administration, but screwing the kids out of this reading program is not a good way to do that.


See what others have to say about this topic.

BG-D Jul 02, 2017 02:02 AM

From day one of the creation of the Reading First program, it has been corrupted by the Bush administration - plagued by severe mismanagement, poor implementation, and gross conflicts of interest. Despite these serious issues, I had nevertheless hoped that the program would produce better results than these. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spentadministering this program over the years. This report (IES May 1, 2008) makes it shamefully clear that the only individuals benefitting from this significant investment were the President's cronies - not the schoolchildren this program was intended to serve. Because of the corruption in the Reading First program, districts and schools were steered towards certain reading programs and products that may not haveprovided the most effective instruction for students. That may explain why we are seeing these results today. We all share the goal of helping all children learn to read.

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Pulling the Plug on Reading First


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.