Reading First for English Learners

  • 29 July, 2008

As I write this, I’m in Nashville, TN at the 5th annual National Reading First conference. It appears to be their last meeting and my first appearance at one of these affairs. Of course, there is a lot of sadness as most state people are resigned to the idea that Reading First funding is not to be renewed. Yesterday, at the opening of the meeting, Laura Bush apparently cheered folks’ spirits by calling for the reinstatement of full funding to Reading First (I was on a plane at the time, but morning radio caught me up on what I missed by playing some of her 5-minute speech). As much as I’d like to see Reading First continued, I don’t see any chance of it now and really think we need to turn our attention to a new federal effort. (The one thing that I think to be missing at this great conference is some time for state people to describe what they see as their successes and failures; any smart new program is going to have to be based on both—what they managed to do well and what they didn’t. I think the Department of Education missed out on a great opportunity to get this information. I suspect there won’t be any more meetings with this many state reps, so it is a real loss.)

  One of my candidates for improvement in a next program is a more concerted and research-based efforts towards addressing the literacy learning needs of English learners. Most states just carried out the Reading First mandates with these kids despite the fact that the National Reading Panel report (the basis of Reading First) didn’t consider studies of English learners. The panel recognized the importance of this issue but left it to another panel and that means Reading First directors were stuck trying to adhere to mandates that were at best insufficient for these kids. Fortunately, what Reading First was doing wasn’t that far off so no great harm was likely done, but what a lost opportunity. One suspects with a more tailored approach we could have seen greater success for this significant group. That is what I am doing here in Nashville: talking about the report of the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children Youth and what it says we need to do to help second language learners. At least for this group, wouldn’t it have been terrific to have had a sixth instructional element—one focused on the development of oral English?

The information that surprised the Reading First audience the most? They seemed startled when they found out how little research has been carried out with second language learners. I included a chart showing the comparison of the numbers of studies on various topics that the National Reading Panel looked at for first language learners and the numbers available on those topics for second language learners, and that got a visible response from the conference attendees here. This is definitely an area where we could use some more research help, but even if we had more information, we’d need policies that guided the implementation of such research-based efforts.


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Anonymous Jul 02, 2017 02:03 AM


Parents, educators, and taxpayers deserve full disclosure of conflicts of interest involving every university “researcher”, corporation, testing company, and individual with financial ties to Reading First. Then, parents and educators can determine if the program is “scientifically-based” or based on royalties and profits for insiders. Parents should determine if their young children have been used for financial gain and political purposes. Teachers and administrators should determine if they have been used for propaganda purposes to gain access to young children. Taxpayers should determine if the tainted Reading First program is worth billions spent. Best practices in early reading instruction are not profitable and are not based on a one-size-fits-all reading scheme matched to the state progress-monitoring assessments designed around the intellectual property developed by the insiders.

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Reading First for English Learners


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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