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Volume IV, Number 8, September, 2006

Friends First at Reading First?

It will come as no surprise to many that the administration of the Reading First program has been harshly criticized by the Inspector General.

". . . the actions of the program officials demonstrated a lack of integrity and ethical values that created a control environment that allowed non-compliance with laws and regulations."

The report is scathing. The Department officials often took license and exceeded their legal authority. They often ignored procedures required by NCLB and added criteria of their own, acting above the law.

You can read the Inspector's full report in PDF at

The Secretary Making Excuses

While Ed Secretary Spellings was quick to point out that these indiscretions and mistakes did not happen during her watch, she claimed she would make sure they stopped. This scathing report was in hwer hands when she claimed recently that NCLB was nearly as pure as Ivory Soap!

What's the big deal? Just because the Director of a Billion Dollar a year program played favorites, directing funds to some and away from others?

Her formal response to the Inspector General's report was far from contrite, denying the substance and seriousness of most of the allegations. The report pointed to the email messages below from the director of the program as examples of violations but the Secretary complained that no such judgment should be made regarding personal email.


Note below the language chosen by the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, to label opponents - those with products and reading approaches in conflict with his own. Ironically he pushed products and programs he had used without success in Baltimore prior to becoming director of Reading First. See February 2004 NCL article, "Beltway Bosses: It's Beltway or the Highway - DC Reading Bosses Dictate Programs for the Big Apple" at

The emails quoted in the Inspector's report show efforts to push product while discrediting competitors in direct conflict with the NCLB law which prohibited any such endorsement of products or programs. We only reproduce here those aimed at discrediting competitors.

Email from Director Inspector's Criticism
In e-mail correspondence with the staff member regarding the Wright Group, the Reading First Director stated:

Beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in a way that will stand up to any level of legal and [whole language] apologist scrutiny. Hit them over and over with definitive evidence that they are not SBRR, never have been and never will be.

They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags.

The Reading First Director forwarded the above e-mail to Lyon and stated:

Confidential FYI. Pardon in-house language I use...with fellow team members and friends. Do you know—on the QT—if anyone has done any good review of the Wright Group stuff, to date? We have beaten Maine on Rigby and this is cut from the same cloth. We are proceeding, of course, but if you knew of a good piece of work dissecting The Wright Group’s stuff, it could further strengthen our hand.

The Department Intervened to Influence Reading Programs Being Used by LEAs After the Application Process Was Completed

After certain States completed the application process and received funding, the Reading First Director became aware that certain LEAs in these States were using the Rigby Literacy (Rigby) and Wright Group Literacy (Wright Group) programs.

The Reading First Director worked closely with a Department staff member, a former expert review panelist, who undertook a review of both of these programs.

After reviewing the programs, the staff member provided the Reading First Director with notes and talking points critiquing these programs. The Reading First Director used this information to convince States using Rigby and Wright Group to change programs.

Response from Secretary An Ivory Snow Wash?

Main Findings

Here is a brief summary quoting major findings:

In the course of answering our three objectives, we found that Department officials obscured the statutory requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by NCLB; acted in contravention of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO)

Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government; and took actions that call into question whether they violated the prohibitions included in the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA). The DEOA at §3403(b) prohibits Department officials from exercising any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum or program of instruction of any educational institution, school, or school system.

Specifically, we found that the Department:
    • Developed an application package that obscured the requirements of the statute;
    • Took action with respect to the expert review panel process that was contrary to the balanced panel composition envisioned by Congress;
    • Intervened to release an assessment review document without the permission of the entity that contracted for its development;
    • Intervened to influence a State’s selection of reading programs; and
    • Intervened to influence reading programs being used by local educational agencies (LEAs) after the application process was completed.
© 2006, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.