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Volume V, Number 3, March, 2007

Skirting the Law?

On February 20, 2007, Education Week published a scathing report on the activities of the now departed Reading First Director, Christopher J. Doherty, who evidently promoted particular reading programs while discrediting others.

Balanced literacy?
After reviewing his actions and communications, Education Week concluded that Doherty had "skirted" the law - a quaint turn of phrase.

You be the Judge!

What do you think? What words would you apply to describe the behaviors of the Reading First Director, his colleagues and his supervisors?

  • Obeying the law
  • Skirting the law
  • Breaking the law
  • Ignoring the law
  • Subverting the law
  • Violating the law

The process of judgment begins with the pertinent section of the law:

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.

The reporter who covered this story, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, did a thorough job of quoting emails and documenting behaviors, so you should be able to find ample evidence upon which to base your decision.

Another source to help you decide is the article, "Friends First at Reading First?" at

A third source would be the Inspector General's full report in PDF at

He concluded as follows:

Specifically, we found that the Department:

o Developed an application package that obscured the requirements of the statute;
o Took action with respect to the expert review panel process that was contrary to the balanced panel composition envisioned by Congress;
o Intervened to release an assessment review document without the permission of the entity that contracted for its development;
o Intervened to influence a State’s selection of reading programs; and
o Intervened to influence reading programs being used by local educational agencies (LEAs) after the application process was completed.

A fourth source wouild be the following March 9 article from the New York Times outlining what happened in Madison, Wisconsin.

In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash By Diana Jean Schemo in the New York Times
Published March 9, 2007

According to interviews with school officials and a string of federal audits and e-mail messages made public in recent months, federal officials and contractors used the program to pressure schools to adopt approaches that emphasize phonics, focusing on the mechanics of sounding out syllables, and to discard methods drawn from whole language that play down these mechanics and use cues like pictures or context to teach.


In this section, after reviewing the emails and the actions of the Reading First Director and those who supervised him, cast your vote to indicate whether you think they skirted the law, obeyed the law or broke the law. Once you have cast your vote, you will have a chance to view the votes of readers before you.

Reading First Survey

Did the Reading First Director and his team Obey the Law
Violate the Law
Skirt the Law
No Answer


Does it matter that an agency of the government may have violated major provisions of that law? Are there any consequences attached to these behaviors?

So far we have seen a critical report and a resignation, but that is all.

© 2007, 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.