Reading First

A Closer Look at the President's Budget: Early Literacy Grants

On May 7 the Office of Management and Budget released the President’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2010. As Early Ed Watch reported at the time, that budget includes funding for several new early education programs, including Title I Early Childhood Grants, Early Learning Challenge Fund, Early Literacy Grants, and Home Visitation. Previous installments have considered Title I Early Childhood Grants and the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Today we turn our attention to Early Literacy Grants.

Early Education in the FY2009 Omnibus Bill

Yesterday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees jointly released text of a fiscal year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would fund federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year. Since fiscal year 2009 began in October, federal agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution that maintained funding at 2008 levels. (Yes, we know it's confusing--you can learn more about the federal budget process here and here).

For the most part, the Omnibus bill maintains funding levels for key early education programs at fiscal year 2008 levels or provides very modest nominal increases.

While the relatively stable funding for early education programs may look unimpressive, it's important to remember that Congress just passed a stimulus bill that provided substantial amounts of funding for many of these programs, so in fact states, local school districts, and Head Start agencies will be receiving a lot more federal dollars for these programs this year than they did in the past.

Steal These Ideas

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation is known for the high quality of its research work, particularly its evaluations of federal and publicly funded workforce, education, and other programs. But while it turns out excellent research, it's typically much more hesitant to make unsolicited policy recommendations or attempt to influence federal or state policies. That's why a series of "Policy and Research Recommendations" briefs that MDRC published late last year, to provide guidance to the new administration and Congress, deserve particular attention from the policy community. The briefs address a broad range of topics within the areas of education, youth development, and workforce policy, but three are of particular relevance to early education:

Must See YouTube: Teaching Content is Teaching Reading

UVA cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is at it again, with a new YouTube video about the connection between content knowledge and reading comprehension. You never knew cognitive science could be so much fun!


Must Reading

Richard Colvin makes the case against allowing the scandals around Reading First and the less than glowing results of the recently released Impact Study of the program to launch a new reading wars. We concur. The lesson from Impact Study is not that we've placed too much emphasis on decoding (Kids who can't decode have no hope of comprehending, and the Impact Study does show that Reading First works to improve first graders' decoding skills), but that we also have to do much more to improve children's background knowledge and vocabulary so that they can understand what they read.

The Last Word on Reading First? Don't Bet On It.

Last week the Department of Education released the final report of the Reading First Impact Study, a rigorous evaluation designed to measure the effectiveness of the federal Reading First program, which funds scientifically based literacy programs in kindergarten through third grade.

The researchers found that Reading First had a positive, statistically significant impact on the amount of instructional time devoted to components of scientifically based reading instruction, the amount of professional development teachers received in scientifically based reading instruction, the extent to which schools used literacy coaches, and the amount of support provided to struggling students.

It did not, however, find any evidence that Reading First improved students' reading comprehension.

These results won't be surprising to anyone who read the interim report, and much of what we said then applies now. Unlike the earlier report, however, which looked only at reading comprehension scores, the final report also evaluated first graders' decoding skills--and found that Reading First did positively affect children's decoding skills at the end of first grade.

Another Look at Reading First

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education released the final report from the implementation evaluation of Reading First. While the report didn't get much media attention, some of its findings are noteworthy.

A Second Look at Reading First

Last week the Institute of Education Sciences released the first report from an ongoing national evaluation of Reading First. And, as a front page Washington Post story (and plenty of other newspaper articles across the country) reported, the news wasn’t good. Researchers found no evidence of statistically significant improvements in the reading comprehension of students in Reading First schools, compared to students in similar schools that did not receive Reading First funding. Since the point of Reading First is to improve students’ literacy skills, that’s a disappointing result.

Ending the Reading First Funding Limbo

Early Ed Watch's colleague Lindsey Luebchow has a great post on the impact of cuts in Reading First funding, and the prospects for restoring Reading First funds in the fiscal year 2009 budget, up at our sister blog Ed Money Watch. Key points:

States and school districts are starting to feel the impact of major funding cuts to the federal Reading First program. Congress cut Reading First funding by 61 percent in fiscal year 2008—the unfortunate result of a serious federal-level management scandal. On the ground, however, the Reading First program is producing results in many schools, and school administrators and teachers have praised it.

President Bush's fiscal year 2009 budget request would restore Reading First funding to $1 billion annually. As school districts scramble to look for other funding sources to keep Reading First programs alive this year, Members of Congress should reassure them by making a commitment to restore funding in the fiscal year 2009 budget. Congress has made its point on the scandal and should end the political games.

Scandal is Easy, Curriculum is Hard

Sol Stern seems to be in a bomb-throwing mood lately. Earlier this year he set the school choice world abuzz with a City Journal piece arguing that “school choice isn’t enough,” because improving student performance demands better curriculum and instruction, too—a sentiment with which we couldn’t agree more, but one that alienated lots of Stern’s pro-voucher friends. Now Stern’s written a fiery report on the Reading First program for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.