Apples and apples

The federal Reading First report, which found little difference in reading performance in schools that got federal funds, proves nothing, writes Karin Chenoweth on Britannica blog. It’s an apples-apples problem: If some schools got RF funds, districts often changed reading instruction in all schools.

Sadly, Congress seems eager to defund a program that most educators say is working. Fortunately, many say that now that they know how to teach reading well they’ll keep on doing it without extra funding.

About Joanne


  1. I have a question? Some may consider this a dumb question, but dumb questions have answers, and I’d really like to know. My question is this: How can Reading First be a success? Or maybe a better way to state the question is this: On what basis should be have any reason to think that it should or could be a success?

    Of course this question comes from my perspective. My perspective is that improvement in education will come from ideas, not from money. Sure money is needed, but once you get beyond a certain minimal level, more money won’t buy better learning. It may buy a lot of things, and those things will make somebody more comfortable, but it doesn’t seem realistic to say it will buy better results. Isn’t it true that all RF has is money? How could it have anything else? What else could there be?

    Well, there is knowledge and expertise about the teaching of reading. But how could RF get that? I understand RF includes training for teachers. But how could that make a difference? Reading teachers all came out of ed school. Haven’t we been complaining about that for generations? And whether you think teachers profit from that training or not, what other training is there? Where else could RF go? Ed school has been doing the training all along, so how could RF money make a difference? Did RF find a new set of experts whose ideas really work? Who are they? What were they doing before RF? And how did RF find them?

    I should point out a few things I am not saying here. I do not want RF to fail. If reading instruction and reading achievement actually are better as a result of RF then I am glad, and a billion a year may be a dirt cheap price. I am not saying that there is no genuine expertise in the teaching of reading. However I do believe that expertise resides in the individual teachers who do the actual teaching, not in ed school. That expertise came from experience, intuition, common sense, and personal help from other teachers. And I would say that those individual teachers who do a good job in the classroom are not good at analyzing and verbalizing what they do. So how could RF possibly buy that expertise in some way to improve instruction for everyone?

    I read the article by Karin Chenoweth. I am not taking sides between her and the research. I am cynical about research in education, but $15 million surely buys a lot of effort by a bunch of smart people who know how to crunch numbers. Chenoweth says she has talked with a lot of people in the schools who say RF has made a positive difference. Anecdotal evidence is limited, of course, but sometimes it can be very valuable. Sometimes a single anecdote can provide insight that cannot be had from all the numbers in the world. So I have no idea how to sort all this out.

    I stick with my thesis that educational improvement comes from ideas, not money. Maybe RF produced new ideas? What are they? Perhaps the RF experience has shown some previously accepted ideas to be wrong. If so, what are those ideas? Why was wrong with them? Why did we accept those ideas if they were wrong?

    Honest, I’d really like to know!