Feb. 28, 2007 – A government audit has found that a federally funded literacy initiative has been run more like a sales pitch for private interests than an education-reform effort.
The report, issued last week by the Department of Educationâ€™s Inspector Generalâ€™s office, reviewed Reading First, a government initiative to improve child literacy programs under the No Child Left Behind Act. The program aims to fund the development of reading curricula based on scientifically proven teaching methods.
The inspector generalâ€™s report criticized a series of conferences held by the Education Department in 2002 known as "Reading Leadership Academies," which featured speakers and presentations designed to prepare educators and state officials to implement the initiative.
According to the audit, the conferences promoting Reading First were overtly biased toward two particular approaches to reading instruction: Direct Instruction, an intensively structured literacy program, and a related program known as Open Court. Both teaching methods are marketed by publisher SRA/McGraw Hill. The report concluded that the Department of Education had violated prohibitions to control or endorse any specific curriculum.
A company that helped develop the conferences, the New Hampshire-based RMC Corporation, obtained a nearly $7 million contract in 2003 to provide technical assistance to schools setting up Reading First programs. The audit found that in partnering with RMC, the Department had overlooked potential conflicts of interest. The director of one of RMCâ€™s Regional Technical Assistance Centers, for instance, had worked on a contract basis with SRA/McGraw-Hill; another had served as a consultant for the education company Voyager Expanded Learning.
The conferences promoting Reading First were overtly biased toward two particular programs, violating regulations against favoring certain curricula.
According to public records, the McGraw and Bush families are longtime friends. McGraw company head Harold McGraw III served on President Bushâ€™s White House "transition team." And Voyagerâ€™s co-founder, Randy Best, has been a major financial supporter of Bush.
In response to the inspector-generalâ€™s office report, the Education Department has promised to take "corrective actions."
A similar inspector generalâ€™s audit published last September found the Education Department had violated rules for staffing its review panels and managing grants to states. Following that report, the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) sued the Education Department, demanding the disclosure of information on accountability standards and the management of programs under No Child Left Behind.
In a press statement, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloane said of the latest internal investigation, "It is becoming increasingly clear that the Bush administration has been sacrificing the education of children to financially benefit a select group of loyalists and donors."