Reading program shows few gains

Just in time for the holidays: a really sad piece of news. A study released yesterday by the US Department of Education finds that the government's $6-billion Reading First program has had little or no impact on students' reading comprehension.

"It's a program that needs to be improved," Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, told the Washington Post, in response to the news that students in schools that use Reading First scored no better on comprehension tests than students in schools that do not rely on the program.

The study did demonstrate some benefits to the program. Students in Reading First programs were better able to recognize printed words than students outside the program. But in the important area of comprehension there were no comparable gains.

The study tracked tens of thousands of students in 248 schools over the course of three school years.

This is not the first time that Reading First has stirred controversy. Some educators have criticized the program as too mechanistic in its approach. There have also been questions raised about possible conflict of interest and ties between the program's regulators and its publishers.

The program's supporters have long argued that its strength comes from its reliance on reading methods proven through research to be effective.

But these latest study results are hard to reconcile with the great national need to strengthen basic student skills. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension," Whitehurst told the Washington Post.

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