How We Can Improve 'Reading First' (Rep. Howard 'Buck' McKeon)

Congress embraced Reading First when we crafted the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 because we agreed it was time for our nation to commit to scientifically-based reading instruction as part of our broader effort to provide a high-quality education to every single child. Six years later, the program appears to be on its way to achieving the results we had hoped for. This is welcomed news, considering the fact that we spend $1 billion on this program each and every year.

Though the outcomes of Reading First have been strong, I had hoped the Department of Education would have been more effective in managing and staffing this program. However, for a period of years, the management quality of this program did not rise to the high level of the results it has consistently produced for our nation’s students. The responsibility for these shortcomings lies squarely at the feet of the Department of Education – a responsibility the Secretary accepted quickly and without hesitation. Now, it is our responsibility to provide thorough and fair congressional oversight on this issue.

My goal for Friday’s hearing and any others that may follow was very simple, and I hope my colleagues share it: to make the Reading First program even better. Today, we looked more deeply into the management of this program, how it’s been assessed, and – most importantly – what we can do to ensure the Department of Education corrects problems identified by its Inspector General and by this Committee.

Thursday, in order to begin this process and ensure we remain focused on improving the Reading First program, I introduced comprehensive legislation that takes key recommendations of the Inspector General and makes them the law of the land. The Reading First program is too important and too successful to allow it to fall prey to management questions. By codifying many of the Inspector General’s recommendations, we will ensure these management issues are dealt with in the law itself, so the program can continue to achieve positive results in practice.

Among a host of other reforms, the Reading First Improvement Act will:

· Require the Secretary of Education to explicitly screen for conflicts of interest among Reading First’s peer reviewers;

· Ensure that any Reading First contracts the Education Department enters into include provisions requiring contractors and subcontractors to screen for potential conflicts of interest; and

· Reinforce the provisions found in NCLB and other federal laws that prohibit the Department of Education from dictating curriculum to local schools.

Many of these reforms already have been embraced by the Department of Education, and I applaud that. However, it is our responsibility to ensure that they remain permanent – regardless of which Administration is in office. And for that reason, it is best addressed legislatively.