Audit: Reading First beset by favoritism
Summary: Internal review finds ED ignored the law; steered funds toward certain programs
The internal audit of Reading First by the federal Education Department was released just days after another report, from the independent Center on Education Policy (CEP), suggested the program is having a significant impact on student achievement...Study: Reading First spurs achievement gains
An internal report detailing the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) handling of the multibillion-dollar Reading First grant program, criticizes Bush administration officials for steering funding awards to certain educational publishers and for illegally dictating to schools which solutions they must use.
The scathing review, published by the federal government's internal policing arm, question's ED's integrity in awarding grants and requests that ED make immediate changes to its review process. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said ED will comply with the recommendations.
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
September 25, 2006—A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department (ED) ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views, and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.
In one eMail message, the director told a staff member to come down hard on a company he didn't support, according to the report released Sept. 22 by the department's inspector general. "They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," the program director wrote, the report says.
That official, Chris Doherty, is resigning in the coming days, department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Sept. 22. Asked if his quitting was in response to the report, she said only that Doherty is returning to the private sector after five years at the agency. Doherty declined to comment. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pledged to swiftly adopt all the audit's recommendations. She also pledged a review of every Reading First grant her agency has approved.
"When something undermines the credibility of this department, or the standing of any program, I'm going to spring into action," Spellings told the Associated Press.
Reading First aims to help young children read through scientifically proven programs, and the department considers it a jewel of No Child Left Behind, Bush's education law. Just this week, a separate review found the effort is helping schools raise achievement.
But from the start, the program has been dogged by accusations of impropriety, leading to several ongoing audits. The new report from the Office of Inspector General--an independent arm of ED--calls into question the program's credibility.
The ranking Democrat on the House education committee was furious."They should fire everyone who was involved in this," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "This was not an accident; this was not an oversight. This was an intentional effort to corrupt the process."
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