A large, controlled study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education has just shown that a widely mandated program (Reading First) delivered to promulgate ‘best practices’ for reading education out to American schools in need of help as a >$1 billion part of the “No Child Left Behind” program leaves children behind. The Reading First program was established by “No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, with three main goals. The first was to assure that schools used scientifically accepted “best practices” (training strategies; materials) in reading instruction. The second goal was to train educators and administrators in ways that could assure that these best instructional practices were appropriately and effectively delivered. A third goal was to assess the effectiveness of this new approach for achieving reading-education improvement.

You’d think that Goal 3 would be on the Year 1 agenda. Not so. Six years (with billions spent on reading instruction) later, we learn that schools that followed these promulgated best practices are indistinguishable from those who did not.

How CAN it be that our government authorities broadly mandate a program that doesn’t work? Why HAS educational science related to reading achievement done such a poor job of delivering out strategies that substantially and unequivocally move the reading proficiency meter in American schools? Why IS there almost no change in the percentage of proficient readers (a pathetic 30% or so of readers in American public schools) achieved, despite our great and sincere and costly efforts over the past several decades (much less over the past 6 years of NCLB) — even while more and more REALLY failing students aren’t being counted in these statistics because millions of failing young people prematurely leave middle and high schools?

We citizens are entitled to answers to these questions.

When Reid Lyon, a distinguished Department of Education leader who helped draft Reading First programs into legislation has talked about its values, he has repeatedly argued that it had led to key changes in American schools. He’s noted that because of its extensive educator-training initiatives, reading educators all across the country are now well informed about the science of reading. Because of Reading First, they now understand, can recite and apply those “scientific best practices”.

Which leads me to a final comment, and a question:

My comment: Maybe there is something lacking in those “scientific best practices”.

My question: How long will it be before the Department of Education (or the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development) comes to realize that the scientific best practices promulgated by programs like Reading First — aren’t (i.e., either particularly scientific, or best practices)?