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Why Spellings (Probably) Won't Get Canned

Now that Wolfowitz is out at the World Bank, and Gonzalez seems poised for his own departure from Justice, it might seem logical that Spellings would be next. And, to some, her departure would be an appropriate result given the current spate of scandals plaguing the Education Department.

However, there are a number of reasons why Spellings won't get canned, for practical, political, and other reasons. For starters, the Democratic lust for blood is likely to be sated somewhat by the Wolfowitz and Gonzalez departures. Ditto for the media. No lawmaker has taken the lead on the Spellings issue -- out of fear of Kennedy and Miller or insufficient evidence of harm. Kennedy hasn't even scheduled a hearing.

Then there's the fact that the two main victim/accusers in the Reading First situation (Doherty and Slavin) are both somewhat unsympathetic characters. Doherty apparently lied about his wife's working for a DI company. Slavin has been a remarkably successful proponent of SFA for at least a decade.

Last but not least, the evidence is still thin and our tolerance is high. A revolving door between the USDE and the loan industry? Sure. Poor oversight of major programs? OK. But we're used to all that at this point, given Iraq and New Orleans. Financial gain for Bush friends? Yeah.


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"Evidence is thin?" "Poor oversight?"
Alexander, you are still hoping this whole thing blows over aren't you. It won't. Once you pull back the rock, there is more, much more.

Spellings deserves at least a strong reprimand for her persistent claim that Reading First is working, when the evidence falls far short.

Spellings has claimed many times that national test (NAEP) scores had gone up, thanks to Reading First. But several analyses have shown that the increase in reading scores on national tests occurred before the law went into effect, not after. There has been no improvement in reading on national tests for 4th or 8th graders since that time. The research also shows that the gaps among racial groups and between high- and low-poverty students are mostly unchanged. Spellings has ignored all of these reports and has simply repeated her claims.

The most recent attempt to convince the public that Reading First has worked was conveniently released just before hearings began on suspected conflicts of interest in the Dept of Education in allocating funds for Reading First. Once again, Spellings claimed that Reading First is working.

The crucial data is grade three, as these children have had the greatest chance to profit from Reading First. Spellings claimed that the percentage of third graders meeting or exceeding the proficient level on tests of reading comprehension increased by 12% between 2004 and 2006.

I re-examined the data and found only a 6% gain. I also found that some states did poorly: Pennsylvania declined 10%. This is not impressive: Reading First provides 100 minutes a week of extra instruction, approximately an extra semester every two years. Also, the Dept of Education violated a fundamental principle of science: There was no comparison group. Even the 6% increase could have been due to factors other than Reading First.

It is ironic that The Department of Education refuses to consider any research that does not meet strict “scientific” standards, yet has no problem concluding from these flawed reports that Reading First “is working.”

Some references:
1. “The 16th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education,” by Gerald W. Bracey, published in the October 2006 Phi Delta Kappan.
2. “Selling NCLB: Would You Buy a Used Law From This Woman?,” by James Crawford, available at www.elladvocates.org/nclb/spellings2.html.
3. “Is the No Child Left Behind Act Working? The Reliability of How States Track Achievement,” by Bruce Fuller, Kathryn Gesicki, Erin Kang, and Joseph Wright, published in 2006 by Policy Analysis for California Education, at the University of California, Berkeley.
4. “Did Reading First Work?,” by Stephen Krashen, available at www.districtadministration.com/pulse.
5. “Reading First: “Impressive” Gains?: by Stephen krashen, available at www. Districtadministration.com/pulse
6. “Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-Depth Look Into National and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,” by Jaekyung Lee, published in 2006 by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Should Spellings Resign?

Problogger Alexander's posting on This Week in Education suggests that the Secretary should but won't. This writer is horribly conflicted.

As a general matter, he is distinctly "old school." The U.S Navy has a tradition of ending the career of any ship's captain whose vessel runs aground. Period. It doesn't matter whether the officer was manning the ship's wheel or fast asleep in his bunk after a 24-hour watch. It doesn't matter whether it takes fifteen days to get free of the bar and underway or fifteeen minutes. The captain is responsible.

It is no surprise that few ships in the U.S. Navy run aground.

Secretary Spellings allowed her ship to run aground twice.... For more, visit www.edbizbuzz.com.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.