"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, May 26, 2006

NRP, Bush, and Lyon

Is there a connection between George W. Bush and the NRP?

While it's true that the NRP submitted its final report in April 2000 (prior to Bush's election in November 2000), a 4/23/01 report from The Wall Street Journal documents the "long and fruitful, if little-noticed, relationship" between Bush and Lyon. According to the article, while Bush was governor of Texas, Lyon helped design and sell Bush's plan to revamp how public-school students were taught to read. "As president, Mr. Bush is turning to his phonics mentor to expand the program nationally." Mr. Lyon is "the reading guru," Mr. Bush told a meeting of business leaders in January 2001. According to the same aricle, then Governor Bush's aides discovered that an NIH-funded researcher (Lyon) was studying Houston school children and concluding that phonics instruction was effective. In 1995, the Texas governor invited Mr. Lyon to Austin to explain his findings. Bush aides picked his brain for ideas they could use in the governor's reading initiative, including early and regular testing, teacher retraining and stiff state standards.

And this little tid-bit from The NIH Record:

"Bush, a booming speaker with a light and convivial touch in such an informal setting, recounted his relationship with Lyon, whom he affectionately called "Reid-o." "I've known Reid for a long time," Bush began. He had been worried, back in 1996 as governor of Texas, about how public schools were failing in their mission to teach children how to read. He learned about Lyon's work in a field NIH has funded since the mid-1960's and told his staff, "Get him down here. We've had a great relationship ever since."

It's a no-brainer that Reid Lyon, a guy that worked for the NICHD (the agency that sponsored the NRP), a guy that served as Bush's "reading guru" while Bush was governor of Texas, and a guy that preaches "explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies" may have had something to do with the fact that the NRP's recommendations were largely copied and pasted into NCLB's Reading First program.

Here's the scoop.

On April 13, 2000, the NRP concluded its work and submitted its final report, "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read," at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. (http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/NRPAbout/about_nrp.htm)

While the NRP was busy cooking data from 1998 to 2000, a guy named George W. Bush was the governor of Texas. Meanwhile, a guy named Reid Lyon had been serving since 1994 as Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institute of Health (NIH). In this position, he was responsible for the direction, development, and management of research programs in reading development, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, behavioral pediatrics, language and attention disorders, and human learning and learning disorders.

In 1997, Congress asked the NICHD to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. This became the NRP, the National Reading Panel.

According to a 4/23/01 report from The Wall Street Journal, Bush and Lyon had a "long and fruitful, if little-noticed, relationship." According to the article, while Bush was governor of Texas, Lyon helped design and sell Bush's plan to revamp how public-school students were taught to read. "As president, Mr. Bush is turning to his phonics mentor to expand the program nationally." Mr. Lyon is "the reading guru," Mr. Bush told a meeting of business leaders in January 2001. According to the article, "At the White House's request, Mr. Lyon is recruiting allies for top positions at the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. He is working with Republican congressional aides to craft Mr. Bush's reading initiative, priced at $5 billion over five years, so there are ample funds for phonics instruction. He is also setting up a preschool-research program to figure out the best way to add phonics skills to Head Start instruction."

Lyon testified on March 8, 2001 to the Subcommittee on Education Reform, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives:

"On the basis of a thorough evidence-based review of the reading research literature that met rigorous scientific standards, the National Reading Panel (NRP), convened by the NICHD and the Department of Education, found that intervention programs that provided systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies were significantly more effective than approaches that were less explicit and less focused on the reading skills to be taught (e.g., approaches that emphasize incidental learning of basic reading skills). The NRP found that children as young as four years of age benefited from instruction in phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle when the instruction was presented in an interesting and entertaining, albeit systematic manner."

As President, Bush asked Lyon to serve as one of his education advisers. Lyon was directly involved in the development of Bush's Reading First program and is considered to be one of its primary architects.

As Jerry Coles argues in Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies (2003, Heinemann), the NRP Report was basically copied and pasted into the reading section of the NCLB legislation in 2001.

The same year that Bush was elected governor (1994), a guy named Rod Paige became superintendent of the Houston school district. Bush was elected President and sworn in on January 20, 2001. The next day, Rod Paige was sworn in as the 7th U.S. Secretary of Education. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/paige-bio.html)

Rod Paige was largely credited with what has become known as "the Houston miracle." In 2001, he was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Paige made the Houston school district the first school district in the state to institute performance contracts modeled on those in the private sector, whereby senior staff members' continued employment with the district was based on their performance. Houston became the model for NCLB.

It was later revealed that the "miracle" in Houston was less on the order of water into wine and more on the order of good old fashioned book cooking.

While in charge of the Houston schools, Paige relied exclusively on McGraw-Hill's Open Court, a heavily scripted phonics program, to effect the Houston miracle. According to Paige, "Reading First says that teaching reading is a science, and we've been acting like it's an art." (interview with John Merrow)

From the interview with Merrow:

JOHN MERROW: Are you telling states what methods they must use?

ROD PAIGE: Absolutely not.

JOHN MERROW: Aren't there approved methods?

ROD PAIGE: There are approved principles. There are scientific principles.

JOHN MERROW: Are there approved programs?

ROD PAIGE: There are not approved programs. There are approved principles.

JOHN MERROW: But only a handful of programs fulfill the new federal requirements, and so states are making sure to mention those programs in their applications. To qualify for Reading First money in Michigan, schools must use one of these five programs. Houghton-Mifflin, Harcourt, Open Court SRA, Macmillan McGraw Hill, or Scott Foresman.

Who is the biggest phonics publisher? McGraw-Hill, the publisher of Open Court. It was McGraw-Hill representatives and authors who dominated Gov. George W. Bush's Texas reading advisory board. No surprise that Open Court was the program of choice in Texas. McGraw-Hill's connections to the National Reading Panel's report is no less transparent: Widemeyer Communications, the Washington PR firm that handled the promotion of Open Court in Texas, was also the firm hired to promote the NRP's report, including the writing of its Introduction, Summary, and video, the three parts that have taken the most flack from critics. (http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_bush-mcgraw.html)

Open Court's crown jewel? Its "success" in the Houston Independent School District.

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