Does “Reading First” put reading last?

Several weeks ago the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate funding for the Reading First program, the groundbreaking but controversial Bush administration program that has given states $1 billion a year since 2002 to teach low-income elementary schoolers to read. A House committee also had voted to eliminate funding; if money is not restored before the federal budget is approved in the fall, the program could end. More about the program and the vote can be found in the July 1 USA Today

Any federally funded program targeting low income families is likely to be the target of criticism and the source of much debate on its effectiveness in addressing the problem. But I believe the comments of one sixth grade language arts teacher in Texas carry more weight than all the studies and reports cited in this legislative quagmire. Donalyn Miller is the author of the blog “The Book Whisperer“, and she makes the following observation:

The children cannot wait. They do not have more time. Students, who entered kindergarten in 2000, the year the National Reading Panel report came out, are in high school now. While Washington policymakers fumble to figure out what is best practice in getting children to read and crafting program after program claiming to have the answers, these children are graduating and breathing a sigh of relief that they never have to read a book again. …The only groups served by current trends to produce more and more programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests. …Meanwhile, the people who have the best ability in actually getting children to read—children’s book authors, parents, librarians, and teachers get the least credit (monetarily or otherwise). No hidden agenda exists with this group; they just want children to read…..When you take a forklift and shovel off the programs, underneath it all is a child reading a book….

Her concluding remark:

We don’t need another reading program; we need to go back to the first reading program—connecting children with books. This should always be our bottom line.

Enough said. (But not enough heard; the education industry lobbyists seem to drown people like Mrs. Miller’s voice out).

This blog is one of the best I have seen addressing the issue of how to instill a love of reading among young people today. Highly recommended reading.