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January, 2015: Written Testimony to the Congressional Committee on the ESEA Re-Authorization

Dear Chairman Alexander and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for taking on the task of rewriting ESEA, and I join with millions of parents, teachers and advocates who hope for a more appropriate use of federal funds under ESEA than we have seen under No Child Left Behind.
In approaching your rewrite, I call your attention to the one aspect of NCLB that could have actually helped bring about the envisioned full proficiency in math and reading by 2014: the Reading First program.  During your first hearing Sen. Whitehouse of RI noted that if all children could read in first grade, many of the issues related to the academic achievement gap could be ameliorated.  From my experience, having all children reading by first grade is a heavy lift, but with the proper reading programs, supports, and interventions where needed, all children could/should be reading by third grade.
Instead, NCLB and related Race to the Top grants have spawned an array of initiatives that have far more to do with altering governance and payment structures in education (see ” Federal Mandates on Local Education: Costs and Consequences) than with actual instructional practices in the classroom.
The magnitude of reading difficulties is huge.  The NICHD Reading Panel Report to Congress of 2000 ( “Teaching Children to Read”)  stated that by fourth grade, four out of ten children still struggle with reading.  Two out of ten are dyslexic.  The Panel recommended research-based instructional and intervention protocols that were incorporated into Readng First, as well as for the NICHD  “Response to Intervention” (RTI) protocol that was included in the 2004 IDEA legislation update.
For a description of how this has played out at the ground level, I describe the magnitude reading problems in New York City public schools in “To Help All Children Read, First Do the Math.”   An earlier report from the Abell Foundation, “The Invisible Dyslexics,”  describes how students with dyslexia in Baltimore fall though the cracks.  Many so-called “failing schools” are filled with over-age students who have not gotten the reading help they need.  In “not-failing schools,” on the other hand, struggling readers get help in the school, their parents find help outside the school (at enormous personal expense), they are “counseled out” of the school, or, in the case of “screened” schools, never get into them.
Reading First was developed to catch and help these struggling readers.   Before long, however, the requirements for what could be used in the program were watered down.  Soon after that, the whole program disappeared amid vendor scandals (described in detail here  by Sol Stern).
Response to Intervention is not as effective as it could be for other reasons.  As a component of IDEA, it suffers the fate of inadequate funding that much of IDEA suffers, since Congress has not yet fully funded this law since it was first passed in 1975.  At the “ground level,” execution of RTI is extremely uneven.  An NICHD official explained to me, when I asked who is the “RTI enforcer,” that effectively no one is.  The protocol is implemented at the state level, where education funding can be wildly uneven from state to state and year to year.
In rewriting ESEA, I ask that you provide guidance and funding that would support truly effective reading instruction, and funding to support the interventions needed by students at all grade levels who need more help than regular classroom reading instruction can provide.
Best Regards,
Susan Crawford, Director

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“READING BY 8” LAWS: CURSE OR CURE?

Invoking the “Child Find Mandate” to Help and Protect Your Child

As the 2013-14 school year comes to a close,  increasing numbers of state legislatures are adopting 3rd grade retention policies.  These are sometimes positioned as “Reading by 8” laws, or other optimistically-sounding names. However, without supplying funding for the supports every struggling or dyslexic reader needs, states are putting the onus on the child to be reading by 8, rather than the other way around: ensuring that all children are reading by 8. There is a mechanism that parents can invoke if they think their child may be retained: the Child Find Mandate.  This is a provision under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabiliites Education Act) which requires schools and districts to seek out and identify struggling students, and provide the interventions they need.  For reading,

those interventions are supposed to be provided under the three “tiers” of Response to Intervention (RTI). This issue is currently coming to a head in North Carolina, where parents and other student advocates are calling on their legislators to provide these interventions in conjunction with that state’s recently-enacted “Read to Achieve” law.  Of course, the interventions should be provided in any case, but especially if state legislatures want to define what constitutes “passing” for a struggling 8-year-old. An excellent description of Child Find is on the Wrightslaw website here.   (I also discuss it in Ch. 6 of my book [above], in explaining to parents how to get help for their struggling readers in motion at the school level.)

For more on the impact of North Carolina’s “Read to Achieve” law,  see this recent post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, which features an article by North Carolina parents and education advocates Janna Siegel Robertson and Pamela Grundy.   Check out the comments on both the blogpost, as well as on the original article, to which the post links.

Watch the “What’s In the News” box for updates on this crucial issue.

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