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Report: Federal Program Fails to Improve Reading Skills

An Education Department report disclosed the ineffectiveness of No Child Left Behind's $6 billion student reading program. State education officials Douglas Christensen of Nebraska and Michele Goady of Maryland debate Reading First's merits.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, a multibillion-dollar reading program for struggling students comes under fire. Jeffrey Brown has the story.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The idea of the Reading First program is to improve elementary school reading, particularly for low-income children. And it now reaches about 1.5 million students in 5,200 schools nationwide.

    The program requires students to spend additional time each day on a set plan emphasizing several skills, including phonics.

    In 2001, President Bush described it as a cornerstone of the federal No Child Left Behind effort.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, president of the United States: We're making great progress on what I've called a Reading First initiative. The budget I submitted triples the amount of money to help fight illiteracy in schools.

    It says that, if a state wants, you can access the federal money. But you develop a K-2 diagnostic tool to make sure kindergarten teachers through second-grade teachers have got the ability to discern which children need extra help.

    It means you've got to develop a curriculum that works. By the way, phonics needs to be a part of our curriculum in America.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But is it working? A new study from the Department of Education found the program has had no measurable effect on students' reading comprehension.

    The program has also been under fire over concerns about conflicts of interest in the awarding of contracts. As a result, Congress has reduced its annual budget.

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