Supt. Rainwater requests reinstatement of Reading First grant funds

Feds seek Reading First probe
by Joe Quick, Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist
Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, along with Rep. Tammy Baldwin have requested that the U.S. Department of Education investigate Madison Schools’ loss of an estimated $3.2 million after the district refused to dismantle its successful reading program two years ago, and seek to have the grant re-instated.
A scathing internal audit this fall claimed that USDOE officials managing the $1 billion program knowingly broke the law with unethical practices surrounding the program. In a letter to the above named members of Congress, Supt. Art Rainwater said, “In light of the government audit of the federal Reading First program contending that USDOE ignored the law and violated ethical standards to steer money the way it wanted, I am asking that you request reinstatement of the lost resources to the Madison Metropolitan School District due to USDOE’s faulty conclusions that the audit makes obvious.”
In a letter to Terrell Halaska , USDOE assistant secretary for legislative and Congressional affairs, the Wisconsin Congressional members said, “The report from the Office of Inspector General questions the program’s credibility and implies the Department broke the law by interfering in the curriculum decisions made by schools, thereby failing to follow proper grant review procedures.
“We would appreciate your review and investigation of the concerns expressed by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Specifically, they are seeking reinstatement of lost federal resources to the Madison Schools from the Reading First program.”
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) is before Congress for reauthorization in 2007. Discussion of Reading First is sure to be part of Congress’ examination of needed modifications to the law.

9 thoughts on “Supt. Rainwater requests reinstatement of Reading First grant funds”

  1. I asked Joe Quick for the documents referenced in the superintendent’s letter, and he quickly provided them.
    I asked for documentation of the following claim made by the superintendent: “Two years ago, Madison turned down resources to continue in the Reading First program AFTER BEING TOLD WE HAD TO USE ONE OF THE PREFERRED READING PACKAGES AUTHORIZED BY USDOE.” (emphasis added)
    The materials provided by Joe contain not the slightest hint that the MMSD was told to “use one of the preferred reading packages.”
    In fact, the documents show that the USDOE and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction did everything possible to encourage the MMSD to use its homegrown reading program.
    Did the superintendent knowlingly rewrite history?

  2. I don’t know what information you received from Joe, but I did read all the letters and memos sent between MMSD and the Reading First representative (from U of Oregan, I believe). My review was some 2 years ago, so my memory has faded as to the particulars.
    But, I don’t believe there is any question in my mind that the memos did show that the Reading First rep demanded such a change.
    Further, more strongly, I believe Reading First either demanded, or strongly suggested that all reading programs in the “failing” schools be converted to using the approved curriculum, not just for those kids in the Reading Recovery program.
    Now, my memory could be failing me, and I would have to reread the material again to refresh my recollections, but I do recall that the positions taken (via letter exchanges) by Reading First folks was extraordinarily heavy-handed.

  3. Larry,
    Over the weekend, I looked at the documents that I saved from two years ago. I looked at them again and a few other documents today when I picked them up from Joe. I looked at internal MMSD documents not publicly released. I looked at press accounts.
    Believe me!
    The USDOE did NOT tell the MMSD to purchase a packaged program. And the superintendent never previously said that the USDOE did. He never said it until he said it in the letter that he sent a few days ago.
    Neither was the USDOE representative heavy handed from my read of the documents, and the superintendent never said that she was. She was definite that the MMSD’s program meet program requirements, but she had no power or leverage over the MMSD to be heavy handed.
    Review all of the relevent posts on this blog, Larry, and you’ll see most of what I reviewed.
    If you can’t find the posts or you remain unconvinced, I’ll be happy to copy and mail all of the hard copies to you.

  4. I can’t claim to have read any documents, but I can tell you that as a teacher at a school that was supposed to recieve RF funding, the explanation we got at the time is that MMSD was originally told it had flexibility in how the funding was used, but then was told that we had been placed in a branch of the program that required the type of scope and sequence found in a more rigid reading program (e.g. all students will work on this particular skill on day 1, these skills on day 4, these skills on day 56, etc…). That type of curriculum mapping would be consistent with programs like Reading Mastery (a D.I. program I have used), and inconsistent with instructional approaches more typically used by the district. What the details of the situation were, I do not know. However, taking the story at face value, I would say it is quite consistent with what we were given to understand at the time.

  5. I was pleased to read the WI Senators and Congresswoman Baldwin request an investigation into and reinstatement of federal reading grant money to MMSD. Several million dollars is a significant amount of money.
    I also hope the School Board institutes more specific metrics for measuring students’ reading achievement, monitors those metrics and asks the administration for changes, as needed, as a regular part of the Performance and Achievement Committee meetings.
    The Finance and Operations Committee will receive monthly reports on revenue and expenses for the budget. Similarly, if there were specific annual metrics for different academic areas, these could be monitored – what issues impeding progress, what learning from different curricula, other? First, more specific goals (metrics) need to be established. For example, if the board’s priority is reading at 3rd grade level by the end of third grade, what specific objectives are needed to reach that priority (goal).

  6. Yes, the MMSD was told that it needed to produce a scope and sequence, but it was NEVER told to purchase anything, contrary to the superintendent’s claim.

  7. We don’t have to speculate on what the USDOE told the MMSD, because the meeting summaries, letters, news accounts, and other records don’t include any indication that the the USDOE representative told the district to buy a reading program.

  8. The superintendent claims that the letter posted on the MMSD Web site does not include the statement that the MMSD was “told we had to use one of the preferred reading packages authorized by USDOE . . .”
    Go to the Web site and read for yourselves:
    I don’t understand how anyone can say that the quote isn’t in the letter. It’s right there! Very strange.
    Anyway, here’s what the superintendent wrote to me in an e-mail:
    Your quotation of my position on the rejection of the Reading First Grant is inaccurate and needs to be retracted from anywhere that you have posted or circulated it. We turned down the Reading First Grant because the Technical Assistance Center at the University of Oregon required us to make changes to our current program including creating district wide daily lesson plans that would be used across the district by all teachers at the same time. We made several of the changes suggested but were not willing to make this change. The change was not acceptable to me and the team who worked on the project.
    We chose from the very beginning to submit our own program rather than adopt one of the recommended programs from the USDOE. At that time if we had chosen one of those programs we would have been able to go forward without question. The Technical Assistance Center did not demand that we adopt one of the programs after we submitted our own and I have never asserted that they did.
    I stand by that decision today and believe that the USDOE Inspector General’s report, recently released, confirms that reading approaches not based on a very narrow set of research findings, discarding other equally valid research, were not considered for approval.
    You have every right to disagree with my decision, however, you do not have the right to make accusations that are unfounded in fact.
    Art Rainwater”

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