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NCTE Position Statement

Resolution on the Reading First Initiative

2002 NCTE Annual Business Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia


The Reading First Initiative of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 makes available to states $900 million for the teaching of reading. And in passing this Act, Congress has affirmed NCTE's commitment to helping all students become more powerfully literate. However, states can only obtain these funds by committing themselves to professional development of all teachers of reading, based upon and limited to the view of reading instruction embodied in the Reading First Initiative. Therefore, the No Child Left Behind Act attempts to impose a centrally mandated "one size fits all" method of reading instruction upon the nation's children and their teachers.

This Initiative is the culmination of a recent trend, as the federal government has increasingly attempted to define what reading is, to limit what counts as research on reading, and to dictate how reading should be taught in our classrooms. As a consequence, the government is channeling education funding to a few corporate purveyors of a limited set of methods of reading instruction. As a professional community actively involved in literacy research and instruction, NCTE has systematically opposed these mandates, partly through resolutions (1997, 1998, and 1999) on government intrusion into professional decision making.

We believe the Reading First Initiative is potentially harmful to children for several reasons:

  • Individually unique children suffer when they are subjected to a national, single, uniform model of reading instruction.
  • Children are deprived of sensitive, responsive precision in teaching when a rigid methodology is imposed on teachers.
  • Teaching that is based upon a limited, inadequate research base risks miseducating children about reading.

Some of the weaknesses of Reading First stem from its dependence upon the National Reading Panel report (2000) as its research base. Mislabeled as an assessment of "the" scientific literature on reading and reading instruction, the National Reading Panel report is incomplete, narrowly focused, and flawed. The research examined does not represent the full range of scientifically valid research methodology, but appears to have been chosen as selective support for a preconceived notion of what constitutes best practice. Furthermore, the Summary booklet, the most widely distributed and widely read version of the National Reading Panel report, does not accurately represent the findings of the full report (Joanne Yatvin, "Babes in the Woods: The Wanderings of the National Reading Panel," January 2002, Phi Delta Kappan).

 States applying for Reading First grants have been advised to choose from a "short list" of commercial programs that claim to be more scientifically based than alternatives. In reality, alternative approaches to instruction have not been compared with the approaches of commercial programs as to their overall effectiveness. The professional community raises many areas of concern with respect to available commercial programs:

  • The appropriate balance among components of reading instruction has not been adequately researched.
  • The sufficiency of those components has not been determined.
  • The appropriate amount of time allocated to and among the components of reading instruction has not been determined.
  • Research does not support the sequencing in which instruction occurs.

Teachers are finding, too, that some of the mandated scripted programs are crowding out of the curriculum the time needed for reading aloud, independent reading of enjoyable and informational texts, writing, discussion, and in-depth exploration of literature. In short, the Reading First Initiative seeks to remove professional judgment and decision making by educators and to replace it with packaged materials marketed by corporate publishers. This process imposes a standardized methodology upon teachers and children, which is an inevitable recipe for failure.

NCTE asserts the responsibility of literacy educators, collectively and individually, to speak out about the limitations of the assumptions behind the Reading First Initiative. When our federal government attempts to narrow literacy teaching to a focus on a few isolated skills, we must protest. We object to the federal government's unprecedented co-opting of American traditions of local control of curricula. Our responsibility as educators compels us to develop and communicate to federal, state, and local policymakers specific suggestions for revisions to the Act itself and to policies related to it. For example, we need to call for revisions in the evaluation plan for Reading First. The Initiative must be evaluated by knowledgeable professionals free from commercial and political relationships with the programs, research base, and agencies being assessed. Such evaluation must invite, entertain, and facilitate a broad critique of the Initiative, including its research base. Be it therefore


RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English support the tradition of local and state control of English language arts curriculum, instruction, and assessment and oppose the use of the No Child Left Behind Act to mandate a "short list" of professional development providers or commercial products in reading.

Be it further RESOLVED that NCTE call upon Congress to commission knowledgeable, independent professionals to critique the currently promoted research base for the Reading First Initiative, specifically the National Reading Panel report.

Be it further RESOLVED that NCTE call upon Congress to ensure that the five-year evaluation of the Reading First Initiative required by the No Child Left Behind Act be conducted not only independently of the U.S. Department of Education but also independently of the influence of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, other federal agencies and officials, and corporations that have produced the commercial programs used to implement the Reading First Initiative.

Be it further RESOLVED that NCTE call upon Congress to expand the five-year national evaluation of the Reading First Initiative of the No Child Left Behind Act to include

  • implementation of diverse kinds of scientific research, including teacher research;
  • determination of whether the "essentials of reading instruction" required by this legislation are sufficient as a comprehensive program for the development of reading;
  • study of how implementing the Reading First Initiative affects the development of students' writing, their understanding and appreciation of literature, and their oral communication skills;
  • comparison of the effects of the isolated skills approach to reading instruction underpinning this legislation with the effects of more complex, integrated approaches to developing literacy; and
  • study of the long-term effects on students' reading achievement, behaviors, and attitudes.

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