Reading First program is under scrutiny
Apr. 21, 2007
Amit R. Paley
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe of a $6
billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush's No Child Left
Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial
conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said Friday.
The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing
the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off
textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.
"That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.,
chairman of the House Education Committee, which held a five-hour investigative
hearing. "You don't get to override the law," he angrily told a panel of Reading
First officials. "But the fact of the matter is that you did." The Education
Department's inspector general, John P. Higgins Jr., said he has made several
criminal referrals to the Justice Department about the 5-year-old program, which
provides grants to improve reading for children in kindergarten through third
Higgins declined to offer more specifics. Christopher J. Doherty, former
director of Reading First, said in an interview that he was questioned by
Justice officials in November. The civil division of the U.S. attorney's office
for the District, which can bring criminal charges, is reviewing the matter.
Doherty, one of the two Education Department employees who oversaw the
initiative, acknowledged Friday that his wife had worked for a decade as a paid
consultant for a reading program, Direct Instruction, that investigators said he
improperly tried to force schools to use. He repeatedly failed to disclose the
conflict on financial disclosure forms.
The management of Reading First has come under attacks from members of both
parties. Federal investigators say program officials improperly forced states to
use certain tests and textbooks created by those officials.
One official, Roland H. Good III, said his company made $1.3 million off a
reading test, known as DIBELS, that was endorsed by a Reading First panel he sat
on. Good, who owns half the company Dynamic Measurement Group, told the
committee that he donated royalties from the product to the University of
Oregon, where he is an associate professor.
Two former University of Oregon researchers on the panel, Edward J.
Kame'enui and Deborah C. Simmons, said they received about $150,000 in royalties
last year for a program that is now packaged with DIBELS.