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Direct Instruction & Chris Doherty

An older article

The big bru-ha-ha over Reading First's favoritism toward SRA Direct Instruction has a few hallow points. The issue at hand is: does it work and does it fit the tenants set out by the Reading First requirements?

Millers office also cited an independent analysis published last year by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research that found the program favored by Reading First directors, a product of the McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., was one of only two programs to receive AIRs highest rating.

An interesting note: if you watched the movie Boys of Baraka, you'll see Chris Doherty's name listed - he was on the board and helped set up the school in Africa for seriously at-risk kids in drug neighborhoods. (In case you haven't seen it, I highly recommend this movie)

The audit describes Doherty as a former executive director of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which has implemented the McGraw-Hill product, known as Direct Instruction, or DI, in the Baltimore schools system since 1996.

Now we come to the "conflict of interest" issue. This article conflates "conflict of interest" (monetary) with "came from a background of." Sorry, if a person worked with a product and/or did research on a product but no longer receives financial gains from the product, there is no conflict of interest. Notice how "conflict of interest" is never mentioned but it is certainly insinuated with the words "professional connection" (RED HERRING):

Auditors said they reviewed the resumes of 25 people who served on the panels charged with evaluating eligible reading programs. Six of them had significant professional connections to DI, and Doherty personally nominated three of them, the audit said.

So the story now says the the federal Reading First program, which set out its own rules and reviewed research within their group should abide by state guidelines? Does that makes sense? What happens if the state approves weak, even bad reading curriculum?

The audit cited examples such as Massachusetts, where Doherty questioned the quality of reading programs in four school districts, while state authorities approved them. One district refused to change and lost its federal funding; the other three agreed to change and kept their funding, the audit said.

So should the federal government provide grant money for less effective reading programs? Would your insurance company happily reimburse you for a less effective treatment of cancer when both treatments cost the same?

None use the DI program, said Cheryl Liebling, director of Reading First in Massachusetts. Liebling said she agreed with Doherty that the programs chosen by the four Massachusetts school districts were of lesser value to struggling readers.

Federal officials were justifiably rejecting reading programs that emphasize literary skills ahead of those stressing basic skills, which are more important to struggling readers, Liebling said.

So, as usual, the Bush administration has to target lower level person to blame this on - even though he was following instructions, within the law, and had the children's best interests in mind - I can guarantee it!

Michael Petrilli, who helped the administration implement the No Child Left Behind law and now serves as vice president at the Thomas Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based research group, said he believes Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is hanging Chris Doherty out to dry.

But the story ends with another red-herring that will most definitely cause everyone to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater:

Miller cited investigations last year showing the department used taxpayer dollars to pay media commentators for friendly coverage, and an audit this year showing the department directed education grants to political allies rather than alternatives endorsed by career peer reviewers.

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