The Title I Monitor has been out front on the allegations of conflict of interest among the Reading First program’s technical advisors, several of whom also had significant financial ties to publishers of reading materials. Earlier this month, Sen. Ed Kennedy’s staff produced a report that detailed those ties and the alleged conflicts, based on emails and other information provided by the four advisors who are being scrutinized. Today, however, the Monitor produced a thorough piece that questions several points made in the highly critical report. In the case of Doug Carnine, for example, he received royalties for a language arts program he authored that was geared to middle school students–not the K-3 students served by Reading First. The report also alleged a conflict related to a meeting where Carnine was to be a speaker–except he never attended. Other flaws are documented as well.
Much of the coverage of the Reading First story has tried to fit a very complex, ethically murky situation into formula that is both easy-to-understand and easy-to-communicate: greedy government contractors ignore good practice and cynically steer contracts to themselves and their friends and pocket big dough. Conflicts of interest–real or apparent–are serious. But much of the coverage in mainstream publications, television and even some blogs has failed to point out that the reading experts involved all were highly reqarded in the highly specialized area of interventions for young children far behind in reading at a young age. The coverage also has underplayed the fact that the Reading First program was independently judged to be successful. Finally, the most vocal people to raise conflict of interest charges had their own economic interests at stake. So, as I say, it’s a murky situation. One that the Title I Monitor has worked hard to explain.