That's the title of an editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram discussing a report by the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General on the Reading First program. LINK
Where's the accountability?
It seems that the U.S. Department of Education was so intent on improving youngsters' reading skills that some officials manipulated federal grants, ignored parts of the No Child Left Behind law and generally set a bad example of behavior by public servants.
That's a fair reading of a new report from the Education Department's own inspector general about a program called Reading First.
The program, which started in 2002, provides more than $1 billion annually to help children develop reading skills in the early grades. States are to spend the money on programs that incorporate "scientifically based reading research," or SBRR.
The law specifies that the department use expert panels to review states' grant applications and not endorse any particular curriculum. Evidence shows that at least two officials, the program director and an assistant education secretary, did not understand their assignment -- or simply ignored it.
The effectiveness of Reading First in helping children wasn't at issue. But the inspector general found ample grounds for marking down officials' oversight of taxpayers' dollars and trust during 2002 and 2003.
Program officials "failed to maintain a control environment that exemplifies management integrity and accountability," one section of the report concluded. Among the failings: Review panels were stacked with members who supported Reading First Director Chris Doherty's favored approach to teaching reading. Also, some panel members had connections to particular programs that could be considered conflicts of interest.
Officials purposely obscured what the law required from applicants and "otherwise took actions that seemed to disregard Congress' direction and intent," the report said.
Officials also tried to steer states toward preferred programs and tried to get them to drop disfavored ones after grants had been approved.
In an e-mail that leaves little to conjecture, Doherty wrote to a staffer: "Beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in a way that will stand up to any level of legal and [whole language] apologist scrutiny. Hit them over and over with definitive evidence that they are not SBRR , never have been and never will be. They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags."
In a different e-mail, he wrote, "I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens."
The assistant secretary who was cited in the report left the agency in 2003; Doherty resigned Friday, the day the report was released, several news accounts said.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who has headed the department since 2005, agreed with the report's recommended changes and told the inspector general in a Sept. 19 letter that she's going even further to improve the management of Reading First.
Neither taxpayers nor this country's schoolchildren can afford the kind of bureaucratic arrogance that the inspector general uncovered.