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Key Initiative Of 'No Child' Under Federal Investigation

The intricate financial connections between Reading First products and program officials extend beyond issues the committee explored yesterday.

Another researcher, Sharon Vaughn, worked with Kame'enui, Simmons and Good to design Voyager Universal Literacy, a program that Reading First officials urged states to use. Vaughn was director of a center at the University of Texas that was hired to provide states advice on selecting Reading First tests and books.

The publisher of that product, Voyager Expanded Learning, was founded and run by Randy Best, a major Bush campaign contributor, who sold the company in 2005 for more than $350 million. Now Best runs Higher Ed Holdings, a company that develops colleges of education, where former education secretary Roderick R. Paige is a senior adviser and G. Reid Lyon, Bush's former reading adviser, is an executive vice president.

"I'm very disappointed and saddened by the information that was provided at the hearing today," said Lyon, who had been a strong defender of Reading First, which he said had nothing to do with his new job. "The issues appear much more serious than I had been led to understand."

Despite the controversy surrounding Reading First's management, the percentage of students in the program who are proficient on fluency tests has risen about 15 percent, Education Department officials said. School districts across the country praise the program.

Members of both parties continue to support the goals of Reading First even as they attack its management. Miller and Senate education committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) joined Republicans yesterday in pledging to tighten restrictions on conflicts of interest in No Child Left Behind.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who declined to comment yesterday, has said management problems with Reading First "reflect individual mistakes." But Doherty said nearly every aspect of the program was carefully monitored by the department and the White House, where Spelling was Bush's top education adviser.

"This program was always firmly under the watch and control of the highest levels of the government," Doherty said.

Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.


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