Reading First

President George W. Bush's initiative, Reading First, aims to ensure that every child learns to read by the third grade. This summary describes its proposals.


The Reading First initiative gives states both the funds and the tools they need to eliminate the reading deficit. The findings of years of scientific research on reading are now available, and application of this research to the classroom is now possible for all schools in America. The National Reading Panel issued a report in April 2000 after reviewing 100,000 studies on how students learn to read. The panel concluded:

"…effective reading instruction includes teaching children to break apart and manipulate the sounds in words (phonemic awareness), teaching them that these sounds are represented by letters of the alphabet which can then be blended together to form words (phonics), having them practice what they have learned by reading aloud with guidance and feedback (guided oral reading), and applying reading comprehension strategies to guide and improve reading comprehension."

The Reading First initiative builds upon these findings by investing in scientifically-based reading instruction programs in the early grades. Ensuring that more children receive effective reading instruction means that more children will receive the help they need before they fall too far behind. This will also reduce the cost burden on all levels of government as fewer children are diagnosed as needing IDEA services simply because they did not receive proper reading instruction during the crucial early years.

Summary of proposals

  • Creates comprehensive, statewide reading programs to ensure every child is reading by the third grade

    States and local districts will have access to funds from the new Reading First program to implement comprehensive, science-based reading programs in Kindergarten through second grade. The Reading Excellence Act would be consolidated under Reading First.

    The Even Start family literacy program (Title I Part B) also would become a part of this larger initiative, while continuing to fund family literacy programs throughout the nation.

  • Supplements Reading First with an early childhood reading initiative

    States participating in the Reading First program will have the option to receive "Early Reading First" funding to implement research-based reading programs in existing pre-school programs and Head Start programs that feed into participating elementary schools. The purpose of this program is to illustrate on a larger scale recent research findings that children taught pre-reading and math skills in pre-school enter school ready to learn reading and mathematics.

Excerpted from: President George W. Bush. (January, 2001). No Child Left Behind.


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