Former ‘Reading First’ Adviser to Leave Federal Post
By Sean Cavanagh
May 16, 2007 /Edweek.org
A former adviser to the federal Reading First program will leave his current position at the U.S. Department of Education at the end of next month, the agency announced one week after a congressional report questioned whether he had gained financially in that previous job by promoting certain commercial products.
Edward J. Kame’enui will resign as the commissioner of special education research at the Institute of Education Sciences, which is a division of the department, at the end of June, the IES said in a May 16 statement.
Mr. Kame’enui had been serving under a two-year agreement at the institute, which was set to expire at the end of next month, and he had already planned to leave the institute at that point, IES spokesman Mike Bowler said. He will return to his faculty position at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, according to the statement released by IES Director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst.
Controversy swirled over Mr. Kame’enui’s previous role as a technical-assistance adviser to the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program, which was established as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 to improve reading instruction in the early grades. A report released May 9 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said that Mr. Kame’enui served as a high-level federal adviser to states while promoting a commercial reading program that he had written.
During that time, Mr. Kame'enui was responsible for providing advice to states about the kinds of texts and assessments that would meet Reading First requirements. Between 2003 and 2006, he earned at least $150,000 a year in royalties and compensation from Pearson Scott Foresman, which publishes a textbook he wrote with another university professor, according to the congressional report.
Senate investigators described financial gains acquired by Mr. Kame’enui and three other researchers who served as regional service directors of Reading First. Overall, outside income “soared” for the researchers between 2001 and 2006, when they were serving as consultants to Reading First, according to the report released by Sen. Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Following that Senate report, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, called on Mr. Kame’enui to resign. Rep. Miller said Mr. Kame’enui had been “less than candid” in earlier testimony before his committee in April, which explored alleged improprieties in the implementation of Reading First.
Just last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was asked after a hearing by the House committee if she would ask Mr. Kame’enui to resign. “I don’t know,” the secretary responded. She made no mention at that time of any previous plans by Mr. Kame’enui to leave the department at the end of a two-year stint.
Mr. Kame’enui’s current supervisor, Mr. Whitehurst, praised his work at the Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees research on a broad range of school issues. Mr. Kame’enui helped arrange the staffing and organization and helped manage studies and grants at the National Center for Special Education Research, Mr. Whitehurst said. “These are significant accomplishments,” the IES chief said in a statement.
Mr. Kame’enui has been working at the IES under a two-year term under the federal Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which arranges partnerships between educational institutions and federal agencies, institute officials said.
Cindy Cupp, a Georgia-based reading-program publisher whose complaints about alleged conflicts of interest in Reading First helped spark investigations into the federal program, said she hoped the exposure given to Mr. Kame’enui’s activities would lead to stricter oversight of the programs.
But she said she also was disappointed that complaints she made years ago, after her products failed to get approval for purchase with Reading First money, were not, in her view, taken seriously until relatively recently. Last week’s Senate report, she said, “documented a lot of the things that people who had been following [Reading First] for years had thought.”
“Bottom line, why did it take this long?” she said of recent probes into the implementation of Reading First. “If [federal officials] had looked into this at the time, they could have saved taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars in investigations.”