No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
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Reading First: A $6 Billion Investment to Improve the Reading Skills of Young Children

President Bush has requested increasing funds each year to ensure that states use scientifically based reading instruction and teaching methods. Unprecedented amounts of money are being put into improving the teaching of reading in our nation--more than $6 billion over six years. Clearly, this is a strong commitment toward helping all children learn to read.

Research shows, and teachers know, that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years, and that those who fall behind often stay behind when it comes to academic achievement.15 Reading opens the door to learning about math, history, science, literature, geography and much more. Those students who cannot read well are much more likely to drop out of school and be limited to low-paying jobs throughout their lives. Reading is undeniably critical to success in today's society.

Reading First Will Help Teachers Teach Reading

Reading First is a critical part of No Child Left Behind. These grants do four things in each state:
  • Implement reading programs using scientifically based reading research--focusing on what works.

  • Ensure early and ongoing assessment of every child's progress using the best analytical tools.

  • Provide professional development and support for teachers.

  • Help monitor reading achievement gains in grades K-3.

Reading First Does Not Just Spend More for Reading; It Spends More Money More Wisely

Reading First requires that every state evaluate how resources are being used in its reading initiatives, where there are gaps in current instruction, how money can be spent to better teach children and whether teachers are getting the support they need to teach reading skills effectively. It also requires teachers to use curricula and methods that are based on sound scientific evidence so that they can effectively reach children.

Reading First Ensures That Federal Grants Go to Those Programs That Help Teachers Teach and Help Students Excel

No Child Left Behind created a Reading First Expert Review Panel made up of more than 70 researchers, experienced reading specialists and other professionals who understand the need for scientifically based reading instruction and the importance of early reading skills. This panel reviews all state grant applications prior to making the awards. Through the awards, states and districts provide technical knowledge and practical training to ensure that children get the help they need to excel in reading.

Each state's grant application must pass 25 specific review criteria to ensure that the state has a high-quality, comprehensive plan to improve student achievement in reading. Each plan includes the implementation of reading instruction based on the components that scientifically based research has shown are most effective in teaching children to be proficient readers. Research shows that explicit and systematic instruction must be provided in these five areas:

  • Phonemic Awareness: The ability to hear and identify individual sounds in spoken words.

  • Phonics:The relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language.

  • Fluency:The capacity to read text accurately and quickly.

  • Vocabulary:The words students must know to communicate effectively.

  • Comprehension:The ability to understand and gain meaning from what has been read.

The plans also must include how the state will provide professional development for all teachers in the state to learn how to put instructional practices based on scientifically based reading research into action in their classrooms. Finally, states must outline how they will provide technical assistance to districts and schools implementing Reading First programs.

To find out more about the Reading First program, visit To find out about implementation of Reading First in your state, contact your state department of education.

According to the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for two decades reading achievement has not improved overall (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).16

  • Fewer than one in three fourth-graders are deemed proficient in reading at grade level.

  • By 12th grade, only 36 percent of seniors are proficient in reading for their grade.

  • About 55 percent of low-income fourth-grade students cannot read at a basic level. In other words, these children struggle with foundational reading skills like summarizing and understanding a story.

  • Almost half of students living in urban areas and attending public schools cannot read at a basic level.

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Last Modified: 08/13/2009