A New Program For A District With Deficit Spending...I Wish I could Do This At Home!

The board authorized a new program, Fast ForWord Program and Reading Assistant."The Fast ForWord program is a reading intervention program designed for K-12 education institutions and clinical specialists, whose students are struggling and reading below grade level." - http://www.scilearn.com/products/

The board committed the district to $39,000 this year to implement this program at one school, Anna Hause. Next year the district would like to roll this out to other schools under a permanent license. The board authorized this program without knowing the cost for a district wide license for next year and support costs for future years. They based their approval on the assumption that the district will be able to contract the program out to other schools and school districts to generate enough revenue so the program will be self funding.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maureen Latham presented a powerful and emotional argument for this new program at last week's board meeting. She indicated the program has been a success at other school districts including Redlands Unified. She briefly presented some charts and tables from other school districts that have implemented the program.

I visited The Scientific Learning Corporation website for costs and statistical analysis of the success of their program but was unable to find either. Dr. Latham told the board she planned on implementing the program throughout the district next year and offering services to other institutions for a fee. The other speakers in favor of this program and the board members who voted to approve this program believed, or hoped, the program would be able to pay for itself.

I was the only speaker against adopting a new program for a district operating on a deficit budget. I argued that while the program seemed to provide great opportunities for struggling readers, I felt it was wrong to add new programs while eliminating other programs just to cover budget deficits. I reminded the board the GATE program was eliminated even though it did generate revenue for the district. I also reminded them that gifted and talented students need special attention too.

We were told by the speakers in support of this program that it could be used to challenge and motivate GATE students as well as struggling readers. I was unable to find any reference to the benefits for GATE students on the company's website. One district administrator argued that the GATE program had not been very productive. He said that after paying teachers' stipends and administrative costs, the nearly $50,000 was only able to provide one field trip a year for GATE students.

I searched Wikipedia to find more information regarding the program and the company offering the program. Here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_ForWord) I did find some very interesting and disappointing information. The article references studies performed by outside researchers and studies performed by Scientific Learning Corporation. I am not a professional researcher or educator but my analysis of the article's summary of these studies doesn't compare to the level of praise we heard about the program from Dr. Latham. The Wikipedia article was also unable to find any reference to costs on the company's website but said "One consulting group's website in 2001 estimated the cost to a school district as $38,000 for 50 children" and one of the studies, "provided a similar estimate".

I think it is irresponsible for a district, operating deficit budgets and cutting existing programs and positions to cover future deficits, to commit to a program without knowing the next years' costs. The board members voting in favor of this program (Greenwood, Sanchez, and Orozco) accepted the administration's self funding claim without seeing a business plan from the administration about how this program will pay for itself in the future. When asked what the cost would be next year, Dr. Latham responded that she wasn't sure but she could get the information if they wanted to see it. No one asked to see the numbers before voting. I would like to see the figures.