Reading adviser is faulted on ethics
A report says a former Hawaii man benefited from his financial ties to book publishers
A former Hawaii man who advised states on what reading materials to use in the U.S. Department of Education's Reading First program had "significant" financial ties to education publishers, according to a congressional report released yesterday.
Edward Kame'enui was among four regional directors for the federal government who guided states, including Hawaii, in choosing reading programs for kindergartners through third-graders while drawing pay from publishers who were providing materials for the programs, according to the report by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy's office.
The congressional report said Kame'enui, a Hawaii native who worked from Oregon, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from Pearson/Scott Foresman between 2001 and 2006, and tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Voyager, another publisher of products used by states under Reading First between 2000 and 2003.
"Due largely to his contracts with Pearson/Scott Foresman, Dr. Kame'enui's income soared in the period following the implementation of the Reading First program," the report said, adding that the majority of his royalties were derived from products used by states and districts in conjunction with Reading First.
A call seeking comment from Kame'enui was not returned.
But Barbara Smith, director for the state Department of Education's Reading First program, said Kame'enui did not tell schools which materials to buy.
In 2001 the federal government awarded the state Department of Education $18.7 million to be spent over six years for the program, which serves 53 schools and is aimed at students who have low English scores or are poor.
Although education officials here were aware of Kame'enui's potential conflict of interest, Smith said "he never told us what programs to use." He helped the state write the initial program grant, Smith said.
"We were never told to pick one over the other," she said, adding, "We review instructional materials, but we don't tell schools what to use."
She said Lanakila Elementary School was the only one to use reading material from publishers with whom Kame'enui was associated. Lanakila Elementary bought a Scott Foresman reading program co-authored by Kame'enui last year, but Smith noted Kame'enui had left the program in 2005 to serve as commissioner for special-education research with the U.S. Department of Education.
A message left with Lanakila's principal was not immediately returned.
Third-graders using the program in Hawaii improved their reading scores in the 2006 Hawaii State Assessment by 14 percent, Smith said, compared with the 3.5 percent statewide gain for that grade level.
In a statement, U.S. Department of Education press secretary Katherine McLane said the "department is deeply concerned about conflicts of interest and takes the allegations contained in Sen. Kennedy's report very seriously."
Kennedy's report on the $1 billion program goes further than previous federal audits, which also looked at allegations of bias, in listing payments by specific publishing houses to the directors. His report concluded by recommending that Congress adopt new restrictions to safeguard against financial conflicts in federal education programs.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.