Reading First promotes instructional practices that have been validated by scientific research (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001). The legislation explicitly defines scientifically based reading research and outlines the specific activities state, district, and school grantees are to carry out based upon such research (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001). The Guidance for the Reading First Program provides further detail to states about the application of research-based approaches in reading (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Reading First funding can be used for:
Reading First is an ambitious federal program, yet it is also a funding stream that combines local flexibility and national commonalities. The commonalities are reflected in the guidelines to states and districts and schools about allowable uses of resources. The flexibility is reflected in two ways: one, states (and districts) could allocate resources to various categories within target ranges rather than on a strictly formulaic basis, and two, states could make local decisions about the specific choices within given categories (e.g., which materials, reading programs, assessments, professional development providers, etc.). The activities, programs, and resources that were likely to be implemented across states and districts would therefore reflect both national priorities and local interpretations.
Reading First grants were made available to states between July 2002 and September 2003. By April 2007, states had awarded subgrants to 1,809 school districts, which had provided funds to 5,880 schools.2 Districts and schools with the greatest demonstrated need, in terms of student reading proficiency and poverty status, were intended to have the highest funding priority (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). States could reserve up to 20 percent of their Reading First funds to support staff development, technical assistance to districts and schools, and planning, administration and reporting. According to the program guidance, this funding provided "States with the resources and opportunity…to improve instruction beyond the specific districts and schools that receive Reading First subgrants." (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Districts could reserve up to 3.5 percent of their Reading First funds for planning and administration (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001). For the purposes of this study, Reading First is defined as the receipt of Reading First funding at the school level.