Julie E. McDaniel
Celia H. Sims
Cecil G. Miskel

The University of Michigan
School of Education, Room 4122
610 E. University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Phone: 734-647-2454
Fax: 734-763-1504

Paper prepared for the 2000 Politics of Education Yearbook
Hanne B Mawhinhey and Catherine Lugg, Editors
June 7, 2000

The National Reading Policy Arena: Policy Actors and Perceived Influence

The purpose of this study of national reading policy during the 1990s was to determine the organizations composing the national reading policy network and to assess their perceived influence among interest groups and policymakers. Results revealed that the national reading policy network is composed of a large number of diverse and active organizations. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between the perceptions of policymakers and interest groups regarding these organizations' influence on national reading policy.

Keywords: reading, policy, interest groups

The National Reading Policy Arena: Policy Actors and Perceived Influence

A few decades ago, American educational policymaking was a rather quiet affair, with little disagreement about public education's value. Only a few professional organizations and policymakers dominated the national and state policy arenas (Salisbury, 1990; Mazzoni, 1995; Marshall, Mitchell and Wirt, 1989; Thomas and Hrebenar, 1991). With the advent of the educational reform movement in the early 1980s and the entry of new interest groups (Mazzoni, 1995), education moved toward the top of the policy agenda and disagreement increased. Between 1959 and 1995 the number of national educational associations ballooned from 563 to 1,312 (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998). As interest groups representing businesses, citizens, foundations, media, and think tanks have entered the educational policy arenas, they have brought their diverse opinions, values, and goals to the policy process and the policy influence of professional organizations has eroded.

Within educational policy, reading reflects this changed policy environment. Improving reading achievement is seen as increasingly important for the nation's well being. For example, in 1989, President Bush and the nation's governors at the Education Summit stated, "by the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship" (Campbell, 1992, p.40). While those involved in formulating reading policy agree that acquiring a high level of literacy is critical, they agree on little else. Debates, driven largely by ideology and personal experience, are increasingly pervasive and polarized around such issues as whole language versus phonics, literacy rates, standards, and assessments. Bringing the policy debate to a crescendo was the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 1994 reading results. The finding that 40% of American fourth-graders read below a basic level startled many policymakers, parents, and other citizens. This finding, coupled with the additional reporting that between 1992 and 1994 the average reading proficiency of twelfth graders had declined significantly, signaled that America would not reach the national goal set by President Bush and the nation's governors. Based on these worrisome findings, many policymakers and citizens concluded that America was in the midst of a reading "crisis." "Something" had to be done to improve children's reading skills.

What this "policy something" should be produced intense debates about possible solutions including changing pedagogical practices from whole language to phonics, implementing high standards and rigorous assessments, reforming teacher education, and conducting research. Given the myriad of alternatives, various interest groups and policymakers assumed their positions in the aptly named "reading wars." Complicating hopes for peace is the vast and varied array of interest groups that now vie to influence the policy agenda and outcomes. In addition to the traditional interests such as the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the National Education Association (NEA), formerly inactive interests such as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Right to Read Foundation, the Los Angeles Times, and the Business Roundtable now actively traverse the reading policy domain. Given the importance of reading policy, the conflict surrounding it, and the changing nature of interest groups, the purpose of this chapter is threefold. First, we will describe recent national reading policy initiatives. Second, we will determine the policy actors involved in reading policy. Third, we will assess and compare the perceived influence of the various policy actors.

National Reading Policy: Context and Initiatives

In 1996, reading rose atop the federal policy agenda. Spurred by the 1994 NAEP results, President Clinton (1996), while campaigning for reelection, urged all citizens to join him in supporting a "critical national goal: All America's children should be able to read on their own by the third grade, every single one of them." To remedy the reading problem, President Clinton proposed America Reads, a volunteer tutoring program aimed toward having each American child reading on grade level by fourth grade. During his 1997 State of the Union address, President Clinton again advocated his America Reads program and proposed a voluntary national test in reading. When the President proposed these initiatives, no federal program was solely dedicated to improving children's literacy. Existing federal literacy initiatives were primarily directed towards adults through adult education programs. Nonetheless, almost every federal program (Title I, Special Education, Bilingual Education, Head Start, Even Start) for children in pre-kindergarten through the elementary grades had been using substantial portions of its funding to support children's literacy (Sinclair & Gutmann, 1994).

Reactions to the President's tutoring and testing proposals were mixed, with both facing staunch opposition from Representative Bill Goodling (R-PA), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Mr. Goodling and several education interests (e.g., National Association of Elementary School Principals and American Association of School Administrators) argued that a better approach would be to direct federal dollars toward altering the reading instruction children receive in school and the training teachers receive in teaching children to read (Sims, 1999). Mr. Goodling (1997) posited, "we need to focus on what works: basic academics, parental involvement and getting dollars to the classroom. We must take advantage of sound research which tells us how children learn to read and to support quality training for classroom teachers which is consistent with that research." Throughout the 105th Congress, policymakers and interest groups debated what approach the federal government should take in bolstering children's literacy. In the end, the implementation of research-based classroom instructional practices advocated by Mr. Goodling and others (e.g., NICHD and National Research Council's Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children), made its way into legislation known as the Reading Excellence Act (P.L. 105-277), which Congress passed in 1998. Through the Reading Excellence Program, the federal government now funds state and local education agencies to engage in activities, based upon scientifically-based research, that aim to alter the reading instruction teachers provide their students and hence improve students' reading abilities.

Although the President's proposal for volunteer tutors did not survive legislatively, the Department of Education has used discretionary funds to provide monies for the America Reads volunteer program. However, the President's voluntary national test did not experience the same fate. With many states and school districts initially signing up to use the test and with support from a wide array of educational interests, early indications were that the proposal would become a reality. Nevertheless, Mr. Goodling and several other House Republicans opposed the test. They argued that a test administered by the federal government intruded into state and local authority. Additional opposition arose from members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses who alleged that poor scores of minority children would be used to promote voucher programs and that the proposed test written in English would discriminate against language minority children. This coalition of Republicans and Democrats was consistently strong enough throughout the 105th Congress to prevent the volunteer national test from ever being administered (Hoff, 1998). In fact, legislation (P.L. 105-78) passed at the end of 1997 severely curtailed any future for the testing proposal. The National Assessment Governing Board, the agency in charge of overseeing the test's development, continues on a limited basis to work with test publishers and independent research organizations in devising test questions. However, the Department of Education is prohibited by law from using any portion of its funds for field testing, administering, or distributing a voluntary national test.

Although the federal government through the Reading Excellence Act has begun to take a stance on reading instruction, the debate surrounding reading policy has not subsided. Whether the issue concerns pedagogy, standards, or assessment, consensus is difficult to reach given the large number of philosophically, ideologically, politically, and intellectually opposed interests. If the federal government continues to expand its role in K-12 education and reading specifically, we can expect that additional interest groups will journey to Washington to make their opinions heard.

Interests and Interest Groups

Interests are not simply valued conditions or goals such as money or safety; they are created when private values come into contact with government (Heinz et al., 1993; Salisbury, 1992). Reading levels, pedagogy, standards, and assessment become interests when those who share like values make demands on government to include them in public policy. Similarly, interest groups refer to membership organizations, advocacy organizations not accepting members, businesses, other organizations or institutions, or any association of individuals, policy actors or groups, whether formally organized or not, that try to influence public policy (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998; Hrebenar, 1997; Kollman, 1998). As the focus on reading policy has intensified, many values have become interests. Subsequently, many private organizations and associations have become interest groups focused on reading policy. Within our definition, a wide variety of organizations and coalitions qualify as interest groups in reading policy.

We have witnessed an increase in the number and types of groups that seek to affect educational policy (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998). This growth extends across a range of interest groups including private foundations, teacher unions, K-12 and higher education associations, business, citizen groups, think tanks or policy institutes, and the media. Hence, traditional education interest groups and policymakers must now confront greater policy alternatives and beliefs of vocal critics. Moreover, the traditional education and reading communities are now prone to important internal divisions. Thus, the education and reading policy environments appear as constellations of interest groups and policymakers on various sides of reading debates. Based on the foregoing analysis, hypothesis one is that a large number of diverse policy actors are active in the national reading policy arena.

Interest Groups, Reading Policy Networks and Perceived Influence

Regardless of political ideals or intent regarding education, interest groups exert important influence on policymaking in education and reading. Many interest groups are politically active and have well-defined memberships, regular funding, permanent staffs and knowledge of how to operate within the political system (Hrebenar, 1997). They are also clear about their interests. Interest groups strive to sway public policy and have a relatively large but common set of tools or tactics to promote group interests with policymakers (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998; Kollman, 1998). Tactics include testifying, contacting policymakers, litigating, and forming coalitions. Additionally, modern information technologies such as e-mail, the Internet, and fax machines spread interest group activity because they make it easier and faster to contact and mobilize interest group members. However, whether an interest group will succeed in its attempts to sway policy depends ultimately upon a group's influence among policymakers. The relative influence of interest groups is the degree to which policymakers give priority to different groups and their competing interests. For present purposes, relative influence is defined as the perceptions about which interest groups really count and should be involved in setting public policy.

Individual interest groups and other policy actors do not remain isolated. They actively seek allies for support and leverage of their ideas. Baumgartner and Walker (1989) found that government agencies dealing with education and education interest groups often consult and advise one another in the policymaking process. Indeed, Heclo (1978) asserts that small circles or "iron triangles" of participants no longer control policymaking. Rather, with the growth in the government bureaucracy and the interest group system, policymaking now takes place within relatively open issue or policy networks. Issue networks are communication webs of people knowledgeable about some policy area and frequently include government officials, legislators, business people, lobbyists, academics, and journalists (McFarland, 1992). Through formal and informal relationships, these policy subsystems are organized to make specific demands on the political system and to influence particular programs, most often to serve the private interests of their organizations (Thurber, 1991).

Networks within a given policy community such as reading have more or less stable casts of substantive experts who often move in and out of governmental and private sector organizations and maintain communication with one another about policy alternatives (Heclo, 1978; Heinz et al., 1993). As networks evolve, they become expanding repositories of information regarding the availability, capability, and reliability of prospective partners and competitors (Gulati & Gargiulo, 1999). The knowledge gained from networks helps policy actors decide whom to oppose and with whom to cooperate, build coalitions, and act on policy matters. As a result, policy actors develop perceptions about the policy positions and relative influence levels of others in the network.

Stable casts of characters and common information, however, do not necessarily produce agreement. Heclo (1978) maintains that knowledgeable people in issue networks debate and refine evidence and alternatives, though very seldom in any controlled, well-organized fashion. In immense policy domains such as education, issue networks are comprised of a large number of policy actors with highly variable degrees of mutual commitment or dependence on others. True experts in the networks, however, are very knowledgeable about the details of specific policy debates and typically are policy activists who know each other through the issues (Heclo, 1978). The content of policy issue networks and the basis on which arguments are advanced contribute to the ways networks develop and the kinds of policy solutions that are advocated (Kirst & Meister, 1983; Kirst, Meister & Rowley, 1984; Kirst & Somers, 1981). Issue networks give rise to a more complex policymaking system, which in turn facilitates the rapid movement of ideas among policy specialists and increases the probability of conflict between competing coalitions (Berry, 1989).

These ideas about interest groups and issue networks should apply to the reading policy subsystem. Our review of policy documents surrounding the America Reads program and the Reading Excellence Act clearly reveals a cast of policy actors in the reading issue network who are interested in reading policy and interact in a variety of formal and informal settings and who argue from a variety of perspectives about what national reading policy should be. Vigorous debates, even so called reading wars, have occurred among interest groups and policymakers about the merits of whole language and phonics, the magnitude of the nation's reading problem, national standards and assessments, and the appropriate type of research. For example, as a spokesman for the NICHD, Lyon (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), in repeated testimony before the Congress, has been highly critical of the qualitative reading research conducted by educators. In a book published by the NCTE, Taylor (1998) fired back with a contemptuous critique of the experimental research funded by NICHD. Such exchanges within an issue network can alter members' preferences as well as their conceptions of what is the best public policy (Mannsbridge, 1992). Hence, the interactions within the reading issue network among interest groups and policymakers help policy actors both to decide with whom they can agree, coalesce, and act on policy matters such as the Reading Excellence Act and to assess the relative influence of others in the network. Thus, hypothesis two is that there is a significant correlation between the perceptions of policymakers and interest groups about the influence levels of the policy organizations on national reading policy.


The target population of policy actors was policymakers and interest groups active in America Reads, the Reading Excellence Act, and other areas of national reading policy. We used two sampling techniques to reach influential policy actors or those close to important decision-makers who could serve as knowledgeable informants. First, 38 reading policy actors were identified through searches of the literature, policy statements, websites, and media attention. Second, this initial list was expanded using a snowball sampling technique (Wasserman & Faust, 1994; Heinz et al., 1993). During the interviews, we asked individuals to name other individuals and groups active in national reading policy.

Through these sampling techniques, we identified 118 policy actors for interviews. From this initial pool, 107 (91%) participated and 11 (9%) declined. Of the 107, 33 (31%) were policymakers, i.e., elected and appointed officials, staffers, and career civil servants, and 74 (69%) represented a broad range of interest groups from citizens groups, business associations, think tanks, national research centers, media organizations, and professional education associations.

Data consisted of both archival and interview data. Archival data were collected using three procedures. First, systematic searches of Internet sites were made for policy statements and other materials related to reading policy by interest groups and government agencies. Second, during the interviews, policy actors were asked to provide personal and organization policy positions and other documents related to reading. Third, the Congressional Information Service and Thomas databases were searched for testimony and prepared statements of policy actors, reports, and proposed and enacted legislation.

The 107 policy actors were interviewed with a standard open-ended questionnaire; 55 were in person, 50 by telephone, and two by e-mail. All verbal interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed for analysis.

For hypothesis one, a snowball sampling procedure was used to identify the network of actors and organizations active in national reading policy. This technique provided an extensive list of groups and individuals involved in national reading policy. Both archival and interview data were used to develop diversity and activity profiles of the policy actors.

For hypothesis two regarding agreement about the relative influence levels of the policy actors trying to shape national policy, we asked respondents, "What three groups are most effective in shaping national policy for reading?" Perceived influence levels were determined by noting every policy organization and individual mentioned by respondents as being effective. Although we requested three names, the range was from zero to 10. Each mention of an influential policy organization or individual was assigned a value of one. The number of times a policy actor was named was summed to provide a score of perceived influence. Using SPSS 10.0, we used a two-stage process of calculating a Pearson r and Spearman rho (p) to test hypothesis two.


First, we will discuss the number, diversity, and activity of those groups and individuals involved in the national reading network. Second, we will discuss the correlation between the perceptions of policymakers and interest groups about the various policy actors' levels of influence on national reading policy. Finally, we will discuss particular items of interest that emerged from our analysis.

Testing Hypothesis 1

We found much support for our hypothesis that the policymakers and interest groups composing the national reading policy network were both numerous and diverse and had engaged in a variety of activities in their efforts to influence national reading policy (see Table 1). We identified 131 organizations, representing policymakers and interest groups, which have been working to shape national reading policy.

Table 1: Organizations Composing the National Reading Policy environment

*ACHIEVE Carus Publishing *CTB-McGraw Hill
American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Cato Institute *Eagle Forum
*American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education *Center for Academic and Reading Skills *Education Commission of the States
*American Association of School Administrators Center for Education Reform *Education Excellence Network
*American College Testing *Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement *Education Leaders Council
*American Educational Research Association *Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk *Education Trust
*American Federation of Teachers *Center of Educational Policy *Education Week
*American Institutes for Research *Center on English Learning and Achievement *Educational Testing Service
American Enterprise Institute Chamber of Commerce *Family Research Council
*American Library Association Christian Coalition First Book
*Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Committee for Education Funding Ford Foundation
*Fordham Foundation
*Association of American Publishers *Consortium of Reading Excellence *Heinemann Publishers
*Heritage Foundation
*Baltimore Sun *Corporation for National and Community Service *HIPPY, USA
*Hudson Institute
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy *Council for Basic Education *International Dyslexia Association
*International Reading Association
Brookings Institute *Council for Exceptional Children John Locke Foundation
*Business Roundtable *Council of Chief State School Officers Knight Foundation
*California State Board of Education *Council of Great City Schools Laubach Literacy
*Learning Disabilities Association

Table 1 continued
*Learning First Alliance *National Association of State Boards of Education *National Institute for Literacy
Lexington Institute National Board for Professional Teaching Standards *National Parent Teacher Association
Library of Congress *National Center for Family Literacy *National Reading Conference
Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund *National Center for Learning Disabilities National Reading Panel
Literacy Volunteers of America *National Center on Education and the Economy *National Research Council
  Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children
*Los Angeles Times *National Center To Improve the Tools of Educators *National Right To Read Foundation
Mackinac Center for Public Policy National Coalition for Literacy *National School Boards Association
McArthur Foundation National Council of La Raza *National Writing Project
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund National Council of State Directors of Adult Education New York Times
MotherRead *National Council of Teachers of English *Office of the First Lady
*National Alliance of Business *National Education Association Office of the President of the United States
*National Assessment Governing Board *National Education Goals Panel *Progressive Policy Institute
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People *National Governors Association *Public Policy Institute
*National Association for Bilingual Education National Head Start Association *RAND Corporation
*National Association for the Education of Young Children National Indian Education Association *Reach Out and Read
*National Association of Elementary School Principals National Indian Education Association *Reading Is Fundamental
National Association of Manufacturers
*National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Indian School Board Association *Reading Recovery
  Council of North America

Table 1 continued

*Riverside Publishing

*Society for the Scientific Study of Reading

*U.S. Department of Education
  *Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Affairs

  *Office of Educational Research and Improvement

  *Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
    *Compensatory Education
    *Indian Education
    *Reading Excellence Program

  *Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs

  *Office of the Secretary
    *America Reads Program

  *Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

  *Office of Vocational and Adult Education

*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  *Head Start Bureau
  *National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

*U.S. House of Representatives
  *Committee on Education and the Workforce

*U.S. Senate
  *Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Urban Institute

Urban League

Washington Post


*Whole Language Umbrella

Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention

* One or more representatives interviewed for study

The diversity of the national reading policy environment is, indeed, great. While long-standing educational policy actors such as IRA, AFT, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the United States Department of Education, textbook publishers, and educational researchers, constitute a large proportion of the national reading policy network, our study revealed that a sizeable number of non-traditional and previously unengaged policy actors have entered the reading policy arena. For example, the business community is well represented in the national reading policy network through the activities of the Business Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers. Further, national organizations that over the years have worked to promote the rights of minorities generally have also become involved more specifically in improving the reading abilities of minority students. These groups include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Council of La Raza. Additionally, educational groups with a focus on minority issues have also become involved in national reading policy including the National Association for Bilingual Education and the National Indian Education Association.

The medical community has also involved itself in national reading policy. For example, the Center for Academic and Reading Skills and the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention are reading research centers operating within medical schools. Additionally, the Boston Medical Center operates Reach Out and Read, a national early literacy and pediatric care program. Finally, the NICHD at the National Institutes of Health became a dominant player in national reading policy during the 1990s.

Other policy actors who are relative newcomers include groups and individuals from the media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post), citizen groups (e.g., Eagle Forum, Christian Coalition, National Right to Read Foundation), and a wide spectrum of think tanks (e.g., Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council). Finally, the learning disabilities community that traditionally focused on the needs of learning disabled students has expanded its purview to include improving the reading abilities of all children. Learning disabilities groups composing the national reading policy network include the International Dyslexia Association, the Learning Disabilities Association, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Therefore, the national reading policy network is diverse, constituting an environment in which more traditional educational policy actors now share the stage with a broad spectrum of diverse actors.

In addition to the diversity among the organizations, our study found policy actors engaged in a wide range of activities aimed toward influencing national reading policy. We have limited our discussion to four such activities: promoting awareness of the importance of reading and literacy, presenting research findings, developing reading standards, curricula, and activities, and holding and testifying at Congressional hearings.

Several groups have been working to increase public awareness of reading's importance. Reading Is Fundamental, for example, has broadcast public service announcements about reading during the Super Bowl and has worked with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to sponsor NBA Reading Month, a program that recruits NBA players to read to children. The National Education Association through its Read Across America program and the Association of American Publishers through its Get Caught Reading campaign have employed the services of celebrities including James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Cal Ripkin, and Shaquille O'Neal and politicians including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. Further, the U.S. Department of Education's America Reads program has committed the services of over 1400 colleges and universities and over 300 schools, museums, churches, businesses, and private organizations to promote literacy activities in their local communities.

Policy actors have actively engaged in presenting research findings about the acquisition of reading skills. In addition to presenting research findings in the traditional forums of annual professional conferences, actors within the national reading policy network also presented and disseminated research findings to a much broader audience, including practitioners, administrators, parents, and the public. Both the AFT and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) have dedicated issues of their publications to the topic of reading. Additionally, the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children published a companion piece to its large synthesis of reading research that was directed toward primary caregivers, parents, and policymakers. Likewise, the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times, two Times-Mirror papers, through their Read by 9 series, have dedicated pages of their papers to the reporting of what research has to say about learning to read.

In addition to presenting research findings, several members of the national reading policy network have been involved in putting those research findings into use through the creation of standards and curricula. For example, IRA, NCTE, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Department of Education were involved in the early 1990s in writing sets of national standards for reading. Further, the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, the National Center for Education and the Economy, and Reading Recovery developed and implemented reading curricula (Success for All, New Standards, Reading Recovery) in schools across the country. Many groups in the national reading policy network have also been active in the development of family literacy programs and activities with which parents can build their children's literacy skills at home. Such groups include the National Center for Family Literacy, HIPPY U.S.A., MotherRead, and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

A final set of activities includes holding congressional hearings and testifying at these hearings. During the 1990s, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held hearings covering the topics of early childhood literacy, family literacy, adult literacy, and bilingual education. Witnesses included representatives from NICHD, NRC's Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, AFT, AASA, the National Center for Family Literacy, the National Institute for Literacy, Literacy Volunteers of America, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Our analysis of the groups and individuals comprising the national reading policy network gives solid support for our first hypothesis. First, the number of groups and individuals in the reading network is large. Second, great diversity exists among these groups and individuals, a diversity that includes both traditional and relatively new policy actors representing wide interests. Third, the members of the national reading policy network are quite active and use a range of influence strategies.

Testing Hypothesis 2

Data for testing the hypothesis that a correlation exists between the perceptions of policymakers and interest groups are summarized in Table 2. The policy organizations that were named most frequently as being influential in national reading policy by the interest group and policymaker respondents are shown in column two. Their rank ordering is shown in column one and the number of times each was named is shown in columns 3-5. Respondents provided 438 names for influential organizations, with 107 from policymakers (24%) and 331 from interest groups (76%). We tabulated the number of times each organization was named. Using these tabulations as raw scores, we calculated a Pearson correlation coefficient and found a significant relationship of .88 (p < .001) between the frequency of names offered by interest groups and policymakers. This finding justified continuing the hypothesis testing. We then converted the frequencies to raw scores for each policy actor and rank ordered them as shown in the left column of Table 2. Using this rank ordering, we calculated a Spearman rho correlation coefficient and found a significant relationship of .65 (p= .000) between the rankings of the organizations' perceived influence levels. In sum, these findings provided strong statistical support for hypothesis 2.

Table 2: Rank Ordering and Correlations for Policy Organizations
Frequency of Being Named
RankPolicy Organization Policy
1 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 14 39 53
2 American Federation of Teachers 8 30 38
3 International Reading Association 7 25 32
4 National Education Association 10 20 30
5 Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children 6 15 21
6 Office of Representative Goodling 2 12 14
7 Council of Chief State School Officers 5 8 13
8 National School Board Association 5 7 12
9.5 Learning First Alliance 3 8 11
9.5 National Right to Read Foundation 1 10 11
11 National Council of Teachers of English 1 8 9
13 American Association of School Administrators 3 5 8
13 National Assessment of Educational Progress 4 4 8
13 House Committee on Education and the Workforce 1 7 8
16.5 National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators 2 5 7
16.5 Heritage Foundation 3 4 7
16.5 National Parent Teacher Association 2 5 7
16.5 America Reads Challenge Program 2 5 7
All Other Organizations 28 114 142
107 331 438
Pearson r= .88 (p <.001)
Spearman rho=.65 (p <.001)

In analyzing the interview data about which policy organizations were particularly effective in influencing national reading policy, a few individuals were named frequently. To test a variation of hypothesis 2 that policymakers and interest groups would hold similar perceptions of individuals active in reading, we repeated the analysis procedures. The data testing the degree of agreement about individual policy actors are summarized in Table 3. Specific individuals were named a total of 137 times-30 by policymakers (22%) and 107 by interest groups (76%). We calculated a Pearson correlation coefficient of .76 (p <.001) and a Spearman rho of .40 (p <.001) between the perceptions of individuals' influence by interest groups and policymakers. These findings corroborate the findings for hypothesis 2.

Table 3: Rank Order and Correlations for Individual Policy Actors
Frequency of Being Named
RankIndividual Policy Actor Policy
1 G. Reid Lyon, NICHD 8 24 32
2 Bill Goodling, Congressman (R-PA) 2 12 14
3 Bob Sweet, Committee on Education and the Workforce 1 7 8
4.5 Louisa C. Moats, NICHD Early Intervention Project 2 5 7
4.5 Marilyn Adams, National Researcher 2 5 7
All Other Individuals 15 54 69
30 107 137
Pearson r= .76 (p <.001)
Spearman rho=.40 (p <.001)

The strong statistical correlations between the rankings of policymakers and interest groups suggest a high degree of shared knowledge or perceptions within the national reading issue network. Prompted, perhaps, by media attention to a decline in NAEP scores in the mid 1990s, by the Clinton administration's focus on education, and by a number of reading policy initiatives, literacy leapt from the domain of local school districts and states to the national arena. With increased attention to reading, policy actors worked to influence national policies and programs such as Goals 2000, America Reads, and the Reading Excellence Act. They have had multiple opportunities to develop shared understandings within the reading policy network. These understandings have been enhanced through exchanges with and observations of one another.

Our interview data indicate that policy actors interested in reading had increased opportunities to see one another in action and exchange ideas and perspectives regarding pedagogy, standards and assessments, and research evidence. One policymaker observed that, "There certainly is more attention being paid to reading than there has been historically. I think that starting with Goals 2000 and then continuing with the Clinton Initiative, the America Reads Program and the AmeriCorps, that those movement[s] have certainly put reading on the [political agenda]." Another policymaker credited the current administration's emphasis on education. He noted, "the administration has tried to put education at the top of the agenda so we've crafted proposals. . .. The President has given . . . 131 speeches on education. That's a lot! I mean that's using the bully-pulpit a lot to promote the issue."

The interview data support the argument that increased attention to reading pulled policymakers and interest groups into an issue network intent on creating policies. Moreover, a concomitant outcome was the building of shared understandings and perceptions among policy actors. To explain these conclusions, three sets of activities seem particularly salient for the 18 policy organizations and five individuals (see Tables 2 and 3).

First, as policy actors propagate their ideas through the issue network, other policy actors encounter these ideas and become mindful of the information source. The NICHD, perceived to be the most influential, was described by other policy actors as particularly adept in disseminating its ideas throughout the network. One policymaker noted that the NICHD, a government agency, receives about 100 telephone inquiries daily from concerned parents and organizations across the country and in turn "ships out 1,000 to 2,000 research packets a month." Another policymaker noted that the NICHD "has been very, very successful at putting forward the research that has been done." Recently, the NICHD began distributing the National Reading Panel's report on the status of research-based approaches to reading instruction with a 20-minutes video on teaching children to read. This panel, established by Congress, was charged with disseminating its findings concerning the status of research on literacy acquisition and the effectiveness of various pedagogical approaches. Similarly, the AFT has been quite adroit in making its policy positions known. A 1995 issue of The American Educator, an AFT publication, devoted to reading instruction, continues to be reprinted. According to a member of an educational interest group, "The State of California . . . wanted to put [the 1995 edition of the American Educator] in every classroom, in every teacher's room."

The most frequently named individual, G. Reid Lyon, Chief of the Child Development and Behavioral Branch at NICHD, interacts regularly with many others within the reading policy environment. He is able to disseminate information to a wide variety of people, to interest groups and policymakers alike. One reading interest group member said, "He's very effective in bringing people's attention to these issues . . .. He's good at it. He's persistent . . .. He's very, very good at tailoring his message to his audience." Similarly, another interest group member explained that "he does have the knowledge base based on a lot of research over a long time... and he has enough latitude as a bureaucrat to be out hustling these ideas. I mean he is a salesperson of one approach to reading with a ministerial zeal." Lyon is able to translate research findings for policymakers and interest groups, disseminating this information in ways that are "compelling," according to a member of a citizen group.

Marilyn Adams, a nationally recognized reading researcher, has also successfully interacted with interest groups and policymakers. As one prominent interest member stated, Adams' policy work began as people read her book, Beginning To Read, published in 1990: "I read her book three or four times, so that had a big influence on me because it was very specific and really had the thing laid out, as far as I could see." A policymaker explained that Adams' work "is so high on my list...She has a very, very deep grasp of the theoretical issues that stands up to a number of tests. Her work has been widely acknowledged as superior."

Second, formal and informal contacts with policymakers can be seen as a way of building shared understandings within the national reading issue network. For example, congressional hearings provide a public forum for both policymakers and interest groups to promote their positions on reading issues. The NICHD has used this forum very successfully by testifying before both the House and the Senate at least eight times over the past five years.

Contact with policymakers, whether formally or informally, also is a factor in the correlation between policymakers and interest groups' naming of influential individuals. A Department of Education official said that he would "try to do everything I could to corral Reid Lyon" in order to find those organizations or individuals whom "Congress would watch. . .because I know that he goes up [to Capitol Hill] and people listen to him." Reid Lyon is in contact with decision-makers and he is seen as a credible source of information by those policymakers. Another person who has had effective contact with decision-makers is Bob Sweet, an individual who has moved between inside and outside government organizations. Currently with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and often noted for his work with the National Right to Read Foundation, both named as influential groups, Sweet also worked as an official in the U.S. Department of Education and served as a policy advisor to President Reagan. Another example is Louisa Moats, Program Director for the NICHD Early Interventions Project, whom, according to a member of the media, "sort of divides her time between Washington and Texas. She is a researcher and very influential." Both of these individuals attract policymakers and interest group members to their ideas. Thus, contacts in Washington, whether formal or informal, accompanied by interest activity, provide an interaction between groups that helps to explain the relationship between policymaker and interest group perceptions.

Third, building coalitions and collaborating provides another means to gain shared understandings between policymakers and interest groups. Within the national reading issue network, we found that interest groups and policymakers have actively participated in coalitions. As an example, NRC's Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, composed of reading experts across the country, was perceived as "essentially an unbiased group," stated one policymaker. Increased societal demands for a literate workforce and a perceived literacy crisis indicated by poor NAEP reading scores propelled the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish this committee to explore how reading difficulties might be prevented for young children. Because of this perceived impartiality, the committee "may actually be one of the most effective" in shaping reading policy.

Another example of the power of collaboration is found with the Learning First Alliance (LFA). One policymaker labeled the LFA as the "Who's Who of the educational organizations." Another policymaker stated that the LFA has "spent significant time talking about some issues across political agendas." In 1998, the LFA adopted a reading action plan incorporating the work of Reid Lyon, Louisa Moats, Marilyn Adams, Robert Slavin, and other prominent reading researchers. Policymakers have also shown an ability to collaborate with interest and policy groups in order to advocate particular reading programs, thus increasing their influence. An example is the U.S. Department of Education. The America Reads program describes itself as a national grassroots mobilization, yet the program is located within the Office of the Secretary. Carol Rasco, the program's director, is seen as effective because "she is the best at getting together coalitions of people to really get something done in the United States." To this interest group member, a coalition is a powerful mechanism for policy influence. Therefore, America Reads, a government program, drives the interaction between policymakers and interest groups.

The individuals perceived as most effective also collaborate with many diverse organizations. For example, among her activities, Marilyn Adams has authored articles for the AFT and has acted as a consultant for the LFA. Furthermore, she served on the NRC's Committee for Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children and her work was highlighted by the California Task Force on reading. Another example is Bob Sweet who has worked with Rep. Bill Goodling and the Committee on Education and the Workforce, co-founded the National Right To Read Foundation, and published in the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review. These various activities have contributed to his perceived influence. One official from an educational interest group observed: "I know that Bob Sweet on Goodling's staff was out of the National Right To Read and I know that they've been extremely influential." A Department of Education official explained, "I will tell you one name that has been a very clear voice and he is on Mr. Goodling's committee staff-his name is Bob Sweet."

In sum, education, with a specific focus on reading, became a policy focus in the early 1990s. From Goals 2000 to the Reading Excellence Act, policymakers began addressing a perceived national crisis in children's literacy by adopting policies that represented the work of many groups and individuals. This policy focus encouraged the influx of new groups and individuals into the reading policymaking arena, who combined their talents and activities with traditional education and reading interests. Many of these interested organizations and individuals are perceived as particularly influential because they have demonstrated their abilities to disseminate information to private and public interests, have interacted formally and informally with policymakers, and have collaborated with other reading advocates across the environment.


Returning to our hypotheses, which were strongly supported by the data, we will now offer a number of observations and implications for the field of reading specifically and of education more generally. First, we found that the reading policy environment does reflect the assertion of Baumgartner and Leech (1998) that the educational domain is composed of a number of diverse groups and individuals vying for greater policy influence. More importantly, this increased diversity is the result of several new groups outside the traditional educational interests entering the policy arena who have brought differing ideas and opinions concerning such issues as pedagogy and research. For example, the entrée of NICHD into the reading policy environment, with its long history of quantitative and experimental studies, caught the attention of policymakers and many members of the public who now insist that only those educational programs that are scientifically-tested and research-based be implemented in America's classrooms. Further, the type of research conducted by NICHD has found allies from other newcomers to the reading policy arena, such as reading research centers and pediatric literacy programs like Reach Out and Read run from medical schools and centers, newcomers who likewise operate within quantitative and experimental paradigms.

While the push by NICHD and others for a greater reliance on quantitative studies has been lambasted by some members of the educational research community (Coles, 2000; Allington, 1999; Goodman, 1998; Taylor, 1998), such opposition has been largely ignored by national policymakers. Instead, decision-makers, attracted to the NICHD research program, have insisted that federal funds be provided only to programs with a strong research and scientific base. Only those traditional educational interests who have argued for the need for research-based instructional practices, such as the AFT promoting research-based remedial reading and English language arts programs, were invited to testify at Congressional hearings on the Reading Excellence Act.

Second, our data support the work of Kollman (1998), Hrebenar (1997), and Heinz et al. (1993), among others, that posits that policy actors are clear about their interests, undertake various activities to promote their interests, and do not remain isolated in the policymaking environment. Indeed, the two groups perceived as most influential, NICHD and AFT, have taken firm positions on reading instruction and the types of research that should inform instruction. Both groups have been extremely active in the reading policy environment disseminating information through publications and testimony, for example, on reading and reading research, both to the educational community and the wider public. Further, both the AFT and NICHD have expanded the reach of their positions and beliefs by entering into coalitions and collaborating with others in the reading policy environment. For example, the AFT, a member of the LFA, played an integral role in the creation of the Alliance's action plan on reading. Additionally, the AFT has called upon the services of recognizable reading researchers such as Louisa Moats and Marilyn Adams to author position statements for the AFT on teacher education and to write articles for its American Educator. NICHD has likewise spread its beliefs through its collaborations with recognized researchers, many of whom NICHD funds, throughout the country.

Finally, the importance of improving the reading abilities of American school children has likely evolved into a permanent national concern. Traditional educational organizations share the playing field with a greater number of diverse groups and individuals creating a more complex and fragmented environment. We have witnessed the rupture of the iron triangle in education, particularly in the area of reading, where many groups from divergent areas now participate. Like other policy areas (Sharp, 1994), education has become a congested area filled with a multitude of organized interests and policymakers, who often have varied concerns about young children, who distinctly define the problems in reading, and who have contrasting beliefs about how the policy process works. Despite group collaboration, formal and informal contact, and information dissemination, conflict remains over effective reading pedagogy, reading achievement levels, and national reading standards. Despite the 100-year argument over the best instructional approach, reading receives more national attention than ever. By analyzing the groups and individuals involved in the national reading arena, we increase our understanding of those who shape the nation's policy for reading, a timely and relevant focus for research that continues to be of primary concern as we enter the 21st century.


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Biographical Statements

Julie McDaniel is a graduate research assistant at the University of Michigan.

Celia Sims is a graduate research assistant at the University of Michigan.

Cecil Miskel is professor of educational administration and policy at the University of Michigan.

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