Randy Best on Voyager Expanded Learning
Between 2001 and 2004, Voyager Expanded Learning became the most effective reading program for K-4 students in U.S. public schools. The program was so consistently successful in leading to fluency among all children that the company guaranteed 100% literacy for its users, offering money back to any student who failed to read at grade level after 2 years in Voyager.
Voyager promoted the program by submitting itself to independent evaluations conducted by hundreds of school districts, states’ departments of education and assessment of outcomes of hundreds of thousands of students through DIBELS, a widely used reading evaluation system and NAPE, another independent evaluator. Pre- and post-evaluations were routinely conducted in thousands of classrooms, which showed unprecedented gains in reading levels among children with diverse backgrounds. As an example, a longitudinal study completed in 2006, which included 35,000 primarily disadvantaged students from 86 districts, demonstrated that literacy can be obtained by 90-95 percent of all children by third grade. After four years in the Voyager’s Universal Literacy program, 91 percent of third graders were on-track readers compared to 66 percent in other reading programs.
When Reading First was introduced under No Child Left Behind in 2002, Voyager effectively marketed itself by publishing student outcomes, qualifying it to receive federal funding. The funding was distributed through states to independent school districts, allowing them to select from numerous reading programs that met the guidelines of No Child Left Behind. The primary beneficiaries of this funding were the major book publishers like McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin and Scott Foresman.
In late 2004 V-Math was launched and Voyager teacher training programs were expanded nationally. By 2005 Voyager was serving millions of students annually and districts were renewing their contracts with Voyager at a rate in excess of 98 percent because the programs were so effective. In January 2005 Voyager was sold to a public company, ProQuest.
The track record of Voyager serving over 3 million students annually across 1,000 school districts was unprecedented for a new research-based reading program. Its rapid growth and expanding market share led to criticism from competitors and eventually vague and unsubstantiated charges, alleging that Voyager benefitted from unfair competitive advantages though no official body ever questioned or investigated Voyager.
Voyager’s entire success lay in its strategy to build the most comprehensive, research-based reading program in history, its willingness to invest over the years in research while sustaining substantial losses and to submit its programs with complete transparency to the widest scrutiny and most intense evaluation any reading program has ever received. Its proven outcomes led to Voyager winning substantial business from most of the largest school districts across America, including New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; Dade County, Florida; Clark County, Nevada; Dallas; Houston and hundreds more.
Believing that the results spoke for themselves, Voyager never responded to any criticism, which I strongly believe was unwise. By taking the higher ground, critics went unchallenged and the facts around Voyager’s considerable contributions to the science of reading have gone unrecognized except by the millions of benefiting children, their parents and the more than a thousand school districts that used and continue to use Voyager because of its low cost and consistent and reliable success in teaching children to read with fluency.