Local school officials welcome potential state literacy investment News

SOUTHERN INDIANA – For Southern Indiana educators, news of Indiana’s $111 million investment in early literacy is welcome news, although it’s still unclear how it will be implemented at the local level.

Last week, Governor Eric Holcomb and Education Secretary Katie Jenner announced the investment, the largest financial investment the state has ever made for literacy development. The funding comes from $26 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to the Indiana Department of Education and $85 million from the Lilly Endowment.

The investment will support the placement of instructional coaches in schools, up to $1,200 stipends for teachers to participate in professional development, targeted interventions for students and the construction of IDOE Literacy Centers. The program will focus on teaching strategies related to the science of reading, the body of research related to how children learn to read.

In addition to the $60-million grant that directly supports K-12 education, the Lilly Endowment will offer up to $25 million to colleges and universities to support the science of reading in graduate programs for elementary teacher preparation.

Tony Duffy, assistant superintendent of elementary education for the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, said NAFCS has a similar literacy program in schools, with seven literacy coaches in elementary schools and one at the middle school level.

It’s unclear what the funding will look like at the local level, but the district is going to “wait and see” what the next steps are for the $111 million, he said. If the district were to benefit from the investment, it could complement literacy development support already in place at NAFCS through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.

“I think it’s all positive, especially with the Covid and learning disability piece,” Duffy said. “When we can work together with the state and Lilly to support education, that’s positive for all of us. We’ve put a lot of ESSER money into the learning impairment piece with extra support and help, and I think that will be useful too.”

Greater Clark County Schools Deputy Superintendent Kim Hartlage said that although the details of the funding are still unclear, she is “excited to hear about this opportunity.”

Greater Clarke is already using ESSER funding to expand the development of the science of reading for teachers, which she describes as “a body of research to support foundational skills as children learn to read.” The district is using a science-based, multi-sensory method of literacy instruction called the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Most classroom teachers don’t have this type of training when they leave college, Hartlage said. If the district is able to receive funding from the state’s Investment in Literacy, she hopes to be able to expand on the developmental opportunities and effective interventions needed for struggling students.

“Our hope is that we can really develop the capacity in our teachers, and when kids are struggling, that will help us know how we can effectively assess the areas of difficulty that prevent them from becoming successful readers and writers,” she said.

IUS Dean of Education Faye Cumhalan said she was “thrilled” to learn about the state and Lilly endowment’s investment.

“I would say that we need to help teachers get more support so they can help more students,” she said. “Also, coming from a teacher preparation institution, we also need help preparing future teachers on how to teach,” she said. “I see this investment as something very exciting.”

The funding could potentially help encourage high school students to pursue K-12 teaching careers, Comhalan said. It will help further education students and teachers pursue reading certification programs and study the science of reading curriculum.

IUS already has projects addressing literacy in local K-12 schools, including reading clinics and training students to teach writing. If IUS were to receive funding, it could help expand the school’s efforts.

Kamahlan is curious about what the funding process and criteria will be.

“What’s interesting to me is what it looks like when they spread the funding and when they ask organizations to apply for funding,” she said.

Hartlage said the discrepancy caused by the pandemic has been the biggest challenge for young students learning to read, as many have moved in and out of the classroom over the past few years.

“In reality, children are not getting the education they need or deserve because of the lack of continuity,” she said. “Now, while we have them in the classroom, we can focus on the tools to give them the optimal opportunities to succeed, starting with literacy.”

Duffy said learning disabilities are a particular problem for younger students in kindergarten and first grade who have struggled with virtual school during the pandemic, as those years include the “building blocks” of learning.

He notes that IREAD test scores have dropped since the pandemic, although this year’s scores are up slightly from last year.

“We believe we have very strong interventions, but we will continue to work hard to improve the score for next year,” he said.

Barb Hoover, coordinator of literacy and Title I at NAFCS, said the district has been able to provide additional support to struggling readers through ESSER funding, including after-school tutoring, intersession support and summer school.

She is particularly happy to see the state’s investment in teacher and professional training.

“The more resources we have, the better off we’ll be,” she said.

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