Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
As California works to get every child reading by third grade by 2026, state education leaders stress the importance of literacy coaches and specialists.

State education leaders say hiring more literacy coaches and specialists to work with both teachers and students is a key to getting all students to read by the third grade by 2026, amid what some have called a national literacy crisis.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond set that 2026 goal last fall and assembled a task force of educators, parents and education experts to put together policy recommendations aimed at turning the tide on years of low reading scores throughout California. At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Thurmond, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and other educators pledged to continue lobbying for funding for literacy coaches and specialists as the state budget process plays out. They also expressed support for literacy initiatives included in three bills already proposed in the state Assembly and Senate.

Literacy coaches mainly train teachers and school staff on literacy instruction, conduct professional development and facilitate whatever reading curriculum the school uses. Specialists work directly with the students in one-on-one or small-group settings.

“I know that reading by third grade has eluded the educational system for many, many years, but this is something we can achieve,” Thurmond said at the hearing.

For years, experts have identified third grade reading proficiency as an important benchmark in students’ overall academic career. Research shows that students who aren’t reading at grade level by then will struggle to catch up throughout their education career and can be at greater risk of dropping out of school and ending up in the criminal justice system. 

During the 2020-21 school year, 60.21% of third grade students tested below grade level on the state’s Smarter Balanced test for English/language arts.

Attorney Mark Rosenbaum, representing students who struggled to read, filed a lawsuit against the state in 2017 that resulted in a settlement of $50 million in grants for 75 California elementary schools. Responding to the hearing, he said schools would certainly benefit from more literacy coaches and specialists, but he thinks the task force’s recommendations are “a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s needed” to get struggling readers the support they need. The state should be held accountable for years of lagging reading scores, he said, which is no reflection on the students themselves.

“This is not the time for piecemeal approaches; this is the time for comprehensive, science-based programs … and making sure every school has what they need,” Rosenbaum said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022-23 budget proposal in January includes $500 million over five years for high-needs schools to train and hire literacy coaches and reading specialists. Thurmond, at the hearing, said it’s still too soon to anticipate what the governor will include in his revised budget proposal in May based on adjusted revenue projections. But the superintendent said he will continue to advocate for the reading specialists and coaches.

The task force came to that recommendation based on research from the Learning Policy Institute, of which Darling-Hammond is the president and CEO. In 2020, the institute published research into seven “positive outlier” districts in the state in which African American, Latino and white students substantially outperformed their peers on California’s state assessments. These districts all provided teachers with extensive coaching and professional development on literacy instruction, Darling-Hammond said.

All the districts emphasized phonics, phonemic awareness and other reading techniques in kindergarten and first grade, she said. They also fostered “rich literacy environments” with read-alongs, “extensive” speaking and listening opportunities, and grade-level texts that were both culturally responsive and available in multiple languages. 

“These were not quiet classrooms with kids listening and writing things down or copying off the board, but classrooms where students were in pair-shares, guided reading discussions doing collaborative work using those skills,” Darling-Hammond said.

The districts also regularly used assessments, records and other diagnostic tools to gauge where students’ skill levels and which ones needed work. They also routinely made one-on-one tutoring available to students who needed it, and integrated literacy instruction in all subject areas.

“One of the things we’re learning from the research is that when you do the right kind of small group or one-on-one tutoring with a strong curriculum in reading, you can very quickly move a child forward in 12-15 weeks to catch up to the rest of the class,” Darling-Hammond said. 

Erika Torres, county administrator for the Inglewood Unified School District, said that without specific funding for reading specialists and coaches, the district wouldn’t be able to afford them. The district has a 20-30% proficiency rate for English/language arts in all grades, and Torres sees providing “quality literacy instruction” to all of its students as a matter of social justice, as well as a “critical dropout prevention strategy.”

Thurmond is also putting his support behind two Assembly bills and a Senate bill proposed by Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, and Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara. Assembly Bill 2465 would create grant programs to provide library cards to every public school student, fund programs that would include home visits to engage families in their students’ literacy instruction, and pay for the development and credentialing of 500 new bilingual educators. AB 2498 would establish a three-year pilot summer literacy and learning-loss mitigation program next year based on the Freedom Schools programs. SB 952 would provide grants to school districts, county offices of education and certain charter schools to create dual language immersion programs.

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  1. Stephen Krashen 3 months ago3 months ago

    The State Literacy Task Force: Some Comments Stephen Krashen I have a few constructive comments about “State literacy task force echoes call for more reading coaches.” (https://edsource.org/2022/state-literacy-task-force-echoes-call-for-more-reading-coaches-specialists/669667) GRADE THREE The goal of the task force is that every child in California learns to read by third grade. I suspect that third grade was chosen because of the common assumption that reading ability in grade 3 is a good predictor of later reading ability and educational success. It … Read More

    The State Literacy Task Force: Some Comments
    Stephen Krashen

    I have a few constructive comments about “State literacy task force echoes call for more reading coaches.” (https://edsource.org/2022/state-literacy-task-force-echoes-call-for-more-reading-coaches-specialists/669667)

    GRADE THREE
    The goal of the task force is that every child in California learns to read by third grade. I suspect that third grade was chosen because of the common assumption that reading ability in grade 3 is a good predictor of later reading ability and educational success. It is, but there is nothing magic about grade three. Reading ability can improve a great deal after age three, in fact at any age, given access to highly interesting and comprehensible reading material (Krashen and McQuillan 2007).

    PHONICS AND PHONEMIC AWARENESS
    The task force has noted that “positive outlier” districts all “emphasized (1) phonics and phonemic awareness” in kindergarten and first grade, and also (2) provided “rich literacy environments.” I hope the task force is aware that students who are given intensive phonics instruction only do better on tests on which they are asked to pronounce lists of words presented out of context. They do not do significantly better on tests in which they have to understand what they read (Krashen, 2009). In my survey of phonemic awareness research (Krashen, 2001), I found only six published studies of the effect of phonemic awareness training on reading comprehension. Only one showed significant results with children learning to read in English and it involved only 13 children.

    But there is a great deal of evidence supporting the power of rich literacy environments, environments offering plenty of books that are comprehensible and highly interesting. The best way to insure both comprehensibility and interest is to encourage self-selection. Research consistently shows that self-selected reading of popular fiction leads to better literacy development (vocabulary, spelling, grammar, writing style; e.g. Krashen, 2004) as well as knowledge in a number of areas: readers know more know more about literature, science, social studies, current events, personal finance, health, and technology (Stanovich and Cunningham, 1993).

    I hope the task force knows about the powerful impact of libraries: Students in schools with well-stocked libraries and with credentialed librarians show higher reading competence (https://keithcurrylance.com/school-library-impact-studies/). For children of poverty, libraries are often their only source of reading material. Research also tells us that “There is a positive and statistically significant relationship between children’s services in public libraries and early reading success at school” and “the greater the amount of circulated materials and the greater the attendance at (public) library programs, the more likely kids will do well in reading” (Lance and Marks, 2008).

    The title of the article I am responding to is “State literacy task force echoes call for more coaches, specialists.” I think the task force should call for more access to interesting and comprehensible books, and more credentialed librarians.

    Krashen, S. 2001. Does “pure” phonemic awareness training affect reading comprehension? Perceptual and Motor Skills 93: 356-358. https://tinyurl.com/ydxfwp42
    Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74. https://tinyurl.com/jc6x8mk
    Pucci, S. L. (1994). Supporting Spanish language literacy: Latino children and free reading
    Krashen, S. and McQuillan, J. 2007. Late intervention. Educational Leadership 65 (2): 68-73. http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/late_intervention.pdf
    Lance, K. C., and Marks, R. 2008. The link between public libraries and early reading success. School Library Journal, 54(9), 44-47. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234633491_The_Link_between_Public_Libraries_and_Early_Reading_Success
    Stanovich, K. and Cunningham, A. 1993. Where does knowledge come from? Journal of Educational Psychology 85, 2: 211-229.

    Stephen Krashen
    Professor Emeritus
    Rossier School of Education
    University of Southern California

  2. Robert Celeste 3 months ago3 months ago

    To: Leaders of California Public Education I agree with the incredible need for Reading and Literacy coaches. In fact, the idea was actually in use during my instructional years and my administrative years (40+). Now, in retirement my Masters Degree in Reading Instruction and Reading Development is sitting on the shelf. I may be retired, but my knowledge is still applicable to today's need. There are many retirees who are extremely skilled, experienced, educated and ready … Read More

    To: Leaders of California Public Education

    I agree with the incredible need for Reading and Literacy coaches. In fact, the idea was actually in use during my instructional years and my administrative years (40+). Now, in retirement my Masters Degree in Reading Instruction and Reading Development is sitting on the shelf. I may be retired, but my knowledge is still applicable to today’s need.

    There are many retirees who are extremely skilled, experienced, educated and ready to again perform given the ” right” circumstances. This group of dedicated educators could fill the gap and go right to work fulfilling the needs for kids. They are a resource not even being considered.

    Even if they could be the coaches of the coaches, the value of age and experience sets this group apart.

    I believe Linda Darling Hammond is spot on in her assessment. With the expertise readily available, her mention of 12 to fifteen weeks of reading/ literacy growth would be realized.

    Robert Celeste, MS Reading Development

    Replies

    • jim connor 3 months ago3 months ago

      My contact did not appear, you can email me at jconnor@startupReading.com Read More

      My contact did not appear, you can email me at jconnor@startupReading.com

  3. Tess 3 months ago3 months ago

    One of the problems is that these additional positions are viewed as an extra body and when we are down substitute teachers, which is often nowadays, guess who has to stop their intervention groups for the day or days and sub!

  4. Terry Lynn 3 months ago3 months ago

    Let us not forget that our print disabled need to have reading specialists that understand digital accessibility. I am so surprised and saddened that when I am in the schools today, I find so many instructors in both the regular and SPED classrooms totally unaware that in the USA the print disabled (kids with IEPs, LD, visually impaired, physically impaired and some others) can have access to nearing 1M books at bookshare.org. Teacher Trainers need to … Read More

    Let us not forget that our print disabled need to have reading specialists that understand digital accessibility. I am so surprised and saddened that when I am in the schools today, I find so many instructors in both the regular and SPED classrooms totally unaware that in the USA the print disabled (kids with IEPs, LD, visually impaired, physically impaired and some others) can have access to nearing 1M books at bookshare.org.

    Teacher Trainers need to be made aware of this free system for students legally certified for services. These materials can supplement and support classroom learning in all subjects and STEAM areas. I know, I am an adult with disabilities who struggled, survived, thrived with a very poor library for the blind at my time, but as an adult in my later life became aware of Bookshare and now have access to fantastic easy to reach content in my retirement. I wonder what more I could have learnt early in my life had I had Bookshare.

    The government and schools need to make instructors aware of this system. Instructors need to learn how to use the system to teach their students and caregivers how to help the learner use the system.

    Being a poor reader is not only an academic issue, but a public health issue.

    Teresa MPH, MA, ABD, DIP, EMT
    Person with Disability

  5. Regina 3 months ago3 months ago

    Is the push for reading before third grade for the students, or to be competitive on standardized assessments?? Do we need more coaches, or do we need adequate training for teachers? The people offering suggestions don’t seem to be crrrent classroom teachers. And what sucks is teachers get the band end of the stick. We’re the ones who have to supplement these horrible curriculums with our own money. Those great activities they detailed, to create a … Read More

    Is the push for reading before third grade for the students, or to be competitive on standardized assessments?? Do we need more coaches, or do we need adequate training for teachers? The people offering suggestions don’t seem to be crrrent classroom teachers.

    And what sucks is teachers get the band end of the stick. We’re the ones who have to supplement these horrible curriculums with our own money. Those great activities they detailed, to create a learning community? Those take time and money from classroom teachers. Things we don’t get much of.

  6. Eryn 3 months ago3 months ago

    Until we address the fundamental problems with our language arts curriculum (Lucy Calkins and Fountas & Pinnell I'm looking at you), no amount of coaches or specialists will make a difference. Our district has coaches, but they are trained in the same methodology as our curriculum. The curriculum is garbage, and the coaches reinforce it. Garbage in, garbage out. Until Thurmond does something about curriculum and asks that districts implement curriculum that is based … Read More

    Until we address the fundamental problems with our language arts curriculum (Lucy Calkins and Fountas & Pinnell I’m looking at you), no amount of coaches or specialists will make a difference. Our district has coaches, but they are trained in the same methodology as our curriculum. The curriculum is garbage, and the coaches reinforce it. Garbage in, garbage out. Until Thurmond does something about curriculum and asks that districts implement curriculum that is based on the science of reading, we are all dogs chasing our tails.

    Replies

    • Michael B 3 months ago3 months ago

      Can you specify some examples of preferred science-based reading that you’re referring to?

      • Michelle 3 months ago3 months ago

        There is science and research that often comes from private companies, such as Accelerated Reader by Renaissance. Here is some research – After 20 years of teaching high school, having students practice comprehensible, high interest reading is still effective. Bring back reading groups and SSR — it works! 🙂

  7. James Maraviglia 3 months ago3 months ago

    I hope our leaders continue to address the unequal educational playing field being made available to students in K-12!

  8. ann 3 months ago3 months ago

    But no accountability to the state-funded schools of education where candidate teachers are not taught the "science of reading" which is not rocket science by the way. If every newly credentialed k-3 teacher understood how kids learn to read, the improvement in student outcomes would be obvious. The fact that working teachers need to be "coached" or trained is the problem. As stated in the article, it's not the kids, it's the instruction or lack thereof. … Read More

    But no accountability to the state-funded schools of education where candidate teachers are not taught the “science of reading” which is not rocket science by the way. If every newly credentialed k-3 teacher understood how kids learn to read, the improvement in student outcomes would be obvious. The fact that working teachers need to be “coached” or trained is the problem.

    As stated in the article, it’s not the kids, it’s the instruction or lack thereof. ” …but classrooms where students were in pair-shares, guided reading discussions doing collaborative work using those skills.” She really needs to be replaced having been guiding state education policy into the ground for plenty of years.

    Replies

    • Regina 3 months ago3 months ago

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Why isn’t money invested into classroom teachers. Paying for a reading coach only looks like they’re attempting to make progress.