Whitmer budget would triple literacy coaches to help Michigan students read

Increasing the number of literacy coaches could help turn around Michigan’s dismal reading test scores, something that’s been a long-time concern of now-former legislator Amanda Price, shown here working with a Holland first-grader. (Bridge file photo)

The number of literacy coaches working in Michigan schools would triple under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed budget, a change that could yield huge benefits for Michigan school children, school officials said.

Whitmer’s budget plan, unveiled Tuesday, proposes a $24 million increase in spending for literacy experts to work with classroom teachers to improve reading methods.

That money would increase the number of literacy coaches in the state from 93 to 279. Under the proposed budget, the state would pick up the full tab for those coaches, instead of the current system in which local districts pay half the cost.

Analysis: Whitmer's budget banks on Michigan GOP backing one historic tax hike

The proposal is just that - a proposal. What happens to the Democratic governor’s budget when it reaches Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature is yet to be seen.

But efforts to improve early literacy have been a bipartisan priority in recent years. Former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder began the literacy coach program. And both Whitmer and her Republican opponent in the gubernatorial campaign, Bill Schuette, pitched additional support for early reading efforts.

“This is great news,” said Naomi Norman, assistant superintendent of achievement and system support at Washtenaw Intermediate School District and a member of the Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission.

“It’s really valuable because it’s going to ensure every corner of the state has access to high-quality support for literacy.”

Early literacy is seen as a key to turning around Michigan’s flailing public schools. Only 44 percent of third-graders are reading at a proficient level. Next school year, third graders whose reading level is more than one grade behind state standards face the possibility of being held back a grade.

Related: See third-grade reading scores in your school 
Michigan spent $80 million to improve early reading. Scores went down.

The state began to provide funding to intermediate school districts to help pay the salaries of literacy coaches in the 2015-16 school year. Some rural intermediate school districts, which provide regional support to individual schools and districts, haven’t been able to hire literacy coaches because they don’t have the money to pick up part of the salary, said Kelli Campbell, director of teaching and learning for Kent Intermediate School District.

Kent has 4.5 literacy coaches to serve schools with more than 100,000 students. “As excited as I am about having more literacy coaches in our county, I’m even more excited that parts of the state that haven’t had access to literacy coaches will get them,” Campbell said.

Campbell heard the news about Whitmer’s proposed tripling of literacy coaches Tuesday while attending an early literacy symposium in Kalamazoo. “When word spread, there were a lot of excited people,” Campbell said. “To know we’re going to invest more in professional learning to help teachers, that’s the right move.”

Finding ways to improve early literacy “is critically important because language and literacy in young children sets them up for success in so many avenues in life,” said Norman, the Washtenaw administrator. “There’s a correlation with students struggling with literacy at an early age and dropping out of high school.”

Boosting the number of literacy experts “is the anchor piece to recovering our educational system,” Norman said. “If we can get this one right, we can continue on to other areas.”

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James F Bish
Wed, 03/06/2019 - 9:45am

Finally, a move in the right direction. We have lost a generation of children in Detroit, because of the withdrawal of supportive services under state control. Those children with IEPs have been thrown to the wolves, as teacher consultants, social workers, nurses & psychologists have been rendered basicly powerless to help all but the chosen few.

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 6:24pm

We are already paying teachers to teach children to read, something they have been doing successfully for over a hundred years. If children now are not proficient at their grade level, perhaps the problem is with the system, the process, the method.

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 7:18pm

An earlier Bridge article listed here as related is headlined "Michigan spent $80 million to improve early reading. Scores went down". How on earth are we going to go from 93 to 274 literacy coaches, with the state paying the full cost of these coaches rather than half for a mere $24 (more?) million a year when we have spent $80 million during the last 3 years and got reading score regression? Does anybody in Whitmer's office or the Michigan Department of Education remember Einstein's definition of insanity? Why are we doubling down to spend even more on a program that hasn't worked over the last 3 years?

What evidence is there that these literacy coaches will be able to help schools actually teach kids to read at grade level during grades K-3? We've just spent $80 million over 3 school years concentrating on early literacy, and scores fell in almost every school district and every demographic group across the state.

Far too many of Michigan's teachers have never been taught how to teach reading effectively. They do not routinely use structured phonics-based instruction, in many cases because they don't know how. What's going to happen to their students in the 2019-20 school year when half to 2/3 of that years' 3rd graders are supposed to be held back? How is having at least one "literacy coach" per school district across the state going to help?

Mary Moylan
Mon, 03/25/2019 - 9:23pm

There is no need for Literacy Coaches if TEACHERS are taught properly how to teach their students to read! Why not spend the money to train TEACHERS how to use intensive systematic PHONICS that is PROVEN method of creating fluent and easy readers?? If our kids aren't learning how to read, the real question to ask is WHY? If private schools (which use phonics) can get competent readers at half the cost of public schools, why aren't we looking into those methods and adopting them for public schools? The reality is there is an extensive cottage industry of 'experts' and 'coaches' who now expect to do the job the teacher should be doing. Gretchen is simply playing to these people who want more state money to continue their industry at the taxpayers expense. How is it that the one-room schoolhouses of the past used to produce excellent readers (and writers) and we can't do the same today?? Shame on us! There's something very wrong in public education today.