Georgia – Georgia education leaders aim to offer literacy coaches to train teachers in better reading instruction. This comes at a time when some influential lawmakers criticize the state’s Department of Education for not effectively implementing a literacy law passed last year.
This initiative in Georgia is part of a broader national movement towards improved reading education, known as the “science of reading.” In New York, for instance, Governor Kathy Hochul is advocating for teacher retraining and curriculum updates, with a proposed budget of $10 million for these changes.
Georgia has been relatively slow in adopting literacy reforms. Last year, the state passed a law requiring school districts to retrain teachers by August 2025. This law is based on a successful program in Mississippi, which in turn took inspiration from Florida. Mississippi’s program significantly boosted its previously low reading scores.
In Georgia, a significant number of young students struggle with reading. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only 32% of fourth graders in Georgia were proficient in reading, a figure in line with the national average. State Superintendent Richard Woods uses a different metric, indicating that just over 40% of third graders are on track, with the figure rising to 60% by eighth grade.
Georgia Gov. has earmarked $11.3 million for literacy programs
In his latest budget, Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp has earmarked $11.3 million for literacy programs. This includes $6.2 million for literacy coaches and over $5 million for an early screening test to identify dyslexia and similar issues in children as young as kindergarten. This funding, recommended by State Superintendent Richard Woods, represents the first significant state investment in the literacy law.
Now, there’s a consensus among experts that effective reading instruction should involve thorough teaching of the basics, like letter sounds and word formation. However, in Georgia, the 181 school districts have the freedom to choose their own methods. While some have long preferred certain teaching styles, others have recently adopted new approaches, partly due to the learning setbacks children faced during the pandemic.
The Georgia Department of Education doesn’t closely monitor the teaching methods used in schools, leading to a possibility that some districts haven’t started implementing the new strategies. A survey by the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, expected by spring, might shed light on this issue.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers believe that Woods, a Republican who was elected to his position, isn’t doing enough in this regard.
“I would love to see the Department of Education embrace and champion the plan for literacy that’s been pushed by the literacy council and by the legislature,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican, told The Associated Press. “I don’t feel that they’re ready and there on that.”
Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the Georgia State Board of Education’s decision, influenced by Richard Woods’ recommendation, to approve 16 different tests for early literacy screening in July. Three of these tests were later evaluated by the Deal Center as inadequate. During a hearing in December, lawmakers argued that having so many different tests would make it difficult to compare results across school districts. Additionally, the state is working on developing its own literacy screener, which will be made available to districts free of charge.
Woods has been promoting online training programs for teachers through the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy. So far, 600 teachers have participated in these courses.
Woods emphasized the department’s efforts in a recent meeting with reporters at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.
“One of the things we’re trying to focus on is providing our teachers with the resources and support that they need to become effective reading teachers within the classroom,” Woods said.
However, Georgia has over 27,000 teachers in kindergarten through third grade. In comparison, Mississippi managed to retrain all of its existing teachers over two summers. Replicating such a training program in Georgia could cost upwards of $60 million, as estimated by the state last year.
And the coaching money won’t reach most teachers directly. Instead, it will go toward hiring 32 regional coaches and paying stipends to school district personnel who lead literacy efforts.
Literacy coaching is considered crucial as it helps teachers apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. According to a survey by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 58% of the 149 districts in the survey have at least one literacy coach, totaling over 500 coaches across the state. However, there’s uncertainty about the specific roles of these coaches. Questions arise, such as whether they have received training in structured literacy and effective coaching techniques.
Matt Jones, the Chief of Staff for Richard Woods, mentioned that the regional literacy coaches aim to bring uniformity and effectiveness to coaching methods. He also noted that the department might consider hiring additional coaches to work directly in schools in the future.
Meanwhile, some state lawmakers are pushing for a more proactive strategy in this area. As expressed in December, the importance of literacy is a key focus, with legislators emphasizing its significance and potentially seeking more assertive measures to enhance literacy education.