SOUTHERN INDIANA – For Southern Indiana educators, news of Indiana’s $111 million investment in early education is welcome news, although it’s not yet clear how exactly it would be implemented locally.
Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Education Secretary Katie Jenner announced the investment, which is the largest financial investment the state has made in literacy development. Funding comes from $26 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds awarded 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 in stipends for teachers to participate in professional development, targeted interventions for students and the creation of an IDOE literacy center. The program will focus on teaching strategies related to the Science of Reading, a body of research about how children learn to read.
In addition to a $60 million grant that directly supports K-12 education, the Lilly Endowment will provide up to $25 million to colleges and universities to support Science of Reading methods in undergraduate elementary teacher preparation programs.
Tony Duffy, assistant superintendent of elementary education at the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said NAFCS has similar literacy programs in its schools, including seven elementary school literacy coaches. and one at the high school level.
It’s unclear what the funding might look like locally, but the district will “wait and see” what the next steps are for the $111 million, he said. If the district were to take advantage of the investment, it could supplement the literacy development support already in place at NAFCS through federal Elementary and Middle School Emergency Assistance (ESSER) funding.
“I think it’s all positive, especially with the COVID and the learning loss part,” Duffy said. “Any time we can get the state and Lilly to work together to support education, that’s a positive for all of us. We have put a lot of ESSER money into the learning loss part with extra support and help, and I think that will also be helpful.”
Kim Hartlage, deputy superintendent at Greater Clark County Schools, said that although the specifics of the funding are still unclear, she is “excited to hear about this opportunity.”
Greater Clark has already used ESSER funding to expand the development of Reading Science for teachers, which she describes as “a lot of research to support foundational skills as children learn to read.” The district is using a science-based, multi-sensory method of teaching literacy called the Orton-Gillingham approach.
Most classroom teachers don’t have this kind of training coming out of college, Hartlage said. If the district is able to receive funding from the state’s literacy investment, she hopes to be able to expand the developmental opportunities and effective interventions needed for struggling students.
“Hopefully we can really build the capacity of our teachers and when kids are struggling, it will help us to know how we can effectively assess the areas of difficulty that prevent them from being good readers and writers. successful,” she said.
IUS Dean of Education Faye Camahalan said she was “delighted” to learn about the investment from the state and the Lilly Endowment.
“I would say the need is really to help teachers get more support so they can help more students,” she said. she said. “I see this investment as something very encouraging.”
The funding could potentially help encourage high school students to pursue K-12 teaching careers, Camahalan said. It would also help more education students and teachers pursue reading certification programs and study the Science of Reading curriculum.
IUS already has projects that address literacy in local K-12 schools, including reading clinics and literacy training for students. If IUS received funding, it could help expand the school’s efforts.
Camahalan is curious to see what the process and criteria for funding would be.
“What’s intriguing to me is what it will look like when they distribute the funds and when they ask institutions to apply for funding,” she said.
Hartlage said the inconsistency caused by the pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges for young students learning to read, as many have been in and out of the classroom in recent years.
“In reality, children have not had the education they need or deserve because of a lack of sustainability,” she said. “Now that we have them in the classroom, we can really focus on the tools to give them the optimal opportunity to be successful, starting with literacy.”
Duffy said learning loss has been a particular problem for young students in kindergarten and first grade who struggled with virtual school during the pandemic, as those years include the “building blocks” of reading.
He notes that IREAD test scores have been the lowest since the pandemic, although this year’s scores were up slightly from last year.
“We believe we have many strong interventions in place, but we will continue to work hard to improve the results for next year,” he said.
Barb Hoover, literacy and Title I coordinator at NAFCS, said the district has been able to provide additional support for struggling readers through ESSER funding, including after-school tutoring, intersession support and summer school.
She is particularly pleased to see the state’s investment in teachers and professional training.
“The more resources we have, the better off we’ll be,” she said.