Mississippi To Hire 50% More Literacy Coaches For 2014-2015

Although there have been no statistics released to warrant the decision, the state of Mississippi has decided to hire more literacy coaches for the upcoming school year in an attempt to improve its literacy and reading scores.

This is an ongoing development as the result of the passing of the Literacy-Based Promotion Act by the state legislature in 2013 which will require all third graders to pass a test of literacy before being promoted to fourth grade beginning in 2014-2015.

When the bill was passed, lawmakers awarded the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) $9.5 million this year. Part of that budget went to hiring 31 literacy coaches, who were sent to 50 schools in 30 districts that were targeted as those with the lowest reading test scores.

Lawmakers have upped the MDE's budget for the Literacy-Based Promotion Act to $15 million for the upcoming school year, and will hire an additional 14 literacy coaches and supervisors. The coaches will be sent to 50 districts encompassing 74 schools.

After the bill was approved last summer, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant proposed a $15 million budget, but that figure was cut to $9.5 million by the state legislature. Originally, the state had hoped to hire 75 literacy coaches, but struggled to find anywhere close to that number despite having 500 applicants, according to an article from The Associated Press.

Even 75 would be far fewer coaches than Alabama and Florida have devoted to similar programs. Each of those states worked toward having a coach in every elementary school. Mississippi would need hundreds of coaches to match that level of effort, costing at least $25 million a year.

The state has hired Dallas, Texas, based Cambium Learning to expand a training program on the subject for approximately 6,500 K-3 teachers, according to an article which appeared in The Memphis Commercial Appeal. This is an increase from 3,500 in the year that is about to conclude.

If the requirement for a minimum score, which advocates call the third-grade gate, had been in effect last year, about 5,000 of Mississippi's 37,000 third-graders would have failed.

Cambium's Sopris Learning unit will get $3.7 million in the 2015 budget year, a $500,000 increase over the $3.2 million the state is spending this year. The training comes in two phases, each consisting of 15 to 20 hours of online work and three days of face-to-face training for teachers at target schools. Participating non-target schools get two days of face-to-face training.

The state Senate is also trying to pass legislation to get teachers up to speed on the reading and literacy fronts. Senate Bill 2572 would demand that elementary school teachers pass an exam proving they are up to date on all the reading instruction requirements for the state. 

While Gov. Bryant has not yet signed the bill, if he does it would take effect on July 1, 2016. The Bill also wants to use an additional $700,000 to provide literacy coaches to 10 districts rated as C- in one specific region of the state. The state rep who is heading this bill, Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) wants to coordinate efforts with the University of Mississippi.

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