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What's a "Coach" in Reading First?

One major piece of the Reading First program is the money it provides schools to hire reading "coaches," who work to improve the skills of fellow teachers. Under the federal law, money flows to states, which provide grants to schools and districts to adopt "scientifically based" reading programs and provide interventions with struggling students in the early grades.

Reading First specifically provides professional development to teachers through institutes, workshops, and on-site literacy coaches. In fact, the law mandates that schools that receive grants use funds to hire those coaches.

I recently came across an interesting study by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, or NWREL, which examines the backgrounds of reading coaches, and what they actually do on their jobs. About 5,200 reading coaches have been hired in Reading First schools, as of the time of the study.

The authors' research showed that, perhaps not surprisingly, most coaches were relatively experienced teachers, but that they also had little previous experience tutoring other educators. Many of them were hired from their own schools or districts.

On the question of what reading coaches actually do, the NWREL researchers found that, on average, they spent on 28 percent of their time working directly with teachers, which was "dramatically lower" than state expectations. By contrast, coaches, who tend to spend long hours on the job, devoted far more time—60 percent to 80 percent—working in classrooms with teachers, helping them with instruction, in three of the five states studied in the report.

Schools and districts also expected coaches to juggle a lot of duties that seemed to have little to do with actual coaching, like overseeing assessments, managing data, and working directly with students, the authors found.

The authors note that even though the time coaches spent actually "coaching" other teacher might seem disappointing, that teacher-to-teacher interaction was relatively high in Reading First, compared with other teacher-coaching programs.

You can read the report here, and draw your own conclusions.

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