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Six States Win Striving Readers Literacy Grants

Six states have won $180 million in federal grants to create comprehensive literacy plans for children from birth through 12th grade.

The grants were announced today by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the federal government's Striving Readers literacy program. You can see the details in the department's press release, but the bottom-line news is that Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada, and Montana won the grants.

You might recall that the Striving Readers program endured some pretty big cutbacks in the recent budget cycle, so the $180 million awarded today is far less than advocates originally envisioned. (Check our blog posts here, here and here for a taste. And see also our story on the early results from the program.)

Formula funding distributed last year facilitated the establishment of literacy teams in nearly every state, and those teams put together statewide literacy plans. About three dozen states applied for the larger pot of discretionary grants.

So what will happen to the states whose teams developed literacy plans but then didn't win discretionary funding? Literacy advocates inside the Beltway here are happy that the Ed. Department is going to award a technical-assistance grant to help all the states—not just the ones that won the big money today—put their plans into action.

"That was a smart move, a good allocation of funds," said Barbara Cambridge, the director of the Washington office of the National Council of Teachers of English. "That means that all these states will have a continuing ability to keep their state teams going and learn from one another."

Richard Long, the lobbyist for the International Reading Association, said the grants, and the statewide literacy teams that preceded them, mark an important shift in thinking and in practice.

"The idea was that states would bring together experts from age 0 to grade 12 and say, 'This is what we should be doing for literacy instruction and this is how we are going to get there.' That had never been done before," he said. The move recognizes that reading proficiently at 3rd grade isn't enough to ensure strong literacy skills through high school, Long said.

Cambridge also noted that the grants are intended to fuel reading and writing skills across the disciplines, not just in English/language arts classes, an idea that has drawn increasing attention recently.

Additionally, the statewide literacy teams have brought about another key shift in literacy planning, she said. By including representatives from pre-K and higher education, and from all academic disciplines, they have created the kind of cross-cutting dialogue necessary for a truly comprehensive approach, she said.

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