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Are Coaches Expendable?


From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin

In Curriculum Matters, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo points out that reading coaches, many of whom were hired with now-depleted Reading First funds, are being dropped from school budgets.

It’s hard to say exactly how big a role coaches play in increasing student achievement, but they’re given much credit in places like Warren County, Ky., where reading scores have shot up. Teachers there receive "spot training" on a daily basis, during which coaches observe small-group reading instruction and jump in when help is needed. As noted in this Herald-Tribune story, coaches assist instruction in a variety of other ways, too: by demonstrating model lessons, helping analyze assessment data, and finding ways to target struggling students.

However, the impact of coaches is contingent on how effectively they are being utilized. In the Arizona district where I used to teach, which was under-resourced and often understaffed, reading coaches spent most of their time filling in as substitutes and performing administrative duties. Teachers rarely saw face-time with them, though the coaches were hired for ongoing teacher training and support. Even so, pink slips produce an unavoidable ripple effect. And how do you prioritize layoffs when the end result necessarily affects students?


Nice post. I'd argue the pink slips should first go to the Kaplan-esque test-prep teachers and programs that schools were mandated to buy under NCLB. (Reading First included.)

Dumping them would save teacher jobs.

Harpers has a great feature on the travesty (and tragic costs) of Kaplan coaches here: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/09/0082166

I was a reading coach in a inner-city middle school in central Illinois for one-year. I can say without a doubt that the effectiveness of a reading coach depends on the quality of administrator the building has. If the administrator does not value the reading coach position, but instead uses this person for a substitute, secretary, or misc. administrative duties then the school will not benefit from the reading coach. However, during our monthly reading coach meetings it was obvious which reading coaches were able to provide training and intervention strategies for their schools. These schools were showing improvement on standardized tests as well as an increase in teacher morale. Teachers need the extra support that a reading coach can provide that an administrator cannot. Administrators are not necessarily curriculum leaders of the building, but provide the discipline support or management duties. Before dismissing the idea of employing a reading coach, decide exactly what it is you would like to see happen as a result of having a reading coach.

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