Saturday, August 4, 2018

Disappointing 2017 results released from literacy coach initiative- but is DOE hiding even more recent findings?

On Thursday, Leslie Brody of the Wall Street Journal reported that the first year results of the DOE literacy coach program were a bust, as the 2nd graders at schools with these full time teacher coaches tested no better after nearly a year than similar students in other schools with no coaches. 

And yet the DOE plans to keep on expanding this program, and to spend nearly $90 million on it next year:

 A major push by New York City to help poor children in public schools learn to read by assigning literacy coaches to their teachers had no impact on second-graders’ progress, according to a study of its first year.
The city Department of Education conducted the evaluation, but its officials said Thursday it was too early to judge the initiative. They said they would strengthen the program while boosting annual funding to $89 million, from $75 million….
This evaluation tested second-graders in schools that had literacy coaches, and compared their results with peers in similar city schools that had no coaches. The report found that both groups of students were behind in skills in October 2016 and fell further behind expectations by May 2017.
Each group gained an average of four months of skills, when they should have gained seven months. At the end of second grade, students in schools with coaches on average performed at the level expected in the second month of second grade, on a measure known as the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test. It covered decoding skills, word knowledge and comprehension.

This program is really the only major DOE initiative focused on boosting learning in elementary schools, aside from the expansion of preK, as the mayor went back on his campaign promises to reduce class size.
Like the Renewal program for struggling schools, this initiative was launched by Chancellor Farina with great fanfare, based on her theory of education that the only thing that really matters is providing more professional development to teachers.  Teachers cannot have too much training, according to Farina, and the Renewal program featured more and more PD for teachers and principals, with the total program (along with wrap-around services) costing about $187 million last year, according to the Independent Budget Office, with disappointing results.  Many schools on the Renewal list have now closed, without ever getting a chance to reduce class size.  Those that did feature small classes saw a significantly better chance of success, and many of them have left the program, as I pointed out in my testimony on Renewal schools last year.
Similarly, for all schools, Farina altered the use of the 20 minutes a day that teachers had devoted to providing small group instruction to struggling learners to yet more teacher PD.
Farina's near exclusive focus on PD was accompanied by a belief, as she often expressed it at Town hall meetings when parents complained about the huge size of their kids’ classes, that her concern was not that classes were too large, but they were too small. Perhaps as a result of this single-minded devotion in favor of spending time and funds on PD to the exclusion of reducing class size, NYC NAEP scores have stalled in most areas, and actually declined in 4th grade math since.
I previously wrote about the literacy program last year here; and predicted it wouldn’t work, based on the past record of an expensive program in which Chancellor Klein hired literacy coaches in all elementary schools during the first phase of Children’s First, presumably at the advice of Carmen Farina who was Deputy Chancellor at the time.  This program similarly led to little or no gains in reading, according to the NAEPs, and was given up after a few years. 
Now with Farina gone, and with these mediocre results, one would hope for a new direction at DOE, yet Josh Wallack, the Deputy Chancellor, is quoted as saying full speed ahead:
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said he had confidence in the coaches, their training and principal buy-in. He noted that some schools showed real improvements.
“We think we are on the right track,” he said. “We know we have a lot of work to do.”
Skeptics of the initiative have long argued it would be better to reduce class size, add services for the disabled and require a stronger focus on phonics, which teaches children to sound out letters as a primary way to identify words.
The department has expanded the literacy initiative yearly, and will dispatch about 500 coaches this fall,  [out of 661 elementary schools] with every elementary school getting a coach or additional attention.

 After I read the Wall Street Journal article, I asked for and received a copy of this evaluation from DOE which is now posted here. I was surprised to discover that it is not really a formal evaluation, but a mere eleven slide power point, larded with inspirational quotes and with only one slide devoted to the test results. 
That slide shows that the 2nd graders tested in November and May in both “current and future ULit schools [those with literacy coaches] started behind in reading and fell further behind” . 
There are also survey results showing that while coaches reported that they spent the greatest amount of time with classroom teachers “co-planning”, teachers themselves wanted instead “More support in working with struggling readers.”
The DOE deck ends this way:
 “We hope to see reading gains in the coming years
  • ·       As coaches deepen their knowledge base and craft
  • ·       As teachers and schools benefit from multiple years of coaching.”
(Strangely, this comment omits mention of the students who one would hope would be the main beneficiaries of the program.)
What I hadn’t originally noticed from the Wall St. Journal story was the comparative analysis of test score gains (or losses) was based on assessments that these students took more than a year ago, in October 2016 and then in May of 2017.  Why would DOE wait till August 2018 to release this analysis? 
More importantly, where are the more recent results?  Surely there must be new data including the scores of  2nd and 3rd graders from October 2017 and May of 2018.  A statistical analysis could be done in a matter of  hours or at most days to see if there was any evidence of improved results, especially as they already have a pre-selected comparison group of students at similar schools.  

One has to wonder if the folks at DOE waited to see the latest scores, but since they didn’t show better results omitted them from this summary and will wait for yet another year, hoping for better news to provide from the third year of the initiative.  If they wait until the fourth year of the program to deliver those results, it will have already cost city taxpayers about $300 million on a cumulative basis.
I have FOILed for any more thorough evaluation of the program, as well as more recent data from the schools with literacy coaches, and/or any analyses based on them.  Let’s see what data,  if any, DOE provides.


Mrs. Y-B said...

How many of these schools have school libraries run by certified school librarians? There is ample research to show how students' reading and math scores improve when there is a school library program with certified staff, clerical and technical support, and a budget to support collections that meet student reading and curriculum needs. All school districts need to put the money where the research shows benefits to students!

Leslie Talbot said...

Interesting read. Kudos to @WSJ for investigating. There are similar literacy and mathematics coaching programs being conducted across the United States. These programs are initiated by schools and districts. I suspect that many of these initiatives post similar performance results. I don’t believe the coaches are the reason why student performance did not improve. Yes, human capital is important. However, in this case, the strategy is at fault. Learning is best accelerated when students have more time to devote to their deficits. Additional support is helpful, but only if more time is allotted for learning. This is why elementary schools that serve students who enroll in Kindergarten with below grade-level content knowledge and skills and have longer school days and/or academic years experience greater and sustained academic performance. Think about it. One of my colleagues is famous for using sports analogies. Did Michael Jordan perfect his jump shot because of a coach? No, he perfected his jump shot by putting in the extra time to get it right. Perhaps @nycdoe might take this into consideration?