After hearing complaints, school board approves contract for early literacy coaching

Several speakers also urged the board to put a stop to approving charters.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Despite objections from several speakers at Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Education approved a $17 million contract with the Children’s Literacy Initiative and two other organizations for teacher coaching in the early grades to help students learn to read.

Lisa Haver of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) said some teachers had told her that “while CLI used to be a good program, it is not any longer.”

Haver and other speakers, most from APPS, said that coaching provided in some classrooms by CLI, which has worked with Philadelphia and other districts for three decades, no longer provides high-quality help in all classrooms. They said that some coaches are inexperienced and the “one size fits all” model that CLI uses is not appropriate for everyone.

But the board voted without dissent to proceed with the contract, in which CLI will work with two other organizations, American Reading Co. and Scholastic, on a model and approach that board member Christopher McGinley said he believed was “sound.”

“I’m not a fan of outside contracts, but I will support this one,” said McGinley, a former District principal and suburban school superintendent.

Board member Mallory Fix-Lopez questioned the $17 million cost, but said she was willing to approve it for one year while looking for evidence of its effectiveness.

Before the vote, Superintendent William Hite urged approval and cited gains in reading proficiency in the early grades. The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) tweeted that “correlation is not causation” and said those gains weren’t enough to conclude that the CLI coaching was the cause.

In 2010, CLI received an “investing in innovation” grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement its model in districts around the country, and subsequent studies demonstrated that it had an impact at that time.

But Haver and the others said it would be preferable to invest the money in reducing class size and providing other supports for teachers.

Many of the same speakers also urged the school board to stop approving new charter schools because they drain funds from District schools and don’t provide a substantially better education. But parent Stacey Sellars, who has two sons at Mastery-Thomas Charter, described the school in glowing terms and said her children were thriving there.

A group of teachers from the WE Caucus and another Philadelphia group called the Melanated Educators Collective urged the board to offer its official support to Black Lives Matter week in February. They said the District should also invest in anti-racist training for teachers and in curriculum that affirms students of color.

Students should be “proud of their history,” said Angela Crawford, a teacher at Martin Luther King High School.

Teacher Dana Carter, now at Julia de Burgos Elementary School, said that she saw students be “transformed” when they learned about historical figures like Harriet Tubman.

The board did not take action on the Black Lives Matter week request.

Several educators from the District spoke highly of a professional development program for teachers of English learners that was scheduled to be voted on this month, but delayed after questions arose about it in the board’s committee on academic achievement. McGinley said he expected the program, called QTEL, to be voted on next month.