In latest effort to combat lagging literacy rates, Tennessee launches reading coach network

The next step in Tennessee’s ambitious literacy plan is a statewide game of telephone to get teachers fluent in strategies that research says will help their students read better.

Two hundred reading coaches from across the state will participate in a new coaching network, the Department of Education announced Monday. Then they’ll take what they learn during the three-year training program to more than 3,000 teachers in two-thirds of the state’s 146 school districts, including Shelby County Schools.

The initiative is the latest step in the state’s seven-month old “Read to Be Ready” campaign, which Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced last summer and officially launched in February. The initiative’s goal is to get 75 percent of Tennessee third-graders reading on grade level by 2025, compared to 43 percent in 2015.

The legislature set aside $9 million in this year’s budget to train the reading coaches over three years, enough money for each district to send up to five coaches to the state trainings. Districts are responsible for paying the coaches’ salaries, but many have already been investing in the positions. Eighty percent of Tennessee districts added reading coach positions last school year.

Some of the 200 coaches in the coaching network are new, but others are being retrained using current research and success stories from classrooms across Tennessee.

Throughout the three years, coaches, and in turn, teachers, will focus on how to teach a specific reading skill, such as reading aloud, for a semester. Officials hope that going in-depth on six specific skills will help teachers actually change what they do in the classroom and understand research on effective literacy instruction.

“Teaching students to read empowers them to take charge of their education,” McQueen said in a press release. “Reading is foundational to a student’s academic success and by cultivating the skills and desire to read we can develop them into deeper thinkers, problem-solvers, lifelong learners, and future leaders of Tennessee.”