Invest in literacy instruction

2012 Update:

On the national level, the big news in school-based literacy instruction is the adoption by the vast majority of states (46) of the common core standards. The new standards emphasize the importance of reading mastery by 3rd grade, non-fiction literacy instruction across disciplines, and writing. To meet new standards, teachers will need effective professional development, highlighting the critical role of organizations such as Children's Literacy Initiative (CLI), which has continued to expand its model to additional schools over the past year. Preliminary external evaluation results of CLI’s expansion (funded as part of a federal innovation grant) indicate very high (99%) implementation fidelity. One risk of expanding a model is dilution of its key elements, resulting in poorer outcomes. High levels of fidelity are an important consideration for donors interested in growing successful models.  

Create young readers and lifelong learners

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Nearly half of low-income fourth graders cannot read at a basic level. Children who do not reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade risk never catching up and are in danger of dropping out later. Until third grade, students are mastering reading and writing; after third grade, they depend on those skills to master everything else.

How You Can Help

Support programs that strengthen early literacy, at the pre-school and/or early elementary stage. Some programs focus on providing extra support directly to at-risk students, while others concentrate on curriculum and on improving teachers’ skill and knowledge.

High Impact Opportunity

Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) is an example of an early literacy program focused on professional development of teachers. It trains pre-K through third grade teachers in literacy techniques and provides books and coaching to help teachers implement strategies in their classrooms. Several randomized control studies have verified the effectiveness of CLI training in increasing the number of children achieving literacy benchmarks on time. In New York, an internal evaluation estimated that for every 100 students in participating classrooms, an additional 32 made benchmarks. We estimated that for less than $600 per student, CLI enables an additional student to hit literacy benchmarks. Other benefits include improved teacher satisfaction and retention.

Take Action

CLI currently operates in nine states, plus the District of Columbia, and has recently received a federal grant to expand the program. Other models that have succeeded in improving early literacy include the Success for All whole school reform model and the Reading Recovery program, a school-based tutoring program focused on at-risk first graders.


Look for teacher training programs in which mentors, coaches, and instructors are seasoned and successful classroom teachers themselves; where coaching is sustained over time; and where teacher preparation is supported by active strategies such as modeling and group assessment of student work rather than lecturing.

For more discussion of effective teacher development, see pages 26-28 of High Impact Philanthropy to Improve Teaching Quality. For more on CLI and other programs to support preschool and early elementary school children, see pages 18-25 of Pathways to Student Success.

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