Children’s Literacy Initiative

Children’s Literacy Initiative

Download Full PDF 


Hands-on coaching, professional development and mentoring are crucial for teachers, especially those who are just starting out in their careers.1 This support is even more important for educators who are tasked with teaching in schools with low-income populations, where they are challenged with closing the learning achievement gap between kids from lower-income households and their wealthier counterparts. Research shows that there is already a sizable learning gap among kids entering Kindergarten, and that it is quite difficult to make up that gap over the course of a child’s education.2 Improving literacy instruction and skills in preschool and early primary classrooms can help to close the achievement gap in reading.


Improve children’s early literacy and grade-level reading skills through providing school-level instructional support, including: a) coaching and professional development in effective literacy techniques to preschool and early elementary classroom teachers; b) provision of books and other learning materials that are age and reading stage appropriate; and c) working with school administrators on how best to deploy and retain staff, as well as encourage professional collaboration among teachers.

High Impact Opportunity

Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) has provided professional development for teachers in literacy instruction since 1988.  In 2010, CLI was selected from a highly competitive field of applicant organizations as a federal innovation (i3) grant recipient; the five-year grant included a random control trial evaluation of program results in four cities (Newark, NJ; Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; and Camden, NJ).  Based on the results of that evaluation, CLI was again awarded a federal innovation (i3) scale-up grant in 2015.  As of the 2015-16 school year, CLI trained 2,206 teachers in 28 districts nationwide, reaching a total of 41,650 students in preschool through third grade.3

How it Works:

CLI partners with school districts to train and coach preschool through third grade teachers in the most effective literacy techniques.  CLI typically works with a school for three years.  Teachers participate in workshops, receive carefully selected sets of children’s books for their classrooms, and work with a coach to incorporate effective reading strategies into their lessons.  In addition, one teacher per grade is trained as a ‘model’ teacher, to serve as a coach to peers and an ongoing resource to the school, even after the CLI training ends.  The program also instructs school administrators on how best to deploy teachers and facilitate professional collaboration through practices like scheduling common planning time.

As part of the national scale up plan, CLI has also launched a free online resource called LEARN, or Literacy Education and Resource Network, which gives all teachers access to best practices and effective training modules.

What’s the Impact?

Compared to over a dozen federally funded programs aimed at improving early literacy,4 CLI stands out for its demonstrated effectiveness, as validated by a rigorous external study.5 The random control study found that in four high-poverty urban settings, children receiving instruction from a CLI-trained teacher develop measurably stronger reading skills than teachers with no CLI training. Across all sites, Kindergarten and second grade students in CLI schools scored higher on early reading tests than students in similar schools with no CLI trained teachers. CLI also had a large positive impact on the quality of teachers’ literacy instruction in Kindergarten and first grade classrooms. In addition, district standardized test data obtained by CLI found that for a cohort of 100 program participants, an estimated 6-10 additional students were reading on grade level by the end of grade three, a critical milestone for future school success.6

Additional Social Impact:

  • Improved literacy instruction and collaboration among teachers at partner schools: In a mid-year (2013-14) survey of teachers and administrators in the 127 schools receiving CLI services:7
    • 96.4% of responding teachers said that CLI had helped them feel better prepared to implement effective literacy practices.
    • 97.2% of responding teachers said that CLI has helped to improve their literacy instructional practice.
    • 72.7% of responding teachers reported an increase in grade level collaboration with peers that they attributed to CLI.
    • 87.3% of responding teachers said that CLI was helping prepare them to address the new Common Core standards for reading.

Although CLI does not track teacher retention in the schools in which they work, research shows that teacher job satisfaction and retention are closely linked.7 To the extent that CLI training improves teacher satisfaction, it is reasonable to assume some positive effect on teacher retention, with corresponding cost-savings for districts participating in the program.8

What Does it Cost to Implement?

As of 2016, the annual cost of implementing a complete package of CLI services and materials across a school was $90,000. CLI is funded through a combination of fee-for-service contracts with school districts and individual schools, as well as by philanthropic donations. One time-grants such as the federal i3 awards must be matched by other philanthropic funding. As of 2015, CLI’s operating revenue was about a third fee for service contracts, a third federal grants, and a third other philanthropic funding.9

Cost Per Impact:

Based on costs and estimates provided by CLI,10 public information regarding national trends in teacher tenure,11 and the information regarding teacher perceptions of and satisfaction with CLI services, we estimate a “bang for buck” of approximately $1,300 to $1,700 for each incremental student from a high poverty, urban school that can now read proficiently by third grade.

For more information on the Center’s approach to calculating cost per impact, click here.

Take Action: Go to the CLI website to locate CLI programs and their local implementing partners. Click here for suggestions of other programs that prepare kids to be strong readers.

CLI Snapshot

1 See, for example: Misty Sailors and Nancy L. Shanklin , “Introduction: Growing Evidence to Support Coaching in Literacy and Mathematics,” The Elementary School Journal 111, no. 1, University of Chicago Press (September 2010): 1-6. Also, Ingersoll, R. and Smith, T. What are the Effects of Induction and Mentoring on Beginning Teacher Turnover? American Educational Research Journal Fall 2004, vol 41, no. 3, pp. 681-714.

2 Heckman, James. Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children. Science, vol. 312; 30 June 2006.

3 Email communication with CLI, 8/26/16.

4 See results of federal Early Childhood Education Professional Development Grants from 2001-2007: ECEPD grant information and results:,

5 Parkison, J., Salinger, T., Meaken, J., and Smith, D. Implementation and Impact of an Intensive Professional Development and Coaching Program. American Institute of Research, 2015.

6 Data from Chicago and Philadelphia provided by CLI:  email communication 8/26/16.

7  Ingersoll and Smith (2004);

8 Teacher turnover is extremely expensive. By one estimate, teacher turnover in 2014 cost districts 2.2 billion dollars in aggregate. See: On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers. Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014.

9 CLI Annual Report 2015.

10 Email correspondence with CLI 8/26/16. Average number of teachers per school used is 12; average number of kids per class is 25.

11 Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L., & Stuckey, D. (2014). Seven trends: The transformation of the teaching force. CPRE Research Report # RR-80. Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education. See also: National Center for Education Statistics Fast Facts 2016: