Literacy coaching is an ever-evolving field of American education according to Stevens (April, 2003). Throughout the nation, many elementary schools are beginning to implement reading programs designed to improve student literacy. These programs recognize that effective and continuing professional development for teachers is critical to success (Great Schools, 2005). This is the very reason why education policymakers thought of implementing the “No Child Left Behind Act”.
This standard or act states that students in grades 3-8 must be tested every year in Math and English subjects to ensure that they are meeting the state’s educational standards. Students in grades ten through twelve will be tested at least once. Teachers, on the other hand, must also be “highly qualified” in the subjects they teach. The state will determine what skills teachers must have to be considered “highly qualified,” but the requirements could include a degree in the subject they teach or extra training for that matter.
Likewise, the schools must increase the number of students who achieve state standards. At the end of 12 years, all students should be able to pass the tests. Schools that fail to achieve this progress will be targeted for improvements that could include increased funding or staff and curriculum changes (Great Schools, 2005).
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 is bringing unprecedented funding for professional development to K-3 teachers and special educators. The goal of the legislation is to provide sufficient support to develop the knowledge and skills of classroom teachers so that student achievement will improve. In 2000, the International Reading Association released a position statement on the roles of the reading specialist (Neuman, 2006). This statement argues that literacy coaches should provide a three-part role including leadership skills, diagnosis and assessment skills, and instructional skills which all serve the overall goal of improving student learning.
Designing and providing professional support for all adults who work with children in a school is the key to pulling a school-wide program together. Although broadly defined, professional support includes all of the ways that literacy coaches assist teachers in understanding, implementing, and evaluating the literacy development of the reading program (Mitchell, 2001).
According to Hirsh (2005), it is the fundamental objective of No Child Left Behind, state legislatures, local school boards, and school advancement councils to close the achievement gap by guaranteeing that all students excel academically. Hirsch found that the quality of teacher instruction in the classroom has the greatest impact on student achievement. Unfortunately, not all teachers are adequately trained or prepared to meet the needs of the diverse student population. As a result, attention must be given to finding approaches to help those teachers who are identified as ineffective become more successful educators.
Furthermore, teachers must be trained in both instructional strategies and content in order to understand how individual students learn and what a teacher can do to raise student achievement levels. Professional development, specifically in the area of literacy training, makes use of such strategies by improving teaching and closing achievement gaps.
Traditionally, hierarchical organizational structures have permeated educational institutions. This traditional model is characterized by a superior-subordinate relationship between principals and faculty members (Neuman, 2006). Under this model, the principal is the primary decision-maker and is held accountable for the operation of the school. Educators often are assigned specific roles and responsibilities for providing educational programs to students. For instance, a classroom teacher may be assigned to deliver instruction for a prescribed portion of the curriculum (e.g., World History) to a group of students, Likewise, other educators such as guidance counselors may have other assigned responsibilities such as assisting students with school, personal, and vocational issues and academic programs.
In the face of growing student diversity within educational environments, educational reformers have suggested a move toward shared or horizontal organizational structure as an alternative to the traditional hierarchical organization of schools. This approach features a horizontal or collaborative structure in which constituents (i.e., principal, teachers, parents, students, and community members) participate equally in identifying the educational priorities, examining school policy, sharing educational practices, and implementing effective educational programs into the system. Thus, teachers and other constituents are given the joint responsibility and power to plan, set goals, implement and evaluate innovations to improve the educational outcomes of students (Foley, 2001).
The selected program for evaluation is housed in an elementary school in the south that serves a diverse, multicultural population. The school was created by the consolidation of two elementary schools that merged in the fall of 1998. The investigation is in a rural school, serving children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school population consists of 358 students and 27 teachers. The demographics, obtained through public school records and school management software (STI, 2006) of the student population, represent the following ethnic categories: 55 percent African American, 30 percent Native American, and 15 percent other (Rude & Brewer, 2003).
The ability to measure the results of professional development programs and activities remains an elusive goal for most educators in rural settings. While students in classrooms continue to face extensive assessment requirements related to the attainment of educational content outcomes, there has been little effort to assess the impact of professional development designed to enhance the effectiveness of educational professionals who carry the major responsibility for the facilitation of learning outcomes for all learners. These issues sometimes become more difficult to address in rural schools if there are limited resources and support services. To realize the benefits of effective professional development, assessment approaches that link the effectiveness of such efforts to increasing student achievement are described (Rude & Brewer, 2003).
Taking a Stand
Thus, I strongly believe that at this point in time, the “No Child Left Behind” Act is unnecessary and even consider as illogical. Though the purpose is good, the very means of implementing it and the processes behind it are pointless. What the educational policymakers need to focus on first, before divulging to the students, are the teachers… the educators… the supposed to be a source of information for the students.
It is important that staff development approaches are consistent with the needs of the instructional professionals whom they are intended to benefit, and that align most clearly with the beliefs of staff members (A+ Foundation, 2006). With the implementation of appropriate approaches, positive change can come much sooner and pose far-reaching effects upon staff development, school improvement, and student achievement. Furthermore, one of the key objectives of professional development is helping teachers gain knowledge to facilitate positive literacy instruction and student academic achievement.
Teachers, as well as literacy coaches, must maintain a high level of commitment to professional development in literacy in order to ensure program success and high student academic achievement. Ultimately, teachers and literacy coaches need to commit to improvement, out of a desire to do so.
Hirsh says, “effective professional development will deepen participant understanding, transform beliefs and assumptions, and create a stream of continuous actions that change habits and affect practices” (2005). The effects of successful professional development produce a beneficial change in teacher instruction and student achievement. Ultimately, professional development that is aligned with standards and is centered on the daily work of teaching will improve student learning (Hirsh, 2005).
Foley, R. (2001) Professional Development Needs of Secondary School Principals of Collaborative-Based Service Delivery Models. High School Journal.
Great Schools. (2005). Web.
Hirsh, S. (2005). Professional development and closing the achievement gap. Theory Into Practice, 44(1). Web.
Mitchell, K. (2001). Knowledge and skills teachers need to deliver effective reading instruction. Montgomery: Alabama State Department of Education.
Neuman, S. (2001). The role of knowledge in early literacy. Reading Research Quarterly 36(4), 468.
Rude, H. & Brewer, R. (2003) Assessment of Professional Development Systems: Improving Rural Special Education Services. Rural Special Education Quarterly.
Stevens, L. (2003). Reading first: a critical policy analysis. (Viewpoints). The Reading Teacher, 56, i7, p 662 (7).