How District Leaders Can Maximize Funding to See Student Gains in Literacy
When educators talk about Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) stimulus funds, many also mention September 30, 2024—the day the funding window closes.
While that date is drawing closer, many students are still striving to recover from learning gaps caused by the pandemic.
As ESSER funds expire, district leaders will need to ensure learning recovery efforts continue. Options include:
- Looking for new funding sources
- Halting ineffective initiatives
- Scaling back certain initiatives to be available to very specific student subgroups
- Modifying initiatives to reduce costs but maintain efficacy
- Ensuring remaining ESSER funds are strategically allocated
Fortunately, the last option is one of the most feasible; ESSER funds are still available. In fact, McKinsey & Co. has estimated that nearly $20 billion in ESSER funds may not be obligated by the deadline. District leaders still have an opportunity to address pandemic-induced learning disruptions as well as set up teachers and students for long-term success. They can do so by taking one or more of these actions:
1. Evaluating COVID-related programs
This is an opportune time for district leaders to work with school leaders to evaluate how successful post-pandemic supplemental and intervention programs have been in accelerating learning. Districts have been investing ESSER funds in supplemental and intervention programs for students reading below grade level. While some of these programs have been successful, others led to disappointing results. Now, districts must evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, test replacement programs, and invest in proven, evidence-based literacy programs before ESSER funds expire in 2024.
The term “evidence-based” means the program has been tested in controlled studies, and those studies have found participating students improved their skills compared to non-participating students. In fact, several schools and districts now require research evidence to ensure whatever they purchase will be a proven, evidence-based literacy program. If district leaders determine whether or not they need to invest in other programs before ESSER funds expire, research evidence can help ensure they make the correct investment.
2. Addressing Opportunity Gaps and Educational Equity
When educators made technology investments to support remote learning during the pandemic, student opportunity gaps and gaps in educational equity became more apparent. So, along with the need to accelerate learning to counteract the pandemic’s learning disruptions, the need to improve equity has moved to the forefront of educators’ concerns. Improved equity would enable schools to generate stronger learning outcomes for all students. In terms of literacy, that outcome would be more proficient readers.
3. Pivoting to Science of Reading-Based Literacy Solutions
An increasing number of states are mandating literacy programs based on the science of reading. This move supports educational equity efforts; the science of reading is a body of research that shows what methods—for example, explicit and systematic instruction—work for all students. Key elements and insight related to the science of reading include:
- Phonics Instruction: Research studies show explicit and systematic phonics instruction helps children develop strong decoding skills, enabling them to read words accurately and fluently.
- Language Comprehension: The science of reading emphasizes the integration of phonics and language comprehension strategies for reading success. These include vocabulary development, utilizing background knowledge, and comprehension skill strategies.
- Evidence-Based Practices: Educators should rely on instructional practices that are classroom-proven to be effective in improving reading outcomes.
- Early Intervention: Research has shown early intervention is critical to prevent reading difficulties. Identifying and addressing reading difficulties in the early grades is critical to getting students to grade-level proficiency.
Education Week reported that as of May 9, 2023, the District of Columbia and 31 states have passed laws or implemented other policies that align with research findings from psychology and cognitive science. More than $122 billion in ESSER III funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the 20 percent allocation to address learning loss can be spent on science of reading programs.
How Lexia Can Help
Lexia® products—such as Lexia® Core5® Reading for K–5 students and Lexia® PowerUp Literacy® for students in grades 6–12—are well suited to support all three actions previously described. The products are evidence-based, with their efficacy established through multiple third-party research studies. Additionally, both Core5 and PowerUp are firmly grounded in the science of reading, which means educators can be confident these literacy resources will help all students become proficient readers.
There’s no doubt, the 2023-2024 school year will be a critical time for district leaders, because they are the budget holders and bear the largest financial burden. To learn more about efforts to build teacher capacity and students’ literacy success, download our new white paper “Changing How Kids Are Taught to Read with the Science of Reading.”
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