Great Learning

$30 Million Investment Aims to Improve Literacy Outcomes for 48,000 Children in the School District of Philadelphia

Posted: Monday, July 6, 2015
Source: William Penn Foundation

Today the School District of Philadelphia, The Lenfest Foundation and the William Penn Foundation announced a collective investment of $30 million to improve literacy education and outcomes for 48,000 children in kindergarten through third grade (K-3). The Lenfest Foundation has committed $4.5 million and the William Penn Foundation has committed $6 million to support this work. This three-year effort will focus on three key elements: teacher training, on-site job support from trained instructional coaches, and in-class libraries to provide better resources for students.  The first part of this effort kicked-off today with week-long intensive training sessions for 700 School District teachers and principals.

“On behalf of The School District of Philadelphia, we are elated that two foundations of this size and stature believe in such extremely important work and have chosen to invest in us,” said Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent. “I am pleased that the investment prioritized professional development for educators. Enhanced teacher training will assist in enabling us to reach the goal of grade-level literacy for all students by fourth grade.”

Through the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and partners across the country have led efforts to highlight and address the national challenge that exists around student reading levels. In Philadelphia, just over half of students can read at grade level by the end of the third grade. Through the support of the Lenfest and William Penn Foundations, the School District and the public, this three-part effort will advance a city-wide initiative called the READ by 4th! Campaign, an effort to ensure all students receive the support needed to read on grade level by the time they reach the fourth grade.

Without high-quality instruction and intervention when needed, literacy rates for children from low-income families tend to lag behind their middle-income peers, causing a significant learning gap that can widen over time.  Of the District’s 48,000 K-3 students, 85 percent live below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, 14% have special education needs, and 10% speak a primary language other than English.  Addressing the needs of all students requires extremely well-trained teachers and reading materials that are appropriately matched to students’ reading levels.  This funding, provided through a partnership among the District and two leading local foundations, will address these challenges by providing improved training and resources in the following areas:

Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction
Over a period of three years, 2,000 K-3 teachers will attend a week-long intensive summer training focused on enhancing teachers’ ability to implement evidence-based literacy instruction in the classroom. These summer institutes will allow teachers from schools from across the city to work with regional and national experts to build their current expertise and deepen their literacy teaching skills and training. At least 2/3 of K-3 teachers from each school are participating to ensure that a critical mass of K-3 teachers in each school are trained in research-proven instructional methods so the approach becomes institutionalized in schools over time.

On-Site Teacher Coaches
Following completion of the summer training, a trained literacy coach will be placed in the District’s 150 elementary schools to support teachers and reinforce the use of the strategies developed during the summer intensives.  The coaching strategy allows for teachers to receive real-time feedback about the literacy strategies they have learned during the professional development sessions.  This element of the project is critical to improving instruction.  Grounded in research, school-based coaching will provide a bridge between new literacy approaches and application in these classrooms across the city.

In-Class Leveled Libraries
The third aspect of the initiative will ensure every K-3 classroom has a set of books selected intentionally for the needs of students in each school and classroom. Children must have the ability to read at home, in order to improve their literacy skills, but because many children throughout the City do not have access to level appropriate books they are not practicing reading.

The books will serve the range of reading levels and interests represented in each classroom, and students and teachers will use the books during classroom instruction and students will be able to borrow the books to take home to continue reading during out-of school time. Expanding in-class libraries will ensure every child has access to books at a reading level that suits them and will nurture their interest in engagement with reading. 

The District will be seeking $3.4 million in matching funds over the next three years through a public campaign in order to secure in-classroom libraries in every elementary school. People interested in supporting the effort can contact The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia at 215-979-1199.

“We are excited to support this project because it provides the opportunity for teachers to enhance their literacy skills throughout the year.  This project is critical to the long-term academic success of our children and we are proud to serve as a part of a collaborative effort that has committed time, energy and resources to support the advancement of a citywide literacy agenda,” stated Stacy E. Holland, Executive Director of The Lenfest Foundation.

"This investment in our city’s children will improve access to high-quality reading instruction and will make significant strides in improving outcomes by giving all children in the District a strong start in life,” said William Penn Foundation Program Director Elliot Weinbaum. "The School District continues to make significant advances and we must continue the momentum. By partnering with the Lenfest Foundation and the School District, we can continue on a path of improving educational opportunities for students and dramatically increase the number of Philadelphia children who experience academic success, especially in our most underserved communities."


About Lenfest Foundation
The Lenfest Foundation, founded in 2000 by Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, is dedicated to advancing the educational and career outcomes of low-income youth in Philadelphia.    The Foundation accomplishes this goal by investing in projects that focus on improving the outcomes for children during the three critical transition periods of their lives.  The current focus areas are early learning, middle-school out-of-school time activities and career pathways for older youth and young adults.  Since inception, the Foundation has invested over $220 million in grants.  The Foundation’s assets exceed $106 million as of June 30, 2015.

About the William Penn Foundation
The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets exceed $2.3 billion as of Nov. 30, 2014.

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MEDIA CONTACTS:

Rebecca Morley, Director of Communications, William Penn Foundation
215-370-5619, rmorley@williampennfoundation.org

Fernando Gallard, Chief of Communications
215-520-2280, fagallard@philasd.org