Findings and Lessons


January 2018

As a field we don’t toss out programs, we add new ones.


Are you sure all of your literacy programs are worth keeping?

We have noticed, in our work with districts and communities around the country, that most have way too many literacy programs and supports in play to get to meaningful change. Yet shouldn’t there be a constant closet cleaning–tossing out programs that aren’t working with the sense of urgency that all learners and strapped budgets deserve? Instead of strategic planning work, there is a widespread practice of simply adding programs. To address our children’s literacy needs, or the complaints from adults that things aren’t working, we often further clutter the closet. Yet all these additions cost more money and resources, and they create more noise in the literacy space, not necessarily better outcomes for children.

Without more strategic analysis and decision-making, literacy closet cleaning is impossible and the approach is expensive. When scores stay basically flat or improve for only some populations, then digging deep is required: to find out what’s already in play, clarify each program’s literacy goal, identify redundancies, note where the gaps and implementation weaknesses are, and determine how it all connects to the larger goal. Such deep analysis is the only way to make real change that makes a real difference. The issue, of course, comes down to strong leaders who are willing to do the kind of strategic work that will ensure that reading outcomes improve.

In the end, literacy offerings have to fit together and add up in such a way that leaders and educators can point to their menu of programs and understand how each one adds value and fills a niche, and for whom. Otherwise, it is back to an overstuffed literacy closet, and a strategy for change that actually distracts from true progress.