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Superintendent Woods, former Mississippi Superintendent Wright: Georgia can increase early literacy progress by investing in tiered, statewide coaching model

It’s a story of educational transformation that’s been discussed throughout the country: Mississippi’s leaps in reading achievement, often described as the “Mississippi Miracle.” 


This title accurately captures the scale of improvements: ten years ago, Mississippi was ranked second-lowest in the nation for fourth grade reading and today, the state’s fourth graders rank 21st in the nation for reading achievement – beating the national average.


We believe Georgia can follow a similar path to significant literacy gains – but it’s essential that this work includes a tiered and targeted statewide coaching model.


The work behind the Mississippi Miracle

Mississippi invested in quality professional development to ensure effective reading instruction and began screening every K-3 student on one of six approved screeners for reading difficulties in the early grades. 


These changes were underscored by coaching throughout the state that was grounded in the science of reading and structured literacy.


Georgia has made progress – to increase it, a tiered coaching model is needed

Georgia has made significant strides toward improving early literacy, and benefits from a shared commitment across the Governor’s Office, state legislature, Georgia Department of Education, and local school districts to pursue grade-level reading for every child.


The state’s new English Language Arts standards, adopted in May 2023, are intentionally designed to provide a strong literacy foundation beginning in the early grades. House Bill 538 – the Early Literacy Act – ensures instructional materials, professional learning, and teacher preparation programs will be aligned to the science of reading. The Georgia Literacy Academy, launched this fall by the Georgia Department of Education and the Rollins Center, will provide virtual literacy professional learning for K-5 teachers and leaders statewide.


The next step – the support network needed to ensure this work is implemented with fidelity in all corners of the state – is coaching. A statewide coaching model – with buy-in from local districts and schools and a common, proven framework – is key to the continued success of Georgia’s early literacy initiatives. 


What should a statewide coaching model look like?

A strong role for the state’s Department of Education, training grounded in the science of reading, and a tiered coaching approach that aligns supports at the state, regional, district, and school levels were key components that made up the secret sauce in Mississippi’s recipe for reading gains.


They must be applied in Georgia.


Georgia’s tiered coaching model – which would ultimately deploy regional literacy coaches throughout the state– should be designed to build the capacity of teachers and leaders to teach reading using the proven methods of structured literacy and the science of reading. These coaches would have targeted training to ensure they are knowledgeable and continue to grow professionally. 


It should foster buy-in, identifying and leveraging leaders in every district and school as champions of local literacy efforts. Georgia school districts currently employ nearly 300 literacy coaches, thousands of instructional coaches, and thousands of master teachers who; with aligned and direct training, guidance, and support; are poised to move the literacy needle.


It should ensure the delivery of proven, nationally-recognized science of reading training – trainings like LETRS or the AIM Institute. 


To be successful, it must include a strong and active role for the Georgia Department of Education in setting expectations; implementing a common coaching framework; and providing direct and aligned guidance, resources, and support. 


Our shared commitment to early literacy

This work will not be easy or simple, but it will be world-changing for the children who call Georgia home, now and in the future.


It’s for them that we call for a continued investment in early literacy, and the resources to make it possible through a tiered, statewide coaching model.


Dr. Carey Wright was Mississippi’s State Superintendent of Education from 2013 to 2022. She’s currently the Interim State Superintendent for Maryland.


Richard Woods is Georgia’s State School Superintendent.​