Federal funding challenges Storm Lake, AC-T to raise reading levels
The Storm Lake and Albert City-Truesdale school districts have been identified by the state for the Reading First program to improve reading scores, which has its pros and cons.
Both districts will benefit from the additional dollars, but they were identified by the Iowa Department of Education as schools that need to improve their reading scores.
Storm Lake will receive $700,000 and Albert City-Truesdale will receive approximately $85,000 over three years for reading programs.
Reading First is a part of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. With a focus on reading, the program will provide additional dollars to help bolster those scores. There are 31 schools in Iowa that are eligible for the state's Reading First program.
While the schools have been identified for the grant, each has to apply and be accepted before receiving any money.
For both school districts, the additional funds will help solidify reading programs at the schools and implement further training for teachers.
Storm Lake Superintendent Bill Kruse said Reading First is a centerpiece of the federal legislation. Nationwide, over $900 million a year will be provided for reading.
"There's a lot of money being tossed at this program to make sure it works," Kruse said.
Reading First will work with K-3 teachers to identify strategies to help kids learn to read, he said.
Right now administrators from both schools are attending state training sessions on the program before applying for the grants.
Storm Lake officials will meet with K-4 teachers as well to explain the program and get their reaction. Kruse along with Kathleen Pearson presented the information to the Storm Lake School Board this week.
"We thought it was very important for the school board to be aware in terms of both teaching strategies and the dollar amount," Kruse said.
Pearson said the program sets out to ensure all children are fluent in reading and have proficient comprehension skills.
"Teaching children to read is the top priority in our education system," she said.
Districts involved in the Reading First program will seek out established, research-based reading programs to develop the most effective teaching strategies in the classrooms. There is a focus on staff development, too.
"I don't want people to think we're not doing this, we just need to analyze and look at what we're implementing to make sure they are the best, most scientifically-based research available to us," Pearson said.
The grant application is due in February, with recipients to be announced next spring.
While the program is designed to boost reading ability, it is something all schools will have to do as legislation from No Child Left Behind is implemented.
"In a way we're fortunate in that we are possibly able to get funds to reach our goals," Pearson said. "We're one of the fortunate 31 to be identified to possibly receive funds from the state."
AC-T Superintendent Steve Mitchell said his school is preparing to apply for the program.
"We're working on developing new curriculums and new types of systems to improve student test scores," he said. "We are confident we will have a quality elementary reading program."
At the Storm Lake School Board, Superintendent Kruse said the district will have to set goals and achievement levels for the areas of math, reading and science.
"I never thought I'd say this, but we need to make sure we have curriculum aligned to ITBS and ITEDS," Kruse said. "It's a sad thing to say we make all decisions locally in Iowa, when this tells us we better get aligned."
Schools need to set "adequate yearly progress" goals to show improvement in test scores. Schools that meet those goals will be rewarded, while those that do not are identified as "Schools in Need of Assistance (SINA)."
Schools that qualify as a SINA will have certain requirements to improve student achievement, such as providing outside tutors to students, replacing staff or extending the school year or day.
Some provisions though cannot be implemented in much of the state of Iowa, such as one calling for students in a SINA to transfer to another public school in the district. Most districts in Iowa only have one each of elementary, middle and high schools.
Some school administrators are upset over portions of the legislation, such as the replacement of teaching staff or turning management of the school over to a private company or the state if yearly progress goals are not met.
Kruse said some question whether Iowa needs to concern itself with the legislation since the $114 million in federal dollars is only about six percent of the state's education budget.
However, since a significant portion of the Storm Lake district's budget comes from the federal government, Kruse said it is important for Storm Lake to meet the requirements set by the legislation.
"We are a district that gets a high amount of federal dollars. Most receive 5 percent or less, we're well over 10 percent," he said. "We have structured programs around federal programs and we are dependent on it. We're taking this very serious in our district."