This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
I’ve been writing about the Children’s Literacy Initiative since it started nearly 25 years ago, training home day-care providers in low-income neighborhoods to read with their young charges.
I wrote about it again in 1999, describing its model classroom in a Camden kindergarten.
Since then, the homegrown initiative has expanded greatly, and it is now a national force. In 2010, it was one of 49 projects chosen from nearly 1,700 applicants for a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. And among those, it was one of only 19 awarded a "validation" grant, meaning that it has already shown evidence of success.
With the $21 million i3 grant, it is working with 460 teachers in 39 randomly selected schools, including some in Camden and Philadelphia. The results from the CLI model classrooms will be compared to those in a control group that doesn’t use the program in order to better understand and validate its effectiveness.
After that, it could be eligible for more federal i3 money to dramatically scale up.
On Wednesday, the William Penn Foundation awarded the initiative a $1 million challenge grant to expand its presence in schools in Philadelphia, in line with the foundation’s focus on closing the academic achievement gap between better-off and low-income students.
"Part of the reason we wanted to fund CLI is because it’s proven to work by data and evidence," said William Penn spokesman Brent Thompson. "It’s something that can affect the long-term outcomes of thousands of children in the city of Philadelphia."
In addition to its national work, CLI is launching a 10-year campaign to improve the literacy skills of more than 200,000 students locally.
"The Foundation’s support will help to expand their reach in 30 of Philadelphia’s public, charter, and parochial schools," says an article on the William Penn website.
Because it is a challenge grant, CLI must raise matching funds.
The award to CLI was part of $3.2 million in grants that were made to launch the foundation’s new strategic vision, which focuses on three goals: protecting the area’s watershed, closing the academic achievement gap, and promoting the arts and creativity.