The TLC Model: A Comprehensive Support System for High Poverty Schools


It is nearly impossible to understate the impact of developing strong literacy skills at a young age. Children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are far more likely to experience academic success, obtain a high school diploma, and attend college (Hernandez, 2011). Yet nearly half of all third grade students in Minnesota failed to meeting proficiency standards in reading last year.

Nearly all students are capable of reading proficiently; however, the home and school experiences of children vary widely, making reading achievement predictable by factors that should theoretically be unrelated to reading skill. For example, students from poverty are at an immediate and ongoing disadvantage due to broad and predictable trends in how their home environments establish a foundation for reading skills (Bradley, McAdoo, & Coll, 2003). The confluence of low-quality and low-frequency literacy experiences at home and at school is readily apparent in some of the neediest schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where third grade proficiency rates hover around 10-20 percent.

Providing extra support through evidence-based intervention programs like Reading Corps is simply not enough for many schools serving students in areas of concentrated poverty. There are unique obstacles in those settings that place undue stress on teachers and the broader school system.

The Program

The Total Learning Classroom (TLC) model builds upon the success of Minnesota Reading Corps to provide a more robust and data-based approach to school-level impact. The TLC program directly addresses three key challenges faced by high needs schools:

  • the need for supplemental intervention
  • the need for increased capacity in the regular classroom
  • the need for improved processes at the system level (e.g., data-based decision-making).

Partner schools receive approximately 10 Reading Corps tutors who also provide in-class support for two hours each day. In addition, a Master Coach employed by the TLC Model provides regular on-the-ground support for tutors while working with the principal and teachers to establish an infrastructure for effective system-level processes (e.g., establishing procedures for regular data-based decision-making).

Given the intensity of the TLC Model, schools must meet at least three primary criteria:

  • at least 90 percent of students must receive free and reduced-price lunch
  • 75 percent or more students must have failed the previous year’s state test in reading
  • schools must sign an agreement indicating readiness to partner with the TLC Model

The TLC Program is in its third year and we are currently engaged in an initial evaluation of the program’s impact on school-level outcomes such as overall state test proficiency and system-wide capacity.

The TLC Model: How it works (click to enlarge)