The New York City Department of Education placed literacy coaches in struggling elementary schools to lift test scores. A new study concluded that the literacy coaches made no difference. The Department responded by increasing the funding for literacy coaches and expressing its confidence that its failed strategy is working. At the least, the Department should try an experiment in reducing class sizes to no more than 12 in similar schools. Hiring literacy coaches is a strategy that was long ago described by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as “feeding the horses to feed the sparrows.”

Leonie Haimson predicted the failure of this initiative last April, as it builds on a similar failed program started by Joel Klein.

A major push by New York City to help poor children in public schools learn to read by assigning literacy coaches to their teachers had no impact on second-graders’ progress, according to a study of its first year.

The city Department of Education conducted the evaluation, but its officials said Thursday it was too early to judge the initiative. They said they would strengthen the program while boosting annual funding to $89 million, from $75 million.

The initiative has been a key part of the education agenda of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who early in his tenure set a target of having all students read on level by the end of second grade, by 2026.

Research shows that if children lag behind in reading in third grade, it is very hard for them to catch up. About 43% of the city’s third-graders passed 2017 state exams in English language arts, with some high-poverty schools showing much lower pass rates.

The literacy program embedded 103 coaches in 107 high-need schools in fall 2016. Each coach was assigned to spend the academic year honing teachers’ instructional skills in kindergarten through second grade.

This evaluation tested second-graders in schools that had literacy coaches, and compared their results with peers in similar city schools that had no coaches. The report found that both groups of students were behind in skills in October 2016 and fell further behind expectations by May 2017.

Each group gained an average of four months of skills, when they should have gained seven months. At the end of second grade, students in schools with coaches on average performed at the level expected in the second month of second grade, on a measure known as the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test. It covered decoding skills, word knowledge and comprehension.

The disappointing results didn’t surprise Susan Neuman, a New York University professor of literacy education. She said the department deployed coaches of varying quality, gave them insufficient training and, in some schools, principals shifted them to drilling for state exams…

Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said he had confidence in the coaches, their training and principal buy-in. He noted that some schools showed real improvements.

“We think we are on the right track,” he said. “We know we have a lot of work to do.”

Skeptics of the initiative have long argued it would be better to reduce class size, add services for the disabled and require a stronger focus on phonics, which teaches children to sound out letters as a primary way to identify words.

The department has expanded the literacy initiative yearly, and will dispatch about 500 coaches this fall, with every elementary school getting a coach or additional attention.

Nothing is as inexplicable as doubling down on failure.