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Group advocates for improved teacher training and curriculum as states embrace science of reading
Wisconsin is establishing a brand new literacy office and recruiting reading coaches. Ohio is allocating millions of dollars for a curriculum overhaul. Indiana is implementing mandatory training for new teachers.
Many states are in the process of aligning their teaching methods with the science of reading. This approach emphasizes explicit phonics instruction as well as building vocabulary and knowledge in order to enhance children’s learning capabilities. However, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), significant work still needs to be done to ensure effective reading instruction across most states.
The report reveals that half of the states do not have specific standards for teacher preparation programs regarding the teaching of reading. Additionally, 28 states do not exercise authority over teacher prep programs, leaving them in the hands of accrediting agencies with vague guidelines. Weak licensure tests further contribute to concerns about teacher preparedness.
Furthermore, only nine states require school districts to adopt high-quality reading curriculum. Among those, just three states (South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) mandate that districts choose curriculum from a state-approved list and cover the associated costs.
NCTQ President Heather Peske hopes that this report will serve as a guide for states aiming to improve reading instruction, stating, “We cannot continue to accept the reading outcomes that we’ve been seeing.”
Last year, NCTQ found that many teacher preparation programs were graduating educators who were ill-equipped to teach children how to read. Outdated literacy instruction strategies were being taught, which prompted the need for reform.
While some states received positive ratings in the report, others were criticized for their weak policies. States like Colorado and Mississippi, which have been implementing strategies aligned with the science of reading for several years, were commended. On the other hand, states like Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are just beginning to address their reading policies.
To strengthen reading instruction, NCTQ recommends that states establish well-defined standards for teacher prep programs, conduct thorough reviews of these programs, implement rigorous licensing tests that cover all aspects of reading instruction, require districts to use high-quality curriculum, and provide ongoing training and support.
However, implementing these policies often faces resistance from school districts, universities, and teachers unions, who may view them as encroachments on their autonomy. For example, some school districts in Colorado initially opposed state curriculum guidelines, while Ohio is facing a lawsuit from Reading Recovery, a popular but increasingly disfavored reading program, for banning certain teaching methods.
NCTQ’s reports have faced criticism for their limited perspective on good teaching and incomplete analysis. Nevertheless, Melinda Person, president of the New York state teachers union, appreciates the governor’s investment in teacher training aligned with the science of reading. However, she is cautious about adopting curriculum without clear standards, as she believes that district-approved lists may be influenced by lobbying or lead to the abandonment of effective programs developed by local educators.
Data on curriculum lacking in school districts
NCTQ’s report identified 12 states with “strong” overall ratings, including Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. On the other hand, 16 states received “weak” ratings, such as Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, while Maine, Montana, and South Dakota were marked as “unacceptable” due to their lack of state-level reading policies.
An Education Week analysis found that, despite the adoption of new reading laws in 32 states and the District of Columbia since 2013, many of these states still have significant gaps in teacher preparation and curriculum. States that have strong oversight of teacher prep programs often have weak standards, while states with strong standards have weak oversight. Although over half of the states review teacher prep program syllabi, only 10 include literacy experts in the process.
NCTQ’s analysis also revealed that most teacher prep programs do not allocate sufficient time to teach English learners how to read in an unfamiliar language or to support struggling readers. Additionally, a lack of guidance on curriculum selection for English learners and limited guidance on using curriculum to support struggling readers were identified as issues. Even states that prioritize local control should provide guidance to administrators.
NCTQ’s report does not address third-grade retention policies or universal screeners for reading difficulties like dyslexia. However, advocacy groups emphasize the importance of parental involvement and universal screeners to identify reading difficulties.
While policymakers face challenges in linking new policies to test scores, it is crucial to ensure that students’ reading abilities improve. Although Mississippi has experienced growth in students’ performance on national exams, there is still room for improvement compared to states with weaker policies but higher test scores.
New York and New Jersey governors prioritize literacy
NCTQ gave New Jersey a “weak” rating due to inadequate standards for teacher prep programs, the absence of reading training requirements for elementary teachers, and the lack of curriculum requirements or guidelines for local districts. However, leaders in New Jersey are hopeful that the state is ready to make significant changes after years of resistance.
In New York, NCTQ acknowledged the state’s strong oversight of teacher prep but noted that reading standards needed more specificity. Furthermore, New York does not require districts to adopt high-quality curriculum due to limitations imposed by state law. New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s focus on literacy aligns with ongoing efforts in New York City to reform reading instruction by requiring schools to adopt one of three approved curriculums. State officials are also working on plans to incorporate more science of reading into teacher prep programs.
According to Judy Boksner, a literacy coach and reading specialist in New York City, training programs and curriculum requirements are essential, but schools also need ongoing support, including literacy coaches. She emphasizes the importance of effective implementation and the need for tasks to be evaluated in the