Report Finds Many States Still Fail to Adequately Prepare Teachers for Success in Literacy

Over the past five years, most states have revised their approaches to teaching children how to read. This reflects frustration with slow academic progress and concerns about COVID-related learning loss. The nationwide campaign aims to incorporate evidence-based insights into everyday school practice and has been viewed as a promising development for student achievement.

However, a new analysis reveals that many states fail to adequately train or assist teachers in carrying out these ambitious plans.

The nonprofit National Center on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has released a report identifying five key areas where education authorities can better equip teachers with the necessary skills for teaching literacy. These areas include establishing rigorous training and licensure standards, funding meaningful professional development, and providing support to experienced teachers. While a few states receive praise for their efforts, others are criticized for their lack of action or half-hearted measures.

According to the report, dozens of states use licensure tests that have little or no content related to the “science of reading.” Additionally, the majority of states do not require districts to choose reading curricula that align with the science of reading.

NCTQ President Heather Peske, a former K–12 official in Massachusetts, commends recent changes in state law as “well-intentioned” but emphasizes the importance of careful execution for success.

The push for early literacy has been discussed in academic and policy circles for years but gained public prominence in Mississippi. The state enacted a series of new laws around reading instruction a decade ago, including changes to public pre-K offerings, providing resources to districts, and implementing the practice of holding back third graders who fail a year-end exam.

Based on the report, Mississippi, along with Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, are identified as national leaders in implementing necessary reading reforms. In contrast, Maine, Montana, and South Dakota receive an “unacceptable” rating across the recommended action items.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice/The 74

The authors argue that aspiring teachers are often inadequately prepared for their first assignments. Only 26 states have detailed standards for teaching candidates regarding the science of reading, including critical aspects such as phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency. Additionally, 21 states do not establish any standards for the specific instruction of English learners, who make up as much as 20 percent of K–12 students in certain places like Texas.

Despite this, a majority of state education departments allow outside entities and accreditors to approve literacy offerings in schools of education and other teacher preparation programs. Only 23 states administer their own approval process, and just 10 consult literacy experts when deciding whether to approve individual programs.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice/The 74

Once new teachers enter the classroom, they often find themselves using materials that do not align with the best research on improving reading outcomes. Only nine states require districts to use high-quality reading curricula approved by vetting organizations like EdReports. The remaining states, which account for 40 million K–12 students, have no such requirement. Additionally, 20 states do not collect data on which curricula districts are using, leaving families to inquire about effective instruction on their own.

Despite falling out of favor with education experts, many school districts continue to spend millions of dollars on popular early literacy approaches like “guided reading” and “balanced literacy.” This includes wealthy suburban districts in high-achieving areas such as Greater Boston, where average reading scores are overshadowed by disparities between high- and low-performing students.

The report highlights the importance of teacher preparation and support in improving student reading rates. While the report does not address regulatory questions related to dyslexia screening or retaining low-scoring elementary students for extra reading instruction, these issues are essential components of state rules surrounding foundational literacy.

Heather Peske emphasizes the significance of well-prepared and supported teachers, stating, “We know teachers matter most; they’re the most important in-school factor in impacting student outcomes. So if we’re actually going to see improvement in student reading rates, we need to make sure teachers are prepared and supported to implement and sustain scientifically based reading instruction.”

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