Critical Analysis Reveals States’ Insufficient Efforts to Improve Teacher Preparation for Evidence-Based Reading Instruction

Denver, Colorado – As states across the country pass new laws to reform reading instruction, there are concerns about whether these changes will actually lead to improved student outcomes. According to a recent analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), many states are not doing enough to prepare and train teachers in evidence-based methods, which could hinder their ability to effectively teach literacy to students.

The NCTQ report argues that more than half of the states have not provided specific enough guidance for teacher-preparation programs, nor have they adequately evaluated these programs or assessed whether teachers possess the necessary knowledge for research-aligned instruction. Heather Peske, the president of NCTQ, emphasizes the importance of preparing teachers to teach reading, as the consequences of ill-prepared teachers can be detrimental to students.

The report examines state regulations and legislation across the country. In recent years, over half of all states have enacted new early reading laws aimed at aligning instruction with evidence-based practices. However, these laws differ in their approach. Some focus on interventions for struggling students, while others require comprehensive changes to curriculum and instruction for all students. In some states, districts have flexibility in how they meet the mandates, while others must choose from pre-approved trainings and materials.

Education groups have started to analyze the contents of these laws and debate which components are most effective. While certain reading practices have a strong research base, determining the policy levers that lead to better student outcomes is not straightforward.

NCTQ’s analysis emphasizes the role of teachers in these policies. The organization recommends that states establish detailed standards for evidence-based reading instruction, adopt licensure tests that assess this knowledge, and evaluate teacher preparation programs on their reading-related offerings. Only half of the states meet these criteria, with 20 requiring licensure tests that meet NCTQ’s standards.

Implementing oversight into teacher preparation programs can be challenging, as there is often resistance to interfering with academic freedom. Additionally, governance structures can complicate the process, as different departments may have jurisdiction over teacher-preparation programs.

NCTQ also recommends that states provide professional development for current teachers on the science of reading and require districts to choose from a list of high-quality reading curricula. However, only nine states mandate the selection of approved reading materials.

There are varying opinions on what components make for strong literacy policies. ExcelinEd, an advocacy group, has developed a comprehensive model policy with 17 criteria, including hiring reading coaches and banning instructional methods that lack research support. Another analysis by the Shanker Institute highlighted gaps in states’ laws, particularly regarding community engagement and specific requirements for curriculum and school leadership.

Susan Neuman, a professor at New York University, argues that legislation should prioritize a science of reading approach without prescribing methods at lower levels. Neuman was involved in a previous attempt, called Reading First, to align reading instruction with evidence-based practice. National evaluations of Reading First found positive effects on phonics skills but not on comprehension. Neuman emphasizes the importance of integrated instruction and coherence in reading development.

In conclusion, as states implement new reading laws, the quality of teacher preparation and the components of effective policies are of utmost importance. The NCTQ report urges states to establish detailed standards, adopt appropriate licensure tests, and evaluate teacher preparation programs. Other organizations emphasize different aspects, such as community engagement and comprehensive policies. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction that leads to improved literacy outcomes.