What percentage of our nation’s schools currently teach scientifically-based reading instruction?
Because all schools claim that the curriculum they use to teach reading instruction is scientifically-based, and no reputable study has been produced to determine exactly how many schools actually do offer scientifically-based reading instruction, it is necessary to look through another lens to attempt to gauge the percentage of schools in the United States that actually offer a research-based reading curriculum.
A study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality focused on the percentage of teachers in degree programs for reading certification at our nation’s education colleges that are being taught scientifically-based reading instruction. The name of the report published in 2006 is What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning. The same organization in 2016 published a re-evaluation and update to their 2006 report titled A Closer Look at Early Reading Undergraduate Elementary Programs.
Original 2006 Report Abstract
The persistent reading struggles and failure of nearly 40 percent of all American children, little improved over time, has led to aggressive government-funded efforts in school districts to train veteran teachers in the science of reading. The accumulated scientific findings of nearly 60 years of research gained the nation’s attention with the release of a number of significant reviews and compendia of the research beginning in 1990, but most notably the National Reading Panel report in 2000. The findings call for explicit, systematic teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics, guided oral reading to improve fluency, direct and indirect vocabulary building, and exposure to a variety of reading comprehension strategies. All this attention on veteran teachers begs the question: How are future teachers being prepared to teach reading?
In this study, the National Council on Teacher Quality makes a unique effort to learn what aspiring teachers are taught about reading instruction. From a randomly selected, representative sample of 72 education schools, NCTQ reviewed 223 required reading courses, including evaluations of syllabi as well as 227 required reading texts. Schools were scored on how well their courses presented the core components of the science of reading. The findings are alarming. Only 15 percent of the education schools provide future teachers with minimal exposure to the science. Moreover, course syllabi reveal a tendency to dismiss the scientific research in reading, continuing to espouse approaches to reading that will not serve up to 40 percent of all children. Course texts were equally disappointing. Only four of the 227 texts were rated as “acceptable” for use as a general, comprehensive textbook. This distressing trend in teacher training demands attention from federal and state governments, professional organizations dedicated to improving and supporting education schools, textbook publishers, and educations schools themselves. The report closes with recommendations to ameliorate this serious failure in adequately preparing teachers in the best practices of reading instruction.
What does the report say is the position of the two major professional education organizations in the U.S. for reading instruction regarding science-based reading instruction?
On reading, it looks to the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) for elementary education programs (the field in which most elementary classroom teachers are certified) and the International Reading Association (IRA) for reading specialty programs. Yet ACEI’s standard related to English Language Arts makes no mention of the need for teachers to deliver explicit, sequential, and systematic instruction in reading, instead emphasizing a balanced reading program.
The International Reading Association, in its Standards for Reading Professionals, has shown more responsiveness to the science than ACEI. The IRA expects reading professionals to “demonstrate knowledge of the basic components of reading (phonemic awareness, word identification and phonics, vocabulary and background knowledge, fluency, comprehension strategies and motivation) and how they are integrated in fluent reading.” However, despite the considerable progress the IRA has made towards embracing the science after having been a champion for whole language, it still does not encourage the explicit, systematic instruction that is so central to reading.
The Report’s Conclusion is Disturbing.
GIVEN THE STRENGTH OF THE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH FOR READING INSTRUCTION, THERE IS GENUINE CAUSE FOR CONCERN THAT ONLY ONE IN SEVEN EDUCATION SCHOOLS APPEAR TO BE TEACHING ELEMENTARY TEACHER CANDIDATES THE SCIENCE OF READING. PERHAPS IN 20 YEARS, WITH SOME PERSPECTIVE, WE WILL NOT BE SURPRISED TO FIND THAT IT TOOK SEVERAL DECADES FOR THE SCIENCE OF READING TO BE ABSORBED INTO MAINSTREAM THINKING AND PRACTICE. BUT THAT KIND OF LONG-TERM, DETACHED PERSPECTIVE WILL MEAN THAT ANOTHER GENERATION WILL HAVE BEEN DEPRIVED OF THE BENEFITS OF THE SCIENCE.A Closer Look at Early Reading Undergraduate Elementary Programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality (2016)
“Two in five (39 percent) of the 820 undergraduate elementary programs evaluated provide instruction in all five essential components of early reading instruction. At the other end, a much smaller number, 19 percent of programs, require literacy coursework that addresses no more than one of the five essential components.”
from A Closer Look at Early Reading Undergraduate Elementary Programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality (2016)
The study continues and reports that overall 44% of the 820 of the undergraduate elementary programs evaluated received either a grade of D or F regarding whether or not they incorporate the five key components of early reading instruction into their curriculum.
“The distribution of scores here provides insight into the divergent approaches that teacher prep programs take to early reading instruction, illustrating the polarization among teacher educators regarding how to teach reading. Two in five programs are clearly designing instruction based on the best research available about what works in reading instruction. These programs are likely drawing from findings by the National Reading Panel as well as updated research from the Institute for Education Sciences, the most authoritative source on how children learn to read. This research asserts that teachers need to know and be able to teach the five components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. On the other hand, another two in five programs (44 percent earning a D or F) teach at most two components of reading instruction, ignoring much of the evidence on how children learn to read. Few programs fall in the middle, showing that few programs choose to teach only some elements of reading—which is critical, as research finds that if you’re not teaching all five components, you’re not teaching the full science of reading.“A Closer Look at Early Reading Undergraduate Elementary Programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality (2016)