Preparation programs not sufficiently training new educators to teach children how to read

Most programs at the colleges and universities that prepare future elementary teachers still do not fully cover the science of reading, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

Among the nearly 700 teacher preparation programs analyzed, only 25 percent were found to adequately teach all five components of scientifically backed reading lessons (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension). The review found that another 25 percent of teacher prep programs don’t sufficiently address any of these components. Teachers should have a strong understanding of all five elements or students may face challenges in becoming fully literate, researchers concluded.

“This report confirms what educators have been saying for years: To help our students become joyful and confident readers, we must understand that teaching reading is not just an art, but also a science,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers have clamored for the tools, skills, and supports to enhance their reading instruction and help them reach all children, including those who struggle to read, especially students with dyslexia and English learners. The entire educational community must unite in advocating for the programs, policies, training and resources that bring the science and the joy of reading to life.”

More than 50 years of research have established the components of reading instruction most likely to help students become successful readers. “Research suggests that over 90 percent of children could learn to read if their teachers used instructional methods grounded in the science of reading,” according to NCTQ.

Renewed focus on the evidence-based literacy approach follows a dip in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) average reading scores to levels not seen since the 1990s. Data shows that more than one-third of fourth grade students — over 1.3 million children — cannot read at the NAEP Basic level.

“Far too many students are denied the right to an excellent education, including the right to read, because they don’t have access to effective literacy instruction,” said Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust. “Teacher preparation programs are in the enviable position of ensuring every child, especially students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, has access to a teacher who is well-prepared in the methods that we know work best. NCTQ is helping elevate teacher prep programs that are doing this well that can serve as a model for others.”

Nearly 50 exemplary programs — 39 undergraduate and nine graduate programs — were identified that can serve as models for others, earning an A+ designation.

Key findings

The NCTQ analysis breaks down how future elementary teachers are prepared in each aspect of the science of reading through instructional hours, assigned readings, assignments and assessments, and opportunities to practice.

The data also shows whether or not programs include methods of reading instruction that have been debunked by the science — practices such as three-cueing and running records that hinder many students from becoming strong readers — and whether or not programs provide preparation in how to teach reading to English learners, struggling readers and more.

Among the NCTQ’s findings:

  • Forty percent of programs still teach multiple instructional practices that run counter to the research on effective reading instruction.
  • Two out of three programs fail to adequately address phonemic awareness, meaning aspiring teachers from these programs may not be prepared to help students develop the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds within spoken words (the foundation that allows them to link those sounds to the written word).
  • Despite widespread agreement among practitioners and researchers on the importance of practice, 30 percent of programs do not have a single practice opportunity linked to any of the five core components of the science of reading in their coursework.
  • Undergraduate programs are much more likely to cover all five core components of the science of reading than graduate-level programs (30 percent compared to 10 percent).
  • Most programs (58 percent) dedicate less than two instructional hours to supporting the needs of struggling readers, such as students with dyslexia. And while English learners are one of the fastest growing populations of students in our schools, 71 percent of programs dedicate less than two instructional hours to supporting the reading needs of these students. And the vast majority of programs (more than 80 percent) do not provide any opportunity for future teachers to practice teaching strategies for struggling readers or English learners.

Additional report materials and resources