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Education Schools Inadequately Prepare Elementary Teachers How to Teach Reading

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Most of the nation’s colleges of education are doing an inadequate job of preparing aspiring elementary teachers for what is often characterized as their most important task: teaching children to read, a report by a Washington-based advocacy and research organization concludes.

Teacher-education programs across the country are failing to teach the elements of effective reading instruction that research has proved are essential—phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, according to “What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning,” released here today by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“Almost all of the 72 institutions in our sample earned a ‘failing’ grade,” the report says. “Institutions could receive a passing score if course materials merely referenced each of the five components of good reading instruction—without our knowing for certain that the science was taught correctly or adequately.”

The report’s authors gathered information on required reading courses from a sample that was deemed representative of the nation’s nearly 1,300 teacher-education programs. They sifted through the syllabi, textbooks, and other required readings from those courses to gauge whether the five components were taught. Only 11 percent of the colleges reviewed taught all the components, while nearly one-fourth didn’t appear to teach any of them. Those elements were identified as necessary for effective reading instruction in the 2000 report of the National Reading Panel and have been the driving force behind state and federal initiatives for raising student achievement ever since. ("Reading Panel Urges Phonics For All in K-6," April 19, 2000.)

Colleges that have earned accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education didn’t fare any better than those without the stamp of approval, according to the report.

The Washington-based council should incorporate higher standards for teaching reading research into the certification process, and federal officials should mandate that reading teachers know the science of reading in order to meet the ‘highly qualified’ teacher requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, said NCTQ President Kate Walsh, an author of the report.

Thorough Enough Method?

Some experts in the field questioned whether the study’s review of course syllabi and textbooks is a thorough enough method for reaching such harsh conclusions, but many agree that teacher education needs to incorporate more reading research into content.

“I have to agree with the overall thrust, that too often beginning teachers aren’t being taught what they need to know about reading,” said Timothy Shanahan, the president of the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association and a member of the National Reading Panel. “Even if I changed the methodology of the study, I’d still come away with the conclusion that we aren’t doing a good enough job of preparing reading teachers.”

Many colleges have already begun reorganizing their reading courses to include more of the research on effective instruction, Mr. Shanahan said.

NCATE is in the process of revising its standards to do so as well, and its board will take up the new standards this fall, according to a statement.

Vol. 25

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