Recently, Binks-Cantrell, Washburn, Joshi, and Hougen (2012) expanded the study of teacher knowledge of basic language constructs to a new population of teachers – university instructors. Their hypothesis was that one of the reasons many of our pre-service and in-service teachers lack the knowledge of reading constructs is because they are not receiving adequate preparation at the university level – and this might be due to a lack of knowledge and understanding among those who prepare the teachers themselves (that is, the university instructors). They found that university instructors performed very similar to their pre-service teachers on the basic language constructs survey. In fact, there were no statistically significant differences between the performance of university instructors and their pre-service teachers – both demonstrated a lack of understanding of these important concepts. They expanded upon the “Peter Effect” (Applegate and Applegate, 2004), which states that one cannot give what one does not possess, to knowledge of research-based reading instruction. We cannot expect our teachers to leave our universities adequately prepared to teach beginning and/or struggling readers when our university instructors do not possess an understanding of fundamental reading constructs themselves. As I alluded to earlier, the importance of the teacher – at any level – cannot be understated.
The good news is that they also assessed a group of university instructors who had participated in a bi-yearly professional development program for at least two years – and not only was their performance on the knowledge survey statistically significantly higher than their counterparts, but their students’ (the pre-service teachers) knowledge was statistically significantly higher as well. This demonstrates that university instructors’ knowledge and understanding of how to most effectively teach reading can be heightened to a proficient level when relatively simple efforts are made to stay abreast of current research and practices in the field – and, most importantly, that this knowledge will carry over to their students (the pre-service teachers).
These findings have strong implications for the future of teacher preparation, but there are a few challenges that remain. At the current time, most universities do not require their instructors to attend professional development seminars or make other efforts to stay up-to-date with the most current research. Teacher accountability is an issue for the university level just as much as the K-12 level, but the concept of scholastic, or academic, freedom poses a few barriers to holding university instructors accountable for understanding and preparing their pre-service teaching students with an understanding of the basic language constructs from current research.