Research tells us that about 40% of children will struggle with learning how to read and continue to struggle with reading throughout their lives if they never receive direct, explicit, and systematic instruction in the foundational basic language constructs of reading – including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000), as well as spelling and morphology (Joshi, Treiman, Carreker, & Moats, 2011).  In order to provide explicit instruction in these concepts teachers themselves must possess an explicit knowledge and understanding of such concepts (Moats, 1999).

Typically, pre-service teachers take anywhere from 1-5 courses in reading education prior to entering the field, depending upon their teacher training program.  But what really matters more than the quantity of their reading education coursework, is the quality of their reading education coursework, which can be greatly variable – often depending upon the professor or instructor of the course.  As almost anyone who has attended college can tell you, and just like what we know to be true at the K-12 level (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), the teacher can really make all the difference.

Back in 1994, almost twenty years ago now, Louisa Moats conducted one of the first major studies of teacher knowledge and preparation to teach reading.  She administered a survey to regular and special education teachers and found that very few possessed an understanding of the basic language constructs that are fundamental to successful reading acquisition.  Since that time, numerous other researchers have assessed both in-service and pre-service teachers with various instruments and have found similar results.  Despite the strong correlations that have been demonstrated between teacher knowledge, classroom instruction, and student achievement, there has been little to no improvement over the past twenty years in teacher knowledge and preparation to teacher reading.

Because we know quality classroom instruction is the best weapon against reading failure (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), Texas must do a better job of preparing and maintaining teachers who have the knowledge and ability to deliver just that. Texas must ensure that its teachers are provided with up-to-date information about research-based reading instruction, both during their initial teacher preparation (e.g., in the Colleges of Education and Alternative Certification Programs) as well as ongoing throughout their career (e.g., professional development opportunities).  Louisa Moats likened the teaching of reading to rocket science, and spending millions of dollars on curriculum programs that are thrown out every few years is not the answer.  Producing and maintaining a more knowledgeable and better prepared teaching force is… “A poor method in the hands of a good teacher produces better results than a good method in the hands of a poor teacher.  Good teaching is always needed.  But a good method in the hands of a good teacher – that is ideal.”– Jeanne Chall  (Topic to be continued on next blog…)