Strengthening Teacher Preparation in the Science of Reading: Continuing the Momentum in Philadelphia
Read by 4th (Rb4) in Philadelphia is part of the national campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR), a network of more than 350 communities across the country focused on mobilizing community partners to remove barriers to children reading at grade level by the end of third grade. One goal of Rb4 is emphasizing the Science of Reading (SoR) in teacher preparation programs to give teachers the skills to help all children to read.
Literacy is an equity issue since reading difficulties disproportionately impact students of color and students from low-income families (U.S. Department of Education, 2019). Equitable access to literacy for all students will only be possiblewhen teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach using the SoR.
Rb4 Partners—The School District of Philadelphia, charter schools, parochial schools, universities, foundations, nonprofits,and other partners—are all working to improve teacher preparation. The Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (PBIDA) is an important partner in this effort. PBIDA supports preparing teachers in the SoR and Structured LiteracyTM through the International Dyslexia Association’s (IDA) Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (KPS) accreditation program.
A growing number of universities include the SoR in their elementary teacher preparation coursework. But how does a hiring district or a student applying to a university program know which programs accurately teach the SoR? The answer isIDA KPS accreditation. Rb4 partners see KPS as the best codification for teaching the SoR and as the standard for assessing SoR aligned teacher preparation programs.
Progress to Date
The wealth of resources Philadelphia has in SoR aligned teacher preparation programs is impressive. Pennsylvania has six universities with at least one accredited program (more than any other state): Arcadia University, Clarion University, Drexel University, Robert Morris University, Saint Joseph’s University and Temple University. Of these, four are in Philadelphia along with an additional accredited independent program, the AIM Institute for Learning & Research, which supports inservice teachers.
Philadelphia is also fortunate that Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, has energized the schools of education to adopt these standards. Dr. Hite states “The School District of Philadelphia together with the Read by 4th campaign is committed to strengthening teacher knowledge in the science of literacy instruction in order to ensure that every child is able to read on grade level by age 8. SDP and Read by 4th are using the Knowledge and Practice Standards developed by IDA to strengthen teacher preparation.”
With Philadelphia’s momentum around university program accreditation and the endorsement of Dr. Hite, how are Rb4 partners expanding the impact of SoR preparation for our teachers?
Continuing Peer-to-Peer Outreach
Universities and independent programs partnering with Rb4 are continuing their collective impact efforts, not through state mandates or a required exam, but through peer-to-peer outreach between university professors. Rb4 partners have developed talking points, entitled “Finding the Balance in Literacy Instruction.” These talking points facilitate a constructive exchange between professors, highlighting the role of both code-based and meaning-based instruction, as well as the essential knowledge base for teachers from KPS.
The power of this outreach approach is reflected in the eventual accreditation of undergraduate programs. Nationwide, of the approximately 30 IDA accredited programs, 26 are graduate specialist programs. In Philadelphia, which mirrors national trends, program alignment with the KPS began with graduate programs, specifically reading specialist or special education, and then was followed by undergraduate program accreditation in a couple of universities. Change takes time and is fostered by exchanges between professors within the university. This trend toward undergraduate program accreditation is critical to preparing teachers in the SoR as they enter the field, and not after years in the classroom.
SoR Aligned Field Placements
Rb4 partners recognize the need to align coursework AND fieldwork. Fieldwork, both observing and teaching, providesopportunities for aspiring teachers to apply and synthesize concepts learned in coursework. However, with so few teachers prepared in the SoR, it is not surprising that few elementary schools are aligned with the SoR. When teacher candidates have their field placements at schools with incongruent literacy practices, they are likely to abandon what they learned in coursework about SoR and espouse literacy practices in line with their cooperating teachers and later adopt these methods as their own (Clift & Brady, 2005; Moore, 2003). While KPSfieldwork guidelines exist for specialists working with one child or a few children, much less is defined for preparing teachers to implement SoR in a classroom of students with diverse reading abilities.
Rb4 and Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) are refining a map, or tool, for field placement schools to use as a guide for evolving to high quality SoR implementation in all key areas includingassessment, instruction, school leadership and culture, supervision and evaluation, teacher quality, and parent engagement. This tool will serve as a framework to guide a multi-year collaboration between institutions of higher education and elementary schools to improve outcomes for preservice teachers, inservice teachers, and most critically, for student literacy outcomes.
Using this tool as the basis for the collaboration, preservice teachers will benefit from frequent opportunities for practice with extensive formative feedback from both professors and mentor teachers, which will increase the likelihood of their long–term adoption of SoR. Inservice teachers will benefit from a commitment to improved alignment of SoR instruction from a leadership level as well as knowledgeable and competent student teachers in the classroom. Elementary schools will benefit from an increased pipeline of teachers from IDA accredited universities, and the increased implementation of SoR instruction will have positive outcomes in reducing the numberof students needing special education and in improving the overall literacy outcomes for all students.
Rb4 partners, SJU, AIM Institute for Learning & Research, and Mastery Charter Schools are working together to establish classroom level field placements aligned with the KPSbeginning in the 2021/22 school year. During summer 2021, all K-2 teachers and many leaders in three Mastery elementary schools will take the IDA accredited course, AIM Pathways to Proficient Reading. Leaders will also take the AIM Pathways to Literacy Leadership course. This professional development will improve Mastery teachers’ and leaders’ knowledge of the SoR and lay the groundwork for improved implementation of SoR practices in K-2 classrooms. In fall 2021, SJU will place undergraduate student teachers from its IDA accredited dual certification ECE/Special Education K-8 program in two of these school sites.
This multifaceted collaboration recognizes that change needs to be deliberate and will take time. These Rb4 partners are committed to collaborating to help Mastery teachers and leaders expand their knowledge of the SoR and to strengthen their current practices. SJU and Mastery will continue to partner to improve literacy proficiency and benefit all stakeholders, including current teachers, preservice teachers, parents and,most critically, students. This partnership – where all literacy instructors know the SoR, where schools are committed to continuous improvement in SoR implementation, and where future teachers can apply the SoR knowledge from their coursework in classrooms implementing the SoR – can be a model for future collaborations between other elementary schools and colleges and universities.
We hope you are inspired by the work of Rb4 and will reach out to the GLR communities near you. In Pennsylvania, in addition to Philadelphia’s Rb4 GLR campaign, there are GLR organizations in Berks County, Erie County, Lackawanna County, Lehigh Valley, Southwestern Pennsylvania, and Wyoming Valley. This article is also available for viewing on the Rb4 website.
Jaclyn Galbally, PhD.
Assistant Professor, Special Education, Saint Joseph’s University.
Co-founder, The Reading League PA
Secretary, Everyone Reads PA
Nancy Scharff, M.Ed. Special Education
Read by 4th, Instructional Strategies Consultant
KIPP Philadelphia Schools, Academic Committee
ReadWorks.org, Advisory Council