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The National Center on Teacher Quality released a report this week grading 693 undergraduate and graduate teacher training programs across the country on how well they instruct their students in the core elements of scientifically-based reading instruction. The point of this comprehensive analysis is to address inequities in how children are taught to read, which, says NCTQ, has led to one-third of all U.S. fourth-graders not being able to read at a basic level. This portends grim consequences in adulthood.
How do New Jersey’s teacher preparation programs stack up?
From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of the NCTQ report:
“New Jersey programs performed the worst in the nation on average in their coverage of the core competencies, the council said, although it was only able to obtain course materials necessary to evaluate 10 of the state’s 23 programs. Nine of them, including Rutgers New Brunswick and Rowan, got F’s. Montclair received a C. “Prospective teachers—and certainly their students—deserve far better,” said Heather Peske, NCTQ president.”
Those who refused to participate (see list on page 82 of the report) include Rutgers Camden, Kean University, Bloomfield, William Paterson, and Seton Hall. The grades for NJ schools that cooperated with NCTQ were:
- College of New Jersey Undergraduate: F
- College of New Jersey Graduate: F
- Georgian Court University Undergraduate: F
- Georgian Court University Graduate: F
- Montclair State University Undergraduate: C
- Montclair State University Graduate: F
- Rider University Undergraduate: F
- Rowan University Undergraduate: F
- Rutgers University – New Brunswick Graduate: F
- Stockton University Undergraduate: F
NCTQ says New Jersey is one of only four states where at least 50% of the programs that participated in their survey “do not adequately address any of the five components that define core competence in teaching reading.” (The other three are Kansas, Oregon, and Washington.) Those five components, based on “a vast body of research” and confirmed “most recently in a 2019 federal report,” are phonemic awareness (spoken words), phonics (matching sounds with letters), fluency (reading without much effort), vocabulary, and comprehension
“New Jersey ranks worst in the nation for the average number of components of reading its programs adequately address,” says NCTQ.
Without instruction in these components, students are at the mercy of discredited approaches like Balanced Literacy and three-cueing, where students are told to guess the word based on illustrations and context.
How are states other than New Jersey ensuring that their teacher preparation programs instruct prospective educators on how to effectively teach reading? According to Chad Aldeman, Arkansas, Indiana, and North Caroline have banned the use of Balanced Literacy and three-cueing, and Ohio will most likely be next. Georgia’s governor signed a bill requiring that all schools use science of reading approaches. Last month New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks and Mayor Eric Adams—with support from the teachers union—announced that all teachers in NYC’s 700 elementary schools will be “required to use one of three programs selected by the education department,” all three based on phonemic approaches.
JerseyCAN’s Paula White, who is leading a coalition aimed at influencing Gov. Murphy and his DOE to mandate effective reading instruction, counts over two dozen state departments of education that have mandated these practices. Case in point: Mississippi where Hispanic fourth-graders score higher than New Jersey Hispanic fourth-graders in reading proficiency.
Is the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education mandating research-based reading instruction in order to up the odds that our children learn basic skills?
No. Instead it is engaged in culture wars, like warping the meaning of “equitable opportunities” into “equal outcomes.” Here’s Andy Rotherham; he’s not specifically targeting New Jersey but he might as well have: “The overall fecklessness, irresponsibility and almost total attention to politics and public relations rather than kids surprises even cynical observers of the sector.”
According to an analysis earlier this year by ExcelinEd, our DOE has failed to adopt “minimal fundamental literacy principles,” even though the most recent NAEP assessments show 58% of New Jersey public school students can’t read proficiently.
Yet we can do better by students. NCTQ helpfully has assembled a list of actions state leaders can take to improve reading instruction:
- Set specific, explicit, and comprehensive preparation standards for scientifically based reading instruction.
- Incorporate a specific evaluation of reading instruction in program renewal or reauthorization processes, and take action if programs are not aligned to the state’s standards for scientifically based reading instruction.
- Require a reading licensure test aligned with scientifically based reading instruction for any PK-5 teachers to earn licensure, and publish the pass rates.
- Deploy a comprehensive strategy to implement scientifically-based reading instruction, and prioritize teacher prep.
- Use the bully pulpit to draw attention to the importance of teacher prep to sustain implementation of improved reading instruction.
Our children’s future —particularly those from low-income homes—relies on our leaders’ willingness to enact social justice and take meaningful action. What say you, Gov. Murphy and Commissioner Allen-McMillan?