North Carolina

Many NC children do not read well. How teacher colleges are rushing to fix the problem

RALEIGH, NC — North Carolina has spent more than $50 million on K-12 schools to overhaul how teachers help children learn to read, education officials hope that a new phonics-based approach will reverse years of declining reading scores.

But a key part of the K-12 effort is the state’s colleges, which are preparing these educators to teach reading — and a new report finds what most of them are doing hasn’t been enough so far. ‘now.

This has raised the ire of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which is now threatening to act if it does not change things. Universities in the University of North Carolina system have less than four months to improve how they prepare future teachers to teach reading.

The state’s colleges of education will spend the next few months responding to recommendations from a reviewer who found most have not fully embraced North Carolina’s new reading requirements.

The review, conducted by TPI-US, a nonprofit group that consults on teacher preparation programs, said colleges must ensure their professors have a solid foundational knowledge of the “science of reading” – a commonly used term that emphasizes a research-based approach to literacy. This approach focuses on phonetics, spelling and writing and links these topics together in the lessons.

The effort is one of many in place over the next few years to overhaul how North Carolina public school children learn to read, with most efforts focused on the K-12 level. A recent report, presented to the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina system, found that the effort — the only one required at the college level — has gotten off to a rocky start at some colleges.

Board Chairman Randall C. Ramsey at a meeting in January said children can only succeed when their teachers are prepared with the best strategies and practices to help them. The report revealed that some of this preparation is lacking.

“We won’t tolerate it anymore,” he said.

Most fourth graders in North Carolina do not read well, according to the National Assessment of Academic Progress tests. About a third read proficiently.

“Frankly, that number should scare and scare everyone in this room,” Ramsey said during the meeting.

Colleges do not select curricula for K-12 schools or play a policy-making role in K-12 schools in the state. But colleges, as trainers of the state’s future teachers, play a crucial role in preparing future educators to help children learn to read.

Council vice-chair Wendy Floyd Murphy noted that the council spends a lot of time talking about building renovations, salaries, fees and parking, but also faces concerns about registration and preparation. students to attend a university in the UNC system.

Most fourth graders can’t read well, she said, “and we rarely spend the necessary time on this subject that touches so many people.”

A change in the teaching of reading

In 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly passed reforms that moved the state toward a more phonetics-based approach.

Nationally, states and school systems are moving towards this more phonics-based approach. The movement is the result of decades of research, brought to a wider audience in 2018 via several US public media audio documentaries. Research shows that people learn to read, at any age, letter by letter. For decades, teaching reading has included using pictures or other clues — called “clues” — to help children figure out what a word is, rather than following each letter.

Lawmakers then earmarked more than $50 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds to train the state’s pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers, other teachers and some administrators on the new approach. They also provided funding to hire 123 literacy coaches across the state to help districts implement the phonics-based curriculum, and many are still being hired. Schools must have curriculum-aligned curricula and teaching plans in place by the 2024-2025 school year.

Lawmakers have also required teachers’ colleges across the state to ensure their courses are aligned with the phonetics-based approach by the fall 2022 semester. Unlike K-12 schools, this mandate does not include funding, staffing or other initiatives to make it happen.

So the UNC system secured private fundraising to provide the same training to a handful of college of education faculty members at each university.

The faculty and system also worked together on a framework of common ideas to help schools implement the changes.

What the report found

TPI-US reviewed 73 courses at the 15 universities in the UNC system just before the fall 2022 semester, after the framework was developed.

Reviewers said only six of the 15 universities consistently practiced the new reading approach in all or most courses. The other nine, they wrote, need “significant improvements in course content and/or faculty instruction.”

Schools that were rated unsatisfactorily often did not integrate all elements of the science of reading into every applicable course, did not have consistent approaches across every classroom, or did not teach reading to meet needs. more diverse learners, such as people with dyslexia.

Reviewers urged schools to adopt reading and writing teaching frameworks that would embed the science of reading into every relevant lesson.

Only one school received an “inadequate” rating – North Carolina’s largest college of education, at East Carolina University.

At ECU, the elementary reading instruction courses are designed to teach a different method of teaching children to read, rejecting the science of reading.

The university, which alone enrolls nearly 3,000 education students on demand, did not agree to an interview with WRAL News. University spokeswoman Jeannine Manning Hutson said in an email that East Carolina “welcomes” the report as an opportunity to align its courses and programs with the 2021 resolution and legislation. .

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which has more than 1,500 education students, received the only “strong” rating. “Good” ratings were given to: North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fayetteville State University, and North Carolina A&T State University. Together, in the 2020-2021 school year, these schools are enrolling approximately 3,700 students for the first time.

The remaining schools – those in need of improvement – ​​enrolled around 6,700 students for the first time in the 2020-21 school year.

TPI-US also examined the 15 private colleges that have education programs, enrolling relatively few students, and found that only three of them were “good” or “strong” and the other 12 were in need of work.

Over the past year, faculty at universities in the UNC system have been doing “self-study” of their reading instruction programs, said Jill Grifenhagen, associate professor of literacy at NC State University. While NC State did well in the report, Grifenhagen said the university is reviewing the latest research and considering whether its program incorporates everything it needs.

“Obviously we have a sense of urgency,” Grifenhagen said.

She added: “There has been a drift from research-based practices to incorporate practices with less of a research base.”

This drift is easy to do over time, she said, but preventing this drift is something universities and researchers can do.

NC State, in particular, has been practicing a more phonics-based approach to reading for years, Grifenhagen said, because research has made it clear what needs to be taught.

It’s also how UNC-Charlotte got the “strong” score, Dean Malcom B. Butler told WRAL News. Professors have been reassessing and moving towards what the research says for some time, he said.

Surveys and test results show that NC State graduates feel ready to teach and teach reading relatively well, said Erin Horne, assistant dean for career education at NC State.

The TPI-US researchers suggested that universities in the UNC system take a more uniform approach to their teaching, regardless of the university or the grade level of the teacher. This could include using common terms or defining concepts in the same way.

The researchers wrote that schools need to revise their curricula and course materials and ensure they are using resources that connect what they know with what they teach. They suggested that education students would learn from teachers demonstrating the teaching of literacy.

Researchers have found that education students need more instruction on the relationship between writing and reading to help them teach writing.

Schools should ensure that teachers have a better basic knowledge of the phonics-based approach, the researchers wrote. At present, many schools teach phonics but do so under the umbrella of “balanced literacy” – a practice that can mean many things but often indicates a reading program that uses the “cueing” method to learning words, does not include writing instruction, does not consider spelling difficulties in choosing children’s literature, and makes children learn to read on their own.

Even at UNC-Charlotte, Butler expects more changes.

The university’s writing instruction for students with disabilities excelled in the eyes of reviewers, he said. They suggested extending it to primary and early childhood education programs.


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