TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

No need to beg, borrow, and steal: A road map for how states can implement and sustain reading policies

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As the former Senior Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education, I well understand the chasm that often exists between the statehouse and the schoolhouse. Thoughtful implementation is the cornerstone to sustaining policy innovations and improving teaching at a large scale. Much of my learning about how to support implementation happened in begging, borrowing, and stealing ideas from pioneering colleagues in other states, especially when their data showed their work was yielding positive results for students.

Across the country, states are rightly prioritizing passing reading legislation. Yet if we're actually going to see improvement in student reading results, we need to do more to center teachers in this work. After all, it is teachers who will implement and sustain the science of reading. If we ignore or overlook teachers or fail to support them from teacher preparation to when they are directly responsible for student learning, then passing reading legislation may turn out to be a fool's errand.

So, what can states do to support the implementation of teacher-focused reading policies designed to exponentially accelerate student reading rates? Last week, NCTQ released the State Reading Policy Action Guide: How States Can Implement and Sustain Strong Reading Instruction outlining specific steps. We released this action guide as a companion to our analysis of five key policy actions states can take to strengthen reading instruction. The State Reading Policy Action Guide shares detailed stories of states that have leveraged five recommended policy actions proven to advance stronger reading instruction, exploring the challenges states faced and how they surmounted them. We feature states from across the country that are pioneering implementation strategies in the hopes that the rest of us can "borrow and steal" from them, rather than "reinvent the wheel."

Specifically, the State Reading Policy Action Guide outlines these five key actions with explanation of why the action matters, recommendations for what states can specifically do to advance each action, questions for state leaders to consider, highlights from states leading the way, and a treasure trove of evidenced-based resources. For example:

Policy Action 1: Set specific, detailed reading standards for teacher prep programs: See how Utah standards explicitly state what teachers should know and be able to teach by the end of their prep program. Based on these standards, the state can hold prep programs accountable and create consistency in preparation.

Policy Action 2: Review teacher prep programs to ensure they teach the science of reading (and do NOT teach practices debunked by the research): Learn how Colorado is leading the way in implementing strong program approval processes and in setting ambitious timelines for improvement and monitoring progress specific to reading. As a result, their programs have improved.

Policy Action 3: Adopt a strong reading licensure test: Read how Arizona is rolling out the Foundations of Reading licensure test for all pre-service and in-service elementary teachers, along with some creative approaches for making the test affordable.

Policy Action 4: Require districts to select high-quality reading curriculum aligned to the science of reading: Discover how Arkansas provides a good example of making clear which reading curricula meet expectations and which do not. Rhode Island and Mississippi stand out for providing guidance and tools for districts choosing instructional materials to help address the needs of diverse learners (e.g., English Learners).

Policy Action 5: Provide professional learning and ongoing support to sustain implementation of the science of reading: Review how states such as DC, Mississippi, and Tennessee have invested resources, focused on professional development aligned with high-quality curriculum, provided literacy coaches embedded in schools, and built networks of districts; and reaped the benefits in student outcomes.

The State Reading Policy Action Guide answers the question on many state education leaders' minds: Now that reading legislation has passed, where do I go from here? How do I promote thoughtful, sustained, coherent implementation? None of us should do this work alone, especially when others have blazed this trail before usand laid down clear markers to follow.