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Q: What Are Prospective Teachers Being Taught About Literacy?

A: If you're going solely by states' teacher-prep requirements, then the answer is: It depends, but probably not enough.

That's what the International Literacy Association concludes in a new research brief released Tuesday. The brief is a product of a larger effort by an ILA task force to examine literacy instruction in teacher preparation. 

The ILA looked at state education department websites to gather information on what literacy preparation states required of their programs. The researchers examined certification guidelines for professional standards, literacy courses, student-teaching experiences, and assessments. Then they linked that information to the specific fields of early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, special education, and "endorsements" (certification jargon for courses of study that allow a teacher to add on an additional subject to their license).

The group also interviewed officials in 23 states to flesh out and correct any findings. 

Here are some of the group's findings for elementary education, where foundational literacy is supposedly an emphasis. But you really ought to look at the full report to see what the ILA found for the other fields, too. (One more caveat: The findings reflect the state of things in October 2014; several states said they were in the middle of changing some certification requirements.)

  • State officials reported that literacy was "embedded" in their standards, but this was not always the case. In the elementary field, for instance, 23 states had professional teaching standards, but they didn't always mention literacy. More to the point, 34 states had no specific reading standards for elementary teachers
  • As for coursework, 18 states specified the number of hours of literacy or reading courses, ranging from 3 to 15 hours. Twenty-four states had no literacy or reading course requirements.
  • States had varied student-teaching requirements but did not explicitly require student-teaching to provide experiences in learning how to teach literacy.
  • Fourteen states required a test in reading instruction; other states had a generalized assessment covering all areas of elementary education.

The ILA, not surprisingly, concluded that this rather fragmented system needs some improvement. It next plans to conduct interviews with preparation programs to learn how they enact these requirements on the ground.

The ILA isn't the first to raise the alarm bells on this issue. The National Council on Teacher Quality has also documented wide variation in how teachers are trained in reading in its annual yearbook and in a report from a decade ago. The bottom line is that this variation is in partly why it's so difficult to get a handle on what's going on in most teacher-preparation programs—and what's helping to fuel calls for more transparency and accountability for the schools.

See the full report below (underneath the related stories).

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