RALEIGH (January 19, 2023) – For several years, state leaders have talked about improving early literacy in North Carolina through the data-based Science of Reading.
But a consultant’s report to the UNC Board of Governors this week found that nine UNC System colleges of education still aren’t doing enough to teach prospective teachers how to teach youngsters to read.
“We simply must do better, and we must do better immediately,” declared UNC System President Peter Hans.
“This should appall everyone in this room,” said Board Chair Randy Ramsey. “It’s not overstating to say the ability to read is the foundation of society.”
Based on gains in Mississippi after five years of retraining teachers on reading instruction, North Carolina invested $50 million in a similar effort here.1 In addition, the Goodnight Educational Foundation and the C.D. Spangler Foundation each committed $1 million in 2021 to help UNC System Educator Preparation Programs implement the Science of Reading.2
Though the Science of Reading is too often shorthanded as a “phonics” program, it involves multiple components.
State law defines it as “evidence-based reading instruction practices that address the acquisition of language, phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics and spelling, fluency, vocabulary, oral language and comprehension that can be differentiated to meet the needs of individual students.”
BUT THE REPORT by consultants at TPI-US found most of the UNC System’s colleges of education still haven’t fully implemented the Science of Reading for aspiring teachers:
- One school – UNC Charlotte – was rated Strong. Hans was careful to cite the influence of former UNC Charlotte Education Dean Ellen McIntyre.
- Five schools – N.C. A&T, Fayetteville State, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State and UNC Wilmington – were rated Good.
- The remaining nine were rated as Needs Improvement or Inadequate.3
THE RESULTS PROMPTED a heated response from Board of Governors member Wendy Murphy, who said she felt “anger and embarrassment.”
Murphy noted that in 2019 – before Covid – 64% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading. And in 2022, 68% of fourth-graders weren’t proficient, despite years of efforts to improve reading.
“So I ask you today, where is the outrage?” Murphy asked. Instead of turning to Mississippi as a model, “Why aren’t our colleges of education leading the way?
“‘Good’ is not good enough. And ‘Needs Improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’ are unacceptable for the crown jewel of this state,” she said.
At Murphy’s request, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on all the UNC System’s Educator Preparation Programs to address areas in need of improvement from the TPI-US report by July 1.
Ramsey said instruction in the Science of Reading will be a top priority for the Board this year.
“Decades of research have proved that there is a science of reading,” Ramsey told the board. “The theoretical reading wars are over.”
“Too many of our programs need improvement, having failed to embrace this approach,” he said. “We will not tolerate it any longer.”
3 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67169&code=bog, pp. 29-87.