More is More in Advancing High-Quality Literacy Instruction

Momentum for improving reading instruction in the U.S. feels stronger than ever, on the heels of national awareness campaigns like Emily Hanford’s Sold a Story podcast and the LeVar Burton produced “Right to Read” documentary. Educators have been a critical part of this movement, also documented by the Knowledge Matters school tours

To expand this push for districts and states to ensure literacy instruction is based on the science of reading, parents must also be at the table demanding change. This is the impetus behind Learning Heroes’ new Go Beyond Grades campaign. My recent op-ed in Newsweek points to the campaign’s shocking statistics that underscore the large gap between parents’ perceptions of how well their kids can read, and the truth about how many students are actually reading on grade level before high school. Most importantly, the campaign provides action steps, tools, and resources for parents to partner with teachers to help their own children and to make the case for system-wide improvements, where needed.

When it comes to those system-wide improvements, more is more. New research cited in EdWeek suggests that comprehensive early literacy policies lead to bigger improvements in student outcomes. While this may seem obvious, the evidence should urge state policymakers that adding wraparound supports for teachers and students really does make a difference.

So what does “comprehensive” mean? ExcelinEd’s Early Literacy Matters resource identifies important elements (see my recent interview with Dr. Kymyona Burk for her advice on crafting strong policy). Some components, like funding for literacy efforts and regularly monitoring student progress, are included in most states’ early literacy policies. Others, like eliminating three-cueing practices, are hard to find in even the most comprehensive policies.

Rather than focusing on one aspect of early literacy policy, the research shows that policymakers should be thinking about how to support literacy from all fronts. This includes high-quality instructional materials and professional learning, parent notification, thoughtful assessments, and intervention plans. The states that have already done this are reaping the benefits, including perennial standout Mississippi and other states like Tennessee, where results show that improvements are possible if students, families, and educators are supported by strong policies. 

There is room for everyone on the science of reading bandwagon. The more momentum we build together, the more American children will benefit through the literacy instruction they deserve.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.