We hear many voices in educational circles and society in general proclaiming that literacy instruction in the United States needs to be strengthened. A critical element of improving students’ literacy achievement is making sure that all teachers — at every grade level and across all content areas — are knowledgeable and trained in literacy basics and best instructional practices. Likewise, teacher education programs must ensure that new teachers meet the needed literacy instruction standards.

Acknowledging the many pleas for improvement, the International Literacy Association (ILA) has convened an open and ongoing discussion on literacy education among all agencies involved in teacher preparation. It’s a huge undertaking, including schools of education at colleges and universities across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education, teacher certification programs in the education departments of every U.S. state, as well as regional and national organizations of educators like the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), and more. While an ILA task force is involved in the development of the 2017 Standards for Specialized Literacy Professionals, the organization also advocates that every teacher needs to understand literacy basics across the curriculum.

To kick off the open dialogue, ILA hosted a well-attended session during the recent ILA conference in St. Louis, Missouri: “Cultivating Literacy Achievement Through Quality Teacher Preparation.” Starting with key-note speakers from three acclaimed universities, the session continued with a lively panel discussion among education experts, moderated by Jessica Bock, Education Reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The brief keynotes described Quality Indicators for Effective Teacher Preparation Programs for Literacy Instruction, Key Considerations for Developing Teacher Preparation Standards, and State-Level Guidelines for Teacher Preparation for Literacy Instruction, which highlighted the findings of an ILA Task Force on Teacher Preparation for Literacy.

In a related session held later during the conference, several task force and committee members from universities across the nation shared results from their surveys and interviews with state departments of education, conducted over the past year. Overall, the team found teacher certification guidelines were not explicit in what’s required for literacy educators to be certified — let alone what’s needed to be most effective. A preliminary report will be issued shortly, and the task force members will continue in the coming months with interviewing teacher prep programs about current and desired requirements in the teaching of literacy from pre-kindergarten through secondary education. Their aim is to address the rather wide-spread perception that many teacher prep programs are outdated and inadequate. They expect to find examples of promising programs that will lead the way for improvements in future teacher preparation, which will ultimately impact student literacy achievement. I am hopeful that we can look forward to hearing some good news over the next year.

P.S. If you are a literacy professional, I encourage you to learn more about ILA and get involved.