If literacy is one of the most important skills students should be working on in the preschool and elementary years, then according to a new study from the New America Foundation, our education policies are failing our students. From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers ranks states laws and regulations focused on getting all kids to read on grade level by the end of third grade. It found that only five states (New York, Oklahoma, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) are making solid efforts to reach this goal.
For the report the authors looked at states’ laws for programs from birth to third grade and how they support seven major policy areas:
- Educators: Teachers and Leaders
- Standards, Assessment, and Data
- Equitable Funding
- Pre-K: Access and Quality
- Full-Day Kindergarten: Access and Quality
- Dual Language Learner Supports
- Third Grade Reading Laws
Within each policy they then looked at additional key factors. For example, under the Educators policy area the researchers determined, among other indicators, if the law requires child development coursework for elementary licensed teachers, elementary teacher candidates to pass a reading pedagogy test, ECE teacher candidates to pass a reading pedagogy test, and elementary principals to have preparation in early language and literacy development.
States in the middle group – those considered “toddling” toward a comprehensive program – are typically strong in specific areas, but have overall deficiencies. New Jersey, for instance received top marks in equitable funding; however, it has a lot of work to do in Kindergarten and Educator policies. Included in the lowest ranked states are Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Montana. Except for Utah’s third grade reading law, the majority of the laws in these states are behind all of the rest.
While the report focuses on the policies that need to be in place to support literacy education, the authors acknowledge that implementation and support are just as important. The amount of discretion given to districts, state capacity to support implementation, adherence to smart implementation approaches, and funding to support and sustain the desired changes are just four of the challenges for successful implementation. In addition, the authors realize that states cannot tackle all seven policy areas at once: “…It is impractical to take on everything at once; states must start somewhere. In this policy scan, we emphasize teachers and leaders, equitable funding, and alignment across the birth-through-third grades. Our top priority is educators: without well-prepared and adequately supported principals, leaders of early childhood programs, K–3rd teachers, and infant, toddler, and pre-K teachers, little else is possible. This is where states must focus first.”