In 2024, education will build systems that champion the science of reading

Key points:

Driven in part by Mississippi’s success in improving student literacy scores, educators across the country have been discussing the science of reading and working to align their materials and practices to this research into how students learn to read. In the coming year, that broad trend will continue, with a shift to looking beyond knowledge building as schools, districts, and states begin improving capacity and creating systems aligned to the science of reading.

Here are a few specific predictions about what that could look like in 2024 for policymakers, schools and districts, educators, and publishers.

Policymakers

When it comes to policymakers, much of the action related to the science of reading in the coming year is likely to be at the state level. While there are individuals at the federal level eager to know more and ready to act, there hasn’t been a lot of policy movement at that level yet.

At the state level, policymakers and decision-makers will continue to develop guidance around the science of reading and evidence-aligned practices. Many states that have recently begun this work start with initiatives focused on building knowledge, which is a great first step. According to conversations in a community of practice that I convene with state education agency literacy leaders, a major focus will be building capacity for coaches to become the conduit between building knowledge and implementing practices aligned to the science of reading.

I hope that they will continue to draw support from national nonprofit organizations like The Reading League, The Path Forward, and ExcelinEd, as well as tap into the expertise of those who are volunteering their time and energy with The Reading League chapters across the United States. These are people with deep expertise in the science of reading who have worked in schools as coaches and administrators, and who are eager to be resources for state education agencies and other policymakers.

Recently, I’ve also seen a trend of people I refer to as “reading research legends,” such as Reid Lyon, Doug Carnine, and some of the researchers from The Reading League’s virtual lecture series, finding new energy and excitement as they share research to inform practices. I’m hopeful that their knowledge, experience, and expertise will be leveraged to shape and influence policy, whether it be at the state or national level.

Schools and districts

The move toward aligning literacy instruction with the science of reading has largely been a grassroots movement without federal support. Because of the lack of strong national guidance and support, some schools used their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to adopt a curriculum that purports to be the “science of reading.”

No curriculum, however, is the science of reading, and I believe schools and districts are beginning to understand this. The science of reading is not a set of practices. It is a body of research from multiple disciplines that helps us understand how people learn to read. If a curriculum is focused only on one component of literacy development, or if a district hasn’t worked to build knowledge of the science of reading within its faculty, they may not see the kind of reading growth they’re expecting.

To address some of those concerns, The Reading League Compass features a page for administrators to provide direction on all of the essential components required to build an entire evidence-aligned literacy system. I predict that in the new year, more administrators and other educators will focus not just on building knowledge and ensuring their materials are aligned to the science of reading, but they will go beyond to examine hiring practices, multi-tiered systems of support, assessments, the science of learning and implementation, and more. If they do, I also predict that they will be rewarded progressive and worthwhile growth in student literacy outcomes.

Educators

Educators, including teachers, specialists, and practitioners, have been an essential driving force in the movement to know more about the science of reading. Based on the inspiring work that has been supported by educators leading The Reading League chapters, I can confidently predict that educators will continue to be hungry to understand how to bring evidence-aligned practices and materials into their classrooms. They will continue to be empowered with knowledge of how to support their students’ literacy needs through professional development, curriculum implementation, data-based decision making, and individual learning from professional learning communities.

Unfortunately, there has been and will continue to be a trend in media and social media attempting to discredit work connected to the science of reading, particularly by companies whose market shares are threatened by shifts in literacy learning and teaching.

Those organizations are well-resourced and they fan the flames of dissonance by focusing on areas of misconception. The Reading League predicted this, and outlined it ahead of time in our free ebook, Science of Reading: Defining Guide. The guide explains that the science of reading is not an ideology or philosophy. It’s not a political movement or a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. It’s not a program of instruction or a specific component of instruction such as phonics. As the backlash continues, fueled by moneyed interests and misconceptions, advocates, researchers, and educators will continue to push back on those misconceptions with scientific evidence and, in time, improved student outcomes.

Additionally, there has been some historic divisiveness between science of reading advocates and some advocates who support diverse learners including English learners and emergent bilingual students (ELs/EBs). This year, The Reading League and the National Committee for Effective Literacy (NCEL), which is an organization that supports ELs/EBs, partnered on a joint statement on the effectiveness of the science of reading for ELs/EBs, hosted on The Reading League Compass’ English Learner/Emergent Bilingual page. I predict that in the coming year, partnerships like the one between The Reading League and NCEL will begin to help heal divisiveness and welcome new, diverse voices into the conversation on evidence-aligned literacy instruction.

Publishers

Publishers will continue to work toward aligning their instructional materials to the science of reading in 2024. The Reading League remains hopeful as we hear of publishers using resources, such as our Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines, to refine their materials.

As I look forward to the new year, the success of schools, districts, and states like Mississippi’s student literacy turnaround is exciting and inspiring, but they didn’t accomplish it by building knowledge alone. They did it through a comprehensive overhaul of their approach to literacy learning. Right now, schools and districts are poised to make 2024 the year the rest of the country puts in the work to follow their example and share in their success.

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