“‘Good’ is not good enough.” UNC Board of Governors sharpens focus on literacy instruction

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey

“Frankly this number should scare and appall everyone in this room.”

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey offered a sobering assessment Thursday of recent North Carolina reading scores and the system’s efforts to improve literacy instruction.

A report released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last fall showed just 32% of North Carolina’s fourth graders were at or above proficient in reading in 2022.

Ramsey told board members that students who can’t read by the end of the third grade are much less likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and complete a degree.

“If a child can’t read, how can they study science, history, math, or literature? How can they grow up to become a teacher, an engineer, a doctor, a nurse, an electrician, a plumber a carpenter?” Ramsey asked. “This burden falls especially hard on low-income and minority children, who are most likely to be left behind.”

State leaders have spent million to improve scores through an evidence-based approach commonly called the Science of Reading.

But a consultant’s report delivered last week to the UNC Board of Governor shows that effort to train prospective teachers in how deliver reading instruction is inconsistent.

In its review of literacy coursework across the 15 University of North Carolina institutions that train teachers, Teacher Prep Inspection-US (TPI-US) ranked only one school as ‘strong.’ Five rated ‘good.’

For nine other programs, consultants found that “significant course content and/or faculty teaching improvements are needed” to ensure that teachers understand and can apply the science of reading concepts.

UNC Board of Governors Vice Chair Wendy Murphy

Vice chair Wendy Murphy noted that this April will mark two years since the NC General Assembly passed and Governor Cooper signed legislation mandating that literacy instruction be based on the science of reading. She said the board should be outraged that more two-thirds of the fourth graders in our state are not proficient in reading.

“How would these statistics move each of us if we were discussing our favorite ball team? 68% of the team cannot shoot a free throw,” said Murphy in offering a sports analogy. “What if a surgeon about to perform a procedure on you had a 32% success rate? We would be outraged, and rest assured we’d be looking for solutions and other options.”

Murphy said while a student’s reading success may start with parents, UNC’s education schools that train North Carolina’s teachers are an important piece of the puzzle and must step-up.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt has long touted the benefits of the science of reading and a phonics-based approach to early literacy instruction. Using federal COVID funding, over 44,000 Pre-K through fifth grade educators have been provided with instruction over the past year to help students become proficient readers.

“Teachers across the state are working hard to help students become proficient readers by grounding their instruction in the science of reading,” Truitt said at January’s State Board of Education meeting. “They deserve to be commended for taking on this often very difficult and demanding work of learning themselves how to teach differently.”

Indeed, a student assessment administered at the beginning of the school year showed nearly 28,000 more K-3 students performed at or above the benchmark when compared to the previous school year.

The evaluation of literacy coursework found only college of education ranked ‘strong’ in teaching literacy courses. (Source: TPI-US)

But consistency is the key when it comes to instruction.

The consultants report noted that “each institution should ensure that literacy courses are not taught in silos by taking steps to see that all literacy standards are mapped out and addressed across courses and that literacy coursework is planned and delivered as a well-thought-out trajectory of courses that build upon one another thoughtfully and intentionally.”

“It is not my nature to shame, but one college of education out of 15 being ‘strong’ is not enough, ‘good’ is not good enough, and ‘needs improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ are unacceptable for the crown jewel of this great state,” said Murphy in returning to the consultant’s report.

“Why aren’t our colleges of education leading the way?”

Click on the audio file to hear an excerpt of Murphy’s remarks.

On Thursday, the Board of Governors passed a resolution that requires by July 1 all UNC System educator preparation programs in elementary and special education general curriculum address areas in need of improvement as identified in consultant’s review to comply with the Excellent Public Schools Act, and provide evidence to the system president of the corrective actions taken.

In the event an educator preparation program does not provide evidence of improvement, the chancellor, provost, and dean will present to the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, which will decide for the university “what remedies are appropriate to ensure compliance.”

The evaluation of literacy coursework at UNC System educator preparation programs will be presented to the NC General Assembly by mid-February.

“Parents all over North Carolina are counting on us to deliver teachers who can provide education to their children’s needs and deserves,” Ramsey concluded.

To read the full resolution passed by the UNC Board of Governors, click here.

Click here to read TPI-US’s report on UNC’s Science of Reading Educator Preparation Program Coursework Implementation.

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“‘Good’ is not good enough.” UNC Board of Governors sharpens focus on literacy instruction