Regents push for plan that would require all elementary teachers to take new classes in teaching students how to read

photo by: Journal-World illustration

Kansas Board of Regents logo

If a new plan by higher education leaders becomes reality, every elementary teacher in Kansas will have to take a new set of classes to become better at teaching young students how to read.

They also might get paid to take those classes, and have the state pay their tuition if they want to go over and above the requirements by taking graduate level coursework in the “science of reading.”

The Kansas Board of Regents — the group that oversees KU, and the state’s public universities and colleges — agreed to ask the Kansas Legislature for about $18 million in funding next year for the new teacher programs, and the creation of reading centers across the state, among other similar initiatives. The Regents estimate over the next seven years, the state will need to provide about $108 million in funding to implement what higher education leaders are calling the “Kansas Blueprint on Literacy.”

Regent Cynthia Lane, the former superintendent for Kansas City, Kansas, public schools, has led the effort to develop the plan for the Regents. She said it is critical work because Kansas elementary teachers — as talented as they are — often haven’t been taught the best ways to teach young students to read.

“In reading, the science evolves,” Lane said. “We now know that what we were teaching teachers to do 10 years ago, some of those things were not effective, and some of them were counterproductive.”

That’s showing in test scores too. Only 67% of Kansas students are reading at the basic level, according to Kansas assessment scores. If that doesn’t change, Kansas will be at risk of being left behind as the state’s future economy requires more workers with advanced skills.

“We have work to do in that area,” Lane said of the scores.

The new literacy blueprint — which was unanimously approved by Regents at their monthly meeting — sets a goal of having 85% of all fourth-graders in the state reading at or above the basic level by 2033. To do that, the plan proposed that 100% of all elementary teachers in the state complete classes that will give them “micro credentials” in the topic of “science of reading,” which is an instruction philosophy that focuses on five pillars necessary for teaching students how to read.

The new micro-credential program — details of which are still to be developed — would start being offered in 2025, and all elementary teachers would be expected to complete the program by 2030. The literacy blueprint is proposing that teachers receive a $300 stipend to complete the program. In addition, the plan calls for $5.4 million a year to be set aside for tuition for teachers who want to take their education further with graduate coursework in the science of reading.

The governor has been briefed on the plan, as well as leaders in the Kansas State Department of Education, which oversees the licensing of K-12 teachers. The education department would be a key partner in the program.

But whether legislators will find the money to fund the program is an open question. While the dollars are large, some higher education leaders already are touting the program as priceless. Dan Shipp, president of Pittsburg State University, said he can envision firsthand as he walks through his university’s Center for Reading a program that provides intensive reading instruction for students in need. He said walking through that center, you can see students who hang their heads and think something is wrong with them because they can’t read like their friends.

Shipp said he knows what they’re thinking because he grew up with a reading disability, he told Regents.

“You feel dumb,” Shipp said. “That’s what I felt like. I just love what this work is inspiring because it will make change for the state in ways that we can’t even calculate today.”

In addition to the new teacher training requirements, which would be made a requirement for receiving a teaching license in the state, the plan proposes several other initiatives. They include:

• Require all university students in Kansas seeking a degree in elementary education to take two sets of classes devoted specifically to the application of the science of reading teaching methods.

• Create six Centers of Excellence in Reading to be established at public universities, community colleges or other such locations. The centers would provide resources to teachers, and also would train “instructional coaches,” who would go back to their school districts and provide instruction to teachers there.

• Build a Literacy Education Simulation Training Lab. The lab would have actual students who would be taught by teachers who are learning the science of reading methods. The lab would be staffed by master teachers who would help provide instruction to students while also working with the teachers.

• Hire a director of literacy education that would be based in the offices of the Kansas Board of Regents. The director would oversee a new Literacy Advisory Committee, and would oversee plans to improve statewide literacy.

The foundation of the plan, though, is a move to what educators call the “science of reading.” The National Center on Improving Literacy defines that as the most up-to-date research that has found five big ideas are critical to helping students learn to read: phonemic awareness — the ability to manipulate individual sounds; phonics — the understanding of how sounds link together; fluency; vocabulary; and comprehension.

From those five pillars, teachers who use the science of reading also adopt certain practices related to how much time they spend on various parts of the teaching process, the methods they use for correcting students, techniques related to how students practice reading and a host of other topics.

Lane said work is already underway to partner with the Kansas State Department of Education and the deans of the schools of education at KU and other universities. With last week’s approval of the blueprint, the Regents officially added the literacy program to their official list of requests for lawmakers to consider this legislative session.

Leaders said they are hopeful the request will receive strong consideration.

“I was one of those four out of 10 kids who could not read at grade level,” Shipp, the PSU president, said. “I remember what that felt like. It is interesting how life comes full circle as we now sit here on the precipice of hopefully making those realities go away.”


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