The 2023 National Charter Schools Conference held in Austin, TX hosted over 80 high-quality breakout sessions for charter school leaders, advocates and staff. Among those sessions was a panel of early literacy experts discussing a hot topic: the science of reading. Panelists explained the benefits of a science of reading-based approach to early literacy and discussed both the successes of and barriers to implementation in charter schools. Above all, panelists agreed that every student deserves to benefit from a highly trained teacher, evidence-based instruction and a high-quality curriculum.
Casey Sullivan Taylor, policy director of early literacy at ExcelinEd, clarified that the science of reading is not a specific curriculum or approach to instruction, but rather, refers to “the large body of evidence that informs how proficient reading and writing develop; why some have difficulty; and how we can most effectively assess and teach and, therefore, improve student outcomes through prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties.”
Once attendees had a foundational understanding of the science of reading, two charter school representatives discussed their respective approaches to implementing a science of reading-based approach to early literacy. Shan Martin, Director of Early Childhood and Elementary Literacy at the KIPP Foundation highlighted KIPP’s professional learning communities used to support regions that choose to implement the science of reading. These professional learning communities, facilitated by the KIPP Foundation, build regional capacity over a three-year period. Brittany Sandora, Elementary School Academic Assistant Principal at Triangle Math and Science Academy at Apex, a small network of charter schools in North Carolina, discussed how she has navigated implementation at a new school, highlighting change management practices and training among staff. The North Carolina Department of Education played a critical role for Brittany and her team by providing dedicated personnel and resources to charter schools that opt into science of reading-aligned curriculum. Both pathways to implementation highlighted by these trailblazing school leaders show the importance of flexibility that allow for a science of reading-based approach to literacy to happen at a pace and through a method that works best for the school. This flexibility is, of course, a central pillar of the charter school model.
Attendees at the session inspired to explore a science of reading-based approach to early literacy in their school left with the following guidance:
- Develop a plan for strategic implementation.
- Provide professional development in the science of reading for teachers and administrators with literacy coaches to support the transfer of knowledge to practice.
- Align instructional materials and training to scientifically based research and ensure teachers are prepared to implement this curriculum.
- Adopt an effective assessment system, including a universal reading screener and data analysis practices to inform instruction.
- Establish a process for reflection and continuous improvement.
The session was moderated by Rashida Young, a charter parent of two early learners and Partner for Schools, Talent, & Racial Equity at Education Forward DC.
Katie Burke is the Senior Director of Policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Casey Sullivan Taylor is the Policy Director of Early Literacy at ExcelinEd.