Let's Look at the Other Important Part of Colorado's Early Literacy Problem, Too

If I weren’t so little, I might have stayed up to hear the first result for Colorado’s most talked about education bill of the session. But it went past my bedtime before the House Education Committee agreed to adopt HB 1238, as Ed News Colorado reported:

The House Education Committee Monday gave a full hearing – more than seven hours – to House Bill 12-1238, the proposal that would require improved literacy programs in the early elementary grades, create a preference for retention of third graders with weak reading skills and add early literacy results to the factors in the state’s accountability system for rating schools.

After dozens of witnesses and extensive committee discussion, the bill passed on a 10-3 bipartisan vote. The only no votes were Democrats Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Judy Solano of Brighton and Nancy Todd of Aurora, all veteran committee members and retired teachers.

The committee approved some amendments to the Colorado Early Literacy Act, but it was clear from both witness testimony and committee discussion that lots of people want more work done on the bill.

“More work done.” Guess if I were a grown-up and I’d just spent seven hours in a long hearing like that, I wouldn’t be too thrilled by the idea of more work to do. But they don’t call it public service for nothing. Anyway, it’s important.

All the attention focused on the need to improve early childhood literacy is justifiable. Many students could stand to benefit from more effective focus on literacy in grades K-3, from stronger incentives for parental involvement, and from a shift away from social promotion as an easy default. Ensuring accountability for the vast majority of students to be proficient readers by third grade is a positive step.

But there’s another key plank. As I’ve pointed out before, policy makers also need to address the research-based fact that far too many Colorado early childhood educators are not adequately prepared to deliver scientifically-based reading instruction. My Education Policy Center friends sat and listened to most of yesterday’s hearing, and very few alluded to this other key piece of the puzzle.

There was at least one noteworthy exception. Former State Board of Education member Peggy Littleton noted in her late-hour committee testimony that “better training of teachers in teaching literacy” is what’s “really needed.” An excellent point. Certainly there is some value in what HB 1238 has to offer, but be wary of investing the legislation with false hopes if teacher preparation is not effectively addressed, too.