Columbia Dissolves TCRWP & Lucy Calkins Steps Down

Decoding Dyslexia CA celebrates the end of an era of unsupported literacy practices at Teachers College Columbia.

On September 1, Teachers College, Columbia University, announced it will dissolve Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) and founding director Lucy Calkins will be stepping down. The news sent shockwaves across the literacy landscape, with dyslexia advocates celebrating another sign that the on-going push for evidence-based instruction is gaining traction.

Founded in 1981, TCRWP provides teacher professional development and has played a major role shaping the controversial balanced literacy approach to instruction. Dr. Calkins is often recognized as the face of balanced literacy and her leadership at TCRWP has, for decades, influenced the teaching of reading across the country. Dr. Calkins, along with TCRWP colleagues, is the author of the popular elementary curriculum Units of Study for Teaching Reading, in addition to many other professional books and curriculum products for teachers. 

Dr. Calkins will be continuing her work as a private consultant and has formed the company Mossflower Reading and Writing Project, but the dissolution from Columbia Teachers College is a huge blow to her brand. For decades, the prestigious Ivy League affiliation carried an automatic stamp of approval. Districts sent teachers to New York, from across the country, to attend the “Summer Institute” on the Columbia Teachers College campus. The content of these trainings centered on balanced literacy, which, thanks to extensive media attention, including the award-winning Sold a Story podcast, is now widely-recognized as an approach that fails to meet the needs of many children, especially English Learners and those with dyslexia.

Dr. Calkins and TCRWP have faced much-needed scrutiny in recent years. In 2020, an extensive review called out the curriculum’s failings.

Subsequently, an evaluation by the nonprofit EdReports rated the program the lowest of any like materials on the market. The details of the EdReports evaluation can be found here.

Decoding Dyslexia CA recognizes this moment, when Teachers College Columbia takes a public stand and dissociates from Lucy Calkins and the storied TCRWP she founded, as another step forward for the field and for children. We know that educational equity rests on evidence-based practices, and we expect leaders in the field to do better to ensure access to literacy for all. We hope other institutions and universities will follow the example of Teachers College Columbia and dissolve professional associations with individuals and organizations that espouse theories not grounded in evidence. Additional information can be found in this September 13th article in EdSource

Please be sure to read our upcoming blog on Calkins’ TCRWP through a California lens, and please encourage family, friends, and colleagues to sign up for DDCA emails to stay informed on dyslexia-related efforts in California.