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.

Decoding Dyslexia CA Movement Reaches a New Milestone

California Dyslexia Guidelines and structured literacy to be required learning for teacher candidates in California. 

On October 13, 2022, California took a significant step towards improving literacy for its students when the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) unanimously approved new literacy requirements for teacher candidates. 

What does this mean? 

For the first time in California history, teacher candidates will learn about dyslexia and its characteristics, how to screen for risk of dyslexia and how to teach using a structured literacy approach as defined in the California Dyslexia Guidelines. The new literacy standards emphasize a preventative approach in addressing literacy, including risk of dyslexia, through the use of screening, progress monitoring and early intervention. 

As of right now, teacher candidates are not being taught by their credentialing/preparation programs about the most common learning disability that affects between 15 and 20% of the population. That means sitting in a typical California classroom of 25 students there are between three and five children with, or at risk of, dyslexia who are being instructed by someone without the understanding and tools to actually teach these students how to read. 

As Megan Potente, Co-State Director of Decoding Dyslexia CA and former elementary school teacher said, “the teachers I worked with did not learn about evidence-based instruction or dyslexia in their teacher preparation programs. California’s new requirements represent a huge step forward.” 

Tami Wilson, Project Lead for the California Dyslexia Initiative and Director of Development & Training Curriculum & Instruction at the Sacramento County Office of Education noted that the new requirements will “…address the literacy needs of students with disabilities, including students at risk for and with dyslexia and explicitly call for and define structured literacy instruction and incorporation of the California Dyslexia Guidelines.” 

The new literacy requirements will impact elementary, middle and high school teaching credentials, as well as the special education credential and the newly-adopted PK-3 credential. All teacher credentialing programs must align their coursework and field experiences with the new literacy requirements no later than July 1, 2024. 

Decoding Dyslexia CA has been working for years to influence this milestone. In 2016, DDCA laid the foundation by sponsoring Assembly Bill 1369, which resulted in the California Dyslexia Guidelines. A few years later, DDCA worked closely with Senator Susan Rubio’s staff in drafting Senate Bill 488. SB 488, which tightened credentialing standards, was signed into law in October 2021. Subsequently, DDCA provided CTC staff with feedback throughout the ongoing development of the newly-approved literacy requirements. 

DDCA’s Co-State Director, Lori DePole, said “the efforts of all our advocacy paid off. This is a huge step forward for California in better preparing our new teachers. We now must ensure that CTC has the literacy experts needed to both oversee the technical assistance that teacher preparation programs will need to implement these new literacy requirements, as well as enforce that they are being followed and maintained.” 

Todd Collins, organizer of the California Reading Coalition and a Palo Alto school board member concurs that there is still hard work to do and said in the EdSource Special Report from October 27, “we can’t say this is done and move on to something else…” 

Diligently monitoring the implementation and ensuring the integrity of the new requirements will be of the utmost importance in the continued statewide DDCA advocacy efforts. 

For the moment, let’s celebrate this milestone that brings us one step closer to much-needed, long-awaited improved literacy for millions of California’s children in the years to come.