While the research base is quite strong on the elements of effective reading instruction (what we want teachers to be able to do), we know surprisingly little about how to provide teachers with the learning experiences that can support effective practice in teaching reading (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000).
We do know, however, that existing teacher preparation has not been adequate to support widespread use of research-based practices in the classroom (Moats and Lyon, 1996; Moats, 1994). The problem is as difficult as it is important. Teachers have long-standing beliefs about student learning and teaching practice that are built on personal experience, and many believe that a knowledge base in pedagogy is not needed (Lanier and Little, 1986; RAND, 2002a). Some research indicates that even teachers who say they use reform models use traditional practices (Stigler et al., 1999). Heibert and Martin (2001) found, for example, that teachers distort knowledge about mathematics reform to make it consistent with what they already do. True changes in practice are difficult to effect. Yet mounting evidence suggests that the quality of teaching strongly predicts student achievement, explaining as much as 43 percent of the variance after controlling for socioeconomic variables (Ferguson, 1991; National Research Council, 2002a). Clearly, if student learning is the ultimate goal, teacher learning must be a target. In developing the agenda, we ask what research and development would support more effective learning for teachers of early reading.
The first question a research team must address is how teacher learning, and the effect of teacher learning on student learning, will be measured. The problem is not trivial. Key to success is a teacher’s ability to effectively integrate and differentiate instruction. These are multifaceted, complex phenomena. How they can be captured in measurable dimensions of teacher practice will itself require careful research. And the impact of teacher instruction on student achievement is equally complex, relying as it does on multiple literacy skills, including the difficult-to-measure variable of “comprehension.”
Once the outcomes of interest are identified, the question for research is how to achieve them. A report by RAND (2002a) asks the question for reading comprehension that could just as easily be asked of all teacher education for early reading: “What