New Jersey’s teacher prep programs among the worst for literacy instruction, report says

A boy in a red shirt holds an open book.
The National Council on Teacher Quality said that the 10 teacher preparation programs in New Jersey that it studied did a poor job overall of training teachers on the key components of the “science of reading.” However, 13 such programs did not ultimately participate in the group’s study. (Andersen Ross Photography Inc. / Getty Images)

New Jersey is among the worst states in the nation at preparing future teachers to teach children how to read using an evidence-based reading approach, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, known as NCTQ, evaluated nearly 700 teacher preparation programs across the country on how well they prepare aspiring elementary teachers to teach students to read using an approach known as the “science of reading.” That approach relies on five core components: phonemic awareness (which involves working with the individual sounds that make up words), phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. 

The group’s report said that in New Jersey, “no programs adequately teach all five components of reading.” It also said New Jersey is “the worst in the nation for the average number of components of reading its programs adequately address.”

The study analyzed 10 college and university programs in New Jersey that included undergraduate and graduate programs for aspiring elementary teachers. However, another 13 programs in the state did not respond or provide the requested materials to NCTQ for evaluation. 

Some education experts have previously criticized NCTQ for relying on incomplete or faulty data, and for giving low marks to teacher preparation programs in states where student performance was relatively strong. NCTQ changed how it analyzes teacher preparation programs following its 2020 report on the programs.

The study comes as educators nationwide continue to debate over how children are taught to read and how much emphasis schools should place on explicitly teaching certain components, such as phonics. Supporters of the science of reading say the approach helps struggling readers who may need sound-it-out instruction, like phonics, and other direct support to build vocabulary. 

Dozens of states have passed laws in recent years that require schools to incorporate the science of reading, but New Jersey has not, according to Education Week.

Experts say reading is a key component in the developmental process that starts at an early age and impacts a child’s likelihood to graduate high school, pursue college, and ultimately a career. This year, advocates in New Jersey have called on top education leaders to develop a plan to improve literacy in public schools across the state.   

New Jersey’s school districts are responsible for creating curriculums using state standards. In a May committee report, the Newark Board of Education said it’s helping students learn to read by utilizing the science of reading foundations in phonics. The board is set to vote on a new K-3 phonics curriculum for the next school year, according to the report.

Only 19% of Newark’s third graders passed last year’s state reading assessment, the lowest of any grade in the city. Just 19% of third grade Hispanic students passed the assessment, and only 13% of third grade Black students did so. Roughly 92% of students in Newark identify as Black or Hispanic, according to district data from last year. 

Last year, 38% of New Jersey’s fourth grade students scored at or above proficiency level in reading last year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared to the national average of 32%. Eighth graders in New Jersey also outperformed the national average. 

New Jersey teacher prep programs neglect phonemic awareness

For its report, NCTQ reviewed program materials such as syllabi and coursework overviews obtained through public records requests. The report reviewed each program’s five core components of science-based reading instruction.

The College of New Jersey, Georgian Court University, Montclair State University, Rowan University, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Rider University, and Stockton University participated in the study. 

The NCTQ report gave Montclair State University’s program a C grade, the highest ranking in the state. The other nine programs analyzed across seven academic institutions all earned F grades in NCTQ’s report. 

In New Jersey, the programs reviewed by NCTQ were most likely to cover comprehension and least likely to cover phonemic awareness, but none provided at least one practice opportunity for aspiring teachers in each of the five components of the science of reading, according to the study. Six taught multiple techniques or approaches contrary to the science of reading learning-based approach, six devoted some instruction to supporting struggling readers, and five provided instruction on supporting English language learners, the study found. 

Over the last several years, New Jersey has overhauled its teacher preparation regulations to ensure aspiring teachers spend more classroom time as they work to become educators. 

Ensuring teachers know the core components of reading and literacy is essential for student success, but so is recognizing the complexities and challenges aspiring educators will face in the classroom, said Dr. Margaret Freedson, an associate professor at the Department of Teaching and Learning at Montclair State University.

“Our ideal is that our students have enough of a grounding in these understandings of child development with respect to reading, and understanding of all of these contextual variables to create engaging literacy environments for students from diverse backgrounds and experiences,” Freedson said.  

In the report, NCTQ recommends that New Jersey leaders incorporate “a specific evaluation of reading instruction in program renewal or reauthorization processes” for colleges and universities. It advises them to take action if programs are not aligned with the state’s standards for science-based reading instruction. 

The group also recommends that the state require “a reading licensure test aligned with scientifically based reading instruction for any PK-5 teachers.” 

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at

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