The Special Education program and Multisensory Reading Instruction program at Drexel University’s School of Education recently earned accreditation from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), making Drexel just one of 26 schools nationwide that meet its standards.
Those standards require that teachers know the science of reading instruction and know how to teach all students to read, regardless of their learning style or perceptual issues, such as dyslexia.
Jenny Bogoni, executive director of READ! by 4th, the citywide campaign to help students reach grade level in reading by 4th grade, said in a statement that "empowering teachers is central to the work" of the campaign.
She added that schools and districts hiring graduates from programs like Drexel's that have been accredited by IDA and its subsidiary, the Center for Effective Reading Instruction, “can be assured these teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach all students to read.”
One goal of the READ! by 4th campaign is that by 2020, all the new K-3 teachers hired by the School District will have received training from IDA-accredited schools of education.
A 2006 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality showed that only 15 percent of education schools expose their students to “evidence-based practice,” said Nancy Scharff, via email. Scharff leads the instructional strategies committee for READ! by 4th.
“Rb4's vision is to strengthen the professional pipeline by encouraging education schools to meet the IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards,” she said.
Drexel and St. Joseph’s University, which had previously attained the accreditation, are serving as models, Scharff added.
Lori Severino, the special education program director at Drexel’s School of Education, said that teachers specifically learn about dyslexia and how to teach the “basic parts of the English language,” among other evidence-based skills. Graduates will be prepared to teach early childhood, K-3, and older students.
Drexel, which is a partner of READ! by 4th, has positioned itself to support the campaign in other ways as well, according to Scharff.
As the leader of the campaign’s instructional strategies arm, Drexel has connected with other universities, shared information about its program, and helped them implement similar approaches. Last October, Drexel hosted a workshop for 10 universities to teach them about standards in knowledge and practice for the teaching of reading.
Now that it is accredited, Drexel will have even more leverage in getting other universities involved.
As a “major, well-respected university in the area,” Scharff said, Drexel will be able to “get others aware and able to take action.”
Drexel applied for the accreditation last August and received it in May. Throughout the accreditation process, Drexel had to meet various standards set by the IDA, which some described as “rigorous,” including knowledge and practicum requirements. Topics covered include knowledge of the structure of language, knowledge of dyslexia and other learning disorders, and understanding of how to teach young readers the basics of phonics and word recognition.
The accreditation process included a site visit, in which the IDA evaluated Drexel’s coursework and observed students teaching the material.
Severino said that the accreditation validates what the program has been doing for years.
St. Joseph’s, which received accreditation a few years ago, was a member of the first group of schools to be accredited.
Its vision is similar to that of Drexel’s, said Cathy Spinelli, a professor at SJU: giving its future teachers the best possible preparation. SJU’s program includes an experiential component – the Urban Teaching Residency – in which students receive credit for teaching at schools in the area.
Students spend time working at their “host school,” while receiving mentorship from other teachers there, in what Spinelli called a two-pronged effort. Through this exchange, Spinelli said, students in St. Joseph’s University’s program will be prepared to teach in urban schools, including those in Philadelphia. Spinelli noted that some of her former students now work in the KIPP charter schools in Philadelphia, where some had done their residencies.
Scharff also noted that St. Joseph’s University is a partner in the READ! by 4th campaign and has been “generous with outreach and sharing information.”
Tommy Mosca, a student in Drexel’s School of Education, said his training showed him how important reading is to a student’s development in the classroom. Mosca earned a master's degree to teach mathematics in 2015 and noticed that some students were having trouble finishing math problems because they were struggling to read the questions. After talking with his adviser, Mosca decided to go back to school to learn more about teaching reading and how he could combine that with his background in math. Mosca completed the Wilson Reading Program at Drexel this year and is on track to earn a reading specialist degree in 2017.
Mosca said that he likes the program at Drexel because of the professors and the small classes. He says that the program has prepared him to work with students, including those who are struggling.
“When I see a student, I can pinpoint struggles,” Mosca said.
He added that he works with a student three times a week during the year and said that the “gains were unbelievable.”
"It doesn’t matter what subject you’re in,” said Mosca. “The words are most important.”