To ensure effective early reading instruction, invest in teachers, says Mason professor

Seth Parsons
Seth Parsons. Photo by Creative Services

As K-12 school districts throughout the country reexamine their early reading programs, Seth Parsons, a George Mason University education expert, said schools should invest in teacher development and training to reach all students.

“If we want children to learn to read, we need teachers who know how to effectively guide them,” said Parsons, who teaches elementary education and literacy in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development.

In recent years, the question of how best to ensure early reading literacy has become hotly debated in education circles. Literacy experts argue that teachers should be knowledgeable in the science of reading, an evidence-based approach to literacy that incorporates sound, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Some school districts are looking to implement expensive reading curricula based on the science of reading, said Parsons.

Parsons said that schools shouldn’t spend millions on prepackaged early reading curricula but instead use their money to invest in teacher development and hire more reading specialists who can support teacher knowledge and focus on the children who are struggling the most with early reading.

“School districts should make it a priority to help teachers increase their knowledge about the science of reading,” said Parsons. “It’s time we supported the continued growth and education of teachers so that they are equipped with the knowledge they need to be successful and reach as many students as possible.”

The science of reading means, in part, that teachers guide young children in listening to and saying sounds in words, said Parsons.

“We’ve learned about how important it is for students to be able to hear and manipulate the smallest units of sound and learn letter-sound relationships,” said Parsons.

But there’s more to early reading than phonemic awareness and phonics, according to Parsons.

“Phonemic awareness and phonics, which focus on letters and sounds, are undoubtedly important,” said Parsons, a former K–12 teacher. “But students also need to be exposed to texts. They need to be taught that language carries meaning. They need to be given the tools to comprehend what they’re reading, including strategies such as making connections, inferences and predicting.”

Finally, Parsons said, if our society is serious about supporting literacy, we should commit to reducing childhood hunger and providing high-quality preschool and daycare to all families.

“Students who come from impoverished backgrounds come to school already playing catchup,” said Parsons. “We can point to poverty as a reason for the disparity in early literacy.”

Parsons can be reached at

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at

About George Mason
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at