The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 2, September 2001


Abha Gupta and Eileen Oboler


We present the important and very complicated roles of the Title I Reading teacher in light of a new instructional paradigm: teamteaching. Following the 1994 reauthorization of Title I, Reading teachers often find themselves in multiple professional roles (Improving America's Schools Act, 1994). Based on observational data collected in our research on elementary school communities, five major categories of professional roles emerged (Oboler, 1993; Gupta and Oboler, 1998). We interpret Reading teachers' roles with respect to the new provisions found in the Interim Report, 1996, issued by the U.S. Department of Education (, and Title I, Part A, Title I of The Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999 ( Various dependent roles; such as, resource teacher, mentor, intern, team teacher, and administrator are subsumed under the title, Reading Teacher / Literacy Specialist. A teamteaching model for instructing students at-risk, in compliance with federal regulations, demonstrates successful collaborative teaching practices to maximize student learning opportunities.


The purpose of this article is to focus on the changing roles of today's Title I reading teachers based on changing Title I guidelines in light of a "teamteaching model." The authors argue that with the changing dynamics of school environments, Reading teachers' roles are changing; the roles are more broadly defined. The emerging roles vary from that of a traditional Reading teacher to a resource teacher, a mentor, an intern, a team teacher, an administrator/supervisor, a parent liaison, a staff developer, a committee member, and an evaluator. These roles are described in this article, citing Title I federal guidelines and the "new provisions."

Reading is a number one priority in public schools in the United States and the role of the Reading teacher is changing dramatically. Refocusing federal legislation and program design for Title I are impacting the change in roles. Teachers hired as Reading teachers, specialists, are charged with the responsibility of instructing our students to read. Over the years, the Reading teachers have worn many different hats. One such teacher, Rachel, from an urban southwestern elementary school, discussed the changes in her responsibilities as a reading teacher. She revealed: "Who I am is changing drastically. When I started Chapter 1 [now Title I] it was a pullout, basically remedial, small group instruction" (Oboler, 1993). Rachel made that remark with much optimism and seemed satisfied with how things were going, but was somewhat unsure of what the future would hold. More than a decade later, Reading teachers continue to look to the future.

Today Rachel's comments reflect the still-changing dynamics of the Title I program. Title I programs in the U.S. serve students at risk of school failure who live in low-income communities. The program grew out of President Johnson's, War on Poverty, efforts. Beginning with the passage of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), federal support for elementary and secondary education presently totals nearly $8 billion, reaching more than half the schools in the country. Today 11 million students are served by Title I in more than 45,000 schools. It is the most expansive federal investment in elementary as well as secondary schools; however only one-third of the at-risk student population is served. Two-thirds of the students are enrolled in grades one through six (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). For 30 years, Title I has been helping to improve education for students in low-income areas. According to the National Assessment of Chapter 1, "Title I" focused the attention of policymakers and educators on the needs of poor and educationally disadvantaged children (U.S. Department of Education, 1999; Public Law 89-10).

Every four years the Title I program is subject to reauthorization and is presently in committee for its year 2000 reauthorization. Reauthorization of the Title I program in 1996 made some significant changes. One of the most significant changes relating to pedagogy is the instructional paradigm shift from the traditional "pullout" model (identified at-risk students are taken out of the regular classroom to receive remedial services by a Title I teacher) to a new "inclass / teamteaching" model ,whereby both Title I Reading teachers and classroom teachers work with at-risk students in the classroom (Allington, 1993; International Reading Association, 2000).

Changing Needs, Changing Roles

Current research (U.S. Department of Education, 1999) supports a changing philosophy for educating children in our schools. During the late 1980s and continued through the early 1990s the gap in students' achievement widened. Title I, thereby, was restructured to focus on the same high standards for all students, highlighting "...a clear focus on raising standards for all children...," and emphasizing "...high-quality teaching..." (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). This pragmatic view addresses instruction in classroom work, rather than worksheets used to remediate students as in a deficit model of instruction (Allington, 1993). A national effort to bring the Reading specialist into the classroom is underway. This collaborative teaching model, we argue, depends on implementing "teamteaching" practices. Teamteaching is not very new, but is not usually implemented, especially in elementary schools.

Change in educational practices is slow. Perhaps it needs to be slow, in order to include every member of the Title I community: specialists, administrators, parents, and students. Otherwise, in our zeal for quick educational reform, and to be on the cutting edge, we delegate change rather than support a bottom-up creation of change (Cuban, 1988). Change within schools needs to address individual school needs and create an environment whereby the stakeholders, i.e., the Title I community, may take ownership of change and have voice in decisionmaking through a forum for discussion. Title I, Part A (U.S. Department of Education,1999) proposes the need for all schools to have parent compacts and integrate family literacy services.

Inherent in the notion of program change is the concept of teacher change. According to Apple (1986), it is the program that drives the curriculum; it then follows that it is the teacher who delivers the program. Change is a socio-political process (Fullan and Steigelbauer, 1991) and the teacher as implementer is crucial. A program plan is only part of the change, deciding how the program can best be implemented in a school addressing its students' needs is a major responsibility for the teachers. Both, reading and classroom teachers in a school must participate, with the support and input of the whole Title I community. The Reading teacher is a key stakeholder in the change process (Oboler, 1993).

A Bird's-eye View of the New Provisions

The preauthorized Title I aims to improve the fundamental quality of curriculum and instruction for students served through the program, whether Title I provides services to individual students or supports whole school reform. Using Title I to support enriching curriculum and instruction requires that schools:

Use effective strategies to improve children's achievement in basic skills and core academic areas by increasing the amount and quality of learning time and emphasizing instruction by highly qualified professional staff; and Provide students who have trouble mastering established standards with additional assistance that is timely and effective.

Title I key elements on schoolwide reform are six-fold: (1) maintain a clear focus on raising standards for all students; (2) strengthen accountability in districts and schools; (3) reward improvement and success; (4) increase funding to promote student performance by increasing state funding from 2.5 to 3.5 % in the 2003-4 school year; (5) emphasize high quality teaching; and (6) strengthen schoolwide efforts in high-poverty schools with an emphasis on schools with a 50% student eligibility criteria (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

By requiring that Title I schools hold students to the high achievement standards approved by their state, the law presumes that Title I resources will help these students to acquire the full range of knowledge and skills expected of all students. This is yet another area of change. Title I is no longer intended to operate solely as a remedial program focused on low-level skills development.

The Roles of the Reading Teacher/Literacy Specialist

A Reading teacher should be a licensed or certified teacher in accordance with the laws and regulations of the state in which the teacher is working. Currently, "...all new teachers paid by Title I or working in a Title I school operating a schoolwide program would need to be certified in the field in which she/he teaches or has a bachelor's degree and is working toward full certification within three years" (U.S. Departmentt of Education, 1999).

A Reading teacher, in addition, has often worked towards advanced professional development, education, and /or licensure or state certification. The label, Reading teacher, is not usually held simultaneously by a classroom teacher. A Reading teacher is often regarded as a Reading specialist. The nomenclature for a reading teacher varies from literacy skills specialist, language arts specialist, to a communication specialist. For the purpose of this paper, the authors use the term "Reading teacher" throughout the paper because of Title I specifications and use of the term. The following is a list of five major categories of roles which evolved from observations of Reading teachers' practices (Oboler, 1993; Gupta & Oboler, 1998).

I. Reading Teacher/ Literacy Specialist

  • Resource Teacher
  • Mentor
  • Intern
  • Team Teacher
  • Administrator/Supervisor

II. Reading Teacher/Parent Liaison
III. Reading Teacher/Staff Developer
IV. Reading Teacher/Committee Member
V. Reading Teacher/Evaluator

The above roles are dependent on Reading teacher and classroom teacher collaboration in addressing student's educational needs. As a "teamteacher," for example, a Title I Reading teacher may model practices (mentor) while providing resources (resource teacher), or as a Reading teacher may provide staff development (staff developer) for the school faculty. In other words, the roles of the reading teacher are all inclusive, yet flexible.

Mostly, the responsibilities and roles of teachers are shaped by the district office and the school administration based on how district coordinators/supervisors and administrators interpret compliance with federal regulations. In addition, the school culture, as a way of life based in beliefs held by the school community and practices within the school, often defines how these roles are construed and practiced. Following is a descriptive explanation of each of the roles mentioned above.

I. Reading Teacher/ Literacy Specialist
The school community regards the Reading teacher as an expert who knows how to teach reading. As an expert, the reading teacher is often invited to participate in school committees requiring her/his special expertise. These committees include curriculum planning, book adoption, and school reform planning. At times, the Reading teacher's participation is requested on a "child-study team," assessing special education referrals. The primary role of the Title I Reading teacher, according to federal mandates, is described as that of a teacher who works with targeted students, identifies students, and "uses effective strategies to improve children's achievement in basic skills and core academic areas and provides timely and effective assistance" (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

Resource teacher.
Often Reading teachers have professional development or educational experiences enabling them to provide current research-based alternative instruction and evaluation practices. As a member of the professional community, they often are members of professional groups, subscribe to current journals in the field and are aware of current literature, software, and activities to enrich learning experiences. They could be called upon, within the description of this role, to be responsible for:

  • providing staff development, accessibility of materials, building bridges between colleagues, networking with staff;
  • assisting in grant writing, providing workshops for administrators and awareness sessions for parents and community members;
  • diagnosing transferred or new students to school for initial placement in reading;
  • initiating schoolwide reading incentive program (e.g., Reading Is Fundamental); consulting with classroom teachers, student educational evaluators and be involved in additional federal initiatives such as America Reads or other volunteer tutoring programs.

Reading teachers with many years of experience, working with a novice teacher may find their roles change from practicing teachers to mentors for a novice or other experienced practicing teachers. The new roles might involve role-modeling, directing lesson plans, reflecting on teacher/learning, updating current practices in instruction and evaluation. This experience is meaningful for both mentor teacher and teacher intern. An experienced Reading teacher can be a very effective role model and a resource person for a classroom teacher by introducing new reading strategies, employing innovative techniques and addressing current literature.

Conversely, a novice Reading teacher can be an apprentice, learning on the job from a more experienced classroom teacher. This may involve learning about classroom management, implementing and adjusting teaching methodologies with a larger and a more varied group of students. Learning about integration of content areas across the curriculum would likely take place during content area blocks, rather than during reading or language arts. Reading teachers learn about scope and sequence or state standards for learning in content areas.

Team teacher.
The new Title I guidelines emphasize minimal pull-out of identified Title I children from regular classrooms based on the disadvantages of pullout (Allington, 1993). The inclass model of instruction promotes a more positive approach by allowing the Reading teacher to visit the classroom and work in the classroom team teaching with the classroom teacher. A variety of instructional methodologies may be used by the two teamteachers to work with the entire class or only identified, targeted students. These methods range from parallel instruction, small group instruction, mini-lessons, individual conferences, students floating among different centers to complementary teaching (where both teachers use different aspects of the lesson to be taught) and writing workshops. These are some excellent ways in which both teachers are effective in maximizing learning in the classroom.

Teamteaching can be very productive but also very challenging, especially for the Reading teachers, who are assigned to different classrooms during a day and work with various classroom teachers who may not be in agreement with their philosophical beliefs and pedagogical orientations. Flexibility is the key for both partners. A philosophy that allows teachers the flexibility to balance their literacy instruction will facilitate reading development (Boothroyd, 1999). Most importantly, with a strong commitment to collaborate, teachers can maximize their strengths in knowledge and pedagogy.

The technical issue of serving non-identified students by Title I personnel in target-assistance schools is an ongoing dilemma for Title I teachers as well as administrators (schoolwide programs do not have this dilemma because all children may be served by the Title I personnel). Compliance with federal regulations requires supplementing, not supplanting (duplicating services). The "incidental inclusion clause" is discussed under the heading, "More About New Provisions.…

Administrator / Supervisor.
Federal regulations require Title I reading teachers to keep formal records of all students. The protection of confidentiality is an important part of this procedure. In target-assisted programs, parent permission slips are required of every participating Title I student. The standardized test scores, pre and post test data, as well as other information regarding final grades, are usually kept in each student's folder. Reading teachers may be required to submit monthly monitoring forms related to skills covered in reading each month with each identified child. Goals for students' instructional development need to match goals as stated in school's standards as related to state standards.

Some Reading teachers' roles in the classroom may include that of a participant observer or a supervisor. In a typical situation, the classroom teacher teaches while the Reading teacher moves among the students or assists those students who need help with the classroom work. This situation could occur in an inclass program where the classroom teacher and the specialist take turns instructing and supervising.

The remaining roles of the Reading teacher: parent liaison, staff developer, committee member, and evaluator are presented in the following section through the interpretation of the legislated new provisions.

More About New Provisions and More Reading Teachers' Roles
The U.S. Department of Education includes the following clause called, Incidental Inclusion (for Target Assisted Programs), and recommends:

A school may provide, on an incidental basis, Title I services to children who have not been selected to participate in the Title I program. This would be allowable only if the Title I program:

  • Is designed to meet the special educational needs of the children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the State's challenging student performance standards and is focused on those children; and
  • The inclusion of non-Title I , Part A children does not - Decrease the amount, duration, or quality of Part A services for Part A children; Increase the cost of providing the services; or Result in the exclusion of children who would otherwise receive Part A services. (U.S. Department of Education, April 1996, Policy Guidance for Title I, Part A, Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies)

Part A of the New Provisions
[The Local Education Agency] LEA establishes multiple, educationally related, objective criteria to determine which children are eligible to participate in Part A. Each targeted assistance school may supplement these criteria and selects, from among its eligible children, those who are in greatest need for Part A assistance. Children eligible for Part A services must be from the following population:

  • Children not older than age 21 who are entitled to a free public education through grade 12.
  • Children, who are not yet at a grade level where the LEA provides free public education, yet are of an age at which they can benefit from an organized instructional program provided in a school or other educational setting. 1999 legislation includes a statement regarding preschool children of any age must be included as long as they will benefit from organized instructional program" (U.S. Department of Education, April 1996).
  • Eligible children are children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the State's challenging student performance standards and subjects must include Reading and/or language arts. (1999 legislation, Section 111(2)(B)(ii)). A targeted assistance school generally identifies eligible children within the school on the basis of multiple, educationally related, objective criteria established by the LEA and supplemented by the school. (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

Title I legislation (1999) requires family literacy services in accommodation with parents' work schedules (see Section 125, program elements; ESEA S1205). According to PL103-382, Title I must provide activities involving parents. Section 5 of the Interim Report (U.S. Department of Education, 1996) discusses how each school needs to formulate a plan:

Jointly developed Title I policies: Each Title I school will jointly develop with and distribute to parents a written parent involvement policy. In their policies, schools will address how they will involve parents in a timely and organized way in the planning and improvement of Title I-supported activities. Policy involvement includes developing the school-wide plan, establishing school/parent compacts, and building capacity to support parent involvement. Policies are also to address how schools will provide parents with information on expected students' proficiency levels and on the school's profiles, which present data on academic performance and achievement. In addition, each school district will formulate jointly with parents a written policy that involves parents in the process of school review and improvement. The district policy is to describe how the agency will strengthen schools' and parents' capacity for parent involvement and coordinate parent involvement under Title I with other programs, such as Even Start. Districts receiving $500,000 or more are to reserve at least one percent of their Title I funds to support parent involvement activities, including family literacy and parent training programs. The district is to evaluate its parent involvement policies annually, with the participation of parent.

Title I school-parent compacts.
School-parent compacts are agreements developed between parents and school staff to help children achieve success with high standards. The compacts recognize that families and schools need to work together toward mutual goals and that they share responsibilities for each student's performance. The school-parent compact must describe the means by which schools and parents will develop their partnerships for ongoing communication. The legislation encourages schools to reach out to parents by implementing practices that support strong parent participation, such as flexible scheduling of home-school conferences. Families and the school communities are encouraged to participate in key decisions about curriculum, instruction, assessment, and how families can help their children meet high academic standards.

II. Reading Teacher/Parent Liaison
Parent or family member involvement in the learning experiences of a child cannot be taken for granted. Teachers need to reach out to parents as much as possible. It is general knowledge that the ratio of teacher to students is much higher than the ratio of parent to a child. A child can get more individualized attention at home than at school. Schools and parents share this responsibility for students' learning. Many parents respond positively to meeting with teachers, doing learning activities that are sent home, and following up on teacher's recommendations. However, the maximum challenge that the reading teachers face comes from a different segment of family members who are hard to get in touch with. We, as Reading teachers, can relate to the times when letters were sent home, phone calls were made, for an upcoming parent conference, refreshments were provided for and few Title I parents attended. This is the biggest challenge because new regulations require parent involvement. Meaningful participation through thoughtful decision-making should be the goal. Attention should be given to time schedules for meetings, the school environment, and provisions for transportation. These are necessary features of successful meetings with parents.

III. Reading Teacher/Staff Developer
Most reading teachers are members of professional organizations, attend professional reading council meetings and visit state or national conferences. They, in turn, provide professional development sessions for other teachers.

The Eisenhower Grant, part of the Professional Development Program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Goals 2000 both contain caveats encouraging and requiring staff development for teachers both within Title I funding and outside of federal funding (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). A classroom teacher, for example, could benefit from these workshops and programs although the teacher is not receiving a salary from Title I funds.

In the Title II Professional Development Program, districts are required to provide professional development for teachers in Title I schools. Once again, each teacher within the school is not necessarily salaried by Title I funds. These schools identified for improvement, falling below targets for progress according to site-developed plans, are required to show meaningful professional development activities. One way to fund this is to use 5% or10% of annual Title I funds.

Professional development should focus on challenging state content and performance standards, thereby integrating overall reform efforts. This is a priority highlighted in all parts of the new provisions. In addition to emphasizing state standards, the legislation specifically allows states to combine Title I funds for professional development with funds from Title II (the Eisenhower Professional Development Program) of the ESEA and Goals 2000. The new law expands the subject areas that can be supported by Title II beyond mathematics and science when high funding levels are reached:

Title I funds can be used for a variety of professional development activities including training school staff to work more effectively with parents and creating career ladder programs for paraprofessionals to enable them to become certified teachers. To provide external support to Title I schools in building their capacity for improvement… (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

State assistance as well as federal technical assistance is available and usually provided through support centers. Ongoing support through professional development activities at school sites is crucial to implement change (Oboler, 1993; Gupta & Oboler, 1998). Section 119(3) will amend the 1994 legislation by including a requirement for "high-quality professional development." Five percent of the Part A grant must be used for fiscal years 2001-2 and ten percent for following years in regards to professional development. (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

IV. Reading Teacher/Committee Member
Reading teachers often find themselves serving or chairing various school committees: child screening, literature review, young author, parental involvement, curriculum committee. Serving on various committees is one of the responsibilities of Reading teachers. Their expertise is widely called upon in reference to book selection, curriculum decisions, at-risk student selection and so on. In the planning and evaluation stages, the Reading teacher works cooperatively with the school community.

In schoolwide programs, school planning committees are comprised of classroom teachers, Reading teachers, administrators, parents, and a student representative in middle and upper grades. Planned monthly meetings address school-based issues, i.e., school improvement plans (U.S. Department of Education, 1996).

V. Reading Teacher/Evaluator
The Reading teacher is responsible for record-keeping and therefore evaluating the program. The number crunching statistics and the data collection of teachers' comments and students' work provide both quantitative and qualitative data. Any inconsistency of student progress and the justification of the program may create a dilemma. If a student is two years below grade level in reading and shows progress, according to results from a standardized reading test, as a 1.5 year growth within a nine month instructional period, the student is still not performing "on grade level." The Reading teacher is accountable for success and failure; the student did not make the grade. The notion of measuring student performance as a result of standardized testing, limited to success only if on grade level, shows a lack of understanding of the learning process. Both students and teachers should be recognized as successful through the use of alternative measures as well. The current trend to performance-based tests shows, more accurately, what the students can do and allows for more descriptive assessments of their work. One such example is the rubric scoring for testing, showing developmental levels, and allowing for successful growth patterns as an alternative to grade levels. Portfolio assessment is another alternative to traditional testing. The bottom line is to demonstrate growth through student performance in the learning process.

The Title I Reading teachers are responsible to prepare and submit reports to the district office. These reports are compiled and presented by the district to the state and federal investigators for compensatory programs. In view of the 1999 Title I amendments, more ongoing developmental evaluations are needed to check adherence to state standards. These more in-depth evaluations should reveal students' successful incremental development.

Title I Evaluation and the New Provisions
The U.S. Department of Education recommends the following to evaluation of the Title I program:

…baseline surveys of school principals and teachers, which will provide the first indicators in the information system, offering a current snapshot of school-based perceptions of federal, state, and locally supported reforms and the extent to which reform efforts have begun to influence changes in staff professional development, a focus on higher standards for all students, classroom practice, and parent involvement (U.S. Department of Education, 1996).

Title I (1999) legislation requires ongoing performance evaluations on students' progress. No longer is an annual standardized test score adequate. The evaluations, in addition, must match the state standards for instructional excellence and those in the school's improvement plans. Section 3 (2) (E) (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 1999) adds a new provision on accountability. The yearly standardized tests will not be enough. The Reading teacher will have to be part of the team that oversees a plan to show continuous improvement as it relates to state's standards.

Research supports that a "well-articulated strategy, is the key to success" (Stringfield, 1996). Our understanding of reading has changed. We no longer believe the myth that isolated lessons in reading produce competent readers. Our present goal is to create literate learning environments through ongoing language-based instruction. This is best done through modeling good reading practices for the students. We need to properly understand the developmental stages of our students as readers and writers as we involve them in activities to develop toward the conventionality of reading and writing. In order to prepare Reading teachers for their changing roles, ongoing supportive staff development at the school-sites is crucial and change in teacher education programs are needed.

The Reading teacher's success is dependent on the commitment of the school administration and the partnership of the classroom teacher. It is, therefore, our attempt to convey the importance of developing a teamteaching model as described in the article. Together, the new provisions of Title I legislation and teamteaching model would provide a supportive environment for the changing roles of Reading teachers.

The changing dynamics of the school culture continues to shape the responsibilities of educators, including Reading teachers. New responsibilities create new roles with different expectations. Teacher preparation programs, particularly the reading programs in higher education must address the changing roles in their curriculum to better prepare the reading teachers. These changing roles include new academic, administrative and leadership challenges. According to the IRA position statement (International Reading Association, 2000, p. 101), the three major roles of reading specialists' are instruction, leadership, and diagnosis and assessment. Reading teachers must be viewed as full-fledged teachers supporting the classroom teacher. We highlight the need for close collaboration between classroom teachers and reading teachers. Although the federal Title I legislation supports teamteaching, it is not mandated. Teamteaching is a model, which supports the changing roles of the Reading teacher.


Abha Gupta, Ph.D. in Reading and Linguistics, University of Arizona,1991. Currently, Dr. Gupta is the Director of the Reading Center at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. She has helped to develop an instrument for the Reading Teachers' exams and has many publications in language development, literacy, and reading.

Eileen Oboler, Ph.D. in Reading and Teacher Education, University of Arizona, 1993. Currently Dr. Oboler is teaching graduate reading courses at Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL. She is actively consulting for the U.S. Department of Education and private research institutions, as well as reviewing items for teacher certification exams.

Dr. Gupta and Dr. Oboler are commissioned to work on the Urban Diversity Panel of the International Reading Association. In addition, both have many years experience as Title I Reading teachers.




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