Call for Proposals: Improving teacher preparation in early reading instruction

Deadline for application: 13 May 2022 

Location: US

Interviews (virtual): 23 May – 6 June 2022 

Full application to Oak Foundation (by invitation): July-August 2022 


About Oak Foundation

Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social, and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. Through our grant-making, we support others to make the world a safer, fairer, and more sustainable place to live. With offices in Europe, India, and North America, our grant-making spans approximately 40 countries worldwide.

Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme partners with not-for-profit organisations that improve education for students with learning differences. For Oak Foundation, the learning differences population includes students who have specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia) as well as individuals with related neurological processing challenges that can impact learning (such as attention deficits, sensory processing disorders, and executive function challenges).

We believe that every student should benefit from engaging and rigorous educational opportunities regardless of personal and social identifiers that privilege some students and marginalise others. In our work, we are particularly focused on efforts that support students with learning differences who experience further marginalisation due to racism and poverty. Find more information about our programme strategy here and a list of our current grantee partners here.

Background and need

Reading is one of the most important skills a person can learn, as it opens up new worlds of possibility for learning and exploration. Research has shown that proficient readers are more likely to graduate from high school, find success in college, and experience greater economic mobility and opportunity in adulthood.

Unlike learning how to walk or talk, learning how to read is not a natural stage of a child’s life – it is a skill that must be developed. Decades of scientific research have helped us understand how children build reading skills, and the five essential components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.[1] Following this type of evidence-based instruction more than 95 percent of children can be successful readers by the end of first grade – including the great majority of students with learning differences such as dyslexia.[2]

Despite the research about the most effective way to teach reading, schools in the United States do not follow a consistent approach to help all children learn to read successfully, and many approaches do not adhere faithfully to the scientific research. As a result, two thirds of fourth-grade students in the US scored below grade-level standards in 2019, with 88 per cent of children with disabilities still struggling to read at eight or nine years old.[3] And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic posed the biggest challenges for the education sector in generations. As the pandemic enters its third year, new studies now show that more than one in three children who started school during the pandemic need intensive reading help. Children in every demographic group have been affected, but students of colour, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities have fallen the furthest behind.

A big part of the challenge is that only 11per cent of teachers in the US report that they feel completely prepared to teach reading effectively.[4] Many teachers are not learning about the science of reading in their educator preparation programmes, and have to seek out successful approaches to reading instruction on their own. Today, just over 50 percent of elementary teacher preparation programmes cover at least four of the five essential components of reading instruction.[5]

Project overview

In late 2019, the Learning Differences Programme commissioned a landscape scan to better understand the research and efforts underway to improve students’ reading skills, with special attention to students with learning differences who are furthest from opportunity. The resulting work recommends a multi-tiered strategy that focuses on educators’ initial preparation and ongoing development though an equity frame that also attends to enabling conditions such as state and local policy.

As part of our early literacy strategy, the Learning Differences Programme is seeking proposals from not-for-profit organisations to identify and partner with educator preparation programme (EPP) faculty and their district partners to incorporate evidence-based early literacy instruction into pre-service teachers’ coursework and clinical experiences.

Oak has allocated up to USD 1.2 million for this initiative, and is seeking a not-for-profit partner(s) to develop, launch, and lead a process over three to four years to build faculty capacity to redesign and deliver evidence-based programmes in early reading instruction. The ultimate aim of the work is to ensure that teachers who graduate from participating programmes enter the classroom ready to help all students become successful readers, especially students furthest from opportunity.

Selection criteria and process

The LDP is seeking a US-based not-for-profit partner to lead this effort in collaboration with a set of US-based educator preparation programmes and their district partners. The LDP has not pre-identified participating EPPs; rather, the lead organisation should propose the methods, timeline and criteria by which it will identify EPPs to participate. Collaborations between not-for-profit organisations, EPPs and/or districts are welcome.

Prospective lead organisations for this project should meet the following criteria:

1.      Content expertise in research-based reading instruction:

  • Deep knowledge of the research on how children learn to read, including foundational elements of reading instruction, as well as interventions and additional supports for students with learning differences, emergent bilingual learners, students of colour, and students experiencing poverty.
  • Experience translating research on reading instruction into courses, sequences, assignments, and clinical experiences for pre-service teachers.
  • Familiarity with the history, current debates, and gaps in knowledge about effective reading instruction in the US.

2.      Experience guiding substantive change efforts within educator preparation:

  • Expertise, capacity, and prior experience leading improvement work in partnership with educator preparation faculty within public and/or private institutions of higher education.
  • Ability to recruit, select, and partner with three to five educator preparation programmes to take part in this initiative (we are open to proposals that include more than this range, and do not have a preference for a particular geography, size, or public/private status).
  • Capacity to provide technical assistance and coaching, facilitate cross-programme learning, and evaluate progress alongside EPP partners.
  • Knowledge of laws, policies, and regulations that impact the content of educator preparation coursework and candidates’ clinical experiences.
  • Sensitivity to the complex dynamics and competing pressures that can be present within programmes and institutions; demonstrated ability to build trust and commitment to a shared vision.

3.      Commitment to supporting students with learning differences who are furthest from opportunity:

  • Dedication to the vision and desired impact for this work, and with the LDP’s vision and strategy
  • Focus on students with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning differences who experience additional adversity due to racism and/or poverty
  • Commitment to and track record of prioritizing racial justice, diversity, equity, and inclusivity within the organisation and in its work with partners and other stakeholders

4.      Financial and operational systems and structures to manage the initiative:

  • Not-for-profit status in the United States.
  • Capacity to receive and manage grants and, if distributing funds to partnering EPPs and/or districts, to re-grant and monitor use of funds effectively.
  • Organisational capacity to support this work over three to four years and to capture and share lessons learned with Oak Foundation and the broader field.

How to apply

Organisations interested in leading this work are invited to submit a brief proposal (no more than seven pages) that responds to the following questions:

  1. What is your vision and theory of change for incorporating evidence-based early literacy instruction into preservice teachers’ coursework and clinical experiences?
  2. What are the strategies you will use to engage EPPs (and their district partners) to strengthen their capacity and approach to teacher preparation in early reading instruction (including modes of engagement, milestones, and timeline)? Please describe prior experiences leading related work.
  3. What are the primary barriers to improving early reading coursework and clinical experiences in educator preparation, and how does your proposed approach address these?
  4. How will you recruit, select and partner with EPPs that take part in this project? What criteria will you apply? How many do you plan ultimately to engage? What roles within the EPP (e.g., deans, directors, faculty) and districts (e.g., district leadership, mentor teachers, principals) will you prioritise? Potential or confirmed partners are helpful but not required at this stage.
  5. How would you describe what teachers need to know and are able to do to build strong reading and comprehension skills for students with learning differences such as dyslexia, particularly those who are further marginalised due to racism and/or poverty?
  6. What is the desired short and longer-term impact of this work? What indicators will you use to measure progress in each year?
  7. If you propose to re-grant funds to partnering EPPs and/or districts, describe your proposed approach as well as your organisational and financial capacity to manage and monitor use of funds.

Please also provide the following supplemental materials:

  • Organisational profile(s) including bio(s) for team member(s) with primary responsibility for the project.
  • High-level budget including any proposed re-granting of funds to participating EPPs and/or district partners. (Finalists will be asked for more detailed budgets if invited to move to full application stage.)
  • Names of two references for related/relevant prior work.

Proposals should be submitted by May 13, 2022 to and should not exceed seven pages. Budget, bios and other supplementary materials can exceed the seven-page limit.

The LDP will schedule Zoom interviews with finalists in late May before selecting a partner to move forward with a formal grant application to Oak Foundation.

Important: the organisation recommended to lead this project at the conclusion of the RFP process will then be invited to submit a full grant application to Oak Foundation. We expect that the plans and materials developed for the proposal will significantly inform the content of the formal grant application. We anticipate launching the initiative in fall 2022, pending approval of the grant. 


Contact Julie Kowal, LDP Programme Officer (

[1] National Reading Panel (2000). Report of the National Reading PanelTeaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

[2] Seidenberg, Mark (2017). Language at The Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Cannot, and What Can be Done About It. New York: Basic Books.

[3] National Center for Education Statistics (2019). National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, D.C: National Center for Education Statistics.

[4] EdWeek Research Center (2020). Early Reading Instruction: Results of a National Survey. Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education Inc.

[5] National Council on Teacher Quality (2021). Teacher Prep Review Standard: Early Reading. Washington, DC: NCTQ.

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