Teacher Quality Moderates the Genetic Effects on Early Reading

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Science  23 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5977, pp. 512-514
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186149

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Reading Influences and Achievement

When it comes to learning to read, children are immersed in a variety of influences. Debate rages over what aspects are affected and what importance to attribute to genetic influences, the effect of good teaching, the tools used, the family environment, and so on. Taylor et al. (p. 512) analyzed reading achievement from kindergarten through to fifth grade in mono- and dizygotic twins from a diverse population. The results show that better teachers allow children to fulfill their genetic potential.


Children’s reading achievement is influenced by genetics as well as by family and school environments. The importance of teacher quality as a specific school environmental influence on reading achievement is unknown. We studied first‑ and second‑grade students in Florida from schools representing diverse environments. Comparison of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, differentiating genetic similarities of 100% and 50%, provided an estimate of genetic variance in reading achievement. Teacher quality was measured by how much reading gain the non‑twin classmates achieved. The magnitude of genetic variance associated with twins’ oral reading fluency increased as the quality of their teacher increased. In circumstances where the teachers are all excellent, the variability in student reading achievement may appear to be largely due to genetics. However, poor teaching impedes the ability of children to reach their potential.

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