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Three Recommendations for Policymakers

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NCTE Literacy Education Advocacy Day
February 27, 2014

To improve conditions for student literacy learning in the United States, NCTE recommends that policymakers place the professional expertise of teachers and the complex elements of educational institutions at the center of decision making and assessment of educational outcomes. NCTE's three recommendations focus on professional learning, professional expertise, and uses of evidence in decision making about the effectiveness of colleges and universities.


1.    Professional learning defined as educator collaboration is key to quality in literacy instruction.

The basic conditions for being a professional in any field need to be applied to education, including time to compare practices and to reach shared agreements about those practices for the field. In education, continuous professional learning is mandatory because of changes in student populations, new discoveries about the way people learn, and new means of learning and sharing information, especially facilitated by technology.

Because literacy is central to all subject areas, teachers need to coordinate instruction for maximum student learning. The most powerful way to assure coordination of quality instruction is educator collaboration to learn from student work and to observe one another in practice. Protected time in the school week for collaboration is essential.

Evidence to support this contention about the need for protected time for collaboration is evident in a National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) 2013 national survey about professional collaboration and standards implementation:

  • 73% of educators ranked "working with colleagues" as the most useful support for implementing the Common Core State Standards.
  • The amount of time teachers have to work together continues to shrink: from 2009 to 2013, the percentage of teachers having 30 minutes or less per week to collaborate rose from 12% to 36%, and the percentage of teachers having two hours or more hours per week to collaborate shrank from 41% to 18%. 
  • Teachers who participate in collaboration are better prepared to implement standards and are already making more changes in their teaching. Although only 48% of those who have not participated in collaboration report significant changes in how they teach literacy, 74% of those teachers who participate in collaboration report significant changes in their teaching of literacy.

Legislation and regulations regarding education and education funding should include protected time in the school week for educator collaboration under mandatory use of funds.

2.    The expertise of educators, based on their research, practice, and knowledge of their students, should be the primary basis for policy decisions designed to improve literacy learning.

Quality literacy instruction emanates from teachers and principals who are rigorously prepared for their profession, engage in collaborative review of their practice, and study the needs of their particular students. These educators can, therefore, provide the best recommendations and make the best decisions regarding teaching practices, teaching materials, and assessments.

In the current climate of new standards implementation, this need for educator expertise as central to decision making applies in the following two ways:

  • Educators decide on materials, texts, and technologies that serve the needs of their students. Mandated lists of textbooks and materials can undermine the ability of teachers and principals to serve the needs of students in their particular schools. In the NCLE survey, even though 60% of teachers reported that their current curricular materials are not directly aligned with the CCSS, only 23% identified that as a problem. In contradiction to the prevalent narrative that implementation would be more successful via a set of instructional materials approved from on high, survey results indicate that 90% of teachers are identifying and/or creating their own materials and approaches to meet the standards. The standards are in common; the methods and materials for meeting the standards are not, and do not need to be, standardized.
  • Educators rely on formative assessment to affirm or modify literacy instruction. Although interim and summative assessments that have received considerable federal investment may contribute to school accountability, formative assessments, generated and used by teachers in their classrooms, are crucial to improving literacy instruction. The Connected Learning Coalition, which is made up of associations representing social studies, science, mathematics, language arts, technology, and career and technical education, states that effective assessment practices "include the analysis of cumulative information about student learning through examination of authentic student work" and "accentuate the cross-disciplinary skills of literacy, habits of inquiry, problem solving, collaboration, and the use of technologies for learning and generating knowledge." This daily and weekly assessing, done by teachers who know their subjects and their students, contributes to increasingly effective literacy instruction.

Policymakers should rely on practicing educators in their own settings to determine appropriate instructional materials, pedagogical methods, and formative assessments that will contribute to effective literacy instruction and student learning.

3.    Assessing the effectiveness of institutions of higher education must involve multiple factors and varied forms.

College scorecards and rating systems are currently being proposed to inform potential college students and to ascertain return on investment in institutions. Ratings that focus primarily on graduation rates and graduate earnings, however useful those are in economic terms, neglect crucial indicators that signal all aspects of higher education related to institutional benefit and student success.

Although colleges and universities impact the range and depth of research in our country, the health of community partnerships, and innovation on the national and global scene, our concern is on using evidence that signals the value to students. For example, research shows that the value of liberal arts education often surfaces in the workplace years after initial employment: using salary figures of recent graduates as a chief measure of an institution’s effectiveness falsifies the value of a student’s education and signals that some fields are more important than others. The Association of American Colleges & Universities accentuates challenging studies, student engagement in high-impact educational practices, and a constant focus on essential learning outcomes as a Vision for Learning. Tracing evidence of these factors would signal the effectiveness of an institution in influencing student learning.

Evidence of the more important habits of mind associated with a college education, for example, engagement, responsibility, curiosity, persistence, and metacognition, can be abundant, partly because of technology. Literacy is fundamental in these habits of mind, so assessment of them can be done through evidence of literacy practices. For just one example, electronic portfolio learning enables description and assessment of literacy activities in all disciplines studied by students. Periodic assessment of individual student portfolios aids students in understanding their progress; periodic sampling of portfolios across an institution enables assessment of programs.

As policymakers work to document the quality of higher education, they should include the multiple goals of a college education and the varied kinds of evidence available to assess the ways that goals are being met.


Association of American Colleges and Universities.  An Introduction to LEAP 

Connected Learning Coalition.  Assessment: A Fundamental Component of Learning.   

National Center for Literacy Education.  Remodeling Literacy Learning Together:  Path to Standards Implementation.   

National Council of Teachers of English.  2014 Education Policy Platform

National Council of Teachers of English.  Formative Assessment That Truly Improves Instruction

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