Barbara Cambridge, Director of NCTE's Washington, DC, Office,
offers these updates on NCTE's invovlement in policy discussions
at the state and federal levels
The New and Very Different Striving Readers
Comprehensive Literacy Program
The current Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program is very different from the previous version of Striving Readers. The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program IS NOT the same as the original Striving Readers projects, which were completed and reported on in 2010 and were not refunded or used as the format for the new Program. The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program that is in effect now IS a program that includes state literacy teams comprised of persons representing a wide array of literacy stakeholders who write their own state literacy plans. Through applications, districts receive 90% of the federal funding of the program for district-generated projects that serve local needs and are consonant with the state-generated literacy plans.
Recent funds for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program were distributed in two ways. First, every state, in what is called formula funding, could apply for funds to constitute a state literacy team. 46 states applied for and received such funds. Second, every state, in competitive funding, could apply for funds to implement their own state literacy plan. Because of the small amount of money available, six states were chosen to receive grants. The Department of Education is currently supplying technical assistance to those states but is also connecting all states with literacy plans to share information about their implementation activities. Descriptions of the programs in the funded states and contact persons within the Department of Education are available on the Department of Education website.
Future funding for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program as a program does not appear explicitly in the President’s version of the FY13 budget, the next budget to be determined by the federal government. Elements from the Program, such as connecting writing and reading instruction and supporting literacy education across content areas, may be fundable under categories in the proposed budget; however, the Program itself is not mentioned. Although negotiations within the federal government may yield future funding for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, that outcome is unknowable at this time. As stipulated in its 2012 educational policy platform NCTE will continue to advocate for a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction and learning that is the heart of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program.
Literacy and the Reauthorization of ESEA
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been on the agenda of the House and the Senate for a number of years. Committees responsible for education in both chambers agree that the current version of ESEA, known as NCLB, must be changed significantly. The approaches to changes, however, are quite different. A version of ESEA that will be acceptable to both chambers is, therefore, improbable until at least after the next election.
In the meantime, support for literacy learning, which is affected by ESEA, needs to be kept alive. In the House there is barely life support. Elements of the main independent bill about literacy, LEARN, do not appear in the current House ESEA bills explicitly or implicitly. The five bills in the House that have been generated to replace NCLB rarely allude to literacy at all and then primarily in relation to family literacy. Although an amendment for a separate funding stream for literacy will be introduced by the minority in the House, it is sure to be voted down by the majority.
In the Senate, however, elements of the LEARN Act, which was reintroduced but will not be voted on as a separate bill, are included in the version of ESEA that emerged from the committee responsible for education. That ESEA bill, though, has not gone to the floor for debate and a vote. It is unlikely, as mentioned before, that that will happen until at least 2013.
In the Senate ESEA bill, literacy is included under Title IV, Supporting Successful, Well-Rounded Students, Part A, which is Improving Literacy Instruction and Student Achievement.
Two purposes of Part A are (1) “to improve student academic achievement in reading and writing by providing Federal support to State educational agencies to develop, coordinate, and implement comprehensive literacy plans that ensure high-quality instruction and effective strategies in reading and writing from early education through grade 12 and (2) to assist State educational agencies in achieving the purpose (1) in 13 ways.” Short-hand versions of those 13 ways are
Developing and implementing programs ensuring every child from early learners through grade 12 learners can read and write at grade level or above
Providing learning opportunities in high-quality, language rich, literature rich, informational text rich, culturally relevant, and developmentally appropriate environments necessary for literacy engagement, development, and achievement
Educating parents so that they can support their child’s communication and literacy development
Supporting efforts to link and align standards and research-based instruction and teaching practices
Supporting high-quality and effective strategies for children to develop oral language, reading, and writing abilities through high-quality research-based instruction and teaching practices
Improving academic achievement by establishing adolescent literacy initiatives that provide explicit and systematic instruction in oral language, reading, and writing development across the curriculum
Providing research-based, intensive interventions to support children reading and writing significantly below grade level
Providing educators with ongoing, job embedded professional development and other support
Supporting State and local educational agencies in improving literacy for low income children, English learners, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian and Alaskan natives, homeless and neglected children, children in custody of the welfare system, and children who have dropped out of school
Supporting State and local educational agencies in using age appropriate and developmentally and linguistically appropriate instructional materials and strategies that help children develop reading and writing competencies
Strengthening coordination among schools, early literacy programs, family literacy programs, juvenile justice programs, public libraries, and outside-of-school programs that provide children with strategies, curricula, interventions, and assessments designed to advance early and continuing language and literacy development in ways appropriate for each context
Supporting professional development for educators based on scientific approaches to adult learning
Evaluating the effectiveness of professional development activities in building knowledge and skills of educators
The two large purposes and 13 ways are followed by definitions of terms used in the bill, including among others comprehensive literacy instruction, effective literacy instruction (divided into general, birth through kindergarten, and kindergarten through grade 12), English language acquisition, formative assessment, high-quality professional development, literacy coach, instructional leader, scientifically valid research, screening assessment, state literacy leadership team, and writing.
Then the bill includes items like the required activities for a state educational agency receiving grant funds, the process for applying, and the time lines.
If you are interested in reading the entire bill, you can do so here. The literacy section is on pages 353-432. The advantage of reading the bill yourself is that you do not depend on what someone else extracts from it or that person’s interpretation.
If you choose to read the portion of the bill that deals with literacy or if you read another of my blog entries that includes the definitions of effective literacy instruction from the bill, you will probably find elements that you support and elements that you don’t. The same thing is true for NCTE as an organization. Negotiation is involved in any bill: No one person or group gets all that it wants in or out of a bill. NCTE advocates for elements that fit with its goals and policies that are based on research and practice in the field of English Language Arts and English Studies and provides reasons for not including elements that we know interfere with literacy teaching and learning. You, too, can speak up on behalf of those elements that you care most about. Watch for further details about NCTE’s 2012 Advocacy Day and Advocacy Month.