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Literacy and the Reauthorization of ESEA


by Barbara Cambridge, Director, NCTE Washington, DC, Office

Barbara Cambridge photoThe 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.


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