February 28, 2012
Dear Council Members,
After returning from a productive Executive Committee meeting that transpired last weekend in Houston, I am weighing in with an update on some key decisions from that meeting to provide a sense of how the Council recently has handled several policy issues.
In Houston, on February 17, the Executive Committee adopted the NCTE 2012 Legislative Platform, a document that will be central to our advocacy efforts over the course of the next year. The Government Relations Subcommittee crafted the platform in Washington on January 27-28, after a round of meetings with educators and congressional aides. As a committee effort it was written in the spirit of compromise that is part and parcel of a healthy political process. In adopting the platform, the Executive Committee is establishing action priorities that are in line with our organization’s mission to improve literacy learning and teaching. You soon will begin receiving routine postings about ongoing policy work from Barbara Cambridge, director of NCTE’s Washington office.
Led by Patrick Monahan, the Executive Committee had a vigorous discussion about teacher evaluation, so much so that this timely and crucial topic will be a focal issue at the next EC meeting, which will take place in April. I do not know what the outcome of those deliberations will be, but NCTE certainly opposes the use of standardized test scores as a major component of teacher evaluation. Such tests assess a very narrow band of student literacy learning -- and do that neither reliably nor, in some cases, validly. To work in the best interests of teachers and, more important, students, measures of teacher effectiveness must take into account the many factors involved in literacy learning. Good systems for supporting sound teaching and learning surely will make a difference in student achievement. But systems anchored in standardized tests are not the solution.
National Center for Literacy Education
Development of the National Center for Literacy Education continues at a brisk pace. This includes the launching of the Literacy in Learning Exchange as well as planning for a working meeting of NCLE stakeholders to take place this summer. These efforts to support the work of teachers will inform policy symposia to be held by NCTE.
Update on Resolutions from Convention
You will find the resolutions from the NCTE Annual Convention in Chicago posted on the NCTE website. Further, staff distributed the resolution on Challenging Current Education Policy and Affirming Educator’s Expertise to leaders of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), National Governors Association (NGA), and US Department of Education. This led to requests from top-level staff at CCSSO and NCATE/CAEP to better understand the Council’s position and, more specifically, to gain a perspective on how standards implementation efforts might “adversely affect social and educational equity.” The NCTE executive director explicated widely held concerns among NCTE members that top-down implementation measures could easily lead to “mechanical” implementation of methods and programs claiming to be the sanctioned way to implement ELA standards, thus undercutting the professional knowledge, expertise, and judgment of literacy educators and local administrators. Leaders of CCSSO and NCATE seemed to grasp that supporting teacher decision-making in the current environment is the legitimate and appropriate role for NCTE, but they were also adamant in maintaining that top-down administration of standards was not the goal of their organizations.
MLA Statement on Foreign Language Instruction
In response to a request from then-MLA president Russell Berman, I submitted a letter on behalf of NCTE supporting that organization’s call for government and institutions to provide expanded opportunities for students from elementary school through college to study formally at least one foreign language. (See MLA’s statement and my letter, which was approved by the NCTE Executive Committee in Houston.)
In closing, I thank the Executive Committee and the NCTE staff for their work -- and all of you who have supplied helpful comments since my last post. Last, I have to give a shout out to Namiyah Wailes and all of those dynamic young readers and writers I met on February 20 at Public School 223 in Queens.
Keith Gilyard, NCTE President