February 9, 2012
Dear Council Members:
I am pleased to report that in the first few months of NCTE’s second century, we continue to make progress in our basic mission to promote “the use of language to construct personal and public worlds and to achieve full participation in society through the learning and teaching of English and the related arts and sciences of language.” Building on the momentum of an exuberant and successful convention this past November in Chicago, one that attracted more than 6,800 attendees, the NCTE staff and Executive Committee have been furthering initiatives aimed to support classroom language arts teachers across the country and enable them to grow professionally and maximize their talent and artistry as practitioners who serve our nation’s students. Specifically, we are proceeding in our efforts to launch the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) and to create our 2012 legislative platform (advocacy being one of our organization's stated core values). These moves, we believe, ultimately will strengthen teacher networks in productive ways and improve student learning.
In fact, as core standards are being implemented in schools across the country, the Council has a critical role to play in strengthening teacher networks. We stand opposed to any initiative or standards that would reduce educational opportunity or equity in our schools through top-down, one-size-fits-all implementation programs. In this respect, the Council is focusing its resources on supporting teachers and teams as they make their own professional decisions -- informed by reflection and research -- about how best to foster literacy learning. Our professional community is rising to this challenge and by sharing our knowledge and expertise, we can show that sustainable progress in literacy learning will be made when local educators have the freedom to collaborate and choose how best to approach critical instructional decisions.
Of course, I am aware that the course we are on as we negotiate admittedly rugged educational terrain is unsatisfying to some bloggers and commentators who would prefer that our organization expressly condemn, for example, policies such as the common core standards. We have never endorsed those standards; neither do we profit financially from them. And I should hardly have to add that any accusation that we implicitly embrace them because we have not publicly opposed them is an obvious either-or fallacy. What we have done is to focus on what we are best equipped to do: support teachers in their work environments and make reasonable arguments about education to the stakeholders who are willing to listen to us in good faith.
A recent polling of a random selection of NCTE members indicates that about twenty percent of our members are moderately pessimistic or pessimistic regarding how new standards will influence their teaching or their students' learning. By contrast, fifty-nine percent reported that they were moderately optimistic or optimistic about the potential influence of new standards. I do not offer these statistics to argue that one should be pessimistic, optimistic, or even neutral (twenty-one percent of the respondents). I offer them to remind us that our membership embodies various dispositions. Our leadership is not a collective of powerbrokers (I have generally felt more broke than powerbroker) who are trying to preserve a hegemonic bloc and suppress other viewpoints. Our leadership is a group that deliberates about the interests of NCTE and its diverse membership in the best traditions of dialogue and critique. These are the traditions that I have been a witness to and a participant in during the past two-and-a-half years as a guest and member of the Executive Committee. As your president, I certainly value such productive exchange and hope that it helps to keep us sharp in our activist thinking and wise in our actions.