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Response to questions re: NCTE's 2011 Education Policy Platform

Publication Date: 2011-03-14

NCTE President Yvonne Siu-Runyan posted this statement on the organization's Connected Community on March 10, 2011. Stephen Krashen and Susan Ohanian responded. All members of NCTE are urged to join this important discussion.

by Yvonne Siu-Runyan

Dear NCTE Members,

I have been following the posts regarding NCTE's 2011 Education Policy Platform.

Thank you to all who have participated in this important discussion.

Council leaders need to hear about your concerns and ideas. This is how democracy works best. Besides, NCTE is your professional organization and the Council works for you, not the other way around.

However, before I reply to questions, I feel it is important for NCTE members to know how NCTE's Education Platform is developed. When writing Platform, the Government Relations Sub-Committee is charged with the task of listening to what is important to NCTE members as well as what is important to the federal legislators from both parties who influence education policy.

Now I turn attention to some of the questions asked and my responses.

My intention is to be transparent. The more transparency the better off we all are.

1. "When people submitted suggestions for the 2011 Platform, was the LEARN Act suggested by anyone?"

My response: NO. When NCTE members sent in their recommendations, inclusion of the LEARN Act was not a suggestion. Inclusion of the LEARN Act was suggested by a staff member when the Government Relations Sub-Committee met. After much discussion, the majority of the Government Relations Sub-Committee decided that the LEARN Act is important to include in NCTE's 2011 Education Policy Platform. As your President, I expressed concerns about the LEARN Act.

2. "Where did the idea of teaching teams come from?"

My response: Although no NCTE member suggested that "teaching teams" be included in NCTE's 2011 Educational Platform, the topic of "teacher teams" was brought up with the Government Relations Sub-Committee by a person who spoke with us and who works on the 'Hill." The next day, when we discussed the notion of "teacher teams," the 2011 NCTE Governmental Committee discussed the value of working in "teaching teams" in order to promote teacher involvement in decision-making at the school-level. As one member wrote, "It is so refreshing to work in teaching teams where we can share information, lesson ideas, student evaluation and best practices. This is much better and more rewarding for all than the isolation that teachers have experienced in the past."

3. "How did members of the Executive Committee vote?"

My response: We had a spirited discussion about NCTE's 2011 Educational Platform. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Executive Committee voted in favor of the Platform. Although I feel it inappropriate for me to reveal how other Executive Committee members voted, as your president, I feel a responsibility to let you know that I voted, "No."

4. "Is it possible to post the platform somewhere where members can discuss the pros and cons of each item? "

My response: I think this is a reasonable request. I will post the entire platformon the Connected Community with the subject heading: Discussion of the Pros and Cons of NCTE's 2011 Education Policy Platform.

5. "Executive committee, please reconsider the platform. Reconsider it in light of the research and the experiences of teachers. No policy statement this year. Put it off for another year. Let's study this together, with symposia and hearings, and position papers. Listen carefully to the true living masters of the field before you listen to the feds and politicians. Listen to teachers at ALL LEVELS, from K to 12, who teach in many different situations, and listen to those who have studied and participated in the research on these issues."

My response: The majority of NCTE's Executive Committee has endorsed NCTE's 2011 Education Policy Platform as is. But in no way should this endorsement stop the ongoing discussion of the relevant issues and conversation. This ongoing examination is all the more important in the case of the LEARN Act, since the final form of this legislation is unknown until it is passed, if it is passed.

I agree that there needs to be more input from members regarding NCTE's Education Policy Platform. However, I would like to emphasize that members must take responsibility and become more involved in this conversation.

Do encourage your friends and colleagues who are not posting on the Connected Community to do so. NCTE spent money and a lot of valuable staff time to put the Connected Community together for its members. The Connected Community was developed with the members in mind. Please use this resource.

6. "Education should not be a political football, but that is what it has become. How can we discuss making teachers more effective if the system keeps treating us like this? While the Education Policy Platform states that teachers should be part of the conversation, I just don't think we are."

My Response: I agree, education should not be a political football. It is too bad that some persons in positions of authority discount teachers' voices, which is all the more reason not to drop out of the conversation. To the contrary, teacher voices must become stronger and more insistent. Teachers are the professionals in the classroom. This is why I am encouraging all members to join the discussion. I know it is scary to speak out, especially when fear and sanctions are being used to control teachers, parents, and students. As professional educators, I urge you to articulate in public and private forums your concerns as well as your ideas, and educate others or we teachers will continue to be blamed for the ills of society, ignored, and left out of the conversation.

7. " ... [There should be] student representatives [taking part in] the teacher groups proposed so that students feel that they have a greater stake and voice in their own education, and have their own perspective on teaching and learning honored and included in the discussion."

My Response: Absolutely! Student voices are most important when developing the platform. We cannot forget student voices in all of this. When we speak about our profession, the first words that should come out of our mouths must address the well-being of our students-ALL of them.

Please keep on challenging the status quo and asking questions. As I wrote earlier, this is democracy in action.

Let's continue this conversation. Use the Connected Community; it is YOUR "place" to post teaching ideas, articles, research, and reports, ask questions, and raise issues.

I look forward to reading your posts!

Most sincerely and in your honor,

Yvonne Siu-Runyan, NCTE President

"Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm." -- Publilius Syrus

"An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life." -- Source Unknown

"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it." -- J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

by Stephen Krashen

Thanks to NCTE President Yvonne Siu-Runyan for answering many of the questions posted on the Connected Community and for promoting an open discussion of these issues.

Thanks to Dr. Siu-Runyan's helpful responses, I am beginning to understand the problem with the platform. I now understand that the platform is written by the "Government Relations Subcommitte," and is, in a sense, intended to react to political trends. I did some investigation on the website and reread some current posts, and I have learned that this committee, while it gets some input from members, spends a huge amount of time with members of congress and their staffs in order to get a clear idea of legislation and political trends. As a result, the platform winds up being a document on how align NCTE policy with federal desire

NCTE should be leading, not just responding to what is "hot" in Washington.

Clearly, members of NCTE, individually and through the various sections and assemblies, should provide greater input to the platform.

by Susan Ohanian

Thank you thank you, Yvonne Siu-Runyan!

My worry over the refusal of the Executive Committee to respond to general issues regarding the platform and to my own particular questions about process put my decades-long membership hanging by a thread. Your determination to establish transparency convinces me to renew.

I have serious questions why the NCTE platform is so influenced so heavily by someone from "the hill." Does that person pay dues? Is that person a lobbyist? An aide? Is it someone with a background in literacy issues?

I wonder why the Government Relations Sub-Committee has so much power. I admit I didn't even know such a committee existed.

Was this Sub-Committee advised by anyone besides this person from "the hill?" I'm thinking of the now-defunct Commission on Reading that operated under this Charge: The Commission on Reading is a deliberative and advisory body which each year identifies and reports to the NCTE Executive Committee: on key issues in the teaching of reading; reviews what the Council has done concerning reading during the year; and recommends new projects and persons who might undertake them.

Question: Who at NCTE offered such deliberate advice about literacy to the Government Relations Sub-Committee? Our organization has a deep, rich history in literacy research. We should draw on this heritage, not ignore it.

These are not rhetorical questions. I am both alarmed, suspicious, and heartsick about the direction NCTE is taking. But the statement of our president persuades me to continue the conversation.

NCTE Position Statement
2011 Education Policy Platform

The NCTE 2011 Education Policy Platform calls upon policymakers to take bold action to fund the literacy policy innovations and research required to prepare students for full participation in an interdependent, global society.

We are collectively responsible for providing optimal conditions for literacy learning in our education system. In addition to the specific recommendations below, we call on elected leaders to address the pernicious influence of poverty on learning. We call on teachers, parents, administrators, and community members to provide appropriate wrap-around services for students and to engage in purposeful collaborations so that substantive progress for all students can be achieved. Indeed, we are all accountable for students̢۪ access to well-rounded educational opportunities, birth through university.

To advance literacy learning, we must:

Use teaching teams as the basic unit for decision making at the local and district level. Working in teams allows educators to design and share goals and strategies, strengthens the foundation for informed decision making, and contributes to participation in more broadly based communities of practice. Teaching teams bring together teachers, administrators, and other educators to:

  • Develop and assess curricula.

  • Assess and become more knowledgeable about student learning.

  • Design and support activities that enhance professional practice.

  • Apply cross-disciplinary perspectives to curriculum design, assessment, and professional growth.

  • Conduct collective inquiry into the learning and teaching environment.

  • Connect to parents and the community.

  • Provide for systematic professional development as an essential component of successful school reform. Teachers who have opportunities for quality professional development are best able to help students learn. Therefore, NCTE calls on policymakers to invest in state and local literacy plans that:

  • Provide time in the school day for teaching teams to create, plan, and participate in sustained professional development.

  • Support professional development opportunities that allow for teacher collaboration within and across grade levels to share and analyze practices that improve achievement.

  • Address the unique needs of early-career teachers.

  • Include teachers when planning professional development so that it aligns with the distinctive needs of their students.

  • Define teacher effectiveness as professional practice that:

  • Uses deep content knowledge, effective pedagogy, and authentic formative assessments to engage students and help them learn.

  • Connects students’ in-school and out-of-school learning.

  • Incorporates appropriate technologies in learning and teaching.

  • Includes sustained, engaged participation in teaching teams to plan, assess, and improve instruction and student learning.

  • Engages parents and community members as partners in educating students.

  • Uses qualitative as well as quantitative data to improve learning and teaching.

  • Involves sustained reflection upon learning and teaching.

  • Support a comprehensive literacy policy as presently described in the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act that:

  • Requires a sustained investment in literacy learning and instruction from birth through grade 12.

  • Demonstrates the interdependent and reciprocal relationship of reading and writing.

  • Creates learning environments rich in books, media, technology, and literacy experiences.

  • Requires instruction that is developmentally and contextually appropriate and meaningfully engages students.

  • Supports systematic, contextualized instruction informed by teaching teams.

  • Empowers teachers to design and select formative assessments that assist them in making ongoing decisions about student learning and teaching.

  • Recognizes the importance of literacy in the study of the humanities, mathematics, and sciences.

  • Defines professional development as ongoing, job-embedded, and situated in communities of practice.

  • Create a transition plan for accountability as we move away from ineffective policies that over-emphasize testing toward more effective practices that support student learning and school improvement. To support this transition, policymakers should:

  • Place a moratorium on testing required under NCLB guidelines and on AYP sanctions.

  • Support local teaching teams in developing curricula, strategies, and assessments designed to advance student learning.

  • Support local teaching teams in developing teacher evaluation procedures keyed to the elements of teacher effectiveness.

  • Ensure that accountability measures are developmentally, linguistically, and culturally sensitive to the particular needs of English language learners and students with disabilities.

  • Fund professional development for interpreting assessment data, using data to make instructional decisions, and developing formative and performance-based classroom assessments.

  • 2/22/11

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