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    Three Keys to Overcoming the Class-Based Literacy Divide

    By Tracy Weeden
     | Dec 07, 2017

    Teacher CoachingIt is widely recognized that we are living in a "knowledge economy." The term, popularized by Peter Drucker in his prescient 1969 book, The Age of Discontinuity (HarperCollins), is used to describe an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of information, rather than on the means of production.

    How do we prepare our children for a future where information is everything and the jobs they will apply for may not yet exist?  Their success will rely on their ability to access—and to make sense of—an overabundance of information.

    We can call this "the language of power”—the ability to translate seemingly unrelated data into an executable plan. This idea is directly tied to closing the opportunity gap for our youth.

    To reach this goal requires a much more concerted effort to overcome the class-based literacy divide, which remains stubbornly in place. School districts must make it a priority that every student can read at or above grade level because when students are fully literate—regardless of zip code, mobility, or poverty—everything changes.

    When the critical mass of students within a school district can read at or above grade level, it need not be a miraculous event. Success does, however, depend on three key ingredients:  commitment, coaching, and family engagement.

    • Commitment: There is no silver bullet for creating systems that support literacy; it just requires hard work and dedication from everyone involved—from the central office to the principal, teachers, students, and parents/guardians. When the science of reading is embedded in a school through increasing leader and teacher knowledge, schools become literacy incubators. Children blossom within these conditions, and we level the playing field, bringing all children together in intellectual experience and a future of achievement.
    • Coaching: No one gets good at anything without coaching. School leaders and teachers can participate in excellent professional development courses and leave full of enthusiasm, but research has shown that adaptation of the best practices taught in these courses is negligible. However, when effective professional development is followed by ongoing classroom coaching, adaptation skyrockets to 95%.
    • Family engagement: Home is where literacy takes root. To sustain positive change in schools requires engaging the family as part of each child's "learning team." Dispelling the notion that some parents don't care, and educating future teachers and leaders on the best ways to engage parents, is a piece of the puzzle we rarely examine in educational circles. With an invested principal, strong and committed teaching staff, and an aligned curriculum in place, schools can amplify their efforts by connecting family outreach to student learning in explicit, practical, and engaging experiences.

    In my many years as a teacher, district leader, and educational consultant, and as the child of parents who came from extreme poverty and broke the cycle through literacy, I have seen firsthand that when taught a love of reading and learning at an early age, children internalize the language of power. In doing so, they take the first important step toward full participation in today's economy. 

    tracy-weeden-headshotTracy Weeden, is president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, a Houston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting reading success through teacher training and coaching, information and resources for parents, and direct literacy services for adults. Neuhaus works with school districts nationwide to improve their literacy programs. For more information, visit www.neuhaus.org

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    ILA Cosponsors Briefing on Literacy Leadership

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Dec 05, 2017

    briefing10Although all educators acknowledge the critical importance of literacy for student success, schools have a long way to go in implementing sustained, high-quality literacy programs. According to Education Dive, one common barrier is that principals do not have the content area expertise to become literacy leaders. Another is that they do not have leadership skills to guide a schoolwide literacy improvement effort.

    Teachers are only as strong as the school’s leadership—without adequate scaffolding and support, even the most competent and ambitious educators will find it difficult—if not impossible—to bring about meaningful change.

    The House spending proposal for education for the next budget year would cut $2.4 billion in funding for the Supporting Effective Instruction grant program, also known as Title II—which provides federal funds to recruit, retain, and train high-quality teachers, principals, and school leaders. 

    Last Wednesday, the International Literacy Association (ILA) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) cosponsored a briefing titled “Improving Student Literacy: Leadership Needed at Every Level” in Washington, DC. The briefing brought together a group of literacy leaders, policymakers, advocates, and educators who spoke to Congressional staffers from key Senate and House education committees about the critical importance of effective leadership at all levels.

    Empowering teachers to become real leaders

    briefing7Dan Mangan, ILA’s director of public affairs, welcomed guests and introduced Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who set the stage with remarks touting the importance of teacher leadership. He attributed high teacher turnover rates to a lack of administrative support, professional learning opportunities, and decision-making input.

    “We have to find better ways for teachers to become real leaders,” said Coons. “How many of our students struggle in school where they don’t have the teaching resources they deserve and where teachers struggle to find leadership and growth opportunities for themselves?”

    For most teachers, said Coons, the only pathway to advancement is by becoming an administrator. He believes that teachers need opportunities to become leaders without having to leave the classroom.

    Coons also cited the Teachers Are Leaders Act, a bipartisan bill he introduced with Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA),           (D-RI). If passed, the act would leverage the expertise of teacher preparation programs to design and implement new teacher leader roles.

    “We’re making sure we invest in the teachers who instruct, train, and are critical role models to our children,” said Coons. “Research shows that when we empower teachers to lead, our schools and our students are stronger.”

    Behind every effective teacher is an effective principal

    briefing8Kelly Pollitt, chief advocacy officer of the National School Boards Association, opened the panel presentation in her role as moderator.  She introduced the three key speakers—a district superintendent, a middle school principal, and a principal educator—who would collectively impart the “magic ingredients” of successful literacy leadership.

    Pollitt prefaced with an urgent reminder that now, more than ever, school leadership can affect student achievement. She said it’s critically important that literacy continues to be a national priority.

    “We know that the first and most important school-based factor that influences student learning is the teacher,” she said. “Behind every effective teacher is an effective principal.”

    Literacy = the vaccine for poverty

    briefing3Pollitt first introduced ILA Board member Stephen Peters, the CEO of The Peters Group and founder of the Gentlemen’s and Ladies Club programs, which provide mentorship opportunities for at-risk and honor students throughout the United States

    When Peters was a child, his father always told him that “literacy is the vaccine for poverty.” Peters continues to embrace this phrase today in his role as superintendent of Laurens County 55 School District.

    Peters shared some secrets to his success in cultivating a schoolwide culture of literacy, such as increasing classroom reading time, mandating take-home reading, and implementing regular professional development.

    Family and community engagement is another key feature of his approach—on the first day of school each year, faculty from Laurens County 55 School District go door-to-door into local neighborhoods, introducing themselves to parents and students.

    For teachers to teach at their best and for students to learn at the highest level, principals need to define and promote high expectations, according to Peters. He believes superintendents play a critical role in cultivating leadership skills among all teachers and faculty.

    Breaking the cycle

    briefing4Doris Lee, founder and principal of Village Academy, an New York City middle school in Far Rockaway that’s part of a major program called the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI), has also focused her efforts on professional learning. Teachers at Village Academy collaborate in their respective subject areas and grade teams to develop instructional plans, to engage in professional learning communities, and to address the diverse social and emotional needs of students.

    “As our student population changes, the learning has to continue,” said Lee. “We need ongoing support to ensure that we can meet the needs of every single child.”

    Lee said this model has been proven to improve student learning outcomes; from 2016 to 2017, Village Academy saw a 19% increase in performance on state standardized English language arts test scores and, more important, a sustained baseline over a measure period when the New York City average declined significantly.

    Moreover, Lee has succeeded in closing achievement gaps—an accomplishment that would have been impossible without strong teacher education, she said.

    “Poverty is cyclical, and literacy can break the cycle,” said Lee. “But educators need training to be effective.”

    Preparing principals to close achievement gaps

    briefing5ILA’s William Teale, professor in the Literacy, Language & Culture Program and University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), presented on Stanford University’s recently published study, which demonstrates the outperformance of Chicago Public Schools against the national average.

    Another local study shows that percentages of freshman on-track, annual achievement gains, attendance and graduation rates were significantly higher in schools whose principals were graduates of UIC’s principal preparation program, which include a course on literacy leadership.

    Teale pointed to this research as evidence that greater success is achieved when teachers are backed by strong leaders.

    “You are never going to learn to be a good principal by sitting in a classroom and reading,” said Teale. “You need to get out there and do things in schools.”

    The key to schoolwide success

    briefing6JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP, closed with a call to action, reiterating the critical importance of restoring Title II funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

    She said that the key to schoolwide success is common ownership over a shared vision and set of goals. She believes that every educator has a stake in—and a responsibility to—support literacy education, as every learning opportunity relies on literacy skills.

    “Literacy is the great gateway to the critical and creative thinking that has always been the hallmark of our nation’s progress.”

    Alina O'Donnell
    is the editor of
    Literacy Daily.

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    You Can Now Register for ILA West 2018: “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity”

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 15, 2017
    ILA West 2018

    September marked the 60th anniversary of Little Rock Nine, a pivotal moment in the march toward educational equity in the United States. Yet, despite tremendous progress made over the last six decades, data show that racial gaps stubbornly remain. As we examine inequity across the United States, we know that literacy is the gatekeeper to overall academic success—opening a world of possibilities for students.

    As educators, what can we do to help close the achievement gap for minority and low-income students? And what role does literacy play in these efforts? With so many factors to consider—pedagogy, technology, assessment, teacher preparation, professional learning, and more—where do we begin?

    ILA will confront these questions head-on at ILA West 2018, to take place March 16–17 in San Diego, CA. With the theme “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the inaugural conference will give attendees the tools they need to attain more equitable learning environments through general session talks, hands-on learning, and community building.

    “ILA believes that literacy is integral to leveling outcomes for kids,” said ILA President of the Board Doug Fisher, during an appearance on Education Talk Radio today. “[ILA West 2018] is a really powerful event to help us think about what do we need to do to ratchet up our learning expectations and our strategies to deliver on that promise.”

    Among 19 celebrated leaders in educational equity, keynote speakers Stephen Peters, superintendent of Laurens County School District 55, South Carolina, and CEO and president of the Peters Group; Glenn Singleton, founder of Pacific Educational Group Inc. (PEG) and author of Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools; and Valerie Ooka Pang, professor at San Diego State University and author of Diversity and Equity in the Classroom and Multicultural Education: A Caring-Centered, Reflective Approach; will share their equity-based, literacy-driven, blueprints for reform.

    Attendees will also hear from Olivia Amador, founder of Few for Change, Jana Echevarria, internationally known researcher and codeveloper of the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) Model, and Cornelius Minor, lead staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

    Designed to deliver more focused sessions and to encourage a schoolwide approach, ILA West 2018 will feature three strands—teachers and coaches, early childhood educators, and administrators. All attendees will leave with culturally responsive pedagogical approaches; practical, proven “use-it-tomorrow” instructional strategies; administrative supports, and more.

    “Every student deserves a great teacher. Not by chance, but by design,” said Fisher. “A lot of our education is up to chance. We’re on a mission to reduce that variability.”

    Over the next few months, we’ll introduce some of the faces of ILA West 2018 and offer sneak peeks into programming. Stay tuned!  

    Learn more or register for ILA West 2018 here.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    ILA Issues Brief on Roles and Limitations of Standardized Reading Tests

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 14, 2017

    Standardized Reading TestsThe use of standardized test scores to measure reading proficiency is a long-standing source of debate in education reform. Although these scores provide useful information that may contribute to students’ reading growth, they are often considered the “coin of the realm”—silencing other valuable indicators and assessments while disproportionately influencing important educational decisions. Furthermore, low test scores can have cascading, negative impacts on students, schools and their surrounding communities—leading to poor student morale, high staff turnover, lower real estate prices and more.

    According to ILA’s recent brief, the dominance of standardized reading tests “stems from an insufficient understanding of their limitations.” Without endorsing or negating their value, the brief explores the roles, uses and caveats of standardized reading tests to assess student achievement, compare students, evaluate programs, create educational policy and determine accountability.

    ILA advocates for a different weighting of standardized reading tests as well as a more thorough understanding of reading development that recognizes “an array of formative classroom-based assessments.” The brief ends with five salient considerations that teachers and administrators can use to inform internal decision making:

    • There is no research that supports a correlation between increased standardized testing and increased reading achievement.
    • Standardized reading tests do not fully reflect students’ reading achievement and development.
    • Standardized reading tests can impede the development of students’ self-efficacy and motivation.
    • Standardized reading tests confine reading curriculum and can undermine high-quality teaching.
    • Standardized reading tests are time-consuming and expensive—demanding resources that could be used to support students’ reading achievement in other ways.

    To read more, visit the brief here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Thousands of Caribbean Students Are (Still) Out of School

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 01, 2017

    Nearly six weeks have passedElmore Stoutt High School since Hurricane Maria struck, just two weeks behind Irma, and, for several Caribbean islands, recovery is still in its infancy. In the wake of the storms, national media coverage has focused on the destruction in Puerto Rico—leaving other neighboring islands in the dark. The lack of media coverage, compounded by poor internet and cell phone service, means fewer donations and a longer recovery.  

    Several islands are still largely without power, food, and drinkable water. Most schools are still too damaged to reopen—worse, some are permanently shuttered.

    “Our school is basically gone. We have several buildings still standing but they’re in no condition to be used,” said Kirima S. Forbes, president of the British Virgin Islands Reading Council. “Right now we are housed in a warehouse. “We’re working on a shift schedule. Grades 7–9 go to school in the morning, in the afternoon it’s 10–12.”

    Studies show that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, schools and libraries offer respite from chaos, providing security, social-emotional support, and stability as well as connections to important community resources.

    “School needs to be open so that the kids can get back to normalcy,” said Forbes.

    As these communities crawl toward recovery, we can all do our part to help. Here’s how:

    Support for schools and libraries: 

    • DonorsChoose launched a Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund to help teachers at damaged schools rebuild their classrooms.
    • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. is partnering with All Hands Volunteers to rebuild schools in communities devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Under the Hope Starts Here hurricane relief program, the company will match individual donations dollar for dollar, up to $1.25 million.
    • Dorina Sackman, the 2014 Florida Teacher of the Year, launched an initiative called "Materials for Maestros," which allows U.S. schools to adopt schools in Puerto Rico. The first to request supplies is the Thomas Alva Edison School. Read more here.
    • The National Parent Teacher Association’s Disaster Relief Fund was established to support school communities in their efforts to rebuild and recover.
    • This year, The Laura Bush Foundation for American Libraries is devoting its resources to helping disaster-affected schools rebuild their book collections.
    • The American Library Association is accepting donations to support library relief efforts in the Caribbean.

    Local rebuilding efforts

    • Funds raised for the BVI Recovery Fund will go toward rebuilding the territory, and to helping families and individuals who lost homes.
    • The St. John Community Foundation is using donations to “reach out to more people in need, assist more service providers, and direct more funds to specific priorities.” 
    • The government of Dominica is collecting donations through JustGiving, a crowdfunding website, to provide residents with basic materials such as temporary roofing, blankets, and non-perishable food.
    • 100% of donations made to the Fund for the Virgin Islands will support long-term community renewal efforts.
    • Unidos Por Puerto Rico, created by Beatriz Rosselló, the first lady of Puerto Rico, enlists the private sector help in providing aid to those affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
    • The Puerto Rico Community Foundation established the Puerto Rico Recovery Fund, which provide grants to affected communities through community-based organizations who are already active and working with the most vulnerable populations.

    National/global rebuilding efforts:

    • Among other actions, UNICEF is helping rebuild damaged schools and supplying educational materials to students and teachers, deliver emergency hygiene kits and drinking water in areas affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
    • GlobalGiving established a Hurricane Irma Relief Fund and a Puerto Rico & Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund, which support vetted local organizations.
    • Convoy of Hope continues to send food and relief supplies to the Caribbean region
    • Catholic Relief Services is accepting donations for families in the Caribbean Islands, Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic shelter, water, tarps, tents, kitchen kits, and more.
    • The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is a regional, inter-governmental agency for disaster management in the Caribbean. Donations made to the CDEMA’s Relief Fund will be used to purchase relief supplies and support early recovery and rebuilding efforts. 
    • The Red Cross is distributing relief items, providing health services, meals, and snacks, and operate emergency shelters.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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