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New IUME Director Elected to Leadership of National Literacy Coalition


Ernest Morrell

Ernest Morrell

New IUME Director Elected to Leadership of National Literacy Coalition

By Patricia Lamiell

Ernest Morrell, who is the incoming director of Teachers College’s Institute for Urban Minority Education (IUME) as well as a nationally prominent scholar in literacy, critical pedagogy, cultural studies, urban education and ethnic studies, has been elected vice president of the National Council of Teachers of English, the preeminent organization of literacy educators in the United States.

Morrell will be installed in November at the council’s annual meeting in Chicago, beginning a four-year tenure of leadership. After serving for a year as vice president, he will be named incoming president, then president, and finally immediate past president of the organization, each for one-year terms. He was elected through a balloting of NCTE’s 35,000 members.

Morrell said he was “awed” by his election, noting that NCTE, a powerful advocate for literacy, includes not just individual members but also many education and trade organizations that help to shape curricula, policy and teaching in statehouses and in the nation’s capitol. “These professional organizations have the potential to really have a lot of sway in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Morrell said his leadership of IUME and NCTE, combined with his position  as professor of English Education in the Arts and Humanities Department at TC, will present many opportunities to advocate for and shape literacy education, particularly in urban settings, and to help translate education research into usable data for policymakers and educators. His mission in all three positions, he said, will be to help turn “theory into practice,  provide a place where research meets policy,” and conduct “a dialogue in real time about what’s happening in IUME, Harlem, TC, and the nation, to address the problems of literacy,” which he called “a matter of life and death.”

Despite all the negative talk about the state of America’s education system, “there are all these amazing classrooms” that could be studied and replicated across the country, Morrell said. He also plans to use his position with NCTE to influence the national discussion about assessments, or testing. Literacy, for example, should be assessed more broadly than reading and writing and include other types of communication. His tenure as president of NCTE will have the theme, “powerful communications technology,” he said. “A blueprint for reform has to make education relevant socially and culturally.”
Morrell is assuming the vice presidency in the organization’s centennial year. NCTE was founded in Chicago in 1911 by English-language and literacy educators to improve the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. According to a mission statement adopted in 1990, the council "promotes the development of literacy, 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.”

Sheridan Blau, distinguished senior lecturer in English education at TC, wrote in an e-mail that Morrell’s presidency “is an opportunity to influence the entire profession of English education and to provide wise guidance to policy makers on issues of language and literacy locally and nationally. [It] will be celebrated by all of us in English education at TC and by professionally active English teachers at every level across the country.”

According to a history being written for the council’s centennial, Morrell is the fifth NCTE president affiliated with Teachers College. The others include Franklin T. Baker in 1914, Allan Abbott in 1917, Lennox Grey in 1952, and Kylene Beers (formerly affiliated with TC’s Reading & Writing Project) in 2009.

Morrell is leaving a faculty position at the Urban Schooling Division of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) to become a tenured, full professor at TC. He brings to NCTE and IUME a wealth of research and teaching experience at the university level and with adolescents in urban settings.

At UCLA, Morrell has worked with high school students in Los Angeles on in-school and out-of-school literacy instruction, cultural studies, and civic involvement. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a doctorate in language, literacy and culture from University of California at Berkeley. He taught high school English and coached basketball, track and field, and cross country in  Oakland, California, where he was born.

Morrell succeeds IUME’s founding director, Edmund Gordon, professor emeritus at TC and Yale. Gordon launched the institute in 1973 to research the impact of race, gender, language, and social and economic class on learning, and then apply the research toward strengthening curriculum, pedagogy and student assessment.

While IUME will remain actively engaged in Harlem, where its offices are headquartered at Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and 125th Street, Morrell plans to extend the institute’s reach to other urban areas across the country as well, by applying IUME’s philosophy and classroom prowess, combined with TC’s research capabilities and models of best teaching practices, to NCTE’s national campaign to increase literacy among all students.

In a position paper written for NCTE, Morrell writes, “If we tap into the everyday, literate lives of our students; if we resource teachers and classrooms [and] give them sound examples of success; and if we provide for autonomy and voice simultaneously, we will help to realize this ambitious and worthwhile goal of increasing literacy and college access for all of our students.”

To view the interview with Morrell, go to

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