Literacy, Equity, Capacity: Reauthorize an ESEA that Supports Those Goals, Says | Teachers College Columbia University

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Literacy, Equity, Capacity: Reauthorize an ESEA that Supports Those Goals, Says TC's Ernest Morrell

This spring, Congress will decide whether to reauthorize the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The law has been both hailed as a major step toward ensuring that all students succeed, and criticized for an undue emphasis on testing that has narrowed curriculum and penalized schools in poverty. With Congress debating these and related issues in an NCLB rewrite, we asked experts from the extended TC family for their perspectives.

The following commentary is by Ernest Morrell, TC’s Macy Professor of Education, Director of the College’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME), and President of the National Council of Teachers of English.

A quality literacy education is a civil right and a public good that provides numerous benefits to individual students and to our society. Failure to develop literacy in every learner has consequences that reverberate at every level of society.

Congress should reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act only if it supports literacy learning for all students that is informed by solid research rather than by ideology or political expediency.  More specifically, the National Council of Teachers of English, which I currently serve as President, recommends:

Building capacity for literacy learning through funding and flexibility in order to:

  • Provide teachers with the time and resources that are essential to creating collaborative, sustained opportunities for professional learning and building teacher inquiry and decision making. 
  • Identify and promote strategies and experiences that will develop the leadership potentials of principals and teachers in literacy instruction. 
  • Develop or implement innovative approaches for preservice and early-career teachers that incorporate sustained mentorships to connect academic and theoretical knowledge with practical application within diverse settings. 
  • Develop the knowledge and strategies necessary for parents and communities to exercise informed decisions about children's education.

Ensuring educational equity in our democracy by:

  • Funding quality universal early childhood education; access to quality teaching and learning environments; and equitable support for all public schools.
  • Using proven strategies to help students who are not making appropriate progress toward educational goals.
  • Providing for the successful participation of students with the greatest needs by ensuring that Title I funding focuses on districts with the greatest percentage of students who lack economic opportunities, including the delivery of wrap-around services (such as before and after school programs, nutrition and health programs, and so on).
  • Providing ongoing opportunities for comprehensive literacy education.

Promoting literacy among all students and our society as a whole through the creation of dedicated funding streams that: 

  • Ensure comprehensive literacy education that builds upon the cultural and linguistic experiences students bring to school, integrates literacy instruction across the disciplines, promotes evidence-based approaches to the teaching of writing, and promotes the inclusion of diverse and multimedia texts.
  • Provide the technologies to ensure that all students have access to appropriate tools, to adequate bandwidth for accessing and creating resources, and to learning practices that make effective use of these technologies as they develop powerful multimedia literacies.
  • Offer engaging, developmentally appropriate literacy education to all preschool learners, regardless of their geography or socioeconomic status.
  • Enable professional development for teachers of all subjects and school principals.

Creating innovative new forms of assessment, which contribute more effectively to student learning and school improvement than standardized tests, by:  

  • Funding research, professional learning and teacher preparation to support formative assessment that enacts and informs.
  • Using standardized tests only to give leaders the yearly data about students' literacy learning they need to make evidence-based decisions to promote and hold themselves accountable for equity. Data must be disaggregated for all subgroups at the school, district, and state levels, and tests should minimize time away from instruction, employ sampling when possible, and offer appropriate accommodations to students with special needs.
  • Funding research on assessments that have proven effective, such as portfolios, performance assessments, and competency-based models, and allowing flexibility for states and localities to implement them.
  • Gathering multiple measures of college and university performance and progress beyond completion rates, including constant focus on essential learning outcomes and use of high-impact educational practice.

<< Read more TC Views on ESEA Reauthorization

The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.