Category Archives: Advocacy

Ah, a New Year: Iowa Report

This post is written by NCTE’s Iowa P12 policy analyst James Davis. 

JimDavis200607 Holding Journal - chestIn November and December, education organizations prepared for a daunting 2017; while not prescient, their work was warranted. Iowa’s November elections had substantial implications for pre-K through higher education, especially for teacher retention and recruitment. Legislative targets include dismantling a collective bargaining law in effect since 1975 (health care, contract arbitration, and job-performance grievance procedures are at risk); limiting fiscal responsibility to the public employee retirement system; teacher licensure and credentialing.

Many educators, including those in teacher preparation, see the last-mentioned–an attack on teacher licensure and credentialing–as something that could lead to lower quality staffing (including the possibility of long-term substitutes), and ultimately, to privatization of schools. Budget shortfalls, even with the existence of a robust “rainy day fund,” are the handy rationale. As Iowa and surrounding states face teacher shortages, making the profession less desirable hardly seems a logical strategy.

The same budget rationale affects other matters, including “initiatives once touted as ways to better Iowa schools” (DMR 1/17/17). A controversial third-grade retention law is to take effect in 2018, but the Iowa Department of Education has not requested funding for the intensive summer-reading program alternative specified in the statute. Educators have questioned the efficacy of the approach, which could be pushed back (likely), seriously reconsidered, and perhaps repealed. A second initiative was to replace the Iowa Assessment Program with Smarter Balanced Assessments in the 2017-18 school year. Legislators question availability of funding for the computer-based exams, even as some lawmakers and educators question the way the Smarter Balanced program was selected. Despite alleged commitment to alignment between Iowa Core standards and state assessment, the program seems to be in jeopardy—the Governor has asked the Department to put a hold on implementation, and has requested fewer state budget provisions for a start in fiscal year 2019 than the Department had requested for 2018.

On a less gloomy note, implementation continues for support of teacher leaders and leadership. Social Studies standards are near implementation. Many teachers maintain professional grounding in the presence of an Iowa Core. Good work continues in schools and classrooms, even with the legislature in session!

One change will occur when the current Iowa Governor begins service as the US Ambassador to China. The current Lieutenant Governor will become the first woman Governor in Iowa history. Educators struggle to find reason to believe it will make any difference.

Jim Davis began teaching in southwest Missouri as an NCTE and affiliate member, attending his first annual convention in Milwaukee in 1968. Now in his 50th year in our profession, he teaches English education and directs the Iowa Writing Project at the University of Northern Iowa.

NCTE Citizenship Campaign, February Focus: Black History Month

handsonglobeThe following post was written by members of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

February—Black History Month—offers an opportunity to encourage good citizenship when it comes to issues surrounding race while still meeting your content standards. To encourage personal citizenship1, discuss with students how they can be friends with and support peers from backgrounds different from their own. Their everyday interactions with people are a way of being a good citizen.

To help students be participatory citizens, have them look at the history of laws and/or current laws and policies that may be unfair to people of color or of different faiths. When it comes to justice-oriented citizenship, students could be asked to analyze and think critically about the laws and policies they looked at before and come up with a variety of solutions.

Grades K–5

For students at this younger age, we think it’s important to encourage them to maintain friendships with children outside their race or religion. Have class discussions about what it means to be a good friend and why it can be a good thing to have friends who are different from you.

Books to consider: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson or Across the Alley by Richard Michelson

Grades 6–8

Middle school is an age where friendships can be complicated. It’s a great time to discuss with students how they choose friends. At this age they can start to think critically about whether or not their friend group is diverse and why. In addition to thinking about friendship you can have students conduct a mini research project. They can look through their curriculum and see how many black or nonwhite authors they have read in class, or people they have learned about in history, science, or math. This is a great way to look at your own curriculum and see who is represented and to consider why. Students can continue with the research project from the participatory citizen activity above and discuss and analyze their findings. They can determine whether or not they think there is an issue and write an argumentative paper as to why there is or isn’t. Perhaps if they all think there is an issue, they can come up with ways to fix it.

Book to consider: Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper

Grades 9–12

In high school students are being asked to do more critical thinking and analysis. Consider having your students examine your school’s dress code. Is it fair to people of all races? Genders? Why or why not? Can they write a proposal for a revised dress code if it isn’t? A research project looking at a person of color would be a great project too. You can use a nonfiction anchor text to help students write the paper while still working on reading skills.

Books to consider:

Other Ideas from


  1. As in our previous post, we draw on the three types of citizens proposed by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne in their article “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy” (American Educational Research Journal, Summer 2004, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 237-269): personally responsible citizens, participatory citizens, and justice-oriented citizens.


When Learning Gets Personal, Part 4: The Bigger Picture

This post is written by Bryan Christopher, NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst from North Carolina.  It is the fourth part of a series about Wildin Acosta, an undocumented student. You can read the first part here, second part here and third part here


On Monday, January 23, the remarkable story of Wildin Acosta’s quest to earn a high school diploma quietly ended.

Wildin finished his math exam, said goodbye to a handful of friends and teachers, and walked out of Riverside High School having earned the remaining credits he needed to graduate. The moment occurred 361 days after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested him; 309 days after students, community members, and elected officials helped halt his deportation order; and 165 days after his release from Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.

The moment also occurred three days after Donald Trump became the forty-fifth US president, and it leaves me wondering what lies in store for other immigrant students and their families.

Wildin’s journey—his arrest, six-month stay in prison, return home, and fall semester back at school—is a crash course in the many points at which immigration and education policies intersect. Those intersections will intensify in the weeks to come.

As schools and communities reacted to the executive action to temporarily ban visas, travel, and refugee admission for citizens of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen (before the State Department reversed it), many educators are also waiting anxiously to see what the Trump Administration does with President Obama’s signature immigration reforms.

Obama granted temporary legal status to undocumented migrants via two executive orders: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). Established in 2012, DACA grants temporary stays and work authorization to individuals who

  • arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthday;
  • continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, and had no lawful status at that time;
  • were currently in school, earned a high school degree, or were honorably discharged from the armed forces or Coast Guard;
  • have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and pose no threat to national security or public safety.

Source: UCIS flier

Two years later, DAPA granted certain parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents three-year stays and work authorizations.

Overturning DACA would affect nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” and affect schools and classrooms more than any wall or visa suspension. On the campaign trail, President Trump promised to end DACA, but he has softened his language since the election. In a January 26 interview with ABC News, he said his administration would release a new policy “over the next period of four weeks.”

As teachers, it is not our place to share our political opinions with students or their families, nor should we advocate for specific changes in policy while representing a public school. It is, however, our job to support our students, regardless of immigration status, and do everything we can to address their basic needs and deliver a sound education.

In an effort to best serve all students, teachers should understand how policy changes could impact their classrooms and look to support students in several ways:

  • Monitor attendance. Follow up appropriately if a student is absent for multiple days and make sure there is counseling and mental health support available for students facing traumatic change within their families and homes.
  • Know the laws. Educate yourself on federal and state immigration policies so that you can share accurate information. US Citizenship and Immigration Services is a good place to start.
  • Find strength in numbers. Reach out to colleagues and civic and community organizations and work together to find ways to support students struggling with changing state and federal policies.
  • Contact elected officials. Make them aware of the effects policies have on education. You see immigration and education policies intersect through your daily interaction with students. Lawmakers do not. Invite them to visit your school to witness the great things your students are doing. Thank them for their time and support!

Wildin’s journey is just one example of how informed community members can advocate for change without breaking federal or state laws. Regardless of the content you teach, be aware of policy changes and support your students as they adjust to a new political landscape.

Bryan Christopher teaches English and Journalism at Riverside High School in Durham, NC. He’s also an NCTE Policy Analyst and Hope Street Teacher Voice Fellow. Email or Follow him @bryanchristo4. 

What Happened in Your State This January?

This past month, ten policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Higher Education

Alaska: Jennifer Stone reported on a faculty vote of no confidence in University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen due to his implementation of the Strategic Pathways.

Idaho: Karen Uehling continued her reporting on Complete College Idaho, Governor C.L. (Butch) Otter’s “ambitious goal that 60% of Idahoans ages 25-34 will have a degree or certificate by 2020.”

Indiana: Katherine Wills shared that “HB 1012 would require public colleges and universities to provide every student with a summary of each semester’s funding expenses.” She questioned whether HB 1024, mandating “schools to create a policy allowing a student to express religious beliefs at any school event,” if passed, would apply to universities.

Louisiana: Clancy Ratliff described the changes to Louisiana’s state scholarship program and the increase in dual enrollment offerings.

New Hampshire: Alexandria Peary noted the closing of Daniel Webster College, a for-profit college owned by ITT Educational Services, Inc.


Idaho: Darlene Dyer gave a synopsis of the legislature’s first week, focusing on PreK-12, the state superintendent, and revenue.

Louisiana: Clancy Ratliff updated her report on the approval of Louisiana Connecters for students with significant disabilities and English language learners.

Maine: Susan Stires reported that Portland Public Schools have instituted a professional development program of teachers teaching their colleagues.

Minnesota: Ezra Hyland shared that Minnesota received a C+ from Quality Counts 2017.

New York: Derek Kulnis provided information about “Pre-K Quality Snapshots” to help parents in New York City choose a pre-K program and noted that New York will spend “1.6 million dollars in order to expand AP to more black and Hispanic students.”

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower shared a number of articles about the following:

Frederick Douglass

Why I Think It’s Important to Know Frederick Douglass

The following post is written by NCTE member Scott Filkins. 

As I prepared to read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography with my 11th-grade students this fall, I thought through what I value about his work, both to frame how I would teach it and to make these ideas part of the conversation about why we read certain texts in a class called “American Literature.”

  • First, it’s an important historical document. Most of my students have not read a first-hand account of slavery, and they have much to learn from the writing of someone who lived under America’s most depraved institution.
  • Second, it’s a memoir of a key American figure. Deeply entwined with the historical significance of the work is its value as the story of a particular man who survived slavery and went on to devote his life to work for its abolition.
  • Third, his autobiography is a literary work rich with potential for discussion of the power of language. Even students who are reluctant to talk about an author’s word choice or sentence structure are easily convinced of the value of this work with a text as beautifully and carefully written as Douglass’s.

These reasons are more than sufficient, both to justify the work’s inclusion in the textual dialogue we call American literature and to give our specific conversations of his autobiography focus and meaning. But the past few times I’ve taught the book (thanks to my endlessly smart colleagues) I’ve been focusing on Douglass’s work as an example of political activism, writing for change. I feel foolish that this isn’t the approach I took in the past, given that ending massive human injustice was in fact Douglass’s goal in writing it.

It turns out that it’s not easy to make this focus central to our study, though. Students have trouble imagining what a historical audience reading the work would have had to feel, think, and believe in order to be convinced that slavery is antithetical to American values.

“How is it not completely obvious that slavery is inhumane?” they wonder. “Why would you have to do all this to persuade someone that this kind of inequality is unethical?” The enormity of these questions energizes students’ study of the text and brings them to appreciate the complex and disturbing significance of the very fact that it had to be written.

Knowing Frederick Douglass as a political activist who used his considerable literate gifts–as a writer, as a reader of other texts, and most importantly, as a reader of his fellow human beings–to make change in the world for the benefit of others is, it turns out, the most important outcome of our shared reading experience with his autobiography.

I only hope that everyone gets the chance to know him this way.


Scott Filkins teaches in the Champaign Unit 4 Schools. He co-directs the University of Illinois Writing Project and is a doctoral student at Illinois in curriculum and instruction.  Scott is the author of the NCTE publication Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (2012).