Category Archives: Advocacy

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Every Member an Advocate (Live Web Seminar)

On Thursday, April 27, NCTE members will gather on Capitol Hill for the 2017 NCTE Advocacy Day.  Whether you are in Washington, DC or your home district, you, too, can participate.

Join fellow NCTE members this Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. EDT for a live webinar, Every Member an Advocate, to learn the following:

Together, we will discuss key priorities in the US Congress and issues at home, where your attention, your expertise, and your unique perspective can make a critical difference. We will also share simple and concrete ways for you to engage in person, at home, and online in our policy agenda so that your experiences can influence policymakers and grow NCTE’s credible voice and visibility this year!

The webinar is FREE for NCTE members.

Although this event is free for members, you still need to register through the online store [click Add to Cart in the top-right corner]. You will receive a follow-up email Sunday afternoon with login information.

Why is your voice important now?

At the Federal level, President Trump has recommended that Congress eliminate critical (Title II) formula funds that flow annually to states in support of teacher professional development in schools and districts. If Congress adopts the President’s proposal, then that elimination of funding will compromise the recruitment, training, and ongoing professional learning for teachers where you live and work.

At the State level, your state is making decisions about ESSA implementation that will affect your classroom, such as:

  • how much annual testing will factor into a school’s ranking/rating within the state accountability system;
  • how to better measure and calculate English language proficiency; and
  • where to target improvement funding so that schools and districts get much-needed financial and technical support.

At the Local level, your school board, state and federal legislative representatives, and others need to hear from you to help influence budgeting, new legislation, research, and to assure schools and districts provide equitable access to rich and compelling learning opportunities and transformative curricula for all students.

Teachers are a credible and integral resource and must influence these important decisions! We encourage you to join us Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. to learn how.

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about Web seminars.

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What Does Cherry Picking Have to Do With Literary Analysis?

This post is written by member Christina Lovdal Gil. 

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot recently about the various ways that people convince themselves that what they believe is true, in spite of whatever evidence might contradict those views.  Now that I seem to live in a time of fake news and alternative facts and hyper- partisan politics, it has become increasingly important to me to figure out how to help teenagers to avoid following in those deep-rutted tracks of flawed thinking.

Analyzing poetry might not seem like the best way to deal with current situations, but in fact, whether students are talking about America’s greatness, or about death and old age, or about the immigration experience, I believe that teaching them to analyze poetry by looking at all of the evidence is a great way to help them develop their critical thinking skills.

Here are a few terms that I have learned in my research:

Confirmation bias or cognitive bias is the tendency of human beings to ignore any evidence that refutes already-held beliefs.

The backfire effect is the name for what happens when human beings hold those possibly flawed views even more strongly when they are presented with evidence that refutes them.

The illusion of explanatory depth is the belief that we know more than we really do.

The fallacy of the single cause is the belief that there is one, simple reason for a phenomenon when it might have been caused by number of factors.

The cherrypicking fallacy is the tendency to choose evidence that supports an argument while ignoring that which disputes it.

I have recently learned these terms, but I have been fighting these biases and flawed ways of thinking for years—in the way that I teach my students to analyze poetry.

The steps that I instruct my students to follow when analyzing a poem are the same ones that they can follow when attempting to understand any kind of complex idea or issue.  My biggest goal here is not for students to create a smooth-sounding thesis or for them to identify poetic elements by name.  What I most want is for them to embrace the parts of the text that are confusing or ambiguous or contradictory.  Those are the pieces that scare the human brain the most, and they are also the places where the meaning happens.

This process could be followed for any kind of examination or analysis.

First, you examine the evidence.  Notice that I didn’t say that you start with a thesis or an idea that you want to prove.  Doing that will only encourage cherry picking and flawed ideas.  Instead, you look at what’s there and notice everything you can.  For poetry, this might mean that you annotate all of the interesting words or images, for a science experiment it might mean that you take notes on the effects of a catalyst, and for a history analysis it might mean that you read multiple accounts of an important event and analyze data about the outcomes of that event.

Then you come up with an idea based on the majority of that evidence.  Looking for trends or causes or reasons is a good way to make sense of complicated information, but we also have to watch out for the old fallacy of the single cause.  I like oversimplification as much as the next person, so this is one that I have to be especially cautious of.  But a good first step towards understanding evidence is to come up with a way to explain the majority of what you’ve found.

Then, you look specifically for the pieces of evidence that contradict that idea.  When you’ve lumped together data in order to make sense of it, there will always be something left out.  Rather than see that as a minor drawback to your thesis or as a piece to quickly identify in a short paragraph about the counterclaim, you’ll need to recognize that evidence is very important.

Finally, and this is the hardest as well as the most important part, you create a new thesis that incorporates the evidence that seems to refute your idea.  The best way that I know to train your brain to let go of all those tendencies to ignore evidence or alternative ideas is to embrace the stuff that is subtle or ambiguous or hard to fit in a nice neat mold.  Ideas that incorporate it all are far superior to ideas that are based on cherry picking evidence.

It’s not that every human being is subject to these tendencies towards biases in our thinking all the time, but we have them in our brain chemistry.  And when you put all those fallacies and beliefs together, what you get is a room full of people, screaming their heads off about their own ideas, listening to no one except themselves and those who repeat their thoughts, and refusing to acknowledge any evidence that doesn’t support what they already think.

I want to do anything that I can to get those people to quiet down and start listening to each other.

Christina Gil was a high-school English teacher for sixteen years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids or meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village.

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Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations

This post is written by member Peg Grafwallner. 

Recently the State of Wisconsin proposed new license regulations to curtail teacher shortages (see State of Wisconsin Proposing New Teacher Licensure Regulations to Curtail Teacher Shortage by NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst Donna Pasternak). In theory, it makes sense to review the license regulations to see what can be done to alleviate this dilemma. However, we know that theory, while important, hardly works in the real world. What then are we supposed to do?

Like all of you, I worked hard to earn each of my teaching licenses. I wrote reams of lesson plans, read through volumes of research, stayed up late collaborating with study teams, learned new technologies, sought professional development opportunities outside the university, observed classroom teachers in the field, and put theory into practice during student teaching. I deserved every license I earned and am proud of the work I did to earn them.

Therefore, when I read words like reduce, softening, and allowing regarding the possible changes, I was apprehensive. I wondered what all of it meant.

After reading Donna Pasternak’s policy analysis report, I have grown more concerned. The teacher shortage issue has been created through a series of political circumstances. But to respond to the politics by relaxing teacher requirements doesn’t make sense.

My English license allows me to teach English grades 7–12. I do not have the skills or background to teach journalism or creative writing. I would do a disservice to students who were expecting to be taught the fundamentals of journalism but who would have to settle for me, because, unfortunately, that’s what it would be. Students should not have to “settle” in their education. They should expect teachers who are experts in the content of their field and experts in conveying that content.

When I think back to my student teaching days, I needed the time, experience, and opportunities to fail in order ultimately to be successful. Student teaching gave me all the experiences of being a teacher—but with a safety net. That “net” meant that while I was responsible for planning, instruction, grading, paperwork, and other details, an experienced teacher “had my back.” I wasn’t driving alone; my co-pilot offered advice, expertise, and modeling of best practice. I was not qualified to be the “instructor of record.”

According to Wikipedia, “the term pro forma [as referenced in the policy analyst report] is most often used to describe a practice or document that is provided as a courtesy or satisfies minimum requirements.”  Therefore, teachers from other states could teach without having to meet Wisconsin’s level of requirements; as a matter of fact, their out-of-state license is all that would be necessary to placate the “minimum requirement[s].”  Our children deserve more than the “minimum requirements.”  They deserve teachers with 21st century skill mindsets who are passionate about leading them and their learning.

I cringe when I think that a standardized test or meeting a certain GPA could determine whether I qualify to be a teacher. Standardized testing measures my test-taking abilities on that particular day. How can a standardized test measure my level of empathy, or my ability to create engaging lessons, or my ability to collaborate with colleagues? A standardized test will measure my knowledge at one point in time. That is not enough to teach children; knowledge is merely part of a complex puzzle.

Finally, giving school districts the “authority to validate teacher competency” gives too much power to individuals who don’t understand or know the specifics of every license. As an example, if a school district lacks a reading specialist, will it try to substitute an English teacher? A reading specialist requires a diverse set of skills that are different from the skills required of an English teacher. Once again, to compare the two licenses is to minimize the other. Who would make these decisions and does this individual have the expertise to make that decision?

Altering the requirements for teachers is an insult to our profession and a travesty for our students. Insinuating that pedagogy—the art and science of teaching—can be somehow magically bestowed diminishes the important work all of us did to get where we are. Students deserve consummate, expert educators in the classroom, not “certified-lite” interns who are grappling to learn the profession while students are struggling to learn the content. Let’s work together to maintain the highest quality of professional educators who continually better themselves for the sake of our students.

Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed., is an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large urban school in Milwaukee, WI.   She is a blogger, author, and national presenter with articles appearing in ASCD, Edutopia, Exceptional Parent, Literacy Daily, Literacy and NCTE, WSRA Journal and Illinois Reading Journal.  Peg can be reached at peggrafwallner@hotmail.com or at https://peggrafwallner.com

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What Happened in Your State This March?

This past month, thirty policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

ESSA Implementation

Colorado: Stevi Quate shared Colorado Teachers Invited to Shape Policy.

Ohio: Robin Holland wrote Ohio’s ESSA Plan—Submission Delayed in Response to Public Feedback.

Vermont: Susanmarie Harrington shared Vermont Responds to the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Readers may want to visit ESSA Implementation in the States to see what your state is doing.

Higher Education

Massachusetts: Mya Poe shares UMass President Criticizes Federal Travel Ban in First State of the University Address.

Missouri: Jane Greer describes Missouri’s push to graduate college students on time in 15 to Finish in Missouri.

North Carolina: In NC College Students Have More Options, Terry McLean writes about dual enrollment, Reverse Transfer Options, High Achieving Tuition Scholarships, and NC Promise.

Ohio: Michelle Rankins describes recently passed legislation in Ohio Concealed Carry Law and College Campuses.

Tennessee: Melanie Hundley analyzes Tennessee and the edTPA.

Texas: In Texas Immigration Bill, Michael Gos describes the impact of the anti-sanctuary bill passed by the Texas Senate on state and local governments and campuses.

Funding and Budget

Connecticut: Stephen Ferruci discusses What Happens to Low-Income Students in CT?

Massachusetts: Mya Poe shares that Massachusetts college students ask for more funding and free tuition for a year.

Mississippi: Kerri Jordan describes the Funding Shortfalls in Mississippi.

Montana: Karen Henderson notes the possible closing of college campuses in Funding Proposals 2017 Legislature.

Nebraska: Deborah Minter writes Budget Shortfall Threatens Public College, Community College and University Budgets.

Oregon: In her Focus on Oregon: Budget and Free Community College, Cornelia Paraskevas describes Oregon’s budget shortfall and the ramifications of Oregon Promise assisting wealthier families more than those with lower incomes.

Pennsylvania: Due to declining budgets and enrollments, D. Alexis Hart writes about the Possible Reorganization of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).

Rhode Island: Michael Geary describes Rhode Island’s Promise: Free Tuition.

Utah: SLCC Promise Offers “Free” Community College, according to Christie Toth.

Wisconsin: Donna Pasternak writes Governor Walker Proposes Closer Monitoring of Faculty Workloads While Allowing Students to Opt Out of Fees in 2017–2019 Budget Proposal That Will Increase Funding at WI IHEs.

PreK–12

Arkansas: Donna Wake delineates various Legislative Actions in Arkansas, including a ban of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, options for education savings accounts, expansion of charter schools, and a requirement that all K-6 and special education licensure candidates take a stand-alone test in skills related to the “science of reading.”

Idaho: In Change Is in the Air, Darlene Dyer describes the legislature’s funding proposals.

Kentucky: Emily Zuccaro analyzes KY HB 250: Charter Schools.

Maine: Susan Stires reports Rural Public Schools See Choice as a Detriment to Their Communities.

Massachusetts: Mya Poe filed a number of reports: Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Approves Three New Charter Schools, Massachusetts’ Four-Year Graduation Rate Improves for 10th Consecutive Year, Massachusetts Leads Nation in Advanced Placement Success, Massachusetts FY2018 Budget Released, and Massachusetts Introduces Public Website to Search Teacher and Administrator Licensure.

Minnesota: Ezra Hyland writes about the Minnesota Senate E-12 Education Budget.

New York: Derek Kulnis posted about Renewal Schools and the Community Schools Model, New York State Eliminates ALST Test, and the increase in New York Graduation Rates.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower shares Wolf Administration Reacts to Proposed Cuts, Calls on US Secretary of Education to Support Investments in Public Education.

Vermont: Susanmarie Harrington suggests NCTE members in Vermont might find the Agency of Education’s weekly field memo a useful resource.

Virginia: Mabel Khawaja files A Brief Report on Charter Schools in Virginia.

Wisconsin: Donna Pasternak discusses the implications for English language arts and NCTE in State of Wisconsin Proposing New Teacher Licensure Regulations to Curtail Teacher Shortage. [Readers may want to read Peg Grafwallner’s reponse to Donna’s report titled “Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations,” posted April 14 on Literacy & NCTE.]

PreK–12 and Higher Education

Delaware: In Remediating the Need for Remediation, Christine Cucciarre describes a pilot course, Foundations of College English, to prepare high school students for college-level writing and avoid the need for remediation.

Florida: In Developmental Education and 2016/17 State Bills, Alison Reynolds provides a snapshot of various policies and legislation, including a policy that allows students to opt out of developmental courses, a focus on four-year graduation from college, a pilot program for competency-based education, and expansion of school choice.

Oklahoma: Michele Eodice and Anastasia Wickham delineate a number of aspects of the Oklahoma Budget Crisis.

South Carolina: In Reading, Writing, and Roadwork in South Carolina, Matthew Nelson shares that the South Carolina House of Representatives would divert funds from education to roads.

Federal

Minnesota: Ezra Hyland listed education cuts in FY 18 Federal Budget. In U.S. Supreme Court Rules in 2 Special Education Cases, Ezra noted the Supreme Court’s ruling that IDEA law requires that the term “educational benefit” of a special education IEP means more than minimal progress, and the remanding back to the district court of a case involving a student with severe cerebral palsy bringing her service dog to class.

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Honoring Trailblazing Women

Global Citizenship Campaign for March

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

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave—to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

—Malala Yousafzai

As the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship continues to consider ways in which teachers, students, and community members can increase our knowledge of what it means to be a global citizen, we turned to the status of girls and women for the month of March. In the United States, March serves as Women’s History Month, and the theme for Women’s History Month 2017 is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

There are many trailblazing women to admire, and thus on a personal level, girls might be encouraged to consult biographies of women who have made a difference in the world of business and labor. Understanding what encompasses both business and labor would be a great start for girls in elementary and middle school, while addressing explicit ways young women might enter the world of business and labor would make for great teaching at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

The National Women’s History Project website is a great resource for learning more about female leaders throughout time. Nominations for this year’s honorees include Kate Mullany, who, in 1845, began the first all-women labor union, and Lucy Parsons Gonzales, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.

In discussions about women’s history, exemplars of strong voices who disrupt the status quo can be found in clips from biographies on series such as PBS’s “American Masters”. This month ABC’s “When We Rise,” addresses issues of gender and gender advocacy and offers another great way to encourage students to become familiar with positive avenues for equity.

As transgender equity seems threatened, emailing congressional representatives as well as school board representatives and school district administrators about supporting transgendered students is one action students can take. Talking about such issues and the historic actions taken in the past to protect other underrepresented groups is equally important.

Using biography projects (see Pinterest and Scholastic) or encouraging innovations through inquiry projects that would make a change in people’s lived experiences (see The Better India and edTechTeacher), young people have a path to action. Inviting students to become participants in organizations such as Girl Up or Disrupt and Innovate can help them see that they can be the change we want to see in the world.