Tag Archives: Advocacy

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.

Spring of Tentative Hope

This post is written by NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst for Alabama, Cindy Adams. 

CindyAdamsTo quote from Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”—thus characterizing the 2016 Alabama state legislative session. In the months leading up to the February–May legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh warned the state that he would propose the RAISE Act as the first piece of legislature for the session. By early February, the bill had been revised seven times and morphed into the PREP Act. Opponents contended the following: (1) using value-added measures for teacher evaluations is unreliable at worst and misleading at best, and (2) using teacher evaluation for external accountability purposes (granting tenure and dismissing ineffective teachers) as opposed to using evaluation to promote teacher growth would pervert the original purpose of evaluations—to help teachers grow in their craft. The proposed bills would cost additional millions of dollars to implement and included stipulations to pay for outside-the-state “evaluators” to assess teachers—evaluators who did not know the state courses of study, the school communities, or the dynamics in buildings.

Alabama Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown used her platform to rally teachers around the state while determined superintendents and school board members met with individual legislators. Brown asked legislators to visit their schools and ask students and teachers what they needed to be successful on the state-mandated assessments and NAEP tests. She also asked legislators to first visit the bottom 6 percent of schools (76 schools) that the legislature had labeled as “failures.” All were in high-poverty areas, not surprising in a state with a high-poverty rate to begin with. Her story aired on NPR. Legislators who heeded the call and toured classrooms were highlighted on school district social media pages and thanked for their concern.

Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama Eric Mackey urged legislators to consider that fifteen states are in the midst of lawsuits over value-added measures and said, “In no state has it been proven conclusively to work, and in some states it has been proven conclusively not to work, so why go there again?” He also pointed out that the $18 million worth of appropriations needed to implement the PREP Act were not in the proposed education budget for the state. The next question was “What will be cut?” in an already unfunded budget.

In a startling late-night announcement on April 12, 2016, as a legislative work session was closing, Senator Marsh announced he was “shelving” the PREP Act bill. It was dead. Marsh explained that not enough legislators or educators were supporting the bill. He took a moment to explain, however, that Alabama’s economic woes sat on the shoulders of its educators—perhaps a last attempt to find someone else to blame for Alabama’s lack of leadership in attracting more industry to a poverty-laden state.

So, to return to Dickens, the winter of despair has turned into a spring of tentative hope. Perhaps the foolishness has been replaced with a measure of wisdom. Educator voices made a difference, and our students showed their best efforts and full hearts to legislators when it counted.

Cindy Adams is a veteran literacy educator with 38 years experience in K-12 schools. She currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer for Literacy and Humanities in Hoover City Schools in Alabama.

Education for All: Supporting Undocumented Students

looking-at-sky-iStock_000018692211_MediumOn March 30, 2016, NCTE staff attended a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) called “Harnessing the Talent of Unauthorized Immigrant Students.” Speakers included Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, assistant professor of Education at Harvard University and author of Lives in Limbo; Yehimi Cambron, fifth-grade teacher and DACA recipient; Dr. Frances Esparza, assistant superintendent of the Office of English Language Learners, Boston Public Schools; and Richard Loeschner, principal of Brentwood High School, Brentwood, New York.

During the panel, the following points were highlighted:

  • For many undocumented students, legal status is a “lead weight,” the most salient feature in their lives. Though DACA has made pursuing higher education and careers possible in the short-term, recipients struggle with how to plan for an uncertain future.
  • More training is needed for educators regarding DACA and the many issues unauthorized students face.
  • In order to create a welcome, supportive environment, when an immigrant family enters the Boston Public School district, the district connects the family with a community-based organization that has capabilities in the family’s native language.
  • There is a need for more teachers who are dually certified in a subject area and in English as a second language, as well as a need for more guidance counselors.

NCTE has long taken a stand on unauthorized students. Most recently, the NCTE membership approved a 2014 resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented, and Unaccompanied Youth. This resolution urges members to “advocate for the dignities and rights of young people crossing the border, particularly those who cross alone.” The resolution concludes with a pledge of support for educators who work with immigrant, undocumented, and unaccompanied students.

The CAP event closed with panelists discussing next steps for helping undocumented students navigate the educational system and their futures. Dr. Esparza emphasized creating tangible college and career opportunities for all students, while Yehimi Cambron stressed the role of teachers as mentors for undocumented youth. Finally, Dr. Gonzalez concluded the session by describing the importance of local-level voices, no matter the political environment of the country: “In the absence of federal action, the balance lays in local-level actors in advocating for the future of undocumented students.” Certainly, educators play a prominent role in ensuring equitable access and instruction for all students, no matter their legal status.

To learn more about supporting unauthorized students, check out the Dream Project’s educator resources.

Advocating for English Language Learners under ESSA

With the December 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), education stakeholders have begun to examine how the law will impact different groups of students.

English language learners continue to be one of the fastest growing student populations in the United States, and experience unique educational challenges. Given that English language learners will be 25 percent of public school students by 2025, consideration of the implications ESSA may have on this particular population is essential.

How ESSA Will Impact ELLs

Under ESSA, English language learners and dual language students will experience some major shifts in the ways they are counted, classified, and supported. Title I of ESSA lists English languagAdvocacye development as a priority in statewide accountability systems. In a break from the way No Child Left Behind (NCLB) treated English language acquisition and accountability, ESSA’s Title I requires all schools to demonstrate they are improving English language proficiency of their ELLs. This means ELLs will have a substantial role in accountability systems, particularly in states like California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois, which have the largest concentrations of ELL students. The legislation alters the exclusion of ELLs from standardized tests, providing states with two options:

1. States can still exclude ELLs students’ results from accountability measures during a student’s first year in US schools, OR
2. Recent arrivals would not be required to take the ELA test, and the state would not have to count ELLs’ language proficiency scores in the accountability systems.

In year 2 states are required to use a growth measure for reading and math to be included in the accountability systems, and in years 3 and beyond, assessment scores for ELLs will be included the same way as all other students.

In terms of classifying students, ESSA requires states to have a standardized system for determining which students are ELLs, as well as clear processes for how ELLs enter and exit special services. This will translate to more consistency for ELLs, at least within a given state.

Lastly, when it comes to federal support, the news is good for ELLs: Under Title III, ESSA maintains the prior commitment from NCLB of federal funds to support language instruction for ELLs, but could increase funding by more than 20 percent by 2020, bringing it to a total of $885 million.

What Does This Mean for ELL Advocates?

As there is no longer a federal accountability system, states’ and districts’ accountability plans must work to ensure the educational rights of English learners. Delia Pompa of the Migration Policy Institute explains, “In the absence of strong central direction for accountability plans, [we must engage] all groups that have a stake in the success of English learners to ensure robust monitoring of how these students are faring academically.” To ensure a safeguard of the civil and educational rights of English language learners, state and community stakeholders must prepare for the shifts ESSA requires.

Recommended Action Items for Community Stakeholders:
● Engage in designing new processes and clearly articulate how accountability will work for ELLs.
● Understand current range of entry and exit criteria for ELLs within the state in order to recommend appropriate criteria moving forward.
● Determine optimal method of counting ELLs and make recommendations to state officials.

Recommended Action Items for States:
● Identify best practices in identification and classification that are evidence-based and tailored to state needs.
● Prepare to monitor performance of all English language learners and to intervene when poor outcomes are detected, as early as possible.
● Regarding the exclusion of ELLs’ outcomes in the accountability system, work to understand how ELLs would benefit from each option and how each option interacts with the state’s overall accountability system.

A Statewide Collaboration

This is a guest blog written by Valerie Taylor, NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst for Texas. 

Valerie TaylorIn the spring of 2015, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) directed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to begin the revision of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading, Spanish Language Arts and Reading, and English as a Second Language.

As the process began, each member of the SBOE selected teachers and administrators from across the state to serve on Grade Band Writing Teams (K–2, 3–5, 6–8, English I–IV). At the same time, literacy organizations from across Texas and two other state educator organizations joined together to consider what recommendations they might make to the SBOE about what might be the best way to approach this revision. With the approval of the SBOE, the organizations (the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, the Texas Association of Literacy Educators, the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas, Texas Association of Reading Improvement, Texas Association of Bilingual Educators, National Writing Projects of Texas, the Texas Association of School Administrators, and the Texas Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) worked many hours to design a new framework that would help to streamline the TEKS and would help teachers and students be able to make connections among various literacies. The goal of the groups is to help provide students and teachers in Texas with a set of high priority standards.

After the initial proposal of this new framework, members of several of these eight organizations testified in front of the SBOE on why this framework could help the writing teams as they began their work. When the teams began their work in the fall of 2015, the TEA provided this framework along with recommendations about possible changes to the current TEKS that had been received from expert reviewers selected by SBOE members.

In December 2015, the TEA released the first drafts of the TEKS revisions, and the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (TCTELA) set up an online forum where teachers, administrators, parents, and community members could respond to the drafts. TCTELA then compiled the results of this forum and presented them to the SBOE during the public testimony of the January session. Representatives of the eight professional organizations also testified (testimony that the organizations coordinated prior to the meeting) and presented a set of recommendations the SBOE and writing teams might consider as the teams began their work on the second drafts. These recommendations came from several hours of work reviewing the drafts and working together to agree on what revisions might improve the drafts.

When the TEA releases the second drafts, the professional organizations will meet once again to complete a thorough review and prepare testimony for the April SBOE meeting.

Valerie Taylor currently serves as a P–12 Policy Analyst for NCTE. She also works as an Instructional Partner at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, and as a co-director of the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.