Tag Archives: equity

Doing the Work to Support Transgender Students

This post is written by NCTE member sj Miller.

UPDATE: Watch this CBS news interview with sj Miller from February 23.

In May 2016, federal guidelines were put into place to protect transgender student rights. As of last night, these guidelines were revoked, leaving uncertainty about what trans students’ rights will be in schools.* Regardless of the actions of the new administration or any Supreme Court ruling, some schools have policies in place that will continue to support the rights of trans students. In fact, where state and local laws or protections protect trans students, federal protections are eroded. But protecting these rights is critical and there are things we can do as educators to take action immediately.

The model of support for transgender youth detailed below offers suggestions for doing the work.
A framework for supporting transgender students by sj Miller.

Community Work

In each of our different communities, whether locally, nationally, internationally, cyberspace, and/or across contexts, we can take up the work of acting on behalf of transgender students’ rights. This work can be done by different and cross-age levels, as well as by, with, and for different stakeholders:

  • Coalition Building: We can create different kinds of coalitions and for different purposes (e.g., local, state, and/or national policy advocacy; body safety; documentation; physical and mental health care; immigration/asylum rights) and work together in our communities, as well as uniting with different constituents across our states and the country.
  • Protest and Demonstrations: We can walk in the streets, gather in airports, speak out, speak up, be loud, be concise, be where we need to be, and stand in solidarity.
  • Sing and Chant: We can remind ourselves and one another of the important quotes and turns of phrase that inspire us.
  • Revisit the Visionaries: We can reread (or read for the first time) works of the great thinkers, activists, spiritual guides, artists, etc., who can help to guide each of us down these roads that we are co-creating.
District and School Work

In our schools and districts, we can work to teach, affirm, and recognize dynamic, expansive transgender and gender creative youth (Miller, 2016) in our program areas, departments, and across schools with different constituents and for different stakeholders. The work can also be taken up at the state level. The following means are provided as possibilities for taking up this activism:

  • Curriculum and Pedagogical Strategies: Include a continuum of possibilities that makes (a)gender ordinary in the classroom. This can include but not be limited to genres of books, plays, short stories, poetry, writing assignments, histories, political victories, trailblazers, photos, pictures, artists, musicians, athletes, varieties of professionals, and media icons. Students (all stakeholders) should have ample options for chosen names, (a)pronouns, and (a)gender identifications.
  • Connect to Community Organizations: Address transgender, (a)gender, and gender violence (through, for instance, rape crisis centers, LGBT or gender identity nonprofits, mental health and health care practitioners) to develop a deeper understanding of the issues facing transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Families: Work alongside families to learn from and with their experiences and to develop support groups.
  • District Curriculum Specialists: Work alongside classroom teachers to educate one another about the classroom and schooling experiences of transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Change and Update District and School Policies: Revise codes of conduct, enumerate bullying policies, create safe bathrooms and locker rooms, consider issues about participation in sports and physical education classes—all of these are typical spaces for extreme harassment, so reflect on how to create a school environment that can help to foster external safety.

In university spaces, activism can be embedded in our program areas, departments, colleges, and across campus in different organizations and with different constituents and stakeholders. Universities can do this work across their state, national, and international affiliates and college campuses by creating focus groups and coalitions. Potential groups for embedding this work include:

  • Preservice Teacher Education Cohorts: Introduce (a)gender identity topics in early childhood education and throughout elementary, middle, and secondary coursework and across disciplinary programs. Program leaders should decide in which courses such uptake would best fit.
  • Teacher Educators: Address gaps in teacher education, working closely to deepen and develop the efficacy of pedagogies through strategies that affirm and recognize the intersectional realities facing transgender and (a)gender youth; work closely with school districts to develop professional learning models that can support curriculum specialists and teachers in their ongoing awareness of how to meet the needs of transgender and (a)gender youth; and create opportunities for participatory action research.
  • Caucuses: Teacher educators, districts, schools, community organizations, and families should caucus with legislatures to change state policy about transgender rights to be more inclusive of health care needs, identification changes, and bullying policies.
Individual Work

Individual actions can include reading the links below, sending them to listservs, making handouts and fliers, writing blogs and op-eds, forming study groups, and speaking up and out at different community, state, and national events, to name a few. Each of the following links is annotated to help explain the important work at hand.

Transgender National Center for Equality: A comprehensive website that provides an overview of current concerns under the Trump administration, tips for strategizing, an overview of current protections, links to key federal and state documents, guidelines for Title IX coordinators, key court cases, and a list of all organizations and key figures who stand with transgender students.

Fact Sheet on U.S. Department of Education Policy Letter on Transgender Students: A document providing an overview of current facts, rights, and exemptions from the law.

Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students: A letter to give out to your peers that explains changes and rights for transgender students under Title IX; this model letter was implemented during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Know Your Rights | Schools: A document outlining the rights of transgender students in schools, how to file a complaint, and who to go to for support.

Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students: The examples in this document show different approaches schools across the country have taken across a range of issues.

Federal Guidance on Bullying and Harassment: Guidance on how to deal with bullying, including gender-based and anti-transgender bullying.

Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: These detailed policies are from NCTE and GLSEN and include policies that school districts can adopt to support trans students.

Schools in Transition: This is a practical six-chapter guide to help school officials address issues affecting trans students. It covers gender basics; why this work matters; key considerations (e.g., planning, timing, age and grade level, privacy and disclosure, and public and private transitions); key elements and practical tips (e.g., student records and information systems, names and pronouns, dress code, sex-separated facilities, activities and programs, discrimination, harassment and bullying); complex issues; legal landscape; and creating an affirming school for all; it also has a rich resource guide filled with appendixes and practical applications of the chapters:

FAQ on Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: A document that addresses common questions school officials may have about restroom access.

Changes can happen, but it will take a collective to do this work and from within multiple contexts and through myriad means. I hope you will consider passing this blog along to colleagues, listservs, friends, and family, speaking out and up, and if you are teaching, ask your peers and students to write letters in support of transgender youth. As James Baldwin once wrote, “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated,” and we have so, so much work to do and to stay committed to, now and for years, if not decades, to come.

Miller, s. (Ed.). (2016). Teaching, affirming, and recognizing trans and gender creative youth: A queer literacy framework. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

*Special Note: NCTE has joined other education leaders in a joint statement on the administration’s decision to rescind guidance on federal protections for transgender students.

Bringing Washington to the Teachers, Bringing Teacher Expertise to Washington

Educators meeting with Teacher Ambassador Matt Presser at NCTE

“I bought bouncy bands for my high school seniors,” said Lindsay Aikman, a teacher at Champaign Centennial High School. “You know, the big rubber bands that go around chair legs to help preschool kids with trouble sitting still. This is how anxious our schools are making students.” Aikman was one of 24 teachers and school leaders, mostly NCTE members and ranging from early childhood educators to high school technology coaches, who gathered last month at NCTE Headquarters in Urbana, Illinois, to share their concerns. This post is the first in a series of four blogs about this gathering.

Teacher Ambassador Matt Presser
Teacher Ambassador Matt Presser

The educators were joined by one of the US Department of Education’s Teacher Ambassadors, Matt Presser, a literacy instructional coach at the King/Robinson Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut, who has been tasked with helping the Department understand teachers’ perspectives on educational policy. Presser was in town as part of the Secretary of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus Tour, in which he and the Teacher Ambassadors tour a region of the country to hear directly from students, teachers, and community members.

The discussion was lively and wide-ranging. Presser expressed his agreement with much of what was said and promised to reflect it back to policy makers in Washington. While it’s not possible to share the full richness of the teachers’ perspectives in this brief post, over the course of the next couple of days, I’d like to highlight some recurrent themes and point to related work NCTE has underway.

Theme I: Teaching in an Inequitable Society

The educators gathered that night wanted to make sure that officials in Washington understood the challenging context in which they are working, stressing the fact that students’ literacy learning is powerfully shaped by factors outside of their schools’ control, such as high levels for poverty, increasingly visible mental health issues, uneven access to developmentally appropriate early childhood education, and a growing diversity of student ethnicity, nationality, and home language.

Amanda Perez, 4th Grade Teacher
Amanda Perez, 4th Grade Teacher

In its policy platform and statements, NCTE highlights the tremendous impact these fundamental social inequities have on students’ literacy learning. In the area of early childhood education, the Council has funded the highly successful PDCRT project (Professional Dyads and Culturally Relevant Teaching), which supports early childhood classroom teachers of color working in classrooms made up predominantly of students of color from low- or no-income households.  It recently issued its Statement about the Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism and the importance early childhood educators have in forming the outlook of children.

Although issues of financial inequality and racism in its many forms are difficult for our  organization to take on directly, we work to support members in building students’ cultural competence and understanding of equity through our position statements, guidelines, and statements about policy. Examples include the recent NCTE Statement Affirming #BlackLivesMatter, Guideline on Expanding Opportunities: Academic Success for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs).

In its 2015 Education Policy Platform, NCTE emphasized the importance of equity in education: “Equity is essential to meet America’s promise of equal opportunity for all citizens. Equity serves the common values of fairness, opportunity, and social good. Disparity in Iife circumstances should not result in a disparity of access to a quality education.”



The Complicated Relationship between Assessment, Accountability, and Equity

capitol buildingThroughout this month, NCTE is posing the following challenge to the greater education community: How can we re-envision assessments for accountability and equity?

It’s been a challenge at the heart of many discussions in Washington, DC, over the course of this year as politicians considered the reauthorization of ESEA, grappling with the desire to decrease our use of standardized tests and the need for some measure to identify inequities in our schools.

On April 13, 2015, 41 organizations wrote a letter to Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray expressing their concern that despite the bipartisan nature of and progress made on ESEA, certain constituencies might be forgotten, particularly the “most vulnerable students,” including minorities and students with disabilities. They emphasized that ESEA must:

  1. include language of accountability whereby states must identify schools where students may not be meeting goals and intervene to rectify;
  2. require states to report on all different types of student groups to make sure all are achieving;
  3. mandate states to intervene and remedy disparities in allocation of resources; and
  4. insure that the US Secretary of Education has the authority to ensure ESEA is implemented and that “the most vulnerable students are protected.”

Three weeks later, 12 of the 41 organizations issued a press release to express their opposition to “anti-testing efforts.” They explained, “[S]ome standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes. . . . These data are used to advocate for greater resource equity in schools and more fair treatment for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.”

A number of civil rights groups, however, recognize that there are issues with the current accountability system and understand the need for multiple measures of assessments. On October 28, 2014, a few months prior to the April 13 letter, five of those signatories, in addition to six other civil rights organizations, sent a letter to President Obama, the Senate and House Majority  and Minority Leaders, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “demand accountability for equity in public schools.”

In that letter, the organizations recognized that the current accountability system “has become overly focused on narrow measures of success and, in some cases, has discouraged schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students focused on the 21st century skills they need to acquire.”

Their fifth recommendation, informative assessments for meaningful 21st century learning, stated:

A system of assessments should document both student and school system progress using tools that evaluate deeper learning skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity). . . . Assessments should be valid for the students and purposes for which they are used, comparable in quality, and able to be reliably scored. . . . They should also be used as diagnostic tools for determining student acquisition and application of knowledge, should identify students’ strengths as well as their learning and cultural needs, and should be used to support individual students and educators. Measures should also be used to assess whether individual and collective education systems are moving toward meeting objectives related to greater equity in educational opportunities and achievement.

Like those groups that recognize the need for multiple measures and deeper learning skills, NCTE understands the importance of not relying on just one day, one test, but instead on assessments made throughout the day and year to assess the progress of students.

The 2015 NCTE Education Policy Platform states, “Assessment should employ multiple measures, focus on growth, and be appropriate for specific learning situations. . . . New and innovative forms of assessment may prove more valid and better able to contribute to student learning and school improvement than standardized tests. We recommend . . . :

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. Using testing only for the purposes and in the manner for which it has been proven valid. (For example, tests designed to measure school performance should not be used to evaluate individual teachers or their teacher preparation programs.) In addition, tests should be used in ways that minimize time away from instruction, employ sampling when possible, and offer appropriate accommodations to students with special needs without excluding them from challenging literacy learning opportunities.”

How do YOU think we can re-envision assessments for accountability and equity?



Why We Need to Talk about Gender in Our Teaching




“English language arts classrooms can be significant sites for combating homophobia and heterosexism in schools, and reading LGBT-themed literature is one of the best ways to do this work.”

Yesterday NCTE posted a new NCTE Guideline, Diverse Gender Expression and Gender Non-Conformity Curriculum in English Grades 7-12, developed by the members of the Gender and Literacy Assembly of NCTE (formerly known as the Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (WILLA) of NCTE).

In keeping with the NCTE Resolution on Strengthening Teacher Knowledge of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Issues, the new document suggests that in our classrooms we focus on texts representing a diverse range of people including those who are LGBTQ and/or gender non-conforming. The guideline advocates that by doing this we’ll meet all students’ needs and help all students develop complex ways of understanding gender through an “equitable focus on issues honoring a range of diverse expressions related to gender and gender non-conformity.”

Caroline T. Clark and Mollie V. Blackburn note in their English Journal article “Reading LGBT-Themed Literature with Young People: What’s Possible?” that while scholars urge us to teach LGBT literature, doing so is not as easy selecting a text with a gay protagonist for a class read. They suggest that  heterosexism and homophobia are already part of the classroom, so we’ll need to use a variety of strategies to counter these beliefs as we introduce LGBTQ texts:

  • Position your students as LGBT people or their straight allies. They are likely being positioned as straight and/or homophobic in most other parts of their lives (e.g., the English teacher who describes to her students the male protagonist in a story as “every girl’s dream,” or the football coach who refers to his players as “a bunch of girls”).
  • When students position themselves as homophobic, introduce them to other possible positionings by reading LGBT-themed literature with them.
  • Read LGBT-themed literature with students across the school year in association with a variety of topics and units.
  • Include a wide range of literature that works to serve as mirrors and windows for diverse students.
  • Choose literature that does not just make homosexuality visible, but also shows queer people in queer communities; young people need to know that being gay does not mean being alone.
  • Choose high-quality, pleasurable YA literature, and involve students in making those choices.
  • Invite a wide range of ways to respond to this literature.
  • Work with like-minded colleagues to recognize and challenge each other’s biases and to support one another to use LGBTQ literature.
  • Engage in the perpetual process of making educational contexts more LGBTQ-friendly every day.

Along with this advice, find more resources on these lists which accompany the guideline for ideas to apply to your own teaching: Websites for Lesson Plans for Gender Representation (Grades 9-12)   and Selective Bibliography on Gender in the Classroom with Emphasis on Gender and Media Literacy .

When You Cut the Arts, What Else Do You Lose?

capitol buildingThis year, NCTE’s theme for its 2015 Annual Convention is Responsibility, Creativity and the Arts of Language.  As Program Chair Doug Hesse states, “Fully literate lives need creativity as well as competency.” In multiple position statements, NCTE recognizes the value of incorporating the arts in education, particularly in the English classroom.  An NCTE Guideline on Reading, Learning to Read and Effective Reading Instruction notes that teachers provide effective reading instruction when they “Provide regular opportunities for students to respond to reading through discussion, writing, art, drama, storytelling, music, and other creative expressions.” 

The NCTE Position Statement on Interdisciplinary Learning, Pre-K to Grade 4 recommends that interdisciplinary Pre-K to Grade 4 curricula shouldUse multiple symbol systems as tools to learn and present knowledge. These can include symbols used in language, mathematics, music, and art…”

The NCTE CEE Position Statement, Beliefs about Technology and the Preparation of English Teachers recognizes that

“New and innovative technology…suggests new ways of teaching and learning, including how we teach composition…Modalities such as print, still images, video, and sound, along with the arts, and popular culture all have the potential to inform, enhance, and transform the composing process. Music, art, print, dance, video, photography…might be tools used to facilitate the composing process, or they might be some of the products and/or artifacts created within the composing process.”

Given our stance on the role of the arts in literacy learning, we are concerned that states and districts are cutting the visual, dramatic and musical arts in order to provide more time for reading and math and to reduce costs.  This shortsightedness fails to take into account the fact that the arts reinforce understanding of mathematical concepts and learning to read, write and speak. Access to the arts is also important to provide a more equitable playing field to all students.

Robert Putnam, the author of Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis, spoke at a recent event about states’ disinvestment of collective assets, predominantly impacting the poor. In the past, public schools offered athletics and the arts to their students, providing “soft skills of teamwork.” Increasingly, access has been limited due to budget cuts, testing, and the imposition of fees, discouraging those less able to pay to participate.

Disinvestment in arts may slow students’ acquisition not just of “soft” skills but also of more traditionally academic ones. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, emphasizing that the arts are not “just a separate set of skills,” “the President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities has tied investment in arts education to gains in test scores in math and reading,” particularly in struggling schools.

At a time when it may seem that literacy is getting a greater focus in K-12 education, it is worth keeping an eye open to what is not getting the attention. English teachers know that literacy is not an isolated set of skills. The arts not only enhance and improve learning, but open new doors for all students to follow their passion and to excel.