Literacy is foundational to education, to work, and to civic life. As global and digital forces continue to shrink our world, the abilities to read and communicate are basic to individual opportunity and the social good. A failure to develop these abilities in every learner has consequences that reverberate at every level of society.
Two principles must guide all decisions affecting literacy education.
First, decisions must be informed by solid research, not merely by ideology or political expediency. More than a century of ongoing inquiry into how literacy best develops, including among diverse learners in varied situations, has identified effective teaching practices and the conditions that foster learning. Everyone involved in education-related decisions has a responsibility to attend to that research, and disciplinary organizations have a responsibility to provide it in ways that all can access.
Second, the needs and interests of all learners—early childhood through university—must guide our efforts. Clearly, responsibility for meeting student needs and interests is complexly shared, by parents, teachers, schools, communities, and governments. We must not allow students to serve as proxy sites for contesting our economic, philosophical, and other differences.
We must provide conditions for literacy learning through the following four areas of action.
As a society we share collective responsibility for building the capacity of all those involved in improving the conditions for literacy learning. Instead of pointing a finger and placing blame, our focus should be on creating informed and knowledgeable stakeholders who are responsible for optimal learning environments for all students, including legislators, school board members, administrators, teacher educators, teachers, and parents. For example, research makes clear that giving teachers time to collaborate builds their capacity for teaching. To build capacity for literacy learning, we recommend 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.
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. With fifty-one percent of students attending public schools now eligible for free or reduced lunches, the growing wealth gap affects families across the United States as well as conditions and opportunities for learning. The federal government has a role to guarantee that all citizens are prepared to participate in a competitive knowledge economy and a strong democracy. The following actions are essential to ensure equity in our democracy:
- Fund quality universal early childhood education; access to quality teaching and learning environments; and equitable support for all public schools.
- Use proven strategies to help students who are not making appropriate progress toward educational goals.
- Provide for the successful participation of students with the greatest needs, 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).
- Provide ongoing opportunities for comprehensive literacy education.
Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Literacy Education
A quality literacy education is a civil right and a public good that provides numerous benefits to individual students and to our society. All students deserve literacy teaching informed by the substantial body of credible research and exemplary practice. To that end, we support dedicated funding streams in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and/or the Higher Education Act HEA to:
- 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.
- Make accessible educational technology that ensures 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. This includes access to schools or other literacy learning sites, to teachers knowledgeable about the needs and abilities of preschool learners, and to materials that facilitate learning.
- Enable professional development for all literacy educators, including teachers of all subjects and school principals, so that they understand characteristics of literacy development and literacy learners, are knowledgeable about effective curricula and pedagogies, share effective practices, and create strategies for addressing challenges as they arise.
Assessments for Learning and for Accountability
Assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning are essential to literacy education. Assessment should employ multiple measures, focus on growth, and be appropriate for specific learning situations. All stakeholders need to understand the assessments in use and respect the privacy of students and families while ensuring that educators have the information they need to make sound decisions in a timely manner. 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:
- Funding research, professional learning, and teacher preparation to support formative assessment that enacts and informs instruction and that gives teachers, students, and parents information about progress toward literacy learning.
- 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.
- 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 in addition to completion rates; these measures include constant focus on essential learning outcomes and use of high-impact educational practice.