This statement, formerly known as Opportunity-to-Learn Standards, Statement of Principles (2012), was revised in June 2019 with the new title Statement on the Opportunity to Learn.
At a 1994 conference on Opportunity-to-Learn Standards, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), participants agreed that opportunity-to-learn standards provide a framework that makes it possible for all students to have equitable access to high-quality education. In November 2012, the NCTE Executive Committee reaffirmed these guidelines. Though originally named Opportunity-to-Learn Standards, we prefer to refer to the work as the Statement on the Opportunity to Learn, recognizing the challenge when articulating every condition to provide students with opportunities to learn. This work requires more than a list of items that educators can check off to prove their school is an inclusive environment in which all children have access to learning opportunities. Recognizing the vital role education plays in a democratic society, we believe that students must be granted equitable access to educational settings that build on the strengths of students and expand the capacity of learners. The statement on the opportunity to learn requires literacy educators, researchers, and administrators to design learning spaces where justice and equity are as necessary and valued as the school building itself. In order to do this, we must address barriers and historical factors that have led to unfair conditions for students from marginalized populations and students with special needs. This statement has been revised to demonstrate NCTE’s commitment to ensuring that students have equitable access to school environments in which all children have the opportunity to learn. This statement provides recommendations and resources to support literacy educators as they design opportunities for students to learn.
As an organization comprised of literacy educators and researchers, we acknowledge that language and literacy learning are basic human rights and essential tools to deepen every student’s consciousness and widen possibilities for all students’ access, power, agency, affiliation, and impact, across their lifetimes. Regardless of the communities in which students live or attend school, their backgrounds, or the way they learn, literacy educators must provide all pupils the opportunity to use language and literacy in critical and empowering ways that address and surmount students’ varying needs. At the same time, we are reminded that historically the purpose of schooling and literacy learning “has been to forward the largely assimilationist and often violent White imperial project, with [students of color and their families] being asked to lose or deny their languages, literacies, cultures, histories in order to achieve in schools” (Paris & Alim, 2017). Indeed, many students (in the context of the United States) do not have equitable access and adequate opportunities to learn as a result of systemic injustices that are informed by race, ethnicity, class, gender, gender identity, sexuality, ability, religion, geographical location, etc. For instance, according to the Commonwealth Institute, high-poverty schools, which tend to be extremely overrepresented by students of color, have less-experienced instructors, lower levels of state and local spending on instructors and instructional materials, and insufficient resources. According to the UCLA School of Law, there is documented evidence that shows that students who identify as LGBTQ regularly experience discrimination and harassment, such as cyberbullying and physical violence, because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Center for Education Policy Analysis recently reported that the contentious and shifting immigration policies in the United States, including separation from parents, financial instability, displacement, and the interruption (possible end) of education, have negatively impacted the schooling and learning experiences of K–12 immigrant students. We are also reminded that there are an estimated 6.6 million special-needs students in our schools. This suggests that literacy educators must be prepared to accommodate these students’ specific learning needs, whether physical, emotional, or mental, and must have the training and the resources required to differentiate their literacy instruction. We also acknowledge that students’ opportunities to learn are impacted by the rapid and steady rise in mass school shootings that have claimed the lives of too many children. To learn, students need to be and feel safe and supported. Educators, researchers, school administrators, and politicians must understand that we have to design learning spaces that are safe and secure.
NCTE is committed to actively pursuing justice and equity so that all students have equitable access and adequate opportunities to learn. Researchers in our field have consistently argued that “literacy educators are in a unique position to interrupt the violence, pedagogical injustices, and misrepresentations [that interfere with students’ opportunities to learn]. The tools we have at our disposal (writing, visual arts, spoken word, and other modalities more readily accepted in English and literacy classrooms) provide an outlet to discuss, critique, and dismantle [these inequities]” (Sealey-Ruiz, 2016). We recognize that many of the concerns we name in this position statement require the attention and care of more than literacy educators. In order to ensure that all students have access to an education that is supportive and inclusive of their intellectual development and individual growth, the NCTE Opportunity to Learn Working Group created recommendations for literacy educators, researchers, and school administrators (see below). Under each bullet are linked resources to support educators in doing this critical work.
Recommendations for Literacy Teachers
- Create curriculum inclusive of diverse students and faculty, including curriculum with positive representations of diverse student and faculty populations and accurate information on histories of diverse populations.
- LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum: https://www.glsen.org/educate/resources/curriculum
- Resolution on the Need for Diverse Children’s and Young Adult Books: http://www2.ncte.org/statement/diverse-books/
- Building Diverse Collections of LGBTQ-Inclusive Children’s Literature to Expand Windows and Mirrors for Youth: http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2019/03/lgbtq-inclusive-childrens-literature/
- Diversity in Graphic Novels: http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2018/08/diversity-graphic-novels/
- Explicitly curate resources around diverse populations (e.g., library, online).
- Finding Diverse Books: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2019/05/13/finding-diverse-books/
- How to Build a More Diverse Classroom Library: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2019/01/08/how-to-build-a-more-diverse-classroom-library/
- A More Diverse Reading List: https://www.leeandlow.com/educators/a-more-diverse-reading-list
- Create curriculum that specifies equitable instruction and participation with regard to students’ individual needs where respect for diversity is taught and practiced.
- Educator Guides for GLSEN Programs: https://www.glsen.org/educate/resources/guides
- Encourage safe learning environments supported by educators willing and prepared to support, affirm, and challenge all students.
- Provide co-curricular supports for diverse student involvement including clubs, service activities, community outreach, teams, councils, elective options.
- Allyship in Action: https://www.glsen.org/article/allyship-action
- Gender and Sexuality Alliances: https://www.glsen.org/participate/student-action/gsa
- Encourage an equitable focus on academic, social-emotional, and interpersonal development of students.
- Be educators who act as advocates for their profession, for their school, and for their students.
- Engage in local, state, and national professional groups working to continually improve teaching and learning for all students.
- Support educating peers, including analyzing and countering implicit biases.
- Designate safe spaces (physical spaces) within classrooms and schools.
Recommendations for Administrators
- Ensure that there are credentialed, educated, certified, and appropriately compensated teachers in the classroom.
- Provide ongoing professional development for school staff to improve the quality and quantity of student support.
- Ensure that support staff are willing and prepared to provide resources and counsel.
- Make explicit efforts to recruit, retain, and increase diverse faculty and staff.
- Make explicit efforts to recruit, retain, and increase teachers and staff supportive of diverse students.
- Put an equitable focus on academic, social-emotional, and interpersonal development of faculty and staff.
- Develop and promote a school vision and mission statements that are purposefully inclusive.
- Engage in routine and unbiased assessment of school climate.
- 2017 National School Climate Survey: https://www.glsen.org/article/2017-national-school-climate-survey
- Conduct Your Own Local School Climate Survey: https://www.glsen.org/article/conduct-your-own-local-school-climate-survey
- Develop community partnerships that expand resources and connections supportive of diverse students.
- Develop policies that are unambiguously inclusive and supportive of diverse students and faculty with clear guidelines to promote and safeguard safe supportive school environments.
- Develop policies providing specific enumeration or definitions of diversity and language specific to multiple populations.
- Conduct ongoing revision as necessary for policy documents (handbooks, forms, websites) to ensure inclusive language.
- Recognize that ongoing trends in academic performance are tied to a history of discrimination against underrepresented populations.
- Recognize that ongoing trends in school funding and resources are tied to a history of discrimination against underrepresented populations.
- Recognize that “school choice” movements are influenced by racial and economic factors tied to race.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). CDC youth risk behavior surveys. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/dsyouthmonitoring/index.html
Provides a wide range of priority health risk behaviors among representative samples of high school students at the national, state, and local levels.
Council for Exceptional Children. (1997). Special education in the schools.
Policy developed by the Council for Exceptional Children which outlines the conditions needed to create inclusive learning environments for students with special needs.
GLSEN. (2019). Local school climate survey.
Retrieved from https://localsurvey.glsen.org/index.cfm
A tool developed by GLSEN’s Research Department for students, educators, and advocates to assess the safety and overall environment of their local schools or communities.
GLSEN. (2019, May). Respect for all: Policy recommendations to support LGBTQ students: A guide for district and school leaders.
GLSEN. (2018, September). Model school district policy on transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Hamburger, M. E., Basile, K. C., & Vivolo, A. M. (2011). Measuring bullying victimization, perpetration, and bystander experiences: A compendium of assessment tools. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Greene, P. (2019, March). Report: The Department of Education has spent $1 billion on charter school waste and fraud. Forbes Magazine.
Kapila, M., Hines, E., & Searby, M. (2016, October 6). Why diversity, equity, and inclusion matter.
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2017). 2017 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools.
National data examining school climate and the experiences of LGBTQ middle and high school students. National School Climate Survey State Snapshots include state-level data examining school climate and the experiences of LGBTQ middle and high school students.
Licatatiso, J. (2018, August 14). 7 things to look for (or advocate for) in an LGBTQ-affirming school. LGBT Center Cleveland Blog.
Mead, J. F., & Eckes, S. E. (2018). How school privatization opens the door for discrimination. Boulder: CO: National Education Policy Center.
Retrieved from https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/privatization
National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2019). Forward together: Helping educators unlock the power of students who learn differently. Retrieved from https://www.ncld.org/forward-together
This National Center for Learning Disabilities report outlines key research findings that will inform educators as they support students with special needs.
Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (Eds.). (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Ray, D. (2014, Summer). Toward a queer-inclusive, queer-affirming independent school. National Association of Independent Schools website.
Sealey-Ruiz, Y. (2016). Why Black girls’ literacies matter: New literacies for a new era. English Education, 48(4), 290–298.
Smith, G. A., & Rooks, N. (2018, November). Education interview of the month: Greg Smith interviews Noliwe Rooks on school segregation. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.
Retrieved from https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/smith-rooks
This document was revised by a working committee comprising the following:
April Baker-Bell, Chair, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Heather Rocco, Chatham High School, Chatham, NJ
Donna Wake, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, AR
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.