NCTE in Washington, DC - National Council of Teachers of English
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NCTE in Washington, DC

NCTE attends a variety of events in Washington, DC, that may be of interest to the membership.  Here is a synopsis of two of those events:

Improving Student Literacy: Leadership Needed at Every Level

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) addressed the group, emphasizing that high-quality teachers are critical for every student. He, along with Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Jack Reed (D-RI), introduced S. 1413 – Teachers are Leaders Act to encourage teacher leaders who wish to remain in the classroom. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Christopher Murphy (D-CT) have signed on as co-sponsors.

This bill would do the following:

  • Encourage teachers to shoulder leadership responsibilities while remaining in the classroom;
  • Responsibilities would include development of curriculum, family and community engagement, reviewing school discipline and culture, peer observations and coaching;
  • Grants would provide one year of professional development, training, and support.

Panelists included long-time NCTE member William Teale, Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, and Director, UIC Center for Literacy. Dr. Teale described the program they developed which focuses on developing principal leadership to make sure all principals and ultimately teachers are equipped to have the skills necessary to build high-quality literacy programs.  He noted that Chicago public school students improved after principals attended their intensive training program.

JoAnn Bartoletti, Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, concluded that literacy is the “gateway” to “success in all content areas” and is the “hallmark of a nation’s progress.” She noted that it is “everyone’s responsibility.” She implored staff members to impress upon their representatives to preserve Title II, Part A funding because “an investment in leadership is an investment in learning.”

NCTE has a number of position statements on literacy and listed the importance of preserving Title II, Part A funding, and supporting the LEARN Act in its Policy Recommendations for the 115th Congress.

Examining the State Role in Financing Public Education

Matt Chingos, Director, Education Policy Program, Urban Institute, introduced the panel, noting the release of the report Making Sense of State School Funding Policy.

States vary in how they fund schools, particularly with regard to providing equity and balancing the ability of districts to raise funds to support their schools. The report outlined three models:

  • Foundation Aid: 37 states use this model, wherein the state decides the minimum that should be spent per student and the district’s ability to pay. Some states allows districts to spend more.
  • Guaranteed Tax Base: States that use this model will match monies raised by districts, encouraging low-income districts to raise their taxes, knowing the state will match;
  • Centralized funding: These states assign a standard property tax rate for all districts and guarantee the same amount of money per student. Districts have no leeway with this model.

The panel debated the best way to ensure equity for high-needs students: should legislatures or districts determine programs? Alternatively, should monies follow individual students? The panel cited one example. For the last six years, Minnesota has had a state-level student-based allocation: 70% of state aid goes to each school. Each school has a council comprised of teachers and principals who determine how the money is spent. They then must report whether there has been improvement.

The panel agreed that state spending for K–12 education has decreased since 2008 and that the lack of new revenue has pitted various needs against each other.

In 2009, NCTE passed its Resolution on the Impact of Continued Budget Cuts urging members to contact policy makers to “oppose budget cuts that adversely impact students” and “press at every opportunity for the inclusion of educators in decisions about budget cuts affected students’ literacy.”