National Council of Teachers of English

Statement on the Opportunity to Learn

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


Recommendations for Administrators



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). CDC youth risk behavior surveys. Retrieved from [16]

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.

Retrieved from [17]

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 [18]

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.

Retrieved from [19]

GLSEN. (2018, September). Model school district policy on transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Retrieved from [20]

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.

Retrieved from [21]

Greene, P. (2019, March). Report: The Department of Education has spent $1 billion on charter school waste and fraud. Forbes Magazine.

Retrieved from [22]

Kapila, M., Hines, E., & Searby, M. (2016, October 6). Why diversity, equity, and inclusion matter.

Retrieved from [23]

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.

Retrieved from [24]

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.

( [25]).

Licatatiso, J. (2018, August 14). 7 things to look for (or advocate for) in an LGBTQ-affirming school [26]. LGBT Center Cleveland Blog.

Retrieved from [26]

Mead, J. F., & Eckes, S. E. (2018). How school privatization opens the door for discrimination. Boulder: CO: National Education Policy Center.

Retrieved from [27]

National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2019). Forward together: Helping educators unlock the power of students who learn differently. Retrieved from

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.

Retrieved from,-queer-affirming-independ/ [28]

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 [29]


Statement Authors

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.