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High School Group Calls for Comprehensive Literacy Plan

The common standards in English/language arts have gotten more people talking about the literacy skills students need to master. They press into territory that isn't the focus of most state standards, such as discipline-specific literacy strategies and learning how to grapple with increasingly complex texts. (I wrote about some of this stuff in a recent story here.)

The Alliance for Excellent Education, which pushes for policies that improve high schools, is drawing on some of those ideas to argue for a more comprehensive approach to literacy instruction in the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The alliance argues that reworking the law offers an opportunity to move literacy instruction ahead, especially when it comes to middle and high school students.

In a new policy brief, the group reviews the landscape of students' literacy performance, noting the gaps between what state tests say about their skills and what NAEP says. It repeats the oft-noted point that schools typically provide no systematic literacy instruction beyond 3rd grade, assuming that once students have learned to read, they can "read to learn" on their own.

The brief also argues that teachers aren't adequately prepared for, or supported in, the job of building literacy in students, especially those in middle and high school. When ESEA is reauthorized, it should hold teacher education programs and professional-development providers accountable for teachers' effectiveness in literacy instruction, the brief argues (though it doesn't specify how PD providers would be held accountable, and I'm curious to know).

Additionally, the organization argues, the revised federal law should ensure the viability of state literacy teams, make the same investment in middle and high school literacy instruction that it does in elementary school, and invest in ongoing research into good literacy instruction.

Although the ESEA is overdue for reauthorization, we don't know whether that will happen anytime soon, or whether lawmakers will choose to deal with its issues in pieces. How any of those changes affect literacy instruction will bear watching.

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