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What's 'Hot' In Literacy Policy Isn't Always What Experts Think Merits Attention

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Literacy professionals say that early literacy, teacher preparation, and equity are among the most important literacy topics to emphasize—but those aren't always what policymakers are focusing on, a new survey concludes. 

The survey, released today from the International Literacy Association, explores the views of nearly 2,100 respondents from 91 countries. While the results reflect a wide range of opinions from educators and academics working in different contexts, it's not a nationally representative sample of people in any one country.

The survey asked the respondents to rate literacy topics on a scale of importance from whether they are "not at all important" to "extremely important," and on a scale of how "hot" they are, form  "not at all hot" to "extremely hot." 

A topic can be "hot," or the focus of a lot of buzz, but teachers may not find it very important, and vice versa. The ILA's report focuses on that gap since it shows that a crucial topic may not be getting nearly enough attention among those who set policy goals and priorities for literacy. Let's take a look at three of the most interesting gaps.

  • The highest gap, of 46 percentage points, was for teacher preparation. Eighty-five percent of respondents said it was an extremely or very important literacy topic, but just 39 percent felt that it was "hot." 
  • In nearly all cases, respondents rated a topic as more important than it was hot, but there was one glaring exception: Only half of respondents said that "summative assessments"—the year-end tests used to promote students or for school accountability purposes—were important, the lowest of all 17 topics studied. But 57 percent felt they were "hot," an indication that teachers continue to think these tests are being overemphasized, despite changes made in federal law.
  • The smallest gap was for digital literacy, defined here as teaching children how to communicate using digital technologies and how to comprehend and evaluate digital information. But digital literacy was deemed a lot less important than things like early literacy, teacher preparation, and access to books and literacy content. Translation: Digital literacy has a lot more buzz than experts think is really warranted in the grand scheme of things that make up literacy instruction.

Wondering what topics were deemed "not hot"? 19 percent identified "mother tongue literacy,"—or recognizing the importance of and building on home language—as not hot, a finding that probably reflects the international nature of this survey. The other was standards for specialized literacy professionals, with 17 percent saying this was not a hot topic in their country.

Image credit: Getty


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