National Center for Literacy Education Survey Finds System-Wide Support Needed for U.S. Educators to Meet Rising Literacy Expectations and New State Standards

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Despite Challenges, Promising Trends Exist

Literacy, Education
The most effective school systems in the world design their schools so that educators spend substantial portions of their day working alongside each other to problem solve and grow together.

Educators at every level and in every subject embrace responsibility for improving student literacy. However, they need time and support for working together to ensure they can successfully teach the complex literacy skills required by new state standards. These were the key findings from a survey of 2,400 U.S. educators conducted by the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE). The survey report, released today at a briefing on Capitol Hill, also revealed that many schools do not yet support the kinds of professional learning and collaboration that lead to sustained student achievement.

Entitled "Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works," the report recommends steps to remodel school time and structures to promote the kinds of educator collaboration that produce deeper student learning. Survey participants included educators from all roles, grade levels, and subject areas.

Policy Recommendations
NCLE, a coalition of 30 professional education associations, policy organizations, and foundations, outlines steps federal and state policymakers and school officials can take to help eliminate the roadblocks to literacy learning, including:

1. Provide the necessary support to ensure that educators know how to teach the elements of literacy pertinent to their content areas.
2. Embed educator collaboration in the school day. This is critical for deep student learning, and is a critical prerequisite to the success of other school reforms.
3. Fund professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded, and collaborative; educators who engage in this kind of learning are better able to employ and advance literacy learning across grades and subjects.
4. Structure the use of educator time to maximize their ability to develop collective capacity for improving literacy learning across a school or school system.
5. Promote accountability by encouraging educators in a school or system to reach shared agreements about successful literacy learning and the steps they will take together to fulfill these agreements.

"Simply put, incentives designed to make educators try harder to improve literacy learning within current structures are destined to fail. If we believe, as educators do, that developing student literacy is a shared responsibility, we must support educators as they learn, plan, and teach collaboratively," said Kent Williamson, Director of NCLE.

The Findings
Overwhelmingly, educators feel responsible for developing deeper student literacy. When asked about whether they agreed with the statement, "Developing student literacy is one of the most important parts of my job," 77.5 percent of educators from all roles, grade levels, and subject areas agreed or strongly agreed. Educators whose work crosses subject areas, such as librarians and principals, were even more likely to agree that literacy is one of the most important parts of their jobs.

However, the survey also indicated that many schools are not structured to support the professional collaboration educators identified as important in strengthening their practice. When asked which professional learning they value most, educators cited "co-planning with colleagues," because of the opportunity to actively exchange ideas and test them in their practice immediately. Yet the amount of time U.S. teachers have for consistent and sustained collaboration is small (i) and shrinking (ii). Of the teachers surveyed by NCLE, almost one-third said they had 30 minutes or less for collaboration built into their work week.

Despite the limitations of traditional school structures and schedules, there are some promising trends, and much of this is happening with only limited time or formal support. They include:

  • Basic collaborative structures such as grade-level, subject-area, and data teams are in place in most schools. Almost one-fourth of teachers report that they spend more than two hours per week working in structured collaboration with other educators, and two-thirds report participating at least monthly.
  • Educators use digital tools to build professional networks online; 44 percent of survey respondents said they go online to seek and share ideas with other educators.
  • Many educators value professional collaboration enough to participate on their own time. Of the seven types of school-based collaboration (iii) listed as an option in the survey, a substantial number of respondents said they do it on their own time -- as high as 82 percent for any given form.
  • Use of student data is common. Data work was the second most highly-valued (iv) collaborative activity teachers indentified, with 54.3 percent saying that analyzing student data was of "major value" to their group's professional learning.

Individual teachers and principals are committed to improving literacy learning and are eager to work together to reach this end. However, effective collaboration needs systematic support in order for teachers, students, and schools to reap the benefits. For example, the survey shows that when collaboration is the norm, there is a high correlation between levels of trust among educators, and a quicker spread of insights about effective practices throughout the teaching staff -- two proven best practices for school improvement. (v)

Capitol Hill Panel Discussion
Practitioners, policymakers, and education thought leaders discussed the research findings and policy recommendations during two panel discussions. Panelists included:

  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles Ducommun Professor of Education and Co-Director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University
  • Chris Minnich, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year
  • Linda Lawrence, Principal of Westlake Middle School, Indianapolis, Indiana -- a nationally-designated School to Watch
  • Dr. Francisco Escobedo, Superintendent, Chula Vista Elementary School District, Chula Vista, California
  • Ernest Morrell, Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University

Moderated by Williamson, the first panel featuring Wessling, Lawrence, and Escobedo talked about the survey results from the perspective of educators, specifically, what the current state of professional literacy learning may mean for building school change. Morrell moderated the second panel with Darling-Hammond, Minnich, and Delisle, which focused on the report's implications for policy and systems change.

Teachers, school leaders, and policymakers at all levels must act together to increase student literacy. Results from NCLE's "Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works" show how educators see the need to expand existing structures in new ways to open up time and space to meet the rising literacy expectations for college and career-ready students. This means ensuring there are meaningful opportunities for educators to engage in the kinds of professional learning and collaborative practice that lead to improved instruction for all students.

"The most effective school systems in the world design their schools so that educators spend substantial portions of their day working alongside each other to problem solve and grow together," said Williamson. "If we want today's students to meet the demands of tomorrow's world, now is the time to remodel our institutions. Teaching can no longer be a solitary pursuit."

To view an infographic that outlines key findings from the NCLE report, visit

To read the entire report, see

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About the National Center for Literacy Education
NCLE is a coalition of 30 professional education associations, policy organizations, and foundations united to support schools in elevating literacy learning. Through support for practice, research, and policy change, we are building a movement around the power of educator teams to advance literacy learning. Effective collaborative inquiry teams build sustainable capacity in schools by giving teachers skills, structures, and support systems to continually learn from and refine their shared practice. NCLE’s portfolio of free resources supports and connects educator teams in collaborating across subject areas and school walls to meet student literacy needs, while building accessible knowledge about effective team practices. By using the digital tools available today, combined with the expertise and infrastructure of our stakeholder organizations, we are building a living network to foster the literacies of tomorrow. To find out more, visit us at


i The 2009 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher finds that U.S. teachers spend an average of 93 percent of their official workday in isolation from their colleagues.

ii When comparing NCLE's findings to the 2009 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher there was a disturbing trend; the percentage of teachers having virtually no opportunity for collaboration (30 minutes or less per week) more than doubled from 12 percent to 29 percent and the percentage with more than two hours for structured planning shrunk from 41 percent to 22 percent.

iii Seven types of professional collaboration: external network, book or study group, cross-school, subject area team, other school based team, data team, or grade level team.

iv The first highest valued collaborative activity was "discussing issues affecting the learning of students we share."

v Bryk et al, 2010; Bryk, A. and Schneider, B., Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement (Russell Sage Foundation: New York, NY, 2004)

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Jennifer Calloway
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