In my first week at NASSP over 12 years ago, I was briefed on a new initiative to write a bill that would authorize and expand the federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy (SRCL) program. At the time, Striving Readers was a small, competitive grant program that funded district-level adolescent literacy initiatives, but we hoped that it would grow to the magnitude of Reading First—a formula grant program that received more than $1 billion in FY 2007 to support scientifically based reading programs for students in grades K–3.
NASSP had recently released Creating a Culture of Literacy, which cited low reading achievement scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for students in eighth and 12th grade, arguing that it is “critical that secondary content area teachers better understand and teach specific literacy strategies to help students read and extract meaning from written material used to teach course content.” The guide was created for middle level and high school principals and offered nine action steps to help leaders develop schoolwide literacy initiatives.
But what we found is that school principals needed additional support to successfully create a culture of literacy in their schools. They needed training to help them analyze data and determine specific learning needs of students, get buy-in from content area teachers who felt that literacy was the sole responsibility of English teachers, and address the professional development needs of their teachers.
Partnership with AEE
NASSP partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) and the International Reading Association (now known as the International Literacy Association) to secure champions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate who introduced the Striving Readers Act of 2007. The intent of the bill was to create a formula-funded program that would help states and districts offer professional development for school leaders and teachers, hire literacy coaches, purchase age-appropriate reading materials, and otherwise support effective literacy instruction in middle level and high schools.
Unfortunately, things on Capitol Hill don’t move as quickly as a “Schoolhouse Rock” song. When the Striving Readers Act was introduced, an effort was underway to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the expectation was that any education bill would be attached to that larger legislation. Years of hearings and markups of draft bills occurred, but as we all know, ESEA wasn’t reauthorized until Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015.
During those years of intense advocacy on behalf of NASSP and our members, the Reading First program became deluged with controversy, and its funding was eventually eliminated. Our small and mighty coalition gained more members and became known as Advocates for Literacy. Our focus on adolescent literacy expanded to replace the much-needed funding in grades K–3 and added an early-childhood component, making it a true comprehensive literacy effort from birth until grade 12. The new bill was authorized at $2.25 billion and renamed the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act.
We were fortunate to have Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as a champion for the LEARN Act. As ranking member of the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, she was able to include LEARN in Title II, Part B of ESSA. As a leader on the Senate Appropriations Committee, she also secured $190 million annually in FY 2016 through FY 2019 for the expanded SRCL program, which is based on the LEARN Act. But this funding is nowhere near the level needed to support effective comprehensive literacy initiatives from birth until grade 12.
Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy
Combining funding for two years, the U.S. Department of Education awarded SRCL grants to only 11 states (GA, KS, KY, LA, MD, MN, MT, ND, NM, OH, and OK) and the Bureau of Indian Education in September 2017. At least 95 percent of the funds must be subgranted to one or more districts, and funds must be allocated to serve children from birth to age 5 (15 percent), students in kindergarten through grade five (40 percent), and students in middle level and high school (40 percent).
NASSP continues to lead Advocates for Literacy along with our colleagues at AEE. Over the course of the next year, we plan to conduct research on the current SRCL grantees to determine what success they have had in implementing comprehensive literacy initiatives. As President Donald Trump continues to eliminate funding for literacy programs in his annual budget request, we’ll also continue to advocate for additional funding for the LEARN program in FY 2020 and beyond.
We need your help to ensure that students in every state and every district have access to effective literacy instruction. Visit the NASSP Policy & Advocacy Center website at www.nassp.org/advocacy, and urge your members of Congress to support funding for the LEARN program. In this tight budget climate, legislators need to hear directly from educators about what programs are going to have the biggest impact in your schools. Please make your voice heard!
Amanda Karhuse is director of advocacy for NASSP.