Fighting to save RIF and NWP

In her blog Walking to School, high school English and journalism teacher Mary Tedrow writes:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is proposing to de-fund two of my favorite government programs – Reading is Fundamental and the National Writing Project. Both programs…have been constants in my adult life.

Both are examples of how a small amount of funding can energize and reform teaching, learning, and literacy by engaging volunteers and professionals at the grass roots level.

Both are examples of how the “big stick” of government endorsement can assist and support local initiatives.

I am distressed.

Duncan’s proposals, says Tedrow, will dismantle “two national networks supporting literacy based on good pedagogy” and replace them with a grants system sure to favor large corporate publishers.

NWP and RIF will essentially be five yards behind the starting line when the next “race” to literacy begins. Both will have to establish grant writers and glitzy marketing packages to compete with what big players already have in place. It won’t be a fair fight.

Generally, corporate-supported programs are presented and sold to districts but provide little to no follow up support. Both NWP and RIF engage their participants in longitudinal development and change.

Both RIF and NWP develop and sustain the teachers and volunteers in the program, creating systemic, cultural change through a network that extends over years of development.

Tedrow, a former Fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network who writes frequently on education policy and practice, has a long association with both programs. She notes that

Currently, most of RIF money is spent on books. EVERY child gets free books. Text-deprived homes no longer suffer the huge disadvantage from text-rich homes. The change is immediate and goes directly to the heart of one problem in literacy — access.

In NWP, teachers are trained, do the consultancy work (at a fraction of what outside ‘experts’ charge), own and study their classroom work, and continue to be lifelong students of pedagogy. School buildings grow in-house literacy experts who model and spread strong classroom instruction throughout the system and remain in the building as an ongoing resource and model of professional engagement.

You can read Tedrow’s complete case for protecting and sustaining these long-standing and highly successful programs at her blog. The threat to the National Writing Project will be of direct interest to teacher leaders — it is perhaps the premiere national example of a research-based professional development program that has been developed, led and sustained by teachers over many years.