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    ILA’s Road Ahead

    By Marcie Craig Post
     | May 13, 2020

    Important AnnouncementThis column will be appearing in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine, set to publish on Friday. Please visit the ILA 2020 Conference site for more information.

    We’re living in an unprecedented rate of change with the world at a standstill.

    What you knew to be true before you went to bed on Monday is likely to have shifted by the time you woke up on Tuesday—or was it Wednesday? For those of us confined to our homes due to shelter-in-place orders or self-imposed isolation, the days seem to blend into one another. (If it wasn’t for Outlook reminding me of conference calls and Zoom meetings, I’m not sure I’d automatically remember which day it was either. One of those round-robin social media posts asked what movie best describes how you’re feeling right now. My response? Groundhog Day.)

    Education as we know it has been upended. School closures that were initially thought to be short term have been extended indefinitely. Some school systems have already taken the action to close through the rest of the school year. As of mid-April, UNESCO was reporting that more than 1.5 billion learners—that’s 91.3% of all enrolled students across 191 countries—have been impacted. Some universities are preparing for the possibility of campuses remaining closed long term and are expecting at minimum a 15% drop in registration for fall 2020.

    Long term, there is no way to predict how this global pandemic will impact the way we teach and the way students learn.

    Short term, there’s urgency to address some very specific challenges around equity and access. These areas of weakness “exposed” by the coronavirus aren’t novel to educators. In our 2020 What’s Hot in Literacy Report, released in January, we shared that both ranked in the top five most critical issues in literacy education. We also found that the top professional development need of survey respondents was on using digital resources to support literacy instruction.

    What is new is the urgency we’re seeing to shore up those weaknesses. And the big question on everyone’s mind is how.

    At ILA, we’re focusing on what we can do to meet your needs—not only the ones you have today but also the ones you’ll have in the future during the post-COVID-19 recovery phase. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken so far:

    • We launched the ILA 2019 Replay. For the months of April and May, we are offering open access to six of the top sessions livestreamed from last year’s conference.
    • We held the first ILA Edcamp Online. Registration for the inaugural event, held on April 7, sold out within hours of going live. Look for more of these live, participant-driven events in the future.
    • We accelerated the timeline on our digital events program. This includes interactive webinars with literacy leaders such as Timothy Shanahan (May 3) and Donalyn Miller (May 31). Each are free for members and available to nonmembers for $45.

    Sensing a trend?

    Streaming recorded sessions and delivering live webinars are standard practices for a professional organization. Adding online peer-to-peer learning and virtual networking opportunities help round out the mix.

    And in the coming months, you’ll see more and more organizations either launching or augmenting collections like these. The value of high-quality content that’s accessible with a device and a reliable Wi-Fi connection has never been greater.

    But for us, the work doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s only just beginning. Each challenge we’ve encountered has given rise to a new way of thinking about what we do and how we do it.

    This magazine, for example. We announced in April the decision to discontinue the print version of Literacy Today. There are several reasons for this, but one of the driving factors is that a number of members receive their subscriptions at their schools or universities—buildings they won’t be entering again for an indeterminate amount of time.

    Innovation was another factor. For the past few issues, we’ve been testing features for the digital version, such as adding exclusive online content and embedding links to videos. We asked ourselves what we could do if we weren’t limited by print. How could we increase value to members by shifting our efforts in this other direction? The possibilities excited us.

    Around the time we were having discussions, we received word from Wiley, the publishing company that prints and distributes our journals, that they would be shifting to a digital-only format until COVID-related restrictions eased and operations could resume as normal. Although this didn’t directly influence our decision about Literacy Today, it did underscore for us that there were definite advantages to a digital publication that didn’t depend on print presses and postal service.

    We applied this kind of thinking to other areas as well, such as our conference, set to take place from October 15–18 in Columbus, OH. From the beginning, when early reports of this devastating virus surfaced, our staff has been in close contact with key officials from the city of Columbus, the Ohio Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have been tracking guidelines and recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization. Even though the event wasn’t scheduled until October, we knew from the start we did not want to put on a conference that wasn’t safe for our attendees, exhibitors, and staff.

    Safety has been a top concern of ours from the start. On March 1, ILA suspended travel for staff and members of the Board of Directors. Not long after, we went to a 100% remote work environment. We also increased the flexibility of our workday to ease the burden on families impacted by sudden and wholly unexpected closures of schools and childcare facilities.

    On March 23, Delaware Governor John Carney issued a shelter-in-home order for the state (where our headquarters is located) to remain in effect until May 15. At the time, it was one of the more conservative measures taken. Carney told reporters, “I don’t want Delaware to be the example of what not to do in this crisis.”

    We can say the same for ILA: We do not want to be an example of what not to do. And so in the end, we made the heartbreaking but necessary decision to cancel this year’s conference.

    Many organizations facing similar scenarios have opted to relocate their in-person events to virtual platforms or create hybrid conferences with both face-to-face and digital components. We considered those options but ultimately decided to go in a different direction.

    At this time, we are working on a new model for professional learning—one that allows us to be incredibly responsive to what is going on in your classrooms, your schools, your communities, and the world at large.

    It takes some of the best of what an ILA conference traditionally offers and combines it with new, progressive formats that provide a deep, personalized learning experience. In addition, we’ll be launching new members-only benefits in the coming months, including digital resources informed by responses received from the 2020 What’s Hot in Literacy survey.

    Right now, when everything is or feels at least a little new, we at ILA are embracing the opportunity to turn to a blank page. What we were is no longer as important as who we can, should, and will be.

    In the eight years since I became the executive director at ILA, I don’t know that I have ever felt so much possibility and promise. I sincerely hope that each and every one of you joins us in forging this new path and, in the process, help us be better in service to you and our profession.

    Marcie Craig Post is the executive director of the International Literacy Association.

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    ILA Appreciates Teachers

    By Wesley Ford
     | May 07, 2020

    Student making heart shapeI’ve worked at the International Literacy Association (ILA) for many a year now, and during that time, I’ve worked with educators of all ilk, from researchers to principals, librarians to preservice teachers. I’ve met hundreds, if not thousands, of educators across various ILA events and annual conferences. Amazing and dedicated professionals who want nothing but the best for learners all of ages. The ingenuity and tenacity of educators never ceases to amaze me, and nothing has brought that to the forefront more than the previous months as schools and teaching programs were forced to shift—at an unreasonable speed no less—to a new format.

    As strange and trying as these times are, I have nothing but confidence in the future of schools and education because I know from firsthand experience that educators rise to any challenge and do what’s right for students.

    From my colleagues

    This being Teacher Appreciation Week, we at ILA thought it an appropriate time to express our appreciation for all of you, and so here are few shout-outs and well wishes I collected from my colleagues.

    “A special education teacher doing her absolute best”

    “Big shout-out to my sister—a special education teacher doing her absolute best to help her students remotely while assisting her older daughter with her remote schooling, AND chasing a 4-year-old around!”

    —Daralene Irwin, Front-end Web Developer + Content Manager 

    “This teacher is a real inspiration”

    “I have nothing but respect and blessings for the third-grade teacher my grandson is lucky to have.  Mr. Paul Sedacca from McVey Elementary School here in Newark, DE, has gone above and beyond.  He is doing 5-days-a-week online learning for 18 third graders for two hours.  This week, he is starting small-group learning for 3–4 students at a time, each day, right before regular online classes start.  He has even asked the parents if they feel their child needs a one-on-one at any time.  My grandson has real potential for doing good work and his teacher encourages him to excel even more.  This teacher is a real inspiration, and the school and students are very fortunate to have such a dedicated teacher.”

    —Peggy DiMaio, Registration & Housing Manager 

    (To which I will add: ILA has a close professional relationship with McVey Elementary through the McVey/Delaware project, and I have been to visit the school a few times over the years [a friend of mine from high school works there!] and all the teachers are just amazing. As is David Wilkie, McVey’s principal, who was recognized with the Corwin Literacy Leader award in 2017 for his work in building a culture of literacy in his school.. So there’s my shout-out to everyone over at McVey; I hope you are all doing well! Now back to everyone else.)

    “Helps them get the wiggles out by dancing together”

     “I would be happy to give a shout-out to [my son] Landon’s teacher, Mrs. Debbie Ortiz, at Christ the Teacher Catholic School in Newark, DE. Although remote learning has taken quite a lot of getting used to for many parents, I am so thankful for the video lessons, personalized student shout-outs, requests for pictures, and read-aloud videos that are keeping Landon and the other first graders engaged during these challenging times. Mrs. Ortiz has the class gather each Thursday and pray as a class and share experiences from their week, and helps them to get the wiggles out by dancing together. She is even taking them on a virtual field trip to Washington, DC, this Friday.

    Even though this time is very stressful for parents, it is also taking a toll on the students. Landon is looking forward to rejoining his classmates for a new school year (hopefully in September).”

    Angela Rivell, Program Manager

    “Urged and prodded me to write”

    “Let me tell you about my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Tomlinson, who urged and prodded me to write. He took an assignment I did for him and submitted it to Reader’s Digest without my knowing. The piece won second place in a national competition and I was forever convinced that maybe, just maybe, I could write. “ —Marcie Craig Post, Executive Director 

    “Always checking in…and cheering him from afar”

    “My 4-year-old son has been at an early childhood center since he was 12 weeks old. As a working mother, I am very conscious of the fact that, Monday through Friday, he spends more waking hours at his school than he does at home with his dad and me. We are enormously grateful for the teachers he’s been lucky enough to have. Teachers who really know him and know how to bring out the best in him. Teachers who nurture his interests, no matter how quirky—the joy on my child’s face when Ms. Erica gave him a bucket full of keys and let him try them in every lock in the classroom!—and who nurture his social-emotional development. Teachers who encourage his love of reading and art and science. It’s been almost two months since his school closed due to our state’s stay-at-home order, but Ms. Kelly is always checking in, sending links to activities she knows he’ll enjoy, and cheering him from afar. It’s a sad fact that, in this country, early childhood educators are undervalued. But to us, they are family, and we love and miss them every single day.” —Lara Deloza, Director of Brand Content and Communications

    My own story

    And now it’s my turn, I suppose. I’ve had so many great teachers during the years, but one forever stands out in my memory. I was in small grade school, and we had two reading groups: the normal group and the advanced group. I was the only student in both groups. I could understand the concepts of the stories if they were read to me, but I struggled with reading. Word sounds didn’t come naturally to me, and I still have issues reading aloud text. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Dapkis, recognized my issues and worked with my parents to get me additional tutoring outside of school.

    Without that extra help, I undoubtedly would have fallen further behind in school (so also a big thank you to my parents). I went from barely being able to read Snoopy comics to devouring chapter books within a couple years. And from there, the reader, writer, and editor working at ILA.

    To all the teachers out there, words cannot express the positive effect you have on your students. Thank you. A million times, thank you!

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    Literacy Today Transitions to Digital-Only Format

    By Marcie Craig Post
     | May 07, 2020

    Literacy Today cover imageIt’s never been clearer that everyone—students and educators—need additional and improved access to digital learning opportunities.

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sudden and unprecedented transition to remote learning, ILA made relevant digital content from our library of resources available free to both members and nonmembers.

    But we wanted to do more. We wanted to institute positive, meaningful change to help meet your needs not just now but also moving forward indefinitely.

    In April, we reopened access to six of the most popular sessions livestreamed from the ILA 2019 Conference. We launched our first ILA Edcamp Online. We introduced ILA at Home, a new series of webinars free for ILA members, that kicked off on May 3 with Timothy Shanahan. A second with Donalyn Miller is scheduled for May 31.  

    Our next change: Literacy Today, your member magazine, is going all digital. This will begin with the May/June issue, scheduled to publish next week.

    Why this change?

    In this period of challenges, ILA recognizes the need to expand and improve upon the digital assets we already offer. By transitioning Literacy Today to a digital-only magazine, we can strengthen this member resource and unlock its potential. We won’t be limited by page counts or postal service. We can begin to experiment with embedded videos and other features. Perhaps most important: We can further extend the reach of the magazine into regions where print isn’t possible.

    Literacy Today, in its 30-plus–year history, has helped build the community that is ILA. That will not change. This is still your magazine. It is driven by your needs, your feedback, and your content contributions. That also will not change.

    In addition to the digital events mentioned previously, ILA is developing new, high-quality resources in line with today’s needs. This includes new member benefits designed to help keep you current on what’s going on in the field. Look for more information on those in the coming months.

    In the meantime, I invite you to continue to let us know what additional resources you’d like to see—the topics, the formats, and everything in between.

    We will get through this time of uncertainty together, and we will be stronger because of it.

    Together, we will shape the future of literacy.

    Marcie Craig Post is the executive director of the International Literacy Association.

    For those whose membership included a subscription to the print version of the magazine (Regular Members, Student Members, and Retired Members), ILA is extending your membership. Those with a one-year membership will receive two complimentary months. For those with a two-year membership, you will receive four additional months, and for those with a three-year membership, you will receive six additional months.
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    ILA Releases 2020 Choices Reading Lists

    By ILA Staff
     | May 01, 2020

    Choices Combined CoverThe International Literacy Association (ILA) released today its much-anticipated Choices reading lists, composed of titles selected by students and educators across the United States as the most outstanding books published in 2019.

    The release coincides with Children’s Book Week, a yearly celebration that encourages children to embrace the power of reading for pleasure. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s program has been reimagined to ensure the celebrations continue at home and online.

    “In a time where teachers, families, and students are all hungry for ways to stay engaged in literacy and learning, reading provides the perfect outlet,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “Reading for pleasure is something we can all do.”

    Each Choices project is run by volunteer team leaders who distribute thousands of newly released books to classrooms; recruit participants to read, review and vote on their favorites; and annotate the final selections.

    Across projects, approximately 25,000 children and young adults are involved in the process of selecting the books that had the biggest impact on them as readers.

    In turn, hundreds of teachers, librarians, and reading/literacy specialists choose books that help to inform curricula; build strong classroom libraries; introduce their students to new, high-quality works; and impart a lifelong love of reading.

    The 2020 Choices reading lists, including titles and annotations, can be found and downloaded for free at literacyworldwide.org/choices.

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    U.S. Appeals Court in Detroit Schools Case Says Basic Literacy Instruction Is a Civil Right

    BY DAN MANGAN
     | Apr 27, 2020
    Rick Snyder
    Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan
    at the time of the lawsuit filing

    In a historic ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday that a basic minimum education, “one that can plausibly impart literacy,” is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    The Circuit Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the Federal District Court’s decision in Gary B. et al. v. Snyder et al. (now Whitmer et al.), the class action suit filed in 2016 against Detroit city schools, the Michigan governor, and a number of state officials on behalf of Detroit’s public school students.

    There were several key findings and holdings in the Circuit Court’s two-to-one decision:

    • Courts have an obligation to recognize a right that is foundational to our system of self-governance and literacy is such a right
    • The role of basic literacy education in the broader framework of the U.S. Constitution suggests that it is essential to the exercise of other fundamental rights
    • Denials of education remedied in past civil rights cases are now universally accepted as serious injustices and have revealed the unparalleled value assigned to literacy as the key to opportunity
    • Although courts cannot prescribe specific educational outcomes, such as literacy or proficiency rates, a state must ensure that students are afforded a rudimentary infrastructure within which literacy can be attained
    • The contours of this infrastructure must at least include three basic components: facilities, teaching, and educational materials such as books

    Marcie Craig Post, executive director of the International Literacy Association (ILA), applauded the decision, which is a major legal breakthrough for literacy advocates. “Literacy is the basic skill through which all other learning is acquired,” she noted, “and governments everywhere have an obligation to provide the basic educational supports reasonably necessary for all citizens to attain it.”

    Post also emphasized that ILA, which signed on to the amicus curiae brief in Gary B. along with other educational organizations, will continue to support efforts to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. A favorable ruling there would become the law of the land.

    Unique theory of action

    What makes the legal argument in Gary B. unique is its focus on literacy as opposed to general educational attainment, a theory of action that has not proved successful in prior cases. The plaintiffs sought a judgment that access to basic literacy instruction should be accorded the status of a federal civil right and offered evidence that the state of Michigan had denied it to them.

    The evidence included deteriorated and vermin-infested school buildings, high rates of teacher turnover, lack of instructional materials, and low performance on academic measures. The plaintiffs argued that without basic literacy skills, meaningful participation as citizens in the democratic process is not achievable.

    There is as yet no U.S. Supreme Court ruling establishing that access to effective literacy instruction is a constitutionally protected right. However, should the Gary B. litigation ever reach the Supreme Court, such a ruling could come.

    For now, the right has been established in the Sixth Circuit, whose precedent binds the district courts of federal districts within Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

    In remanding the case to the trial court, the Sixth Circuit also made additional rulings, one of which directs the trial judge to grant the class action plaintiffs leave to amend their denial of equal protection claim, which the court affirmed was not adequately pled. This step could open the door to further constitutional precedent down the line, assuming the plaintiffs can meet their burden of proof.

    Dan Mangan is the director of Public Affairs at the International Literacy Association.




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