This document describes what we—the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English—believe students should know about and be able to do with language by the time they reach the end of their secondary schooling. The twelve content standards we have proposed grow out of a national conversation about the goals and purposes of English language arts education. Our aim is to ensure that all students develop the literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in various areas of life.
Many observers worry about the act of defining standards for the English language arts and other subject areas, fearing that the result will be to restrict the creativity and flexibility that characterize good teaching and learning. This concern goes to the heart of the tradition of public schooling in the United States.
Throughout our nation's history there have been periodic attempts to define a national agenda for the schools, yet decisions about what should be taught and how it should be taught have always been made by local teachers and administrators in response to local needs and concerns. This is the way it should be, we believe, and these standards should not be seen as a veiled (or unveiled) attempt to undermine that tradition.
Rather, we urge a more positive view of standard-setting. We feel strongly that guidelines for English language arts education are necessary because they provide a clear map of the goals of schooling. This clarity of purpose is particularly important in our current political and economic climate, in which public expectations of the schools, as well as criticisms of their work, are increasing. Standards offer a way to guide and support the best practices in English language arts education. In addition to this document, IRA and NCTE have prepared several documents showing classroom practices using these standards.
As we discussed at the outset, we also believe that standards are needed to prepare students for the literacy requirements of the future as well as the present. If we are to prepare all students to become proficient users of language, and if we are to bridge the great disparities that exist in educational opportunities, then standards are a necessary part of that effort.
This final point is particularly important. We do not imagine that setting standards is, by itself, sufficient to address the problems that beset our nation's schools. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the attainment of these standards is the plague of unequal opportunities and expectations. Some students in our country have abundant resources for learning: they attend schools that are well equipped with books as well as technological and human resources; they have every opportunity to achieve high levels of competency in all areas of the curriculum. Others, however, are far less fortunate. Neither the most forceful and eloquent standards in the world, nor the most dedicated teachers, can overcome these barriers.
These standards represent not an end but a beginning—a starting point for discussion and action within states, districts, and individual schools across the country. Quality education can only happen, we believe, when it is fostered by local conversations. Teachers and school administrators must translate these standards for themselves, considering and responding to the particular needs of their students and communities. To make certain that our national conversation continues, we are asking you to complete and return the survey form in Appendix F. If this book encourages fertile debate about the means and ends of English language arts education, then its central aims will have been achieved.
In Standards for the English Language Arts (pp. 46-46). , : International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English.