Things I Know 87 of 365: Pres. Obama, Rhee, Gates and Sec. Duncan should support the NWP

So our goal as an administration, my goal as President, has been to build on these successes across America…

…We need to put outstanding teachers in every classroom, and give those teachers the pay and the support that they deserve…

…A budget that sacrifices our commitment to education would be a budget that’s sacrificing our country’s future.  That would be a budget that sacrifices our children’s future.  And I will not let it happen…

…Let me make it plain:  We cannot cut education.  (Applause.)  We can’t cut the things that will make America more competitive…

– Pres. Obama 3/14/11 Kenmore Middle School, Arlington, VA

We’ll fight against ineffective instructional programs and bureaucracy so that public dollars go where they make the biggest difference: to effective instructional programs.

– Michelle Rhee 12/6/10 Newsweek

Great teachers are a precious natural resource. But we have to figure out how to make them a renewable, expandable resource. We have to figure out what makes the great teachers great and how we transfer those skills to others. These are vital questions for American education.

– Bill Gates 11/19/10 Council of Chief State School Officers

The plain fact is that — to lead in the new century — we have no choice in the matter but to invest in education. No other issue is more critical to our economy, to our future and our way of life.

– Sec. Arne Duncan 3/9/11 Senate Testimony

For 20 years, the National Writing Project has received federal funding to help teachers across the nation improve their practice and improve the learning of their students. The research bears this out.

The NWP is in danger. Twenty years of success and grass-roots professional development are in danger. Contact your congressperson – daily. After that, contact the offices of each of the people quoted above. If they truly believe what they say above, they will have no problem speaking out in support of the NWP.


One of the moments we talk about

The Gist:

  • The federal budget has eliminated direct funding for the National Writing Project.
  • Without the funding, it’s unlikely this national model of a successful networked collective of professional development can survive.
  • This is one of those moments when the network we talk about so frequently can make the difference we’re always claiming it can make.

The Whole Story:

If you haven’t written your congresspeople to support the National Writing Project, you need to.

My last post focused on the letter I’ve used to contact my congressmen. Thanks to Karl and Ben for reposting. Also, if you haven’t read Bud’s letter, you should.

I need to make clear, that, aside from being able to speak at NWP’s Digital is… conference in the fall, I’m not directly associated with the Project.

I simply realize it to be a good idea. A really good idea with a proven record, a tendency toward self-evaluation and networking hundreds of thousands of teachers together with a simple purpose.

It’s one of those few black and white moments in policy. The NWP works. It works better than any other national education program that comes to mind.

So, here’s the thing, this is one of those moments we talk about when we talk about the power of network, when we stand and tell rooms full of teachers about how being connected means our students have greater voice and greater power as citizens. It strikes me this is one of those moments we’re talking about.

Only, it’s not our students, it’s us. Yes, it’s about our students, as they are the ones the NWP is impacting. But the voices that should be raised first and loudest in this moment are the voices of teachers.

My voice right now is one of questions. Specifically, I’m with Bud in asking to see the reasoning behind cutting the funding and how that reasoning stands up to the substantial evidence that the NWP is doing exactly what it is meant to do and what no singular state-based program could accomplish. I hope to receive response soon.

Honestly, though, the likelihood of response is increased with each additional voice.

Speak up.

Ask your representative to sign Rep. George Miller’s Dear Colleague letter. Call your local NWP affiliate to see what you can do to help. Most importantly, make this a conversation where you live, in your virtual and real spaces.

Again, this isn’t national standards or RTTT or any of the myriad issues with equally numerous and complex perspectives.

NWP works.

Tell people.

Make sure one of them is your Representative.

Open letter on behalf of the NWP

The Gist:

  • The current draft of the federal budget cuts direct funding for the National Writing Project.
  • The NWP has been one of the few extremely successful examples of a nationally-networked effort to improve K-12 writing for 36 years.
  • We must communicate with Congress to change the budget.

The Whole Story:

Dear Rep. Fattah, Sen. Casey and Sen. Specter:

I write to you on behalf of the National Writing Project. More precisely, I write to you on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of students and teachers the program has transformed over its 36 years.

Under the budget proposed by President Obama, national funding for the NWP would be cut. In a Feb. 1 press release from the U.S. Department of Education, the NWP was lumped in with 5 other projects losing funding because the DOE claims they “duplicate local or state programs or have not had a significant measurable impact.”

As the NWP is unique as a networked writing instruction program with 200+ local sites serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, I am left to believe Sec. Duncan is claiming the NWP falls under the category of not having a “significant measurable impact.”

This too is untrue.

A 1987 longitudinal study on the effects of the NWP by Kathy Krendl and Julie Dodd found participating third through twelfth graders showed an increase “in interest in learning about writing, in their level of confidence, and in their association of self-esteen with good writing.

Not only that, the study also found a decrease “in students’ feelings of discomfort about completing writing assignments and in their feelings that they do not write well and that writing is difficult.”

In a 2007 study of the NWP’s Local Site Research Initiative, across nine localities students showed significant or non-significant favorable results in all seven categories.

This should not have been surprising considering the DOE’s own data listed the NWP as exceeding its performance targets in 2001. Indeed participants’ ratings across all categories ranged from 95-88 percent reporting positive impact at their follow-up assessment of the program. This went well above the program’s target of 75 percent in each category.

Were this simply an impassioned plea, I would have hesitated to write. The data speaks for itself, the National Writing Project has offered a significant return on investment in its 36 year history. Federal funding for the NWP must be maintained if we are to continue striving to meet the Project’s goal of “a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.”

I thank your for your time and attention to this matter. Please, let me know if I can be of any assistance.


Zachary Chase

English Teacher

Science Leadership Academy

Philadelphia, PA

(Note: See also Bud Hunt’s post on this topic.)

Mama Sarah

8 August 09

I’ve had a bit of a self-imposed embargo on writing over the weekends here. I’ve figured the stray thoughts that pop up on Saturday and Sunday can work their way into Monday’s writings.

Today was just too good.

On our drive from Mbita to meet up with the other TWB-C team in Gilgil, we made a detour.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Kogelo, Kenya. I highly doubt it.

The team decided it would be fun. Well, that and everyone in Mbita said we should go. Well, that and it’s the location of Barak Obama’s paternal homestead.

We pulled up to the gate around an otherwise unassuming farming compound and the police stationed on the grounds asked us to sign in and present our passports.

We obliged.

A sort of cognitive dissonance existed in the fact that we were presenting our passports outside a house that could have been the neighbor to our home of the past week.

We walked up to the house and a guide of sorts showed us to where President Obama’s father and grandfather are buried. It was a little surreal.

“If you’d like to take a seat, Mama Sarah is finishing breakfast and will greet you shortly,” our guide said, gesturing to some chairs that had just been stationed under a grove of mango trees.

I thanked him.

“Shall we go?” Sharon asked a few moments later.

“Well, the guide said if we’d like to take a seat, we can meet Mama Sarah.”


“Mama Sarah. Obama’s grandmother.”

“Are you serious?”


“Are you serious?”


“Are you serious!”

“Yes. Please stop.”

We sat down.

Twenty minutes later, the door to the main house opened and a woman came out to let us know Mama Sarah would be coming out soon and to ask us to sign the book. (In Kenya, everywhere you visit has a book.)

Five minutes laster, Mama Sarah, a large, dark woman in the Kenyan equivalent of a housecoat appeared with her cane and sat facing our semicircle.

Some turkeys who had been entertaining/threatening us whilst we waited, let out a few gobbles.

The woman I took to be Mama Sarah’s aid made introductions and then asked us each to introduce ourselves.

We did.

She asked the assembled group if we had questions.

We sat noticeably silent.

Sharon looked at me, as I’ve proven to be the team’s go-to inquisitor. The thing was, I didn’t really have any questions. For all intents and purposes, we were sitting in an an elderly woman’s front yard after arriving unannounced.

Lois, who was sitting next to me, leaned in and said, “You have a smart question?”

I told her I was working on it.

Knowing President Obama has only been to Kenya twice in his life, it wasn’t as though I could pump this woman for information on baby Barack.

To make matters worse, the more aggressive of the two turkeys was taking what I interpreted to be an aggressive stance. I was trying to come up with an intelligent question while running the hypothetical of what kind of international incident might occur if I kicked the President’s grandmother’s turkey in the face and whether or not claiming self-defense would help.

Finally, I asked the only question that seemed to matter, “How has your life changed since the president’s election?”

Her aid translated my question and Mama Sarah responded in Kiswahili, saying she was seeing more visitors and was happy to greet them. Other than that, things were pretty much the same as pre-election.

John asked what advice she had for teachers.

“Teach them well, and teach them respect.”

I can dig that.

With no further pressing questions and the ability to say we’d been there, the team posed for a group shot around Mama Sarah and we loaded the van to leave.

As we rolled away, I was a bit relieved that Mama Sarah had been a normal Kenyan. I like the idea of our president coming from everyman stock.


A little wikipedia research later on revealed that Mama Sarah wasn’t President Obama’s biological grandmother. Rather, as polygamy is a fading practice in Kenya, she was his grandfather’s third wife. The president’s biological grandmother, his grandfather’s first wife, is now deceased. Still, as is the practice, children of polygamous unions refer to each of their fathers’ wives as their mothers.