The link between adolescent literacy development and better content-area achievement is clear. However, few systemic high school literacy initiatives to date have been carried out beyond the planning and initial implementation stages. As research consistently indicates, a host of organizational structures, along with effective leadership, are crucial to appropriately sustaining any effective secondary reform initiative requires. The nine research-based components of the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Project (CSRD) summarize these as 1) effective research-based methods and strategies, 2) comprehensive design with aligned components, 3) professional development, 4) measurable goals and objectives, 5) support within the school, 6) parent and community involvement, 7) external technical support and assistance, 8) evaluation strategies, and 9) coordination of resources. (http://www.lab.brown.edu/public/csr/csr_components.shtml)
Ten key strategies for success in urban schools focus on the importance of quality and ongoing professional development as a part of the life of the school. They also include the need for high expectations for student achievement on everyone's part, ongoing support systems, and ongoing assessment of program effectiveness (Hodges, 1994). Experience with high school educational reform models (e.g., Coalition for Effective Schools; Breaking Ranks; Career Academies) reinforces this: Implementing and sustaining change in secondary schools requires a host of organizational and leadership structures specific to the ongoing initiative. Studies of secondary school restructuring efforts, where the necessary organizational supports and leadership capacities are not in place, tend to be short-lived; they also contribute to high levels of teacher frustration, stress, and burnout on the part of teachers charged with implementing change (e.g., Nolan & Meister, 2000).
Researchers who studied successful compensatory literacy programs for young adolescents concluded that these programs contain the following: 1) vision and definition, 2) developmental responsiveness, 3) academic effectiveness, 4) access to the world of the written word, and 5) organization to ensure success for all. The researchers found three examples of successful in-school programs at the middle school level. All were complex educational interventions that involved the following: A systematically developed approach to address adolescent literacy needs in their particular district;
Leadership at the district and administrative levels; Community and school support because of demonstrated success; Coherent educational philosophies that take into account the specific maturational, social, and cognitive needs of adolescents; Incorporation of specific instructional and curricular approaches; The capacity to function as an integral component of the district's educational program; and Ongoing purposeful professional development for teachers (Davidson & Koppenhaver, 1993).
Two additional sets of research-based findings, distinguishing between high and low performing secondary schools, may be particularly relevant. Although not adolescent literacy initiatives per se, both looked at systemic support for language and literacy development. One study looked at those secondary school "characteristics of teachers' professional lives that accompany student achievement in writing, reading, and English." The study found that "the more effective schools and districts nurtured a climate that 1) orchestrated coordinated efforts to improve student achievement, 2) fostered teacher participation in a variety of professional communities, 3) created structured improvement activities that offered teachers a strong sense of agency, 4) valued commitment to the profession of teaching, 5) engendered a caring attitude to colleagues and students, and 6) fostered a deep respect for life-long learning" (Langer, 1999). Embedded in the facilitation of such outcomes are a variety of organizational support structures and leadership capacities.
The second study looked at comprehensive school reform that was inclusive of limited English proficient students. It found that effective schools addressed issues in all six of the following domains: A) school vision, B) curriculum and instruction, C) language development, D) school structure, E) organizational culture, and F) community relations (Berman, et al., 2000). Obviously, this list reveals the complex constellation of intersecting and synergistic elements to support success.
Embedded in each of these lists are two hidden capacities. One is the leadership capacity on the part of administrators and teachers to shepherd the initiative by defining and following through on the tasks associated with various roles specific to the initiative. The other capacity involves having "belief structures" in place, which are sustained through action, messages from teachers and administrators, modeling, professional dialogue, and ongoing professional development. The literature stresses the need to believe that struggling readers and writers can succeed and that teachers and schools really have the power to transform lives (see, for example, Bernard, 1997).
In the case of a systemic adolescent literacy initiative, the quality, structure, and implementation of professional development can determine the success or failure of the initiative. We know that high-quality professional development must be structured so as to provide ongoing opportunities for building professional competence. These should include opportunities to learn new strategies, develop curriculum, meet collaboratively to improve practice, support and mentor one another, stay current on research, conduct action research, and review program and student success (see, for example, Hodges, 1994; Joyce et al., 1999; Langer, 1999; Richardson, 2000).
We must also recognize the complexity of content-area, literacy-focused professional development . Secondary teachers do not see themselves as experts in supporting literacy through the content areas. They need substantial professional development that includes better understanding of the literacy demands of their content area. They also need to know how to support reading and writing across the curriculum and how to effectively use reading and writing to teach and learn. The Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) is one example. It is a research-based, professional development initiative focused on secondary literacy, and it has already shown demonstrable results in terms of student achievement (see http://www.wested.org/stratlit). SLI presents one model of how to assemble all components of successful professional development for secondary content area teachers so they can effectively support literacy development across the curriculum. SLI also provides an example of a curriculum for a ninth-grade academic literacy course that has produced results at one high school (Schoenbach, et al., 1999).
Two districts have recently carried out their own investigations of the research in the area of secondary literacy, and they have developed comprehensive plans for systemically addressing the issue. Both have carefully described the roles of administrators, teachers, reading specialists, and organizational support structures that they plan to employ (see, for example, http://www.mcsd.org/Report_files/secondary.pdf and http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/tnl/langarts/hsread.htm#commitment).
In summarizing the organizational structures and leadership capacities needed to support an adolescent literacy initiative, we drew from the research and believe that the following Best Practices aptly describe what needs to occur: Meets the agreed-upon goals for adolescents in that particular community. Articulates, communicates, and actualizes a vision of literacy as a priority. Utilizes best practices in the area of systemic educational reform. Is defined in a way that connects to the larger educational program. Involves ongoing support for teacher professional development. Has a clear process for program review and evaluation.
We have been encouraged by our discussions with practitioners and colleagues who see the need to articulate a research-based Adolescent Literacy Support Framework, one that addresses the necessary organizational structures and leadership capacity as a key component. Our views have been reinforced by the designs that various schools have developed and are currently in the early stages of implementing. These, without exception, have given careful consideration to all of the six Best Practices listed above. We look forward to watching their efforts and to being able to report in the future that faithful implementation of these Best Practices, as described in the Adolescent Literacy Support Framework, are indeed key to successfully addressing the adolescent literacy crisis. Being able to recognize and analyze discourse features aids tremendously in content-area understanding, and it also enhances content-focused writing (e.g. Langer & Flihan, 2000; Schoenbach et al., 1999). Explicit teaching of the discourse features particular to specific content areas is especially important for English language learners and students coming from limited literacy backgrounds (e.g. Mohan, 1990; Reyhner & Davison, 1992; Spanos, 1992).
Berman, P., Aburto, S., Nelson, B., Minicucci, C., & Burkart, G. (2000). The Benchmark Study: A National Study of Title VII Comprehensive School Programs (Institute of Policy Analysis and Research and the Center for Applied Linguistics No. 17). Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Available: http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/resource/resourceguide.pdf
Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration. Providence, RI: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University. Available: http://www.lab.brown.edu.
Davidson, J., & Koppenhaver, D. (1993). Adolescent Literacy: What Works and Why. New York and London: Garland Publishing Company.
Secondary Literacy Report (1999, October). Montrose County School District RE-1J, Montrose County, CO. Available: http://www.mcsd.org/Report_files/secondary.pdf
Joyce, B., Calhoun, E., & Hopkins, D. (1999). The New Structure of School Improvement. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
Laboratory for Student Success (Spotlight on Student Success). (1994). Using Research to Inform Practice in Urban Schools Ten Key Strategies for Success. Digest, #103. Available:http://www.temple.edu/LSS/htmlpublications/spotlights/100/spot103.htm
Langer, J. (1999). Excellence in English in Middle and High School: How Teachers' Professional Lives Support Student Achievement. Albany: National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement. Available: http://cela.albany.edu/reports/eie1/index.html.
Nolan, J. J., & Meister, D. G. (2000). Teachers and Educational Change. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Richardson, J. (2000, Winter). Learning Benefits Everyone. Journal of Staff Development. NSDC. Available:http://www.nsdc.org/library/publications/jsd/richardson211.cfm
Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Cziko, C., & Hurwitz, L. (1999). Reading for Understanding. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.