NLA Info: National Coalition for Literacy and the NLA List
j.randall-lvagovrel at worldnet.att.net
Mon Mar 8 15:40:44 EST 1999
(Information AND Long-term action recommended)
LVA Washington Update: March 8, 1999
National Coalition for Literacy's Role in Literacy Public Policy vis-`-vis
the Role of the NLA Listsev
As we launch this advocacy campaign to increase federal funding for adult
and family literacy, David Rosen, moderator of the National Literacy
Advocacy list suggested I provide some background on the National
Coalition for Literacy and its role in literacy public policy advocacy. I
will also share my thoughts about the potential role for the NLA list in
the development of literacy policy.
Note: I pride myself on concise articles. This one covers a lot of ground.
Perhaps it should have been two articles. Please bear with it.
The National Coalition for Literacy ... Founded in 1981, the National
Coalition for Literacy's (NCL) charter is to serve as the umbrella
organization for advancement of literacy in the United States. The NCL
includes 28 Sustaining (voting) Members and 12 Affiliate (non-voting)
Members. A list of Sustaining and Affiliate Members is included at the end
of this update. Virtually everyone in the field of adult literacy is part of
the NCL by virtue of membership in one or more of these national organizations.
The NCL has no offices, no staff and almost no money. Representatives of the
member organizations contribute their time, energy and resources to
coordinated efforts on behalf of the Coalition. The NCL meets quarterly,
usually in Washington, DC. Meetings are open to the public. In between these
meetings, organization representatives serving on the Policy, Research,
Communications, and Executive Committees do the bulk of the Coalition's
The National Coalition for Literacy is the focal point for a national
consensus regarding literacy public policy in its broadest sense. The NCL is
the "choir director" for the literacy field's voice on issues including a
national literacy research agenda; federal regulation and reporting; public
awareness and private sector support for literacy; as well as for federal
funding and legislation. The goal of the Coalition is to achieve field
consensus on issues and speak with one voice to public and private sector
Friends on Capitol Hill tell me that the literacy field is more effective in
its advocacy efforts than its size and advocacy budget would suggest. There
are two reasons for that success. First and foremost is that members of all
organizations in the literacy field agree to advocate for the same thing -
to speak with one voice. Through the NCL, the literacy field resolves
differences internally and adopts a consensus position. This is critically
important because on Capitol Hill, opposing views on any issue cancel each
other out. By speaking with one voice, policy-makers hear our views clearly.
The second reason for our advocacy success is that we have so many dedicated
grassroots advocates. Passionate, energetic literacy students, volunteers,
and program staff speak with one voice to their Senators and Representatives.
Hearing a single set of recommendations echoed by tens of thousands of
voices around the country has a tremendous impact. The NCL helps by
strategically mobilizing these grassroots advocates at critical points in
the legislative process.
Lennox McLendon, Virginia State Director of Adult Education and I co-chair
the NCL's Policy Committee. The Policy Committee includes all the members of
the Coalition. We meet in conjunction with each quarterly meeting of the
Coalition, and conduct much of our work via the Coalition's listserv,
individual e-mail and conference calls. There is a core group of 12-14
organization representatives that participates on these conference calls.
Conference calls are held irregularly, as needed.
The Coalition's listserv is reserved for use by official representatives of
member organizations, since sensitive policy discussions occur there. Highly
sensitive policy discussions occur via telephone and individual e-mail
messages, among the members of the core group. Deliberations progressively
become more public as consensus emerges among Coalition member
The National Literacy Advocacy List ... Many Coalition member
representatives subscribe to the National Literacy Advocacy (NLA) list.
The NLA list is a good place for us as NCL Policy Committee members to take
the pulse of the literacy field on policy matters. In addition to the NLA,
each of the Coalition's member organizations has its own mechanisms for
gathering input from its membership on policy issues.
I will be the first to admit that the Coalition could to do a better job at
providing updates to the NLA list on what the Coalition's Policy Committee
members are discussing. Much of the time, we're trying to work out the
details and operational strategies around the broad philosophical issues
being discussed and positions being advocated on the NLA list and within our
own organizations. Many of those advocacy details and strategies must be
worked out behind the scenes. We can't afford to tip our hand too much in
the NLA's public forum. Achieving consensus among as diverse a membership as
the National Coalition for Literacy can be very complicated and frustrating
at times. In the end, we do achieve that consensus though because we all
know how important it is to speak with one voice.
Contributors to the NLA list could play a more direct role in helping
the NCL shape literacy policy. Contributors to the NLA list could do two
things in particular. One is to engage in a dialogue that builds consensus
on the listserv for _policy priorities_ in the coming year. As a field, we
have limited advocacy resources. Which issues warrant the use of these
limited human and financial resources? The second thing contributors to the
NLA list could do is to suggest specific changes in policy. Building field
consensus around _specific policy recommendations_ would put NLA
contributors in the driver's seat for literacy policy development. Such
prioritization, specificity and consensus building is not for the faint of
heart. It is hard work. However, it doesn't have to be the sole purview of
the core members of the National Coalition for Literacy's Policy Committee.
Subscribers to NLA list already play another critical role and do so
superbly. They disseminate action alerts posted on the NLA to grassroots
advocates around the country with amazing speed. In one instance, an alert
I posted in one morning was the subject of a writing exercise in a student
group meeting that very evening. The NLA list is a very powerful advocacy
tool. Its power can and must be increased though.
The literacy field can increase the effectiveness of an advocacy campaign by
posting feedback from policy-makers to the NLA list. We need to know who's
doing what where and when. We need to know what questions are being asked
that we haven't anticipated. We need to know which Senators and
Representatives we can count among our supporters, which ones are winnable,
and which ones are unreceptive. We all need to know what others of us are
hearing from the legislative assistants on Capitol Hill. We need to know
which arguments and data elements push the right buttons and which push the
wrong buttons or no buttons at all. Fine tuning the message and targeting
key members will further increase our advocacy effectiveness. Feedback to
the NLA by as many grassroots advocates as possible is an important key.
Conclusion ... The National Coalition for Literacy's Policy Committee and
the National Literacy Advocacy list both play critical roles in shaping
and advancing national literacy policy. As I have outlined above, we can
increase effectiveness of advocacy efforts if the two work more
interdependently in the future. This will happen only if we each commit to
make it do so.
The FFY 2000 Appropriations Campaign is before us now. Let's get busy!
Lists of Sustaining and Affiliate Members of the National Coalition for
Sustaining (voting) members include: Adult Literacy Media Alliance; Adult
Literacy and Technology Network; American Association for Adult and
Continuing Education; American Bar Association; American Library
Association; Association for Community Based Education; Association of
American Publishers; The Center for Literacy Studies: The University of
Tennessee, Knoxville; Contact Center, Inc.; Correctional Education
Association; Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy; International
Reading Association; Laubach Literacy Action; Literacy Volunteers of
America, Inc.; National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center;
National Alliance of Urban Literacy Coalitions; National Center for the
Study of Adult Learning and Literacy; National Association of State Literacy
Resource Centers; National Association of University Women; National Center
on Adult Literacy; National Center for Family Literacy; National
Clearinghouse on ESL Literacy Education; National Council of State Directors
of Adult Education; PBS LiteracyLink; Student Coalition for Action in
Literacy Education; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages,
Inc.; United Way of America, Inc.; and Voices of Adult Literacy United for
Affiliate (non-voting) members include: American Council on Education, GED
Testing Service; The American Poetry & Literacy Project; The Center for the
Book, the Library of Congress; National Alliance of Business; National
Governors Association; National Institute for Literacy; Newspaper
Association of America Foundation; U.S. Department of Education; U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Labor; U.S.
National Commission on Libraries and Information Science; and U.S. Postal
The address for the National Coalition's Information Center is P.O. Box
81826, Lincoln, NE 68501. The phone number is 1-800-228-8813. The
Coalition's web site address is http://www.nifl.gov/Coalition/nclhome.htm
To subscribe to the National Literacy Advocacy list, send an email
message to: majordomo at world.std.com saying (only): "subscribe nla". (You
will get a request to send a second message to verify your email address.)
Director of Government Relations
Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc.
8413 Park Crest Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20910-5404
Office: (301) 588-5304 Fax: (301) 588-5353
jrandall at literacyvolunteers.org
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