National Writing Project

Writing and School Reform

Date: May 2006

Summary: Writing and School Reform is the result of five hearings held around the country to discuss the importance of writing, how to improve teaching and learning in this critical domain, and the future work of the National Commission on Writing.


The fourth report from the National Commission on Writing, Writing and School Reform, summarizes the learning from five hearings held across the country in 2004. These hearings brought together diverse educators and administrators to discuss how to take the most effective writing instruction that is available to some students and make it widely available to all. Discussions focused on how to

  • make writing central to the school reform agenda
  • ensure that curricula in schools provide the necessary time for students to use writing to learn and to learn to write
  • advance writing assessment that is fair and authentic
  • guarantee that students have access to, and opportunities to compose with, current technologies, including digital technologies
  • provide comprehensive professional development for all teachers to improve classroom practice.

The hearings provided an active next step to the commission's first report, The Neglected "R," and gave those in the field an opportunity to respond to that report's recommendations and to speak from firsthand experience about the challenges of teaching writing. Advice came from across the educational spectrum—everyone from parents to teachers to university presidents.

Perhaps the most dramatic testimony centered on the issue of standardization. Teachers, in particular, were emphatic in their views that off-the-shelf programs do not create a nation of thoughtful writers and thinkers. "Reform should value what teachers know," said Valerie Taylor at the Austin hearing, "not impose scripted solutions on them. Reform should reflect the complexity of the challenge, instead of pretending the answers are simple."

Excerpt from Report

The first message from the hearings was strong. Good practices exist. They rest on a solid research base. We know what to do. The challenge for the hearings was best expressed by Richard Sterling, executive director of the National Writing Project and chair of the National Advisory Panel. Despite the existence of solid models of how to proceed, Sterling observed, writing is often poorly taught. The reality is that a lot of writing instruction is perfunctory. Then he posed the major question: "What would it take to turn exceptional writing instruction into everyday classroom practice?"

For more, read Writing and School Reform (PDF). The National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools, and Colleges has published four reports, all of which are available on their website. To order a printed version of the commission's reports, email your request to

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