National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 8, No. 2
Date: March-April 2003

Summary: An update from Executive Director Richard Sterling on NWP's 2003 appropriation, the forthcoming College Board's Commission on Writing in America's Schools report, and NWP's new book, BECAUSE WRITING MATTERS.


Dear colleagues and friends:

As I write this letter, we have just learned that the National Writing Project has received funding of almost $17 million for fiscal year 2003. This appropriation is the result of the hard work of many supporters of the writing project, most directly site directors and teacher-leaders all across the country.  This appropriation, coming as it will during our 30th anniversary year, serves as a reminder of the durability and importance of our work. Educational fads come and go, yet the principles of NWP have grown stronger with time. During this anniversary year, we may encounter even more opportunities to strengthen the teaching of writing. A number of factors will converge that promise to make this a significant time for writing and our overall mission. Two of these are discussed here.

One is the report from the College Board's Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, which will be issued on April 25 in Chicago at the Education Writers Association Annual Meeting. I was asked to chair the advisory board to the commission, and together with David Bloome, Sarah Hudelson, and Jackie Jones Royster, participated in discussions and prepared materials to assist the commissioners in their deliberations. The discussions have been long, detailed, and if the commissioners take all our advice, well worthwhile.

Another is the publication of Because Writing Matters, the new book by the NWP and Carl Nagin, published by Jossey-Bass. The book, which describes the current state of teaching writing in America and highlights effective classroom practices and successful school programs, fortuitously comes at a time when national attention will be drawn to discussion over the teaching of writing.

We can expect, then, that 2003 will be a year when the teaching of writing will be worried about, celebrated, and supported at an entirely new level. We have evidence of that support in the form of a recent a grant to NWP of $608,300 from the Carnegie Corporation. The grant, awarded over three years, is intended to assist the NWP in designing and developing a model that fosters professional development in reading comprehension as this skill links to the work we do in the teaching of writing.

However, the appropriation we receive and the grants we are awarded only come our way because of the credible and significant day-to-day work of the writing project and its teachers. This issue of The Voice provides a cross section of that work. From Peter Booth and Beverly Guillory's discussion of the NWP E-Anthology process, to Pat Fox's presentation of the NWP Teacher Exchange Program, to Laura Tracy Baisden's piece on satellite writing project sites and how they support the ongoing effort to reach as many teachers as possible, the work of the NWP—and the importance of that work—is readily apparent.

I am reminded of just how important our work is each time I meet with graduate students in the course on professional development I teach here at the University of California, Berkeley. As we look at various successful models of professional development—many in contexts far removed from schools and education—I am struck by how many of these programs have at their base the principles of the writing project. After 30 years, we still seem to be doing a good deal right.


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