Berkeley-based National Writing Project in jeopardy

The Berkeley-based National Writing Project, a 37-year-old program to help teachers of all grade levels and disciplines teach writing, received some tough news this week. It lost all of its federal funding for the upcoming school year in a temporary spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday in an effort to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Ed Week’s Alyson Klein reports that the writing project was one of more than a dozen educational programs that will lose federal funding temporarily, if not permanently. Support for such programs is technically defined as an earmark, since it is a non-competitive grant, though some of the organizations — such as Teach For America — are national in scope.

The National Writing Project’s network receives more than $25 million from the U.S. Department of Education; it encompasses 200 programs at colleges and universities in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Bay Area Writing Project, anchored at UC Berkeley, is the oldest one.

Sharon Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project, said the program has funding to carry them through the summer. She said summer programs will not be affected, and that the nonprofit — which knew the cuts were a possibility — is in preliminary talks with potential funders.

“We want the writing project to continue,” Washington said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us to raise those kinds of dollars in the time that we have.”

The project started in 1974, and it expanded after the federal government began to back the effort in 1991. It receives a small amount of foundation money, but about $47.5 million of its $49 million budget consists of federal dollars and matching funds from school districts and universities.

Teachers: Tell us about your experiences with this program. How has it changed the way you teach writing?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://smartboydesigns.com Christian

    Although I’m not a teacher, it’s a little discouraging to hear news like this. Rather sad. Writing is so very important, and it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between the county, state and federal funding. I sure hope there will be a way to continue the program.

  • Meredith

    The writing project changed my teaching and my life for the better. Thanks to the NWP I found a network of caring, devoted teachers who believe in putting students and teachers first — unlike so many other education organizations.

  • Paul Gibson

    I was a graduate of the Bay Area Writing Project the precursor to the National Writing Project. In BAWP I learned the value of free writing to stimulate thinking, group work to encourage students to share their personal voice, and writing rubrics or anchors to help students and other teachers gain a shared understanding of what good writing is. More than this, BAWP helped me understand the importance of writing. Seldom do you encounter a good writer who is not a good thinker, as well. While no longer a teacher, I still have used BAWP techniques often as a consultant and director. It is a shame that NWP has been lumped together as an earmark. It is not a billion dollar bridge to nowhere; it is an invaluable source of teacher support and inspiration. Sad.

  • Nextset

    People may wring their hands over this but:

    Why is the federal government spending any money on education? That’s a state power and a state prerogative.

    The Constitution set up the federal government and limited their powers. It doesn’t matter what Congress wants or what they vote on if they have no Constitutional ability to operate in that field.

    Shut down all the federal educations organs and every program except the military service academies and get the feds out of all the educational financing and standards setting. If they want to give out funds they can lower income taxes.

    It is not a good thing to usurp the state powers and duties. Let the state set up and do their jobs – and do them in as many different ways as the various states please. Or the states can join in Uniform Codes such as the Uniform Commercial Code.

    But get Congress and the feds out of this subject matter. That way we will not rot from the center as we have done since 1965.

  • Nextset

    Typos – sorry, have that cold that’s going around.

  • Vicki Sherbert

    I first participated in the Flint Hills Writing Project at Kansas State University in 2005. This ongoing professional development has impacted me more than any other experience in my career. I have grown as a writer both personally and professionally, and this growth has helped me offer better writing instruction to my students. The money spent on the National Writing Project reaches more students and teachers than any other professional money spent. We must continue to deliver quality writing opportunities to our students in order for them to be successful, literate citizens.

  • Pam Brown

    In 1996 I spent 5 weeks at the Summer Institute for teachers held by the Oklahoma State Writing Project, a site within the National Writing Project. As a university professor, I use teaching skills every day that I learned that summer. I’ve watched teacher after teacher find a home in the Writing Project where deep professional conversations about pedagogy continue via electronic communication–any question posed by a frustrated teacher draws many responses from other teachers who share practical advice and make scholarly connections. Both of my kids have become scholars partly because they were fortunate to have some Writing Project teachers who taught them that writing–sharing your world through crafting your words–is a joy, not a chore.

  • Tia M.

    I have been affiliated with the NWP since the summer immediately following my first year of teaching. I was ready to quit teaching after only one year, but these wonderful professionals took me in and convinced me that I should give it another shot. I’ve been teaching for 9 years now, primarily because of them.

    Not only did they convince me to stay in teaching, but every year they make me a better teacher. There is no single source of teacher training better than the NWP. To eliminate their funding would be a tragedy for this nation. In an age where we are asking teachers to be more than automatons at the front of the room, it is ridiculous to eliminate a program that prevents that very thing from happening in the most dramatic ways.

  • Katie Naron

    Three years ago,I was fortunate enough to participate in SI through the University of Mississippi Writing Project. I can’t even begin to describe what it has done for me as a classroom teacher, much less my students. SI challenged me as a teacherand provided we with innovative and practical writing strategies to use in my classroom. I now have a strong support group of talented educators, a group that continues to grow and share year after year. The National Writing Project opens many doors for teachers and continues to offer so much to educators across the nation. I can’t imagine my life without it!

  • Tom O’Hara

    The Writing Project offers authentic professional development to teachers that improves the education of America’s kids. I’ve been a member of the Great Valley Writing Project since 2005, and I can specifically show how I’ve improved because of the ideas, encouragement, and support of the NWP. It’s so sad that this wonderful organization has been defunded in the political struggle in our nation over power. But I believe in our cause, and I think that a nation run by billionaires can’t hold us back.

  • Callie Cochran

    I attended a summer institute in 2009. I was burned out, cynical and tired. The project gave me a transfusion I so needed. I met like-minded teachers who were passionate about teaching and learning; I rediscovered my love of writing; I walked away with myriad new strategies and resources to support my student writers; moreover, I found my intellectual “home,” and it wasn’t in my own school building or district, it was with my new teaching “family,” writing project teacher consultants. Every day I am reminded of the power and necessity of good writing and strong literacy skills. I preface many of my lessons and activities with “I learned about this” or “I did this in my summer writing program, and this is how it helped me with MY writing.” Because of my passion for the project, my kids trust me to take them where they have not gone before. The writing project saved my life, professionally and personally. I want to save its life in return.

  • Marty Williams

    I am privileged to have worked with the Bay Area Writing Project since 1993. From the very beginning of my teaching career, BAWP was essential in helping me design my writing curriculum. The National Writing Project grew up over the years, and with the federal funding, we could guarantee that 15-20 teachers a year would receive intensive training during the summers. With that funding, as a teacher and as a writing project co-director, I have been able to participate in many national initiatives focused on crucial aspects of teaching, e.g., English language learners, supporting equitable learning for diverse students, combining the study of US history and writing, and working side by side with teachers to improve teaching and learning. In all of this, the model we follow is teachers-teaching-reachers, hands-on, classroom tested work. We do so much with not so much money, but the money we have received is crucial to continuing the work we have been doing for 37 years.

  • Abigail Goodspeed

    Unfortunately, projects such as the NWP cannot objectively show any evidence of changing students’ lives or improving writing skills. Albeit there is no evidence to contrary either. Nevertheless, it is essentially too expensive to maintain programs such as these without evidence of systematic change. Testimonies from teachers about their experiences with the NWP is not evidence the project to continue to be supported by public tax dollars.

  • http://www.cotisweets.blogspot.com Susan K. Coti

    It’s a big mistake to cut funding to the NWP because of its enormous impact on student achievement. I, for one, have been a teacher/consultant with the DC Area Writing Project for seven years, and its professional development of teachers of writing is unique because of the fine-lens focus on writing as an avenue to higher-order thinking skills.
    I know my students have benefited from my teaching through the rigorous training I received from the Project and the workshops I’ve conducted with area teachers that bring the techniques and structured methods of writing to life in the classroom.
    My students did the best writing of their lives in the latest DC-CAS writing assessment because of the training they received in writing.
    Because there is a big deficit in the writing ability of students in high school and college (not to mention in the workplace after students graduate), it is critical that we address this deficit with step-by-step writing instruction in our schools. It’s not enough to tell students to write a paper. They need to know how to do it with explicit instruction. The NWP is dedicated to this mission, and we can’t let this initiative die.