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International Reading Association - History and Development, Projects and Programs, Organizational Structure

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The International Reading Association (IRA) is a nonprofit professional organization that seeks to promote high levels of literacy by improving the quality of reading instruction. The association works to achieve this mission by studying the reading process and teaching techniques, serving as a clearing-house for the support and dissemination of reading research through conferences and publications, and actively encouraging a lifetime reading habit. The association is concerned with reading at all levels–from the school readiness stage through college and adult learning.

The five organizational goals of the association are: (1) professional development to enhance and improve professional development of reading educators worldwide; (2) advocacy to provide leadership in support of research, policy, and practice that improves reading instruction and supports the best interests of all learners and reading professionals; (3) partnerships to establish and strengthen national and international alliances with a wide range of organizations; (4) research to encourage and support evidence-based policy and practice at all levels of reading and language arts education; and (5) global literacy development to identify, focus, and provide leadership on significant literacy issues.

History and Development

The International Reading Association was established in 1956 through a merger of two existing groups, the National Association for Remedial Teachers and the International Council for the Improvement of Reading Instruction. The membership has increased from about 5,000 in 1956 to nearly 90,000 in 2002. A headquarters office was first established in Chicago, but was moved to Newark, Delaware, in 1961. IRA's Government Relations and International Development divisions are located in Washington, D.C., and an editorial office for the journal Lectura y vida is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Projects and Programs

The association publishes six peer-reviewed journals. Issued monthly from October to May are The Reading Teacher, which reports on research and practice at the elementary level, and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, which focuses on information relating to middle school, secondary, college, and adult levels. Reading Research Quarterly is oriented toward reading theory and research and is published in both print and electronic formats. Lectura y vida is a Spanish language journal published in Argentina four times per year. Reading Online is a free Internet-based interactive journal for literacy educators at all levels. Peremena is published quarterly in English and Russian for literacy educators in newly emerging democracies in eastern Europe and elsewhere. The organization's bimonthly newspaper, Reading Today, provides coverage of the reading profession and activities of the association. The association's active publishing program, which includes a list of more than 200 print and nonprint publications, produces an average of twenty new books and other resources each year, and supports a full-service online bookstore.

An annual convention is held each spring in either the United States or Canada. This five-day program of scholarly and social events attracts some 18,000 dedicated professionals from throughout the world. The association also sponsors a biennial world congress to promote global cooperation and the dissemination of information. In addition to these regularly scheduled conventions, many regional conferences, seminars, and meetings are held.

The association has embarked on a series of comprehensive projects to expand global literacy in both industrialized nations and developing countries. The Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking (RWCT) Project has grown from nine to twenty-four participating countries since its inception in 1997. This project links educators from North America, Europe, and Australia with those from emerging democracies in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Language to Literacy Project in Africa will help to advance literacy in several African nations through professional networking, community development, and increased access to technology.

Through research, the International Reading Association provides a cornerstone for professional development and influence. This includes the creation and dissemination of position papers, collaboration with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, and the active support of research through grants, awards, and the prestigious annual Reading Research Conference. The association also speaks for its members before many government bodies, which has led to increased funding for reading programs, expanded professional development opportunities for members, and the development of new legislation.

Organizational Structure

The International Reading Association serves members at local, state, provincial, national, and international levels through more than 1,250 councils and forty-two national affiliates. The ultimate governing body of the association is the Delegates Assembly, which convenes each year at the annual convention and is made up of representatives from the councils and affiliates. During the year an elected board of directors, made up of three officers and nine directors, controls the activities of the association. An executive director and a staff of 100 people carry out the daily business of the organization.

Membership in the association is open to any individual interested in the field of reading. Membership options allow members to receive a choice of professional publications and discounts on association publications, conferences, and services.

INTERNET RESOURCE

INTERNATIONAL READING ASSOCIATION. 2002. <www.reading.org>.

ALAN E. FARSTRUP

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