Selective Rigor: What to Do About It?

Dr. Bruce Torff

Dr. Audrey F. Murphy

Today’s bloggers are Bruce Torff and Audrey Figueroa Murphy. Their article, “Teachers’ Beliefs About Rigor of Curriculum for English Language Learners,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.


Educators have looked high and low for the causes of achievement gaps between the “haves” and “have nots” in our society, and for good reason:

These gaps are distressingly large and resistant to change.

Possible causes include in-school factors (e.g., rigor of curriculum, teacher experience and attendance, teacher preparation, class size, technology-assisted instruction, school safety) and various conditions outside of school (e.g., birth weight, lead poisoning, hunger and nutrition, reading to young children, television watching, parent availability, student mobility, parent participation).

No one seems to know the exact causes, but some combination of factors does the deed.

Could it be that one set of factors has been hiding in plain sight? Do educators’ well-intended beliefs about “what works” for different populations of learners play a role, if a largely unseen one? According to research, the answer may be yes.

It’s true, but unsurprising, that success in school has a lot to do with the level of rigor in the curriculum; students given challenging work achieve more. Educators know that lessons need to pitched to challenge but not overwhelm learners, as if to follow Dewey’s advice that teaching should begin a little over the head of the learner. Accordingly, educators’ judgments do much to establish how academically demanding the curriculum will be.

But research shows that teachers favor somewhat less rigorous curriculum for learners they perceive to be low in socio-economic status, SES. And our research published in this issue of The Educational Forum indicates that English language learners are among the student populations educators believe to be less able to handle the rigorous curriculum prescribed for their more English-proficient peers. The rich get richer, getting rigorous curriculum leading to high achievement, prompting more high-octane lessons. And the poor get poorer, with impoverished curriculum leading to lower achievement, yielding another round of undemanding lessons.

In several publications, we tie these beliefs to cultural norms about how learners tick and how teaching should proceed. Beliefs about learning and teaching in our culture, part of the culture’s commonsense “folk psychology,” prompt educators to reduce the rigor of curriculum for some populations, exacerbating achievement gaps. Because of our culture’s way of doing things, well-intended educators fan the flames of the blaze they seek to extinguish, by their efforts to give students the level of academic rigor they deem appropriate.

A question is raised: How can we counter this cause of achievement gaps?

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through February 28, 2019.

Top 5 Reasons to Update Your KDP Profile Preferences

So many great resources are available to KDP members that it might be a little overwhelming.

However, we now offer a way for you to tell KDP what you want! Your MyKDP profile allows you to indicate and change your interest areas and your expertise, and specify what you want from your membership experience. Here are the top five reasons why updating your preferences will help you.

5) Tailor communications for you. By indicating your interests, we are sure to alert you to new resources, issues, and events that fit what you want to know about.

4) Connect with other members who have similar interests. These interests will help unite you with those who have similar issues, questions, or concerns around the topic. This way, you can communicate and learn from one another.

3) Reduce irrelevant emails. Get messages which provide content that addresses the topics most important to you.

2) Help KDP create resources for your needs. By learning what your interests are, KDP can focus our efforts on resources, benefits, and services that you need to succeed.

1) Ensure you are getting the most from your membership. We want you to succeed, and the best way to help is by providing you with relevant resources for your needs—no matter where you are in your career. To do this, we need your feedback on how we can best support you.

Log in to MyKDP and click on My Education and Interests and My Expectations from Membership to edit your information. Select your choices and save. It’s that easy!

Thanks for being a member of Kappa Delta Pi!

International Day of Education

As educators, we understand the value and power of education. We witness it each day—when our students have an “aha” moment, when they grin with pride after successfully completing a new task, when they graduate ready to pursue their dreams.

The role of education in changing lives and communities is now more important than ever.

A year ago, the United Nations ratified the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including Quality Education as goal number 4. The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report determined that it is only through achieving quality education for all that the other 16 SDGs will be achieved.

In other words, the path to a just, peaceful, thriving planet is dependent on providing a quality education for everyone.

Unfortunately, millions of people around the globe do not have access to a quality education. As we remain steadfastly committed to Kappa Delta Pi’s goal of equity and a quality education for all, we work to serve members around the globe through campaigns like Change for Children, Books for Nigeria, and most recently, Backpacks of Hope.

We also support educators with quality resources and training though professional development courses on our new Educator Learning Network.

The power and impact of our community of committed educators continues to make a difference in the lives of students every day. In October, we will come together to recognize our role and grow as professionals at our international Convocation, focusing on the Power of You, the educator. For any educator who is interested in joining us, proposals are now being accepted on our website at http://www.kdp.org/convo2019.

As an NGO of the United Nations for 9 years, we invite you to join us in celebrating International Day of Education on January 24.

Because you are leaders of teaching and learning, this day celebrates you! On this day and every day, we need to remember that as education professionals, the people and creatures of the world are relying on us to make the world a better place. There is no other profession that has this role, privilege, and responsibility.

I leave you with a challenge. Share with the world your philosophy of education using the Showcase section of your FREE e-portfolio through our Educator Learning Network. Upload your philosophy to your e-portfolio and use the hashtag #EdPhilosophyChallenge on social media to share your philosophy with the world and others who are passionate about education. By doing so, you’re helping to raise awareness of the importance of education in our global society. (To create your e-portfolio, log into your KDP member profile and click on ‘My ePortfolio’ under the ‘My Account’ menu.)

Thank you for ALL that you do to make the world a better place through your chosen profession.

Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director of KDP.

Statement on Migrant Children

Children, our most valuable resource, make up one third of the world’s population. Yet, in many places around the globe, children are not being allowed to realize their full potential.

Migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable, often denied access to an education and the hope of a better future. Of particular concern are the migrant children at the U.S.–Mexican border. The number of those children detained in the United States has skyrocketed from 2,400 in May 2017 to 12,800 in September 2018.

As an organization whose mission is quality learning for all, Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) strongly urges federal and state authorities to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education and appropriate educational services that address their special needs.

They deserve access to educators who can assist with their cultural adjustment and literacy development, and who can provide socio-emotional support. Educators working with these children need to be well-trained and to have support in managing multilingual, multicultural classes that often include students with psychosocial needs. The experience of refugee children often includes trauma, sometimes lasting for months or even years. According to Jack Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “High levels of stress can disrupt the architecture of the developing brain and other biological systems, with serious negative impacts on learning, behavior, and lifelong physical and mental health.”

Serving migrant children is different from working with other “newcomers.” Educators need to understand the economic and educational conditions in the countries from which students are arriving; some students have attended school, while others have never had any formal education. U.S. federal regulations stipulate that the curriculum needs to promote diversity, reflect cultural sensitivities, and challenge prejudices. Unfortunately, some textbooks include highly politicized and discriminatory views.

In many locations, the education being provided in refugee settings is plagued by untrained teachers, few resources, and language barriers.

In 2018, the Associated Press polled 61 public school districts to find out what educational services are being provided to students in migrant shelters. Of the 50 districts that responded, most said that they had no contact with either the shelter or the Department of Health and Human Services, which is ultimately responsible for providing education services to migrant children.

Achieving a world that is equitable and free of violence starts with a quality education for all children.

Education is the path to a better future, access to which is the right of all children, including migrants. Children are our collective future. KDP will steadfastly work to ensure that its mission of a quality education becomes a reality for all children.

As an initial step, KDP—in partnership with the Kino Border Initiative, the La Posada Providencia School, and the San Antonio Veterans Institute—has launched a Backpacks of Hope campaign to provide the children housed in Nogales, AZ, and La Posada Providencia in San Benito, TX, with backpacks containing coloring books, crayons, and toiletries. KDP wants to provide these children, after arriving with only the clothes on their backs, with a sense of hope. 100% of all funds raised until January 31st goes directly to children, with gifts as low as $7 making a huge difference.

Please consider a gift today.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
— John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

Publication CoverInformation about the educational issues facing migrant children and their teachers is available in the January 2019 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Through January 31st, access one of its articles, “The Binational Context of the Students We Share: What Educators on Both Sides of the Border Need to Know,” for free by clicking here.

The Results Are In! (Executive Summary from Fall 2018 KDP Membership Survey)

In KDP’s continuing efforts to provide the most relevant services and experiences for members, we conduct an annual survey to encourage feedback. Following are some of the key results and recommendations from the survey.

The 2018 survey was split into four primary member groups—undergraduates, graduate (both master’s and doctoral) students, practitioners, and faculty members—and conducted between October 1 and November 9, with 3,765 participants.

Although specialized surveys were provided for these groups, some consistent themes appeared across all segments. These primarily included collaboration with colleagues and mentoring as well as the desire for online learning capacity.

Undergraduates

Of the more than 12,000 KDP members in this category, 1,823 responded—or about 15% of this membership segment. This category of membership can include anyone who is enrolled in an undergraduate program, regardless of format or degree type.

The most beneficial way that KDP could assist undergraduates—as identified by 73% of respondents—is by providing practical, easy-to implement strategies and ideas in a handbook.

Mentors and colleague collaboration were chosen as the most preferable ways to get additional training. Online learning was identified as a close third.

Of those who responded, 90% would or might participate in a virtual career fair.

Almost 65% were interested in gaining additional credentials via online methods, but almost 30% said they were unfamiliar with this idea/product.

Slightly more than 71% either do not have or are unfamiliar with an e-portfolio.

New tools like the Educator Learning Network that KDP launched in November 2018 can provide significant benefits and be valuable to this segment as it moves into the workforce. Additionally, continuing to create a more robust environment for mentor/mentee relationships will be appreciated and will set them up for greater success in the classroom.

Graduate Students

We had 413 respondents to this survey, or roughly 19% of this member group. This group is comprised of individuals in graduate or doctoral programs. More than half the respondents were in a master’s program.

Mentoring and colleague collaboration ranked as the two most important needs, while getting additional training with online learning ran a close third.

Practical, easy-to implement strategies and ideas provided in a handbook was the top choice for how KDP could assist graduate students (66%), while more than 61% selected online professional development.

Almost 74% were interested in gaining additional credentials via online methods. However, more than 75% either do not have or are unfamiliar with an e-portfolio.

From the open-ended responses, mentoring and community networking were identified as the greatest things KDP could do for this segment. Providing resources also was referenced as desirable. Additionally, the need for collaboration and guidance was significant; therefore, building an appropriate environment to support this networking will be critical to serving this group.

Practitioners

For this survey group, more than 1,170 people replied, or about 7% of this membership segment, which is comprised of teachers in any position from Pre-K through secondary grades.

Only about 66% of respondents said they were currently teaching, with 82% of them working in the PreK–12 area.

Respondents identified work/life balance, time management, and classroom management as key issues for those entering the classroom.

Respondents felt having mentors and colleague collaboration are the best ways for newer teachers to get help in areas for which they were not prepared.

Receiving practical, easy-to implement strategies and ideas provided in a handbook was the top choice for how KDP could assist practitioners (64%), while online professional development was most important for more than 58%.

Again, a surprising number—75%—either do not have or are unfamiliar with an e-portfolio.

Mentor and colleague collaboration were listed as the strongest ways KDP could assist this group, with training with online learning a close third. Help is also needed for accessing additional training, information, and/or resources.

This group requested more resources for classroom success. This included specialized resources such as for math, physical education, and music, but also more support from quick-to-read tips, advice, and materials. Getting personal support from colleagues in the field was huge! Creating a more robust support network is critical to their retention in the profession as well as in KDP.

Higher Education Faculty

For this survey, 357 people responded, or about 20% of our membership base in this category. These are members who self-identify as a professor, dean, or higher ed administrator.

Of those who responded, 65% feel online training and micro-credentials would help their students be better prepared for the classroom. This was followed closely by local opportunities and leadership training.

Almost 68% said KDP should develop complimentary online courses to help students.

Additionally, more than 82% felt KDP should develop online classes or mini-courses that faculty could use for blended learning.

More than 115 respondents requested more opportunities to get published or present work. This was more than double of any other support area requested from KDP for higher education faculty.

Mentoring for their students was identified as the second most important way KDP could help graduates, with 45 such requests in the open-ended question.

Strong support exists for additional professional development or learning opportunities that would enhance their students’ degree work. Issues such as classroom management, assessment, differentiated instruction, and technology were identified as top issues for additional training and support for their students. Additional professional development ELN courses and webinars would be helpful.

For faculty members, KDP needs to continue to provide as many opportunities for publishing and presenting as possible. This could include developing new vehicles for publishing or presenting.

General Recommendations

Community development would be a tremendous asset to many who have left the college environment. People want colleague collaboration and support. This can exhibit itself in multiple ways to best support educators across the professional spectrum. Communities need to be developed both online and in person. They can be founded on broad-based topics as well as niche/specialty areas. A need exists within geographical communities for support and understanding of state and regional nuances and policies. Mentoring is a critical piece of community support.

Professional development and training remain important needs for all groups. With the Educator Learning Network, we can address several major concerns identified in this survey. ELN can provide the infrastructure for community development, job preparation, and professional development.

For questions about the survey or results, please contact Christopher Whited, Director of Membership & Chapter Services, at christopher@kdp.org or by calling 800-284-3167.

School Choice Is Like Choosing Where to Eat? Hardly!

Today’s blogger is Chris Gilbert, who is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. His article, “Creating Educational Destruction: A Critical Exploration of Central Neoliberal Concepts and Their Transformative Effects on Public Education,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Since the election of President Trump in 2016, the phrase “school choice” has rapidly become commonplace in popular and political discourse. Through sheer repetition and careful messaging, supporters of school choice have worked to sterilize the phrase in order to make it appealing and ultimately normal.

For instance, during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (2017) compared school choice to a selection of food trucks surrounding the Department of Education. “Now,” she remarked, “if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.”

In other words, school choice is akin to choosing where to eat. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Despite this attempt, and others like it, to downplay the significance of school choice, abundant evidence suggests that it is anything but inconsequential. As I discuss in my article in The Educational Forum, a body of research has shown that school choice mechanisms such as charter schools and school vouchers have had a number of negative educational and social impacts (Carey, 2017; Ravitch, 2014; Strauss & Burris, 2017).

Additionally, I discuss the larger ideas that have produced school choice, primarily those concepts of competition and individualism. In the educational reality produced by these concepts, schools function as competitive entities, families compete for voucher money and limited spots in charter schools, and teachers work against one another to receive paltry raises.

When I worked as a high school English teacher in North Carolina, I experienced this reality firsthand. As I discuss in my article, in 2014 I joined a campaign to push back against policies that sought to inject competition into schools and pit teacher against teacher. Through a statewide effort, teachers and other activists fought to replace notions of competition and individualism with collaboration and collectivism.

It is important to note that the competitive and individualistic reality we struggled against did not manifest by chance. Rather, it resulted from neoliberalism, the dominant social, economic, and political ideology of our time. Neoliberals believe that the logic of the market should dominate all aspects of our lives, and they seek to create an educational system that mirrors the corporate world.

While neoliberalism is certainly not new, and its effects have been apparent in the educational realm for some time, neoliberal notions of competition and individualism now have an unprecedented level of political support and threaten to become the new normal. In the present moment, it may be more important than ever before to step forward and dissent. I hope this message serves as an invitation to do so.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through January 31, 2019.

 

References

Carey, K. (2017, February 23). Dismal voucher results surprise researchers as DeVos era begins. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html

DeVos, B. (2017, September 28). Prepared remarks by Secretary DeVos to JFK Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-secretary-devos-jfk-jr-forum-harvard-kennedy-school

Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Strauss, V., & Burris, C. (2017, July 26). NAACP sticks by its call for charter school moratorium, says they are ‘not a substitute’ for traditional public schools. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/26/naacp-report-charter-schools-not-a-substitute-for-traditional-public-schools-and-many-need-reform/?utm_term=.5f179b7ef7f7

Learning in the Sandbox: Early Childhood at its Best

When my son Michael was little, he attended Playhouse, a progressive cooperative preschool.

There he was the most engaged when he was able to create an activity on his own.

One spring day, Michael brought a small plastic white leopard to school. During outdoor playground time, he developed a game where over and over again he would bury the leopard and then find it and dig it up. On his third round of “bury and excavate,” the leopard seemed to disappear. Michael grew more and more frustrated, especially when it was announced that it was time to go back into the classroom.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection.

Rather than dismiss his concern, the teachers sat down with Michael and tried to understand his feelings and come up with a potential solution. Instead of digging around randomly in the sandbox, they asked him to think about what an archaeologist might do in this case. They shared that archaeologists often excavate to find things and that perhaps they could use a grid method to make the process easier. They turned a very difficult situation into a teachable moment, and they helped Michael to redirect his focus away from being frustrated to concentrating on making a grid out of the sandbox. The process was tedious, but the reward was enormous. Michael appreciated that his concerns were taken seriously and that the teachers were listening to him. It didn’t hurt that he found the leopard, too!

In early childhood classrooms, learning looks different than it does in elementary schools. The teachers understand that child-centered curriculum and instruction require an atmosphere where adults and children need to know one another well and develop trust.

An emergent curriculum reflects the values of caring and social change, encourages children to think critically about the world in which they live, and talk back to it. Teachers strive to create a classroom community that is a safe space where students not only can show support for one another, but also question and disrupt the norms of society and imagine a community that accepts others. This is a space where all children and teachers are valued and can speak freely, listen actively, dream, invent, and imagine.

Teachers understand that no two children are alike and therefore are open to the idea that the ways they approach a problem will differ. When students’ curiosity becomes the driving force of the curriculum, then the role of the teacher becomes one of coach, who provides materials, asks provocative questions, and encourages children to make decisions about their own learning.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection. Ultimately, in a child-centered classroom, anything and everything has the potential to be explored.

Although we are aware of the importance and value of constructivist early childhood classrooms for all children, as Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon point out in their article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” standards and accountability policies continue to create tensions between early childhood and elementary curriculum, imposing teacher-directive approaches that focus on academic and test preparation, and significantly impact the voice and role of early childhood educators.

With an increased focus on academics, this shift has also increased the number of children at risk for failure due to poverty, race, or disability because their classroom behaviors do not align with school expectations. Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon provide an insightful window into the constraints of policy on early childhood instruction and also the possibility of supporting rich learning environments that foster the success of all young learners.


Dr. Monica Taylor

Today’s blogger is Monica Taylor, a Professor at Montclair State University, Academic Editor of The Educational Forum, and author of Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families With Little Children (Garn Press, 2017). She comments on the recently published article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2018.