Bridging Social Capital in a Full-Service Community School

Today’s blogger is Xiaoxia A. Newton, an associate professor in the College of Education at UMass Lowell. She reflects here on a research article she and her colleagues recently published in The Educational Forum.

Sofia Vargas (a pseudonym) is a 17-year-old sophomore attending the Advancement Academy, an alternative urban high school in the Northeastern United States. Like her peers at the school, multiple factors place Sofia at risk: poverty, a history of high-level behavioral referrals each year, multiple course failures due to her inability to meet course expectations or refusal to complete course work, and an ongoing mental health condition. Two years ago, the Advancement Academy began the process of transforming itself into a full-service community school (FSCS) with the support of multiple community partners and funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

The FSCS initiative is transforming Sofia’s life by providing opportunities for bridging social capital, a scholarly concept that describes the connections or relationships between individuals in various social groups or networks. Prior to receiving any FSCS services, Sofia had an average 20 to 30 behavioral referrals each month. Since her involvement in the FSCS services, Sofia’s behavioral referrals have been drastically reduced, and she has not had any referrals in many months.

Most important, Sofia’s outlook on school has become more positive and self-regulated, as she is often asking teachers for her progress reports and course credits.

Sofia’s teachers commented on how she is like a new student, and they unanimously nominated her for a teacher-student award. Despite still going through periods of behavioral and emotional distress (often related to out-of-school events), Sofia now has a support network of school staff and community partners working together to address her holistic needs.

My colleagues and I showcased Sofia’s story and the Advancement Academy’s FSCS initiative in a peer-reviewed paper in The Educational Forum (Newton et al., 2017). The empowerment evaluation approach we chose allowed us to move beyond focusing solely on numeric indices but instead on engaging key program stakeholders in building our understanding of the problems they try to tackle and prioritizing our evaluative inquiry.

We chose the Empowerment Evaluation (EE) framework to guide our evaluation work because of the fit between the program design and the key features that characterize EE. The program attempts to address a complex social problem and therefore adopts a whole-child approach that engages multiple community members and is at the very beginning stage. On the other hand, EE focuses on improvement and empowerment, emphasizes collaboration between evaluators and stakeholders, and employs both quantitative and qualitative methods. Given the program design, its context, and its stage, EE offers an ideal framework guiding our evaluation effort.

Several lessons emerged from our work that invite more questions than answers. For instance, are numeric indices adequately capturing the richness of individual stories (like Sofia’s) as the school is transforming some if not all of its students’ lives? How do we think of scale in this context? As university researchers, the empowerment evaluation approach has forced us to move out of our own methodological comfort zone and wrestle with conceptual, methodological, and logistical challenges when doing this line of evaluation work.

Meanwhile, Sofia’s story is an example of the opportunities for bridging social capital that full-service community schools can offer students placed at risk.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Xiaoxia and colleagues’ research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through November 30, 2017.

October 24th is United Nations Day

Dr. Rose Cardarelli is a Kappa Delta Pi NGO Representative to the United Nations.

Srecko Mavrek, Dr. Basanti Chakraborty, and Dr. Rose Cardarelli (L-R)

On October 24th, the United Nations (UN) will observe its 72nd anniversary on the day of the original signing of the UN Charter in 1945.

Over its history, the UN has evolved to stand for more than just crisis mediation. For example, in September 2015 the 193 member states of the UN took on the enormous task of adopting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of objectives consisting of 17 global objectives and 169 specific targets all designed to create a positive impact on our future by 2030.

Our Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) mission of quality learning for all and our strategic goal related to literacy sustainability both appear to be perfect opportunities to contribute to the collective global effort of UN Sustainable Development Goal #4, labelled: “Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

KDP was recognized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in 2010, with the intent of our contributing to UN efforts designed to have a significant impact on advancing quality education on a global scale.

KDP currently has five official professional and youth representatives accredited before the UN. These KDP representatives participate in UN events (workshops, conferences, seminars, media campaigns), and support publications and projects designed to keep KDP members and the UN DPI informed of educational activities that may be relevant to the community at large. In those ways KDP can and does play a key role in helping the UN achieve its sustainable development goals in education.

Serving as one of those professional representatives for the last year, I have had the privilege of attending and reporting on several important events, to include the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) conference. I have also posted UN events and activities on KDP’s Global and blogs. A recent highlight of my service as a KDP representative to the UN was my selection to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) during the week of September 18th. The passion and enthusiasm from most of the world’s leaders attending the UNGA was not only exhilarating but reassuring. This opportunity also gave attendees access to many important UN side-meetings being conducted around the city designed to address the 17 sustainable development goals by many professional organizations.

As should be expected, education was a primary agenda topic at the UNGA because it is widely accepted by all UN representatives that education (particularly SDG#4) is the fundamental foundation stone for achieving all the other sustainable development goals. There were discussions about the need for funding and investments, and also on the need to leverage and share resources and opportunities across local, national, international levels. There was also discussion among many of the attendees about other related global challenges, such as early childhood education, educating female children and educating the millions of refugee children suffering in camps today. Discussions concluded with the goal of increased collaboration, sharing and helping one another to make access to quality education more of a reality across all the globe.

Opportunities for Children at the UN

CTAUN has a special event for high school teachers and students scheduled at the UN from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on November 9, 2017 entitled: “From Desperation to Inspiration: The Anne Frank Diary at the United Nations.” The event marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. The program will help students learn about Anne Frank’s life during the holocaust and will also enable participants to better understand the work of writers whose lives were impacted by discrimination. CTAUN offers research to bring global issues of Peace & Reconciliation; Refugees; Sustainable Development Goals; Coping with Climate Change and Cultural Diversity & Cross-Cultural Communication into the classroom. For more information, contact: teacherresources@teachun.org.

The Guided Tours Unit at the United Nations Visitor Centre also has an exciting Children’s Tour for elementary school children. It opened in February 2013 and is tailored for children 5-10 years of age, with topics such as human rights, disarmament, peacekeeping, and the sustainable development goals, presented in a child-friendly way. Tickets for the tour can be purchased online at: http://visit.un.org/content/tickets.

Celebrating World Teachers’ Day

If you ask a teacher why he or she chose a career in education, chances are that the answer will be to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of students.

While those of us in education share in this desire and have witnessed the difference a teacher can make in the lives of their students, a 2016 study by the United Nations revealed just how critical the role of teachers is in making the world a better place. In monitoring the progress toward achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals—goals that aim to realize a world with no hunger, no poverty, gender equity, peace, and more—it was determined that without achieving the goal of quality learning for all and lifelong learning, none of the other 16 goals will ever be realized.

World Teachers’ Day is October 5, a day to recognize and celebrate the committed educators around the globe who help youth and adults to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to live a happy and productive life.

Celebrated since 1994, it has become an occasion to empower educators, to assess the state of the teaching profession around the globe, and to consider ways to address the remaining challenges, especially the acute shortage of teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, if we are to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030, the world needs 69 million new teachers.

In today’s world, teachers are more important than ever before.

While we add our voice in acknowledgment of teachers on World Teachers’ Day, in the KDP community, we celebrate teachers every single day.

KDP strives to continually support its educators through professional development opportunities, networking, online resources, publications, and financial assistance. Just as we understand our students need differentiated instruction, professional development and resources also need to be tailored to differing needs of our educators; so resources, such as our monthly newsletters, vary by professional position. Whether you are a preservice teacher, a teacher preparation faculty member, or practicing professional, we strive to meet you where you are. We are united by a shared commitment to excellence in education and to one another’s professional growth.

As the world celebrates teachers on October 5, we know one day of recognition isn’t sufficient given the critical role of teachers in society.

So, KDP celebrates teachers each and every day. We applaud you, thank you, and cheer you on because you are indeed making the world a better place.

Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi.

Research from The Educational Forum: Lifting the Smog: Coaching Toward Equity for All

Today’s bloggers are Jacobe Bell and Reshma Ramkellawan, self-employed instructional coaches in New York. They reflect here on what led to their research article recently published in The Educational Forum.

A man stabbed, his fresh blood splattered all over the bodega counter. A crumpled body in the middle of the street, framed by paramedics, police officers, and weeping bystanders. What was supposed to be a rare lunch break with school administrators became a day that shook Jacobe to her core. It’s not every day a teacher wanders onto the scene of a murder. But Jacobe will never forget the incident for another reason: the perceived indifference of the school administrators. She still wonders if their response might have been different if the murder victim had been of a different race or a higher socioeconomic class. Who knows? What we do know is that a person’s lived experiences affect how they interact with and think about others. What causes educators to become desensitized? What causes educators to see some people differently than they see themselves?

We don’t have simple answers to these questions. Our experiences as instructional coaches, however, have allowed us to gain insight into how teachers develop nuanced understandings of the students they serve in the contexts in which they choose to teach. Smog and Discourse (Tatum, 2003; Gee, 2015) are two theoretical concepts that explore how our subconscious is a manifestation of our lived social, economic, racial, and cultural experiences. In the case of Discourse, implicit beliefs around class, economics, and education are articulated in our word choices (e.g, “these kids can’t do this,” or “stuff like this happens everyday—no big deal”).

Teachers engage in these language patterns because they are surrounded by smog that reinforces their beliefs. The administrators’ reaction to the murder scene is an example of this. They likely had been bombarded by media reports and personal experiences that perpetuated the image of the school community as violent, aggressive, and dangerous. This district in particular has several police officers on consistent patrol. As a result of their lived experiences, administrators (and teachers) often subconsciously fail to see the narratives of their school constituents beyond their own psychological constructions of them. No one ever wants to believe they have made their implicit biases explicit, whether they have chosen to work in an urban setting with children of color or in any community where ethnicities and races are different from their own. However, we cannot always control the smog within which our psyche formulates meaning of the world, especially if we do not have a say in our formative experiences. Institutional racism has significant influence on the smog we are surrounded by and its manifestation in Discourse.

As women of color, we are keenly aware of subtle indicators of racism. We want as many allies as possible in the fight for educational equity. In order for urban educators to be true allies, it is imperative that all of us spend time unpacking the reasoning behind the things we say, the topics we choose to teach, and manner in which we enact pedagogy. As instructional coaches, we help teachers unpack belief systems that impact the instructional decisions they make. It can often be uncomfortable having these difficult conversations with teachers. The approach we ultimately utilized, outlined in our article in The Educational Forum, relied on the foundation of trust and good intention that we established with our teachers. In order for us to ask difficult inquiry questions (e.g., “Why do you believe your students are incapable of learning?” or “Did you notice your tendency to make deficit-oriented statements?”), the teachers we coached needed to understand that we were not judging them for the Discourse and smog that shaped who they are. Rather, we wanted to support their transition to empathetic teachers who are responsive to the needs of their students, moving toward equity for all.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Reshma and Jacobe’s article free with the education community. Access this article and the whole issue at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2017.

How Does Our Garden Grow?

When I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to teach a kindergarten class. I spent days designing the lesson, and I will never forget the look of excitement in the eyes of the students as they participated in the lesson I created. A seed was planted; I wanted to become a teacher!

All teachers are responsible for inspiring students to contemplate and investigate career pathways as well as promoting college and career readiness. Teaching is one of those careers. The U.S. Department of Education reports teacher shortages throughout the nation in all geographical areas, subject areas, and grade levels (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, 2015).

While grow-your-own strategies have included initiatives, such as alternative licensure programs, formal efforts have not included the classroom teacher in the recruitment of future teachers. Teachers of all grade levels have the expertise to grow-their-own through purposeful efforts.

  1. Identify potential educators and plant the idea in their hearts and minds. Ask if they have ever considered becoming a teacher, then follow the question with specific, descriptive feedback on why they think they could be a successful educator. Encourage capable students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Include parents and guardians in the mission. During formal and informal conferences, share why their child would be a successful educator. Collective efforts produce an abundant harvest.
  2. Use “yes . . . but” in conversations to emphasize the positive aspects of the profession. Make it a practice to follow a voice of concern with a statement on the joys of teaching. Be mindful of how encouraging messages about teaching can influence a student who is entertaining the thought of teaching. Consider how your reactions to the challenges of teaching enhance and contribute to the grow-our-own approach. All careers have challenges, yet students in the public schools typically do not regularly interact with other career professionals nor do they hear about their difficult times. Teachers are part of a student’s daily life. Consequently, explicit positive messages are important during difficult times.
  3. Share your story. Reveal the motivation behind becoming a teacher whenever the opportunity arises. Describe the events and special people who inspired the decision. Telling one’s own story inspires prospective educators and serves as a reminder as to why you entered the field. Reconnecting to your vision of teaching revitalizes your spirit and strengthens your mission of inspiring others to consider teaching. Share the chapters of your teaching life so that your students might begin writing their own.
  4. Create opportunities to explore teaching. Ask students to serve a mini apprenticeship as a teacher’s helper for a day or a week. During this time, reveal the positive aspects of a career in teaching. At the end of the apprenticeship, recognize the student with a certificate, a tangible reminder of the special event. This guided practice enables students to discover the enjoyment of planning lessons and making a difference in the lives of others. Students also can be assigned to work with teachers in the younger grades to build confidence in working with others while experiencing education from the teacher’s side of the desk. Student organizations, such as Educator Rising, provide the framework and support to encourage a career in education. Furthermore, Educator Rising promotes interest by allowing high school students to “test-drive” teaching and empowering teachers to act as ambassadors for teaching (Brown, 2016). These ongoing opportunities for practice exposes students to the enjoyment of planning lessons and making a difference.
  5. Think like a marketing agent and visually promote your profession. Positive messages in the classroom can inspire future educators. Posters that celebrate teaching and the power of learning can motivate students to consider a career as an educator. Highlight successful teachers on a bulletin board or in published news articles. Have students create works about teachers who have influenced them.
  6. Be a role model. Attract students to teaching by simply doing what you love to do: teach. Be the professional your students want to emulate. Welcome your students at the door with a smile. Facial expressions, attitude, and social interaction become your runway moves. Positive actions and reactions serve as fertilizer that encourage students to perceive education as a desirable calling.

The opportunity to teach during my senior year in high school planted the seed for a fruitful career in education. Teachers have the capacity to grow-our-own. Encouraging students to consider a teaching career begins in kindergarten and continues through 12th grade. Teachers hold the solution to cultivate and mentor the next harvest of teachers to make our garden grow.

Dr. Kathleen Wagner is an Assistant Professor of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Eastern New Mexico University. She teaches courses on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, supervises teacher candidates during student teaching, and serves as the Assessment Coordinator of the College of Education and Technology. She is also the counselor of the Omicron Upsilon chapter at ENMU.

 

Research from The Educational Forum: Improving High School–College Alignment

Today’s blogger is Jiffy Lansing, Senior Researcher at Chapin Hall, University of Chicago. She writes here to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Caitlin Ahearn, James E. Rosenbaum, Christine Mokher, and Lou Jacobson) in The Educational Forum.

As policy focus on providing financial supports for low-income students to gain access to college has grown, the college graduation gap has also increased. One of the factors related to low college graduation rates is that many students spend significant time and money on remedial courses. These courses do not bear college credit and are often misunderstood by students as “college” courses. Students end up in remedial courses as a result of their scores on a college placement test, a test that many students were not expecting to take and did not study for. Rather than blaming students for being unprepared or simply providing information to students about the consequences of their placement test scores on their college course offerings, a sociological perspective on this issue highlights potential systemic adaptations that could promote college success. An approach that addresses the current loose coupling and poor alignment between high school and college systems could be an effective way to promote college success for all students. However, such system-level reforms are challenging in the decentralized context of education in the United States.

My colleagues and I explored how teachers strive to implement Florida’s statewide initiative to attempt to align high school and college performance standards. Our study highlights important implementation considerations and the efforts teachers make despite short notice and minimal additional resources. It also underscores the importance of including career education in the alignment of secondary and postsecondary institutions.

The state of Florida recently implemented a statewide initiative that aims to better align high school and college expectations. Florida is one of only seven states with a single common placement test: the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT). Florida’s reform, the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative (FCCRI), was designed to take advantage of the common placement test to improve students’ preparation for college. The reform targeted students who were close to achieving college readiness standards. Starting in 2012, Florida mandated the PERT college test for all high school juniors who scored in the middle range of the high school exit exam (FCAT) as sophomores, and required seniors to take College Readiness and Success (CRS) courses in 12th grade if they tested below college-ready on PERT. These courses were offered in math and English, and intended to help students pass the PERT when they enroll in college. Ultimately, the FCCRI sought to create alignment by testing students early and repairing seniors’ achievement gaps.

Our paper reports findings from a study of teacher responses to Florida’s alignment reform. We examine:

  • Whether CRS teachers felt the reform succeeded at meeting its goals
  • Teachers’ views of the reform’s shortcomings
  • Actions they took to make it work
  • What more was required
  • Their views of what improved and what got worse in the second year.

Analyses are based on a survey of teachers conducted in the spring of 2013 and again in the spring of 2014, the first and second years of the mandatory CRS offerings.

We expected teachers might express skepticism about the program because it offered little advance notice, vague standards, and few resources. Instead, teachers embraced the reform’s goals and worked to implement them despite impediments. Most teachers evaluated the reform as moderately to extremely effective. English teachers reported more difficulty, rated effectiveness lower, and made more efforts to use outside resources than math teachers. Both math and English teachers equally felt that heterogeneous students and lack of PERT information, textbook resources, and diagnostic tools impeded the initiative.

Apart from improved diagnostic tools, the next most common impediments reported were a lack of planning time or curricular supports. In Year 2, teachers reported conflicting perceptions of whether the initiative improved since Year 1. Importantly, besides the discrepancies noted in the first year, teachers reported those discrepancies increased further in the second year, with improvements most often reported in engagement for college-bound students.

At the same time, teachers were least likely (19%) to report improvements for engagement of non-college-bound students. This, along with the increased change for academic heterogeneity problems, indicates that teachers continued to struggle with student differences in their classrooms, especially for non-college-bound students. When the reform is working with college-bound students of similar academic achievement, teachers have fewer difficulties. However, when the reform involves many non-college-bound students or heterogeneous achievement levels, teachers face serious impediments.

This study shows that the sociological approach to alignment can be done, and teachers perceived it to be effective with college-bound students. Even the reform’s failure to provide resources did not discourage teachers’ efforts. Teachers found supportive resources, although they identified additional types of support that would further improve its effectiveness. However, student heterogeneity remained an issue. College-bound students’ engagement increased more than it decreased, while the opposite was true for non-college-bound students. Alignment reform made the preexisting inequality of these two groups even more pronounced.

Despite its name, the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative assumes that all students are motivated by a reform directed at college-bound goals. Teachers report that this is not the case, and their non-college bound students did not engage. The program magnifies the discrepant needs of these two groups of students. Future initiatives might benefit from including career-related features to reach students who, in their junior and senior years of high school, do not see themselves attending college.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Jiffy Lansing and colleagues’ article free with the education community through September 30, 2017. Read the full article here.

Language + Communication = Advancement

Hello fellow educators!

On July 21, 2017, I joined a community of student leaders in the United Nations General Assembly Hall to celebrate innovative ideas in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations (UN). The event, themed “Many Languages, One World,” brought youth from around the globe together to present action plans for advancing the SDG. Their presentations were borne out an essay contest sponsored by ELS Educational Services and the UN. The contest encouraged young scholars to share their ideas on how to repair the quality of living within the areas of SDG, such as quality education, climate action, economy growth, and justice. The presentations, which were the culmination of research, exposed current issues in many countries and offered resolutions to avoid the stagnant results of previous trials.

As essay contest winners showcased their visions of the future, their presentations were simultaneously translated by interpreters into the UN’s six official languages. With the help of listening devices, those in attendance could hear the presentations in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, or Spanish.

On the subject of education, students spoke up about the issues of race and sex, and advocated for equality in education to combat this problem. One student’s objective was to eliminate illiteracy and offer free secondary education. Another student argued that education could be the key to achieving all targets of the SDG. Others suggested how we, as global citizens, could support a switch to alternative sources of power, such as green energy, to reduce carbon dioxide. Students advocated for improvement in the quality of water in rural areas and explained how the water affects agricultural products. With limited access to food and water, students may become malnourished and dehydrated, and therefore struggle to succeed in school.

We need to make keeping students in school a priority. An essay winner speaking about Brazil revealed a link between school dropouts and criminal activity in that country. As global citizens who belong to the education community, we have to be mindful of students who may not live in safe conditions. Creating a comforting space within the classroom and leading students in project-based learning activities can allow them to feel safe and empowered.

We must increase collaborations among our neighboring countries and communicate our successes in repairing these damages. By sharing what’s wrong in one country, we can offer tips on how another country made it right. Improving the policies and systems of management that currently exist throughout all countries would reflect a global agreement on acceptable standards of living.

Diversity makes our society more resilient. Education makes it powerful.

Happy Teaching,
Clairetza Felix

Clairetza Felix is a graduate student in the Literacy Specialist program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She chose to become a UN Youth Representative to be able to offer a unique approach to education.