Every Student Succeeds Act: Professional Development in Impoverished School Systems

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

You have just earned your professional teacher’s certification and are excited about the positive impact you will have on the students you will teach.

Your college and student teaching experiences have prepared you to foster academic growth and development for all students.

The school year will be beginning soon, and teaching jobs in the affluent school district in your hometown have all been filled.

The closest school district with openings is about 30 miles away. The socioeconomic status in that area is at or near the poverty line, and test scores are at or below average.

Nevertheless, you are eager to face the academic challenges that await you.

You interview and are awarded a position as a professional teacher.

On your first day, your principal shows you to your classroom and begins to discuss the possibility of homeless students being enrolled in your course.

Reality sets in, and you realize that most of your college courses did not prepare you for what you are about to experience. Are you sure you’re ready?

Retaining highly qualified educators in impoverished areas can be quite challenging, and professional development is particularly critical for strengthening the skills of educators in these districts.

However, as federal funding to states fluctuates, academic programs that encourage comprehensive learning tend to receive priority, not teacher professional development.

In response to this problem, ESSA highlights the immediate need to build upon existing networks and establish alliances by seeking support from local leaders and community stakeholders to address professional development challenges. Some may believe that providing more money to these districts and more training for teachers would be beneficial. It is fair to observe, though, that increased funding for professional development alone would not alleviate various underpinning situations such as homelessness, lack of parental involvement, or inadequate support for tutoring programs and extracurricular activities.

That said, as the opening anecdote suggests, homelessness and poverty are synonymous in some areas across the nation, and many teachers could benefit from professional development to learn more about the needs of homeless students. With the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized in 2015 through ESSA, increased attention is paid to the role of professional development in strengthening educators’ awareness of the needs of homeless children and youth.

How can administrators ensure that teachers receive effective professional development, even if they are working in less affluent school districts?

At the beginning of each academic year, school administrators may want to outline the expected goals for their teachers and students, identify possible challenging circumstances (e.g., homelessness or academic and behavioral problems) that may occur, and discuss how these issues can be resolved at discovery. Additionally, administrators should provide teachers with continuous in-district and cooperative partnering initiatives outside of their classrooms.

Including educators in the development of such programs could be a sustainable method of retaining highly qualified personnel by constructing professional development programs beneficial to their daily experiences.

Educators new to the cultural and socioeconomic status of their students should be well prepared.

New teachers need to determine whether they are a “good fit” for the students they teach early in the school year and take steps to educate themselves as necessary. If new teachers are not supported by their administration teams and parents, relevant, sustainable professional growth could become stagnant and difficult to maintain.

Continuous professional development is imperative for achieving ESSA’s goal to promote equal educational access and opportunities for K–12 students nationwide.

For additional information on rural, impoverished school systems, visit http://www.corridorofshame.com.

For additional information on student homelessness in public schools, visit http://naehcy.org/essa-training-and-professional-development-resources.

 Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  1. How can ESSA assist poor school districts with professional development opportunities for new educators?
  2. Does your state recognize schools’ immediate teacher professional development needs, and if so, what training is in place to address those concerns expediently?

image_mccoy-wilsonDr. Keisha McCoy-Wilson is an Army School Liaison Officer with the Department of the Army, an Education Policy Fellow, and an adjunct professor at Southern Wesleyan University. Dr. McCoy-Wilson is a member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee.

Stopping a Disastrous Cycle

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© Getty Images

Imagine going into the hospital to have your tonsils removed and the operating room is filthy, the doctor is using decades-old instruments, and there are no nurses available to assist.

Most of us would turn around and run.

So, why do we send our children into schools every day with the same conditions—unsafe surroundings, lack of necessary materials and resources, and a staff without the specialties needed to address critical social-emotional issues that stand in the way of academic success?

Sadly, these students can’t turn around and run away, or at least not until they get older and drop out.

A federal suit filed with the U.S. District Court in Michigan last fall on behalf of five students from some of Detroit’s lowest-performing schools reveals the realities faced every day by students, parents, and teachers. In these schools, nearly all students read four to five years below grade level; enter buildings that are unsafe, vermin-infested, and filthy; have few textbooks, with some dating back to 1998; and lack staff members who are trained as literacy specialists, English learner instructors, and to reduce teacher turnover that negatively impacts academic achievement.

This class action lawsuit argues that the students have been denied their constitutional right to literacy as a result of the absence of oversight, inadequate funding, and little support by state officials. As an organization with a legacy of equity and a commitment to a quality education for all students that spans more than 105 years, Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) filed an amicus curiae brief, or friendly brief, that provides the court with additional information and facts, and supports the case presented in the lawsuit.

KDP’s brief asserts that while there isn’t explicit language in the Constitution about a right to literacy, citizens must have a certain level of literacy to be able to exercise their rights, such as obtaining a driver’s license, completing a job application, and joining the armed forces—most of which require the equivalent of a ninth-grade education.

“No skill is more important to the future of a child and to a democracy than literacy. Unfortunately, for many U.S. children, their fate is determined by their zip code,” said Faye Snodgress, KDP Executive Director. “Because education is the path to a better world, KDP supports educators around the globe to provide resources and services to improve academic outcomes for all students.”

By ignoring the conditions of these schools, everyone is paying a price—literally and figuratively.

Children are being denied a chance to fulfill their full potential as productive participants in the economy, constructive community members, and engaged citizens—which squanders our country’s youngest and most important resource.

This pattern perpetuates a life in poverty and translates into lost productivity, lower tax revenue, higher medical costs, increased crime and violence, and social instability.

KDP is pleased to have the International Literacy Association and the National Association for Multicultural Education join us in advocating for the right to literacy and a quality education for all students. As parents, educators, businesspersons, and community members, it is up to us to be a voice for equitable funding and resources, safe and clean schools, and qualified and supported teachers, which are essential for every child to reach his or her full potential and lead a fulfilling life. Find the official press release here.

Faye_S_7-1-14Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director for Kappa Delta Pi.

Staying Rooted in Education

As a KDP Youth Representative, I had the opportunity to attend a briefing at the UN titled, “A Grassroots Approach to Education for All.”

The moderator, Alexander Wiseman, and speaker Lisa Damaschke-Deitrick were from Lehigh University’s education program. Their fellow speakers were Anwar Sayed from the Dayemi Foundation, Taylor Viens from Caring for Cambodia, and Jadayah Spencer representing the International Youth Leadership Institute.

As each person shared their experience with grassroots organizations, they connected to the importance of health and wellness. Health screenings and access to meals can transform the culture of learning to be responsive to the needs of students.

Furthermore, research presented at the briefing proved that funding new educational approaches results in shifts in curriculum and assists in combating poverty.

With political and religious turmoil displacing refugees, it is imperative that they receive a quality education that is inclusive and sensitive to their knowledge and cultural backgrounds.

As expressed by the speakers, partnering with local organizations within communities such as religious centers and non-governmental agencies can offer real-world experiences for our youth, as well as promote positive learning environments.

My Tips for This Approach

1. Know Your Neighbors

Get to know the people in your community. Seek out local businesses and organizations that are interested in helping us achieve our goal of providing an equitable education for all.

2. Brainstorm

Think of ways that you can support a student’s hygiene and diet at your school, such as items like toothbrushes and soap. A resource such as a school-wide food pantry would also be effective.

3. Be Active!

Encourage students to be problem solvers in their own communities. Simple tasks such as cleaning up parks and recycling can prepare them for bigger roles in society.

Happy Teaching,
Clairetza Felix

Clairetza Felix is a senior at St. Francis College, with a major in Childhood Education and a concentration in English. Currently, she serves as the Co-Event Coordinator for the Xi Rho Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi. As an aspiring Literacy Specialist, she chose to become a UN Youth Representative to offer a unique approach to education.

Research from The Educational Forum: Our Educational Crossroads

University of Rochester’s David Hursh, PhD. Professor, Teaching and Curriculum, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Photographed February 26, 2016 // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

University of Rochester’s David Hursh, PhD. Professor, Teaching and Curriculum, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Photographed February 26, 2016 // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

Today’s blogger is Dr. David Hursh, Professor of Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester. He writes here to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Dr. Camille Anne Martina) in The Educational Forum.

In the United States, we are at a critical moment in society and schooling that demands our attention. Depending on who wins the upcoming elections, public schools may go in either of two directions. If the neoliberals win, schools may become increasingly privatized, as the support for and number of charter schools increase, and students and teachers will likely be subjected to intensified evaluation through standardized tests. Or, on the other hand, schooling could be redesigned to take advantage of what researchers have learned about supporting students’ thinking and the best ways to help students to tackle the crucial issues we face as a nation and global community. For example, schools could take the lead in preparing students to analyze the evidence regarding climate change, and to develop appropriate responses.

Schools could also become models for democratic citizenship and serve as resources for their communities.

In our article, “The End of Public Schools? Or a New Beginning?,” we show how philanthro-capitalists, non-governmental organizations, corporations, hedge fund managers, and state and federal commissioners of education promote a neoliberal way of thinking about the world that prioritizes individual entrepreneurship within a privatized market system. Readers of this blog will likely be familiar with a number of ways in which we see this at play in U.S. education today. Examples include the increase in the number of charter schools and voucher programs, and the constant portrayal of public schools and public school teachers as failing. The result of such influences is that teaching is transformed into following a script, and teaching becomes deprofessionalized as teachers lose protections including due process.

In response to these threats, we urge teachers to develop a new way of thinking about the world: one based on promoting equality, ending poverty, solving problems, creating community, and supporting one another.

We also suggest that teachers, parents, students, and university educators work together to show how critics of public schools misuse test scores and other data to inaccurately portray schools as failing. Teachers must be willing to enter the political process, work to prevent the end of public schools, and collaborate with their communities to transform schools into places where knowledge is created and shared with the aim of creating an equitable, democratic society.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Hursh and Dr. Martina’s article free with the education community through March 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

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Technology—The Great Equalizer?

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

I found the article about an autistic teenager who developed a friendship with Siri, the voice on his mother’s iPhone, both interesting and heartwarming. For children who struggle with social interactions, the discovery of a “person” who is always there when they need someone to talk to, and who is always patient and kind, may be life-changing. As the child’s mother noted in her reflections, continued conversations with Siri have led to real improvements in her son Gus’s ability to communicate with humans and to acquire some new social skills.

In a time when everywhere we look we see families or friends sitting around together with each hovering over his or her cell phone, the article reminds us of how technology, which can be isolating, can also connect and engage people with one another.

Children like Gus, who have access to both a technological device, like an iPhone, and a parent who recognizes the potential benefits of her child’s interaction with an intelligent assistant, have a significant advantage.

Unfortunately, while technology is often viewed as the great equalizer in educational settings, that perception isn’t entirely accurate. Will an increase in the number of laptops or tablets and Internet access really allow all students to benefit equally from what technology can offer? Figures from the 2014 Pew Research Internet Project Survey tell us that 90% of American adults own cell phones, while only 58% own smartphones. Smartphone adoption is highest among the affluent and well-educated. The substantial difference in the number of cell phones and smartphones is significant, because the smartphone is where so many of the exciting digital learning opportunities exist.

Just having access to technology isn’t going to magically level the playing field. In other words, if every child had access to a computer and smartphone, not every child would realize the same benefits and develop the same skills. In her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Annette Lareau contrasts the ways technology is used by children at home, based on the different parenting styles associated with socioeconomic status. Middle- and upper-class parents view their children as projects, and they continually invest time and resources to help develop their children into the best finished projects they can. They enroll them in organized activities, are involved in their schools, and engage them in discussions and questioning. Lower-income families don’t have these opportunities to offer their children. They have to work multiple jobs and use their limited resources for food and clothing for their children. There is little or no time and disposable income available for organized activities and traveling.

Given the challenges associated with poverty, lower-income parents often don’t have access to or the time available to model the use of technology as a learning tool in the same way as more affluent parents can.  There is a clear difference in how middle- and upper-income families and lower-income families think about technology and how they incorporate it into their lives and the lives of their children. Lower-income families look to technology as a means to stay connected with others, while middle- and upper-income children are encouraged to use it also for informal learning—gaining exposure to new ideas.

As school districts and the government consider funding for technology, our policymakers must understand that providing access to technology is just one part of helping all children to develop the skills necessary for the workplace. Addressing structural inequalities is another critical component in ensuring that all children benefit from access to technology. As educators, we want all children to benefit from the limitless information available through the Internet and the many ways technology can enrich their lives, including possible life-changing relationships with virtual assistants.

Facing Childhood Poverty in the Classroom

Laura Stelsel is director of marketing and communications at Kappa Delta Pi.School on Wheels postcard

Last week, KDP staff members attended a panel hosted by School on Wheels Indianapolis.The event, titled Beyond the Headlines: Be the Solution to Education Barriers, featured classroom educators, administrators, policy makers, physicians and social workers who have witnessed the impact of poverty and homelessness on school-aged children.

The panel tackled issues that I, as someone who has limited firsthand experience with childhood poverty, hadn’t considered, like:

  • The issue of identifying hidden homeless, those who camouflage themselves as to appear not homeless (high-school aged kids are especially savvy at this), or working homeless, those who are underemployed;
  • The physical health impact of shelter life on children —“toxic stress,” combined with improper nutrition and lack of personal space. Those factors can cause physical differences, like stunted height and weight, and even language delays; and
  • The emotional impact that the stress of keeping the secret of poverty can have on youth. It can cause anxiety, low self-esteem, and an unwillingness to connect with others, since their life is always in transition.

School on Wheels panelDustin Eckert, a local elementary school teacher on the panel, said that honesty and openness is key in building trust with families, and that support can really impact student success. If a family is comfortable, he makes home visits before and during the school year to develop personal relationships, and if a home visit isn’t an option, he schedules regular phone calls. He said it is important to never use poverty as an excuse to lower standards for the child, or they might, too. He shows parents that he is committed to being the difference maker in their child’s life.

It made me wonder, how else can educators, and I as a member of the community, support these youths and their families?

The panel had some fantastic recommendations

  • Ask, “How can I help?” Listen, understand their challenges, and be prepared with resources;
  • Educate yourself and become a community advocate;
  • Realize that legislators, even local school boards, can’t be experts on everything and they WANT to hear from you. Share the facts with them and let them know that this is an important issue.
  • Volunteer! Help teachers—they need it;
  • Work to prevent homelessness. If you see someone who needs help, help them, whether it be struggles with addiction, mental health resources, or just providing food and financial resources to support them; and, perhaps most importantly;
  • Start the conversation.

How about you? Does your school educate you on approaching or dealing with homeless issues? In your experience, what else can people do to support children in poverty situations?