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.

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.

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.

Research from The Educational Forum: A Call for Teacher Support of Art

Dr. Jodi Patterson is an art educator who wrote a paper for The Educational Forum titled “Too Important to Quit: A Call for Teacher Support of Art.” The essay is largely based on her experience teaching an undergraduate course called “Art for the Elementary Teacher,” a required methods course for education majors to earn their teacher certification in Washington state. A variety of students—including science, physical education, and math majors, not just art majors—take her course.

When Dr. Patterson first interviewed for her position, the department chair asked Jodi a key question…

The chairwoman asked me, “What is the most important thing you think your general education students should learn from taking an art methods course?”  

I replied, “I believe the most important thing a general education teacher should take away from my art class is an understanding that much of what they think they know about creativity and their personal art-making abilities is wrong.”

I elaborated on my answer, stating that many people believe humans are either born to be artists or not, or seem to think people are either creative or not. I offered a few key facts, something along the lines of how the workforce demands skills that cannot be outsourced, neuroscience backs up claims that the arts help with cognition in general, and drawing is a skill that can be taught. Then I ensured the committee that I would work hard to debunk art and creativity myths by providing them with concrete examples of what I would teach non-art students, including how to carefully observe the world so they can draw it, how to expand their notion of creativity from mere self-expression to include branches of interdisciplinary innovation, and thus, how to recognize the ways art can be harnessed to enhance both teaching and learning.

My answer to the “most important thing” question was a line in the sand. It was a promise that future teachers would have an opportunity to realize art’s power firsthand if they studied education at our university, and reinforced my desire to take the position.

The “most important thing” question was vital for another reason: It provided me with a focus. Sometimes the teaching profession gets hectic, passion gets diffused, and repetition of content can feel burdensome. But a simple mantra can help fortify convictions and serve as a basic reminder of why we teach. In this case, the department chair’s question framed my mantra: Authentic experience can obliterate fallacy. Such fallacy is propagated in and by our current educational system:

  1. Most young children emphatically enjoy engaging with the visual arts.
  2. Most teens quit art.
  3. Some teens who quit art become the teachers of young children who enjoy art (but as teachers are largely afraid to effectively employ art in their classrooms).

Future teachers need to be exposed to authentic art experiences to help obliterate this creative-crisis cycle. With all of the promises the visual arts bring to education, the specialized art teacher cannot do it alone. I fully realize such a statement is disruptive to both my field of art education and the educational system itself, so I took pains to outline my declaration in The Educational Forum. In reality, teachers don’t need published academic papers to clue them in to the benefits of art. We (the teachers) already stock our classrooms with art supplies because we know students enjoy using them. But what if we expanded art’s offering beyond paint and crayons? What if we believed in the power of active versus passive observation? What if we collectively encouraged divergent thinking over exalting the one right answer? Or if we all believed artistic skills could be taught, honed, and assessed just as readings skills can be? What if we understood the reading of both images and text to be equally vital skills for generations of digital natives? Could we obliterate the pubescent creative-crisis by being confident mentors who modeled, taught, and encouraged artistic behavior? How about instead of saying “I can’t,” we all said “I am learning”? How liberating would it be to the delicate psyche of humans to not feel self-defeated when confronted with trial and error opportunities—to have the confidence to practice, err, and re-invent? These are just some of the things the visual arts teach us.

The field of visual art must release itself from its specialized stronghold. Art is not exclusive unto itself, but rather inclusive to nearly all forms of human existence. If we hone generations of humans who are fierce warriors of mark-making, aesthetic up-taking, and divergent think-tanking, then together we can create a world of humans who, as Edmund Feldman coined it, become “human through art.” Art has the power to make this and many more beneficial promises so, but it needs a collective force to make it be.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Patterson’s essay free with the education community through August 31, 2017. Read the full article here.

Research from The Educational Forum: E Pluribus Unum: Mohawk Indian Students’ Views Regarding the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

Today’s blogger is Dr. Leisa Martin, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at The University of Texas at Arlington. She writes here about research recently published in an article (co-authored with Dr. Glenn Lauzon, Dr. Matthew Benus, and Mr. Pete Livas Jr.) in The Educational Forum.

The main purpose of schools is to prepare youth for citizenship in our democratic society, and schools offer an opportunity to reach youth across the nation over an extended period of time.

To promote loyalty and love for the United States, Francis Bellamy, the author of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, and James Upham, the creator of the Pledge salute, partnered with the U.S. government and school superintendents across the country to host the first nationwide Pledge of Allegiance recitation in October 1892. Over the years, the Pledge has become a school tradition. But are today’s diverse youth still choosing to embrace this time-honored practice?

Our study took place in the northeastern United States with 191 high school students, of whom 88 were Akwesasne Mohawks, 80 were European Americans, and 23 who classified themselves as Other. Via two open-ended survey questions, we asked the following: 1) While the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited, do you say it? Why or why not? 2) What do you think about while the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited? Following the surveys, to obtain clarification, we led 25 follow-up interviews. We analyzed the data using the constant comparative method to obtain response categories, and then, we used chi-square tests to learn if statistically significant differences existed between the ethnic groups.

Overall, 68.6% of the participants reported that they do not recite the Pledge, and the chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawks and the students who classified themselves as Other were less inclined to recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance than their European American classmates. With respect to the participants’ rationales, chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to give no reason or a limited reason for not participating in the Pledge compared to the European Americans and the students who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “No, because I don’t want to.” Also, chi-square analysis indicated that the Mohawks and the European Americans were more apt to cite their status as a Mohawk, a Native American, or tradition as their reasons for reciting or not reciting the Pledge than students who classified themselves as Other. A Mohawk student stated, “My Dad always taught me that when you’re Native, don’t stay [show allegiance] to one country. Stay to your people. I feel like [the Pledge] contradicts what he always told me.” In addition, the chi-square showed that European Americans and students who classified themselves as Other cited peer conformity more often than the Mohawk students. For instance, a European American wrote, “Sometimes. I would feel out of place if I did because no one else (except teachers) recites it.”

With respect to their thoughts during the Pledge, the chi-square revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to have thoughts of dislike about the Pledge compared to their European American peers and their peers who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “I don’t really care for it. I don’t listen to it. I ignore it.” In addition, the chi-square tests indicated the Mohawk students were less disposed to have patriotic thoughts during the Pledge of Allegiance compared to classmates who were European Americans or who classified themselves as Other.

U.S. schools were developed to socialize students. In my previous research with primarily European American and African American high school students (Martin, 2012), the students generally expressed positive views about the Pledge. Similarly, in a study with students of unspecified race/ethnicity (Parker, 2007), students accepted the Pledge and saw it as a normal part of life with very little need for critical reflection. However, socialization via the schools is not an automatic process; traditions from the past may change in the present. For example, in our study, 68.6% of our participants chose to reject the Pledge and its underlying call for e pluribus unum. Because U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse, future research offers an opportunity to examine attitudes about the Pledge on a national level.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Martin’s article free with the education community through July 31, 2017.  Read the full article here.

Research from The Educational Forum: Orienting Schools Toward Equity

Today’s blogger is Rachel Garver, a doctoral candidate in Teaching and Learning at New York University. She writes here about her research on racial and economic inequality, school segregation, and policy implementation recently published in The Educational Forum.

For the last two decades, the United States has pursued educational equity by holding schools accountable for the comparative outcomes of student subgroups.  

Subgroup accountability, part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its 2001 reauthorization, requires states to identify and intervene in schools where the progress of student subgroups based on race, economic disadvantage, or English proficiency is lagging. Cited schools must show improvement for the subgroups identified by the state or they will face a series of increasingly severe sanctions.

Research on subgroup accountability pressure is mixed. In some cases, the subgroups cited by the state show progress in subsequent years and in other cases there was no effect.

The promise of subgroup accountability pressure to promote equity relies on the process of policy implementation in schools. How school-based actors interpret and enact mandates determines the form in which policy interventions reach students and thereby impacts outcomes.

I utilize an ethnographic case study of Germaine Middle School (pseudonym) to explore the means through which subgroup accountability pressure oriented the school toward equity and, more specifically, toward the student subgroups cited by the state—if at all.

I find that subgroup accountability pressure encouraged Germaine to focus on their achievement gaps in general, but did not lead to targeted interventions for the state-identified student subgroups.

Why did the school’s citation hold little weight in the day-to-day practices at Germaine? A lack of transparency in the state’s calculations, a lack of faith in the state exams and test scores used to identify cited schools, and ethical concerns with using accountability data to inform instructional and curricular reforms delegitimized the state’s determinations in the eyes of Germaine’s staff members. School-based understandings of which student subgroups were most in need drove Germaine’s equity work, instead of subgroup accountability pressure. However, district administrators insisted that Germaine align its compliance practices with the state findings and measures, even if they were symbolic and irrelevant to classroom practice.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal policy has played an important role in equalizing educational opportunity for marginalized student groups across the wide variance in state politics and practices. The promise of subgroup accountability to promote equity in schools is dependent on how it is received and implemented by state, district, and school actors. For subgroup accountability to fulfill its intentions, citations need to be delivered to schools with greater transparency. Moreover, districts, as intermediaries between the state and schools, must support schools in responding to citations in ways that prioritize equity over state compliance pressures.

Research from The Educational Forum: Urban America and the Future of Schools

Today’s blogger is Dr. Kfir Mordechay, social science research consultant with The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He writes here about research recently published in an article (co-authored by Dr. Gary Orfield) in The Educational Forum.

For almost two centuries after the first official census in 1790, the United States was between 80 and 90 percent White.

Now the United States is on a path toward a demographic diversity never experienced by any nation.

In 2013 we hit a tipping point, where for the first time in the nation’s history most of the babies born were members of minority groups. This means that today’s young Latinx, Black, and Asian toddlers will quickly become the country’s majority.

As the demographic landscape of the country continues to shift, it is our great metropolitan areas that are fueling the transition to a majority-minority country.

It is in these densely populated areas that we find the most profound demographic shifts. Already, in 36 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, newborns have surpassed the majority-minority threshold. And in the country’s largest cities and their urbanized areas of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, 2 out of 3 toddlers are nonwhite.

These toddlers, who will soon grow to be school-age children, come from groups that tend to underperform educationally. This raises questions about how the nation’s schools are preparing the next generation to participate productively in an increasingly competitive global economy.

On average nationwide, these students attend schools that are segregated by race and class, with fewer educational resources such as teacher quality and experience, which could negatively impact their educational achievement.

In 1990, 7 out of 10 school-aged children were White—but today, that number is less than 1 in 2. Educators and policy makers must consider all possible strategies to improve the educational outcomes for this new and diverse majority of American students—a majority that is overwhelmingly concentrated in the nation’s metro regions and whose success is inextricably linked to the future economic prosperity of the nation.

Although the shift in the nation’s racial and ethnic makeup poses imperative challenges for the country’s public schools and society at large, this ongoing diversity explosion should be greeted with optimism because of the opportunities it presents for revitalizing our country, energizing our labor force, and providing greater connectivity to the global economy.

But there is a danger in continuing to pursue the dominant reform models of high-stakes testing and charter schools to address the needs of the nation’s rapidly growing minority groups. This means we must find workable solutions that offer these students more access to better schools.

In thinking about these solutions, it is especially important to keep in mind the range of metropolitan community contexts. In our article, Gary Orfield and I argue that achieving such solutions will require thinking creatively about policies that link housing and schools.

We call for expanding federal housing and urban development programs to create more economically integrative housing, creating more magnet school programs with guidelines and strategies for racial diversity, and putting similar requirements on charter schools.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Mordechay and Dr. Orfield’s article free with the education community through May 31, 2017.  Read the full article here.