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.

Helping College Students Navigate Financial Aid: The Dos and Don’ts

 

tichavakundaToday’s blogger is Antar Tichavakunda, doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and researcher in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Read his full article, “Perceptions of Financial Aid: Black Students at a Predominantly White Institution,” in The Educational Forum. Part 1 of his blog series can be found here.

The majority of college students, in one way or another, will come in contact with their school’s financial aid office.

Students and their families first become acquainted with financial aid as seniors in high school applying to colleges—meaning it’s important for secondary school educators to be aware of the process students are negotiating. They fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other documents to better understand how much college attendance will cost them.

Students will consider different types of loans, learn of their eligibility for grants or scholarships, and ultimately decide with their parents what school to attend and how they will fund attendance.

This is no simple task.

Researchers and policy makers cite the complexity of financial aid forms as an obstacle to college attendance.

But the financial aid process does not stop there.

Students who depend on financial aid keep up with deadlines, get tax documents from parents, and renew FAFSA on a yearly basis. As I explore in my article, the yearly financial aid process should not be taken for granted. While the focus of my paper is on Black students’ experiences and perceptions of financial aid at a predominantly White institution of higher education, a few takeaways apply to any student in higher education who depends on financial aid.

Here are some recommendations for high school counselors, financial aid officers, administrators, and anyone concerned with supporting students’ college experiences:

Do:

  • Encourage a proactive approach to financial aid—both for students and for the financial aid office staff. Students should be encouraged to ask questions, and the financial aid office should likewise reach out to students.
  • Encourage in-person interactions—students in my study suggested that going into the financial aid office, in person, was the most efficient mode of communication.
  • Encourage an understanding of web resources—students found the user-friendly, in-depth nature of the school’s financial aid website valuable in their experience with financial aid.

Don’t:

  • Assume financial aid literacy as a given—learning about financial aid is an ongoing process for many students, and all students, particularly those who may be the first in their families to attend college, may have knowledge gaps.
  • Assume that financial aid is only for parents—some students, even though they are still teenagers, are the ones entrusted with filling out their financial aid forms and collecting tax documents from their parents.
  • Assume that students of the same race have similar backgrounds—regardless of race, students have different experiences and upbringings. Even students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds might display different levels of financial aid acumen.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Antar Tichavakunda’s article with the education community for free through February 28, 2017.

Financial Aid in College: What Does Race Have to Do With It?

tichavakundaToday’s blogger is Antar Tichavakunda, doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and researcher in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Read his full article, “Perceptions of Financial Aid: Black Students at a Predominantly White Institution,” in The Educational Forum.

The scholarly work examining the complexities of Black students’ experiences at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) is expansive, but no prior research has studied these students’ interpretations of financial aid. The purpose of my study recently published in The Educational Forum was to address this research gap.

Why look at race and financial aid?

Student perceptions of financial aid are informed by more than socioeconomic status. The way Black students perceive financial aid may be affected by the campus climate of the schools they attend. Some scholars have argued that PWIs cater to White students and groups that assimilate with the majority population.

At a school where the Black student population is the small minority, their interactions and experiences with support services, such as financial aid, may be distinct from those of racial groups that make up the largest proportions of the student population. Financial aid policies may be well suited for the majority of the student population; with research, officials can determine whether these same policies work for smaller minority groups as well.

Based on the findings of my study, I suggest that the complexity of financial aid forms and a lack of outreach from the financial aid office may contribute to a stressful financial aid experience for many Black students relying on aid.

Understanding financial aid requires more than identifying the difference between a grant and a loan. Navigating financial aid as a college student requires more than turning in specific forms before certain dates. Ensuring that students correctly fill out their financial aid forms their first year may not be enough. Students busy with studying, socializing, and organizational involvement might benefit from more checking in from financial aid offices.

My research indicates that we can learn how to better support and reach Black students at PWIs so that they might make the best decisions about financial aid with less stress.

In the second part of this blog series I will highlight the “Dos and Don’ts” of supporting all college students in their interactions with financial aid.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Antar Tichavakunda’s article with the education community for free through February 28, 2017.

80 Years of The Educational Forum: Educational Research During Tumultuous Times

alan-amtzisToday’s blogger is Dr. Alan Amtzis, academic editor of The Educational Forum. He is Director of the Master of Education in Instruction Program at The College of New Jersey.            

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Educational Forum.

forumtitle2Out of curiosity, I returned to the first issue of The Educational Forum to see how we began and what educational research looked like in November 1936 as the planet perched on the brink of encroaching war, struggling against both worldwide depression and growing fascist threat.

Our first issue contained 10 articles, and not one author’s name was familiar to me now in 2016. That issue also included an editorial, a poem, and 20 pages of book reviews. The only reviewed book I’d ever heard of was Gone With the Wind—a book whose popularity is legendary, but whose contribution to educational research and practice rather eludes me.

As one of the academic editors of The Educational Forum, I admit to some pride about the direction that KDP and my coeditors (Tabitha Dell’Angelo and Ryan Flessner) have given to the journal.

In addition to theme issues on aesthetic education, sexuality and gender identity, and global citizenship, we have also offered guest-edited issues by such senior scholars as Michael Apple (“The Politics of Educational Reforms,” 2016), Pedro Noguera (“Racial Inequality and Education,” forthcoming in 2017), and Ana María Villegas (“Linguistically Diverse Classrooms,” forthcoming in 2018). In addition, we’ve published a wide array of research developed by emerging scholars, many of whom are still in their pre-tenure phase.

This combined range of experience and perspective offers our readers a substantial complement of the ideas that are important to users of educational research, as evidenced by the fact that many of our most cited articles have been published within the past 6 years.

Still, I can’t help wondering if these issues and names will be known to readers 80 years from now.

It’s an interesting and even challenging time right now to be the editor of an educational journal.

In fact, it’s an interesting and challenging time to be an educator.

Here at the close of 2016, we face what many feel is a pivotal moment in U.S. and world history, with challenges ahead we can only guess at. For me, this moment raises questions about the ability of educational research to not only reflect the interests of our readers, but also to influence and contribute to the world of education…and the world beyond the classroom.

Are there opportunities for our work at The Educational Forum to inform and even influence policy? Can we withstand the current storm to publish work that will be of interest to a new generation of educators?

Of course, these questions are difficult, at best, to answer and the outcomes may be impossible to predict, but the changes around us may prompt us to envision a kind of educational activism as part of our mission—one that might help the journal endure another 80 years.

 

When Worlds Collide: A Teacher Becomes an Administrator

mceachern_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. Kirstin Pesola McEachern, Curriculum and Instruction Director at The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read her full article, “Developing a Research Identity: Promoting a Research Mindset Among Faculty and Students” (coauthored by Dr. Jessica L. Horton), in The Educational Forum.

A few years ago, I moved to an administrative position at the private school at which I had been teaching high school English for more than 10 years.

I had long wanted to be in a position to change the problems I and other teachers lamented over in the lunchroom, but it wasn’t until the assistant principal role opened unexpectedly and others encouraged me that I threw my hat in the ring.

When the school announced my appointment, colleagues’ responses took one of two forms, sometimes both: delight that I was bringing my teaching experience to the job, and disappointment that I was joining “the dark side”—the place where administrators forget what teaching is all about and make decisions that leave faculty scratching their heads. 

mceachern_photo_mugFellow teachers even gifted me with a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head, which still sits in my office.

Some might have perceived this change as abandoning one world in favor of another.

However, such transitions often grant us opportunities to draw from past experience to improve our future practice.

While teaching, I had gone back to school for my master’s and doctorate degrees, and being a student again made me a better teacher. My classroom assignments were more intentional, as I didn’t want my students questioning a lesson’s purpose like I sometimes did in the courses I took. My methods were more varied, as I was learning new approaches from my professors. And I better understood the realities of being a student with seemingly impossible homework loads and teachers who thought their class was the only content occupying my headspace.

Much like being a student made me a better teacher, being a teacher made me a better administrator because I knew firsthand the implications for the decisions I made.

For instance, as a teacher of freshmen, I believed the timeframe in which I had to recommend their level for sophomore year was too short; students often didn’t hit their stride until after Christmas, yet I had to decide whether they were honors material when half the year was still ahead of us. As a teacher, I did my best and crossed my fingers, but as an administrator, that deadline was one of the first policy changes I made—much to the satisfaction of my colleagues.

Another important transition I had to negotiate when becoming an administrator was what it meant for my identity as a researcher of my own practice. Did I have to give that up? As I describe in my article in The Educational Forum, teacher research was an empowering force when I was in the classroom, and encouraging teachers at my school to embrace a research mindset remains a passion of mine as an administrator. It requires cultivating a culture of trust and risk-taking, and doing so communicates to faculty that administrators understand and respect their teachers’ knowledge and contributions to the larger learning community.

My identities as a teacher and researcher strengthen my work as an administrator, and I remain confident that others can find similar benefits when facing transitions between what might appear, at first, to be different worlds.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. McEachern and Dr. Horton’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2016. Read the full article here.

Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 2

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

As I described in the first part of this blog series, I embarked on a teacher research project to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure in their classes.

I initially asked students about their experience of teacher disclosure with their current teacher—i.e., me. I asked it almost as a baseline; I knew I didn’t disclose much, and especially not regarding topics like abortion and the death penalty, which I asked about specifically in the survey. To my astonishment and consternation, about 40% of students thought I disclosed my personal opinion about these topics, alongside other, more curricularly relevant ones.

As I began to interview students about this specific finding, I realized that the underlying issue was that they couldn’t accurately determine disclosure. In other words, they had difficulty distinguishing between my general discussion of a topic and my opinion of it. For example, when I mentioned that soldiers during WWII were often lonely, one student I interviewed explained to me that that was me disclosing my opinion because it had to do with feelings.

One of the fundamental aspects of teaching history is how teachers communicate information and how students engage with and comprehend that information. It is vitally important that classrooms aren’t just spaces for indoctrination. But at the same time, to “objectively” present information is still presenting a certain perspective—all too often, a white-washed, androcentric, heteronormative one.

This conundrum takes center stage right now, as campaign season kicks into high gear and we confront the challenge of teaching about an election wholly unlike any other.

Now, this issue of teacher disclosure becomes important in a different way—it’s not just about our opinions of certain candidates and their positions. Added to that great challenge is how to answer questions that resonate with students on a more personal level.

How do teachers respond when students ask them how they feel about deportation, and the teachers know they have undocumented students in the class? What about questions surrounding marriage equality, when teachers know they have gay students in the class? For many of us, these are issues of basic human rights. But that’s our belief, our opinion—and some students and parents may disagree strongly.

I wish I had more concrete answers, but as with much of our job, they’re hard to find. My biggest takeaway from this study, and what I’ve been trying to keep in the back of my mind since I conducted it, is to be aware. Be aware of the students in my classes, their reactions to what I say, what word choices I make, what topics I present as “fact,” and what topics I present as “perspective.”

And perhaps most importantly, be aware that even if I think I know how students received a piece of information from me, I don’t—not until they’ve really made their thinking visible, so that we can start to have a more nuanced and thoughtful conversation.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Ms. Sequenzia and Dr. Martell’s article free with the education community through October 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

 

Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 1

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

Teaching high school history means being prepared for questions about my opinion on any number of topics, from the merits of imperialism to the effectiveness of Reaganomics to Deflategate.

I love that aspect of my job; I feel it’s my responsibility to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and engaged enough to ask these questions.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to know how to answer them.

Teachers walk a fine line between the public and the private; the very essence of our job is performed entirely in front of an audience, yet we’re supposed to be objective disseminators of information, teaching skills and facts.

This situation becomes even more complicated when students ask questions about how we feel, and what we think. I thought about this issue often, but it wasn’t until I took a course on teacher research that I had the opportunity to examine it in a more deliberate way. Simply put, teacher research is about teachers reflecting on, studying, and modifying their classroom practice. Effective teachers do this already; teacher researchers do it in a more systematic way. The course was designed around research questions that we would generate and then study in our own classrooms.

With the aforementioned issues weighing on me, I decided to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure (i.e., how much of one’s personal opinion is shared) in class. This is a tricky subject to negotiate under normal circumstances, and it becomes even more difficult, and relevant, during an election season.

Read my article (free through October) and learn more about teacher research in the current special issue of The Educational Forum, “Teaching and Learning Teacher Research.”

In Part 2 of this blog series, Ms. Sequenzia will describe her research project on teacher disclosure. Stay Tuned!