Racing to the Top and Leaving the Impoverished at the Bottom

dollar eyePoverty cripples societal advancement. When prevalent in the richest nation in the world, it becomes mindboggling. Why are so many individuals struggling under the weight of poverty in America? Why is nearly 1 in every 4 children considered impoverished in this land of Race to the Top? Are we racing to the top of the wrong metric?

 My hat goes off to the many families who are pushing their children to aim higher than the constraints of their impoverished surroundings. As members in a society, we share their challenges too, even if we turn a blind eye.

During an interview with CNN, actor Jeff Bridges and “Share our Strength” founder Bill Shore, express why poverty, child poverty specifically, is our responsibility; “If we’re not taking care of our kids, we’re not taking care of our country. If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.”

relative-child-povertyIn a post titled, “Map: How 35 Countries Compare on Child Poverty,” the Washington Post reports, “A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line.” Out of the 35 countries examined, America ranked 34th.

Mind you, In this study, UNICEF is using its own “poverty line.” Internationally, poverty is defined as families living on less than $1.25 or $2.00 per day, and as much as we grumble about how little we are paid, no gainfully and legally employed American is limited to these lowly amounts. (But in the shadows? That’s another story.) In America, poverty is defined as families living on less than about $22,000 per year.

Because of such huge gaps between developed countries’ internal economies, UNICEF instead measures how much poorer children are from their country’s national average.

“The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the ‘child poverty gap,’ which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.”

Again, from the Post, “The picture (in the U.S.) looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall.”

What are we doing, America? And what should we be doing more of?

Eric Jensons, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” provides insight into the weight of these children’s challenges. He highlights four major risk factors that, because of economic hardship, burden the developing child and hamper student achievement.

E = Emotional and Social Challenges

A = Acute and Chronic Stress

C = Cognitive Lags

H = Health and Safety Issues

This may explain why many of our students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience difficulties performing in their classrooms. Unfortunately the direction educational policy is headed (as well meaning as it may be) is unjust, unequal, and unapologetic for learners outside of more affluent communities. If a student doesn’t make the mark, they are tracked to remediation or retention in attempts to correct their academic deficits rather than build on their strengths!

Show me a dropout who complained about not getting tested enough, and I’ll show a dropout that never dropped out. The truth is, how often do we hear about students dropping out because they felt the system spent too little time focused on their deficits? How many were exasperated with the focus on their strengths? Is this “leave no deficits behind” approach really attending to their needs and cultivating their interests? Clearly not.

However, while schools, school systems, and educational policy makers can play a role in transforming practices to meet the needs of these learners, we as a larger society have a role to play as well. We, the people, need to stand up to demand that the promissory note that MLK, Jr. referred to way back in ‘63 be delivered upon, because it is clear that we are, as a nation, are still defaulting on that promise.

Again, from the Post: “The poor U.S. showing in this data may reflect growing income inequality. According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world.”

(What would MLK have to say about that, I wonder?)

Until such time that we fully, tactically and strategically engage in the war on poverty, we must focus where we can — on the students, children, and learners in our charge. Their voice, their dreams, their empowerment must be our first and foremost goal.  But how?

The 2007 Dispelling the Myth Award winners, Osmond A. Church P.S./M.S. 124 K-8 School, have done a remarkable job in breaking down those barriers.  Recognized for significantly raising students academic achievement, their dedication to these young minds is reflected in their success. With an enrollment total of about 1,227 students; 97% are low-income, 33% African American, 44% Asian and 21% are Hispanic, educators were able to provoke a lasting change. What once had dismissed this school, because of their high achievers awarded them much acclaim. Perhaps this school’s mission is responsible for their turnaround; “to inculcate all members of the school community with an understanding and acceptance of diversity, fostering individuality and creativity, where high expectations are the norm for all students.”

Yet we know a well crafted mission isn’t enough. Without the leadership and vision to pursue it relentlessly, such a mission is an empty platitude rather than a way out of poverty. If we want to actualize the talking point that education is a pathway out of poverty we must focus on four things:

1. Leadership.

2. Equity.

3. Cradle to college rap-around services.

4. Sustaining educator engagement.

And even these offer no guarantees without a larger effort to break the status quo of inequality. And judging by where we fall in a comparison of developed nations, our leaders seem abysmally disinterested in racing to the top of that metric.

So, for now, education offers our best hope for affecting change and breaking the predictive cycle of race, class, and gender on educational outcomes. So, bring along your copy of Jenson’s work and lets get to work.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc
Graph: WashingtonPost

18 Myths of Education (Infographic)

Below is a provocative infographic from Open Colleges, an online university in Australia.

What do you think about these? Agree? Disagree? Little bit of both? Share your thoughts in the comments.

<img alt="" src="http://informed.s3.amazonaws.com/informed/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/600px_final the original source.jpg” />

An Infographic by Open Colleges

Share

To Break the Mold, Is Competency Learning the Key?

This piece was first published at Mindshift KQED and was written by Katrina Schwartz. It is reposted here with permission of Mindshift.  

batch-and-queue

More schools are starting to question whether traditional age-based classrooms are the best way to go, and to change the dynamic of teaching to the middle, they’re experimenting withcompetency-based learning, a system that moves kids along at different paces once they’ve shown they can grasp a key concept of a unit.

Kim Carter, executive director of QED Foundation, is a big supporter of competency-based learning.

“The choice is, do we want an education system that’s obsolete or do we want a system that is valued and creates value,” Carter said. The foundation offers training, coaching and consulting that focuses on student agency, as well as communities of collaboration both inside and outside school. Eventually, she says, that pace should be negotiated, with the student gradually taking over more responsibility for her learning.

Competency-based education is gaining momentum across the country. Already New Hampshire and Maine schools have transitioned to the model. Schools in Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and many other states are following suit. The Common Core State Standards are also pointing in the direction of requiring competency rather than just a passing grade. Though Carter says the language of the Common Core favors performance-based assessments — students will have to show what they can do — she thinks it’s unfortunate that a test will measure the learning, because at best, a test approximates meaningful assessment, but does not demonstrate real-world application of knowledge.

“The standardized tests that allow us to compare across states tell us nothing about the individual,” Carter said. “They were not designed to tell us anything about the individual; they are designed to measure the effectiveness of programs. That’s a very different thing.”

If learning becomes more personalized, tests should too. “The whole idea of competency is the ability to apply, document, and defend your learning,” Carter said. She proposes that schools use a common rubric to assess “uncommon learning.” In other words, she proposes teachers need to be strict in their expectations and required criteria, but more flexible in terms of how a student gets there. Students don’t all have to read the same book or create the same project, but they do have to demonstrate that they understand and can use the core competencies.

If a student gets 50 percent in a class in a traditional school, she fails and has to repeat the course or grade level until she scores higher, even if the score means that she understood half the material. Forcing her to repeat everything is inefficient and puts the student at a disadvantage for the rest of her academic career. In competency-based classrooms, students relearn and demonstrate competencies in only the areas that challenge them before moving forward.

“‘Batch and queue’ is horribly inefficient and destroys kids’ concept of self,” Carter said. “It’s likemanufacturing, where you put everything through the same system and compare it to standards at the end. If it doesn’t match, put it through again.”

CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION

Shifting to a truly competency-based system means big changes for schools and would produce a ripple effect. “If you are truly going to go competency based and not just have a veneer of change, it will require retooling our systems,” said Carter.

Teacher training tailored to a competency-based education system is still one of the biggest hurdles. Many training courses have been the same for decades and don’t reflect some of the changing trends in education, Carter said. Successfully implementing a competency-based system is no easy feat — it means valuing what a child can demonstrate he knows, rather than assuming a correctly answered test question signifies he can apply that knowledge.

“Competency-based education is a huge shift, not just in terms of actual practices, or what we do in the classroom, or how we document what happens in the classroom, but a change in what we believe,” Carter said. And teachers need to act their way into believing, they can’t just be told to do it. She points to nursing or other higher education programs that ensure graduates have the basic skills and competencies before they can progress as good models to follow.

The other big barrier is teacher evaluations. Right now teachers are assessed by how well students do on a test. But understanding how well a student really knows the material should take more than that, just as teacher assessments should be based on more data points, Carter said. Teachers and students are trapped in the same system, one that is at odds with competency-based models.

“Our whole evaluation system is pretty young in the sense that we have only a few rudimentary means of assessing what students know,” Carter said.

Ultimately, teachers need to be trained and supported in the same way as students. And for both groups the standards have to mean something. Carter fears that if the education system continues as it has been, it will not only be obsolete, it will provide diplomas that have little validity.

Image: Mike 1952 via Flickr cc

Stop Deficit-Model Thinking

6669118879_7ba96e646b_b

This is a guest post by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA. This post was originally published on Chris’s site, Practical Theory.

A few years ago, a vendor for one of the many online tutorial companies was giving a presentation at a principals’ meeting. The vendor was talking about how students could work independently and teachers could get an instant report of all of their deficits.

I raised my hand.

“Does your software have a joy report?”

“Excuse me?”

“How about a passion report? Is there anything in your software that tells me what my students enjoy or are passionate about or are even really good at?”

The conversation didn’t go well from there.

Whether we are talking about students or schools, too much of the conversation about education deals with fixing what is broken. There is article after article about all the weaknesses our students have, where we fall on the international tests, or what schools did not make AYP, or at perhaps the most cruel – which teacher ranked lowest in Los Angeles — an article that may have resulted in a teacher’s suicide. (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/local/la-me-south-gate-teacher-20100928)

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at.

We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. We have created a public environment where “reforms” label schools as failing without ever stepping foot in them on the basis of one metric.

This has to stop.

And it has to stop, not because we should accept the current educational landscapes as the best we can hope for, but because the “fix what is broken” model is getting in the way of the evolution we need.

If we want kids to care about their education, we are going to have to encourage their passions.

If we want kids to believe in themselves, we will have to help them build on their strengths, not just mitigate their weaknesses.

If we want parents to believe that we see the best in their children, we have to remember to reach out, not just when something bad happens, but when something good happens too.

And if we are to ask students and teachers and communities to dream big about what they want the future of school to be, we have to ask them to take risks. We have to ask them to see beyond their current structures to envision the possible.

Deficit-model thinking will never get us there.

Yes, we need to make sure that we help kids to mitigate their weaknesses. Yes, we need to make sure that schools are doing right by the kids they teach. But we must do that without creating an environment – in schools and about schools – that makes all of us in school think the worst of ourselves. 

Photo Credit: .:AnnetteB:. via Compfight cc

Narrowing the Digital Divide Between High and Low Income Students

No-Cell-Phone-Sign-S-4979In a recent post at KQED/Mindshift, Tina Barseghian reports on the work of Michael Mills, a professor of Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Arkansas, who advocates for closing the digital divide between high and low income students.  He argues that increasing access to digital devices can play a role in empowering low income students by opening pathways to information and social media, and by proxy, achievement. Ms. Barseghian cites a recent study reported at Mashable that demonstrated a 30% increase in test scores for low income students who were allowed to use mobile devices for learning and collaborating.

However, access and usage in schools vary along economic lines. The higher the income of the student body, the greater the availability and application of digital tools. Dr. Mills argues that this trend could be a matter of expectations and perhaps even “blatant racism” in the form of adults assuming that low income (read as minority) students will misuse digital domains. Ms. Barseghian quotes him as saying,

Access is a basic right. It’s the same as roads or clean water or electricity. Those are [accessible] here in this country because we expect it. The same thing should apply to the Internet. The Internet is about empowerment. If we take away this access because we think certain people aren’t going to use it right, we’re no better than governments who take away voting rights from minorities.

Ms. Barseghian goes on to provide a list of 11 ways that Dr. Mills suggests educators can work to narrow the divide.

HOW TO NARROW THE DIVIDE

For educators who want to start chipping away at the divide, Mills listed a number of ways.

1.   GIVE STUDENTS ACCESS.
Many Title 1 schools — those in low-income communities — receive funds and grants, but don’t always buy what they need. If they have enough funds, Mills said schools should invest in a 1-1 program — a device for every student.

2.   GIVE STUDENTS PROMPTS

Whether it’s the school that provides the device, or whether students are allowed to use their own, it’s important to give them guidance on how to use those devices for learning. “Students do not generally use their personal technology for learning activities unprompted,” he said. “We have to provide them with prompts.”

Educators should also be instrumental in guiding student etiquette with devices. For students who use text-speak and shorthand when handing in assignments, teachers can ask them to proofread and resend until the assignments are up to par. “We can teach them to use mobile literacy to help themselves,” he said.

3.   PROVIDE INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVES.
“We need to think about what we are teaching,” Mills said. “This is not technology — this is Pedagogy 101.” Educators must understand the dotted line between an assigned activity and the instructional objective, which should be tied to learning skills.

4.   MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE.
Just giving kids a number where they can reach you has “exponential impact,” Mills said. “Just that small gesture tells kids you’re available.” For those who don’t feel comfortable giving students their phone numbers, Mills suggests using a Google voice account, which students can call and leave messages.

5.   INVITE OBSERVERS TO YOUR MOBILE ENHANCED CLASS.
Parents, other teachers, and administrators will learn a lot from watching how kids can plug into learning by using their devices. During their visits, talk about the upward trajectory of kids you’ve noticed who have benefited from the change.

6.   INVENTORY THE DEVICES.
Keep track of who owns what kind of device (especially after the holidays when kids receive new ones). This way, you can create flexible, shifting groups to make sure there’s a good variety of devices in every group. Don’t place all the iPhone 5 users in one group — mix them up to promote equity.

7.   USE DISCRETION.
Be careful not to publicly call out kids who don’t have a device when organizing groups. Use common sense and compassion.

8.   USE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE.
If the school has 10 Kindles, find ways to use them in your class. If it has six iPods or 30 computers, don’t let them collect dust. Even the oldest computers can be fired up for basic research.

9.   REFRAME PRODUCTIVITY.
Sitting quietly doesn’t exemplify productivity, Mills said. If you have flexible processes, you can give students different ways of understanding.

10.   TEACH PROCESS NOT CONTENT.
All educators, but especially those who teach low-income students, need to be open to students’ ideas of showing what they’ve learned. If they don’t want to write a blog, but want to create a video, be open to it.

11.   VALUE COLLABORATION.
Promote group work and project based learning.

While these can make a difference at a classroom and school level, what can we do on a larger societal level to change the game for low income students when it comes to digital access and technological empowerment?

Image: SmartSigns

 

5 Steps to Overhaul Teaching

Once again, Columbia University professor, Christopher Emdin, puts forth a rapid fire and common sense proposal for rethinking urban — and really ANY — education to ensure it is student focused, relevant, and purposefully engaging.

The basis of this video: Reality pedagogy which is, “Teaching based on the reality of the student’s experience.”

5 C’s of Reality Pedagogy:

  1. The Cypher (or Co-genitive Dialogue)
  2. Co-Teaching
  3. Cosmopolitanism
  4. Context
  5. Content

(Notice that content is last. Students need to know that they come first if there is to be any meaningful delivery of content.)

This post is a part of our series based on our Transformative Learning Model. This piece relates to Student Investment, Context for Learning, Culture, Personalization, and Academic Access.

10 Steps to Equity in Education

DiversityThe Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which works to “promote the policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world,” published a Policy Briefing titled, “Ten Steps to Equity in Education.” The briefing (which you can read in its entirety here) lays out some of the basic policies necessary for achieving equity in education, as well as some fundamental elements of equity.

For example, the briefing explains two dimensions essential to equity in education:

  1. Fairness — defined as making sure that personal and social circumstances – for example gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin – should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential

  2. Inclusion — defined as ensuring a basic minimum standard of education for all – for example that everyone should be able to read, write and do simple arithmetic.

OECD SES Related Math Disparities OECD Struggle in ReadingThe briefing goes on to provide two charts (on the left, click to view larger versions) outlining the state of equity as reflected in achievement in math and reading. The statistics are truly sobering. For example, in the US, a student from a low SES (socio economic status) background is nearly 4 times as likely to have low math achievement as a student from a high SES background. The eye opener is that such disparity is not consistent around the globe. For example, in Iceland, a student from a low SES background is “only” twice as like to have lower math achievement than a peer with a high SES background.

So why the difference?

Proponents for pursuing equity in education suggest such disparity is a matter of policy and practice aimed at achieving fairness and inclusion. (Perhaps the yawning gap between policies that achieve fairness and inclusiveness in practice and those that don’t is the “achievement gap” we should actually be talking about.)

Below are OECD’s “10 Steps to Equity in Education” that provide something of a roadmap for achieving equity. As you read the below list, you’ll notice recommendations that are in direct conflict with current ed policy practices and some that are altogether absent from our current edu-discourse. These 10 steps may provide a big picture litmus test for looking at policies being proposed, passed and implemented at both state and federal levels.

10 Steps to Equity in Education

Design

1. Limit early tracking and streaming and postpone academic selection.

2. Manage school choice so as to contain the risks to equity.

3. In upper secondary education, provide attractive alternatives, remove dead ends and prevent dropout.

4. Offer second chances to gain from education.

Practices

5. Identify and provide systematic help to those who fall behind at school and reduce year repetition.

6. Strengthen the links between school and home to help disadvantaged parents help their children to learn.

7. Respond to diversity and provide for the successful inclusion of migrants and minorities within mainstream education.

Resourcing

8. Provide strong education for all, giving priority to early childhood provision and basic schooling.

9. Direct resources to the students with the greatest needs.

10. Set concrete targets for more equity, particularly related to low school attainment and dropouts.

Image: monosodium via Morgue File
Graphs from OECD’s Policy Briefing — “10 Steps to Equity in Education” 

 

Schoolhouse vs Jailhouse Infographic

The schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline continues to plague our society. The causes for the criminalization of our youth are many, complex, and solvable. Whether we are transforming norms in our schools or implementing larger social justice policies, we must engage students in ways that build their strengths, confidence, and overall well-being. A good place to start is by dialoguing about equity, racial justice, and restorative discipline practices.

Take a look at the infographic by Jason Killinger below. While some of the stats are Philadelphia and Pennsylvania-centric, the overall picture it paints is enough to indicate we need to rethink our approach to providing opportunities for our students.

Be sure to click on the links under the infographic for more information about disrupting this cycle.

Education-vs-Incarceration-infographic

ACLU’s School to Prison Pipeline: Talking Points

New York Times article titled, “Black Students Face More Harsh Discipline, Data Suggests

The Answer Sheet’s post on Closing the school-to-prison pipeline

Professor of Law and Director of Racial Justice Project at New York Law School, Deborah N. Archer’s piece in New York Law School Review, Vol 54.

The Power of Outrospection

Conflict: It Won't Stop Until We TalkRoman Krznaric’s website describes him as “a cultural thinker and writer.” He speaks on a range of topics including “empathy, the history of love, the future of work, and the art of living.”

His 15-minute talk outlining elements of his book, “How to Find Fulfilling Work,” offers this bit of Aristotle wisdom:

Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.

Capitalizing on such wisdom though, requires two requisite skills: 1. Ability to see and comprehend the needs of the world, and 2. Knowing one’s strengths, affinities, and talents. Toward the latter we advocate for increasing metacognition as central to empowering learners.

The former, Dr. Krznaric targets in his persuasive “The Power of Outrospection” talk. Below is the must watch RSA Animation of this talk in which he advocates for increasing empathy — for individuals and society.

He unpacks . . .

“a revolution of human relationships . . .”

“empathizing in both space and time . . .”

“scaling up empathy . . .”

and “expanding our empathetic imaginations.”

This reframing of how we look at each other and make sense of the world offers a compelling juxtaposition to the fact and test heavy approach to education currently sweeping the nation. It offers a contextual foundation from which to transform education.

Before embracing or rejecting education policy ideas, we might put it through these litmus tests:

  • How will this action be perceived and received by students?
  • Will the design and implementation of this pedagogical policy increase students’ ability to effectively recognize and seize the moment when they have reached the intersection of their talents and the needs of the world?
  • Will this increase the empathetic thinking and actions of education leaders, teachers, and, most importantly, students?

Thanks to Chris Lehman, Founding Principal of the innovative Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, for bringing this video to our attention. Be sure to check out the upcoming EduCon being hosted at SLA in just a few weeks. 

Image: From the RSA Animation of “The Power of Outrospection”

What We Want To Interrupt

In an excerpt from an interview with a “young adolescent in jail for selling drugs,” author Thomas J. Cottle lays bare the nuanced complexity of educating youth who have a fragile, if any, grip on hope. Two moments pulled from his post illustrate, at a minimum, problems with the lesson our system implicitly teaches students: “Smart” is defined by traditional subject area achievement.

“Truth is I see myself as pretty smart. Had a few teachers, not many, but they thought I was smart. They told me right to my face. I believed ‘em too. Turned out they was just lying. How you tell a kid he is smart when he’s failing every subject? Hey, I was cutting the gym classes there ‘fore I left. I think I can get most of the stuff, but it just comes on too slow. Or maybe my brain can’t slow down for it to come into it. See what I’m saying? But look there. If I can’t explain it to you, and you’re supposed to be smart, why I can’t learn, don’t that tell you all you need to know about just how smart I am. So I’m just lying to myself too. Just like those teachers I used to hope was telling me the truth.”

And then later in the interview, after comparing his life to living inside a body bag, the boy shares,

“Body bag, yeah. I got three things ended up destructing me. I am alone, I feel terrible about myself, that’s for two, and I can’t come up with nothing that’s going to make no difference. That’s for three. I’m helpless most of the time. Only time I’m not is when I sleep. Wind blows this way, that’s the way I stumble. Wind blows that way, I stumble off that way. That make sense? And no matter what way I go, I always end up deciding I’m no good and nothing’s going to make no difference on me.”

It is heartbreaking.

We wonder, “How can we interrupt this vicious cycle? What would it take to engage this student (and millions like him) BEFORE he loses faith in himself? And what sort of educational experiences will lead him to conclude, ‘I am not alone. I have value. And I’m smart and this (cites example) is how I know.’?”

It is stories like this that compel us to challenge how we deliver education and how we define “smart.” When students like this slip through the cracks (and far too many of them do) we see it as evidence that we need to disrupt the traditional model and support both the whole child and learning communities that personalize for each and every student. To do anything less is to systematically leave students behind.

Excerpt quotes pulled from: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 30, 2012
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16954, Date Accessed: 12/13/2012 9:50:16 AM

Close
loading...