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September 26, 2017

Diversity in the teacher workforce comes down to retention, not just recruitment

Across the United States, as the growth of the minority student population outpaces that of the white student population, classrooms are becoming more and more diverse. While nonwhite students are now the majority in today’s classroom, this is far from true of the teaching profession. As of the 2011-2012 school year (the most recent data available), minority teachers made up just 17% of all elementary and secondary teachers. New evidence from the Learning Policy Institute suggests that in order to meet increasing demands for minority teachers, school leaders will need to focus their efforts on retention in addition to recruitment.

Emphasizing a teacher workforce that is more representative of the increasingly nonwhite student population is more than diversity for diversity’s sake. Rather, current research shows that students benefit in a variety of ways from a minority teacher. When minority students and teachers share the same race, students report an environment of increased expectations and enhanced cultural understanding, and may benefit from interacting with a role model that is demographically similar to themselves. Evidence even suggests that there may be a positive academic effect for students, with a same-race teacher boosting test scores by up to the equivalent of one school year.

As the impacts of minority teachers have become more widely recognized, much emphasis has been placed on the recruitment of minority teachers to ensure that their population is more reflective of today’s student population. LPI has found that these recruitment efforts have been rather successful, with the number of minority teachers nationally more than doubling between the 1980s and 2012. However, today’s minority teacher population still lags significantly behind the minority student population, with the proportion of minority teachers in the national teacher workforce increasing from about 12% to just over 17% in the same time period. A report out this month from the Learning Policy Institute decodes this puzzle, and suggests that districts need to look beyond recruitment efforts and toward retention in order to erase the minority teacher gap.

The research finds that minority teachers— particularly male minority teachers— are significantly more likely to change schools or leave the profession entirely, and that the high rate at which these teachers leave is undoing any positive gains made in minority teacher recruitment each year. LPI points to a particularly significant example of this problem: during the 2003-2004 school year, 47,600 minority teachers entered the classroom for the first time. However, by the following school year, 56,000 minority teachers had left teaching entirely— a full 20 percent more than had entered the profession in the previous year. With attrition rates so high, it is critical to examine what may be causing such a pattern.

Though it is true, as commonly stated, that minority teachers are more likely to teach in the most underserved communities, the teachers themselves pointed to a very different set of problems driving their departure. LPI found that the topics least correlated with high minority teacher attrition included issues like salary level, quality of professional development, and availability of classroom resources. Instead, the evidence points most strongly to poor working conditions: minority teachers report issues like the level of influence they feel over decision making in the school and degree of autonomy in the classroom as the main drivers in their decision to leave.

Fostering a workplace environment that respects the professionalism and autonomy of minority teachers appears to be key to retaining them for the future. Evidence also shows that, particularly in schools where most staff is white, support from administrators may also play a strong role in retaining minority teachers. As we find ourselves already settling into the school year, consider: in what ways are issues like influence over decision making, classroom autonomy, and administrator support emphasized? How should the workplace look this year in order to ensure retention of minority teachers next year?






September 21, 2017

Closing the achievement gap means closing the word gap

The achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers has been well documented and can start even when students enter their first day of kindergarten.  In the elementary school I taught at in Tulsa, OK, I saw students come in and perform below grade level on their kindergarten benchmark assessment at the beginning of the school year.  This prompted many to ask, how can students already be behind this early in their school careers.

One factor is word exposure or the number of words infants hear per day. A research study by Hart and Risley found that low income infants hear many fewer words per day than their middle and high-income peers, totaling to about a 30 million word difference by the age of three. They also found a relationship between the number of words students heard as infants and toddlers and their development of vocabulary and language skills years later.  Several other research studies have confirmed these original findings adding to the notion that word exposure in infancy and toddlerhood is an important component to closing the achievement gap.

Several states or groups have developed and tested different initiatives to address the word gap and increase awareness for parents and communities.  Providence, RI implemented the Providence Talks intervention program to help parents track their word usage around their children.  A word pedometer was clipped onto each child which counted the number of words spoken and conversation changes between the care giver and the child in both Spanish and English.  In addition, families were matched with an in-home coach that would come and go over the data gathered each week with the parent and brainstorm different ways families could expose children to more words and make everyday activities teachable moments.  This program was a success in Providence with 60% of children hearing more words at the end of the program compared to the beginning, and 97% of the parents saying they were satisfied or highly satisfied with the program.

Another intervention program was the 30 Million Words Initiative. Tested in the South Side of Chicago, the initiative also involved tracking words through a device that counts the number of words children hear.  The researchers gave each child a word tracking device and randomly selected half the participants to receive eight weekly one hour home visits to go over the data collected and for educational training sessions for families. The other half received eight weekly nutrition interventional home visits where the data from the word counter was not discussed.  The results showed that the group that participated in home visits that talked about different strategies to increase word exposure and tracked the data each week had significantly increased their talk and interaction with children.

This demonstrates the importance of in-home meetings where families are coached and can see the impact of these changes in the data from the wordometers.  The guiding philosophy of the 30 million Words Initiative states that parents are children’s first and most important teacher.  To tackle the overall achievement gap, we need to start with parents.  Real gains can be achieved if parents are given the tools to help their children gain academic success.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Early Childhood,equity,Parents — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 12:09 pm





September 14, 2017

New research: High-stakes tests influence teacher assignment decisions, impacting long-term student achievement

A new study released last month raises potential concerns about the ways in which teacher assignment decisions may impact student achievement. The study, which included data from the Miami-Dade County Public School district between 2003-2012, examined whether less-effective teachers were assigned to untested grades, and how those assignments affect students’ long-term academic achievement.

Previous studies have found that principals do take into account students’ academic growth when making decisions about teacher grade level assignments. One major factor in this decision is student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. Additionally, there has been evidence that less-effective teachers are more likely to be re-assigned to a low-stakes, untested classroom for the following school year. To further clarify whether teachers are re-assigned based on test scores, researchers measured the effect that a teacher has on students’ test score growth year over year. (Low-stakes tests given across the M-DCPS district were used to measure academic growth at the K-2 level.) They then examined the relationship between student test score growth and teacher grade level assignment in the following school year.

Researchers found that highly effective teachers in grades K-2, grades in which students are not subject to state tests, were more likely to be reassigned to grades three to five —tested, high-stakes grades— in the following school year. In contrast, highly effective teachers in third through fifth grades were unlikely to be reassigned to an untested grade. However, their lower-performing peers those third, fourth and fifth-grade teachers whose students made the least progress were more likely to be assigned to an untested K-2 grade in the following year. Researchers believe that by reassigning less-effective teachers out of tested grades, principals hope to improve student test scores over the short term. But what are the long-term consequences of concentrating the least-effective teachers in the “low-stakes” grades?

Though high-stakes standardized testing at the elementary level is focused in grades three through five, foundational skills learned in grades K-2, such as basic math and early literacy, drive success at all levels. After finding that lower-performing teachers are more likely to be reassigned to an untested grade, the researchers examined the effect that the resulting concentration of less-effective K-2 teachers could have on a student’s long-term achievement. Second graders taught by a teacher who had recently been reassigned from a tested grade had significantly lower gains in both literacy and math than their peers taught by teachers who had not been reassigned. Crucially, these effects carried into the following school year: a student taught by a recently reassigned teacher in second grade would also have lower third grade scores than their peers, reflecting a gap equivalent to having been taught by a first-year teacher during the second grade.

Clustering the least-effective teachers in untested grades— particularly K-2, where foundational skills like reading are taught— may have long-term consequences for student learning. Researchers have found that despite these lower gains for students over the long term, principals tend to focus on short-term staffing needs, and concentrate the highest-performing teachers in high-stakes, tested grades. These findings should raise questions for any district: How are student test scores used in staffing decisions, and how do those decisions affect student learning long term?






June 13, 2017

New research: Community schools are an evidence-based strategy for school improvement

Last week, in a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., six schools and community-based initiatives across the country were recognized for their excellence in utilizing the community schools model. The Coalition for Community Schools highlighted the considerable achievements of schools from New York City, Nashville, Chicago and Oakland.

CommunitySchoolsShotThe National Education Policy Center (NEPC) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) also presented new research at the event that supported the use of the community schools model as an evidence-based strategy for school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires that all interventions meet the “evidence-based” requirement, and this new research suggests that community schools more than meet that standard.

The community schools model may be a particularly effective strategy for improving schools in areas that struggle with high rates of poverty, because it creates a support system for students and families that addresses needs outside of the academic curriculum. Community schools create a system of partnerships and collaborations that address the needs of each child not only as a learner but also as a community member.

Because the needs and assets of each community are unique, there is no one formula for creating a community school. Each community school takes a unique approach to the model depending upon the circumstances of its students and families. However, all form partnerships and collaborations to create a set of integrated services that meet the needs of the whole child. Most are open before and after school—some even on weekends and during the summer—to provide students with wraparound support. Community schools provide services such as physical and mental health screenings, parent and community resources, and expanded learning opportunities like sports and arts programs.

Despite the variety of approaches, NEPC and LPI were able to identify common aspects of the community schools model that lead to success, including a wraparound student support system and a high degree of community collaboration and engagement. The newly released research also found that for every dollar invested in a community school, there will be a $10 to $15 return on investment within the community. In the awardee schools, chronic absenteeism and discipline referrals have decreased, test scores have increased, and fast academic growth has resulted in rising state ratings. Across the board, students and families report closer school and community ties. Using a wraparound support system, community schools may be a tool to close achievement gaps, prepare students for college and future careers, and promote positive outcomes throughout the broader community.






May 8, 2017

Black and Latino parents express their views on education

School choice advocates seemed surprised earlier this year when the NAACP called for a moratorium on new charter schools. The need for school choice, according to many advocates, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, stems from lack of choices and underperformance of public schools for low-income students and students of color. However, a new survey by the civil rights group The Leadership Conference asks black and Latino parents about their views on education. Instead of education advocates and policymakers presupposing that all parents want is choice, we should stop and listen to them.

Parents want changes that would provide fair opportunities to their students. Most of their criticism is centered around race-based inequalities in funding and resources, as well as biased treatment of their students. Some parents may use school choice to attain greater equality, but until every school provides a high-quality education, providing options alone isn’t enough.

The Leadership Conference surveyed 600 black parents and 600 Latino parents across the U.S., all with children ages 5-18. The margin of error for each group is 4 percent. In addition to ensuring that our education system hears the voices of all groups of parents, this survey is particularly important because it helps peel back the layers on why black and Latino students often lag behind in educational attainment. They also make up nearly half of the student population.

Surveyed parents overwhelmingly felt that schools in black and Latino communities received less funding than schools in white neighborhoods. Research from EdBuild, an organization that studies education funding, would back up that sentiment. Black parents whose children attended majority white schools were more likely to rate their school as excellent than parents of students at majority-black schools (61 versus 14 percent). If funding tends to follow white students, then minority students at majority-white schools would also benefit from better supported schools. Socioeconomic status may also play a role in this perception; black and Latino students are far more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students.

BlackLatino

Parents also cite racism and bias as contributors to their children receiving an inferior education. When their children had mostly white teachers, parents were more likely to believe that U.S. schools weren’t really trying to educate black/Latino students. This aligns with recent research that shows that black students are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to aspire to college if they had at least one black teacher in upper elementary school. While the mechanisms for the research findings are unclear, it is apparent that black and Latino parents feel that schools aren’t giving their children an equitable education.

Parents also shared what they feel will improve their schools: high-quality teachers, access to educational resources and technology, and high expectations for their students. They also care about extracurricular activities and after-school programs. In an open-ended question, nearly half of respondents cited good teachers as the most important characteristic to make a great school, placing it far above the number who cited a core/general curriculum or safe and nurturing environment. Eighty-nine percent of black parents and 81 percent of Latino parents wished that their children were challenged more.

All of these sentiments have been backed up in importance by research. High-quality teachers are paramount to students’ learning. Strong learning materials support great teaching by ensuring that students are prepared for college and careers. Students with same-race teachers tend to have higher performance. Schools receive inequitable funding, with poor and minority students typically concentrated in schools with fewer resources.

And yet, many policy-makers and education advocates have spent the last couple of years debating the merits of school choice. It seems that we’re missing the more important policy questions. Charters perform at about the same level as district schools, and large voucher programs actually have worse achievement results for students. So, instead of trying to create new systems, maybe we should focus on what really matters; just ask the parents.






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