By Dana Fitchett
The title of Emily Badger’s piece “How Diverse Schools Could Help Fight the Worst Effects of Gentrification" suggests that diversifying/integrating schools can curb the negative effects of gentrification. Believing this to be true requires an initial belief that this supposedly phenomenal moment “raises the possibility… that long-segregated schools in urban America might finally, if uneasily integrate,” which I don’t find believable. What is it that makes this moment so different from the many others that might be said to have had similar potential?
Michael Petrilli’s idea shared by Badger that being a “low-income and minority” student in a school “where basically everyone else is low-income and minority—is on average a very bad place to be” is offensive and supported by an irresponsible study that claims a student’s individual SES and his/her school’s overall SES contribute to achievement growth without enough attention paid to the need to examine what might be different in the staffing, resources, opportunities, etc, of a high SES versus those of a low SES school, but rather simply suggesting that poor black kids stifle one another’s academic achievement by purely being. The study does point out teacher expectations, amount of homework assigned, advanced courses taken, and safety of school all as influential factors. So maybe it’s not poor black kids that are failing one another, but rather the larger inequitable system that creates insufficient conditions for them.
We’re operating under the same ideologically oppressive assumption that METCO was born out of: in order to get a quality education, you can’t be surrounded by poor black kids in a city public school. This is an egregiously dangerous way of thinking. As long as this idea prevails, poor black communities will always have to fear what becomes of their children when there are no wealthy white children around.
While some might see this as a necessary approach and one that employs the lesser of two evils, it sends the dehumanizing message to poor children, black children, Latino children, that they are less than. That instead of working to provide them with the quality educations they deserve in their own right, we need the incentive of more valued children attending the same schools before we make those schools right.
As long as this scenario remains a prerequisite for the education of all children, our society will never heal from the implications of our inability to provide quality educations to all, even when they’re separate. Because we’re not stating the underlying truth of this, which is that, by operating under this assumption, we’re also admitting that we fail to educate some children based on some combination of their address, skin color, and socioeconomic status, we've put ourselves in the position of creating bogus "solutions." In reality, separateness has only been configured as a problem for certain groups. If wealthy white populations can be separate and well-educated (though the conversation about what’s lost at the “best” schools is a rich conversation for another day), perhaps the separation isn’t the issue but our concealed ideas around who deserves a quality education are.
"We’re operating under the same ideologically oppressive assumption that METCO was born out of: in order to get a quality education, you can’t be surrounded by poor black kids in a city public school. This is an egregiously dangerous way of thinking. As long as this idea prevails, poor black communities will always have to fear what becomes of their children when there are no wealthy white children around."
To come back to the problem of blaming children for issues created by adults: the call for “smart placement policies” is another example of this. When I sat in on a BPS External Advisory Committee meeting on school assignment, I heard a BPS parent say it best: “If we had quality options, then choice wouldn’t be an issue.” As long as there are failing schools, there are children who will be systematically left behind, regardless of how smartly we place them. Shuffling children around based on absurdly complex algorithms simply is not the answer. Altering policies and priorities in such a way that creates school environments that nurture the most historically undernurtured learners is.
Badger’s assessment of the inadequacy of Boston’s own complex algorithm is spot-on: “The result is that children spend their after-school hours riding the bus, neighborhoods that might otherwise coalesce around the school as a civic center don’t do that, the city spends vast resources on transportation instead of education, and minority low-income children wind up busing across town to other schools full of minority, low-income children.”
Toward the end, Badger references the danger of symbolic diversity that’s not met with innovative solutions for how to accommodate many different populations, which can lead to massive levels of segregation within the walls of an “integrated” school. I see this as one of the resounding reasons to not push for integration.
At the end of the day, choice (in this iteration) is an illusion and gentrification is a primary reason for why this is so. I find it highly believable that gentrification can improve the quality of neighborhood schools. But by the time it does, it will also have raised rent costs and brought along with it expensive grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops; these dynamics force families of lower socioeconomic status to move away, likely to a neighborhood with other poor people and inadequate schools. And so the cycle goes…
Badger asserts that communities have a, “Narrow window to figure out how to leverage the arrival of affluent families willing to bet on public schools before this newfound diversity in their classrooms disappears." This window is—much like the concept of school choice—an illusion. Gentrification waits for no one and just when the hoped-for “meaningful social interaction” gains some momentum in schools and other points of contact, the socioeconomic dynamics are likely to change neighborhoods and school populations yet again.
Whether or not the theory embedded in all of this plays out, the problem of gentrification in and of itself won't be resolved without addressing the root cause by drastically changing policies and practices around community development and infuse them with concern for those who call a particular community home and do away with the singular focus on financial gain.
Prior to landing at Aspire, Dana worked in education in a number of different realms. She has worked in both public and private education, as well as with high school and middle school age students. She has been a tutor across all academic subjects, an English Language Arts teaching assistant, a modern dance teacher, and a dorm parent, and has been involved in efforts to increase educational access in all of her roles. Most recently, Dana worked at The Steppingstone Foundation, where her primary role was to provide assistance to Boston Public School families looking to enroll their children in Boston exam schools or independent schools. Dana's primary concern is increasing access to quality education and services for under-resourced populations. Dana is also a dancer and choreographer and continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. She received an A.B. from Vassar College in Urban Studies with concentrations in Sociology and Black Studies.
The Wheelock College Aspire Institute was recently selected as the fiscal sponsor for the Boston Compact, a citywide effort to bring public, charter and Catholic schools together.
Klare Shaw, Special Assistant to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson, Kevin Andrews, founding Headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School and Mary Grassa O'Neill, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Boston shared with us their vision for the Compact, early wins and the challenges that lay ahead.
1. Why does the Compact make sense right now? For each sector? For Boston?
Mary: We have always been very siloed. There has been not much interaction between students, principals and school leaders. [Through the Compact] we have committed to the City of Boston that we all have the same education focus and want to make sure that all children have the same opportunities to develop the skills and access the opportunities to have a very successful life.
Klare: The relationships we already have make good groundwork [for the Compact], and there is a lot of fluidity between the systems right now that didn’t exist before. This is true for leaders, teachers and families who are familiar with the multiple sectors. The mayor reflected that we are one city and schools need to cooperate and accommodate families.
Kevin: I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston. I credit Dr. Johnson and the Mayor with establishing the Compact. Superintendent Johnson was open to talking about how we can work better together rather than as separate entities. With some change in BPS and with the help of leadership in Mayor’s office, there is a sense of urgency that moves us forward and reminds us that we need to serve every child in city of Boston.
"I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston." -Kevin Andrews
2. What do you hope to achieve? What are you particularly excited about?
Mary: I hope we develop a high level of trust between and amongst educators and in those leading the organizations so that we can be open about what we do well and where we can improve. Each sector is known for particular things, and one thing the education world has not done well is to build on a practice of excellence. We want that practice of excellence to be seen and recognized in all schools no matter which sector it came from.
Kevin: This is always about building relationships. At the principal/teacher level, I hope we see the sharing of best practices, whether with Black boys, English language learners or students with disabilities. I want to look back and say that teachers are working together because of the Compact. We’ve seen pockets of that, but we want to see it more. For example, principals are talking across sectors on their own about how to make schools better.
Klare: The Compact has an intentional focus on the city’s most vulnerable learners. [I want to see] people come together to set priorities about what the city needs in the name of progress.
3. What are you proud of so far? Any early wins?
Mary: School doors are literally and symbolically open to have folks from all sectors visiting and learning. No educator who has taken advantage of this opportunity can say he has walked into a school and not learned something. I am excited that some of this has spilled over into emergency planning, for example. We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree.
Klare: I went to a conference convened by the Gates foundation, and out of all of the other locations where similar work is happening, not only was the level of relationship building [in Boston] greater, but also the goals to serve specific student populations were so clearly set out in our compact, was very different than other cities there.
Kevin: [I am proud of the] Mayor coming on board, efforts to bring in the Catholic schools, the school-to-school partnerships and the school showcases. [The philanthropic organizations that comprise] the Boston Opportunity Agenda said this would have been unthinkable five years ago. There are still a lot of naysayers, but I think that group is becoming smaller and smaller.
Klare: It’s extraordinary to see students from all three schools playing music together.
Kevin: Meg Campbell, the Head of the Codman Square Academy (a Commonwealth charter school), was appointed to the [Boston] School Committee. How many other cities have done that?
Mary: In the past, one sector would tear other sector down to raise itself up. Early on, it was decided that we were not about that. I want to give as many kudos as I can to Dr. Johnson because it would have been easy for her to say she didn’t have the time to commit to this effort.
"We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree." - Mary Grassa O'Neill
4. What are some potential challenges that you anticipate?
Kevin: The true test of the Compact is sustainability, which usually has to do with people and relationships. Who the new mayor is going to be will dictate how successful the Compact is going to be. Who knows what the Superintendent is going to do? How do we become an oasis of something people see as very positive no matter who is in what leadership role?
Mary: It’s very important that we stay focused and produce compelling evidence. This is the beginning of something great that can turn around education for every family in Boston.
Klare: We all continue to have various financial challenges – [a challenge will be] continuing to support and extend activity with appropriate financial support.
5. Is there a full understanding of the Compact at the teacher level?
Kevin: I don’t believe that our teachers are fully aware of what’s happening with the Compact. We have not dug deep enough. Some principals are on board. All charter school leaders and Catholic school leaders aware of the Compact, but I don’t think we are digging down deep enough.
Klare: The School Committee is aware of it, but within BPS other people might not be as polite or may have fear around what the Compact means. But if you speak to some of our principals, they are extremely enthusiastic about the time for reflection and collaboration.
Mary: We cannot overlook that it’s much newer for principals and teachers. I think it will take some time for relationships to mature and develop.
6. What is the significance of the Boston Compact nationally compared to what other cities are doing?
Kevin: Seven cities are being funded for implementation and 16 with planning grants, which might join in phase two. Boston is the only Gates Compact city explicitly committed to serving populations that have been traditionally underserved. It is fertile ground for us right now. We are also only one of two cities to include Catholic schools. All of us represent 83% of children in the City of Boston. We have to thank Gates for national connections and Wheelock/Aspire for local connections. I think Gates believes Boston is a major player in this effort.
Mary: I think if leaders and educators are willing to open up, we can be joined together and become a team. We have a lot of good work to do ahead.
"...the goals to serve specific student populations [are] so clearly set out in our compact." - Klare Shaw
Kevin: The proof of the pudding is in the eating! I am very much encouraged by the work done to date and really believe that for Boston and all its problems and history, we will be a city that people will point to if they want to see collaboration happen.
Mary: We are excited, enthusiastic and will make this happen. We will make a difference.
This interview was conducted by Jake Murray, Senior Director of the Aspire Institute and Julie Kalt, Communications and Operations Specialist at Aspire. For more information on the Compact, please visit bostoncompact.weebly.com.
By Nova Biro
“Don’t give up, keep trying, you can do it!” These messages echo through Claudia Jaramillo’s second grade class at Hennigan Elementary in Jamaica Plain as Ms. Jaramillo and her students focus on positive self-talk, a way of encouraging yourself to do something difficult or challenging. Positive self-talk is just one of the many critical social and emotional skills taught through the Open Circle Curriculum, recently implemented in 23 Boston Public Schools in collaboration with the Violence Prevention Division of the Boston Public Health Commission and funded by a $1 million commitment from Partners HealthCare. This initiative is aimed at improving school climate and addressing a broad range of challenging student behaviors, from disruption of classroom instruction to teasing, bullying, and fighting.
The collaboration, announced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino in November, will bring evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programming to over 7,000 elementary students through the training and professional development of 750 Boston Public Schools educators. Open Circle had already been incorporated into 13 other schools in the City. Through a comprehensive approach, parents and caregivers are also learning Open Circle practices to use at home through school-based workshops and Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Additionally, schools are building capacity for sustained, continuous improvement in SEL through the establishment of SEL peer coaches and multi-departmental SEL leadership teams.
At the heart of the Open Circle Curriculum are 15-to-20-minute classroom meetings led by homeroom teachers twice per week. These interactive sessions include group discussions, role-playing, children’s literature, and individual and collaborative activities. Students learn to recognize and manage their emotions (including positive self-talk), develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively and ethically.
“Open Circle is for learning about calm breathing, listening, and cooperating.”*
Educators reinforce these lessons through the school day, for example, by complimenting students’ use of cooperation skills in group work during a math lesson or asking students to describe the emotions of book characters in a reading lesson. The program also helps educators create safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities.
“I learned red means stop, green means go, yellow means think. It helps you solve problems.”*
Research has shown that SEL does more than improve school climate and student behavior. It can also help students make significant gains in academic achievement – on average, a gain of 11 percentile points in reading and math, according to a 2011 review of more than 200 studies published in the journal Child Development. SEL also equips students with the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future – communication, collaboration, cooperation, goal setting, problem solving, and persistence in the face of challenges. With support from a $220,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation, researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College are collaborating with the Boston Public Health Commission on a broad research study examining outcomes for this program.
SEL is critical to the success of all children in Boston and beyond. This Open Circle initiative can help catalyze awareness and support for implementing evidence-based SEL in all schools. As the second graders at Hennigan Elementary will tell you, “don’t give up, keep trying, we can do it!” And as this first grader wrote from a Framingham school—where Open Circle got its start:
“I like Open Circle because it helps me to be a better person.”*
*Quotes from first graders at Stapleton Elementary in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Nova Biro is Co-Director of Open Circle, a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning in Kindergarten through Grade 5. Since its inception in 1987, Open Circle has reached over two million children and trained more than 13,000 educators. Open Circle is currently used in over 300 schools in more than 100 urban, suburban and rural communities across the United States. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.
By Dana Fitchett
On the evening of Thursday, January 24, Boston Family Engagement Partnership held the first of three “Family Reunions” scheduled for this year. The energy in the room added significance to the event’s title, as some members of the family clearly work closely on a regular basis, whereas others hadn’t seen each other in some time, and still others experienced the first meeting with that long-lost cousin they knew was out there, but had never actually met. Everyone arrived with a sense of the contributions they’ve made to the project so far, but the hour-long program afforded each individual moving part a more contextualized sense of the work being done.
Aspire Institute Senior Director Jake Murray welcomed the group with a brief overview of how the program came to be and some highlights of what’s happened so far. Program Director Karen Marshall offered a refresher on the structure and goals of the partnership. There are a number of different moving parts to the partnership and each of them has been busy in their own right since (or before) the program launched in September: fellows have been busy in class; school administrators have been working to infuse the learning and resources from the fellowship within their schools; research has commenced and information is continuously being gathered to inform the direction of resource development for the partnership.
Wheelock Professor Tina Durand, one of the lead faculty members for the fellowship, shared an update on the research component of the partnership: all fellows have been certified through trainings by the National Institute of Health and family focus groups and individual interviews are now underway. The 75-question family engagement survey developed by Wheelock, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and SurveyMonkey has been refined and translated into nine languages and will soon be distributed to families of our eleven partner schools. Tech development partners Jerrold Randall and David Vassel of Inventiv Solutions were also present to share updates from their perspective. In addition to sharing some information about progress around technology resources, Randall expressed real excitement around being a part of the partnership and the importance of Inventiv seeing the whole “family” together in person.
After gaining some context and perspective for progress thus far, each table held its own discussion in response to questions about all aspects of the partnership. The room buzzed as advisory board members, fellows, partners, school administrators, and Aspire staff engaged in rich conversation, everyone offering their unique outlook on things.
The BFEP Family Reunion embodied the values espoused by the partnership-- collaboration, transparency, and relationship-building, among others—and recalibrated the movement to continue the hard work of further understanding and advancing family engagement in Boston schools.
Dana Fitchett is the Program Coordonator for Education Innovation at Aspire. Prior to landing at Aspire, Dana worked in education in a number of different realms. She has worked in both public and private education, as well as with high school and middle school age students. She has been a tutor across all academic subjects, an English Language Arts teaching assistant, a modern dance teacher, and a dorm parent, and has been involved in efforts to increase educational access in all of her roles. Most recently, Dana worked at The Steppingstone Foundation, where her primary role was to provide assistance to Boston Public School families looking to enroll their children in Boston exam schools or independent schools. Dana's primary concern is increasing access to quality education and services for under-resourced populations. Dana is also a dancer and choreographer and continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. She received an A.B. from Vassar College in Urban Studies with concentrations in Sociology and Black Studies.
By Diana Cutaia
Last week the Department of Education issued guidance for schools through a Dear Colleague Letter, on how to provide equal opportunity to students with disabilities in extracurricular athletics.
Here are the main points of the guidance:
A school district may not operate its program or activity on the basis of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes about disability generally, or specific disabilities in particular. A school district also may not rely on generalizations about what students with a type of disability are capable of—one student with a certain type of disability may not be able to play a certain type of sport, but another student with the same disability may be able to play that sport.
A school district that offers extracurricular athletics must do so in such manner as is necessary to afford qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation. This means making reasonable modifications and providing those aids and services that are necessary to ensure an equal opportunity to participate, unless the school district can show that doing so would be a fundamental alteration to its program.
Students with disabilities who cannot participate in the school district’s existing extracurricular athletics program – even with reasonable modifications or aids and services – should still have an equal opportunity to receive the benefits of extracurricular athletics. When the interests and abilities of some students with disabilities cannot be as fully and effectively met by the school district’s existing extracurricular athletic program, the school district should create additional opportunities for those students with disabilities.
This is a landmark action taken by the DOE not just because it clarifies how extracurricular athletics are covered in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or because it puts schools on notice that they must provide equality opportunity. It’s landmark because it challenges once again our notion of WHO can participate in sport in this country. It forces is to examine WHO sports are for and WHAT they are for in relation to our children. And in America that scares the sport establishment.
The arguments I have heard in opposition to this new guidance have been off the chart discriminatory and downright ignorant. Some of them are as follows:
So now will we have to allow any kid in a wheelchair to play on the basketball team?
My kid had to try out, so should these kids.
We will diminish the competitiveness of sport.
If they can’t play, then why should we have to provide them another option? My kid doesn’t get a separate league if he doesn’t make the team.
This is going to cost too much and we already have budget issues.
Interestingly, when blacks were given access to participate in sport we heard similar complaints, when women were given access we heard similar complaints, and now that students with disabilities are given access we hear the same issues.
To begin to think that sport is a civil right is something very powerful. We ALL have the right be athletes. When we talk about it in the context of race or gender it’s much easier to reconcile in our mind now. We can see an athlete in a typically abled person, because that is what our society upholds as an athlete. We have long held that someone with a disability can overcome the odds and become successful in sports but we have also held that they generally don’t have the ability to become an athlete. Programs like AccesSport America are challenging that idea by creating programs in the Boston Public Schools and beyond that ask students with disabilities to not just participate but have higher expectations for skill development and performance; to look at themselves as athletes.
We need to stop marginalizing and stereotyping students with disabilities. They can be and want to be athletes. And just like every other kid they may have dreams of hitting a game winning shot or making an Olympic team; and not out of charity. They want and need the benefits of being part of a team, of building connections and developing skill. They want and need, as all students, the physical and psychological benefits of sport participation.
I have a friend who never played sports in high school. She actually was quite overweight and was often discouraged from sport. She started running a few years ago and now competes in marathons and triathlons. When I tell her how impressed with what an athletes she is, her reply is, “well, I’m not an athlete.” Why does she tell me that? Because in her mind an athlete is muscular, competed on teams, is not overweight, and the list goes on… So what this guidance is doing is finally forcing us to rethink our narrow, exclusive view of WHO an athlete is and WHAT athletics are for.
Here is my hope from this guidance:
1. We will begin in elementary school through high school to provide all students with disabilities quality physical education to cultivate and help develop sport skills.
2. We will come together as communities to look at our youth leagues and recreational programs to see how we might be more inclusive. And where we might be able to create programs.
3. We will come together as school districts to be proactive in looking at options for students with disabilities.
4. We will not just wait for a student to ask to play we will seek students out and encourage them to participate.
5. College intramural programs will examine current offerings and see how they can be more inclusive and again, seek out students with disabilities to participate.
6. Schools and communities will create advisory boards consisting of a diverse group of students to examine how they can be more inclusive.
And most importantly, we will redefine what an athlete is and begin to understand that EVERYONE can be an athlete and has the RIGHT to participate. Come an America, we live for these opportunities to do what it right, what it fair, and what respects the humanity in all of us.
Diana Cutaia was the Director of Athletics and co-founder of the Sport based-Youth Development program at Wheelock College from 2005-2012. She has over 20 years’ experience in using sport as a tool for positive youth development and is a leading expert on topics such as physical activity, girls in sport, peaceful coaching, and positive cultures in sport. She is the owner of Coaching Peace Consulting, LLC. You can reach her at Diana@coachingpeace.com
By Julie Kalt
Karen Marshall and Dana Fitchett, Program Director and Coordinator for Education Innovation at Aspire, joined me to talk about the Boston Family Engagement Partnership (BFEP), which seeks to understand and significantly advance family-school engagement across a diverse landscape of Boston schools. Specifically, Aspire in collaboration with 11 Boston public, charter and parochial schools is piloting the BFEP over the next three years. The program consists of a year-long, graduate-level fellowship to train the next generation of family engagement professionals, data-driven planning and action, and online learning modules for families.
Almost five months into the project, Karen and Dana reflect on their time with the fellows and describe the impact the content and community have had on them, the cohort of fellows and the schools. Visit our webpage for more information.
1. What changes do you notice in the cohort since the beginning of the project?
As a group, the fellows are looking at their positions in the school with a more critical eye. We can tell that they are excited about possibilities regarding understanding families, as well as the organizing and advocacy piece of their jobs. There is renewed excitement around their work, and this is definitely a group that functions well as a whole; they get along well, listen to each other and are an inspiring group to be around. The more comfortable they get with each other, the better the process becomes.
2. Why is it important for the fellows to get this kind of training?
The experience is not just about training. People in their positions rarely get the opportunity to talk to each other about the stresses and obstacles they face or share success stories. This is augmented by the fact that they represent a cross section of schools – public, charter and parochial. The program is important just for the support network they’ve created amongst each other. Not only do they have the opportunity to reflect on their jobs, but also really understand practices that are out there and how they can be incorporated into their school’s context.
3. How are they responding to and using the information you are providing them?
So far the fellows have responded positively to every single class. They are excited to talk about the readings and the information we have to share with them that week. For some people, the learning is changing their perspective on what they believed about family engagement, and for some, it’s the first time they are hearing about any of this stuff. All of them have been really enthusiastic to apply things right away. We have actually been the ones to hold them back in the application because we want to impart more knowledge to them before they start that process.
4. What, if anything, are they already applying from the course in the schools?
Wheelock Professor, Tina Durand taught them about participatory action research, which they will be implementing when they conduct their first focus groups in a couple of weeks. Some will be full groups. Some will be individual interviews. Some fellows just want to see new faces, some want to find out what parents want and what’s working and not working. Those who weren’t thinking as critically about certain things are already asking, “How can I message this differently to be more attractive to parents” or “How can we adjust meetings to accommodate more parents?” They’ve developed an understanding that there are barriers and issues that prevent parents from being there – that, like most things – this is a systemic issue.
5. What can you glean from the discussions they have with each other?
There are a lot of similarities across the three types of schools, but there are significant differences in some of the challenges that they face. It’s good to know that family engagement is not the same across the board. There are various challenges at different types of schools and at different levels of the schools. You hear that come out in their conversations and how they address those different challenges. The program really shows that there is no real forum or community for family engagement professionals and that the position is often overworked and under-respected.
6. Is the partnership meeting or exceeding your expectations? Why or why not?
So far the process of developing this Boston Family Engagement Partnership which includes working with the fellows at each partner school has exceeded expectations. We are really impressed by the group of fellows and feel incredibly fortunate to have such a stellar first-year cohort. Additionally, the experience of partnering with Wheelock faculty and other community partners on all aspects of the Partnership has been wonderful. Tina Durand’s expertise in data collection and research is invaluable and she has really connected with the fellows. Stephi Rubin has been helpful as an advisor to each step of the process in the creation of classes for the fellowship. Harvard Graduate School of Education developed one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive survey tools to assess family-school involvement and they were and still are gracious partners in this process. Really, we just can’t say enough about who we’ve collaborated with thus far. We’re excited about moving forward.
7. Anything that you didn’t expect that’s emerged from the project?
We didn’t expect to see the relationships that have developed between the fellows, between the staff and the fellows, and connecting with people more than we expected to.
8. What kind of response are you getting from the schools?
Overall, the responses are overwhelmingly positive. I think that we see the time crunch administrators have, so prioritizing this can be challenging at times. The majority are excited to work with the fellows; all are looking forward to seeing improvements in their schools and some have shared that they already do.
9. How has the course changed their perspective on family engagement?
For some of them, it’s opened their eyes a lot on the potential of families to be more engaged and on the limitations they’ve had and their colleagues have on how they and larger systems perceive families. Understanding families is much more complex now that they are thinking about it critically.
Julie Kalt is the Communications and Operations Specialist and New Sector Americorps Resident in Social Enterprise at the Aspire Institute. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Chad d'Entremont
Each year, thousands of Massachusetts students drop out of school. The path forward for these students is difficult, with limited opportunities for sustained career and life success. Failing to fully educate the next generation of workers and leaders has substantial consequences for our state’s long-term economic and social well-being. The average lifetime cost of a high school dropout approaches a half-million dollars when compared to the contributions of a high school graduate, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies. In a growing global marketplace that increasingly views a high school diploma as the minimum standard for full participation, we can no longer afford to have students not complete their K-12 education.
Policymakers have responded to this dropout crisis by devoting significant attention and resources to raising high school graduation rates. In 2009, Massachusetts set a goal of reducing the state dropout rate by half—from 3.4% to 1.7%—by the 2013-14 school year. Several dropout reduction strategies have been introduced in schools and districts to achieve this goal, including: early identification and support of at-risk students; greater support for students transitioning from eighth to ninth grade; credit recovery; social and emotional support; and community partnerships for college and career readiness.
Missing from this seemingly comprehensive agenda, however, is any significant focus on dropout recovery, the act of re-engaging and re-enrolling students who leave school before graduating. The Massachusetts Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission produced a specific recommendation for the state to conduct “active recovery, including reaching out to dropouts and providing them with support and alternative pathways to graduation,” but few districts have the capacity or know-how to effectively connect with out-of-school youth, resulting in the neglect of a large number of the school-age population.
In Boston, the public school district has addressed this knowledge gap through its Re-Engagement Center (REC), a dropout recovery program that strives to re-enroll out-of-school youth through outreach, personal connections, and needs-based educational options. The Rennie Center conducted a case study of the REC in Spring 2012, the findings of which are highlighted in the policy brief Forgotten Youth: Re-Engaging Students Through Dropout Recovery.
Our research findings describe several promising practices and continuing challenges applicable to other districts. A welcoming and supportive learning environment that provides flexible scheduling, stresses deep and meaningful adult relationships, and is removed from the site of previous “failures,” can help students perceive achievable pathways to graduation and future life goals. Since connecting with out-of-school youth is uncharted territory for many school districts, however, strong partnerships with community organizations already working with at-risk youth may help facilitate this work. Districts will also need to plan for the re-enrollment of out-of-school youth by developing or expanding educational options based on academic and social profiles of returning students (e.g. online credit recovery, night and summer courses, accelerated programs). In doing so, open communication between re-engagement programs and district leadership will help shape systemic change around dropout reduction strategies to better serve all students, including those who are at-risk for leaving school.
The experience of dropout recovery in other districts or schools may be quite different, of course. Practices that have worked in Boston may not be seamlessly applied elsewhere, and it is important to tailor dropout re-engagement and recovery strategies to local community needs. Regardless, without a more systemic approach to connect with out-of-school youth through programs like the REC, we will continue to struggle to fulfill our commitment to educate all students.
Chad has devoted a career in education to bridging the divide between research and practice, working with educators and policymakers to ensure all children have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life. He began his career as a teacher, serving high needs students in both urban and rural settings. He is the former assistant director of a nationally-renowned research center at Teachers College, Columbia University and, from 2007-2011, was the research and policy director at Strategies for Children. Most recently, he managed Massachusetts’ successful application for a $50 million Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge award. He has a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Social Analysis and an MA in the Sociology of Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. His experiences bring an in-depth understanding of cutting-edge education reforms, yet he remains acutely aware of the realities of classroom practice and daily school life.
By Sarah Place
In a recent Education Week blog article, “Community College Transfers Often Do Well at 4-Year Institutions,” author Caralee Adams cites positive data from the National Student Clearinghouse regarding the success rates of students obtaining BA degrees after transferring from two-year colleges. This report states that “In the 2010-11 academic year, 45 percent of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution.”
I must admit that I was surprised to find such a successful rate of transfer students in this report; throughout my 6 years of experience working with low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts, I have not witnessed the same result for students who begin their education at a two-year institution. Out of the hundreds of students I have worked with at Bottom Line, I can count on one hand the number who have successfully transferred from a community college and received a bachelor’s degree within six years--so these students are the exception, not the rule.
In order for students to transfer to a four-year college, they must be successful at the start of their two-year college experience, and this is often not the case. Getting to the Finish Line: College Enrollment and Graduation, a report by the Boston Private Industry Council and Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that tracks graduation data from the Boston Public High Schools’ Class of 2000, found that only 12.5% of students who enrolled in a two-year public college directly after high school obtained any kind of college degree within seven years. With this rate, it’s no surprise that counselors and college professionals are hesitant to recommend starting the college experience at a two-year institution.
Massachusetts ranks 47th on the National Student Clearinghouse’s report with only 23% of four-year college graduates getting their start at a two-year institution. While there may be a variety of reasons for this, in my experience, students in MA often have a negative association with attending a two-year college that doesn’t as appear to be a prevalent in a states like Texas, where 78% of four-year college graduates start out at a two-year school. The students in our program that enroll at a community college are usually doing so because they did not get accepted anywhere else and are often discouraged before they begin due to the stigma and low graduation rates at many of these institutions.
Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense for certain students to start off at a community college. Ideally, these schools offer an affordable option for students needing remedial academic support, and a safe place for students to explore whether or not college is the right path for them. Financially, a student can complete general education requirements at a community college for around $4,000 per year and it can be covered by a Pell Grant. Academically, students unprepared for Bachelor’s degree level coursework are better off beginning their college experiences at a community college where credits are more affordable and remedial academic support is offered. Because so many of the students entering community college are those needing remedial support, however, their path to getting a degree is a long one.
As tuition and fees continue to skyrocket at four-year institutions across the state, more students are going to need to explore creative ways to obtain a college degree. I for one look forward to the day when more students can begin their college careers at two-year institutions. It would save them money and often could save them time, but until there is a shift in the stigma associated with Community College this will not likely be the case. In order to change the perception, we must start seeing more positive results in graduation and transfer rates at these institutions. While the northeast is often looked upon as leading the way in higher education, this seems to be a clear example of where we have a lot to learn from the states to our south and west.
Sarah grew up in Oakland, CA, and moved to New Hampshire in 1995. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2004 with a BA in English. Upon graduating, she worked on the Democratic National Convention and the Kerry Campaign. She then went on to join the community relations department at Citizens Bank. While working at Citizens, she read a proposal for funding from Bottom Line and was so inspired by the mission that she decided to apply for a job. She has been a part of Bottom Line's staff since August 2006 and served as the Curriculum and Training Director since December 2011.
By Jenny LaVigne
At WriteBoston, we were intrigued by an article in the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, which details the experience of one school, New Dorp High School, on Staten Island, as it grappled with the (arguably universal) problem of American high school students who struggle to express themselves in writing.
The substance of that dilemma is how to help kids move forward in their writing in a way that encourages them, simultaneously, to become better thinkers. Good writing shows, the theory goes, good thinking. At WriteBoston we believe that, in fact, writing is thinking, that good writing leads to good thinking. We assert that the rise in reading comprehension and achievement scores at New Dorp is attributable to students being given the tools (via scaffolded language prompts/templates, in this instance) to be successful writers, and therefore better thinkers. Their thinking is, in turn, informed by their writing. The New Dorp experience reinforces our belief that writing instruction and thinking instruction are inseparable.
Worth noting is that the leaders of the New Dorp revolution relied heavily on one of the basics of good instruction--scaffolding--and used it in a thoughtful and effective way to nudge their kids closer to where they needed to be. It’s worth noting that an incorrectly executed scaffolding or formula can have deleterious effects on student writing and thinking. The New Dorp approach involves giving students a formula that offers them some ways to use language effectively, and invites them to rely on these until they develop more confidence. For example, because students were explicitly taught how to use words like although and despite, their writing contained complex sentences; having access to the structure of dependent clauses empowers students to express ideas that are, in turn, more complex. (As we know, traditional instruction in grammar does not yield such transformative effects on writing.) This technique reminded us of the sentence stems in They Say/I Say (by Graff and Birkenstein), which advocates a similar approach to help students set up and manage arguments in essays. Because of the renewed emphasis on argument writing (because of its central place in the Common Core), WriteBoston is paying a lot of attention to successful innovative efforts like this one, and we hope that everyone else is too.
You can read the article at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/30909.
Jenny LaVigne is the WriteBoston Writing Coach at Boston International High School. She previously taught writing, literature, and ESL for sixteen years at Chelsea High School while also acting as a mentor teacher and coach. She has also worked at various schools and social services throughout the Boston and Cambridge areas. She received an MEd from Suffolk University.
By Elizabeth Pauley
Kalamazoo, MI has made a promise to its children. Thanks to the generosity of anonymous donors, Kalamazoo’s kids are going to college, tuition free. At a time when many believe we are “bowling alone” and civic vitality is on the decline, this Promise optimistically states that Kalamazoo’s collective fates are tied together. Indeed, this isn’t just a gift to the school system’s roughly 500 annual graduates and their families – it’s a strong statement about the kind of community Kalamazoo wants to be, and an economic development strategy that can rally a community together around a shared goal of college attainment and economic competitiveness. Knowing that the cost of college will not be a barrier helps students and families build the aspiration and expectation that college is within their grasp. The promise of college is drawing families to Kalamazoo’s schools, driving reforms in the school system, and offering an attractive community for businesses who need college educated workers.
Yet, even with the tuition paid for, not all young people in Kalamazoo are making it all the way to college graduation. More than 500 students graduate annually from Kalamazoo’s public schools; but in the seven years of the Promise, only about 500 students total have completed their degrees. And as in other communities, including Boston, the academic performance and the graduation rates of Kalamazoo’s young men of color lag behind black women and white students of both genders.
It’s a story Boston knows all too well, and a situation we have made a pledge to address. Boston has led the nation in sending kids onto post-secondary education programs, sending more than 70% of its graduates onto college, but only about 40% of those students complete a degree by their 25th birthday. That translates into about 800 or so college graduates, out of a graduating high school class of over 3000. And as in Kalamazoo, the students who aren’t making it are largely low-income, kids of color, and first generation college-goers.
When faced with this reality, Mayor Thomas Menino charged the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Foundation, area institutions of higher education, and local nonprofits to commit themselves to doubling college completion rates. While Boston hasn’t provided the free tuition to its graduates, it has developed a community plan to get students “ready, in, and through” college.
The program, Success Boston, is a statement about our deep civic commitment to each other. It’s also a statement about our economy: Boston’s future depends on a skilled and knowledgeable workforce.
And as in Kalamazoo, while finances are often cited as the reason why students stop out of college, the reality is more complex. College students need to be healthy, safe, and fed in order to succeed. And, to successfully navigate the transition between high school and college, students need a set of non-cognitive skills to meet the challenges they will face: self-management skills like time management, study skills, persistence, and the ability to seek help in a timely manner.
To change the outcomes, young people need a strong academic preparation, and a solid foundation of self-management skills, paired with a plan for paying for college. And, when challenges arise, students need to be able to access critical supports for urgent needs, whether those needs are financial, social or personal.
The Kalamazoo Promise and Success Boston have set the right goal: to increase educational attainment of young people for the good of the young people, and the community at large. Both efforts have shown us that dramatically increasing completion rates is complicated, and won’t be solved solely by making college free. Removing financial barriers has to be part of the solution, but that must be combined with an “all hands on deck” community approach that helps students get ready for, transition into, and succeed in college. Only then will we deliver on the promise that Kalamazoo and Boston have made to their children.
Elizabeth Pauley joined the Boston Foundation as a Senior Program Officer. Elizabeth focuses on the Education sector. Before joining the Boston Foundation, she began her career in the classroom as a teacher and moved into education administration at the MA Department of Education.