It's summer at Aspire
While Wheelock's academic year has ended, things are picking up at the Aspire Institute. We are particularly excited to be working with the Boston Compact, a Gates Foundation funded initiative focused on Human Capital development in Boston's public, charter and Catholic schools.
We are also excited about our continued effort to promote STEM Education. Our online courses for K-5 teachers run again this summer, along with a new online module for out of school time professionals launching in June. Thanks to the Silvia Earl Innovation Award, we will also be continuing work on our STEM Activitiy App, a tool to engage students and parents together in STEM learning.
Finally, Aspire's Connected Beginnings Training Institute was thrilled to partner with the Wheelock Social Work Department to support the launch of a new Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Mental Health, which prepares master's level social workers to provide mental health services to children and their families in a variety of settings.
STEM App Party a Success
Aspire launched a first-of-its-kind mobile-accessible application to engage parents and students in grades 3, 4, and 5 in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning. The application, funded by the Wheelock Sylvia Earl Innovation Award, was piloted on April 1, 2013 at the Sarah Greenwood School in Dorchester, MA.
An "End-of-Pilot" Party took place at the Sarah Greenwood School on Friday, June 7th in collaboration with the Discovery Museums. Students discussed the meaning of STEM and then had to engineer a pasta tower with only 10 pieces of spaghetti and 6 inches of masking tape. The event culminated in a raffle for two iPod shuffles and, the grand prize, an iPad Mini.
Aspire was awarded the grant for a second time in May to continue developing the capabilities of the App. You can get involved in this community project here!
The Aspire Institute partners with the Boston Compact
The Aspire Institute was recently named by the Boston Compact as its fiscal sponsor. The Institute will manage Compact funding, which includes a $3.25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and smaller local grants. The Compact, which Mayor Thomas M. Menino launched in late 2011, formally links district public schools, public charter schools, and private Catholic schools in the interest of improving education across the City, particularly for students who historically have been underserved. The new funds support deeper collaboration between schools in order to scale effective practices and between sectors to streamline systems. Sixteen cities were invited to compete for Gates Foundation awards based upon prior compact work and Boston was one of just seven to receive funding in this round of awards. Since its launch, all 128 Boston Public Schools, all 16 charter operators, as well as 22 Catholic schools have formally joined the compact, which represents 88 percent of Boston students. More information on the Compact can be found at www.bostoncompact.org.
Science Inquiry for Out of School Time Professionals
Aspire is launching a new online module designed for out of school time instructors, site leaders or anyone involved in developing and delivering out of school time curriculum. This module will help out of school time professionals better understand science inquiry in the out of school time setting. They will learn both content and instructional strategies through engaging videos, interactive online discussions with professional peers and relevant readings and assignments.
This module will enable OST professionals to make observations, raise questions, and formulate hypotheses, design and conduct scientific investigations, analyze and interpret results of scientific investigations and communicate and apply the results of scientific investigations.
You can view all of our latest news here!
By Julie Kalt
This is the kick off to our “Aspir(e)ing Profiles,” series where we will feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!
“Equitable access is my number one concern. We need to focus on the root of the problem and invest in real public education.”
Dana Fitchett is an emerging leader in Boston’s education world. As the Program Coordinator for Education Innovation at the Aspire Institute, she is involved in Educator Mentor Corps and the Boston Family Engagement Partnership. She candidly discusses her interest in and commitment to education, which is deeply rooted in both personal and professional experiences.
“It’s always felt natural for me to see the huge disparity between the way things are and the way things could and should be. As humans, we tend to be fearful of change, but given the scary state of the world in regard to issues like education, economics, incarceration, immigration, or housing, among other things, change is clearly what we need. When I look at the education system in particular, I see that just tinkering with the systems that we currently have is not enough.”
Having studied urban education at Vassar College and then working in numerous corners of the education system, Dana moved from the Match School, an urban charter school, to Concord Academy, an elite private school, to the Steppingstone Foundation, an education access organization. Working simultaneously at Match and Concord Academy opened Dana’s eyes to the severity of inequality that exists. “I adored the environment and kids at CA, but it was difficult for me because I was also at Match and saw the major contrasts between what the two schools offered. The education students at CA get is incredible, but it’s something so many kids can’t get just because of their circumstances.”
"It’s always felt natural for me to see the huge disparity between the way things are and the way things could and should be."
These contrasts, paired with her own experience of an insufficient education, drive Dana’s misgivings about private education. “I don’t believe in private education because as long as it exists there is no motivation to improve public education just because of the way power structures work in our society.”
Disillusioned by working in a school, as well as the top-down approach she experienced at Steppingstone, Dana came to Aspire to work on the Boston Family Engagement Partnership because, like many aspiring change agents, she wants to learn how to make change from within the system, especially within a project that is really striving to empower people in their communities.
There are solutions to inequity in education. Faced with issues like school choice, the charter movement and the Boston busing system, the problem, Dana believes, is we aren’t embracing anything big enough. She cites Mission Hill, a Boston public school, as an example of one of the most successful urban public schools in the country, which has managed to translate the concept of exploratory learning – similar to what she saw at Concord Academy – to a public school setting. Given that Mission Hill is a pilot school, it’s had more flexibility to make these kinds of changes. She also sees community schools as a powerful tool to encourage young and old to invest in their own communities. It not only would mean that families could participate more regularly, but it would free up a lot of funding and has the potential to reduce crime. In thinking about the current “solutions” to the problem of education, Dana echoes Harlem Children Zone’s Geoffrey Canada’s belief that, “We've got great models, but it's not helpful to the nation when we're saving 2,000 kids and we're losing hundreds of thousands.”
Now enrolled in Boston University’s Community Fellows Program, Dana sees hope in the program’s explicit creation of a pipeline of people of color doing social impact work in order to make the workforce more diverse and accessible to people of color. How do you avoid institutional barriers and give people the credentials they need to go somewhere in the world? How can we make people truly powerful in their communities? How do you marry the top and the bottom in a genuine way? Although daunted by these questions and the inevitable obstacles to progress, Dana continues to pursue, as in all aspects of her life, a sense of balance.
Getting to know Dana
If you could be a fly on the wall at any time, when would it be and why?
The 16th century. The moment of determining that slavery came to be is the most intriguing to me. What was it at that moment when black people encountered white people? I think that’s the moment that destroyed our country from being the place it wanted to be, and I see the remaining impact of slavery all around us.
Who inspires you?
I am pretty easily inspired. My mom is number one for so many reasons – she made herself the woman and mother and citizen that she is. Resilient people inspire me – people that don’t cave to the insanity around them. Positive people that know that even though nothing is perfect, there is still beauty all around us.
In my lifetime I’d like to…find balance.
Dana Fitchett is the Project Coordinator for Education Innovation at the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. In addition to her education work, Dana is a dancer and choreographer. She continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Jake Murray
On October 24th, Wheelock College Aspire Institute hosted the commissioners and leadership staff from seven state agencies for a leaders’ retreat to discuss and plan common action in support of MA children and families. The impetus for this retreat was to the MA Race to The Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTTT-ELC) grant. MA was one of nine states to receive the highly competitive RTTT-ELC grant this past January. To fulfill the grant, MA outlined key areas in which state agencies, including the Dept of Early Education and Care, the Dept of Public Health, the Dept of Higher Education, the Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Dept of Transitional Assistance, the Dept of Children and Families, the Dept of Housing and Community Development, the Dept of Mental Health, and the Executive Office of Education, would collaborate to support child development outcome goals. The October 24th retreat was the second of series of retreats designed to facilitate this collaboration. For more about the RTTT-ELC grant and the state retreat click here.
Cross-system, cross-agency collaboration, of course, is not novel. There have been many efforts to establish broad, sustained cooperation multiple systems and organizations. And for good reason—sharing knowledge and resources, and linking services can foster creative, holistic approaches that ensure more families and children receive adequate education, health and social supports. Yet substantive collaboration is rare and is especially difficult between large systems and many partners. There is a ‘graveyard’ of consortiums, partnerships, alliances, networks, and joint-taskforces that started out with good intent— and identified clear, mutual goals—but that ultimately resulted in no or limited action or impact. The problem has never been convening stakeholders to establishing a partnership. The problem is what happens after that.
Based on the RTTT-ELC planning retreat, collaboration among MA state agency leaders promises to be different. In particular, there are three key elements in place helping to spur action:
1. Committed leadership. The MA Dept of Early Education and Care (EEC) has taken a strong, sustained leadership role in the RTTT-ELC initiative, from developing the proposal, engaging partner agencies, to planning the state retreats. EEC Commissioner Sherri Killins has kept her ‘eye on the prize’ of developing cross-agency collaboration to improve services and outcomes from families and children.
2. Conceptual framework. In the October 24th retreat, agency leaders reviewed and developed consensus towards a “Two-Generational” approach to child and family service delivery. This approach, grounded in ecological models of child development, stipulates that in order to significantly improve child outcomes, state agencies must provide services to whole families, rather than just to children or mothers, or fathers. In other words, when families benefit from stable housing, environmental and public safety, quality child-care, education, and adult education opportunities, health care, nutrition and food security, and early screening and prevention programs, children in these families are more likely to thrive
3. Focused action. Rather than begin collaborative work on multiple fronts, MA state leaders identified two starting points: shared professional development in child development concepts and practices, and; aligning eligibility criteria across multiple child and family services and benefits. Planning briefs were developed to facilitate discussion and planning in these areas, and state agency leaders identified and voted on immediate (3-8 month) action steps for advancing work in each area. EEC staff will now coordinate ongoing work in these areas with staff from all agencies
The MA RTTT-ELC effort may serve as a model to other states seeking to develop similar cross-agency collaborations. I, for one, am hopeful that this time, leaders will move past talk of collaboration, and take up real action on behalf of children and families.
Jake Murray is the Senior Director at the Aspire Institute. You can reach him at email@example.com.
By Vicky Schubert
When Warren Bennis wrote On Becoming a Leader, in 1989, his list of differences between managers and leaders ended on a pithy note: “The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.” A recent Co.Exist blog post, “Are MBAs the Solution to Africa’s Problems?” reminded me of that distinction and of the danger of confusing professional management practices for the whole of leadership.
No doubt, professional management skills are essential to the establishment of sustainable organizations and economies. But it would be a mistake to assume that the introduction of management best practices would constitute a complete solution to the complex challenges facing third world enterprises. At the same time, it’s a caution that’s equally relevant to those of us trying to develop leadership depth in the social entrepreneur and nonprofit sectors of highly developed countries.
Rather than asking whether it makes sense to build management capacity in these situations, let’s stipulate that it does make sense. Then, let’s ask a set of questions that help us build capacity in a way that respects the particular demands of the social, environmental, and cultural contexts in which the enterprise operates:
Should we import managerial expertise or grow our own? While we might accelerate results by bringing in professional managers to run the show, that’s a move guaranteed to damage our long-term prospects for success by disempowering and disengaging our local talent. Better to use external talent as mentors and teachers who can transfer skills to those more invested in the community and its wellbeing.
Are all MBAs created equal? Organizations trying to get started in conditions of extreme complexity might choose to source their professional management mentors from programs that emphasize a systemic perspective. The Aspen Institute’s BeyondGreyPinstripes.org is a great resource for finding MBA programs ranked according to their focus on social and environmental impact. We might also consult The Oath Project, an initiative of the Thunderbird School of Global Management that allows young business graduates to declare their commitment to ethical and sustainable practices.
Are we setting the enterprise up to succeed? Businesses need stable environments and institutions to survive and thrive. Business development activities that are not supported by a simultaneous and equally vigorous focus on developing effective government leaders are doomed to fail. How can we make sure that we are also attracting and developing world class MPAs and MPPs to balance and complement our business professionals?
When the goal is to cultivate leaders inclined to “do the right thing,” an MBA might be a good place to start but I think we have to remember that it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Vicky Schubert is an associate of Systems Perspectives, LLC, a coaching and consulting practice that helps leaders achieve new behaviors and better results through greater understanding of the relationships and interdependencies that drive their success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this week, Wheelock president Jackie Jenkins-Scott wrote on higher education reform for the Huffington Post. Her post, entitled "Reform Comes to Higher Education" discussed several big changes in higher education - specifically, adult learners and online learning.
According to Jenkins-Scott, "it is no longer just K-12 education systems that need reform; higher education is desperately in need of change as well." She goes on to explain that the demographic of the typical higher education student is no longer a young adult; the average student is now a "non-traditional learner" age 25 and older. These students learn in different ways and have different expectations of their learning experience, and must be approached accordingly.
She also discusses the development of online learning, and the ways that learning has evolved and will continue to do so. Modern learners have new expectations, and higher education institutions must adapt in order to keep up with technology and improvements.
The full article is available on the Huffington Post website. Let us know what you think!
There is an ever expanding list of reports and commentary questioning the value of higher education, and its relevance to today's student and workforce realities. A week doesn’t go by without a newspaper or magazine article, or blog post with a title such as: Is College Worth It? or How to Save Universities. The basic critique: college is too expensive and long—and carries a heavy debt burden—for students who for the most part either dropout or graduate with few job prospects.
Now we are moving quickly past the rhetoric to concrete actions. Last week, the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation announced $9 million in funding to support ‘Breakthrough Education Models’ – with an emphasis on promoting faster, low or no-cost online college degree and professional programs. Earlier this spring, MIT and Harvard launched edX, a $60 million initiative to offer open source online courses, where students can earn ‘Certificates of Mastery’ in certain content areas. Moreover, non-degree certificate programs are the fastest growing segment of the higher education market.
So what does all this mean for higher education? Colleges and universities that do not rapidly diversify, offering a range of both online learning options and professionally oriented, non-degree certificate or “badge” programs are at risk. Their viability and market share will shrink, as they ferociously compete for the pool of traditional, young adult (often wealthier) students who still pursue a certain product: undergraduate and graduate degrees. In many ways, higher education is undergoing a similar rude-awakening that confronted the music industry in the 1990s—and now the print media industry—with the advent of online technology.
At the same time, this moment is a tremendous opportunity for higher education to re-invent itself, while also improving access and success for a growing number of students not ‘making it’ in college today. As the Gates Foundation, Harvard, MIT and many others realize, it’s better to embrace the change, move quickly, learn what works, and shape the future of higher education, rather than be left behind.
(This article was written in response to an article called "Viable Alternatives" which is available here.)
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as an organizational leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.
Three weeks ago, I visited a public elementary school in Boston and observed several classrooms. In one classroom, I had the opportunity to see an exceptional young teacher in action. When I asked about the teacher, the principal told me that he was leaving after this year – he had accepted another job in a private school as an administrator. “How long had he been teaching?” I asked. “This is his first year,” he replied.
The demands of policymakers and pundits for education reform and increased accountability have spurred a wave of new initiatives, including most recently “value-added” teacher assessments that link student performance to teacher evaluation, compensation, and tenure. While many serious questions remain about whether valid and reliable value-added assessments exist, the bigger issue with these assessments may be a talent exodus. The prospect of continuous assessment based on student performance that is subject to a wide range of both independent and dependent variables from student to student, classroom to classroom, and year to year is giving current and prospective talented teachers pause. More and more teachers are asking: Do I really want this job?
And as the example above illustrates it is not “ineffective teachers” asking this question. In fact, research on teacher attrition shows that highly competent and knowledgeable teachers are opting out of the profession within three to five years at high rates. Their decisions are not heavily motivated by money, but rather working conditions –e.g. lack of support from administrators, high stress/high stakes testing mandates, regimented curriculum and schedules, large class sizes, etc.
The large majority of teachers acknowledge the need for—and welcome—evaluations. They also understand that the use of student performance data is an important part of any evaluation process. But what is of great concern to teachers is that value-added assessments—implemented by administrators under tremendous pressure to show student learning outcomes, and too often not in the context of positive staff development—represent a new and extremely unappealing aspect of life as a teacher. Given the ongoing need for school improvement across the country, can we afford to have many talented teachers asking: Do I really want this job?
This article was written in response to an article called "Survey finds teachers don't trust annual state skills tests" which is available here.
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as an organizational leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.
By Theresa Lynn
Over 120 cities, including Boston, recently applied for the 2012 All-American City Award. The focus of this year’s award is third grade reading proficiency. This national focus is great news for ReadBoston, a nonprofit organization that, under the leadership of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, has been focused on third grade reading since 1995.
The All-American City Award is just one of many recent calls for increased attention to literacy outcomes. In fact, there is growing consensus among elected officials, policy makers, school leaders, and philanthropists that reading proficiency by the end of third grade for all of our children is one of the most important goals of our society. The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, the Anne E. Casey Foundation, and districts around the country have joined the crusade to improve third grade reading results.
More attention and more money, of course, is all good news. But we already spend a lot of money on education, especially in Massachusetts. MA is 10th in the nation in per pupil spending. Add to that the millions spent by local nonprofits on academic programs. Although we have been making progress in Boston, it has not been the kind of radical improvement that we need to see for our at-risk students.
In other words, significant resources are key but are not the only necessary element. Setting the right investment priorities is also important. We need to focus on the strategies that have the largest impact, and not be afraid to shed the strategies that have little impact. We also need to be clear that high-impact strategies are often more expensive, more complicated, and have a longer timeframe.
Increased funding for one-time workshops, the development of new curriculum that never gets fully implemented, and a reading event at a school is not going to create proficient readers. Providing funding for a series of parent sessions without providing funding for childcare, transportation, dinner and support materials, such as books and puzzles, to take home is not going to reach the families that need it most. Our most at-risk children need high-quality instruction, a language and literacy-rich out-of-school environment, access to appropriate books, and appropriate individualized interventions when needed.
Let’s not take this opportunity of increased attention and funding and waste it. Let’s ‘seize the moment’ wisely and invest in what works.
Theresa Lynn is the executive director of ReadBoston.
By Diane E. Levin
The Boston Globe article, “In Reversal, Kids Nag Parents to Step Away from Their Phones, Laptops” by Beth Yeitell (March 8, 2012, available here) once again blames parents for doing it wrong. They are spending too much time with technology and screens instead of spending time with their children.
I am not saying that parents aren’t spending too much time on screens, but it would be helpful instead of blaming parents to ask, “Why are parents spending so much time with screens and what can we do about it, instead of just blaming them?” The fact is that parents are victims of many of the same forces in society that their children are—including being lured to screens.
The parents of today grew up when media and technology were becoming a much bigger force in their lives than it had been for their parents—computers, video games, cell phones, became regular and accepted forces in their families during their childhoods. I began studying this increase in the middle 1980s because of concerns that teachers were voicing about the changes they were seeing in children’s play, behavior and skills. It was this work that led me to write my book, Remote Control Childhood: Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, in 1998. Screen use has been steadily on the rise in the lives of children and adults every year since I began studying it.
We know from research that screens can be addictive. They replace active engagement with real things in the real world. As children, today’s parents learned to be “remote controlled.” Screens lured them into following someone else’s “program” instead of their learning how to come up with own. They became used to being bombarded with a continuing onslaught of action, excitement that filled their time making real world activities often seem boring. They interacted with other people less, thereby learning less about how to have caring and connected relationships. More and more of their lives became dependent on using screens to meet their needs, to get things done.
Why should parents suddenly know how to turn their screens off and actively engage in the world and with their own children when they become parents? Why should they know how to turn off all the ways their lives have become dependent on getting things done using screens? Why should they know how to resist all the marketing that tells them if you just had this or that new screen or screen product your life would be better, you would be happier?
Many parents do not know how to disconnect from their screens and reconnect with the real world and with their own children. Let’s help them learn to turn off their screens and engage with their children in big and little ways. For example: they can choose a regular time everyday when the whole family has no screens and does something together. But then we need to help them figure out engaging activities that they can do together when the screens are turned off.
It’s time to stop blaming parents for not knowing how to resist the hazards created by modern day society. It’s time to deal directly and thoughtfully with all the ways media and technology are changing childhood, parenthood and the wider society.
 Published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.
Diane Levin, Ph.D. is Professor of Early Childhood Education at Wheelock College. She teaches courses on play, action research, children and media, and the impact of violence on children. She is the author or co-author of 8 books related to how various forces in society affect children. She is currently working with DEY (Defending the Early Years), a project rallying educators to speak out about how new policies and reforms are impacting early childhood education.
Her website can be accessed at dianeelevin.com.