Educators across the nation are working to improve their students' academic achievement, engage families and communities in learning, and maintain safe and healthy learning environments. But in Washington State's Tacoma Public Schools, educators are being held accountable for all of these responsibilities, not just their students' performance on tests. That's because the district is strategically aligning its accountability system with its overall purpose of supporting the whole child.
Fifteen years ago, a small team of school, university, and community partners began working on creating the system of student support that is now City Connects. We were hopeful that we would be able to demonstrate that addressing students' out-of-school needs would lead to improvements in academic achievement and student well-being.
Developed at Boston College's Lynch School of Education in the late 90s, City Connects is a student support intervention that addresses the non-academic factors like homelessness or hunger that can limit academic achievement, especially for children living in poverty. The intervention identifies the strengths and needs of every child across academic, social/emotional, health, and family domains and connects each student to a tailored set of prevention, intervention, and enrichment services available in the community and/or school.
A fundamental societal need is to end the marginalization (and ongoing fragmentation) of efforts to transform how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students. To this end, our work emphasizes embedding all specific initiatives into a broad school improvement framework that can guide development of a unified and comprehensive system of student and learning supports. Such a framework enables using the growing interest in the "whole" as a catalyst to effectively weave together the full range of existing school-home community resources.
The Common Core State Standards underscore five key shifts in teaching and learning that place greater emphasis on
Critical thinking, reasoning, and use of evidence to defend an argument.
Deeper conceptual understanding, particularly in math.
Writing, not only through explicit standards for writing, but also through the need to communicate one's reasoning through writing.
Applying learning to real-world situations.
Using informational texts to build content knowledge and literacy.
The shifts embodied in the standards necessitate that students become self-regulating, metacognitive learners. And for each shift, a body of research points toward pedagogies that are particularly effective in helping students who live in poverty meet and achieve the skills, knowledge, and dispositions embodied in the shifts. The brief descriptions below describe these research-based approaches in relationship to a particular shift; however, many of these approaches could apply to more than one shift. The purpose is not to "sell" or promote a particular approach, but rather to illuminate the large volume of evidence that can challenge our mind-sets about students from low-income families and their ability to learn to high standards.
I work as a librarian at George Jackson Academy (GJA) in New York, N.Y. Founded in 2002, GJA is an independent, nonsectarian upper elementary and middle school for academically capable boys from low-income and underserved families. Classes are small, teachers are passionate, and money is tight. That said, our graduates have attended some of the best high schools and private day schools in the nation. GJA graduates attend Columbia University, Princeton, NYU, and Wesleyan.
More than 16 million children in the United States live in poverty, which dramatically affects their ability to come to school ready to learn and thrive. The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics' The Condition of Education 2013 (PDF) report shows that one in five schools was considered high poverty in 2011, an increase from one in eight schools in 2000.
Post written by Robert Halpern, director of the doctoral program and chair of the research council at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.
A recent documentary,180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School, perfectly captures the lack of imagination of current high school reform efforts in the United States. In this documentary the beleaguered principal and staff of Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan High School scramble to prepare students for the D.C. CAS, a standardized test on which their individual and collective fates rest. (I will withhold the ending, for those of you who have not yet seen the documentary, directed by Jacquie Jones of the National Black Programming Consortium.)
Policy discussions about how to improve academic, social, and physical outcomes for today's youth typically take place solely within the domains of many individual youth-serving sectors. For instance, much of educators' current deliberation considers responses to the new Common Core State Standards and how to increase students' high school graduation and college attendance. Health professionals may focus on asthma management or obesity reduction. In social services, providers may talk about how to create seamless transitions for foster youth. Despite their common focus on young people, these youth-serving sectors typically are disconnected from, and uninformed about, each other's programs, policies, and approaches to serving youth—when in fact, local youth are constantly moving between them. These so-called institutional "silos" can result in unintended gaps in the web of supports that youth need, duplication of services, poorly aligned goals, and missed opportunities to be mutually reinforcing. How the community as a whole, rather than any one agency or program, meets the developmental needs of children and youth is important for supporting their pathways to productive adulthood.
Moses was my student in Brooklyn, N.Y. He came from Guyana, was 10 years old, and deaf. His mother, who spoke no English and knew no one in New York, had made the treacherous journey to the United States to give him the opportunity to go to school. He was the skinniest boy I had ever seen, with longer-than-long legs that he sometimes tripped over when he ran. Moses was not getting enough to eat at home, so I started bringing him food. Some days, he did not eat from the time he left me until the next morning at school.
Moses and his mother lived in one tiny room where the heat sometimes did not work. His mother worked two jobs and was rarely home for more than an hour when Moses returned from school. Yet here he was, at long last, in a school for the deaf where he could finally thrive and learn.
The landscape of American education has changed. Since 2011, more minority children than white, non-Hispanic children are being born in U.S. households. As a result of this growing trend, we must look at the disparities within the education system that have implications for schools across the country. Once thriving communities are seeing population shifts, with students coming from inner-city, urban areas as well as students from impoverished backgrounds.