Tag Archives: K-12 Education

The Role of the Community in Education

In today’s economically and culturally diverse society it is vitally important that educators and community leaders find clarity on each other’s role in supporting our students’ academic achievement (Anderson-Butcher et. al., 2010).  This need is only intensified when we consider the context of the required school reform actions brought on by No Child Left behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measures.  However, the formation of effective school and community partnerships is usually defaulted to the responsibility of the schools and often are not established due to communication and expectation barriers (Hands, 2010).  With increasing reports of economic disparities between parents and communities of high performing schools and those of school in need of academic achievement improvements, various factors have served as barriers to strong school and community partnerships.
    A common factor impeding the formation of strong schools and communities partnerships is the lack of contextual understanding of the dynamic nature of the interactions between schools and their surrounding environment (Hands, 2010).  Hands (2010) states, “While schools and communities are distinct entities, the borders between them are permeable” (p.191).  This is demonstrated very clearly in larger school districts with diverse economic and cultural communities.  Each community has diverging expectations of support from the schools which influence the schools efforts and expectations of the community (Goldring & Berends, 2009).  The cycle of influence can change as the school leadership or community resources change.
A key factor in revealing some of the school and community expectations can be observed through the collection and measurement of data regarding parent and community opinions and views on being involved in the decision-making process.  Proper collection and use of the data from tools such as climate surveys can be useful in informing an array of school reform and school improvement efforts.  According to Thapa et. al (2013), “In the United States and around the world, there is a growing interest in school climate reform and an appreciation that this is a viable, data-driven school improvement strategy that promotes safer, more supportive, and more civil K–12 schools” (p.357).  Public opinion surveys could also be employed to identify community priorities, attitudes, and opinions.  In my district, several of our schools and programs, such as our Career and Technical Education (CTE) program have established advisory  committees to welcome community involvement in many educational decision-making efforts.      As a result we have been able to not only gather a deeper understanding of the communities perceptions of the district, but we have also shared the responsibility of contributing to the success of our students and academic programs.
     Encouraging parental and community involvement in the decision-making process of a instructional improvement committee can definitely be both beneficial, but it would require a higher level of accountability.  Often we can become so engulfed in the state accountability measure that we lose sight on how we are accountable to our first level customers, students and parents.  In my district, we are required to have parent and community involvement on our Campus Improvement Committees (CICs), but it is interesting to me, how that involvement actually plays out.  I am fascinated by how differently we, educators and educational leaders, define parental involvement.  This is also because every community has different means and constraints that impact their ability to be “involved” in the schools.  In my experiences, these differences in community coupled with our differences in defining involvement often lead to a disconnect in expectations and communications.
     As an urban educator, I have witnessed many expectation discrepancies between school and community that end up negatively affecting students.  For example, many teachers and administrators, due to a lack of expected parental involvement, have found it necessary to provide various supports for students and parents that go beyond the traditional K-12 setting.  In my humble opinion, this action, in the larger sense, has done more damage than good. Now I am not saying that when a school gets involved in grass roots efforts within the community that all students and parent are harmed, but I do believe those types of efforts have adjusted the communities expectations of the schools responsibilities.  This could lead to a different kinds of scrutiny when schools are not able to effectively take on these additional burdens, and it cause some communities to feel absolved of some of the need to be an active participants in the education of our students.
     On one hand it is evident that developing partnerships between schools and the community have significant impact, but on the other hand the process of establishing partnerships is a challenge due to the differences in expectations, resources, and other contextual influences (Hand, 2010).  To this end, both schools and the community need to work together to share the responsibility of working through theses differences to find common ground and ultimately improve student achievement in every community and intended by NCLB.

Anderson-Butcher, D., Lawson, H. A., Iachini, A., Flaspohler, P., Bean, J., & Wade-Mdivanian, R. (2010). Emergent Evidence in Support of a Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement. Children & Schools, 32(3), 160-171. doi: 10.1093/cs/32.3.160
Goldring, E. & Berends, M. (2009). Leading with Data: Pathways to Improve Your School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Hands, C. M. (2010). Why collaborate? The differing reasons for secondary school educators’ establishment of school-community partnerships. School effectiveness and school improvement, 21(2), 189-207.
Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A Review of School Climate Research. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 357-385. doi: 10.3102/0034654313483907


The College Readiness Programming Dilemma

Are there right and wrong advanced academic courses to take in high school to prepare for college?  More specifically, which college readiness program is more effective for a high school student, dual credit or Advanced Placement (AP).  In my district, not unlike many others across the state of Texas, we have been actively striving to expand our college readiness initiatives and programs.  Upon reflection, one aspect of these effort poses a dilemma, as defined by Cuban (2001), that many K-12 school systems may face – the need to expand dual credit program; the potential issue of diluting our successful Advanced Placement (AP) program; and a need for more effective academic advisement to properly inform students and parents about the benefits and limitations of both college readiness programs.  The positive impacts of AP programming have been well documented in the literature, while the limited research related to dual credit highlights both its benefits and limitations. Although I am aware of the evidence of both AP and dual credit programming fostering college readiness in students, I find myself facing overwhelming pressure from the district administration, parents, and other community stakeholders to place more emphasis on dual credit.  In today’s era of accountability and data-driven decision making, I find it extremely ironic that much of the debate among the aforementioned stakeholders regarding dual credit is not based on data.  More surprisingly, I am intrigued by the diversity in goals behind the expansion of the dual credit program.  In my opinion, there should never be a conflict between the pursuit of a rigorous and expansive AP program and the expansion of a high quality dual credit program because both have the potential to benefit students in preparation of college.

At the heart of the debate are two key factors, a limited perspective on college readiness courses and the need for proper academic advisement.  Many in the community view dual credit more from an asset “obtainment” perspective versus a “preparation” perspective. The obtainment perspective could be characterized by a desire to save money, accumulate credits, or gather an early start on a degree or credential.  On one hand this view is desirable and beneficial in today’s competitive academic and labor markets, but on the other hand when it is the sole viewpoint, decisions to pursue dual credit could at the expense of a student’s benefit.  In fact, it could lead to students taking courses that negatively impact their financial aid eligibility and admission status, and actually prolong their length of time spent in college.  The “preparation” view could be characterized by a willingness to take the most rigorous courses for the purpose of providing adequate readiness of college. When this view is the main focus a student could miss opportunities get a leg up on the academic competition.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications  the second critical issue in this dual credit debate is the need for more comprehensive post secondary academic advisement.  Regardless of the desired advanced academic programming, students and parents need to have the advisement necessary to determine which options best match a student’s post secondary goals.

In light of the challenges my district faces in pursuing more dual credit opportunities, I focused on 3 key attributes of dilemmas as referenced from the works of Cuban (2001), to frame our situation as a dilemma in an effort to determine the best course of action.  First, the situation is packed with potential conflicts between the parents’ knowledge of the impact of dual credit, the political pressures on the superintendent, and my personal ethics.  The second attribute leading me to view this situation as a dilemma is that it appears to be insoluble and only manageable. There does not appear to be a “right answer” as we are charged to emphasize and expand dual credit programs for reasons other than what is in the best interest of students.   Lastly, our situation should be viewed as a dilemma because it involves a competition between the values of the community to save parents money while getting students a head start on college and the values of many educators to make decisions based on evidence, data, and proper academic advisement.

Cuban, L.  (2001).  How Can I Fix It?  New York, NY: Teachers College Press

What is your 21st Century Professional Development Plan?

Teacher PD

The increasingly competitive global workforce of the 21st century has brought on the need for students and teachers to develop new skills and competencies in our educational systems.  Given that the 21st century classroom is characterized by innovation and project-based context, schools should adopt a 21st century teaching and learning methods that blends creative thinking skills and employs methods of instruction that integrate modern learning technologies and real-world contexts (Wan & Gut, 2011).  To this end, educators need to be prepared to serve students in the context of new expectations to meet the demands for a more skilled workforce.  Accordingly, professional development training for teachers should incorporate innovative curriculum that include modern technology skills, and practical experiences in a 21st century classroom environment.  This suggests that teachers should also learn about innovative curricula that incorporate critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking, communication and collaboration, innovative use of knowledge, and financial literacy.
How are you personally preparing to address your student’s need to develop 21st century skills? What is your district’s plan to address these increasing demand for change?  At this point, every school system should have educators and administrators actively participating in on-going professional development that focuses on building the capacity of district-level leadership teams, principals, and teacher leaders in understanding 21st century skills and their importance. According to Wan & Gut (2011) every aspect of our education system including professional development must be aligned to prepare students with the 21st century skills.   Not only should this professional development instruct educators on the 21st century skills, it should also incorporate modern ideas around technology, innovative pedagogies, and new understandings of the nature of 21st century students.  More specifically, the professional development activities should challenge new and veteran teachers to work within more significant teaching teams and more collaborative professional learning practices (Campbell, Saltmarsh, Chapman, Drew 2013).
ubiquitous technology
     Teachers of 21st century students are increasingly experiencing classrooms where the availability and use technology by students is ubiquitous.  Educational researchers assert,

 … it can be argued that there is a need within education for the greater incorporation of technology, a reinvention of the way that classrooms and schools are constructed (at both the physical and relational levels) that respond to the necessary 21st-century skills. The changing nature of technology (moving from static tools for information delivery to dynamic, user developed tools of co-creation and sharing) provides a hint as to what these 21st-century skills may be (Campbell, et.al, 2013, pg. 211).

Along with the integration of technology, 21st century classrooms are deeply rooted in innovation and problems solving (Chesbro & Boxler 2010).  This change in the learning environment for teachers and students creates a need for schools to become responsive and implement new pedagogies to that go beyond the traditional classroom pedagogy (Campbell, et.al, 2013).  This is also supported by Wan & Gut (2011),

“For in-service teachers, “just-in-time” preparation that includes coaching and identification of new pedagogical tools and approaches to weave 21st century skills into content areas should be made available. Ideally, teaching academies, or other special initiatives, should exist so teachers can develop and renew 21st century skills and pedagogy in structured programs” (Wan & Gut, 2011, pg. 167).

It is difficult for teachers to teach what they have not experienced or do not know.  To this end, the professional development for veteran teachers should intentionally be crafted to ensure the development 21st century skills in collaborative non-traditional environments to help them understand the needs of the 21st center learner (Wan & Gut, 2011).  The closer the professional development environments are to the student learning environments, the more the sharing of practices will lead to the enhancement of student learning (Campbell, et.al, 2013).
     To summarize, the on-going professional development for veteran teachers should included activities that incorporate innovative uses of technology, pedagogy training that is designed for the 21st century classroom, and opportunities for teachers to work in collaborative teams of teachers to foster the teacher development of 21st century skills and competencies.  
Campbell, M., Saltmarsh, S., Chapman, A., &  Drew, C. (2013).  Issues of teacher professional learning within ‘non-traditional’ classroom environments.  Improving Schools, 16(3), 209-222.

Chesbro, P., & Boxler, N. (2010). WEAVING THE FABRIC of professional development in the 21st century through technology. Journal of Staff Development, 31(1), 48-53,70. Retrieved from http://lib-ezproxy.tamu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/870739723?accountid=7082
Wan, G. & Gut, D.M. (2011 )  Explorations of Educational Purpose, Bringing Schools into the 21st Century [iBooks Edition]. Retrieved from iTunes.