Responses to “School and community features associated with low income student success”

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I recently posted my project School and community features associated with low income student success. It was important to me to get reactions from educators or those that work with low income students. I reached out to my network and, with their permission, I am sharing some of their thoughts here. Content may be lightly edited for grammatical or space reasons. This post will be updated as I receive responses.

Grace Heim An elementary school teacher of 15+ years with background in gifted education, math, science, ESL, and international education. She has taught in Michigan, North Carolina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Florida. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Wow! Super interesting. Not surprised by some of your results. The smaller school size (smaller student to counselor ratio) I think is a widely accepted contributor to student success and I have heard of large high schools attempting to adopt this model by splitting groups into smaller “cohorts” or “teams” to replicate the idea of a smaller “school within a school.” Also, not super surprised by “the percentage of non-low income students who are college eligible” as a positive factor in SPLICE but I have to say that I was surprised by how much. Makes me think of the 5 years I taught in Wake County, North Carolina during a period where they had very aggressive busing policies to try and bridge the achievement gap. Basically, every school had about the same percentage of free and reduced lunch students. They also, interestingly enough, had and continue to have strong magnet programs.

I was very very surprised by your findings on teacher experience and certification. I wonder why? And it really doesn’t speak well for teacher certification programs. If completing a teacher certification program doesn’t mean you’re more likely to be a better teacher (as evidenced by student achievement) than why have to complete one? Why not just get practical experience in the classroom? To dig into this one further, I’d probably ask: For the teachers who aren’t “certified” what education and training did they receive prior to teaching in a classroom? Maybe at the high school level, subject area expertise is more of a predictor than “certified teacher.” For example, if a higher level math teacher who isn’t officially “certified” meaning he/she doesn’t have a “teaching certificate” per say, previously majored in Math in college and then worked as an engineer for 5 years before entering the classroom as a teacher, maybe that would be more important than the certification.

Likewise, teacher PD (professional development) might be much more important than certified/not certified or years of experience. When I think of my own teaching and how much I have improved from when I first started most of the improvement came from professional development while I was already teaching- the workshops, extra classes, and professional learning communities, team meetings, schoolwide training on various topics that ranged from social/emotional learning to writer’s workshop or other subject specific teaching strategies or programs, stuff like that. I would suspect that the staff at these higher performing schools are exposed to a lot of PD opportunities

By the way, PD is a requirement for “recertification.” It’s typically a 5 year renewal but this can vary by state. Teacher have to take a certain amount of PD “credits” or “course hours.” This is supposed to ensure that teachers are continually learning and updating their teaching practices. In reality, the quality of PD varies….some of the course are fluff- Ex. Attendance. That was a class!! An online slideshow that we had to watch that basically took the idea “Attendance is important” and stretched that out into like 25 different slides. Others like Canvas (a learning management system similar to Blackboard) and a lot of my Gifted Teaching courses were amazing! These had/have a much bigger impact in my teaching- how I plan, implement, and assess curriculum and engage with my students. Good teachers engage in quality professional development, whether they are certified or not, whether they are new or veteran teachers. They are always learning how to be better.

I’m also super interested in the charter school findings. I want to know more. What about the the course offerings at the different high schools. Discussion about the types of course that are offered at each high school would be interesting as well as the other things that you already mentioned like access to wifi/internet/technology/tutoring services, etc. Is there a marked difference in the number or type of courses offered at charter schools and traditional public high schools? What about behavior? Here in FL a big “plus” about charter schools is that they can much more easily kick out the kids who exhibit negative behaviors. What is it about the charter schools in your study that make them successful? I’m very curious.

Greg Matthews A private equity investor, he has a noteworthy perspective from his work with New Door Ventures where he sits on the Ambassadors Council. The organization provides support to Bay Area youth with education and work opportunities.

I thought some of the takeaways were interesting. The teacher profile for exceptional SPLICE surprised me as I thought more experienced teachers would produce better results. That is really interesting. The issue of available public transport is something we look at from New Door’s perspective. It drives the interns ability to get to the programs (since relying on cars create more issues, especially in lower income areas). The small school correlation could be that it’s easier to track students and maintain better attendance rates vs. larger schools. It would be cool to try and get an organization Like Teach for America or Broad Group to give you their data so you can further test some of these ideas. They would have a different data set (ideally), but still relevant points.

…More qualified or highly paid teachers could be tenured or part of a union which gives them more job security so maybe their productivity slips (kind of what was hinted at in Waiting for Superman documentary). Or that larger schools scoop up the more qualified teachers and then they just have to deal with more issues that impact these outcomes versus smaller schools.

[Another] thought about the teacher experience / certification - do you think Teach for America plays a role into any of this? From what (little) I know about the program, they send talented, but young teachers into more difficult schools. So they could be driving good results, but do not have formal certificates, etc. Also - I wonder if Canvas would have data on teacher PD that you could overlay. [This] would potentially back up [Grace’s] point that good teachers are always learning.