Overcoming Challenging School Environments

Teacher quality and related issues (i.e., teacher preparation, recruitment, and professional development) ranked among the highest priority areas among a sample of education policymakers surveyed by the Institute of Education Sciences. And it is not surprising that quality teaching also emerged as a central theme in one recent series of Policy Forums.

These Policy Forums-designed for policymakers, other local leaders, and national experts to discuss critical education policy issues that impact students, schools, and communities-examined current and emerging research on major questions about improvement in content knowledge and pedagogy as they relate to improving teacher quality. Policymakers and other stakeholders learned about promising ideas and practices and discussed applications and implications for future policy and research.

While addressing many issues related to improving teaching quality, the Policy Forums focused on the following three key aspects of teacher quality:

– raising standards for and assuring quality in professional preparation and development programs;

– effectively identifying and addressing causes of staff shortages; and

– providing high-quality teaching for students in the most challenging school environments.

Focusing on Standards and Quality

States are working feverishly to meet the requirement of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. Guidance from the U.S. Department of Education continues to evolve with input from the field, providing increased flexibility for states to address challenges posed by the law.

Policymakers across the region agree that achieving their goals will necessitate going beyond having teachers pass certain tests and/or meet current certification requirements. They recognize the need for data on teachers and teaching to inform their decision making. Policy Forum participants learned that many research efforts have begun to concentrate more deeply than ever before on (a) what teachers know about the subjects they teach, (b) how well they can transmit that knowledge, (c) how to assess their competence and performance appropriately, and (d) how to inform ongoing improvements in these areas. Research highlighted in the Policy Forums reinforced the importance of these issues to improving teaching quality and the fact that teaching quality matters a great deal in student success.

Studies show that students who receive higher quality teaching for 3 consecutive years score much higher than students who have lower-quality experiences. Studies examining mathematics and science instruction reveal that teachers’ solid content knowledge is essential to successful student learning. At the same time, definitions of “high quality” vary widely; and answers to questions about how much content is enough and when more (or what type of) course work for preservice and inservice teachers will improve student outcomes, remain unclear.

Many state agencies and organizations have already undertaken reviews of issues associated with teacher quality. This review resulted in agreement about critical content knowledge and teaching skills that new teachers lack, including:

– understanding state standards and using them as the basis for instruction,

– integrating technology into curriculum and instruction, and

– teaching reading effectively in elementary school.

The Policy Forum participants noted important areas in which to concentrate next steps, resulting in recommendations for action and follow-up. Decision makers, ranging from state legislators to local boards of education and teachers’ and parents’ groups, have expanded opportunities to discuss data that can help them understand, conceptually and practically, teacher and teaching quality. These decision makers have shown heightened interest in standards as important components in all quality improvement efforts.

In addition, states, local education agencies, and other institutions have focused on assessing the effectiveness of recent and ongoing reforms to improve teaching quality. This work, within and across states, offers increasing guidance to support the interventions that demonstrate success or promise in addressing the issues of teaching quality and student achievement and to change those practices that do not.

Identifying and Addressing Staff Shortages

The Policy Forums revealed the need to identify staffing problems correctly in order to design appropriate remedies. Often, education stakeholders attribute school staffing problems to an insufficient supply. Policy Forum participants dissected critical staffing issues with the experts and then examined implications for policies that support sound preparation of qualified teachers, as well as effective recruitment and retention practices. These discussions helped policymakers gain a more expansive understanding of the problems and probable solutions.

Increasingly, research has shown that the issue is much more complex than having an insufficient supply of teachers. Indeed, critical shortages exist in certain fields and levels (e.g., mathematics, science, technology, special education). However, recent data indicate that the retention of highly qualified teachers constitutes a major challenge in all areas, with turn-over and attrition contributing significantly to teacher staffing problems. Ingersoll, for example, found that “school staffing problems are not primarily due to teacher shortages, in the technical sense of an insufficient supply of qualified teachers, rather they are primarily due to excess demand resulting from a ‘revolving door’-where large numbers of qualified teachers depart their jobs for reasons other than retirement.” Many teachers move to more attractive teaching positions; others leave the profession. According to one recent analysis of national data shared with Policy Forum participants, about one third of new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first 3 years of teaching and nearly half leave after 5 years.

Having an improved understanding of the complexities surrounding teacher shortages helps policymakers advance policies to tackle staffing issues more specifically. Jurisdictions are supporting or exploring many initiatives, including (a) legislatively earmarked recruitment strategies that identify needs and remedies specific to a district’s staffing situation, (b) salary and other compensation incentives to attract and retain qualified teachers, and (c) expanded partnerships beyond the education community tailored to address particular gaps.

Conclusion

Central to the issues covered in the Policy Forums is the challenge of how to assure that the students who face the biggest hurdles within and outside the classroom receive stable, high-quality teaching. Student access to well qualified teachers varies widely, with students in poorer and more racially isolated schools-too often low-performing schools-having inexperienced, uncertified, and out-of-field teachers. Low-income and high-minority schools face the greatest challenges in averting the devastating impact of poorly trained and skilled teachers over several school years. Teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools report poor working conditions (e.g., poor facilities, books and other materials in short supply, large class sizes, and little administrative support) that contribute significantly to high attrition of good teachers and their aspiring but less experienced colleagues from specific schools, as well as from the profession. These challenges indicate a need to address teacher distribution, teacher support, and teaching resources to improve the learning opportunities for all children.

Sharing this knowledge about teacher quality with policymakers and other education stakeholders makes it more likely that policymakers will use data and best practices as they make decisions in support of strategies that will improve student achievement and ensure school success.

Elementary School Teachers, Counselors, and Career Education

As teachers and counselors, you know that the elementary school years are important. During the elementary school years, your students build visions of what they desire to do in their lives as they contribute to the workforce. With your help, your students remain open to new career ideas and possibilities. As you work with your students, your students do not make premature career choices or career preparations. For your students, elementary school is a time to build awareness.

As elementary school teachers and counselors, you use career education to promote self-worth, skill development, and decision making strategies. Your activities are designed to build self, family, school, community, and career awareness. You use age-appropriate materials that match your students’ developmental levels. These activities expose your students to a variety of different jobs, career information sources, and the reasons why people work.

When you prepare to develop age-appropriate materials products, tests and tools, you use career models like the National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG). The National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG) have domains, goals, and indicators. Each domain represents a developmental area. Under each domain, there are goals or competencies. For each goal, indicators highlight the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the goal. The National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG) prepares you to make materials that are suitable for your students.

As a elementary school counselors and teachers, you create individual career plans and portfolios. Individual career plans (ICP) –

  • Develop self-awareness
  • Identify initial career goals and educational plans
  • Increase employability and decision making skills

Individual career portfolios summarize career awareness activities and experiences that occur during the school year. In addition to individual career plans and portfolios, you use a variety of resources –

    Career days

  • Career fairs
  • Community speakers
  • Field trips
  • Information interviewing
  • Literary works
  • Mentors
  • Collages, murals
  • Educational games
  • Job shadowing
  • Dramatic presentations

All of the career activities and tools combine academic work with career pathways. Career activities serve as foundations for future skills. As teachers and counselors, you help students build connections between academics and real life situations. You use career education activities to stress the importance of language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.

You show students that Language Arts have many uses in the work force:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening skills

You provide examples that show how people solve problems when they use Mathematics. Different types of Mathematics include:

  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Multiplication
  • Division

In Social Studies, your students learn how skills that are necessary to be successful in the global marketplace. In Social Studies, your students learn about –

  • Countries
  • Languages
  • Cultures

Your students learn the importance of Science gaining skills to solve problems. You show your students how applications of Science are used in different industries, such as –

  • Food
  • Media
  • Agriculture
  • Automotive industry

The connections between academics and real life situations reinforce, develop, and expand previously learned skills. In summary, as a elementary school teachers and counselors, you help students:

  • Know and value self
  • Build self-esteem and confidence
  • Learn and apply the academic material
  • Identify interests and build relationships between the school environment and the work force
  • Build academic, communication, problem solving, and social skills
  • Increase awareness of the need for future jobs skills
  • See the connections between learning in school, academic skills, job related skills, and careers
  • See career possibilities
  • See themselves as a future contributor to the job force
  • Receive empowerment
  • Build self-determination

As counselors and teachers, you build self-awareness, family awareness, school awareness, community awareness, career/ work awareness, attitude development, skill development, decision making strategies, and self-worth. You use age-appropriate materials that match the developmental levels of the students. Examples of activities include individual career plans (ICP), individual career portfolios, career days, career fairs, field trips, information interviewing, and library book reports.

After completing career education activities, your students are prone to get higher grades, academic achievement, school involvement, and interpersonal skills. In addition, your students are more adept to complete more complex courses and have higher graduation rates from high school. As your students get older, they will achieve their career visions and goals.

References

1. American Counseling Association, Office of Public Policy and Legislation. (2007). Effectiveness of School Counseling. Alexandria, VA: Author.

2. Angel, N. Faye; Mooney, Marianne. (1996, December). Work-in-Progress: Career and Work Education for Elementary Students. (ED404516). Cincinnati, OH: Paper presented at the American Vocational Association Convention.

3. Benning, Cathleen; Bergt, Richard; Sausaman, Pamela. (2003, May). Improving Student Awareness of Careers through a Variety of Strategies. Thesis: Action Research Project. (ED481018). Chicago, Illinois: Saint Xavier University.

4. Career Tec. (2000). K-12 Career Awareness & Development Sequence [with Appendices, Executive and Implementation Guide]. (ED450219) .Springfield, Il: Author.

5. Carey, John. (2003, January). What are the Expected Benefits Associated with Implementing a Comprehensive Guidance Program. School counseling Research Brief 1.1. Amherst, MA: Fredrickson Center for School Counseling Outcome Research.

6. Dare, Donna E.; Maddy-Bernstein, Carolyn. (1999, September). Career Guidance Resource Guide for Elementary and Middle/Junior High School Educators. (ED434216). Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

7. DuVall, Patricia. (1995).Let’s Get Serious about Career Education for Elementary Students. AACE Bonus Briefs. (ED386603). Hermosa Beach, CA: AACE Bonus Briefs.

8. Ediger, Marlow. (2000, July). Vocational Education in the Elementary School. (ED442979) Opinion Papers

9. Gerver, Miriam, Shanley, Judy, O Cummings, Mindee. (2/14/02). Answering the Question EMSTAC Extra Elementary and Middle Schools. Washington, DC: Technical Assistance Center, (EMSTAC).

10. Hurley, Dan, Ed.; Thorp, Jim, Ed. (2002, May). Decisions without Direction: Career Guidance and Decision-Making among American Youth. (ED465895). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Ferris State University Career Institute for Education and Workforce Development.

11. Maddy-Bernstein, Carolyn; Dare, Donna E. (1997,December).Career Guidance for Elementary and Middle School Students. Office of Student Services Brief, v9 n1. (ED415353). Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

12. Ohio Department of Education, Division of Vocational and Career Education, Ohio Career Development Blueprint, Individual Career Plan, K to 5 (ED449322). Columbus, Ohio, 2000

13. Splete, Howard; Stewart, Amy. (1990). Competency-Based Career Development Strategies and the National Career Development Guidelines. Information Series No. 345. (ED327739). Columbus, Ohio: ERIC Clearinghouse on Education and Training for Employment & Ohio State University

14. U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (1994, 2004). National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG). Washington, DC: Author.

15. Williams, Jean A., Ed. (1999, January). Elementary Career Awareness Guide: A Resource for Elementary School Counselors and Teachers. (ED445293). Raleigh, NC: NC Department of Public Instruction, NC Job Ready.

16. Woal, S. Theodore. (1995). Career Education–The Early Years. AACE Bonus Briefs. (ED386603). Hermosa Beach, CA: AACE Bonus Briefs.

The Importance of Nursery School

Many parents may be wondering if they really need to put their kids in nursery school. A lot of people think it is fine to put their children in school at the age of five for kindergarten. The immeasurable value of early education cannot be underestimated. Many parents may consider daycare over early education. The thing is that a fair number of preschools are also certified daycares, so you can still work and pick up your children afterwards. Let’s explore other important facets of nursery school that you may not be aware of.

The Importance of Early Education

While a lot of people may be quick to write off the importance of what you learn between the ages of three and five, recent studies suggest that preschool is very important. In these settings, children are exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes for the first time. They also begin to learn the names of colors and animals. Perhaps the most important facet of early education is the simple social interaction with other children. It is key that children learn how to get along with others and contribute to the whole in a meaningful manner, which they learn in an early education setting. The National Institute for Early Education Research did a study and found that nearly 40 percent of three year-olds and upwards of 66 percent of four year-olds were enrolled in early education programs. Their study also concluded that children who attended such programs entered kindergarten with better reading, basic math, and vocabulary skills. These programs sound pretty good, don’t they?

Choosing the Right Nursery School for Your Child

This requires a fair amount of research on your part. First, you must determine what program works best for your schedule. Generally, schedules range from full-time, half-days, or two to three days a week. If you work longer hours, you can find an option that also supplies daycare. Secondly, consider the location. You may choose between proximity to your home or work. Either way, these are logistical issues that you must consider. Perhaps the most important question to tackle is what kind of institution do you want to send your child to? There are programs in state schools, churches, private organizations, parent’s coalitions, and daycare centers. What values do you want instilled in your children? Make sure that the nursery school you send your kids aligns with your own values.

Early education is more than just a place to offload your kids while you go to work. The research is clear that children who start education earlier tend to be better students and have more basic skills. Education is the single most important gift you can provide for a child.

6 Ways That School Districts May Use Special Education Funds From ARRA Funds of 2009

Are you the parent of a child with autism receiving special education services? Are their services that your child needs but your school district is refusing to provide? Have you heard that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has extra money for special education services? Would you like to know a few items that school districts may spend the money on? This article will give __ suggestions on what the ARRA money for special education can be spent on.

The ARRA funds have 4 principles that are attached to them. Principle 1: Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs. Principle 2: Improve student achievement through school improvement and reform. Principle 3: Ensure transparency, reporting and accountability. Principle 4: Invest one time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the funding cliff.

Funds need to be used for short term investments that have the potential for long term benefits.

6 Suggestions for use of special education ARRA funds are:

1. Teacher salaries and salaries for other trained educators. Possible use could also be trained para professionals that will help a child benefit from an inclusive placement.

2. Scientifically research based curriculums in the areas of reading and math, which are required by No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Many school districts are continuing to use outdated curriculums that are not proven to help children learn reading and math. Once a school district purchases the curriculum and trains their teachers the benefits will continue for years to come.

3. Obtain state of the art assistive technology devices and also provide training in their use to enhance access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities.

4. Provide intensive district wide professional training for regular and special education teachers, that focuses on research based curriculums and strategies in the areas of reading, math, writing, and science.

5. Provide intensive district wide professional development in the area of positive behavioral supports and plans to improve outcomes for children with disabilities. Many children with disabilities are continuing to be suspended and expelled for behavior that is part of their disability; though this is not allowed under IDEA. School wide use of positive behavioral supports and plans will benefit all children not just those with disabilities.

6. Hire transition coordinators to work with employers in the community to develop job placements and training for youths with disabilities. This will ensure that children graduating will have a job and a future!

These are just a few suggestions that can benefit all children with disabilities in America. I hope that you will get involved with your school district and have input on how the money will be spent to benefit children with disabilities in your district!