Funding Missouri’s Schools = Advancing Missouri’s Future

School funding is not a particularly exciting topic, but it’s extremely important. All of us—each educator, legislator, employer, and parent—should be well-informed when it comes to how our P-12 public schools are funded. While it’s true that money doesn’t always guarantee success and high performance, it’s very difficult to make substantial progress without adequate fiscal support. Here are some important facts based on 2017 state rankings and 2018 school statistics estimates of school statistics data:

  • There are 556 operating school districts in Missouri, ranking 10th in the nation.
  • Missouri ranks 34th in the nation for its number of high school graduates.
  • The average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation).
  • In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary for teachers was 1% lower in 2015–16 than in 1990–91.
  • Ranking 41st in the nation, the average Missouri teacher salary in 2017 was just over $48,000.
  • School funding per enrolled student in Missouri actually went down in the last fiscal year:
    • 2016: $12,551 per pupil (26th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,069 per pupil (30th in the nation)
  • Likewise, school funding per student in average daily attendance also went down:
    • 2016: $13,074 (29th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,578 (31st in the nation)
  • The bulk of funding for Missouri’s schools comes from local government sources and remained about the same over the last two years:
    • 2016: 58.6% (4th in the nation)
    • 2017: 58.5% (4th in the nation)
  • Only about a third of the funding for Missouri’s public schools comes from state government sources, which is far behind what most other state governments contribute:
    • 2016: 32.7% (48th in the nation)
    • 2017: 33.0% (47th in the nation)
  • Even federal government funding for Missouri’s public schools dropped in the last two years:
    • 2016: 8.7% (28th nationally)
    • 2017: 8.4% (27th nationally)
  • Missouri is in the middle of the pack when it comes to per-student enrolled expenditures, and it remained almost flat over the past two years:
    • 2016: $10,784 (27th in rank)
    • 2017: $10,826 (28th in rank)

2018-19 Projections

Based on trend data, Missouri will not fare well during the 2018-19 academic year:

  • The number of teachers will drop by 6.5%.
  • The number of all instructional staff will drop by 6.5%.
  • The average teacher salary will increase by 1.2% to just over $49,000. It is should be noted though that when calculating for inflation, teacher salaries are projected to show a 4% decline between 2009-2018.
  • Federal revenue receipts are expected to drop by 9%.
  • Meanwhile, expenditures per student enrolled are expected to rise by 1.7%.

 

So, what’s the takeaway? What does this mean for Missouri schools and for our state?

  • We have a lot of school districts operating the state.
  • All these districts must share a pot of money that’s shrinking each year.
  • State funding is woefully inadequate, near the bottom of all 50 states, and federal funding is less than 9% of what school districts receive.
  • That lays the bulk of responsibility to keep school doors open on the shoulders of local government. If this trend continues, property taxes must continue to rise to make up for the state and federal shortfall.
  • Missouri school districts are having to make very tough choices in order to operate within their limited budget. As a result, updating textbooks, buying microscopes, repairing technology, and the like have to be put on the back burner.
  • Missouri is losing its teachers. Some are retiring; some are moving to other states; and some are leaving the profession for more pay. This will lead to an even greater teacher shortage and will reduce the quality of instruction. Remember that research has proven time after time that teacher quality is the #1 factor in student achievement. If we fail to properly invest in our teachers and provide them with the kind of ongoing professional support they need to be successful, we are ultimately turning our backs on our state’s students.

 

Being a Part of the Solution: What Can We Do?

The state of Missouri offers endless opportunities for technology incubators, economic growth, cutting edge healthcare, tourism, and the like. Our residents are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and tackle the hard jobs. We can address the challenges that our P-12 public schools are facing, and we can work together to make wise choices for the future.

Rather than the bulk of decisions being made by lawmakers who are influenced by lobbyists representing special interest groups, it’s important to receive input from those directly impacted: School administrators, teachers, community members, workforce representatives, parents, and of course, students. And, input needs to be much more than a hearing or two held in Jefferson City–these groups need to have a seat at the table and actually play a role in influencing decisions, allocations, and public policy. We need greater transparency and greater communication; a school superintendent should not have to learn of a funding cut through the local newspaper or on television. These stakeholders must be treated with respect and their insights should be taken seriously. Lawmakers should be out in their districts on a regular basis, not just for photo ops or fundraising, but for sincere listening and collaboration.

If lawmakers in Jefferson City are truly interested in promoting academic excellence in our state, they will create a structure in their districts to encourage active collaboration with constituents. It wouldn’t be that difficult, and I suspect they wouldn’t have any problem getting participants. I’ll start by raising my hand to be a part of the solution–who else is with me?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Empowerment-Based Learning: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

 “A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from an Idaho rural school administrator who has unlocked the key to powerful learning. Empowering students to take an active role in their own learning is often referred to by many different names:

 

Using terms like these interchangeably can be confusing but here’s the bottom line:

With empowerment-based activities, students are more able to take control of their own learning.

They achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace, or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to. And, teachers are empowered to provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are empowered to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems while parents/caregivers see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

All students deserve the opportunity to learn.

Many state departments of education have regulations that haven’t been updated in decades and most don’t even mention student-driven learning models. Contact (clock) hours mean far less than learning time–there is a big difference! Just because someone may be sitting in a seat with an open textbook for 50 minutes does not mean they are engaged, motivated, and focused. Most of all, it doesn’t mean they are comprehending, applying, analyzing, evaluating, solving problems, or synthesizing new information.

Students deserve the opportunity to take greater control over what they learn, how they learn, and how quickly they progress through material.

This can have a positive impact on motivation, attendance, student retention, graduation, satisfaction, and college enrollment. Likewise, learners who can demonstrate they have a solid foundation of content knowledge–and they can apply that knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations–are particularly valuable to employers. After all, employees must demonstrate their proficiency on-the-job everyday; why not help prepare them for success by using an empowerment-based learning model in our P-12 schools?

Empowerment-based learning is not limited to a particular school environment.

It can be implemented in public and private P-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in homeschools. It can also be used quite effectively in online learning environments at all levels. That’s another beautiful aspect of this model–it’s not limited to a particular type of school or location--it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, for any level. 

This isn’t an easy, 1-2-3 step approach.

Despite all its advantages, creating such a model is not as simple as following a few easy steps; setting it up correctly requires a lot of preparation and some foundational knowledge. Moreover, the model is not intended to be static. After it’s in place it still requires periodic review and updates based on student learning data.

Success stems from preparation, communication, and stakeholder buy-in.

While the design can be highly effective in a variety of learning environments the one constant is that it requires a shared commitment to academic excellence on the part of educators, administrators, parents, and learners. In order for this to take place, school leaders must thoroughly educate themselves in empowerment-based learning. They must connect one of the models to their school’s vision, mission, and purpose. School leaders must also be adept at communicating to stakeholders throughout the process, seeking their input and active involvement. It is only when everyone shares a commitment to empowerment-based learning that it can be truly successful, but the results can be incredible.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Think-Speak-Learn-Grow: Active Citizenship through Active Learning

She doesn’t know it, but Heather Wolpert-Gawron got my morning off to a good start. I just read that the 2017-2018 Missouri Educator of the Year is working with middle level students to help them to hone their speech and debate skills. On surface that may not sound groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a very important skill we should be promoting in our P-12 schools.

Wolpert-Gawron teaches at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, Missouri. The school was originally established in 1908 as part of the teacher training curriculum at Springfield Normal School but has been associated with Missouri State University for many years. In fact, I’m proud to say that I completed my student teaching at Greenwood many years ago and am pleased it has maintained its reputation for innovative instructional practices.

Ms. Wolpert-Gawron correctly observed that most P-12 students have no problem expressing themselves in social situations with their peers—the difficulty comes when they are asked to apply what they have learned about a given topic and communicate on a more formal level. In my opinion, it is extremely important to teach our students how to think critically, analyze, articulate a position, and engage in thoughtful, meaningful discussions with others. In a nutshell we really need to be teaching all the Language Arts, which are broadly comprised of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Some additional key skills that can be developed in association with the Language Arts include:

  • Formulating arguments without being argumentative
  • Disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Knowing what you stand for, and then being able to defend it
  • Using your knowledge for good – to effect positive change
  • Feeling empowered to make a difference

Students who are taught these skills and given opportunities to hone them will become much more confident thinkers, writers, and speakers. They will grow up to become valuable employees, entrepreneurs, and political leaders. Most importantly, by teaching language arts skills including debate, these students will become informed, confident, articulate, and empowered citizens of our great nation. In other words, Active civitate opus effectum positivum mutation. – “Active citizenship to effect positive change.” I can think of no better gift to give to our students, or to our nation.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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HELP WANTED: EXCEPTIONAL LEADERS. OTHERS NEED NOT APPLY.

HELP WANTED: An exceptional leader who desires to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of others. This individual must be able to: work well under stress; collaborate with others; manage and lead; inspire and motivate; and yield results. The ideal candidate will demonstrate the following attributes:

  • High moral standards
  • Strict personal ethics
  • Executive energy
  • Exceptional organization skills
  • Artful communication skills
  • Loyalty

 

It’s difficult to find individuals who meet these criteria; isn’t it? Over the years we’ve gotten used to settling for less than the very best. Sometimes we settle because we’re in a hurry to fill a position; other times we’re more focused on saving a few bucks so we hire someone less qualified, less experienced, less committed, and less successful. In some instances, individuals come along who possess few of the skills we’re looking for, but they are charismatic and convincing, only to leave a path of destruction for others to clean up. Regardless of the reason, we eventually we pay a price for not insisting on hiring the very best leaders.

There actually is one individual who meets all the criteria above—it’s Robert Frances Kennedy. In fact, he was described in this way by his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in an interview with Newsweek magazine in early 1963 (Matthews 2017).  In respectful observance of his tragic death this week in 1968, I think it’s important that we reflect on what true leadership is. We need more leaders today like Bobby Kennedy, and we need to be teaching leadership skills in our P-12 schools to nurture those qualities in our young people so they in turn can fill important societal roles in the future. President Kennedy said that anybody can have ideas—the problem lies in actually making them happen. Helping students to identify problems, develop ideas for solving those problems, and then taking action to yield results are important skills that schools should build into their curriculum starting in kindergarten.

Since my field is education, that is the lens through which I look most often. But I think real leaders probably possess many of the same attributes, skills, and dispositions regardless of which sector they serve in. Specifically:

In addition to building a vision for the future, developing a strategic plan, and setting high but attainable expectations, a leader’s major role is to motivate and inspire others; to model effective and ethical practice; and to facilitate growth in other team members.

I think there is a distinction between management and leadership, but they are intertwined on many levels. Those assigned to roles of responsibility must be adept at both.

Successful management is one piece of advancing the institution’s mission, but leaders must be careful not to micromanage because it can signal a lack of trust, breed confusion and ultimately, can productivity and success. Delegate responsibilities to others when appropriate but lead when necessary.

I believe an effective leader must be truly committed to academic excellence. By setting high expectations for ethical practice and academic outcomes, a leader can inspire others to achieve great things.

Likewise, an effective leader must have confidence. It is difficult to lead others when we don’t communicate that we truly believe the path being taken is the right one.

An effective leader must ensure proper recognition of other team members for their contributions, particularly in the context of a significant or challenging project. It’s necessary to motivate and inspire, but we must also show appreciation and recognition.

And finally, an effective leader must be prepared to make tough decisions. He or she must be willing and able to make the decisions necessary to ensure program quality, because if a leader fails in that arena he or she simply is not doing the job they were hired to do.

The bottom line is that an effective leader must wholeheartedly believe in the cause he or she is leading—must be completely committed to success—and must treat others with respect and appreciation.

For so many reasons, I truly wish Bobby Kennedy was still with us. But, we can still learn from him and others like him. We must commit to building a nation of true leaders. I think our way of life depends on it.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

 

 

Matthews, C. (2017). Bobby Kennedy: A raging spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

#STEM. #TeacherShortage. It’s Real. And we need to fix it.

Scientists. Technology gurus. Engineers. Mathematicians. We need these highly skilled professionals to solve problems, to make new discoveries, and to advance the quality of life around the globe. The trouble is, we are quickly running out of teachers to prepare future workers in these areas.

A couple of months ago I published a blog post entitled Tackling the STEM Teacher Shortage and am pleased it got noticed. This is a huge issue that isn’t going away any time soon, and it will take a concerted effort to turn the ship around and get it headed in the right direction.

I was interviewed by a freelance writer working on a piece for a national publication on this topic; it was recently published and while I’m pleased to see she used some of the information I provided, it sure would have been nice to have received at least a mention in the article. Since that didn’t happen, I’m not too inclined to promote her work. But, I wanted to add my own follow-up and offer some additional thoughts for consideration about the national shortage in STEM classrooms:

Why Don’t We Have Enough Teachers?

There’s no single cause of the teacher shortage, which makes it that much more challenging to address. Some of these factors, however, include:

(1) Low teacher pay. When you figure all the time you put in outside of student contact hours during the school day—all those nights, weekends, holidays, and even summers when schools aren’t even in session—it’s easy to see that teachers actually make very little. The reality is that they have bills to pay and children to raise just like everyone else, and in many cases, there are other jobs that simply make it easier to provide for their families, particularly in the STEM sector.

(2) Many teachers feel undervalued and disrespected. They don’t always get the support they need from the school principal or parents. Regardless of how dedicated or committed we may be, no teacher is an island unto him or her self—and they need to be able to trust that they will have support from others if and when the need arises. This can be particularly true in high demand areas.

(3) Poor preparation. I call this the, “What did I get myself into?” syndrome. Now, while I think by and large we as an education community have gotten better over the years with how we prepare our teachers, we still have a lot of room for improvement. You would never expect a pilot to fire up the engines of a 747 and take off with 200 passengers on board without a LOT of extensive training and practice, and I sure wouldn’t entrust my financial planner with my life’s savings if all she had to do was pass an exam or complete a program that was designed 30 years ago. But that’s what we often see in teacher prep programs—we have such a wide range of preparation programs in our country, many of which quite frankly do not prepare teachers for today’s classrooms. For example, some schools of education require a full-year of clinical practice before a teacher candidate completes their program while others may only have an eight-week student teaching program. Some may have full-length courses or modules covering topics that are essential to classroom success such as current teaching methods, using assessment to steer instruction, and of course, effective classroom management—while others may take their candidates through their entire prep curriculum over a two-week workshop, and then place their seal of approval on them and recommend them for state licensure. My heart goes out to these candidates, because they often feel ill-prepared for the reality of being in a classroom, meeting the needs of students with a variety of needs. As a result, many of these individuals leave the classroom after a year, with about half leaving the profession within 5 years of receiving their teaching license.

 Piecemeal Approaches – Piecemeal Results    

Multiple states, and even individual school districts have taken it upon themselves to find ways to recruit teachers in those areas of highest demand. But the results of their efforts have been mixed, at best, for a couple of main reasons:

(1) Few state departments of education collect data regarding supply/demand. They are not reaching out to school districts in their state, engaging them in real conversations about what their needs are. That leads to a lot of (2) piecemeal approaches that are often kneejerk reactions to anecdotal information, and those efforts are rarely strategic and coordinated.  So, in a lot of instances, we don’t really know the extent of the problem in a given state, nor can we project how many science or math teachers will likely be needed over the next decade—and (3) we have multiple groups (state departments of education, school districts, and universities) all wanting to address the problem. But they are mostly working in silos, not as a unit moving synchronously. Very little data are being tracked, and the result is a train barreling down the track that continues to pick up speed.

Now, one of the strategies that several state departments of education that tried is that they have permitted alternative routes to licensure through non-traditional educator preparation programs (Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, New York, and many others). These models vary widely from state to state; some only excuse student teaching experience with 2 years of documented employment as a substitute teacher, or as a paraprofessional while still requiring all other coursework and exams, while others simply require a bachelor’s degree in ANYTHING, and proof of passing the state’s required licensure exam.

The virtual school movement is also gaining traction in a lot of states for many reasons, but in part because of the inability for school districts to find qualified teachers in high demand areas such as math and science. Multiple school districts could pool their resources, form some type of co-op and essentially hire one Calculus teacher who could potentially provide instruction for hundreds of high schoolers, depending on how many sections were offered. But while it sounds good and has a lot of potential, this approach isn’t without its drawbacks, given that quality assurance measures for virtual instruction, particularly at the P-12 level, still remain largely undefined. That means we often find huge gaps in quality, which could be an entire conversation on its own.

There have also been some privately-funded initiatives, such as:

  • National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR): This organization doesn’t necessarily focus on the teacher shortage per se, but its mission is to support a network of residency programs dedicated to preparing highly effective urban public-school teachers. It is built on the “grow your own” premise, with the thinking that (1) individuals who already have strong ties in a local community either by living there or working in the school district will likely stay in that community, thus reducing turnover, and (2) may understand and meet the needs of students in that district where they already live, or where their own children attend school.
  • 100Kin10 Project: 100Kin10 was birthed a few years ago as a result of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative and was given its wings by the Carnegie Corporation. Its mission is to connect universities, nonprofits, foundations, companies, and government agencies to address the nation’s STEM teacher shortage, with the goal being to produce 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.

 

In it for the Long Haul: Eliminating the Band-Aid Fixes  

I really believe that solving the teacher shortage over the long haul will require a comprehensive, cohesive approach that brings together our state partners, our federal agency partners, and equally as important—our school districts and our community partners. I’m talking here about school principals and teachers, as well parents and workforce stakeholders. All these groups need to have a seat at the table; they need to do a lot of listening and then they need to truly work together on a planned, purposeful strategy for ensuring teachers of excellence for every classroom in the United States. I think the piece that’s missing is centralized leadership in bringing this all together—it seems to me that it would be terrific for Secretary of Education DeVos to take on that role. It would be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to public education in our nation.

 

Some Final Thoughts

Those of you who subscribe to this blog and follow me on social media know I’m all about academic excellence—meaning that I believe every initiative attempted at addressing the teacher shortage should be done with that benchmark in mind: not only to fill classrooms with teachers but fill them with teachers of excellence—individuals who demonstrate a propensity for success in the classroom, and who have received exceptional preparation. Not to sound dramatic, but I truly believe that the quality of education we provide to our students directly impacts the quality of life we enjoy in our nation. We must commit to working together to meet this challenge.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merit Badges for Grownups

Back in the day when I wore the uniform of Girl Scout I worked hard to earn those coveted merit badges, so I could proudly display each one on my sash. When others recognized them, they understood that I had demonstrated skill in certain areas such as first aid, sewing, camping, and music. Now granted, performance evaluation standards were built with a whole lot of room for subjectivity, because to tell you the truth there were times I know my troop leaders had to close at least one eye in order to place their stamp of approval on my work.  I recall one particular instance when I set my sights on the cooking badge—I told myself I was ready because I had a LOT of experience in the kitchen already making PBJs and bowls of cereal. I thought I was ready for a bigger challenge, and that’s when I got the bright idea of baking a cake for the first time. Ever. Two other girls in my grade had baked cakes to earn their badge so I figured, “How hard could it be?” Of course, being the natural born competitor that I am, I decided I would up the ante and bring my A-game to this event: I determined it would not be good enough to simply bake a cake like those other girls—noooooo—I wanted to make one that would dazzle and impress my troop, thereby setting the gold standard for all future cake baking. I decided to bake an orange, four-layer cake. In my mind it was going to be awesome.

Long story very short, I made a few slight miscalculations in my readiness to pull off such a feat, including the importance of allowing the cake layers to cool before attempting to frost and assemble. The result was four steaming cake layers covered in runny orange goop sliding all over the kitchen and onto the floor in a million pieces, plus a mother who nearly had a nervous breakdown. So, you may ask, “Did she ever get her cooking badge?” Yep—but let’s just say to this day I still owe my grandma big time. ‘Nuff said.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling and reminiscing about merit badges? I really am leading up to something here, which is the notion of demonstrating what we know and are able to do in specific areas, and then receiving recognition or credit for those skills in the form of digital credentials or badges. This concept has started to gain traction in the past couple of years or so and I don’t see it going away. Why should it? It’s a really good idea.

That’s why in partnership with digital credential provider Credly, the American Council on Education has recently announced plans to evaluate skills learned in the workplace. In essence, the goal is to create a system whereby skills are formally evaluated by an external reviewer—in this case, Credly—resulting in an opportunity for workers to build a set of digital credentials (or badges) that can be used for internal promotion in connection with company performance evaluations. In addition, the credentials would be portable, meaning those workers would be able to provide evidence of their skill set should they seek employment elsewhere. It’s even possible that in some instances, digital credentials could be aligned to certain college courses, thereby opening the door for individuals to earn college credit by demonstrating what they know and are able to do at work.

This concept stems from the competency-based education model, sometimes referred to as proficiency-based, mastery-based, or personalized learning. The CBE model is catching on quickly at the higher education level and now in some states, at the P-12 level. It’s just natural that the notion of demonstrating one’s proficiency in specific skills (or competencies) can apply just as effectively in the workplace.

The merit badges for Girl Scouts have improved significantly over the years, giving today’s youngsters the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in areas such as writing a business plan; digital movie making; outdoor art apprentice; and new cuisines.  Kind of makes me want to see if I could squeeze into that uniform again and give it another go.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

 

 

A Ground-Breaking, Totally Brand-New Approach to Helping Students Succeed

Years ago, a town’s churches and school served as major community and social anchors. In some instances, the two shared a single building. Parents, students, and teachers spent a lot of time together since local events were often held there. As a result, communication was frequent, and relationships were strong. Adults worked together to support the growth, development, and learning of students. Today, as our towns have grown into cities and residents are busy traveling from place to place, we’ve lost that central gathering place. Many parents rarely if ever visit their child’s school, and they typically receive a call or email from a teacher only when there’s a problem. While this practice may have been birthed from an efficiency perspective, it’s resulted in relationships that really aren’t—interactions simply represent the transfer of information: message sent/message received.

It may be one reason why students are still falling between the cracks. Teachers and parents are so busy trying to be efficient they may be overlooking the importance of truly considering the needs of each student. A gifted child may be feeling really frustrated because he’s bored in math class. A student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has recently turned inward and has stopped interacting with her peers on the playground. A student whose native language isn’t English may be struggling in American Literature class. Concerns like these can’t be addressed by a simple exchange of information through a phone call or email; it takes collaboration and partnership. It takes active listening, and it takes meeting people where they’re at. In other words, it takes building trust.

Rich, meaningful relationships are hard to build in the sterile, institutional environment found in most schools. That’s why an approach like some teachers in the Salt Lake City metro area are using appears to be so effective—because they are taking an important first step in building trust with parents—they are making home visits. This approach is not earth-shattering nor ground breaking; I actually recall many years ago my sister’s high school English teacher coming to our house for dinner one evening. I remember the uncertainty looming in the house before the event—we weren’t sure why she was coming or what to expect—we just received a note letting know what day and time she would be there. As a result, we cooked and cleaned as if the Queen herself was paying us a visit, hoping it would somehow be acceptable. Turns out, we fretted for nothing—the teacher was there simply to introduce herself and to get to know us better, so she could in turn better meet the needs of her student, my sister.

Of course, the Salt Lake City pilot is not without its critics despite its success stories; a lot of the concern centers around the age-old question, “But who’s going to pay for it?” I don’t claim to have the answer but it’s an approach worth thinking about.

One thing I do know, however, is that in the fast-paced, tech-driven society we live in, we must be very careful not to overlook one important thing: that each child, each student is precious, and they deserve our very best in helping them become their very best. We collectively share a large part of the responsibility for their success. If simply having teachers and parents slow down and take the time to talk with each other would help, isn’t it worth considering?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

Uniqueness vs. Accreditation: Why Must We Choose?

In the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Higher Education, Mark LaCelle-Peterson introduces the educator preparation community to a new way of thinking about quality assurance and accreditation of programs. In the piece, LaCelle-Peterson challenges the notion that measuring the quality of an education program through a compliance lens really isn’t necessary—in fact, it can sometimes inhibit quality by forcing programs to demonstrate adherence to a rigid set of standards and criteria that may or may not be an appropriate fit for all programs given the diversity of missions, visions, populations served, and instructional delivery approaches. For example, what may be appropriate criteria for measuring the quality of a program that serves 18-22-year-old students on a residential suburban campus may be quite different from one that serves learners whose average age is 39 and who pursue their academic studies online within a competency-based educational model. Both prepare educators. Both are committed to quality. But when it comes to making judgments about those programs, one size just doesn’t seem to fit all—and what’s more, why should it? Why is it necessary to have a single set of standards and criteria that all programs must adhere to?

It seems to me that as a community of educators we figured out a long time ago that creating one lesson plan and teaching to students in the middle was simply not an effective approach—nor was it ethical, because that model failed to consider the needs of students who did not fit into a pre-determined mold.  Today we encourage our teacher candidates to not only acknowledge the differences in students, but to embrace that diversity, and to celebrate it—because we know that a diverse group of learners contributes to a dynamic and robust community—one that thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Quality assurance measures through an appropriate accreditation model can be instrumental to preparation programs’ success through data-driven decision making, continuous program review, and collaboration within the community. Program leaders should not have to put their uniqueness on a shelf in pursuit of accreditation.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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One-Room Schools: Outdated, or Ahead of Their Time?

I’ve always been fascinated by the old one-room schoolhouses. I think it all started when my younger sister and I would walk up our country road and play for hours on the site of an old school, long since abandoned. That school must have educated every boy and girl for miles around, and those children grew up to be postal carriers, soldiers, bankers, farmers, and teachers.

In that school and others like it, students from multiple age groups and grade levels worked and learned together. In many instances, older students taught younger ones, with the teacher providing guidance as needed. Classics frequently served in the place of textbooks, and students applied what they were learning in the context of what was relevant to their lives. They developed a body of knowledge, but even more importantly, they learned how to apply that knowledge to solve problems.

It was a simpler time, and yet many of the methods found in those one-room schools were ahead of their time. Today we often hear about new techniques and methods for helping students learn. We talk about concepts such as competency-based, proficiency-based, and personalized learning. I would argue that besides a homeschool environment, one-room schools were the birthplace of individualized instruction. And the new performance assessments that are gaining so much attention? Students in one-room schools often had to demonstrate what they knew through projects such as planting an herb garden appropriate for local soil; raising goats for meat and dairy; making apple butter; building a machine shed that could stand up to wind; or providing first aid. Like the competency-based educational model, Simousek points out that most one-room schools adhered to the “time is variable/learning is constant” mantra, whereby learners worked on topics and skills until they could successfully demonstrate their proficiency before moving on. In other words, what students learn is more important than how quickly they learn it.

There are actually still a few hundred one-room schools in the United States today, many located in very rural and remote areas. However, a charter school in Gainsville, Florida was started in 1997 specifically with the one-room school model in mind. Focusing on meeting the needs of high achievers, the One Room School House Project (ORSH) serves students through eighth grade. In addition, some modern-day homeschools are perfect venues for the one-room schoolhouse model.

While I recognize the benefits of larger schools today, I have to wonder if perhaps it might be worth having a conversation about the benefits of smaller schools designed around the one-room schoolhouse model. Even in our fast-paced, mobile society, I believe there is still a need for schools that serve as community anchors; that can truly provide individualized instruction and support for all learners; and that prepare students to interact with others in a positive way.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Gentle Nudge to CCSSO: What Do We Really Mean by Competency-Based Teaching and Learning?

Competency-Based Education (CBE) has really started gaining the attention of P-12 school districts, colleges and universities, and state departments of education in recent years. CBE emphasizes demonstrated learning over traditional seat time, and it offers a more flexible way to support students achieve their educational goals.

We can talk about the benefits of CBE and we can describe its attributes. However, it seems that there are numerous definitions of the term that while well-intentioned are lacking or are not always hitting the mark. For example, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed a working definition of the term competency in 2011; that definition identifies five major components that must be present in a competency-based educational model. While I congratulate the CCSSO for their work in this area I would encourage them to revisit what they mean by competency. Given that this organization leads policies and practices of departments of education and P-12 school districts across the nation, it is important to have a current, accurate, and clear definition. I’ve taken the CCSSO’s definition and have offered a few questions as food for thought in order to advance the conversation:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
    • Advance in what way? To the next assessment? To the next chapter or unit? To the next course?
    • How is mastery demonstrated? Through what form(s) of assessment?
    • Is demonstrating mastery really the same as demonstrating competency?
  1. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
    • Do competencies truly include learning objectives, or are those LOs created as a measurable subset of the competencies?
    • How are learning objectives transferable? Transferable to what?
    • What do competencies that empower students look like? How would we identify them, as compared to competencies that do not empower students? Empower in what way(s)?
    • From what source(s) are competencies derived?
  1. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
    • Meaningful to whom? Learners? Educators? Parents? Educational agencies?
    • Meaningful in what way(s)?
    • Must all assessments be deemed as positive learning experiences for students?
    • What benchmark(s) should be used in order to judge each assessment’s merit in this regard?
    • How are educators able to ensure that assessments are of high-quality?
  1. Students receive rapid, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
    • What is the definition of rapid support? Is this truly intended to be time-bound?
    • What would be the source of this support? From a teacher or designee? From a software application or AI device?

 

  1. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.
    • Should learning outcomes that comprise competencies represent each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, thereby requiring students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do at each cognitive level (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis)?
    • How might learning outcomes include the development of dispositions? What might that look like in measurable terms? Which dispositions?

 

This is just a partial list of questions that must be answered by the CCSSO as they revisit what they mean by competency-based education. Their definition will steer how CBE is implemented in school districts and state departments of education for years to come and it’s important to get it right.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Practical Ways to Meet the Needs of Adult Learners

A huge chunk of college enrollments today is made up of adult learners—sometimes referred to as non-traditional students. Just as it’s not appropriate to teach all P-12 students in exactly the same way we must be careful to consider and address the unique needs of adult learners in our colleges and universities. In her article entitled, “4 Ways Universities Can Better Engage with Nontraditional Students,” Meghan Bogardus Cortez shares some tips for higher education programs, each of which can impact student enrollment, retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates. I’d like to add my own tips here:

Make what they are learning meaningful and relevant. Help adult learners to see connections between theory and practice. Show them why it’s important to be able to solve algebraic equations, or why they should know what the War of 1812 was all about. Try to tie it in to how key concepts and skills can be applied their current and future career goals.

Be respectful of them as adults. Non-traditional learners have very different needs than those 18-22-year-olds; treat them accordingly. Listen to them. Take them seriously. And don’t talk down to them.

Acknowledge that they are juggling a lot to go to school. Most adult students work at least one full-time job. They have a spouse and are raising multiple children. Perhaps they’re taking care of aging or infirm parents. Acknowledging that you know “sometimes life gets in the way” is not offering an excuse for them to fail but it’s important they know that you understand that sometimes other priorities must take precedence over their academic studies, and that’s OK.

Help them to set their own reasonable goals and support their efforts in attaining them. It doesn’t do any good to create a schedule for an adult learner or tell them how much they should read or complete in a week’s time—those decisions should be made by them, with some guidance from you. Help them avoid frustration and disappointment by steering them away from committing to too much at once. For example, most learners who are working full-time and trying to raise three kids while going through a divorce should probably not try to complete 18 credits in a semester or think they can read seven chapters and write a 15-page paper over a weekend. In some instances that kind of workload can be maintained for a while but eventually the stress builds up. It’s much better to take it a little slower and succeed than to let a student try to get through a program in record time and then fail.

Help them to see light at the end of the tunnel. Adult learners need an end game—they need to be able to know that their efforts will pay off for them when they are finished—and they need to know that this day will come sooner rather than later.

A dose of compassion and empathy works wonders: Sometimes you are the only positive, affirming, supportive person they will talk to in a give day or even a given week. Be a sounding board when things go wrong, and a cheerleader when things go right. You’re not their therapist nor their friend, per se, and yet so much of effective mentoring requires a dose of both.

These are all things that faculty members can do to help adult learners stay enrolled, graduate, and achieve their goals. Some students, particularly those who struggle or may be identified as “at-risk” could benefit from additional support through a mentoring model, which can be tailored depending on the structure of each college and university.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

A True Education

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This philosophy as articulated so eloquently by Dr. King should steer the mission and vision of every P-12 and higher education institution in our nation, whether it be public, private, charter, or homeschool. The strength of our nation depends on an educated society—a society whose citizens are intellectually curious and who possess the ability to read and think critically.

Many years ago, I heard a pastor say, “You have to be able to separate the grass from the weeds.” This is the essence of critical reading and critical thinking: being able to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate what one is hearing and reading, and then drawing well-informed conclusions that perpetuate a solid body of knowledge that we can rely on.

However, as Dr. King cautioned us, simply having this ability is not enough—it’s what we do with it that’s important. That’s where character comes in, because simply being smart or informed doesn’t mean we are educated—we must use our knowledge to positively impact the lives of others–to serve the greater good. This requires a solid core of ethics and integrity—an inner compass. It requires being a person of your word so that others can count on you. It requires you to do the right thing even when no one else is looking. It mandates that we take a different path, even when it may be lonely or unpopular. Learning builds our brain, but character builds our core. When coupled together, the result is an individual who is a lifelong learner, who carefully considers and reflects, and one who uses his or her knowledge to make the world a better place.

I challenge every educator (teacher, school leader, paraprofessional, parent, curriculum director, etc.) to take a moment to seriously reflect and consider: Where does YOUR school fit on this continuum of academic excellence? Are you contributing to providing your students with a true education, as defined by Dr. King? If not, why not? What is holding you back? What would you need to light this match and make it happen? Make a commitment and get started. Today.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Accreditation Site Visit Logistics

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. However, for the sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body. In this piece, I provide topics to be covered during a pre-visit conference call between the site team lead, the education preparation provider (EPP), and state representatives. By the end of this call, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover:

  • Any general questions the EPP has regarding completion of the Addendum
  • Confirm Addendum submission date
  • Review and revise draft visit schedule
  • Travel Details
    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements.
  • Reminder per CAEP guidelines: No receptions, banquets, poster sessions, dinners with EPP representatives, etc.
  • School Visits
    • Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour on-site at school
  • Work Room at Hotel and on Campus
    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • Food/Snacks
    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.
  • Interviews
    • Generate interviewee list.
      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)
      • Other:
    • Interview Rooms
      • Depending on final schedule, 3 rooms may be needed simultaneously.
      • Should have a door for privacy
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should be responsible for get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
    • Requests for Additional Information or Data
      • All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

There will be additional items to discuss but these are the most essential. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. Do your homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Earning accreditation is crucial to an institution’s overall success and should never be taken lightly.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

A Global Commitment to Academic Quality

There appears to be an increasing effort to ensure the academic quality of higher education institutions across the globe, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Education is leading the way in that region. Starting in early 2018, all licensed colleges and universities will be issued a star rating based on a variety of data that when considered holistically will reveal useful information regarding each institution’s quality, relevance, innovation, and efficiency. Within the context of these four pillars, determinations will be made regarding institutional teaching quality, public reputation, and internationalization (globalization), likely with a drill-down to the programmatic level. For the most part, these criteria are similar to what other nations have focused on. However, the UAE Ministry of Education has decided to take it a step further by adding another criterion by which to rate the quality of its licensed colleges and universities: that of research. Program efficacy and impact are often key indicators of an institution’s quality, and thus the UAE will also be looking at the quality, quantity, and impact of research conducted by its colleges and universities.

I find this both fascinating and encouraging. The UAE is right to hold institutions accountable for their quality of instruction, their commitment to local communities, and for their contribution to a global society. Where I believe they are breaking new ground is in the area of research—few accrediting bodies or governmental agencies have considered the important role that conducting high-quality research can and should play on the advancement of civilization. Institutions of higher learning should not only be supporting faculty members in their professional growth and development as researchers, but programs should be developed to teach students how to become researchers in their respective fields of study. And then there’s the impact piece: It’s not enough simply to conduct research—the point is to use what is learned from the findings to trigger positive change across areas that touch multiple aspects of our lives (social, educational, medical, industrial, etc.).

As they move forward I’m sure the UAE Ministry of Education as well as governmental agencies from other nations will continue to examine and refine the criteria by which they determine the quality of their educational institutions. I would like to offer a few additional thoughts for consideration:

  • Institutions of high quality should make data-driven decisions based on a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Data should be triangulated, with both input and output data considered.
  • Data should be collected and reviewed per an established cadence; a periodicity table should be constructed whereby specific data are collected, analyzed, reviewed, interpreted, and acted upon throughout each academic year.
  • Institutions should be making decisions and connecting long-term and short-term goals that are directly related to an interpretation of their data.
  • External stakeholders such as the UAE’s Ministry of Education should be able to easily connect the dots between each institution’s data and their vision, mission, and strategic goals.
  • The efficacy of programs should be criteria-based and performance-based.
  • A portion of an institution’s efficacy should be measured by the impact its program completers has on the lives of those they touch after graduation. For example, teachers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the academic achievement of their students, while healthcare providers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of their patients. Educational policy agencies, accrediting bodies, and institutions should collaborate in advance on a definition of what types of data would be acceptable to demonstrate this positive impact.

 

There are additional things to be considered when making judgments about an institution’s quality. However, it is vital to begin the conversation so that everyone can begin working toward a common goal: To prepare current and future generations for service to others. The extent to which we will be successful in this endeavor lies in our firm commitment to academic excellence.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.

 

Supporting Learners in a Competency-Based Education Classroom

This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previous posts included: There IS a Better Way to Teach; What’s Under the Hood; and The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development.

How we teach is just as important as what we teach. In other words, instructional methods are just as vital to the learning process as the content being taught. Very few students learn by simply reading or absorbing material—if they did, we really wouldn’t need teachers.

Just as with traditional learning models, there are many ways P-12 and higher education faculty can instruct students within the competency-based education (CBE) model. However, the key here is to provide academic support in a way that helps learners attain essential content and ultimately demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Facilitation, as opposed to direct instruction, has been proven to be an effective way of providing this type of academic support primarily because by its very nature the CBE model creates a space for flexibility for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, face-to-face and online learning environments may require use of different facilitation models, but some good options to consider include:

 

Regardless of the facilitation model chosen, learning should be constant, and not time-dependent in a competency-based learning environment. In other words, learners should be actively engaged at all times but should not be forced to move in lockstep fashion with all other students. They should have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace and in their own way—which is one reason why CBE is commonly referred to as personalized learning, although the two terms are not completely synonymous.

In the next blog installment, we will dive more deeply into the teacher’s role within a competency-based learning environment.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.