#GivingTuesday: Let’s Make a Difference Together

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of generosity. What a great way to make a difference in the lives of others!

Donating money is great but there are other ways you can give to important causes, such as:

–Make care packages for those staying in a shelter.
–Read books to underprivileged children.
–Drive someone to the doctor or pick up their medicine.
–Become a big sister/big brother to at-risk youths.
–Visit the elderly at a nursing home.
–Donate your time and expertise to a local candidate’s political campaign.

I’m considering buying a set of picture books that are all centered around the central theme of giving to others. My thought is that I would read one book each week to children attending a local head start or elementary school, & then donating the books to their library. Seems like a great way to give of myself, hang out with kids, & encourage them to also become givers!

What are other ways you can think of to participate in #GivingTuesday? How are you going to make a difference in the lives of others today?

 

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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The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety: While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition: The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency: When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement: Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) will be monitored closely by state department officials.
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it is imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials should not be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

 

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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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). 

 

 

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.  

 

Personalized Learning Models: Not as Easy as It Sounds

This article focuses on some work supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York called Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success.  With a goal of helping to increase the graduation rate of high schoolers and prepare them for the workforce, the project focused on experimenting with various types of innovative school designs in urban schools. While innovation can vary across models, the project’s founders concluded that there are 10 integrated principles that are indicators of effective high schools:

  • Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
  • Develops & deploys collective strengths
  • Empowers & supports students through key transitions into & beyond high school
  • Manages school operations efficiently & effectively
  • Remains porous & connected
  • Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness
  • Has a clear mission & coherent culture
  • Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities
  • Personalizes student learning to meet student needs
  • Continuously improves its operations & model

The study focused on small schools that adopted various personalized learning models, which are often also referred to as mastery learning, proficiency learning, or competency-based learning.

As indicators of the project’s success, researchers focused mainly on a couple of metrics:

  • Calculation of four-year and six-year high school graduation and dropout rates
  • Distribution of entering high school students by NAEP math scores, grade level, and number of years of a 1.25x teacher needed

Current data suggest an improvement in graduation rates of students whose school participated in one of the innovative designs focusing on personalized learning and less on the traditional model using the Common Core Standards. In addition, not surprisingly those students starting out the farthest behind need the support of more teachers for a longer period of time.

After talking with students, teachers, and school leaders, researchers concluded a continued need for professional development training, high-quality instructional materials, and better communication. In short, personalized learning is not as easy as it sounds—there are many moving parts and an effective system is birthed from a comprehensive, cohesive systems design.

While interesting, the report is just a starting point—a springboard for further conversation, experimentation, data collection, and reflection. There are many more ways in which to triangulate valuable data, and we need to track the success of this project over time in order to determine its efficacy.

 

–rrf

 

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

 

Source: RAND study provides early lessons on personalized learning model | Education Dive