NAFSCE staff and members share their ideas, strategies and impressions about high-impact family engagement programs, policy and news.
Posted By Administration,
Friday, August 4, 2017
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Don’t Be Scared of Data – How it Can Guide Family Engagement and Attendance Interventions
Amanda Klein, NAFSCE Member
August 4, 2017
When I was a teacher, conversations around instructional data were baffling to me. Fresh out of policy school, I was eager to use what I had learned about data analysis to monitor how my students were performing, but as a social studies teacher, this task was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was required to keep a data binder, and administrators would periodically check to confirm that, well, it existed. However, I struggled to figure out what to put inside of it. My administrators did not help me understand how – absent standardized test data – I could track progress on specific standards outside of my grade book. It often felt like the conversation ended after the word “data” was uttered.
As I have focused my career on family engagement efforts, I have seen how conversations about using data to improve engagement are often greeted by the same blank stares I encountered as a teacher of a non-tested subject. On other days, talking about data elicits looks of panic or skepticism. At one particularly memorable training, community school coordinators were led in a debate about the utility of data. Sitting from my seat on the pro-data side of the room, I was amazed by arguments from the anti-data group. What resonated most is that these capable and talented colleagues understood data to simply be numbers on which their performance review was based, not as a tool to discover context and unlock insights about the families being served.
I think this belief system exists for a number of reasons. First, many educators are tired of increasing demands for data without sufficient training. Professionals need to understand how data can be collected, ways in which it should be analyzed, and how it can actually make their work easier. I have found that on-the-ground staff are often the last to receive the proper supports and professional development around understanding and using data. It becomes a symbol for all of the things we don’t like about accountability instead of the asset that it truly can be.
Perhaps more importantly, the work of engaging families – understanding needs, forming trusting relationships, and helping people when they are vulnerable – is incredibly difficult to quantify. Often, we know we have made progress or achieved results – not because of a spreadsheet or heat map – but because a family had enough food for the weekend or because a child stopped acting out as much in class. How do we tell those stories? How do we show our value as professionals when these important markers seem impossible to put into a spreadsheet? These are the critical questions we need to answer.
For these reasons, it is my mission to help educators realize that data does not have to be scary or intimidating. It does not require complex coding skills or mathematical know-how to track how families are being served. If you would have been sitting across from me in the data debate, here are some tips to get you started:
· Start with what you have. If you are trying to get more parents involved at the school, it’s helpful to know exactly who is already coming to events. Try making a spreadsheet of the information from your event sign-in sheets and see what patterns you find. For example, comparing the names on this list to a whole-school roster can help you figure out which kids have had little to no in-person parental involvement. Use this approach for other measures that you can track from the information and documents already sitting in your office.
· Leverage the expertise around you. Everyone knows who the go-to person is at their workplace when they have a technology question. Maybe that person (or someone else) also has some knowledge of Excel or other tools. Anyone can fill in a template. See if a colleague can help you design the tracking tool you know you need but do not know how to create.
· Do not be afraid to play around and make mistakes! The best way to learn how to manipulate and analyze data is to get your hands dirty and play around with it. Try different buttons, Google how to do things, and ask what colleagues at other schools and organizations are doing. This is why there is an “Undo” button! Of course, if you are unsure, you can always make a copy of your file so the original data is safe.
Using your school’s qualitative and quantitative data can give you amazing insight into both the ongoing needs and continuing growth of your students and families. With a little less reticence towards this approach, we can make a lot more progress in engaging families to help their children succeed.
Posted By Georgia Decker,
Thursday, May 18, 2017
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A Call To Action
By Evelyn English
By age 3, a child’s brain has already grown to 85 percent of its adult size.
That fact is old news among longtime educators. There’s no question that early experiences carve learning pathways in the brain. We know family engagement is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future success. We feel it intuitively. Lots of us have seen it the classroom.
Even when household incomes are modest, or when a school is less than gold star what families do in the ordinary course of living— and how they speak with small children — is powerful. Lack of access and low incomes can make it difficult for kids to enter school ready to learn. But family engagement can bridge those gaps and smooth down those edges.
We know that. Now what?
It’s time to teach families the skills they need to prepare their young children for lifelong learning.
I call it the Gift of Literacy.
My fire to share that ‘gift’ was kindled in Red Bird — the small rural community in Oklahoma where I grew up. My parents and other “elders in the community” created nurturing and rigorous places for children to learn. Unadorned auditoriums and classrooms were transformed by the hard work and hopes of the adults who had big dreams for their children. And when we succeeded, we were rewarded.
I still have a recognition pin I earned in fourth (4th) grade for giving a ‘timely topic’ speech for 4-H Club.
How does the Gift of Literacy get shared? In little ways: Through play — and through schoolyard diplomacy that happens when play turns to tussling. At celebrations — and during the shared cleanup that happens when the party is over.
Literacy gets passed from generation to generation in small everyday moments.
But educators can’t take it for granted that the adults in a child’s life have the skills to pass on that inheritance. It only happens when caring adults decide to turn quiet, wonderful — often frustrating — moments into an opportunity.
Some dads have an instinct for counting out the cookies when he hands them to his baby girl. Some dads don’t have those instincts.
It takes a little longer for a mother to answer the question ‘How come?’—and gently correct grammar. Other moms feel too overwhelmed to create a teaching moment.
When a toddler babbles incomprehensibly, some nanas just naturally respond with questions and full sentences instead of baby talk. Other grandmothers — perhaps raised in an era when kids were seen and not heard — don’t understand the value of encouraging conversation.
When a preschooler accidently knocks over his juice, some baby sitters huff and snatch the offending drink away. Other caretakers offer a paper towel and demonstrate how even a 2-year-old can ‘help’ clean up.
Listening to children. Problem solving with them. Responding mindfully. Those are skills that can be taught. As educators, we have those skills, and we can share them.
This is a call to action.
Evelyn English wrote “Gift of Literacy,” she’s a NHSA Literacy Mentor and NAFSCE member.
Next time, the “Gift of Literacy” blog explores the magic in the words: “Tell me more.”
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Posted By Lisa Aramony,
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
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I want to share the last address from Secretary of Education, John King. This address is inspiring to say the least, and entirely aligned with the mission of NAFSCE. I'm not thrilled that he didn't have more of a focus on families, but his perspective on equity is right on target. The address is long but worth the read!
A Dispatch From the Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary
America has the right to a great public education
By John B. King Jr.-January 17, 2017
Education is a ladder. Rung by rung, it helps people reach places that would otherwise be an impossible climb.
It is not enough for those already prosperous to prosper. All Americans must have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in our nation's growth, if it is to succeed. That has always been so but is even truer today, at a time when the fastest-growing occupations require education beyond high school.
And that is why now is the time for champions of public education to set aside the policy differences that have divided us over the past two decades and move forward, together, to defend and extend this fundamental American institution.
We don't have to agree on every strategy or tactic. We won't. But we can stop wasting energy on false dichotomies and disparaging rhetoric. We can stop questioning our natural allies' intentions and fight side by side for the belief that every student in America has the right to a great public education.
The passage just over a year ago of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, provides us an opportunity to begin our work together.
The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the No Child Left Behind law was a blunt tool, ill-suited to a task that called for nuance. ESSA, on the other hand, empowers local leaders to develop strategies that address their unique needs. But that doesn't mean every district should go it alone without guardrails for protecting students' civil rights, guidelines for implementing the law, or the good ideas forged and shown to work by others.
ESSA also calls for states to continue making college-and-career readiness their goal. We must be united in fighting efforts to water down those expectations and undercut progress when the work gets hard.
Just as important, we must invest in schools and teachers so they can help students meet those standards. Even successful strategies will fail without the funds to back them up—especially in schools and neighborhoods where change is most needed. Money is never the only answer, but it pays for science labs and school counselors, repairs leaky roofs, and makes high-quality preschool possible. Yet, in districts all across the country, students who need the most get the least. Federal funds can help, so we must put in place rules to ensure that those most in need get the help they deserve. However, even a modest proposal to do so has faced fierce opposition inside the beltway from many who ostensibly share the same values about education and equity.
"It’s not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities."
We also must have the courage to hold ourselves accountable for students' success. Without accountability, standards are meaningless and equity is a charade.
But accountability doesn't force us to embrace "test and punish" policies based on redundant or poor-quality assessments; nor does it require us to simply "wish and hope," with no tests and little insight into how, or whether, our children are learning.
We should make sure tests are better, fairer, and fewer, as President Barack Obama has called for. And we should help states develop accountability systems that are rich and varied—including measures such as chronic absenteeism, access to and success in advanced courses, and approaches to discipline that help students improve their behavior and achievement.
Let's also set aside the false debate between allowing public charter schools and supporting traditional public schools. Our primary concern shouldn't be the management structure of schools; it should be whether they serve all students well. We must demand that charter authorizers set a high bar for granting a charter, rigorously monitor academic and operational performance, and close charter schools that fail their students. At the same time, we must insist that district schools also provide a high-quality, well-rounded education for all their students.
And we must get beyond either exalting teachers as heroes who can single-handedly solve all education problems or castigating them for failing to do so. We should instead recognize that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, requiring dozens of decisions every hour. We can invest in teachers' preparation and development at the same time that we welcome their expertise and leadership on the challenges they face and the issues that affect their students.
Teachers need more resources and the higher pay they surely deserve, particularly those serving the highest-need students. They also need the space and opportunity—the clinically rich preparation, the collaboration time, and the career pathways—to do what they joined the profession to do: help all children reach their full potential.
Finally, we must recognize that the growing diversity of our people is an asset, not a liability, and support diverse schools. Diversity helps more children succeed, broadens their perspectives, and prepares them for the global workforce. I am convinced the growing conflicts in this country over race, religion, and language would be profoundly reduced if our children learned and played alongside classmates who are different from themselves and if they encountered diverse teachers and leaders in their schools.
The light of opportunity shines more brightly and more widely today than it did eight years ago. Thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, students, families, policymakers, and advocates, the high school graduation rate is 83 percent, an all-time high; achievement gaps are closing; and the most recent college graduating class was the largest and most diverse in history.
But, too many students still don't finish high school, and when they do, too many aren't ready for college. The relationship between poverty and educational achievement in the United States is among the strongest in the world. This destroys hope. But we can restore hope by working to ensure all young people are well-prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or training program.
Some will argue equity conflicts with liberty. But it's not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities. True liberty is being able to take our lives as far as our drive and talent allow.
The Pledge of Allegiance affirms that liberty and justice for all is an enduring and dual birthright. Preserving that birthright requires advocates of public education—including teachers, parents, business leaders, elected officials, and union leaders—to all be a part of the solution.
We must all press ahead, firm in the knowledge that when we pull others up, they do not pull us down. When the light of opportunity shines on those who lack it, it does not dim for those already in its glow.
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