Shiny apples, carrot bags, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, full containers of applesauce, sealed cartons of raisons, and unopened milk cartons. That’s what paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess would see students tossing into the trash every day as she supervised lunch at Davies Middle School in the Hamilton Township of Atlantic County, N.J.
A shocking amount of food meandered from lunch line, to tray, to trash. It was nearly enough to fill several 50-gallon cans, the educator says. In a county struggling with food insecurity, Von Ness refused to stand idly by. She began to investigate ways to fix a system that she says was clearly broken.
“I was appalled by the food waste at school,” Von Hess says. “We have two food pantries in our town overwhelmed with people in need.”
Showing Community Spirit
Seeing an abundance of food in one corner of her life and a severe need for food in another, Von Hess knew what to do.
First, she contacted the cafeteria food services manager who informed her that all food was funded by a state grant which required by law that students receive an item from each food group. Once food hit the tray, it could not return to the kitchen. The obvious destination for unwanted food? The cafeteria’s large gray trash cans.
Von Hess continued to search for information. She found no rule that said the unconsumed food couldn’t be earmarked for a destination beyond the cafeteria.
Pointing to the closure of nearby Atlantic City casinos between 2014 and 2016, Von Hess recalls how the closures rippled into households.
“They’re struggling to keep their homes and feed their families,” Von Hess points out.
Many of the area’s families depend on food pantries to survive. And donations help to fuel the survival of the food pantries. Von Hess, a member of the Hamilton Township Education Association, explained the donation idea to the food centers in her area. They loved it!
Next, she created a detailed proposal, and headed to a meeting of the district school administration bearing a detailed plan with a name created by her son: “No Food Left Behind.”
“Administrators were excited by the idea,” Von Hess says.
The program began at Davies in March 2015 and exceeded expectations. According to Von Hess, students were eager to donate unwanted food items.
Here’s how it works: Students drop unwanted food in boxes. After lunch, paraprofessionals sort the items into categories for delivery to food pantries the same day.
Over the summer of 2015, Von Hess collaborated with principals and paraprofessionals from neighboring schools to help them start their own programs. By that September, several schools were collecting food too.
“The food that we take to the pantries helps a lot,” says Von Hess. Collectively, the schools donate about 40 reusable grocery totes of food to area pantries per week. Von Hess says schools contact her often seeking advice about pioneering their own programs.
“That’s very rewarding,” she says.
“My role as a paraprofessional has helped me to see community problems,” says Von Hess who is proud that her school got the ball rolling with “people who did not hesitate to jump in to help.”
“We wanted to increase rigor and our students’ academic abilities, so I thought [deeper learning] would make sense for our school setting.”
That’s Jennie Canning, lead STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) teacher at Pittsburgh Brashear High School, explaining why she and Brashear’s principal, Kimberly Safran, reached out to the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) to help rethink their approach to instruction.
In this week’s Deeper Learning Digest learn how All4Ed provided direct technical assistance to teacher leaders at Brashear on implementing strategies that support deeper learning.
Elsewhere in this week’s Digest, what happens when schools are linked together in networks that share models, tools, and professional learning experiences? Expanded access to deeper learning experiences for more students.
This week’s Digest also explores dynamic math instruction and how to make project-based learning stick through professional development. And if you want to learn more about how adolescents’ tick, do we have a resource for you.
Deepening Students’ Learning at Pittsburgh Brashear High School
After the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified Pittsburgh Brashear High School as a priority school for improvement, the school’s educators began to rethink their approach to instruction.
Teacher leaders wanted to identify promising practices that would improve engagement for the school’s 1,230 students, most of whom are African American or come from low-income families. They also were looking for ways to increase academic rigor and promote cross-curricular instruction to enable all students to achieve academic excellence. So what did they do and which tools and resources did they use?
After the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified Pittsburgh Brashear High School as a priority school for improvement, the school’s educators began to rethink their approach to instruction. Teacher leaders wanted to identify promising practices that would improve engagement for the school’s 1,230 students, most of whom are African American or come from low-income families. They also were looking for ways to increase academic rigor and promote cross-curricular instruction to enable all students to achieve academic excellence. So what did they do?
Specifically, the educators wanted guidance on how best to nurture students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills and abilities to collaborate, communicate effectively, and direct their own learning—a set of skills collectively known as deeper learning competencies. So, in 2017, the leadership team from the school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Academy contacted the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) for direct technical assistance on implementing strategies that support deeper learning.
Students at Pittsburgh King K-8 got a reminder from a local celebrity that wearing glasses can be cool.
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said he wore glasses as a kid, and that they helped him in school, while playing sports and while playing video games.
“I think it’s very, very cool,” he said.
King students gathered in the gymnasium Friday morning to celebrate the launch of a new program that will provide free eye exams and glasses to Pittsburgh students who need them. Twenty-one King students got the first pairs through the partnership between Pittsburgh Public Schools and Vision to Learn, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that aims to provide vision care to low-income children across the country.
Mr. Smith-Schuster helped make sure the new glasses fit, and posed for a photo with each student.
“Everything’s closer now,” said 11-year-old Dion McCoy, who selected a new pair of black and blue frames.
Vision to Learn was founded in 2012 and now serves low-income communities in 256 cities in 13 states. Pittsburgh Public is the first district the organization has partnered with in Pennsylvania, and eventually its leaders plan to take their services to schools in the surrounding districts and counties.
School nurses will continue to give each Pittsburgh student annual vision screenings, and the students who fail will be referred to the Vision to Learn mobile clinic, which will move from school to school. There the students will receive an eye exam, and if they need glasses, they get to choose a pair they like and receive them for free…
The students in Stacy Mazak’s kindergarten class couldn’t stand still as they waited their turn at the dunk tank.
They had already spent 15 minutes hula-hooping and decorating the street in front of their school with chalk and 15 minutes in the inflatable bounce houses the Wilkinsburg School District gets for the annual field day events. Now, they were anxious to knock one of Turner Elementary School’s other teachers into the water.
One student, 6-year-old Breonna Pollard, said she didn’t feel the same excitement about moving on to first grade next year.
“I want to stay with Ms. Mazak,” she said, scooting out of the way of the splash when one of her classmates hit the dunk target with a softball.
But under the district’s reorganization plan for next school year, Ms. Mazak and Breonna will be moving to a new school together.
With the district’s middle- and high-school students now attending Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy in Homewood, Wilkinsburg administrators are re-focusing their efforts on the district’s younger students. After years of program cuts and an exodus of families who opted to enroll their children in private or charter schools, district leaders are embarking on an ambitious plan to boost enrollment and re-vamp Wilkinsburg’s two elementary schools.
The Commonwealth Education Blueprint is a multiyear effort founded and managed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) to develop and implement a statewide vision for the future of public education. Through this comprehensive project, education stakeholders from across the state and from many areas of expertise collaborate to proactively determine what education should look like in years to come.
Pennsylvania will provide an equitable, exceptional public education that empowers all learners to achieve a meaningful, productive life in our democratic society.
The Process & Your Involvement
The project steering committee conducts meetings and collects data (ongoing since Oct. 2017) toward drafting the Blueprint. They have also been convening Blueprint study groups, focus groups and, now a statewide survey.
After all of the data has been compiled and analyzed, a comprehensive report will be and will serve as the driving document to set and benchmark milestones toward achieving the vision and shaping all future education-related legislation and advocacy. We hope you will join us in distributing the Blueprint and this vision later in 2018.
For more information about the Commonwealth Education Blueprint, contact Ashley Lenker White, senior director of strategic initiatives, at (800) 932-0588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lynette Monroe (Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
Salome Thomas-EL, a charter school principal and award-winning national education expert, captivated an audience of over 500 educators with his keynote address on overcoming barriers to success at the 2018 National Title I Conference in Philadelphia, Penn.
Title I schools are characterized by the additional funds they receive to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students. Title I funding provisions are designed to improve the academic achievement of the disadvantaged and to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. The National Title I Conference engaged educators at all levels around the relationship between cultural competence and best academic practices.
Principal EL leads Thomas Edison Charter School, a tuition-free, public charter school in Wilmington, Del. According to the school’s website, more than 95 percent of students that attend Thomas Edison live at, or below the poverty level.
Principal EL shared the story of the Thomas Edison Charter School chess team that competed and won the United States Chess Federation (USCF) National Elementary Chess Championship in Dallas, Texas on Sunday, May 11, 2014.
Edison was the only school from Delaware competing in the National Tournament, but persevered to bring home Delaware’s first National Scholastic Chess Championship, the school’s website said.
“Thomas Edison is the home of one of the most-fierce, all-female chess teams in the nation,” the school’s website said. “They have won the Mid-Atlantic All-Girls Chess Championship three of the past four years.”
Principal EL left the crowd with four C’s (Crazy, Curious, Consistent and Culture of Love) that he has used to overcome barriers to success in the classroom:
Crazy—Every child deserves to have at least one person be crazy about them.
Curious—It is not enough for educators to care about their students; they must be curious about their lives outside of school, as well.
Consistent—Often times vulnerable youth grow accustomed to inconsistencies from adults in their lives. Principle EL challenges educators to stay consistent, despite the challenges that may occur.
Culture of Love—Sometimes the children who need love the most, ask in the most unloving ways. Principal EL also challenges educators to create a culture of love for all students.
Similar stories of triumph were shared from educators from all over the country, highlighting why diversity and representation in teaching is so important.
Dr. Tommy A. Watson, the principal of Palmer Lake Elementary School in Brookland Park Minn., grew up in Denver, Colo. As a child, both of his parents were addicted to heroin and were professional shoplifters. He also spent a lot of time in foster care and was homeless as a senior in high school. Today, Dr. Watson travels the country sharing his story with at-risk youth, leaving behind a message of hope.
“When I went off to college, my mother was in prison, my father was in prison and my older brother was in prison. My older sister was back in Denver on drugs…I really saw education as my only way out,” Dr. Watson explained, as he detailed his motivation to share the power of education in his life.
Dr. Robert Kirton, the CEO for DNA Educational Solutions and Support also talked about his personal experiences as an adolescent and how he uses those experiences to shape the education policies that he advocates for.
[/media-credit] Dr. Robert Kirton, the CEO for DNA Educational Solutions and Support delivers remarks during the 2018 National Title I Conference in Philadelphia, Penn. (Travis Riddick/NNPA)
“My thing is going from risk to resiliency. I started off pretty sluggish. I got in trouble all the time while in school. I got a young lady pregnant, while in high school,” Dr. Kirton said. “She left me with the baby; she didn’t see him again until we both graduated from college. He graduated with his bachelor’s and I graduated with my doctorate.”
According to Dr. Kirton’s biography, the educator has a documented success that includes a cumulative graduation rate above 95 percent.
Dr. Kirton’s personal story of risk to resiliency supports his educational approach. His straight-forward, disciplined strategy focuses on ensuring students feel safe and understand the connection between their actions and consequences. His method to “suspend students to school” is a refreshing approach in an educational system that disproportionately suspends and expels Black children.
When asked about the importance of parental engagement, Dr. Kirton answered, “I engage parents as partners…[you have to] bring them into the fold and make them apart of the team.”
Dr. Kirton continued: “When parent participation is not an option, I find a parent-like figure to fulfill that crucial part.”
Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act and the importance of diversity and inclusion in teaching at nnpa.org/essa.
Lynette Monroe is the program assistant for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign and a master’s student at Howard University. Lynette’s research areas are public policy and national development. Follow Lynette on Twitter @_monroedoctrine.
Beginning with a controversial nomination that ended in a tie-breaking Senate confirmation vote and continuing throughout her tenure as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has faced unceasing criticism. While Administration officials would be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, many across the country would argue that she is not serving the public’s interests.
A recent interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes provided an opportunity to address the nonstop criticism before a national audience. Instead, it prompted a new wave of critiques from viewers and news outlets alike.
More important than these recent headlines, however, is the Department’s attempt to stop states from holding student loan servicers and collectors accountable. Claiming that state consumer protection laws “undermine” federal regulator requirements, a non-binding memo is yet another assault on the 44 million Americans who together struggle with a still-growing $1.5 trillion in student debt.
It was about this time last year that Secretary DeVos withdrew three memos that would have required loan servicers, in their renegotiated contracts, to provide more intensive “high touch” servicing for borrowers threatened with default. Then late in the summer of 2017, she withdrew inter-agency working agreements between the Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) commonly known as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). Prior to her joining the Education Department, these same MOUs led to a series of major enforcement actions against for-profit colleges like Corinthian and ITT Tech, as well as the nation’s largest student loan servicer, Navient.
With rollbacks in oversight and enforcement, the Education Secretary must think the department is doing a great job serving student loan borrowers that states should just butt out. A new departmental memo claims as much.
In response, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey, who filed a lawsuit earlier this month that alleged overcharges to students by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency was just as direct as she was quick to speak up.
“Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the loan servicing industry as she wants, I won’t be shutting down my investigations or stand by while these companies rip off students and families,” Healey said in a statement to The Intercept. “The last thing we need is to give this industry a free pass while a million students a year are defaulting on federal loans.”
Thank goodness for state AGs like Healey. Federal enforcement of consumer protection is currently at a real low.
When Mick Mulvaney was named Acting CFPB Director, a change of direction from consumer enforcement to education and information was promptly announced with a series of more changes. In Mulvaney’s view, CFPB would no longer use aggressive enforcement to hold financial service providers accountable. On his watch, consumers have basically been told not to expect much from CFPB, while businesses have been catered to and even asked to advise Mulvaney and company of what appropriate regulation looks like.
So, if the Department of Education is not going to work with CFPB to resolve complaints and CFPB is not interested in consumer enforcement, why try to tie the hands of states who only seek to protect their own residents?
Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending, addressed the impacts to consumers of color. “Due to racial disparities in income and wealth, the consumers hardest hit by these debts are consumers of color. While the federal government continues to find ways to placate these companies, states are ready and willing to serve the best interests of borrowers and taxpayers.”
The National Governors Association (NGA) agrees with Barkley-Denney.
In a related statement, the NGA said, “Last week’s declaration on student loan servicing from the U.S. Department of Education seeks to preempt bipartisan state laws, regulations and ‘borrower bills of rights’ currently in place and under consideration in more than 15 states…. States have stepped up to fill the void left, we believe, by the absence of federal protections for student loan borrowers, from potential abusive practices by companies servicing student loans.”
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers was even more candid.
“With this move, she [Secretary DeVos] has castrated any state legislators and attorneys general from providing meaningful oversight of student loan services, yet she continues to fail to do so herself,” said Weingarten.
In 2017, a CFPB report showed that during the past five years, more than 50,000 student loan complaints were filed. Additionally, more than 10,000 other related debt collection complaints were filed on both private and federal student loans.
Where these complaints originate is equally eye-opening. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, the growth in the number of student loan complaints exceeded 100 percent in 11 states: Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington State and West Virginia.
It’s enough to make one wonder, ‘Who is our federal government actually serving?’
Public schools in the nation’s capital recently reported that the graduation rate for 2017 was the highest in the school system’s history.
According to school officials, about 73 percent of Washington public schools’ students graduated on time, another record high for a school system that had struggled years ago to graduate even half of its students. The graduation rate marked a four-point rise from the previous year and a 20-point gain from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated within four years.
In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proudly described the school system as the “fastest improving urban school district in the country.
“These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels,” Bowser said in a statement.
But it was all false. A report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education shows more than one of every three diplomas awarded to students were not earned. The report found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates of D.C. public schools did not meet the minimum attendance requirements needed for graduation. Teachers even admit to falsely marking students present.
Washington is the latest of a series of public school systems found guilty of widespread cheating. Similar cheating was found in public schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.
The perpetrators in these scandals weren’t the students but the administrators and teachers. Both have admitted to falsifying records on standardized tests, graduation requirements and student grades.
In response, some teachers have been fired and stripped of their licenses to teach again. In other places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators have gone to jail. In Washington, D.C., Antwan Wilson, District of Columbia schools chancellor, resigned Feb. 20 after it was revealed he used his position to get his daughter into a preferred school.
The real culprit in these cheating scandals, according to education experts and teachers, is the increased — and some say unfair — pressure on education officials from the government to meet a certain level of student performance. If they don’t meet the mandated standards, school systems could lose funding, and with less money to pay for staff and supplies some people could lose their jobs.
President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and former President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top created an “accountability system,” education experts said, linking student performance to Title I funding, which are federal grants given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.
No Child Left Behindwas the first law requiring federally-mandated tests to measure student performance. Prior to the law, states and cities used achievement tests to measure what students were learning to decide how effective their instruction was and what changes they might make.
Harvard professor Dan Koretz, author of the book The Teaching Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, said cheating by teachers — in many cases sanctioned or encouraged by administrators — is fueled by the misuse of standardized tests to measure school performance which has pressured teachers to raise scores beyond what is reasonable.
“Some cheat and, ironically, all of these shortcuts undermine the usefulness of tests for their intended purpose—monitoring what kids know,” Koretz said.
Koretz and other education experts believe standardized tests can be a useful measure of students’ knowledge, when used correctly.
A survey by the Washington Teacher’s Union and EmpowerED echoes Koretz’s assertion that teachers feel pressure to cheat. The survey found that almost 60 percent of teachers said that they’ve felt pressure or coercion from superiors to pass undeserving students.
“There has been strenuous pressure to hit specific targets regardless of student performance or attendance,” an anonymous D.C. public school teacher said on the survey.
Another teacher said, “Administrators, parents, and teachers just want good grades so the school system and the student look accomplished on paper.”
A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, showed that over 45 percent of Black students nationwide attend these low-income or high poverty public schools. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of White students attend these same schools.
Education expert Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, said the result is that cheating is found primarily among majority-Black schools, which lack the educational tools and support they need in order to adequately serve their students.
“There are teachers who’ve felt pressure because they don’t feel that they have the capacity or support to achieve expectations through realistic measures,” Polikoff said.
Koretz said the cheating underscores the fallacy of rewarding and punishing schools based on standardized tests.
The answer “is to reduce the pressure to meet arbitrary targets,” he said. “Another is to routinely monitor how schools are reaching their targets. Yet another is to broaden the focus of accountability in schools to create a more reasonable mix of incentives.”