Families Smiling with children

Family, School & Community Engagement

Three People Graphic

Families are their child’s first and lifelong teachers. MAEC has expertise in building strong school and community cultures by facilitating integrated, sustainable partnerships linked to student learning and well-being, leadership, and academic optimism.  Currently, MAEC operates the federally funded regional statewide family engagement center in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE). Educators, families, and community members are essential partners in improving school climates and increasing academic achievement. Researchers find that family engagement is especially critical for low-income, racially diverse, and limited-English proficient students because it can mitigate the negative effects of alienation and poverty. To increase high impact, culturally responsive family engagement, MAEC provides services that include professional learning and technical assistance to families, school districts, school staff, parent and community organizations, and government agencies.

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Community Resource Mapping – FSCE

MAEC uses a strengths-based approach for asset mapping, since often the best solutions come from within the communities in which our districts/schools reside. These key stakeholders include districts, schools, communities, and families all who are seeking to increase student achievement. To this end, MAEC conducts community walks and community resource mapping to identify potential partners and allies for effective and efficient delivery of services. This process includes attention to alignment between district and school needs and priorities so together partners can build the social and human capital that will help students and staff thrive.

Comprehensive Needs Assessment

Beginning with a disaggregated data analysis of student achievement, student discipline, and school climate, MAEC is able to effectively determine client strengths and areas of need. This collaborative inquiry approach enables MAEC to examine multiple sources of data. Using a culturally responsive and equity framework, further creates opportunities to develop operational action plans to tackle complex challenges that pose barriers to gains in student achievement.

Culturally Responsive Family, School, and Community Engagement

When families’ partner with schools and community organizations,  children thrive. To produce the best results for students, MAEC builds the capacity of families, educators, schools, and community organizations to collaborate, exchange ideas, and develop and implement policies and action plans. We build on the collaborative strengths of families, educators, and community members so they can each contribute to the development and success of diverse students.

Culturally Responsive Leadership

Leaders set the tone and expectations of any organization. They do this by responding effectively to the diverse communities that they serve, being asset-focused, and proactive problem solvers. Culturally responsive leadership technical assistance provides a multi-dimensional framework that builds capacity of educators who are culturally informed and highly skilled in culturally responsive practice.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a method and practice of teaching in which educators and providers build on the assets that their students and families bring into the classroom. As the populations of our students grow more diverse, staff must be better prepared to respond to their needs. This requires a greater understanding and knowledge of their students’ culture, strengths, and socio-political contexts. With this practice, schools can become hubs of learning focused on the well being of the students and families being served.

FSCE Trainer-of-Trainers

Successful high-impact FSCE depends on the skills and knowledge of a variety of stakeholders. MAEC conducts FSCE Trainer-of-Trainers for Title I and Title III family engagement specialists, ESOL teachers, and counselors to increase the capacity of staff to engage diverse families in their children’s education.

Parent Academy Planning and Monitoring

Parent academies are a great way for schools and districts to engage families. However, to be effective requires intentional and strategic planning. MAEC facilitates the development of a comprehensive district-wide approach for action planning, provider identification, and outcome monitoring to ensure parent academy success.

Parent Leadership Trainer-of-Trainers

Strong FSCE is built on the collaboration between schools and families. MAEC delivers a FSCE trainer-of-trainers model to district/school parent outreach staff to develop a strong cadre of parent/community leaders. Schools and districts are most successful when parent/community leaders can successfully navigate their children’s schools, including understanding the importance of being engaged in their children’s education, advocating for access to rigorous curriculum, and collaborating with school staff in shared decision-making to better serve students.

Policy & Procedural Reviews

In educational systems, policies and procedures often inform practice. However, some policies or procedures may have unintended consequences when implemented that serve to further silo organizational efforts to close opportunity gaps. To address this challenge, MAEC provides state departments, districts, schools, and organizations with policy and procedural reviews to ensure they are equitable, effective, and comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) Trainer-of-Trainers

Trained by APTT’s creator, Maria C. Paredes, MAEC offers APPT training to district staff and/or school clusters wishing to adopt this comprehensive FSCE model. This model includes strategies for sharing student data, establishing student goals, and providing families with activities to practice foundational skills with their children at home.  The APTT model incorporates three, 75- minute academic parent-teacher meetings, one 30 minute individual parent-teacher conference, and a library of at-home activities that are aligned with foundational skills student need to have to be at or above grade level.

Entre Nosotros, Between Us: Transitions into Kindergarten: Trainer-of-Trainers

Entre Nosotros was developed as a trainer-of-trainers curriculum to prepare childcare providers, early childhood centers, preschools, and kindergarten educators with parent workshops aimed at easing the transition into kindergarten. The five two hour lessons cover topics such as: (1) Importance of family engagement in student success; (2) Tips for School Success, including explanation of cultural expectations for new immigrant parents; (3) Communication & Positive Discipline; (4) Home Support for Learning; and (5) Family Literacy & Celebration! This curriculum is available in English and Spanish.

Family Engagement in the Classroom

This teacher induction curriculum, co-created with the Flamboyan Foundation, is designed to give teachers the strategies and tools to help them engage families in their classrooms. Teachers receive example lessons, interactive homework, and tools to better understand, and bring into the classroom, student’s and family’s funds of knowledge. These skills help teachers create welcoming classrooms and establish positive relationships with families to build student success.

Informed Parents, Successful Children: Trainer-of-Trainers (IPSC)

Originally developed in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education, IPSC promotes the positive development and school readiness of young children by delivering training to parents, family day care providers, and community based organizations serving linguistically diverse families. IPSC materials include a Trainer of Trainer’s Guide in English and Spanish and Child Development Pamphlets for parents in English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and French. The culturally responsive workshops aim to encourage children’s cognitive, physical, socio-emotional, language, and literacy development. The curricula is divided into activities for ages 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-18 months, 18 months-3 years, and 3 yrs-5yrs old. The user friendly materials provide trainers and parents with developmentally appropriate and fun activities using items commonly found in parents’ homes.

Paving the Way to College and Careers: Families and Schools Together

This progressive, 9th-12th grade curriculum, offers high school counselors with five, 1.5 hour lessons they can deliver to parents/students to help them get ready for college/careers. The lessons are structured to achieve five main goals: 1) Strengthen the parent/student relationship by providing a safe and structured space for dialogue; 2) Establish a strong connection between parents/students with their high school counselors; 3) Increase student/family knowledge of the academic and developmental milestones they will encounter in high school;  4) Develop skills and strategies necessary to be on track for a post-secondary education/career; and 5) Successfully complete a PSAT/PLAN, SAT/ACT, FAFSA, and college/technical education application or job application.

¡Bien Educados!

MAEC is partnering with the Maryland State Department of Education to develop a statewide communications network called ¡Bien Educados! This project will bring together policymakers, state and district education leaders, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and governmental agencies that serve the   state’s Latino community.  The network will provide timely and actionable information, tips, and strategies so that Latino families can better advocate and support their children’s education. The goals are:

  • Increase the number of strategic communication partners who participate in the network;
  • Increase the number of Latinos and Latino-serving providers interfacing with MSDE to gain information, tips, and strategies on how to help support their children’s education;
  • Disseminate an annual Latino communications survey to policymakers, educators, providers, organizations, and families to determine the educational needs of Latinos; and
  • Provide an opportunity to create a community of practice across the state where policymakers, educators, and providers can share best practices for engaging Latinos in education to close achievement gaps.
¡Bien Educados! seeks to create cultural brokers with educators and providers who are already serving the Latino community so that they can inspire and encourage Latino families to engage in their children’s schooling and work together to close achievement gaps in their communities.

¡Adelante! Moving Forward!

A Guide to Empower Parents of English Learners to Advocate for their Children Book Cover of ¡Adelante! Moving Forward! In 2010, approximately five million students in the United States were identified as English Learners (ELs). These students have different levels of English proficiency and number of years of formal education. While this growing number of ELs represents a considerable challenge, it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that ELs have equal access to quality education that enables them to progress academically while learning English. Currently there is a substantial body of legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which protects the rights of these students. Unfortunately, many parents of ELs are not aware of these laws and therefore cannot advocate for their children. ¡Adelante! Moving Forward! A Guide to Empower Parents of English Learners to Advocate for their Children is designed as an informational training tool to provide trainers of immigrant parents and parent leaders with user friendly and accessible information regarding the legal responsibilities of educational agencies serving ELs and the rights of parents of ELs. The publication was developed through a partnership between the MAEC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP). It is available in English and Spanish. View the Table of Contents for ¡Adelante! Request a free copy of this publication. [gravityform id="16" title="false" description="false"]  

Post Image Addressing the Needs of the Whole Child: Inter-Agency and Community Collaborations for Student Success

Part of MAEC’s Boosting Success for 21st Century Learners Webinar Series, this webinar introduces participants to two innovative programs that link schools and communities together to meet the growing needs of families, children, and youth so all can thrive. This session was originally held on November 19, 2013 Presenters:

  • Carolyn Camacho, Site Coordinator, Identity at Watkins Mill High School Wellness Center (MD)
  • Luis Cardona, Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator, Positive Youth Initiative, Montgomery County (MD)  Department of Health and Human Services
  • Christian Rhodes, Education Policy Advisor, Office of the County Executive (MD)
  • Corey Smedley, Assistant Chief S/A to DCAO for Public Safety, Prince George's County Government (MD)
Description: As families and schools face challenging economic times, finding innovative ways to form inter-agency and community collaborations is key to supporting student success. This webinar highlights two innovative programs that link schools and communities together to meet the growing needs of families, children, and youth so all can thrive. The first program is the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI). Christian Rhodes and Corey Smedley will describe how TNI focuses on providing coordinated economic, health, public safety, and educational services to six neighborhoods in Prince George's County, MD. The second program is the Wellness Centers in Montgomery County Public Schools, MD. Luis Cardona and Carolyn Camacho explain how the Wellness Centers work with children and their families in the school community to reach their full potential by offering coordinated medical care, preventive and psychosocial services, quality counseling, positive youth development, and health education, in a culturally sensitive and confidential manner. Learning Outcomes:
  • Gain an understanding of how inter-agency and community-based collaborations with districts/schools can increase students' achievement and well-being;
  • Learn about two innovative Maryland programs: the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative from Prince George's County and the Wellness Center Program in Montgomery County; and
  • Develop an understanding of common barriers to this work and conditions/resources needed for success.
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Post Image Community Engagement for Student Success

Part of CEE’s Exploring Equity Issues series, this paper defines community engagement and offers strategies on ways schools and communities can work together to support student achievement.    

Community Engagement for Student Success

PART 1: WHAT DO WE MEAN BY COMMUNITY? How should we define community? Of the many working definitions of “community,” we prefer the definition offered by Chavis and Lee: “Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs [and experience]. Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other. They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of the community, influence their environments and each other” (2015). This definition acknowledges both the aspirational goals that individual people and entities bring to a place and the sense of connection that emerges. These aspirational goals are often understated, particularly for low-income individuals and people of color and the communities in which they live. Each community has a complex makeup of intricate systems, cultures, and resources. Developing relevant and lasting systems for safe and supportive school environments requires communities, and the people and institutions within them, to be at the center. Tackling complex problems requires change within and across institutions and local systems and among the individuals working and living within them. Schools exist within communities. When a community is engaged in schooling, the entire school (including students and teachers) has expanded access to the resources offered by the community. The community also has an opportunity to deepen its investment in the outcomes of its youth. Community engagement is commonly used to describe place-based institutional-and individual-level collaboration. Recently, placed-based initiatives have adopted some consistent structures and practices that we should apply to our work toward safe and supportive school environments. A 2015 Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy report identifies two critical components of place-based initiatives—neighborhood initiatives and systems initiatives. Both components align to create tangible, lasting improvements (Hopkins and Ferris, 2015). When considering processes and strategies for engaging diverse communities – particularly marginalized communities – leaders in a school or district must first consider their own readiness. Engaging communities in change that will affect them requires leadership to adopt early on a set of agreements or principles that ground efforts and engagement. CEE’s forthcoming publication, The “C” in FSCE, explains and expands upon two grounding constructs: Cultural and Linguistic Competence (CLC) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). We provide these constructs as models of common and useful tools to create a guidepost for collaboration and as an accountability tool that might serve as a reference point throughout the collaboration process. PART II: WHAT CAN WE DO? Understand and acknowledge the different types of neighborhoods and circumstances. One size does not fit all, and no two problems are the same. Schools may need to collect data to understand the unique assets and barriers within their communities. Educators can learn this by: • Conducting community walks, • Scheduling meetings (such as PTO meetings) at a community center instead of the school, • Conducting home visits, • Going to community events, and • Holding community events that you think people will attend. Community asset mapping offers a clear picture of the resources and gaps from a strengths-based, community-driven perspective. By mapping community assets, you can learn about the specific skills, services, and capacities present in the community that can support school, staff, students, and families. Resident engagement can take different forms, but without shared leadership and responsibility for defining goals, residents are often just used as “window dressing” for a prescribed initiative.“Community engagement” is not necessarily or always community centered. Community engagement exists on a spectrum. The International Association for Public Participation (2007) drafted a spectrum highlighting the levels of a community-centered change and improvement process (see graphic below). Think creatively about people who should be involved. Community organizations, faith-based organizations, and local businesses, for example, all have people who have a vested interest in the community. Their ideas and perspectives can enhance the process. Hopkins and Ferris (2015) assert that “[f]or initiatives to be sustainable there must also be a broad base of local leaders—and ways to continually renew or circulate leadership over time.” Efforts to define and create safe and supportive school environments should focus on shared leadership and should be mindful that: • All perspectives matter. • Assumptions and values should be explicit. • Inclusion is complex and not always easy to implement. • Broadened definitions of knowledge and data are necessary. • Community is complex and diverse. Sometimes, the community is there to support the school. Sometimes, the school is there to support the community. For example, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Lower Price Hill community underwent enormous change. Most students in the area live in poverty and for many years most students did not graduate high school. After the Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the state financing system was unconstitutional, the state had an opportunity and expectation that it could turn around schools like Oyler Community Learning Center (formerly Oyler School). “Community members and parents played an integral role in the planning and implementation of the community school effort. It was the members of the community that pushed for the transformation into a preK-12 school. Local businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations were involved as planning partners and continue to participate with parents and residents in guiding Oyler’s work.” Though not out of the woods yet, “since becoming a community school, Oyler's students are graduating from high school and matriculating to college in record numbers. Oyler has graduated more students in the neighborhood from high school in the past 3 years than in the collective 85 prior years. Oyler has steadily improved student achievement” (IEL, 2018). As a result of intentional community engagement, OCLC has seen an improvement in student graduation rates and has deep community-based relationships with youth and family serving organizations that provide, vision, health (physical and mental), civic engagement, family food services, tutoring/mentoring, college access supports, and employment supports (https://oyler.cps-k12.org). Higher education institutions also engage in building community. The University of Minnesota has a Resilient Communities Project, “a crossdisciplinary program…that supports one-year partnerships between the University and communities in Minnesota to advance local sustainability and resilience.” The project is designed to connect students and faculty to communities in order to build local capacity around sustainability and resilience issues. While helping the community, the University is also training the next generation of leaders to be future sustainability practitioners (https://rcp.umn.edu/). For the 2018-2019 year, U of M chose to engage with two counties: Scott County (a rapidly growing and diversifying area in the southwestern Twin Cities metropolitan area) and Ramsey County (in the heart of the Twin Cities metropolitan area). “The collaboration provided the city and its residents with case studies, data analysis, concept plans, designs, and policy recommendations to build resilience in Ramsey, and offered more than 275 students the opportunity to tackle real projects as part of their coursework, working directly with Ramsey city staff, residents, and business owners.” Keep an eye out for our forthcoming publication that will help schools and school systems leverage a community’s fuller capacity to support students’ overall well being and academic achievement. It will offer specific strategies and resources to engage diverse communities and to help guide schools and school communities to understand and create common frames for planning with cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity in mind. Written by Phoebe Schlanger, MAEC Adapted from a forthcoming CEE publication by Vanessa Coleman, EdD RESOURCES Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD) https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/Pages/default.aspx Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, www.communityschools.org Community Research Lab Toolkit Janice C. Burns, Dagmar Pudrzynska Paul, and Silvia R. Paz Advancement Project—Healthy City December 2011, updated April 2012 www.communityscience.com/knowledge4equity/AssetMappingToolkit.pdf “Logic Model Workbook,” Innovation Network, Inc. www.innonet.org/media/logic_model_workbook_0.pdf Participatory Asset Mapping: A Community Research Lab Toolkit Advancement Project Washington, DC:Advancement Project—Healthy City Community Research Lab, 2011 www.communityscience.com/knowledge4equity/AssetMappingToolkit.pdf REFERENCES Chavis, D. and Lee, K.. What Is Community Anyway? Our Understanding of Community Can Help Funders and Evaluators Identify, Understand, and Strengthen the Communities They Work With, Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change, May 12, 2015, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/what_is_community_anyway. Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, website, Oyler School, retrieved August 30, 2018 from http://www.communityschools.org/oyler_school.aspx Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, “Community School: Profile of Oyler Community Learning Center,” retrieved August 30, 2018 from http://www.communityschools.org/assets/1/AssetManager/Ohio%20Olyer%20FINAL.pdf Hopkins, E. and Ferris, J., eds., Place-Based Initiatives in the Context of Public Policy and Markets: Moving to Higher Ground (Los Angeles: University of Southern California: Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy and USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, March 2015), https://socialinnovation.usc.edu/social_research/place-based-initiatives-in-the-context-of-public-policy-and-the-market-moving-to-higher-ground/ Hayes, C. , Juarez, B. (2012). There Is No Culturally Responsive Teaching Spoken Here: A Critical Race Perspective. Democracy and Education, 20 (1), Article 1. International Association of Public Participation [IAP2]. (2007). IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. Retrieved from https://democracyeducationjournal.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=home Scaccia, J., Cook, B., Lamont, A., Wandersman, A., Castellow, J., Katz, J., et al. (2014). A practical implementation science heuristic for organizational readiness: R = MC2. Journal of Community Psychology, 43, 484–501. The University of Minnesota, Resilient Communities Project website, retrieved August 30, 2018 from https://rcp.umn.edu/.

Download: Exploring Equity - Community Engagement for Student Success

Post Image Culturally Responsive Leaders

Part of CEE’s Exploring Equity Issues series, this paper examines why it is important for educators to be culturally responsive leaders in order to address the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Using one of CEE's case studies, it highlights several preconditions necessary for achieving this and outlines the Essential Elements of Cultural Competence.

Culturally Responsive Leaders

PART I: TIMES HAVE CHANGED, AND THEY HAVEN’T The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in 2014,students of color represented slightly more than half (50.5%) of all public school students, an increase from 38.8% in 2000 (McFarland et al., 2018). Meanwhile, teacher demographics have remained stagnant. NCES data list 81.9% of public school teachers in 2012 as White (the latest year available), a small decrease from 84.3% in 2000 (Musu-Gillette et al., 2016, US ED, 2016). They are not just White; they are predominantly White, female, and middle class. Why is this important? Research shows that students’ race, ethnicity, and cultural background significantly influence their achievement (Aceves & Orosco, 2014). Yet many teachers are inadequately prepared to address the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse learners (Skiba, et al., 2011; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Miller, 2009). Culturally responsive teachers can close the achievement gap by fostering academic optimism, raising expectations of excellence, connecting with each student’s prior knowledge, and delivering content knowledge in ways students can understand (Ball & Forzani, 2011; Farr, 2010; Brown et al., 2009; Miller, 2009). Culturally responsive leaders nurture and maintain high-quality teaching, and foster an inclusive community that builds on teacher, student, and family assets. The recognition that schools need culturally responsive teachers and leaders is not new. In 2005, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) published a report on preparing and supporting diverse, culturally responsive leaders (then referred to as culturally competent leaders). It grew out of a series of meetings among practitioners in the field. It was intended to provide field-based insights from people working in/with leadership development programs for school leaders across the country. The report outlined five themes: 1. Educational leaders who are not culturally competent cannot be fully effective. 2. Culturally competent leaders work to understand their own biases as well as patterns of discrimination. They have the skills to mitigate the attendant negative effects on student achievement and the personal courage and commitment to persist. 3. Much of what culturally competent leaders must know and be able to do is learned in relationships with families and communities. 4. Culturally competent leadership develops over time and needs to be supported from preparation through practice. Creating collaborative frameworks and structures can be useful. 5. State and local policies need to build a sense of urgency about preparing culturally competent leaders (IEL, 2005). A Case Study CEE engaged in a technical assistance project with a school district that was designed to assist educators in becoming culturally responsive leaders. This district of 3,600 students had four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Its student population was 77% White, 3% African American, 13% Asian, 4% two or more races, and 4% Latino/a. Less than 1% were English learners and 4% were economically disadvantaged. One of the superintendent’s priorities for the school year was for district staff to develop an understanding of the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy and practice. He requested assistance to facilitate conversations on race, class, and gender. The district had received three complaints from families who reported receiving unfair treatment. He recognized the challenges of addressing potentially deeply-rooted biases. CEE began work at the elementary school with the greatest diversity of students. CEE offered a professional development workshop to about 50 school staff along with the superintendent. The workshop was designed to allow persons of different backgrounds to gain an  understanding of culturally responsive teaching in a non-threatening way. It focused on developing an understanding of how cultural background and prior experiences shape mindsets and worldviews. The goal was for teachers to be able to use this information to shape how they engage with and support students from diverse backgrounds. The session provided an opportunity for teachers and the superintendent to discuss reports from some families regarding their discomfort in the district and how the district could implement strategies to address these concerns. Initial teacher response to the session was generally positive, but teachers questioned why the district was offering this session. They also appreciated having an opportunity for discussion and the reminder that people are defined by so many characteristics. But they would have liked to have been given suggestions on how to treat students more equitably and given more time to brainstorm together to come up with a plan and tools for engaging parents in this work. CEE conducted a discussion with a smaller group of school and district staff to see how to move the project more quickly. They agreed to  focus on facilitating sessions among teachers to help them feel less defensive and become more open to addressing issues of culture and equity in the district. To be successful, staff need the rationale behind the professional development so that they are better prepared to engage in difficult conversations. PART II: WHAT CAN WE DO? There are many preconditions to becoming a culturally responsive leader. Our case study highlighted the following lessons learned: FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS Foster relationships between district leadership and staff to discuss issues such as school climate, cultural responsive pedagogy and practice, authentic family and community engagement, and equitable opportunities for students. Culturally responsive leaders have the capacity to break down systems of practice that perpetuate inequities. They need to engage people from different cultures and to act as cultural brokers. This means they must communicate effectively a culturally responsive vision and goals, not always an easy task. They must simultaneously be a catalyst for change while handling dissonance. Above all, they need to create a safe environment for courageous conversations about cultural responsiveness, and where people are held accountable. BUILD TRUST FIRST Build trust and establish relationships prior to providing professional development. This will enable staff to acknowledge, accept, and reflect on their own biases and potential consequences for their school or district. This valuable reflection time will more likely lead to buy-in from staff and enable sustainability. The staff also needs professional supports to engage in this challenging work. BE TRANSPARENT Be transparent about the reasons for professional development and create a thriving, culturally responsive professional learning community. Provide the rationale for the professional development so participants are better prepared to engage in difficult conversations. Culturally responsive leaders are vulnerable with staff as they engage in these discussions. As the case studied showed, teachers questioned why they were attending this particular topic for professional development. A thriving, culturally responsive professional learning community supports adult learning that is reflective of student racial and cultural backgrounds and includes educator of color voices. CULTIVATE STRONG LEADERS Cultivate strong leadership within the school building and district to build and sustain the necessary cultural and instructional changes. Culturally responsive leaders need an understanding of critical theories about how people learn. They also need to know the impact of race, power, legitimacy, cultural capital, poverty, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, language, and other factors on learning. Equally important, they need to understand patterns of discrimination, inequalities, and injustice associated with individual groups. Finally, they need to be able to articulate their own philosophy of education and to examine whether they use it to maintain the status quo or to empower others’ active participation in their own transformation. KNOW YOUR DISTRICT AND YOUR BUILDING Whether using an external consultant or a qualified district staff member, devote sufficient time to learn about your district characteristics, needs, and interests. A culturally responsive leader knows who is in their district and who is in the building and community. Addressing cultural responsiveness requires a tailored approach. Culturally responsive leaders should understand the cultural history of their schools, families, and communities. They should aim to possess a global perspective. Culturally responsive leaders also know and question their own values, commitments, beliefs, prejudices, and uses of power and influence. They must be able to understand a variety of contexts and situations and to accept challenges that arise. Conclusion Culturally responsive leadership improves learning (Darling-Hammond, 2010). The work of educational leaders is to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that every student receives the highest quality instruction every day. When educational leaders lack cultural understanding, they may react defensively in the face of diversity to maintain the status quo (IEL, 2005). When educational leaders understand the cultural context, they can set a tone for collaboration and facilitate academic excellence. Written by Phoebe Schlanger, MAEC The Essential Elements of Cultural Competence #1 ASSESSING CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Assemble his/her collaborative leadership team to reassess the extent to which cultural knowledge of students is clearly present in the school’s vision and mission. #2 VALUING DIVERSITY What would a culturally responsive leader do? Conduct a school climate survey and determine whether school policies and procedures value cultural diversity. #3 MANAGING THE DYNAMICS OF DIFFERENCE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Examine and monitor the extent to which Culturally Responsive Classroom Management and Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Supports and Management Systems are in place and contribute to reducing the frequency of discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions. #4 ADAPTING TO DIVERSITY What would a culturally responsive leader do? Monitor the extent to which s/he strategically and systematically engages teacher leaders in collaborative inquiry as a means for transforming the process of decision making. #5 INSTITUTIONALIZING CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Examine the extent to which the protocols for teacher placement, teacher performance observation, and teacher evaluation take into account the experience of schooling of students who are disproportionately underserved. REFERENCES Aceves, T. C., & Orosco, M. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching (Document No. IC-2). Retrieved May 25, 2018 from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development,Accountability, and Reform Center website: http://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/tools/innovationconfigurations/ Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. (2011). Teaching skillful teaching. Educational Leadership, 68(4), 40-45. Basterra, M. d., Trumbull, E., & Solano-Flores, G. (2011). Cultural validity in assessment: Addressing linguistic and cultural diversity. New York: Routledge. Brown, R., Copeland, W., Costello, E., Erkanli, A., & Worthman, C. (2009). Family and community influences on educational outcomes of Appalachian youth. Journal of Community Psychology, 37(7): 795–808. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20331 CampbellJones, B., CampbellJones, F., & Love, N. (2009). Bringing cultural proficiency to collaborative inquiry. In N. Love (Ed.), Using data to improve learning for all: A collaborative inquiry approach (80-95). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Cross, Terry L., Bazron, Barbara J., Dennis, Karl W., and Isaacs, Mareasa R. (March 1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care: A monograph on effective services for minority children who are severally emotional disturbed. Georgetown University Child Development Center. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from https://spu.edu/~/media/academics/school-ofeducation/Cultural%20Diversity/Towards%20a%20Culturally%20Competent%20System%20of%20Care%20Abridged.ashx Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America's commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Farr, S. (2010). Teaching as leadership: The highly effective teacher's guide to closing the achievement gap. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Hanover Research (August 2014). Strategies for building cultural competency. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from http://www.gssaweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Strategies-for-Building-CulturalCompetency-1.pdf Institute for Educational Leadership. (2005). Preparing and supporting diverse, culturally competent leaders: practice and policy considerations. Washington, DC. ISBN 1-933493-01-1 McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., Barmer, A., Forrest Cataldi, E., and Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The condition of education 2018 (NCES 2018-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo. asp?pubid=2018144 Miller, M. (2009). Teaching for a new world: Preparing high school educators to deliver college and career-ready instruction [Policy Brief]. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., McFarland, J., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, A., and Wilkinson-Flicker, S. (2016). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2016 (NCES 2016-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved May 30, 2018 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch. Reform Support Network. (2015). Promoting more equitable access to effective teachers: Strategic options for states to improve placement and movement. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-supportunit/techassist/equitableaccesstoeffectiveteachersstrategicoptions.pdf Skiba, R.J., Honer, R.H., Chung, C-G, Rausch, M.K., May, S.L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40(1), 85-107. Bloomington, IN: National Association of School Psychologists. The Aspen Education & Society Program and the Council of Chief State School Officers. (2017). Leading for equity: Opportunities for state education chiefs. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce.Washington, DC. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racialdiversity/state-racial-diversityworkforce.pdf.      

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Post Image Engaging Families of African American Learners

This piece,  part of our Addressing Critical Equity Issues series, delivers ideas and practices for cultivating outreach approaches that engage African American parents and families. Download Engaging Families of African American Learners.

Engaging Families of African American Learners

  In the context of 21st century educational practice, African American learners are continuously called upon ‘to beat all odds’ to successfully achieve and perform in a global, technology‐ mediated community, nation, and world. The nature of this challenge is both immediate and far reaching, giving more meaning than ever to the ancient African Proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” With this in mind, it has become increasingly critical for schools and school communities to become aware of the full scope of what it takes to fully reach out to African American parents and family members. By building school classrooms and school climates in which parents and families are integrally and constructively involved as participating partners in their children’s education the likelihood of academic success increases for every child. Beyond the traditional ‘Back to School Night,’ quarterly report card, parent conference, or discipline referral conference, today’s school communities must intentionally cultivate outreach approaches that engage African American parents and families at all grade and developmental levels on an on‐going basis. Essential questions to be answered in this regard include: (1) How does the school make it a practice to bridge racial, class, and cultural differences? (2) What extra efforts are made to recruit and welcome families of all backgrounds?(3) What opportunities does the school provide for parents and families to offer their insights about the school climate? (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson& Davies, 2007). Such progressive approaches require raised levels of awareness within school communities about the scope of cultural and institutional factors that impact teaching and learning (Lindsey, Robins & Terrell, 2009). Concurrently, it is critical to provide opportunities to establish and sustain mutual understanding among parents, families, and schools about culturally responsive and socially just practices. PROMISING PRACTICES PUBLICATIONS
  • Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K.L., Johnson, V.R., Davies D.D. (2007) Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family‐School Partnerships. New York, The New Press.
  • Lindsay, R.B., Robins, K.N., Terrell, R.D. (2009). Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders.Thousand Oakes, California, Corwin Press

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Post Image Engaging Families of English Learners

This piece,  part of our Addressing Critical Equity Issues series, discusses some of the barriers that families of English Learners face that make interactions at school challenging and provides promising practices to help address them.  Download Engaging Families of English Learners.

Engaging Families of English Learners

English Language Learners (ELs) are the fastest growing segment of the school‐age population, doubling their numbers from approximately 2 million in 1989‐1990 to more than 5 million in 2004‐2005. Currently, ELs represent 10.5% of the total public school student enrollment (Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, M. 2008). Family involvement is consistently cited as an important correlate of effective schools. There is evidence that family practices concerning children’s education are more important for helping students succeed in school than are family structure, economic status, or characteristics such as race, parent education, family size, and age of child (Goldenberg, 2004; Jeynes, 2002). Unfortunately, not all parents; and/or families have the same level of participation in school‐home collaborations. Families of ELs face barriers that make their interactions with schools particularly challenging. Research studies indicate that the most common barriers include: 1) logistical issues concerning transportation, parents’ labor‐ intensive work schedules, and child care; 2) lack of confidence interacting in a culture different than their own; 3) lack of English language skills; 4) insufficient information on home‐school collaboration and/or partnerships; 5) different perceptions and expectations of their role and the role in school related issues and activities; and 6) in some cases, lack of sensitivity and understanding on the part of school personnel. School based barriers for the engagement of ELs’ families include: a) fear and distrust of different life styles; b) a deficit perspective of ELL families; c) lack of knowledge of the native languages; d) a traditional, unidirectional approach to family involvement; and e) negative school climate (Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, 2008; Tinkler, B. 2002). During the last decade several approaches to effective family engagement of ELs have been developed and implemented successfully. These practices have several common characteristics including: 1) acknowledging parents’ cultural values and viewing them as strengths; 2) providing a school environment that is warm, caring, inviting, and receptive to parents; 3) promoting improved communication between parents and schools by using interpreters and parent liaisons; 4) modifying meetings to accommodate parents work schedule; 5) providing child care and transportation; 6) providing school information in different languages; and 7) training school personnel on how to promote effective culturally responsive communication with parents (Rios, F. 2010; Waterman, R & Harry, B. 2008). PROMISING PRACTICES   PUBLICATIONS
  •  Allen, J. (2007). Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Arias, B.; Morillo‐Campbel M. (2008). Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times. Arizona State University. Policy Brief available online at: https://greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Arias_ELL.pdf
  • Civil, M. & Quintos, B. (2009). Latina Mothers’ Perceptions about the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics: Implications for Parental Participation. In Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education, edited by Greer, B., Mukhopadhyay, A., Powell, A., & Nelson‐Barber, S. pp. 321‐343. New York: Routledge.
  • De Gaetano, Y. (2007). The Role of Culture in Engaging Latino Parents’ Involvement in School. Urban Education 42, no.2: 145‐162.
  • Dantas, M.L. & Manyak, P. (2010). Home‐School Connections in a Multicultural Society. Learning from and with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Routledge, New York & London.
  • Valdez, G. (1996). Con Respeto: Bridging the Differences between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools: An Ethnographic Portrait. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Zarate, M. (2007). Understanding Parental Involvement in Education: Perceptions, Expectations, and Recommendations. Los Angeles: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
REFERENCES
  •  Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, M. (2008). Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times. Educational Policy Research Unit, Arizona State University.
  • Goldenberg, C. (2004). Successful School Change. New York: Teacher College Press.
  • Jeynes, W. (2002). A Meta‐Analysis: The Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Children’s Academic Achievement.Education and Urban Society 2003; 35; 202
  • Rios, F. (2010). Home‐School‐Community Collaborations in Uncertain Times. In Dantas M.L. & Manyak, P. (Eds.) Home‐School Connections in a Multicultural Society. Learning from and with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Routledge, NY.
  • Tinkler, B. (2002, April). A Review of Literature on Hispanic/Latino Involvement in K‐12 Education. Retrieved from http://www.huildassest.org/products/latinoparentreport/latinoparentrept.htm
  • Waterman, M. & Harry, B. (2008). Building Collaboration Between Schools and Parents of English Language Learners: Transcending Barriers, Creating Opportunities. National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST),

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Post Image Engaging Fathers and Other Male Role Models in Education

This piece, part of our Addressing Critical Equity Issues series, discusses the benefits to engaging fathers and other positive male role models in a child's education and provides promises practices on how to increase this engagement.  Download Engaging Fathers and Other Male Role Models in Education

Engaging Fathers and Other Male Role Models in Education

As we seek to gain a better understanding of our dynamic school cultures, it is important to understand how demographic shifts in family trends affect our school communities. Among these demographic shifts is the rise of single parent families. According to the 2010 Census, out of the 75 million children (ages 0‐17) in the U.S., 19.5 million children are being raised in single family homes. Of those, 2.25 million children are being raised by single fathers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). This statistic is even more pronounced for African American and Latino children. In 2010, 50% of African American children lived in single‐mother families, while about 26% of Latino children did so. The percentages, however, of 3.8% of Caucasian, 3.6% African American, and 2.7% Latino children living in single‐father families are similar across racial groups. Though the percentage of children living only with their fathers is small, the total percentages still account for 7.5 million children. Thus, the data indicate a need for positive father figures and male role models. Several factors have led to the increase in single father families: an explosion in the divorce rate, the introduction of no‐fault divorce laws, lessening of cultural preference of females as the sole nurturers by courts, an increase in joint‐custody arrangements, greater father request for sole custody, and a greater desire by women to pursue careers (Ingram, 2006). As the social norms regarding custody and child‐raising allow more fathers to be nurturers, schools must adapt to these realities too. What are the benefits to engaging fathers and other positive male role models in education? Children who have fathers or male father figures involved in their education are more likely to: get better grades; have better verbal and problem solving skills; do better on achievement tests; demonstrate a higher tolerance for stress and frustration; are more likely to have positive peer relationships (Allen & Daly, 2007); are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities; and, have fewer discipline problems (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). Although the benefits to father/male engagement in education are great, there are still social barriers to father involvement in schools such as: unsympathetic work situations that limit fathers’ abilities to volunteer in school or leave work when children become ill; professional, social, and personal pressure to provide for the family’s economic security; lack of awareness or sensitivity in school staff to address father as principal nurturer; stereotypical expectations that mothers are responsible for matters relating to children, including education; and other parents’ views on father involvement in schooling (Lu, Jones et al., 2010; Pruett, et al., 2009). Schools can find ways, however, to connect with fathers and invite other positive male role models into the education of their children. Some commonly used strategies for father engagement in schools are: communicating directly to fathers, making men visible (by hiring male staff or recruiting male volunteers/PTA members), encouraging fathers to be involved in specific ways (field trips, advisory boards, etc.), holding father/male‐child events throughout the year, and starting father/male‐child clubs (i.e., reading, robotics, mentoring, athletic, chess, etc.). In addition, schools can serve as networks of support to single‐father and single‐mother families by providing opportunities for community based organizations and family service providers to share their resources and expertise with parents (such as information about gender specific adolescent development, counseling services, support groups, etc.). By getting to know students, their families, and communities, schools can help to promote healthy child development and strengthen families in and out of school. PROMISING PRACTICES
  • WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) is a program of the National Center for Fathering focusing on prevention of violence in schools by using the positive influence of fathers and father‐figures to provide an unobtrusive presence in the schools, and to be a positive role‐model for students.
  • All Pro Dad, founded by Tony Dungy, is a program of Family First, an organization dedicated to strengthening the family. All Pro Dad programs include: A one‐hour monthly breakfast held before school where fathers/male role models and their kids can meet, have fun, and discuss family topics. Materials for All Pro Dad’s Days are free of charge to local organizers. These materials include videos, father/child discussion cards, door prizes, meeting instructions, brochures, posters, and promotional flyers.
  • Real Men Cook/Real Men Charities Inc. began in Chicago in 1989 as a way to change the perception of African American fathers by holding annual Father’s Day food sampling, entertainment, and fund‐raising family celebrations. Real Men Cook has generated over $1 million in ticket sales proceeds to nonprofits, is a national Father’s Day event in 15 cities, and is credited with changing the way Father’s Day is celebrated. Real Men Cook encourages recognition of biological dads and father figures and encourages family and community involvement.
  • National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) aims to help children succeed by getting dads involved. NFI's school‐based programming helps schools and PTAs involve dads and increase membership with innovative programs and resources, such as:
  • Dadventures™: Fun, hands‐on activities that dads and kids can do together. Double Duty Dads™: A unique mentoring program that can help PTAs recruit members and volunteers. Dad E‐mail™: A weekly e‐mail just for dads with relevant hints, tips, and advice. fatherhood.org
  • National Compadres Network is based on the principles of"El Hombre Noble" (the Honorable Man), the network’s goals are to strengthen, rebalance, and redevelop the traditional Latino extended family system by encouraging and supporting the positive involvement of males in families and the community.
  • The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) seeks to provide, facilitate, and disseminate current research, proven and innovative strategies that will encourage and strengthen fathers and families, and provider’s capacity to promote a healthy family.
PUBLICATIONS 
  • Baskill, Jane. Getting Dads on Board: Fostering Literacy Partnerships for Successful Student Learning. Ontario: Pembroke Publishers, 2009.
  • Cabrera, Natasha, and Catherine S. Tamis‐Lemonada. Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2012. www.teachingforchange.org. Web. 31 May 2012.
  • Carlson, M. McLanham, S., Brooks‐Gunn, J."Coparenting and Nonresident Fathers’ Involvement with Young Children After a Nonmartial Birth." Demography, Vol 45, No. 2, 2008, pp.461‐488.
  • Olsen, G. & Fuller, M. Home and School Relations: Teachers and Parents Working Together (4th ed). Pearson: NY, 2012.
  • McBride, B., Dyer, J., et al."The Differential Impact of Early Father and Mother Involvement on Later Student Achievement." Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 101, No. 2, 2009,pp. 498‐508.
  •  National PTA."Men Working." A How‐To Guide on Promoting Father Involvement (2007). www.pta.org. Web. 31 May 2012. <www.pta.org/Father_Involvement_How_To_Guide.pdf>
  • Umbarger,G.T., V.P. Turbiville, and A.C. Guthrie."Fathers’ involvement in programs for young children." Young Children 55.4 (2000): 74‐79. Print.
REFERENCES
  • Allen, Sarah, and Kerry Daly."The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of Evidence." Father Involvement Research Alliance (May 2007): 1‐4. www.fira.ca/. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf>.
  • Ingram, Patreese D."Diversity in People: Single‐Father Families." Diverse Issues 7.1 (2006): 2‐8. Diversity Education. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://diversityeducation.cas.psu.edu/>.
  • Lu, M., Jones, L., et al."Where is the F in MCH? Father Involvement in African American Families." Ethnicity & Disease.Vol 20, Winter 2010, pp. 49‐61.
  • Pruett, M., Cowan, C., et al."Lessons Learned from the Supporting Father Involvement Study: A Cross‐ Cultural Preventive Intervention for Low‐Income Families with Young Children." Journal of Social Science Research. Vol 35, Issue 2, 2009, pp. 163‐179
  •  U.S. Census Bureau."Family Structure and Children’s Living Arrangements." www.census.gov. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011. Web. 31 May 2012. <https://www2.census.gov/about/partners/sdc/events/steering-committee/2012-06/2012-kreider.pdf#>.
  • U.S. Department of Education."The Context: What Research Tells Us." A Call to Commitment: Fathers’ Involvement in Children’s Learning (June 2000): 1‐7. www.ed.gov. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/parents/calltocommit/intro.html>.

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Post Image Gaining Ground on Equity for Rural Schools and Communities

MAEC’s Dr. Heather Biggar Tomlinson contextualizes the unique challenges and strengths that characterize rural communities and education in the United States. She examines racial diversity, poverty, intersecting discrimination, resource allocation for schools, broadband connectivity, access to high-quality child care, health services, and other topics impacting families in rural areas. Back to Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural Schools and Communities  

Gaining Ground on Equity for Rural Schools and Communities

September 2020: Exploring Equity Issues, Rural Edition Heather Biggar Tomlinson, Ph.D.Heather Tomlinson Senior Specialist, Early Childhood and Family Engagement, MAEC Mountainous Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the wide-open Great Plains, remote Alaska, lush Hawaii, and pastoral New England all evoke images of rural America, but they are unique regions with distinct differences in people, values, landscapes, and lifestyles. These and the many other pockets of rural America showcase diverse economic engines, natural resources, affluence or poverty levels, demographics, and cultures. Yet there are commonalities that transcend the distinctions to connect rural areas and create an overarching entity that collectively identifies as “rural America.”  One in five Americans, or about 60 million people, lives in a rural area. Because 97% of the nation’s landmass is considered rural, by definition these areas are sparsely populated and far from urban centers (United States Census Bureau, 2017). Although rural school districts are small—median enrollment is fewer than 500 students—the overall numbers are not: 28.5% of schools are rural and 9.3 million students attend them (Showalter, Hartman, Johnson, & Klein, 2019). The well-being and success of rural students is a critical determinant of the well-being and success of the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, one of the commonalities connecting rural areas is a lack of access to services, infrastructure, and equitable policies and practices. This article provides an overview of how equity relates to rural America and its students and schools. While rural America has been overlooked and marginalized as a whole in many ways, there are layers of discrimination and disadvantage within that broader marginalization. Many of the inequities could be ameliorated by improved policies, approaches, and relationships between institutions that tackle inequities systemically. We examine the intersections of diversity and equity in rural communities and explain how these concepts dovetail, concentrating on five examples of inequity: resource allocation, physical and mental health services, support for the educator workforce, access to high-quality child care, and cultivating college readiness. The hope is that by better connecting the dots between equitable policies and stakeholders, and between love of place and the need for excellent educational opportunities, it’s possible to see the potential of schools, communities, and states to give all rural students a chance to flourish.

Diversity and Equity in Rural America

Diversity shows up in multiple dimensions. Students in rural areas may be racially diverse and linguistically diverse, diverse in gender and sexual identity, physical and intellectual ability, religious background, from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and family composition, and more. Students from non-dominant backgrounds may face layers of discrimination and disadvantage.

Racial Diversity

The narrative addressing rural communities has been oversimplified. The lack of nuance in the narratives can lead to false assumptions and prejudices. Although images in the popular press often present a narrow version of rural America, with a tendency to focus on poor, White communities, the nation’s contemporary rural student body is richly diverse and multifaceted. The Rural School and Community Trust (RSCT) gives the U.S. a racial diversity index of 31.9, meaning that if someone randomly chose two students from a rural district, there would be an approximately one-third chance that those students would be of different races. However, the average belies a big range. According to the RSCT, in Maine, for example, racial diversity is low (10.7%), whereas in Delaware, the percentage is much more significant (56.8%). And within districts, the range is even greater. For example, in Pocantico Hills, New York, there is a diversity index of 67.7 (that is, a two-thirds chance that two students in a school would be of different races), whereas in 172 other districts, there is no racial diversity—meaning a school’s student population might be entirely White, Hispanic, Black or Tribal. Overall, however, there is extraordinary diversity within rural America as a whole, and within some districts, specifically. Indeed, the three most diverse school districts in the nation are rural (Showalter et al., 2019).

Poverty

There are other kinds of diversity as well, including socioeconomic.  Affluence exists but pervasive and persistent poverty has plagued some rural regions for generations. Overall, 15.4% of rural school-aged children in the United States live in poverty (Showalter et al., 2019). Some states, particularly in New England, have low rates of rural child poverty (e.g., Massachusetts, 3.5%) and some rural areas are amenity rich with abundant natural resources that bring in agricultural, recreational, and tourism benefits. Other states with large rural populations have distressing child poverty rates. For example, in the South, Mississippi’s rate is 23.1% and Louisiana’s is 22.9%. In Appalachia, Kentucky’s rural child poverty rate is 21.6%. In the Southwest, 23.3% of rural children in Arizona and 29.7% in New Mexico live in poverty. In these areas, families have a median income of $30,000 (versus $54,000 nationally); working-age men have disabilities at more than twice the rate than in other areas, reaching almost one-quarter of the population; about four in ten children live in poverty; and one in five adults do not complete high school (Florida, 2018). More than eight out of ten of the nation’s persistently poor counties are rural (Schull, 2019). For these areas, poverty can be a legacy that is difficult to overcome.

“Layers within Layers of Discrimination”

Within the broad layer of inequities that rural residents often face—less access to high-quality child care, schools, healthcare, mental health supports, employment opportunities, professional development supports, transportation infrastructure, cultural amenities, and so forth—are deeper layers of prejudice and discrimination that disproportionately affect non-dominant groups.  These groups might include students living in poverty, people of color, LGBTQIA+ families, individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, families from underrepresented religious backgrounds, newcomers, migrant families, and English learners. Rural scholars often refer to the “layers within layers of discrimination” in rural communities (Erin McHenry-Sorber, personal communication, 2020).  MAEC’s vision is that all children, regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, home language, or socioeconomic status, have the right to learn and achieve at high levels. While rural residents are not protected as a class by federal civil rights law, many factors that intersect with rural settings exacerbate discrimination and harassment. Rural communities have children of all races and religions. Their families come from myriad countries and speak as many languages. They have diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. They experience varying levels of affluence, poverty, and educational levels. All of these factors produce the potential for bias and marginalization. These layers within and across rural communities represent the rich diversity of rural America, but they also present platforms for ongoing inequity and the necessity for effective and equitable policies and practices.  Equity is not the same as equality. Unfortunately, many educational goals are driven by equality, where goods or services are distributed without consideration for varied student strengths and needs rooted in widely differing starting places. Equity is driven by student strengths and needs, providing what each person needs in order to thrive. This means that some schools and students would be well served by receiving more than others, depending on unmet needs, with the goal that all rural students have comparable access to excellent educational opportunities. While this idea is easily understood, it is difficult to implement because it requires that administrators distribute resources differentially. Frequently, what rural Americans have failed to receive through equitable policies and practices they have substituted with ingenuity, resourcefulness, and a deep sense of community and commitment. However, in order to sustain these practices, institutional policies must support and enhance individual creativity and grit.

Challenges for Rural Educators and Students

Schools provide more than education in all types of communities, and in rural areas, they are particularly important for the well-being of students and communities. They often represent the heart of community life. They provide avenues for dissemination of critical health, food, housing, counseling, employment, and other resources. They link families to essential services. Schools serve as social, health, and cultural centers as well, hosting family and sporting events, job fairs, health and wellness clinics and, in this era, COVID testing sites. As a result, rural educators and administrators feel pressure to do more and be more than is expected in other school communities (McHenry-Sorber & Sutherland, 2020). At the same time, the equity-based challenges remain, including the distribution of money and other resources, access to health services, support for educators, access to child care, and opportunities to develop college readiness.

Resource Allocation

Resources come in many forms. Resources that are critical to rural schools include funding and digital connectivity.

Funding

Adequate funding is a necessary foundation without which schools cannot thrive. Pre-COVID-19, rural school districts received on average 16.9% of state education funds, in spite of the fact that 28.5% of schools are designated as rural; data show that 15.4% of students attend schools in rural districts, but some rural schools are located in districts not designated as rural (U.S. Department of Education, 2014-2015). In spite of these disparities, serving rural students can also include additional costs such as steep transportation expenses that shift money away from instruction and student learning resources. On average, rural school districts spend $1.00 on transportation for every $10.81 spent on instruction, and in some instances the ratio is worse, such as West Virginia ($6.48) and New Mexico ($6.17) (Showalter et al., 2019).      Districts that serve large numbers of low-income students and students of color on average receive $1,800 less per student than districts serving few students of color (Darling-Hammond, Schachner, & Edgerton, 2020). COVID-19 greatly exacerbates the problem. Consequently, administrators in low-income and racially diverse schools can expect significant economic stress in the coming years. Declining enrollment rates were already forcing district leaders to make painful decisions about school consolidation. Facing challenges with data reporting given sample sizes will also add heavier financial burdens to the resource stress. In response, education leaders are calling for the adoption of more equitable state school funding formulas that are weighted for poverty, English proficiency, foster care or homeless status, and special education status. As highlighted by the Learning Policy Institute, “In large states, this might be further adjusted for geographic cost differentials, while also taking into account the transportation and other needs of sparse, rural districts” (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020, p. 103). To save money and reduce the costs of facilities, teachers and administrators, food services, and other resources, many districts rely on consolidating schools in order to preserve capital. However, there are equity issues with consolidation. School districts with large populations of students of color and children living in poverty tend to do better academically in smaller schools, whereas school consolidation tends to widen achievement gaps. Over one-quarter of rural students spend more than one hour each way getting to and from school, and 85% spend at least 30 minutes each way commuting (Lavalley, 2018). Longer bus rides and longer days mean rural students have less time than others to spend on homework, extracurricular activities, participation in academic support programs, sleep, and family and community activities. These greater distances may also prohibit families and community members from attending on-site activities at school, which can affect optimal family and community engagement in education. Ironically, longer commutes increase costs for districts, decreasing the financial benefits of consolidation.

Broadband and Connectivity

COVID-19 shines a spotlight on continuous and new layers of inequities, not least of which is the long-standing concern for rural communities about internet connectivity. Access to devices and broadband is essential as education, health care, and other services pivot to virtual platforms. Although this reliance on digital and online learning is challenging for everyone, rural communities are disproportionately affected. In 2017, there were over 23 million Americans without reliable Internet and 68% of them lived in rural areas (Lavalley, 2018). During the school closures in Spring 2020, rural school districts were much less likely than urban districts to provide students with hotspots or devices, such as tablets, and 31% of rural parents reported needing public Wifi for students to do homework, more than non-rural counterparts (Opalka, Gable, Nicola, & Ash, 2020; Vogels, Perrin, Rainie, & Anderson, 2020). Rural teachers were far less likely than urban teachers, with a 25-point gap, to be required to continue to monitor student progress, and only 25% expected to continue to provide instruction, as compared to over half of urban teachers (Gross & Opalka, 2020). This gap may be due to the challenges for rural teachers to work from home where they too lack connectivity. Even when students and teachers have access to devices, high-speed internet is often not available across large tracts of countryside, making streaming and other educational services difficult or impossible to access.

Physical and Mental Health Services

Inequitable access to, and quality of, health care services is a hardship for many rural communities. Even before COVID-19, rural communities’ access to quality health care was inadequate for dealing with higher than average rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, opioid overdose, respiratory disease, injuries, and other problems. Rural children with mental health issues or behavioral and developmental disorders face greater community and family challenges than other children (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2017). The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges to provide health care to patients with COVID-19 in rural communities: fewer hospital beds, less equipment, and fewer health care workers. The virus has been equally pernicious, impairing mental health, as the fallout of job losses, isolation, anxiety, depression, grief from losing loved ones, and missed educational opportunities surges through rural communities. Clinicians report that rising rates of family stress are likely increasing the rates of domestic violence and substance abuse, while services to address these concerns remain difficult to access (Abramson, 2020). Significantly, health care professionals, child care providers, mail delivery personnel, agricultural workers, and other essential workers living in rural communities face the same toxic stressors as others, while simultaneously experiencing the stress of high rates of exposure to the virus. They may face terrible choices between preserving their livelihoods and risking their lives. These are equity issues that could be ameliorated by increased investments in infrastructure and training to provide more hospitals, mental health services, health care professionals, and transportation services needed to access them. 

Supporting the Educator Workforce

Many rural school districts struggle to maintain a highly qualified workforce and excellent and equitable schools, and rural district leaders have trouble recruiting and retaining teachers. The United States has seen teacher shortages in recent years: While the number of teachers has increased in the last few years, the nation still has 40,000 fewer public school teachers than it did prior to the 2008 recession, in large part because of school budget cuts (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020). Rural communities have been hit harder than others with the combination of budget issues and concomitant teacher shortages.  The teacher strikes that swept the nation in 2018 and 2019 reflected decreases in teacher wages, among other deprioritizing of education. This engendered deep frustration, particularly in historically poor and isolated rural school districts.  Erin McHenry-Sorber, professor at the University of West Virginia, highlighted the effects of teacher shortages and general devaluation of the teaching profession in rural communities. She described the intersection this way:
…Rural communities across the state, particularly those once dependent on industries such as coal, have experienced a protracted state of economic depression and increased poverty and opioid addiction -- a consequence of Americans' willingness to accept West Virginia as one of the nation's economic sacrifice zones… In the midst of economic stagnation and diminished workers' rights, these rural West Virginians find themselves marginalized economically and socially, pushing back against normalized epithets of "hillbillies" and "rednecks," at the same time they're fighting for their economic survival (McHenry-Sorber, 2018).
The economics of devaluing the education profession hits all household budgets hard—women teachers earn 15.6% less than similarly educated women in other professions and, for men, the wage gap jumps to 26.8% (Wolf, 2019)—but in rural communities, the problem is worse. Rural school districts are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to compensating teachers. According to the Rural School and Community Trust, rural educators earn $69,797 compared to $74,153 for suburban educators (Showalter et al., 2019). Teachers may also be unwilling to move to areas with limited social and cultural opportunities and the low salaries that many rural school districts offer are not much of an enticement. Although salary and benefits are critical, researchers also cite administrative support as important determinants of rural teachers’ employment decisions. The role of principals matters in how they provide mentorship, create trusting relationships, are positive and collaborative, establish an open work culture with strong communication, and support teaching preparation and professional development opportunities (Tran & Dou, 2019). Rural principals, however, are paid less than other principals and experience the same challenges as their teachers, while holding greater responsibilities. Rural educators lack access to professional development and may struggle to find ways to collaborate with peers. Specialized teachers, such as those focusing on special education, art, and music, often serve multiple schools and must make long drives, isolating them professionally. There are frequently fewer resources to support culturally and linguistically responsive approaches, including interpreters and language and literacy programs for adults.  At times, there are few community partners to support housing and food services, health care, substance abuse programs, parenting education, adult cultural activities, and other necessary and enriching activities. These challenges for the workforce, and inability to address community-wide issues, affect classroom quality and student experiences and outcomes.

Access to High-Quality Child Care

More than 1.1 million families with young children live in rural areas (Paschall, Halle, & Maxwell, 2020). America’s mixed-delivery approach to early care and education takes a toll on rural families because of the gaps in service provision, the range of quality of programs, and the resulting differences in school readiness outcomes. Child care deserts are areas in which there are three infants or children for each spot available within a reasonable distance. There are simply more programs available in metropolitan areas: compared to rural areas, high-density urban areas offer 2.85 times the number of centers, 3.20 times the number of listed home-based providers, and 6.87 times the number of unlisted paid home-based providers (Paschall et al., 2020).  The younger the child, the more difficult it is for parents to find out-of-home care, an issue that is again more challenging in rural areas.  Over half (55%) of rural Americans live in a child care desert, a percentage that is certain to increase in the wake of COVID-19 child care closures. Child care programs run on thin financial margins, and home-based providers typically have the least room for financial disruption.  Widespread closures of home-based programs will make stability and recovery in the wake of the pandemic especially hard for rural communities. Rural working mothers rely disproportionately on home-based care—serving 22% of rural preschoolers versus 10% of metropolitan preschoolers (Schochet, 2019).  Family child care programs—with the great majority unlisted—play an outsized role in rural child care options; unlisted programs may not meet licensing or accreditation standards that assure health and safety, curricular and other benchmarks (Paschall et al., 2020; Shochet, 2019). In short, family child care programs are often well suited for rural communities—they may be offered by a known community member, closer to the home, and more affordable—but they may also be of lower quality.  For many rural families, accessing employment and child care simultaneously is a “chicken and egg” problem that is difficult to solve. As compared to women living in other localities, women in rural areas tend to have low-paying jobs, work part-time, and work long and non-standard hours (Paschall et al., 2020), making it difficult to find child care that fits both a family’s working hours and budget. In addition, rural families typically pay a higher percentage of their income toward child care (12.2%) than do urban families (10.8%)—for comparison, the federal government recommends that child care should not account for more than 7% of a household budget (Schochet, 2019). Not having access to high-quality early childhood education, whether because of availability, quality or affordability, interferes with children’s readiness for kindergarten. This lack of access can determine the trajectory of rural children’s educational journey. For rural students experiencing poverty, this puts them at an even greater disadvantage. A nationally representative study of over 6,000 students found that disadvantaged home environments, coupled with lack of access to high-quality child care, left rural children behind in terms of academic achievement (Miller & Votruba-Drzal, 2013). Recent analyses echo this finding. On average, on standardized test scores, rural students living in poverty score below their rural classmates who do not live in poverty. However, this gap is large in some states, such as Maryland, and narrow in others, such as Pennsylvania. These inequities highlight the need for policies and practices to ensure that the highest need students receive the most support in order to thrive (Showalter et al., 2019). 

Cultivating College Readiness

School structures, processes, and cultures affect student dispositions and their opportunities to learn. Students from rural communities have challenges obtaining support to effectively prepare for success after high school. They may have less access to highly competent PK-12 teachers, high-speed broadband, college guidance counselors, college interest and recruitment of rural students, or career and vocational education opportunities. Rural students graduate from high school at relatively high rates, 88.7% nationally (although some areas have considerably lower rates of high school graduation, particularly in rural Alaska, which has a 72.3% graduation rate). They also participate in dual high school/college courses, Advanced Placement exams, or commonly used college admissions tests such as the ACT and SAT (see Showalter et al., 2019, for details).  However, in spite of graduation rates and high-level coursework, compared to their non-rural peers, rural graduates have lower rates of college enrollment and college graduation.  Part of the discrepancy may stem from lower expectations from teachers or high teacher turnover that diminishes instructional quality. As one writer noted, “Students know they're falling behind. ‘When I get to college, I've got to take college math,’ Cierra said. ‘But how am I supposed to do that if I don't know basics?’” (Hanford, 2018). A study of African American rural students in the southeastern U.S. found that students lacked access to rigorous courses, had little time with guidance counselors advising them on good-fit colleges, and were concerned about being out of place on campuses lacking diversity (Morales, 2016).  A systemic equity-based response to this issue would be to ensure rural high schools have the resources they need to dismantle barriers to successful college enrollment and college graduation. For example, college counselors in high schools are associated with a 10% increase in college enrollment (Quintero & Gu, 2019). High-speed broadband access is critical to college readiness as test preparation courses, dual credit courses, and other learning opportunities have become available online. Rural students, with their lack of broadband access, miss the opportunity to engage with them. In the face of almost universal school closures, broadband access has leapt to the top of the policy priority list to support educational opportunities, including opportunities for college readiness. If this issue is not addressed quickly, not only will children in the earliest years of their educational journey get off to a less than optimal start, but also high schoolers will fall behind as schooling moves almost completely to virtual learning in the COVID-19 era. 

Connecting the Dots

To achieve meaningful, sustainable equity-based policies and practices, stakeholders need to connect the dots so that all voices are heard, place-based strengths are emphasized, and positive relationships take root or grow stronger. A mantra of some educators is that no meaningful learning takes place outside of meaningful relationships. The degree of progress and success rural children are likely to experience is grounded in their experiences with healthy families, schools, and communities that come together through relationships (and policies) that support their well-being in ways that both undergird and transcend academics. Relationships among committed adults and institutions enable communities to care for students as whole people. Relationships lead to support for students’ basic needs—secure housing, fresh and affordable food, health care, supportive parenting, income stability, addiction- and abuse-free homes, mental health, freedom from fears of family separation or deportation, language access—factors that are inextricably linked to students’ ability to learn and achieve.  Areas where rural students are achieving well, it’s likely there are equitable policies, structures, and priorities. Students are able to make and maintain positive relationships. Appropriate and fair funding and resources, positive working conditions and fair wages for educators, high-speed broadband access, and investments in kindergarten and college readiness for all rural students are examples of equity operationalized through policies and practices. These equitable approaches are built on three salient dimensions: 1) Removing the predictability of academic success or failure based on social, economic, regional, or cultural factors; 2) interrupting inequitable practices, eliminating biases and oppression and creating inclusive school environments for adults and children; and 3) discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents, and interests that each human being possesses. This equitable and asset-based approach will expand opportunities for rural children to grow and succeed, and will harvest benefits for rural communities, the nation, the economy, and future generations. Residents in rural communities support each other, and they often have a deep affection for their home towns and neighbors. We see this through advocacy and the collective organizing of creative, generous, and spirited activities that lift up rural community members—witness teacher strikes to improve working conditions for educators, annual local festivals, effective school and athletic fundraisers, and the recent anti-racism rallies. Rural communities thrive when their unique voices, contexts, and circumstances are viewed as a source of expertise, and connection to place can be at the center of any transformation of schools. To connect the dots creatively and beneficially does not mean “improving” aspects of rural living that arguably enhance family, student, and educational experiences. Rather it means creatively leveraging communities’ strengths and advantages to deepen connections to both place and educational success—and providing resources equitably to make that possible.  Appalachian author Robert Gipe started the “Higher Ground Project” in Kentucky that enables community and technical college students to braid scholarly studies of the region with personal art and writings that express their experiences in rural America, “on topics ranging from drug abuse to the challenges of remaining and working in a job-challenged area, to local history of Black coal miners and their families. In other words, town and gown are connected” (Branscombe, 2020). Indeed, connecting students to the assets within reach in their communities and expanding the reach so that dynamic, meaningful educational opportunities exist for every rural student—connecting town and gown, connecting place and educational success—is our path to higher ground.

References

Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. American Psychological Association. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse Branscombe, J. (2020, August 28). Review: An Anthology of Appalachian Literature Walks on New Ground. The Daily Yonder: Keep It Rural. Retrieved August 2020 from https://dailyyonder.com/review-an-anthology-of-appalachian-literature-unlaces-the-brogans-and-walks-on-new-ground/2020/08/28/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=8-28-2020&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Center+for+Rural+Strategies&utm_campaig Darling-Hammond, L., Schachner, A., & Edgerton, A. (2020, August). Restarting and Reinventing School: Learning in the Time of COVID and Beyond. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/restarting-reinventing-school-covid-report Florida, R. (2018, June 1). The Three Rural Americas. Bloomberg City Lab. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-01/data-yields-a-more-nuanced-picture-of-rural-america Gross, B., & Opalka, A. (2020). Too Many Schools Leave Learning to Chance. Center for Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/final_national_sample_brief_2020.pdf Hanford, E. (2018, August 28). Schools in poor, rural districts are the hardest hit by nation's growing teacher shortage. American Public Media Reports. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.apmreports.org/story/2017/08/28/rural-schools-teacher-shortage Lavalley, M. (2018). Out of the Loop: Rural schools are largely left out of research and policy discussions, exacerbating poverty, inequity, and isolation. National School Boards Association Center for Public Education. Retrieved from https://education.wsu.edu/documents/2018/12/center-public-education-rural-schools-report.pdf/ McHenry-Sorber, E. (2018, March 6). The West Virginia Teachers Have Launched a Movement. CNN. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/06/opinions/west-virginia-teachers-oklahoma-strike-rural-education-mchenry-sorber-opinion/index.html McHenry-Sorber, E & Sutherland, D. (2020) Equity and Expectations: Leading Rural Communities through Unprecedented Pressures. MAEC, Inc. Retrieved September 2020 from Miller, P., & Votruba-Drzal, E. (2013). Early academic skills and childhood experiences across the urban–rural continuum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 234-248. Morales, K. (2016, August 31). Study: Rural location, race influence students’ access to college. University of Georgia Today. Retrieved August 2020 from https://news.uga.edu/study-rural-location-race-influence-college-access/ Opalka, A., Gable, A., Nicola, T., & Ash, J. (2020). Rural School Districts Can be Creative in Solving the Internet Connectivity Gap--But They Need Support. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/08/10/rural-school-districts-can-be-creative-in-solving-the-internet-connectivity-gap-but-they-need-support/ Paschall, K., Halle, T., & Maxwell, K. (2020). Early Care and Education in Rural Communities. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/publications/early-care-and-education-in-rural-communities Quintero, D., & Gu, Y. (2019, July 3). Rural Schools Need Career Counselors Too. Brookings. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/07/03/rural-schools-need-career-counselors-too/ Schochet, L. (2019, June 4). 5 Facts to Know About Child Care in Rural America. Center for American Progress. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/news/2019/06/04/470581/5-facts-know-child-care-rural-america/ Schull, M. (2019, August 8). Expanding Early Childhood Education in Rural America. New America. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/expanding-early-childhood-education-rural-america/ Showalter, D., Hartman, S. L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019). Why Rural Matters 2018-2019: The Time is Now. The Rural School and Community Trust & The School Superintendents Association. Retrieved from http://www.ruraledu.org/ Tran, H., & Dou, J. (2019). An Exploratory Examination of What Types of Administrative Support Matter for Rural Teacher Talent Management: The Rural Educator Perspective. Educational Leadership Review, 20(1), 133-149. U.S. Department of Education. (2014-2015). Common Core of Data, Public School Universe. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/pubschuniv.asp U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2017). About Rural Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ruralhealth/about.html United States Census Bureau. (2017, August 9). What Is Rural America? Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2017/08/rural-america.html Vogels, E., Perrin, A., Rainie, L., & Anderson, M. (2020, April 30). 53% of Americans Say the Internet Has Been Essential During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/04/30/53-of-americans-say-the-internet-has-been-essential-during-the-covid-19-outbreak/ Wolf, A. B. (2019, February 23). Why Teacher Strikes Are Touching Every Part of America. CNN. Retrieved August 2020 from https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/23/politics/teacher-strikes-politics/index.html      

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Post Image Reimagining the “New Normal”:  Equity, Policy, COVID, and Rural Public Schools

Arnold Fege, President of the Public Advocacy for Kids nonprofit, reflects on what it takes to create equity and reimagine schooling in rural communities after COVID-19. His article centers around five questions: unpacking the United States’ political will to resolve internet inequality; examining organizational changes needed to wholly care for students; identifying effective strategies to retain educators; looking to the relationship between federal funding and success in rural education; and predicting the role of state education agencies in providing school resources. Back to Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural Schools and Communities  

Reimagining the “New Normal”:  Equity, Policy, COVID, and Rural Public Schools

September 2020: Exploring Equity Issues, Rural Edition Arnold F. Fege President, Public Advocacy for Kids We can all agree that before COVID-19, not all school districts and not all communities had the same educational opportunities and resources. And we can all agree COVID-19 has exposed in a dramatic fashion the inequities and gaps that were often ignored and neglected for many years, for many children and for many school districts. Students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English Learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups such as students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care, were less likely to have rigorous, engaging, and positive educational experiences before the pandemic. Now there is a real risk that school closures, distance learning, hybrid models, and schools opening and closing will fall heavily on these populations and on another: those in rural school districts (Economic Research Service, 2020). Much has been written about the challenges of larger, urban school districts. Indeed, in the past, my own organization has concentrated our policy and legislative focus on mostly urban and large county school systems. Rob Mahaffy, my colleague and the executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust, and longtime friends at Organizations Concerned About Rural Education (OCRE), were instrumental in assuring that rural, tribal, Alaskan Natives, and territories voices and needs be a seamless part of our organization’s agenda as well. The goal is the same: to assure that all children have access to and receive a high-quality public education no matter where they reside. And at the core of that mission is equity.  So here we are in the midst of a global pandemic. All school districts should be planning now for how to make up this lost learning time, which particularly affects our most vulnerable students (King & Weingarten, 2020). Ideas include implementing summer programs, and extending or restructuring school days for the 2020-21 school year, summer of 2021, and school year 2022. During this period, federal, state, and local policymakers will be making difficult decisions, and deciding how to make those choices fair and equitable. Rural school districts have often been on the short end of these tradeoffs. Many of the challenges that rural districts face are similar to mid-size and urban school districts. But there are also dynamics that work differently: size, scope, resources, community, political environment, staffing, geography, distance, isolation, workforce development, economics, and constrained tax base, to name a few. The point is not to undervalue the seriousness of the problems that urban education leaders face, but to recognize that rural districts face distinctive problems that have not received enough attention in terms of research, safety, resources, teacher and educator preparation, and certainly equitable policies and adequacy of funding.   Rural looks different across the country, from remote Native American lands in the West, to small towns in the Great Plains and Midwest, to the Mississippi Delta and Southern “Black Belt,” to Appalachia and New England. Rural looks different even within each state: it might be a town of a few thousand people, or tiny communities several hours or even days from the nearest city, as in parts of Alaska. These differences require policies that recognize that one size does not fit all. In far too many cases, rural districts still do not have the resources and opportunities they deserve compared to urban school districts, although there remain differences within rural areas and they are also hard to define as a unified idea. In total, 46 million Americans live in rural areas. About 53% of our nation’s school districts and one-third of U.S. schools are in rural areas. Nearly 7.5 million public school students were enrolled in rural school districts during the 2016-17 school year—that’s nearly one of every seven students across the country. The number is even larger when counting students who attend rural schools within districts classified as “non-rural.” By this measure, more than 9.3 million students attend a rural school (Ratcliffe et. al, 2016). This means that more students in the U.S. attend rural schools than in the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined. Nearly one in six of rural students lives below the poverty line, one in seven qualifies for special education, and one in nine has changed residence in the previous 12 months (Showalter et. al, 2019).  To be clear, rural America offers assets often not available in urban settings. Rural residents feel that their community has a sense of shared values that are different from people in big cities: three quarters (74%) say other people in rural communities have similar values to their own, while two-thirds (65%) say people who live in big cities hold different values (Palosky & Singh, 2017). They also believe that their communities look out for one another and are good places to raise their children, and 76% of rural participants reported that their children’s schools are high-quality. America’s rural communities and educators are a treasure and add to the rich diversity of this country.  For people living in rural America, schools are more than places of academic instruction. They provide food and health care for students, foster the sense of real community education, provide much-needed support for families, and act as central players in community life, with schools sometimes providing the only place for community gatherings. However, even though many rural superintendents have found success in working collaboratively and with cooperatives, they face many obstacles, such as internet connectivity, post-secondary outcomes, and transportation funding. They struggle to recruit and retain teachers with specialized skills such as special education and TESOL. They need funding for support services such as child care, nurses, counselors, librarians and mental health workers. And finally, they need to figure out how to pay for rebuilding and renovating schools (Nicola et. al, 2020). And to make matters worse, the National Council of State Legislators predicts that because of COVID-19, states may face greater revenue shortfalls than during the Great Recession (National Conference of State Legislators, 2020). As rural districts spend time and resources on costly short-term strategies, either in person or virtually, they also worry about sustainability; as they fight for greater equity, the resources may not be there to support them in the future. Such lack of resources means rural students are more likely to have lower educational attainment, restricted student opportunity, and fewer support services (National Conference of State Legislators, 2020). On the other hand, this is a moment in time—a short moment of time before the comforting chorus of “getting back to the old normal” gets too loud and powerful. If we can set clear expectations for our students, we can do the same for policy makers and our politicians at the state and federal levels. They need to spend time in rural school districts to better understand the issues before they make policies or pass laws. The current state and federal policies, laws, funding formulas and regulations that created the baked-in inequities need to be rooted out and replaced with policies that maintain the fundamental rights to a public education guaranteed to all children. It is possible to do this work while recognizing the distinct differences and characteristics between and among rural school districts.  The pandemic not only presents additional challenges for our rural schools, but also opportunities, very few of which are new, but most have historically resisted implementation. One thing is for certain: the world as we have known it will be vastly different by the end of this pandemic. As we endure the uncertainty of quarantine, we must ask ourselves what kind of world we want to return to for ourselves and our students.  For those aware of the inequities and unfairness that characterized schools in America prior to the crisis, this is also a time to ask: Could the pandemic be an opportunity through which we can bring about educational justice? While rural schools are highly local, they are also a matter of national interest and leadership—as much as highways and interstate commerce—and rural schools are graduating students whose lives will be connected to the rest of the world just as much as those in the big cities.   In that vein, there are lingering equity and policy challenges that will face all of us during and at the end of the pandemic, but especially rural schools and communities, including these: 

1. Does the country have the political will to resolve internet inequality?

Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning (Future Ready Schools et. al, 2020). Those households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: high-speed home internet service and a computer. One in three Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native households are not connected. Rural Americans are also less likely to have a tablet, laptop, or desktop than urban and suburban residents (Khazan, 2020). They trail urban residents by 12 points and suburban residents by 16 points. In Mississippi, which serves 235,000 rural students, the Census Bureau reports that one-fifth of Mississippi households do not have a computer and nearly one-third lack high-speed Internet access (United States Census Bureau). According to the FCC, half of the residents of the Mississippi Delta have no access to the Internet. In addition, nearly all teachers nationally (96%) pay for their home-based high-speed internet themselves (Will, 2020b). And 10% of teachers, mostly in rural areas, don’t have high-speed, wireless internet at home (Will, 2020a). They make do during the current school shutdowns with mobile hotspots or even working in parking lots or empty school buildings. Currently, there is a bill in Congress to increase the E-Rate by $4 billion, which would go a long way in providing homes with broadband and connectivity (Will, 2020b).

2. What organizational changes are necessary to move from factory model school to a whole child school, and what capacity is necessary to serve both as an educational institution as well as the safety net?

The path to educational success is different for each student, and availability to support services also varies. Data tell us that the road to success is tougher for young people who are engaged with the foster care system, who are hungry, who are parents, who face school suspensions, who lack secure housing and internet access, who have special education needs and language barriers, who may be from low-income households or have family members who are victims of the opioid epidemic. These young people need expanded supports to succeed, supports that are often not thought of when planning college access and success programs. If they are not addressed, we allow students to fall through the education, social, and emotional cracks. But the current model and school architecture is not designed to tackle many issues outside of their control. In South Dakota, which is one of the most rural of states, “rural educators often tout the generally lower student-teacher ratio and scores on standardized tests show that students in some rural South Dakota districts match or occasionally out perform their urban peers” (Pfankuch, 2019). Clearly, the school plays the role of community anchor, but a 19th century model is crashing into 21st century needs, the system is overwhelmed, and by its nature produces inequitable results. This is a time to plan with the community the systemic changes required to respond to the demographic changes hitting urban and rural public schools (Rodriguez, 2020). To integrate via technology, face to face and through community organizations, a true community education model where the school responds to the needs of the “whole child” (Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child).

3. What are effective strategies and means to address teacher and principal shortages, retention, competition with other school districts,  compensation, and professional development?

No small district has the capacity or the market to solve workforce issues on its own. This question requires a state and federally coordinated response, along with input from higher education leaders (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Solutions for urban settings generally do not successfully transfer to rural settings. In addition to dealing with the pandemic, distance learning issues, social-emotional learning, and accountability pressures that all districts face, rural districts also face challenges such as lower salaries, fears of isolation in an unfamiliar area, limited housing and recreational options, lack of human capital and resources, and little opportunity for professional development and professional growth (Schwartz, 2020). These same issues make it harder to recruit school administrators, which further compounds the teacher recruitment problem since teachers want to be supported by a strong administrative staff. As a result, many districts have had to hire teachers and principals without the proper licensure, especially in specialized areas such as working with students with special education needs and English Learners. It also challenges administrators to recruit a diverse teaching force that possesses the cultural competencies needed to work with an increasingly diverse student body and parents.

4. Can rural districts continue to maintain a presence and strong voice at the federal level that sustains and increases funding? 

Let’s say it up front. Just like healthcare, public education has been underfunded and underinvested, especially in rural communities. Rural education requires a continued strong federal funding presence. As problematic and bureaucratic as federal funding might be for rural districts—and many do not have the capacity to compete for grants or provide matches—most rural districts and communities rely on federal resources to supplement state and local tax bases. To support schools to meet ESSA requirements, REAP authorizes two rural programs: The Small Rural School Achievement Program (SRSA) and The Rural and Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS), which increase the focus on rural schools. Other programs that have rural priorities include the Full Service Community Schools, 21st Century Community Schools, Impact Aid, IDEA, Head Start and Early Head Start, in addition to other social and health services such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), CHIP, Summer Feeding, Migrant Education, the Child Care Development Block Grant, and Women with Infants and Children (WIC). The big takeaway is that federal spending on all children’s programs dropped from 7.98% in FY 2015 to 7.21% in 2019—confirming a downward trend in federal spending for children (First Focus on Children, 2019).

5. And lastly, of course, will states and local communities provide the adequate resources needed to achieve equity and opportunity for rural children and families?

Rural school finance is extremely complex, but at the heart of both state and local finance structure lies issues of economies of scale, local tax assessments, levy rates, local control, and local willingness to support increases in school revenues. Challenges include deferred maintenance to buildings and infrastructure, struggles to provide the same access to high-level courses for rural students, difficulty in retaining teachers, and to add a final nail in the proverbial coffin, the cost of opening school buildings safely during the pandemic, all of which add to the pressures rural schools face.  To date, state school funding systems have been challenged in 45 states, from New York to, most recently, Kansas. Yet because rural schools are not on a level playing field with urban and suburban schools, lack of adequate resources threatens their very existence. Rural school districts thus continue to lag behind urban areas with respect to federal funds. When access to federal programs depends on the absolute number of disadvantaged students rather than proportions, small rural schools typically lose out to affluent metropolitan ones. Federal policies are often based on preparing students for an urban life rather than answering the needs of a rural setting. Rural communities are in great need of institutions that will strengthen rural life, serve all members of all ages in the community, and link education to other social services and economic enterprises within the area. Education must be linked with other rural development activities, and rural development itself should be based on comprehensive rural studies rather than on applications of urban models as determinants of rural life (Parks & Hoke, 1979).

Conclusion

Creating equity and reimagining schooling after the pandemic requires listening to everyone within the community -- and building on the assets that rural schools offer. Reimagining requires engaging parents, teachers, principals, support services, health care, business, the Farm Bureau, social services, juvenile justice, and students. While they may not be an economy of scale, rural schools’ smaller class sizes support individualized instruction and more teacher attention, conditions that also provide an opportunity to assure that our marginalized communities are part of the conversation.  Not only have tens of millions of families across the country had to play an active role in the “schooling” of their children during the pandemic, but the void left by schools is being felt across multiple dimensions of social, economic, political and community life. Schools are not just places where young people learn; they are also places of community and connection, physical and emotional safety, shelter and food, democracy and deliberation. In addition, the economy cannot function without schools, unless we devise another way to ensure that children are supervised while their parents are at work.   Building on rural assets, beginning to plan, holding our state and federal policymakers accountable--this is what our rural schools and communities are good at. Let’s make the mantra “we are all in this together” work for equitable educational opportunities and upward mobility for all of our children. We can do this.

References

Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017, August). Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Teacher_Turnover_REPORT.pdf Economic Research Service. (2020, May 28). Rural Education. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/rural-economy-population/employment-education/rural-education First Focus on Children. (2019, September). Children’s Budget 2019. Retrieved from https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/FirstFocus-ChildrensBudget2019-pages.pdf Future Ready Schools, National Urban League, UnidosUS, & National Indian Education Association. (2020, August). The Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from https://futureready.org/homework-gap/ Khazan, O. (2020, August 17). America’s Terrible Internet is Making Quarantine Worse. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/08/virtual-learning-when-you-dont-have-internet/615322/ King, J. & Weingarten, R. (2020, April 24). What comes next for public schooling. The Hill. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/opinion/education/494521-what-comes-next-for-public-schooling National Conference of State Legislatures. (2020, January 21). Challenges Facing Rural Communities. Retrieved from https://www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/challenges-facing-rural-communities.aspx Nicola, T., Gable, A., & Ash, J. (2020, July). The Response of Rural Districts to the COVID-19 Pandemic. National Center for Rural Education Research Networks. Retrieved from https://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/ncrern_report.pdf Organizations Concerned about Rural Education. Retrieved from ruralschools.org Palosky, C. & Singh, R. (2017, June 19). Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post Partnership Survey Probes Experiences and Views of Rural Americans. KFF. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/kaiser-family-foundationwashington-post-partnership-survey-probes-experiences-and-views-of-rural-americans/ Parks, G.A. & Hoke, G. (1979, May). Federal Education Programs and Rural Development Needs: An Unrealized Potential. ERIC Clearinghouse. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED172970 Pfankuch, B. (2019, November 15). Rural Schools in S.D. Face Unique Challenges that Can Affect Learning. Argus Leader. Retrieved from https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2019/11/15/south-dakota-news-watch-education-rural-schools/4201638002/ Ratcliffe, M., Burd, C., Holder, K., & Fields, A. (2016). Defining Rural at the Census Bureau: American Community Survey and Geography Brief. United States Census Bureau.Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/acs/acsgeo-1.html Rodriguez, M.C. (2020, June 7). If There Was Ever a Time to Transform Schools, This Is It. Center for the Transformation of Schools. Retrieved from http://transformschools.ucla.edu/2020/06/if-there-was-ever-a-time-to-transform-schools-this-is-it/ Schwartz, S. (2020, March 4). Access to Quality PD Is an Equity Issue, Teachers Say. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/04/access-to-quality-pd-is-an-equity.html Showalter, D., Hartman, S.L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019, November). Why Rural Matters: The Time is Now, 2018-2019. The Rural School and Community Trust. Retrieved from http://www.ruraledu.org/WhyRuralMatters.pdf The Rural School and Community Trust. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from https://www.ruraledu.org/cms.php?action=about_us United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: Mississippi. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/MS Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child. Association for Supervision and Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/programs/learning-and-health/wscc-model.aspx Will, M. (2020b, May 4). Should Schools Pay for Teachers’ Internet Access? Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/05/04/should-schools-pay-for-teachers-internet-access.html Will, M. (2020a, April 29). Teachers Without Internet Work in Parking Lots, Empty School Buildings During COVID-19. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/29/teachers-without-internet-work-in-parking-lots.html  

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Post Image Supporting Homeless Students with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Homeless students face a number of barriers in receiving the education and services they need and deserve. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 increases protections and supports for homeless students that build on those in the McKinney-Vento Act. This webinar seeks to provide schools and school systems with an overview of what these changes look like. It discusses student homelessness and leave you with resources and strategies that can lead to improved educational experiences and outcomes for these students. Presenters

  • April Anderson, District McKinney Vento Liaison, Red Clay School District, DE
  • Valerie Ashton-Thomas, Coordinator, Homeless Education and Neglected, Delinquent and At-Risk Programs, Maryland State Department of Education
  • Jennifer PringleDirector, NYS-TEACHS, Advocates for Children of NY
Download Video of Supporting Homeless Students with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) from MAEC.

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