Tag: College of Education

How White Principals Navigate Predominantly Non-White Urban Schools

Michael-Beyer-260x260Recent research from the Center for Urban Education Leadership examined standardized test achievement for Illinois students under No Child Left Behind. The results are stark: although scores are improving for Black and Latino students, those populations still lag behind White students.

The root causes of this are varied and deep and certainly not explained by race, but the Center’s Jason Swanson, PhD, research specialist, argues in new research that urban principals are limited in designing strategies to address educational gaps when these groups are not even identified by race.

His research, “White Principals Attempting to Lead Race-Conscious School Improvement: A Distributive Perspective,” is set to be published in the journal Urban Education. The article argues sidestepping the issue of race restricts principals’ ability to address systemic inequities.

“It’s a really uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people,” Swanson said. “There are a lot of people who want to help all students, so they say I don’t see race, there’s only one race, the human race. This turns a blind eye to the racial world we live in, a world that Black and Latino Americans experience all the time.”

The paper explores the efforts of two principals attempting to create critical conversations and curricular changes to address educational gaps between racial groups. Both principals faced resistance to their efforts: in one case, a group of White teachers ‘hijacked’ a meeting at which these issues were to be discussed; in a second case, a principal only addressed issues of race obliquely because the school district had been sued over racial disparities in school outcomes and teachers were weary of heavy-handed policies on race.

These situations are an illustration of the disparities in the makeup of teaching and student bodies in Illinois. In the district studied, approximately 80-85 percent of teachers are White while 60 percent of students are non-White. Just 15 years ago, 80 percent of those students were White and only 20 percent were low-income. In Chicago, however, there is a greater disparity. While more than half of the teachers are White, over 90% of the student body identifies as a student of color.

“You have teachers who are teaching just as they were 15 years ago wondering what the heck is going on here, why aren’t these kids learning?” Swanson said. “So we have to ask, to what extent are districts deliberately creating spaces where principals and teachers can explore issues like culturally responsive pedagogy and issues of social justice to accommodate this rapidly changing demographic?”

Both principals in the study launched strategies to exercise whatever political capital they possessed. One principal realized he might not be the most qualified candidate to bring up issues of race, so he built capacity in teacher leaders to take a more active role in facilitating conversations. He also formed a social action committee, providing space for students to name the injustices they saw in their school. Teachers took these grievances back to the whole staff body for conversation.

One outgrowth of the committee was an event called “Fourth Monday Meetings,” in which staff members participated on one of four committees focused on areas of social justice highlighted by the student body.

The second principal attempted to frame issues of race openly at staff development meetings, specifically naming racial injustices and gross disparities between White students and Black, Latino and English language learner students.

The schools also focused on ways in which equity and diversity were building a sense of community. Prior to the social action committee, within the hallways, the majority of posters across the school featured mostly famous White people. And within the classrooms, most of the texts and curriculum only focused on the successes of White people. Swanson says when students of color don’t see themselves reflected in curriculum and the school environment they tend to check out.

“To solve systemic problems, you have to have systemic solutions,” Swanson said. “This is just a very first step in trying to name the problem. Principal preparation programs often treat issues of race so lightly that novice leaders don’t have models or tools to handle these inevitable situations.”

By Rob Schroeder

Redefining Narratives About Young Black Men


Sakeena Everett, PhD, director of research and outreach for the UIC College of Education’s Black Male Early Literacy Impact Project

One phrase at the UIC College of Education  is the axiom “Black children are brilliant.”  Research from the College’s Sakeena Everett, PhD, director of research and outreach for the College’s Black Male Early Literacy Impact Project, is detailing what this brilliance looks like in schooling contexts.

Everett defined traits of Black male success in secondary education settings as part of her doctoral dissertation, which was recently awarded the 2016 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Critical Educators for Social Justice Special Interest Group within the American Educational Research Association.

“When we typically think of Black male students, we just don’t assume they are bright,” Everett said.

Everett says research indicates Black males face barriers to achievement through negative profiling and stereotyping, to the extent that their presence is sometimes feared in the classroom.  Her study began in an academic enrichment summer program for rising juniors that focused on understanding Black male success through narrative.  Participants possessed GPAs of 3.0 or better, high ACT scores and eventual full-ride scholarships to college.  Students engaged with critical theories of education to compose narratives describing their experiences in education, essays that in some cases served as college application material.

After the summer program, she built on these writing experiences, working to equip her students with language to defend and define themselves.  Her students read Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and scholarly journal articles, examining how research reflected—and did not reflect—their experiences as students.

“I wanted them to tap into who they were as raced and gendered beings,” Everett said. “They were able to redefine narratives about young Black men, and they felt really proud of being able to do that.”

Everett tracked these students as they completed their high school education, interviewing students, teachers, administrators, friends and family to gain a nuanced understanding of how the students conceptualized their academic success and what informed and sustained these successes.  She witnessed students’ confidence as writers growing as they progressed through these experiences.

Students in the study represented a broad swath of socioeconomic backgrounds, one from a single-parent home with his mother on public assistance, students from middle class homes and a student from a home in which both parents were educators.  Regardless of socioeconomic status, these students all recognized low expectations society held for them.

These students understood how fragile their position as successful students was because of these expectations.  Everett says they sensed that at any given moment in time, their high grades and scholarships could be taken away at a moment’s notice.  This equipped them with a sense of responsibility to serve as agents of change within their own communities; for example, one student started a writing club in his school, mentoring young Black males who sought careers as journalists and writers.

“I’m particularly proud that this project is very student-centered,” Everett said. “I tried very hard to make sure this project was mutually beneficial, so that students were enriched personally as well as academically.”

By Rob Schroeder

“Math at Home” Program For Early Childhood Learning Available Free Online

How important are early math skills? More important than some might guess.

When compared to other domains such as reading and attention, math ability is the biggest predictor of later academic success in third and fifth grade. Researchers have found that children who are successful in early math literacy skill attainment are more likely to graduate from high school than children who have persistent problems in attaining these skills. Math achievement in adolescence is predictive of later labor market success — thus, early math matters.

The UIC College of Education’s Math at Home grant project is seeking to bolster early childhood mathematics education across the State of Illinois through the launch of Early Math Matters, a free online professional development series for Illinois teachers and caregivers of children ages 0-5. This eight-course online curriculum introduces teachers and caregivers to mathematical concepts such as math literacy, number sense, patterns, geometry, measurement, data collection and math processes and builds skills in communicating these concepts to early learners.

“We are surprised and pleased by the number of people who have taken the courses,” said Kathleen Sheridan, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology and director of the Math at Home project. “This type of online professional development appears to be accessible for providers and caregivers, and based on our course evaluations, the course participants are actually using the information they learned in the courses by implementing the concepts and ideas in their classrooms”

Math at Home, funded through a grant by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Foundation, is a free access online professional development center to help family home care providers, teachers and parents develop early math skills in children. The Early Math Matters courses are an extension of the Math at Home website and provides an opportunity for early childhood caregivers to earn the Illinois Gateways to Opportunity Registry training hours and CPDU’s. In less than a 2-month period, more than 500 educators have completed the first course, and more than 200 have completed all eight courses.

The eight courses lead teachers and caregivers through an immersive mathematics conceptual review, building skills in five major content areas for math. Courses focus on number sense and counting principles, patterns and sequencing, shapes and spaces, measuring, data collection and analysis, math processes and setting up math-rich environments.

Math at Home’s professional development opportunities are aimed at improving the percentage rate of Illinois schoolchildren proficient in math at grade level, currently about 33 percent. Illinois children trail their peers nationwide (about 35 percent) and peers worldwide, ranging from 58-65 percent proficiency in nations such as Switzerland, Japan and Korea.

Sheridan says early anecdotal evidence from course evaluations suggests teachers and caregivers are ramping up the use of mathematics vocabulary with children, from simple terms such as more than or less than ranging to more sophisticated math language, such as symmetry, addition and subtraction.

Sheridan says the Math at Home program is looking to expand beyond Illinois to offer teacher and caregiver online training across the country.

Learn more about the program at: mathathome.org

By Robert Schroeder


Reframing The Issue of School Segregation

Megan Hopkins

Assistant Professor Megan Hopkins, PhD, UIC College of Education

School segregation was outlawed more than 60 years ago, but any visitor to a Chicago Public School will observe that the vast majority of students are either Black, Latino, or White.

UIC College of Education’s  Megan Hopkins, PhD, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, is seeking to reframe the issue of school integration and equity in her new co-edited book, “School Integration Matters: Research-Based Strategies to Advance Equity.” She and her co-editors, Erica Frankenberg and Liliana Garces, associate professors of education at the Pennsylvania State University, argue that race should be a central consideration in school reform efforts, spanning from preschool to higher education.

“Some teachers say, ‘I don’t see color,’ but without seeing color you aren’t seeing the assets students bring to your classroom and use them to think critically about your curriculum to see if it reflects students’ experiences,” Hopkins said. “We can’t support equitable schooling for students if we don’t explicitly take up race in our discussions.”

Hopkins’ book challenges such colorblindness from the individual classroom all the way to the Supreme Court, where Hopkins says decisions have historically revolved around color-blind ideologies, for instance in its interpretation of affirmative action. She cites court decisions that limit or eliminate the ability of public schools and colleges to take race into account in their student assignment and admissions practices. While schools have turned to socioeconomic status as a proxy, Hopkins says the result is schools are skirting the real issue of structural and institutional racism prevalent in society.

The book also shows that prevailing explorations of school segregation, which focus on populations of Black and White students, need to be updated to reflect the current make up of the US student population. Within-school segregation is also an issue that needs attention, as the book reveals that, even in schools serving Black, Latino, and Asian populations, language programs and culturally-relevant practices can implicitly privilege certain groups of students.

Hopkins’ chapter of the book, which was co-authored with Rebecca Lowenhaupt, assistant professor of educational leadership at Boston College, illustrates how school organizational structures must be considered when supporting within school integration. In examining learning opportunities for immigrant students, and particularly English language learners, Hopkins and Lowenhaupt found that the extent to which language and content was integrated for ELLs varied by the school subject, with English as a second language curriculum embedded in language arts, but largely kept separate in the area of mathematics. Another chapter by the College’s P. Zitlali Morales, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and Aria Razfar, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, describes how dual language educational programs can be an approach to supporting integration among students and across subject areas, as well as among parents and families.

The book also discusses how schools and policymakers can support integration efforts: the federal government could offer an integration checklist, while higher education institutions could draw on community engaged scholarship and service learning opportunities to bring diverse communities together in the classroom.

“We as an educational community spend a lot of time talking about access and equity, but can we achieve access and equity without integrating our schools and providing opportunities for students to work across racial and ethnic lines?” Hopkins said.

By Rob Schroeder

College of Education Fellow Helping CPS Students Analyze Water Safety in Chicago

The Flint water crisis has generated conversations about the marginalization of low-income Americans at the hands of far-removed government officials. The flip side of this discourse is the opportunity to strengthen citizen scientists to investigate and advocate on issues of environmental degradation in their own communities.

At CPS North Grand High School, Mindy Chappell is exploring how lessons on the Flint water crisis foster student learning via autonomously generating research questions and hypotheses and collecting, analyzing and explaining data. As a Master Teaching Fellow with the UIC College of Education’s Project SEEEC (Science Education for Excellence and Equity in Chicago), she is engaged in a teacher inquiry project examining the practices that support her culturally relevant, cooperative, inquiry-based content-rich science class.

“You have all these buzzwords out there, but you need a method for how to do that in a classroom when you have to keep in mind curriculum and standards,” Chappell (below) said. “I’m pushing for higher-order thinking questions, not rote memorization. My students know that I want them to be able to think critically about a phenomenon and seek relevant explanations on their own.”

Before the Flint situation unfolded, Chappell’s students completed a case study which investigated differences between tap water and bottled water as part of their ecology unit. The original lesson called for students to classify a man-made abiotic factor (water bottles, cars, houses, paper, etc.) and create a research presentation on its environmental impact. The Flint crisis represented an opportunity for a real-world inquiry-based research on an issue that was relatively close to home for Chappell’s students.

After researching and discussing the Flint problem, students formulated their own research questions involving water. Some students focused on lead, but Chappell stressed students’ autonomy in generating their research questions was a key tactic in fostering critical thinking skills. Each project needed to connect back to the Flint crisis in some manner.

Students explored whether boiling water reduced or eliminated lead content, since boil orders are issued when communities face a water pollution problem. Other groups examined how an efficient water filter could be constructed. Another explored whether chemical inputs could remove lead content.

Evaluation of the projects targeted students’ ability to use claims and supporting evidence to explain what happened in their experiment. They also needed to provide a warrant, an explanation of why their supporting evidence is valid and how it supports their claim. Students needed to determine how limitations and unaccounted factors might have affected the validity and reliability of their data and influence the explanation of their results.

“It’s critical not to stop at the surface level such as, ‘My hypothesis is valid because the data shows it is,’” Chappell said. “If my students are going to be able to compete with students from other areas in citywide science fairs, they need to be able to explicitly explain how evidence led to their conclusion, any limitations to their research or experimental setup, any possible experimental errors, and be prepared to answer questions about alternative explanations of their data.”

Chappell says inquiry-based design methods strengthen student learning of scientific practices from asking questions and determining a purpose to collecting data to constructing explanations and the meanings of observations. She says students sometimes default to the expert in the room—the teacher—to hash out the tough answers on the whys and hows, but she avoids providing these to her students.

This science classroom on Chicago’s west side includes diverse learners, English language learners and students with individualized education plans. Chappell says this inquiry-based approach requires some modifications and accommodations, but teachers need to present diverse learners with the same opportunity to explore their own questions.

In investigating the Flint crisis, for example, she prepared three modified versions of the lesson, but only one group needed a modified version. All students began the inquiry investigation design phase similarly with Chappell providing scaffolds, modifications and accommodations only as needed. She says this strategy removes limitations on student questioning and does not stifle creativity with experimental design.

“Some people say, ‘These students can’t,’ but I want them to know they can,” Chappell said. “Will it be challenging? Yes. Will you want to quit? Yes. However, that’s where I come in. We all face challenges, but when you are done the beauty in all the hard work you put in overcoming will be so amazing, it will make those challenging experiences worth it.”

By Robert Schroeder

UIC Lecturer Leading Early Childhood Taskforce


Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education

Early childhood education is one of few issues that crosses the partisan divide. Federal Race to the Top funding encourages early childhood education funding and expansion, while liberal mayors such as Bill de Blasio and conservative governors such as Bruce Rauner all champion pre-K access.

As pre-K seats expand and are filled, the next step in ramping up early childhood education quality is defining the meaning of quality in the early childhood workforce. Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education, is leading statewide and national efforts to examine how to strengthen and support the early childhood workforce.

“We have spent a lot of effort and money in early childhood education focusing on the young children, but we haven’t always thought about the people working with the young children in a cohesive manner,” Main said. “Right now different systems have different competencies, standards and benchmarks for the workforce, so we need to move toward a cohesive system of competency-based qualifications for everyone working with young children and their families.”

In Illinois, Main is leading a task force funded through a grant by the McCormick Foundation to examine the Illinois early childhood workforce. The task force’s work is taking place in conjunction with national efforts led by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS published a report on “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation” and started a new program called Innovation to Incubation (i2I) composed of four statewide groups examining the workforce issue on the national level. The group is reviewing and analyzing the IOM recommendations for implementation in Illinois.

In February, Main and the Illinois team attended a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with counterparts from Washington state, California, and the Capitol region comprising Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, starting work on a strategic plan to implement recommendations from the Transforming the Workforce report back in each state and region.

Main says the teams focused on connecting the many existing state initiatives on workforce to the IOM recommendations, but also brought to light the lack of coherent data systems and policies to study and support the current early childhood workforce. Given that the workforce is divided among traditional teachers, Head Start teachers, early childhood center employees and in-home caregivers, determining baseline metrics across these groups is challenging. In particular, these disparate groups often represent differing levels of educational attainment. For example, in Illinois, a Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license is required for preschool educators in public schools, a bachelor’s degree only to work in Head Start centers, and a minimum of early childhood course hours in child care centers.

Main says she is excited for the possibility of developing shared competencies across Illinois for educators who work with young children, regardless of role or type of program. Teacher assistants, lead teachers and center directors could be hired and evaluated with consistency to better ensure equitable quality across the state.

By Rob Schroeder

‘UIC ENGAGE’ Providing Student Tutors To Nearby Chicago Public Schools, Churches


Students from UIC’s 15 colleges are volunteering their time to tutor students in nearby elementary schools. “Youth who live in communities with low college-going rates can advance academically and personally by working with UIC students,” says Alfred Tatum (center), dean of the UIC College of Education and creator of UIC ENGAGE. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

Students throughout UIC are volunteering after-school hours to teach math and writing to elementary students in neighborhoods near UIC.

These aren’t student teachers working toward an education degree. These tutors are students from any of UIC’s 15 colleges, volunteering in a one-semester pilot program called UIC ENGAGE. “Youth who live in communities with low college-going rates can advance academically and personally by working with UIC students,” said Alfred Tatum, dean of the UIC College of Education and creator of UIC ENGAGE.

“We want our students to know that their presence in the community will have a significant impact on the lives of others. This pilot is part of UIC’s long-term commitment to expand college access and promote the well-being of the neighborhoods around UIC,” Tatum said.

“As a child with working parents, I didn’t have any resources to find a tutor when I needed help, nor did I have an older sibling as a role model,” said Janess Borromeo, who is studying to be a nurse-practitioner specializing in gerontology . “UIC ENGAGE is a great program to help kids who lack extra resources, as well as providing role models they can look up to.”

“UIC ENGAGE allows me to help children in need. Being able to help kids achieve their goals is very rewarding,” said Sakai Parker, a third-year pre-nursing student.

The neighborhoods were chosen for proximity to UIC and their need for greater academic resources. The UIC students travel by bus to meet the elementary students in two schools and three churches for two hours — one hour for math, one hour for writing — on alternating days, Monday through Thursday.

The participating schools are Smyth Elementary in Little Italy and Haines Elementary in Chinatown. The churches include Faith Community Church, Greater Open Door Baptist Church and Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in North Lawndale.

A community liaison in each neighborhood provides support throughout the semester.

The UIC students receive resource manuals for the teaching of math and writing, six hours of training and technological support throughout the semester. Those who complete a semester of tutoring will receive a UIC Experience certificate and recognition at a luncheon with UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis.

By: Jeffron Boynés