Education

  • Partnering to prepare tomorrow’s teachers

    Since 2005, the Teachers for a New Era (TNE) Learning Network, of which I’m a co-director, has brought together 30 university teacher preparation programs from around the country to learn from one another’s successes and challenges. We at the TNE Learning Network know how a community of peers can spread the word about good ideas in innovative teacher preparation, and we’re not alone. As part of the Network for Excellence in Teaching (NExT) initiative, the Bush Foundation and 14 teacher preparation programs in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota are working together to transform the way they recruit, prepare, place and support great new teachers for their communities and states.

    The TNE Learning Network has always encouraged and supported our network members to develop strong relationships with their local P-12 schools and districts, but after a few years we took a step back to reassess and redefine our network. We wanted to be more explicit that teachers and school administrators are also teacher educators, and they need to be part of any conversation about getting the best new teachers into tomorrow’s schools.

    With that in mind, in 2011 we set out to visit exceptional partnerships to explore how schools and universities can be good partners in preparing new teachers—and how some programs are already partnering effectively. With colleagues in tow from schools, colleges of arts and sciences, and colleges of education, we spent several days in diverse communities talking to veteran, new and future educators about how their partnerships are changing schools and universities for the better.

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  • Development professionals who want to create effective interventions that improve the well-being of children and youth must have an in-depth understanding of how young people spend their time. Time-use research yields valuable, contextual data that can inform the design and implementation of interventions and the measurement of outcomes. This data sheds light on key measures of well-being, including school attendance, access to opportunities for play and socialization, safety, child labor and gender inequalities. Tracking changes in time use can also help projects identify successes and risks to children so that practitioners can suggest appropriate adjustments to interventions.

    Traditionally, this information has been gathered from adults. That input, however, can be skewed by the value adults place on certain activities, which is why it is important to work directly with children and youth to gather information on their time use.

    FHI 360’s Supporting Transformation by Reducing Insecurity and Vulnerability with Economic Strengthening (STRIVE) project developed a tool and guide for child-friendly, participatory rapid appraisal (PRA) to help with these efforts: The Time Use PRA Guide and Toolkit for Child and Youth Development Practitioners.

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  • Award-winning publication helps students with asthma keep active

    Regular physical activity is important for health and well-being. But for the estimated one in 10 students in the United States who have asthma, their condition may be viewed as a barrier to physical activity, particularly if their asthma is not well controlled.

    Thankfully, teachers, coaches, and school administrators now have an award-winning tool to guide them in supporting students who have asthma, so those students can participate fully and safely in physical activity — whether in the gym, on the playground or during a class field trip.

    The tool, Asthma & Physical Activity in the School: Making a Difference, was developed by FHI 360 and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The publication received a 2013 ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for and supports the use of plain language in government, business and academic institutions. Its annual ClearMark Awards celebrate the best in plain language among public- and private-sector print and online communications.

    An update of the 1995 publication of the same name, this 32-page booklet provides school personnel with essential information in an easy-to-digest format that they can use to help students with asthma remain healthy and active. It explains technical asthma terms in simple language, calls out actions for school staff and includes helpful reproducible tools, such as asthma action plans and instructions on using asthma inhalers and other devices. The update reflects changes in asthma care guidelines, issued in 2007 by the NHLBI, and clarifies key points about asthma control.

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  • To Get a Jump on Bullying, Start with Young Children and the School Culture

    October is National Bullying Prevention Month. How should we address bullying in schools?

    Our research, which included in-class observations and focus groups with teachers and parents, found that bullying and teasing were prevalent in early childhood and early elementary grades. It’s important to look at behavior in the early grades because bullying progresses as children get older.

    We also address the issue school-wide, not just in the classroom. Our philosophy is to create a proactive climate where bullying is not an acceptable part of the culture. It’s very important to create a school-wide approach where differences are appreciated so that they don’t become triggers for bullying and teasing.

    How does this approach empower adults and children?

    We reach out to all adults who are involved with children at school, including parents and non-teaching staff such as paraprofessionals and bus drivers. We found that when bullying or teasing occurred when an adult was present, the adult did not intervene 75 percent of the time. To the children, it appeared that the incident was ignored. But often, adults don’t deal with bullying and teasing because they don’t know how. We offer adults strategies that help them intervene appropriately.

    We also help children understand that they shouldn’t just stand by when someone is being bullied. Our approach teaches them that while they shouldn’t put themselves in harm’s way, they should “do the right thing” — say something or get an adult to help.

    How has this approach worked?

    We found that after working with everyone — teachers, parents and children — adults did a complete turnaround and now intervened appropriately 75 percent of the time. Bullying and teasing incidents were down by a third. The results were the same in various school settings. So it works.

    If there’s a lot of bullying and teasing, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. Many teachers tell us that addressing bullying and teasing proactively creates more time for learning because of the change in the classroom environment.

    What’s the next step?

    Cyberbullying has taken the problem to a completely different level. If you’re a target, you can’t even be safe at home because the bullying is on the Web. Children have access to technology at younger ages, such as the third-grader with a cell phone or the young child playing games on an iPad. We’re beginning to talk with teachers, parents and children to develop age-appropriate strategies to address cyberbullying. Technology is part of their world, and they need to be able to navigate it safely.

  • USAID Highlights FHI 360’s Work on Education in El Salvador

    I live in the Zaragoza region, one of the poorest areas in central El Salvador.  We have limited economic development opportunities for our people, yet one of the highest rates of population density in the country.  While grappling with poverty, our municipality must also deal with gang activity and school violence.

    In order to respond to this situation, my school joined with 12 other schools to form a cluster under the Ministry of Education’s Integrated System for Full Time School (SI-EITP, its acronym in Spanish).  SI-EITP is supported by USAID/El Salvador’s Strengthening Basic Education Program.

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  • U.S. Education Blog Series: Prepared to Succeed


  • The Domino Effect of Family Planning

    Imagine a line of dominos stretched out as far as the eye can see, with additional lines branching off into the distance. This web of dominos represents the multiple connections between family planning and every dimension of sustainable development. What many still don’t comprehend is how large and far reaching this web truly is.

    We’ll begin with a simple and intuitive causal relationship: voluntary use of contraception prevents unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies result in thousands of deaths globally and many more disabilities each year. Many unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Almost half of the 40 million abortions performed each year are unsafe, placing nearly 20 million women at risk for infection, hemorrhage, disability, and death. Thus, contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and saves women’s lives.

    Dr. Ward Cates, President Emeritus at FHI 360, visits health workers that are involved with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Urban Health Initiative (UHI) in India.

    And the benefits of family planning don’t end with women. Families using contraception have fewer, healthier children and reduced economic burden. Children born to mothers who have used modern contraception in planning their families are not only more likely to have a mother, and one who is healthy, they also are more likely to have been breast fed for longer and received more parental attention, support and resources than children born in to families that were not planned. All of these factors increase the chances that they will survive infancy into childhood. Therefore, family planning also saves children’s lives. Moreover, if after childhood girls and women are given control over their fertility, they are more likely to stay in school and to get jobs. Educated, employed women are in turn more likely to use contraception, thus re-initiating the virtuous cycle of benefits that family planning brings to women and their families.

    The benefits still don’t end there. Ensuring that we can feed our growing population while protecting the planet has quickly become one of the most pressing challenges in sustainable development. Regions of the world with the highest unmet need for family planning are already forced to bear the burden of climate change effects to which they have contributed the least. These effects include drought and famine. Turning an extra acre of forest into tilled land is not a choice for a woman without access to reproductive health resources. It is a matter of survival. And it is a preventable scenario. Right now more than 200 million women worldwide want to plan and time their pregnancies but are unable to do so for lack of information and access to contraceptive resources. If the percentage of women with unmet family planning needs remains constant, developing country populations are expected hit 9.7 billion by 2050, and 25.8 billion by 2100. By filling this need, we could greatly relieve some of the combined pressures being placed on resources and communities, including a growing demand for food.

    The right and ability of women and couples to plan their families is not peripheral to the aims and objectives of Rio+20. Indeed, the call for greater attention to women’s rights and issues at Rio+20 is growing into a crescendo. Women’s Major Group is mobilizing women across the world to share their stories and ensure that women’s rights are front and center on the agenda. Over 100 of the world’s leading scientific academies have called upon world leaders to enact rational, evidence-based responses to sustainable development challenges, including global access to comprehensive reproductive health resources.

    Until now, too few people have been aware and too few leaders willing to acknowledge the essential role that family planning plays in achieving sustainable development. Rio+20 is our chance to tip this pivotal domino piece forward, and witness the measurable cascade of progress it evokes.

  • Las Manos de Apá: The Hands of My Father

    What is Las Manos de Apá?

    Las Manos de Apá was a program FHI 360’s early childhood experts created and piloted with a grant from the Office of Head Start. We created a curriculum and materials that childcare workers and administrators in Head Start and Early Head Start programs could use to help the Latino fathers in their schools improve their parenting skills and better understand the early literacy needs of their children. The materials were used in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs in Michigan and New York.

    Why did this program target fathers specifically?

    We wanted to reach out to fathers because research shows that fathers are generally less involved in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs than other family members. In the migrant and seasonal programs, a lot of the dads are farm workers, and many are illiterate. We found that many dads who participated in Las Manos de Apa had very negative memories of their school experiences and didn’t understand the different stages of child development or how to engage with their children in early learning activities.

    It was very important to us that we engaged the fathers where they felt most comfortable. Many of the fathers fondly remembered the oral storytelling traditions in their culture, and many were exposed to these traditions in their early childhood years. So we used oral storytelling in the lessons to gain the fathers’ trust, build their confidence and engage with them in a way that would be comfortable and familiar. We were simultaneously building their parenting skills and teaching them how to relate to a three- or four-year-old child.

    What kinds of activities did the fathers do in the program?

    In one activity, the fathers learned how to make a book with their children. Even if the father could not read, he could encourage his child to draw pictures and teach his child to look at the book from the left to the right. Another activity the fathers did together was make bookshelves for their children. Some of the dads went all out and engraved their children’s names in the bookcases or added intricate details. That was a culminating activity for them. We also had speakers come to the fathers’ groups to talk about different issues. In another activity, the fathers gave presentations to the mothers.

    There was an opportunity over the three-year period for the program to have different mix of families. There were always new families added to the mix. Migrant and seasonal programs open and close according to the growing season of the area. But we tried to engage them all in social activities as well as the lessons. Things like soccer games and cookouts fostered the community the participants built.

    What did the fathers see as some of the outcomes of their participation in the program?

    Many fathers told us that initially they weren’t sure how to engage with their children, and they lacked confidence about how to interact with their young children. They said that because of the skills they learned in the program, they now talk with their children more and participate in more activities with their pre-schoolers. Overall, they said that they are spending much more quality time with their families. Many of them didn’t have father figures in their households growing up, so they didn’t have role models to follow. Now, they want to be role models for their children. They told us that this project gave them a lot of the tools to do that.

    For more information about the education work FHI 360 does in the United States visit our website.

  • Kosovo Teacher Innovation Recognized at International Forum

    Kosovo teachers Shkëndije Nagavci and Laura Pruthi display the award they received at the 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning European Forum.

    Kosovo teachers Shkëndije Nagavci and Laura Pruthi were among 24 educators recognized for their innovative use of education technology at this year’s Microsoft Partners in Learning (PiL) European Forum held March 19-22 in Lisbon, Portugal. The teachers joined more than 250 educators from 40 European countries to showcase their work and exchange ideas about the effective use of technology to enhance 21st century teaching and learning. With this honor, Nagavci and Pruthi have earned the opportunity to join colleagues from around the world in the Global PiL Forum to be held this November in Athens, Greece.

    The pair qualified for the European Forum by placing first in a national competition organized by USAID’s Basic Education Program (BEP), a project managed by FHI 360, Microsoft Partners in Learning and Kosovo’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The competition is part of BEP’s efforts to encourage educators to integrate technology in to teaching and learning practices. According to Arsim Ilazi, BEP Education Technology Coordinator, a number of information sessions were held across Kosovo encouraging teachers to participate.

    “One of BEP’s primary goals is to deliver quality professional development across a number of strategic content areas,” Ilazi said. “Effective use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for teaching and learning is embedded across each of our accredited professional development courses, even the English language course. Kosovo teachers were eager to participate in this competition and appreciated the opportunity presented by Microsoft to demonstrate their knowledge and ideas in a broader forum.”

    Nagavci and Pruthi’s project, “Fractions Everywhere,” enlisted a range of engaging activities designed to provide a better understanding of a mathematical concept many students find challenging to master. Ilazi added that in developing their approach the teachers noticed measurable improvement in their students’ mathematical knowledge and skills. “Besides that, they also found that mathematics can be fun!”

    Kosovo Ministry of Education Science and Technology official Argjend Osmani addresses participants at the BEP-Microsoft Innovative Educator Forum in Kosovo.

    “Dr. Keith Prenton, BEP Chief of Party added, “Developing teacher capacity in the effective use of technology is one of the key areas identified by USAID and the Government of Kosovo to strengthen education reform efforts in Kosovo. BEP’s Professional Development activities, together with its components focused on School Management and Assessment will provide Kosovo with many of the critical elements needed to build a 21st century education system.” Prenton is no stranger to modernizing education systems in the Balkan region. Prior to assuming the lead at BEP, he managed a similar large-scale transformation effort for FHI 360 in Macedonia, Kosovo’s southern neighbor. In fact, after a similar success at last year’s PiL European Forum, a team of Macedonian teachers qualified for the PiL Global Forum held in Washington, DC last November and placed second in the “Educator’s Choice” category. “We invited the Macedonian team to the national competition here in Kosovo this year. Their success on the European and global stage served as a great source of inspiration for the teachers here in Kosovo.”

  • Committing to a postsecondary success agenda for all

    In a few weeks, thousands of Philadelphia public high school students will graduate. They will march down aisles to the familiar and always stirring “Pomp and Circumstance.”It will be an exciting day for these students, one that will fill them with a sense of accomplishment and optimism about the future.

    Rochelle Nichols-Solomon chats with Shameika Stone, a 10th grader at Mastery Charter School-Pickett Campus. Nichols-Solomon says a shared vision of college readiness and quality K-12 supports can make college attainable. Photo by Ronald J. Nichols

    But based on the postsecondary enrollment data that the Notebook highlights throughout this issue, that future will include a college education for only a few of those students.

    According to college-going data for the fall 2005 cohort of entering 9th graders, only a dismal 25 percent of students from neighborhood high schools enrolled in postsecondary education. The numbers are far below the rate for students from citywide admission schools (41 percent), charters (48 percent), and special admission schools (80 percent).

    These data are likely to set off a heated debate about why college enrollment rates are so low. Undoubtedly, they will fuel finger-pointing about the failures of public schools. In particular, they will send shockwaves about the neighborhood high schools.

    And despite almost instinctively knowing that some type of formal education beyond high school is a basic requirement in today’s society – and an aspiration most readers have for their own children – the data may lead some to think that with these low levels of college enrollment, nothing works … so why bother?

    To that question, I would argue that too few students in the neighborhood high schools are enrolling in college because we simply have not prepared them to do so. Despite the hard work of many, we haven’t yet achieved a coherent and shared understanding of what it means to be college- and career-ready, or a system aimed at that outcome for all students.

    Furthermore, not to advance a college or postsecondary success agenda in schools that serve almost exclusively low-income African American and Latino students is simply making the stick shorter for students and families that are already holding the short end of the stick. It is both morally and economically wrong.

    From my experience working with schools and communities all over the country to increase postsecondary success – most recently within the Citi Foundation-funded initiative in Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco – educators and community stakeholders will have a lot to say about the data.

    Reactions to the data

    I can predict those responses will basically fall into four camps.

    The first will make the well-intentioned, but low-hanging-fruit argument for focusing on high school graduation. This camp will vigorously shake their heads, reasoning that if students leave school – in other words, drop out – they can’t possibly graduate and therefore, have no chance of going on to college. I contend that this reflects low expectations that lead to weak student engagement and high dropout rates – or to students graduating high school who are neither college- nor work-ready.

    Some in this same group might also question the value of college, given our current economic crisis. But research suggests that college-educated workers are much more likely to be employed than their high school-educated counterparts, even during a recession. And furthermore, students with a postsecondary education will be better positioned to participate in the economic recovery, which sooner or later will occur.
    The second group will loudly sing praises for the good ol’ days of vocational education programs. They will frame vocational, or what is now known as career and technical education (CTE), as what all students need – particularly students in the neighborhood schools. But educator and writer Mike Rose points out that some fear the CTE push “could lead to new forms of tracking;” while others “applaud the presence of a vocational pathway, though worry that anti-vocational biases would still stigmatize the option.”

    The third group may register little more than snores because they operate under the assumption that not all students are college material. Hence there is simply nothing to be done in those neighborhood schools. Here, I’d invoke a “too big to fail” argument: This would mean giving up on more than half the 16,000 students represented in the cohort. It negates our responsibility to low-income students and families. It ignores the broader social purpose of education, which is fundamental to the well-being of a democratic society. In addition, abandoning our neighborhood schools will amount to economic Russian roulette, and won’t bode well for Philadelphia or for the nation’s ability to compete economically.

    Finally, the fourth group will insist that preparing for college is an imperative. They will likely shake their fists forcefully, declaring that the data are proof-positive that nothing short of the recently proposed blueprint for reorganizing the District will solve the problem. I would ask members of this camp to explain how the sustained changes, adequate resources, and strong will that we have to muster to create this new system of high-quality schools are any different from the sustained changes, adequate resources, and strong will we need to transform our current system of high schools.

    To those who do understand the imperative of preparing students for college, I’d strongly urge us to look beyond schools at the structural inequities that undermine college readiness and recommit to a postsecondary access and success agenda for all students.

    Hopeful directions

    Here are a few areas of promising work that help point the way forward:

    • Defining college readiness: Researchers like David Conley have given us a broader and more comprehensive, three-pronged definition for college readiness that includes academic preparation, academic behaviors (largely study skills and self-monitoring), and college awareness. Taken together, these three components can create a system of quality services and supports for all students that spans grades 9 through 12, and foster a college-going culture in schools, districts, and communities. Philadelphia is already partnering in a number of related national access and success initiatives aimed at creating a college access system, such as the Citi Postsecondary Success Program (CPSP).
    • Identifying assets: CPSP schools and their partners in Philadelphia, Miami, and San Francisco have used an asset analysis tool to facilitate conversations and planning around college access and success. It identifies gaps and builds on assets. This approach rightly assumes schools can’t do this work alone. It spotlights district practices and policies that help or hinder – and critical partners like higher education institutions, community-based organizations, and businesses that are needed to support this agenda.
    • Aligning high schools and higher ed: Schools and higher education institutions are working toward a better understanding and alignment of expectations for learning. For example, in Philadelphia, high school and college educators visit each others’ classrooms using an adapted model called Instructional Rounds. This approach is producing changes in high school English classes and first-year college writing classes in two- and four-year colleges.
    • Using data: To boost college awareness, Federal Student Aid now provides high schools and partners with current data about their FAFSA financial aid submissions and completions. Updated regularly, the online tool allows high schools to track their progress and helps them ensure that their students complete this vital application. Philadelphia was a pilot city for this work.

    Now, we could lament the data or devolve to pointing fingers at those we think are responsible for such low college enrollment and degree attainment.

    But I strongly urge that instead we develop a shared vision of college readiness. We also need to recommit to leveraging existing and new resources toward building a strong set of quality K-12 supports that will make college a viable option, especially for the thousands of mostly low-income and first-generation students in our public schools.

    To do anything less is unacceptable.


    Rochelle Nichols-Solomon is the director for postsecondary success at FHI 360, Center for School and Community Services. FHI 360 and the Public Education Network serve as national intermediary and technical support for the Citi Postsecondary Success Program (CPSP) a five-year initiative (2009-2013) to increase access to and success in college of underrepresented students in Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. CPSP supports local education funds in leveraging programs and institutional policies to create a continuum of supports for students, working in partnership with the school system, higher education institutions, community-based organizations, the business community, and other sectors to promote systems change.