Author Archives: Justin Trinidad

Reinforcing Diversity Through Teacher Residency Programs

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

Minority students make up a little more than half of the K-12 student population, but less than 20 percent of teachers are people of color. So students of color are rarely taught by people who look like them, and reasons range from poor recruitment and retention strategies to pipelines clogged by discrimination (as my colleague Katrina wrote). 

Research has demonstrated over and over again that teacher diversity is vital to enhancing school experiences and academic outcomes for students of color, especially in high-need school districts. Increasing teacher diversity has positive effects beyond improving student test scores. For instance, teachers of color are more effective role models for students of color and are less likely to implement exclusionary discipline measures.

Teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education lose potential candidates of color at multiple points. First off, undergraduate students are already less diverse than high school students. Secondly, a significant majority of education majors and teacher candidates enrolled in teacher preparation programs are white. During the 2012-13 school year, 25 percent of teacher candidates in preparation programs housed in institutions of higher education identified as individuals of color. In comparison, individuals of color made up 37 percent of all students in those institutions regardless of major.

One solution, which my colleague Ashley LiBetti and I discussed in our recent publication, is teacher residency programs. These alternatives to traditional programs have shown to improve teacher diversity. In the National Center for Teacher Residencies network, more than 45 percent of teacher candidates identify as people of color. And nearly 50 percent of Boston Teacher Residency candidates are teachers of color, compared to 38 percent of all teachers in Boston Public Schools.

Residencies also target post-secondary graduates of color to ensure that they stay in the profession. Since almost half of students of color are first-generation college students, many do not have the same set of life skills and social capital as their peers who come from middle-to-high income backgrounds. Residency programs provide needed support for these teacher candidates of color as they navigate the teaching profession. For instance, the Southeast Asian Teacher Licensure (SEAT) program in St. Paul, MN primarily recruits immigrant paraprofessionals into their program, many of whom identify as English language learners. SEAT provides academic and personal advising, English language tutoring, technical assistance, and financial support to help teacher residents prepare for teacher licensure exams and successfully complete the program.

Residencies also increase diversity by intentionally recruiting teacher candidates of color who come from the local communities. For example, Nashville Teacher Residency works with community-based organizations to diversify its teacher candidate pipeline. These organizations work with specific ethnic groups that make up a significant proportion of the student population. Several programs also recruit individuals of color from high school alumni and paraprofessional networks to build a pipeline of candidates who bring local perspectives.

Without targeted and direct intervention, the number of teachers of color will continue to lag. While a large-scale approach is necessary, residency programs show promise in addressing this lack of diversity.

Teacher Residencies: Less Risk and More Reward?

Prospective teachers have many choices when it comes to their preparation, and the right decision isn’t always obvious. Depending on state requirements, college undergraduate students have the option of entering a traditional Bachelor’s education program at an institution of higher education. College graduates or career changers can choose to enter a traditional Master’s program or a variety of alternative certification programs such as Teach For America or TNTP, all of which vary in student teaching requirements, cost and financial incentives, and support and mentorship opportunities.

Increasingly, prospective teachers have yet another option at their fingertips, and one that holds promise: teacher residency programs. Residencies differ from other preparation programs as teacher residents spend the bulk of their training working in classrooms. In a report launched this week, Ashley LiBetti and I examine the appeals of residency programs and offer recommendations for addressing the policy and research gaps that inhibit the growth of these promising options.

Here are three simple takeaways from our report:

Teacher residency programs mitigate the risks associated with traditional preparation pathways. A 2016 Bellwether analysis found that teacher candidates spend $24,250 over 1,512 hours on average for traditional teacher training. Candidates invest significant time and money without truly knowing what life as a teacher looks like, since most traditional programs only require 10 to 15 weeks of in-classroom service requirements during the degree program. That’s a huge risk, particularly for career changers. Teacher residencies reduce that risk by being less expensive and exposing prospective teachers to the challenges and opportunities of teaching in a classroom right from the start.

From as early as day one, residents are placed in a classroom with an experienced mentor teacher and are deeply integrated into the daily life of a teacher of record. Some programs even have an additional trial period before starting the residency year. Nashville Teacher Residency, for example, requires that incoming residents take part in summer sessions prior to the beginning of the school year. The trial periods act as auditions for both the program and the resident.

Residencies provide support and mentorship more consistently than other traditional preparation and alternative certification programs. In our research, we found that teacher residents receive significant mentorship and support during their residency year, more frequently than traditional preparation programs. Many programs also provide specialized training to serve high-need communities. For instance, the Kern Rural Teacher Residency in Bakersfield, California provides additional workshops and conferences specifically to train residents on how to work with English language learners. Furthermore, residencies frequently provide induction, which involves systemic supports and guidance for novice teachers in the first few years of their career. Continue reading

Transformative Tech for Youth in Transition

Millions of students every year experience homelessness, a foster care placement, an incarceration, or an unmet mental or physical health need. And while the organizations and individuals that serve these youth act with the best intentions, existing technologies and practices result in fragmentation and poor communication among the adults working with a given young person. Different agencies may only be aware of particular aspects of a student’s life: one agency may know about a student’s health history while another knows about their past foster care placements.

There is hope, however: a number of districts and states have begun to innovate and design technological solutions to resolve the issue of agency fragmentation.

DC Foster Kids App home page

In Washington, D.C., the Child and Family Services Agency has developed the DC Foster Kids App, which grants foster parents and provider agencies access

to important information about their youth in care through a web-based application. The application includes medical contact information, important dates such as court hearings, and licensing and training requirements for the foster parent. Easy access to information allows the student and the adults in their lives to remain aware of milestones and data to best serve youth.
Continue reading

Practice Makes People: Why Schools Need High-quality Music Education

Elementary school students from Staten Island’s PS 22 perform at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. Video courtesy of PS22 Chorus.

From visits to my elementary school by members of the Richmond Symphony orchestra to conducting my own group of students as a project in high school, music education has been —and still is — deeply embedded in my life. Music enhanced my creativity and curiosity and taught me patience and how to overcome failure. As a student musician who played the cello from sixth grade to the end of college, music opened up many opportunities for me. I can’t imagine anyone being deprived of an education enriched by music.

Students are hungry for music education, but unfortunately, many do not have access. Currently, more than 1.3 million elementary school students and about 800,000 secondary students fail to get any music education. High-poverty schools with greater proportions of students of color, in particular, are less likely to expose students to music education.

For example, in the Detroit area, only 31 percent to 60 percent of schools with high concentrations of students of color offer any music instruction at all. Access is limited by the number of curricular and extracurricular course offerings or an insufficient amount of staff dedicated to musical instruction. While research has shown that the cost for a basic music education can average as low as $187 per student annually, school districts serving predominantly low-income and students of color have competing priorities and limited access to necessary resources.

A number of studies have demonstrated the benefits of music education. Elementary school students who take part in high-quality music education programs have significantly improved scores on standardized tests — including 22 percentage points higher in English and 20 percentage points higher in math scores — than students in low-quality music programs. Furthermore, musical training has a number of benefits for cognitive and language development for young children.

Beyond these facts and figures, I strongly believe music in and of itself is incredibly valuable. Music is an important avenue for self-expression and a vehicle for the preservation of culture. Without a high-quality music education, students can miss out on an opportunity to understand and appreciate something so integral to us as humans.

While tax-funded, school-based music instruction is ideal for large-scale support of music and arts education, school districts facing budget cuts may take years to prioritize and adequately fund music education. Rather than waiting, young students should be able turn to smaller scale community-based interventions.

One program in East Los Angeles, the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra (BHCYO), provides free music education to students aged six to fourteen in response to cuts in public school music education funding. Based on Venezuela’s El Sistema model in which underserved students are provided with free instruments and individual and group music instruction, the BHCYO provides a free classical orchestral training for low-income students. The youth take part in weekly rehearsals and a six-week intensive summer program. The orchestra relies on community partners such as the local Boys and Girls Club and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs for resources and rehearsal space.

Community-driven organizations, such as BHCYO and the Silver Lake Conservatory in Los Angeles, or the Opportunity Music Project in New York City, dynamically enhance and supplement students’ learning needs and help them access the music education they crave and deserve.

If you’re interested in advocating for music education, you can view resources and toolkits from the National Association for Music Education or the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).

Silenced But Not Complacent: Limited English Proficient Parents

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

Parents and advocates at the June 2016 Fresno AAPI stakeholder engagement session. Photo courtesy of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

Plenty of research demonstrates improved student outcomes from robust parent engagement, yet not enough has been done to make sure that limited English proficient (LEP) parents are engaged.

In June 2016, I helped coordinate a series of stakeholder engagement sessions for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) parents and advocates in Sacramento, Fresno, and Long Beach, CA. I was a Civil Rights Fellow at OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates working on K-12 education issues, and the sessions were designed to allow parents and advocates to tell state and local education agency officials their major concerns around engaging with teachers and schools.

Many of the people we spoke to were limited English Proficient (LEP). In fact, there are an estimated 4.6 million students in the U.S. who are LEP. Among the 8.3 million Americans aged five or older who speak an Asian or Pacific Island language, approximately one in three are LEP. Coupled with difficulties in communicating and engaging with schools, the LEP population is less educated and more likely to live in poverty.

Attendees of the stakeholder engagement sessions identified with refugee backgrounds, were low-income, and spoke a variety of different languages at home, including Khmer (Cambodian), Hmong, and Vietnamese. Here’s what we learned:

When local leaders do not reflect the communities they serve, they may overlook specific language needs. In Long Beach, CA, the school board was unaware of the need for language interpreters in Khmer (Cambodian), and as a result, Khmer-speaking parents were unable to effectively engage with teachers and schools. School robo-calls and important paperwork sent home with students were only available in English or Spanish. These barriers persisted due to lack of diversity and representation on school boards and other levels of school leadership.

Community liaisons are important resources, but they are not prioritized in district budgets. Community liaisons can act as a bridge between schools and LEP parents. Liaisons assist students, staff, teachers, and community members by providing and conveying important information on school resources and programs while also gathering input to address student and parent needs. For immigrant families, community liaisons provide culturally competent services, and may also act as translators. However, at these stakeholder convenings, parents expressed that the number of community liaisons had been downsized due to budget cuts, leaving the district with only 2-3 liaisons. As a result, LEP parents had limited access to the information schools provided.

Limited translated materials make it nearly impossible to navigate the college application process. When the time comes for students to transition to higher education, LEP parents are limited in their ability to help with the college application process, much less to navigate the complex systems of financial aid. Currently, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has only been translated into Spanish, preventing a number of first-generation students from successfully completing the application and receiving federal financial aid.

Immigrant students are legally entitled to equal educational opportunities, but failing to provide the translation and interpretation services shuts students and their families out from those opportunities. As a result, the cycle of exclusion from resources and services vital to student success continues, leading first-generation immigrant students to face higher barriers to entry when pursuing higher education. Furthermore, when such language and cultural obstacles exist, parental engagement tends to become focused on resolving the issues students experience rather than preventing these issues from occurring in the first place.

The number of parents and students affected by poor LEP parental engagement are significant, yet there are not a lot of schools that actively address these barriers. Schools and teachers looking to meaningfully engage with LEP parents can consult the U.S. Department of Education’s English Learner Toolkit and Teaching Tolerance.