An Ecosystems Approach to Federal Legislation

I don’t really update new content at this Schools As Ecosystems blog anymore (see my new blog, Language and Literacy, for newer (yet still, alas, infrequent) writing), but I had to hop back on here to share this new paper from the National Education Policy Center, A Civil Rights Framework for the Reauthorization of ESEA , as it was really exciting to see an ecosystems approach being brought explicitly to bear in advocacy for federal education reform.

In this paper, the authors promote an “equitable, evidence-based, and ecological (EEE) framework” that “places students, staff, school systems, and cross-sector collaboration at the center of ESEA and considers the complexity of racial, socioeconomic, and other inequities along with the strengths nested within communities.” I love this framing and will be stealing the EEE framework!

They structure their recommendations at different levels of scale in education systems: systems, students, and staff.

There’s quite a bit of content in the report, but just to amplify some of the ecosystems specific elements and other areas we may have touched on in this blog’s history, as well as push on some areas I would have liked to have seen expanded upon:

To promote racial equity at the systems-level, they provide recommendations to promote regional and interdistrict racial integration, as well as improving school facilities and infrastructure (yes, yes, yes!).

In developing their ecological framework, they build upon the work of Marcus Weaver-High-
tower, whose work we have also examined on this blog.

I would have liked to have seen a few more specifics for students laid out, however. While I agree with all the general principles they’ve laid out, I would have liked to have seen an emphasis on evidence-based instructional approaches to ensure fluency with foundational language and literacy skills and practice with understanding the hidden norms in a variety of social contexts, explicit instruction through shared and interactive reading that moves from word, sentence, to text-level, and consistent school-wide routines within a coherent high quality curricular platform focused on intellectual engagement with reading, writing, and discussions of a diverse wealth of complex topics from multiple perspectives.

While I fully agree in principle with the call to support students’ individualized needs, I also worry about how this can be interpreted, most particularly in relation to edtech, when it is in the absence of a dynamic, shared, and collaborative curricular platform that is systematically enhanced by teams of teachers.

That critique said, I appreciated the calls for support with high quality childcare, supports for incarcerated youth, and more supports for student well-being and mental health.

I also would have liked to see their recommendations for staff expanded upon. They leaned heavily into anti-bias training, which unfortunately has little empirical support despite the billions of dollars that have been thrown at it (in the pretense of doing something). I’d prefer to see a focus on clear guidance in the expected professional language and behaviors that are predicated on the roles and responsibilities of staff who serve the children in front of them. For example, for teachers who serve children of historically marginalized backgrounds, I’d like to see teachers gain supports in getting to know the children and communities they serve through a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods, guidance and practice in using asset-based language about their students and families, and guidance and coaching in the planning and delivery of responsive instructional supports, based on a shared curricular platform, that values the racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of students while holding high expectations for advanced intellectual success and ensuring access to and progress with grade-level skills and content.

Again, that critique aside, I appreciated the calls for support with educator well-being and mental health and building robust pipelines for educators of diverse backgrounds and languages.

Please check out their full report from an ecosystems here, and kudos to the authors for drawing upon a more complex framework for federal education policy: https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/publications/PB%20DeBray_1.pdf

Stochastic Terrorism

https://www.wired.com/story/jargon-watch-rising-danger-stochastic-terrorism/

An interesting concept that has relevance for schools.

Though stochastic bullying or stochastic cheating might be more appropo…

Listen to the music: Some things are universal

Selection_021
Vivek Pandya, a 12 year old, slaying the tabla at the Ragas Live festival in 2016.

A central argument posited by this blog is that context matters. In order to truly understand a school as an organization, you have to account for the physical and social factors of that specific school.

This argument pushes back on the dominant narrative in ed reform that schools are more or less comparable, and if not universally comparable, then at the very least, by grouping according to “peer groups” by similarities in demographic inputs, such as free-and-reduced lunch or ELL populations.

Yet there is a risk, too, in taking such an argument too far, and claiming that local context is everything — and that meaning can therefore only be determined subjectively by those who exist within that local context. Such an extreme argument would suggest that there are no universal statements that can be made about schools.

We can see this play out with music across the world. Is the meaning of music solely determined by the culture that produces it? Or are there traits of music that are universal?

Interestingly, cognitive psychologists side with the latter (universal), while ethnomusicologists fight for the former.

A recent study suggests that ethnomusicologists are being too precious, and that there are universally recognized traits of music. At the very least, people from across the world can identify whether a song made by a small-scale society is a lullaby, dance, made for healing, or an expression of love.

Similarly, I think there are universal traits and principles of effective and ineffective schools that we can discuss. So while I stress—and this blog hinges upon—the importance of acknowledging the strong influence of local context, I also don’t want to take that argument to an extreme.

Context matters—I believe much more than we generally recognize when it comes to schools and many other things—but it’s not everything.

A Study Suggests That People Can Hear Universal Traits in Music, Ed Yong / The Atlantic

School diversity as a means to build shared values and understanding

I’ve written here before about why I believe we need our schools to reflect the broader diversity of our society from the lens of fighting prejudice.

I also believe that nourishing diversity in our schools serves a civic purpose: building shared values and understanding. This is what can allow our democratic republic to flourish.

My attempt to voice is this has been published on The Hechinger Report; I would greatly appreciate it if you read it, and will be interested in your thoughts.

http://hechingerreport.org/opinion-diversity-schools-critical-democracy/

 

What has been lost in higher ed

“What has gone awry in American politics is not purely that we’ve got issues with the mechanics of democracy,” he said. “Over the past two generations, the idea of education being about teaching people how to engage in public affairs has been lost. At one point, the core curriculum at the college level was focussed on: How do you get ready to be an active citizen in America? How do we make democracy endure? Today, education is almost exclusively thought of in terms of career preparation. That’s what we’ve lost.”

–Longwood University’s W. Taylor Reveley IV, as reported by Evan Osnos, “Time Kaine’s Radical Optimism” in The New Yorker