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

Redesigning the Pediatric Clinic to Promote Relational Healh

“The doctor’s office is much more than a building. It is more than a space for examining the body and treating pathologies—it is a place to promote healthy relationships.”

“Gone are the days of designing clinics optimized only for clinical services. Today we must design holistic environments that address all factors that contribute to healthy child development.”

Meaningful Relationships: Designing Pediatric Clinical Environments to Promote Early Relational Health on Capita

The 3-30-300 Rule for Urban Trees

https://iucnurbanalliance.org/promoting-health-and-wellbeing-through-urban-forests-introducing-the-3-30-300-rule/

A sound rule for urban planning from Professor Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch: every home should have a view of at least 3 trees, every neighborhood should have at least 30% tree canopy, and everyone should only have to walk 300 metres to reach a park or green space.

New school in Cambridgeshire designed for natural light and views of the outdoors

“All schools should be built this way.”

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/sep/12/wintringham-primary-academy-st-neots-cambridgeshire-drmm-urban-and-civic

Why Closing Schools Exacerbates Inequity

Many have already picked up on how COVID-19 is exacerbating already existing inequities, from a few different angles:

  • Those who have adequate tech devices and bandwidth vs. those who don’t
  • Those who have pre-existing conditions and health issues vs. those who don’t

Both of these factors loom large in the schools and communities I serve in the Bronx. Many of our students and their families don’t have iPads, laptops, or a desktop computer, nor adequate internet access and bandwidth.

The NYCDOE is tackling this inequity as best it can, sending out internet-enabled devices as they come in to families the most in need. The total number identified needing devices was initially 300,000. That’s a lot to get out there, but it’s happening. That’s amazing.

At first, Spectrum and Optimum were refusing to provide service to those with unpaid bills. Thanks to reporting on this by Chalkbeat and getting publicly shamed, they’ve reversed course.

In terms of health issues, residents of the Bronx are reported to be twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as residents in other parts of the city.

If you have a background of inequality, whether it’s social determinants, access to health care, or anything else, and you throw a virus on top of that, what you’re going to get is exactly what we have, which is people who start out poorer and sicker and are going to get sicker,” said Dr. Neil Calman, president of the Institute for Family Health, which leads the Bronx Health REACH coalition.

And to add to that, poorer people tend to live in greater density. There’s more people sharing apartments, in more crowded buildings, in more crowded neighborhoods, with less means to get any distance from anything. It’s hard to escape a pandemic in such situations, most especially when you still need to get out on public transit to earn your paycheck because you are one of those “essential” workers who are on the front lines of ensuring wealthier people never have to leave their homes.

And we can see this playing out in real-time. Here’s the most recent map of COVID-19 cases in the Bronx.

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page

See all that deep purple in the middle-west side of the Bronx? That’s where the highest rates of cases are occurring. Those are the communities I serve. We don’t yet know how these correlate to death rates and to socioeconomic status and to race.

But we know enough to know it’s not good. And it’s going to get much worse.

When Home Offers Little Comfort

But I also think we’re overlooking something fundamental about how COVID-19 will further exacerbate social and other inequalities. Closing schools doesn’t just exacerbate inequity because some kids have more access to technology and internet. It further exacerbates inequity because staying at home may mean overcrowded and stressed conditions with poor acoustics, poor air quality, and few trees and other greenery nearby.

In the area of the Bronx my schools are in, we also have the highest rate of students in temporary housing in the city. So what does staying at “home” mean for them? When even in the best of times such instability can be stressful, imagine what that might be like in the midst of a pandemic, as people are losing their jobs, as people are losing their mothers and fathers and grandparents and relatives, as real fear sets in, as the weather warms up and tempers flare, as the streets are filled with the sound of gunning engines and ambulances?

Being at home may mean idyllic boredom for some. For others, it may mean something much more dire. Toxic stress in high poverty blocks was already a killer. Now, we’ve got this pandemic on top of all that.

The optimistic side of me wants to believe that this remote learning thing can be an opportunity to get kids engaged who weren’t engaged by typical school. But the pessimistic side of me is afraid to think more deeply on what this may mean the longer we draw out keeping schools closed.

There’s no winning, either way. Either way, the same communities will lose, big time. That’s the hard thing to look at straight.

We’re talking mitigation, instead of acceleration. We’re talking desperation, instead of inspiration.

I’m hoping this is wrong. I’m hoping we can make this right. Working in education means, fundamentally, that you believe teaching and learning will make the world a better place. I believe it. Let’s reach our kids who are the hardest to reach, who need us the most to reach them, with whatever Zoom Chromebook iPad remote learning application livestream we can.