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Educate, Collaborate, Innovate A Quarterly Newsletter, Q1 2019

What's Happening at SOE

Dean’s Speaker Series

AU’s School of Education welcomed Dr. Daniel T. Willingham in November as our first speaker for the 2018-19 Dean’s Speaker Series.

Dr. Willingham is a well-known psychologist and a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on applying findings from cognitive psychology and neuroscience to K–12 education. In his evening talk, Dr. Willingham explained how science and educational psychology, such as understanding the mental models theory of how students learn, can be helpful to teachers and valuable for developing new practices in teaching and classroom management.  

Since 2002, Dr. Willingham has written the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for the American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers. He has written multiple articles and papers in both scientific and general publications, and is the author of the book, Why Don’t Students Like School.

During his visit to AU, Dr. Willingham met with community educators including District of Columbia Public Schools Interim Chancellor, Dr. Amanda Alexander.

Faculty in the News

“The New New Thing in Higher Ed,” with Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Director, ITEP Masters in International Training and Education Program and Professor, AU SOE. Experts take a look at how traditional colleges and universities are investing in innovative online courses, global campuses, and international study initiatives to stay competitive and appeal to diverse student populations.
Washington Post Live, January 17, 2019.
 “How to Build an Engineer: Start Young,” featuring Carolyn Parker, Director, Masters in Teaching Program and Senior Professorial Lecturer, AU SOE. Elementary schools are introducing students to engineering principles, hoping to inspire a life-long interest in STEM fields.
The Hechinger Report, January 24, 2019
“Teachers Pursue Public Policy Degrees to Better Advocate for Their Students,” with Jennifer Steele, Associate Professor, AU SOE. Millions of dollars are spent every year on education policy research, but actual classroom teachers struggle to access it.
INSIGHT Into Diversity, February 11, 2019.
“The State of Teacher Labor Relations,” with Robert Shand, Assistant Professor, AU SOE. For six days last month, about 600 thousand students had their school days turned upside down as teachers in the Los Angeles school district went on strike. That follows a number of other labor actions by teachers last year.
WAMC Northeast Report, February 7, 2019

December Graduation

December graduates with Dean Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy (first row, second from left)

The AU School of Education is proud to have graduated 42 students this past December. Our graduates came from a number of programs, completing their degrees in Education Policy and Leadership (24 grads), International Training and Education (11), Teacher Preparation (5), and Special Education (2).

Congratulations to our newest SOE Alums!

SOE Alumni Develop K-12 Strategy-Sharing Platform

Allison Wood, Co-Founder and CEO of edVario

Allison Wood had a beautiful, entrepreneurial moment after visiting a preschool classroom in Washington, DC. The teacher had devised a way to create an oasis of calm among 3- and 4-year-olds, yet couldn’t answer Wood’s question of “is anyone else using this method?” Wood immediately called friend and fellow SOE alum, Andrew Molchany, with her idea for sharing classroom strategies online. They pooled knowledge and resources, and in February 2018 launched an online platform for K-12 teachers to share real-world success stories – flipping the usual teaching model of research before application.
edVario –  short for “Variety in Education” – is a user-driven platform to find and share best practices. The site invites teachers and school leaders to search stories, or create their own portfolios on edVario and share proven strategies they’ve developed outside of curricula or lesson plans. edVario staff members investigate and add research notes that support the posted approaches, increasing the likelihood of wider adoption. The robust data collection in edVario’s background program allows for future data analytics, which will add to the body of research on applied classroom methodology.
Wood, who was on the Education, Policy, and Leadership (EPL) track while at AU, tapped into her former network of advisors and classmates to refine and focus-test her ideas for edVario. She credits the program with giving her the moxie to invent the online platform. “It ignited my curiosity about the massive puzzle that’s our U.S. education system,” Wood says. “If I hadn’t been in the [EPL] program, I might not have had the confidence to come up with this idea and run with it.”

Next steps for the young company include continuing to expand awareness across school districts and developing partnerships that add new ways to use edVario, such as the recent addition of a grant-reporting platform. Wood emphasized, however, that no matter how the company might grow in the future, its platform “will always be free to classroom teachers.”

Faculty Highlight: Dr. Amaarah DeCuir

Dr. DeCuir (left) at a training session for teacher education faculty

Amaarah DeCuir, EdD, is an advocate for public education. She expects the undergraduate SOE students she teaches to be advocates, too. To that end, her class frameworks illustrate how real life affects education – and vice versa – so that students in her classrooms gain an understanding of what they’re up against as future teachers and leaders.

Dr. DeCuir is in her second year as a Professorial Lecturer in the AU School of Education. She currently teaches undergraduate education classes where she emphasizes present-day inequities that collide with students’ ability to learn. Dr. DeCuir leads her students on a journey through their own school memories to examine inequities they may have witnessed.

Students come to realize that many of their experiences were not equal to other students’ experiences – across states, school settings, or marginalized communities. That personal understanding is a critical juncture for Dr. DeCuir to introduce interdisciplinary practices of social justice. In that context, she teaches students how to advocate for the advancement of equitable public education across a variety of academic majors and career paths.  

Dr. DeCuir says it’s been eye opening for non-education majors in her Social Justice and Urban Education class to learn that 20% of students in America’s largest cities are homeless. She explains how rewarding it is to bring the often-silenced voices of K-12 students – in the form of photography, slam poetry, and an imitation of a Bruno Mars’ song – into her freshman education classes, and to see the dawning realization among students.  
“Schools are going to bear a relationship to life. We’re all going to be impacted,” DeCuir says. “We all have a role to play to make schools better.”

New SOE Center Paves the Way for Higher Education Opportunities for All Students

Dr. Owen (second from left) and Dr. Holcomb-McCoy (far right) with AU participants from White House convenings 2016.

The American University School of Education’s Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success is the first center in the U.S. focused solely on how school counselors and college advisors can better support and prepare high-school students of all backgrounds to access postsecondary education.

How CPRS Began

In 2016 under [then] first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, a National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success assembled to “increase the share of American citizens who earn a postsecondary credential” whether at a professional training program, community college, or four-year university. A series of White House convenings followed, which focused on how to strengthen school counseling and college advising for all students.

Laura Owen, PhD, a Research Associate Professor, and Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Dean of AU’s School of Education (SOE), were invited to participate in the consortium and contribute their expertise. With a review of currently published literature, a survey to the field, and focus group participants’ input, the consortium identified six top priorities. These were published in a January 2017 report, The State of School Counseling: Revisiting the Path Forward. One priority recommended launching a national research center to better inform the college counseling and advising field, and the students and parents who should benefit from it.

One year later, Drs. Owen and Holcomb-McCoy initiated the Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS) at American University, with Dr. Owen as its inaugural Director.  The two women worked together on school counselor practices at Johns Hopkins University, and share a common commitment to bridging the college-readiness gap among high school students of differing backgrounds.

A start-up grant from The Kresge Foundation helped launched CPRS. The Center has since received several other grants, from organizations such as Civic Nation and Raise DC. An advisory board of well-respected scholars, practitioners, and leaders was put in place to support and advocate for the Center’s work.

An Equitable and Accessible Pathway to Opportunity

The Center’s guiding principal is that all students deserve an equitable and accessible pathway to postsecondary opportunity.

According to a 2016 US Department of Education Report, the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment is widening for both black and Hispanic adults compared to white adults. Specifically, the gap has doubled from 9 to 20 percent for Hispanic residents since 1974 and from 6 to 13 percent for black residents since 1964.

Results of studies posted on the Reach Higher website state that high-school students who met with a school counselor to discuss financial aid or college were three times more likely to attend college and seven times more likely to access financial aid. But with just one school counselor in the country for every 490 students, and no common framework for college counseling in the field, research points first to the need for a change in counselors’ professional education.

“We want to reframe the research that’s been done and unpack practices that support equitable post-secondary student opportunities and planning,” said Dr. Owen. “To do this, we have to identify a common set of practitioner competencies across the profession. Right now, parents get competing, contradictory advice.”  

First Recommendations this Spring

Dr. Owen has spent the past six months conducting focus groups to find out what parents want for their children from postsecondary counseling. She now has a work group of counselor educators, school counselors, and college advisors putting together recommendations for college counselor competencies. These will be presented to the Center advisory board in the spring before recommendations go out to the field. 
Future Center objectives and goals include dissecting community-based factors that influence postsecondary achievement, designing effective communication tools to address them, and identifying school-based systemic policies and practices that hinder student access to opportunities – and dismantling them.
“We want everyone to have access to our eventual findings and recommendations, not just counselors,” said Dr. Owen. “This is important work from a social justice perspective. We want to be able to publish family and student-friendly reports so that our information is translated into something meaningful for the people it’s intended to help.”

SOE’s Continuing Commitment to Bridging the Gap

The Center, albeit with a potentially very wide reach, is one more platform that illustrates the School of Education’s commitment to equitable education for all. The school works consistently to bridge the gap between the university and youth from underserved communities in the Washington, DC area. This year, for example, SOE students are helping 3500 DC students connect to resources that will help them transition to college. Dual Enrollment, an SOE program that allows high-school seniors to earn both high-school credit and college credit toward an education major, launched this past fall.
An education center, in part supported by the Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success, brings DC’s middle-school students from impoverished city districts to AU’s campus to expose them to academic activities. The purpose is to help disadvantaged youth envision college in their future.

Research shows that 8 million students (one in five) in the U.S. do not have access to a school counselor and another 11 million students attend a school without enough school counselors. Compared to their white middle-class peers, low income students and students of color who rely the most on school counselors for postsecondary advice are the least likely to have access to one.

The Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success aims to promote a culture of relevant, advanced, multi-and inter-disciplinary approaches to understand, evaluate, and strengthen postsecondary readiness and success opportunities for all students. Addressing the uneven distribution of support and resources necessary for students to successfully navigate their postsecondary path, especially for those who have historically and systemically been left under-resourced, is a central mission of the center.

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