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Education Reform

How to Improve Teacher Preparation Programs for Aspiring Urban Educators

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How to Improve Teacher Preparation Programs for Aspiring Urban Educators

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When I first became an educator, I taught secondary Mathematics and Physics to high school students in the largest district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and in a much smaller school system in the suburbs.  I first worked with low-performing and economically disadvantaged students and later in an environment with all talented and gifted students.  Once I decided to move beyond the classroom and into a role as instructional coach, I began mentoring teachers and delivering professional development training.  With this background as both an urban educator and teacher leader, I had a close-up opportunity to see the problems that are pervasive in K-12 education.  Having served as a District administrator for 9 years, I now have a bird’s eye perspective of those problems as well as potential strategies for success, particularly, in an urban setting.

Education Reform

The Role of the Community in Education

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The Role of the Community in Education

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In today’s economically and culturally diverse society it is vitally important that educators and community leaders find clarity on each other’s role in supporting our students’ academic achievement (Anderson-Butcher et. al., 2010).  This need is only intensified when we consider the context of the required school reform actions brought on by No Child Left behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measures.  However, the formation of effective school and community partnerships is usually defaulted to the responsibility of the schools and often are not established due to communication and expectation barriers (Hands, 2010).  With increasing reports of economic disparities between parents and communities of high performing schools and those of schools in need of academic achievement improvements, various factors have served as barriers to strong school and community partnerships.

Curriculum & Instruction/Education Reform

Public School Accountability: The Death of Student Learning

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Public School Accountability: The Death of Student Learning

Satisfying the demand for highly skilled workers is the key to maintaining competitiveness and prosperity in the global economy.  For this reason, many educational policymakers strive to craft policies that assist educators in developing a stronger workforce.  This was the intended aim of the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act put forth by the Bush administration. However well intended the NCLB Act was, the consequences of several key requirements have turned out to be counterproductive.

Education Reform

What is your 21st Century Professional Development Plan?

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What is your 21st Century Professional Development Plan?

The increasingly competitive global workforce of the 21st century has brought on the need for students and teachers to develop new skills and competencies in our educational systems. Given that the modern classroom is characterized by innovation and project-based context, schools should adopt teaching and learning methods that blend creative thinking skills and methods of instruction that integrate learning technologies into real-world contexts (Wan & Gut, 2011).  To this end, educators need to be prepared to serve students in the context of new expectations to meet the demands for a more skilled workforce.  Accordingly, professional development training for teachers should incorporate innovative methods that include relevant technology skills and practical experiences in the new classroom environment.  This suggests that teachers should also learn about innovative curricula that incorporate critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking, communication and collaboration, innovative use of knowledge, and financial literacy.

Education Reform

Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications

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Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications

Introduction
The rapid development of competing global markets has forced the American educational system to confront the need for the development of a more highly educated workforce.  As a result, K-12 school systems have been forced to prepare more students for the rigors of a variety of postsecondary experiences by refocusing their efforts on improving students’ awareness and readiness.  Texas’ 2013 legislative suite of educational changes, House Bill 5 (HB5), includes a vast array of reforms designed to provide flexibility for students to develop their talents and pursue early their postsecondary interests.  A major component of HB5 involves the expectation that school counselors take a more individualized approach to advising students for postsecondary pathways of their choice at earlier stages in their K-12 experience.  Specifically, 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.007 states that, starting in the 2014-2015 school year, elementary, middle/junior high, and high school counselors will be required to advise students and parents annually of the importance of postsecondary education; high school counselors must provide families with information related to the advantages of the new postsecondary focused graduation requirements.

The Problems
The implementation of HB5 presents school systems’ counseling departments with a host of problems, the most easily identifiable of which are:  the need for more and different (i.e., tailored to postsecondary preparation) professional development; the need for more effective implementation of the state school counseling model; and the need for more time and resources.  Solving these problems involve expenses that most school systems cannot afford; solutions are confounded further by several ancillary issues such as the limited number of certified school counselors, the shortage of funding streams for counseling programs, and the lack of system-wide understanding of the current guidance and counseling model and laws regulating the role of school counselors.

Counselor Professional Development
In a study on counselor models across the nation, researchers found that “the traditional mental health-focused training provided to school counselors over the past decades may have provided ample skill development for practitioners to help students with personal and social challenges, but it falls devastatingly short of helping students succeed academically in schools of the 21st century” (Martin, 2002, p. 149).  Thus, school counselors now must acquire specific knowledge on academic and career advisement related to the variety of available postsecondary programs of study that are aligned with students’ interests in addition to training related to the new high school endorsement and graduation requirements.

Effective Implementation of the State School Counseling Model
In 1989, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Counseling Association adopted the Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program (CDG), which was revised in 2004.  Having the Texas CDG allows a school district to include sequential activities organized and implemented by certified school counselors with the support of teachers, administrators, students, and parents to address specific student needs.  Local implementation of a state CDG is associated with students having better academic performance, better relationships with teachers, and more positive outlooks regarding future and career opportunities than other models (Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997).  However, in a national study of state counselor program models, Martin, Carey, and DeCoster (2009) found that Texas had only four to six of the 9 features predictive of effective local implementation of state models.  Texas’ designation as a “Progressing” state suggests that there was room for improvement at the local implementation level, and even more so now given HB5 legislation.

Limited Time and Resources
To fulfill the basic mission of the Texas CDG, program balance of the four components (i.e., guidance curriculum, responsive services, individual planning, system support) along with specific school priorities, must be established as noted by the Texas CDG recommended balance time distribution in Figure 1 below.

Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program
Balance Time Distribution

Texas CDG Components Elementary School Middle School HighSchool
Guidance Curriculum 35%-45% 35%-40% 15%-25%
Responsive Services 30%-40% 30%-40% 25%-35%
Individual Planning 5%-10% 15%-25% 25%-35%
System Support 10%-15% 10%-15% 15%-20%
Non-Guidance 0% 0% 0%

Figure 1, Texas Education Agency, 2004

            Effective implementation of the Texas CDG should include all four components, but the relative emphasis of each component will vary from district to district, perhaps even from campus to campus, depending on the developmental and special needs of the students served.  Even though the Texas CDG suggests 0% time allocation of non-guidance activities, many school counselors often are assigned duties that could fall in that category.  According to the models presented by Gysbers and Henderson (2000) and Myrick (1993), the non-guidance category, which would include administrative and clerical duties, can sometimes take up more time than other important tasks when a plan to eliminate them is not implemented.

In terms of resources, the effectiveness of CDGs is directly related to the counselor-to-student ratio within the program.  It is clear that the larger the counselor’s student caseload, the less individual attention students receive; the smaller the student load, the more individual attention is possible.  Ratio recommendations are wide-ranging.  The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum ratio of 1:250, while the Texas School Counselor Association, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association have recommended ratios of 1:350 (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html). In practice, however, the national, average counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 457 (Belasco, 2013), and in Texas, the average ratio is 1:440. (American School Counselor Association, 2011).

Potential Solutions
Despite the abundance of news media coverage and dedicated educator conference sessions, there is still an overwhelming sense of uncertainty plaguing many local schools systems regarding the details of HB5 counselor implications.   Moreover, the endeavors that people have taken to explore these implications have led to the realization there is a limited knowledge base of the Texas CDG among school and district leadership, thereby obstructing the ability to work within the system to meet the HB5 counselor requirements.  Thus far, many school systems have attempted to address the HB5 counselor needs simply by hiring more counselors or postsecondary advisors to help meet the individual advisement and planning needs of their students (Weiss & Haag, 2013).   This costly solution step has been the option taken by the majority of school systems across the state.  If implemented in isolation, this shortsighted approach leaves out the much-needed opportunity brought on by HB5, to rethink, refocus, and reframe the role of the counselor within our existing state model.  There are a number of solution steps that can be implemented at the local and state levels to manage this dilemma better.

Local Level
There needs to be a comprehensive review of the 2004 Texas CDG to understand the model more fully.  Based on personal experience, it is apparent that many campus and district leaders, especially those who are making the decisions to hire more counselors, are not very familiar that the state CDG model exists, much less the flexibility it affords school counseling programs.  Teams of counselors, teacher leaders, and administrators should be developed to promote awareness and understanding of the CDG in an effort to make wiser decisions about how to utilize available resources most effectively.

School districts should explore virtual networks of certified counselors to meet the individual planning needs of students. Within 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002 there exists an option for a school district to share counselors.  This collaboration could be incorporated in a virtual setting to allow districts to provide services to students beyond the face-to-face counseling model that currently exists.  The model of online counseling and academic advising has been in place in strong virtual school networks such as Florida Virtual School Network and Stand University Online High School (http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling).

The school system should increase the amount of time allocated to the career development subcomponent recommended within the Texas CDG.  Although it is true that this shift would reduce the amount of time school counselors spend on other components of the model, other campus or district leaders (e.g., assistant principals, social workers) could assume some of those responsibilities so that students would still reap important benefits.

In addition, school systems should identify additional funding streams that could support the additional professional development and staffing needs due to implementing these proposed solution steps.  Since external funding often is critical to model implementation (Martin et. al, 2009, p.383), local, state, and federal grants should be explored.

State Level
It would be beneficial for Texas to designate a school counseling leader at the Texas Education Agency level who is charged with the CDG implementation.  Research demonstrates that strong leadership at the state level promotes critical collaborations, forms common understandings about school counseling (by creating state-level accountability systems tied to state-level accreditation standards and state level standards for school counselor preparation), promotes the local implementation of effective student programs, and contributes to education reform (Gyber, 2006).  To see real change in the effectiveness of the school counselors and the CDG implementation, there needs to be a leader appointed who devotes at least 50% of his/her time to school counseling and whose position is housed within the career and technical education unit of the state department of education (Martin et. al., 2009).

Finally, states like Texas, with strong local control policies, should provide incentives to encourage local systems to implement the state guidance and counseling models (Martin et. al., 2009).  Grants and other resources to support training and other needs could be offered to systems that develop and show evidence of effective programming.

The aforementioned solutions proposed to address the problems presented by HB5 have their limitations.  For example, extensive time and effort would need to be dedicated to reviewing the CDG, seeking and applying for applicable grants, and developing virtual networks of counselors; school systems could be resistant to redistributing their administrators’ time away from their typical duties.  Regarding solutions at the state level, changing the CDG verbiage may actually involve political maneuvering and philosophical shifts that could take time to evolve.  Additionally, monies for hiring a state-level counseling leader and funding incentives may not be readily available.

 

References
American School Counselor Association (2011). School-to-School-Counselor Ratio
2010-2011. Retrieved from http://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/ratios10-11.pdf

Association of American Educators (2013). Virtual Education and School Counseling.
Retrieved from http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling

Gysbers, N.C., & Henderson, P. (2000).  Developing and Managing your school guidance program (3rd ed.).  Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association

H.B. No. 5, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.005, 33.006, 33.007.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Petroski, G.F. (2001).  Helping seventh graders be safe and successful in school: A statewide study of the impact of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 79. 320-330.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Sun, Y. (1997).  The impact of more fully implemented guidance programs on the school experiences of high school students: A statewide evaluation study.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 292-302.

Martin, I. M., Carey, J. P., & DeCoster, K. (2009). A National Study of the Current Status of State School Counseling Models. Professional School Counseling, 12(5), 378-386.

Martin, P. J. (2002). Transforming school counseling: A national perspective. Theory into Practice, 41(3), 148.

Myrick, R.D. (1993). Developmental guidance and counseling: A practical approach. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media.

S.B. No. 715, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002.

Texas Education Agency.  (2014). School Guidance and Counseling Recommended Ratios.  Retrieved from http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html

Texas Education Agency.  (2004).   A Model comprehensive, developmental guidance and counseling program for Texas public schools: A Guide for Program Development Pre-K-12th Grade. Retrieved from  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ModelProgramGuide.html

Weiss, J., & Haag, M. (2013, August 19). High school counselors face learning curve as state law assigns new roles. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com

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Education Reform

Exposing K-12 Schools Achilles’ Heel

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Exposing K-12 Schools Achilles’ Heel

One of the most prominent issues that affect K-12 public schools as social organizations is a propensity to operate from the position that “We’re going to do what we’ve always done because that’s what we’ve always done.” This notion is pervasive and widely unrecognized and acknowledged. Likewise, the habits that arise from this notion are formed subtly yet become deeply ingrained in (and debilitating to) the system operations. Practically speaking, school systems tend to employ practices or habits that are undocumented in policy, unsupported by data and are not effectively educating students. The negative consequences of this mindset include parents withdraw their students in favor of the more flexible and responsive systems of private and charter schools; educators’ efforts are constrained and academic performance is weak; the best and most innovative educators are recruited by other systems or possibly even leave the field; and students suffer because they are not prepared to meet the demands of an ever-changing society. Left unchecked, poor organizational habits within systems ultimately weaken our nation’s ability to compete on the global level.

Addressing the Issue
To address this issue, organizations should establish habits of reflection at the teacher and administrator levels so they can begin to make the connections between practices and outcomes more real or direct. Examples of these habits include coaching conversations between teachers and teacher leaders; feedback shared by teachers in professional learning communities; and collaborative administrators dialoguing about practices that should be started, continued, or stoped. Creating opportunities for reflection not only helps teachers and administrators, but it also promotes an environment and culture in which all stakeholders can challenge organizational habits.

woman standing in front of sitting people

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Policy Review
In addition to reflection, schools should re-evaluate policies to determine if they are being followed and if they are in support of their short-term and long-term goals. The only thing worse than a bad policy is a good policy that is not followed; nevertheless, both allow schools to continue practicing bad habits. Schools also need to review what is policy and what are actual practices in order to expose unwritten organizational habits. This involves questioning a policy’s clarity and usefulness, evaluating desired outcomes using research and measurement tools, and working to redefine policies based on their findings rather than politics.

Program Evaluation
Lastly, K-12 public schools should establish protocols for using data to make decisions, set goals, and evaluate programs or outcomes. This process should address the questions, “What do we do with the data we receive”, “What questions do you ask”, and “What data sets are most relevant?” Far too often K-12 schools are data rich but information poor; school systems must reach the point where they see the issues clearly and are able to mobilize resources to implement real solutions.

K-12 schools are charged today with the task of educating a quickly changing student body to face the challenges of a dynamic workforce and society. If schools implemented these practical solutions with fidelity, not only will they be able to finally dismantle the debilitating organizational habits that plague them, they will be able to change in the appropriate time frame necessary to respond to the needs of today’s student.

I encourage you to share your thoughts below on how your school of district could prevent exposing its Achilles’ Heel.