August 2016 IDRA Newsletter
This month's focus: Teaching Quality 
This issue of the IDRA Newsletter provides stories about fostering culturally diverse learning environments, unlocking instruction through structured teaching, creating positive school climates for diverse populations, along with our school opening alert regarding immigrant students' rights to attend public schools.
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Fostering Culturally Diverse Learning Environments
by Paula Johnson, M.A.
Paula Johnson
There is an ever increasing threat spreading throughout many schools across the nation. In addition to economic disparity and achievement debt, U.S. educators and students are facing a gap in cultural understanding that has the potential to widen the disparity in academic performance of students among different cultural groups. 

Furthermore, ingrained beliefs about persons from other races, religions and cultures is breeding fear and negativity resulting in growing disparities in disciplinary practices against students (Sheets, 2014). To educate our growing diverse student population, teachers must be prepared to foster learning environments that are inclusive of students from dramatically different backgrounds from themselves and fellow students. 

Several factors must be in place to ensure that educational opportunity and success for all students are guaranteed. The IDRA Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel, 2005) outlines specific school system indicators that carry the potential to strengthen public school education: (1) parent and community engagement, (2) student engagement, (3) teaching quality, and (4) curriculum quality and access (Robledo Montecel, 2005).

It is important for teachers to understand how these indicators support culturally competent instruction toward the successful development of personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities while building content knowledge. -  Keep reading
Unlocking Instruction Through Structured Teaching
by Nilka Avilés, Ed.D.
Nilka Avil_s_ Ed.D.
The understanding that changes in school organization and practices can improve teaching and learning has profoundly influenced educational reform over the past decades. A new trend has emerged that focuses on high quality teaching that embraces evidence-based approaches, but with limited attention to aligning these approaches to the strengths and realities that define a diverse student context. It is particularly important that we re-examine how teachers teach and focus on developing what is commonly known as 21st century skills and mindset focusing on the assets that students bring to school. 

Schools have a responsibility to foster such a mindset in guiding students' cognitive development and strengthening non-cognitive factors that speak to resiliency and persistence of students to succeed. In essence, the school must play a critical role in individual empowerment and change. If a school is to renew itself, it must become serious about supporting and empowering teachers and students. The school itself must be a self-actualizing, reflective, learning and knowledge-creating organization for all students, not just a few.

In many cases, the essential organizational changes involve building capacity to continually develop a safe learning environment where staff and governance truly support the academic success of all students. In short, we as educators must reconsider how we think when we interact with students and parents if we expect changes in student learning.

Throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, the emphasis of education was on how schools should work. The primary focus was on management and bureaucracy rather than how a student acquires information and learns. -  Keep reading
Positive School Climates and Diverse Populations
by Kristin Grayson, Ph.D.
Kristin Grayson_ Ph.D.
Examining school climate is essential as the new academic year begins. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education states that school climate measurement is the first step toward school improvement, is a tool for school accountability, and is an evidenced-based method for documenting school needs (2016).
 
A positive school climate means having meaningful and collaborative relationships between teachers and students, teachers and administrators, and among students. It lays a strong foundation for learning in an environment of mutual respect and responsibility.
 
As public schools are becoming increasingly diverse, creating this inclusive environment can be seen by some as very challenging. In many ways, school climate reflects the larger societal conversations that are occurring among diverse communities. Bringing diverse communities together, whether in cities or schools, begins with conversations and a perspective of empathy.
 
Creating a positive school climate of empathy involves developing staff and students' cultural competency (having beliefs and knowledge that are accepting about others) and intercultural proficiency (being able to effectively communicate messages that others receive as appropriate). Administrators and teachers must know about their diverse students and their cultures, and through the spirit of empathy, recognize that they are valuable learners. These aspects of knowledge and belief must be in place even before teachers and administrators begin to "do" their daily jobs of teaching in the classroom and directing the campus.
 
English learners are one of the diverse populations to consider when developing or shoring up a positive and empathetic school climate. The school needs to address their emotional, social and learning needs within an environment of collaboration and community. Like all students, English learners need to feel physically and emotionally safe. They must sense that the students and adults around them care about them. When this type of environment is in place, they have a greater attachment, engagement and commitment to school - all resulting in better academic performance with less disruptive behaviors
. -  Keep reading

Immigrant Students' Rights to Attend Public Schools - School Opening Alert
See IDRA's eBook on Supporting Immigrant Students' Rights to Attend Public Schools (in English-Spanish)
This alert is a reminder that public schools, by law, must serve all children. The education of undocumented students is guaranteed by the Plyler vs. Doe decision, and certain procedures must be followed when registering immigrant children in school to avoid violation of their civil rights.
 
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education published in May 2014 a letter advising school officials that activities that deny or discourage students to attend school are unlawful. The letter begins, "Under federal law, state and local educational agencies are required to provide all children with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level."
 
In Plyler vs. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of undocumented workers have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Like other students, children of undocumented workers in fact are required under state laws to attend school until they reach a mandated age
. -  Keep reading


IDRA News App
Meet Charles Cavazos, IDRA Education Associate
Charles Cavazos
Charles Cavazos is the data analyst at IDRA. Charles is from San Antonio and came to IDRA in 1983 after graduating from Alamo Heights High School and Trinity University, where he received a B.A. in English. He has run the annual IDRA attrition study analysis every year since 1990 and has compiled the evaluation statistics for the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program since its inception. He also assists in the production of publications as a proofreader (including this one). And he is one who IDRA staff call on when they have problems with technology.

Charles was among those tens of thousands of Americans who donated blood for the first time on September 12, 2001, and remains a faithful platelet donor to this day. His most recent donation was last month. And while he has never suffered a broken bone or a laceration that required stitches, he has been bitten by a rattlesnake. Charles is the godfather of his one-year-old grandniece.

As a data analyst, Charles will most often be found working with numbers. But he fills his spare time with words. Charles is an avid reader and commits himself to reading the equivalent of 40 400-page books every year. He concentrates on literature, philosophy and history. He maintains a "to-be-read pile" that is impossibly long and never seems to get any smaller, as he often adds to it. Among the books Charles has read this year are, Wolf Hall, The Third Rumpole Omnibus, Rousseau's Confessions, and the Iliad. Oh yes, the Iliad - it was the sixth different translation he has read at least once (and it won't be the last).

His formal education, while strong, left him unaware of the inequities in public education. Working at IDRA has opened his eyes to the unfair difficulties that most school children, and their families, confront. Charles reads as a means to continue his own education, gaining not only knowledge, but also tolerance and understanding. He has faith that, in the aggregate, reading produces a better self. A good education engenders a desire to learn more - an ethos that Charles wants to live in public schools.
Newsletter Executive Editor: María "Cuca" Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.                                       ISSN 1069-5672

The Intercultural Development Research Association is an independent private non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring educational opportunity for every child. IDRA strengthens and transforms public education by providing dynamic training; useful research, evaluation, and frameworks for action; timely policy analyses; and innovative materials and programs.
 
IDRA works hand-in-hand with hundreds of thousands of educators and families each year in communities and classrooms around the country. All our work rests on an unwavering commitment to creating self-renewing schools that value and promote the success of students of all backgrounds.