June-July 2016 IDRA Newsletter 
This month's focus: Culture of Poverty vs. Culture of Possibility 

This issue of the IDRA Newsletter provides stories about open source technology tools, problems with the 30 million word gap perceptions, and exceptional student essays.

"In the outdated culture-of-poverty perspective, the traits - and deficits - of students are the focus. But IDRA's culture-of-possibility frame recognizes the assets of students and focuses on the responsibility of the institution."
- Dr. María "Cuca" Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Open Source Learning Tools Make STEM Possible in Underserved Schools
by Mark Barnett
Mark Barnett photo
One of the major obstacles to providing a rich STEM education program is the high cost of materials, equipment and technology. Many STEM focused high schools or STEM academies have invested thousands of dollars to provide students with high tech amenities, such as robots, tablets and 3D printers. Purchasing these materials is cost prohibitive in many school districts that are located in low-income areas. Students who are in at-risk situations are less likely to have opportunities to use high tech equipment found in STEM focused schools.
Luckily, there are many engineers, scientists and hackers  who are dedicated to providing low cost, open source tools that can be used in education. The term open source refers to the idea that the design files and original code of a particular technology are available to see and reproduce. Open source tools also are usually available free of charge or available through a donation to the creators.
The power of open source tools and technologies allows a diverse group of people to contribute to making these technologies better. When a technology is open source, anyone can use it, edit it, make it better or create a different version of it.
There are quite a few open source tools and technologies that have become popular for their use in education. -  Keep reading

Differences as Deficiencies - The Persistence of the 30 Million Word Gap
by Sofía Bahena, Ed.D.
Sofia Bahena photo
In researching language development and acquisition, it is critical to value the unique assets that students bring to the classroom. Otherwise, research conclusions can lead to years of policy and practice that is ineffective or even detrimental to students and communities.
In a much-cited study, Hart & Risley (1995, 2003) introduced the so-called "word gap," referring to one of their most popular conclusions in which they estimate that, by the time children enter school at age 3, there would be a 30 million gap in words heard, on average, between children of poor parents and children of professional parents. In their study, Hart & Risley observed 42 families from Kansas City, Mo., over the course of two and a half years for an hour each month. Thirteen of those families were considered to be of upper socio-economic status (SES), 10 families were middle SES, 13 families were lower SES, and six families were on welfare at the time of the study. Children were 7 months to 9 months old when the study began and were followed through the age of 3.
Hart & Risley contend that poverty has a deleterious impact on early vocabulary growth, the quality of verbal interactions, and subsequently on later educational outcomes. In more recent years, other researchers have explored similar questions of language acquisition by immigrant, low-income, families (e.g., Fernald, et al., 2013; Fuller, et al., 2015).
In the two decades since Hart & Risley's original publication (1995), it has continued to receive mass media attention (e.g., Hotchkiss, 2015; Shenk, 2010; Sparks, 2015) and resulted in numerous local initiatives across the country (Hotchkiss, 2015; Pierce, 2016). Its findings have further been extrapolated to imply that this early "word gap" can have long-term educational implications, including success in high school (e.g., Bellafante, 2012).
Yet several experts in the education and linguistics field have raised concerns about the study's measures, data collection, theoretical basis, conclusions, and sampling. -  Keep reading
Confusing Correlation with Causation
by Sofía Bahena, Ed.D.
Sofia Bahena photo
It is common knowledge that correlation does not imply causation. Mark Wilson (2014) humorously illustrates this point in a series of graphs depicting near-perfect relationships, such as the one between the divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine in the United States (r=0.99) (see more at Tyler Vigen, n.d.). By even the most conservative of standards, this correlation would be deemed statistically significant; however, one would not argue that eating more margarine causes divorce. Yet, researchers sometimes make similar conclusions that imply causal relationships when in fact they are only correlational (such as in the word gap premise discussed above).
Confirmation bias may partially explain why we are inclined to confuse correlation with causation. Psychologists have written extensively about this widespread tendency to interpret relationships in a way that aligns with our preexisting beliefs (Nickerson, 1998). Because we are all vulnerable to this bias, it is important for both producers and consumers of research to be aware of confirmation bias and how to avoid it. For example, we can do the following. 
Keep reading
Six Teens Win 2016 National Essay Contest Awards -
IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Tutors Share Stories of the Program's Impact on Their Lives
Six students received prizes in a national competition among participants in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, a nationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program of IDRA. Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors wrote about how the program helped them do better in school and how they had helped their tutees to do better.
There were competitions at both the middle school and high school levels in the United States. Winners from each competition were awarded $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place along with commemorative certificates and trophies.
The IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is a research-based, highly successful cross-age tutoring program. With a 98 percent success rate, the program shows what happens when students suddenly feel valued for who they are and for their contributions to others. Here are some highlights from the winning essays. 
Keep reading

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., Presents Bilingual Commencement Address
Aurelio Montemayor photo
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., IDRA senior education associate and lead trainer, was honored to present the commencement address for the PSJA College, Career and Technology Academy for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in the Rio Grande Valley. In congratulating the graduates - in English and Spanish - he peered into their future saying...  -  Keep reading
Meet Mark Barnett, Chief IT Strategist
Mark Barnett robot photo
Mark Barnett leads IDRA in the area of technology implementation for both internal uses and externally for use by schools, libraries, museums and community centers. He has a deep interest in advocating for equal opportunity technology education and believes that access to the Internet should be a civil right. Mark also volunteers for several community organizations and spends time with his family. For the past four years, he has volunteered with FIRST Robotics in the Alamo region in mentoring teams, organizing events and judging competitions. The Alamo region of FIRST Robotics is home to over 300 teams from Austin to the Rio Grande Valley and supports teams from kindergarten through high school. Mark says that robotics is great way to form a community of support that makes math, science and engineering come to life .  -  Keep reading
Video: Mark Barnett
Mark Barnett"s TEDx-San Antonio Talk on "Everyone is a Maker, 
but Not Everyone has Access"
Tutor at Open House
Video: Tutor Nicholas Alderete
IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutor reads his winning essay at IDRA's open house