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This month’s focus: Curriculum Quality

“To deliver curriculum quality and access, our schools must make sure that the particular programs of study and materials are available to students of all types so that students are not tracked into lower level courses.” – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Published 10 times a year, each edition explores issues facing U.S. education today and strategies to better serve every student. This newsletter is published in print and on the IDRA website, in addition to this eLetter format.

Mesa Comunitaria Educativa – Community Collaboration for Education Advocacy

by Hector Bojorquez and Aurelio M. Montemayor, Ed.D.

On January 25 of this year, community members from across the Texas Rio Grande Valley gathered to discuss educational issues in their schools. Lourdes Flores, president of ARISE, stated in no uncertain terms: “All of us want all our children to be ready for college. Anything else is unacceptable.” This was in response to the growing concern many families are expressing about how Texas is in the process of lowering expectations for students. The statement was followed by thunderous applause in a room full of parents, educators and university administrators. To community leaders like Ms. Flores, the current dumbing down of core curricula and reviving of vocational education by the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education is yet another attempt to dismantle equity in an already inequitable system. – Keep reading

Distinguished as Default – Real Choice is Preparing All Students Well

by Laurie Posner, MPA

The Texas State Board of Education, which oversees the public education system, approved final graduation requirements under House Bill 5 in January. The new plan sets out a 22-credit foundation portion and four credits in one of five endorsements in: (1) STEM, (2) business and industry, (3) public services, (4) arts and humanities, and (5) multidisciplinary studies. This plan takes effect for students beginning ninth grade in the fall of 2014. They will select one of the five endorsements, though school districts are only required to offer the multidisciplinary studies endorsement.

Importantly, completion of this new graduation plan does not automatically qualify students for Texas’ Top 10 Percent public college admission or the Texas Grant unless they earn a “distinguished level of achievement.” Also, the state board has removed the Algebra II requirement and now only calls for Algebra II in two circumstances: for students seeking the STEM endorsement and the “distinguished achievement” designation.  – Keep reading

PTA Comunitario Growth Prospects in Oklahoma

by Kristin E. Grayson, Ph.D.

The IDRA PTA Comunitario concept is growing in the Rio Grande Valley. At the same time, this approach to parent engagement is being considered by the Oklahoma City Public Schools. A team from its Language and Cultural Services Department recently visited IDRA to learn about this model. The team also traveled to Pharr, Texas, to meet the pioneers of the ARISE PTA Comunitario, to hear their history of advocacy and courage, and to brainstorm ways this approach could serve Oklahoma City families.

The PTA Comunitarios in the Rio Grande Valley are based on IDRA’s model in which the major feature includes being based with a community-based organization instead of a specific school. They function so that, in this case, Spanish-speaking parents stay informed about school policies, initiatives and actionable data. Actionable data refers to data about the school that parents might want to question and take action on. These might include data about attendance, test scores and graduation rates. For example, if parents find that their school’s graduation rate is low because students are not taking the proper sequence of required courses for the needed credit, parents can ensure that they help their children and others get enrolled in the proper courses at the proper time in order to graduate. – Keep reading

Treating All Students as College Material – Family Leadership in Action

by Aurelio M. Montemayor, Ed.D.

Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good. This is one of the principles of IDRA’s Family Leadership in Education process. Families are concerned about the quality of education their children are receiving. They are suspicious of any attempts to track their children in non-college paths. Rather than lower standards under the rubric of “college is not for everyone” they want their children supported and successfully taught to have the skills and courses necessary for college acceptance and eventually degree completion.

In Texas, graduation standards are returning to various tracks, many of which will not lead to college-acceptable transcripts when students receive their high school diploma. The forces that be and the actions of the elected officials have created an array of “choices” that, given institutional biases and inertia, will result in large numbers of economically disadvantaged students and children of color being pushed into tracks that will not lead to college.

Parents in south Texas who are participating in IDRA’s PTA Comunitarios and are part of a larger network of community organizations, Equal Voice, have been requesting information, receiving training and informing their neighbors about the dangers in the recently passed regressive policies. – Keep reading

PSJA Proves that a School District Can Assure that All Students are College Bound

IDRA releases “College Bound and Determined” – A report profiling what happens when a school district raises expectations for students instead of lowering them

IDRA has released a new report, College Bound and Determined, showing how the Pharr-San Juan Alamo school district in south Texas transformed itself from low achievement and low expectations to planning for all students to graduate from high school and college. In PSJA, transformation went beyond changing sobering graduation rates or even getting graduates into college. This school district changes how we think about college readiness.

This transformation has resulted in the district doubling the number of high school graduates, cutting dropout rates in half, and increasing college-going rates. In fact, half of the district’s students are earning college credit while still in high school.

“Our vision can be boiled down to the phrase, College3, meaning that all students will be College Ready, College Connected and will complete College,” said Dr. Daniel King, PSJA superintendent. – Keep reading

IDRA Research for Curriculum Quality

In 2002, IDRA rigorously studied exemplary bilingual education programs in schools across the nation as determined by English learner academic achievement. Amid a backdrop of great language diversity among the students and parents that U.S. schools serve are schools with exemplary bilingual education programs and extraordinary individuals who are committed to equity and excellence. One of the 25 common characteristics that contribute to the high academic performance of students served by bilingual education programs is a quality curriculum. In the 10 schools IDRA studied, the curricula were planned to adapt instruction in ways that respect students’ native language and reflect their culture. All of the classroom instruction was meaningful, academically challenging, and linguistically and culturally relevant. Teachers used a variety of strategies and techniques, including technology, that responded to different learning styles. Teachers and administrators reported their bilingual program was designed to meet the students’ needs, including recognition of the need for alignment between the curriculum standards, assessments and professional development. Teachers were actively involved in curriculum planning and met regularly with administrative support to plan.

IDRA’s study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and informed IDRA’s publication, Good Schools and Classrooms for Children Learning English: A Guide. IDRA continues to work with teachers and administrators to assure rigorous bilingual programs have high quality curricula that produce excellent outcomes for children. More examples and resources from IDRA’s curriculum quality research work are online.

Classnotes Podcasts on Curriculum Quality

Tracking vs. High Quality Education for All Students – Episode 124

Higher Math for All – Episode 87

College for All – Episode 75

What Students Need their School Counselors to Hear – Episode 45

Action for School Change – Episode 42

College Access for Low Income and Minority Students – Episode 41

Access to Higher Levels of Mathematics  – Episode 13