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June-July 2014 This month’s focus: Actionable Knowledge

“We must connect school outcomes – graduation and college readiness – with who and what produces those outcomes – connecting actionable knowledge to support engaged citizens, accountable leadership and enlightened public policy that leverages change.” – 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.

IDRA’s New CollegeLink App Connects Transition Counselors with New College Students as they Navigate Confusing College Systems

by Hector Bojorquez

Consider this scenario: Mario Contreras, who is the first in his family to attend college (a “first-time-in-college” student), attends his first day of class and is told by his professor that his name is not on the class roster. Mario assumes that it is a small glitch and goes to his next class and is, again, told that he is not registered. He begins to panic and goes to the admissions office.

The lines are long because it is the beginning of the semester and many students have questions. After a 45-minute wait, he learns he is in the wrong line. He is sent to the registrar’s office where, after a two-hour wait, he is told that there is a hold on his records. He goes to the financial aid office and, after more waiting, is told to come back the next day.

Mario does so and the problem is resolved. But they mention that if he had come later in the week, it would have been too late and he would have had to wait until spring to register for classes.

Mario was lucky. The unfortunate fact is that many students are not so lucky and, because of mix-ups, miscommunication and general bureaucratic issues, a high percentage of students simply “stop-out.”

It would seem that in this day and age of high tech solutions, dilemmas like these wouldn’t happen with such great frequency. Yet, as any first-year college student will tell you, it happens all the time. The preceding scenario is actually one of the simpler problems that students encounter but that take a maddeningly long time to solve.

Students are hit with much more complex problems ranging from arcane ID systems, to class counseling mix-ups, incorrect schedules, random holds on financial aid, etc. If most services and institutions that adults deal with were as complex as college systems, very few of us would have checking accounts, utilities, cable or even a library card. – Keep reading

Armed with Data, PTA Comunitarios Work with Schools for College Preparation – An IDRA OurSchool Portal Story

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

IDRA’s OurSchool portal was designed to inform families, parents and educators about educational outcomes in Texas high schools. Parents visit the site to see how well students are prepared for college by looking at SAT and ACT scores, the numbers of students actually going to college, and the percentages of students having to take remedial courses.

The data have been a powerful catalyst for parent groups to approach schools with questions, concerns and ideas for collaboration. One excellent example of this type of collaboration is how the burgeoning PTA Comunitarios in the Lower Texas Rio Grande Valley have used the data to kick start community efforts and collaborations with schools.

A PTA Comunitario is a community-based PTA that is not tied to one particular school but rather is housed in a community organization. IDRA and ARISE, a partner community-based organization in South Texas, have collaborated for nearly six years in piloting this concept in colonias (unincorporated neighborhoods), some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in Texas.

Through an Investing in Innovation (I3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, IDRA is leading an effort in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to expand the concept to multiple school districts.

The PTA Comunitario process recognizes that once parents have solid comprehensible educational data, they become well-informed advocates interested in collaborating with schools. IDRA’s OurSchool portal has been the source for educational data from the inception PTA Comunitarios. – Keep reading

Link to OurSchool portal

Teacher Leadership in Science in Schools with Diverse Students

by Kristin Grayson, Ph.D.

Student achievement in science in U.S. public schools is at the forefront of recent educational reform initiatives. Having effective science teachers who can improve science achievement for all students is of utmost importance. There are many factors that contribute to effective instruction, including resources, pedagogical practices, teacher content knowledge, class size, curriculum, etc.

In my 2014 dissertation study, I focused on teacher classroom leadership. What kind of leadership behaviors and belief sets do effective science teachers have? How confident are science teachers in their ability to teach and help all students become successful learners of the complex scientific knowledge and processes contained in school curricula? How do teachers lead their students to attain scientific proficiency?

Few quantitative studies have focused on teacher leadership at the classroom level (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). However, over the past 25 years, many studies have been done on teacher self-efficacy. Tucker, et al. (2005) defined teacher self-efficacy as “the beliefs that teachers have about their individual skills and abilities to create desirable outcomes for students.” Higher levels of teacher self-efficacy have been consistently correlated with higher levels of student achievement. – Keep reading

Six Teens Win 2014 National Essay Contest Award Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Tutors Tell How the Program has Helped Them

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 the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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 are being awarded $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place. Congratulations to the winners, and to their families, teachers and schools, and to all who participated in this year’s contest.

“I never wanted to come to school, but those kids made me come to school every day. They are also the reason my grades are up, so that they can look up to me and say ‘He is really smart,’” wrote Nicholas Alderete. – Keep reading

See the full text of the winning essays

Learn more about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and how to bring the program to your school

IDRA Research for Actionable Knowledge

Ever since its first days over 40 years ago, IDRA has been conducting research to provide data to school leaders, policymakers and advocates in ways that are actionable. IDRA started by introducing readers into the complicated world of school finance in Texas.

In 1974, IDRA created a database detailing the system to better inform the public and officials. It was designed using information provided by TEA and IDRA’s own research initiatives to provide the capability for a district-to-district comparison of school finances, demographics and educational programs and services.

Over the years, IDRA has continued to provide data on school funding equity to inform litigation and policy as well as to inform the public of the impact of proposals and debates. In the early 1970s, IDRA conducted the first study of its kind on the costs of bilingual education. Focusing on Texas, Utah and Colorado, we were able to put in policymakers’ and advocates’ hands concrete data how much bilingual programs should cost to inform funding decisions.

In the mid-1980s, IDRA released the first-ever report of high school attrition in Texas. The data were provided by race-ethnicity statewide and at the county level. Annual updates of attrition in Texas schools have continued through today. The initial release of data led to action by the state legislature to require continued collection of dropout data and the establishment of dropout prevention strategies.

IDRA’s OurSchool data portal gives community, family and school leaders a new level of high quality, accessible data to see how their schools are doing and plan ways to improve them (see related story). Designed around IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework™, the bilingual site provides key questions to promote community conversations and a framework that local, cross-sector partners can use to plan joint action to improve school holding power. More examples and resources from IDRA’s research work are available online.

Encourage your friends to sign up

Encourage your friends to sign up for the IDRA Newsletter by email, IDRA eNews, Graduation for All and Classnotes Podcast notices.

Connect with Us Online

Classnotes Podcasts on Actionable Knowledge

Engaging Parents through Powerful Coalition Building – October 11, 2011  

Parents Using Data to Improve Schools – August 9, 2011

Tools for Building Quality Schools – December 9, 2010

What Parents Should Know about Their Schools – February 17, 2010

Communities Using Data to Improve their Schools – June 3, 2008


How to Use the IDRA OurSchool Portal – English version [02:16]

How to Use the IDRA OurSchool Portal – Spanish version [02:46]

Communities Using Data [06:02 min]

Dropout Prevention that Works – Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program [01:30 min]