Media Mentions

Newly funded research will use biomarkers from blood to understand how childhood shapes risks of Alzheimer’s and other dementias

March 3, 2021   |   By University of Minnesota News and Events

From University of Minnesota News and Events

The University of Minnesota announced today it will begin collecting blood samples from a diverse sample of 25,520 people around the country to better understand how early-life conditions and experiences shape later-life risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The research, supported by $14.2 million in new funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), adds a new component to the ongoing $28.4 million High School & Beyond (HS&B) cohort study and builds upon a $500,000 pilot study funded by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2020.

The project, based at the University’s Minnesota Population Center (MPC), brings together an interdisciplinary team of leading neurologists, sociologists, education scientists, neuropathologists, and survey methodologists from around the country. A goal of the newly-funded component of the project is to understand the biological pathways through which health inequities in cognitive impairment form.

“There is growing evidence that racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in rates of late-life dementia have roots in inequalities in educational opportunities and experiences, childhood economic circumstances, and other early-life conditions,” said grant principal investigator John Robert Warren, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, HS&B project co-director, and MPC director. “This new component of the project will help us better understand the ways in which these early life inequalities ‘get under the skin’ to impact cognition down the road.”

The research team will collect blood samples from over 25,000 surviving members of the HS&B cohort—a nationally representative group of people who have been interviewed on several occasions since they were high school students in 1980—to look for markers of neuropathology that are evident in blood years before people show signs of dementia. While HS&B panelists will be in their late 50s when samples are collected, and Alzheimer’s disease is rare at this age, milder forms of cognitive impairment are likely to be more common among the cohort and may foreshadow the later development of more serious impairments. Some scientists believe there are markers in the blood that indicate Alzheimer’s disease years before people become symptomatic. The samples themselves will also be stored for future analysis and research. The blood samples will be assayed and stored at the University’s Advanced Research and Diagnostics Laboratory. The assay work will be led by U of M Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Bharat Thyagarajan.

The biomarker data is just one part of the larger picture. Using a combination of surveys, cognitive tests, blood- and saliva-based biomarkers, and administrative data, the team will examine how social and educational disparities in adolescence lead to racial and ethnic differences in cognitive impairment at midlife. The team wants to examine how these effects manifest over the course of a person’s life and how educational and social advantages may help people genetically predisposed toward dementia delay or avoid its onset. Ultimately, the researchers aim to inform efforts to develop proactive strategies that reduce cognitive impairments among older people.

The HS&B project is led by Professor Warren (University of Minnesota), Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin), Eric Grodsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Jennifer Manly (Columbia University). Ryan Demmer (University of Minnesota School of Public Health) is leading the microbiome portion of the study.

Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain disorder that slowly inhibits memory and thinking skills, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5.8 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and that number is projected to grow to nearly 14 million by 2050. Worldwide, approximately 50 million people live with some form of dementia.

Population health research is a primary focus of MPC, a University-wide center that supports interdisciplinary population dynamics research. MPC provides an intellectual home and a high level of research support to roughly 200 faculty, staff, and graduate students at the University.

To learn more about the Minnesota Population Center, which is part of the University’s Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation, visit

This research is supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG058719.

A year after deadly shooting, Molson Coors has set a course for more inclusive culture — but cultivating real change will take time

March 3, 2021   |   By Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

After an electrician at Molson Coors shot and killed five of his coworkers and himself last February, several employees at Milwaukee’s iconic brewery spoke up.

They told news outlets about racism they’d experienced on the job, and supervisors who didn’t seem to take meaningful action against it.

The Milwaukee Police Department said its investigation found racism likely was not the main motive of the gunman Anthony Ferrill, who was Black. He had been exhibiting paranoia and erratic behavior for about three years before the shooting.

But as reports of a racist workplace climate surfaced — including that a noose was placed on or in Ferrill’s locker five years prior — Molson Coors leadership acknowledged they had “more work to do.”

“We aren’t going to shy away from our responsibility to take a deep look at our own culture following this event,” Adam Collins, chief communications and corporate affairs officer, said shortly after the Feb. 26 shooting.

That Wednesday afternoon, close to shift-change, Ferrill shot and killed Dale Hudson, 60, of Waukesha; Gennady “Gene” Levshetz, 61, of Mequon; Dana Walk, 57, of Delafield; Trevor Wetselaar, 33, of Milwaukee and Jesus “Jesse” Valle Jr., also 33 and from Milwaukee.

On Friday, the one-year anniversary, brewery workers planned to hold a moment of silence at the start of each shift to remember the victims of the tragedy that shook Milwaukee.

In the 12 months since the shooting, Molson Coors says it has hired a consulting firm to review its policies, pledged to hire more people of color and given employees more opportunities to share criticism and feedback — work executives say they know must continue.

But efforts to speak to current employees about their experience were unsuccessful.

An expert in workplace discrimination and diversity said lasting change requires a hard look at a company’s values and sustained effort from supervisors up and down the chain of command on every part of an employee’s experience: from hiring and promotions to the way their complaints are handled.

Repeated, daily acts of racism at work — like those some employees described last year — can wear people down, said Jerlando Jackson, director and chief research scientist at Wisconsin’s Equity & Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In workplaces where employees of color see that harassment is not handled well by supervisors, they might not speak up about their experiences, Jackson said.

Workers who face discrimination need support, assurance change will occur

The issue is two-fold, he said: most workers face both organizational and internal barriers to success. So even if companies work to address some of the structural hurdles, employees might be struggling silently if they aren’t given a chance to be heard.

Each person carries their burden differently. Many people in hostile work environments eventually quit or are fired, he said. “Usually there’s no good end to it, for those people,” Jackson said. “Individuals leave opportunities they spent their whole lives trying to get.”

To create a workplace where people feel comfortable, company leaders must set the standard for behavior, Jackson said.

CEOs and other top executives might not be able to prevent discrimination from happening on, say, the brewery floor, Jackson said, but “you can surely make it known that it’s not welcome.”

Senior leadership needs to put up “strong guardrails” that define what is unacceptable, and, crucially, they must take action when they hear about it, he said.

Those who reported racism at Molson Coors last year said they didn’t feel like any meaningful change happened when they did raise concerns with higher-ups.

One former employee, a practicing Muslim, told the Washington Post after the shooting that he endured taunts for years about his name and his religion. Some coworkers joked that he would plant a bomb in the building.

He didn’t report the harassment because he said some of it had taken place in front of supervisors, and nothing was done. Overcome with stress and anxiety, the man quit after four years, he told the Washington Post.

Molson Coors confirmed last year that a noose had been placed on or in Ferrill’s locker, prompting a company investigation. But no camera footage was available to show who put the noose there, on a day when Ferrill was not working.

A coworker also told police that Ferrill had been called the n-word and a “dumb ape or monkey” by another electrician several years earlier, prompting him to file a complaint with human resources. Ferrill’s report could not be proven and the company closed the complaint, said the coworker, who was not identified in a police report.

The coworker, who considered Ferrill a friend, also said the racism Ferrill experienced on the job was “likely always in the forefront of (his) mind,” but he didn’t think it was Ferrill’s motivation for the shooting, according to the police report.

That coworker had himself reported a racial slur to human resources in the past, he told police. HR’s solution was to keep the two employees apart, and the complaint was closed, he said.

He also said that 18 months before the shooting, several employees of color banded together and went to human resources, citing racial remarks or harassment and “nothing really came of that,” he said.

For its part, the state’s Equal Rights Division said no complaints from Molson Coors employees were filed within the last year. It also said last year that Ferrill had never filed a complaint with the brewery.

Citing federal privacy laws, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year told the Journal Sentinel it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of employment discrimination charges. But Molson Coors last year said there were no active race-based discrimination or harassment complaints with the EEOC.

Molson Coors says it is working to reform its culture and address the discrimination issues.

Leaders must listen to workers, look at core values, expert says

“We’ve started doing, frankly, a lot of listening to our own employees,” Collins told the Journal Sentinel this month.

The company has held focus groups and employee town halls on diversity and inclusion, and staff are sent quarterly surveys about the efforts.
Jackson said listening is a key first step. It’s important for leaders to hear and understand the experiences of those who have faced discrimination at the company.

But an organization also must look at its core values, Jackson said. What a company values will drive its decision-making going forward.

If the organization doesn’t truly value creating an inclusive workplace, “the values will limit possibility, and that’s where we stall, mostly, in our society,” he said.

Collins, from Molson Coors, said the company is committed to diversity and inclusion for the long run.

“What counts at the end of the day is that people wake up and come into work feeling good that they can bring their whole self to work, that they’re not just welcomed but they’re included as part of our culture and part of our workplace,” he said.

Molson Coors’ value of putting people first “can’t just be words on a poster in a hallway,” Collins said. The company has instituted training programs and has created leadership development and internship programs for people of color, among other initiatives, a spokesman said.

After the shooting, Molson Coors hired a consulting firm, Korn Ferry, to conduct a review of its policies and practices. Collins said the company has already implemented some of the recommendations, such as giving all employees diversity and inclusion education and placing a greater emphasis on the skills needed to be inclusive leaders.

Molson Coors’ executives, Collins said, are working to make sure “people know that they can raise any questions or concerns, that they’ll be investigated, they’ll be acted upon.”

Within the last year, Molson Coors also pledged to increase the number of people of color in salaried roles by 25% by the end of 2023.

The company has also touted its goal to spend $1 billion with diverse suppliers over the next three years.

If the supplier goal is achieved, it could be “huge,” Jackson said.

Businesses owned by women and people of color often don’t get opportunities to be part of supply chains of major companies like Molson Coors, he said.

Collins said he is confident the work underway now will continue.

“It’s a commitment that we’ve made. I believe that people will hold us accountable for following through on that,” he said.

As pandemic endures, La Follette staffers focus on personal connections, community

February 15, 2021   |   By Lily Gray and Lauren Laib, The Cap Times


Weekly check-ins have become a staple for La Follette High School’s Minority Services Coordinator John Milton. With students learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Milton serves as a mentor, video calling up to 40 students per week.

“Basically my job was created a while back to help students of color stay focused on high school graduation and going into college,” Milton said, “by building self-esteem and building community and motivating them.”

Like many educators in Madison, Milton’s job has shifted since the pandemic began. In addition to helping students of color remain focused on academics, Milton now works to ensure his students’ overall well-being. This comes in various ways — regular check-ins, virtual Black Student Union meetings and being available for his students whenever they need him.

“The need is so great right now that I can’t even tell you the depths of our work at La Follette… especially dealing with mental health,” Milton said. “Zoom has been helpful, but it cannot replace the interpersonal interaction.”

A chief concern for the Madison Metropolitan School District during the pandemic is preventing the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers from widening. Keeping students involved with school through such personal outreach and social-emotional support is critical, educators say.

One of Milton’s mentees, sophomore Yoanna Hoskins, describes Milton as a second counselor.

“He is really passionate about all the kids he sees and he tries to make school a better place,” Yoanna said.

Yoanna is a member of the Black Student Union and the PEOPLE Program, which helps low income and first generation students prepare for college academically, financially and culturally. After graduation, Yoanna hopes to attend Yale, and has been working with Milton to look at scholarship opportunities.

Targeting the achievement gap

La Follette High School is home to 1,580 students in grades nine through 12, sixty-three percent of whom are students of color. The two largest demographics are students who identify as Hispanic/Latino and Black, at 25 percent and 21 percent of the student body, respectively.

Evidence of La Follette’s achievement gap can be found in students’ college readiness scores. Just 10% of students of color are ready for college math, compared to 29% of students overall. Scores are similar for college readiness for reading, with 10% of students of color ready and 28% of the overall student body ready.

These numbers are from 2018-2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Educators believe the pandemic has worsened the achievement gap.

“The achievement gap is very real,” Milton said. “It’s really prevalent right now in regards to those who have and don’t have… WiFi.”

Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, works with MMSD and 25 other school districts to eliminate the educational achievement gap that exists in schools.

According to Hafner, internet access, home support, the quality of teaching, and degree of engagement all have a great effect on the success of remote learning.

La Follette, and other schools in MMSD, provide free ChromeBooks for all students. Additionally, schools are providing hotspots for students without internet access.

Providing social-emotional support

La Follette’s efforts to mitigate COVID-19’s effects on the achievement gap are not all academic or technology based. La Follette is also putting a strong focus on the social-emotional aspect of student life.

One way in which they are achieving this is through their mentorship program, where students are paired with a La Follette teacher or administrator.

“This virtual mentor, it’s helping us build relationships and (students) can vent to us,” said La Follette Principal Devon LaRosa. “I think that makes us as in-person and real as we can be in this virtual world.”

LaRosa also called the program a “huge connection point” for students and mentors, who are also positively affected by the program.

“We have teachers that have a good relationship with students, but now it’s more important to build that relationship than, they might not be getting that A+,” Milton said. “How can they get that student to survive in these crazy times?”

Valeria Moreno-Lopez, a freshman at La Follette, notices the focus on social aspects of school through the difference between remote learning from March (2020) to now. Lopez said virtual face-to-face interaction through Zoom classes is more prevalent this year compared to pre-recorded classes or discussion forums, allowing for more social interaction.

Yoanna agreed.

“I find it better now because we have Zoom classes, so we can actually ask the teacher in person. We can hear their voice,” she said.

LaRosa said that part of the holistic approach is being creative in how to interact with students.

Teachers and administrators also have been reaching students through their “Lancer of the Month” program.

The Lancer of the Month is a student who is recognized for “taking care of business and getting their work done, or doing notable things, so then they get mailed a gift card to their house,” LaRosa said.

The reason for this program? LaRosa said they’re “trying to come up with different ways to get kids to know that we are here for them and still celebrate them in this COVID world.”

Milton hopes that this holistic approach continues even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“During this time,” Milton said, “the things that I’ve found to be very valuable is the interpersonal, for teachers, students and parents.”

Using those interpersonal skills are vital for students and adults alike, he said — to not shy away, rather, embrace tough conversations about the issues that matter, such as the achievement gap.

“We have to have more honest conversations,” Milton said. “If we all can sit down at the table, break some bread together and just have those conversations and say, ‘Here is how I feel in that situation,’ and have a better understanding, I think slowly but surely we can change things.”

Celebrating innovators who shaped workforce development

February 12, 2021   |   By Carrie Rosingana, Lansing State Journal

From Lansing State Journal

As we celebrate Black History Month, I would like to celebrate the work of Black innovators and professionals who have integrally shaped our work in workforce development. Today, we celebrate just a few and hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the many contributions beyond this column.

Let’s start with a truly under-celebrated individual in our industry. Dr. Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr. is among the first nationally recognized Black economists, and his contributions to workforce development are broad and deep, dating back to the early 20th century. According to Black Past, “Harris was highly respected for his work that focused primarily on class analysis, Black economic life and labor to illustrate the structural inadequacies of race and racial ideologies.” From the 1920s to 1950s, he authored books and thought-leadership pieces on labor movements, labor trends and economic reforms that would lead to a workforce more inclusive of Black people.

By flipping the too-common question of why Black students struggle academically from what is wrong with Black children, to asking what is right, Ladson-Billings continues to challenge schools, administrators, teachers and pedagogical norms to create equitable education systems.

Just down the road from us, as Western Michigan University’s ninth president, Dr. Edward B. Montgomery brings to our home state a deep background in economics, including a wide range of experiences within the United States Department of Labor, with whom CAMW! works closely. He is now shaping equity and college access for Michigan’s students, telling the Western Herald when he started at the university in 2017, “University is both about education and knowledge, but it’s also about character and finding something that will sustain you as a citizen, and as a human being for the rest of your life.”

And there’s more history in the making to celebrate: A modern pioneer advocating for women in STEM, Dr. Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe co-founded the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics, and founded WISER, the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race, where she also serves as president.

“This profession is what we make it… therefore, it’s going to take all of us to be responsible to make it a better profession,” she said on a recent Women in Economics Podcast. CAMW! echoes this sentiment. We actively partner with Women in Skilled Trades, an organization that provides resources, training and advocacy to women interested in exploring and accessing careers in the construction trades. And our Capital Area IT Council, under the leadership of executive director Jordan Davis, localizes Sharpe’s focus by facilitating a Women in IT Peer Group, among other efforts to help educators and employers diversify the IT workforce in greater Lansing.

And today, CAMW! continues to work to dismantle structural barriers to achieve an equitable workforce. We strive to carry on the work innovators like Harris fought so hard to have heard and respected. Through programs such as the Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope. Program and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program we look to break down barriers that disproportionately affect our Black clients and provide access to education, financial supports, training and other resources to help reduce wage and wealth inequities.

Similarly, all of us in workforce and talent need to know and understand that educational resources and college access are pillars to ensure equitable access to career opportunities for Black Americans. Through dozens of partnerships, initiatives and programs, we work to ensure everyone in our region has access to quality education. By embracing Ladson-Billings’ challenges of antiquated thought processes, we can be more effective and supportive in reducing racial disparities in post-secondary enrollment.

At CAMW!, we believe college IS for everyone, and we believe “college” is any post-secondary education beyond high school. Post-secondary education not only prepares individuals for careers in high wage, in-demand careers, but in turn, it lifts our communities and strengthens our workforce. Montgomery’s contributions to one of our state’s major universities are history in the making.

Today, I celebrate a mere four professionals of the countless Black individuals whose contributions to economics, education and workforce development impact the work we do every day. Because of these industry leaders, we continue to provide programs and participate in partnerships that increase access to education, training and work for Black individuals. It is an honor to continue their work on the ground throughout the years, and next week I look forward to celebrating those making an impact locally.

COVID-19 shows why it’s time to finally end unpaid college internships

February 9, 2021   |   By Matthew T. Hora and Mindi Thompson, The Conversation

​From The Conversation

Unpaid internships are often seen as an important rite of passage for college students. And with good reason. Studies have found that students acquire new skills and networks that enhance their job prospects.

In the years just after graduating from college, students who have an internship are 15% less likely to be unemployed and earn 6% more than students who did not. Simply put, an internship is widely viewed as a “must-have” experience for college students.

However, as researchers who study how students transition from college and into the workforce, we note that it is clear that asking college students to work for free is problematic. We believe the value of unpaid internships is even more questionable due to the economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides the legal and ethical questions of not paying people for their work, unpaid internships also favor students from affluent families. The reason is that they can afford to forgo a paycheck and the high cost of living in big cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., where many internships are located.
For some observers, like the legal scholar Jessica Curiale, unpaid internships have effectively created a “class divide.” This divide is due to the fact that low- and middle-income students often cannot afford to pursue unpaid internships, which adds to the challenges these students already face in graduating and gaining access to well-paying jobs

Class divide

But during a pandemic marked by an economy with continuing uncertainties and layoffs, these longstanding problems are even worse. Consider that students today must deal with the constant stress of a deadly virus. They also must face isolation wrought by constantly changing campus policies and online coursework.

On top of that, they must figure out how to pay for their grocery, rent and tuition bills.
At the same time, 40% of college students lost an internship, job or job offer in the spring of 2020. Also, nearly 60% of college students experienced food insecurity or homelessness in early 2020, worsening these two longstanding and widespread problems in higher education.

Pandemic problems

Making matters worse is the fact that many students will soon be graduating into an economy with high unemployment, which historically is linked to lowered prospects for earnings, advancement and future employment.

These problems are leading some students to worry whether their hard work and loans will result in not just their dream job, but any job.

Should the COVID-19 pandemic represent the end of unpaid internships? And if the answer is yes, then can government, employers and philanthropists fully fund all internships for students in college?
Some unpaid internships are technically legal if they are primarily an educational experience. But based on current conditions, we contend that the very notion of unpaid work is indefensible.

Ways to pay

This is no small problem. An analysis of 675,594 internship postings in 2019 revealed that 71% did not list any pay.

It could be that those postings simply lacked information about compensation in job descriptions. However, data from our national College Internship Study indicate that unpaid internships are prevalent. In our survey of 3,809 students at 13 schools, 43% of the student interns had an internship that was unpaid.

Research on unpaid internships also shows that these positions tend to be concentrated in certain majors and jobs. A University of Georgia study found that political science, journalism and human development majors were more likely to pursue unpaid internships than their counterparts in business or agricultural programs.

In our own research, we found that 76% of unpaid interns are women and that 55% intern at nonprofits.

Below we propose three ways to make paid internships more plentiful and available to all students.
As the nation’s largest employer and host to legions of interns in Washington, D.C., the federal government is in a unique position to send a message to employers across the nation that interns must be paid for their work.

1. Ban unpaid internships in the federal government

This is precisely what U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, intended when she announced in 2018 that all interns in her office would be paid US$15 an hour. The cause has since been taken up by other Capitol Hill offices and Pay Our Interns, a nonprofit that is seeking to increase paid internships.

To begin funding these government positions, Congress and the Biden administration could allocate funding in upcoming stimulus packages for college students to work as paid interns in federal, state and local government offices. Efforts should be made to find other sources of funding to pay interns over the long term.
Creating tax breaks and grant programs is especially important because many potential hosts of interns, especially small businesses and nonprofits, struggle to allocate staff time or resources to adequately support them, whether or not they’re paid.

2. Create tax breaks and grants for employers that hire student interns

With many state and local government budgets drained by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funding may be required to allow state governments to convert unpaid positions in state agencies into paid internships.
Nonprofits regularly bring unpaid interns on board for weeks or months at a time. Many nonprofits have also been hit particularly hard during the pandemic.

3. Fund paid internships at nonprofits

Funding paid internships at nonprofits would help them weather increased demand for their services, while also reducing the overall number of unpaid positions.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen inequality in society, ending the use of unpaid interns is one way to help turn things around.

Renowned educational theorist, teacher educator to lead Georgia Southern 2021 Fries Lecture

January 14, 2021   |   By Georgia Southern University

Georgia Southern University

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D., renowned pedagogical theorist, teacher educator and author, will present the 2021 Norman Fries Distinguished Lecture, hosted by Georgia Southern University’s College of Education.

The lecture will take place virtually via Zoom on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

In her lecture, “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Educating Past Pandemics,” Ladson-Billings will discuss how pandemics provide opportunities for revisioning and reimagining culturally relevant teaching practices. She suggests that instead of “getting back to normal,” it is time to get on to new and more equitable ways of educating all students and creating a more democratic society.

Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also served as the 2005-06 president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with Black students. She also investigates critical race theory applications to education. She is the author of critically acclaimed books The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children and Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms, as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters.

Former editor of the American Educational Research Journal and a member of several editorial boards, Ladson-Billings’ work has won multiple scholarly awards including the H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Palmer O. Johnson Outstanding Research Award. She is a 2018 recipient of the AERA Distinguished Research Award and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018.

The annual Norman Fries Distinguished Lectureship series began in 2001. It is funded by an endowment in honor of Norman Fries, founder of Claxton Poultry. In his more than 50 years of business, Fries built the company from a one-man operation into one of the largest poultry production plants in the U.S. Past Fries lecturers include David Oreck of Oreck Vacuums, South African apartheid author and lecturer Mark Mathabane, NASA director James W. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Gordon S. Wood, Nobel Prize laureate William D. Phillips, Ph.D., bestselling author Susan Orlean, concussion expert Dr. Russell Gore, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Network chief operating officer Carol Sawdye. For more information, visit

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers approximately 140 different degree programs serving almost 27,000 students through 10 colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit

Taking Action: Advancing Social Justice through the Transformation of International Schools

January 7, 2021   |   By Mariana Castro and Christina Nelson, The International Educator

The International Educator

As we write this from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, with its wintery snowcapped buildings and frozen lakes, we recognize that we are on the Native lands of the Ho-Chunk nation as well as other indigenous peoples. We begin by acknowledging the circumstances that led to their forced removal and honor who they are and their history. We also acknowledge our roles in this history and the circumstances that brought us to and keep us in positions of power.

As educators of international students, the acknowledgement of this history and our positionality is as important as reflecting on the feelings created by these acknowledgements. If our immediate reaction is guilt or irritation, then it will be impossible to use that recognition to compel us to do anything but feel shame and anger. When we recognize the allowances provided to us and the reasons behind them with the intention to have it shape our perspectives, we are more likely to see and interrupt the existing bias and institutional racism that impact our international communities.

In other words, acknowledgement is not enough. Reflection without action can lead to cynicism and to unrealized potential. Nevertheless, acknowledgement and reflection are the first steps towards action and a critical step in the journey of advocacy and activism in education. After all, action without reflection can become meaningless, lead to educator burn out, and even harm rather than help our students. For this reason, in this article, we invite you to engage with us in a specific type of reflection: critical reflection. Critical reflection imparts change in our practice, our beliefs, and our values. It pushes us to action.

We want to explore institutional racism in terms of the systemic barriers, the policies and practices that lead to unequal access and to exclusion. John A. Powell, professor of law and director of the Othering and Belonging Institute (University of California, Berkeley), suggests the opposite of exclusion is not inclusion. Inclusion can be interpreted as an invitation to participate in the dominant culture. For example, inclusion at a prestigious school or university might look like this: “You are welcome into our school as long as you behave like us, talk like us, be like us.”

Powell proposes belonging as the opposite of exclusion. Belonging “…means that your well-being is considered and your ability to help design and give meaning to […] structures and institutions is realized” (Powell 2012, p. 5). In other words, belonging invites the system to change to accommodate individuals and not the other way around. In an international school, for instance, an example of inclusion could be inviting students who are part of the local community and identifying curricular and pedagogical ways to support their learning.

To help us engage in critical reflection on the institutional racism present within our international communities, we encourage you to ponder these three questions with us:

  • Where do you see injustices masquerading as good intentions in your international school community?

Identifying injustices is not as simplistic as searching for a smoking gun. It is not a search for “individual bad actors intentionally doing bad things with nothing but racial animus on their minds” (Obasogie 2016). While it is important to identify the injustices that are clearly unfair, it is just as important to identify those injustices that may occur despite our good intentions. An example of this practice in international schools could be hiring only “native” English-speaking teachers from particular countries. The school may have the good intention of providing excellent role models for language. Nevertheless, the ideology behind “nativeness” in any language is flawed because languages thrive and look differently depending on the context in which they are used (e.g., English used in Sydney, Australia versus English used in Singapore). Hiring only “native” speakers from certain countries sends the message that only certain variations of English are valued, which excludes others, and creates injustices in our schools.

  • What do you notice about the explicit and implicit ideologies and cultural and social norms that are valued by your international school community?

Just as fish are not aware of the water in which they swim, so we, too, are unconsciously swimming in the waters of our own ideologies and cultural and social norms. Internalized racism and implicit bias show up in our norms and ideologies, pushing back against belonging, propagating inequality, and marginalizing others based on the ways they live and express themselves. In some schools, there are norms that regulate salaries and promotions. Some of these norms reflect the value placed upon languages, nationalities, and cultures. Since these norms are based on shared ideologies by dominant groups, they are rarely questioned, but they exclude and create social injustices in school communities.

  • Where do you see exclusionary decision making in your school communities?

We all make decisions based on our life experiences, using what we already know and often including others who share similar life experiences, similar thought processes, and similar procedures to reach decisions. By excluding people with diverse backgrounds in decision making, we also exclude potential innovative approaches and keep people with shared backgrounds and ideologies in power. Symptoms of exclusionary decision making might include curricula that do not leverage students’ languages and cultures as valuable resources or a population of predominantly white educators that have grown up with English as their dominant language.

As you engage in advocacy and in the fight for social justice in international schools, we encourage you to keep critical reflection at the heart of your practice. We hope the questions we posed in this article inspire you to continue this work and to transform our international schools into sites of belonging.

The Humanities & Business Education In an Economic Crisis: A Podcast

January 5, 2021   |   By Aspen Institute

Aspen Institute

As colleges weigh whether to welcome students back to campus this fall, they do so under the burden of financial pressures on higher education that have been building for over a decade. Among these pressures is a question increasingly prominent in media: Given the rising cost of tuition, what is the return on investment of a college education? Since the last financial crisis, this question has often been used to set up a false choice between liberal arts education and career-oriented education in STEM or business. In this episode, we’ll hear why this based on a flawed understanding of “employability” in evaluating higher education, and learn why moving beyond the binary of liberal arts vs business helps students and even, democracy itself.

The Business 20/20 podcast is a series that explores the changing relationship between business and society from 1999 to today. Each episode unpacks a key event—from the Seattle WTO protests to the global financial crisis and beyond—to find insights for the future. Produced by the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program and hosted by Michelle Harven.

Click here.

CCWT releases report on internships at HBCUs

January 5, 2021   |   By WCER Communications

WCER Communications

The Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions, which is housed in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, has published a new research brief examining internships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The report, titled “What do we know about internships at HBCUs? A review of the literature and agenda for future research,” was authored by UW–Madison’s Matthew Hora and Jacqueline Forbes, with Deshawn Preston of the United Negro College Fund.

Hora is the founding director of the CCWT, a research scientist at WCER, and an assistant professor of adult and higher education with the departments of Liberal Arts and Applied Studies, and Educational Policy Studies. Forbes is a doctoral student in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

The research brief is described as follows in the abstract:

Internships and other high-impact practices (HIPs) that feature experiential learning are being increasingly promoted at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) as a way to support students’ career and academic success. In this paper we review the literature on what is known about HIPs and internships at HBCUs and how students’ racial identities have influenced interns’ experiences and outcomes. Our analysis finds little empirical research on internships at HBCUs and a general lack of in-depth and critical analysis on the ways that racial identity and the unique institutional cultures of HBCUs impact internships and Black student experiences. We then review contextual forces salient to Black interns’ experiences such as pervasive workplace discrimination, and theoretical frameworks that could inform future research on the ways that race, culture, institutional features and local “field effects” interact to shape student experiences and professional development. We conclude by outlining a research agenda for studying internships that foregrounds issues of racial justice, adopts elements of Bourdieu’s relational sociology, and investigates how the unique cultures of HBCUs influence how internships are designed, implemented and experienced.

The full research brief is available for download here.

Millions of ELL Students Face Prospect of In-Person, Federal Testing During COVID-19

January 5, 2021   |   By Corey Mitchell, Education Week

Education Week

Corrected: An earlier version of this article incorrectly included Florida among the states that develop and administer their own English-proficiency exams. Florida uses the ACCESS exam, which is developed by WIDA, one of the nation’s largest ELL testing vendors.

The disruption to in-school learning caused by the global pandemic this year has hit the nation’s 5 million English-language learners especially hard.

These students often lack access to dependable internet and technology, have non-English-speaking parents who struggle to support their remote learning, and have lost crucial access to teachers and classmates who have in prior years helped them develop their language skills.

Now, millions face yet another predicament: being asked to return to schools to take federally required English-language-proficiency exams amid the national surge in coronavirus cases.

That’s because WIDA, one of the nation’s largest ELL testing vendors, has concerns about the validity of a take-home test and students’ access to technology and the internet.

“My job as a test director, is to say that the score you get from our assessment means the same thing that it meant last year, that gives you the same information so that you can make a choice and decision about a student’s proficiency,” said H. Gary Cook, the senior director of assessment for WIDA. “I have a really hard time understanding how we can get a score that’s comparable to the score that’s not remote.”

Advocates in at least two states, Colorado and Florida, say it is unfair and potentially dangerous to ask English-learners—most of whom are Latino, Asian, and Black—to return to school buildings while COVID-19 cases sweep through their communities.

In both states, groups have urged the state education commissioners to postpone the start of testing season, which begins next month, until things are safe or make the test voluntary for families who are not yet comfortable with their children returning to school. National organizations for English-learner educators are also urging states to postpone or aggressively seek testing waivers.

In both states, groups have urged the state education commissioners to postpone the start of testing season, which begins next month, until things are safe or make the test voluntary for families who are not yet comfortable with their children returning to school. National organizations for English-learner educators are also urging states to postpone or aggressively seek testing waivers.

The reliance on in-person testing is “far too risky and potentially life threatening” and “raises serious discrimination concerns,” Jorge Garcia, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education, wrote this month in a letter to Colorado state Education Commissioner Katy Anthes.

Despite the requests, the Colorado and Florida departments of education indicated this week they will proceed with testing. States run the risk of losing federal funding if they fail to enforce federal standardized testing requirements.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states must use data from the exams to determine whether students are English proficient. Not offering the tests could hold back some students who are ready to exit English-learner status.

The push to delay or forego the English-proficiency testing is part of the larger debate this year over federal standardized testing requirements during the pandemic. Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has declined to waive testing requirements for the 2020-21 school year after granting states a reprieve in the spring as schools shut down nationwide.

Taking Out the Guesswork

The English-proficiency exams are required by state and federal law for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The scores indicate what level of English proficiency a student has reached and helps determine if students should stop receiving English-learner support services.

Determining whether ELL students still need support and when they no longer require it marks a critical juncture in their academic careers. Students who are deemed English proficient and pulled out of support services before they are ready can end up struggling in school. Taking longer to reclassifying students as English proficient could slow their academic growth and limit their access to higher-level courses that can prepare them for college and career opportunities.

States use the English-proficiency tests to take some of the guesswork out of the process.

Both states belong to the WIDA consortium, the organization that oversees the ACCESS for ELLs tests, which measure students’ English-proficiency in four domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

WIDA, which provides the ACCESS tests to 36 states, several United States territories, and agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Education decided in September not to offer a remote option for the test. Altogether, the consortium tests 2.1 million students annually, slightly more than 40 percent of the nation’s English-learner enrollment.

The tests will not have remote options this year because WIDA and its member states were not confident that all students would be able to take the test in its current format, and that students would have equal access to technology at home to complete the exam, said Cook.

There were also concerns that English-learner students’ parents, some of whom are not proficient English speakers themselves, would be unable to help with setting up and proctoring the test, said Jonathan Gibson, the director of consortium and state relations department at WIDA.

There were also concerns that English-learner students’ parents, some of whom are not proficient English speakers themselves, would be unable to help with setting up and proctoring the test, said Jonathan Gibson, the director of consortium and state relations department at WIDA.
For younger students, a remote test would have been especially difficult to carry out: the entire test for kindergarten students is paper-only and the writing test is paper-only for students in 1st through 3rd grade.

TESOL International Association, an organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, has also raised questions about the validity of tests given this year, especially the speaking portions: with students wearing masks in class, it could be more difficult for teachers to hear and understand what students are saying.

Advocates in Colorado argued that the test results may yield little useful information, given the amount of time that many English-learners have been away from in-person schooling.

The English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA21) consortium, which includes eight states, also will not offer a remote option for its English-proficiency test.

The consortium determined that remote testing was not a constructive use of “time given the pandemic circumstances,” Cathryn Still, the executive director of ELPA21, said in a statement provided to Education Week.

Advocates Push Officials to Tell Parents They Can Opt Out

While advocates in Colorado and Florida are pushing for a reprieve, many of the remaining states in the WIDA consortium will forge ahead with in-person testing, allowing for flexibility in the testing schedule by either delaying the start of testing or extending the period where students can take the exam. Testing has already begun in Montana and Department of Defense schools.

In response to concerns about health-and-safety protocols, WIDA developed guidelines on how to administer the ACCESS tests during the pandemic. While having data to gauge how students progressed or regressed is valuable, Cook acknowledged that requiring students to return to class does carry risks.

In Colorado and Florida, advocates are asking the states to communicate to parents that they can opt their children out of taking the test. While the state could face penalties for not offering the test, students cannot be punished for skipping the test.

Advocates asked in their letter to Florida state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to inform parents that “those students who elect not to take the tests will not be disciplined, punished, or otherwise sanctioned for opting out of the tests.”

Illinois is among the states that pushed back the start of testing in response to community concerns. The state’s Board of Education this week announced plans to delay the opening of its spring assessment window, ensuring that no students will take a federally required assessment, including ACCESS, until mid-March at the earliest. In previous years, the state testing window for ACCESS typically ran from mid-January through mid-February.

California, home to about 1.1 million English-learners, will offer remote and in-person testing options for its annual English-proficiency exam, the English Language Proficiency Assessment for California, also known as ELPAC. Most of California’s 6 million public school students are still learning from home—and some school districts have not set a timeline to resume in-person instruction. More than 40 percent of public school students in the state speak a language other than English at home.

California, home to about 1.1 million English-learners, will offer remote and in-person testing options for its annual English-proficiency exam, the English Language Proficiency Assessment for California, also known as ELPAC. Most of California’s 6 million public school students are still learning from home—and some school districts have not set a timeline to resume in-person instruction. More than 40 percent of public school students in the state speak a language other than English at home.

Like California, the states of Arizona, Texas, and New York develop and administer their own English-proficiency exams. Officials there did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

What did we learn? Gloria Ladson-Billings is not excited about ‘going back to normal’

December 28, 2020   |   By Yvonne Kim, The Cap Times

From The Cap Times

In April, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy published a series of essays, including one titled “The pandemic is a portal.”

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality,” Roy wrote in Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

This idea has been the year’s biggest takeaway for Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus, author and education researcher. The COVID-19 pandemic is a portal, she said, for educators in Madison and across the country to rethink how they teach.

Ladson-Billings’ year has been busy, from hosting virtual talks and professional development sessions to a podcast training educators in Scotland. This fall, she was named one of ten distinguished Hagler Fellows at Texas A&M University, where she eventually hopes to conduct research in person.

But much of her focus has remained local, as she collaborated with Mt. Zion Baptist Church on two projects to keep students engaged after the Madison Metropolitan School District switched to virtual learning.

“I’m not excited about ‘going back to normal,’ because normal was the place where all the failures were for the kids I’m concerned about,” Ladson-Billings said. “Going back to normal means going back to the lowest reading group, high rates of suspension, dropping out of school. I don’t want to do any of that.”

During the summer, she helped launch S²MARTLY in the Park, where educators held outdoor classes at Penn Park three mornings a week to help primarily Black students avoid a “summer slide.” Though the program included STEM-focused activities and lessons about prominent African Americans, Ladson-Billings said she was more concerned about students’ social and emotional needs.

“Kids are missing their peers. They’re missing interaction,” she said.

S²MARTLY in the Park then drew Ladson-Billings to a project to help local educators continue engaging students into colder weather. The School Without Walls program launched in September with about 50 students — five distanced classrooms of 10 students each — bringing their remote learning devices during school hours and receiving help from instructors.

Ladson-Billings is excited about technology, which she said will continue playing a bigger role in making sure students don’t go back to “normal.” Not only are parents more involved with their children’s education than she expected during the pandemic, but Ladson-Billings said students are adapting well, too. She recalled a conversation about online learning with a student in Baltimore, when she was surprised to hear him say, “Oh, I absolutely love it.”

“He says, ‘Well, you know, when the teacher gets on my nerves, I just turn her off. Then if she calls and asks where did you go?, I just say I had connectivity problems,’” Ladson-Billings said, laughing. “What that said to me is that here’s an environment where kids are taking control of their own learning. They don’t have that in face-to-face school; they just need to put up with stuff.”

Ladson-Billings analogizes the current state of education to a digital device: “When they stop working the way we want them to, they have to get reset.” One urgent step, she said, is rethinking the national approach to assessment and testing, which she discussed just this month on a three-hour Zoom call with the National Academy of Education.

“They’re all saying we don’t think we’re going to just do the same stuff we’ve been doing. We’re going to think differently about what it means to test kids,” Ladson-Billings said. “Education, schooling, has to get engaged in a hard reset … This is an opportunity and I just hope we don’t squander it.”

Wisconsin sees 9,600-student increase in homeschooling

December 28, 2020   |   By Scott Girard, The Cap Times

From The Cap Times

The number of students homeschooling this year rose by more than 9,600 after two consecutive years of growth in the hundreds.

The uptick to 26,641 homeschooled students comes as no surprise amid the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for education, including some districts remaining entirely virtual while others are entirely in-person.

Applications to homeschool had to be filed with the state Department of Public Instruction by Oct. 15, but the state was waiting to release the data until it also had final numbers from private schools “to get a complete picture,” DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher wrote in an email. But because of an update in how private schools report their enrollment, that data is not yet complete.

The delay means there are still unknowns about how many students are “missing” from the system, with a public school enrollment drop of more than 35,000 students to 818,922.

“We hope to have the private school enrollment information collected and finalized within the next several weeks,” Bucher wrote.

Other states have found thousands of students who did not enroll in public school nor any other form of schooling for the year, raising equity concerns. Earlier this summer, indications of a rise concerned Madeline Hafner, an associate scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, for the long-term consequences for public schools.

“As a parent, we all need to keep remembering we will get through this pandemic and it’s not about accumulating the most academic gain or even a typical academic gain,” she said in August. “It’s not a typical year, nothing is typical.

“It’s about keeping our social lives, our emotional lives intact. If we don’t keep supporting one another, one of the ways our communities support each other is through public schooling … if we don’t keep our eye on that prize I worry about what we will look like in a year.”

It’s also a concern for school district leaders worried about funding, as enrollment is a factor in the yearly allocation of state aid and a district’s revenue limit.

While the state’s largest districts saw the biggest increases by count, some smaller districts experienced major jumps by percentage. Whitefish Bay, for example, went from seven students in 2019-20 to 69 in 2020-21. The Merton Community School District had a 400% increase, from six to 30.

In Madison, which saw a more-than-1,000-student drop in enrollment, the number of students being homeschooled grew by 52% from last school year, 358 to 545. Nearby, the Verona Area School District saw its homeschooling population double from 52 to 104 and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District grew from 73 to 168.

The Kenosha (273 to 545), Racine (383 to 530) and Oshkosh (162 to 359) school districts also experienced large increases.

Madison School District and UW-Madison team up to tackle literacy inequality

December 15, 2020   |   By Elizabeth Beyer, Wisconsin State Journal

From Wisconsin State Journal

The Madison School District and the UW-Madison School of Education announced Monday the formation of a joint early literacy task force to analyze teaching methods for reading and make recommendations to the district to reduce achievement gaps.

The goal of the task force is to use literacy as a strategy to make sure all district students receive quality grade-level instruction.

Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said “reading wars” — a reference to a decades-old academic dispute over how best to teach phonics and reading — have been going on for years in the district, but now is the perfect time, amid the pandemic as well as the racial justice movement and following two successful district referendums, to begin to think about how the district can better support and educate all students.

“This is going to be our way of living up to those referendum promises we made in terms of trying to give all of our children the highest quality of education,” Jenkins said. “There have been some historical wrongs for African American children, for Latinx children, poor children, ELL children, special needs children” in regard to early literacy in public education.

“Right now is the time to do it. We’ve changed not only here in Madison but in the country and around the world in saying that we must make sure we remove any racist ideology about who can and who can’t have access to reading,” he said. “This is a fundamental right to every person, every child, and every adult to be able to read.”

The district has regularly met few expectations set by the state Department of Public Instruction in English language arts achievement. More than half of students in the district were considered below proficient in English language arts over the past three school years, according to DPI data. Only about 11% of black students, while more than 61% of white students score proficient or better.

The first meeting of the task force is slated for January. The district and UW-Madison hope to have recommendations from the group by June .

The task force plans to:

  • Analyze how the district currently teaches literacy, particularly early literacy, as well as data related to the effectiveness of the current teaching model.
  • Analyze the teaching methods of future instructors at UW-Madison’s School of Education in regard to literacy, with a focus on early literacy.
  • Review evidence-based, effective models to teach reading across all grade levels, and determine how to incorporate the models into teacher training.
  • Make recommendations to the district and the UW-Madison School of Education on how to implement steps to strengthen literacy in Madison schools as well as the School of Education.

The task force is a diverse group composed of 16 UW-Madison and district educators, administrators and community members who will explore best practices and research in teaching early literacy while focusing on anti-racist practices.

“We will get to work right away analyzing those recommendations and working together with the district so as they’re making changes in how they’re teaching reading, we’ll be making changes in how we prepare future educators,” UW-Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess said.

At the beginning of the year, DPI made a rare statement on how teachers across the state should teach children to read, saying phonics should be used in an “explicit and systemic” manner after remaining largely silent on the decades-long debate. Their statement came amid widespread calls for the state agency to step in as Wisconsin maintains its reputation as the state with the worst disparity in reading scores between black and white students nationwide.

We are Listening! RERIC partners with rural Wisconsin

December 11, 2020   |   By Lynn Armitage, Wisconsin School News (Wisconsin Association of School Boards)

Wisconsin Association of School Boards

View the pdf to see the article.

Madison School District should improve communication between 4K, kindergarten teachers, report finds

October 29, 2020   |   By Scott Girard

From The Cap Times

Better communication between 4-year-old kindergarten teachers and their 5-year-old kindergarten counterparts in the Madison Metropolitan School District could improve student outcomes in transitioning to kindergarten, a new report found.

A Madison Education Partnership research brief released this month outlines some of the challenges facing teachers during student transitions from 4K to elementary school and offers a host of recommendations to improve.

The district has 56 4K sites at a mix of school buildings, early care and education centers and Head Start programs around the city. Those sites feed the 26 elementary schools, providing a mix of relationships between staff at the two levels and limiting what information is normally shared as a student moves from one level to the next.

“It really blatantly shows some of the issues with a large school district and the difficulties with coordinating 56 sites of 4K across 26 elementary schools,” MMSD director of early learning Culleen Witthuhn said. “The dynamic of kids moving from one place to another is really, really clear when we talked about this transition report. We have some things in place, but I just don’t feel like that’s enough.”

Researchers spoke with 20 kindergarten teachers at six school sites and 13 4K teachers at seven sites in January and February to collect feedback on a variety of questions. It showed a lack of understanding from teachers in 4K and 5K at what their counterparts taught in the classroom, disagreements over what information would be most important to share and a lack of trust in how other teachers would use sensitive information.

Beth Graue, one of three authors of the research brief, said “4K and 5K still tend to operate in parallel lanes.”

“We aren’t taking advantage of the deep knowledge that could be shared across 4K and 5K, so people aren’t learning how to best support kids and families,” Graue said. “That doesn’t mean that great things aren’t happening, it means that I think we need to be more intentional in the way we set up equal opportunities for sharing information.”

Witthuhn agreed that it was important to learn from the research and come up with some sort of document to facilitate communication between 4K and 5K teachers.

“It’s not like the 4K and 5K teachers are right next door,” Witthuhn said. “You can’t do those techniques when you’re across so many sites. This research study, and then the creation of some type of transitional document that we would be able to… implement across the district in order to be able to share that information, is so important.”

The study found that 4K teachers located at elementary school sites generally had better relationships with their 5K colleagues and the information shared between the two was often deeper.

“In all the sites where 4K/5K shared the school, teachers spoke about the important relationships they developed with each other and their frequent informal conversations about children and families they knew would be staying with the school for the upcoming year,” the brief states. “5K teachers in various schools discussed how these partnerships were important in helping them connect with students and families, and better understand the 4K experience.”

Those 4K teachers at off-site locations, however, had a much different experience, with the brief saying they reported “little to no communication with MMSD 5K teachers, although many of them discussed their wishes to connect.”

The study recommended creating a “prototype” for sharing information about students, but stressed that even with a report of some kind, “4K and 5K teachers should engage in more interactions and opportunities to build trust and share sensitive information appropriately.”

“If the district chooses to provide opportunities for teachers to spend time with one another, it also will need to address the issue of compensation,” the report noted.

Another sticking point between teachers at the two levels was how to handle sensitive information. Some 4K teachers were hesitant to share some details about family background or health issues, as they worried about violating privacy laws. Some 5K teachers, meanwhile, said they did not want information that could create a bias in their mind before they got to know a student — even if it would inform their interactions with a student in the classroom or a family outside the school building.

Graue said those teachers should instead seek that information, while verifying it themselves as they observed the student in their own classroom.

“To me that’s like a doctor saying, ‘I don’t want to see your file, I’m going to diagnose you in this time we have in this office,’” she said. “I think that’s short-sighted.”

Witthuhn added that it’s important for 4K and 5K teachers to understand what lessons the other is teaching, especially the importance of play-based learning for young students. She’s hopeful that one lesson from the pandemic has been the importance of social-emotional learning, which is a focus at the 4K level while the 5K level is perceived as “very academic.”

“Get us back on the same page about this trajectory of 4K to 5K to first-grade, even second-grade,” she said. “When we talk about early education, it’s about birth through third-grade, it’s about how are we engaging students with all of their learning that they’re doing in order to keep them wanting to learn?”

Graue is hopeful that methods like teachers visiting students’ homes can expand and allow teachers to know their students and families better as the year begins.

“I think teachers are very used to using the (Ready, Set, Go conferences) as a telling, describing what the kindergarten was like … but it’s more about acclimating the family to the experiences of kindergarten,” she said. “What the home visit did was it asked teachers to use that first visit as a listening experience.”

While they evaluate the lessons from this report, Witthuhn and Graue are both appreciative of the relationship between MMSD and UW-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which partner to form MEP.

“We wouldn’t have that information to improve what we’re doing if we didn’t have that partnership,” Witthuhn said. “Then the district can take that information and say, 'how can we incorporate this into our day-to-day positions, careers, jobs to improve what we’re doing for students and families?'”