Media Mentions

Madison Community Schools Look to Be An ‘Extension of Home’

April 14, 2019   |   By Chris Rickert

Wisconsin State Journal

More than two and a half years into the Madison School District’s launch of “community schools,” there are signs that students and parents are benefiting from the expanded array of services the schools provide.

Less clear is whether such a wrap-around pedagogical approach — which largely aims to boost student success by boosting family stability — will result in measurable academic improvements.

District officials and UW-Madison researchers say it will likely take several years to see the full effects of a model that some advocates see as being as much about social justice as improving student learning, and that so far has cost district taxpayers relatively little.

The district spent $169,195 in 2016-17 and $195,640 in 2017-18 implementing the first two community schools, at Leopold and Mendota elementaries. About 35% of the total spent over the two years came from donors.

“You wouldn’t expect academic metrics to change in the first five, six years probably,” said Nichelle Nichols, who oversees the district’s Family, Youth and Community Engagement Department.

An analysis of test scores at Mendota and Leopold show slight improvements in reading and math proficiency from the year before they were converted into community schools, or 2015-16, to last school year, although attendance rates fell slightly and chronic absenteeism rose.

During a meeting of the School Board’s Instruction Work Group on April 1, board president Mary Burke said she was “shocked” by the increase in chronic absenteeism and reiterated her skepticism about the community schools effort generally.

“We cannot be all things to all people,” she said. “We are working with families that have very, very high needs.”

Measures of how parents, students and staff perceived the climates of the schools — including their safety and how engaged they are with students and families — also didn’t move much from 2015-16 to 2017-18.

Evaluations of the schools’ first two years by UW-Madison researchers laud the schools’ work to include parents and community members in the lives of the schools, and to provide varied programming and develop partnerships with local organizations.

But they also found that parents of color were underrepresented on community schools committees, black parents were less likely to have positive interactions with staff and rank-and-file teachers didn’t always have a good understanding of what the community schools model means.

Overall, Mendota appeared to have a better handle on the model and buy-in from parents and community members. After the loss of its first community schools coordinator, Leopold is in the process of “rebooting” the model this year, according to district officials.

‘Feels like home’

In Madison, the community schools model has been applied at poorer, more diverse schools at a time when the district is attempting to reduce it’s longstanding achievement gap between white students and students of color, and as the district struggles with a disconnect between its mostly white, middle-class teaching force and the district’s students and parents, who tend to be more racially diverse and poorer than Madison’s overall population.

Among the programs offered at Mendota is a food pantry open on Tuesdays and Thursdays that brings about 60 families per week to the school’s community resource room, where parents can also get help with financial literacy and finding housing.

On a Thursday earlier this year, the pantry had closed for the day when Marcus Jordan, 26, Diamond Tribble, 25, and their son Dayton, 6, a kindergartner at the school, showed up.

Principal Carlettra Stanford and community schools resource coordinator Sonia Spencer nevertheless welcomed them in to peruse the refrigerator and storage closet stocked with dry goods. Dayton spent much of the time working on a puzzle.

The couple have no car, so it’s good to have a pantry within walking distance, said Tribble, who was able to get a better job as a certified nursing assistant with help offered at Mendota.

“It’s real helpful,” Jordan said of the pantry. “It’s just stuff you need. Everything counts.”

Spencer said she wants families to see the school as “an extension of their home,” and Stanford said school officials “want them to know that this is their school.”

Tribble, at least, appeared to be buying in to that notion.

“If I’m going to have my kid in this school, I need to know everything that’s going on,” she said. “It feels like home (at Mendota). They actually welcome you.”

Stanford said social services for parents can have positive effects on their children’s academic achievement.

If services can help a parent get a better job with better hours, for example, she said, maybe that will help get the child to school on time.

‘Chance to shine’

Elsewhere in the building, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were rehearsing for the school’s performance of the Disney musical “The Aristocats.”

Mendota was one of four Madison elementary schools named in 2016 to the Disney Musicals in Schools program, which provides training and scripts and other materials for students and staff to do musical theater. Stanford believes the school’s status as a community school was key to winning the grant.

Fourth-grader Giselle Tlahuextl Toxqui, 10, said she wanted to be in the show “because I wanted to raise my spirits and not be afraid to sing.” Eleven-year-old fifth-grader Wilson Foueppe isn’t one for singing or performing in front of crowds but for three years running has been among the students who create props for the show.

“This is something for some kids where you have a chance to shine,” said first-grade teacher and show director Kathy Chamberlain. “For some kids, it’s just kind of that link we needed.”

“They’re definitely more focused,” fifth-grade teacher Rachel Mohrmann said of how participation in the show translates into work in the classroom. “It builds responsibility.”

Seeking other voices

Two of the UW-Madison researchers who evaluated the district’s community schools program, Gwen Baxley and Annalee Good, declined to say whether they thought the district was following best practices in community school creation, according to guidelines set by the national Coalition for Community Schools.

“It is important to note that there are mixed results with some schools,” Baxley said, but “research suggests that the schools that have been successful have been around a while.”

Community schools-like approaches have been around for decades, but the model itself started to gain in popularity about 20 years ago. The 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act encourages community schools-like initiatives.

Two aspects of the model — providing social services in school and, in part as a result, more time in school for children — are both important to the approach’s success, Baxley said, and “instruction needs to be high quality as well.”

“One of central tenets of community schools is around changing the power structures on whose voices are engaged,” Good said, as the structure of traditional schools “privileges white youth and families.”

Community schools require staff and administrators to reflect on racial bias in a school, Baxley said, and to take into account things such as who leads the school and the parent-teacher association, who has the most access to the principal and which children are getting into advanced courses.

Focused on priorities

Hawthorne and Lake View elementary schools are next on the district’s list for getting the community school treatment, and are spending this year determining what services they need and might be able to provide.

Needs will ultimately be narrowed down to three “priority areas,” said Lake View community schools resource coordinator Rachel Deterding. Hawthorne Principal Beth Lehman said that at Hawthorne, there will likely be one priority area each for students, families and staff.

The goal is to be a school that is a “hub of information and resources for students and their families,” Deterding said.

The Sun Prairie School District, in partnership with the city and community groups, has also been offering a variety of programs as part of its community school initiative, which got started at Westside Elementary and the district’s alternative high school, Prairie Phoenix Academy, in 2012 but stalled in 2014.

The program was renewed in 2016 when the district and city kicked in funding, and the district is seeing some associated, if preliminary, positive results. Math scores from spring 2018 were higher among community schools participants than non-participants, for example, and the percentage of Prairie students on track for on-time graduation increased from 42% in 2016 to 54% in 2018.

About $274,000 was spent on the program last school year.

Parental involvement

Among the other events held at Mendota has been a yearly block party that brings in some 1,500 people. Last year, the school focused on career development, with more than 70 employment organizations participating. Ten Mendota family members got on-site interviews and three people got full-time jobs, according to the school. Seven people also gained employment through Northside Planning Council’s Ready Set Go! job-training program.

A “beauty boutique” in December brought in 30 professional beauticians and barbers who cut or styled hair for more than 100 people.

Spencer said it often makes sense to pair something the school wants parents and children to do together, such as a parent-teacher conference, with something parents and children want or need, such as an activity or a flu shot clinic.

Chamberlain said that for the first time in 35 years of teaching last fall, she had 100% attendance at her parent-teacher conferences, and the school as a whole has seen conference attendance rise over the last three school years.

No classrooms reached the 100% mark in fall 2016, but two had by fall 2018, and the percentage of classrooms with at least 80% attendance had risen from 41% in the fall of 2016 to 72% two years later.

Ultimately, Stanford said the goal of community schools is not just improving academics or providing families with needed services.

She pointed to an effort run by Door Creek Church last year in which students helped put together care packages for people devastated by the 2016 earthquake in Haiti, and to a parent who gives carpentry lessons at the school once a month and whose classes are “always full.”

Then, she said, there were the two students who in January gave the money they earned shoveling snow to the school’s food pantry and the two students who in summer 2017 gave the $1,100 they earned from lemonade and ice cream stands to help fund new playground equipment.

“That’s how we know that students are really understanding what it means to be a community school,” Stanford said.

6 Reasons You Can’t Design Great Learning Games without Teachers

April 11, 2019   |   By Field Day Lab

From Medium | April 11, 2019

Want to know the secret ingredient that all great learning games have in common? Great teachers.

Teachers know the standards and requirements. They understand the limits of the classroom. And most of all, teachers really care about their kids.

We’ve worked with teachers from all across Wisconsin and beyond. Here are five reasons we would never design an educational game without them.

1. Teachers understand the pressures of the classroom
Let’s talk about this one with an example. Learning games need to be playable within a class period. Typical classes last 45–50 minutes. So how long do you think it should take to play an educational game?

If you guessed 40 minutes. . . well, we don’t blame you. We thought the same thing at first. Then we talked to the professionals.

According to teachers, it takes time to get organized. More time to introduce the game. Even MORE time to answer questions. And finally, teachers need to transition students out of class. That leaves 15–20 minutes for the game itself.

For game designers, this is crucial information. Without teachers, we might have ended up designing awesome games that nobody had time to play. Now, we make sure kids can play our games — or at least complete a level — within the first 15–20 minutes. That way, students feel a sense of accomplishment after playing our games, and teachers actually want to use them.

2. Teachers speak the language
Have you ever visited a country where you didn’t speak the language? Chances are, the local dialect was pretty different from what you found on Google Translate.

When it comes to the classroom, teachers are the locals. They know the vocabulary words that students are required to learn. They understand the language around certain topics.

We rely on teachers’ expertise to help us speak their language. This applies not only to in-game text, but also to website and promotional materials. Teachers look for classroom activities that match what they’re already doing. By working directly with teachers who teach specific topics, we are able to craft the language we use.

3. Teachers know the standards
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that teachers are under a lot of pressure. They need to cover the required curriculum, meet school goals, and match state and national standards.

We can try to imagine how this feels, but building games around our imaginary feelings is not a great design practice.

Instead, we listen. At the beginning of every game process, we spend a full day in conversation with teachers. They tell us where they see the gaps, the real needs. They explain what they’re looking for. This allows us to design games that will serve their needs and help them teach.

4. Teachers know kids
If you want to design a great game, you need to know your audience. What makes them laugh? What games are they playing? What do they get excited about?

Some of us at Field Day have kids ourselves. We felt like we were pretty in touch with kids’ media. But we haven’t heard half of what these teachers know.

That’s because teachers know kids. (Groundbreaking, right?) But seriously, teachers understand their kids’ age group better than anyone. They get constant insight into the depth and breadth of kids’ media.

5. Teachers help QA test
Educational games need QA testing at every stage of the design process. Luckily, teachers spend their days with the best QA participants possible — their students.

Teachers love to involve their kids in game design and testing. This gets them cool points with their students. And it gets us user data and feedback from hundreds of kids. It’s a win-win.

Kids play the game in class, and then teachers and kids fill out surveys. We look at the analytic data, line it all up, and make decisions about how to improve the game.

6. Teachers know how to teach
Learning games have a lot of boxes to tick. They need to be fun to play, and they need to teach specific learning goals. That means meeting kids right where they’re at.

If it sounds tricky, that’s because it is. Our university experts bring rich, cutting-edge content to our games, but they also have to deal with the “curse of knowledge.” (Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.) Basically, they’ve undergone such a radical transformation in their thinking that they can’t remember what it was like to be a beginner.

That’s where teachers come in. Teachers aren’t just subject matter experts. They’re experts on the subject at the level it’s being taught.

Personalized Learning Advice From a Learning Scientist: 5 Questions K-12 Leaders Should Be Asking

April 8, 2019   |   By Benjamin Herold

Education Week | Toronto

How can the science of learning help schools that are part of the personalized-learning movement?

Richard Halverson is glad you asked.

"This is a multi-functional model for schooling. Schools want to produce good outcomes, but they also want to invite student interest," he said. "The ideas from learning science can be good principles to build from."

A long-time professor of education leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Halverson led a team in 2015 that sought to document what personalized learning looked like in 20 of the state's public schools.  Most were traditional public schools, and some were charters. Most were working with a group called the Institute for Personalized Learning, housed at one of Wisconsin's regional education service organizations. None received grant money or extra resources to experiment with the new educational models. And some of the study participants were revamping their entire schools, while others were trying "school-within-a-school" experiments.

At the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, being held here, Halverson presented a paper Monday based on that work, titled "Taking a Learning Science Perspective to Understand Personalized Learning in Schools."

Are you a K-12 educator, administrator or policymaker interested in personalized learning?

Based on his presentation and an interview, here are five questions K-12 educators, administrators or policymakers should be asking:

1. How will you address learner outcomes AND learner interests?

"The policy pressure in recent years are much more towards generating learner outcomes," Halverson said. "But there's also a big motivational crisis in schools, and we need to figure out how to get students more interested in their own learning." 

Figuring out how to navigate that contradiction is key, he said. Some personalized-learning schools Halverson studied responded by placing students' interests at the heart of the educational enterprise. That meant inviting students to set their own goals for their learning, then allowing them to take control of how they pursued those goals (including everything from where they learned, to the pace at which they moved.)

In 2015, though, more common were schools that saw personalization as educators crafting for students a customized path through a set of adult-established academic standards.

The space in between those two approaches is "where a lot of personalized-learning schools now live," Halverson said.

The reality, he said, is "schools have to do both." 

2. Who is creating the learning pathways students are expected to follow?

This is where the rubber hits the road and schools' priorities and choices are really laid bare, Halverson suggested.

"If you're focused on standards-based performance, a lot of times schools will try to get diagnostic data on students' skills and ability levels, then construct learning paths for them," he said.  "If you're going other way, and focus on what students care about, those paths are more co-constructed."

There are tradeoffs with each approach, Halverson said. Focusing entirely on student interests, for example, might improve engagement, without raising test scores.

In response, Halverson said, many schools are trying a kind of hybrid approach.

"I've seen a lot of schools keep math more on the standards-based model, with a fixed curriculum, where teachers intervene with mini-lessons where kids are struggling," he said. "But they also open up the social studies and science curriculum, for example, to allow for more projects and community-based work."

3. How do you build relationships to support students in following a given learning pathway?

"This is the core insight we've had so far," Halverson said. "Building relationships with students so that conversation becomes the main form of assessment is the heart" of learning-science-inspired personalized learning.   

That means building as much interpersonal contact between teachers and students into the school day as possible, making that interaction the "heart of the instructional process," he suggested. Often, that means completely reconfiguring the school day. It's worth it, Halverson said.

"I can tell what you understand by talking to you. Everything else is a proxy," he said. "If I have regular time to check in with you, and you tell me what you know and are interested in, we can construct a learning pathway together, and I can also tell the progress you're making." 

4. To what extent is learning grounded in real-world activities?

This is one of the biggest challenges personalized-learning schools face, Halverson said. The learning-sciences research is rich with examples of why this matters and how to do it, he said. But such work is expensive, hard to coordinate, and often difficult to fit into existing school structures.

"I think personalized-learning schools have a lot to learn from researchers in this area," Halverson said. "All students live in families, cultures, communities. Anchoring learning in those resources that young people bring to school makes the learning come alive."

5. How do you put different technologies together to meet your needs and achieve your goals?

This is another biggie, Halverson said. 

Personalized-learning schools are often using different technologies for different purposes: Google's G Suite for everyday instruction and administration, for example, mixed with adaptive learning software for specific subjects, a student information system to track data on student progress, and new digital media for student creation and connection.

Stitching all that together into a coherent ecosystem has huge potential rewards, he said. Without tech, it's basically impossible for an average high school teacher seeing 150 students per day to keep track of each students' individual learning pathway and progress.

But until the "student-relations management systems" that are just now being conceptualized and built really take off, he said, it's going to be a messy, ad-hoc process. 

And if K-12 leaders truly do want to improve both student outcomes and student interest, they'll be wise to recognize and appreciate that.  

"It's important that [administrators and policymakers] pay attention to the ways that is orchestrated at the school level," Halverson said. "When districts don't understand how people at the school level are building these systems to meet their needs, they end up making decisions that are at odds with successful work happening at actual schools."

To Chair or Not to Chair?

March 19, 2019   |   By Jerlando F.L. Jackson

From The Chronicle of Higher Education | March 19, 2019

Every spring, a set of little-known deliberations — formal and informal — play out in many an academic department about who should serve as the next chair. The scope of the discussions varies based on the institutional process. Some departments conduct a national search to select a full-time chair, while others take an internal "it’s your turn" approach. The latter is how I ended up as chair.

The summer before starting my 19th year on the faculty, I was immersed fully in growing my research laboratory — managing a variety of projects, replacing and training new staff, starting a national study, outlining a book. Not to mention, I was teaching classes, advising graduate students, supervising dissertations, serving on committees. In short: I was already busy.

When I heard the words, "Would you consider being chair next year?," all sorts of thoughts ran through my head:

A nearly audible "Whyyyyyyyy meeeeeeeeeee?"
"No way. I am living my ‘academic best life’!"
"I thought someone was already pegged for this?"
"Do I have to quit my research?"
And, "There is no way in the world that I can do it and run my lab."

I had recurring visions of being chained to a desk.

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Once my initial panic subsided, I realized that my colleagues’ request was not unreasonable. After all, I’d been in the department for 18 years; it was natural my name would come up eventually in the who-should-serve-next debate.

Regardless of the chair-selection process, the choice has important implications for the department. Just as students consider whether to remain in courses or drop them, faculty members must consider the many reasons they should — or shouldn’t — be department chair. The process is both introspective and long-range, requiring you to consider how your skill set and your career trajectory align with the chair’s role.

Why might a faculty member aspire to be chair? Perhaps it represents a natural progression of service after you chaired the largest, most important committee in the department. Alternatively, maybe your research ideas have ebbed and you’re looking to make a different, yet important, contribution to the department. Possibly, a bump in pay and a reduced teaching load seem attractive in return for assuming the chair’s job. And let’s not forget the "unthinkable." You actually might aspire to a senior academic leadership role, such as dean, provost, or president, and view the chair’s position as your first step up the administrative-career ladder.

In my own case, while I didn’t seek the job, I realized that my colleagues saw value in my taking a turn. So I started to consider what it would mean for me, my lab, and for the department if I became chair.

I turned my attention to the most important question: Can I do this job well? Seeking an answer, I initiated a two-week discovery phase. First I talked with my family and my laboratory staff, all of whom would be affected in myriad unknown ways if I said yes. Next I spoke with former chairs, the department’s office manager, staff members in the dean’s office, and colleagues who headed departments at other institutions to gain insights into the role, function, and responsibilities of the position.

My discovery phase revealed seven key considerations that guided my own decision-making process. I offer the seven criteria here to help other faculty members faced with their own "to chair or not to chair" conundrum:

Nature of the appointment. What percentage of time will you be expected to devote to the department-chair role? For example, is it a 50-percent appointment? Does the position come with summer duties, and how does the summer appointment differ from the academic year? Does the post include any course-release time from teaching? Is the chair’s job a full-time position, disguised as a part-time one? How many years will your term last? Is it a one-time stint?

Workflow. This involves the annual budgeting process and other paperwork duties. How much of the workflow is handled automatically by the department’s support staff? How much is specific to — and/or initiated by — the department chair?

Job benefits. What benefits come with the position? A temporary boost in your base salary? An expense account? Do you have access to staff support to help you manage the increased demands on your schedule, and student-research assistants to enable you to maintain your research activity? Are there other forms of support provided for the chair, such as leadership coaching or professional-development opportunities?

Responsibilities and commitments. What are the daily and weekly schedules of the department chair? Are there "desk time" expectations for the job — meaning set hours in which you must be in the department office? What established and regularly scheduled meetings — committees and administrative councils — will require your attendance? What parts of the department chair’s schedule are inflexible? 

Major projects. What are the known big-ticket items — hiring, retirements, program certifications, accreditation, budget reductions, curriculum overhaul — on the agenda during your stint as chair for the next three-to-five years?

Office environment. Who really runs the department? Will the regular staff members be open to your work style and approach? Or will you have to acquiesce to their approach?

Documents to review. What materials are essential to read during your discovery phase? Items you might want to study: policies and procedures, state-education regulations, campus handbooks, reports, and (definitely) budget reports and forecasts.

After I took some time to consider all of that information, I came to two main conclusions about my own foray into administrative duties.

First, the ingredients for me doing the job well were in place. Namely, my experience leading an externally funded unit on the campus, my knowledge of the budgeting process, my familiarity with the university and its key players, and my 18 years of lived experience as a faculty member here bode well for me in the position. Also, I would have plenty of help in both the department and my laboratory. The department has a highly skilled and knowledgeable support staff. Likewise, the staff members in my lab are experienced enough to manage commitments even if I am less available.

Second, to be honest, I came up with more reasons to say no than to say yes. All of those reasons were completely self-serving. Until being posed the question, research was the focus of my career, and a stint as department chair was not going to help me advance my scholarly agenda. It was not going to help me write a book, finish my various studies, apply for new research grants, or organize international research gatherings.

In spite of the preponderance of evidence pushing me toward no, I said yes. And I did so for one reason alone: to be a good departmental citizen.

Collegiality is only a reality when all members of a department share in carrying out its responsibilities and obligations. For 18 years, someone other than me served as the chief caretaker of the department — ensuring that my fellow faculty members and I had the freedom to follow our intellectual interests. It is unfair when only "some" colleagues sacrifice time away from their own interests for the greater good.

The idea of not taking my turn in this crucial role, purely because of its inconvenience to my career, made me uncomfortable.

Consequently, I put my "academic best life" on pause to be a good departmental citizen. Now that I have been in the role for just shy of a year, it reinforces the reason I said yes. In order to approach the position with the appropriate temperament, any motivation other than being a good citizen would have yielded disappointment as the role involves a daily balancing of the interests of your department against institutional priorities.

Jerlando F.L. Jackson is a professor of higher education and chair of the educational leadership and policy analysis department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is also director and chief research scientist at the university’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory.

Astronomy Society Pushes for Diversity in US PHD Programmes

February 21, 2019

From Nature International Journal of Science

February 21, 2019 | By Kendall Powell

WCER researcher Christine Pfund, director of the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER), is one of the 12 authors of the AAS report described in this article.

Astronomy Society Pushes for Diversity in US PhD Programmes

Task force hopes that a report on boosting participation by under-represented groups will ‘pull the alarm cord to say we can’t continue doing things the way we have been’.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington DC wants those in charge of doctoral programmes in the field to work harder to recruit and retain students from under-represented groups. It aims to boost participation by women, minority ethnic groups, people of sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities or who are neuroatypical, and under-represented socioeconomic groups, among others.

The society, which represents 8,000 astronomers across 57 nations, offers recommendations in the final report of a task force on diversity and inclusion in astronomy graduate education1. Those suggestions include partnering with undergraduate programmes that produce many graduates from minority groups, and holding department-wide discussions about the barriers facing under-represented students for advancing to graduate study, and about how to make departments more welcoming to diverse students.

Keivan Stassun, an astronomer and the director of the Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and a co-author of the report, says that the society’s initiative is the broadest call made so far for diversity and inclusion in astronomy and astrophysics PhD programmes.

Between 2002 and 2012, students from under-represented minorities in the United States made up just 3% of astronomy doctoral students, even though they comprise 30% of the general population, the report finds. During that decade, no more than six US astronomy PhDs were awarded each year to members of under-represented groups.

The society has 1,620 graduate-student members and 500 undergraduate student members; together, these comprise about one-quarter of the society’s total membership. Women make up slightly more than one-quarter of the society’s membership, forming a demographic that is growing rapidly, but other groups that are under-represented in astronomy, such as African Americans and Latinos, make up only 5% of the membership.

“It was painfully obvious that waiting and hoping for progress in making astronomy inclusive wasn’t working,” says Megan Donahue, AAS president and an astronomer at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Evidence-based effort

US astronomy and astrophysics programmes award about 300 PhDs each year. Of those, only about one goes to an African American student and three to Latino/Latina students. These figures have not increased in the past decade, says Marcel Agüeros, an AAS board member who co-authored the report and is an observational astronomer at Columbia University in New York City.

Agüeros says that the society had been reviewing progress since publishing its last report on graduate education in 1996, and realized that diversity remained an outstanding issue. The AAS’s most recent report is based on peer-reviewed published studies whose findings have helped to increase diversity in US science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate education, says Donahue. She says that the AAS had pledged to incorporate evidence-based results in its recommendations.

The proposals also include input from experts in STEM graduate education. “AAS was committed to providing the strongest research-based set of recommendations to their members, which meant tapping the social scientists with the best current knowledge,” says Julie Posselt, an educational sociologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the senior adviser on the report.

Agüeros notes that although astronomy departments’ faculty-member rosters have become more diverse, a large drop-off in diversity occurs at the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies. The reasons, he says, include a lack of cutting-edge research opportunities at institutions serving undergraduates, and students’ unfamiliarity with astronomy career paths.

Better connections

The AAS says in its report that to attract higher numbers of qualified students who hold bachelor’s degrees in physics, astronomy and astrophysics, PhD-granting departments must build connections with institutions that serve minority groups. Those include historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and Native American and Indigenous colleges and universities, which produce large numbers of under-represented graduates.

There is power in such cross-institutional networks, says Posselt. “That power can be leveraged for serving the status quo,” she says, when faculty members might choose students who have graduated from prestigious universities or who are members of those faculty members’ own networks. “Or, networks can be more open and can be used to diversify graduate education”.

The report also advises dropping standardized graduate-study exams, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and physics GRE, from admissions decisions. Instead, it says, programmes should use a holistic evaluation rubric, which includes specific criteria for admission and clear definitions of what high, medium and low scores look like for those criteria. The report also includes a protocol for evaluating letters of recommendation, together with sample scripts for graduate-school interviews, as ways of diminishing the effects of confirmation bias and implicit bias in admissions decisions.

To retain under-represented graduate students, the report calls for robust mentoring relationships to be developed between faculty members and students or postdocs, and for departmental cultures to be made more accessible, welcoming and family-friendly. Donahue says that departments can make some easy changes straight away, such as ensuring that students and postdocs have at least one other mentor beyond their research supervisor, and providing bystander and bias training for all department staff members.

“AAS can pull the alarm cord for the community to say we can’t continue doing things the way we have been,” Agüeros says. “The argument for diversity is not controversial any more. We have to figure out how to make it happen.”

DPI to Launch Evaluation Toolkit Created by Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative (WEC)

February 18, 2019   |   By Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

From DPI-ConnectEd News

ACP Program Evaluation Toolkit

Monday, February 18, 2019

Thanks to educator feedback, there is now a tool for district and building leaders to systematically evaluate their Academic and Career Planning (ACP) programming. The ACP Toolkit* links the data inquiry process and qualitative tools so that schools can gauge the effectiveness of their ACP delivery programs.

The toolkit provides guidance for conducting an evaluation of ACP, along with a sample evaluation plan and question banks for surveys and stakeholder focus groups.

Combined with quantitative data in the Career Cruising educator CAMS portal and through the local regional economic development organization’s Inspire portal, users can investigate and analyze data questions.

Once the new Roster data is available in WISESecure later this year, districts will have even greater access to more information related to ACP activities that support college and career readiness such as dual enrollment, work-based learning programs, and Career & Technical Education course-taking.

Spring ACP training at each CESA will assist districts in making use of this data through a quality data inquiry process. Sign up for a spring training session now through the Academic and Career Planning Events web page.

For more information, visit the Toolkit: Evaluating Your ACP Program web page.

*Developed by the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative: WEC

Wolfgram Discusses Higher Education Access for Refugees in Wisconsin on Wisconsin Public Television

February 6, 2019

In a live interview with Wisconsin Public Television, Senior Researcher Matthew Wolfgram at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions discussed preliminary findings from his project, "Documenting Higher Education for Refugees in Wisconsin." Based on interviews and observations with refugee resettlement providers and educators who support the college goals of refugees, the research has identified barriers in policy and practice that block the path to higher education and better jobs for refugees resettled in Wisconsin. In the interview for Here and Now’s Noon Wednesday program, Wolfgram discusses these barriers to higher education for refugees, and how the current political and federal policy context impacts the work to support refugee resettlement in the state.

Hmong Sudents Consistently Feel Excluded, Unwelcome on Campus, New Research Finds

February 3, 2019   |   By Parker Schorr

Published in The Badger Herald

A student-led research project aimed at uncovering the experiences of Hmong students at the University of Wisconsin found all of its participants felt excluded and unwelcome on campus.

The HMoob American Studies Committee, a Hmong student activist group, partnered with the Center for College-Workforce Transitions to conduct the study. The group chose the name HMoob instead of Hmong to better reflect the history of Hmong Americans and to challenge the “Americanization” of the Hmong name, heritage and people.

Through interviews, participant observations and collection of syllabi and bias reports, the researchers found each of the 27 HMoob student participants felt excluded in white-dominated areas on campus. The participants identified residence halls, Grainger Hall, the Kohl Center, Camp Randall, Langdon Street and classrooms, including mainstream Asian courses, as spaces where they faced micro-aggressions and bias.

“Literally, like, white people have a place all over this campus, and then students of color have the Red Gym, each other’s houses and classes that are made for their people,” a participant told the researchers. “I don’t think Madison is welcoming to any student of color, especially if you’re an ethnic minority.”

Hmong Americans make up the largest Asian American population in America and in Wisconsin. Following the Vietnam War, more than 200,000 Hmong fled to Thailand, where they settled as refugees. More than 90 percent of these refugees have since resettled to the U.S., concentrating heavily in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

HMoob American enrollment at UW has been in decline since 2013. Whereas 373 HMoob students enrolled at UW in 2013, just 292 did in 2018. Madison College, meanwhile, has seen a steady increase in their HMoob population, which the researchers believe is due to barriers at UW — like rising tuition costs or a worsening economy.

These students also graduate at a lower rate than other students, with 72 percent graduating in six years compared to 84 percent for the general population. The researchers, concerned with unequal results for HMoob students and a lack of focus on the challenges facing them, said they have received and analyzed the first disaggregated data on the HMoob student population at UW.

HMoob students consistently reported feeling more comfortable in private spaces than public spaces on campus. Even the Multicultural Student Center, a space expressly for students of color on campus, received mixed opinions from participants. The participants said they only visited the MSC because the organizations they were apart of held events there.

Within the halls of the university and across Madison, the participants faced macro- and micro-aggressions that made them feel unwelcome. One participant said her freshman year neighbors would talk to her in a slow tone of voice, assuming she didn’t know or speak English. Despite being born in the U.S., they reported feeling like they did not fit in.

Though all of the participants reported experiences of bias, less than half reported the incidents. Some students thought the incident was not severe enough to warrant a bias report, while others distrusted how the university handled such reports. However, the students who reported the incidents felt supported by the university, prompting the researchers to investigate the disconnect between how the university acts and how it is perceived by HMoob students.

“UW-Madison strongly promotes inclusion and diversity … However that diversity framework celebrates these social differences rather than recognizing the social and racial inequalities on campus,” one of the researchers said. “If the university prides itself on diversity, then the university needs to address the racial inequalities that are happening here as well.”

The researchers highlighted several recommendations for how to lessen institutional bias and improve feelings of belonging for HMoob students on campus, starting with the need for more research.

While the 27 student participants provided rich data, they made up just 10 percent of the HMoob population on campus. The researchers admitted that more research is needed to fully understand the HMoob experience at U

The researchers also called on the university to report disaggregated data on HMoob students, recruit more HMoob students from the state to reverse the group’s declining enrollment, expand academic and career-focused groups like PEOPLE and the Center for Academic Excellence, and recruit more advisors and professors with HMoob backgrounds.

While the researchers noted that research was being conducted on HMoob communities in Wisconsin, the studies were largely limited to issues of socio-economic status, poverty and underperformance in schools. To better drive the academic, career and personal goals of  HMoob students, however, they called on more research focused on the college level.

“Since there’s a growing number of HMoob students in higher education, why is there no documentation of their college experiences?” one researcher asked. “This results in a lack of sufficient information and support to enable their success.”

Students Say UW-Madison is Excluding and Unwelcoming to Hmong-American Students

February 1, 2019   |   By Jamie Perez

Aired on FOX 47 News

A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students conducted a study that found Hmong-American students feel invisible on campus.

"UW-Madison as an institution is excluding and unwelcoming to Hmong-American students," said student Pakou Xiong.

Xiong is reportedly one of many who feel this way.

"The university needs to address the racial inequalities that are happening here as well," said UW-Madison student Pangzoo Lee, who is a vocal activist behind the study.

"This invisibility is preventing Hmong-American students from being successful," Lee said. "It shows the university is not well-equipped to support Hmong-American students."

The students who conducted the study found that Hmong-Americans make up the largest portion of the Asian population, at 36 percent. While Asians are a minority group in Wisconsin, they say that on campus, they can feel this a bit more.

Some students reported other students have acted out in microaggressions such as speaking slowly them. Many reported feeling that they aren't included in many campus activities and events.

One quote presented on Friday to a group of students and staff read: "White people have a place all over campus, and then students of color have the Red Gym, each other's houses and classes that are made for their people. I don't think Madison is welcoming to any student of color, especially if you're an ethnic minority. Do we have welcoming spaces? Yes. Welcoming people? Yes. But as a whole? No."

Students say that in the map shown above, the red circles mark areas where many school activities take place. Hmong-American students reportedly avoid those areas during the events, saying they feel marginalized much of the time.

"Hmong-American students feel excluded in many of the spaces of the iconic Badger experience," Lee said.

Students were able to suggest possible actions the university could take, citing things such as having more inclusive clubs, educating more people outside the Hmong community about Hmong culture and creating an environment of understanding and compassion for the Hmong-American students who feel excluded.

"It is not a story of its own. It's part of a larger story," Lee said. "It is the continuation of our families' trauma, displacement and resilience."

Students Say ‘UW-Madison as an Institution is Excluding and Unwelcoming to Hmong-American Students’

February 1, 2019   |   By Jamie Perez

Aired on Channel 3000

MADISON, Wis. - A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students conducted a study that found Hmong-American students feel invisible on campus. 

"UW-Madison as an institution is excluding and unwelcoming to Hmong-American students," said student Pakou Xiong. 

Xiong is reportedly one of many who feel this way. 

"The university needs to address the racial inequalities that are happening here as well," said UW-Madison student Pangzoo Lee, who is a vocal activist behind the study.

"This invisibility is preventing Hmong-American students from being successful," Lee said. "It shows the university is not well-equipped to support Hmong-American students."

The students who conducted the study found that Hmong-Americans make up the largest portion of the Asian population, at 36 percent. While Asians are a minority group in Wisconsin, they say that on campus, they can feel this a bit more. 

Some students reported other students have acted out in microaggressions such as speaking slowly them. Many reported feeling that they aren't included in many campus activities and events.

One quote presented on Friday to a group of students and staff read: "White people have a place all over campus, and then students of color have the Red Gym, each other's houses and classes that are made for their people. I don't think Madison is welcoming to any student of color, especially if you're an ethnic minority. Do we have welcoming spaces? Yes. Welcoming people? Yes. But as a whole? No."

Gov. Tony Evers Wants More Money for K-12 Education

February 1, 2019   |   By Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten

From Appleton Post Crescent:

During his first State of the State speech last week, Gov. Tony Evers announced several education priorities he'd like to address in the next state budget.

They include $600 million more for special education, restoring two-thirds funding to Wisconsin's K-12 schools, closing the achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, expanding early childhood and summer school grant programs and increasing mental health funding.

To make any of these priorities a reality, Evers and his fellow Democrats will need to work with Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature.

With opinionated leaders on all sides of a divided government, fireworks are likely.

But The Ideas Lab found that research supports many of the initiatives Evers hopes to pursue.

Here's a breakdown:

Increased funding for schools

Low-income school districts that got more money after school funding reforms were enacted saw significant, sustained increases in student achievement, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

The study examined National Assessment of Education Progress scores in states that implemented school funding reforms in the 1990s. Specifically, researchers analyzed NAEP scores for low-income and high-income school districts before and after the funding reforms took effect.

One big drawback: Researchers did not investigate how school districts allocated their resources. 

Early childhood programs

A meta-analysis by the Rand Corporation found that investing in quality early childhood programs help children enter kindergarten more prepared than they would have been otherwise. 

This is where the conversation about the achievement gap often starts — children who enter kindergarten behind have a harder time catching up.

But experts say early childhood programming alone is not enough.

Achievement gaps

Wisconsin has some of the largest black-white achievement gaps in the nation, and it's a problem officials and the public have known about for years. 

To make an impact, state and school district officials need to approach achievement gaps from multiple directions, said Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network and an associate scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Minority Student Achievement Network works with 27 school districts around the nation, including four in Wisconsin. MSAN helps school officials evaluate and implement programs aimed at reducing achievement gaps.

Research has shown that student-teacher relationships are particularly important to students' academic success. Schools should prioritize training educators in culturally responsive practices so they can engage their students and challenge them, Hafner said.

Having a diverse teaching staff has also been shown to affect achievement.

Schools can improve referrals in Advanced Placement and honors courses, and on the flip side, scrutinize special education referrals. Research has found that students of color are underrepresented in honors classes and over-represented in special education programs.

Discipline practices should be evaluated. Research shows that students of color are more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions or expulsions compared with their white peers. 

Putting these efforts aside, Hafner said the conversation about achievement gaps for students of color must include the public. Communities need to support students of color "from cradle to career," she said.

Initiatives to lower the mortality rate among women of color and to ensure low-income women have access to quality prenatal care, as well as ensuring impoverished children have access to health care, quality education and nutritious food are all ways to help.

And she added:

"I think any commentary or discussion of any of this has to include those external influences, like racism." 

Mental health funding

When it comes to school-based mental health, research is scarce on the impact of funding increases.

But Wisconsin has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the nation, a problem USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin has investigated during its three-year Kids in Crisis series.

Our reporting found that many Wisconsin schools have far fewer social workers, nurses, counselors and psychologists than recommended.

Lawmakers have increased funding for school-based mental health resources in recent years. In 2017, then-Gov. Scott Walker proposed an additional $7 million for the effort at the request of Evers, then the state superintendent. The proposal became law.

Special education funding

Numerous studies have been conducted on the over-representation of students of color in special education, the impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and on specific help for students with special needs. However, we couldn't find research on how funding increases for special education affect student outcomes. If you know of a study we missed, I'm at

Thought-Provoking Facts About Black Men Revealed in New Book

January 30, 2019   |   By Michigan State University Press

East Lansing, MI — What you don’t know about Black males could fit into a book: "The Handbook of Research on Black Males," edited by Theodore S. Ransaw, C.P. Gause, and Richard Majors, available from Michigan State University Press on their website, online, and at fine bookstores November 1, 2018. Featuring an introduction by Jerlando F. L. Jackson, Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education and the director and chief research scientist of Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; cover art by Julian Van Dyke; and andinkra symbols by Elijah K. Hamilton-Way.

Did you know that there are 59 percent more Black men in post-secondary school than in jail? Are you aware that Black fathers ages 15 to 44 had the highest rates of helping children with homework and taking them to and from activities of any race? Or did you know that 14 percent of working-age Black men are veterans? Would you like to know more about Black males?

MSU Press is pleased to announce the release of The Handbook of Research on Black Males.
This volume draws from top researchers in various fields to explore the nuanced and multifaceted phenomena known as the Black male. Simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible, Black males around the globe are being investigated now more than ever before; however, much of the well-meaning responses surrounding the media attention of Black males are not well informed by research.

Additionally, Black males are not uniform in nature, and have varying strengths and challenges as well as varying opportunities and struggles making “one-size-fits-all” perspectives unproductive. This text, which acts as a comprehensive tool that can serve as a resource to articulate and argue for policy change, suggest educational improvements, and judicial reform, fills a long overdue void.

“In this comprehensive new handbook, several leading scholars from a variety of disciplines provide insightful analysis into the experience of Black males in America. Thought-provoking and far-reaching in scope, this book will be an invaluable resource to students and researchers who seek to go beyond the superficial accounts of Black males that fill the media.” — Pedro A. Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Faculty Director, Center for the Transformation of Schools, UCLA.

Report: Lots of Access to Pre-K, But Quality Sometimes Lacking

January 24, 2019   |   By Shamane Mills

From Wisconsin Public Radio:

A group that supports more and better pre-K programs finds access is good in Milwaukee but class sizes could be pared down.

Ideally, 20 or fewer students are in a class, said Shelley Hearne, president of CityHealth, the organization which issued the report on Wednesday along with the National Institute for Early Education Research, on pre-K programs in the nation’s 40 largest cities.

Local education experts, such as Beth Graue, say sometimes that’s not possible.

"Particularly in large urban areas, they can't afford to have a class that low," said Graue, director of University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Research on Early Childhood Education.

Fewer students per classroom requires more teachers. But the pay of early childhood educators is generally lower than that of elementary school teachers, said Amy Lee Wagner, executive director of UW Child Development Lab in the School of Human Ecology.

"Our preschool teachers are not even making close to what our kindergarten teachers are making, even with bachelor’s degrees," Wagner said. "And so it’s a problem of funding. It’s also there’s a shortage of teachers in Wisconsin right now."

Another of the report's 10 criteria used to assess pre-K programs was student health screening to make sure they can see and hear what’s going on in the classroom.

"Making sure their vision is right. That they’re able to hear," explained Hearne. "If you catch those kinds of conditions early, they’re fixable, they’re treatable."

Milwaukee pre-K programs don’t have health screening and referral. The report also said they lacked learning goals. Of the 10 benchmarks, Milwaukee met three: curriculum supports, teacher education level and teacher specialized training.

Wisconsin does have Model Early Learning Standards, but each district can choose how and whether to implement them.

Graue said the national report’s pre-K assessment was recently tightened to reflect whether or not the goals are actually part of the curriculum.

As research has grown on the benefits of pre-K, more programs have popped up around the country. Changing lifestyles also played a role as more parents worked.

Hearne said there’s been "incredible growth" in pre-K the last 20 years across the country.

"It not only increases an individual’s lifetime earning but it also reduces teenage pregnancy rates, increases high school graduation and reduces crime," Hearne said.

In Wisconsin, 98 percent of 4-year-olds are in an early learning program. But some question the value of what they’re learning.

"The problem is the quality we’re offering isn’t measuring up to standards. So kids that have access to these programs but they’re not getting the level of quality that is associated with these positive outcomes that research studies over the years have shown over and over again," Wagner said.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2019, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

Why It’s Wrong to Label Students ‘At-Risk’

January 23, 2019   |   By Ivory A. Toldson

From The Conversation:

Of all the terms used to describe students who don’t perform well in traditional educational settings, few are used as frequently – or as casually – as the term “at-risk.”

The term is regularly used in federal and state education policy discussions, as well as popular news articles and specialty trade journals. It is often applied to large groups of students with little regard for the stigmatizing effect that it can have on students.

As education researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings once said of the term “at-risk,” “We cannot saddle these babies at kindergarten with this label and expect them to proudly wear it for the next 13 years, and think, ‘Well, gee, I don’t know why they aren’t doing good.’”

My most recent encounter with the term “at-risk” came when I was tapped to review and critique a draft report for the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the “Kirwan Commission.”

The Kirwan Commission, chaired by William E. Kirwan, a longtime higher education leader, was created in 2016 to make recommendations for improving education in Maryland. The initial draft of the Kirwan Commission report included a working group report called, “More Resources for At-risk Students.”

Fortunately, in this instance, commission members were aware of some common objections to using “at-risk” to categorize students and publicly discussed the limitations of using the term. Some of those objections included risk of social stigma to students and lack of a uniform definitionof “at-risk.”

However, when it came to finding a better way to describe students who show lower levels of academic success because of nonacademic factors, such as poverty, trauma and lack of English proficiency, commission members were not sure what term to use.

As an outside consultant for the commission, I was asked to come up with an acceptable alternative word or phrase. As I argue in my forthcoming book, “No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People,” three things are essential to good decision making in education: good data, thoughtful analysis and compassionate understanding. What I have to say about the term “at-risk” will be based on those three things.

Practical uses exist

First, let’s acknowledge that, paired with good data, “at-risk” is practically useful and generally accepted in professional and academic settings. Used effectively, identifying risk and protective factors can help mitigate harm to students.

For example, dating back to the 1960s, research about how exposure to lead placed children at risk for cognitive impairments helped educators create safer learning environments for students by removing lead from paint, toys and drinking water.

Today, in educational research and practice, educators routinely use “at-risk” to classify students who do not perform well in traditional educational settings. However, the factors that determine “at-risk” are often either unknown or beyond the control of the student, caregiver or educational provider.

As a scholar of counseling psychology – and as one who specializes in counseling persons of black African ancestry – I believe that to designate a child “at-risk” for factors such as growing up in a single-parent household, having a history of abuse or neglect, or how much money their families make or their race or ethnicity – adds more chaos and confusion to the situation. Instead, compassion and care are what are needed.

Never use ‘at-risk’ as an adjective

Using “at-risk” as an adjective for students is problematic. It makes “at-risk” a category like honors student, student athlete or college-bound student. “Risk” should describe a condition or situation, not a person. Therefore, “More Resources for At-risk Students” might more appropriately be “More Resources to Reduce Risk Factors for Students.”

Be specific

Assessments of risk should be based on good data and thoughtful analysis – not a catch-all phrase to describe a cluster of ill-defined conditions or characteristics. If the phrase “at-risk” must be used, it should be in a sentence such as: “‘This’ places students at risk for ‘that.’” If the “this” and “that” are not clearly defined, the “at-risk” characterization is useless at best, and harmful at worst. But when these variables are clearly defined, it better enables educators and others to come up with the solutions needed to reduce specific risk factors and improve outcomes.

Skip the alternatives

Common alternatives to “at-risk” include “historically underserved,” “disenfranchised” and “placed at-risk.” These indicators acknowledge that outside forces have either not served the individual student or population well, or have assigned the at-risk label to unwitting subjects.

These phrases move the conversation in the right direction. However, using these phrases still comes up short because they obscure the problem. For example, research suggests that child abuse, poverty and racism can place students at risk. However, different strategies can lessen each risk. When the risk factors are more clearly identified, it puts educators and others in a better position to strategically confront the issues that impede student learning. It also better enables educators and others to view the individual student separately and apart from the particular risk.

Some have suggested replacing the term “at-risk” with “at-promise.” While well-intended, the problem I see with that is it could easily be seen as a condescending euphemism for the term it was meant to replace.

The best alternative for ‘at-risk’

In my book, I describe an in-service training for staff members of a public high school, in which I asked the participants to describe the neighborhoods of their students. I heard phrases like “crime-ridden,” “broken homes” and “drug-infested.” I then asked if anyone grew up in neighborhoods that had similar characteristics. After several raised their hands, I asked, “How did you grow up in such a neighborhood and still become successful?” This question spurred a more meaningful discussion about the neighborhoods where students are from. It was a discussion that considered community assets – such as hope and resilience – against a more thoughtful examination of community challenges.

Every student has a combination of risk and protective factors among their friends, in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. These factors can help or hurt their academic potential. Students who live in poverty, or have been assigned to special education, or have a history of trauma, or who are English learners, may or may not be “at risk” depending on their respective protective factors. But when students are labeled “at-risk,” it serves to treat them as a problem because of their risk factors. Instead, students’ unique experiences and perspectives should be normalized, not marginalized. This reduces a problem known as “stereotype threat,” a phenomenon in which students perform worse academically when they are worried about living up to a negative stereotype about their group.

For all these reasons and more, I believe the best alternative to describe “at-risk students” is simply “students.” For what it’s worth, the Kirwan Commission agrees. The commission recently revised its call for “More Resources for At-risk Students” to “More Resources to Ensure All Students are Successful.”

Jewish Women of Color—Including Shahanna McKinney-Baldon—Lead DC Women’s March

January 21, 2019   |   By David Dahmer

From Madison 365:

A large delegation of women from around the country – the Associated Press estimated 100,000 marchers – took part in National Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Leading the march, the very first group in line, was a new international coalition of over 100 Jewish Women of Color. And leading the Jewish Women of Color – and carrying the Torah – was Madison’s own Shahanna McKinney Baldon.

“We led the entire march of 100,000 women,” Shahanna McKinney Baldon tells Madison365 in a phone conversation from Washington D.C. “That Torah I had in my hands led the whole march. And several of us right up front were Wisconsin women.”

McKinney Baldon, the Director of Professional Learning for the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) project at Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), was one of a dozen women from the midwest who traveled to Washington D.C. to join a diverse, international coalition of Jewish women of color and allies to declare allegiance with the Women’s March.

Many of the women in the coalition arrived on Friday prior to the march where they attended several Jewish Women of Color events in the DC area. The coalition affirmed its support for the Women’s March unity principles with an open letter that they released prior to the march and emphasized the unique and crucial role of Jewish women of color in organizing for social justice.

“As Jewish Women of Color, we support the Women’s March and believe that this is the time for our communities to affirm together that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” the open letter reads. “As Jewish Women of Color who live at the intersection of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, and who are committed to standing against white supremacy, patriarchy and religious oppression in all its forms, we will play an integral role in the healing and unification of our communities and in the work of securing greater justice and freedom for us all.”

The coalition  has members hailing from communities across the US and Canada who are leaders from across a range of social, political, religious, and secular groups and organizations . One of the leaders of the coalition was Boston-based CEO Yavilah McCoy, who was also one of the Women’s March’s official speakers.

A graduate of the UW Madison School of Education, McKinney Baldon is a leader in equity education and advocacy work, and has led a number local, regional, and national projects that focus on racial diversity, including in faith community settings. McKinney Baldon has been doing work around racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community for decades.

“The event, for me, felt like a life-affirming and life-changing moment,” McKinney Baldon says. “There were Jewish women of color marching here in D.C., there were Jewish women of color marching at local events. there were Jewish women of color who chose to stay home, but regardless we are all marching together into this moment of uplift and this moment of unity and into this moment of Jewish women of color leading the charge of getting at the nuance in these conversations around racism and sexism and anti-Semitism and other forms of oppression.”

There was a bit of controversy leading up to this year’s march over alleged anti-Semitism against the organizers, with national march co-president Tamika Mallory at the center of the controversy. Major sponsors, including the NAACP and the Democratic National Convention, pulled their support from the organization as a result of the growing debates.

“This binary [choice] – Jews or people of color – erases our experiences for Jews who are also people of color,” McKinney Baldon says. “But over the last several weeks, Jewish women of color have been teaching the leadership of the women’s march about anti-Semitism and intersectionality, and the narrative is shifting to a focus on intersectionality while also maintaining a focus on ending anti-black racism.”

“We came to Washington D.C. to stand in unity and support the unity principles of the Women’s March,” she adds. “And women from Wisconsin led the way, including five women from Milwaukee in our midwest delegation.”

Jewish women of color is a pan-ethnic term that is used to identify Jews whose family origins are originally in African, Asian or Latin-American countries and may identify as Black, Latina, Asian-American or of mixed heritage such as biracial or multi-racial. They join the Jewish community in a variety of ways including birth, transracial/transnational adoption, intermarriage and conversion.

“Jews have always been a mixed people … since ancient times. There are stories in the Bible about our diversity and that diversity persists today,” McKinney Baldon says. “It’s true that most of the Jews in this country are of eastern European descent, so there is a stereotype here that Jews are white – but I am a Jew of Eastern European descent and I’m also African American.”

McKinney Baldon said she was proud to have the backing of Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim here in Madison. She added that participating in – and leading! – the 2019 Women’s March on Washington D.C. with her daughter will be an experience that she will continue to draw upon in her leadership.

“I’m very much looking forward to this next phase of stepping up our game in terms of getting at the complexities and the nuance around what we need to do to end all types of oppression,” she says. “And we feel really good about our group’s contributions to this year’s march”