Media Mentions

Fear of a Black Mermaid

July 9, 2019   |   By Ellen McGirt

From Fortune:

It should have been a simple dream come true. 

Nineteen-year-old Halle Bailey, one half of the sister singing sensation Chloe x Halle, has been tapped to play the lead in the live action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

“After an extensive search it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice— all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” said director Robert Marshall, Jr. in a statement to NBC News.

But Bailey is black. So the seaweed hit the fan.

“ARIEL IS WHITE WITH RED HAIR!” said the cultural police in a never-ending stream of online complaints, some fairly racist. 

Bailey had plenty of defenders, including entertainment heavyweights Kerry Washington, Chrissy Teigen, Zendaya, and Ariana Grande. Jodie Benson, the original voice of Ariel in the 1989 animated film was asked about it on stage at the pop culture mega-convening, Florida Supercon. “We need to be storytellers,” Benson said. “And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.”

Indeed we do.

The idea that a fictional mermaid should forever remain a white girl because Hans Christian Anderson, her creator, was white, and Disney presented her as white in the past, is a tough one to defend in the modern age.

“Brandy [who played Cinderella in a 1997 film version] walked so Halle Bailey could swim,” tweeted entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon.

But just because the outrage doesn’t track, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t deeply felt.

There are more than just Euro-centric notions of beauty at play, though they remain powerful and difficult to dismantle. It’s also that white people can experience anguish, even unconsciously so, when they lose the societal benefits attached to whiteness.

An anti-bias facilitator and educator named Val Brown posted some research on Twitter that helps illuminate this phenomenon. She's a treasure, by the way. Her online discussion forum for educators #ClearTheAir, regularly tackles thorny topics on inclusion. Follow her here.)

The paper was by Gloria Ladson-Billings, a pedagogical theorist, researcher, and instructor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison called Just What Is Critical Race Theory and What’s It Doing In a Nice Field Like Education?

In the piece, Ladson-Billings reviews existing research on race theory, in the hopes of identifying information that would accelerate racial reform in her field of education. The need for the work was affirmed during the early days of her quest; she describes experiencing marked hostility when presenting working versions of this paper in peer-reviewed settings. Why are you talking only about race? What about gender? That sort of thing. 

While the entire paper is worth your time, Brown flags one section as particularly instructive. Ladson-Billings cites a study which asked white college students whether they believed things were better for Blacks in this day and age. The answers were mostly yes. Then the students were asked if they would be willing to change place with African Americans. None would. And then this: 

"When asked what amount of compensation they would seek if they were forced to "become Black,’ the students ‘seemed to feel that it would not be out of place to ask for $50 million, or $1 million for each coming Black year.’"

An interesting twist in the fictional case for reparations.

“According to [the study]: And this calculation conveys, as well as anything, the value that white people place on their own skins. Indeed, to be white is to possess a gift whose value can be appreciated only after it has been taken away."

Suddenly white Ariel isn’t just a mermaid anymore.

The debate about the Disney production continues to rage on, though sadly, without critical race theory context. The closest we may get comes from Freeform, Disney’s teen channel, who weighed in with an intelligent response on social media. 

“Yes. The original author of 'The Little Mermaid' was Danish,” they sighed on Instagram. “ a mermaid.” You know, a fictional creature. “But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black.” They even had some smart things to say about the red hair, too.

But ultimately, they put the responsibility back where it belongs, though not in the same way that Ladson-Billings might.

“So after all this is said and done, and you can’t get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than INSPIRED casting that it is because 'she doesn’t look like the cartoon one,’ oh boy do I have news for you… about you.”

Study Shows Mixed Test Results For Technology In Classrooms

June 17, 2019   |   By Shamane Mills

Broadcast by Wisconsin Public Radio

Schools in Wisconsin and across the country have invested a lot in technology, and new research is questioning how effective it is in teaching kids to read.

A study done by a think-tank that examines learning in a digital age found Wisconsin fourth graders who used tablets in most classes had reading scores nine points lower on a standardized test than those who didn’t use tablets in class.

"Nine points is something equivalent to a year’s worth of learning so it’s almost one grade level," said Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of the Reboot Foundation which did the study using 2017 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often referred to as the "nation’s report card."

The negative effect of technology on learning wasn’t as strong with eighth graders and overall results were mixed. The NAEP tests reading and math.

Wisconsin school officials note the data on the amount of screen time in the classroom is self-reported by students whose memory may be taxed after hours of testing. They also make the point that the study focuses on how much computers are used, not how rigorous it was.

"What we really need to think about in terms of technology use is quality not really the quantity of use," said John Johnson, director for literacy and mathematics for the state Department of Public Instruction.

But there’s not a lot of research on what technology works best in the classroom, said Rich Halverson, who wrote the book, "Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America."

"Learning technologies are in a time of growth now. Twenty years from now we’ll have much better tools to support learners. So right now there’s a lot of experimentation," explained Halverson, a professor of education leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The fact that Wisconsin fourth graders using more technology scored lower on the NAEP than those who had less technology in the classroom doesn’t surprise Halverson because he said often students who struggle in school are assigned technologies designed to help with remedial instruction. The study did not control for that factor.

And while Bouygues said it did control for outside variables like wealth and students’ prior performance, the study doesn't show technology actually caused changes in student learning.

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

Low Internship Participation Indicates A Need For Change

June 14, 2019   |   By Jackson Schroeder

From The University Network:

In today’s rapidly evolving job market, having internship experience can give young job-seekers a tremendous leg up. In fact, 57.5 percent of new grads who were offered a job after graduation had at least one internship on their resume.

But internships aren’t all created equally. 

While some companies adequately prepare interns for the working world by treating them like entry-level employees and paying them a fair wage, other companies waste interns’ valuable time by making them full-time coffee runners, transcribers, or photocopiers. 

Largely due to insufficient pay and a lack of worthwhile opportunities, today’s college students are having a hard time pursuing internships, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many students can’t afford to give up their day job or sacrifice time that could be spent taking classes. 

The UW-Madison researchers polled 1,129 students at three diverse colleges in Wisconsin and South Carolina to find that only 29 percent of them had completed a legitimate internship in the past year. 

What’s most concerning, however, is that while 64 percent of those without internships said they wanted one, they couldn’t pursue an internship because of the barriers. They either had to work, the internship didn’t offer enough pay, or there weren’t enough quality internships available near them in their field of study.

Demographics also play a role.

“We found that internship participation varied substantially across different student groups by race, academic enrollment status, academic programs, and different types of institutions,” said Zi Chen, an associate researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and co-author of the study. 

The barriers to pursuing an internship are especially restrictive for low-income students and first-generation college students. Women and students with high grade point averages, on the other hand, are the most likely to pursue internships, the study finds. However, the researchers have not yet discovered why. 

“There’s no direct or easy implication or recommendation we can attribute to this fact, other than to recognize [that] we need to think more deeply about how we’re setting internships up, who’s taking them and why,” Matthew T. Hora, a research scientist at WCER and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Why aren’t students with median or low GPAs taking them? Why aren’t more male students taking them?”

Internships must be improved and made widely available

Those who can afford to take a pay cut and find a quality, worthwhile internship have better odds of landing a job after college and kick-starting their professional careers. 

Unfortunately, there are many students who don’t have the financial means to work for cheap or free and risk not getting valuable work experience. 

Additionally, location plays a role, according to the study. A student attending college in New York City, for example, will likely have better odds of finding a quality, nearby internship than a student going to school in, say, Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

“We need to recognize internships simultaneously can be a positive, transformative experience for some students and a vehicle for reproducing inequality for others,” Hora said in a statement.

So, in an effort to encourage equitable access and to create rewarding, well-paying internships across the United States, the authors of this study created a “process-oriented model,” which they hope will be perused and considered by educators, employers, policymakers and others.

The model outlines factors that can affect student access to internship opportunities, such as demographics, employment status, choice of major, and more, explained Chen. It also outlines how location and labor markets can impact the structure and format of internships. 

By taking these things into consideration, the authors hope that educators, employers, and policymakers can turn all college internships into valuable learning experiences, through which students can increase their chances of being employed after graduation and earning a higher paycheck. 

“We’re just discovering that the reasons people take, or do not take, internships are really complex,” Hora said in a statement. “Researchers and others involved in studying or measuring the impacts of internships can use the new model in place of the simple yes/no question used in most surveys. For people involved in designing internships, it could be a way to think about both access issues and internship format,” 

Immediate effects 

Some colleges and universities are already considering these proposals. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside, one of the schools included in the study, has created a position for a full-time campus-wide internship coordinator. 

“We’re not at scale,” Deborah Ford, the chancellor at UW-Parkside, said in a statement. “This study really confirms that for us and shows we need to do a better job of making sure that our growing population of students of color take advantage of the same opportunities for internships as our white students.”

And at Madison College, which was also included in the study, Gretchen Rixie, the director of advising, career, and employment services, has acknowledged there is a need to place emphasis on internships.

UW-Madison Study Recommends Closer Look at ‘Long-Term English Learner’ Label

June 13, 2019   |   By Susan Endress

Published in Baraboo News Republic

After finding a wide difference across states, researchers at the University of Wisconsin are recommending more research be done on how students are classified as “long-term English learners” — those who haven’t reached proficiency in the language after at least five years in a U.S. school.

“The rates of the students — English learners who could be identified as LTELs using the rules that we did — were highly variable across the states,” said Narek Sahakyan, who worked on the nearly yearlong WIDA study. He is a researcher for WIDA, an educational consortium of states headquartered at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in Madison.

By examining 170,000 English learners’ data across 15 states from 2009-2015, the study found the population of long-term English learners ranged from 2% to 24%, according to a news release.

Part of that can be attributed to states varying on what threshold students have to meet before they are no longer considered English learners — but Sahakyan said the wide range persisted at the district level and across states even when grouping by reclassification criteria.

Though he declined to say whether Wisconsin was included in the study, he said the state has one of the highest thresholds for reclassifying students, meaning more would likely continue as ELs for longer compared to other states with a lower bar. States were included based on data availability and consent, Sahakyan said.

The researchers noted that being classified as a long-term English learner could prevent a student from getting into more advanced courses, limiting their learning opportunities and possibly impacting their future success. The label itself “can be stigmatizing to students,” the release said.

“The process of labeling a subgroup of students as LTELs can perpetuate the inequity we aim to address,” Sarah Ryan, director of research, policy and evaluation for WIDA, said in the release. “Yet, by not using this terminology, we might silence growing and necessary attention focused on meeting the needs of these students, which are often overlooked.”

Varying definitions of long-term English learners as determined by states and districts also means that the label could be applied to a student in one place but not another, Sahakyan wrote in an email.

“An EL student could be identified as either potentially proficient or an LTEL, depending on where she is going to school, or what other circumstances surround her, sometimes with little regard of her actual linguistic proficiency,” he wrote. “It is up to the public education system to figure out how to better serve these children better, and shining a light on the issue is but the first step in making this happen.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction doesn’t publicly release the number of long-term English learners in each school district, but it does report English learners. In 2009-10, Baraboo School District had 84 ELs and Portage had 69. By the last year the researchers examined, Baraboo dipped to 67 English learners and Portage dropped to 40.

English learners are the fastest growing subgroup of K-12 students in the country, according to the UW-Madison researchers.

But, the study also found, they tend to be a mobile population. Many of the students whose data was studied stopped taking the test used to determine English learner status before reaching English proficiency, suggesting they may have moved out of the state or country.

Another key finding showed what Sahakyan referred to as “a striking overlap” between students with individualized education programs — usually due to a learning or cognitive disability — and those who could be long-term English learners, complicating their needs from schools.

DPI data reflects an academic achievement gap between English learner students and non-English learner students. Sahakyan noted the difficulty of measuring an improvement in that gap when the cohort is “ever-changing” — a student who becomes proficient, by definition, would no longer be included in a district’s reported English learner population.

“While the reasons for the existence and persistence of these gaps are complex, deeply-rooted, and in some cases misunderstood, there is ample evidence to suggest that American schools are not meeting the needs of many English Learner students,” he wrote. “The presence of high rates of Long-term English learners, who are among the most vulnerable of this already at-risk student population, is perhaps the most tangible symptom of a defunct educational system.”

Study on Barriers for Student Internships

June 11, 2019   |   By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

From Inside Higher Ed

A new report out of the University of Wisconsin at Madison shows that students have trouble pursuing internships because they’re preoccupied with work or had too heavy of a course load.

Researchers at the university surveyed more than 1,000 students at three anonymous institutions. About 500 of the students answered questions about what barriers prevented them from taking internships. About 58 percent of them said that in lieu of an internship, they had to work at a current job, and nearly 52 percent said that they had too much work in their classes.

The researchers stated in their paper that universities need to work on restructuring internship programs to make them more accessible.

OPINION: Is This Minority Group Too Small to Have a Voice on Campus?

June 6, 2019   |   By Matthew Wolfgram, Bailey Smolarek

Published by The Hechinger Report

Can members of the ethnic minority that comprises the largest Asian-American group in Wisconsin feel truly included on the state’s flagship campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

Perhaps. But participants in our study, “Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub,” say they do not feel that way yet.

Our study documents some of the ways that the historical processes of colonization and displacement are reproduced in the United States, specifically through the education system.

On the surface, the purpose of higher education is to support all students in their growth academically, socially and economically. Unfortunately, minoritized students, such as HMoob Americans (commonly spelled “Hmong Americans”), often experience marginalization and exclusion at their institutions of higher education.

Related: How one little-known minority group illustrates a looming problem for colleges

The Anglicized spelling of the HMoob ethnonym is “Hmong.” But our research team, comprised of HMoob-American college students and education researchers, uses the spelling “HMoob” to challenge the colonial history of this ethnic group that originated in southern China. The capitalization of the “m” is deliberate, to be inclusive of the linguistic and cultural diversity in HMoob communities, and we use “-oob” rather than “-ong” to follow the Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabet, which we feel best represents what HMoob people call themselves in their native tongue.

In the mid-19th century, the HMoob faced extreme political displacement that pushed them south into Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. During the mid-1970s, they experienced a second forced migration to Thailand as refugees following the CIA’s covert operations in Laos and during the Vietnam War. Following their entry into refugee camps in Thailand, many HMoob refugees were resettled into third countries, including the United States. There are approximately 260,000 first- and second-generation HMoob Americans currently living in America; the three states with the largest populations are California (90,000), Minnesota (60,000) and Wisconsin (50,000).

While some may argue that this minoritized group isn’t large enough to warrant national attention, we contend that understanding the experiences of HMoob students in particular matters because their community’s history is also the U.S. history of violent and destructive military interventions in Southeast Asia and its subsequent refugee outcomes. Moreover, we argue that our work provides a case study of how public universities must do more — and better — to serve minoritized students who often come from communities with histories of marginalization and exclusion.

“White people have a place all over this campus … [but] I don’t think [UW] Madison is welcoming to any student of color … Do we have welcoming spaces? Yes. Welcoming people? Yes. But as a whole? No.” — a study participant

Our study examined the educational experiences of HMoob-American students, and found that their experiences are influenced and organized into spaces of belonging and exclusion, and that this geography of campus had consequences for students’ well-being, career development and educational attainment.

As one study participant put it: “White people have a place all over this campus … [but] I don’t think [UW] Madison is welcoming to any student of color … Do we have welcoming spaces? Yes. Welcoming people? Yes. But as a whole? No.” His words illustrate a major finding of our research.

Our findings are based on in-depth interviews and observations with approximately 10 percent of these students at UW-Madison, 27 participants total.

Our study used a community-based participatory action research framework, involving a collaboration between a group of HMoob-American student activists and their research mentors from the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research to develop and conduct this study.

Our future research will expand on our sample and focus more on how college experiences impact HMoob-American career trajectories — but our preliminary findings indicate some troubling patterns that we highlight in this piece.

Related: My family fled the Vietnam War, could I preserve their culture and my GPA?

Our study found a strong contradiction between the laudable values of inclusion and diversity, which public universities like UW-Madison foreground in their mission statements, and the marginalization, exclusion and invisibility that students of color experience in their daily lives on campus. UW-Madison strongly advocates for diversity and inclusion through its diversity frameworkthat, among other things, attempts to attract students of color to campus through the promise of the iconic “Badger Experience” — making friends in the dorms, attending Badger football games and spending nights at the union.

However, upon attending the university, the “Badger Experience” for so-called HMoob-American students does not match what is advertised. Rather, our research demonstrates that these students feel a sense of exclusion at UW-Madison. Participants described experiencing macro- and/or micro-aggressions on campus that related to the ways in which UW-Madison’s campus is racially segregated, both spatially and institutionally. Participants reported feeling unwelcome in certain schools, buildings and professional student organizations, many of which are viewed as emblematic of the “Badger Experience.” This finding has significant implications for the students’ academic majors, future career plans and professional social networks.

The HMoob American College Paj Ntaub research team

At UW-Madison, our student participants are seen as Asians by their peers and categorized by the university as a “targeted minority” under the sub-group of “Southeast Asians.” Many of our student participants reported feeling disappointed by the lack of knowledge on campus about the group’s culture and history, and upset by the ways that members of this minority group are portrayed within mainstream (non-ethnic studies) courses.

Participants explained that they are often made responsible for educating their peers and teachers on who this group is because many know very little or nothing about this group. When HMoob history or culture is included in mainstream courses, participants typically report that it is done in overly simplistic and/or offensive ways due to framing the group solely through the lens of U.S. Cold War history.

In contrast, the spaces that participants stated they felt most welcome were student support programs, race-specific student organizations and HMoob-specific classes. These classes included Asian-American ethnic studies courses that pertained to HMoob culture and history, as well as language courses.

These classes were seen as spaces of inclusion and belonging in which participants reported having positive experiences and developing an affirmative ethnic identity. We also found that the participants who had not taken any of these courses expressed an interest in taking them, but found it difficult to fit them into their schedules due to inflexibility in course requirements (e.g., some STEM majors). Despite participants’ high praise of HMoob studies courses, many also expressed disappointment in the limited number of courses offered and a desire for courses to be offered with greater consistency.

UW-Madison prides itself on being an inclusive and welcoming space for all students, as foregrounded in its mission statement and highlighted in the current diversity framework. Yet, our research demonstrates that these students remain institutionally invisible and face various forms of racism and racial segregation on campus. Therefore, we concur with other scholars who have suggested that the diversity framework emphasizing integration across racial and cultural lines overlooks racial inequities. While the diversity framework celebrates social differences, it does not adequately address the racial inequities faced by many of these students at UW-Madison.

Furthermore, our research supports the role of ethnic studies in education as a means to promote positive ethnic identities and cross-cultural awareness. Finally, this work highlights the possibilities of conducting community-based research with minoritized students as a way to address the needs of their communities, foster spaces of social justice and facilitate important discussions about race, racism, diversity and inclusion.

This story about HMoob-American students was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Matthew Wolfgram is senior researcher at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. He holds a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Bailey Smolarek is an associate researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and holds a Ph.D in curriculum and instruction.

All of the members of the Paj Ntaub research team (listed in alphabetical order) contributed to this article: Lena Lee, Pangzoo Lee, Bailey Smolarek, Myxee Thao, Kia Vang, MaiNeng Vang, Matthew Wolfgram, Choua Xiong, Odyssey Xiong, Pa Kou Xiong and Pheechai Xiong.

Teachers at the Table: Voice, Agency, and Advocacy in Educational Policymaking

June 3, 2019   |   By Julie Kallio, New Books Network

Published by New Books Network

Annalee Good, an evaluator and researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, joins us in this episode to discuss her recently published book, Teachers at the Table: Voice, Agency, and Advocacy in Educational Policymaking (Lexington Press, 2018). Our conversation begins with her own journey from teaching middle school social studies to studying teacher engagement in policy advocacy. This research is particularly timely (though of course always timely!) with the 2018 wave of teacher strikes across the United States and record numbers of teachers running for office.

Having teachers involved in policy advocacy is critical for policy quality and legitimacy, yet they often aren’t. Annalee’s book is a systematic inquiry into the institutional forces that make it hard for teachers to engage in policymaking, and she contrasts these barriers with the ways they do have a voice and agency. Her study focuses on mentor and intern teachers who participated in a policy-focused professional development program in West Virginia. Through her qualitative data analysis, contextualized with national surveys, the voices of the participating teachers come through, underscoring that teachers have more power and more expertise than they often perceive.

We close the episode hearing about the new work Annalee and Jerry are doing through the Wisconsin Education Policy, Outreach, and Practice group (WEPOP), which is dedicated to teacher-driven conversation about public policy. This group work runs summer policy 101 workshops with pre-service teachers, writes policy-in-practice briefs, and offers sessions at regional EdCamps. Find out more about their work and follow them on twitter @WEPOPwisc.

Listen to podcast here.

Online Credit Recovery Fuels Higher Grad Rates, But Learning Suffers, Report Finds

May 28, 2019   |   By Alyson Klein

Published by Education Week's Digital Education blog

Schools are increasingly turning to online-only credit recovery courses to help students who have fallen behind in their regular classes graduate on time. The good news: These courses do seem to help students graduate on time and even enroll in college.

The not-so-great news? These students don't seem to be learning as much as their peers in regular, face-to-face classes.

That's the conclusion of a new "working paper" released this month, and an article published earlier this year in the American Educational Research Journal.

The researchers—from Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin—did a longitudinal study of an unnamed large urban school district in the Midwest, which started offering online course taking opportunities in 2010, generally to help students who had fallen behind catch up. By the 2016-17 school year, 40 percent of seniors had taken at least one course through the online system.

Researchers examined the data from the online program's vendor and the district's student outcome data. What's more, they conducted more than 300 observations of student and classroom use of the credit recovery software and more than 30 interviews with instructors and district staff.

In a nutshell: Their preliminary analysis found that there's a positive association between online course-taking and graduation. In fact, students who took the online courses were about 13 percent more likely to graduate than similar students who didn't' take the courses. And those who participated in credit recovery were more likely to enroll in college, with estimated increases in two-and-four-year college-going of about 2.5 percent. 

But there was a negative association between taking online courses, primarily for credit recovery, and performance on districtwide standardized tests, the researchers found. And the more online classes a student took, the worse they scored.

Classroom observations also showed a mix of promising practices—and obvious trouble spots.

"We've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly," said Carolyn J. Heinrich, a professor of public policy, education, and economics at Vanderbilt University, and one of the authors of both the journal article and the working paper. "There are kids who come in and they are really motivated to get done, we do believe, and we've heard from teachers that some kids wouldn't be in school if they didn't have this option."

That's especially true of pregnant or parenting teens and those just coming of the criminal justice system, she said.

But there are others who are just sitting in the labs, not really listening to the online lectures. Students will instead skip to the end-of-course assessments and just google the answers.

"Some teachers were really blatant and said they didn't think that learning was happening," Heinrich said. The problem? Vendors design many of these credit-recovery tools as "blended learning," meaning the teacher is suppposed to play a big role in supporting instruction. But teachers don't always have the time or bandwidth to do that. 

Heinrich and her team are far from finished exploring credit recovery. They have plans to track labor market and college outcomes for kids who took the online courses.

The credit-recovery trend isn't going away anytime soon. Three quarters of U.S. high schools are offering digital instruction to help students who have failed a course make up the credit, stay on track for graduation, and finish their degree, according to the working paper. 

The findings don't come out of nowhere. Researchers have been puzzling over the fact that national graduation rates are inching up year after year, hitting an all-time high of 84 percent in the 2015-16 school year, at the same time that scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress are stagnant.

And the results are similar to what other researchers have found. Students who took an online Algebra course had lower credit recovery rates, lower scores on an end-of-course algebra assessment, and less confidence in their mathematical skills than students who took a face-to-face credit recovery class, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

What's more, the American Enterprise Institute also examined the issue and found that high-poverty schools were more likely to rely on credit recovery. And districts aren't putting out nearly enough information to help assess the quality of those courses. For more information, check out this commentary piece by Nat Malkus, the deputy director of education policy at AEI, and Amy Cummings, a research assistant.  

Itinerant English-Learners Pose Challenges for School Systems

May 23, 2019   |   By Corey Mitchell

Published by Education Week: Learning the Language Blog

A new 15-state analysis found that 1 in 5 English-learners move so frequently or so far that schools and state education agencies are unable to track them over the course of their academic careers, placing the students at greater risk of struggling in school.

The revelation is one of the key findings of new research from the WIDA Consortium, a group of nearly 40 state education agencies that share English-language-proficiency standards and assessment for ELLs.

The study sought to examine learning conditions across the country for long-term English-learners, those students who are not considered proficient in English after being educated in U.S. schools for five to seven years.

Between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years, 20 percent of English-learners in the study cohort either moved to another state, left the country, or dropped out of school altogether, making them almost impossible to track, the researchers found.

Overall, research has linked high student mobility to lower school engagement, reading struggles, and increased risk of high school dropout.

Those students who cross state lines often face inconsistent state reclassification criteria and district implementation strategies that could leave them labeled as a long-term English-learner in one state and English-proficient in another. That also means they may not have had the opportunity to benefit from consistent language support. Overall, research has linked high mobility among all students, not just English-learners, to lower school engagement, reading struggles, and increased risk of high school dropout.

Across the nation, long-term English-learners are a group with a growing significance and presence for school systems: Research suggests that more than 1 in 4 English-learners will remain classified as ELs for six years or more.

"They are the most vulnerable population of the most marginalized population," said Narek Sahakyan, the study co-author and an associate researcher in the WIDA research, policy, and evaluation department. "These are usually the kids who are swept under the rug. They need our attention the most."

The students often can communicate in English, but have yet to master academic language—the sort of subject-area-specific vocabulary that can help them solve story problems in math class or grasp science concepts. In some districts, including Los Angeles Unified, long-term English-learners are a majority of the English-learner population.

The WIDA study also found that native Spanish-speaking children and students with individualized education plans in the cohort were more likely to be identiied as long-term English-learners than their peers who are also learning the language.

Sixteen percent of Hispanic students were identified as potential long-term English-learners, making them twice as likely to be tagged with the designation as their white and Asian English-learner peers.

The study also found significant overlap between students' disability status and long-term English-learner potential: Among students with IEPs, 45 percent were identified as potential  long-term English-learners. The same was only true of 10 percent of English-learners who never had IEPs.

Being identified as a long-term English-learner or even a potential long-term EL can have implications for what and how students are taught. English-learners are often denied full access to STEM education, take fewer advanced and college-preparatory classes, and are most often immersed in coursework that focuses on basic skills instead of lessons centered on problem-solving or critical thinking.

Here's a look at the report:

   WIDA Report Long Term English Learner Population by corey_c_mitchell on Scribd

UW-Madison Team Received ACTS Distinguished Educator Award for Research Mentor Training Programs

May 20, 2019

From UW–Madison's ICTR (Institute for Clinical and Translational Research) Website

Two University of Wisconsin collaborators were recently honored with a prestigious award from the Association of Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS). Christine Sorkness, PharmD, RPh, Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy and Medicine, and Christine Pfund, PhD, Senior Scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education and director of the  Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experience in Research (CIMER), were honored in March at the 2019 ACTS Annual Meeting with a Distinguished Educator Award for their decades long partnership to improve research mentor training programs for scholars in the biomedical workforce.

Together, Sorkness and Pfund have led programs at UW ICTR to prepare early stage investigators for successful careers in biomedical research, in particular research that speeds the translation of scientific findings into interventions to improve human health. Nominators applauded their passion for improving teaching and mentoring through evidence-based mentor training programs, alongside a deep commitment to diversifying the biomedical workforce. Marc Drezner, MD, former executive director of UW ICTR, comments,I was privileged to work with ‘the two Chrises’ during my time at ICTR. The mentor training practices they established became national benchmarks for improving the guidance that research mentors provide to their mentees.

Furthermore, they established a train-the-trainer model to widely disseminate their research mentor training curricula and both played leading roles in the NIH National Research Mentoring Network. Ultimately, their mentor training programs reached more than 9500 graduate students, junior faculty, and senior faculty nationwide, a very impressive achievement!

Sorkness and Pfund were nominated on behalf of local and national colleagues by Allan Brasier, MD, current executive director of ICTR and SMPH Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research. UW ICTR receives support from an NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) and is a member of the nationwide consortium of over 60 CTSA sites. Brasier notes,

Our yearly reviews from NIH consistently point to the mentor training program led by Sorkness and Pfund as an important strength of our program. Remarkably, their mentor training programs have reached 75% of CTSA sites across the country. They have really had a national impact on workforce development beyond UW.

As the mentor training programs housed at ICTR expanded, Sorkness and Pfund were able to leverage that success, ultimately becoming leaders in the NIH-NRMN initiative. One outcome of NRMN has been the creation of a new Culturally Aware Mentoring (CAM) module, focused on improving mentor relationships for individuals from diverse backgrounds, communities, and cultures.

Designed to support the NRMN goal of significantly advancing the representation and success of traditionally underrepresented groups in biomedical research, CAM has been delivered as intensive one-day training workshops at select CTSA sites. Other trainings have been held at pre-conference sessions linked to regional and national meetings drawing diverse scholars, such as the CIC Academic Network (Big 10 Academic Alliance).

Angela Byars-Winston , PhD, Professor of Medicine and Associate Director of the UW Collaborative Center for Health Equity, leads the CAM Initiative for NRMN at ICTR. She adds,

[Angela Byars-Winston] Pfund and Sorkness have been dedicated to advancing the careers of others and have worked alongside people from diverse backgrounds in an effort to diversify the workforce. Our collaborations in the area of cultural influences on academic and career development have been very productive. Congratulations on a well-deserved honor!

Byars-Winston currently chairs the Committee on the Science of Effective Mentoring in STEMM through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, of which Pfund is a member.

A Look Inside Online Learning Settings in High Schools

May 14, 2019   |   By Annalee Good, Emily Cheng, Jennifer Darling-Aduana, Carolyn J. Heinrich

Published by Brookings Institution's Brown Center Chalkboard

High school graduation rates have soared in recent years despite stagnating high school student performance on national assessments, raising concerns about whether these trends reflect real learning advances. The rapid rise in graduation rates has been linked by some to the proliferation of online credit recovery programs, in which students access course content primarily over the internet to repeat failed courses. Subsidized by federal funds and marketed to state and local educational agencies with the promise to increase opportunities for customizing content and individualizing instruction, more than three-quarters of the nation’s school districts are now using online learning to deliver instruction to public school students.

Research evidence stresses the importance of continued live interactions between teachers and students as online instruction is adopted, as well as more collaborative (rather than independent) interactions with online instructional programs. Yet enormous differences in schools’ commitment and capacity to implement and support high-quality online instruction raise the specter of differential access by student race and socioeconomic status to quality learning experiences. Indeed, we find reasons for concern about the implications of online learning for equality in educational outcomes.

In a multiyear study of the implementation of online learning in a large, urban school district, we went inside of high school online instructional settings. We explored which secondary-school students are taking courses online, how they are interacting with the online course system, what structural factors (e.g., physical environment, instructional support) impede or support their access to quality learning opportunities, and how online learning affects whether or not students make academic progress.


We conducted our research in an urban school district in the Midwest. We drew on hundreds of classroom observations and staff interviews, and over seven million records of online instructional sessions linked to student school records. The online learning program that we studied is used in school districts in all 50 states, including eight of the 10 largest districts in the nation. Nearly every high school in our study district enrolled students in online courses in at least one year. By the 2016-17 school year, about 20% of all credits accrued in middle and high schools were completed through this online learning program, and 40% of graduating seniors had completed at least one online course in the system.

Which high school students take courses online, and how are they progressing academically?
We found that indicators of student performance—particularly course failure and suspensions in the prior school year—were consistently the strongest predictors of online course taking in high school. In addition, students in alternative high schools that primarily serve opportunity youth (e.g., pregnant and parenting teens, those transitioning back from expulsion or incarceration) had the highest rates of online course taking in the district. Because these students typically complete their online coursework in computer labs that effectively segregate them from their higher-performing peers, this represents a form of “ability grouping” that may not only shape students’ access to academic content and resources, but also reinforce historical inequities in education processes by race and class. These patterns are even more concerning given our analysis showing that the students who were least prepared academically and had special educational needs were also less likely to engage with and progress in their online courses.

We also examined associations between online course taking and changes in students’ intermediate academic outcomes—credits earned, grade point average (GPA), and test scores—while controlling for factors that influenced how likely they were to take courses online. On average, we found mostly negative associations between online course taking and these intermediate outcomes, especially for grades nine and 10. We did find a positive relationship between online course taking and credits earned and GPA among students in grades 11 and 12 but did not see significant increases in student learning (as measured by reading and math test scores) at any grade level. Indeed, we found that students taking courses online for multiple years experienced penalties in terms of their academic outcomes.

Why wasn’t online learning improving instruction and student learning?
Our classroom observations of online course taking in high schools, interviews with teachers, and discussions of findings with district staff pointed to potential explanations for the largely negative associations between online course taking and student academic outcomes. For example, a consistent concern reported in teacher interviews was a mismatch between the reading levels of students directed to online course taking and the reading levels required for online courses. This was described to us as a “big de-motivator” for student learning effort.

In addition, we frequently observed a lack of active engagement during online instructional sessions, with student headphones plugged into cell phones instead of the computer and “Googling” for answers during the completion of end-of-lesson quizzes or tests. Higher ratios of idle time (i.e., absence of interaction) to total session time in an instructional session were associated with slower progress toward completion and lower course grades.

With larger class sizes, instructors in online learning labs struggled to help students when they were challenged in their online courses, particularly in subjects outside their content expertise. Language supports in the online course-taking system for English learners were inadequate, and teachers also lamented limited accommodations in the online course-taking system (beyond pacing) for students with special educational needs. Teachers rarely had access to information about students’ individual educational plans or extra resources to support them.

Reflecting on the potential for online courses to serve students, teachers commented that without an online course-taking option, some students might not be in school at all. Yet in describing how students came to their classrooms for online course taking, more than one instructor used the term “dumping ground.”

Stepping back, our findings suggest both a need for caution in the rapid expansion of online courses in high schools and a need for stronger scaffolding of support and appropriate targeting of students to realize the benefits of online instruction. While online credit recovery programs potentially provide a cheap technical solution to the problem of low graduation rates, especially for upper classmen who appear to replace failed courses with credits earned online more quickly, our results suggest this may come at the cost of learning, with longer-term implications that we are currently investigating.

Girls Inc. Asks O’Keeffe Girls About Social Media

May 7, 2019   |   By Cora Kruzicki

Published by Eastside News

The Girls Inc. sixth grade leadership class at O’Keeffe Middle School is taking social justice into their own hands.

The class has revolved around creating leadership skills for students by having the girls research a social justice topic that had meaning for the students at their school.

The topic the girls chose is how girls and women are portrayed in the media, including social media. After the girls identified the topic, they developed a survey to find out the opinions and knowledge of other girls in the school when it comes to the media and social media.

Before the survey could be created, the girls got information from Dr. Annalee Good, co-director of the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative at the University of Wisconsin, on how to lead a focus group, and how to write and administer a survey. Journey Henderson, an FYI Youth Evaluator with the Goodman Community Center, helped the girls create an online and paper survey to reach the O’Keeffe girls.

The survey asked O’Keeffe girls to use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate their opinions of their own leadership identity, self-confidence, social media and bullying. The survey also asked the girls if they see sexism in their school and to list examples.

In order to reach as many people as possible, the class held focus groups during lunch to get girls’ opinions in person, made it available online and passed out paper copies.

Once all of the surveys are in, the girls will use the results to plan an interactive workshop and to use as a baseline to see if opinions and awareness change when their entire project is done at the end of the school year. 

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Educator and Theorist, Named Towson University Commencement Speaker

April 23, 2019   |   By Libby Solomon

The Baltimore Sun

Gloria Ladson-Billings, an educator and theorist whose work focuses on educating African-American students, will be Towson University’s spring commencement speaker.

The professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is also president of the National Academy of Education, will speak at the College of Education’s commencement ceremony on May 22, according to university spokesman Sean Welsh.

Ladson-Billings is the author of books about teaching diverse student populations, including “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children.”

Towson University has six commencement ceremonies, one for each of its colleges running between May 22 and May 24, each with separate alumni speakers. The designation of University Commencement Speaker is made for one speaker each year in a rotation among the colleges, Welsh said.

Those speakers will include:

Kara Ball, a 2008 graduate, speaking for the College of Education;
Brian Stelter, a 2007 graduate and host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, speaking for the College of Fine Arts and Communications;
Brian Davis, a 1997 graduate, speaking for the College of Business and Economics;
Richard Holley, a 1996 graduate, speaking for the College of Health Professions;
E. Clarke Porter, a 1976 graduate, speaking for the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics; and
Gerry Gaeng, a 1981 graduate, speaking for the College of Liberal Arts.

Why We Should Focus More On Refugees’ Goals In Higher Education

April 22, 2019   |   By Rachel Vasquez

This interview, featuring the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions', Matt Wolfgram, who works in UW-Madison School of Education's Wisconsin Center for Education Research, aired at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. on April 22, 2019, and is available for playback here: .

Why the Educational Dreams of Refugees Get Put on the Back Burner

April 18, 2019   |   By Matthew Wolfgram and Isabella Vang


Refugees who make a new home in Wisconsin carry with them hopes and dreams as diverse as their backgrounds. But many find upon arrival that their education and career goals don’t necessarily align with the government's refugee resettlement program. The paramount and singular goal of refugee resettlement in the United States is for refugees to secure rapid economic "self-sufficiency," as measured by employment and transition off support services.

The way the federal government defines this goal significantly limits how refugee resettlement providers are able to support higher education opportunities for refugees in Wisconsin.

College education for refugees, as one resettlement service provider in Wisconsin explained, "[is] really hard. There are a lot of challenges. So I would say that for adults the reality is, you need to work."

Another resettlement service provider in Wisconsin explained that in terms of federal policy, "success" is characterized by the speed in which refugees transition off of social services.

"You are expected to get a job as soon as possible," they said. "And that sometimes is very demoralizing for people, that they had a lot of hopes and dreams of opportunity here, and the first thing you have to tell them is, "'Sorry, the goal of you being here is to get a job first thing. It’s not to go to school, it’s not to get a degree.'"

There is an assumption among both researchers and refugee resettlement providers that the socioeconomic barriers refugees face are so high, and the need for emergency food, health and housing along with basic employment services is so great, that college and professional post-graduation employment is an overly optimistic, even utopian goal.

It is true that the overwhelming majority of refugees coming to the U.S. typically require, and sometimes struggle to access, basic services.

But it is also the case that many refugees come to the U.S. with some college background, and others come with a goal of going to college and manage to achieve that ambition despite the obstacles they face.

Some refugees arrive in Wisconsin with college credits, degrees or professional credentials acquired prior to displacement, or as a refugee in a nearby country. With the protracted nature of modern conflicts, where people may be displaced for many years — and in some cases, decades — some refugees use that time to attend college and obtain educational and professional credentials.

However, upon resettlement in Wisconsin, refugees face serious obstacles with the recognition of those credentials. Colleges and universities require "official" copies of transcripts and other educational documents in applications for admission. Often, refugees lack the needed documentation to support such applications.

Further, on occasion, colleges in the nation of origin may be destroyed or not recognized by higher education accrediting agencies in the U.S.

Refugee resettlement providers refer such cases to private credentialing specialists, who review the available documentation and produce a report that identifies credentials that enrollment officers may approve. In some cases, credentialing specialists work with refugees and their former educational institutions abroad to track down missing documentation. Often, though, this is impossible.

In such cases, refugees can employ a "narrative approach." This process involves describing the educational background of the refugee as best as possible, to try to fill in the gaps left by uncertain documentation.

Ultimately, the decision to recognize a refugee's credentials is in the hands of enrollment officers of the particular institution. Often, they do not recognize the credentials as equivalent, or rule the application as "incomplete" because of the unofficial status of the transcripts.

Other barriers that refugees face to access higher education include poverty and a lack of affordable housing, struggles with learning academic English, challenges associated with cultural differences in educational settings and a lack of knowledge for how to prepare, access and finance higher education.

The adjustment to such social, economic and cultural differences can be bewildering for new refugees.

As one service provider explained: "I think it depends on how educated the people are when they arrive. You know, how much adjustment they have … it's such a huge adjustment just to be here and start life here, to think about going to college or going to the technical college or adding anything to your plate, I think it's, you know, unrealistic."

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Research on College-Workforce Transition is investigating the barriers and pathways to college success for refugees within the state.

This work has included interviewing resettlement providers and educators in Wisconsin about their work to support higher education for refugees. It has subsequently turned to interviewing refugees with college experiences and goals in communities around the state.

While resettlement service providers and educators work hard to support the college attainment of refugees in communities around Wisconsin, the Center is finding that the narrowly defined goal of refugee resettlement as "self-sufficiency" and the highly structured and time-limited nature of the resettlement process effectively thwart and complicate this goal.

Yet, there is evidence that a more robust resettlement and social services support system can facilitate access to higher education.

Exemplifying this potential is the story of a Hmong refugee who came to Wisconsin as a young woman, resettled into a rural community in the Fox Valley, and graduated high school and college. She eventually became a leader in the Hmong community and a social service provider for refugees in Wisconsin.

As both a former refugee, and now as a provider of services to refugees in Wisconsin, she was able to reflect on the impact of changing federal and local support for refugees to resettle and access education over the past decade, and increasingly today:

'Like I always say, "I'm a product of, you know, the food stamp," and I'm proud to say that because of that support I'm able to concentrate and do what I do, right? And get out of the system, and become on the other side, and contributing it back. But for refugees who come right now, that piece is kind of, like, being policed so heavily that you don't have that sense of pride that you're being supported, that you are being embraced. But you're, you know, coming, and becoming, you know, a burden. So I think that feeling has changed, and I think if I'm now coming in as a refugee, I think it'd be hard to, you know, integrate with not having, you know, an environment for you to truly focus on developing yourself, because you have to work. … And so, I think that honeymoon stage for refugees is not there anymore, compared to during our time, where I feel like we have a honeymoon stage where our sponsor and the people around us who knew us gave us that shelter to develop ourselves. But now, I feel like there's no honeymoon stage for refugees at all.'

Resettlement service providers can support refugees' higher education goals by connecting them with advisors, educators and community members, as well as to pre-college and college support services.

More information about the question of how refugees in Wisconsin seek higher education is detailed in a Feb. 6, 2019 interview with Wisconsin Public Television's Noon Wednesday.