Media Mentions

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 jzettel@gannett.com.


Thought-Provoking Facts About Black Men Revealed in New Book

January 30, 2019   |   By Michigan State University Press

BlackNews.com

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”


Middleton High School Minority Mentors Work to Help Elementary Students Achieve

January 14, 2019   |   By Pam Cotant

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Every other week, Middleton High School students mentor younger students at three Middleton elementary schools.

The members of the Black Student Union club “thought the elementary students needed something because there weren’t many teachers of color… so they know someone looks like them and is looking out for them in the district,” said Jaeda Coleman, a Middleton High School sophomore.

The mentors are part of Leaders Emerging to Achieve Greatness by Uplifting Each Other, or LEAGUE, which incorporates other groups at Middleton, including the Latinos Unidos and the Student Voice Union.

“I love it. ... The kids are just so adorable. It is really good to see them every week,” Coleman said. “It gives you sort of a break from high school where everything (academically) is really tough and stressful.”

The Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos and the Student Voice Union all send leaders to the national conference of the Minority Student Achievement Network. It is a national consortium of 27 multiracial, suburban-urban school districts working together to understand and eliminate racial opportunity/achievement gaps that persist within their schools. The organization is based at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison and includes the Madison School District, which is a founding member, and the Sun Prairie, Verona and Middleton-Cross Plains districts.

Each year, students from around the country gather at the national MSAN conference held at different locations. This past fall it was in Boston, but Middleton students weren’t able to go. Next fall, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District will host it.

“We are really excited to plan it and control what happens that weekend –- to get to be in charge of the topics we talk about,” said Coleman, who has not been to a national conference before.

Toward the end of the national conference, the students come up with an action plan to take back to their schools.

The mentoring effort by Middleton students was one of many pieces of multi-year action plans developed in the past, said Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. LEAGUE also informally came out of the national conference, he said.

Right now students do mentoring during their lunch hour, but Brown hopes the mentoring effort can be developed into a class for which students could receive credit.

“For high school kids to give up their lunch hour, that’s something in and of itself,” he said.

Carri Hale, a counselor at Verona High School, chaperoned a trip by six students to attend the conference in Boston. One of the group’s seniors put a proposal together to make a video about microaggressions. She asked for the support of the English course, “Voices Rising,” and invited Principal Pam Hammen to a formal presentation of the proposal. The video was approved and the students are working to have lessons created to help the whole community grow.

The Verona School District, which hosted the MSAN National Student Conference in 2015 for 20 school districts in 10 states, has sent students to the national conference since 2012, Hale said.

Another action plan that came out of a national conference was directly related to creating spaces for Verona students and staff to have dialogue about RACT (Respect All Colors Equally). The students met a presenter named Calvin Terrell, a speaker, educator and community builder from Phoenix, Arizona. Inspired by his work toward equity, the students later brought him to a Dane County MSAN conference that the Verona students hosted for 13 different high schools.

Madeline Hafner, executive director of MSAN, said the organization shares resources, conducts research and supports students of color who are equity leaders in their district .

This fall, the organization, which started with 15 districts, will mark its 20th anniversary.

“We all wish the network wasn’t necessary but until it isn’t, we are going to keep doing what we are doing,” Hafner said.

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Baraboo Teacher Works with UW-Madison Researchers Examining Rural Education

January 10, 2019   |   By Susan Endres

From the Baraboo News Republic

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are looking to school districts such as Baraboo for insight into what it’s like to teach in rural areas and how to better connect university graduates to those schools.

Based at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, the Teacher Speakout! program started in 2016. Two small groups of rural Wisconsin teachers have been invited to campus for discussions with rural-school advocates and students training to become educators, according to program manager and special education doctoral student Katie McCabe.

The two discussion sessions and surveys sent to 47 rural districts are meant to keep education research informed by classroom realities, according to a program briefing.

East Elementary School special education teacher Meghan Bauer went to Madison on Oct. 5 as one of seven teachers to participate in the second session.

“It was a really good experience,” Bauer said. “I think it’s a really good step in the right direction in terms of how higher education schools are responding to the needs in education right now and wanting to work with districts and hear from districts about how they can better prepare students and want them coming to rural districts.”

McCabe described the key problems she hears repeated from teachers in rural districts: a shortage of teachers, high turnover, difficulty recruiting new teachers, lack of housing and low salaries, among others.

“However, they also share all of the joys and why they love teaching in a rural school,” McCabe said. “It’s like that close-knit, tight community that also keeps them staying there and teaching, and I find that really interesting.”

Now in her ninth year with the Baraboo School District, Bauer said she loves teaching in Baraboo. She came fresh out of college, landing in Baraboo because it’s where her husband was working at the time. She echoed McCabe’s observation about the sense of community in rural districts.

“You feel connected and involved and an integral part of the community, which is important,” Bauer said. “Once you are in a rural school, you see all the positives that are happening.”

But getting them there in the first place can be a challenge. McCabe said Teacher Speakout! found that several issues keep new teachers from exploring jobs outside of the populated areas around Madison.

Some rural areas don’t have many open rental properties, and most young people can’t afford to buy a house. Aside from that “huge issue” of limited housing, McCabe suggested young teachers also might think there’s a lack of opportunities and things to do in a less urban environment.

Another challenge discussed during the session was supporting new teachers who find themselves in their own “department of one” at smaller districts, Bauer said. Since Baraboo is one of the larger districts to participate, she said she didn’t see that kind of problem here. For example, Baraboo has instructional coaches and a mentor program for new teachers.

“In terms of the resources we have available here, we are very rich in those resources and the district has been very responsive in what teachers need in order to, you know, grow professionally and still meet the needs of students,” she said.

Smaller schools can offer other benefits for teachers, McCabe found — for example, more leadership opportunities, autonomy and ability to exercise their creativity.

She said those benefits should be stressed to change the perspective of teachers in training. Testimony from teachers like Bauer could be instrumental for districts like Baraboo looking to hire new graduates.

McCabe plans to continue working with the program participants and coordinate with the new Rural Education Research and Implementation Center at UW-Madison.

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The 30-Year Reign of Lunchables

December 5, 2018   |   By Joe Pinsker

From the Atlantic:

WCER researcher Andrew Ruis thinks Lunchables has done so well because of how the packaged, compartmentalized lunch food for children it fits into families’ days. The meat-cheese-and-cracker boxes have been around for 30 years, the Atlantic reports. Though the brand started as a clever way to repurpose bologna, which began losing popularity in the mid-1980s, Lunchables created a new category of American foodstuff that it continues to dominate.

“From a parent’s standpoint, you’re trying to assume all these different roles when you’re putting together a kid’s lunch,” Ruis tells the Atlantic. “You’re trying to assume the role of nutritionist; and the role of a chef; and the role of an entertainer, almost; or a psychologist, someone who can get into the head of your kid and know what they want and like.”

The idea that “it’s everything in one package, that all you have to do is purchase this thing” is powerful for parents who can spare a couple of extra dollars, adds Ruis, who is a researcher with Epistemic Analytics at WCER and the author of "Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat: The Origins of School Lunch in the United States."

Ruis also noted that in the past couple of decades, parents have been paying more attention to the nutritional elements of what they feed their kids, partly due to concerns about obesity, and partly to other trends. “Clearly there’s been a move toward foods that are more organic, more locally sourced,” he says. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s evenly distributed.”

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The Future Of Learning? Well, It’s Personal

November 19, 2018   |   By Anya Kamenetz, Kyla Calvert Mason and Robbie Feinberg

From National Public Radio:

WCER researcher Rich Halverson shares his take on indvidualized or personalized learning and the opportunities technology offers in an article published by National Public Radio.

Summing up the broad world of individualized learning is difficult,  Halverson tells NPR. He has spent the last few years traveling around the country to see personalized learning in action at public schools. "What schools call personalized varies considerably," he says, and "a lot of schools are doing personalized learning, but don't call it that."

Common elements at the schools he's studied include students meeting regularly one on one with teachers. They set individual learning goals, follow up and discuss progress. All of this may be recorded using some simple software, like a shared Google Doc, for every student, NPR reports.

This process sounds simple, but face-to-face interaction is "expensive," says Halverson. Twenty-eight meetings of 15 minutes each equals a full day of a teacher's time, and the entire school day, week, year may need to be reconfigured to allow for it. Some schools Halverson has studied, especially charter schools with more freedom, have remade the curriculum to emphasize group projects and presentations, where students can prove the necessary knowledge and skills while pursuing topics that interest them. Students are grouped by ability and interest, not age, and may change groups from subject to subject or day to day. Scheduling and staffing is necessarily fluid; even the building may need to be reconfigured for maximum flexibility.

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