Recruiting and Retaining Asian American Teachers

By George Huynh

Executive Summary:

Nowadays, Asian Americans are vastly underrepresented in the media and in the public sphere. The same phenomenon seems to exist in the education world, whereby there are very few Asian American K-12 teachers and administrators. This policy brief recommends (1) implementing more teacher recruitment programs and scholarships that target Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), (2) increasing positive representation of AAPI in the education sphere, and (3) improving the respectability of careers in teaching. If we are committed to diversifying the workforce, we ought to look harder at our current teacher diversity initiatives.


There was a time over two decades ago when teacher diversity was a topic of serious discussion and concern throughout the United States (NEA, 2014). However, those conversations have been overshadowed almost completely by discussions about school choice, standardized testing, curriculum content, and order and discipline (Education World, 2017). While the biggest priority for our country’s students and parents, of course, ought to be to recruit as many qualified teachers as possible into the teaching profession to ameliorate the teacher shortage crisis, it’s apparent that there exists an extreme lack of Asian American teachers.

Some Asian Americans like Michelle Rhee and Tommy Chang, both products of the illustrative Teach For America program, have been able to rise to stardom as exemplary superintendents in their respective cities. However, they are but exceptions in a system that has failed to elevate Asian American faces and voices.

So why exactly are there not more Asian American figures in the public realm, and specifically public education? Hopefully, the research below will present why this is currently the case, and what can be done to correct it. The feasibility of creating more teacher recruitment programs aimed at AAPI and increasing positive images of Asian American teachers in the workforce will be explored in this policy brief.


As America continues to diversify, the diversity within public school teachers has been unable to reflect that trend. Joseph  Williams (2015) writes, “While the diversity of the nation’s public school student body has exploded in the last few decades, the number of African American, Latino, and Asian teachers hasn’t kept pace—despite state and federal programs designed to draw more minorities into the profession.” A Center for American Progress Survey revealed that a whopping 82 percent of public school teachers are white, in contrast to 17 percent composed of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans (Dilworth & Coleman, 2014).

As reflected in the graph above, the gap between the racial makeup of America’s public schools and the people who lead their classrooms has reached unprecedented levels (Kardish, 2015). In the 2010 U.S. Census, 5.6 percent of respondents noted that they were of Asian descent (U.S. Census, 2010), whereas only 1.5 percent of American teachers are Asian today (TFA, 2017). Given that it’s been over seven years since this census data was taken, and Asians continue to be the fastest growing population in the country, it can be assumed that Asian Americans are underrepresented by more than four times their national proportion.

Retrieved from the 2010 U.S. Census

The Asian American Achievement Paradox written by Jennifer Lee and Margaret Zhou (2015) does a great job of diagnosing the problem of Asian American teacher recruitment, by supplying information about the historical sociocultural reasons for why Asian Americans as a conglomerate do not find teaching attractive. Suspected barriers to entry in the teacher profession include the sociocultural expectations that Asian Americans face, including but not limited to the model minority myth, long-standing legacies of exclusion (from not only the country but also citizenship) based on racism, and tendencies to enter STEM-related fields. The paradox here, lies in the fact that while Asian Americans value receiving a strong education, they are very rarely on the other side educating the next generation of students and leaders (United Nation, 2001).

Although minority teacher recruitment has steadily improved over the years, retention has been less than stellar (NEA, 2017). This research attempts to answer why there are not more Asian Americans in the public education sphere in situating the current teacher climate for Asian Americans in the U.S., which has been on the decline since the early 1990s (Rong and Preissle, 1997). It is concerning that the proportion of teachers who are Asian American still does not match the population of Asian American students in this country today, even with this problem identified two decades ago. It is a shame that Asian Americans do not compose more of the education workforce, but fortunately there are rather simple actions that can be taken to change this downward trend.

Evidence, Data, and Proposals:

On their website, Teach For America lists the Asian American and Pacific Island Initiative under a tab labeled “Our Initiatives,” with the following information:

“Less than 1.5 percent of our nation’s teachers identify as AAPI – a number that does not reflect the percentage of AAPI students or the changing student demographics in our schools. More than 4 percent of our student population identify as AAPI. The AAPI community is also the fastest-growing racial group in the United States—representing more than 48 ethnicities, over 300 spoken languages, varied socioeconomic status, and distinctions across immigration history, generational status, culture, and religion.”

Even more striking, according to a National Education Association report by Dilworth and Coleman (2014), is the fact that about 0.5% of America’s teachers—about one-third of all Asian teachers—are male.

Below the aforementioned description is a video of Kaycee Gerhart, an AAPI TFA alumna, reflecting on her experience as an AAPI teacher:

Retrieved from

This video’s purpose is quite valuable, in presenting a personal account from an alum who has experienced firsthand positive student reactions from learning in a classroom with a teacher who identified as AAPI. Right above the video on their website are images of a diverse group of AAPI TFA fellows who look much different from Gerhart.Retrieved from

TFA’s mission is to be fully representative of Asian Americans, as they attempt to encompass a smaller subset of AAPI, specifically Amerasians. Since Gerhart does appear partially white, this video really might in fact help dismantle many of the harmful stereotypes and perceptions of Asian Americans that currently exist in the mainstream. considering that as of 2010, about 14.7 million people identified as Asian alone in the census, whereas 2.6 million Asian Americans identified as Asian in combination, or mixed with another race (U.S. Census, 2010). Having more accurate, positive representation of all Asian Americans would help American citizens embrace this group of individuals and their diverse backgrounds more readily, and more importantly, encourage other Asian Americans to join the teaching force.

This cause, launched in 2014 by TFA, could be emulated by other teacher recruitment programs such as the Office of Human Capital (OHC) at Boston Public Schools (BPS). They boast on the BPS Website (2017), “The OHC Recruitment team works to attract a qualified and diverse pool of candidates from which principals can hire. Their efforts range from participating in career fairs to developing a number of pathways to teaching with local universities.” I absolutely think that even a small, simple message like this ought to be stressed during the teacher search process, and acts as encouragement for teachers of color to pursue a career in education, especially as a teacher. A simple nudge like this would increase the amount of minority teachers overall, in turn lifting up the amount of Asian American teachers. Although there are many programs that declare a commitment to diversity on paper but diverge from their stated mission in practice, even a small mission statement such as the aforementioned one can be extremely valuable. Although the Boston Public Schools district does a relatively good job of recruiting teachers of color, they are not necessarily experts at retaining them, as attrition rates are rather high. For example, in 2015, BPS “filled over 40% of their vacancies with candidates of color, while at the national level, teachers of color comprise just 17% of the total workforce” (Maffai, 2015). Even in a progressive city like Boston are teachers of color leaving the education workforce at an alarming rate (Gleason, 2014). While Gleason focuses on the struggles of black teachers, some of the problems they face are relevant to Asian American teachers—particularly that their high attrition rates result from feeling isolated and furthermore, stereotyped by white teachers and their students. Many minority teachers cite poor working conditions and low pay as two of the biggest reasons why they leave the teaching profession (Ingersoll & May, 2016). In order for them to stay, states should invest more into their human capital systems and truly make diversity in the public school classrooms a priority (Konoske-Graf et al., 2015). The teachers of color recruited by the various programs that do exist would benefit tremendously coupled with mentorship programs (Ingersoll & May, 2004). Instead of a simple electronic message on a website, Asian American teachers would thrive under consistent guidance from colleagues their age as well as more experienced teachers.

With so little representation of AAPI folks in the media, it would be beneficial to have more accurate visuals of AAPI in the mainstream. Although Asian Americans are quite visible in STEM fields, they are hardly seen in Hollywood or on television (Hess, 2016). On the other hand, when they are presented on screen, there tend to be restrictive and unbalanced portrayals of Asians (MANAA, 2017). They are often represented as dragon ladies, Kung Fu masters, effeminate geeks, foreigners, and prostitutes, despite the good intentions of individual producers and filmmakers (Nittle, 2016). In order to expand what it means to be an Asian American in the United States, a massive media campaign should be launched in order to place Asian Americans, in advertisements on the television screen and on highway billboards, dressed as teachers, construction workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, politicians, professors, writers, poets, musicians, athletes, and everything in between.

Beyond just increasing favorable representation of AAPI in the media, establishments should seek to increase the prestige and respectability of the teaching profession. Some steps that could be taken include the creation of a national teaching university (Chu & Roberts, 2017). This would bolster the idea that teaching is a specialization that requires more than just a few weeks of training to do. For example, an alternative certification program such as TFA mandates only five weeks of training before entering the workforce as a full-time teacher, overwhelming often times the unprepared recent college graduate with no previous teaching experience (Ahmad & Boser, 2014). Creating this university would place the status of teachers closer to those of doctors and lawyers, which require years of postgraduate education to obtain. Specific to Asian Americans, who particularly enjoy bragging to their friends about the professional careers of their children, boosting not only the reputation, but also the salary of teachers would trickle in many more Asian Americans interested in teaching (Lee & Zhou, 2015). Perhaps this would be effective in breaking the minority myth and stereotype double threat/promise which work in conjunction to limit Asian Americans’ perceptions of what they are capable of doing and ought to do for a living.


One alternative to recruiting Asian American teachers is implementing teacher programs predicated towards the new trend in diversity & inclusion that attempt to educate teachers from different backgrounds about what to expect about the environment that they live in (Feng, 1994). Although this mutual cultural understanding will help ameliorate some of the struggles Asian American students face, it won’t place role models who look like them in the classroom, and allow them to smash the “bamboo ceiling” that has limited them to mild success in their respective careers (Lee and Zhou, 2015). Current teaching programs in place ought to expand their underrepresented minority recruitment and retention initiatives in order to help bring teachers into the classroom and help struggling Asian American students excel in the classroom by providing a role model to whom they can relate. Besides building a pipeline to teaching, they should be supported along the way with scholarship money and strong mentorship programs that will provide incentives for them to enter and remain in the teacher profession. While it will take a lot of funding and a multidimensional effort to address an issue that has become so ingrained in America’s infrastructure, it’s worth the time and energy because the future of America’s children matters, and all students deserve to learn from teachers who reflect their population.


I’d like to thank my friends Emma Dinh and Thanh Tran for keeping me company, my roommate Jacob Mitchell, for supporting me during my struggles, and all my colleagues who have heard me rant about things concerning education policy and also things completely unrelated to education policy. Last but not least, I would also like to thank Professor Mira Debs for her engagement and support throughout an awesome semester in her Public Schools and Public Policy course.

Word Count: 2574

Works Cited

Ahmad, F. Z. & Boser, U. (May 2014). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from 

Chu, T. & Roberts, W. (2017, May 3). The Opposite of TFA: A National Teacher University to Build the Teaching Profession. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from

Dilworth, M. and Coleman, M. (May 2014). Time for a Change in Diversity in Teaching Revisited. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Education World. (2017, May 3). Teachers Talk About Public Education Today. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from

Feng, J. (June 1994). Asian American Children: What Teachers Should Know. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from

Hess, A. (2016, May 29). Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Ingersoll, R. M. & May, H. (2004, March 1). Do Teacher Induction and Mentoring Matter? Retrieved April 26, 2017, from

Ingersoll, R. M. & May, H. (September 2011). The minority teacher shortage: Fact or fable? Retrieved April 17, 2017, from Public Schools & Public Policy Canvas file page.

Ingersoll, R. M. & May, H. (2016, September 15). Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from

Kardish, C. (March 2015). The Classroom Racial Gap Hits An All-Time High. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Konoske-Graf, A., Partelow, L. & Benner, M. (2016, December 22). To Attract Great Teachers, School Districts Must Improve Their Human Capital Systems. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Lee, J. & Zhou, M. (February 2015). Asian American Achievement Paradox. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from Public Schools & Public Policy Canvas file page.

Maffai, T. (2015, October 21). How Do We Build a Truly Diverse Teacher Workforce?Retrieved April 28, 2017 from  

Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). (2017). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2012). Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary schools and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics. Retrieved May 2, 2017, from

National Education Association. (2017). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Neason, A. (2014, December 17). Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Nittle, N. (2016, March 1). Why These 5 Asian American Stereotypes in TV and Film Need to Die. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from

Teach For America. (2017) Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

United Nations. (2001, May 3-4). Asians in the U.S. Public Service: Diversity, Achievements, and Glass Ceiling. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from

U.S. Census. (2010). Asian Population Data. Retrieved from

Williams, J. (2015, March 3). America’s Kids Are Getting More Diverse But Not Its Teachers. Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

A Framework for Creating an Effective Afterschool Program for Social and Behavioral Skills

Sydney Babiak

Edgar Aviña

PLSC 240/EDST 245 Public Schools & Public Policy



Estimates suggest that more than 7 million children in the United States are without adult supervision for at least some period of time after school. 800,000 elementary school and 2.2 million middle school students are on their own when they leave school (“Taking a Deeper Dive” 4). This unsupervised time puts children at risk for negative outcomes such as academic and behavioral problems, drug use and other types of risky behavior, yet schools with a need to slash costs in an era of constrained budgets often choose to scrap their afterschool programming. Many schools and districts rationalize these cuts by arguing that afterschool programs just do not generate enough payoffs to justify the costs of programming and personnel.


Contrary to this logic, hundreds of studies have documented the positive and statistically significant effects of afterschool programming on academic achievement (“Taking a Deeper Dive” 4) . However, the effects of afterschool programming on social and behavioral skills have received much less attention, in part because measuring progress on social and behavioral skills is more difficult, but also because it has just been relatively under-discussed among most scholars until recently.


This paper argues that afterschool programs that focus on social and behavioral skills are more beneficial to students than those that focus on academics. We will also highlight one framework for structuring afterschool programming that will successfully help children cultivate strong social and behavioral skills, which we are defining as “the cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies necessary for a young person to be successful in school, work, and life” (“Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Quality Afterschool Programs” 2). We hope that this paper will help contribute to the conversation about what well-designed afterschool programming focusing on social and behavioral skills might look like. While other studies have examined the positive outcomes of programs that focuses on social and behavioral skills, this report is the first to connect these successes to a specific framework of instruction and curriculum. The need for afterschool programming is ubiquitous, and we must work diligently to create quality programs that genuinely help advance student social and behavioral skills.


For this report, we researched current strategies in afterschool programming and chose a particular design that we wanted to highlight as potentially impactful. We then used data from studies at various universities and organizations. Many of the projects we pulled from did not answer our questions or implement the CASEL structure exactly, but usually had information on some component of either the effectiveness of afterschool programs, social and behavioral curriculum, or active engagement with students that we could then conceptually connect with the model we were highlighting. We then chose two afterschool programs we found details about within a few of our more comprehensive sources and analyzed their engagement with our the CASEL framework. We designed a few graphics using Google Sheets and the SmartArt functionality in Microsoft Word in order to better illustrate some of our points.


The CASEL Framework of Instruction and Curriculum

CASEL has analyzed dozens of afterschool programs over the past two decades, and has developed their own proposal for how to structure an afterschool program that meaningfully enhances social and behavioral skills. This framework has two parts: SAFE, the methods by which instruction should be given, and the CASEL competency clusters, which are the recommended focus points for the instruction. Each will be presented in turn below.


Figure 1 is a visual representation of how the framework is supposed to operate. All afterschool programs using the CASEL frameworks should have the same instructional strategies (the SAFE method), but each might focus on one or more CASEL competency in particular.


Figure 1

A visual representation of the CASEL Framework of afterschool programming


In 2004, CASEL analyzed 73 afterschool programs and found a series of four structural qualities that effective afterschool programming requires to achieve substantive gains in social and behavioral skills. An effective program must be Sequential, Active, Focused, and Explicit.


Programs must be Sequential because new social and behavioral skills cannot be acquired instantaneously (Durlak and Weissberg, “The Impact of Afterschool” 28). Social and behavioral skills are complex, which means that they have to be broken down into smaller components that can be taught sequentially with an ultimately cumulative end goal. Teaching must be linear, and follow a logical progression.


Programs must be Active because students are entering afterschool programs after a full day of regular school, which can mean they will be easily antsy, bored, and distracted. To ensure student engagement, the teaching must be active and involved; students should not be sitting in a room being lectured to when they have already endured a full day of schooling. Moreover, evidence indicates that youth learn best from active engagement where they have chances to practice new behaviors and receive feedback on their performance (Protheroe 3), such as practicing social and behavioral skills through “role playing and other types of behavioral rehearsal strategies” (Durlak and Weissberg, “The Impact of Afterschool” 26), for example.  A sequence of practice and feedback should continue until mastery is achieved. Hands-on forms of learning are much preferred over exclusively didactic instruction, which rarely translates into long-term learning (Durlak and Weissberg, “The Impact of Afterschool” 28).


Afterschool programming must be also be Focused on social and behavioral skills—teaching on the development of these skills cannot be merely interspersed sporadically in the program. Many afterschool programs fail to inculcate students with valuable skills precisely because they do not develop focused programming that addresses specific growth areas for students, but rather just operate without any particular direction or goals. Moreover, the content of the programming must be Explicit in communicating to students clearly what the learning objective is. If the goal is to improve self-esteem, that goal must be communicated clearly to students.


SAFE has proven particularly effective in increasing self-esteem, self-efficacy , improved attitudes toward self and school, and social and communication skills. Figure 2 shows data collected by CASEL on the observed positive benefits of programs that used the SAFE methods and those that did not.


Figure 2

Average percentile gains on selected outcomes for participants in SAFE and Other Afterschool Programs

CASEL Competencies

In their research brief titled Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Quality Afterschool Programs, CASEL defines five competency clusters that they found critical for young people’s success in school, work, and life (Devaney 2):


  • Self-awareness: the ability to understand one’s emotions, and how these emotions influence behavior
  • Self-management: the ability to calm down when upset, set and work towards goals, and to manage/control emotions
  • Social awareness: the ability to recognize what’s appropriate in certain settings, and to empathize with others
  • Responsible decision making: the ability to make decisions that account for social standards, consequences, and context
  • Relationship skills: the ability to communicate well, listen and respond appropriately, and to negotiate conflict


CASEL believes these competencies can be taught through explicit curricula or school/classroom-wide interventions that integrate them into every aspect of the school day, such as through collaborative projects in class or facilitated activities at recess. The research brief emphasizes that afterschool programs can do either, and that the best of these programs will teach these use this framework to instill grit, self-control, and growth in its participants (Devaney 4). CASEL’s study also found that consistent participation in programs using SAFE and the CASEL framework led to improvements in peer relationships, sense of self-worth, altruism, prosocial behavior, and decreased problematic behavior (Devaney 5).


Other analyses of afterschool programs with similar frameworks (that emphasize the same competencies but do not explicitly associate with CASEL) also found overwhelmingly positive results with regards to social and behavioral outcomes. Several studies at the School of Education at UC Irvine, like their peers at CASEL, also saw improvements in peer relationships and prosocial behavior, in addition to progress in engagement, intrinsic motivation, concentrated effort, and positive mindsets (Devaney 5).


The Youth Development Research Project at the University of Illinois also reported impressive effort and engagement in their analyses:


…youth report building skills in motivation and effort from participating in youth programs– in particular, youth voluntarily engage in challenging work in youth programs, are committed to completing the work, and therefore put in the effort and make the connection between hard work and results. Youth then learn these behaviors and can engage in strategic thinking and persistent behavior outside the youth program. (Devaney 5)


Collectively, these studies all provide evidence of how concerted focus on key non-academic characteristics in an afterschool program can lead to the development of crucial skills for not only a student’s academics, but for their life to come. This dual benefit is largely what makes afterschool programs that center around social and behavioral learning more fruitful and efficient than their counterparts.



Recent studies provide quantitative evidence that participation in programs that focus on the CASEL competency clusters and use the SAFE method of instruction– rather than just focusing on academics– yield improvements in social and behavioral skills. As discussed previously, these skills are critical for a young person’s success in school, work, and life.


A study of 73 afterschool programs that targeted personal and social skills found that “solid” training approaches included sequenced activities to achieve skill objectives, active learning, and explicit focus on personal or social skills. According to the study, “These programs showed significant positive benefits in terms of student self-confidence, positive social behaviors, and achievement test scores” (David 84). Other observed programs that did not use these same approaches did not produce improvement in any of these outcomes (David 84). The researchers in this study maintain that, “…programs without an academic component can nevertheless demonstrate increases in student achievement, whereas many programs focused on achievement fail to do so” (David 85). Therein we see why afterschool programs must begin to shift their focus towards developing fundamental social and behavioral skills first before approaching academics: building the blocks of sustainable interpersonal aptitudes in young children will set the stage for success in school both immediately and for the rest of a student’s academic career.


A report from Joseph A. Durlak and Roger P. Weissberg reviewed 68 studies on afterschool programs with specific goals of fostering personal and social development (CASEL competencies) compared to control groups of non-participating youth (“Afterschool Programs” 2). Table 1 compares the mean effect sizes of the experimental (SAFE-modeled programs focused on social and behavioral development) and these control groups (Durlak and Weissberg, “Afterschool Programs” 3). The data shows significant positive outcomes for students in afterschool programs that use the CASEL framework compared to those that do not, with particular advantages in school bonding, self-perceptions, and positive social behaviors.


Table 1

The mean effect size of student behaviors in experimental and control groups (Durlak and Weissberg 3)

Mean effect size of SAFE Programming Mean effect size of control
Drug use .16 .03
Positive social behaviors .29 .06
Reduction in problem behaviors .30 .08
School attendance .14 .07
School bonding .25 .03
School grades .22 .05
Self-perceptions .37 .13
Academic achievement (test scores) .20 .02


Table 2 shows the value-added benefit of afterschool programs that focused on one or more personal or social skills, measuring how many more youth would benefit from participation in these programs compared to participation in other, nonfocused programs. It is calculated by dividing the difference between the improvement rates of participating and control youth by the control improvement rate ((A-B)/B). The data was collected by Joseph A. Dorlak and Roger P. Weissberg for their report, The Impact of After-School Programs That Promote

Personal and Social Skills.


Table 2

The Value-Added Benefits of Effective Afterschool Programs (Durlak and Weissberg, “The Impact of Afterschool” 18)

Outcomes % of Program Participants Improving (A) % of Controls Improving (B) Value-Added % Benefit
Feelings and Attitudes (child self perceptions, school bonding) 58.75, 56.5 41, 43.5 42.6, 29.8
Indicators of Behavioral Adjustment (positive social behaviors, problem behaviors, drug use) 57.5, 56.5, 55.5 42.5, 43.5, 44.5 35.2, 29.8, 24.7
School Performance (achievement tests, school grades) 57.75, 56 42.25, 44 36.6, 27


This data provides more evidence that participation in programs focused on social and behavioral development can lead to improvements in three key areas of a child’s education: attitude, behavior, and academic performance.



This section presents two successful afterschool programs that focus on social and behavioral skills instead of academic performance. It also demonstrates how their adherence to the CASEL framework of the SAFE method of instruction in coordination with a focus on one or more of the CASEL competency clusters has enabled their success.


Woodrock Youth Development Program

The Woodrock Youth Development Program is a highly-structured afterschool program in Kensington, Philadelphia—a long-struggling neighborhood that harbors over 40% of the drug trade in the whole city (“A Profile]”)— that has improved student social and behavioral skills by adhering to the CASEL framework.


The core of the program is a series of weekly human relations classes. Each class is conducted by a team of two youth advocates, who represent different racial, ethnic, and gender backgrounds. Classroom activities focus on raising awareness about the dangers of substance abuse, “fostering self-esteem through enhancing images of racial membership groups,” and developing an appreciation of other ethnic and cultural traditions (“A Profile”). The curriculum is sequenced and active, with periods for open discussion and role-playing exercises weaved into every lesson. The programming is also focused, in that every class very explicitly addresses a certain kind of skill that it wants its students to develop (LoScutio).


The program has improved student outcomes along several dimensions, as shown by the data in the table below, which measures how much participating students improved over non-participating students. Participants were very similar to non-participants in terms of race, socioeconomic status, and achievement.


Table 3

Woodrock Youth Development Program – Standard deviations in student outcomes for participating and non-participating youth in social and behavioral skills (“A Profile”)

Skill Effect Size (in standard deviations)
School Attendance Rates .22
Drug Use Reduction .19
Increased Racial Tolerance .22
Self-esteem .13
Reduction in Aggression .19 (not statistically significant, p = .09)


The Woodrock Youth Development Program does not explicitly align itself with the CASEL framework, but its teaching and structure strongly model it. The results from this program, which works with some of the most troubled students in the country, are promising, and hint at the potential power of rolling out a full-fledged SAFE programming with CASEL competency clusters.


Maryland After-School Community Grant Program

The Maryland After-School Community Grant Program is an afterschool program in Baltimore, Maryland, funded by the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention with additional federal funds from the U.S. Department of Justice (Zief et al. 43). The program is run by school teachers, the principal, a guidance counselor, a police officer, and student volunteers, and lists two major goals: to lower delinquency and drug use among its students (Zief et al. 44). The program coordinators also report a minor focus on other tangential qualities, such as decreasing negative peer influence and improving social skills (Zief et al. 44).


The Maryland After-School Community Grant Program does not claim to follow the CASEL framework of programming, but nonetheless fits the model in many ways. The program provides academic and social skills instruction, which are presumably focused and explicit, along with additional recreational offerings such as board and video games, pool and ping-pong, and organized sports; these activities account for the “active” component of the SAFE method (Zief et al. 45). Our source does not mention any sequential element to the program’s instruction, which means we can neither confirm nor deny if it employs this last component of SAFE.


The positive results (with significance of p<0.5) seen when studying this program included more time spent with positive peer groups, a decrease in negative peer influences, and increased involvement in constructive activities (Zief et al. 49). However, participants also spent less time in self-care (Zief et al. 47). We speculate that this may be a result of constant instruction and activities in addition to the regular school day– students may not feel the need or feel entitled to take personal times for themselves and their overall happiness.


While the Maryland After-School Community Grant Program is not perfect, it provides an example of some positive results that can come from afterschool programs with directed focus and active engagement. There are many areas where the program could improve, such as with more explicit focus on the CASEL recommended competencies, but nonetheless, their structure has seen solid outcomes in important areas that will benefit these kids far beyond their lives as students.



Overall, we see the CASEL framework often creates positive change in students that consistently participate in afterschool programs, even if some programs do not know they are necessarily adhering by the guidelines of this particular structure. The important characteristics extracted from the data and examples show that programs with concise focus on social and behavioral abilities, coupled with active and sequential activities to engage with these skills, can enact positive change that gives kids tools to succeed not only in school, but also for the rest of their lives.


Research has shown that afterschool programs that focus on social and behavioral development yield positive benefits not only in the targeted skills, but also in academic success, which proves why more programs should begin shifting their goals to revolve around these characteristics rather than just improved academics. While success in school is important, it can often be fleeting and unsustainable, whereas characteristics such as persistence and self-control are crucial qualities that have been proven to aid classroom achievement as well (in many cases more successfully than programs that only focus on academics).


For this reason, we believe that afterschool programs should abide by the CASEL framework: structured and operated according to the SAFE model, with emphasis on at least one component of the CASEL competency clusters of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, or relationship skills. While not much research has been done on programs with this structure (mostly because not many yet exist), we maintain that if all afterschool programs can establish strong building blocks in these core areas, success in academics, social situations, and their future life endeavors will come far easier.


Addressing Challenges: Embedded Influence and Attendance

It is important to recognize that even the best-planned program aligned perfectly with the CASEL Framework can still face challenges. The most salient challenge is the issue of student retention: how do you ensure that students maintain continuous attendance? Scholar Ingrid Nelson develops a theory of embedded influence that posits that there are many overlapping and evolving contexts of students’ homes, schools, and communities that can inhibit student attendance (160). Nelson recognizes that participants’ and their social situations change over time, and thus acknowledges that afterschool programming will affect the same student in different ways depending on their situation at home and in their personal lives. For example, a middle school student that is an avid participant in middle school of afterschool programming may drop it all together once she needs to work a job in high school.


The issue of attendance is difficult to solve because of embedded influence and other systems that influence student behavior, but all programs must be conscious of this challenge as they structure their program. A possible method of addressing this challenge would be to mandate attendance, as the Woodrock Youth Development Program does. Tackling logistical challenges can also help increase consistent attendance. For example, something as simple as providing car rides or bus rides to students who struggle to get home after afterschool programming could play a huge role in increasing long-term participation.


We did not address attendance in our outlining of the CASEL framework, because data on attendance was not relayed in our sources. Had we been able to collect our own data, we would have measured attendance patterns against the successes of afterschool programs to identify any possible causal relationships. The issue of attendance is a huge gap in the research that is ripe for more exploration.


Overall, we believe that an afterschool program that is structured according to the CASEL Framework SAFE method and centers around one or more of CASEL competencies is the best design for students. We came to this conclusion after an analysis of the early research and data obtained on this relatively under-studied topic, along with some hypothesizing on our own end. We see the CASEL competencies as fundamental characteristics necessary for a child’s imminent success in school, relationships, and life, and the SAFE design of instruction gives programs a structure to follow that has seen quantified success.


Works Cited

“A Profile of the Evaluation of Woodrock Youth Development Project.” Harvard Family Research Project,  2017. Web. 01 May 2017.


David, Jane L. “Research Says…After-School Programs Can Pay Off.” Educational Leadership, vol. 68, no. 8, 2011, pp. 84-85. Web.


“Taking a Deeper Dive into Afterschool: Positive Outcomes and Promising Practices.” Afterschool Alliance. Feb. 2014. Web.


Devaney, Elizabeth. Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Quality Afterschool Programs. Chicago: Beyond the Bell at American Institutes for Research, 2015. Web.


Devaney, Elizabeth, and Deborah Moroney. Linking Schools and Afterschool Through Social and Emotional Learning: Research to Action in the Afterschool and Expanded Learning

Field. Chicago: Beyond the Bell at American Institutes for Research, 2015. Web.


Durlak, Joseph A., and Roger P. Weissberg. Afterschool Programs that Follow Evidence-Based Practices to Promote Social and Emotional Development Are Effective. Chicago: C.S. Mott Foundation, 2016. Web.


Durlak, Joseph A., and Roger P. Weissberg. The Impact of After-School Programs That Promote Personal and Social Skills. Chicago: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2007. Web.


LoSciuto, Leonardo, Susan M. Hilbert, M. Margaretta Fox, Lorraine Porcellini, Alden Lanphear. “A Two-Year Evaluation of the Woodrock Youth Development Project.” Journal of Early Adolescence, vol. 19, no. 4, 1999, pp. 488-507. Web.


Nelson, Ingrid A. Why Afterschool Matters. Rutgers University Press, 2016. Print.


Protheroe, Nancy. “Successful After-school Programs.” National Association of Elementary School Principals, May 2006. Web.


Vandell, Deborah Lowe, and Elisabeth R. Reisner, Kim M. Pierce. Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings for the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs. Irvine: University of California, Irvine, 2007. Web.


Zief, Susan Goerlich, and Sherri Lauver, Rebecca A. Maynard. Impact of After-School Programs on Student Outcomes. Oslo: Campbell Systematic Reviews, 2006. Web.


Don’t Say Gay: Why States Are Erasing LGBTQ Students, and How They Have the Power to Change It

Sara Harris

EDST 245: Public Schools and Public Policy

Professor Mira Debs

May 3rd, 2017

Don’t Say Gay:

Why States Are Erasing LGBTQ Students, and How They Have the Power to Change It


Executive Summary

Over the past 60 years in particular, the American public education system has seen significant progress toward creating an inclusive, equitable environment for all students; there has been equal challenges met along the way, however. Inclusive educations has made numerous strives, yet today, some students still remain unsafe and unrepresented. More than half of LGBT-identifying students report feeling unsafe at school, the majority reporting having experienced direct verbal harassment (The 2015 National School Climate Survey). Not only are they facing this bullying, harassment, and discrimination on a personal level, but many still face this treatment on an institutional level.

While some states have active exclusionary laws (known as “no promo homo”), others protect students from harassment or discrimination, and California stands alone in requiring LGBTQ inclusive curriculum. Previous culture and history wars have left the power of forming and enforcing standards to the discretion of the states, in hopes to better cater to more localized needs, but these laws have been upheld at the detriment of LGBTQ students. Maintaining these laws creates a culture of silence in schools which perpetuate a dangerous environment for these students, and leave educators fearing legal backlash upon mention of the topic. This report will provide historical context for the social and cultural barriers to revising curriculum standards, and review the legality of existing “no promo homo” laws. It will also make the case that not only should states remove discriminatory “no promo homo” laws, but adopt standards mandating inclusive curriculum to ensure a quality education.

Introduction: What is No Promo Homo?

LGBTQ students in American public schools are not afforded any level of guaranteed safety or representation in the classroom. The responsibility to champion inclusive curriculum falls on the state level; today, California remains the only state to have passed such requirements, while seven states– Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina– have policies known as “no promo homo” laws that effectively silence teachers on the topics of LGBTQ issues, history, and health (The Trevor Project, 2017). These laws range in exact language and context, but all have the same effect: erasing these students’ presence and any attempt by educators to acknowledge or support them.

From Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN, n.d.)

Within the modern education reform debate, attempts to create inclusive, diverse curriculum  have taken center stage many times; this has influenced numerous initiatives and decisions even when not the primary focus. In these seven states, educators cannot even entertain the idea of LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, let alone speak about the topic in the classroom. Alabama currently mandates that “an emphasis, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state” (Alabama Code Title 16). This references the state’s unenforceable criminalization of homosexuality, a law that was federally overturned in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. In Arizona, districts are forbidden to include curriculum which “1. Promotes a homosexual life-style or 2. Portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style.” (Arizona Revised Statutes Title 15. Education § 15-716)

These laws perpetuate an image of criminality and shame surrounding students’ identity, and enforce discussion of the topic to be considered taboo. States hold the power to regulate curriculum guidelines and standards, using national standards as a resource to inform and craft the curriculum. The control is given to states in order to allow curriculum formation to happen at the local level to better fit the needs of individual communities (Nash, Crabtree, & Dunn 2000; Zimmerman, 2005). These curricular guidelines come at the cost of students’ wellbeing. States have no legal need to perpetuate a standard of sexual conduct (Lugg, 2003). The idealization of heteronormative relationships is not grounded in any constitutional or other official framework, but rather a reflection of local culture.

All states should be required to remove all language which promotes or mandates discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Repealing all “no promo homo” laws is the only way towards ensuring safety, inclusion, and quality education for LGBTQ students. This need be accomplished either at the state level, which was accomplished in Utah in 2017, if not enforced by the US Department of Education at a national level. Furthermore, states must move towards adopting LGBTQ inclusive curriculums, as the benefits of inclusive curriculum affect all students.

Background: The History of Modern History Curriculum

In the 1990’s, a social and political battle was ignited by a the development of a new system of national history standards. The “Culture Wars”, a resulting debate over the formation of these standards, were fueled by partisan motives and political ties (Nash et. al., 2000). This debate, however, was not the first of it’s kind in American history. After the Civil War, textbooks in Northern and Southern states reported vastly different accounts of the war and antebellum life. The 1920’s saw a rising critique of history textbooks’ accounts of slavery. In the early 1940’s conservative parent groups, led a movement against allegedly “un American” textbooks, primarily written by Harold Rugg. The Rugg books were criticised for propagating “treasonous”, anti-american ideas; within five years the initiative, spearheaded largely by the American Legion, was successful in encouraging districts to phase out the Ruggs book. The 1950s and 60s saw an influx of more diverse Americans graduated with history degrees. This increase in scholarship coincided with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, and textbooks started to reflect a shift toward a more accurate, honest portrayal of slavery (Nash et. al., 2000; Zimmerman, 2005).

The 1990’s Culture Wars is the most recent iteration of the same political struggles surrounding curriculum. Fueled by an era of political and social tension, much of the debate surrounding the National History Standards followed partisan lines. The narrative and outcome was little different to it’s predecessors; the conflict was, at its core, between those advocating for a “traditional”, celebratory history of American and “American” values, and those advocating for the addition of new material, and a critical presentation of standard events and figures. (Zimmerman, 2005). The revised standards were not as progressive as the first proposed, providing more of an outline for states and districts to form their own curriculum. It is not the exact result of any specific “history war” in this country’s past that was formative of today’s curriculum standards or mandating processes. It is of greater importance that these moments quickly turned to political, social, and culture wars, through which players fought for which morals, identities, and collective national image would be propagated in schools, through the curricular content which would find itself in new textbooks. In the midst and following the public national debacle surrounding the national standards, in the 1990’s, the main power to create and enforce curriculum fell on the state and local level.

This nation’s historical controversy and disagreement over history has lead to the current climate in which “no promo homo” laws can continue to influence school climate and curriculum. There are no nationally mandated curriculum standards, however the department of education does protect against discrimination “on the basis of race, color, and national origin, sex, disability, and on the basis of age,” (United States Department of Education). This lack of explicit protection in combination with the long-standing controversial and subjective nature of history/social study standards, give states and local districts have the power to either deny these students a positive, inclusive experience.

The Necessity of LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum

California is the only state which features language requiring the explicit inclusion of positive representation of LGBTQ figures and historical contributions. Other than the seven previously mentioned states with “no promo homo” laws, no other states have specific curriculum guidelines in this area, however, this alone is not sufficient. By not passing inclusive standards, these states remain complicit in the adversity faced by LGBTQ students by allowing their history and identities to go unrepresented. The benefits of inclusive curriculum benefit all students, and build a healthy climate for LGBTQ identified students.  

The two main subject areas which topics of LGBTQ history and issues arise are in health education and history and social studies (Snapp, Burdge, Licona, Moody, & Russell, 2015). Most of states “no promo homo” laws were passed in the 1980’s and 90’s in response to the AIDS crisis and with the rise of anti-LGBTQ inclusive laws and policy (Lambda Legal, n.d.). These laws, for the most part, are focussed on health and sex education, but their reach does not stop there, often affecting teachers willingness and ability to talk about LGBTQ issues, including harassment or mistreatment within the school (Lambda Legal, n.d.). This creates a culture of silence and shame surrounding the student’s’ identity. Of students who reported incidents,  63.5% said that school staff did not respond or told the student to ignore it. 16.7% were prohibited from discussing or writing on LGBTQ topics for their assignments, while an additional 16.3% were prohibited from doing so in their extracurricular activities (The 2015 National School Climate Survey).

Inclusive curriculum appears most often in history and social studies classrooms (Snapp et. al., 2015). These sections in the curriculum may have positive impacts on students who identify as LGBTQ, but they can easily fall short of their full potential. These lessons are often taught as stand alone topics, and the connections to broader social justice work and can often be missed (Snapp et. al., 2015). Educators can miss valuable teaching moments, even if they are trying their best to incorporate these topics. This speaks to the importance of a structured curriculum reflected in the textbook and teaching materials teachers use. Inclusive curriculum not only teaches all students about specific events and figures important to the LGBTQ community, it also increases the awareness of the obstacles and challenges these students face. Non LGBTQ identifying students may be able to appreciate and acknowledge the difficult position of their peers more, and empathize with them when presented with history and current events in particular. It can also be related to other issues of social justice, and equal rights which students may have learned about beforehand, encouraging them to recognize and relate the injustice and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community as similar to that faced by other groups (Athanases & Larrabee, 2003).

At schools with inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ students are psychologically healthier, and perform better in the classroom (Russell, Fish, 2016). They are more supported, miss less classes, and experience fewer instances of harassment and bullying. Overall, these factors contribute to a safer climate which is fostered by these students’ peers and teachers. The two most effective factors in encouraging students to stop bullying and harassment is witnessing teachers intervene to stop harassment and, most of all, seeing other students do so (Wernick, Kulick, & Inglehart, 2013). By introducing curriculum which demystifies and illuminates LGBTQ history and issues, students will be more likely to actively speak out against negative remarks, and bullying. This creates a positive cycle in which other students would be engaged, improving the overall culture and climate of the school.

The perceived safety of LGBTQ students by their peers has been shown to be an indicator of the heteronormative school culture (Toomey, McGuire, & Russell, 2012). In schools with more inclusive curriculum, students reported a safer environment for their LGBTQ, and specifically gender nonconforming peers. These students perceived safety, may not reflect their reality as many still report high instances of harassment.  

Students who attend schools with LGBT inclusive curriculum experience also less verbal and physical harassment and assault. According to GLSEN 2015 School Climate report, 40.4% of students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation as opposed to 62.6% in schools without inclusive curriculum, 18.6% of students missed school in the past month as opposed to 35.6%. In these environments, LGBTQ students feel more welcomed and accepted by their peers, reporting hearing “gay” used often in a negative way 49.7% opposed to 72.6%, and general homophobic remarks 40.6% opposed to 64.1% of students. They were also more likely to report their classmates were somewhat or very accepting of LGBTQ people, 75.8% compared to 41.6% (The 2015 National School Climate Survey).    

Students who feel unsafe and victimized at school have poorer academic performance and lower rates of pursuing higher education.
From GLSEN 2015 School Climate Report (“The 2015 School Climate…”









Overall, positive representation in the classroom improves the school environment by educating all students, but only 22.4% of LGBTQ students reported being taught positive representation about LGBTQ people, history, or events and 17.9% had been taught negative content (The 2015 National School Climate Survey). Less than half of students reported being able to find information about LGBT-related issues in their school library. This shows that having no requirements is not enough to promote an inclusive environment. The standard cannot be set so low, that the simple absence of discriminatory laws is seen as exemplary.

California: An Agent For Change

In 2012, California became the only state mandating LGBTQ inclusive curriculum standards. The changes to the law were minimal. The bill which introduced these changes did not change any of the state’s standards or curriculum directly. It did, however, ensure that schools and districts make efforts to actively include positive representation of LGBTQ figures. Among other previously underrepresented groups “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” were added to the section mandating the “ study of the role and contributions… to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society” (California Department of Education).

The other main change which this bill initiated was new requirements for textbooks and other educational materials. “Education Code Section 60040 directs governing boards to only adopt instructional materials that accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society” (California Department of Education.). Education Code Section 51501 and Section 60044 outline similar  prohibitions on instructional materials “reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry”; this bill added “sexual orientation” to the list (S.B. 48, 2011).

It can be seen in the Center for Disease Control’s report on “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12” that LGBTQ students in California experience less harassment and bullying at school. In the figure below, the difference in percentage of heterosexual, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students bullied on school property is much lower in California than Oklahoma, the only state with reported figures which has “no promo homo” laws. Oklahoma has the second highest percentage of LGBTQ students reporting being bullied on school property, and the highest difference between heterosexual and LGBTQ students, at near 30% more.

Percentage of high school students who were bullied on school property. From (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)











In California students at several grade levels will learn appropriate topics such as different, diverse types of family structure, landmark cases, and the history of the modern gay rights movement. Perhaps the most widespread effect of this bill will be the new textbooks and instructional materials districts adopted in the 2016-17 school year (California Department of Education). The new standards will be reflected in materials adopted for grades k-12. Surrounding states will have access to these materials as well, and opportunity to adopt them, and mold their own curriculum to the new materials. This has the potential to create a ripple effect of inclusive curriculum in schools and districts; the majority of the work has been done, these materials need only be adopted, and these topics integrated into classrooms.

Considering Implementation

Implementation of LGBTQ inclusive curriculum faces barriers at both the state and local levels. As seen throughout history, political and social landscape of the region dictates most of the discussion and action surrounding what curricular standards are adopted. However, “no promo homo” laws are not invincible. In 2017, Utah’s Senate Bill 0196 “repealed language prohibiting the advocacy of homosexuality in health instruction”, becoming one of the first states to repeal their “no promo homo” law in recent history. The legislation came after the group Equality Utah filed a lawsuit in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court, against Utah public school districts, which “asked a federal judge to strike what it calls anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual and -transgender curriculum laws because they are unconstitutional and violate First Amendment rights to free speech, 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and laws that prohibit sex discrimination and equal access” (Noble, 2016).

The state, and public school districts, have no real legal authority to promote heterosexuality or gender conformity in schools, just as they have no authority to promote homosexuality (Duggan, 1994; Hunter, 1993; Lugg, 2003; Rosky, 2013). Every student has a default right to be heterosexual, but every child also has the same right to identify as LGBTQ. To limit homosexual or LGBTQ-reated speech is a violation of free speech protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and to limit a student’s LGBTQ status is a form of animus against them that violates the equal protection guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, to targets students LGBTQ relationships (Rosky, 2013).

Two main arguments against the inclusion of LGBTQ curriculum are based on moral or religious grounds, or the grounds of the legality of homosexuality. However, including LGBTQ figures in the classroom does not infringe upon other’s right to freedom of religion and practice. In 1987, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the curriculum case Mozert v. Hawkins, “governmental actions that merely offend or cast doubt on religious beliefs do not on that account violate free exercise” (Lugg, 2003).  Parents have the right to teach their own children what they please, but they do not have the right to restrict important and vital information from their children across subjects of sciences, sociology, or psychology; students have the right to their own informed opinion (Lugg, 2003). There is also nothing inherently criminal about identifying as LGBTQ. Since Lawrence v Texas in 2003 federally overturned sodomy laws, and Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same sex marriage in 2015, homosexual identity and conduct is federally protected, even though some “no promo homo” laws still reference invalid state laws regarding these rights.  

This being said, the responsibility of implementation should fall on the state and local levels, but the burden of enforcement in the face of possible legal contention should be taken up on a national level. The United States Department of Education currently does not include the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in its anti discrimination policies. By adding these to the existing protection, “no promo homo” could legally be targeted as discrimination.


It is not only important to move towards inclusive curriculum, it is imperative to the wellbeing and education of LGBTQ identifying students. “No promo homo” laws infringe upon these students’ rights, and blatantly promote discrimination and mistreatment. LGBTQ students face significantly higher rates of harassment and miss more classes because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. These risk factors lead to overall higher rates of negative outcomes including high dropout rates, lower rates of pursuing higher education, and higher mental illness prevalence and suicide rates. The regions where most of the “no promo homo” states lie, the south and midwest, have the highest demand for crisis intervention services provided by organizations, such as the Trevor Project, this could be attributed to the lack of other institutional supports offered at school or in the community (The Trevor Project, 2017).

All children deserve the opportunity to a safe, inclusive educational environment. LGBTQ students face numerous additional challenges in their everyday lives. In order to relieve the additional strain on these students, states must take the first proactive steps. The legality of “no promo homo” laws was challenged and overturned in Utah, and the model for inclusive curriculum has been created in California. States not only have the power to abolish these hateful practices, and implement inclusive policies, they have the obligation to do so in order to ensure the quality of education for LGBTQ students.


Works Cited

Alabama Code Title 16. Education § 16-40A-2 (1975)

Applebee, A. N. (1996). Curriculum as conversation: transforming traditions of teaching and learning. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Arizona Revised Statutes Title 15. Education § 15-716.

Athanases, S. Z., & Larrabee, T. G. (2003). Toward a consistent stance in teaching for equity: Learning to advocate for lesbian-and gay-identified youth. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19(2), 237-261.

Biegel, S., & Kuehl, S. J. (2010). Safe at school: Addressing the school environment and LGBT safety through policy and legislation.

California Department of Education. (2017, March 3). Senate Bill 48. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12″ — Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001–2009. MMWR Early Release 2011;60: June 6, 2011

Duggan, L. (1994). Queering the state. Social Text, (39), 1-14.

Eskridge Jr, W. N. (2000). No promo homo: The sedimentation of antigay discourse and the channeling effect of judicial review. NYUL Rev., 75, 1327.

Gay, L., & Network, S. E. (2011). Teaching Respect: LGBT-‐Inclusive Curriculum and School Climate(Research Brief). New York, NY: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Retrieved on July, 18, 2014.

Graff, G. (1993). Beyond the culture wars: how teaching the conflicts can revitalize American education. New York: W. W. Norton.

Hunter, N. D. (1993). Identity, Speech, and Equality. Virginia Law Review, 1695-1719.

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C. & Danischewski, D. J. (2016).

The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. (2015) New York: GLSEN.

Lambda Legal (n.d.) “#DontEraseUs: FAQ About Anti-LGBT Curriculum Laws.” Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Lugg, C. A. (2003). Sissies, faggots, lezzies, and dykes: Gender, sexual orientation, and a new politics of education?. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(1), 95-134.

McGarry, R. (2013). Build a curriculum that includes everyone. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(5), 27-31.

Nash, G. B., Crabtree, C. A., & Dunn, R. E. (2000). History on trial: culture wars and the teaching of the past. New York: Vintage Books.

Noble, M. (2016, November 07). Equality Utah – In a national first, LGBT advocates sue Utah schools over ‘anti-gay’ laws. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Rosky, C. J. (2013). No promo hetero: Children’s right to be queer.

Russell, S. T., & Fish, J. N. (2016). Mental health in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Annual review of clinical psychology, 12, 465-487.

S.B. 196, Utah (2017) (enacted).

S.B. 48, California (2011) (enacted).

Snapp, S. D., Burdge, H., Licona, A. C., Moody, R. L., & Russell, S. T. (2015). Students’ perspectives on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 48(2), 249-265.

Stainback, S. (1994). Curriculum considerations in inclusive classrooms: facilitating learning for all students. Baltimore, Md: Brookes.

The Trevor Project. (2017). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of adolescence, 35(1), 187-196.

United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. (2015, October 16). Know Your Rights. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Wernick, L. J., Kulick, A., & Inglehart, M. H. (2013). Factors predicting student intervention when witnessing anti-LGBTQ harassment: The influence of peers, teachers, and climate. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(2), 296-301.

Zimmerman, J. (2005). Whose America?: culture wars in the public schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Final Policy Project: Bars for Bars

José Yobani López

EDST 245: Public Schools and Public Policy

Professor Mira Debs

May 3rd, 2017

Final Policy Project: Bars for Bars

As the debate around discipline in schools continues, it becomes clearer that traditional punishment-based methods of dealing with student misbehavior are more hurtful than helpful for “bad students” as they often deprive them of educational opportunity. It is also becoming clearer that such discipline disproportionately affects urban populations, specifically low-income students and students of color. To combat this problem, this policy project deviates from the traditional rhetoric of statistics and instead looks into the psychological and emotional nuanced effects of disproportionate discipline, arguing for a complete reformation of how it approaches these students and outlined by three courses of action:

  1. Replace punishment-based discipline with mentorship
  2. Use student culture to frame learning
  3. Implement a more considerate and collaborative school environment

The hopes of this proposal is to trade the jail bars that students might find themselves behind as a result of this system for the rap “bars,” for example, that allow students to celebrate what they can contribute to the classroom and to learn through methods to which they might be more receptive. Two examples of previous efforts are presented, the Homies Empowerment Program and the Oakland Ebonics Resolution, as potential models for how such programs might look like.


The role of discipline in ensuring order in the classroom has traditionally gone unquestioned in public schools. Teachers and principals who deal with “difficult” classes are often tempted to rely on an authoritative attitude to ensure students learn, and more often than not some type of disciplinary action takes place where misbehavior occurs. Such enforcement typically comes from the desire to ensure safety and order in schools rather than to instill a strict culture or to criminalize students.

However, the rhetoric of safety when discussing discipline has successfully created a divide in the student population—those who pose a threat to the safety of schools and those who are victim to this threat—that has provided the framework of how we address the issue of school discipline, and with it a structure for inherent bias to dictate how discipline is instilled. Teachers, parents, principals, and administrators have in turn internalized negative perceptions of students from particular backgrounds, consequently leading to the exercising of disproportionate discipline on these students. Such instances have only become more likely with the implementation of strict “zero-tolerance” policies, and today these environments have led to the “school-to-prison pipeline” phenomenon: students of color and of low-socioeconomic status are attending increasingly hostile school environments that arguably prepare them for lives involved with crime and the carceral system (Advancement Project, 2005) (Heitzeg, 2009) (Walk & Losen, 2003). Today, the debate of discipline centers around the question of balancing school safety and equal access to educational opportunity.

Upon looking more closely at the problem of disproportionate discipline, it becomes clearer that the problem isn’t so much excessive misbehavior as it is a lack of support for these “chronically disruptive students.” While some might argue that such labels are nothing more that identifiers when having this discussion, how these students are treated after being disciplined suggests these labels have a deeper influence on how they are perceived. A recent report from the Connecticut State Department of Education suggests that schools are intentionally driving out students by not providing the resources needed to deal effectively with students who experience trauma or who are expelled in order to get them back on track (Rabe Thomas, 2016). The commitment of schools to educate all children is put to question when schools do not place enough resources for the reincorporation of disciplined students—which tend to come from underprivileged backgrounds.

Graph 1. Attendance of students that received an out-of-school suspension or expulsion, divided by age group and type of school. Taking into account that  Black and Latinx students had suspension and expulsion rates triple that of white students and that districts with the highest number of students expelled or suspended are also those with high poverty and low student performance in the state of Connecticut, there is an argument for a lack of support for underprivileged students. Source: Connecticut State Department of Education (Rabe Thomas, 2016).

When discussing her son’s suspensions, Tunette Powell, a reporter for the Huffington Post, recalls her own feelings with negative disciplinary moments and how it affected her: “I remember being told I was bad and believing it. I remember just how long it took me to believe anything else about myself” (2014). This comment draws attention to a significant effect of disproportionate discipline not conveyed by statistics, namely that of the psychological and emotional damage it does to children and furthermore affecting what type of student they perceive themselves to be. Recognizing this opens up the discussion to explore the harm caused not only in the disciplining itself but in the messages conveyed while sending a student to the principal’s office or in preventing such misbehavior, for example.

Although the number of suspensions and expulsions certainly provides information about disproportionate discipline, increasing attention is shifting to these more quotidian moments where students are reminded of their position in the school-student authority hierarchy. In doing so, it becomes clear school misbehavior does not arise of isolated incidents but rather from an accumulation of small instances that remind students that they are somehow deviant. By studying what Lewis and Diamond refer to as “disciplinary moments,” it becomes evident how the smallest incidents of disproportionate discipline, with enough iterations, “communicate to all who is and who is not a full member of the school community” (2015, p. 46). This creates a powerful effect that, coupled with a lack of support to change their attitude, affects a student’s educational goals and sense of self-value that can affect their performance.

Proceeding along this line of thinking, students are perceived less subjects that learn through dictation and example and more as young capable people who react emotionally and psychologically to the messages that are impressed upon them. If the latter is true, then students can participate in the discussion of discipline in collaboration with teachers so long as the messages that are expressed to them do not patronize the student. The immediate fear of doing this, of course, is that students cannot be trusted to deal with their emotions and with the concept of matching appropriate discipline with behavior when it involves them personally—but students are actually not as incapable of recognizing injustice as one might assume. Carla Shedd’s book Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice (2015) debunks these misconceptions through her interviews across public schools in Chicago on perceptions of injustice from students. Through these interviews students reveals a high capability of noticing the nuances of attending either highly segregated schools or racially mixed schools and of crossing physical and class borders and being exposed to the difference in opportunities (p. 58, 62). Among the most relevant findings, however, is that students are able to differentiate when punishment is fair and when it is unwarranted or unjustified (p. 110-111). An unwillingness to collaborate with teachers or authority figures in school, then, is less a result of students being incapable of accepting punishment for their actions but rather of not trusting these authority figures of holding students’ best interests in mind.

Careful consideration of how school climates have changed as a result of enforcing order and safety more strictly reveals that schools does not trust their students. This explains why “strict zero-tolerance policies and a highly visible police presence have not translated into safer learning or less disruptive student behavior” (p. 84). If the school cannot trust its students, how does it expect its students to trust it back? How can it expect their behavior to change at all?


In an attempt to restore the trust broken by disproportionate discipline, three courses of action are proposed: removing punishment-based discipline completely from schools and replacing these efforts with mentorship; turning to student culture to frame learning and, when needed, intervention; and implementing a more considerate and collaborative school environment.


While conducting her interviews in Chicago public schools, Shedd receives insight into a particular scenario that runs contrary to what others students state when asked about the police. Boomer, a Black student at Lincoln Park High, tells of his “connection” with the school police officers and even takes pride in his relationships with them (2016, p. 116). This makes sense when two details are noted: 1) he connects with Black police officers in particular, and 2) “he believes that the officers have a racially vested interest in seeing Black males like him succeed.”

Scenarios like this bring to light an important fact that can often go ignored, especially with misbehaving students: students need adults they can not only look up but can also connect with. While school environment plays a huge role in the educational experience of a student, a student can overcome a lot of this through a solid relationship with at least one adult that can show genuine care for the student and provide the student with advice. In many cases, the more abstract problem of student disengagement is manifested in the relationship with the teacher, the one adult they spend time with most. By training teachers to behave as mentors instead of instructors, students will be more willing to approach teachers and cooperate with them, whether it be to improve their academic performance or to reflect on how the students can change their behavior. (Zehr, 2002)

In a tangential study of a student population, undocumented Latinx students, that suffers criminalization not by their actions but by their “legal” status, mentorship plays a significant role in anticipating drastically different life outcomes. The undocumented status typically leads students to be ill-advised and supported because of the difficulty of succeeding academically, but the presence of intervening and supportive adults play a crucial role in the student developingand successfully striving forambitious academic goals such as attending college (Gonzales, 2015, p. 14, 45, 76). This reveals that the presence of someone that cares for a student can be hugely influential in overcoming a negative perception against the student, despite the real possibility that they might not achieve such goals.

Although all teachers should strive to be more compassionate, the topic of mentorship touches on the advantages teachers bring to the classroom. Indeed, increasing research on teachers of color shows they have an easier time forming relationships with students (Randolf, 2009). Interviews with Black teachers have shown that this is not only “because of perceived cultural and experiential similarities” but also because teachers are able to relate with students as much as the student can look up to them (Griffin & Tackie, 2016). While a restriction of allowing only teachers of color to be a part of the mentorship component of this proposal may not be reasonable, it is important to incorporate them into the discussion of what mentorship looks like and take race and ethnicity into account when addressing teachers.

Student Culture

Proposing what needs to happen to improve student engagement, mentorship, is the first step of the more complicated process of actually enacting it. To tackle the challenge, different methodologies are considered in order to form the theoretical and pedagogical framework of potential mentorship programs.

Culturally relevant pedagogy is becoming increasingly relevant as a method of incorporating the student’s background into the classroom. Originally framed as a response to assimilative education (Brayboy & Castagno, 2009), it now serves as base of similar pedagogies such as reality pedagogy, which has the goal of “meeting each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf” (Edmin, 2016, p. 27). Through this approach, students are established as the “neoindigenous”the experts of their own environmentsand in the context of the classroom experience, the “student [becomes] the person who shapes how best to teach that content.”

For urban settings, where disproportionate discipline is more evident, hip-hop culture is becoming increasingly attractive as a method of practicing reality pedagogy. Christopher Emdin, who has incorporated hip-hop culture into his lessons in the classroom, provides a definition rap that is quite contrary to how it is popularly perceived: “It is the verbal expression of the realities of social actors in contexts where they are either not allowed to fully participate or cannot be heard because their histories, traditions, and voices are different from those of a dominant group.” (2010, p. 2) If teachers can take advantage of the narrative-intensive nature of rap, they can provide students with an alternative method of expressing themselves or communicating themes and lessons that might feel more foreign through a book or a play. At the same time, student undergo the more important process of structuring their understanding of themselves in the context of their education, inherently affecting their educational goals and outcomes. Marc Lamont Hill, who also incorporates rap into his lessons, explains that through hip-hop curriculum students can explore “new conceptions of self, some highly productive and ennobling and others deeply contradictory and problematic, that shaped how they understood themselves, the classroom, school, and the broader social world” (2009, p. 12).

School Environment

These measures will not go very far if the main problem—the classification of students as either “bad” or “good”—is not addressed and treated directly. To do so requires everyone involved in the student’s education to recognize the harm that occurs in labeling a student as “other,” regardless of how they behave: “We ostracize those who we perceive as outside of established norms, and subjugate those who we see as weaker than us, or a threat to our sameness” (Emdin 2010, p. 1). The benefits of a good mentor should not be limited to students that are perceived to deserve it most.

To combat this tendency requires adultsadministrators and principals in addition to teachersto take into account the larger context of students’ lives. As Noguera explains in What Discipline Is For: Connecting Students to the Benefits of Learning, “When we locate discipline problems exclusively in students and ignore the school and local contexts in which problematic behavior occurs, we overlook the most important factors that give rise to misbehavior.” (p. 136). At the same time, however, adults must also be cognizant of how they interact with these social spaces. Adults must cultivate an awareness of the spaces they occupy and develop “an understanding of how to see, enter into, and draw from these spaces” (Emdin, 2016, p. 27). Only by doing so can adults understand “not just how people engage the world, but how they are also engaged by it” (Brayboy, 2014, p. 399) and frame themselves in the context of the school context–just as each student is doing subconsciously. These steps can mean the difference between an engaged student audience and a classroom environment that cannot allow for even the simplest lesson.

Existing Models

To tackle these three points might prove very challenging, especially when these types of discussions have never been introduced to a particular school community, but schools and districts need not approach the task without any guidance. Indeed, there already exists many programs and efforts that can serve as models of what implementing students’ culture to promote mentorship and create more inclusive school environments.

Homies Empowerment. In Oakland, CA,  César A. Cruz has overseen the Homies Empowerment Program, an afterschool program that seeks to service gang-impacted and gang-involved youth. A Mexican immigrant himself, Dr. Cruz uses a local YMCA to create a place where students can leave the sometimes violent culture of their barrios and come together to form their own communities by being taught Ethnic studies, African American, and Latino studies courses and come together for dinner and socializing. Students also receive the opportunity to listen to visiting empowering speakers and service their community by participating in breakfast programs for undocumented day laborers, for example. More generally, however, Dr. Cruz seeks to combat the tendency of society to “demonize the homie” by revealing how gangs can serve as a source of love and protection for students who cannot find them elsewhere (The New Teacher Project, 2016). As a concerned community member (he reports attending five to six to ten funerals a year), he seeks to provide these students a safer alternative where they can find this love and community and promote peace among their barrios (CBS San Francisco, 2011).

Oakland Ebonics Resolution. In 1996, the Oakland School District came under controversy after attempting to instill what is now called the Oakland Ebonics Resolution, an attempt by the school board to recognize “Ebonics” or “African American vernacular English” (AAVE) as its own legitimate language to be used to standard English. The board came under criticism for the underlying implications of legitimizing AAVE (questions along the lines of “Are you saying the English we speak is so completely different that it deserves its own name?”). However, proponent of the resolution were ultimately intending to use it as a tool to help students learn English better: “by appreciating the home language of African American children, teachers would be better positioned to reframe their approach to teaching standard English” (Warren, 2016, p. 30). The resolution was revised eventually so that AAVE would be used only as an “instructional assistant,” but this particular case serves as an example of how, controversy aside, even school boards can collaborate to implement significant change in learning framework that uses language students are familiar with to understand concepts in the classroom better.


Limitations to keep in mind:

  • How to enroll students without attaching a stigma to the program
  • How to prevent overloading teachers of color with work outside their job requirements (especially if districts are not willing to provide additional compensation for the work discussed in this proposal)
  • How to get the all members of the school community to buy-in especially with regards to teachers that are firm believers that strict discipline is the only way to control students
  • How to prevent teachers from institutionalizing this system or believing this can be scripted/formulaic (Case studies reveal the possibility of a model being rendered useless when the delivery of the content does not change (Cohen, 1990))


Ultimately, this proposal seeks to debunk the notion that students who misbehave (1) do not deserve to be taught or cared for, and (2) that they do not have something beautiful and unique to offer to the classroom experience. Often the problem is that they are labeled as “other,” turning to “unorthodox” methods of processing emotion and sometimes trauma, and this labeling can convince a student school is not for them.

The power of mentorship is not to be underestimated. Having an advocate in school that makes a student feel heard and cared for can often trump the fear of even the most serious challenges from preventing the student to succeed academically–even when everyone else considers you “criminal” or somehow an outsider to the rest of society. Those that realize this will be not surprised at not only how an issue as serious as school misbehavior can be combated with love but also reminded of what a beautiful thing learning can be and how the diversity within students only makes the classroom experience that more colorful.


First and foremost, I would like to thank Mira Debs, who has been not only a brilliant professor in this class but also a caring mentor since I met her three semesters ago. Huge thank you to Lizzy Carroll, whose support as the Education Studies Scholar Program Director has opened the path to my endeavor into my academic passion. Special thanks to my peer editor, Momo Chapa; thank you for your input! Thank you to everyone else in the course whose thoughts and conversations have allowed me to think deeply about the issues regarding public schools and public policy. Thank you to the academics like Roberto Gonzales, César A. Cruz, Marc Lamont Hill, and Christopher Emdin who are doing such meaningful work in lending their voices to populations that for so long have gone unheard and are themselves inspirations to students like me. Last but not least, gracias a mi familia, the community of Westlake in Los Angeles, and the loved ones that have shaped me in my journey from there to where I am todayy’all are always in my mind.


Advancement Project. 2005. Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track. Retrieved from

Brayboy, Bryan McKinley Jones. 2014. “Culture, Place, and Power: Engaging the Histories and Possibilities of American Indian Education.” History of Education Quarterly 54(3): 395-402.

Brayboy, Bryan McKinley Jones & Angelina E. Castagno. 2009. “Self‐determination through self‐education: Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous students in the USA.” Teaching Education 20(1): 31-53.

CBS San Francisco. 2011. “Jefferson Award Winner Paves Path for Oakland Gang Harmony.” CBS SF BayArea website. Retrieved from

Cohen, David K. 1990. “A Revolution in One Classroom: The Case of Mrs. Oublier,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 12(3): 311-329.

Emdin, Christopher. 2016. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Emdin, Christopher. 2010. Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation. Boston, MA: Sense Publishers.

Gonzales, Roberto. 2015. Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Griffin, Ashley and Hilary Tackie. 2016. Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers. Education Trust.

Heitzeg, Nancy. 2009. “Education Or Incarceration: Zero Tolerance Policies And The School To Prison Pipeline.” St. Paul, MN: St. Catherine University Press.

Hill, Marc Lamont. 2009. Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and The Politics of Identity. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. 1995. “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal 32(3): 465-91.

Lewis, Amanda E. and John B. Diamond. 2015. Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Chapter 3, pp. 45-81.

The New Teacher Project. 2016. “His Dream is to ‘Empower Homies’—Not Demonize Them.” TNTP Blog. Retrieved from

Noguera, Pedro. “What discipline is for: connecting students to the Benefits of Learning.” Pp. 132-137 in Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in Schools, edited Mica Pollock. New York: New Press.

Powell, Tunette. 2014. “My Son Has Been Suspended Five Times.  He’s 3,” Washington Post. Retrieved from

Rabe Thomas, Jacqueline. 2016. “Student Suspension Can Add to a Downward Spiral,” CT Mirror. Retrieved from

Shedd, Carla. 2015. Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Wald, Johanna and Daniel J. Losen. 2003. “Defining and redirecting a school-to-prison pipeline,” New Directions for Student Leadership 99: 9-5.

Warren, Cheraze A. 2016. “Making Relationships Work: Elementary-Age Black Boys and the Schools That Serve Them.” Pp. in Advancing Black Male Student Success from Preschool through Ph.D., edited by S. R. Harper and J. L. Wood. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Zehr, Howard. 2002. The little book of restorative justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Community Schools: Addressing the Poverty Gap at Its Roots

Miriam Cohen

EDST 245

Professor Debs


Community Schools: Addressing the Poverty Gap at Its Roots


What makes a school? Is it a place where children learn English, math, and science? Is it a place where children are fed, nursed, and counseled? Is a school responsible for the overall wellbeing of children, or for their academic growth alone? These are the essential questions community schools (also called community learning schools or full-service schools) grapple with. By partnering with community-based organizations to provide medical, social, and cultural services, community schools radically expand the traditional notion of a school, and represent a fascinatingly complex turn in school reform. Much of the literature on these schools has been advocacy-based: policy briefs from organizations or governments attempting to implement community schools. There is little objective literature on if and why these schools are effective. This report aims to address this gap, and finds that while community schools produce mixed results from standard accountability metrics, other metrics measuring a wider spectrum of outcomes should be considered. From a broader perspective, while community schools’ privatization of welfare is problematic, the supportive social ecologies they construct within geographical communities are positive.


Despite a wide range of reforms— based mostly around “academic rigor, discipline, and the value of test scores” (Sajnani et al. 2014, 207)— the gap in test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptances persists between children in poverty and not in poverty (McAlister 1998, 69). No Excuses charter schools are one example of these types of reforms, focusing on rigorous academics and strict discipline to produce high test scores and college acceptance rates (Golann 2015, 2). The federal policy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) implemented goals for proficiency rates on standardized tests and stringent consequences for not meeting those goals (Sajnanji et al. 2014, 207). After NCLB, further federal legislation such as Race to the Top in 2009 and the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 continued that focus (Strauss 2016). Yet these reforms have been plagued with issues, including narrowing curricula (Ravitch 2010, 159), a damaging focus on submissiveness (Golann 2015, 1), and still stagnating academic achievement (Ravitch 2010, 159).

While accountability legislation and No Excuses charter schools address the achievement gap by bearing down on academics, community schools address the problems of poverty that the achievement gap is rooted in. Children may feel unsafe in their neighborhoods; their housing and transportation systems may be inconsistent or non-existent (Walsh 2015, 131); they may not have access to medical services and nutritious food; and they may suffer from traumas such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect (Sajnani et al. 2014, 209). These strains combine to form what is called “social exclusion:” a vicious cycle in which people in poverty become further and further entangled in a web of deprivation and crisis of all forms. Social exclusion directly impacts children’s ability to learn; researchers have estimated that two-thirds of variation in student achievement is due to non-school factors such as the ones listed here (Walsh 2015, 131). Teachers are ill-equipped to teach children in the crisis of poverty, and when they do attempt to “be a doctor or a psychologist or a mommy,”  as one teacher put it, they are unable to focus on students’ learning (Callaci 2016). Thus, the narrow-minded accountability approach to closing the achievement gap is inadequate. Children in poverty face disadvantages that go well beyond better test preparation or academic instruction.

Community Schools

To combat the crisis of poverty and allow teachers to focus on teaching, community schools partner with outside organizations to provide a range of services to children and their families. Community schools have been implemented by many entities, including state governments, city governments, and private organizations. The first instance seems to have been in 1992, when the non-profit organization Children’s Aid Society (CAS) created a community school called I.S. 218 (Dryfoos 1994, 101). In 2015, 94% of students at I.S. 218 qualified for Free and Reduced lunch, 50% were English Language Learners,  and 21% had disabilities (“New York State Education Department,” 2017). To create a school that would address these populations, CAS obtained a grant from a private foundation to keep the school building open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., provide dental and medical care, and run an after-school program. Later, the school added a family resource center and summer programs (Dryfoos 1994, 102). In addition, because I.S. 218 is located in Washington Heights, which is a majority Dominican neighborhood, the school offers cultural activities and English as a Second Language (ESL) services for both children and families (Dryfoos 1994, 104). There are countless other examples of community schools following this model, including in Boston, Dallas, and Cincinnati (Dryfoos, 9, 28, 38).

Arguably the highest-profile adoption of community schools has been in New York City, where the government has built off the success of an initiative the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had started. In 2012, the UFT turned six existing public schools— three elementary schools and three high schools— into community schools (“UFT Press Release 2016a). The services they provided were multifaceted, extending to both students and families in the forms of both handout supports and capacity- and community-building programs. For example, Helen Keller International provided free eyesight screenings and glasses, and a food bank donated a bag of food to each student’s family every month (Alford 2013). One school provided mental health screenings for all of its students, with further supports for those who needed them (UFT Press Release 2016a). Perhaps most astonishingly, the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald donated $1,000 to each family at one of the elementary schools (Alford 2013). UFT schools also drew families in with “more than 500 adults enrolled in ESL, adult education and wellness classes and more than 6,000 community members enrolled in the health clinic” at one school (Callaci 2016).

In 2014, Mayor Bill DeBlasio launched a Community Schools Initiative to expand UFT’s initiative, promising to create 100 community schools by 2017 (“New York City Community Schools Strategic Plan”). Thus, the schools analyzed here are products of both the UFT and the NYC government. The fact that DeBlasio decided to emphatically commit the largest school district in the nation to community schools demonstrates the greatly increased interest in the strategy. Though the NYC cohort is not old enough to be effectively analyzed, the results of the initial UFT cohort suggest its potential.


The data from that first UFT community schools cohort, now in its sixth year, shows mixed results across the standard accountability measures of test results, attendance rates, and graduation rates. At the three elementary schools, ELA and mathematics scores did increase: the combined average proficiency rate increased by 5.2 points and 15.2 points, respectively, from 2012-13 (when the initiative was implemented) to 2014-15 (see figs. 1 and 2).

Additionally, the UFT reported a 16.3% decrease in students scoring on the lowest level in ELA across all of its schools (UFT Press Release 2016a). This is an important statistic, as community schools aim to target that lowest-performing demographic (McAdoo 2013). However, on the high school level New York state data shows that the average ELA proficiency rates actually decreased by 2 percentage points. For attendance rates, the average of the six schools increased only marginally, by 1.6 percentage points (see fig. 3).

From 2013 to 2016, the average graduation rate for the three high schools increased by 4.3 points (see fig. 4). However, two of the high schools actually had decreased graduation rates, which were compensated by the other two to form an overall average increase.

This irregularity is echoed throughout the data metrics— though many of the cohort averages are positive, some schools have stagnated or declined in proficiency or attendance rates while others have improved drastically. The only two schools that seem to improve in all measures are P.S. 18 and P.S. 188. Those schools should be analyzed further, though there is little available information on the precise distinctions between the six UFT school implementations.

These mixed results are not unique to NYC but are echoed by literature on community schools in general. According to a 2011 study, “There is not a statistically significant relationship between providing a comprehensive approach to the “whole child” through wrap-around services…and school effectiveness” (Dobbie and Fryer 2011, 18). Yet how exactly are they defining and measuring “school effectiveness?” For the most part, those researchers used standardized test scores, which tend to be the most common metric used to evaluate schools. However, given the wide range of outcomes that community schools work toward, it is necessary to ask whether traditional accountability measures are sufficient to accurately gauge these schools’ success. As the president of the UFT said in 2013, “If you tell me a kid comes to school hungry and we feed them, I don’t need a database to tell me that’s a good thing” (Hernandez 2013). Community schools turn the strictly academic nature of traditional schooling on its head by forming a holistic environment of academic, social, and medical services around students and families. Therefore, they need new measures of success. For example, the instances cited above of children receiving glasses, food, and mental health supports are in themselves forms of student success— just not the ones commonly used to evaluate schools.

Existing examples of alternative measures reveal a more favorable representation of community schools, and often have more to do with reframing current data than collecting new information. In a community schools program in Des Moines, Iowa, the schools reported a 34% improvement in oral hygiene and a 36% decrease in referrals for cavities (Dryfoos, 6). Dental health may improve learning— as the principal of a UFT community school said, “If a kid has a crazy toothache, I mean, I can’t study with a toothache” (Zimmerman 2016). However, the very fact that child dental health improved in that school is a worthy success in itself. Other alternative metrics have to do with children’s attitudes and social development. A study researching the CAS schools in NYC found that the children “had more positive attitudes toward school experiences” (Dryfoos 8). A California school that adopted the CAS model found that students “significantly improved their effort, study habits, homework, and showed improved academic progress and attendance” (Dryfoos 9). Finally, community schools address mental health, which according to a survey of school-based clinic providers is the largest unmet student need (Dryfoos 1994, 52). Community schools meet this need by partnering with mental health clinics, therapists, and social workers. A team of educators who implemented a drama therapy course and mental health supports in New Haven, Connecticut schools emphasize that issues of mental health are central to students’ overall growth and outcomes. They assert that “the understanding of social development and adequate test scores cannot be construed as mutually exclusive goals” (Sajnani et al. 2014, 208). This has been born out in practice: a Dallas, Texas school that implemented full services reported that students who received mental health services had fewer discipline referrals, course failures, and absences (Dryfoos, 28). Yet as with dental health, even the fact of receiving mental health supports at all is a positive outcome.

Methodological Implications

Even aside from practical results, the broader implications of community schools’ privatization of welfare can be problematic. The basic premise of community schools is that public schools— traditionally funded by a combination of federal, state, and city governments— partner with a wide variety of actors to expand their range of services. These include businesses (Dryfoos 1994, 65), universities, and private foundations or organizations (Dryfoos 1994, 72). While some government agencies do contribute, the examples cited above in the UFT cohort— Helen Keller International, a food bank, and Cantor Fitzgerald— illustrate the range of private entities in these schools. While in the past, “schools were all too happy to accept help from any nonprofit organization” (Hernandez 2013), those partnerships would be limited and generally related to traditional academic provenance.

Now, community schools address problems like hunger, sickness, and homelessness—  previously addressed by governmental programs like SNAP, the Affordable Care Act, and public housing projects— using private philanthropy. Thus, the government— national, state, or city— is arguably unburdened from those responsibilities. Through using private organizations to solve public problems, government “becomes primarily about the governance of philanthropic networks and devolved responsibility while retaining…some semblance of steering control” (Rodger 2013, 729). This phenomenon could be seen as a “hollowing out” of the state. If government merely marshals the work of private philanthropy, it is to some extent released from obligations to, for example, provide universally accessible healthcare or food access.

One could argue that the students at UFT community schools don’t care if their food comes from SNAP tickets or from a food bank. Yet there are several hidden disadvantages to servicing students in a public school with private organizations. First, shifting schools’ focus from academics to social and medical services potentially shields the school itself from criticism, deflecting attention from “ sub-optimal school structures, routines, classroom practices, and especially workforce characteristics and competencies” (Lawson and Van Veen 2015, 62). A commitment to community schools must not come at the cost of efforts to improve the quality of teaching and curricula. In addition, privatization of welfare creates unbalanced relationships between community members. A study of the Big Society social intervention project in the United Kingdom argued that “the philanthropic environment promotes and facilitates one-way, inherently unequal relationships between donors and recipients” (Rodger 2013, 737). Certain community members providing essential services to other community members creates an imbalanced benefactor-benefited relationship, and additionally represents an imbalanced distribution of “power and control over resources” (Rodger 2013, 737). Though this is not necessarily a reason to entirely shut down private philanthropy, community schools should strive to facilitate equal social communal relationships. A final difficulty with this model is that it depends on whatever existing resources are in the community, and so is potentially unscalable. In a city like New York, where a vast number of organizations already working to provide services exist, community schools can easily draw on those organizations. Yet more rural or impoverished areas may not have the requisite resources.

However, it may be possible that government funds can be marshaled for elements of community school services. To start its cohort of community schools, the UFT used not only funds from a collective of businesses but also from the New York City Council (UFT Press Release 2016b). When Mayor DeBlasio added his community schools initiative, he used $150 million in city funds (Harris 2014). Absent an initiative dedicated specifically to community schools, it seems in general that government funds could most easily be used for health services. Departments of Health in New York, California, and Minnesota have all created programs for school-based health clinics (Dryfoos 1994, 178). In addition, there is potential for utilizing Medicaid funds to implement school-based clinics and healthcare providers. Baltimore, for example, has placed clinics in seven high schools using Medicaid funding (Dryfoos 1994, 174). However, there are several limitations to using Medicaid, including ineligibility, complex bureaucracy and forms, and various qualifications that schools must meet (Dryfoos 1994, 175).

Furthermore, despite its drawbacks, privatization of welfare does bring new actors into the web of policy solutions. The fact that private actors are enabled to provide formerly public services means that “new policy discourses and…new forms of policy influence and enactment” are brought into the policy process (Ball 2008, 748). In some ways, then, privatization is a “filling in,” not a “hollowing out” as was previously posited (Ball 2008, 762). The government here is not abdicating its responsibilities but rather creating new networks of services, utilizing more resources than before.

These new networks of actors creates positive communal relationships and social ecologies. Social ecologies are the collective of environments in which development occurs: for children, this includes school, home, and neighborhood (Lawson and Lawson 2013, 441). Community schools integrate those environments into a centralized location where a multitude of adults “form a kind of child-centered and school-focused chorus” (Lawson and Van Veen 2015, 65). In these schools, children interact positively with not only teachers but medical professionals, community leaders, and parents. This has a large potential for increasing student engagement. Traditionally, “classroom instruction is thought to influence students’ motivations in school [and] students’ motivations are thought to predict engagement” (Lawson and Lawson 2013, 433). However, engagement may depend more on the interactions of children’s social ecologies (Lawson and Lawson 2013, 434)— interactions that community schools are poised to facilitate.


Over the past few decades, there have been many drastic attempts at school reform, often aiming to close the achievement gap through strict accountability and academic rigor. Community schools have a similar goal. However, the approach they take is to holistically address the manifold disadvantages low-income children face: hunger, physical and mental health issues, and lack of safe spaces to play and learn while not in school. By partnering mainly with private organizations, they engage a whole new range of actors in providing food and health services,  extending the school day, and various other programs geared toward both children and families. This creates an integrated web of social ecologies centered at school: a place that all children regardless of income are required to go and a place that parents tend to trust and can easily locate (Dryfoos 1994, xi). Thus, while new ways of evaluation are needed to more realistically and accurately measure community schools’ success, and while the drawbacks to the privatization of social services should be taken into account, community schools should continue to expand. In the never-ending process of education reform, they represent an exciting new step toward equitable education for all.


Thanks to Mira Debs for the advice and for an excellent grounding in education reform,  and to Caitlin Dermody for very helpful and thorough edits.

Works Cited

Alford, Karen, “Common-sense approach for common good.” United Federation of Teachers, May 16, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2017. .

Ball, Stephen J., “New Philanthropy, New Networks and New Governance in Education.” Political Studies 56 (2008): 747-765.

Callaci, Dorothy, “It Takes a Community.” United Federation of Teachers, October 6, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2017.

Dryfoos, Joy, “Evaluation of Community Schools: Findings to Date.” Coalition for Community Schools.

Dryfoos, Joy G., Full-Service Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.

Golann, Joanne W. “The paradox of success at a no-excuses school.” Sociology of Education (2015): 0038040714567866.

Harris, Elizabeth A., “De Blasio Unveils New Plans for Troubled Schools in New York.” The New York Times, November 3, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2017.

Lawson, Hal and Van Veen, Dolf, “A Framework for Planning and Evaluating the New Design.” In Developing Community Schools, Community Learning Centers, Extended-service Schools and Multi-service Schools, edited by H.A. Lawson and D. Van Veen. Switzerland: Springer Publishing, 2015.

Lawson, Michael A. and Lawson, Hal A., “New Conceptual Frameworks for Student

Engagement Research, Policy, and Practice.” Review of Educational Research 83 (2013): 432-479.

McAlister, James, “Collaborative Systems in a Multi-Service School: A Case of One Full- Service School in Florida.” PhD diss., University of South Florida, 1998.

New York State Education Department, accessed April 23, 2017.

“New York City Community Schools Strategic Plan.” Accessed April 23, 2017. https://

Ravitch, Diane, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books, 2010.

Rodger, John Jackson, “”New capitalism”, colonisation and the neo-philanthropic turn in social policy: Applying Luhmann’s systems theory to the Big Society project.” The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 33 (2013): 725-741.

Sajnani, Nisha; Jewers-Dailley, Kimberly; Brillante, Ann; Puglisi, Judith; Read Johnson, David; “Animating Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience.” In Trauma-Informed Drama Therapy: Transforming Clinics, Classrooms, and Communities, edited by Nisha Sajnani and David Read Johnson, 206-242. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publishers, 2014.

Strauss, Valerie, “Obama’s real education legacy: Common Core, testing, charter schools.” The Washington Post, October 21, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2017.

b) UFT Press Release, “Partnership for New York City joins UFT and City Council in awarding $600,000 to link schools with community health and social service programs.” United Federation of Teachers, June 27, 2012. Accessed May 1, 2017. releases/partnership-new-york-city-joins-uft-and-city-council.

a) UFT Press Release, “UFT’s Community Learning Schools are moving in the right direction.” United Federation of Teachers, September 7, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2017.

Walsh, Mary; Theodorakakis, Maria; Backe, Sarah; “Redesigning a Core Function of Schools: A Systemic, Evidence-Based Approach to Student Support.” In Developing Community Schools, Community Learning Centers, Extended-service Schools and Multi-service Schools, edited by H.A. Lawson and D. Van Veen, 127-147. Switzerland: Springer Publishing, 2015.

Zimmerman, Alex, “‘Turning a kid’s lights back on doesn’t make their test scores go up’: one principal on social services in schools.” Chalkbeat, October 25, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2017. doesnt-make-their-test-scores-go-up-one-principals-take-on-social-services-in-schools/.

The Need for Higher Teacher Pay in Rural America: What’s Being Attempted, and How Wyoming is Doing it Right

Executive Summary

In recent years, rural areas of the United States have made attempts to raise the average starting teacher salary due to the low level of pay afforded to teachers that has made it virtually impossible to keep up with the cost-of-living. Some states have worked to create plans to raise the average minimum starting salary, but not without conflict within the state and state government. Although other states are also in need of a higher teacher salary, this policy brief will take a look at three rural states that have recently attempted at a higher reacher salary: Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Iowa. While a lot of attention is paid to bettering inner-city schools and “high-needs” areas, rural areas, where students are even less likely to attend a four-year university than students in metro areas, are being ignored. Data shows that on average, rural states in America have a lower starting teacher salary, and many rural states have begun to feel they are being left behind.


In the 1940s, American teachers were among the highest paid individuals, earning more  than half of their fellow college graduates. In South Korea, the minimum salary for teachers is $55,000 with a possible career-end salary of $155,000. According to Dana Goldstein in her novel  Teacher Wars: A History of America’s most Embattled Profession, this puts South Korean teachers at a salary in between engineers and doctors (Goldstein).

The desire to increase teacher pay is widespread, and efforts to increase teacher pay exist nationwide. According to McKinsey, the differential between a New York City Lawyer and a starting teacher in public education in 1970 was about $2,000. Now, the differential is approximately $115,000 (Strauss).  In more recent years, the desire for a higher average teacher salary has become prominent in more rural regions in America. According to the National Education Association, Americans believe more money should be spent on education and feel that the biggest problem American schools face is inadequate funding. The NEA claims that the majority of citizens have advocated for a starting salary of $43,000, which is a $7,000 increase of the average salary of education majors that graduate from college in 2009. Statistics show that seven out of ten people want their child to become a teacher, and they agree that with a higher salary, the position might become far more desirable (Long). Nationwide, support for a raised teacher salary is consistent and overwhelming. Recently states like Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wyoming have attempted to make changes. Oklahoma’s success is yet to be determined, while Iowa has raised the starting pay but still falls short of their original goal.


Starting Salary ($)

Average Salary ($)






















District of Columbia

























































North Carolina



North Dakota






New Hampshire



New Jersey



New Mexico






New York















Rhode Island



South Carolina



South Dakota
























West Virginia






As the above chart shows, the ten states with the lowest starting teacher salary are as follows, beginning with the lowest: Montana, South Dakota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Maine, and New Mexico, with Montana being the lowest at $27,274. (“2012-2013 Average Starting…”). The highest teacher salary is in Washington D.C. at $51,539 (“Public School Teacher Salaries…”). While these states are geographically scattered across the country, almost all are considered rural (ranked in the lower 50% of states measured by population density, other than North Carolina) (“List of US States…). According to this data, the average starting teacher salary is approximately $33,994, which is way below the cost-of-living for a married couple with one child. According to a more recent source, the average starting teacher salary in 2016 was $36,141, which is only an increase of just over $2,000 nationwide over a four year span (“Teacher Salaries in America”). Even if both adults in a family are teachers, their net salary will be just under $72,000 which is only $14,000 over the $58,000 cost of living for a family with one child. For two professionals dedicating their lives to teaching children from other families, it hardly seems fair for them to be limited to one child in their own household.

From what can be found, the most recent data has hardly changed from 2012-2013. Only 2% of states nationwide (one state – Washington D.C.) has a starting salary of over $50,000. The average cost of living for a single adult living alone is $28,458. In most states, even the lowest starting teacher salaries are enough to support that average cost of living. However, the average cost of living for a married couple with one child is $56,176. This means that only a teacher living in Washington D.C. can support a three person household with a teacher’s salary (“Cost of Living in…”)


The plans to raise teacher pay in Oklahoma were ambitious, beginning in November of 2016 with efforts to provide teachers with a $10,000 increase in salary. This bill was titled “State Question 779”, which planned to increase the sales tax by one percent in order to fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise. This money would also have been used to fund common education, higher education, and CareerTech, which is a organization dedicated to improving career and technology education. However, Oklahoma state voters voted against State Question 779 (59.4% to 40.6%). Oklahoma Senator David Holt believes this happens not because the voters are against an increase of teacher pay. Rather, he believes the people want the Legislature to find a better, more efficient plan (“Oklahoma House passes teacher…”).

This is not the only attempt to raise the teacher salary in Oklahoma. According to a Tulsa news source, Holt claims that “several ways of increasing revenue were floated last year…They included expanding the sales tax to items that are taxed in other states but not in Oklahoma.” According to Holt, expanding the sales tax is not the same as increasing it. Because Oklahoma is very far behind the national average, Holt does not believe even a $10,000 increase is too much. He is adamant that they must not give up the fight for higher teacher salary, otherwise they will not “have the future (they) want for this state” (Hoberock).

More recently, the Oklahoma State House of Representatives voted 92-7 to approve a bill by Representative Michael Rogers to increase teacher pay by $6,000 over a span of six years, beginning with $1,000 the first year, $2,000 the second year, and $3,000 more the third year. According to Rogers, “there’s strong support for raising teacher salaries this year and that work is underway to find a funding source.” Finding the funding source is exactly the problem, however, and this problem exists nationwide. In Oklahoma,  a $1,000 raise would cost roughly $53 million per year (Hoberock). According to the chart above, which contains the most recent data available, the starting salary for teachers in Oklahoma is still quite below the national average. So far, it is difficult to tell whether or not the attempts to raise the teacher salary in Oklahoma will work. The plan, which addresses the issue over a span of time (building upon each teacher’s salary year by year) may not be as effective as plans in other states, like Iowa.

Relative Success in Iowa

While Iowa is not currently in the lowest ten states ranked by teacher salary, it is undoubtedly rural and has proven to be somewhat successful in raising teacher salaries. In fact, this is why it is no longer included in the lowest ten states for teacher pay. In 2013, the Branstad Education Plan required an extra $314 per student from the state so the districts in the Iowa Quad City area could raise the average salary and even give bonuses to their highest performing teachers. Additionally, thousands of dollars were left over for the districts to use in areas where extra funding is needed. At first glance, it appears that Iowa’s methods were sound, but due to the small size of seven rural districts in the state, they were initially still short money and appeared unable to afford the program. Luckily, it appeared that these districts would be able to partner with nearby districts in order to fund the program (Wiser).

In 2015, the school districts around Council Bluffs, Iowa aimed to make a 3.45% boost in teachers’ paychecks so that the base pay for teachers would grow by $873 by the following year. The success may be due to the exceptional cooperation with the teachers’ unions. The Council Bluffs school board worked with two union groups to approve contracts that grant a 3.05% overall increase to compensation. However, a member of the school board, Bill Grove, had still expressed concern about potential lack of funding in the future, even though during years when the district is pressed for money, smaller raises have been given. Overall, the goal was to raise the minimum teachers’ salary to $35,000. Even $35,000, however, is less than the nationwide cost-of-living and less than the starting national average for teachers. While Iowa has had some success, the starting salary is still short of the originally proposed goal of $35,000 (Stewart).

Wyoming – The Successful Fight to Raise Teacher Pay

Similarly to the situation in Oklahoma, the inadequate level of funding for teacher pay available in the state of Wyoming used to make it impossible for teachers in rural areas to keep up with their cost-of-living. According to Wyoming State Senator Stan Cooper, “the cost of living in some rural districts has been outpacing teacher salaries…and while the Legislature does recalibrate teacher pay once every five years… the Legislature also has a duty to account for cost-of-living increases in between those adjustments” (Chilton).

Luckily, in 2015, the Wyoming state Senate on Thursday approved a budget amendment that raise the cost of living for Wyoming teachers. This amendment was created by Senator Cooper and adopted by the state senate by a vote of 19-11, and provided $5.9 million for what is called “external cost adjustment,” which “increases salaries by taking into account inflation and other cost pressures, for K-12 professional staff members,” according to Wyoming news source, the Casper Star Tribune. Prior to this amendment, the Wyoming House of Representatives approved an increase of teacher pay of $6.6 million, but the House instead matched the Senate’s $5.9 million.

The need to raise the average teacher salary does not just come down to a teacher’s financial need and comfort. When teachers are paid more, they feel a greater deal of respect. Additionally, when the community is willingly paying more in order to give its teachers better salaries, the teachers are more likely to feel as if people in their community believe they deserve higher pay. According to Wyoming Education Association President, Kathryn Valido, “With an average beginning salary of nearly $43,000 state-wide, Wyoming’s teachers can attest to the sense of professional respect that comes with a fair salary” (Long). Oftentimes, many educators have an issue with politicians (non-educators) attempting to enact legislature in areas where they do not have any personal experience. Luckily, with Sen. James D. Anderson of Glenrock, Wyoming, this is not the case. He is a a former teacher, and he recognizes when teachers come to work in his district and then are forced to leave because they can no longer keep up with the cost of living, more specifically, that they cannot afford a house and are stuck in an apartment (Chilton).

However, there are those who disagree with the necessity of higher teacher pay. While democratic Senator Bernadine Craft agrees with Senators Anderson and Cooper, and shared experience of a counselor and teacher asking for letters of recommendation so they could find a better job outside the state, Senator Hank Coe had said it is not the right time to “discuss external cost adjustments.” Coe, along with Senator Eli Bebout claim to have seen analyses that suggest there is no need for teacher pay raise, and that the state has been “keeping pace with inflation. Bebout said, “When I travel around the country, I don’t hear about Wyoming teachers going to other states – it’s the other way. They’re jealous of what we do in Wyoming. They’re jealous of the kind of starting salaries we pay these teachers.” In contrast, Senator John Hastert raised another affecting issue: new curriculum standards that cost too much for many districts and make it impossible to enact the funding increases for teachers that have already been approved (Chilton). As can be seen in the table on page five, Wyoming does have a starting salary of $43,269 for teachers, proving that attempts to increase teacher salary have been effective. This increase in minimum teacher salary is likely more attractive to prospective teachers and teachers looking to find a state with the highest income, especially considering the growth from the minimum to the average teacher salary is approximately the same – $13,000 – in both Wyoming and Oklahoma.

Suggestions: What’s the Solution?

Other states fighting to raise the minimum teacher pay should follow the model proposed by the state of Wyoming, which has worked. In the McKinsey study cited earlier, research was done to determine what it would take to attract the best teachers to improve the nation’s education system. Whereas in other countries many teachers come from the top percent of college graduates, only 23% of teacher in the United States are among the top, and only 14% of these graduates are willing to work in high-poverty areas where the best teachers are needed (Auguste et. all). While Iowa had some success and success in Oklahoma is yet to be determined, the plans proposed and executed by Wyoming have made it an outlier among the country’s rural states. Only three states/regions have starting teaching pay that exceeds Wyoming’s: New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC, which are three of the most densely populated regions in the country. One difference between Wyoming and other states that have had pending success and only some success – Oklahoma and Iowa – appears to be state government involvement. At first glance, legislators in Oklahoma seem to have just as much involvement as legislators in Wyoming. However, legislators in Wyoming like Senator Glenrock have personal involvement with education as former teachers. This has provided Wyoming educators statewide with a sense of unity and trust towards their politicians, even if the politicians have disagreed amongst themselves. In Wyoming, increasing teacher pay is no longer a bipartisan issue, as it has been supported by both democrats and republicans in the State Congress despite some disagreements. In Iowa, legislators are not as vocal about higher teacher pay and salary increases are left for district school boards and teacher’s unions to tackle. Community involvement has proven to be somewhat effective in Iowa, but the progress is limited without the help of legislators. Alternatively, while legislators in Oklahoma are vocal about increasing teacher pay, Oklahoma residents are not as supportive of their plan, which creates a disconnect and a lack of community involvement. In order to effectively raise teacher pay and provide teacher with the quality of life and respect they deserve, the state government, teachers, and the communities within a state must all be on board and in agreement.

Word Count: 2,543

Works Cited

2012-2013 Average Starting Teacher Salaries by State. (2013). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Auguste, B., Kihn, P., & Miller, M. (2010, September). Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top third graduates to a career in teaching. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Chilton, J. (2015, February 21). Wyoming Senate OKs teacher cost-of-living increase. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Cost of Living in the United States. (2017). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Goldstein, D. (2015). The teacher wars: a history of America’s most embattled profession. New York: Anchor Books.

Hoberock, B. (2016, November 14). State lawmaker proposes a $10,000 teacher pay raise. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

List of U.S. states by population density. (2017, April 29). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Long, C. (2015). Public Supports Higher Pay for Teachers. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Oklahoma House passes teacher pay raise bill. (2017, March 07). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Public School Teacher Salaries in Washington, District of Columbia. (2017). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Stewart, S. (2015, May 27). Council Bluffs teachers, other employees receive pay raises. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Strauss, V. (2014, March 25). Why teachers’ salaries should be doubled — now. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Teacher Salaries in America. (2016). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Teaching Salary Data by State. (2017). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

Wiser, M. (2013, January 29). Branstad education plan raises minimum teacher salary. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from

K12 Inc.: Virtually Failing our Students


K12 Inc.: Virtually Failing our Students

Sydney Babiak, Emily Patton, Jaclyn Price, and Billy Roberts



K12 Inc. is a for-profit, online education company that provides online lessons, interactive activities, and virtual classrooms for full-time students. Technically, this qualifies K12 as an Educational Management Organization (EMO) as opposed to a Charter Management Organization (CMO), which is typically nonprofit and limited to managing services, not providing them. The organization boasts of its adaptability compared to both traditional and alternative charter schools, highlighting the advantages of online education in time flexibility, socialization, curriculum, and individual learning (K12 Inc. 2017). Parent testimonials on the CMO’s website praise a challenging curriculum, with extensive student and parent support, so that even outside a traditional classroom setting, students still receive a superior education (Ibid.). As of 2011, K12 offered 49 online academies in 23 states for a total of 65,396 students (Miron et al. 2012). Critics remark that K12’s unique structure develops student responsibility through autonomy in control of schedule and pace (Ash 2012).

However, student achievement data places K12-managed charters decidedly below their district counterparts. In its position as a for-profit company, K12 pulls public dollars from local, state, and federal governments while often failing to produce results. K12 has been the recipient of public ire and various lawsuits claiming that the company has mismanaged resources and failed to put student achievement ahead of its profits. Despite attractive media and positive testimonials on official school websites, the true nature of K12’s charter schools is exposed in the numbers, which act as a Mr. Hyde to the public Dr. Jekyll that the company likes to flaunt. K12 is sucking up public dollars at a time when policymakers are itching to implement technological solutions to the nation’s issues. In this case, though, it remains doubtful that traditional schooling will ever be supplanted by online education – at least not as long as it looks like K12.

To examine this proposition, our paper evaluates data from six randomly selected K12 schools. We used ELSI, an online tool for searching through federal education statistics, to examine school demographic data recorded by the Department of Education (DOE). We also used demographic data that was recorded as part of the DOE’s Civil Rights Data Collection program. For school performance data, we looked at the school and district performance reports issued by individual states. Each of the online charters we examined was contained within a particular school district, and so all district-level comparisons are with the respective K12 school’s assigned district.


History, Pedagogy and Mission

K12 Inc. was founded in 2000 by Ronald J. Packard, a former banker and McKinsey & Co. consultant (Randall 2008). The company first took off due to $40 million in venture capital from some of Packard’s wealthy cohorts (Ibid.), and according to the chairman of K12 Inc. (and former U.S. Secretary of Education) William Bennett, the organization’s initial audience was the nation’s 1.5-2 million homeschooled children (Starr 2001). At the time of K12’s inception, many in education were exploring different options in school choice, and some believed that online learning combined corporate efficiencies with the Internet in a revolution of public education, offering high quality at lower costs (Saul 2011).

K12’s mission is to provide a superior education for individual children; the company’s website reads, “Whether your student is curious, inventive, political, analytical– or anything in between– the K12 program makes the most of each child’s unique brilliance” (K12 Inc. 2017). These schools are run in an astounding variety of ways, both in terms of management structure and curricular focus (K12 Inc. 2017). The K12 curriculum includes mostly traditional material in math, language arts, science, and social studies, and is supplemented by a Learning Coach that works with students a certain number of hours depending on their grade level (with more coaching for younger students) (Ibid.).



The demographic data of K12’s schools vary by state and district; however, among the six districts we examined, we were able to identify several consistent trends. Overall, our analysis indicates that K12 schools do not enroll the same demographics as other schools in their district. The students they cater to are wealthier, less diverse, and more likely to speak English than their district school peers. To their credit, K12 schools do generally exceed district schools along one demographic measure: special education; though this is likely explained by the difficulty many students face in the public school system while fighting for special education accommodations. Looking for an option that would allow them the flexibility and personal attention they need, special education students likely turn to the online charters as an educational refuge.

In the realm of English language learners, K12 schools consistently under-enroll. The only significant exception is Colorado Virtual Academy, and their edge over the district schools is marginal. According to a K12 representative with whom we spoke, K12 does not offer instruction in languages other than English, and Colorado Virtual Academy does not appear to be an exception according to their website. The only explanation we can think of to explain the difference is that the Colorado program offers only grades 9-12, meaning students would have likely had significant time in traditional schools to learn the necessary amount of English. The K12 schools in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California all enroll a significantly smaller percentage of ELL students than do their districts, likely because of the exclusively English course offerings.

The most striking data are probably the percentages of students of color that enroll in K12 schools. In every instance except in Wisconsin and Oregon, where the white populations are a supermajority in both district and K12 schools, students of color make up a significantly smaller portion of the student body than white students.

Free and reduced lunch enrollment is a bit more variable than the other demographic measures, though it still points to a more general trend wherein non-FRL students make up a greater portion of K12 schools than district schools. The outliers are Wisconsin, where the enrollments are roughly equal in proportion, and Pennsylvania, where the virtual charter enrolls a significantly greater percentage of FRL students than the district. No data was available for Oregon.

Data sources: SPED (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2013), ELL (Ibid), Race (ELSI, 2014-15), FRL (Ibid).


Student Performance

When it comes to student performance, the data is even more explicit in condemning K12 schools; at least in terms of the six schools that we analyzed. With no exceptions, students enrolled in K12 schools performed worse in math than their district and state counterparts. With only one exception, they performed worse in English and language arts (ELA) (though even with the one exception, Michigan Virtual Charter School, it only performed better than the district, not the state – and marginally so). Data was not available for the Upper Merion Area School District in Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin’s statewide data only had two categories: proficient and not proficient.

These data seem to make an incredibly strong case against K12’s for-profit, online charters as a way of properly educating students. It is difficult to conclude for certain, though, that the data represent some failure on the part of the schools. The poor performance could be attributable to selection bias, or the schools’ higher enrollment of special education students, or some other extraneous variable. Still, the results do not bode well for K12, and it would be wise for parents and policymakers to be wary of these schools and their analogs, unless they can somehow turn their currently abysmal performances around.


Data sources: California (California Department of Education, 2016), Oregon (Oregon Department of Education, 2015-16), Wisconsin (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2015-16), Colorado (Colorado Department of Education, 2013-14), Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2016), Michigan (Michigan Department of Education, 2015-16).


Marketing and Media

K12 Inc makes bold claims of high parent satisfaction numbers, student success, and flexibility of curriculum (K12 Inc., 2017). However, according to parents, students, and teachers of K12 schools, these claims are flat-out false.

In “The Dirty Dozen,” Welner (2013) identifies several shady tactics through which charter schools endeavor to selectively recruit students. Evidence of these tactics can be found in the following aspects of K12 academy’s marketing materials:

  • Descriptors of its flexibility in location: branding its services to “athletes, musicians, performers, military families, and those with physical restrictions.” (K12 Inc., 2017) This works to attract highly mobile students who often perform worse than their stable peers. (Sparks, 2017).
  • Marketing targeted toward “advanced learners,” outlining their “college prep” services. This may work to recruit high performing students. (K12 Inc., 2017)
  • Marketing that involves images of parents assisting the student with their work, even branding parents as “Learning Coaches.”  
    • In K12’s promotional “A Day in the Life” profiles, all students are pictured as receiving help throughout the day from their parents. This will exclude those students whose parents are unable to stay home due to employment. (K12 Inc., 2017).
  • A lack of both curriculum in other languages and teachers able to teach in other languages. This creates barriers to potential English Language Learners’ enrollment in K12 schools (K12 Inc., 2017).

These marketing techniques not only discourage (and in some cases, preclude) some students from even applying; they also paint a dishonest picture of K12 academy schools as flexible, successful alternative choices to district schools, despite the troves of evidence to the contrary. These false marketing claims have brought about media scrutiny, but also lawsuits for K12 Inc (Saul, 2011).

In a 2011 New York Times profile of K12, the company was criticized as compromising the educational outcomes of students to increase profits, engaging in practices such as:

  • Reporting enrollment numbers for students who had never logged in, thereby receiving state funds for students they weren’t teaching. State auditors in Colorado found that the K12-run Colorado Virtual Academy counted 120 students toward state reimbursement even though enrollment could not be verified and a number of students had never even logged on.  
  • Overworking teachers by increasing the number of students they were required to manage. One teacher from Pennsylvania said her number of students was more like 70-100, not the 1:49 student teacher ratio that K12 reported.
  • Lying to shareholders, parents, students and teachers about student performance data.
  • Pressuring teachers to pass students who were failing for the sake of enrollment numbers (Saul, 2011).

Additionally, while K12’s site boasts its ability to prepare students for college, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decided in 2014 that it would not accept coursework from 24 virtual charters that use curriculum provided by K12 Inc (Raden, 2014).  

The disparity between what K12 advertises and the actual lived experiences of its students, parents, and teachers has led to several lawsuits and the disappointment of a fair share of the company’s 65,000 students across the nation.



The channels through which K12 receives funding are as varied and complex as the spectrum of services it offers. With its private shareholders and largely public clients, the company to some extent beholden to what some view as conflicting mandates: the mandate to maximize profits and the mandate to maximize student achievement. This has been a talking point for K12’s skeptics, who have been particularly, who are particularly critical of the way the company handles its public funding.

In the public sector, K12 contracts out its management and educational services to independent charter schools, districts, and states. In return for these services, K12 receives the funding each of its pupils would have received from state and local governments, an average of $5,500 to $6,000 per student in addition to a share of any federal funding districts are receiving. This gives K12 Inc. tremendous control over almost every aspect of their schools including curriculum, hiring of teachers and principals, and evaluating student performance.

In addition to receiving public money through its contracts with public district and charter schools, K12 also raises revenue by selling private online courses directly to families who cannot access any of its tuition-free online public schools. The company receives additional money from corporate investors. Its stocks are publicly traded, a fact that is clearly advertised by the thorough “investors” section on the company’s website (K12 Inc, 2017).

In the years since its founding, K12 has been criticized for abusing its access to public funding by gaming the system in order to receive more money than it is entitled to. One way it has done this is to establish schools in poor districts, which may receive more funding than rich ones in some states. In 2009, K12 established a partnership with the traditional schools of Carroll County, Virginia. Though it enrolled students from across the commonwealth, all children who enrolled in the Virginia Virtual Academy were counted as Carroll County students regardless of where they lived. Because Carroll county was a poor district, K12 was able to receive extra money from the state for students who were technically coming from richer, neighboring districts (Brown and Layton, 2011).

Given founder Packard’s history in banking and consulting, it may come as no surprise that K12 has strong ties to the corporate world. The lineup of investors who helped provide him the $40 million in venture capital that he needed to start the company includes Andrew Tisch of the Loews billionaire family and Larry Ellison of Oracle and Knowledge Universe, a for-profit education conglomerate chaired by Michael Milken (Randall, 2008). The majority of the company’s executives come from for-profit education companies and other corners of the corporate world (Vogel, 2016). The head of K12’s “curriculum and products organization” previously spearheaded product development at Pearson Publishing (ibid.). Today, 87% of the company’s shares are held by institutional and mutual fund owners (Yahoo Finance, n.d.). Its top institutional investors are Technology Crossover Management VII, Ltd. and The Vanguard Group (ibid.). These connections strengthen the company’s incentive to operate with profit–rather than educational quality–as its primary motivator.

Because it receives so much public funding, K12 has also been criticized heavily for the amount of money it has channeled into non-educational ventures, particularly lobbying and advertising (Vogel, 2016). K12 has openly associated itself with the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC), and has contributed money to the Foundation for Excellence in Education think tank. Both of these organizations have advocated for policies that would encourage greater demand for digital learning tools like the ones produced by K12 (ibid.). To some, these activities suggest that the company has a greater interest in raising revenues and appealing to investors than it does providing quality education services for its students.


Accountability and Oversight

K12 Inc. is held accountable for its spending by both its private investors and its public clients, both of which have voiced strong objections to the company’s lack of transparency about spending.

On multiple occasions, K12’s lack of transparency regarding the way it spends student money has led charters to pull out of their contracts.

  • In 2013, K12 Inc. lost a management contract with Colorado Virtual Academies—the state’s largest online charter—after complaints from parents and the school that K12 was mismanaging resources (Hood, 2013).
  • In 2014, Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania, a school that accounts for 14% of the company’s $848.2 million in annual revenue decided to not to renew its management contract with K12 (Raden, 2014).
  • In 2016, K12 Inc. had to pay a $160 million to 14 of its group of schools in California known as California Virtual Academies and $8.5 million to the state of California to resolve claims that the company violated California false claims, false advertising, and unfair competition laws (Kieler, 2016).

(Raden, 2014)

K12 Inc. has also faced the ire of its shareholders. In 2012, a shareholder filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that the firm violated securities law by making false statements to investors about students’ poor performance on standardized tests. This class-action suit came after chief executive Ronald J. Packard said that scores from Pennsylvania’s Agora Charter School were “significantly higher than a typical school on state administered tests for growth,” when, weeks earlier, a study found that only 42 percent of Agora students tested on grade level or better in math, compared with 75 percent of students statewide. And only 52 percent of Agora students had hit the mark in reading, compared with 72 percent statewide (Brown, 2012).

In 2011, only a third of K12-managed schools reached adequate yearly progress as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Program. Yet, K12 remains the largest purveyor of online schooling in the nation.



The K12 website has little to say about the qualifications of its teachers, aside from its claim that “the majority have advanced degrees coupled with years of teaching experience (K12 Inc, 2017).” In its page on career opportunities, the company makes no specifications for the kind of candidates they are looking to hire, except to say that they are seeking “employees with creative ideas who are as committed to making a difference in education as we are (ibid).”

One qualification that all K12 teachers must share, according to the company’s website, is a thorough training in online instruction methods. At least some of this training appears to be led by the company itself, which claims to have trained “more than 5,000 teachers (K12 Inc, 2017).” In addition to this training, the website adds, “teachers go through ongoing professional development so they stay current with future advancements in online instruction (ibid).” The nature of this training is unspecified.

Because a typical online class is larger than a typical class in a brick-and-mortar school, most online teachers begin with a larger group of students than an average public school student would (Brown and Layton, 2011). This has been found to be the case for K12 teachers, some of whom have said they were managing as many as 270 students, even though they had been told they would have 150 (Saul, 2011). This is not addressed on the website, which makes no mention of either teacher sustainability or teacher diversity.

In addition to its teachers, the K12 curriculum relies heavily on the participation and cooperation of learning coaches: “usually a student’s parent or another responsible adult,” according to the website (K12, 2017). The learning coach is responsible for “ensuring their student is on track with assignments and coursework as well as communicating with their teachers throughout the school year (ibid.).”

Though learning coaches do not receive any formal training from K12, they are provided with lesson guides, tools, videos and resources to talk to other parents of other current students (ibid.). According to the K12 website, the time commitment of the learning coach is expected to decrease as grade levels increase. Notably, in what is perhaps its only indirect nod to the possibility of ELL learners, the website also points out that “learning coaches are not required to be fluent in English (ibid.).”


Relationship to district

As the complicated nature of its funding would suggest, the relationship between K12 schools and their surrounding districts has the potential to be highly fraught, particularly when they are competing with district schools for public funding. In in 2008, Forbes reported that “when students abandon the blackboard for the flat screen, their schools lose up to 70% of the taxpayer money that attaches to them (Randall, 2008).” This can pose a significant problem for district schools, especially when the state counts all enrolled students as residents of the district where the charter school is established, as they did in Carrol County.

Other impacts of K12 schools may be slightly more obscure, given the myriad of ways in which their services can be implemented. K12 schools are either categorized as a Virtual Academy, which uses traditional K12 curriculum; an Insight School, which specializes in helping students overcome certain learning challenges; a blended school that combines classroom attendance with online learning; a Destination Careers Academy, which emphasizes college and career preparation; and finally, a District-Run School, where traditional public schools incorporate K12 curriculum in their classrooms using available technology (K12, 2017). The sheer variety of these options makes it difficult to distinguish or even speculate on the overall effect that a K12 school might have on the environment in which it is situated.



While K12 Inc. may have started out as an effort to bring public education into the 21st century with corporate efficiency and online curriculum, giving students across the nation the chance to learn what they might in a brick-and-mortar public school from home, it has since failed to produce satisfactory results. In fact, every virtual charter in the districts studied performed worse than their respective district schools.

Policymakers should be mindful of K12 Inc.’s abysmal track record of failing its students, recruiting only a narrow selection of students while accepting government dollars, lying to shareholders, and serving monetary interests before students. K12 has done everything within its power to increase profits while mismanaging public education resources taken away from district schools.



2016 PSSA State Level Data; 2016 PSSA School Level Data (2016). Data Files, Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, Pennsylvania Department of Education. Online. March 31, 2017.

Ash, Katie. “Flexibility, Support Build Student Independence.” Education Week, October 14, 2012.

Civil Rights Data Collection (2013). U.S. Department of Education. Online. March 5, 2017.

“Day In A Life – A day in the life of three online students.” K12. Accessed March 31, 2017.

ELSI (2014-15). National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Online. March 5, 2017.

High School Assessments: Proficiency Snapshots (2015-16). Student Assessment, MI School Data. Center for Educational Performance and Information, Michigan Department of Education. Online. March 31, 2017.

Hood, Grace . “COVA, K12 Inc. To Part Ways As New Online School Is Proposed [Updated].” KUNC. June 11, 2013. Accessed March 31, 2017.

“K12 Inc. (LRN) Major Holders” Yahoo Finance. Accessed April 04, 2017.

K12 Inc. “Tuition-Free Online & Virtual Public Schools.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Online Course Curriculum.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Investor Overview.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Teachers.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Who We Are.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Testimonials.” Last modified 2017.

K12 Inc. “Student Success.” Last modified 2017.

Kieler, Ashlee. “Online Charter School K12 Hit With $169M Settlement For False Advertising Allegations.” Consumerist. September 29, 2016. Accessed March 31, 2017.

Miron, Gary and Jessica L. Urschel, Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, Breanna Dailey. “Profiles of Nonprofit and For-Profit Education Management Organizations.” National Education Policy Center, January 2012.

“Online Public School, Online High School, Online Private School, Homeschooling, and Online Courses options.” K12. Accessed March 31, 2017.

Oregon Virtual Academy; North Bend School District 13 (2015-16). School and District Report Cards, Oregon Department of Education. Online. March 31, 2017.

Raden, Bill. “Cyber Charter School Revolt Against K12 Inc. Continues – Capital & Main.” Capital & Main. September 3, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2017.

Randall, David K. “Virtual Schools, Real Business.” Forbes, July 24, 2008.

Saul, Stephanie. “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.” The New York Times, December 12, 2011.

SchoolView Data Lab Report (2013-14). Colorado Department of Education. Online. March 31, 2017.

Search Smarter Balanced Test Results (2016). California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, California Department of Education. Online. March 31, 2017.

Sparks, Sarah. “Student Mobility: How It Affects Learning.” Education Week. March 10, 2017. Accessed April 04, 2017.

Starr, Alexandra. “Bill Bennet: The Education of an E-School Skeptic.” Bloomberg, February 14, 2001.

Welner, K. G. “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment.” Teachers College Record. April 2013.

WIVA Hi, School Report Card Detail; McFarland, District Report Card Detail (2015-16). Accountability Report Cards, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Online. March 31, 2017.

Vogel, Pam. “Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement.” Media Matters for America. April 22, 2016. Accessed April 04, 2017.

Achievement First, Children Second?

CMO Report: Achievement First

Stephanie Addenbrooke, Miriam Cohen, Thomas Chu, José López.



Achievement First (AF) is a No Excuses Charter Management Organization (CMO) with 34 schools across New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Although the CMO has distanced itself from the No Excuses label, it continues to educate mainly low-income urban students of color, with the goal of using rigorous academics and strict discipline to help them close the achievement gap, in the style of No Excuses. AF has been remarkably successful in pursuing this goal, achieving test results as good as or better than those of predominantly wealthy, white districts. This being said, issues surrounding the CMO’s disciplinary culture, narrow curriculum, funding, and low racial and socioeconomic diversity of students and teachers complicate its successes. Thus, while AF schools undoubtedly boost students’ social mobility, the issues cited above suggest that AF’s narrow vision of education may neglect the role of education in creating democratic equality.


We conducted a random drawing of six of the AF schools using an online random number generator. We then compared federal and state data for these six schools with data for the school districts geographically surrounding them. For New York City, we were only able to find data on the level of the NYC Public School District, which is an extremely broad area, instead of the immediate surroundings of each school.


History, Pedagogy, and Mission

In 1998, the future AF founders started Amistad Academy, a public charter school in New Haven, CT with the goal of proving “that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts” (Achievement First, 2017a). After Amistad established itself as a successful school, AF was founded in June 2003 to expand on Amistad’s model. Today, AF runs 34 schools in five cities (New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford, Connecticut; Brooklyn, New York; and Providence, Rhode Island), which collectively served roughly 10,000 K-12 students in the 2015-2016 academic year.

Although AF does not use the phrase “No Excuses” explicitly, its pedagogy, student demographics and philosophy are typical of those of a No Excuses school. Since its inception, AF has had a social justice mission, emphasizing that “all children regardless of race or economic status, can succeed if they have access to a great education” (Achievement First, 2017b). This is one facet of the No Excuses model: race and poverty are not “excuses” for schools to fail their students. In efforts to fulfill this mission, the schools rely heavily on standardized assessments and foster a college-oriented culture.

However, the No Excuses philosophy has another major facet: strict discipline and a focus on student behavior. As will be discussed in the School Discipline section, this aspect of AF’s philosophy has drawn significant criticism and may harm student development.


School Demographics

The demographics of AF schools are fairly consistent, regardless of the demographics of surrounding districts. The AF schools studied all have of 98-100% students of color and 74-83% students who qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL). As displayed in Figures 1 and 2, AF schools essentially serve a specific population no matter the demographics of the districts where they are located. These demographics are likely the result of the No Excuses-style discourse contained in AF’s website and publications, which appeals to and targets low income people of color (Wilson & Carlsen, 2016). This demographic makeup goes along with AF’s focus on closing the achievement gap, but runs contrary to research suggesting the educational benefits of diversity (Wells et al, 2016).

Full demographics chart

Figure 1: Students Qualifying for FRL

Data from: ELSI, 2017

Figure 2: Students of Color

Data from: ELSI, 2017

Student Achievement

Figure 2: AF Achievement Compared to Districts

Data from EdSight, 2017

AF prioritizes student achievement and produces stellar test results, perhaps at the expense of secondary subjects such as science. A “Results” tab featured prominently on AF’s website emphasizes closing the achievement gap, asserting that AF Bridgeport third graders outperform Fairfield and Greenwich (affluent Connecticut districts) in math, and that eighth-graders in New York AF schools outperform Rye and Scarsdale (affluent New York districts) in math (Achievement First, 2017c). Governmental data from both Connecticut and New York confirm these claims. All AF schools studied here scored 15-50 points higher than their surrounding districts in ELA and math, for all grades studied (New York State Department of Education, 2017 & Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017).

In science, the New York AF schools have a similar increase compared with their surrounding districts (New York State Department of Education, 2017). However, both Amistad Academy and AF Bridgeport perform no better than their surrounding districts in science (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017, see Figure 3). This substantiates concerns that relying heavily on test scores for accountability prompts schools to focus on ELA and math to the exclusion of other subjects such as science (Au, 2009).


School Discipline

AF has been heavily criticized for its system of discipline. While the suspension rates for black students (who make up the vast majority of the student body) at New York schools are generally less than or equal to those of their surrounding districts, Amistad Academy and AF Bridgeport have far greater rates of suspensions for black students than the surrounding districts (see Figure 4) (Office of Civil Rights, 2017).

As these statistics have come to light, the media has particularly criticized Amistad for its “draconian discipline system,” which hyper-focuses on student compliance and harsh punishment for minor infractions (Fisher, 2016b). The racial power dynamic within the school, where white teachers enforce unreasonably harsh rules on students of color has also come under fire (Fisher, 2016b). These scathing reports culminated in March 2017 when the state of Connecticut mandated that Amistad reduce its suspension rate as a condition of extending the school’s charter (Liu, 2017). Sociological research has shown that such stringent disciplinary systems teach students to stifle their own opinions and defer to authority, while decreasing their desire to learn (Golann, 2015). Overall, AF’s discipline policies cast a major shadow over its testing successes.

Full discipline chart

Figure 3: AF School Discipline Compared to Districts

Data from: Office of Civil Rights, 2017


Marketing & Media

AF’s best method of marketing itself is undoubtedly its website, which provides a comprehensive overview of the network’s history, performance, and mission, in addition to providing methods to get involved and learn more (Achievement First, 2017). This information is also available in Spanish, making it accessible to non-English speakers (Achievement First, 2017d, 2017e).

AF’s website heavily utilizes videos, focusing particularly on success stories (Achievement First, 2017f). The videos make emotional connections with viewers, provide the ability for parents to gather information about the schools without having to visit them, and showcase the high minority racial makeup of AF’s student body.

Another major aspect of the website’s focus is on social justice initiatives. Features on events like the Fight for Fairness March in Bridgeport (see below), where AF staff and students held a rally and engaged in discourses about public school funding, highlight the school’s interests beyond the academic curriculum (Achievement First, 2017g). AF uses these features to portray itself as an exciting and innovative alternative to traditional public schools.

Accountability and Oversight

AF’s Network Support team handles teacher recruitment, professional development, fundraising, finances, and some operations concerns (Achievement First, 2017h). It also holds the power to intervene in underperforming schools.

For these services, each school pays 10% of its revenue to the CMO (Toll et al., 2016). AF emphasizes that that figure is “significantly less” than what most district schools allocate to their central offices. However, it is higher than the average charter management fee of 7% (Curious2, 2010).



Table 1: AF Revenue by Source, 2016

Total ($) Management Fees (%) Public Grants (%) Philanthropy (%)
$20,300,584 88.7% 1.2% 9.9%

Data from: Toll et al., 2016, p. 36.

Table 2: AF Average School Funding by State, 2016

Total ($ per pupil) State/District (%) Federal (%) Philanthropy (%)
New York $16,851 94.2% 3.4% 2.4%
Connecticut $14,889 78.9% 3.2% 18.0%

Data from: Toll et al., 2016, p. 37.

As to the schools themselves, AF published the results based on state, not individual school or district. AF’s Annual Report did not include financial information on its Rhode Island schools because they are not fully populated yet.

Examining the philanthropic aspect of AF’s funding scheme reveals that private donations play a greater role in the success of the organization, and charter schools more generally, than might be imagined. First, the 9.9% figure for philanthropic contribution in Table 1 refers only to the direct contributions to the CMO. In reality, a greater percentage of the CMO’s funding comes from private donors, as part of the funding from management fees is traceable to philanthropy at the school level, as shown in Table 2.

Second, private donors not only fund charter schools directly but also spend millions on political advocacy for charters. AF’s most prominent and financially significant donors include the Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Great Schools for America, 2010; Toll et al., 2016). As a representative of the Gates Foundation said, “Before you can fund the charter school, you have to fund an advocacy organization that can create a climate for the charter school to exist” (Rapoport, 2012). The Gates Foundation alone has donated over $440m to the cause of charters, at least 25% of which has gone to political advocacy (Taylor, 2015).

Specifically in Connecticut, AF has become extremely friendly with political insiders, mainly because of well-funded advocacy groups and ties to philanthropists. For example, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp used to sit on Amistad Academy’s board of directors (Pelto, 2015). The mayor has the power to appoint the Board of Education. Che Dawson, the Director of Operations at AF’s Amistad Elementary School, is one of her appointees (New Haven Public Schools, 2017). Before him, Alex Johnston, the former CEO of ConnCAN, a pro-charter advocacy group that has worked closely with AF, served on the Board under Harp (Pelto, 2015). Today, ConnCAN founder Jonathan Sackler, also a founding board member of AF, joins many other pro-charter philanthropists in donating heavily to Governor Dannel Malloy, an ardent charter supporter (Lecker, 2015).

Thus, much of AF’s government funding can be seen as the product of philanthropy-driven advocacy. This points to the outsized role of private dollars on public education, the corporate origins of the charter school movement, and the disproportionate political power charter schools gain from these connections.



In keeping with their social justice oriented mission, one would expect AF to be striving toward a diverse group of educators, to match the diverse group of students. Staffing data suggests that AF is failing to achieve this.

Data from EdSight, 2017

Amistad Academy and Bridgeport Achievement First are the only two schools with accessible staff demographics data. At Amistad Academy, 12.2% of the staff is Black or African American (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017) compared to 59.7% of the student body (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016), and 4.9% of the staff is Hispanic compared to 36.2% of the students. It is striking that a school clearly striving to serve minority students has a staff that is 81.3% white. Similar statistics can be found at Bridgeport Achievement First. Certainly, it is important to note that compared to the rest of the state of Connecticut, AF schools fare relatively well in terms of staff diversity. Yet regardless of state trends, the lack of staff diversity does not go unnoticed by students: in 2016, students boycotted class to protest the school’s lack of minority teachers. (Fisher, 2016a).

Data from NYSED, 2016

AF schools typically employ teachers with fewer qualifications or less training than surrounding districts. In New York, where most of the studied schools are located, only 2% of teachers have no valid teaching certificate, while 39% have master’s degrees or doctorates (New York State Education Department, 2016). Around 40% of AF staff in New York have no valid teaching certificate, and almost none have master’s degrees (see chart). While this is not an uncommon trend for charter schools, it does reveal a difference between the traditional public schools in the state and AF schools. AF’s Teacher-in-Residence Program, which is designed for individuals with no qualifications, may contribute to this (Achievement First, 2017i). The one-year program puts teachers in the classroom as they work toward certification, instead of requiring certification before employment.

The most astonishing statistic, however, is the yearly turnover rate. Achievement First Endeavor, for example, had a 70% turnover between 2014-15 and 2015-16. This points to low teacher satisfaction and high rates of burnout.


Relationship to the District

The extent of the relationship between AF schools and their local districts is unclear. The website for AF states that they “actively partner with traditional public schools since we know that educating our nation’s future leaders and workforce is far more important than turf battles” (Achievement First, 2017j). Yet, on the same website, they pride themselves on the fact that 10 kids compete for each spot at the school and how their schools fare, on average, better than the local district.

AF’s Residency Program for School Leadership appears to be the main initiative through which the schools engage with the local district. The program, only active in Connecticut, trains and mentors individuals with a Connecticut teaching certificate and at least four years teaching experience who “are interested in serving as the next generation of principals for the New Haven Public Schools” (Achievement First, 2012). There is no information about the success of the program, and to what extent it has benefited the local schools.

AF also supports a training program for CMO leaders. Their goal is to “dramatically [increase] the number of top-quality seats for students across the country” (Achievement First, 2017k). This appears to advocate for the expansion of charter schools, which may be cause for a strained relationship with the local district. Furthermore, their focus on charter expansion indicates that improving the traditional public school system in the local area is not the top priority and that AF views charters as alternatives to district schools, not labs for innovation.



AF is succeeding in its mission to help more low-income and minority students achieve academically and is invested in the social mobility of its students. However, there is evidence that this is being achieved at the expense of democratic equality. As mentioned in the funding section, AF’s rise has not been democratic, and its competition with public school districts has not necessarily improved public education as a whole. Furthermore, AF’s No Excuses policies inhibit genuine student learning and students’ ownership of their education, placing college acceptance as the sole marker of success. Thus, our analysis indicates that while AF certainly succeeds in developing children as standardized test-takers and college applicants, the fixation on this narrow aspect of a child’s success may mean that the schools fail to help children develop as people, just as they fail to improve the state of education more broadly.


Word Count: 2500




Achievement First. (2012). Residency Program for School Leadership Overview. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017). Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017a). “Achievement First History,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017b). “Our Mission and Vision,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017c). “Results – Across Achievement First,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017d). “Escuelas en Español – Visión General de la Red e Inscripción Escolar,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017e). “Overview–Español – Inscripción en Achievement First,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017f). “Achievement First Videos,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017g). Achievement First Profile on Vimeo. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017h). “Network Support Careers at Achievement First,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017i). “The Achievement First Teacher-in-Residence Program,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017j). “Common FAQs,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2017k). “Charter Network Accelerator,” from Achievement First Public Charter Schools website. Retrieved from

Au, W. (2009). Unequal by Design. New York city and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

Connecticut State Department of Education. (2017). EdSight: Insight into Education website. Retrieved from

Curious2. (2010). “Charter School Management Fees,” from Curious2: Thoughts on education reform, economics, and government website. Retrieved from

Fisher, J. (2016a). “‘No Excuses’ Amistad School Teaches Joyless Compliance.” Hartford Courant. Retrieved from

Fisher, J. (2016b). “Schools that accept ‘no excuses’ from students are not helping them.” Washington Post. Retrieved from

Golann, J. (2015). “The paradox of success at a no-excuses school.” American sociological association. doi:10.1177/0038040714567866.

Greats Schools for America. (2010). “Edwatch: Achievement First,” from Great Schools for America website. Retrieved from

Lecker, W. (2015), Governor intent to undermine public education. Stamford Advocate. Retrived from

Liu, M. (2017, March 6). State Targets Charters’ Suspension Rates. New Haven Independent. Retrieved April 18, 2017, from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). “Common Core of Data information for Amistad Academy,” from National Center for Education Statistics database. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Elementary/Secondary Information System (ELSI) database. Retrieved from

New Haven Public Schools. (2017). “Board of Education Members,” from New Haven Public School website. Retrieved from

New York State Education Department. (2017). New York State Education at a Glance database. Retrieved from

New York State Education Department. (2016). “New York State – School Report Card Data [2015 – 2016],” from New York State Education at a Glance database. Retrieved from

Office of Civil Rights. (2017). Civil Rights Data Collection Database for Public Schools and Districts database. Retrieved from

Pelto, J. (2015), Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven. Retrived from

Rapoport, A. (2012). No Funds Left Behind.

Taylor, D. (2015). “Bill Gates has spent $440M to push charter schools: Here is the list of recipients,” from Seattle Education web blog. Retrieved from

Toll, D. M, McCurry, D., and Boas, A. (2016). Achievement First Annual Report 2016. Retrieved from

Wells, A. S., Fox, L., and Cordova-Cobo, D. (2016). “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students.” The Century Foundation. Retrieved from

Wilson, T. S. & Carlsen, R. L. (2016). “School Marketing as a Sorting Mechanism: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Charter School Websites.” Peabody Journal of Education, 91(1), 24-46.

National Heritage Academies: A Case Study of For-Profit Educational Management Organizations

National Heritage Academies: A Case Study of For-Profit Educational Management Organizations; by Brian Pok, Clare Carroll, Denzell Jobson, Eliza Scruton

1. Introduction

National Heritage Academies (NHA) is a for-profit education management organization (EMO) based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It encompasses 85 schools across nine states, with the majority of these schools located in cities in Michigan, and serves grades K-8 (Singer, 2014). While an organization that manages charter schools is typically called a charter management organization (CMO), NHA is classified as an EMO because it is a for-profit entity, and CMOs are non-profit entities. From our research, it seems that schools under the NHA umbrella bear with them both a number of upsides and downsides. There is some evidence, for instance, that academic performance in NHA schools slightly exceeds that of surrounding district schools and that NHA schools are relatively diverse with respect to their public school counterparts. However, NHA has been criticized for its political ties, its financial structure, and the inexperienced nature of many teachers and other staffers within the schools. Since NHA is a for-profit organization, we found that many of their goals and practices seem oriented on making money, which often comes at the beset of the schools under their purview.

The findings of this report are based on analysis of information from a variety of sources, including information distributed by the NHA itself on their website and journalistic articles. Specific quantitative data on school demographics comes from the National Center for Education Statistics. Data on disciplinary practices comes from the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

The following sections will more deeply explain and analyze various features of the NHA and its constituent schools.

2. History, Pedagogy, and Mission

NHA is an EMO that was founded in 1995 by billionaire J. C. Huizenga. Of the 85 primary schools NHA serves, 47 are located in Michigan. The headquarters is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and more than 55,000 students are currently enrolled in their schools (NHA, “At a Glance”). As of 2017, they are the second largest for-profit charter organization in the United States by number of schools (In-Perspective, 2017).

According to the NHA website, their main core values are: academic excellence, moral focus, parental partnership, and student responsibility. To facilitate these values, they emphasize the importance of teacher-child relationships, individualized attention to students, and timely feedback (NHA, “Moral Focus”). Furthermore, each student is assigned an advocate beginning in middle school who provides step-by-step guidance for high school academic and enrollment requirements. This is to ensure that the student makes a smooth transition into high school.

Overall as an organization, NHA says they are committed to taking personal responsibility for the success of their students, adapting a growth mindset, and embracing accountability measures.

3. School Demographics

In our sample of 6 randomly generated charter schools (all in Michigan) of the 85 under NHA’s purview, we found that NHA enrolls a very large proportion of students of color in charters – often more than their respective districts, as shown in graph 4 below. This is demonstrated by the graphs below. In general, the majority of NHA students were students of color; a majority also qualified for free and reduced lunch. NHA schools served a greater percentage of people from these populations than the surrounding district did. These numbers show that NHA serves a very diverse, often low-income population.

Graph 1: Sample breakdown of school demographics at 6 NHA charters
Graph 2: Percentage of White vs Students of Color at 6 NHA charters
Graph 3: Percentage of Free, Reduced, or FRL students at 6 NHA charters
Graph #4: Percentage Difference of Students of Color at the charter school compared to the surrounding district

4. Student Achievement

In general, NHA’s claims that they boast high academic achievement in their schools hold water, but there may be underlying causes. According to the 2016 Michigan Student Test of Educational Prep (M-STEP) standardized test scores released by the Michigan Education State Department, each of the six NHA charters we examined outperformed their respective districts in english language arts and mathematics scores in grades 3-8 (MDE, 2016). This might show that the schools that NHA operate are slightly higher achieving than the schools in the surrounding district. At a glance, NHA seem to boast a higher standard of student achievement than do the districts they represent and in some cases Michigan state averages. The graphs below present the 2016 M-STEP scores for the state of Michigan and show ELA and math scores for grades 3-8.

What the graphs don’t and can’t show, however, is that NHA’s claims of high academic performance may be inflated. A Buffalo newspaper reported that there was a trend of students in charter schools transferring to enroll in the public school system again (Meiksins, 2014). It has not been proven, but there is speculation in several reports that students in NHA schools are being asked to leave because their test scores are lowering the school’s test scores (Meiksins, 2014). So, NHA’s claims of higher test score averages could be because they are somewhat self-selecting who they have take the tests.

Michigan State Results
Canton Charter School vs. Plymouth-Canton District
Quest Charter School vs. Taylor School District

5. School Discipline

NHA uses the language of discipline throughout its website to associate academic success with order and safety. One of NHA’s main core values is acting with discipline to sustain academic prowess (NHA, “Core Values”). NHA promotes the success of its schools through its “moral focus” curriculum and “behave with care” system, which emphasize respect and support in order to create and sustain a safe learning environment (NHA, “Why NHA”). The disciplinary language is both vague and broad and indirectly seems to hold misbehavers accountable for their own lack of learning. This may have a negative impact on english language learners and students with disabilities, because these students may believe that if they can’t understand something, it’s their own fault. Some reviews from teachers on the website Glassdoor emphasized the lack of consistency in the discipline policies and the expectations for the students (Glassdoor, 2017). They also emphasize that there is a very high teacher turnover rate that means the teachers do not learn the stated discipline policy and may not spend as much time with kids who don’t understand the lesson as they should (Glassdoor, 2017). A fired special education teacher from an NHA school even sued NHA, alleging that NHA leans against admitting handicapped students and had deficient services for students with special needs (Golden, 1999).

Among the six charter schools we researched, according to Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data, in the 2013-2014 academic year, four had lower in-school suspension rates than their surrounding districts and two exceeded the in-school suspension rates of their respective districts (OCR, 2014). None of the six charters have any mention of discipline on their individual websites. This data is especially interesting because the Detroit Merit Academy case with its exceptionally high rate of in-school suspensions fails to meet the standards set by NHA and far outweighs its district rates. There is no mention of direct and/or student-oriented initiatives that the charter uses to facilitate and maintain low rates of suspension.

6. Marketing and Media

CMOs and EMOs, in marketing themselves, frequently make use of discourse pertaining to race and diversity, academic quality, and personalized learning experiences for their students (Wilson & Carlsen, 2016). NHA is no exception to these trends, but its marketing places particular emphasis on the language of academic rigor and materially successful outcomes (such as sending students to college after graduation). The front page of NHA’s website features a glitzy video entitled “A Day in the Life of an NHA student,” which includes testimony from a variety of students (NHA, 2016). Both the students featured and the words they say seem distinctly curated: an array of racially diverse children discuss their personal academic achievements, their future goals, abstract values they have learned in school, and the help they receive from their teachers.

Despite the rosy picture painted by NHA’s website, the media attention the organization has received has been largely negative. For example, a 2014 Huffington Post article provocatively entitled, “Why is this Charter School Management Company Still in Business?,” called NHA a “cautionary tale” about the replacement of traditional public schools by charters (Singer, 2014). This article lambasts NHA for its inefficient use of funds and the high-powered political connections that have helped keep it afloat. The article also references the closure of the Rochester Leadership Academy Charter School (a school under the management of the NHA) due to poor academic performance; however, given that the schools we examined exhibited slightly better academic performance than the schools in their surrounding districts, it is hard to know which is the exception and which is the rule.

These factors, particularly the relatively low academic performance of NHA students, suggest that many of the ideals highlighted by NHA’s website are either genuine goals that have not been actualized, or else simply abstract ideas that make NHA schools more marketable.

7. Accountability and Oversight

Because NHA is a private company, they have very little accountability or oversight for their actions. The relationship between the charter schools and NHA has been widely criticized (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). The NHA, at least as of a 2012 audit, was the sole arbiter of how finances were used within the individual charter schools. Studies have shown that nearly all of the public money given to charter schools under the umbrella of the NHA gets funneled back into the NHA itself, largely for “rent” and “management costs” (Meiksins, 2014).

Furthermore, the NHA has been criticized for its connections to high-power political officials. J. C. Huizenga, the founder and chair of the NHA, was a major campaign donor to the presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). NHA is also politically aligned with controversial Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. Indeed, much of Devos’s advocacy work in Michigan has come at the direct benefit of NHA and Huizenga (Martinez, 2016). In addition, the NHA has pushed for specific policies that benefit it, at the expense of other charter schools: for example, Huizenga successfully pushed through measures that would ensure that EMO’s as large as NHA could expand without direct permission from local and state education commissions (Barnum, 2017).

While there have been no widely publicized scandals involving the NHA’s leadership of its charter schools, many find its financial and political interests suspect.

8. Funding

Since NHA is a for-profit organization, they need to receive funding to stay afloat while also making a profit. The charter schools that NHA operates receive funding from the state just like public schools do. In return, they agree to be managed by an EMO for purposes of accountability (NHA, “Our Story”).

NHA funds itself partly by charging its schools high rates. For example, the New York Daily News reported that NHA owned property in Brooklyn and charged one of its charter schools there $2.3 million to rent the property, which is $1 million over market rate. This means that the extra $1 million dollars goes to NHA instead of the individual charter schools.

NHA is a private firm and thus doesn’t have to disclose its finances, but its connections to wealthy Republican donors suggest at least some political motivation. Republicans, in general, favor school choice and an expansion of charter schools, and Devos has advocated this view vociferously. Some NHA schools, as well, have gotten in trouble for teaching creationism and other religious doctrines. NHA, therefore, may be trying to serve the Republican agenda in order to keep getting large donations and funding. Since NHA doesn’t have to release any details of its funding, however, it’s not possible to know whether or not this is the case.

9. Staffing

In general, NHA is very positive on its website about hiring teachers and the benefits that come from teaching at an NHA school. The website features many quotes from parents and students, who say that it’s easy for a student to establish a one-on-one relationship with a teacher (NHA, “Why Apply”). But, under the surface, it seems as though the high turnover rate of teachers and the relative inexperience of the teachers may be detrimental to the student’s education.

About half of NHA teachers are recent college graduates, while the other hirees come from other school systems. New hirees are trained in NHA’s educational charter school model. NHA seems to prioritize young teachers who are recent college graduates. The NHA website, however, does not advertise hiring any teachers through TFA.

Digging deeper reveals reviews and blogs posts about NHA and its charter schools, which seems to paint a different picture (Glassdoor, 2017). Reviews of NHA focused on the pressure-filled environment that comes from the corporate overhead that insists on good grades and test scores, the high turnover rate that may be due to poor working conditions, and corporate powers who pull strings while trying to make more money (NHA teacher, 2015). Studies have shown that a high teacher turnover rate can negatively affect student achievement across the whole school, which causes a cycle where some schools are very hard-to-staff. So, the school has to bring in and rely on more inexperienced teachers (Sutcher et. al, 2016). This seems to be the case with NHA, as they have a high turnover rate of teachers and also advertise hiring young teachers.

10. Relationship to the District

Since NHA is a for-profit company, they make cuts and raise costs on their own schools in order to maintain profits to ensure their share-holder satisfaction. The EMOs (not the schools) own the contents of school buildings, including the desks, computers, books and supplies, even while they may have been purchased with taxpayer money (Wood, 2011).

Typically, NHA takes at least 95% of a school’s state aid payments as a fee, pays school bills with the money, and takes whatever remains as a profit (Dixon, 2014). In turn, NHA promises a quality education at the schools, but they have no oversight and the school board can’t have any say in how NHA spends the money. This essentially means that the if there is any way for NHA to save money by not spending it on the school, it will choose to do so. This is because their goal is to make a large profit. The National Education Policy Center noted one particular example of an NHA owned charter in Louisiana, where public transportation is not offered despite 7% of the state funding being given to the school to do so (Crawfish, 2015). Rather, the NHA pocket that money for profit.

The school board lacks any kind of leverage with the NHA, as NHA owns all of the school’s property and could take everything away if the school board decided to fire the NHA. This means that people on the school board have an incentive to not fire NHA, because otherwise, they would be out of a job and the school might close. Several charter schools were told they would be closed if they stopped their contract with NHA (Wood, 2011). When people on the boards of several charter schools under NHA questioned the spending and wanted a new arrangement, they were removed and/or their schools were threatened with closure (Wood, 2011). NHA gets to hand-pick the public school board that they will be accountable to. This conflict of interest ultimately forces NHA-owned schools to comply with NHA’s demands, which therefore indirectly serve NHA’s shareholders and arguably causes harm toward a student’s education.

NHA’s relationship to their surrounding district is shaky. Former and current employees have said that NHA aims to build schools in places that have very low-rated schools so that it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to come to their charter school (Crawfish, 2015). And, as we’ve shown, NHA is concerned with turning a profit, while school districts aren’t, so the school districts seem to be spending more money on their schools and students than NHA does (Crawfish, 2015). School districts are spending more money on things such as technology and transportation, while NHA can get away with not spending the money because they are a for-profit company that is often not beholden to anyone. NHA charter schools may entice parents to send their children to them since they boast of better schools and higher academic performance, but then there has been a trend of parents transferring their children to re-enroll in the public school system again (Meiksins, 2014). This may cause shake-ups in the public school district and affect students and teachers mid-year.

11. Conclusion

Overall, NHA’s mission is to serve a wide variety of students with diverse backgrounds in useful topics that will help them on their way to college. They emphasize their diversity and their teacher-student relationships. The charters schools that NHA manages are, for the most part, more diverse than the public schools in the surrounding districts, and the students in the charter schools have done slightly better in testing than the students in the public schools. These could seemingly be used as arguments to say that NHA is a beneficial education management organization that fulfills many purposes. However, the fact that NHA is a for-profit organization and the deep political ties they have call into question their true motives. While it’s impossible to know where all the money going into NHA is coming from, it’s safe to say that the majority of this money is coming from Republican Party donors and lobbyists, who have an incentive to keep NHA in business. And, they seem to making a lot of money, as they’re continually expanded into more states and are opening more schools. So, while there are purported benefits to the NHA charter schools, NHA is largely a corrupt organization that worries about making money instead of caring for students, teachers, and the individual charter schools.

Works Cited

A Former National Heritage Academies Teacher Speaks About How Happy She Is Working For A Real Public School. (2015, September 21), from

Ash, K. (2013, December 04). For-Profit Charter Management Organizations Expand Reach, Report Says, from

Barnum, M. (2017, January 8). Inside the fight to save Detroit’s schools: Betsy Devos’s campaign for choice over local control. The 74 Million. Retrieved from

Chapman, B., & Smith, G. B. (2014, May 11). Charter schools pay millions in tax dollars to middlemen, from

Crawfish, C. (2015, January 15). Crazy Crawfish’s Blog: National Heritage Academies Makes Money for Themselves, but No Sense for Taxpayers , from

Dixon, J. (2014, June 22). Michigan’s biggest charter operator charges big rents: 14 schools pay $1M. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved from

Dixon, J. (2014, December 14). Public money for schools buys private property, from

Golden, D. (1999, September 16). National Heritage Academies Is Sued By Fired Special-Education Teacher, from

In-Perspective. Section 8: Charter School Operators, from

Martinez, S. (2016, November 23). Trump pick Devos either ‘dangerous’ or ‘exciting.’ M Live. Retrieved from

Meiksins, R. (2014, December 12). The problem with for-profits running nonprofit charter schools. Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved from

National Heritage Academies (2016, July 26). A day in the life of an NHA student. [Video File]. Retrieved from

National Heritage Academies. (n.d.), from

“School / District Search.” Office of Civil Rights. Civil Rights Data Collection. U.S. Department of Education, n.d. 2014. Web.

Singer, A. (2014, May 27). Why is this charter school management company still in business? Huffington Post. Retreived from

“Spring 2016 M-STEP Grades 3-8 and 11.” MDE – Test Results. Michigan Department of Education. 2016. Web.

Strauss, V. (2015, February 28). Separating fact from fiction in 21 claims about charter schools, from

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Learning Policy Institute: Research Brief.

Wang, M. (2016, November 01). When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only, from

Wilson, T. S., & Carlsen, R. L. (2016). School marketing as a sorting mechanism: A critical discourse analysis of charter school websites. Peabody Journal of Education, 91(1), 24-46.

Wood, M. (2011). National Heritage Academies is a For-Profit Charter Management Company. It has Created a Chain of Private Schools Funded with Public Money. Retrieved from


Reconsidering the Implementation of Brown v. Board of Education: Use of Social and Emotional Learning to Integrate School Systems by Julia Larimar

To: Superintendent of Muscogee County Schools

From: J. Sheree Larimar

Date: May 6, 2016

Re: Reconsidering the Implementation of Brown v. Board of Education: Use of Social and Emotional Learning to Integrate School Systems



It is unfair that too often in America a child’s zip code dictates their education opportunities because of a long history of segregation and unequal housing and schools.

While Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II, 1954 and 1956, declared de jure segregation illegal, schools have remained segregated due to de facto segregation. While litigation has generated court rulings that made illegal discriminatory practices, implementation of policies and programs that really diminish the effects of these discriminatory practices in education are faulty—for a multitude of reasons. Critical Race Theorist Derrick Bell posits that advocacy and litigation affected by international shame have been the primary techniques for prompting change in America’s school desegregation efforts.

As of 2010, most public school black students attended schools that were only twenty-nine percent white (Rothstein, 2013). In a country where cultural competency and high academic performance are markers of success, and schools are the mediums through which American children are socialized into their role as citizen, unequal education through racial segregation maintains a racial and social hierarchy.


Statement of Issues:

The Long and Litigous Fight for Desegregation

Columbus, Georgia has had a long history towards desegregating schools. I lean heavily on Virginia Causey’s “The Long and Winding Road: School Desegregation, Columbus, Georgia, 1963-1997.” This long history of working towards desegregating schools just to have them continue to be segregated more than half a century after the fact is unsatisfactory.

Similar to Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, a white business elite controlled Columbus. They desired to maintain peaceful “progress” and this helped Columbus avoid the violent conflicts resulting from desegregation that Albany, Georgia and Macon, Georgia faced. Columbus differed from Atlanta in that there was not as much white flight occurring in the city. White flight usually occurs when more than 30 percent of the population in an area is black. In Columbus, for the longest of times, a white majority ruled the area. Because of this, we don’t see as much action in the fight for civil rights. Through looking at the fight for the desegregation in the Muscogee County School District, one can take away important lessons about how the black community felt during this time and can gauge the activity of the church in the fight for rights.

In 1963, black students staged a “read in” in the white public library that the school operated. After this event, the Muscogee Country School Board formed a special committee on desegregation. Superintendent Henry Shaw decided that integration was inevitable and stood firmly for integrating Columbus schools. When a white principal of one of the district schools did not want to allow black students into his school, Shaw did not yield and the man had to resign. Starting in 1964, the freedom of choice plan was put into effect in Columbus schools. However, the blacks of the area did not like this system because it placed an unfair burden on minority students who would not feel comfortable trying to integrate a school and therefore felt that this would prove an ineffective mode of integration. Superintendent Shaw wanted the integration of schools to be a gradual process so as not to injure students physically or emotionally as they adjusted to this new way of life.

The local NAACP chapter put pressure on the Muscogee County School District to speed up the desegregation of schools. In order to maintain control of the school board and avoid legal coercion, Shaw (who was also part of Columbus’s business elite) wanted to protect the economic and social life of Columbus. So he sped integration by the freedom of choice plan from one grade a year to two grades a year in hopes to appease the Columbus NAACP, without angering the white community too much.

In 1967 after U.S. vs. Jefferson County BOE, Muscogee County schools were required to operate under a “unitary” system and integrate faculties. In 1969, desegregation by use of student racial ratios and mandated crosstown busing was put into effect. Starting in 1970, students and teachers of both races were transferred throughout the district “so that the ratio of Negro to white teachers in each school [was] substantially the same as such ratio to the teachers in the entire school system (Causey, 2001).” The lower-class whites in the community were not too excited by this move and felt betrayed by the upper-class whites.


The required ratio of whites to blacks in each of the Columbus schools explains why there was not an immediate and quick episode of white flight in Columbus. The Muscogee County School District schools were all to be 30 percent black and 70 percent white. Therefore, instead of sending their children to private institutions, the white elite continued to send their children to the public schools in Columbus. That summer, 1971, tensions flared between blacks and whites, as students of both races became uncomfortable with the system in place. Blacks felt that whites were “coming and taking over their schools.” Many of the traditions at the previous predominately black schools were changed to make their white teachers more comfortable. Additionally, because whites did not know how to properly deal with or gauge the cultural education of their students, many white teachers had a hard time engaging with blacks students and vice versa. White students, especially those previously from the schools in upper-class white neighborhoods, felt that they were being dumbed down to accommodate black students.

In 1972, after a tense summer, a Columbus Chapter of the National Urban League was formed. The organization’s headquarters was first setup in Friendship Baptist Church but was later moved into the Commerce Building. A national requirement for all Urban Leagues is that half of the board has to be white. Therefore, taking the Urban League out of the church—still one of the most segregated spaces in the U.S.—and putting it into a commerce building made for a more official and comfortable environment. Mrs. Margaret Belch, who represented the local NAACP stated: “We felt that one thing that caused unrest was unemployment—people were frustrated because they were unable to take care of their responsibilities.” Reverend Johnny Flakes added on “The Urban League is an instrument through which all people can work for the betterment of the community—black and white, rich and poor.” They believed improvement of racial diversity in the workforce directly correlated with that of student achievement in school. So much of the problems that started in the schools flowed over into the workplace and beyond. Therefore, because of disciplinary action taken against blacks, white students feeling like they ‘lowered’ their learning level to that of blacks, and white teachers having lower expectations for black students, the whole of Columbus experienced a descent in morale for the desegregation of schools. Schools did not seem to provide the students with the proper education needed to succeed in the workplace and those in the workplace were not ready or happy about desegregation.

In 1979, the Klu Klux Klan scheduled a march through the black neighborhoods of Columbus. The local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People marched in demonstration against the Klan, but the local People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) did not. Members of the black community were disappointed in PUSH for not demonstrating alongside NAACP. Local PUSH president Reverend Dr. William H. Howell stated: “If we must march let us march against the Klan mentally in government, industry and business…We need to march for a workable affirmative action plan, and for the full implementation of the desegregation plan in our school.”


In December of 1992, the Ministerial Alliance threatened a black boycott of white businesses if Columbus schools did not desegregate. The Chamber of Commerce, fearing the effects of this boycott, made an interracial committee to deal with the issues of desegregation. However, they were not effective in doing so. Columbus schools have resegregated since this time. Even to this day, schools remain racially unbalanced and academic expectations for students in predominately black schools in Columbus are lower than for those attending predominately white (Johnson, 2014). The business elites continue to hold control over Columbus. Even though complete white flight, like that seen in Atlanta, never really had to occur in Columbus—whites in the area have ensured that their children have access to an education that will keep the racial caste system in place.

There are ways that Muscogee School District can better work with the people of Columbus to ensure that all students are receiving a quality education.


As of 2014, eighteen percent of Muscogee County Public Schools are predominately white. Forty-five percent of Muscogee County Public Schools have a minority population that make up over 90% of the school’s student body. Every five years, there has been a decrease in the percentage of whites attending most Muscogee County Public Schools. Columbus High, a magnet school, is one of the few exceptions.

These finding of the schools are consistent with the changes in residential patterns within the county. Over the past half century, there has been a shift in where blacks and whites reside within Muscogee County. As shown by Figures 1-4, there has been a dispersion of white population throughout the county and a condensing of black population.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Population Density of 1960. (Left: White Population Density, Right: Black Population Density)

Fig 2

Figure 2: Population Density of 1980 (Left: White Population Density, Right: Black Population Density)

Fig 3

Figure 3: Population Density of 2000 (Left: White Population Density, Right: Black Population Density)

Fig 4

Figure 4: Population Density of 2014 (Left: White Population Density, Right: Black Population Density)



Toward Inclusion: Social Emotional Learning

Residential segregation is pervasive in our society. This being the case, many students have their first relatively intimate intergroup experience in schools (Schofield, 1991). Social relations between students in interracial schools may affect minority students’ academic achievement or later occupational success (Schofield, 1991), meaning they could have jobs where there are a higher percentage of whites or have a job that pays more than.


The problem associated with the study of the desegregation of schools was that it focused on outcomes rather than understanding of the social processes (Schofield, 1991). In a 1978 Journal of Negro Education, Harold Gerard wrote of his disillusionment with desegregation of schools and his disagreements with the evidence social psychologists presented to the Supreme Court in 1954 saying (1983, p. 875):

Social scientists were wrong in the belief that change would come easily…Simply mixing children in the classroom and trusting to benign human nature could never have done the trick…What I am questioning here are the assumptions underlying the belief that school desegregation, as implemented in the typical school district, will be an instrument to achieve [equal opportunity for all].


Gerard also argued that social scientists lost their credibility by trying to enter the political arena before they had hard data and were using only empty rhetoric (Gerard & Miller, 1975). Years later, we have data suggesting that emotional intelligence is beneficial in helping people function better in a world that is becoming increasingly diverse. Social emotional learning can be used to help students feel more comfortable in the classroom. Policymakers and government officials, in addition to business owners know that people benefit from the use of social emotional learning; diversity-training programs use SEL.


Policy Options:

Litigous and State Mandated Desegregation:

Litigation requires resources from community members in the form of money and time to get the courts to mandate an institution or group perform certain actions. As seen with the Brown decisions, faulty implementation of court mandates can still maintain unjust educational systems. Additionally, parents and other community members not in favor of such court mandates could pull their students out of the public schools if they have the resources. Fear of that which is different, and fights over resources, continue to make this method difficult to follow.


Implementing Social and Emotional Learning:

The emotional climate of a school district is typically the driver of engagement. Emotional intelligence is a high predictor of academic success, honor and satisfaction with school (Ivcevic & Brackett, 2014). Knowledge of how emotions influence perception, judgement, memory, thinking and behavior can help teachers cater more to their student’s needs. Teachers could move past sociallizng studetns to behave a certain way in the classroom, i.e. getting back on track and doing one’s work, to recognizng and regulating their emotions, i.e. understanding why they are upset and what emotions are motivating their behaviors and having the skills to alter them.

Through social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, school systems and communities can develop a better language for discussing issues that are controversial or difficult. In students who completed SEL progams the following benefits applied:

  • Improvement in students prosocial attitudes and behaviors
  • Better mental health
  • Improved academic performance

Much of this occurred due to improvement environment in which students were performing academic, social, or emotional tasks. RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing, and Regulating Emotions) is the five emotional skills used by the most effective SEL program.

Brackett and Rivers posit implementation of a social and emotional learning program by starting with key stakeholders, superintendent and pricipals of schools, and working way down to studetns. As leaders of a school system or school, administrators can do much work in convincing others of the importance of emotions and how they enhance or derail experiences in their school everyday (Brackett & Rivers, 2013). Next teachers would go through the program and then teachers would administer the knowledge to students. Parents would also receive information concerning SEL. This system is important and effective because it requires every level of the school system to know and learn to utilize emotional recognition, understanding, and regulation skills.

Within a year of implementing RULER, a middle school expereinced higher end-of-year grades for students and higher competence in teachers. When compared with schools that did not implement RULER, RULER schools more warmth in the classroom, better relationships between teaachers and students, less bullying and more autonomy and leadership (Brackett & Rivers, 2013).

The only problem with this model is that it takes time and its effectiveness relies on how many trainings teachers/administrators attend and how well they understand the material.


Policy Recommendation:

We are in a world where it is increasingly important to be culturally competent. Competent people are those people who are able to “generate and coordinate flexible, adaptive responses to demands and to generate and capitalize on opportunities in the environment (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger. 2011).” Use of SEL to help not just students but also parents and teachers become more culturally competent could create a school district that maximizes all students academic, social and emotional potential.

Developing an understanding of how emotions work and a language with which to discuss emotions could better help work towards a healthier racial climate in the county. SEL programs initially cost school systems a great deal but the long term benefits are the following: reduction in aggression, crime, drug use, and welfare needs and increases in academic acheivement (Brackett & Rivers, 2013). As race and class are directly correlated in America, these societal goods resulting from SEL programs would be a great addition to any commuity and could work towards alleviating concerns about having students work alongside folks not from their racial or class in-group.


Limitations and Further Research:

The limitations of such a policy is that it requries a school system to take responsibiltity for socializing students in a more direct way. This socializing process could still perpetuate racist or classist ideologies, even while it works towards makign students and faculty more self-aware.


Additionally, if parents are making economical decisions about the placement of their students, one would need to think about how to market SEL as a leadership and success program for those parents who are more wary of talking about race.


Aboud, F. E., & Skerry, S. A. (1984). The development of ethnic attitudes A critical review. Journal of Cross-cultural psychology15(1), 3-34.

Andrzejewski, Susan A., “An examination of the relation between prejudice and interpersonal sensitivity” (2009).Psychology Dissertations.Paper 2.

Brackett & Rivers, 2014. “Transforming Students’ Lives with Social and Emotional Learning” in International Handbook of Emotions in Education. Routledge.

Causey, Virginia E. “The Long and Winding Road: School Desegregation in Columbus, Georgia, 1963-1997.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Fall 2001).

Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger. 2011. The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development: 405-432.

Feng, Julie. (2015). These Mental Health Myths Harm the Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities. EverydayFeminism.

Gerard, H. B., & Miller, N. (1975). School desegregation. New York, Plenum.

Glass, Ira. Ira Glass (2015). The Problem We All Live With. This American Life. Retrieved: 19 December 2015.

Goldman SL, Kraemer DT, Salovey P. Beliefs about mood moderate the relationship of stress to illness and symptom reporting. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 1996; 41:115–128. [PubMed:8887825]

Johnson, Alva James.“Macon Road division becomes target for leaders seeking change.” Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. 17 May 2014

Patricia Gándara & Frances Contreras (Eds.), The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, (Harv. Univ. Press, 2009).

Konrath, Sara. The Impact of Emotional Recognition on Prejudice and Discrimination, 2013. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: 3-39

Rothstein, R. (2013). For public schools, segregation then, segregation since. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved December 17, 2015.

Schofield, J. W.. (1991). School Desegregation and Intergroup Relations: A Review of the Literature. Review of Research in Education17, 335–409. Retrieved from

Stephan, W. (Ed.). (2013). School desegregation: Past, present, and future. Springer Science & Business Media.

Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology86(2), 320.