SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: February 2020 – Science of Reading & Homeless Youth

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The
February 2020 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which examines teacher preparation programs and one from the National Center for Homeless Education, which assesses the prevalence of homeless students in the United States.

As we have done previously, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“2020 Teacher Prep Review: Program Performance in Early Reading Instruction” National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2020

Summary: This report explains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) findings of teacher preparation programs’ adherence to the science of reading. The “science of reading” refers to methods of reading instruction that have been proven successful by research. To assess whether teachers are actually acquiring the skills to teach the science of reading, NCTQ looked at programs’ required readings and assignments, syllabi, lecture topics, textbooks, and opportunities to practice. Researchers looked for evidence of dedicated course time to the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They also looked for measures to hold teacher candidates accountable for learning each component. Some of their key findings include:

• The number of elementary programs teaching scientifically-based reading instruction to their aspiring teachers continues to increase.
• The science of reading now prevails in undergraduate programs. However, graduate programs and non-traditional programs do not show that same improvement.
• There is substantial variation in adherence to reading science depending upon the state.
• Of the five components of scientifically-based reading instruction, programs are most likely to omit phonemic awareness, which is the most challenging skill.
• The use of textbooks that reflect the science of reading is increasing.

Overall, NCTQ found that more than half of teacher preparation programs are covering four or more of the components of reading. This number has steadily increased since 2013.

State Board context: The D.C. State Board of Education recently heard from panelists about the science of reading and teaching students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. Among those that shared their thoughts, panelists stated that:

• The District should ensure dyslexia screenings are administered in early years.
• Teachers must be better trained in areas such as decoding, language development, and reading acquisition and evidence-based interventions.
• Undiagnosed dyslexia or other reading disabilities have significant effects on learning.

The State Board plans to use this insight from the panelists to increase awareness of what the District should be doing to ensure that students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities are receiving the proper educational supports.

“Federal Data Summary School Years 2015-16 Through 2017-18: Education for Homeless Children and Youth” National Center for Homeless Education, January 2020

Summary: This report examines the prevalence of homeless youth in the United States. Specifically, it looks at who is homeless, what type of nighttime residence they use, their academic performance, and the grants that school districts receive. Key findings include:

• The number of identified students reported as experiencing homelessness increased 15 percent from school year 2015–16 to school year 2017–18.
• 16 states experienced growth in their homeless student populations of ten percent or more over the three-year period of study.
• States provided an average per-pupil amount of $76.50 in McKinney-Vento funding to school districts in school year 2017–18.
• The change in the unaccompanied homeless youth subgroup was consistent with the growth of the homeless student population overall, with an increase of 16 percent between school years 2015­–16 and 2017–18.
• During school year 2017–18, approximately 29 percent of students experiencing homelessness achieved academic proficiency in reading (language arts). During the same school year, 24 percent of the students achieved proficiency in mathematics, while 26 percent achieved proficiency in science.

State Board Context: During the 2019 December public meeting, the D.C. State Board heard from local organizations about the challenges and barriers that students experiencing homelessness in the District face. The organizations that came to testify included SchoolHouse Connection, The Office of the Student Advocate (OSA), Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, and Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). They indicated a number of barriers preventing homeless students from achieving educational success.

One barrier identified is the difficulty in accurately assessing how many students are living in unstable housing situations. While the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) reported that 7,728 children and youth were homeless during the 2018–19 school year, it is likely that number is an undercount. This makes it hard for city officials to ascertain what supports and resources schools need to adequately support their students in need.

Another major barrier is transportation. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act requires Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to provide homeless students transportation to and from school at the request of the parent or guardian; however, the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project has stated that families living in shelters and hotels report up to three-hour commutes to get to school and hundreds of dollars spent on ride-share services. To combat this barrier, the District implemented a shuttle service that takes homeless students to and from school, although, the service is set to end on the last day of school in June 2020.

OSA has done extensive research on the challenges that students experiencing homelessness face. They have provided families multiple resources so that a lack of information does not result in a greater lack of access. The State Board recognizes that these barriers prevent students experiencing homelessness from educational opportunities and is working to identify what can be done to break down these barriers.

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