By Giselle Miranda, Policy Fellow
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) held its annual meeting this year on April 21–26, with this year’s theme being “Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century”. The conference was hybrid with virtual sessions held via Zoom and in-person sessions held in San Diego, California. Staff of the State Board of Education (Darren Fleischer, Policy Analyst and Giselle Miranda, Policy Fellow) only attended virtual sessions that members of the State Board requested.The sessions happened to be the ones most relevant to the work of the State Board.
Below we’ve shared highlights from virtual sessions that we thought offer helpful insights to support our work on the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), the Advocacy & Outreach Committee, and the Teacher Practice and School Support Committee. We end the blog by posing potential next steps the State Board can take with this information. Click here for the full Annual Meeting presentation, which was intended to brief members at the May working session.
Student Advisory Committee (SAC)
Related to the work of the SAC, three groups of speakers presented their research during the session “The Bigger Picture: The Impact of Policy and Student Organizing on Systemic Change”—each presenter detailing the importance of raising student voices and reflecting them into school systems’ policies and practices. For example, Samantha Guz (The University of Chicago) shared that policies and practices like multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and school discipline are unsustainable when they are defined and implemented without considering students’ perspectives and individual needs; Guz explained that in order to amplify student voices within schools, the school staff need to be equipped with the language and mindsets to value student voice and act on their unique perspectives/experiences. Marcia Watson-Vandiver (Towson University, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education) shared that her study focused on high school graduates to better understand their school experiences and how to improve inequitable practices within the school system—this work served to provide the study’s student participants with critical agency that would help inform systemic changes within schools.
This session highlighted the importance of including recent high school graduates in State Board-led research and advocating for training and support systems that support student voice in the education policy process. Takeaways for SAC members include bridging different student groups (i.e., leadership groups versus student voice groups) within schools to further amplify and galvanize student support around education issues.
Advocacy & Outreach and Board Governance
There were several sessions that touched on families’ experiences and advocacy work within schools and school systems—such sessions lent themselves to the work of both the Advocacy and Outreach Committee and the Board Governance Committee. One of the sessions, titled “Advocating, Educating, and Policy Making: Family and Community Engagement to Advance Equity”, included five papers presenting a range of education issues from families’ perspectives.
One common finding shared amongst presenters included a sense of collective responsibility families felt towards other children and that however small, families saw the benefits of being engaged despite advocacy being time-consuming, uncomfortable work; such benefits included building knowledge, social skills, and gaining access to decision-making spaces. For example, Dr. Janelle Brady (Ryerson University) described Canadian Black mothers navigating anti-Black systems in the education system, employing strategies of Black resistance, change-making, and sharing strong school-community relationships in the form of “other mothering” (going beyond immediate family members to uplift others in communities of color) through social activism. Diana Casanova (University of California – Berkeley) reported in her study that family members participating in advocacy for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic were motivated to make changes in the education system beyond their family, engaged in shared decision-making, and through their advocacy work, gained knowledge, social skills, and power to gain access to decision-making spaces.
Other presenters pointed to schools and even teachers serving as potential barriers to student learning and family advocacy. In their paper, Muna Altowajri and Dr. Bryan Duarte (Miami University) found that teachers of color held more positive views of parents of color compared to their white counterparts, who held more deficit perceptions when the child was either an English language learner (ELL) or a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) student; their study also found that educators who took an English language learner course as part of their teacher preparation program had more inclusive and positive framing of parents of color.
Session presenters recommended that schools and education agencies should strive for offering opportunities for families to engage in authentic, not superficial, decision-making processes, advocate for teacher training to counteract implicit and explicit racism, promoting fairness in technology (improving the educational background of family members and providing training), and advancing equity through mapping and partnering with community organizations to gain insight and give power to historically marginalized families.
Teacher Practice and School Support
Out of the many AERA sessions related to the Teacher Practice and School Support (TPSS) Committee’s work, one that stood out was entitled “Alternative Certification Pathways for and From Diverse Communities and Contexts”. This session highlighted reasons why the teacher pipeline struggles to grow and diversify; a significant reason being the wide-range of financial barriers teacher candidates face while participating in educator preparation programs (EPPs). For example, Victoria Theisen-Homer (Northern Arizona State University) and Nathan Martin (Arizona State University) found in a recent survey that program cost was one of the main reasons that prevented prospective teachers of color from entering EPPs. Dr. Ashley Cartun and her colleagues (University of Colorado, Boulder) found that students in their EPP program found their unpaid residency requirement unsustainable and an additional financial strain that created more stress.
The session presenters also offered solutions that states/education advocates are implementing to address these challenges. Ms.Theisen-Homer, for example, mentioned that Arizona created a free teacher residency program to combat high attrition rates in the state. The goal is to recruit more teachers or color and address Arizona’s teacher shortage issue. Students who commit to the program would get a $15,000 stipend during their apprenticeship year (year two of the two year program), and must commit to teach in Arizona for two years to have their tuition cost fully forgiven. Dr. Cartun is currently advocating for legislation in Colorado that would compensate student teachers to attract more teacher candidates and alleviate financial stress prospective teachers face while participating in EPPs.
While the DC State Board’s focus has largely been on teacher retention and supporting current teachers, we also recognize that teacher recruitment is a large part of the education landscape. We can’t support recruitment efforts without first reexamining how to eliminate barriers that are keeping prospective teachers from pursuing the needed certifications. The research presented at this AERA session can help inform our recommendations for diversifying teacher recruitment and support collaborative efforts with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and EPPs to build a teacher pipeline that reduces financial barriers.
The AERA annual meeting offered important insight on recent research in the education field. The D.C. State Board will use the latest research to focus its efforts to bolster student engagement in the policy process, support families navigate complex school systems, and uplift teacher recruitment efforts to ensure the District has a highly-qualified and diverse teacher pipeline. The State Board looks forward to next year’s annual meeting. For more information about AERA please visit their website here.