Monthly Archives: June 2017

Learning Far From Home

Assistant Professor Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Ed.D.’09, authored Refugee Education: A Global Review, providing a comprehensive look at the limitations of programming available for displaced populations of children since World War II.

Commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the report detailed the low quality of existing education programs in some countries and the lack of access in others. As noted in the executive summary, “Girls are at a particular disadvantage; in Eastern and the Horn of Africa, only five girls are enrolled for every 10 boys.” In addition, children were not learning at benchmark levels, teacher-pupil ratios averaged as high as 1:70, and many teachers lacked the training that prepared them to teach.

The extensive review, and its subsequent presentation to 160 governments, led to the development of a multiyear Education Strategy published by UNHCR, which Dryden-Peterson helped to draft. Since its release in 2012, funding for refugee education has increased — from 4 percent of UNHCR’s budget in 2010 to 6 percent in 2013 — as has staffing.

“Before the UNHCR Global Education Strategy was launched in 2012, there were six UNHCR staff members working on education, three at headquarters in Geneva and three in field-based positions,” says Dryden-Peterson. “Less than three years later, there are 44 dedicated education officers: 15 on the global team, working at headquarters and regionally; and 29 in field-based positions. There has also been a significant increase in long-term contractual staff for education, particularly in emergency contexts.”


To monitor the efficacy of the implementation of the strategies, Dryden-Peterson and a team of several doctoral and master’s students enrolled in her class on Education in Armed Conflict have worked with 14 UNHCR priority countries — Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Yemen — to track progress. As part of their work, observations were made and interviews conducted with local staff of UNHCR, UNICEF, various NGOs, and national Ministries of Education, who oversee the following strategies:

  • Ensure that 3 million refugee children have access to primary education.
  • Expand secondary education to 1 million young people.
  • Provide safe schools and learning environments for all young learners.
  • Ensure that 70 percent of refugee girls and boys achieve quality learning in primary school.
  • Provide teacher training that leads to professional qualifications so that 80 percent of teachers are trained.
  • Provide non-formal education and training opportunities for 40 percent of young people, male and female.
  • Increase by 100 percent the number of students attending tertiary education.
  • Enable early childhood education for 500,000 children aged 3 to 5.
  • Increase literacy rates among refugee adults by 50 percent.

“The global strategy provides high-level guidance on priorities for refugee education,” says Dryden-Peterson, who notes that 7,453 unique visitors have downloaded the document. “It is in its adaptation in each local context that the impacts on refugee families and communities are felt.” To deepen the investigation into the 14 countries, Dryden-Peterson’s team conducted three field-based case studies, in Kenya, Rwanda, and Egypt. Doctoral candidate Elizabeth Adelman conducted field research in Egypt in the summer of 2014.

“We wanted to look particularly at Egypt because it represents an interesting case of thinking about whether and how to include refugees in the national system or set up separate schools,” says Dryden-Peterson. “The answer is not always straightforward, especially in reconciling issues of curriculum, language of instruction, and how refugees and nationals get along in classrooms. In some contexts, national laws and policies, and even the preferences of refugee community members, may conflict with the global strategy.”


From Adelman’s field work in Egypt, Dryden-Peterson says, “we learned more about the complexities of implementing a global strategy in a local context. It requires a long period of time, many conversations among multiple actors, and the building of relationships through multiple levels.” A major challenge in the process, says Adelman, is thinking about “what is best for refugees in the short term, but also trying to think long term.”

With her ongoing work in this area, Dryden-Peterson remains on the forefront of ensuring “access, quality, and sustainability” of these burgeoning education programs serving displaced children around the world.

“Especially in a situation where the future is unknowable, in terms of whether the future will be in a country of exile, a return to a home country, or in a country of asylum in a distant land,” says Dryden-Peterson, “education is the one element you can take on that journey that can help to build a strong future.”

Making and Learning Together

Kids learn everywhere today — libraries, museums, afterschool programs, summer camps, and even on the phones we carry in our pockets. It can be hard for some families to figure out where and how to engage; it can be hard for others to gain access in the first place.

But these out-of-bounds learning experiences — when they’re open and accessible to all kids and families — can provide exciting new avenues for connection, says Heather Weiss, the director of the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), in a new essay published in Ed Tech Digest.

Maker education is a great example of a learning experience that’s designed to be shared, says Weiss and her co-author, Gregg Behr. “Emphasizing exploration and risk, the hands-on maker movement creates abundant opportunities for families to get directly involved in their children’s schooling and learning. Ambitious and creative maker projects demand and inspire collaboration with parents and caregivers.” The projects also help children connect their interests to the world around them.

Weiss cites the innovative work of Makeshop, the makerspace at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which engages caregivers and children in joint projects of mutual discovery. Some of the tools and gadgets that Makeshop uses will be new to parents as well as to kids, Weiss and Behr say, “giving each the chance to be a teacher, or the option for both to learn as peers.”


Public spaces for co-creation and discovery — whether at libraries or in places like Makeshop or the New York Hall of Science makerspace — open a door for families that otherwise might miss out on these rich learning opportunities. As Weiss and Behr write, the HFRP “has spent years tracking the boom in informal learning opportunities and advocating for wider access.” Low-income families have less money and time to spend on extracurricular enrichment than middle-income peers, and the research has documented a dramatic gap. “By sixth grade, middle-class kids have spent 6,000 more hours in extracurricular learning programs than poor students, according to The After-School Corporation.”

Open-access spaces “facilitate connection between family members and also act as community resources. Like Makeshop — where low-income families can present an EBT card to receive $2 admission for up to four people — many maker sites are affiliated with museums, libraries, or community centers where families can join a social network or find access to other public programming.”

How Schools Respond to Threats

Amid a wave of bomb threats directed at schools, with nerves frayed by fears of mass shootings and terrorism in San Bernardino, Paris, and Beirut, superintendents have been on the hot seat. When Los Angeles and New York City received similar emailed threats but made opposing decisions — LA choosing to close its system for a day, New York remaining open, calling the threats a hoax — it cast a spotlight on how school leaders make decisions, and whether there’s a right way or a wrong way to proceed in times of uncertainty.

Usable Knowledge asked HGSE Professor Andrés Alonso, former superintendent of the Baltimore City Public Schools, to talk about how things look from the inside.

As a superintendent, how do you make the decision to close schools or districts — or open them — in response to a threat?

First of all, a superintendent isn’t making a decision like this on his or her own, especially in large cities, where the school system is embedded in many other systems that are servicing kids and families. You make decisions about closing schools, in normal circumstances, with city hall, with the police and transportation department — as part of a team that is thinking about how the city functions. You’re changing the entire flow of what’s happening in a city on a given day.  A terrorist threat is not a normal circumstance, which makes it more imperative that you work as part of a team that is thinking about the entire city.

But the decision should be part of the same protocol that helps shape more ordinary decisions around closing schools. In every year, in every school system, you’re going to have to make a set of calls around closing or opening schools where you could be right or you could be wrong. Most of the time you’re going to have 50 percent of the people happy and the other 50 percent of the people unhappy. Whether it’s snow, water main breaks, Halloween pranks — no matter what you do, you’re going to have a sector of the community that thinks that you acted in the wrong way, because it impacted their lives in a negative sense. Here, the stakes are incredibly higher. If the protocols are off, then you compound what is already fraught and extraordinary.

What factors do you weigh when you make these decisions?

The safety of children always comes first. But because there are no guarantees, you are also weighing families and home care, you’re weighing children who are eligible for free and reduced meals and their access to food, you’re weighing issues with teachers and their travel and their ability to get to school and deal with their own family responsibilities in an emergency.

So there are going to be dilemmas. Normally, you have a bias toward keeping schools open and keeping kids in schools. That should be the default. Kids generally are safest at school. On the other hand, there are going to be some circumstances where that’s not true.

In every circumstance, you are going to go with your judgment — that it’s a hoax or it’s a prank or you’re only going to get three inches of snow instead of 12. Sometimes you’re going to be wrong. But I would always rather be wrong in a way that protects the safety of the children. The challenge, of course, is that you have a lot of parents and a lot of children who are counting on schools being open.

The type of decision facing Los Angeles and New York and other districts in recent days seems unique and new because of the threat of political, mass violence — and because it’s happening in a climate that is highly sensitized to that threat of violence. That makes it even more imperative that you’re making decisions in the context of a team of people who are making the best judgment at a specific point in time, with a specific set of facts, bringing expertise that you and your staff might not have.

Is there a right decision at times like this?

I don’t think there’s a right decision or a wrong decision. The wrong decision would be to open schools and have something happen that impacts the safety of kids. So much depends on the information that a police department or the FBI might have. You obviously can’t close schools anytime someone makes a phone call. But you have to weigh the evidence you have, consult with people who have the best information to make a shared decision, then go with your informed judgment and your gut about what has to happen.

How do you talk with your community about your decisions — especially if those decisions draw criticism?

You should always be in communication with your community about your decisions. You should be in constant conversation about the whys and the hows. It shouldn’t just be about these fraught situations when you have national attention focused on one decision. It should a part of everything that you do. If you’ve established that constant, two-way communication as a routine element of what you do, then you build trust, and trust is critical in these situations.

As a superintendent, how do you help parents and students feel safe?

I think there’s more of an imperative to have that kind of conversation if you actually close schools and then reopen them again. If you keep school open, you’re basically telling people that you already believe that they are safe.

Again, I think that this is part of a much wider conversation than just a school system. If there is potential for that kind of damage to schools, there is potential for that kind of damage to every other civic institution.

Unfortunately we are at a moment in time where we’re having to have those kinds of conversations. I was in New York during 2001, and part of what was interesting then was the extraordinary will on the part of the communities surrounding Manhattan to come back to a kind of normality. We had this inescapable proof that something really terrible had happened, that had cost thousands of lives, and yet the overwhelming feeling on the part of people in New York City and surrounding communities was that we had to keep going. I think now, it’s the sense that something might happen, and we don’t know what it is, that’s causing anxiety and confusion about the best way to act. I find the contrast very interesting. People in positions of responsibility are going to need to work together in order to make the right decisions.

Talk about how you managed similar decisions in Baltimore.

In Baltimore, we had protocols around the decision to open and close schools in relationship to a set of potential events — whether it was ice on the streets, snow, buildings that were too hot or too cold, a potential hazmat situation in a school, a lockdown of a neighborhood because of crime, or what have you. We dealt with all of these situations at one point or another.

We had a police department in our school system, and our police would get in touch with city police and fire. We had an operations department that was responsible for evacuating schools, for cleaning schools, for transportation – they were in touch with their city counterparts. If we were going to close the schools, we wanted teachers and principals to know in advance, and we had agreed on specific times for that to happen. We also had communication protocols in place for parents, and we had protocols around media and around transportation. There were public channels for communicating with the community, and there were school-specific communication trees.  The access to information in case schools closed was transparent, widely known, and clearly understood.  If we didn’t follow these protocols, we were taken to task.

We also had an established understanding that before we made decisions about closing and opening, the chief of police and the head of transportation and the mayor’s chief of staff were given a head’s up and an opportunity to be briefed on the decision. They had to brief other public officials.

If I had been the superintendent in Baltimore and we had gotten that threat, I would have been on the phone with the mayor, and in a case of such magnitude, I would have asked the mayor and the two police departments to involve the FBI right away, if they had not already done so. I would have relied on my team’s advice about communication and timing, and I would have relied on their best judgment about the reliability and the credibility of the threat, with an understanding that this is something we were going to deal with together. Then, based upon the information they brought to me, I would have consulted with the head of my board and with my union presidents. I would have communicated with the state commissioner of education, and I would probably have consulted with the surrounding districts, since any decision I made was going to have an impact on the surrounding counties. We shared teachers and in some cases kids.

It’s a highly complex decision, and always the safest course of action is to close. The risk is always on opening.

Some have criticized the LA schools for the decision to close. What’s your perspective?

Without having specific information or being part of those decisions, I think it’s irresponsible to criticize someone for choosing to close schools. Of course, you need to have the real-world understanding that you’re always going to be making these decisions, and you can’t close schools every day of the year because people are saying terrible things are going to happen. You would be surprised how often districts have to make judgments about safety, even if not to this degree of risk.

As a superintendent, you have to know that this is the kind of call where you’ll have a lot of backseat driving. People are always going to be responding to what you do after the fact. Hopefully, as in this case in Los Angeles, they are going to be responding when nothing has happened.

You’d rather take the hit and say, as I think Ramon Cortines did in Los Angeles, “I made the call to the best of my abilities, and as always, I’m accountable.” And if you’ve done your job in advance with the community and your partners, you’re going to have plenty of people who are going to be there with you saying, “The superintendent made the right decision.”

Ethics when in Class

Hasil gambar untuk Ethics when in ClassEthical dilemmas abound in education. Should middle school teachers let a failing eighth-grade student graduate, knowing that if she’s held back, she’ll likely drop out? Should a private school principal condone inflated grades? Should an urban district pander to white, middle-class families — at the expense of poor, minority families — in order to boost the achievement of all schools?

Teachers, principals, superintendents, and education policymakers face questions such as these every day. And for many, amid the tangle of conflicting needs, disparate perspectives, and frustration over circumstances, lies the worry that discussing an ethical dilemma with colleagues will implicate you as not knowing how to make the right choice — or as already having made the wrong one.

Educational philosopher Meira Levinson and doctoral student Jacob Fay take up these challenges in the new book Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries. In detailing the moral predicaments that arise in schools, the researchers also provide a framework for educators to discuss their own dilemmas with colleagues, opening the door to making these conversations more common.


The book presents six detailed case studies of common educational dilemmas, each accompanied by commentaries of varying viewpoints. Written by a range of practitioners — from classroom teachers to district leaders to African American Studies professors to philosophers — these commentaries each dissect the cases differently, introducing new solutions and new ways to consider what is “right.”

In the first case study, middle schools teachers debate whether to allow a failing eighth grade student to graduate, knowing that she’s both unprepared for ninth-grade coursework but also likely to drop out if she’s held back. Despite having lived in three different foster homes in the past year and having her brother die from a gunshot wound, the student, Ada, put forth enormous amounts of effort to raise her grades — until recently, when she grew discouraged. While the district provides an alternative school for struggling students, the teachers rule it out immediately; it’s known as a flat-out school-to-prison pipeline.

The commentaries on this case, and on the other five, range from providing concrete solutions to proposing total reconsiderations of the situation to suggesting that the whole system change. Classroom teacher Melissa Aguirre, for instance, says that the school should retain Ada in order to uphold its standards, but she also comments that this case shows why it’s necessary to make “competency-based” education, and not just “age-based,” a norm for all. Sigal Ben-Porath, an education and political science professor, notes that high-poverty schools are more likely to define students solely by academic standards, and disregarding noncognitive skills. She writes that Ada should be recognized as a complex person and consulted in the decision on whether she should matriculate to ninth grade.

Others provide more abstract interpretations. Willie “J.R.” Fleming, a human rights advocate, explains that the circumstances Ada is living under could be defined as an armed conflict or a war zone. As a response to Ada’s dilemma, the writer imagines appropriate alternative schooling that will allow Ada to heal and thrive. Deputy superintendent Toby Romer, explains that the teachers in this case are focused on “worse-case scenarios”; by dismissing the alternative school as too dangerous, he explains, they have ruled-out any possibility of it working for diligent students like her. Ideally, he says, the teachers would make decisions on how the system is supposed to work, rather than on how it does.


Ada’s story does not lend itself to one solution; instead, it provokes a whirlwind of feelings and reactions. So how can this case, and the five others in the book, assist teachers in considering their own ethical dilemmas — and in reaching viable solutions?

Case studies offer a safe way for educators to begin recognizing and discussing ethical dilemmas they may face in their own work, since no real person is implicated. “We hope that by reading and talking about the cases and commentaries, professional communities can become more practiced and comfortable in having these sorts of discussions, so that when their own particular dilemmas arise, they have the cases and a language to be able to speak about what it is they’re struggling with in their own practice,” says Fay.

The cases also give educators a chance to consider diverse perspectives. “Right now, our conversation in the United States about education policy and practice is so polarized, and so dismissive of the other side,” explains Levinson. “Both wrap themselves up in the mantle of social justice, and they refuse to recognize that in fact, both sides may really care deeply about equity, opportunity, and social justice, and just have different ways to try to achieve those goals.” Because the cases, and especially the commentaries, delve into different viewpoints, they may allow educators to better understand where the other side is coming from — and how to work with them.

Along the same lines, says Levinson, “the commentaries also provide some guidance for how you can think through the cases. They model that you can have disparate views among people of good intent, and they model that that might happen because you are coming at it from a different experiential perspective.”

Eventually, Levinson envisions the discussion of ethical dilemmas as common professional development in schools. If teachers and principals have enough practice discussing case studies of morally unclear situations, they might become more prepared to discuss their own. “You can imagine that, over time, educators themselves being able to say to their colleagues, ‘Here’s my case, here’s my dilemma, I would really appreciate hearing you talk through it.”