Category Archives: Education

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.”

Mathematics is Everywhere And is Used for Everyone

The idea of “learning math” often conjures the image of a student hunched over his desk, solving problems using a set formula he copied down from his teacher. Math, we tend to think, is a strict set of algorithms, practices, and rules — all emanating from inside the classroom. New resources from the Harvard Family Research Project(HFRP), though, paint a different picture entirely — elevating the role of the family as a source of math knowledge.

In its latest initiative, HFRP is focusing on the idea that children’s knowledge of math is “broad and deep,” developing anywhere, anytime, and even starting at birth. Families are instrumental to their children’s success in mathematics, as they can help children recognize and use mathematical thinking in everyday activities.

But today’s math assignments can be confounding for parents who learned math in a pre-Common Core era, or in a different country — or who still harbor math anxiety from their own days at school, or never fully learned to connect the dots between everyday actions and math lessons. To ensure students are ready to thrive, educators have to partner with parents, acknowledging how diverse families already use math — and how they understand and grapple with math in their own ways.


To start, educators should keep in mind three broad ideas about mathematics and families, as explained by Diane Kinch and Marta Civil of the group TODOS: Mathematics for All.

  1. Mathematics is cultural. Families, especially parents who went to school outside of the United States, may have learned math differently than the way their children are learning it. They may have indicated decimals with commas instead of periods, or relied more on mental math in long division — and they may become confused (or confuse their children) when not introduced to the methods taught in their children’s school.
  2. Mathematics exists in many different ways in many different communities.Research often concludes that lower-income homes don’t do as many math activities as upper-income homes. But all families use math with their children, whether it’s through halving a recipe, calculating gas mileage, or figuring out the right angle to shoot a basketball. It’s up to teachers to connect with their school community and understand the practices and strengths of the families they work with.
  3. Students learn best when their families and teachers are co-learners.Teachers should help cultivate the mindset that everyone has different beliefs about what’s important in mathematics, and how that should be taught and learned.


How exactly can educators connect with families about mathematics? HFRP offers specific suggestions, drawn from TODOS, the case study “Daddy Says This New Math Is Crazy,” and the program Nana y Yo y las Mathematicas:

  • Leverage parents’ mathematical strengths. Seek out opportunities to identify math content and approaches with which parents are familiar. Look for and encourage instances of parents using math with their children, such as counting or noticing shapes, before asking parents to try out a new technique.
  • Make communication with parents the focus of homework. It’s easy for children and parents to grow frustrated when children can’t remember how to do their homework, and parents don’t understand the method that their children are supposed to use. Circumvent this problem by assigning students homework specifically asking them to teach the new method they learned that day to their parents.
  • Organize math discussions with families. Coordinate get-togethers to discuss content, ways to solve problems, and which skills are most important — meetings in which everyone is open to learning from each other.
  • Invite parents into the classroom. Ask parents to speak to their class about times that they have used math in their everyday lives. To demonstrate how mathematics is different — and the same — across cultures, invite parents to teach the class a lesson using the methods they learned in school, or using the same methods, but in another language.
  • Capture classroom lessons on video. Visits during the school day are not feasible for all families. Use smartphones to text short videos of lessons, to ensure parents feel included and aware of new learning methods.

Undocumented and Educated

In the four years since the Obama Administration launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, young, undocumented immigrants have gained visibility, opportunity, and some measure of stability. But their immigration status, and that of their parents, still inflicts a corrosive burden, says Roberto Gonzales, who has chronicled their experiences before and after the DACA protections. For educators who work with immigrant students, the weight of that burden requires new support services and a distinctive kind of outreach, particularly as young people move through high school and become aware of the ramifications of their status.


“Kids grow up, from kindergarten on, with the idea that if you work hard enough and dream boldly enough, there can be something for you. You can be successful. That’s the ethos of this country,” Gonzales says. But as undocumented students move through the education pipeline, the broken mechanics of immigration policy gradually come to dominate their lives.

Gonzales explores the impact of that broken policy in Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in Americaa book that pulls back the curtains to reveal a landscape of lost potential. He followed 150 undocumented young people in the Los Angeles metropolitan area over a period of 12 years, finding that even those with college degrees wound up on the margins of society, stuck in low-wage jobs, permanently constrained, and often raising their own children in poverty.

“For many of the kids I followed,” says Gonzales, “as they hit 13, 14, 15, years old — as their friends were taking after-school jobs, getting driver’s licenses, thinking about college — there was this dramatic awakening for them, that their futures were not going to be what they had been told. Even for the high-achieving students fortunate enough to get tracked positively and to get into good classes and get into college and have mentors — even for them, once they venture outside of this trajectory and get their first taste of the limitations their status imposes, they can fall off a cliff.”


Things changed in 2012 when President Obama created DACA. Under its protections, according to a new brief from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), almost 730,000 people who came to the United States as children have received a two-year reprieve from deportation and a temporary eligibility to work legally in the United States and to get a driver’s license. Of the 1.3 million people that MPI estimated to be immediately eligible for DACA (those who met age, time of entry, and school enrollment criteria), 63 percent have applied (leaving a still-sizable percentage of eligible young people who have not). More than 90 percent of those eligible to renew their DACA status and extend the two-year benefits have done so.

Gonzales analyzed the transformational impact of DACA in a report published earlier this year, chronicling how it has expanded young people’s educational and work opportunities, resulting in better performance at school, increased wages, renewed hope, and a revitalized motivation to succeed.

But he found that significant obstacles remain, despite DACA protections. They include:

  • The significant variability of opportunity (or lack thereof) across localities and states.
  • The continued financial challenges of tuition, even in parts of the country where in-state tuition rates are available to DACA enrollees. (Undocumented people are not eligible for any federally funded student aid.)
  • Difficulties navigating the licensure requirements attached to many specialized vocations. Nearly 30 percent of all jobs in the US today require a license, and pathways to licensure can be uncertain or blocked for undocumented people, even if they’ve already received (and paid for) specialized training.
  • The lack of a permanent solution, making long-term planning a challenge.

Even as the country marked the fourth anniversary of DACA this summer, it was also absorbing the implications of a Supreme Court decision in June that blocked a larger Obama administration program to protect parents of citizens or permanent residents from deportation. For these adults, including many whose lives Gonzales had chronicled, who are now the parents of citizens, the decision is crushing. “It drives these parents and their children deeper into the shadows, where they will continue to suffer the effects of daily living that is narrowly circumscribed by legal limitations and the fear of deportation,” Gonzales says.

DACA survives, but its future is far from guaranteed. With the politics of immigration at the forefront of election campaigning, uncertainty about the future of the program is rising.


So what are schools, districts, and advocates doing to help DACA-eligible students navigate their complex situation?

Helping families and children understand their rights. All eligible students can and should apply for DACA while still in high school. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, some families may wonder whether DACA is still available, so additional outreach may be needed this year in particular. Undocumented adults may worry that there are new risks involved in enrolling their children in school.

Schools are legally forbidden from asking about immigration status, and some students may not disclose (or may not know) their status. Districts and schools with immigrant populations should communicate proactively with all families, with messages of inclusion and to encourage DACA enrollment and renewal, as modeled by this resource from the Boston Public Schools. From early on, they should spread the message to students that everyone can aspire to go to college and pursue interests and career goals. That message should include the fact that undocumented students can legally attend college in the U.S.

Ensuring that staff members know about the resources available to undocumented students, as well as the limitations. Variation at the state-level — involving tuition rates, state scholarships, and licensure requirements, among other things — makes it important for school counselors, teachers, and other academic advisors to be aware of the opportunities and restrictions available to DACA-enrolled young people in their localities. The DACA recipients that Gonzales interviewed said teachers and counselors had often encouraged them to pursue postsecondary education but knew little about the legal realities their students had to face.

Creating a strong mentoring system. Gonzales identified a single characteristic shared by each of the high-achieving undocumented students he followed: “To the person, they could name three or four adult mentors in their lives,” he says. “These were teachers, counselors, adults within the school community who really helped forge a pathway for them.”

Looking to colleges as a model for student services. At the postsecondary level, some colleges have taken the lead by creating resource centers for undocumented students, and these have been effective at providing the specific support these students need, Gonzales says. These resource centers include an identified staff person who acts as a liaison to students in navigating the bureaucracy of higher education. They also provide trainings for staff and faculty, and they convene support groups and clubs for undocumented students — creating opportunities for leadership and for civic and community engagement.

Without such targeted help, Gonzales says, undocumented students often get bounced among offices — the international office, the student affairs office, the financial aid office — “and they end up having to tell their story over and over again, often while standing in a long line,” which can raise fears of exposure.

This successful model is starting to be replicated in middle schools and high schools, Gonzales says — where the impact can be even greater.

Staying aware of the challenges of adolescence. Navigating adolescence is challenging for all children, but it’s uniquely so for undocumented children. Added to the typical turbulence is the stigma and exclusion associated with their immigration status, the self-seclusion or secrecy that families often feel compelled to impose, and feelings of depression that can arise as students come to appreciate the limitations of their status.

As kids come to see that they will have difficulties accessing opportunities their peers might take for granted, they begin “worrying about what teachers will say, what their friends will say,” Gonzales says. “Many of them choose to keep it a secret. So what does it mean to keep this big secret? Some kids separate themselves — from peer networks that have been critical to their success, from teachers, from clubs — because it becomes tiring to them to have to make excuses.”

DACA has helped to lessen what he calls “the mental health repercussions of being undocumented.”

“Today, there are more supports to prevent kids from falling off. There are new opportunities for guidance, allowing these young people and their families some breathing room — some chance to maintain their aspirations.”

Advocating for policy changes, starting with a pathway to legalization. Other needed changes include access to federal and state financial aid, and consistent access to in-state tuition rates. And there’s a continuing need to build organizations and systems that connect and share resources, leveraging the new awareness on college campuses and across society.

“When we get beyond rhetoric of campaign politics, I think very consistently our American public favors some kind of a pathway to legalization, especially for young people,” Gonzales says. “But what has been difficult is this very awkward marriage of policy and politics that’s really gotten in the way of us doing what’s best for kids, for their families, for their communities, and for this country.”

Learning in the Outer world

With the school year in full swing, it can be easy to forget one of the chief joys of the summer: Just being outside. Now, a growing number of researchers and educators are finding that outside time has benefits beyond leisure — and may be the key to happy and healthy children, schools, and communities.


Outdoor education encompasses a range of experiences, settings, and pedagogical goals. “Unplugged” sessions at overnight camp, or Outward Bound–type trips with classmates, are often the first images that come to mind. But outdoor education can be as simple as a lesson taught outside — entirely unrelated to nature, or using the outdoor landscape to teach sustainability or biology. Or it can be simpler still: playing outside, using free time to organize a game or investigate a wild section of the playground.

Each of these interactions has its own benefits, but the overall impact of time spent outdoors is clear: better physical health and wellness; increased environmental stewardship; enhanced creativity, concentration, and self-confidence; and stronger collaboration and relationship skills.

Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla has found that frequent contact with nature can reduce symptoms of attention-deficit disorder and increase memory; it’s also associated with lower rates of depression. Other studies have shown that time outdoors leads to lower rates of myopia among children, possibly because the high light intensity outside can stimulate retina growth. And more generally, exploring the outdoors introduces children to new sights and sounds and broadens their perspective beyond their immediate families and schools, says Jessica Parsons, who specialized in the topic while earning a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education(HGSE).

Outdoor education can be as simple as setting aside a “wild” corner of the playground, where kids can make discoveries large or small.

Ben Wild, another HGSE alum, spent years leading teenagers on backpacking trips, helping kids become both self-sufficient and mutually reliant as they survived in the wilderness for a week. And because the students couldn’t bring any technology or reading material, they had ample time to set goals and reflect on the journey, skills they brought back to the classroom. They learned how to take risks responsibly, in a safe (and fun) context.

Working at a summer camp in Los Altos Hills, California, HGSE Lecturer Sarah Leibelnoticed other advantages. Her campers, who spent several weeks without cell phones, learned to make the most of the free time they had outdoors with their new friends, developing stronger conversational and interpersonal skills. And because they had so much time to run around and move their bodies, it became easier for them to relax and be still when it was time for a break.

But children and teens don’t have to travel far to benefit from the outdoors. In her research at HGSE, alum Erica Fine found that “frequent, close-to-home experiences are one of the best tools we have at connecting kids to nature.” Students who have a chance at recess to explore a tree or a wild patch of grass learn to be creative within their surroundings. Regular time outside gives kids more opportunities to exercise, and it lets them notice and appreciate all of nature — not just breathtaking views seen while camping, but also ants on the playground or a squirrel in the yard.


Compiling the advice of our experts, we offer seven simple suggestions for educators to integrate the outdoors into the school year:

  • Designate a “wild” area of the schoolyard for children to explore. Let the grass grow and animals make nests, and keep sticks and branches within reach of students. Encourage students to climb, discover, and play in the area.
  • Create an outdoor classroom where groups can meet to read, write, draw, or learn about the environment.
  • Let students eat lunch and do phys ed outside, weather permitting.
  • Foster partnerships between schools and local parks. Visit parks for outdoor lessons and free play, and offer to let the town use school playgrounds on weekends. These partnerships can be especially important for urban, low-income students, who may have fewer opportunities to visit green spaces on their own.
  • Take students for a walk during the day to make observations about the environment, to practice mindfulness, or to complete a teamwork activity.
  • Plan a fieldtrip where students can experience nature without technology.While immersive overnight programs can be transformational for students, they can also be expensive. Single-day adventures can be just as fun, with longlasting benefits.
  • Model the kind of engagement you want your students to have with nature.Explore new developments on the playground, play with fallen leaves, and vocalize what you notice and love about the outdoors.

Learning to Read to Learn

By middle school, typical reading curriculums assume that students have the necessary literacy strategies to decode the writing in front of them. Lessons have shifted from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” with students using texts to make sense of unknown concepts.

But in a digital world, there are countless ways — books, newspapers, social media, blogs, online forums — to read information. This variety of sources can leave middle and high school students confused about which techniques to use to comprehend, analyze, and synthesize what’s in front of them, as well as which reading to use for higher learning.

Now, a study of three adolescent literacy projects reveals instructional approaches that can help teens develop the reading skills they need for consuming 21st-century texts.


“Middle and high school teachers could make their classroom activities more engaging by ensuring that students are focused on an organizing question or purpose for the activities. They could build time for peer-talk and purposeful classroom discussion more systematically into their lessons.”

The study, co-authored by language and literacy development expert Catherine Snow, looked at three multiyear adolescent literacy projects: Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text (PACT); Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate (CCDD); and Reading, Evidence, and Argumentation in Disciplinary Instruction (READI). Each project focused on a different method of reading comprehension — for example, building vocabulary and knowledge central to a particular unit — and implemented a curriculum following that theory.

These three programs shared the understanding that adolescents face new challenges in reading, such as grasping unfamiliar content in complex language forms and integrating diverse forms of text. And while each project had its own model of building teenagers’ comprehension, all were successful in improving student outcomes.

Significantly, the researchers noticed three common practices in each of these projects. They found that building these practices in tandem into middle and high school reading lessons can help boost reading comprehension and build prepared, engaged learners.

Literacy projects are effective when:

  1. Students engage in active, purposeful, engaged reading.

All three programs emphasized the importance of students engaging with the textitself — rather than just learning the content, which they could have done through videos or lectures.

The projects also all included an explicit purpose for reading — answering essential questions or connecting content to students’ lives.

The projects all included non-textbook texts, such as short readings and background information, which helped keep students engaged.

  1. Reading involves various forms of social support.

Each program included group work, where students discuss, debated, and wrote together about the text. These projects also all used whole-class discussions to highlight ways of making meaning of a text. For instance, students could discuss the similarities and differences in their interpretations, or the teacher could model academic language and teach essential background information.

  1. Instruction leverages prior knowledge and introduces key concepts and vocabularies.

Just as younger students learn to read by connecting the words on the page to ideas they already understand, all of these programs introduced new content and vocabulary by connecting it with students’ prior knowledge. The projects then had students use that new knowledge in ways that activated higher thinking skills, such as making and justifying a decision or solving a problem.


“Our findings suggest that the distinction between learning to read and reading to learn no longer serves teachers or their students,” write the authors. While middle and high school students may have mastered the basic tools of reading, they still need help “learning to read” the increasingly complex and diverse texts of the digital age.

But that continued instruction has to be done in creative ways, says Snow, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Whereas first-graders are happy to devote themselves to learning to read because they are motivated by the accomplishment itself, older students who need to acquire more sophisticated reading skills are less likely to acquire those skills if they are taught directly.” Adolescents learn how to figure out complex language forms or to question characters’ perspectives “in the process of reading for authentic purposes,” she says.

To develop comprehension throughout middle and high school, then, reading and language arts teachers should give lessons a clear, useful, engaging purpose.

More specifically, suggests Snow, “Middle and high school teachers could make their classroom activities more engaging by ensuring that students are focused on an organizing question or purpose for the activities. They could build time for peer-talk and purposeful classroom discussion more systematically into their lessons. And they could teach vocabulary conceptually — focusing on the meanings of words related closely to their central curricular ideas, questions, and purposes, rather than teaching lists of words.”

Raising Kind Children

Families foster kindness and respect at home by setting expectations for manners, sharing, and helping with chores. And families hope, often with a tinge of worry, that children will continue those behaviors when parents and caregivers aren’t nearby: in the school cafeteria, at a friend’s house, or on Instagram and Snapchat.

But guiding children to be empathetic and ethical in their independent lives — even when no one is looking — can be more intentional than that. Here, a set of parenting strategies for teaching children to think ethically, care about the people around them, and create positive change in the world. These resources were developed by Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

To guide ethical thinking:

  • Discuss ethical dilemmas you have encountered at work, with friends, or running errands. Ask your children what they would have done in that situation.
  • Talk about ethical dilemmas your children might face in the classroom, at lunch, or during recess. Brainstorm (and role-play) possible solutions.
  • Encourage your children to see conflicts from another person’s perspective. Discuss ways they can compromise between their needs and those of others.

To foster concern for others:

  • Encourage your children to really listen to siblings or peers when they are upset, especially if they don’t initially understand that person’s views.
  • Ask children to consider the perspectives of people they don’t usually talk to: a new student at school, a student who is often teased, a student experiencing family trouble, or a student of a different race or religion.
  • Discuss hardships you see on the news, and talk about the experiences, challenges, and feelings of people who live in different places around the world.
  • Complete this circle of concern activity.

To teach children to be change-makers:

  • Inspire children to take action around issues that affect them and their peers, such as school uniform policies, transgender students’ rights, or the healthfulness of school lunches.
  • Distinguish the importance of “doing with” others from “doing for” others. Encourage children to respond to community problems by working with and listening to a diverse group, rather than spearheading new initiatives without any guidance. This is particularly relevant for high school students seeking “community service” opportunities as part of their college-application process; parents can guide children to take a richer, more meaningful approach to volunteer work.
  • Model that communal approach — and the importance of service. Volunteer together at a food drive, or set aside a day as a family to donate unwanted clothes and toys.

Bullying Prevention as a Citywide Goal

Following the 2012 enactment of a landmark bullying prevention law, Washington, D.C., has taken a more comprehensive approach to youth bullying than many other cities — an approach that sees prevention as not solely the responsibility of teachers or parents, but as a citywide mandate with shared responsibilities. In fact, every city agency in D.C. that provides services to children is required to implement a bullying prevention policy. We spoke to Suzanne Greenfield, the director of the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program, about what’s made D.C.’s program effective.

  • The city has a single, shared definition of bullying. One impediment to addressing bullying is that teachers, parents, and students often have different perceptions of what it means. “What we hear from kids all the time is that adults don’t believe them, or ignore them, because everybody’s talking about bullying in a different way,” says Greenfield, “and that can make the problem worse.” Her team created a singular definition of bullying for every city school and program to use, which has helped everyone approach prevention and response in the same way.
  • At the same time, each school has the autonomy to implement a custom anti-bullying strategy. There’s no “one size fits all” answer to bullying, Greenfield notes, because it looks different in every school, based on its students’ ages, home neighborhoods, and racial and religious makeups. While Greenfield’s team created a model bullying prevention policy, which exemplifies what each school’s policy should include, she encourages schools to use those guidelines to design policies based on individual needs. “We don’t proscribe,” she says. “We just say, ‘You need to be doing this work, and you need to be doing it in a comprehensive way, and we will help you think about what makes sense for your school.’”
  • Anti-bullying policies focus on prevention. The model policy uses a public health framework to focus on three levels of prevention strategies: primary prevention, which addresses all youth and staff in all settings; secondary prevention, which targets youth who are at risk of bullying or being bullied and places in which bullying is more likely to occur; and tertiary intervention, which responds to bullying incidents after they happen. Each D.C. school’s policy is expected to similarly explain how it creates an inclusive community and how it plans on supporting its most vulnerable students. As the model policy explains, “While sanctions are an important part of a bullying prevention plan, certainty of detection has been shown to be a much more important component of a successful prevention policy than severity of response.”
  • Anti-bullying efforts reach kids throughout the day. While initiatives in schools are vital, bullying also happens before and after the school day ends. With a citywide approach to prevention, consistent messaging can reach students everywhere that they interact with city agencies — at afterschool programs, on buses, at the library, and at recreation centers. When kids hear the same ideas throughout the day about why bullying is wrong, they are more likely to understand that this behavior is never acceptable and that all adults are noticing and caring about how they act.
  • Anti-bullying efforts involve parents. The consistent messaging from D.C. agencies about prevention and the importance of inclusivity extends into children’s homes, too. Greenfield says her team has tried to clearly communicate with families about why the city has taken this approach to handling bullying. Without an explanation from schools and educators, families may mistakenly believe that a focus on prevention, rather than punishment, isn’t an effective way to stop bullying. Their children may grow confused if they receive conflicting forms of discipline and social-emotional learning at school and at home.