Friday, January 28, 2011

Low-income solution?

There has been a smorgasbord of media coverage on this over the past week.
Led by the St. Catharines Standard, who published an article before District School Board of Niagara trustees were scheduled to discuss the concept, being the first to publish on the decision and having a few other pieces in the mix (see articles here, here, editorial here).
The Star has also thrown its coverage into the mix (article, editorial) and though I thought I had seen something in the Globe and Mail a search of their site doesn't immediately pull it up.
My curiosities-- what is the DSBN going to gain through setting up this school, which for all intents and purposes is an alternative school? Do administrators have a plan for how they might extend any successful best practices from this school to the other elementary schools in their board? How does it help the largest number of students possible?
If the school doesn't address those questions in the medium to long term, I don't understand the rationale. I say this as someone who worked at a recreational summer camp explicitly for children from low-income families, one that was created and continues to exist because that opportunity is largely not available for these families. Whereas there are no barriers to entry for publicly funded elementary schools in Ontario.
If the academy allows the DSBN to teach us all a few things about practices that all teachers, all schools can adopt to better address the needs of students from low-income families, we're all better for it. If not, I somewhat share the concerns argued to-date in the editorials from St. Catharines and The Star.


TDSBteacher said...

Of course, the devil is in the details, but this has potential to be a development both innovative and positive. The target population are secondary students, and we know from extensive follow-up data (in TDSB and elsewhere) that many, if not most, low-SES students who drop out of high school do so because of disengagement, feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, lack of home support, and inability to relate what they are doing to their future goals. When interviewed as to why they drop out, most give some variant on, “Nobody cared about me.” Thus, the mentoring, counseling and support components are vital, and harnessing local community support (via business partners, agencies and the like) is also critical.

It is often assumed that low-income students drop out because they cannot meet academic expectations (low literacy and numeracy skills), but this is true only for a subset. I’ve been in three low-SES middle schools (in 3 different quadrants of the TDSB), and our data showed that significant numbers of our high-achieving students dropped out before completing Grade 10. It was not a matter of “couldn’t read” (or write, or do math) but of didn’t/wouldn’t/chose not to or didn’t see the point. The promising “Pathways to Education” program (active in my current family of schools) seeks to address this by pairing up secondary students with college students who can give them a better and more realistic sense of what the immediate future holds.

The students who enter secondary school with inadequate skills need their issues addressed, but the TCDSB has a successful model in place with its implementation of Dr. Maureen Lovett’s PHAST PACES literacy program which has boosted the reading and written language skills of students in grades 9 and 10. Dr. Lovett, from Sick Kids, developed a carefully sequenced instructional program that incorporates component skills, fluency development, vocabulary, strategy instruction and self-talk metacognitive skills for struggling readers, and the school-based implementation features not only an intensive course in the summer for teachers but ongoing weekend seminars and on-site, in-class coaching from Sick Kids staff trainers. It has been enormously successful and perhaps Niagara is looking at this model. If not, they should be.

I think, however, they should be flexible about admissions criteria. Not many progeny of plutocrats will be battering down the door for admission, but there could well be at-risk students who have a college-educated parent (with whom they have no contact), or whose family circumstances make the school ideal despite slightly higher apparent income.

Doretta Wilson said...

If this is to be a school that parents can choose to send their kid too, what happens if no one chooses it?

Just wondering...

TDSBteacher said...

Not much chance nobody will choose it. A colleague shared today that his/her middle school class discussed the planned academy. The teacher expressed the usual concerns about stigma, ostracism, labeling etc. Then the students were asked what they thought. The teacher was astounded -- shocked, actually -- when every single student (32 total)expressed a desire to seize the opportunity to attend such a school.

An interesting different perspective. The students were very articulate about why they would choose such a school, and how they thought it would further their educational opportunities.

Unfortunately for them, they don't live in Niagara. But there are likely many students who *do* live in Niagara who would share their point of view.

Education Reporter said...


Fascinating anecdotal observation-- particularly given how the establishment of this school continues to garner headlines and the attention of various people and groups.