student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

survey says

Support for boosting teacher pay is at a 10-year high, new survey finds

After a year of teacher protests, an increasing number of Americans think teachers should be paid more, according to a new national survey.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said that teacher salaries should increase, up from 61 percent last year, according to a survey conducted by the research magazine Education Next. The poll is notable for its close tracking of parents and teachers’ opinions on contested education issues, in addition to those of the broader public.

The 67 percent figure is the highest support for increasing teacher pay has been since 2008, just before the financial crisis. Support rose this year among members of all political parties, and was especially high among those from states with recent teacher protests, like West Virginia and Arizona.

Support for increasing teacher pay is slightly lower when respondents are told the average annual salary for teachers — 49 percent say we should increase it — though that number has risen 13 points since last year.

What’s behind this rise in support? The researchers offered two possible explanations: one, that those teacher walkouts and protests have bolstered support, and two, that people are more receptive to the idea of salaries rising when the economy is in good shape and wages across the economy are increasing, as they are now.

“These two explanations may in fact work together,” said Marty West, a Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor in chief.

Here are five other things we learned from the survey:

Agency fees are unpopular. In June, the Supreme Court said public unions — including teachers unions — cannot charge mandatory fees to non-union members. The decision is in line with public opinion: 56 percent of respondents oppose requiring teachers to pay agency fees, according to the survey.

A large gap exists between members of different political parties, with 56 percent of Republicans opposing the fees compared to 35 percent of Democrats. Notably, the survey was conducted before the Janus Supreme Court decision, so the researchers are unsure whether pro-union or anti-union campaigns since then have changed public opinion.

When people are given the arguments for and against agency fees, support increases by several points.

Support for charter schools has rebounded a bit. Last year’s survey included a 12 point drop in support of charter schools, one of the largest changes in public opinion in the survey’s 12-year history. This year, opposition to charter schools held steady (36 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2018), but support for charter schools increased 5 points, to 44 percent. The increase was concentrated among Republicans, widening the partisan divide on the issue.

Americans don’t like using race or income to assign students to schools. The survey finds that the majority of the public opposes taking race into account in school assignment decisions, with 57 percent opposed and only 18 percent supportive. Black and Hispanic respondents were also generally against the idea, though somewhat less so than white respondents.

Income-based affirmative action policies are equally unpopular, though opposition to both income and race-based policies has fallen slightly since the poll last asked the question in 2008.

In July, the U.S. Department of Education withdrew several Obama-era documents that had offered advice about how public schools could legally consider race to assign students to K-12 schools.

Support for school vouchers has increased. Opinions on sending public money to private schools in the form of vouchers are famously difficult to poll, because the results vary drastically based on how the question is worded. Here, 54 percent of the public backed a program described as giving families a “wider choice” in school; that’s up 9 points since last year. That’s surprising, since Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has championed the policy and is widely unpopular, according to previous polling.

In the Education Next poll, support is 10 points lower if the word “voucher” is introduced — which is likely why private school choice advocates often avoid the term. And a 2017 poll from another organization found that only 39 percent of respondents backed “allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.”

Teachers really oppose charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay. On those issues, teachers’ views diverge from the general public’s.

Fifty-five percent of teachers oppose charter schools, compared to 35 percent of the public. For vouchers, 58 percent of teachers oppose them, while 31 percent of the public does. And a full 73 percent of teachers oppose merit pay, compared to 36 percent of the public.

Story booth

VIDEO: How a Detroit special education advocate tries to help parents

PHOTO: Tairia Bridges
Dorothea Nicholson is a education advocate for children with special needs and their parents

When Dorothea Nicholson first learned her oldest daughter had special needs, she recalls crying all the time.

Her daughter, now 17, was almost 5 years old then, and had so many health issues – including being unable to hear, walk, talk, or hold food down – doctors told Nicholson there was nothing they could do, and that she should place her daughter in center-based treatment. Nicholson remembers going to 15 doctors appointments in one week and feeling alone.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do,” the Detroiter said. “I was left in the dark, lost.”

Five years later, Nicholson gave birth to another daughter. She had attention deficit disorder with impulsivity, mood disorder, asthma and allergies to “almost everything.”

But by then, Nicholson said she had a better idea of what steps to take to advocate for her after attending support groups and getting other help.

Now, the educational advocate has taken up a mantle of helping other parents of children with special needs. She understands these parents deal with a variety of issues in their personal lives while trying to figure out what to do to support their children.

Nicholson recently shared the story of how she helps parents of children with special needs at a recent special education listening session sponsored by Chalkbeat Detroit and the nonprofit Detroit Parent Network. Do you know someone who has a story to share? Reach out to us.