Title IIA Funds are Vital to Teacher Growth and Student Success
Regardless of zip code. This simple yet powerful phrase has catalyzed education reform advocates and policy debates for decades as constituents from across the United States have rallied to ensure that all children are experiencing rigorous, high-quality educational opportunities. Title IIA of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) establishes guidance for districts to develop models of professional development with the purpose of improving the effectiveness of educators.
The Department of Education and ESSA have allowed my district, DC Public Schools (DCPS), to fund efforts to improve communities across the city, each with their own unique context. And in the case of my classroom, thinking about our zip code isn’t enough; a global perspective is best.
My school comprises students from all over the world. Harnessing the cultural perspectives and language needs of our population, specifically a high percentage of native Spanish speakers, we implement a dual language program that delivers content in both English and Spanish.
With the expectation that students become bilingual and bi-literate by fifth grade, it is essential for our teachers to become adept in a variety of subjects. Confronted with this overwhelming responsibility, our staff has experimented with a litany of instructional routines during the past few years, resulting in varied levels of untenable success.
We consistently had the talent in our staff and the brilliance in our students, but we seemed to lack a sense of innovation in our approach, until a last minute “what if” brainstorm turned into an application to participate in a newly designed leadership cadre that sought to reinvent how schools approached teaching and coaching.
My administrative team proposed and created (through a partnership with Leading Educators) several hybrid teacher positions, including a Dual Language Coach, that would lead the implementation of schoolwide best practices. Title IIA funds allowed my school to adapt its professional development to ensure that we were appropriately addressing the needs of our community.
The Dual Language Coach helped to coordinate our program, focused on cross-grade level instructional alignment, identified high-leverage language acquisition strategies, and assisted classroom teachers with ongoing efforts to increase their pedagogical knowledge.
As a result of our diligence, our students demonstrated impressive results on the 2016 PARCC exam, increasing their overall proficiency rate by 17 percent in ELA and nearly 10 percent in Math from 2015. These numbers represented some of the highest levels of growth among all schools in DCPS.
To bolster effective instruction (as outlined by ESSA), the district expanded the scope of this work to all schools through a program called LEAP (Learning Together to Advance our Practice) which leverages the expertise of teachers to collaborate with and oversee content teams.
I worked with Kindergarten and 1st Grade dual language teachers as we concentrated on our Mathematics instruction. During weekly seminars, we studied language acquisition strategies that we could use to adapt our curriculum which was designed primarily for native English speakers. We previewed each unit of study to drill down on essential skills that our students needed to master and brainstormed how to overcome these challenges. We also explored how to bridge English and Spanish in order to strengthen connections between languages.
My team lead observed my classroom several times a month to provide meaningful feedback on my instruction. I worked to refine how I expected my students to model their thinking, first through the use of manipulatives, and then with more complex and abstract algorithms. I enhanced student discourse by creating accountable talk systems so children of all language levels could explain concepts in meaningful ways. My students made dramatic gains in Math, demonstrating an average of almost two years’ growth.
The ability to engage critically in multiple languages is an essential skill for my students. Full funding of ESSA’s Title IIA program would ensure that the stories from my school and the success of our students become just one example in a system of shared narratives from across our nation. I implore all legislators to support ESSA as we continue to serve all students with a sense of commitment and ingenuity. Regardless of country of origin. Regardless of language. And, of course, regardless of zip code.
Cody Norton is a 1st Grade teacher at Marie Reed Elementary School in Washington, DC. He has served as a Hope Street Group 2015 National Teacher Fellow and a Teach Plus Turnaround Teacher Teams fellow.