What Adult Learners Need: In Support of Community Colleges

I recently came across an NPR article entitled “What Adult Learners Really Need (Hint: It’s Not Just Job Skills)” by Anya Kamenetz (2018). In the article, the author interviews David Scobey, PhD, who argues against the idea of 2-year degrees, stackable credits, and short-term workforce credential programs. Instead, he suggests that more than 70% of community college students want to get a bachelor’s degree; highlights the importance of a broad, liberal arts education; and suggests that many of the jobs accepting students with third-party credentials will be gone in the next decade.

In reflecting on this article, and drawing on our work with community colleges on Department of Labor grants, including multiple focus groups with a wide variety of community college staff, students, and employers, we believe that several other points should be considered:

  • Community college programs can be responsive to regional workforce needs by having honest conversations with area employers, who can be partners in training and education. When community colleges work with local workforce advisory boards on curriculum development, regional needs, and program implementation, students and employers both benefit. Employers have shared that they want students with basic workforce training and soft skills, and community colleges have partnered with employers to provide students with a foundation for success. Once students receive their credentials or certifications and are employed, the partner employers have stated that they will work with their new employees to advance their training and education. As a result, completing a short-duration program oftentimes does not signify the end of a student’s education or training, but could be just the beginning.
  • Community colleges can provide additional “vertical supports” such as training in soft skills, Microsoft Office, and career readiness, as well as tutoring and coaching. Within these supports, students take courses together and create peer learning communities and cohorts that encourage students and motivate them to persevere (similar to “horizontal supports”). In focus groups, students regularly spoke to the benefits of these supports, commenting on staff and instructors who would do anything to see students succeed and a motivating and supportive “family” of peers in their programs.
  • Remedial education experiences differ, with remediation acting as a potential barrier to continued education. Consider that 91% of 2-year institutions have an open admissions policy, compared to 27% of 4-year institutions (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). As a result, the needs of remedial education students at the community college level are likely very different from the needs of those at the university level. In community colleges, adult learners who pursue additional education after years away can face anxiety as they find themselves in need of remedial math and English courses, and they may be at greater risk of dropping out (Pruett & Absher, 2015). Community college students may also be older and have poorer college adjustment, more difficulty with finances and with accessing college services, and more difficulty with transportation (David et al., 2015; Simmons, 1995). Because of these differences, these students may not have the same opportunities (or desires) to pursue a 4-year degree.
  • Remedial courses can be effective in community colleges if they are contextualized and supportive. We have seen that remedial education at the community college level can be very effective at increasing students’ knowledge, self-confidence, and career self-efficacy if such instruction is included within an overall program model of contextualized support. At capstone presentations at the end of their 6-month programs, we have heard community college students speak to the positive impact that these short-duration programs and remedial courses had on their lives. Many students did not realize that they were “good students” until they participated in these courses.
  • A broad liberal arts curriculum is not for everyone. Many community college students that we have talked to mentioned the benefits of completing an applied program in their chosen field. These students specifically noted that they were not interested in a broader or more expansive liberal arts curriculum.
  • Adult learners should have the option of a shorter-duration program. Students enter these programs for several reasons, such as (a) a belief that their bachelor’s or master’s degree is not helping them to find a job; (b) an eagerness to get back into the workforce after being laid off; or (c) a determination to limit any personal or family financial struggles associated with taking time off from work.
  • Community colleges can support students in going farther than they thought possible. We also heard from community college students who were so motivated and engaged by their supportive, contextualized experiences in 6-month programs that they continued on to other 6-month programs, and some went on to attain an associate degree. Several students who furthered their education shared that they were initially not expecting to seek anything beyond a 6-month certificate, noting that they previously lacked the academic self-efficacy to consider anything else.
  • Short-duration programs can be successful in training students and preparing them for the future, and more models should be shared. It may be that more needs to be shared around successful program models at the community college level. We intend to be part of that discussion. If you are interested in learning more, please see our presentation on a successful cohort-based program model for recruiting, retaining, and employing advanced manufacturing students at the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) in July 2018 or contact us for more information.

 

References:

David, K. M., Lee, M. E., Bruce, J. D., Coppedge, B. R., Dickens, D., Friske, J., . . . Thorman, J. (2015). Barriers to success predict fall-to-fall persistence and overall GPA among community college students. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 21(1), 5–13.

Pruett, P. S., & Absher, B. (2015). Factors influencing retention of developmental education students in community colleges. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 81(4), 32–40.

Simmons, D. L. (1995). Retraining dislocated workers in the community college: Identifying factors for persistence. Community College Review, 23(2), 47–58.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Fall 2000 and Fall 2010 Institutional Characteristics component and Winter 2015–16 and 2016–17 Admissions component. Table retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_305.30.asp?current=yes

 

Characteristics of School Employee Sexual Misconduct: What We Know from a 2014 Sample

From September 2016­ to January 2017, Magnolia Consulting conducted a study on the implementation of Title IX guidance in school districts that had experienced incidents of school employee sexual misconduct in 2014. As part of the study, researchers conducted a landscape analysis of 459 cases from 2014 originally archived by Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E.), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing school employee sexual misconduct, using Google alerts to capture mentions in online media. The analysis sought to identify key characteristics of the schools where cases occurred as well as of offenders and victims. The information presented in this blog post is based on that database.

School employee sexual misconduct refers to sexual abuse (inappropriate or illegal contact) or misconduct (inappropriate communication or other unethical behaviors that may not involve physical contact) by a school employee (a teacher, coach, administrator, volunteer, or other staff member) with a child while caring for that child in a K–12 school setting. As the frequency of media headlines around this topic demonstrates, school employee sexual misconduct is far from uncommon in the United States. While prevalence data are not readily available, data from the year 2000 suggest that approximately one in 10 students will experience sexual abuse or misconduct at the hands of a school employee, ranging from sexual jokes to sexual intercourse, by the time they graduate from high school (American Association of University Women, 2001).

Who are the offenders and victims in school employee sexual misconduct cases?

In an effort to better understand offenders and victims, we analyzed demographic data from cases reported by the media in 2014. There are several limitations to using media reports in this way. Most notably, these cases represent only the tip of the iceberg; many more incidents go unreported to law enforcement and therefore are not publicly reported. Further, no two offenders or victims are the same. However, our sample provides a glimpse into who is typically involved. Additionally, we were able to gather information about the characteristics of schools where school employee sexual misconduct occurred.

Offender characteristics

In our sample, offenders were mostly general education teachers, male, white, and heterosexual, with an average age of 36. Half of the offenders had been the subject of previous allegations of inappropriate relationships with students. Approximately 3 out of 4 offenders used technology to communicate with victims, with mobile devices being the most common form of technology used. A third of offenders had more than one victim; almost half of offenders who had multiple victims (47%) had two victims.

Victim Characteristics

 While media reports tended to protect information about victims, victim age and gender were typically reported in the cases we analyzed. Thus, we know that victims of school employee sexual misconduct were most often female and teenagers. Slightly over half of victims in our sample were female (56%), with an average age of 15.

What are the characteristics of schools where school employee sexual misconduct occurs?

In our sample, schools that experienced incidents of school employee sexual misconduct were most often located in the southern region of the United States. We found that incidents were more frequently reported in public, suburban high schools. Additionally, cases were more common in schools with high percentages of minorities and students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Slightly over half (53%) of incidents in our sample occurred off school premises.

Although we were able to glean much information about school employee sexual misconduct from media cases reported in 2014, more reliable reporting about school employee sexual misconduct is needed to better understand who is being affected and to improve tracking of offenders. If you are interested in learning more about our study, please find the full report here. Along with the report, we created an infographic detailing more information about characteristics. Additionally, visit S.E.S.A.M.E.’s website for additional resources and information about school employee sexual misconduct.

References

American Association of University Women [AAUW] (2001). Hostile hallways: The AAUW survey on sexual harassment in America’s schools. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.

 

School Employee Sexual Misconduct Study Finds K-12 School Districts Fail to Implement Key Elements of Title IX

Charlottesville, VA (Oct. 31, 2017) — An estimated one in ten K–12 students—about 4.5 million children—will experience sexual abuse at the hands of a school employee at some point in their education, according to one study. Yet, a recent Department of Justice–sponsored study conducted by Magnolia Consulting, a Charlottesville-based education research firm, suggests that K–12 school districts might not fully implement federal guidance for preventing and responding to school employee sexual misconduct, even after an incident is reported.

School employee sexual misconduct is covered by Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972, the law most widely known for addressing gender equity in sports. However, the provisions of Title IX reach much further, prohibiting sexual discrimination and sexual harassment of any kind in educational institutions that receive federal funds. Title IX guidance, created by the Department of Education to support schools in implementing the law, requires that school districts have clear, written policies and procedures regarding school employee sexual misconduct; those policies and procedures, the guidance says, should include training to help staff, students, and parents recognize unacceptable behavior and other prevention measures, as well as processes to ensure a quick and effective response to complaints. Under the law, institutions that do not comply with these policy requirements—including K–­12 schools and school districts—can be liable for civil damages if school employees engage in sexual misconduct involving students.

The Magnolia Consulting study focused on implementation of the key elements of Title IX guidance in school districts that had experienced incidents of school employee sexual misconduct. Researchers found that, although school districts reported improvements to some policies and procedures, as well as improvements in awareness, communication, and district leadership, various challenges—including an incomplete understanding of the full requirements of Title IX and the associated guidance—continued to hamper districts’ efforts to comply with Title IX guidance. Representatives from all participating districts reported being unclear about what exactly Title IX requirements were and how they should be implemented. In addition, participants reported various challenges in implementing key elements of Title IX, including difficulty finding model policies, budget limitations, low parent engagement, fear of the consequences of reporting, and poor responses from criminal justice and child welfare agencies when incidents were reported.

According to Magnolia Consulting Senior Researcher Billie-Jo Grant, the principal investigator for the study, poor implementation of policy and prevention efforts may have negative consequences for both prevention and investigation of incidents, leading to long-term effects for victims. “The results of this study show us that more work needs to be done to guide and monitor the implementation of Title IX guidance and keep our students safe at school,” Grant says. “Title IX is only as effective as its implementation by school districts—staff, parents, and students are our eyes and ears for identifying and reporting these cases.”

The report concludes with several recommendations for addressing implementation challenges. School district leaders, researchers say, should review their district’s Title IX policies and implementation efforts, with support from federal and state departments of education, who need to develop model policies, establish accountability measures, and provide high-quality, low-cost training. Sexual misconduct training curricula should be included both in teacher training and in school employee orientation programs and training should be repeated periodically. Finally, policymakers and legislators need to issue parameters to guide education leaders in developing policies and advocate for evaluation, accountability, and funding for research. Researchers can analyze prevalence data to determine whether policies are working and contribute to prevention by analyzing the characteristics of both offenders and particularly vulnerable students.

Magnolia Consulting President Stephanie Wilkerson, who was the co-principal investigator for the study, said, “We see weekly headlines reporting cases of school employees sexually abusing students, and yet there is no national dialogue about what should be done to prevent it. This study emphasizes districts’ need for more effective communication, support, and accountability from federal and state leaders on implementing Title IX elements intended to help prevent school employee sexual misconduct. The protection of students from sexual predators in schools should be an issue we’re talking about; we hope this research study serves as a starting point for that conversation.”

“A Case Study of K–12 School Employee Sexual Misconduct: Lessons Learned from Title IX Policy Implementation” was executed as part of the National Institute of Justice Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, a federal program that awarded $69 million in grants to study the causes and consequences of school violence. Researchers collected data from 92 participants (41 interviews and 10 focus groups), as well as a review of documentation and policies, in five geographically and demographically diverse districts. All five districts experienced an incident of school employee sexual misconduct in 2014; the data were collected in 2016–2017.

The project was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0009, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

For more information, resources, and to read the full report, please visit our Publications and Reporting page.

Questions? Contact Billie-Jo Grant, Ph.D., 805-550-9132 and bgrant@magnoliaconsulting.org

Giving Teachers a Voice: Five Common Themes from Teacher Focus Groups

Magnolia Consulting has been working with Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows since 2015. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization, Hope Street Group supports State Teacher Fellowship programs in Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. State Teacher Fellows lead these programs and collaborate to develop state-specific solutions to education challenges and to influence education policy. On an annual basis, Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows collect survey and focus-group data from thousands of teachers in their respective states. We have partnered with Hope Street Group on these data collections, providing support in analyzing the data and developing recommendations based on the data collected.

Over the past two years, we have examined focus-group data from more than 16,000 teachers nationwide. In analyzing this data, we have noticed five common themes, irrespective of question topic:

  • Teachers want to be heard. Teachers want their voices and opinions to be valued and appreciate feeling empowered. They believe that their “on the ground” experiences in the classroom and in schools give them a unique, professional viewpoint that should be shared and considered when enacting state-level education policy and regulations.
  • Teachers request instructional and personal supports for their students. Teachers hear students’ voices, see students’ daily struggles, and serve as their greatest advocates. Teachers request resources to support all student needs. Specifically, they commonly request family support programs and resources, especially in social-emotional areas. Teachers also regularly request class size reductions to help them better address the instructional needs of every student.
  • Teachers want to be respected as professionals. Teachers want to be viewed as professionals with various supports and professional autonomy, such as additional planning and collaboration time; more high-quality, relevant professional development; and competitive compensation. Teachers also desire the chance to provide greater input and feedback on school-level decision-making, particularly around instructional programming, resources, and professional development opportunities.
  • Teachers desire a positive school culture. Teachers want a supportive, welcoming, and positive school culture. Schools with this type of culture provide a sense of community and create a safe learning environment for students and educators.
  • Teachers advocate for streamlined student testing. Teachers believe that student assessments should be decreased or streamlined, allowing educators more time to focus on instructional content and additional time for student learning and growth.

Magnolia continues to appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Hope Street Group on meaningful work that aims to give teachers a voice at district and state levels. We remain hopeful that by sharing teachers’ voices with school district and state policymakers, Hope Street Group and its State Teacher Fellows will help cultivate more educator-led opportunities for knowledge sharing at the national level.