Jeet Shah & Kunj Modi Mandating Existing Teacher Professional Development to Include Social Work Practices

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

“Guidelines for Professional Development that Qualifies for Michigan Legislative Requirements under Michigan Compiled Law Sections 380. 1526 and 1527”

Link: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Professional_Learning_Guidelines_555999_7.pdf

This is a very important guideline that follows Michigan Law, Sections 380, 1526, and 1527. It describes exactly what is required within professional development programs for teachers in order to be funded by the state of Michigan. If it does not follow these guidelines, the district will have to pay for the professional development workshop out of their own budget.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

This proposal will make a difference in the lives of various students across Michigan because mental health issues are a common concern. Regardless of background, any student can go through difficult life situations and we need social workers present to connect students and families to community services. One of the major roles for social workers is to promote student success within a positive school climate. This becomes increasingly difficult due to the current shortage of social workers in Michigan. If they have to be rotated between two or three schools, they cannot develop real relationships with students. Core problems in students’ lives cannot be identified and appropriate community resources are not suggested to students. Eventually, a downward spiral will begin to form. This is especially disappointing because there is a simple solution to the issue. Our proposal will significantly help many students since we target another stakeholder in the school (teachers) to help mitigate the issue. As a result, at-risk students can be helped earlier on and lead them into successful educational pathways.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Our service activity work within Scarlett Middle School gave us a first-hand look at the absence of social services for struggling students. Through on-the-ground exposure to these students, we noticed that they were dealing with severe issues such as immigration, drug addiction at home, domestic abuse, homelessness, etc.. Many of these issues are usually identified by social workers who assist them getting through these issues with different community resources. However, after seeing how easily these students opened up to us as mentors, we realized that they really just needed a positive adult in their life helping to direct them. The fact that there were no full time social workers on a daily basis made us realize that our solution needed to be focused on increasing adult involvement in the school setting. These students should have been meeting with a social worker multiple times on a weekly basis.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

Along the lines of the previous question,our service activity at Scarlett Middle School made us realize that there was not enough positive adult figures for struggling students. Many of them don’t have this essential aspect in their home life. Thus, the next best option was to figure out a way to embrace these kids while they attend school. The personal connection with our students was developed over the course of the semester on a weekly basis. It allowed us to see the severe stress and damage they were going through at home. Hence, we were intrinsically motivated to bring about change in a realistic manner while taking into account state budgets.  l

Additionally, being in the school setting offered us multiple perspectives on the issue from various stakeholders such as teachers, counselors, social workers, vice principals, and instructional aides. This was an invaluable resource for us since our proposal includes the interests of almost all school contributors.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Expert Talk on School Background

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Mrs. Madeline Micou, Scarlett Middle School Counselor/Social Worker

Mrs. Madeline Micou gave us important feedback on our first solution, which was to train teachers to be social workers.We discussed how teachers are already too busy with trying to teach students. Hence, our first solution would not be as effective because it will take away time from instruction, and if implemented, academics would suffer. However, she noted that some students do create close bonds with teachers, which fill the role of positive adult figures.

Additionally, she described the difficulty counselors have in doing their “real” job, which is to console with students. 80% of her work became consume with administrative and logistical work that needed to be done before, during, and after meeting with students. Furthermore, they now also help with student scheduling, graduation, and event planning for the entire school. She certainly agreed that she does not have the time to meet every student's mental health needs, acknowledging that extra social workers are necessary to stay on top of immense caseloads.

CONSULTATION 2: Susan Schmidt, Middle School Special Education English Teacher and Former State Representative in Lansing.

Mrs. Susan Schmidt offered great advice on the funding component of our proposal. One of her biggest problems with the current funding system is the vast amount of funding spent on standardized testing. In fact, she told us that testing takes up an entire month of the academic school year - valuable time that could be used for instruction. She characterized standardized testing as something that stresses students out, leading them to become de-motivated. This means that the test results will not be an accurate description of the students abilities, but will negatively affect the school as a whole. On a funding note, she also thinks that  K-3 grades should not receive funding for technology because young kids can learn better when interacting with each other and reading from books. This provided us with a few areas to look at for additional funds, if necessary.

On a different note, she also described the negatives of more charter schools in Michigan. It severely hurts the funding of public schools, which could be used to hire full-time social workers. We leveraged her extensive experience as a former state legislature to learn more about funding routes on our proposal. We were able to go through all three of our original solutions with her and get a funding perspective. She stated that the most effective way to get around funding issues when proposing bills is to consider mandating. By mandating certain things like a ratio of social workers to students in every Michigan school district, we could have a permanent solution that doesn’t require additional monetary resources or complex changes from the status quo.

CONSULTATION 3: Mr. Michael Medina, Combined PHD Candidate in Psychology and Education, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Early on, we were able to consult with one of our mentors at the university to gauge what types of issues underfunded schools are going through at a national level. The questions, along with his answers, are seen below.

Define the major/minor issues facing schools that are underfunded.

Different school districts face different problems and federal oversight is very minimal. The government says that the problem is failing schools and underperformance. In his mind, though, he thinks it is inequitable funding to schools based largely on the fact that school funding is tied to property taxes. Yet, these students in underfunded schools are still held to the same statewide standards. They are held to extreme standards, putting them in the ultimatum to either perform well or close altogether. Instead, looking at personal growth of schools over time (with benchmarks) would help the issue

What is the typical pathway of students that go to underfunded schools, especially considering their disadvantaged backgrounds?

The pathway they will experience will vary on the students, but the number of individuals that go on to higher education is significantly in favor with students with more resources. Also, schools with more resources develop relationships with colleges so that their students can be admitted much easier, while underfunded schools do not have this. On the other hand, underfunded schools have a prevalent student-to-prison school pipeline. There is a large risk for these students on not going to higher education, falling into the juvenile system instead.

Is there enough awareness around this topic in legislature/school boards?

Public schooling vs private schooling has been a hot topic, in addition to education as a whole due to the most recent election. The new secretary of education has never been to public school and does not have any experience. So, decisions are driven by assumptions and not real work experience, which is really bad for the public schooling system. He is very uncertain as to what the future will look like since there is a large push for private schooling.

Prospectus:

Describe the specific issue or problem, being sure to provide sufficient context so that someone less familiar with the issue has a sense of the bigger picture, but know that your focus here is on a more detailed spelling out of the specific problem or issue that you’ve identified. (250 words minimum)

School funding is a very controversial topic that has a variety of stances surrounding it. However, once the yearly budget is issued, millions of dollars are wasted and inefficiently used on the students. Effectively, because the funding decisions are coming from administration rather than the adults that interact with these children on a daily basis. Many of these budgets usually include a high percentage for technology upgrades in the school building, but ignore the real needs of children. Looking at a middle school in our very own city of Ann Arbor, Scarlett Middle School, even the vice principal acknowledges the immense funding for technology access for students. It is a fact that these students do need extra funding for a variety of reasons, however more important priorities are on the table. One example is social workers. Students from difficult backgrounds need an adult figure to guide them through their complex life problems including giving them motivation around staying in school and being able to have a successful future regardless of the situation at home. However, it is a known fact that schools in Michigan do not even have half of the amount of social workers recommended at public schools. Research indicates that 18-20% of students are in need of social work services, but only one in five student receive the assistance. It is also very well known that many of these students, without the proper guidance, end up in prison or dead. It is time to fix this problem in Michigan with more social workers present in public schools in order to save these bright young minds from a bleak future. It only requires awareness that will begin through this class.

 

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

Background

Our proposal targets the need for more social workers in Michigan K-12 schools when it comes to helping disadvantaged students. Below you will find three potential solutions to this issue. When proposing these solutions, we identified that funding for more social workers loomed as the largest hindrance to the ability to hire more workers. Hence, most of our solutions try to work with the existing system in place.

Solution #1: Training Teachers to be Social Workers

As schools become less funded and more congested, the ability for students to access one-on-one social work assistance becomes harder and harder. Often times, we hear stories of students who continue down a negative pathway simply because they eventually give up on seeking help.

According to the Michigan Association of School Social Workers (MASSWMI), school social workers assist students in providing an ecological approach to ensuring student success. They assist families and children in examining factors in the home, school, and community that are impacting a student’s educational success. Furthermore, they support parents in understanding their child’s developmental and educational needs.

After hearing this definition, we believe that training teachers to become social workers is a reasonable solution that can work with evening out the ratio between students and social workers. Teachers are in a place to understand their students more so than third-party social workers. They have the ability to observe students more frequently in their natural environments alongside peers and can be some of the first to notice student hardships. Furthermore, teachers have the ability to track their students over an extended time period, which enables them to see how students are coping with their issues, if certain solutions are working, and if academic performance is slipping.

Certifying teachers can be done in many different ways, depending on the extent to which we want teachers to replace social workers. Given that full-fledged school social workers need to have a masters in social work at the bare minimum, we understand it’s not plausible to fully replace school social workers. However, holding statewide conferences and training sessions for Michigan K-12 teachers can make a huge difference. Trainings on confronting troubled students and effective ways to consult them in the interim until designated school social workers can step in will ensure that student issues do not become worse. This idea also starts the conversation early on, which lets students know that their school community is there to support them through their issues.

Solution #2: Group Counseling with Social Work

While we understand that every student’s issues are unique and cannot be treated as the same as their peers, we feel that we need to work around the fact that there aren’t enough social workers by forming groups that allow students facing similar issues to connect and communicate with one another. By this way of interaction, students will realize that they aren’t the only ones dealing with hardships. They can talk about their issues in a safe environment and forge meaningful friendships along the way. The benefit of these types of groups is synonymous with the benefit that student-to-student classroom discussion has on student success. Research by the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) claims that groups with strong “we sink or swim together” mentality are more likely to succeed and master material. Relating this to our case, the “sink or swim together” mentality is almost immediately formed. Hence, successful conversation can occur and allow students to cope with their issues in a meaningful manner.

Solution #3: Allocation of Incoming Funding

In 2016, Governor Rick Snyder paid a third party company to study Michigan funding in the school districts. The study found that the funding was not adequate, and went on to further investigate the districts that they labeled as above average. They found that these districts saw significantly more resources dedicated to children's mental health and full-time social workers. Next year, Michigan is set to increase the budget per pupil by $60-120. A solution would to be utilize this increased budget to provide social workers in schools. The research is clear that more social workers are needed in schools, especially in lower income areas. The state has the ability to make this a reality, as there is a strong argument for return on investment.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator: You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

We met with Peri Mendelsohn earlier this week to look over our proposal. Mainly, we were worried about how to format our argument in the formal proposal. It was unclear to us how to effectively get our point across to the Michigan State Legislature. She helped us think in terms of our audience to include concise, relevant, and specific information. This is best seen in the structure of our solution (‘Therefore it be resolved…’ section). As it stands, we frontload our solution by stating upfront that we would like to mandate a specific number of hours in professional development to our cause. Then, we saw that legislators would most likely want to see how this plan would look when fully flushed out, so we offer an in-depth look at the core principles we envision in our plan.

Thanks to her advice, we are now able to logically explain our argument to legislators. She made it clear that a lot of the proposals in the past have been successful because of how they stuck to the point and didn’t go off on tangents.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

Our idea started through involvement in another education class that had a partnership between the University of Michigan and Scarlett Middle School. The partnership set up a mentorship program between UofM college students and middle school students that needed extra attention. Through this experience, we were also able to consult our teachers from this class that gave us insight on real problems occurring in schools today. We then talked to the vice principal to understand the school’s profile: we learned that this was a Title 1 school that received federal funding for having a large population of low income students. About 70% of the students were non-white and over 60% were eligible for free/reduced lunch.  

After our initial research, we saw how underfunded curriculums led to negative outcomes for students.  We wanted to propose an idea that would help these students perform better in school and give them more resources to catch up to other more advanced curriculums. After speaking to a graduate social worker from the University of Michigan, we realized that we had an issue that was more important to tackle. Many middle schools currently do not even have one full time social worker present at the school. This led to students from a disadvantaged background not having enough help for their mental health. Most students that needed these services did not meet a social worker on a weekly basis. We then came up with three different solutions that we thought would adequately help this situation. The first solution was found through online research, looking at different certifications and degrees that teachers could obtain to perform social work. The second solution was created after talking to our PHD consultant, who explained group counseling as a solution . Our third solution was designed through our personal and professional experiences. Based on future budget increases, there may have been enough funding to add extra social workers in schools.

After discussing with Susan Schmidt about her views on the need for social workers, we realized that none of our solutions would be adequate enough to solve our issue. She described that our solutions  may fail due to funding issues (solution #1 and #3) or not effective enough to make a significance difference (solution #2). She noted that there could be funds created through decreasing the amount of standardized testing that students partake on an annual basis. She found that it takes too much time away from instruction, which is what these students really need. She was also was a state representative in her former career and explained to us the difficulty of getting funding from the government for issues like these. We then explored ways to avoid the funding issue, but still implementing a program that would have a significant impact. She explained that by mandating certain guidelines, the public schools have no choice but to comply with the guidelines from the funding already allocated to them.

This really helped our thought process since we realized that we wanted to educate teachers in performing basic social services without extra funding. After this, we realized how important it was to understand what the laws currently say about teacher development. We found that were some laws already in place mandating that teachers have 150 professional development hours every five years. There was also a law that describes the requirements of professional development workshops in order to be funded by the state and counted towards the total requirement of 150 hours. There was already funding in place by the state of Michigan that has been allocated to public schools, but no requirement as to what subjects must be taught in the 150 hours. This was a perfect opportunity to make a difference because we can educate teachers on social services without changing anything. We found that our solution we proposed did not have a significant negative effect on any parties or objections from our consultants we used throughout this process. This ultimately led us to choosing this solution at the end, even though it was different than our original solutions. The research led us to believe that this is a much more realistic and appropriate solution.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

In terms of contribution, we split the work up evenly throughout the entire process. By having both of us engaged at every step in the decision-making process, we each learned a significant amount about the current state of Michigan education and how to propose a functional improvement. Collectively, we brainstormed what to write, discussed the ideas, and then wrote out our combined thoughts. Jeet took on the role of drafting the language and making sure our ideas lined up properly with the format of the proposal. Additionally, he found a great consultant, Mrs. Susan Schmidt, who really helped us shape our proposal. This gave us real insight into the legislative process. Kunj took on the responsibility of researching the current situation of social workers, which led to the discovery of teacher professional development. He also found Ms. Micou, who had experience working in underfunded schools for many years. We both contacted Michael Medina at the same time for the consultation. It should be noted that both of us were present and asking questions to all three consultations. There was never a time where only one person was working on the proposal, as we both decided in the beginning to work on everything together. Our proposal would not be where it is at if each of us didn’t ask good questions throughout the process. Truly a 50/50 effort.

 

===FORMAL PROPOSAL===

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS….There is a growing problem of mental-health issues and antisocial behavior in K-12 schools that lead to negative outcomes. Students with untreated mental health issues may develop more significant problems.

WHEREAS….20% of the total student population is in need of social services, but only 1 out of 5 of those kids actually receive a social worker or services to help them with their mental health. When proper treatment is not given, it greatly impacts their educational abilities and results in negative educational outcomes such as delinquency, violence, or school failure.

WHEREAS….Under the current teacher professional development guidelines, school district staff are encouraged to design professional development experiences which: (1) Serve the purpose of increasing student learning, (2) Align with your school improvement plan, (3) Are planned, ongoing, and intensive, and (4) Are supported in some way by the school or district, such as through released time or cost. If the do not adhere to these guidelines, then the burden of cost will fall on the district.

WHEREAS….Every teacher is required to have 150 hours of professional development hours every five years. The district must offer professional development workshops and sessions at least five dates and thirty hours annually.

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. That 30 of the required 150 hours be mandated to focus on development related to social-work. Research shows that focusing on best practices in the areas of screening and early intervention will prevent antisocial behavior and keep students in school.

2. In terms of the social work workshop during teacher professional develop, it is envisioned that the program will hit on three main pillars, derived from the University of Michigan Ginsberg Center.

  • Democratic Engagement (DE): Teachers will engage in dialogue to learn how to engage across difference and examine ways to create change for students. Teachers should choose to embrace these differences and boost self-esteem in students. The physical manifestation of this could be seen in socratic seminars at development workshops.

  • Leadership Development (LD): Teachers will expand their ability to motivate children in the right direction. Part of being a strong leader requires inspiring others in a positive way, and teachers have the ability to inspire students to realize that education is one of their most powerful tools (lowering dropout rates).

  • Reciprocal Community Partnerships(RP): Educate teachers about the community resources willing and able to help students facing severe home issues like hunger, domestic abuse, and immigration. If teachers are aware of the resources in the community, they can connect needy students with these organizations to help them better their home situation. This results in increased focus on school and academic performance.

3. This proposal still adheres to the requirements of the addressed Michigan law.

  • How does it serve the purpose of student learning?

    • Research suggests it becomes very difficult for students to focus on academics when they are facing more prevalent issues in their home life that affect their ability to concentrate. Through equipping teachers with tools to intervene, they can potentially mitigate home life issues for students.

  • How does it align with school improvement plans?

    • Many school improvement plans are tailored to combat large issues like school dropout rates and student inclusion, as well as fostering a positive environment. Our proposal supports all of these aspects by having teachers play a role in helping at-risk students stay in school.

  • Is it planned, ongoing, and intensive?

    • As the bill calls for, our plan is to require a strict 30 hours every 5 years in social services training.

  • Are supported by school or district in some way?

    • Teachers are paid by schools/districts to attend these professional development workshops. They take time off of teaching to attend this important workshops.

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Primarily, teachers are already sufficiently occupied with instruction. Having them take on the additional role of social work could have a negative impact on the quality of education offered to students.

2. Professional development workshops may not serve as an adequate requirement for teachers to play the part of social workers. Full-fledged social workers in Michigan require, at a minimum, a Masters in Social Work with sufficient on-the-ground experience. In dealing with sensitive matters related to student mental health and antisocial behavior, the utmost care must be taken to ensure open, comfortable and appropriate forms of communication.

3. The role of teachers are strictly to educate our students. With only 150 hours per 5 years, professional development workshops need to stay focused on how teachers can be more effective in their teaching practices, instead of matters not directly related to their occupation.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

$7 million a year is given to Michigan public schools for professional development and training. No significant additional costs are necessary in the case of a mandate. Hence, we are not redirecting resources from other areas of school funding.

The overall goal is to already utilize the system in place in order to create a change without any significant monetary costs or replacements. We intend to leverage the “free form” nature of the professional development workshop objectives to incorporate our easy, necessary solution.

References:

These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

http://www.sswaa.org/?600

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/FY18_Executive_Budget_Issue_Papers_550972_7.pdf

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001440290006600307

https://ssw.umich.edu/programs/msw/specialization-and-certification-programs/social-work-in-school-settings

http://www.masswmi.org/?page=SchoolSocialWorker

https://www.narst.org/publications/research/encourage2.cfm

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/28/michigan-school-funding-unequal/86477080/

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/Michigan_Education_Finance_Study_527806_7.pdf

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Professional_Learning_Guidelines_555999_7.pdf

http://washtenawisd.org/departments/staff-development/state-continuing-education-clock-hours



 

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Total votes: 25

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