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Assistant Professor Delida Sanchez

Educational Psychology Assistant Professor Delida Sanchez’s research focuses on how racism, particularly perceived discrimination, affects social, emotional, and behavioral health among Black and Latinx populations. Her work shows how cultural strengths can be used to promote resilience. Here, she answers questions about health disparities for underrepresented K-12 students and what educators can do to help.

What kinds of health disparities do you see in the K-12 system?

Underrepresented populations, particularly Black and Latinx youth, face higher rates of psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, and engage in higher rates of substance use and sexual risk behaviors compared to White youth. Research also shows that youth of color show significantly higher rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and asthma. These health disparities are, in large part, correlated with poverty, racism, and discrimination. Exposure to these risk factors begin at an early age via poor access to and lack of quality health care, inequities in educational opportunities, poor housing conditions, and an overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinxs in the juvenile justice system. Overall, mental and behavioral health disparities have cascading effects across the life course.

How can those disparities be recognized and assessed by educators or members of the students’ community?

Teachers and counselors are often aware of students’ distress and engagement in risky behaviors. However, they may feel ill-equipped to respond and are not aware of how those symptoms are linked with larger structural and institutional inequities. Recognizing how health disparities are propagated and reinforced is essential for dismantling negative mental and behavioral health outcomes among underrepresented youth.

Educators and other members of the students’ community can also learn about the ways in which lack of access to quality healthcare and educational resources may be contributing to mental and behavioral health problems. For example, U. S. national data indicate that in states that endorse abstinence-only sexual health policies, youth have significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy and STIs compared to those states with more comprehensive sexual health education. Considering how certain laws may be inhibiting efforts to reduce negative sexual health outcomes is important.

Next, educators need to be aware of how educational policies may be contributing to unfair targeting of underrepresented children, such as harsher punishment for age-appropriate misbehaviors. These can include suspensions for talking back to teachers, not following a dress code, or tardiness—all of which are part of normal child development. In fact, until September 2015, Texas had a long-standing law that sent students as young as 12 and their parents to criminal court, and sometimes jail, for being late or missing school. A child could be considered tardy for being just two minutes late, despite attending school daily. Unfair criminalization of normal behaviors exposes youth of color to the criminal justice system at a very early age.

Teachers and the community can collaborate to raise consciousness about young people’s health needs. Together, they can strategize how to support youth who may be experiencing mental and behavioral symptoms. That collaboration is central to mobilizing change.

What helps underrepresented children overcome these disparities?

Findings from my research have shown that there are differences in racial and ethnic identity development and discrimination among diverse Black and Latinx populations. This suggests that it is important to understand the racial/ethnic histories among Black and Latinx subgroups and how differences in those histories are linked to mental and behavioral health outcomes.

We’ve also uncovered a direct link between perceived discrimination and substance use and sexual risk behaviors. There’s even an indirect link via psychological distress, peer influence and certain Latina/o gender role attitudes. However, certain culture-specific values (such as an emphasis on collectivism within one’s community, familism, and spirituality that have been found to prevent negative behavioral health outcomes.

Qualitative findings suggest distinct cultural and relational contexts of identity development in African American and Mexican American girls. Attitudes and behaviors toward dating and sex seem to differentially affect sexual health. For example, among African American girls, themes of colorism and negative sexual stereotypes were factors in ethnic identity development, and egalitarian gender roles were associated with positive attitudes toward dating and sex. Among Mexican American girls, themes of language and acculturation were salient factors in ethnic identity development, and traditional patriarchal gender expectations were associated with negative attitudes toward dating and sex. Although there were no ethnic group differences in sexual behaviors between African American and Mexican American girls, findings suggest that sexual prevention and interventions should be culturally tailored.

What are you currently researching?

My most recent studies extend the examination of perceived discrimination and mental and behavioral health disparities to include preadolescent Latino males—a severely understudied ethnic and developmental demographic. I’m excited about what we’ll find based on this new research. It will be crucial for educators and communities to enhance cultural responsiveness to this underrepresented population.

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Associate Professor Keffrelyn Brown

A new book by Curriculum and Instruction faculty member Keffrelyn Brown tackles the “at-risk” label: After the At-Risk Label: Reorienting Educational Policy and Practice (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series). The book was published by Teachers College Press this summer.

Brown hopes that the book will challenge how educators and policymakers think about the label, so that it can be used more equitably.

Says Brown, “Risk matters. It’s an important construct that both pre-service and in-service teachers as well as policy[makers] invoke to presumably meet students’ needs. If you can figure out what the risk is and who has the risk or who faces the risk, you can better provide services for them.”

Although Brown believes that the idea of risk and that some people are “at risk” is deeply ingrained in Western culture, she questions the notion of using the at-risk label at all. “What I argue is that the term itself is laden with problems. The term is just one of many that has been deployed since the beginning of the 20th century to describe children who fundamentally are positioned as against the norm.”

 

Visit the College of Education homepage to read more.

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Associate Professor Stephanie Cawthon and Co-Principal Investigator Carrie Lou Garberoglio in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin have received a $20 million, five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to lead a center that will have a far-reaching effect: supporting postsecondary education outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing people.

It is one of the largest grants awarded by the Department of Education to support technical assistance and professional development in special education.

Stephanie Cawthon, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, an Elizabeth Glenadine Gibb Teaching Fellow in Education and director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute at the Meadows Center, will lead the program. Carrie Lou Garberoglio, project manager at the Meadows Center, is co-principal investigator on the team.

“We want deaf and hard of hearing people to have access to more robust services — services that assist the whole person and that have been proven effective,” Cawthon said “We want to increase accessibility, concentrating on the grassroots level, and understand why things are happening at a deeper level.”

Currently, best practices for educating and supporting the educational outcomes of deaf and hard of hearing individuals after high school have not been studied rigorously or shared broadly, which means that uneven outcomes are common. The new center, which launches Jan. 1, aims to change that.

The program will be located in the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, which is nationally recognized for its expertise in translating research into practice.

For more about the new center, visit the UT News homepage.

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

African American males face many obstacles in education: disproportionate dropout, expulsion and suspension rates, overrepresentation in special education, and underrepresentation in gifted education. Yet research on the issues black males face in the realm of education has been difficult to find. To help researchers, journalists and policymakers locate available research on the education of black males, University of Texas College of Education Professors Louis Harrison and Anthony Brown launched The Black Male Education Research Collection, a new website.

The accessible, web-based repository provides a comprehensive collection of scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals that focus on higher education and includes everything from mentoring and psychological health to sports and athletics. The research provides information for other academics, mentors, educators and policymakers that addresses root causes and overlooked factors regarding roadblocks to black male academic success.

In addition to the research, the collection also features interviews, reports and monthly videos from the nation’s top scholars on black male education. The professors intend to add additional peer-reviewed research to the site as well as relevant books, book reviews, magazines and dissertations.

For more information about the Black Male Education Research Collection, visit the website.

To read the full story, visit The University of Texas at Austin News page.

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Associate Professor Allison Skerrett

Curriculum and Instruction Associate Professor Allison Skerrett was recently appointed to Scotland’s International Council of Education Advisers by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. The council includes 10 scholars from the United States, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK. On August 31, Skerrett traveled to Scotland to participate in the council’s first set of meetings, which was held in Edinburgh.

The council is meant to play a key role in advising the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, on improvements to the education system in Scotland. A priority is addressing the equity gap between students of different social backgrounds.

The group’s meetings with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and their visits to schools, garnered a great deal of media attention, including articles in the BBC and the Scotsman.

To read more about the trip, visit the College of Education homepage and UT News.

Dr. Skerrett is an associate professor in the Language and Literacy Studies program area and an affiliate faculty member in the Cultural Studies in Education program area. Her teaching and research interests include secondary English education, adolescent literacy and sociocultural influences on teaching and learning.

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Petrosino Receives NSF Award to Increase Student Pursuit of STEM Careers

This fall, Associate Professor Anthony Petrosino was awarded a $457,755 grant from the National Science Foundation for research that will help educators increase students’ motivation and capacity to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

The project, which focuses on collaborative, interactive, cloud-based instruction and learning, will demonstrate how network-supported, group-based learning grounded in the principles of Generative Design can improve learning outcomes for all learners, across racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Petrosino is co-principal investigator on the project along with Professor Walter Stroup of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Meadows Center Awarded $1.5 Million for Project CONNECT-IT

The Meadows Center has received a $1.5 million federal grant to design a technology-based inference-making intervention for middle school students who have difficulties with reading comprehension. Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Marcia Barnes will serve as principal investigator of the project, with Associate Professor Nathan Clemens and Meadows Center Executive Director Sharon Vaughn as the co-principal investigators, Meadows Center Associate Director Greg Roberts as the methodologist.

The three-year project—Project Connect-IT (Connecting Text by Inference and Technology: Development of a Text-Integration Intervention for Middle School Students with Comprehension Difficulties)—will develop and test the promise of a technology-based intervention designed to provide instruction and practice in the making of inferences that are necessary for understanding both narrative and informational texts.

Schudde Named 2016 Greater Texas Foundation Fellow

Educational Administration Assistant Professor Lauren Schudde was recently awarded a fellowship with the Greater Texas Foundation. The three-year program builds research and teaching capacity of tenure-track faculty at Texas colleges working in areas related to student success. The award will help Schudde study the implications of existing transfer policies for public colleges and universities in Texas. She will receive up to $30,000 per year for three years to support the research (Download Adobe Reader).

Pasch Receives Early Career Award

Kinesiology, Health and Education Associate Professor Keryn Pasch received the ECPN John B. Reid Early Career Award this summer. The award is presented to an individual early in their career in prevention. The award is given to a scholar who has shown a commitment to prevention science through outstanding contributions to research, policy, or practice. The award cited Pasch as “a productive scholar with over 50 peer-reviewed publications since she graduated.

See .EDU magazine story, Food and Drink Advertising Affects Kids’ Health, to read more about Pasch’s work.

Educational Psychology Alumna Featured as a Rising Star

Monitor on Psychology featured Educational Psychology alumna Tamara DeHay, Ph.D., as one of its ‘Rising Stars’ in its magazine this fall. DeHay and her company partner, Sarah Ross Ph.D., helped more than 70 psychology internship training sites across the country earn APA accreditation through their company, Clover Educational Consulting Group.

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Classrooms at Houston Elementary in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) were brimming with eager third graders who were excited to read, write, and report about all things related to water. “The Austin area experienced major flooding over the Memorial Day holiday,” says The University of Texas at Austin College of Education Associate Professor Melissa Wetzel, who helps lead the Master Reading Teacher Institute with Professor Jim Hoffman. “The flood was a topic of interest and immediacy for the kids. They developed their own questions related to water and used a variety of materials—websites, books, videos, and maps—to find their own answers to the questions they formulated.”

The water-themed inquiry approach to teaching reading and writing is part of the Master Reading Teacher (MRT) program offered in cooperation with the Texas Reading Initiative. It prepares K-12 teachers to earn a Master Reading Teacher certificate. Teachers apply in spring, take courses taught by faculty, and engage in an onsite practicum at a local elementary school. The program’s goal is to improve the quality of reading instruction in the state of Texas.

The program benefits not just K-12 students. Program educators at various levels within the College of Education benefit, too. Doctoral students gain valuable experience teaching education theory to K-12 educators, and both groups evaluate the efficacy of knowledge learned in a real-time environment. For example, as the K-12 teachers learn reading methods and assessment, instructional planning, and goal setting, they put each into practice in an actual classroom with elementary school students.

Their efforts culminated in a first-ever exhibit exploration. The third-grade investigators presented what they’d learned via displays and demonstrations that covered topics such as water contamination, the effect of floods on people, tsunamis, and waterfalls.

Curriculum and Instruction graduate student Natalie Svrcek earned the MRT certificate eight years ago. As a graduate student now instructing teachers earning the credential, she is able to focus on observing teachers’ interaction with their students. “It’s a different experience than teaching just adults, and it’s different than teaching kids,” she says. “I am seeing the actual interaction happen, which is something you can’t get from a textbook. I name what I see and witness the teachers changing their plan of action based on my observations.”

It’s this experience that makes the MRT learning environment so rich. Says master’s student Jennifer McMillin, “It’s hard to wrap your head around some of the concepts of teaching reading and writing if you don’t see it in practice. In a program like this, we all get hands-on experience.”

Nicole Bueno, a first-grade teacher at AISD’s Cook Elementary, said the program gave her time to “reflect on my teaching and consider why I teach the different components I do. As a classroom teacher I am the bridge between theory and practice, and this program allowed me to model something I’d learned with students every day.”

Bueno added that she’d very likely use and modify the inquiry process for her classroom in the fall. The inquiry-based model was also a hit with third graders. Elementary student Abel, who chose to focus on marine biology, says, “This is different than how school normally is, because I’m the one who gets to give the problem and ask the questions.”

For more information, contact Professor Jim Hoffman at the Master Reading Teacher Institute.

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

Superintendent Paul Cruz

Superintendent Cruz speaking at the convocation for incoming graduate students in Educational Administration.

When Paul Cruz was growing up, the South Texas native was encouraged by his family to pursue higher education and strongly encouraged by his father to attend The University of Texas at Austin. “My dad wanted to attend UT, but he never did, so he really wanted his children to fulfill that dream.” Despite an initial preference for Texas A&M, Cruz acquiesced to his father’s wishes and became a Longhorn, enrolling as an education major with a specialization in English.

“What sparked my desire to teach was my love of literature and enjoyment of literature classes. I particularly enjoy Emily Dickinson and have always liked talking to others about her work,” he says. “As an undergraduate I took courses in literacy and reading, which I later used as a classroom teacher. I also had a chance to study science methods and instruction from Dr. James Barufaldi. Through him, I learned how to engage students in their own learning.”

“To this day, when I observe classroom teaching, I am often looking for the level of engagement of students,” Cruz remarks of his visits to classes within the Austin school district.

Cruz taught for several years, but he always had a goal of earning his Ph.D. before the age of 30. He returned to UT and at 29, earned a doctorate from the College of Education. “I decided to pursue the Ph.D. in educational leadership, specifically focused on urban school superintendency. Also, working at the Texas Education Agency gave me a statewide perspective and understanding of urban school environments,” he explains.

While in the program, he became a fellow in the Cooperative Superintendency Program, which prepares future urban school superintendents. “I learned organizational theory, political environments of school systems—and the importance of establishing a strong network,” Cruz says. “I was taught about the importance of developing positive relationships with leaders throughout the country and state, in part from the example of [College of Education] Dean Manuel Justiz, who is an amazing leader. He really understands the value of relationships and partnerships.”

Superintendent Paul Cruz

Superintendent Cruz shares insights on key attributes of leadership at Education Administration convocation.

According to Cruz, developing positive strategic relationships is essential to addressing the challenges urban school districts face. “Urban schools today have to be nimble and responsive to meet the education needs of current students, especially in the face of ever-changing demographics. It’s important to establish relationships with different organizations within communities, from governmental entities to area nonprofits.” He says that developing these partnerships and collaborating with organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs and Communities in Schools can help school districts provide supports for students and their families.

A network of supports for students and their families is also important for urban school districts because many districts struggle with a lack of resources. “Our district [AISD] is property wealthy, and we have a recapture system, which translates into sending local dollars to the state. That adds complexity to how we meet the needs of our students,” says Cruz. But he adds, “It’s fun to collaborate with organizations to problem-solve better solutions to our complex problems.”

“There’s so much human potential in our students,” he says. “We all want them to learn more, experience more. We have high expectations of them and want to facilitate their learning without placing any cap on it.”

The superintendent also leads by example as a lifelong learner. Even after 29 years as a teacher and leader in education, his own love of literature, for example, remains unabated. “I have apps on my phone and keep a book open all the time. My current one is a collection of Emily Dickinson. I still really love her poetry, and it’s easy to fit a quick read in between meetings and other activities.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

A University of Texas College of Education Ph.D. student reflects on summer internship at the U.S. Department of Education

Anthony LeClair

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Educational Policy and Planning doctoral student Anthony Vincent LeClair spent part of this past summer in Washington, D.C. as an Archer Scholar. He describes the career-making experience as invaluable. Here are his reflections of his work.

I spent this past summer in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) at the U.S. Department of Education. There, I became part of the research staff providing technical expertise and policy recommendations to presidential appointees, including the Secretary of Education. This office relies heavily on the rigorous academic research being conducted in our institutions of higher education and our not-for-profit policy and research centers. Research is employed daily to craft policy recommendations, respond to criticism, and to address the issues under the department’s authority.

The office moves quickly and everyone puts in 10 hours daily. A “high-boil ask” may need to be turned around in less than an hour. This includes vetting the Secretary or an Undersecretary’s speeches for factual accuracy, running quick data analyses, and providing technical assistance on the scope and practicality of new research findings. A “low-boil ask,” like drafting research background and justification for a large-scale department study to be vetted by The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will need to be on your director’s desk in 10 days. This process, often contracted out, includes discussing pertinent issues with a purposive sample of schools and organizations, crafting survey instruments, calculating the full cost to all parties, and creating a compelling written case for its necessity. All projects occur simultaneously, and staff is held to the highest of standards. It can be chaotic, but there is nothing like knowing you are essential to the department’s short-term and long-term work.

Beyond the everyday quick-turnaround work, I carried two long-term projects this summer. The first required a fair amount of discretion, as it applied the department’s long-term understanding and future plans for school-level racial and economic integration. I was incredibly privileged to take lead on the presentation of research regarding integration and segregation in the United States. I provided a comprehensive look at the state of the field. The most consistent finding in relation to school racial composition shows black students are disproportionately negatively impacted by remaining in segregated schools. Widely circulated, this review will be an important document for the department moving forward.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

The second project, which will have a greater national impact on the research community, pertained to statutory and regulatory guidance for states reporting their “economically disadvantaged” student statistics. While most states, including Texas, use the highly convenient, though poor, proxy of Free and Reduced Price Lunch to determine disadvantage, the new Community Eligibility Provision has rendered this proxy effectively unreliable. States are currently grappling with this problem and are either looking for guidance from the department, or moving forward with direct certification of students whose families are enrolled in joint federal-state entitlement programs (SNAP, TANF, FDPIR). This second option, if used exclusively, will render all students who are legally ineligible for federal and state assistance (including children of undocumented immigrants and any child living in a residence where a convicted state drug felon resides) to be designated “economically advantaged.”

This change will have significant consequences for our students, as well as our states. Our working team’s recommendation addressed this very significant issue. The Department of Education is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to draft regulations addressing which students shall not be left out of this calculation, while our staff is pushing statutory tweaks as the House and Senate confer on ECAA.

This internship was the most substantive and rewarding experience of my career. In the months that followed, I was heavily recruited by a handful of other offices and another agency. Each person I spoke with strongly encouraged me to apply for the Presidential Management Fellow program, which is the quickest path to being hired by a federal agency. I met, had intense and substantive conversations, and became friends with major allies of public education in D.C.

This experience allowed me to start my career in the most meaningful manner possible.

Former high school math teacher and current College of Education learning technologies Ph.D. student Anita Harvin reflects on how even underrepresented students who are highly proficient at math and science can still miss out on opportunities in STEM.

As an African-American female growing up in a small city in North Carolina, I was not surrounded by technology like the youth of today. Sure, I did have a Commodore 64 that I used for game playing, but that was the extent of my technology access. I took upper-level and AP math and science classes throughout K-12. I was even in Math Counts, a math club for junior high school students. However, looking back as an adult, I wonder why, despite my aptitude, I did not have access to mentors or opportunities in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field.

As I observe and research initiatives geared to provide digital equity and digital literacy to youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, I wonder what it would have been like if I had exposure to STEM through some of these initiatives. What if 10-year-old me had participated in a computer programming class that used Scratch? Or what if I had access to videos and online discussion forums where I could learn from other like-minded individuals who owned Commodore 64 computers?

My current research interests are shaped by those “what if” questions.

As a student in the learning technologies program, I have researched and discussed the impact of using technology in educational settings. I was drawn to this program because of my desire to use technology to engage students in learning. While taking courses outside of the learning technologies program, I made interdisciplinary connections that have also helped to shape my research interests.

As an African-American and a female, I am always interested in seeing myself reflected in the research. Courses such as Sociocultural Foundations and Introduction to Qualitative Research have enlightened me on how to add the voice of the “other” to the discourse around technology in education. My current research path here at UT studies issues of digital equity and documenting digital learning experiences of youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, such as females and African Americans. I am interested in understanding what types of digital learning experiences youth from underrepresented groups have in and out of school.

If youth are not able to construct the meaning and purpose of technology through their own experiences, then there will continue to be a disconnect about the affordances of technology. School is an important aspect of youths’ experiences, as they spend up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. Schools tend to use technology in structured ways influenced by the curriculum and preconceptions about what is appropriate technology use.

It is especially important that youth from groups underrepresented in STEM can envision themselves being successful in STEM activities.

Anita Harvin is a Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction Department of the College of Education. She currently works as an assessment specialist at an educational publishing company.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey