• by Josie Danini Supik, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • September 1999

Editor’s Note: In August, Josie D. Supik, M.A., director of the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation, presented the keynote during a “working luncheon” at the Title VII Evaluation Institute in San Antonio. The institute was hosted by the STAR Center – the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve Texas. The STAR Center is a collaboration of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and RMC Research Corporation. Below is an excerpt of her presentation.

Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A.I am a bit uncomfortable with this concept of a “working lunch.” What does it mean? Who first thought it was a good idea? I am Mexican and Italian. So, food is sacred. You do not work during lunch. You eat during lunch. If you are lucky, you have good food, you savor the tastes and smells, and you have good conversation with good people around you. It is a time to rest and renew. This idea of a working lunch is an insidious attempt to squeeze every last drop of sanity from our lives.

We have pagers, planners, cellular phones – every technological tool we can imagine to stay on time and in touch. Yet at the same time, all of these things seem to do the very opposite. Instead of connecting, they disconnect us from what is truly important.

And what is truly important? Each of us has our own answers. I think that what is truly important is our humanity, our connecting with other people in an authentic way and making a positive difference in this short life that we have.

Educators of bilingual students have chosen to make a difference for children and youth who traditionally have had no voice, those who are poor or minority, those who speak a language other than English. Sometimes, we have made a difference one child at a time. Sometimes, it has been entire schools that we have helped to draw upon their assets and form a powerful force committed to excellence and equity for all of their students. Sometimes we have made a difference and have never known it.

It is our commitment to make a positive difference that brings us together – that connects us. It is the shared dream that our children, all of our children – including the 3.5 million English language learners in the United States – will have a better life than the generations before them; that they will not have to give up their culture or their language or their spirit; that, in fact, they and their families and all of the strengths and contributions they bring will be preserved, honored and celebrated, that helps keep educators connected with each other. We begin with that dream, and we work very hard to make it a reality. It has taken many years to start changing the reality for bilingual students.

Perhaps the biggest change that I have seen has been in the questions we are asking. In the past, we asked what is wrong with the student. Why is he failing? Does he fail because of his family, his friends, his lack of motivation, his boredom with school?

This line of questioning was, in a sense, absolution for educators. We did not do anything wrong. It was the students’ fault they failed. That attitude has changed significantly. Now educators and evaluators begin with the premise that it is not the student who has failed the school, it is the school that has failed the student.

In Texas, we have failed 1.2 million students since 1986, which has cost this state $319 billion in lost wages, criminal justice and welfare costs and an immeasurable amount in human capital. In 1986, the state of Texas was asking what was wrong with the students who were dropping out of school. That question could not supply the answers needed to change the reality for students. It was not until the premise that students were flawed changed to a conviction that all students are valuable, that the questions about why and how the schools were failing children could finally be answered.

When the basic premise was changed from “deficit” to “valuing,” a reform in education began. Several years ago, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a survey that yielded results many people in education expected: students drop out of school because of academic failure, disciplinary problems, high absenteeism, boredom and the need for a job. We were again given what we asked for. All of the results were deficit and centered on the student as a failure.

While we still see deficit-type questions and answers, we also see a different line of questioning, one that is grounded in high levels of school accountability and methods of informing us on what is truly happening in programs. Much of the data is now disaggregated. Questions are designed to discover how students are achieving, by gender or by ethnic group, and in-depth evaluations and research on what is working for our students – including success stories.

With support from the US Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA), IDRA is conducting a successful bilingual schools research study. We are identifying schools across the country that have proven evidence of successful bilingual education programs. We are also identifying criteria to select successful schools. Identifying these crucial criterion will help educators know when a bilingual education program is working for students. The study will be completed this fall.

Other studies that OBEMLA is supporting are: an expected gains study; a benchmark study; and Profiles of Success (other bilingual education programs that are working for students across this country) via support from the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) as well as OBEMLA. You can access all of this information through the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE).

Here in Texas, the Texas Education Agency is spearheading a study of effective bilingual education programs in Texas schools. The publication is due out shortly.

All across the country, there are coordinated efforts to rigorously search for the best programs and approaches because our students deserve the best from us. Learning from those who are doing it right, building capacity, and being accountable for our students’ achievement is the path we must take.

Part of our work is to make sure that we stay on the right path. We have mileposts or landmarks that we use: baseline data (where are we starting), formative data (what is going on, who is doing what and why, what decisions are being made, and how do we know they are the right ones), and post-test data (did it make a difference). We have quantitative data (how many and how often), statistical tests, anovas and manovas, T-tests, and p values. We have qualitative data (so what did they say about it), focus group interviews, participant observations, case studies and ethnographies, content analyses, and triangulation (if three or more people saw the same thing, it must be true).

There are many methods and tools to uncover what is happening in our schools, some more sensitive and finely calibrated than others. You always need the right questions. After many years and much research about education, one question that needs to be revisited continuously is, “Who is accountable for any individual student?”

Last month, I was in a meeting with some luminarios in education and research. Each person has achieved great success in his or her field. We went around the table, asking everyone to tell the key factor that led to their success. Each person said the same thing. There had been at least one person in their lives who believed in them, one person they could go to, one person they could count on. That is really what accountability is, having young people count on us, count on our wisdom, compassion and humanity.

There is that word again: humanity. It brings us back to the beginning when I said the most important thing is our humanity, our connections to others and making a positive difference in people’s lives.

There are many people across this country who have a common vision and an uncommon commitment to change the realities for our students, to be someone they can count on. Each of us is someone a child can count on. Remember the value you bring to students in your schools and the difference you have already made and will continue to make. This is how we can put the “value” in “evaluation.”

Josie Danini Supik, M.A., directs the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]