No student starts school wanting to fail. But all kinds of complications arise in life, causing students to disconnect from the educational experience. This is especially true for students whose families who are already marginalized due to generational poverty, historic discrimination or other challenging life circumstances. We find out about a unique set of programs working across our region and throughout the country to help schools provide families with the resources they need to help every student succeed.
- David Heiber Executive Director & Founder, Concentric Educational Services; former school administrator and history teacher, Baltimore City Public Schools
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, sports through the lens of politics, author Dave Zirin on strikes, lockouts and replacement referees. But first, 10 years ago, lawmakers vowed that no child would be left behind in U.S. schools.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the following years of rethinking, restrategizing and retesting have left behind one stubborn fact: An achievement gap still separates low-income and minority students from their peers, and nowhere in the U.S. is that gap wider than in D.C.'s public schools. Every few years, we come up with new academic targets and ways to reach those targets to close the gap, but a growing body of evidence suggests that support outside the classroom has a direct impact on performance inside the classroom.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat support can be as simple as a teacher visiting a student's home or as complex as tightening up communication between teachers and administrators. Building those support programs often takes a backseat to buying new laptops and whiteboards for classrooms, but those on the frontlines say they're happening and showing promising results. Joining us in studio is David Heiber. He is executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a nonprofit that provides professional development and support systems to schools. He was senior director of student support services for the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools in the District. And he's a former administrator and teacher for the Baltimore City Public Schools. David Heiber, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAVID HEIBERGood morning. Well, actually, good afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation we'd happy if could join by calling 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. You can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. David Heiber, you spend months at schools figuring out how they can function better, communicate better, and support particularly troubled students. Tell us a little bit more about the -- how you work to make these institutions more cohesive.
HEIBERAbsolutely. What we have found -- and this is going on several years now -- is that there's no simple answer. As we always hear right now, we talk about data-driven decisions, but oftentimes, we look at one piece of data, and that's usually the problem or what I'd like to call the numbers. So we can -- if a student has poor test grades or is missing a lot of days or has been suspended quite frequently, we can say, well, there's a problem.
HEIBERAnd then we quickly jump to the solution, and then we get frustrated when that solution does not work. What we need to look at and what our work focuses in on is looking at the causes, the ethnographic piece or the story around the students. So this really started in earnest several years ago when I was senior director of student support services at Cesar Chavez. We were not getting the results that we wanted despite a lot of effort and despite everyone saying that we had the supports.
HEIBERAnd what we had to do is think differently on how to engage students and parents to increase academic achievement. So one of the things that we use just the instrument that really is not new -- it's been around for many, many years -- is how can we strategically use home visits to increase teacher capacity, improve academic achievement for the students and build parent and community efficacy.
NNAMDIYour job seems overwhelming when we're talking about providing extra support for kids who need it in cities like Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Detroit. What percentage of kids really need this kind of support in the average school, if there's such a thing?
HEIBERWell, there's a framework out there that most people refer to as RTI or response to intervention, and in this framework, it says that 75 percent of students should be affected by whole school interventions or preventive programs. And then as you go up there, as you go up the pyramid, 15 percent should fall in the middle and then maybe 5 percent with the direct interventions.
HEIBERWhat we know about urban education is that most of our students have many challenges, and those challenges are not just summed up by academic challenges, the social and emotional challenges, and that pyramid is usually inversed. So where 5 percent of programs or 5 percent of students will be impacted for school-wide interventions, what we have found is that about 75 percent need one-on-one instruction, one-on-one support. And it is very overwhelming, but it's just thinking differently and rearranging priorities and building the capacity of everyone in the building.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. How can we improve the network of support around students? Is parent involvement the answer? 800-433-8850. There's so much national hand-wringing about how to fix our nation's schools and the achievement gap. We throw money at the problem. We throw consultants at the problem. We rethink our standardized tests. You've walked the halls at schools where problems are the most acute. What do you hear from students about what schools are getting right and what they're getting wrong?
HEIBERThere's an overwhelming -- I'm being general purposely -- is that we're -- I'm generalizing the problem here is that, as adults, as educators, as so-called experts, we feel that we have the answers. We tell young people what we think they need as opposed to listening to what they need. One of the things they -- or that's resounding and it comes back over and over that students say is that I feel disengaged from school.
HEIBERThey've had negative experiences with school. They have -- they don't have the connection. And I'm borrowing from people's work here just because I stand on people's shoulders that came before me is that communities and schools founded by Bill Milliken, America's Promise Alliance with Mrs. Alma Powell, they speak very specifically, saying that programs do not fix the problems.
HEIBERIt's people. It's the connection. I would not be here today if it was not for unconditional and authentic support by many, many people, and that's what students need and what students are asking for is the personalizing not just the instruction, which I think we've gotten much more complex in doing, but it's the personalizing of what students need outside of just the academic perspective.
NNAMDIYou mentioned you would not be here today were it not for some things. You've got a tough personal history, not unlike the lives of some students you visit in our area schools. At 18, your grandfather died.
NNAMDIYour grandmother was terminally ill. You refer to your grandparents as your parents since they raised you from birth. You dropped out of school and landed in prison for eight years. How did you pull yourself out of your own tailspin?
HEIBERYeah. I was kicked out of five high schools in Delaware, and I was blessed only to do almost two years on eight months sentence. It was just because of the support. When -- obviously, when I went to prison, I was very young. I did not have a high school diploma, and it was actually when my grandmother -- I refer to her as my mother. When she passed away while I was in prison and they would not let me to go to her funeral, that's when I knew changes had to be made.
HEIBERAnd if it wasn't for a lot of older African-American brothers just pulling me aside, I could have quite frankly gotten more time because I could have gotten to other things or I could have come out and not have as many options and opportunities. And it's through those people that supported me early on, particularly when I was in prison, that helped me to get my GED and helped me get my high school diploma and then to get me out of prison and go to college that allowed me to start doing this work.
HEIBERAnd it's not -- my story is -- I really want to emphasize -- is not the story of David Heiber. It's the story of support to allow me to do this type of work. There's a lot of people who have gone through a lot of challenges that just have not been the beneficiary of a lot of support, and that's why I've been lucky.
NNAMDIIt's support you said that helped you to get an undergraduate degree at Lincoln, a master's...
NNAMDI...at Temple, a doctorate from Morgan State.
NNAMDIWho served as a motivator at such a critical time in your life?
HEIBERWhen I was in prison and I was getting out early -- the judge had just amended my sentence -- I was walking across the yard. This is about 5:30 in the morning, and there was a young -- an older brother who said, I live through you. And his name was Brother Muhammad, and he was 67 years old, had been in prison for 50 years on a double murder. And I didn't understand the gravity of that statement until much later.
HEIBERSo at each step of my life, there have been people there to support me, so it was Brother Muhammad there in prison. It was the Lincoln University in Pennsylvania as a family that supported me. And most recently -- I want to say recently within the last 10 years, there's a phenomenal person that most people have heard of -- if you have not heard of them, please Google him -- he not only transforms lives, he saves them, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who's president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I would not be here if it was not for his unbelievable support and just loving me up.
NNAMDIHe was a guest on the broadcast on June 20, and after the broadcast, we frankly talked about you. Do you feel...
NNAMDIDo you feel like your history helps you connect with some of these at-risk students you speak to, or are today's kids living a different reality even from just two decades ago?
HEIBERWell, I don't like the fact that you said two decades ago because that makes me old, but I got the gray hair like Barack.
NNAMDILet's say a decade-and-a-half.
HEIBERA decade-and-a-half. OK. It makes me feel better. I don't think it's a necessarily different experience. I think it's a much more complex and sophisticated experience, and I think that's where our ignorance is -- so-called educators or professionals. That's where it comes into play. It's not the issues are new.
HEIBERIt's that the issues are much more complex and sophisticated, and we have to start seeing those issues from a much deeper or different paradigm. And I think that's where we can start getting the inroads with students. And once we change that lens, then we can realize that it does come down to relationship building.
NNAMDIWe're talking with David Heiber. He is executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions, which is a nonprofit that provides professional development and support systems to schools, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Should teachers visit students' homes to get a better idea of their lives, or is that asking too much? 800-433-8850. For more than two years, you've been working with schools around the country on a home visit program where teachers go into the homes of students if those students happen to be maybe truant or troubled. Why did you start doing those visits?
HEIBERWell, it was a team effort. Back in 2008, you may remember there was the Bonita Jacks tragedy.
HEIBERRight before that, we started looking at -- this was while I was at Cesar Chavez. We started looking...
NNAMDIExcuse me. For most of listeners who may not have heard about that, that was a situation in Washington, D.C. where Bonita Jacks was living in a home with four children who were supposed to be in school and who had all died in that home. But go ahead, please.
HEIBERNo. So there was a team of us, and we looked at our attendance, quite frankly, as a public charter school. And we started looking at some early warning signs. And what we decided to do -- there was one particular student who had a lot of absences, and we were trying to figure out what the absences were coming from. Instead of theorizing and talking amongst ourselves, we decided to go to the classroom and find the student.
HEIBERWe went to the classroom. The student wasn't there. We then proceeded to look at the address which was two blocks behind the building, and we decided to walk there and do a home visit. When we got to the home, we knocked on the door. The parent answers the door and said, why are you at our home? And we simply said, well, your son or daughter is not in school. We're just trying to figure out what happened, and she said, well, that's ironic because he doesn't attend Cesar Chavez.
HEIBERBut the student had been marked absent, present and tardy, so there was a coding error, which is not germane to any particular school. It just happens, but it gave us the insight that there was a bigger problem. And so, in earnest in October of 2008, we, along -- me, along with my team, we started doing home visits. And it was very unsophisticated, to say the least. We didn't even use GPS, and I wasn't familiar with D.C.
HEIBERAnd it wasn't efficient, but we just started knocking on doors. And what we found was an incredibly -- an incredible response to what we were doing immediately. And these were all unannounced home visits, so I don't want to give the impression that home visits are new. It's not a new theory. I'm not doing anything groundbreaking. Home visits have been around for decades, particularly when, quite frankly, African-American teachers and professionals lived in the same community as their students. You would walk two doors down and find out what was wrong with Johnny or Jamal.
NNAMDIBut most of the young volunteer teachers that you work with now are not African-American?
HEIBERYes. When I first started in Baltimore, I was very skeptical of a program or an entity called Teach For America, very skeptical. But I have learned to embrace it. I have a partnership with them now in Detroit to train their core members. They have been unbelievable in their commitment to learn that which they do not know. And for most of us, we know that most teachers are white females. And we know that there's a natural disconnect, unfortunately.
HEIBERBut one of the things I have found -- and I spoke about this in the article that was in Detroit Free Press on Friday -- is that this -- and these are words coming from the students -- that we respond more to authenticity than ethnicity. And I want to be clear with that is that students respond to authenticity more than ethnicity, students call it keeping it real, whatever the case may be. Regardless of your ethnicity, if you're not real, they're not going to respond and connect with you.
HEIBERAnd what we're finding right now is that we have got to do a much better job embracing that which we do not know and get out there more, so many of the teachers that are doing home visits, that are volunteering are predominantly whites.
NNAMDIGot a few a people who'd like to talk to you, but we do have to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get back to your call. If you haven't yet, the number is 800-433-8850. Should teachers visit students' homes to get a better idea of their lives, or is that, in your view, asking too much? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing support services for students and for educators with David Heiber. He is executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions, which is a nonprofit that provides professional development and support systems to schools. He was senior director of student support services for the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in the District. He's a former administrator and teacher with the Baltimore City Public Schools. I like to go directly to the phones to Marty in Washington, D.C. Marty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTYThank you, Kojo. I just want to say that your guest is right on target with home visits. I've got a friend in St. Louis. She's been pioneering that program in St. Louis public schools, and it's working very well.
MARTYBut something else you said is right on target. I'm a former principal of high school here in D.C. And I come from the advertising and public relations community, and what I had to do was sell education in school to my young people. And it took us some time. We won a blue ribbon in my fourth year, but really having to sell, again, a rationale for going to school, which was automatic for people who grew up in the 1940s, '50s and even early '60s. But for a lot of my kids, smart as they were, they still didn't care very much about it.
MARTYAnd so the idea of really revisiting the idea of selling communications just like McDonald's sells hamburgers is a smart idea and I think that one that would save us a lot of time and resources that we spend now on a lot of programs and standardized test. We'd be very, very well-served if we actually started to sell the value of education and in a different way than we did 20 years ago.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned in a different way than we did 20 years ago, Marty. By the way, you mentioned St. Louis. Missouri has started a similar program called HOME WORKS!, which operates in 15 schools in the St. Louis area. Teachers are paid for the extra time and visit students' home several times during the year. A study by the St. Louis Public Schools system found that both grades and attendance rose among students who received these home visits.
NNAMDIBut I'd like to get back with you, David Heiber, on the question Marty rose about "selling students." A few weeks ago, we had Prudence Carter on this show. She's a Stanford professor who spent a lot of time studying the impact of race, culture and inequality in U.S. and South African schools. She found that peer influence is incredibly important when it comes to student success.
NNAMDISo I'll ask you what I asked her because, from my own memory, when I was a teenager in high school, there was absolutely nothing, including my parent's influence that was important as -- that was as important as peer influence and peer pressure. How can schools help kids straddle the conflicting worlds of peer culture in the classroom?
HEIBERI mean, I think it's a wonderful question. I do agree that peer influence may be the greatest impact, particularly for the students that we're talking about. And I'm not talking about at-risk students. I'm speaking about specifically the students that I target most are high school students. The reason that we target high school students is that research says that parent involvement and communication decreases as students go up in age.
HEIBERI mean, that's obviously -- we think that they can defend for themselves when, in fact, that's when most students need the most support. I am very familiar with Karen's work. I'm a fan of it. There's a couple different -- there's a couple of differences in the approach for our home visits and how do we engage parents. We do not -- I don't -- I'm not an advocate -- Dr. Hrabowski always cautions me to be careful with some of my words.
HEIBERI'm not necessary -- I don't know enough to say about paying teachers. The reason I say that -- I believe that you can incentivize it. But with such limited funds, it's not if the money is going to run out. It's just when. So I believe that it has to be the intrinsic value, and Daniel Pink talks about this in his book "Drive", about the intrinsic value of changing the culture of a school, of an organization.
HEIBERAnd what we have found is that the teachers who have done the home visits and build relationships with the students, grades go up with their students, truancy or attendance -- truancy goes down, attendance, you know, improves. And to go back to your question, Kojo, the way that we can affect that is that we're not working necessarily one student at a time even though we're individualizing the support. We're changing the culture of the building. At the same time, we are changing the culture of the community and the home.
HEIBERI think a lot of times, what we do is we think very linear. And concentricity, which is a theory of change, is thinking regarding the width and not linear. It's a holistic way of thinking. Actually, it's African-centered and is borrowed from Molefi Asante, who pioneered Afrocentricity. So concentricity is just the thinking of putting the student at the center of school phenomena.
NNAMDIBoys have been shown to struggle as they prepare for college and as they prepare for work life. Do boys need a particular approach in the school support system the girls may not?
HEIBERYeah. I'm a believer in that they need different supports. However, I don't want to -- I don't like necessarily think of them in terms of generalizing, and there's a bunch of research out there particularly around gender-specific education. Ron Walker at COSEBOC is -- the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color -- is doing some phenomenal work around that, as well at Tim King at Urban Prep and David Banks at Eagle Academy in the Bronx. But I don't necessarily think it's just gender-specific as it is person-specific.
HEIBERI mean, we're talking about trauma. We're talking about issues and challenges. It's really getting down, not necessarily this -- the gender-specific, but the person-specific.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Our guest is David Heiber. Marty, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Steven in Ashburn, Va. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHi. I just want to -- if I could bring it a little bit back to the bottom line, which is actually learning here. And I just want to know how your program is supposed to address the sort of lack of basic skills at the high school level. It's not clear to me where the connection is other than perhaps attending school more often. But that won't necessarily address the problem of lacking rudimentary school skills.
HEIBERNo. I appreciate that, Steven. I agree with you 100 percent. One of the things I often say is that people attach themselves to our home visit project because it's something tangible. But I do not think home visits in isolation are the answer. One of the things that we've done is we've gotten really sophisticated with academic services. So we can say -- and we've spent a lot of resources saying, OK, if student A misses question B, and then it's linked to the common course and things like that, then, you know, that's the issue.
HEIBERWe've gotten really sophisticated with that. We have not gone as sophisticated with wraparound services. We've always treated wraparound services through support services in addition to as opposed to part of. So I agree with you. For me, the home visit is to get the student engaged in school -- that might be one of the issues -- or to find out what the challenges are and allow the support to start happening at the home.
HEIBERThe goal, the end goal is to get that student back into the school, engage into the school with a individual development plan similar to IEP but for general education students. Get them back into school. Develop specific benchmarks -- academic benchmarks, as well as behavior, attendance, whatever we see the problem may be, and then how the teacher individualize that type of learning. And at the same time -- it's not in addition to -- we're building the capacity, if possible, with the parent to help us in the learning of the child.
HEIBERSo I agree with you 100 percent. The home visit is just the touchy-feely part of it, so to speak. But we have to keep them engaged and increase their academic achievement.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Steven. So many programs have aimed to close the achievement gap between students of different racial and socio-economic groups, but none seem to have really done the trick. Just last week, we read in The Washington Post that schools are now implementing policies that set different achievement goals for minority and poor students versus their more affluent counterparts. Is this soft bigotry of low expectations, as George W. Bush once said, or is there something to it?
HEIBERI think that there's a -- unfortunately, there is a generalization of low expectations. I don't think that we have to do that. I'll give you a prime example. There was a teacher that I had worked with, an African-American teacher, female teacher who considered herself revolutionary. And she was all power to the people, Stokely Carmichael, Black Power movement, which I studied at Temple. However, one of her colleagues brought a essay to me. And the essay was given blatantly an A for the paper.
HEIBERAnd her colleague said, can you please read this and tell me how should I respond to this? And as I was reading through it, clearly, it was not an A paper. But this teacher, an African-American teacher, was giving As out. That, to me, is worse than almost anything you can do because then, when that student gets out of school, they do not have the skill set that represents their diploma. And so I don't believe that we have to stagger the expectations.
HEIBERI think there should be expectation because, as Thomas Friedman said, the world is flat and we're interconnected. So the expectations are not going to be lowered or skewered for different people once you get out of school. So I don't believe that they should be changed while we're in school.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again, here is Aurora in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Aurora, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AURORAYes. I worked as a counselor in Maryland where I did therapy, in-home therapy with children that were referred by the school. And also, when I moved to -- well, actually, I moved to West Virginia, and I worked in Virginia, where I worked with another program where I was also a counselor. And I did intensive in-home therapy where I went into the homes and did therapy with the whole family for about four, maybe five hours a day.
AURORAAnd then we had -- I had the equivalent that I work with, a behaviorist in the school who did support to the students while they were in the school. So how does your home visit from the teacher factor in in this type of services that the children are getting involved -- get in other programs? I don't know anything about the District. I don't know if you have in-home therapy, the same type of programs that I know they have in Virginia and Maryland.
NNAMDIHere is David Heiber.
HEIBERI appreciate your comment. And just for clarity, just across the board, I am not a believer in programs. Concentric is not a program. The reasons that Concentric is not a program is because programs go away. And when programs go away, usually what occurs is that they take the intellectual capacity or capital with them and schools could not sustain. One of the things that I'm a fan of is how can we make schools better. If we have engaged with the school and it is not better, if we have not changed the thought or the framework then we haven't -- we have not impact the student achievement.
HEIBERThe way that ours is a little bit different -- and when I say ours, let me reference a person who has done this work longer than I have been alive, almost -- that let you know that I'm not that old -- is Dr. James Comer at Yale University. He did this and pioneered this work in 1974. Another person is Dr. Barbara Sizemore, the first African-American superintendent -- female superintendent here at Washington, D.C. So these are the people who have really bought a lot of their work.
HEIBERAnd the way that we kind of set it up is that we are accustomed to deans or assistant principals, principals in some cases, social workers, guidance counselors doing home visits. The challenge is not to the fact -- or the issue is not that they're -- we don't have enough information on students, is that we have bits and pieces or people have bits and pieces of information and that we never purposely sit down, or we try to sit down and we just don't have the time.
HEIBERSo the information is needed in the classroom to get to the teachers. And that is where we set up teams and have meaningful and purposeful and strategic dialogue how to get the information to specific teachers. Kojo, if I can just give one example.
HEIBERThere was a student that we are working with in a DCPS school, and this is not germane to DCPS. I'm just using it because this is one of the schools that we work with. Every one was trying to do their best: social workers, guidance counselors, deans, teachers, whoever the case may be. There was one key piece of information that we found out after doing a home visit that was very important.
HEIBERAfter doing three home visits, 'cause it took three times just to find out someone was home and for them to answer the door -- they had been there the previous two times, they just didn't answer the door -- was that this student had just gotten out of an institution and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Well, this student had missed many, many days and was wandering the halls.
HEIBERWhen we did the home visit, we found that the student was not taking his medicine, which will prevent him from wandering. One person at the school knew about this and had not shared this information with everybody else. We have to be purposeful in our dialogue about students, so it's not enough just for social workers and counselors to do home visits. But it's really getting that information, and that's what we say about teachers.
NNAMDIThe information has to be shared. Aurora, thank you very much for your call. Even though we're running out of time in this segment, I noticed that you have some short blurbs on your website on insights you've learned from visiting with students over the years. I'd like to just run some of them by you so that you can respond to them. The first one is, "We wish you knew that, for some of us, attending school is a luxury."
HEIBERYeah. That came from a student where we'd conducted a home visit in Northwest in Columbia Heights. Now, this is me being ignorant or not having as much information about Latino culture, is that just like as -- just as an African-American, I don't like to be classified in this homogeneic (sic) society, Latinos, I found out, do not like it as well. There is a huge El Salvadorian population in Columbia Heights. What came through or came out during the interview was that there was responsibilities that the student had to do at home that took precedent over coming to school.
HEIBERAnd that -- I had to really listen to that. We had to really listen to that because as we're fighting to get the student back in school, we have to learn how to work with the parents where there might be some other cultural differences or nuances that we have got to pay attention to.
NNAMDI"We wish you knew how important it is for us to save face in front of our friends."
HEIBERAnd, again, this is very -- and this goes back to the issue about being peer pressured. A lot of times we are not taught deliberately how to de-escalate situations, and we have aggressive language and aggressive behavior and where we actually escalate student situations. We have got to learn to be able to individualize the approach that it's not one-size-fits-all, and we just have to learn that in front of people, in front of their peers, it's really important for them. When you pull them aside, when you get them one-on-one and you can bring them down, then you'll most likely get the response that you would like.
NNAMDI"How do you make sure the programs and recommendations you make in schools are followed through and effective after you leave?"
HEIBERTo be a pest and consistently follow up. One of the words that I keep constant in my head is tenacity, that truly the definition for me of a good school is would I want to send little free man there, D.J., my son, or Cheyenne. If the answer is yes, then it's a school that I want to support. If the answer is no, it's a school I want to support and make sure that we can get up to -- get them to where they need to be.
NNAMDIDavid Heiber, he is executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions. It's a nonprofit that provides professional development and support systems to schools. David Heiber, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
HEIBERThank you so much. It was definitely a pleasure.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, sports through the lens of politics. Author Dave Zirin on strikes, lockouts and replacement referees. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.