Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

First & Foremost Spring 2016

Doreen McGuire-Grigg named ESP of the Year; Princeton research team finds “influential” kids may be able to stop bullying; and coping mechanisms for introverted teachers.

How Kindergarten Has Been Transformed

The accountability pressures ushered in by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), more than a decade ago, reached the nation’s kindergarten classrooms, according to a study by researchers at the University of Virginia. In “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” Daphna Bassok, Scott Lathem, and Anna Rorem track the level of academic focus in kindergarten from 1998 to 2010. While they expected to find increased attention on the reading and math skills emphasized by the now-replaced NCLB, the researchers were somewhat surprised by the magnitude.

“We’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” says Bassok. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms in a way that just wasn’t the case” in the late 1990s.

Many educators and parents are concerned that the heightened focus on academics in kindergarten accelerates learning at the expense of play and other traditional activities and skills.

“We know that early social skills are important predictors of students’ learning trajectories,” Bassok explains. “So our worry is that if done inappropriately, the focus on academics may have really pushed these other kinds of learning opportunities aside.”

“We’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed. Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms in a way that just wasn’t the case in the late 1990s.”

—Daphna Bassok, Researcher, University of Virginia

Kindergarten: New First Grade?

(weekly exposure to specific math and language skills 1998 vs. 2010)

Percentage of Teachers

source: “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” University of Virginia. Compiled from nationally representative surveys of kindergarten teachers in 1998 and 2010. 

Can ‘Influential’ Kids Put a Stop to Bullying?

Schools across the country have designed and implemented a variety of anti-bullying programs that usually focus on adult interventions. But according to a team of researchers at Princeton University, students themselves can be extremely effective anti-bullying messengers. Led by Elizabeth Levy Paluck, associate professor of psychology and public affairs, the team found that small sets of influential students can change the behavioral climates in schools that breed bullies.

The researchers outlined the social networks in 56 New Jersey middle schools to determine which students garnered a comparatively greater amount of attention from their peers. This set of students were then asked to attend anti-conflict programs, where they would assess specific conflict behaviors in their schools. Referred to as “seed students,” they were encouraged to become the public face of opposition to these behaviors and lead anti-bullying campaigns in the school.

“These kinds of programs, that give students the lead in deciding which issues are very important to them and how to discuss them with peers, are valuable because they’ve been shown to be more engaging to students, and effective for changing behaviors,” explains Paluck.

During the 2012 – 2013 school year, schools that received the intervention saw a combined reduction in the number of student conflict reports from 2,695 to 2,012—a 30 percent drop. The greatest decline was seen on those student sets with the highest number of social influencers.


‘How Can My School Be Flunking?’

Why is a school considered “low performing” when 84 percent of its seniors are accepted to college? That’s the question Kristina Rizga set out to answer with Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail it, And the Students and Teachers Who Made it Triumph (Nation Books, 2015). 

Rizga followed a group of students through their four years there. Her book makes a case for how standardized tests fall short as a measure of engagement and success. “How can my school be flunking,” asks a student named Maria, “when I’m succeeding?” 

Maria, who fled violence in El Salvador, struggled with standardized tests. But by the end of tenth grade, while still labeled as “far below proficient,” she excelled at higher-level thinking. 

Rizga writes powerfully about the creativity and passion of Mission High teachers. She also offers a brief overview of the education reformers of the 1890s, including the “Administrative Progressives” whose test-heavy focus on efficient schools can be seen today. 

Mission High exposes the fallacy of one-size-fits-all testing. But at its heart, it is about a group of educators and their commitment to student success.

An End to Conversion Therapy

This year, Illinois became the fourth state to legally ban conversion therapy for LGBT youth under 18. Also known as ex-gay therapy, reparative therapy, or reorientation therapy, conversion therapy claims to change a person’s sexual orientation, expression, or identity from Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to straight. California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have also outlawed the practice.

 “There has been a push at the state and federal levels to introduce legislation to ban this practice,” says Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Denver-based Movement Advancement Project, a policy research organization focused on LGBT issues.

So far, more than 20 states have introduced bills to ban conversion therapy, which, say several advocacy groups, is harmful to young people. “Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide” according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization.

To address the unproven claims of conversion therapy and the consequences it brings to young people, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network led a coalition of national psychological, counseling, education, and health organizations to develop Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel. The booklet is intended to help school officials sift through accurate and inaccurate information on sexual orientation development and conversion therapy, and respond to the controversies around this issue.

Students Still Not Feeling the Economic Recovery

Eight years after the Great Recession began, we still have a long way to go before education funding returns to pre-recession levels. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) lays out a distressing picture of how slow and painful the recovery has been for the nation’s students. Funding levels have not recovered, and some states are still making cuts. CBPP reports that at least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year than in the 2008 school year. In at least 15 states, those cuts exceeded 10 percent.

Impact of Four-Day School Weeks Unclear

As budgets continue to squeeze schools, more districts are turning to a four-day school week. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, approximately 120 districts in 21 states around the country have changed their schedule to a four-day week. Comprehensive research evaluating how these shorter weeks affect student performance is limited. In 2015, researchers at Montana State University and Georgia State University compared test score data in Colorado. They found that the percentage of students scoring either proficient or above proficient in reading improved at schools on a four-day schedule. In addition, these students scored higher than their peers in school districts that remained on the five-day schedule. However, the money saved by moving to a four-day week may not be that impressive. In 2011, Michael Griffith of the Education Commission of the States analyzed districts’ actual savings and found they tend to range from 0.4 to 2.5 percent per year. With cost savings so low, why make the change? Some districts find that the change boosts educator morale, leading to fewer turnovers. Turnover itself can be costly. And savings add up when you consider a district’s entire budget, Griffith said.

Doreen McGuire-Grigg Named 2016 NEA ESP of the Year

In 2006, the California Teachers Association (CTA) bylaws were changed to include education support professionals (ESPs) as full-fledged members. Doreen McGuire-Grigg quickly joined the committee that helped write new bylaws for every ESP affiliate in the state. 

In 2011, she became the first ESP member to be elected to a statewide CTA position. She represented 5,000 ESPs and 20,000 teachers from 16 counties.  

But McGuire-Grigg had long been a pioneer. In 1993, a superintendent told her and other classified staff that they didn’t have a voice at the table when it came to selecting their health insurance. McGuire-Grigg didn’t like hearing that, and she helped to establish the Lakeport Unified Classified Employees Association (LUCEA), which has a long history of success fighting for the rights of California NEA ESPs. 

An advocate for students, champion for ESPs, and special education paraeducator for 28 years, McGuire-Grigg was named NEA ESP of the Year in March during the annual NEA ESP Conference in Orlando, Fla. The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.

“We get up every day and the work is tough and we sometimes don’t get the respect we deserve, but we go to work with our students because it’s where we belong,” said McGuire-Grigg, who works at Terrace Middle School in Lakeport, Calif. “We love to take care of our students.”

More than 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems—more than 75 percent at the K–12 level. 

“She has walked picket lines, led rallies for ballot measures, and gone door-to-door in voting precincts,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who presented McGuire-Grigg with a trophy, roses, and a $10,000 check. 

Joined together by the conference theme, “Uniting, Inspiring, and Leading the Whole Student,” more than 1,000 ESPs and other educators from across the country attended the three-day conference at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Hotel. 

—By Sara Robertson and John Rosales

“We get up every day and the work is tough and we sometimes don’t get the respect we deserve, but we go to work with our students because it’s where we belong.”

—Doreen McGuire-Grigg

Q&A: Introverted Teachers and Burnout

It’s generally believed that the teaching profession is better suited to extroverts. While hugely rewarding, the work of an educator is exceptionally demanding, noisy, and chaotic and happens under a microscope. 

Self-described introvert Jessica Honard left the classroom after five years, concluding that the relentless daily pressure eclipsed what she loved about teaching high school English. 

Honard was already writing Introversion in the Classroom: How to Avoid Burnout and Encourage Success, a book about working with introverted students, when she decided to include a section offering tips and strategies to help introverted teachers navigate the school day. She spoke with NEA Today about her experiences and the challenges introverted teachers face.

When you entered the classroom, were you consciously aware that you were an introvert?

Jessica Honard: No. At the time—I was very young—I didn’t really know what introversion was, at least not until I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, the year after I left teaching. So I didn’t know why I got burned out so easily and overwhelmed so quickly. I did experience something similar in high school, and my solution then was to enroll in community college and distance myself from the social aspects of high school. But when I began to teach, I was expecting it to be overwhelming because you do hear a lot about teacher burnout. It’s the nature of the field. I do think that introverts and extroverts are both susceptible to burnout, but I think introverts are a little bit more so.

What kind of support system was in place at your school or were you more or less on your own? 

JH: The administration did what they could to support the teachers. But it was a very large school and they were hampered by their own demands. I did have a few teachers who I could confide in. They weren’t introverts necessarily, but they understood that when I needed to take five or 10 minutes in the teachers lounge to recuperate, they would watch my class. During passing period, we were required to stay in the halls and have a presence. Sometimes a colleague would cover my post if I needed the quiet of the classroom for a few minutes. Also, I taught an advanced placement class and students would be at my door before school started, which was usually my time to focus and center myself—just to get ready for the day. So those teachers I was able to confide in would hold them off for a few minutes.

In the book, you provide a list of proactive steps introverted educators can take to help alleviate daily pressures, including finding some sort of sanctuary or quiet space. You actually created a reading nook in your classroom where you could decompress.

JH: Well, I was lucky in that I kept the same classroom for all five years so I didn’t have to move my stuff. Many teachers never have a permanent classroom, so it’s up to each educator to try to figure out what works for them. I’ve spoken with teachers whose sanctuary was just their car. They would just go to the parking lot and sit in their car for five minutes. So it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I went all out because, as an English teacher, there was a reason to have a bunch of books on the shelves and places for my students to sit and read. But it served a dual purpose in helping me out as well.

What would you say to potential educators who are interested in teaching but suspect that their introverted nature will prevent them from being successful?

JH: Most teachers are extroverts because I think the field naturally draws on that kind of personality. It’s important to recognize and understand, however, that the idea that you can’t be a good teacher and an introvert is completely false. They should know that the fact they are introverted doesn’t mean they can’t do anything that any other teacher can do. Introverts can be amazing teachers. They can be really passionate about reaching their students. It’s just important to figure out from the beginning what boundaries to set for themselves and to enforce those boundaries to the best of their ability.

We need introverted teachers because they can be advocates and cheerleaders for the introverted students. It’s two sides of the same coin. They can reach those students, bring them on board and give them the space that they need. And the introverted teachers need to feel as though they can own their own nature and their own temperament, be OK with it, and not feel as though that makes them less of a good teacher.

Classroom Autonomy On the Decline

Teachers believe their classroom autonomy suffered during the No Child Left Behind era. According to federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), educators reported less classroom autonomy in school year 2011 – 2012 compared to 2003 – 2004.

Source: NCES school and staffing survey

Get more from

We're here to help you succeed in your career, advocate for public school students, and stay up to date on the latest education news. Sign up to stay informed.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.