The Change Agent

Joe Mckown
Education Resource Strategies; 20 years of experience as a consultant to both the private and public sectors

The Objective

To inform and create a dialogue for educators to help identify and overcome common education issues.

Show Notes

Guest Joe McKown discusses some of the challenges faced in education - including poverty, absenteeism, student behavior, and school climate - and provides data and insight empowering educators to meet these challenges.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 19
Title: Rising to the Challenge
Subtitle: An examination of adversity, analysis, and advancement in education

VoiceOver (00:02):

ChangeAgents in K-12 is presented by Schoolmint and features, top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences, as well as stories of hope, opportunity and student success.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:16):

Welcome everyone to the podcast, ChangeAgents in K-12. It's my pleasure and honor today to welcome Joe McKown. Joe has over 25 years experience working directly in K-12 education. He began his career as a teacher and he rapidly moved into school administration roles. And after nine years, he actually went back to school and got his MBA at the tuck school of business at Dartmouth and worked as a consulting business in the private sector. Uh, he also worked for the consulting firm Parthenon group, where he was the firm's education practice leadership team leader, and led strategic projects for organizations, including urban school districts, state departments, governor offices, charter school organizations, and foundations. He also spent time at the national center on time and learning where he led the organization school design consulting group. He was also, uh, most recently he worked with the education resource strategy group, which is a nonprofit consulting organization that works with large urban districts to help them optimize their use of resources and accelerate school improvement. He established the organization's West coast office and consulting press practice in San Francisco. And we're going to actually tap into some of that work today, Joe McKown welcome to the podcast.

Joe McKown (01:42):

Well, it's great to be with you, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:45):

Awesome. Well, we have a lot to cover here today and I know based on your, I mean the broad range of things you've done in your career, working across these multiple agencies and all the way in, into the classroom, we want to dig into the state of public education as you see it. And one of the things that you and I talked about prior to the podcast was, you know, the last century we've spent a lot of resources and investment in education. And what's your analysis of how we're doing in terms of improving outcomes for students?

Joe McKown (02:21):

Well, you know, it's interesting, uh, because there are many that would say that we really aren't doing that well, that despite increasing investment and by the way, overall not withstanding periods of recession like 2008, 2009, et cetera, and likely, uh, some of the financial challenges that COVID will present in the next months and potentially even longer than that investment really has been growing in education, quite steadily. Uh, and yet, um, if you look at NAPE scores, not withstanding some modest improvements, if you look at the achievement gap, uh, between, uh, low socioeconomic status students and their families and, and, uh, families of students of more means, um, if you look at the achievement gaps between whites and, uh, and non whites, they're persistent, and there are two thoughts on that. One is the population of students. We know that over 20% of our students live in situations of poverty is more challenging today than it ever has been before. Uh, and we also know that there aren't the same kind of outlets for students who ultimately, maybe don't do as well at school or are less interested in school. And so, um, uh, it isn't as if students can leave in the eighth grade and go into manufacturing maybe, or, you know, work in farming in the way that they may have historically been able to do. Uh, and so the remit for educators is more challenging for those reasons. And so these are some of the factors that I would argue make the system more challenging today than it was before. And there are also many more resources being allocated to, for example, students with disabilities, Ida funding has grown dramatically. So if you look at the, the number of, uh, general education teachers per student, that hasn't changed, particularly what has grown dramatically are the number of, um, special education students. And certainly these students require those services. Uh, but just looking at the numbers, hides a lot of important, uh, contextual factors. One thing I will say, Chris too, is that the system isn't necessarily evolving the way that it needs to, to meet these new challenges.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:45):

Yeah, Joe, um, boy, you've given us a lot to, to think about there. 20% of our students are in poverty. And I think we, we all have a sense that students that come from situations of poverty have a lot of headwinds that, that really impact their learning in the classroom. Could, could you tell us a little bit about that?

Joe McKown (05:07):

Sure. Well, you know, one of the frameworks that I think through is Maslow's hierarchy, uh, and, and kids who are living in situations of poverty. And by the way, many of these students live in situations where they are also surrounded by poverty. And so, uh, it isn't as if they are one in, um, you know, one in five students in a school, often the schools that they attend are 70% poverty, 80% poverty, 90% poverty. And so they're surrounded. And what do we know, accompanies poverty insecurity, parents that are under stress parents who are working more than one job, if they're lucky enough to have, especially today, right? If they're lucky enough to be employed, we know, uh, uh, what the COVID situation has done to employment, but not that right. We know that many times these students are coming from situations of trauma, uh, whether it is emotional or physical abuse. We know that many times these students also don't have the kinds of education opportunities outside of the public education system that their peers of means have access to whether that's private tutoring, whether it is private music, lessons, dance lessons, uh, vacations with families, so that they're seeing the broader world, all of those things align to interfere with a student's readiness to learn. But I would say probably, uh, it is the insecurity food insecurity, housing insecurity that are the most damaging, uh, for these students, or that interfere the most with students, you know, capacity and ability to focus and who can blame them. Really.

Dr. Chris Balow (06:54):

Yeah, absolutely. And so for me, when you talk about all of these negative factors that are, that are really impacting their ability to focus, as you say, I would assume also that, that these kids are also missing a lot of those protective factors that, that students, uh, have in, in other environments where, you know, their parents are highly engaged, they're educated, um, there's support systems around them. Um, making sure they're home at night and in bed, you know, the list goes on. So I think about protective factors as well.

Joe McKown (07:32):

That's such a great point. Absolutely. Right. And if you think about it, when parents are so concerned about where the next dollar is going to come from, whether they'll be able to meet, um, uh, the financial, uh, responsibilities, they have, I just read today that a tremendous percentage of Americans are two or fewer paychecks from bankruptcy to put it simply, uh, that's really concerning. And they can't focus in the same way on those protective factors that you're talking about when those are the levels of worries that are preoccupying.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:09):

Yes and, you know, the, you know, the research too on brain development and so forth. And then you think about, you know, parents that are under this tremendous stress and they're, they're transmitting this emotional distress to their child and, and vice versa. And it's actually impacting brain development of the child, which is fascinating.

Joe McKown (08:32):

There is some fascinating research out of MIT in the last couple of years, by the way, Chris, that, uh, has clearly demonstrated that all the way down to the neurological neurological level. Uh, yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:47):

And, you know, we hear in the press and the media that our schools just aren't cutting it and just aren't cutting it. Um, and what I'm hearing is that today's kids have a much, much more complex world in which to navigate than say students, uh, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Joe McKown (09:07):

Right. And you've captured it in a nutshell. And when you think about that, the fact that our NAPE scores are improving very modestly in some areas, I think it's actually a tremendous credit to educators who, by the way, we also know if you look at the purchasing power of the dollar of teachers, it is much lower now, their salary relative to expenses and in some areas much worse than others is much less powerful. In other words, their increases in compensation have not kept up with the increases in cost of living to the point at which I I'm familiar with some work going on in Tulsa. Now at my former organization, education resource strategies, several of the teachers they encountered in Tulsa have had to take second jobs driving for Uber or Lyft, for example, talk about a livable wage. If there was, we think of teachers, or we should think of teachers as professional when they don't even have a living wage in a community, that's not necessarily that expensive to live in like Tulsa that's troubling.

Dr. Chris Balow (10:17):

Yes. Um, you know, and I've read about teachers in very expensive cities like San Francisco where they, they can't even afford to live in the city. And so they're faced with long commute to get to the workplace, and then they have to work hard all day long to meet the needs of these kids. I, I would assume too, that this is part of the issue that we're hearing across the country in terms of a teacher shortage.

Joe McKown (10:43):

Yeah, it is, uh, California has a tremendous teacher shortage. Um, the learning policy Institute in the last couple of years, uh, which is a California based entity has, uh, has chronicled that. And I think that, um, uh, as you said, that situation is, uh, is one that manifests itself across the country. And, uh, in California, anyway, teachers are, are moving from the coast where it's tremendously expensive, inland, where the cost of living is slightly more modest. And so it creates these pockets right. Of particular need. Uh, and there is overall a teacher shortage. We know nationally, fewer, fewer young people are going into teaching. She teaching is less sticky as a profession for them. So they're leaving the profession. And, um, I think there, there are a combination of factors and I'll name three of them. One is it's a tremendously challenging job, more challenging today than ever. Teachers are not compensated as well as they need to be nationally. And teachers aren't respected in the way they are in so many other countries where there truly is deep respect for the profession and for the individuals that decide to, uh, uh, to fill that role. And I'm not only talking about, you know, we often look at Asian countries, but, uh, I was fortunate enough to live in both brands and in Belgium for a period of time. And there's just a different perspective on teachers. And we know the stories about, or many of us know the stories about Denmark and how successful they are. There really is a different attitude in the United States, I think. And unfortunately, compared to many other countries,

Dr. Chris Balow (12:21):

Well, Joe, given all of these challenges that our educators are facing, I'm going to throw like a big question at you. What do you think we need to do to address some of these and overcome some of these challenges?

Joe McKown (12:36):

You know, um, a couple of thoughts, clearly not withstanding some of the, you know, the improvements. We don't know what the counterfactual would be like, right. If education funding hadn't grown, where would performance be? Too few people really bring that up as the, as a reality, right? It is very likely, right. I think it's safe to assume that performance would have cratered. Um, and so not withstanding the modest improvements over the course of years, what would really change right? The trajectory, because that's what we all want to do. And it's clear that doing what we have been doing for years will not radically change the trajectory. So many people say this, I'm going to use the same language, but really rethinking schools, but also the education, uh, for kids, uh, from ages, you know, three through 18 and 19. And what might that look like? Well, for one thing, there are tools and information that students and teachers have access to today that they never, they just haven't had access to in the past tools and information that can really make the educational experience relevant in a way that, uh, you know, maybe it was harder to make relevant in the past linking educational concepts, to real world challenges and painting a picture for students through the education system of how, what they're learning could actually be useful in their day to day life and how they could use that. Learning to aspire to things that they may not even know about. Now, if I can be a little bit anecdotal here, Chris, I'm going to use myself even as an example. And by the way, I recognize that my background is not nearly as challenged as so many kids today, but I came from a family of nine kids and a small town in upstate New York. And I can remember asking someone or saying to someone I don't even really know how to apply for. And I was lucky enough ultimately to end up going to college. And, and, but even while I was at college, I had no idea of what the kind, what kind of opportunities might be available to me, you know, from paleontology to anthropology, to economics, to accounting, to business. These are worlds that unless you come from a family and my mom was a second grade teacher, my father was a village clerk. Unless you come from a family that really is educated in a deep way. These are worlds that they don't only seem foreign to you. You don't even know they exist. And so anything that, um, we can do in the world of education to make what students are learning, uh, to show the relevance to real opportunity, I think would be very, it's just crucial and thinking about what the demands are on professionals today, it's about being able to collaborate with others and, and what better way to collaborate, not necessarily even only within the school, but wow. Beyond school boundaries and beyond district boundaries, we can touch people. We've seen this through zoom now, um, radically in COVID, but we can interact. Kids can interact with other kids around the country and around the world, um, in ways that are exciting and interesting. And this is where, you know, technology is, I think finally evolving to the point at which technology isn't necessarily being pushed in with the way I think too often, it was early on, uh, here's a great new sort of gadget, uh, use it teachers. I think technology's evolving. Ed tech is evolving in such exciting ways where they're actually really meeting needs that kids have, um, and families, right. And I'll tie this into the attendance work that, uh, I'm going to talk about later, but, uh, increasing access to healthcare for families and kids through the education system is a huge need and a huge opportunity. And then finally, let's face it more equitable investment in schools, kids in schools with 80% poverty don't have the same needs as kids in schools with 10% poverty. And so ensuring that we're, you know, investing, uh, more equitably in schools is crucial.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:16):

Yeah. Great, great thoughts, Joe. And what really struck me was this, this notion of making education relevant. And for me, what I think about is that the learning should be linked to students' passions to really engage them deeply.

Joe McKown (17:34):

Totally agree, Chris.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:37):

Good. And, and, you know, and how we make that happen. I think about, you know, maybe tapping into mentors and, and, and you said it so well that with technology teachers don't have to be the Sage on the stage and the know, and all they can just be a facilitator and that all the content and material can be outside of the classroom and in ways that tap into to the student's desires.

Joe McKown (18:03):

Totally agree. And, you know, it's interesting when that information wasn't so readily available teachers in really dipped in a way have the responsibility to be the Sage on the stage because they were the owners of the information, they in their textbooks, right. And students couldn't reach beyond the classroom in ready ways. The library, the school library was the place to go to just, and what did that do? Well, it expanded the boundaries of the classroom to get more books. Now, the whole world is out there. It's, it's brilliant. And by the way, I think the responsibility is to teach more refined, critical thinking skills because we know that not all information is equal.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:47):

Yeah, absolutely. And I, you know, I work in the ed tech industry and that's one of the key things we look at for folks that we want to hire, uh, what are their critical thinking skills? How can they evaluate and make, and also collaboration, the ability to collaborate is really important.

Joe McKown (19:05):

Yeah, absolutely. Uh, and, and again, um, I think collaborate, uh, in immediately with those around you in the workplace and understand how to reach out and collaborate beyond to learn more and to tap into that's. Another thing that we have access to now are great minds that are around us, not only immediately in our own sort of a nucleus, but also out in the world, uh, and people want to share. Yeah, absolutely. It's an exciting time in a way I have to say, not withstanding the tremendous challenges in front of us.

Dr. Chris Balow (19:45):

Absolutely. So let's change gears a little bit. And one of the things I've been thinking about in terms of the, these challenges and the impacts on student outcomes and the lack of growth we've seen over the last couple of decades is this notion of a chronic absenteeism. And that's a very complex topic. And, you know, I, I read you did a major study with, uh, Los Angeles unified school district, uh, looking at chronic absenteeism. And I, I was just astounded at the data you uncovered. And I have to believe that that this is a, a major factor in our students, uh, not performing where we'd like to see them.

Joe McKown (20:29):

Yeah, it really is your, we know the common refrain. If you're not, if you're not at school, you can't learn, uh, well, not withstanding the fact that now we're, we're learning virtually. Now, our kids are learning virtually, virtually it's true. And, uh, we did uncover some very interesting, uh, a consequences of, of absenteeism, uh, through research that we did, uh, and, uh, and really research that others did, but, uh, captured some of that, uh, and identified some patterns, um, of chronic absenteeism across LA USD and some places where there are, uh, responses that have shown promise. Uh, and so it was, it was both fascinating work. And also we, we think, um, valuable work to do on behalf of LA USD.

Dr. Chris Balow (21:19):

What's the nature of the attendance challenge in LA USD?

Joe McKown (21:24):

Well, um, the first thing, uh, is, um, helping really paint the picture of what the consequences are of, of chronic absenteeism, you know, uh, Chris and, and some of the things that we, we, uh, uncovered in the research, uh, where that, that chronically absent children in preschool kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade than others. And, you know, we, we know that the foundation of learning is, is literacy. Um, and it has a trickle-down effect, the ripple effect of lack of literacy by the third grade, uh, predicts drop out from high school students who are not literate by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Um, and in fact, irregular attendance is a better predictor of whether students will drop out before graduation, then some test scores. So, uh, chronic absenteeism is tremendously damaging. Uh, and so we, we, we first painted a picture of that, but then in, in LA, when we did this work, and this is work that I did with, uh, education resource strategies, the patterns around, uh, absenteeism were, were sobering. Um, when we, when we looked at attendance rates, 14% of their students were chronically absent, meaning they missed 15 or more days of school. You think about 180 day school year that's, uh, you know, eight, eight ish percent. Um, and, and then there were another 18% who missed between eight and 14 days. So when you add those two up, almost a third of the students in LA USD were missing a significant amount of school. And so, uh, the costs of that were, are just tremendous. And those costs are not only academic, they are also financial. Uh, and so, you know, these, these consequences of chronic absenteeism are really not insignificant.

Dr. Chris Balow (23:39):

Yeah. And I was looking at some of the results too, and you, you found it that you directly link through aggression analysis that poor attendance, um, accounts for a significant amount of the variants in, in the achievement gaps between students of poverty and those who are not.

Joe McKown (23:59):

Yeah. If I can get into the numbers a little bit, here, we, uh, around the regression analysis, we tried to predict, um, what some of the school and programmatic and even geographic factors were that would correlate with absent chronic absenteeism. Uh, there, there were some, some things that I think are, are really critical here in both elementary and elementary and secondary schools being an English learner or a newcomer to the school, uh, was significantly predictive of, uh, chronic absenteeism being part of a gifted and talented. And we talk about ensuring that students have access to high quality curriculum and instruction, well being, uh, being, having access or being part of a gifted and talented program was strongly negatively correlated with chronic absenteeism. Meaning students were strongly less likely to be chronic ed chronically absent race and ethnicity in elementary schools was positively correlated, um, as was teacher turnover. And we know that teacher turnover is much higher in higher needs schools than it is in lower need schools and modestly correlated, uh, negatively to chronic absenteeism was principal duration. How many years the principal had been in the school, uh, the more years, the less likely chronic absenteeism, uh, was in that school. Um, and so these are important things. And, and we also looked at, uh, some disparities around, uh, race and ethnicity. And, uh, and also around the years, uh, when is chronic absenteeism most likely to affect, uh, students and essentially the greatest chronic absenteeism occurs in elementary school and that highest in kindergarten, and then going down all the way through sixth grade, the lowest chronic absenteeism occurs in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and then ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade and climbs again. And just one more fact that so crucial here, chronic absenteeism among English learners climbs rapidly in high school. And so if you have not, um, effectively intervened around, uh, language and literacy with English learners, it gets much more difficult to keep those students in school in high school.

Dr. Chris Balow (26:28):

Interesting. Uh, you mentioned kindergarten students were the highest, uh, any theories on that?

Joe McKown (26:34):

A couple of things first, um, our hypothesis is that by and large parents of kindergarten, students are more likely to keep them home, uh, when their student is, uh, is ill, uh, or appears to be ill, secondly, possibly being more willing to take students out of school for other reasons, uh, feeling as though it's less important for students to be in school then, uh, than it is as students get older and older. And that our hypothesis around seventh and eighth, particularly ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade is more agency on the part of the students, uh, to fight their parents, you know, about being in school.

Dr. Chris Balow (27:16):

Sure. And it's interesting about kindergarteners, and you mentioned that by third grade of kids, aren't on grade level reading that, um, that's a predictive factor of chronic absenteeism. So it's sort of, it's a chicken or egg here situation where the chronic absenteeism leads to low achievement, which leads to more chronic absenteeism.

Joe McKown (27:39):

Yeah. It really is a vicious cycle. Um, and it has to be disrupted and there are some things that, uh, some districts around the country are doing, uh, to do that. But, but what, you know, what we did also identify is that among all students, um, when we look at, uh, Hispanic, Latino, African-American white, Asian, Filipino, uh, students that students in situations of poverty miss more days than students who are not living in situations of poverty. And that gets all the way back to, and this was most pronounced for African-American students. Uh, on average African-American students in LA USD, living in situations of poverty missed 10.3 days of school. And, and those not living in those situations missed 6.9 days of school overall in LA the difference with 7.6 to 6.4 days, but it gets all the way back to school climate. We know that positive school climate is, is more challenging to develop in, um, schools where there are high percentages of students in situations of poverty, where they're bringing those chronic traumas to school, um, and where there tends to be more teacher turnover, shorter duration of principals, uh, in the school and all of those things combined to create a, just a more challenging attendance situation for students.

Dr. Chris Balow (29:09):

Yeah, it's interesting. You know, you mentioned that the school climate issue, and, you know, I think there's a lot of Virginia and research that's been around for a while around school climate is the notion of the behavior of students in the classroom and the relationship between teachers providing a real positive behavioral support system in the classroom. And a lot of students support having consistency and predictability in the classroom really helps to create that positive climate where kids want to be there. And when I think about teacher turnover, principal, uh, longevity, those are some of the factors that, that I think can really help create those, those factors in the classroom. Any thoughts on that?

Joe McKown (29:56):

Yeah. Let's paint a little bit of a picture. You're a young person, and you're only meals of the day really may come through the school meals that you receive or you're renting. You're only really nutritious meals of the day. You are leaving a situation of, uh, you know, uncertainty, um, where your parents are under stress. As we were discussing before, and school can either be a Haven, or it can be another source of insecurity. And if year to year, or even within a given year, and, and in some schools, what we've seen is within a given year, there's not insignificant teacher turnover, but even year to year, as you go to a school, this is going to sound a bit like a non-sequitur. But one of the things that research shows is that being known for a student to feel as though they're known by an adult in the school and cared for, and I'm using that word purposely by an adult in the school is tremendously important to kids. Well, when you go from year to year to the same school, and you see a different principal, you see different teachers because 25% of the teachers are new and often they're brand new teachers. You're not getting even in your school, that sense of continuity or security that is so desperately needed by kids. Uh, and, and where it's so much more important that the school will be able to provide that for kids that are coming from situations where their home life has, is less secure, where they may be living out of a shelter out of a car, the climate of the school is absolutely crucial. And by the way, we think of student climate school climate, it's the adult climate as well in the school. That's so important.

Dr. Chris Balow (31:45):

Yeah, absolutely. Joe, I think about really this lack of connectedness that, that kids must feel, uh, in the school where they haven't connected with staff because of turnover or, or staff really don't know how to establish those relationships. Um, they're perhaps not connected with peers or maybe even being bullied or mistreated, all of that needs to be heard.

Joe McKown (32:11):

Okay. It really does. And, and this may be really going far a field, but we were talking about what will it take to really change things. And so often we see situations, uh, and I think some of those situations are catalyzed by some of the challenges that teachers are confronting today and have been confronting over the last several years, at least, but lack of fair compensation, increasingly challenging situations in the classroom. So on and so forth that we talked about earlier. But so often what we see is that two of the key parties who could really work together to change, to transform what's going on in schools, work at opposition are at loggerheads don't trust each other. And those two key parties, our district and school administration and local teacher unions, um, there's animosity where there really needs to be agreement and collaboration. And, and that's tragic, uh, in a way the, I think the situation that folks are operating under districts are underfunded. Teachers are receiving too little compensation. The working conditions are challenging, and it has created a situation where those two parties are working in opposition when they absolutely to meet today's challenges must be working collaboratively to really rethink together, um, and successful school redesign can happen. It only happens when teachers and school administrators are engaged fully in the redesign process and are working closely with district administrators who are acting to enable that kind of redesign and are not so focused on are so focused on compliance, uh, that they undermine the, you know, the ability or the flexibility needed for teachers and school administrators to work together, to really think differently about how they're going to educate kids.

Dr. Chris Balow (34:22):

Wow. That's a great, uh, great insight, Joe. Um, you know, kind of going back to the classroom and the climate piece. I want you to comment, I read a study that was published a few years ago, that in classrooms where there's a lot of student misbehavior and there's a lot of, uh, chaos and misbehavior in the classroom, that that's a really big factor in contributing to student absenteeism. Uh, primarily kids who may be, um, are anxious and depressed. Any thoughts on that?

Joe McKown (35:00):

It's, uh, it's true. And, um, what I, what I contemplate is what does it take to change classroom behavior? And often students are manifesting in the classroom. And maybe because it feels a little bit safer behaviors that are, that are symptomatic of the trauma that they're living in their lives. And so that manifests itself in, as you mentioned, misbehavior, that includes, uh, disruptive, uh, action in the classroom, bullying other students and so on and so forth. And so there are multiple victims, right? There are the victims of the bullying. They're the victims of the students who, uh, uh, are, whose learning is being disrupted. The students that are perpetrating, these, you know, that are acting this way are, are victimized themselves. They're not learning the way that they need to. And by the way, often these behaviors can manifest lack of mastery, right? Rather than admitting or demonstrating lack of mastery and understanding students distract by misbehaving. And so it gets back to this vicious cycle that you were talking about of absenteeism. We can expand that to disruptive behavior that contributes to lack of mastery that contributes to absenteeism and behavior. And so creating effective interventions and investing in effective interventions for students is absolutely crucial by the way, those effective interventions, not only help these students, uh, recover, but they also interrupt the cycle of lack of mastery. Why is there lack of mastery? Why is there disruptive behavior? Perhaps the student has a learning difference or disability. They enter the world of students with disabilities, receive IEP, and then are categorized as students with disabilities. And we also have seen research that predicts that students with, uh, you know, that are categorized as students with disabilities do not achieve and do not graduate and do not have life outcomes that are comparable to students that graduate, um, their level of their rates of incarceration are higher. Their overall earning potential is much lower and so on and so forth. It's, it's truly a vicious cycle.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:43):

Yeah. So well said, Joe, we're almost out of time. And, and just to kind of summarize, I think some of the really important points you've shared with us is that we haven't seen the improvement. We would hope for given the great investments in education. Uh, poverty is one of the leading factors, um, related to absenteeism. We've talked about the impact of a positive school climate on student outcomes. We've also talked about some of the things that that school should consider, uh, to make improvements around making education relevant around student passions, and really tapping into the technology and the, the vast, um, online world of information. Am I missing anything?

Joe McKown (38:31):

No, but if you, if you would indulge me for just a moment, there are some bright spots about improving attendance. Do you mind if I share a couple? Absolutely. Um, we identified three categories, if you will, uh, around, uh, attendance improvement. One of them was preventing absenteeism and other was early intervention catching kids who were at risk and responding before they turn into chronic absentee students and then targeted interventions to get students back prevention was about disseminating information and educating families about the impacts of chronic absenteeism, helping them understand where their students are. Uh, and then what the consequences of those are, and not talking here about the consequences of being truant more, the consequences educationally of chronic absenteeism, and then early interventions include providing support for school embedded efforts, uh, providing incentives for attendance competitions among class grade levels for high attendance using attendance data, uh, to help individual schools understand who's at risk. One thing that is, and you'll appreciate this, given your expertise in that tech, one thing that's that schools and districts do not have too little of is data. What they don't necessarily do enough of is triaged that data and use the most important data. Sometimes they can get overwhelmed, well, helping them parse through that data. So they really understand who's at risk. Uh, uh, it was very helpful, more accountability, embedding accountability for attendance into principal, job descriptions, for example, piloting improvement, attendance efforts, so that the investment in student attendance and efforts is measured and folks understand what those improvements improvement, attendance investments are either accomplishing or not. And then finally targeted interventions. And I'm going to give you an example of, uh, of a few, uh, that show have shown promise around the country and have shown promise, uh, or were showing promise in LA USD. One of them was to, uh, identify students at risk for chronic absenteeism and send them, uh, their families, a postcard that didn't warn necessarily those families of chronic absenteeism, by the way, that's something that is automatically generated that's required, uh, in California, but it uses language that's very punitive. This language was much more informative and even positive. It was informing the family. Do you know that your student has now missed X days of school compared to other students in your student's grade? Your student has missed this many more days, and many families just don't know that also by the way, using texts because so often families now have much better access or a much more likely given the, the amounts of mail folks can get each day, that's like garbage mail are much more likely to look at a text and, and that, uh, showed great promise. Having phone banks that were either district provided or school provided to call families of students that were at risk of chronic absenteeism, or that were chronically absent, broke down the barriers. Um, and so often, especially for English learners, there's a real barrier between the school and the family. You know, it's a bit of a white castle thing or a white tower thing. I should say, having personal outreach made such a difference. Um, and then community efforts. So reaching out to community-based organizations that are, that work with students, the Y MCA tutoring programs, et cetera, to actually campaign for attendance, all of these things have, have shown real promise. And so, uh, we learned these things by looking at places like Baltimore, Cleveland, uh, long beach, um, and even in lax itself, uh, New York city, but there are places that are breaking the pattern by first understanding what the pattern is, identifying interventions, executing them, measuring against them, and then troubleshooting, uh, to improve that's fan. Thanks for letting me say that

Dr. Chris Balow (43:09):

That's fantastic information. And I know our listeners will really glean a lot from that. And personally, I had to think back when I was a young school psychologist, I had this boy in middle school who was chronically absent, and I got my car and went to his house. And I remember my mother and I were sitting in his bedroom. You wouldn't get out of bed. And we had, we did that a number of days having conversations and, and it improved over time. So I brought back a memory, Joe, I appreciate it.

Joe McKown (43:39):

That's great. You know, I think what we've we too often miss is that there are underlying causes for chronic absenteeism. It's not just because of kids too lazy to go to school. Something's happening in that kid's life. That's keeping that kid from school and finding out what that is and responding to. It is so powerful.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:03):

Absolutely. Well, Joe, our time's up, but before we go, we have to do our game, this or that. So I'm very simple. I say two things, tell us which one you prefer, and you can provide a rationale if you wish. Okay. We always start with an easy dog or cat?

Joe McKown (44:21):

Dog. Admittedly, I love dogs, but I will say I've also grown to have great affection for cats. My wife is a cat person. And so since we've married, we've only owned cats and it's been 18 years. So I've turned the corner a little bit, but I have to say still have a soft spot for dogs deep down.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:39):

All right. Phone call or text?

Joe McKown (44:42):

Phone call. Uh, still like talking with people. Text is very handy, but yeah, there's something about hearing that voice.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:51):

Uh, Facebook or Twitter?

Joe McKown (44:53):

Twitter. Uh, no comment.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:56):

Okay. Uh, iOS or Android?

Joe McKown (45:00):

Interesting. You know, I have been iOS for the last several years. I was Android before that and because of work, went to iOS, uh, I'm going to go iOS.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:13):

All right. Uh, jogging or hiking?

Joe McKown (45:16):

Wow. That's a tough one. Cause I run, I'm going to have to say jogging slash running.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:22):

Okay. Sounds good. Hamburger or taco?

Joe McKown (45:27):

Taco. Taco. No question.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:30):

All right. Car or truck?

Joe McKown (45:33):

I loved my old Chevy S 10 pickup truck. It got decent mileage and it was so useful. I don't, I don't like those massive trucks that get two miles a gallon, but a boy, a little truck that you can throw things in the back. That's really. That's the sweet spot.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:49):

All right. Um, do you like the ocean or the mountains more?

Joe McKown (45:54):

Oh boy, these are tough. They are love them both. But I was just talking about this with my wife the other day we were up in, uh, hiking in Yosemite and I acknowledged that for me. It's the mountains.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:12):

Alright. Good. Soup or sandwich?

Joe McKown (46:15):

Boy. Oh boy. These are tough. I think soup. A good soup. It can be cold. It can be hot. A good soup. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:25):

A horror movie or a comedy movie?

Joe McKown (46:29):

No question about it. A comedy, uh, never been a fan of horror movies.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:35):

Okay. All right. And our last question, toilet paper over or under?

Joe McKown (46:41):

Ooh, another one that I have been, uh, reformatted, uh, I was always an under logic being pull against gravity and more likely to rip my wife is an over and I have, uh, I have decided not to fight the battle, so, uh, I have become an over.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:00):

Okay. So the toilet paper wars have been, uh, solved at your, your house.

Joe McKown (47:05):

They have been decided.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:06):

Very good.

Joe McKown (47:08):

Yes indeed.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:09):

Awesome. All right, Joe McKown, I want to thank you for all of your great insights and information you've shared on ChangeAgents in K-12. Thank you again.

Joe McKown (47:20):

Delightful to spend time with you, Chris. Thanks so much.

VoiceOver (47:24):

You've been listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show, and follow us on social media. Have a story to share? We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. You may be featured in a future episode. Send audio files to We look forward to hearing your story. See you next time.

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Season 1

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