How to have difficult conversations and promote change
October 20, 2020
The Change Agent
Dr. Kate Anderson Foley
Education Policy and Practice Group
To examine how to interrupt the current system and focus on a system of support that promotes equity and achievement for all students.
Guest Dr. Kate Anderson Foley shares her thoughts on educational social justice, including anecdotes from her personal and professional journey. Hear her thoughts on policy reform and what motivated her to write a children's book on helping young minds make sense of discrimination and prejudice.
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.
Welcome to the podcast, everyone I'm delighted today to have Dr. Kate Anderson Foley with us today. And we're going to talk about some really interesting subjects, but first, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Anderson Foley. She's a transformational leader with significant experience leading public school districts and States toward equitable and integrated services for all learners. Her work has been grounded in social justice and for breaking down the barriers for children who historically have been marginalized. Kate's served in many roles in her career, and she is currently the founder and CEO of the education policy and practice group. And she'll, she'll tell us more about that. Not only that she was formerly assistant superintendent for the Illinois state board of education. She was a deputy chief officer for the department of diverse learners for Chicago public associate superintendent in Naperville, Illinois, director of student services. And in Lakewood city, Ohio special ed administrator in Cuyahoga County Cleveland, uh, let's see intervention specialist in Olmstead falls, Ohio, and she's also currently an adjunct faculty at Cleveland state university. And she'll tell us about that. And she has also served teaching courses at national Louis university in Chicago and Kent state university. Wow Kate that's an amazing background and set of experiences and welcome to the podcast.
Thank you for that question. Um, I, I tell you, you know, way back, uh, my lived experiences both personally and professionally, uh, I was, you know, there's people who get into education for a couple of different reasons. One is they had that fabulous teacher and they wanted to keep going on. I had a slightly different experience. Um, my experiences were, my personal home was chaotic. My mom did the absolute best. Um, but we just had a different, uh, my father was kind of here and there. And because of that, I didn't have the skills to say, this is what's going on with my home. And at school, they saw me as withdrawn and quiet and less capable. And as I got my teeth and I found my voice, I started to speak up. But that lived experience of being marginalized. Um, and I can tell you when I was a child too, for years, I would make patterns on standardized tests instead of answering the question. And they put me in, um, what was before the term special education. I was put out someplace and I, and I said to myself, well, how did I get up here? How did I end up here? What happened? And I had to work myself back into the classroom, but those experiences led me in the path of social justice. And what I mean by that is, um, how are we looking at all students, all children, all people, and then, uh, with special education, because I saw through special education, it was, and it's definitely gotten better, but it was a dumping ground. And if he didn't know what to do with somebody, well, then you send them down the hall, put them over there. And the teacher, you know, didn't have to ever deal with them again. And I, that was wrong. And again, throughout my collective experiences, professionally and personally, I saw, you know, the trifecta of children, of color being mislabeled, behaviors were being misread. And then they were being disciplined in a disproportionate manner and they were being written off. And I had many, many people who would say about a kindergartener, well, they're going to end up in prison or they're going to end up in this way. And I said, absolutely not, not. We got to interrupt those things. And so that kind of led me to my practice and the public sector. I was always around, you know, my, my expertise in special education, but my, my perspective has always been about every ed. And when you get the conditions right, for every ed, then special education writes itself and who gets served are the most in need. But with the idea that it is not a life sentence and that we as educators should be looking, delivering a specially designed instruction with absolute precision to narrow the gap. And in many cases eliminate the gap. That's good instruction.
Yeah, absolutely. I know you mentioned the notion of special ed being a dumping ground. And as a former special educator, myself of 33 years, I certainly saw that. And I didn't feel like teachers were trying to be mean to kids or do wrong by kids. I felt like they just didn't know what to do. And there just wasn't the available support. So it was like, please help me. And sometimes the special ed teachers didn't have all the support and resources they need.
Right? Yeah, absolutely. I know my, uh, interview after I graduated from college, the principal actually led me to the mop room and said, so this is where you'll set up your classroom. Oh no. Yeah. And all the buckets and mops were in there and I'm, I'm thinking. And so you, so if that's what you think about special education, then this is not going to be a good match.
Oh my goodness. That brings back a memory years ago. I won't mention the state, but I was a school psychologist and I was asked to test this little boy. And he was first grade, a little boy of color. And the testing room was a bat, the boys bathroom, and they carried off and I'm in here testing this little boy in the bathroom and I thought this is wrong.
Along those lines. And you mentioned mislabeled and I felt concerned because I knew people like, you know, in my history too, that were placed in special ed and it, it was like a, a stain for them, the rest of the word, but, but they felt, um, less of a person, whatever. And so I just felt that we have to be really careful about kids placing these labels on them. And I know they're a necessary evil, but.
Yeah, no, I, I couldn't agree more. Um, and I think those experiences of, um, or their collective responsibility that we have, if we, if a student is being considered for special education, we need to be taking this deadly seriously and the facts need to be there. It can't be on, you know, the, I suppose, or, you know, these types of emotional decisions. It needs to be steeped in the facts and the data and the opportunity to, um, correct the wrong, meaning the system of support. If you have a robust system of support, then you're be able to tell whether the child really is, uh, has a disability. And again, this ability is a natural part of life. There's no doubt about it. Um, but throughout my tenure in public life, um, I have seen so many students who are misidentified and placed in special education. And what that does then is actually change the trajectory of a child's life for them, the negative.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And the more, you know, there's a, there's a lot of similarities between urban and rural education and both those collective experiences I saw with my own eyes that teachers have low expectations for certain groups of students. And so my work was always to challenge the adult to say, you know, that's unacceptable. What do you need in order to facilitate high expectations and high, robust quality learning, I'll give you everything in need, but at the end of the day, it's your responsibility to do that. And so when I was in, um, most recently in Chicago at the state board and I worked on the state's ESSA state plan, and with that embedded was the system of support and also at the higher ed level, the come out. So teachers, you spoke about that earlier, general education teachers, special education teachers, any kind of teacher, any principal needs to come out with the skill, the requisite skills to say, ah, I see. So your, your here's your strengths, here's the kind of learner you are. Ah, I see that you have these particular gaps and now like a doctor, we're going to go in with precision on what those interventions are and the instruction that's going to get you where you need to be, and we're gonna monitor you. And we're gonna make sure that you're moving in the right direction. That's, that's, that's where I like to work.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, you mentioned pre-service skills of teachers and earlier you talked about behavior and discipline disproportionality, and I think very few teachers come into the profession with, uh, armed with the knowledge and skills to manage student behavior in the classroom. And, um, again, I think out of frustration, that's like just take this student and place them in a, in a program when really they may not have a disability. It seems to me that it's more of a lack of skill and training and experience that we need to provide.
So I told you a little bit about, you know, my earlier experiences as a student and the other part of that is, um, I did not have the positive, uh, teacher experiences, but I had one teacher in sixth grade who knew my family background. And she talked to me one day, just talk to me first time ever a teacher made a connection with me and she was more interested in my social, emotional wellbeing than my academic. And that is the thing that has driven me for so long. And when you understand the social, emotional aspects of a child that you understand then to build instruction. So I often times say, you know, Maslow before bloom, if, if a child isn't ready for learning, no learning is going to take place. And so that's kind of how I built my practice throughout these years and into my, my practice right now is that when you understand that that is the equity lens in which we must look and that's how we can start to build asset based systems of support.
Yeah. Wow. That's a really touching story. So there, you did have an educator that maybe changed the course of your life, right. And so many great educators have that. That's, that's so amazing. And the message for teachers is that this, you can change a kid's life truly.
Absolutely is. Um, I've been doing a lot of research in the last year around school climate and cultures and, and all of it links to learning, but relationships are so foundational. And you know, when I write school psychologist, that was always my first job working with these really tough kids. You know, they, they were tough build a rapport. Right. Yup. Yup. And get, once you get a relationship, you can ask just about anything
Right, right. So powerful. And we have to make time for that. And I'm encouraged that a lot of schools are focusing on social emotional learning now. I'm not saying all of them are doing it the right way yet.
Yes. Yeah. I would say too. I would agree with you. Um, you know, if there's one thing I would say is that school districts States whatever need to stop looking at SEL as an add on program or that narrowly defines it with PBIS. I mean, it, it is so much more than that. And again, if you get that right, all the way up and down the organization learning is going to take place.
So we talked about, um, you know, marginalized groups of children. And, uh, the other part of that is, and I use this a lot is that, especially in my work around culturally and linguistically responsive practices, I have an equity audit or an equity assessment. If you will go into different districts and schools and take a look at those things. And I always say that children need to see themselves in the learning. And so we touched a little bit upon that in the very beginning. But when you look at children of poverty, children of colored children with disability, you know, the ones who have potential, that's been masked because of, you know, what they bring with them to school, their family situation. That's what I'm talking about. And so when you think about interrupting the deficit, meaning I'm going to seek you out and test you and slot you to something or a label you in some way, thinking that that's what it takes to get help.
Well, when you interrupt something and you say, no, no, no. Let's take a look at what we do for all. But then within the, all that there's stretch and that there's a nimble system in place that's responsive, then you start to talk about solid, universal, not only the academic instruction, but the social and emotional instruction as well. And those supports, um, I have seen so many students who lacked any engagement and then they become behavior problems, you know, or perceived behavior problems. I talk about in the work that I've done around equity on the financial side. Now think about that. People think, okay, well, what does money have to do with everything? Well, it has everything to do with the school organization. And I think sometimes people forget that school districts are organizations. There it's a business, right? Right. It's a, it's a very complex business, but it's a business and money and personnel and all of those drive what that perceived product is. But our students is our client. Family is our client, community is our client. And so when you, I I've worked with, um, not only the state, but at the district level. And I've continued in my private practice, um, on the financial literacy and the student based allocation, but not just the dollars, but changing the reasons behind that. So I'll give you one quick example. When I was with the Illinois state board of education, I sat on the school finance reform committee. Now Illinois went from dead last to not being dead left. And you can, and you could say that was a big lift. It was a big lift because you have legislators, you've got the community behind you. You've got a lot of different people. And what they kept trying to do is pull out special education and emotional lies the discussion. And I kept pushing the educators there in and the legislators to think. But these are general education students. First, let's be real clear about that. And then they a learning disability, or what have you, or more complex types of disability, but let's start there and then think about, you know, be weighted or whatever. How, what are the additional sources of support do they need? And let's talk finances. Cause that's what it was. So what additional dollars or, or weights of those dollars would a school need in order to equitably educate that child. And then you think about disability. You think about again, poverty, medical issues, et cetera. Like those were the, those were my pushes. That was my lift. And so I worked with the governor's office, secretary of education in the governor's office and did a lot of behind the scenes work to help people understand what it is that we're talking about. The more you try to keep kids out of the pie, the more you're creating structural separation and you know, way back in the fifties when Brown V board said, you know, separate is not equal, but that's been the fight with the Ida all along. It's been, we're going to give you this track, but we treat people in that track differently. And we'll probably talk about this later on, but my goal, my big body of work that I want to continue doing is working at the national level and, you know, being a part of the reauthorization of the Ida in a structurally different way.
Wow. That's, that's something I would love to see you be a part of. That's fantastic. I remember, you know, little story 10 years ago when I was in a district working at the district level and we started to think about equitable funding. And I came up with, uh, a way to somehow quantify all the headwinds that our kids were facing. And I called it an at risk index and it's got points for if they were low income, if they had other risk factors. And then we, each school came up with an index, like a total of how many kids on IEP and the different kinds of disabilities. So we could have some way to really economically figure out where these resources should go forever. It was, you know, the same amount for every school regardless.
Yeah. I totally agree with you. Yep. You know, and when I'd be on the train, go into work and you'd see students having a bag of Doritos and, um, a can of soda as their breakfast. You're like, and they're going to walk into that school. And the teacher's going to say, Hey, I expect you to learn today and it's not going to work.
So I had gotten, um, this internal tug and I'm a firm believer in listening to your inside voice. And, um, at times for sure, I, I pushed that voice down because, um, I think sometimes we get so conditioned to stay on the track, you know, keep growing your career, keep going, you know, go, go, go, go, go until you're absolutely exhausted. And I've seen people, you know, experienced that. But as I kept pursuing my career, I kept thinking I want to do more and I want to make a bigger impact. I want to make Chris a huge impact in education. And I found that the structure, this is just for me talking to the structure of the public sector, I'm limiting in that regard. I had gone as far as I could go. Yes. I would have loved to work in DC. I think I still would. You know, but, uh, at the particular time in 2016, 17, I'm like, I've gone as far as I can. I want to do more, um, not just in this country, but internationally. And I said, um, I can no longer not listen to my voice. And I took a huge leap of faith. I mean, I'm not retired, right. I'm not, uh, I'm not at that age. Um, but I said, I've got to, if I don't do this now I'll have a regret for my entire life. So I guess to sum it up, I took a bet on myself and that's what I've been doing since 2018.
For sure. Um, I personally went to the dark side. I now work in the private sector of education technology. Yeah. And I retired from education after 33 years. And part of it too was like educational technology companies can really make a difference.
Right? Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And, um, one of the things that I really love to dig into was creating data systems when I was at the district level. And it wasn't just data systems sitting idly it was an integrated system and, uh, creating, um, dynamic IEP, uh, programs and five Oh four programs and then MTSS processes and flows into that. So I, I, you're talking to the other geek with you, so I'm all about that, but it goes back to the practices, right. That's a tool, but I always ask the question, what do you want the technology be? It's not a thing in and of itself. There's all the things that are behind it that can really change the trajectory of a child's life.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it can guide the practice and make things more efficient and kind of take some of the burden off teachers, um, as opposed to creating more barriers. Absolutely. So, um, you kind of touched on this, so what are your future professional goals?
Yeah, so I want to continue contributing to my profession. I absolutely want to, um, work on federal education policy, um, not just the special education, but actual federal education policy. Um, but I really want to fundamentally change how the Ida is perceived, uh, developed and then implemented because again, as, as we have as human nature and as the country has evolved, uh, the Ida has not kept up with who kids are and when the, every student succeeds act was authorized and then the States were developing their plans, it just became so apparent to me that the idea is so out of step with what we know, you know, and yet the state plans, um, I did a 50 state scan of all the different plans. They talk about equity, they talk about different subgroups. They talk about, um, SEL, but it's still not braided together in a way that is transformative. And so I'd really like to work on the re-imagining piece. And I honestly think this, you know, historic time that we're in with, um, you know, the quick, the abrupt ending of in-person class has really presented, uh, an opportunity that I'd like to work with other folks on making a new path for this tomorrow's kids.
Yeah. Wow. That's, that's really exciting. So would you be willing to share a couple of ideas on some of the structural changes for IDEA, which just for those of you that don't know that's the individuals with disabilities education act, so,
Right. So for sure the way the IDEA is structured yes. It's by category and that's a necessity, but we haven't backed it up yet to what is a real system of support. And we talked about this a little earlier, too. What are the preventative side of things? What are the, um, instruction and interventions that are research based that we know? So for example, you know, they taught we've, we've talked a long kind of go around response to intervention, right? And that it was a way to stop over identifying children with learning disabilities and that it morphed into all kinds of things. And so what we didn't do, and I think the reauthorization begs us to do is take the lessons learned from that not only from the positives, but the negatives, for sure. Cause that's part of learning and then start to expand it to a real system of support. Now you can call it a multi tiered system of support, whatever. But what I don't like is this, I don't like the assumption that there's an 80 and a 15% and a 5%, like now all of a sudden you've regrouped, you've reshuffle the deck chairs and you've said 80% of the kids are going to be fine. 15% might need a little something. And then those 5%, wow, they're going to need a lot and then get them into special ed.
In fact, I'll share a story that I learned from someone, you know, I won't mention his name, but another professor, um, who was Dr. George, Segui that 80, 15, five was completely made up. It, it was just, um, it sounded good at the time. And it's now a bromide that we, we live with.
It was a way to conceptualize groups, right? Yeah. Groups of learners where my mind is, we need to just do away with that and look at contextualize this. So yeah, you have to for sure have federal, you know, guardrails if you will, but you really need to understand the context in which you're working in and you need to have solid. But again, the nimble universal instruction that already builds in universal design differentiation, SEL, and the interventions, there's the critical piece. And then from there you can, you know, scale up or scale down, but it doesn't need to be one direction. It should be non-directional with, but with the idea being everybody has the opportunity to meet challenging standards. Now I do a lot of talking and I've done writing and I teach a special education law class, the master's students. And I take it from the end, drew F Supreme court decision. And, um, I did some, uh, work, uh, with, with the national, uh, chiefs for States, uh, boards of education and the notion being that, you know, it really did shift education, but what I have discovered through, um, my work is some States said, yeah, absolutely. We see it as the higher standard and others. Oh, we we've had high expectations all along. We don't really see the difference. Well, that is a little bit of mind blowing when you think about, well then if that's the case, let's take, look at your results, right? Because special education, you still have the results that you have to show that kids are growing, but we're not growing our kids. We're not growing special education. And, um, you know, the Supreme court justices said a diminimous standard. That's what Raleigh Raleigh standard was back in 1982, the minimus, well, the minimis means just more than trivial. So I asked is just more than trivial education, the best we can do. But to the talk about the social justice piece, I would say that is discrimination simply because a child has a disability now you're discriminating against them and lowering the expectation and saying that it's okay to just provide a diminimous education. And so my took the long story about what I want to see with the reauthorization is addressing those issues.
Yeah, so I have education policy and practice group. So it's www.edpolicyconsulting.com. And then I also, I need to do a shout out to my fabulous colleague, Doug Reeves at creative leadership solutions. Cause I work directly with them as well. And that website is www that creative leadership.net. And I've had a good fortune to work with Doug grieves and the other, our other colleagues at creative leadership. So if he can't get me one way, you might get me another,
Well, I know Dr. Reeves and that group, and they are amazing professionals doing amazing things for education. Now, before we leave, I want to spend some time talking about you as an author, because I haven't mentioned that yet. And you were kind enough to share with me a book, a children's book you wrote entitled Ida finds her voice. So why did you write this and what is it about?
Thank you for asking that. Um, so I would say that Ida has been kind of percolating in my, for a few years and after all, I'll back it up to say the past, maybe four years, I've just experienced and seen the divisiveness. And what I noticed, uh, when I look at children and when I'd see parents and talk to them is that they were struggling and the children were trying to make sense out of what is going on. Why is there such hate out there? And when I was, um, still in Chicago, um, you know, I lived in neighborhoods that other people were going after and the children were hiding and they were not coming to school because they were afraid their parents would be taken away and that causes trauma. So we talk about social emotional that's, that is trauma right there. And yet I was experiencing that. Um, and then, you know, personally having a couple things happen. And so I finally said, I need to get this book out and we need to start teaching children, but we also need to start teaching parents how to have hard conversations. And so this story is about a little girl named Ida, uh, who experiences these unsettling experiences. And she's just going about her regular day, you know, discrimination, prejudice intolerance of people, you know, looking at their friends and family differently just because of, you know, a disability or a different faith or, uh, Ida as we come to find out. And later on in the story she's biracial and the, you know, the, um, the hate that she experiences in intolerance from, you know, people in a park. And what I wanted to do was start these conversations. So parents and I, interestingly, you know, when this came out at the end of 2019 little, did I know that the social unrest that is now here is exactly why this book was written.
And parents and adults, and I'd love to get this into schools to be able to like, yeah, we can finally have some really substantive conversations and be real about things. And because that's part of our history, yeah. We struggled, you know, we did this and we've done that, but we have to be able to talk about it in order to move forward. And I think sometimes especially, um, you know, uh, like white people might have a hard time talking about race, cause they don't want to say the wrong thing or whatever, but what children know. And what we know is that we can, again, change a child, right? That, that perception. And when we get in there young, then we can start to make a change. But this book, um, again, touches on a lot of different topics. You asked me what my professional goals are. I want to continue writing on a series of Ida books. This was the first one to bring, like drop a lot of big topics. And now I want to start taking them one at a time. And the first one that actually my cousin and I wrote this book together, um, is going to talk about items and race and help children and parents kind of unpack all those things. And I think sometimes people want to be politically correct and say, well, I don't see color. It's like, well then you're not seeing the person and they are rich and who they are and let's understand and appreciate. And then, you know, we can have disagreements about all kinds of topics, but you have to understand and respect people for who they are. So this book was written in a very, um, from experience and also from our professional lens as well. But I made a point that some of the proceeds from this book, we're going to go to organizations that address inequity. So, you know, it's not just about, you know, publishing books, but it was a way to advocate, you know? Um, I've been, I've been involved in social justice, uh, all my life and, uh, protests and activism and you gotta move your feet.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And you know, I've been reading a lot just in the last couple months or, or a month actually with the protests. Um, and there's talk about how our school's going to have these conversations with kids. What's the best way to go. Um, sounds like this book would be a fantastic asset. So what, what age ranges would it be appropriate for?
So that, that is the question that I get a lot of and I purposely don't have a hard age range, but what, but what I, what I designed this book to be is you could start early from like preschool age. And then as you get older, I would say it tops out probably around third, maybe fourth grade. And I say that because of the topics themselves. So you could talk about culture, sexual orientation, racism, and the historical pieces as well. So Ida was named after Ida B Wells. She was a fabulous American hero. So what better way to start learning the real history? Let's talk about Ida B Wells and let's who, who was she and what positive impact think about her and back in the 18 hundreds and the feminist that she was and the journalist that she was an African American woman who broke all kinds of barriers. Right? And then, um, the sigh, her little sidekick stuffed owl named smalls was actually named after Robert smalls, um, the first African American, uh, Senator out of South Carolina. So now you can start to drill into the historical, the facts, the real history. So this was a way to, this was a way to get to that, right?
Absolutely. Well, I would say if I could plug it, it's certainly available on Amazon. And also if you go to www dot Ida finds her voice, that there's materials resources, and then you can certainly buy the book from there as well.
Yeah. Awesome. Well that, that's, that's exciting. Well, Dr. Anderson Foley, our time has come to an end for this really, really enlightening interview. But before you go, you have to participate in our game on our podcast called this or that. And the rules are very simple, I say two things and you tell the audience which one you prefer. Okay. So no right or wrong answers. And if you want to explain why you have a particular preference, you can do that, but it's not required. Okay. Are you ready?
Chris, I just want to first and foremost say, thank you. Thank you for inviting me to the podcast. I also want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about what's important to me, uh, personally and professionally. And, uh, just know that I guess, to the listeners out there that, you know, please call me or text me, email me. I want, I am committed to being part of the solution and it's a collective effort. We can't do it by ourselves.
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