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  • by Blaine Helwig

Trickle-Down Teacher Training Versus Bubble-Up Gap Elimination

The macroeconomic theory of trickle-down corporate tax cuts has been a mainstay for conservative politicians and economists for nearly a hundred years. In 1932, Will Rogers, the humorist, popularized and coined trickle-down thinking as money “appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.” Other economists/politicians cite that corporate money distributions do not sufficiently drip down to middle and lower income Americans. Thus, a competing philosophy with trickle-down theory is bubble-up economics. Bubble-up macroeconomic philosophy provides direct monies to less affluent Americans ensuring they receive needed and intended allocations.

These same two basic methodologies are similarly employed to improve Title 1 elementary school academics in public education. Campuses use either trickle down or bubble-up support systems via content coaches or instructional specialists with the objective of improving the academic performance of economically disadvantaged students.

Trickle-Down Teacher Training

As expected, teacher training at Title 1 campuses is very similar in thinking to tickle down economic processes. It occurs when a campus places extensive efforts that directly train teachers in both content and pedagogy with the hope that the training sessions trickle down to raising student outcomes. This training usually comes in two basic forms. First, the campus principal devotes a half-day a week and students are given early dismissal while the teachers receive professional development (PD) training. Another form is an afterschool teacher training conducted each week. Second, trickle-down training can also occur when campus instructional specialists or district personnel visit classrooms and provide pedagogy guidance and/or modeling in specific content areas. In either form, teachers are trained with the expectation that they will be more effective in the classroom with their students, and their training will drip down to higher student outcomes and performance.

Bubble-Up Gap Elimination

Bubble-up philosophy is also similar to bubble-up economic thinking. It attempts to raise student achievement via a direct means. This methodology employs stop-gap resources in both numeracy and literacy to eliminate academic gaps from prior grade levels. The method is simple in scope and design – rectify students’ math skills and literacy word gaps directly. Once the gaps are closed, students are prepared and ready to engage in grade level work. This type of work is much easier in elementary school than in middle schools since the academic gaps are caught early and not permitted to widen in successive school years.

What Method is Most Effective for Raising Student Achievement in Title 1 Schools?

As most veteran Title 1 elementary educators would predict, a combination of the two philosophies is required to maximize student outcomes. Classroom teachers – especially entry-level educators – require assistance in Title 1 elementary classrooms to be successful. However, teachers require training in highly specific areas. For example, effective classroom management training as well as setting up efficient classroom routines is an August PD training – prior to the first day of school. Hence, teachers begin the year with efficacy in preserving instructional minutes as well as setting up a classroom environment for heightened social and academic learning. Training and modeling are also required for using the stop-gap literacy and numeracy resources both efficiently and effectively. An abbreviated bridge resource PD training that focuses on grade level application should also be implemented to assist teachers at this time. Furthermore, teachers can be readily trained in ad hoc content and pedagogy modeled throughout the school year, as needed. In short, teacher training is essential, but in highly focused areas as well as a concurrent bubble-up approach, that stresses student academic gap elimination in both literacy and numeracy. In doing so, students are prepared for core lessons and teachers of any experience level can be equally successful equitably educating low socioeconomic status students.

Stagnant Student Outcomes using ONLY Trickle-Down Teacher Training

Currently, the vast majority of Title 1 elementary schools employ their instructional support personnel in a Trickle-Down Model. For all practical purposes, these instructional specialists and content coaches become mini-administrators under the guise of classroom support. Teachers are provided training throughout the school year, and students continue to struggle to connect and engage in grade level curriculum concepts. At the end of the school year, students are frequently placed in the next grade level usually with larger academic gaps than when they began the school year. A fundamental issue with this model is the following scenario. The specialist or coach models or assists a teacher in specific pedagogy; however, when the coach leaves the classroom, students have the exact same academic skill gaps as when they arrived. In short, a relatively expensive salaried coaching position does not change the chronic academic Title 1 student outcomes at the campus.

Effective use of External Support Personnel are Key to Title 1 Academic Success

Using classroom support personnel in a pragmatic and effective means highly influences student achievement at a Title 1 elementary school. Thus, a combination of trickle-down and bubble-up intervention systems affords necessary support of classroom teachers’ work.

First, the classroom teachers implement efficient and effective literacy gap fluency and non-negotiable word programs. These resources take no more than 5 to 10 minutes per day and are available for free download at the New 3R’s Consulting website. The coaches should model, monitor and support these intervention program measures and assist in pressing students to back to grade level success.

Second, at the beginning of school each day, classroom teachers run a 5-minute numeracy skill opportunity with their students using the Formative Loop daily numeracy program. The coach can check the numeracy exercise after the student papers are picked-up, and entered in the Formative Loop website. If necessary, interventions with specific students are completed prior to the end of the school day, and homework is efficiently printed out in the specific skill where students precisely require work. The parallel process of filling student academic gaps with grade level work places students on grade level by the end of the school year.

Finally, instructional specialists or coaches must work directly with needy students and assist teachers with their ad hoc pedagogical needs, as the situation arises. In the end, classroom teachers are successfully positioned to be successful with their students since students’ academic gaps are significantly reduced, and the grade level core/adopted curriculum (which assumes no academic gaps) works as it is designed.

Final Thoughts

Title 1 elementary classrooms are an arduous teaching experience; whereas, medium and high socioeconomic status classrooms are a much more forgiving academic environment. Affluent students do not possess academic numeracy and literacy skill gaps to the same degree as do children of poverty. Thus, Title 1 classrooms are an academic jigsaw puzzle when it comes to skill gaps. By the time students reach the intermediate grades, the lack of mastery of prior prerequisite grade level skills is disparate among students. Some students know this skill, some that skill, others are adept with a different skill and it goes on and on. This skill scattering proficiency creates a difficult teaching task for any teacher of any experience level.

Hence, if a Title 1 elementary campus principal elects NOT to directly rectify students’ numeracy and literacy gaps – a situation when the gaps are relatively small – then chronic academic failure continues when a standalone trickle-down model is employed.

In short, teachers receive pedagogy and grade level content PD training; however, when the instructional specialist/coach leaves the classrooms, student academic gaps remain, unaddressed, and poor academic performance continues unabated.

Employment of support personnel in Title 1 schools is essential to heightening student outcomes, but these instructional specialists or coaches must directly address students’ academic numeracy and literacy gaps. It is one of the most important decisions a Title 1 elementary principal makes when organizing and optimizing their support staff’s daily duties.


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