The Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty was honored with the 2014 Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence. The Riley Institute at Furman, in partnership with South Carolina Future Minds, presented this prestigious award that recognizes outstanding educational initiatives throughout South Carolina.
|History of the COE|
Overview of the Center
The Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty was established within the School of Education at Francis Marion University in 2004 by funding received through a five-year grant awarded by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. The Center has experienced growth each year since 2004, is funded by the Education Improvement Act of 1984, the investment of Center Districts, and FMU.
With a dual focus on in-service teacher professional learning and pre-service teacher development, the Center is now recognized as the premier resource for supporting educators seeking strategies for improving the quality of education that all children of poverty receive.
Mission of the Center
The mission of the Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty is to increase the achievement of children of poverty by improving the quality of undergraduate teacher preparation, graduate teacher preparation, and the professional development of in-service teachers.
History of the Center
Francis Marion University is centered in the eight-county Pee Dee region of South Carolina located in the northeastern section of the state between the Piedmont and Coastal regions. In 2004, these eight counties contained 18 school districts -- four counties with one district, three with three districts, and one with five districts. The total student enrollment of these districts was slightly more than 65,000 students. The districts ranged in size from an enrollment of just under 900 to an enrollment of just under 14,000. Despite the size differences, these districts shared one thing in common: significant pockets of poverty.
The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee developed a poverty index that is a composite of the percent of students in each district who are eligible for Medicaid services and/or those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. A poverty index of 90.0, for example, means that 90% of the students are eligible for Medicaid services, qualify for free or reduced-price meals, or both. Thus, higher indices indicate greater poverty.
When the Center was established in 2004, the median poverty index was 78.9% for the 18 districts in the Pee Dee region. Statewide, the median poverty index was 65.7%. Ten of the 18 districts ranked in the highest quarter of districts statewide in terms of the poverty index. For these counties, the range of poverty indices was from 82.9% to 94.7%.
Numerous studies, both in South Carolina and nation-wide, linked poverty with student achievement. On the 2003 District Report Card, eight of the 18 districts received absolute ratings of Below Average (n = 7) or Unsatisfactory (n = 1). The other ten districts received absolute ratings of Average or Good. There were no ratings of Excellent. More troubling, however, were the districts’ improvement ratings. Seven of the 18 districts received improvement ratings of Unsatisfactory, with three more districts receiving improvement ratings of Below Average. Only two districts received improvement ratings of Good and there were no improvement ratings of Excellent. These low improvement ratings, coupled with an analysis of three-year longitudinal achievement data conducted by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, suggested that, not only did students in these districts not learn at high levels, but they fell further behind their peers the longer they were in school.
Historically, many attempts had been made to solve the problems of providing high quality education to children of poverty by sending experts to study the problems and provide assistance to those who work with these children. The original Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty grant proposed a project that would operate from a completely different perspective. Rather than relying on external expertise, the Center intended to solve the problems inherent in educating children of poverty by developing expertise in those that work with these children on a daily basis. Center founders believed that only through developing local capacity to solve problems would true progress be made in the struggle to help those in greatest need -- children of poverty.
Francis Marion University was a logical site for such a Center for several reasons. FMU was the only state university serving the Pee Dee region, and over 90 percent of its almost 4,000 students came from South Carolina, with the majority of those coming from the eight counties that comprise the Pee Dee region. Many of the students who enrolled at FMU were the first in their families to attend college. Because of its long-time relationship with the Pee Dee Education Center, FMU was already part of a regional infrastructure serving schools in neighboring counties, and a Center for Excellence for the Preparation of Teachers to Teach Children of Poverty was consistent with the mission of FMU. Its mission statement stated, in part, that the University "seeks to serve as a catalyst for regional development. Faculty, staff members, and advanced students … render academic and practical assistance to regional schools and other organizations [in an effort to build] a better educated, more culturally enriched, and more prosperous region" (http://www.fmarion.edu/welcome/purpose.htm).
The task force that met to write the original grant realized that the problems inherent in successfully educating large numbers of children of poverty were great -- much greater than any single person, institution, or agency can solve. Thus, although the Center would be physically housed on the campus of FMU, it would also extend throughout the region and the state by means of a series of partnerships and collaborations. Originally, three of the 18 school districts-- Darlington, Dillon 2, and Marion 1 -- served as "partner districts," with the other 15 districts designated as "participating districts." Administrators and teachers of the partner districts worked hand-in-glove with FMU faculty to determine how to best prepare teachers, initially and continually, to teach children of poverty. Administrators and teachers of the participating districts benefited from the activities offered by and materials developed by the Center, but were not directly involved in the ongoing operation of the Center. The Partner District concept has continued, and each year districts are invited to join with the Center as “Partner Districts.” The number of districts working together with the Center has increased annually and the geographic representation now extends beyond that of the Pee Dee region.
To accomplish its goals in a more effective and efficient manner, the Center also established a close working relationship with the Pee Dee Education Center (PDEC). Founded in 1967, PDEC has provided services for member districts and, perhaps more importantly, gained respect as an authoritative communications link with political and educational entities throughout the state. Early collaborative working relationships were also developed with other centers and agencies across the state who shared similar goals, including existing Centers of Excellence in South Carolina; the SC State Department of Education; the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA); Johns Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnership Schools; and the National Center for the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR).
Initial work of the Center included the development of a set of instructional modules for teachers of children of poverty. Developed by a task force of FMU faculty, Partner District teachers and administrators, and nationally-recognized experts, the modules were infused into FMU School of Education courses, and, over the course of the first seven years of the Center’s life, have evolved to become Six Standards for Teachers of Children of Poverty. These Standards are now an integral and required component of all FMU School of Education programs.
In addition to a presence in School of Education program offerings, the Center annually presents a menu of both short- and long-term professional learning opportunities for educators. Conferences, workshops, graduate courses, and service projects are representative of the offerings available for pre- and in-service teachers and school administrators. Based on best practice research and practitioner insights, these activities are designed to help teachers understand parents and children who live in poverty and the community resources that are available to them, as well as the most effective instructional strategies that can lead to school success for all students.
All Center events and activities are aligned with the Six Standards for Teachers of Children of Poverty. An aggressive research agenda monitored by an independent evaluator includes careful study of the effectiveness of the Center’s work, specifically in terms of the Standards for Teachers and the project goals. Each event and activity is evaluated, and results are used to improve the efforts of the Center.