Facing History Innovative Schools Network: How We Know It Works

"What makes our kids special? It's how reflective, compassionate, and empathetic they are." – Jose Navarro, Principal, Social Justice Humanitas Academy

Studies show that in-depth implementation of Facing History impacts the language, behavior, and aspirations of our young people. Learn more.

Interviews with Principals of Three Innovative Schools Network (ISN) Schools in Memphis (Romer, 2015)

Interviews with three principals of Memphis ISN schools spotlighted Facing History’s contributions to fostering character, upstanding, and proactive positive social and emotional vocabulary. The principals found that Facing History had a positive impact on their school cultures and on teacher-to-teacher communication.

Discipline:  Two principals credited Facing History with helping them deal with difficult issues of conflict and discipline, in part because they now framed issues differently and had a common vocabulary. One principal attributed an increased mindfulness of discipline implementation to Facing History's influence and said working with Facing History played “a major role” in decreasing suspensions.

Responsibility and Agency:  One principal claimed that Facing History helped students see that individual actions can have important consequences. Developing a sense of agency enhanced students' sense of personal and global civic responsibility. This principal reported Facing History’s greatest benefit as fostering students' civic identities.

Ethical Anchoring:  “We would be struggling to come up with something that goes to the heart of being a Memphian, teach[ing] students the history of the Civil Rights movement—as a nation we are struggling right now,” said one principal. “Facing History gives [us] an ‘anchor point’ for discourse, something you don’t find easily.” Another principal pointed to the tools, including vocabulary, Facing History provides to promote ethical practice.

Case Study of an In-Depth Facing History Urban Charter School (Romer, 2012)

In this school, a member of the Innovative Schools Network, students participate in the rigorous academic and civic program of study and community service. In the process, they develop their academic identity[1]and their civic identity[2]. Students describe three dimensions of the school as quite distinct from earlier school experiences.

Relationships:  They feel known and motivated because of personalized, caring and supportive relationships with teachers.  Many say that their teachers are willing to go the extra mile for them, and indeed, that their teachers are often their role models.

Teaching and Learning:  Students describe academic courses as rigorous “hard work” and value the compelling content and classroom strategies, specifically an approach that includes multiple perspectives. Students are encouraged to ask their own questions, and so, connect learning to their own lives, as well as strengthening their critical thinking capacities. In the process, they develop their own voices and often experience intrinsic motivation vis a vis their civic and academic identities.  Many students imagine a more expansive and hopeful future for themselves, based on this generative experience where academic and civic engagement are interwoven.

Culture:  The students describe a school culture that values upstanding—and the use of that term and other Facing History vocabulary. They value the safe and respectful relationships they have with their peers, and they welcome their interaction with the larger community while developing a “participatory” orientation.

Impact of Facing History and Ourselves Reported by Students at School A (Romer, 2011)

“We now consider ourselves not students, but people who are connected to all other people who have the power to make a difference.”

All students in this Innovative Schools Network school[1], in grades 10-12 were invited to participate in a survey, and 78% responded (n=137).  Students describe learning a great deal from Facing History. 

  • 97% of students describe some positive learning from Facing History at the school.
  • 75% of these students provide detailed responses that spotlighted historical understanding, and/or civic learning, in particular learning about agency, upstanding and civic participation. These answers suggest that multiple perspectives and in-depth study of historical moments are prevalent across the humanities program. Other frequently occurring themes are ethical reflection, learning about content that focused on intergroup awareness (i.e. history of oppression, of racism, prejudice, intolerance, social injustice), and describing how teaching leads to student engagement.

Students report an active, participatory school culture that values civic engagement and historical understanding. In particular, many of these students make the link between in-depth, careful study of history, using Facing History content and methods with their own new-found engagement in learning as well as a commitment to their communities and to the world, as actively engaged citizens. They also describe a school-wide climate that advocates upstanding with very little tolerance for perpetrating.
Students describe the impacts of Facing History as being very positive on the whole school culture, on their own learning, and on their peers’ attitudes and behavior.

Analysis of data gathered via the four independent measures all point to very high levels of civic learning and engagement, social emotional learning, and tolerance for difference. The classroom climate measure results are extremely high and point to a climate that is open, highly respectful of difference, and promotes student expression and deliberative practices both in terms of teacher practices and student practices. Student open responses offer further evidence of detailed examples of learning and engagement that are remarkable among such a high proportion of students from three classes of the entire school.

Facing History Jewish Schools Project: Final Evaluation Report. (Barr & Leonard, 2012)

This evaluation studies educators’ perspectives on the impact of this project on interdisciplinary teacher collaboration, students’ Jewish identities and values, and school culture sited across a network of 8 Jewish day schools. It also examined the most and least effective aspects of the project as well as the sustainability of the work beyond the project. (n=67) 

  • Teachers report that Facing History is most visible in their schools through guest speakers (86%), content in courses (76%), and professional development for staff (75%).
  • Over half (51%) of teachers reported that they are using some Facing History content and/or methods, infused into an existing course or Advisory period rather than as a whole unit.
  • 85% of the survey sample agrees or strongly agrees that Facing History has helped staff provide students with resources, guest speakers, art exhibits, and/or other mediums that enable students to further explore Jewish history.
  • Facing History has helped schools raise sensitivity to bullying, decrease the amount of conflict within the schools, and foster an increasingly respectful school culture.
  • Educators observed an increased use of Facing History concepts and language in their schools, and described it as a critical marker of their school culture becoming kinder and more respectful. 

Impact of Facing History and Ourselves Reported by Teachers at Three Schools (Romer & Barr, 2010)

This study surveyed teachers at three schools in the Innovative Schools Network, inquiring about Facing History’s impact on teachers’ sense of professional self-efficacy, their teaching practices, classroom climate and school culture. n=39 (40% of 98 teachers surveyed)

  • 95% of this sample felt that Facing History core language (such as “bystander,” “upstander,” and “universe of obligation”) had entered their school somewhat or a great deal. 
  • 91% of teachers reported positive impacts of Facing History on their schools.
  • 72% of the teachers reported that their school culture was connected with Facing History.
  • Teachers agreed  with the statement, “Facing History’s presence in my school has helped my students… recognize racism and antisemitism and other forms of bigotry in themselves and others.”  (Average score = 4.14, above “agree.”)

Impact of Facing History and Ourselves Reported by School Leaders (Romer, 2009)

At the end of the first year of the Innovative Schools Network (then known as the Small Schools Network), Facing History surveyed leaders from all of the 12 founding schools, and received a response rate of 100%. School leaders rated 20 different statements measuring some element of the level of safety and respect present or absent at their own school. Taken as a whole, these findings suggest a positive social climate at member schools, with some evidence of areas the Network might target future work: the ongoing process of exploring racism and its toxic effects and the underpinnings of prejudice and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

The survey of school leaders used a 4-point scale, with 4 being “strongly agree” and 1 being “strongly disagree.” The survey found:

  • School leaders agreed most strongly (3.54) with “Adults feel safe at my school” and “agreed” (3.0) with “students respect adults.” 
  • Another set of statements were framed negatively such that disagreement affirmed a positive social climate. Leaders disagreed (2) to strongly disagreed (1) with most of them, from “Gang activity is a problem (1.85) to most strongly disagreeing (1.54) with “Adults at my school are often disrespectful of students.” 
  • Three statements (“There are conflicts at my school based on race or culture,” “Alcohol and/or illegal drugs are a problem at my school,” and “There are conflicts at my school based on sexual orientation or gender”) elicited neutral to approaching “disagree” responses (i.e. did not disagree or agree), suggesting that these may be problematic areas.

 

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