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Media advisory: Education experts available for back-to-school news

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

LAWRENCE — As students begin returning to classrooms across the country this month, teachers will turn their attention to lesson plans and tests while parents, administrators and community members hope for a successful school year. Researchers at the University of Kansas can speak with media about the latest research in the field, helping educators improve teaching and all aspects of the school day, from testing and preventing bullying to education for students with autism and paying for college. Below is a list of several KU faculty members, a brief summary of their research and topics they can discuss. To schedule an interview, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or mkrings@ku.edu.

Paying for college: Students are heading to school for the first time or returning to their studies at the same time as K-12 students across the country. Many face fears about how they will pay for their education. William Elliott III and Melinda Lewis can discuss college debt, the importance of assets and savings, and how college debt both prevents some students from access to higher education and puts others at a financial disadvantage when they start their professional lives. Elliott and Lewis are associate professors of social welfare as well as director and co-director of the Center on Assets, Education and Inclusion in KU’s School of Social Welfare. They recently authored “The Real College Debt Crisis: How Student Borrowing Threatens Financial Well-Being and Erodes the American Dream” in which they detail their own different experiences in paying for college and argue that the time has come for a revolution in how we think about paying for higher education.

Autism, education and representational diagnoses: Jason Travers, assistant professor of special education, can discuss autism, behavioral supports and education for students with autism, the importance of accurate and representational diagnoses, early intervention, the importance of autism awareness and related topics. A former public school special education teacher, he conducts research on the effects of shared surface technology on academic, communicative and social-behavioral skills of learners with autism as well as trends in racially disparate identification of students in the autism eligibility category. He has led research showing that, although all states showed an increase in the number of students with autism from 2000 to 2007, black and Hispanic children were significantly underrepresented.

Testing and assessment: Neal Kingston, professor of educational psychology and director of the Achievement and Assessment Institute at KU, can discuss classroom assessment, standardized testing and the best ways to gauge what students have learned. An expert in educational measurement and research methodology, Kingston has managed educational testing for general and alternate assessments at all levels and has published more than 100 articles, papers and book chapters. He can also discuss No Child Left Behind, pending legislation to revamp the program and testing required under the act. A former classroom teacher, Kingston and colleagues at the institute have worked with educators across the country to improve assessment so it better supports student learning.

Special education and inclusion: Wayne Sailor, professor of special education and director of the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Center, and Amy McCart, associate research professor in KU’s Life Span Institute and co-director of the SWIFT Center, share expertise directed to special education and can discuss the value of educating all students in their neighborhood schools with the supports they need for success in the general curriculum. The researchers have published work showing that when schools include students with disabilities in classes with their peers, achievement levels increase for all students. Through KU’s SWIFT Center, Sailor, McCart and colleagues are working with state, district and school administrators, general and special educators, families and community members in five states to begin and build capacity to scale-up and sustain fully inclusive education.

Increasing opportunities for students with disabilities: Michael Wehmeyer and Karrie Shogren have shown that students with disabilities who have higher levels of self-determination as a result of interventions tend to fare better after school than their peers who did not. Wehmeyer, professor of special education and director of KU’s Beach Center on Disability and co-director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, both within the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies; and Shogren, associate professor of special education and co-director of the Center on Developmental Disabilities, can discuss self-determination, supporting students in setting goals for their education, careers and lives as well as related topics. They have published research showing that students with disabilities who have lessons in goal-setting, problem-solving and self-advocacy showed more stability in the positive outcomes they achieved in adulthood. The researchers have also played key roles in development of the Supports Intensity Scale for adults and children, published by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to help support and enable individuals with disabilities to actively participate in community and school as well as engage in activities and life experiences.

Bullying: Anne Williford, associate professor of social welfare, and Robert Harrington, professor of educational psychology, can discuss this issue. Williford has conducted extensive research and writing in bullying and prevention. She can discuss anti-bullying efforts in schools, cyberbullying, the role of teachers in preventing bullying, addressing bullying through school policy and related topics. She has also co-organized and hosted an anti-bullying summit with educators and some of the world’s leading scholars at KU, and she led a team that has developed and helped enact anti-bullying policies for schools across Kansas.

Harrington can discuss teachers’ roles in preventing bullying, school policies for preventing the behavior and related topics. He created and taught one of the Midwest’s only courses in bullying prevention and intervention to higher education students at KU, as well as teachers, counselors, school psychologists, social workers, administrators and others. He has also researched and written extensively on “terroristic bullying” and problem behaviors in schools, recognizing such behaviors in students and adults, both inside and outside of the school, and sources of stress contributing to anger and disruptive behavior in school-age children.

Harnessing technology to personalize education for every student: James Basham, associate professor of special education, can discuss technology in the classroom and how it can be used to create a personalized education for students to capitalize on their strengths, help them set and achieve goals, and improve educational achievement. Earlier in 2015, Basham was one of the lead authors on a report issued by more than 100 experts, as well as policy makers, detailing challenges and offering solutions to utilize technology to craft an personalized approach to education. Basham is also on the technical work group that is writing the forthcoming 2015 Department of Education's National Educational Technology Plan.

“The thing we overlook with technology in education too often is the amount of data it can give us on each individual student,” Basham said. “It can bring the know-how of the educator and the power of technology together to produce that personalized piece, a plan that focuses on a student’s strengths, how they learn, their motivations and how best to reach them.”

Teaching gifted and creative students: These students may not excel, or they may experience stress in the regular classroom. Barbara Kerr, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology, can discuss gifted and creative students, identifying, motivating and reaching students with outstanding potential. Kerr’s Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States has focused on the development of creative adolescents and training psychologists and counselors to be talent scouts who provide positive, strengths-based services. She has published research showing that profiles she created can help identify bright and creative students and set them on the path to becoming innovators, creators, inventors and artists. Kerr is author of “Smart Girls in the Twenty-First Century” and "Smart Boys," which explore how stereotypical gender roles can discourage both girls and boys from entering innovative careers — and what parents and teachers can do to encourage creative goals.

The school day outside the classroom: Suzanne Rice can discuss non-classroom influences on education such as school lunches, experiences between classes, extracurricular activities and other parts of the school day. Rice, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, has taught courses on foundations of education and curriculum, pedagogy and the organization and governance of schools. Her research draws on established academic disciplines to illuminate educational phenomena as well as ethics and moral theory in education.

History of education and inequality: The idea of “separate but equal” schooling was struck down by the Brown v. Board ruling more than 60 years ago, but inequality in education persists. John Rury, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, and by courtesy, history, can discuss the history of U.S. education, the achievement gap between white and black students, the historical periods in which blacks made their greatest gains in access to education and educational inequality of today. Rury’s research has explored educational policy studies, how they relate to educational inequality, especially regarding urban schools, and has published numerous books and academic articles on the subject.

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