learn / 2014

Creating Safe Engaged Schools: Facing History and Ourselves Los Angeles Expansion

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Facing History and Ourselves, Inc.

Our LA Partnership Schools Network will connect 500 teachers and 12,000 students as they lead the way in creating safe, engaged schools.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Our LA Partnership Schools Network will connect 500 teachers and 12,000 students as they lead the way in creating safe, engaged schools.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Fernando Valley

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Facing History and Ourselves is poised to scale its Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network, a highly successful pilot serving a critical need among underserved schools to create safe, inclusive environments of empathy and respect that activate students’ sense that their choices matter, and that they can make a difference in their communities. We currently partner with 21 urban middle and high schools across LA, integrating Facing History across grade levels and disciplines, and convening to share ideas and challenges. Our proven method increases teacher effectiveness, improves student engagement and school climate, and ultimately, leads to whole school change. Our goal is to add 10 new schools serving 12,000 new students next year.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Facing History reaches students through their teachers, providing professional development (PD) to help middle and high school educators explore issues such as discrimination, stereotyping, and the importance of civic participation through curriculum-based critical analysis of historical case studies. Facing History’s PD includes workshops, seminars, classroom resources, and on-going follow-up services. In-depth training introduces teachers to topics such as the steps that led to the Holocaust, race and membership in American history, the Armenian Genocide, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This training, paired with individualized coaching and follow-up support, prepares educators to use these case studies to engage students around the importance of civic participation.

Through their Facing History classes, students at these schools learn to make connections (not simple comparisons) to self, society, and other events in history. They make meaning of history by examining primary and secondary sources; apply lessons they have learned to current issues and think deeply about what they are reading, hearing, and seeing, all within the emerging civic space of their classroom. Students often reflect on their Facing History experience as the first time that school was relevant to their lives. By connecting the dots, they begin to understand that their choices matter.

Through Facing History’s unique school partnership model, Facing History staff members work closely with faculty throughout the year to integrate our program across grade levels and disciplines, and to create school community events to address school climate, including strong student and parent participation. Facing History conducts three events per year for the Partnership Network, to which each school sends a cohort of students, teachers, administrators and parents to share best practices, discuss issues in urban education, and continue learning about Facing History’s resources. This model brings multiple stakeholders together from different schools on a regular basis to foster community-wide engagement in a local context.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

The educator’s most important task—to shape a humane, well-educated citizenry— has never been more vital to sustain civil society, democratic values, and human rights than it is today. Yet education on the whole seems to be failing in this task; the reality for urban schools is particularly bleak:

• High school graduation rates In Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) hover around 66%. • More than half of all new teachers in the U.S. leave the profession during their first five years. This high turnover undermines the educational system, as teaching expertise is developed over years of practice and improvement. • Teachers find themselves ill-equipped to foster safe environments that support learning.

The Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network draws upon innovative research in the key areas of urban education: closing the achievement gap; creating safe, inclusive classrooms; and structuring sustainable, supportive networks for teachers and schools. Facing History revitalizes teachers, and helps them integrate social emotional learning within rigorous academic coursework that aligns with Common Core State Standards. Facing History increases students’ motivation and engagement, because our resources and approach link academic content to students’ lives. Facing History trusts young people to wrestle with complex moments in human history, and help them understand the range of human behavior.

Students understand the danger of prejudice and discrimination, the experience of vulnerable groups in society, and the importance of solving differences through discussion and dialogue, not violence. Students learn that their choices matter and that they can be agents of positive change. As they explore the complexities of history and human behavior, students consider how they can make a difference today and in the future.

Facing History’s impact occurs on multiple levels and is leveraged over time. As students become more engaged in their learning, they are more likely to have greater academic success and to graduate. They impact the people around them, including family and peers. As teachers become revitalized, they’re more likely to stay in the field. Facing History teachers continue to use the program every year they remain in the classroom, reaching new groups of students annually. Many Facing History educators become school leaders, shaping the vision and academic goals of their school for years to come.

Whom will your project benefit?

The Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network will provide training and support for approximately 500 teachers in 31 middle and high schools this year. These educators will then reach an estimated 12,000 students across Los Angeles annually with the tools and lessons to participate positively in their school communities, and to succeed in school, career, and civic life. Current partnership network schools are located in East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, downtown, and the San Fernando Valley. All schools are Title I, high poverty schools and all are either public or charter schools within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Seven middle schools joined the network this past year through a pilot project focused on school-wide anti-bullying practices.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We launched the LA Partnership Schools Network in response to a need from teachers to collaborate and build bridges among the diverse communities that make up Los Angeles. Our primary partnership is with each individual school, including a contractual agreement signed by an administrator and designated teacher liaison on campus. Facing History staff work with faculty at each school to integrate our program across grades and disciplines. Clear contracting, high-fidelity implementation and sustainability planning are all critical elements of a successful collaboration.

Last year we added seven middle schools to the Partnership Schools Network through a pilot project focused on school-wide anti-bullying practices. The project was conducted with support from the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education and Youth Policy Institute (YPI). YPI contracted with Facing History to provide in-depth professional development for schools in Hollywood and Pacoima, high-poverty areas of federal revitalization focus, as part of its $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood initiative.

In addition to the work with individual schools, we convene teachers, administrators, students and parents from partner schools across Los Angeles, both in person and online. Teachers, who too often work in isolation, can now regularly connect with educators from other schools who face similar challenges. Collaboration and idea-sharing within the network has been greatly enhanced through the Los Angeles Network blog (lanetwork.facinghistory.org). The blog provides a flexible forum for educators and Facing History staff to share ideas, challenges, and solutions for addressing issues they confront in the classroom. This online community serves as a networking tool for teachers within and beyond the Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network.

Facing History is investing significantly in a core group of exemplary Facing History educators to serve as mentors for other teachers in Los Angeles. Teacher leaders are early adopters in piloting Facing History’s new resources, and are instrumental in supporting liaisons from the Los Angeles Partnership Network. Collaboration with our teacher leaders is a critical factor in helping Facing History respond to the needs of teachers, build stronger school-wide programs, and continue expanding to more urban schools.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Facing History’s impact has been documented through more than 140 evaluation studies, including quasi-experimental studies and peer reviewed randomized controlled trials. Results prove that our program improves students’ academic engagement, critical-thinking skills and historical understanding, encourages civic participation, and creates safe and engaging classroom and whole-school environments. Definitive evidence shows that Facing History helps to create effective teachers who improve their students’ academic performance and civic learning. Educational leaders, funders, and the federal government are looking for ways to transform education by promoting teacher effectiveness, which a growing body of research confirms is a strong factor in student achievement.

Studies show that our impact is sustained throughout a teacher’s career, despite transitions across grade levels and schools. Each teacher reaches an average of 100 students annually. A greater sense of self-efficacy and commitment to teaching translates to higher rates of teacher retention and better outcomes for students, benefits from which will be realized over many years.

The Progress of Education Reform lists Facing History as an exemplar of one of six proven educational practices that promote student civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. The Social Impact 100, a giving platform that spotlights evidence-based U.S. nonprofits with the potential to grow, named Facing History one of 100 nonprofits that address the country’s most pressing issues in education, health, youth, and poverty. Charity Navigator has, for the third consecutive year, given Facing History a four-star rating, which it awards to organizations that exceed industry standards and outperform most other charities in their field.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Facing History’s approach draws on innovative research and development in the areas of urban education. That research informs both our programs and our measures of success. For the LA Partnership Schools, Facing History will track the number of educators who implement our program and the number of participants in cross-school and community events through our relationship management database. Program staff will closely monitor the activities of, and solicit ongoing feedback from, the partnership schools and teacher liaisons through individual contact and online engagement. Measurable outcomes of this initiative include:

• Supporting and expanding our network of schools: Partnership Schools Network will increase to 31 schools, with approximately 500 teachers receiving professional development services, and reaching 12,000 students by the end of FY15. • Conducting outreach through cross-school projects and community events: Summits, urban education symposia, and community events will draw 1,500 students, parents, teachers, and community members. • Developing and leveraging both face-to-face and online supports in order to grow the network’s capacity to be self sustaining: The number of liaisons will grow to 31, and the number of visitors to blog posts will increase from an average of 200-250 page views per post to an average of 500 or more.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Since 1976, Facing History has worked directly with teachers and schools to build the knowledge, commitment, and motivation for effective civic participation and to develop strong, safe school communities where students can thrive. We have learned that working with whole schools, which then serve as models for deep and innovative implementation of Facing History across grade levels and disciplines, enables the program to improve not only academic learning but school culture as well. Launched in 2008, Facing History’s Innovative Schools Network (ISN) is a group of 60 schools employing a robust whole-school model that impacts the culture of the entire school. Facing History works intensively with faculty on curriculum development, school-wide programming, and whole-staff engagement, resulting in school communities that take seriously issues of ethics, social responsibility, prejudice, and justice, and share a common language that encourages the identification and discussion of these issues—in the classroom, in student advisory and student leadership groups, in staff meetings, and in the broader community. Evaluations of Facing History’s ISN schools provide evidence for the program’s strong impact on teacher efficacy (teachers’ beliefs about their knowledge, and skills in their subject areas, a critical underpinning of high quality teaching); school climate (culture change in terms of language, behavior, and attitude changes across the community of each school); and student outcomes including improved social emotional learning, civic learning, intergroup awareness, ethical reflection and self awareness.

In addition to insights gained from formal evaluations, our work is informed by the results we have seen during the pilot phase of the Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network. Teachers from LAUSD consistently report that Facing History has a positive impact on culture, climate, and safety at their schools. Social Justice Humanitas Academy, which has trained its entire faculty in Facing History content and methodology, had the lowest rate of suspension of any LAUSD school last year. Roosevelt Academy of Environmental and Social Policy reported that instances of bullying decreased dramatically after implementing the action steps the school team devised at Facing History’s BULLY Summit.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Since establishing our Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network, we have focused our efforts at schools where we have leadership to support our work. We have exceeded our goals thus far, growing from four schools in 2009 to 21 schools today. Partnership schools agree to have at least one teacher attend a week-long immersive seminar who commits by contract to teach a full Facing History curriculum unit in the classroom; arrange for faculty-wide in-services facilitated by Facing History staff; participate in cross-school activities within the network; and create a school-wide action plan to create a culture of safety and inclusion in their school communities assisted by Facing History program staff.

Each school participates in a fall leadership summit comprised of students, teachers, administrators and parents, focused on creating safe, inclusive, and compassionate whole-school cultures; an educator symposium focused on urban education challenges and opportunities; and an end-of-year community-wide celebration focused on the sharing of best practices and action plans. These events address issues affecting school safety and academic engagement and facilitate networking among our diverse Los Angeles communities, which is rare.

Each school has a Facing History liaison. Facing History will create active mentorships for liaisons via our longstanding teacher leadership team, through which 25 experienced Facing History teachers network with each other and help mentor new teachers in their schools. Liaisons also attend a yearly retreat with the teacher leaders.

Facing History facilitates a quickly growing online community for Los Angeles educators (lanetwork.facinghistory.org), including a blog led by teacher leaders, Facing History staff and guest bloggers. An interactive calendar is being planned which will enable subscribers to post events of interest to the network.

We know there is increasing demand among Los Angeles schools for Facing History services, and that we have the capacity and the tools to meet our goals this year.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

In the education field, annual pink-slip notices and uncertainty about job security have taken a toll on educator morale. With budget cuts, not only have teachers lost income through furloughs, they are also asked to do more because schools are functioning with fewer staff and resources than before. These conditions have an impact on teachers’ capacity and willingness to participate in after-school activities, including meetings and workshops. PD providers often need to cover teacher stipends to participate in professional development. We have successfully made stipends available to participants in our Partnership Schools Network for select activities (or substitute teacher coverage so that they can attend during the school day.) In addition, we have changed our workshop strategy to provide contracted offerings with schools and districts who recruit a critical mass of qualified participants.

Another challenge for schools and educators this year is the implementation of the new Common Core assessments. Facing History and Ourselves’ mission aligns with the intent of the Common Core State Standards to prepare students to be college- and career-ready. Our resources and study guides emphasize close reading of challenging texts; critical analysis; and the development of critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills. Facing History is already working with teachers, schools, and districts across the country as they implement the Common Core State Standards. We help educators make the key instructional shifts required by the standards, using our primary and secondary sources and underlying pedagogy. And we partner with teachers to develop Common Core modules and tasks to share across our educator network.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach