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Report: Ready to Succeed in the Classroom: Findings from Teacher Discussion Groups on their experiences and aspirations teaching students in the foster care system

Report » Ready to Succeed in the Classroom: Findings from Teacher Discussion Groups on their experiences and aspirations teaching students in the foster care system


Students: Children in Foster Care


The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning for the Stuart Foundation and the Ready to Succeed Leadership Team




The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning for the Stuart Foundation and the Ready to Succeed Leadership Team


y the time children enter the foster care system, they are likely to have
experienced a variety of emotional, physical and psychological harms.
These accumulated hurts affect children to varying degrees. With caring
support and interventions, many can overcome the hurdles that (through no
fault of their own) have been placed in their way. Still, the path to a healthy,
happy adulthood is often arduous — with many of the most glaring difficulties
manifesting themselves in the classroom.
As documented in Ready to Succeed1 and many other research and policy
reports, educational outcomes for children and youth in the foster care system
are dismal, lagging far behind averages for markers such as standardized test
scores, reading at grade level, repeating grades, receiving special education
services, and completing high school.
This isn’t surprising. Beyond the emotional and psychological problems that
many children in foster care experience at an early age, they also contend with
unpredictable, frequent changes in placements that uproot them from one
school after another, causing many to lose academic ground and support as
soon as they have gained any. When these children and youth miss
opportunities for educational achievement, they also miss the best opportunity
they have to boost their chances of transitioning successfully to adulthood, with
stable and productive jobs and careers, economic self-sufficiency, and a sense
of personal well being and fulfillment.
Although the issue of improving educational outcomes for children and youth in
foster care is receiving some long-overdue attention, the voices of classroom
teachers have not been prominent in the discussions. What happens in the
classroom is critical for these students, as the quality of the interaction with their
teacher is an important determinant of learning. In the fall of 2009, a team from
the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning and funded by the Stuart
Foundation convened six discussion groups to explore how teachers and foster
children and youth interact in the classroom to improve educational outcomes.
The discussion group sessions were held in three California counties — Fresno,
Orange, and Sacramento — and covered the following topics:
• Unique barriers that children in foster care experience in the classroom;
• Strategies for welcoming a new student known to be in the foster care
• Quick assessments to gauge a student’s level and progress;
• Wish lists — what teachers would like to see
from their schools, districts, and communities
“You may not
to help them be more effective with this
realize that you’ve
had a foster child in
• Strategies for engaging families and your classroom —
caregivers of foster children and youth; and but chances are,
you have.”
• General advice for other teachers who have
foster children in their classrooms.
This document captures teachers’ ideas, aspirations, and experiences in each of
these areas, followed by an appendix listing some resources that individual
teachers have found helpful. It is designed to be a conduit for the voices of
teachers who have struggled to help foster children succeed in school — so that
they can share what they have learned with other teachers, whether they are
novice or veteran. As one teacher said (lamenting the absence of information
about her students), “You may not realize that you’ve had a foster child in your
classroom — but chances are, you have.”
The discussions focused on the experiences of classroom teachers and covered
elementary, middle, high school, and alternative school settings. In addition,
several administrators attended the sessions and spoke from their perspectives
as former teachers as well as administrators. Finally, one teacher was a foster
child herself, and several had become foster parents and were able to
contribute from those perspectives as well.