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January 5, 2022

Understanding the Need for SES in Public Schools

Supplemental education services (SES) ensure that public schools facilitate their most essential function: to provide every child with an education. But despite their long track record of positive results, the need to establish, continue, and improve SES programs has become even more imperative.

The data makes our next steps clear. From December 2021 to January 2022, K-12 students’ poverty rate increased from 12.1% to 17%. With the expiration of the Child Tax Credit that happened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, over 3 million children fell below the poverty line. Of course, to counteract this insufficiency, schools must react with supplemental education services that provide support against struggle.  

But what are the characteristics of the average kid who needs this? In order to work toward an improved reality, it matters to not only define SES but also understand the needs of the students who require it.  

Defining SES in Public Schools  

The alphabet soup of K-12 education feels like a never-ending list, doesn’t it? Even teaching veterans with decades of classroom experience can get lost in this labyrinth. When you add in new legislation, surprise contingencies, and increased demands, teachers might find these programs lost in the shuffle.   

In short, SES stands for supplemental education services. These activities typically happen outside of the traditional classroom, often after school.  

Of course, this is an umbrella description that can fit any number of measures your school takes to provide auxiliary assistance. To that end, the Department of Education offers equally scarce details. It describes the SES practice as “tutoring and other academic enrichment activities provided outside of the regular school day to eligible public school students to help improve achievement in reading, language arts, and math.”

The SES Demographic

Let us dive beyond surface level: SES in public schools means that disadvantaged students receive the support they need to achieve academic success. In this way, understanding the need for SES requires becoming more familiar with the students who require it.

In this regard, it’s important to understand two truths about the reality of public education:

  1. Gaps between privilege and economic strife have grown wider and wider. Meanwhile, teachers stand on the front lines in the struggle to create an equitable classroom that serves all students, despite circumstances over which they have no control. Impoverished children need support; otherwise, the cycles continues.
  2. Year after year, educators become wiser about the nuances and complexities of learning differences. Equipped with that knowledge, public schools are getting smarter about creating custom-tailored and more impactful programs. However, without SES at the foundation of individualized education programs, the academic infrastructure grows weaker.

Framing Questions for SES Design

When it comes to designing supplemental education services, what matters most is your understanding of the individual child who needs them. The pedagogical path will become clearer after teachers ask themselves questions that will help develop a nuanced profile for each student.

SES for the Impoverished Student

There are actually two meanings for SES: supplemental education services and socioeconomic status. These terms are very much intertwined, as a student’s external struggle plays a detrimental role in their academic achievement. The first step to SES success requires us to accept that wealth gaps exist, through no fault of the children that chasm impacts. 

As outlined in a report from the National Association of Secondary School Principals:

symptoms of poverty, like health issues stemming from a nonnutritional diet, homelessness, lack of food, or the inability to receive medical treatment for illnesses. These factors often place more stress on a student, which can negatively impact the student’s ability to succeed in a school.

Therein lies the call to action: We need to take a thoughtful approach to SES design and never lose focus of the various programs’ chief purpose.

In her PD training on teaching children born in difficult economic circumstances, Dr. Donna M. Beegle advocates beginning SES design with a self-assessment. Asking yourself these questions helps eliminate innate biases and misconceptions:  

  • What are the root causes of poverty?
  • Explain the origin of your beliefs about poverty. Were these thoughts passed down from parents or other sources? Were there other influences that might have colored your perception?
  • Think about your experiences and exposure to opportunities you had during your K-12 years. How are these different from what students and their families experience?
  • Are you able to suspend judgment and understand that people are making the best decisions possible from their perspective?
  • How willing are you to assist students and families who may harbor radically different beliefs and values than you?

It might help to answer these questions twice — once to achieve a general understanding and a second time when assisting an individual student.

SES for Students With Learning Differences  

Given that 20% of our students fall into this category, teachers have had to spend years adapting curricula and designing individualized learning.

Luckily, we know more about learning differences now than at any point in our history. Our communities are richer for this wisdom, for sure. Perhaps the most pertinent tenet of learning differences involves the need for unique programs. 11.2 million students have learning and attention needs. And out of those 11.2 million kids, no two students share the same situation, so the design of cookie-cutter SES will result in little to no progress.

These questions should set a sound framework for creating individualized SES programs for students with learning differences:

  • How and why does this student struggle? What tools and resources would provide solutions?
  • What academic outcomes would your student and their family like to see happen? And within what time frame do you expect progress to be made?
  • How will you differentiate teaching methods based on this child’s unique needs?
  • Despite the one-on-one nature of SES, how will you ensure that this student is included as much as possible with the general population?  

A Checklist for Supplemental Education Services

Don’t you wish there was a cheat sheet for teaching? While no fixed template exists for creating an impactful supplementary education program, it’s imperative that the basic framework:

  • Involves an outline for specific achievement goals uniquely designed for the individual student’s exact needs
  • Outlines the standards by which the student’s progress will be measured
  • Draws a flexible timeline for improvement academic and personal growth
  • Includes communication measures that keep parents or guardians abreast of their child’s trajectory
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