PLE 2a: Module 1

PLE 2a: Investigating an issue or priority


This PLE is designed to take participants through the steps of identifying an issue or problem for advocacy and action on behalf of children, parents, schools and communities. The objectives of this include the following:

  • Identifying an actionable issue or problem
  • collecting and using data from multiple primary and secondary sources and types on social, economical and cultural conditions
  • understanding the landscape of political, social, economic, legal and cultural approaches and practices pertaining to the issue or problem
  • understanding the assumptions and concerns that frame or reframe political, social, economic, legal and cultural approaches to the support or limits of student learning opportunities

Essential question 

How do we investigate and analyze an issue or priority from various sources of data and perspectives?

About the PLE

This PLE supports participants in learning how to identify and frame an issue or problem as actionable, identify and gather evidence, and unpack various assumptions and concerns that frame the issue and how it has been approached in the past or could be in the future. The PLE includes several activities that develop participants’ skills while focusing on an issue of interest and draws on various field-based examples for analysis and understanding.

This activity will take approximately 3-4 hours to complete. It is best spread across several sessions to allow participants time to gather data about their issue or problem and to find evidence of how others’ have framed the issue.

Pre-session work

In addition to completing the PLE readings, participants should come ready with an issue or problem in mind. In preparation for the activities below, participants should gather relevant documentation on the problem or issue and examples of research or policy briefs that discuss the problem or issue, generally or in context.

Learning environment considerations

This activity works best in a large room setting, like a classroom, where there is enough space for the group to split into small groups and be able to talk without too much distraction from other groups.  Participants should be made aware of ground rules for discussion, including respect for all voices and confidentiality of the information shared.

PLE activities

This PLE includes four activities: selecting an actionable issue, collecting and using of data from multiple primary and secondary sources and types on social, economical and cultural conditions, identifying current approaches and practices, and identifying current assumptions and pressures pertaining to the selected issue or problem. In small and large group work, participants will compare and contrast their issues, context, practices and assumptions, particularly as these are experienced or impact historically marginalized groups.

A. Selecting an actionable issue

Working in small groups of four each, participants will explore different issues. Each group will assign a recorder to chart responses to the following questions:

  1.  How would you describe the current state of [early childhood education, special education, ELLs, or other issue] locally and nationally?
  2. Who is marginalized and in what ways? Which subgroups—particularly based on race, ethnicity and income status—are least well served and in what ways?
  3. What issue(s) are of most concern to you?
  4. What issues can be most easily addressed? What issues can have the greatest influence?
  5. What issues or priorities would you like to advocate on behalf of children, families and care givers in your school/center/program?

At the end of the activity each group will share out their results. The whole group will review charts and  identify common elements and patterns that emerged about the topics and what they have learned. They will offer suggestions—individually and collectively—about how to narrow the focus around a specific, actionable issue or problem.

Following this work, the instructor will lead them into identify the elements of what makes an issue or problem actionable and appropriate for advocacy and action. They will do this by generating and distilling a list of elements and test them against a hypothetical issue or problem and a given context to determine what makes it actionable and then appropriate for advocacy and action.

B. Collecting and using of data from multiple primary and secondary sources and types on social, economical and cultural conditions

In this combination of activities, participants will learn about different types of primary and secondary sources of data and how to access and use them in analyzing an issue or problem from multiple perspectives and to take into account the unique experiences of historically marginalized groups of students, families, schools and communities. In analyzing different sources of data, the participants will consider both the nature of the issue—how it presents itself—and its Impact (what happens as a result), causes that have created it, and related conditions (what exists with it).

To better understand an issue or problem—particularly for how different subgroups may be differentially affected—and the causes and consequences of the issue or problem for children, families, schools or communities, the instructor and participants will engage in four steps:

  1. Brainstorm various types of primary and secondary data sources on attributes and conditions for their selected issues
  2. Using a jigsaw discussion process, review the required readings on types of data
  3. Conduct an equity audit:
    1. Use the Warm Springs case study as an example.
      Gerst-Pepin, C. (2004). Equity audits for social justice. Burlington, VT: The National Institute On Leadership, Disability And Students Placed At Risk.
    2. Use the UCEA data module:
  4. Use a mind-mapping tool to explore the attributes of the issue or problem further, such as:
  5. Issue Refinement Process:  Discuss issues selected.  Develop the core of the issue by examining what is underneath each component of that issue.  Keep refining until you feel you reached the “core” or “heart” of the problem.  The “”core” or “heart” is the subject for the one minute video. 

Discussion question to help articulate the exact issue.  The candidate examines the first statement and looks for the issue of thought that lies beneath the current statement.  This is repeated until the final essence of the issue is all that remains.  Visuals that might be helpful are:

A stack of paper.  Starting with the issue as proposed, each paper under the issue documents what lies beneath the above issue.  Continue the process until the

fina l (“core”) issue is reached and there is no issue below the current one.







An artichoke can also be the visual as you peel away the leaves until you reach the “heart”







Extension activities. There are various ways in which participants can dig more deeply into analyzing an issue further. These include:

  • interviewing leaders, staff or students about the nature of the issue or problem and its conditions and effects
  • review the research literature
  • video tape the problem or issue in action. Participants are encouraged to create a one-minute video that captures the essence of their proposed issue.

C. Identifying current approaches and practices.

Issues and problems exist within the current state of educational practice. Thus, as participants identify issues and problems, they must also identify the current practices and approaches in which these problems exist.

Again, in small groups and drawing on the research collected on the issue, participants should reflect on the following questions to enable them to brainstorm about practices and approaches pertaining to their issue or problem and then, through an extension activity, investigate these further in their field setting:

How is the issue or problem currently being addressed?

What programs, policies and practices contribute to this problem or issue? How?

How are programs, policies and practices differentially experienced by marginalized groups (particularly based on race/ethnicity, income status, and other specialized needs status)?

D. Identifying current assumptions and pressures pertaining to the selected issue or problem.

How we value an issue or problem is based upon the framework or lens that we have. These frameworks or lens in turn influence the strategies we select to address the problem. To uncover how their selected issue or problem has been framed—and how these frameworks relate to strategies proposed or being used—the instructor will engage participants first in analyzing an historical issue, described in a NYTimes editorial. Based on their insights from this analysis, the participants will then turn to unpack the assumptions that frame their issue or problem (or could be used to frame it).

    1. Use a case example of how assumptions frame policy and action. The instructor will begin by exploring with participants how assumptions frame interpretation of problems and solutions by using the NYTimes editorial below.
      • What did different groups define as the problem or issue?
      • What framework or lens did these groups have?
      • How did the way in which the issue was framed influence advocacy and action?
      • What were the consequences of these actions as related to how the issue was framed?
      • What role did race/ethnicity and socio-economic status play in how the issues were identified, framed and acted upon?
      • What was the social/political and economic context of this issue or problem and how did context matter?

The pickle example:

Through whole group discussion, participants will identify what the issues or problems were, how these were interpreted, the solutions developed, and the consequences, as well as the larger context in which these existed. Possible discussion questions are as follows: 

  1. Next, participants will turn to exploring these elements in relation to their own selected problem or issue. In pairs, participants will challenge each other to identify various assumptions about an issue or problem including both positive and negative views and interpretations.
  2. In addition, they will explore together the questions of:

     What are recent and emerging political, social, economic, legal and cultural pressures on your school/program/center in serving the full range of learners in your school/program/center?

    What students, families, schools or groups are marginalized and how by these various pressures? In particular, how are racial/ethnic minority and low income students differentially affected?

  3. Using the worksheet below, participants will then map out the issue, current practices, perceived assumptions and desired effects for improving upon the issue or problem.
  4. Feedback and reflection. They will then post these for a gallery walk among all participants, who will review each others’ analyses and offer suggestions and recommendations for expanding upon or refining their analysis, and for further research and inquiry. Their feedback will give attention to the questions above.


Develop a two page paper describing the issue or problem (using data that illustrates the nature and dimensions of the problem), key attributes, current approach and practices, and articulating three or four key assumptions.

Extended assignment

Each participant could prepare a video and a one-page handout articulating the three or four key points about the selected issue and area for action, stressing its importance for historically marginalized groups and students.

Field work extension

To follow up this issue identification work in the internship, the participant should discuss their interest in and understanding of the issue with their internship supervisor and gather more information about how the issue or problem is experienced in their school or organizational setting. Additional research about the nature of the issue could include observations, focus group or individual interviews, surveys and analysis of school or program documentation. This research could be conducted collaboratively with other staff, as a means of building an interest constituency and fostering organizational learning about the issue. The participant could prepare a more in-depth, research based analysis of the issue as a memo or brief for the school, district or organization leadership, as a means of initiating interest for advocacy or action.


The instructor could use the following rubric to assess the participants’ issue memos and provide feedback. As a formative process, the instructor could have participants provide feedback to each other first, and edit.






Clearly identifies an issue or problem





Explains the issue or problem in context





Identify how the issue or problem is experienced by historically marginalized students, families, schools or communities





Explain how the issue or problem could be framed to be persuasive





Demonstrate an understanding of two or more ways in which the issue or problem has been framed





Uses 2 or more data sources to demonstrate the dimensions and attributes of the problem or issue





Cites relevant research or other background information about the issue or problem






Required reading

Gienapp,A. , Stachowiak, S.  Handbook of Data Collection Tools: Companion To “A Guide To Measuring Advocacy And Policy”. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

James, E. A. Milenkiewicz, M. T., Buchnam, A., (2008). Participatory Action Research for Educational Leadership: Using Data-Driven Decision Making to Improve Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (chapters on data collection and analysis)

Militello, M., Rallis, S. F., & Goldring, E. B. (2009). Leading with inquiry & action. How principals improve teaching and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. (chapter 2).

Suggested readings related to early childhood education

Garcia K. Swimming against the mainstream: Examining cultural assumptions in the Classroom (pp.22-29)

Okagaki, L & K. E. Diamond, (2000) Responding to cultural and linguistic differences in the beliefs and practices of families with young children. Young Children, 55 (3) 74-80.

Blank, H. K. (1997). Advocacy Leadership. In Kagan, S. L. & Bowman, B. T. (eds.). Leadership in early childhood education. Washington, D. C.: NAEYC.

Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in EC programs serving children birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Gormley, W. T. (1995). Everybody’s children: Child care as a public problem. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Jensen, M. A. & Hannibal, M. A. (1999). Issues, advocacy and leadership in early education.

Alliance for Childhood. (2009).  Crisis in the kindergarten:  Why children need to play in school.  New York: E. Miller & J. Almon.

NIEER. (2011). The state of preschool 2011. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.

Pianta, R.C. & Howes, C., eds. (2009). The promise of Pre-K. (NCRECE, Vol. 1). New York: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

Rose, (2010).  The promise of preschool.  Oxford University Press.

Suggested readings related to special education

Peterson, J. M., & Hittie, M. M. (2003). Inclusive teaching: Creating effective schools for all learners. San Francisco: Allyn & Bacon.

Herir, Thomas, (2008).  New Directions in Special Education.  Harvard Education Press, Massachusetts

Riehl, C. J. (2000). The principal’s role in creating inclusive schools for diverse students: A review of normative, empirical, and critical literature on the practice of educational administration. Review of Educational Research, 70(1), 55-81.

Yell, Mitchell, Drasgow, Erik  (2005).  No Child Left Behind.  Pearson, Ohio.

Wright, Pam, Wright, Pete (2010).  From Emotions to Advocacy second edition.   Harbor House Law Press, Virginia

Work sheet




How are marginalized individuals and groups differentially affected(race/ethnicity, poverty, urbanicity)




Existing practice


Assumptions (of the problem holder and alternatives)


Desired practice and related assumptions


Refinement of the issue


Post a graphic organizer on the issue, causes, conditions, and intended outcomes