In this dissertation I set out to apply Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach to an exploration of the work of Education Support Professionals (ESPs) in the United States. ESPs are the non-teaching/non-administrative staff in schools. They are the clerical staff, the custodians, the food service staff, the health aides, the paraeducators, the security staff, the skilled trades such as plumbers, the technical services staff, and the transportation staff such as bus drivers. In the United States ESPs make up as much as a third of the adults working in a school district. Yet, they are often absent in the research and policy discourses. To consider their work, I used three major components. The first was Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach. The second was the idea of a holistic approach to children, often referred to as the whole child, and, in the U.S. policy framework, the Whole Child Approach. The third component was the consideration of the voices and views of Education Support Professionals.
Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach is a normative framework that asks about the real opportunities people have to do and be. Framed around ten Central Capabilities, I believe it is a useful tool for considering what policies, programs, and practices should be in place in our schools and for examining the ones that are in place. The Whole Child Approach is a voluntary policy framework that is rooted in a holistic view of what children need to thrive. Derived from the work of Nel Noddings on the Ethics of Care, it has served as a reference point for educators, families, and policymakers seeking an alternative to a high-stakes, test-based accountability system. The idea of ESPs as a group worth considering is borrowed from the National Education Association (NEA), the largest educator organization in the U.S. I share the NEA’s view that the nine disparate job categories of ESPs share common responsibilities for students that transcend their job descriptions.
Because ESPs have been largely ignored in the prevailing education discourse, their voices and views are not often heard. In this Dissertation, I set out to engage directly with ESPs, doing so through a series of focus groups conducted in the fall of 2017 in Utah. In these groups, participants discussed their work, how they understood the idea of the whole child and they began to interact with Nussbaum’s Central Capabilities.
Based on the research conducted I offer the following broad findings. Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach can serve as a useful tool for engaging people who work in schools, as well as parents and students in considering what schools should be like and how they should treat students. Its application to the Whole Child Approach or other emerging policy frameworks can offer a better understanding of what is needed for students to have real opportunities and to develop the capabilities they need for adulthood. I also argue that ESPs can and should be seen as professionals in education, whose voices and views should be valued.
SOURCE: Howley, Nora L. (2019) “The role of education support professionals in supporting the whole child: a capabilities approach.” Ed.D thesis, School of Education, College of Social Science, University of Glasgow, November 2019.
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