Dashboard April 2018

This Edition's Dashboard

Infrastructure budget lacks schools funds

President Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan lists no specific investments aimed at improving the condition of the nation’s school buildings. There are sections of the proposal that could leave room for renovating and constructing schools, “depending on how the administration decides to implement them,” Education Week reports. It cites, for example, the budget request of $50 billion in dedicated funding for rural areas, some of which governors could use as they see fit.
In January, 150 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the president asking him to support legislation written by Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia to invest $100 billion in school improvements. The letter cited a 2014 U.S. Department of Education study that found it would take nearly $200 billion to upgrade public schools to “good” condition, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Severe flu season takes toll on schools

Federal Health Officials reported that flu activity is “widespread” in nearly every state in the nation, keeping thousands of students and staff home sick, and putting schools on alert. Official counts of flu-related school closings don’t exist, but the digital news site The 74 counted “at least 11 districts and nine scattered individual schools across 12 states that have closed for a full day or longer because of excessive absences and concerns about the virus.” It noted at least 30 child deaths and at least one state, Alabama, that had declared a state of emergency due to the flu.

District officials in Georgia’s DeKalb County School District had counselors make classroom visits to support students grieving over the death of a 15-year-old from the flu. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported a handful of other confirmed flu deaths of school- children in metro Atlanta.

While acknowledging that this year’s flu vaccine is not perfect, medical experts urge parents and their children to get vaccinated. They stress that the immunization can lower the severity of the flu if someone does get sick.

Anxiety for educators protected by DACA

School teachers account for almost 9,000 of the 690,000 unauthorized immigrants facing potential deportation if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, expires in March, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute. The fate of immigrants given DACA protections became a key issue in negotiations between the White House and Congress over an immigration and border security deal.

In the meantime, many teachers who are DACA recipients are dealing not only with the stress of their uncertain status but also with the anxiety of students who have family members who are at risk, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The National School Boards Association joined with several other education groups in December in a lawsuit filed in New York that could prevent school districts from firing teachers whose DACA permits expire.

Helping strangers may build teen self-worth

Surveys find that more than half of adolescents say they enjoy volunteering. And a new study suggests that helping strangers may benefit teens psychologically. Published in the Journal of Adolescence, the study of 681 teens, ages 11 to 14, finds that selfless behaviors, including large and small acts of kindness, may raise teens’ feelings of self-worth.

However, not all helping behaviors are equal. Researchers found that adolescents who assisted strangers reported higher self-esteem one year later. Those who helped friends and family did not report the same emotional benefit.

Investigator Laura Padilla-Walker of Brigham Young University told National Public Radio that there may be something unique about leaving one’s comfort zone to support someone you do not know.

“Helping a stranger is more challenging than assisting a friend, and when teens take this risk, they feel more competent,” she said. Other studies have found that altruism can help people connect socially, which may prevent loneliness and alleviate depression and anxiety.

Most 2008 recess budget cuts restored

Although public schools may still feel the repercussions from the 2008 recession, federal data showed a significant upsurge in state and local education spending in the 2014-15 school year—an increase that, if it persists, could eventually restore four earlier years of deep budget cuts, according to an analysis by The Hechinger Report.

Local, state, and federal governments collectively spent 2.8 percent more on public schools during the 2014-15 school year than in the previous year, the National Center for Education Statistics data show. That seemingly small percentage represents “an unusually large boost” when applied to “more than $575 billion spread across 50 million kindergarten to 12th-grade students,” the analysis says. “And it was the second consecutive year of spending increases, following the first post-recessionary spending uptick of 1.2 percent during the 2013-14 school year.”

“After adjusting for inflation by counting everything in constant 2015 dollars, three quarters of the education cuts accrued between 2009 and 2013 were restored by 2015,” the analysis says.

Girl wins right to use medical marijuana at school

A federal judge in Illinois ordered Schaumburg School District 54 to allow an 11-year-old girl to return to school with her prescription marijuana medications. Ashley Surin’s parents had sued the district after the girl was not allowed to attend class because she wears a medical marijuana patch and uses cannabis oil and lotion to manage seizures. The seizures stem from treatments she’s received to fight childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

State law in Illinois prohibits any form of marijuana—including medical marijuana—on school grounds or school buses, or at school-related events. Although Surin’s parents sued the district, Darcy Kriha, the district’s attorney, told CNN that lawyers for both the parents and the school district were determined to do whatever they could to help her.

Largest number ever of test-optional colleges

More than 1,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities now make decisions about all or many applicants without considering ACT or SAT test scores, says FairTest, a Boston-based, test-optional advocacy group. Half of the U.S. News “Top 100” liberal arts colleges are on FairTest’s list of test-optional schools, and include institutions such as George Washington, New York University, Wesleyan University, and Wake Forest University. The list also includes hundreds of public universities, such as George Mason, San Francisco State, and Old Dominion.

“The fastest growth ever of schools dropping ACT/SAT mandates” has occurred since the redesigned SAT was introduced four years ago, says FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer.

He says reasons for the test-optional surge include studies that show “an applicant’s high school record—grades plus course rigor—predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam. By going test-optional, colleges increase diversity without any loss in academic quality. Eliminating testing requirements is a ‘win-win’ for both students and schools.”

Graduation rate problems for D.C. Public Schools

The revelation that more than 900 D.C. Public School students — one-third of last year’s high school graduates — should not have been awarded diplomas because of truancy and other problems, has led to a series of investigations, The Washington Post reported.

A source told the paper that the FBI, the U.S. Education Department, and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General are inspecting the school system.

Questions about district graduation rates first emerged with a November report by radio station WAMU and National Public Radio that Ballou High School issued diplomas to seniors in 2017 who missed significant portions of the academic year and did not meet graduation requirements. A January analysis by D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education concluded that the graduation problem is not isolated to an individual D.C. school. It cited a systemic culture of passing students, and said that teachers felt pressured to award diplomas even if students failed to meet graduation requirements. D.C. schools had a 73 percent graduation rate in 2017, a record high.

Miami-Dade policy addresses student handcuffing, psych exams

Tollowing criticisms that district employees overuse Florida’s Baker Act on young children, Miami-Dade County Public Schools issued a new policy addressing how students with behavior issues are handled and when police intervention can be requested. In a widely circulated video, a first grader was handcuffed and taken by police for an involuntary psychiatric exam after he hit and kicked a teacher, the Miami Herald reported.

The Baker Act allows law enforcement to take people who appear to be mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves or others for an involuntary psychiatric exam.

According to the new policy, “School administration/school staff school administrators must exhaust all means at their disposal prior to requesting law enforcement intervention.” When school district police are called to respond, they will need to get the approval of a lieutenant or higher-ranking officer before transporting a child under the Baker Act. The policy also says handcuffs may be used if a child aggressively resists an officer.

False alarm scare in Hawaii leads to safety reminders

Hawaii’s chief education leader issued a statewide reminder of emergency preparations following the missile alert scare in January. In a letter to parents and guardians, Hawaii State Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto reassured parents and guardians that emergency drills — including shelter-in-place drills, the advised response for a ballistic missile threat — are in place.

“The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) indicates that the safest response to a ballistic missile threat is to ‘Get Inside, Stay Inside, and Stay Tuned,’” said Kishimoto.

“Thus, the proper emergency action drill for schools is, ‘Shelter-in-Place.’ Shelter-in-Place drills are one of the five annual emergency exercises practiced by schools.”

When there is a Shelter-in-Place situation, parents and guardians are also advised to do so as well, and avoid picking up children at school, the letter said.

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