Dashboard August 2017

This Edition's Dashboard

TRENDS

School bullying rates drop

A 10-year study finds that bullying and related behaviors in school, from pushing and shoving to verbal insults to negative online posts, have significantly declined. The research, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, measured self-reported data collected from nearly 247,000 students, grades four to 12, between 2005 and 2014. It found that in 2014, 13 percent of students reported being bullied in the past month, down from a peak of 29 percent in 2007.

All forms of bullying declined, including physical (such as pushing and slapping), verbal (threats, teasing, and name-calling), and cyberbullying (shaming or teasing via email, texts, or social media). The authors say this behavior is still of great concern and that “additional research is needed to identify the factors that contributed to this declining trend.”

Students Report on Bullying, 2014 vs. 2005:

43 percent witnessed bullying, down from 66 percent.

7 percent say they perpetuated bullying, down from 21 percent.

5 percent were hit, kicked, or slapped, down from 22 percent.

7 percent were threatened, down from 19 percent.

9 percent were the subject of rumors, down from 34 percent.

Fixing a tax loophole to ease infrastructure woes

Could tweaking the tax code so that old school buildings would be eligible for federal historic preservation tax credits help repair and modernize crumbling school facilities? A feature in The American Prospect examines this possibility, along with the Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2017, a comprehensive school infrastructure bill introduced in Congress.

Out of 100,000 school buildings nationally, between 15,000 to 20,000 would be eligible for the tax credit, if “an arcane loophole in the tax code that prohibits historic credits from financing repairs unless the properties are transformed into something distinctly new” was scrapped, says the Prospect article. It notes that this same financing tool was used by President Donald Trump to transform the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., into a luxury hotel.

Curbing ‘senioritis’

It’s important to remind rising seniors-—and their parents—that senior year school performance can affect both admission decisions and financial aid awards. Too often, students think they can take it easy during their final year of high school, but performing well inside and outside of the classroom can pay off. U.S. News & World Report reports that “Depending on the college, students might be able to leverage more scholarship money by sharing accomplishments from their senior year.”

Although need-based aid likely won’t be affected, there may be the chance “to negotiate for more merit aid, scholarships or grants that are based on a student’s accomplishments,” including grade point average, test scores, and leadership experience. Certain recognition programs, such as honor societies and scientific prizes don’t make their announcements until well into senior year, and so would not have been included on student’s original application, says Sara Harberson with admissionsrevolution.com.

A look at ‘lunch shaming’

Lunch shaming—the practice of singling out students whose families can’t pay for their lunches or who have unpaid meal account debt—has come out of the shadows.

Much of the attention coincided with a bill passed in the New Mexico state legislature earlier this year that banned the practice of giving students with meal account debt a substitute meal instead of the standard hot lunch offering.

The bill also banned identifying students with stickers or wristbands, refusing them food, or requiring them to do chores in exchange for food. New Mexico state Sen. Michael Padilla, who drafted the bill—officially known as the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights — told NPR that, as a child, he mopped cafeteria floors to earn his school lunch.

A 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report found that nearly half of all school districts used some form of shaming to persuade parents to pay bills, the New York Times reported. About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich; 3 percent denied food entirely.

Texas state Rep. Helen Giddings, who introduced an anti-lunch shaming bill in the Texas State Legislature this year, argued in the Dallas Morning News that such practices damage students’ self-esteem, affect their ability to do their best in school, and unfairly put the burden of school finances on students instead of adults—where it rightfully belongs. The Texas bill didn’t pass, but a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has taken on the issue, with proposed legislation now in the U.S. House and Senate.

Media attention about the issue has spurred the creation of dozens of volunteer donation efforts—from district-specific gofundme.com fundraisers to schoollunchfairy.org, a South Florida-based charity that distributes donations to “emergency lunch funds” nationwide.

Another push this year came courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A July 1 deadline set by USDA required school districts to have a written meal charge policy clarifying what to do when students do not have money in their lunch accounts or the cash to pay.

It was while preparing for the federal requirement that Indiana’s Portage Township Schools decided in May to revise its meal charge policy. Previously, once a student’s account reached a $5 debt, the student received a supplemental meal: a peanut butter or cold cheese sandwich, along with fruit and milk, says Superintendent Amanda Alaniz. 

Under the revised plan, students receive “whatever they so choose,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure that students have a full stomach so that they can go to class and learn. They’re not going to learn their best having to have a supplemental meal that’s evident to others and that ultimately makes them own a financial issue that is not theirs.”

Unpaid meal debt can be expensive for schools. In 2016, the School Nutrition Association reported that about 75 percent of school districts had an unpaid student meal debt, an increase from 70 percent of districts reporting debt in 2014.

Even families that don’t qualify for free or reduced-price meals still may have a “temporary economic situation that sets them back, and we don’t want kids to get caught up in that,” says Dan Tredinnick, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Derry Township School District. The district’s policy has been to provide every student with the same lunch selections, no matter their account balance, for more than a decade.

—Michelle Healy, associate editor

Video game player scores athletic scholarship

It’s no urban legend: colleges really are offering scholarships to students to play video games. Among the latest is Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. It recently offered Jordan Zakrajsek, a 2017 graduate of Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio, a full athletic scholarship in its new eSports (competitive video gaming) program. Zakrajsek will compete on one of the university’s two “League of Legends” teams.

The Chronicle-Telegram newspaper reports that “League of Legends,” made by the company Riot Games, “has become one of the most video popular games in the world with 10 million active players each month.” Riot Games executives say that at least 28 colleges and universities offered scholarships to players of its team game for this coming academic year. Last year, only 11 schools offered scholarships.

Napping pods help sleep-challenged teens

High school students are notorious for not getting enough sleep. Studies show that, optimally, teenagers need between nine and 10 hours of sleep a night, but that 69 percent report getting insufficient sleep on an average school night. Although napping is not the total cure for a legion of drowsy teens, it appears to offer a temporary fix. A study of napping pods—egg-shaped lounge chairs that recline and have a circular lid that can be pulled over the chest to shield against light—appears to offer an effective spot for a short snooze.

The New Mexico State University study on sleep deprivation and high schoolers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, found that using the pods not only helped students get a quick nap, but also helped reduce anxiety and stress. “Even if kids don’t fall asleep, but simply ‘zone out,’ they emerge saying they feel ‘refreshed and calm’” after about 20 minutes, researcher Linda Summers told NPR.

Sharing superintendents saves money

A growing number of Iowa school districts are choosing to share superintendents. Data reviewed by The Courier newspaper shows the number of full-time superintendents in the state whose work and salary was shared by multiple school districts tripled over the past decade. The number rose from 16 during the 2007-08 school year to 52 during the 2016-17 school year.

Lisa Bartusek, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, told The Courier that the trend is very much in line with school boards’ efforts to “maximize the programs we can provide for students while still allocating the right level of resource to that important function of administration and leadership.” An incentive program that increases state funding to districts that share administrative personnel is credited with encouraging the trend.

Purple Stars for military-friendly schools

Schools in Ohio that best meet the unique needs of military families will be recognized by the State Department of Public Instruction with a new Purple Star Award. State education officials say the award recognizes the special challenges facing children in military families.

To be eligible for the award, Ohio schools must have a liaison on staff for military families and the school. That staffer must complete professional development work and notify teachers and administrators of military children in the school system, and the district must have a web page connected to resources for military families, the Dayton Daily News reports. An advisory board composed of staff members with the state departments of education, higher education, veterans services, and the adjutant general of the National Guard, will select the schools.

Despite law, few Montana districts arm educators

Although state law in Montana gives school boards the right to allow educators to carry a gun in school, only three districts do, according to a records review by the Billings Gazette. That represents less than 1 percent of schools in a state with a generally gun-friendly culture and high concentrations of gun owners. The review found that three districts have staff members who carry guns; two others have current authorizations for a staff member to carry a gun, but they don’t currently and one recently allowed a former teacher to carry a gun, but no longer does.

The Gazette notes that, “virtually no academic research shows armed staffers improve school safety, and limited incidents complicate research on active shooter situations.” Statistics show that Montana has had two deaths in separate school shootings in modern history.

Chicago adds finances to grad requirements

Chicago public schools has added additional academic requirements in science and financial literacy for its high school graduates. District students currently take three years of science, but a new policy specifies one credit each in biology, chemistry and physics to graduate. Chief of Teaching and Learning Latanya McDade told WTTW-TV that the goal is to better prepare students for postsecondary success in the fast-growing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A required pass/fail course in financial literacy will aid students in making “empowered financial decisions.” The new science requirement will take effect with the class of 2022; the financial education requirement begins with the class of 2021.

Teacher shortage in Detroit

Add Detroit to the school districts across the country struggling with a severe teacher shortage. The recently rechristened Detroit Public Schools Community District has a teaching staff of more than 2,600 for 97 schools and more than 200 vacancies, the Detroit Free Press reports. During the past school year, many classroom vacancies were filled by long-term subs or other school staff. Teachers overseeing combined classes was not uncommon.

New Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has vowed to address the teacher shortage. Teacher representatives say the vacancies limit teachers’ prep time, increase emotional burnout, and hinder academic improvement efforts.

READER PANEL

Are your schools secure? In this issue, we asked our readers about school security

In this issue, we asked our readers about school security

What are your top security concerns?

We are trying to prepare for all threats, but cyberbullying is a challenge, because many incidences don’t take place at school or during school hours. Beyond human threats, weather is a big consideration in our area and trying to put protocols in place to help transport students safely home or keep them in our schools during inclement weather is a topic of conversation for our board. —Julia Bernath, school board member, Georgia

Bullying—Donald LaPlante, school board member, California

Physical and psychological bullying. — school board member, Ohio

Parents—Philip Cooper, education researcher, Georgia

Cyber attacks, shooter—Albert Miller, school board member, N.J.

Cyberbullying is one of our top concerns, and the escalation of bullying in general since the November 2016 election.

—Maureen King, school board member, Maine

In terms of security, our district commissioned a formal risk assessment several years ago that included primarily a review of the external issues of concern. These included appropriate levels of lighting and placement, use of cameras for both deterrent and ability to “go back” and review if something did happen, security of entrances by making sure we had vestibule set-ups requiring buzzing in of non-school personnel, placing impediments at entrances and evaluating the glass and making sure all doors’ locking mechanisms were in proper working order. —Phil Pritzker, school board member, Illinois

How is your district making your schools safer?

We are developing an RFP to help improve our processes of devices for safety on the internet and geo-listening as well as making emergency protocol more accessible through existing devices. We are trying to solve for what we need, not just look at the newest items on the market. We have invested in cameras that have true analytical capability placed in strategic locations in our buildings to help identify individuals who may be involved in inappropriate activity. We have spent time on training staff and training of officers in our schools to be alert to signs of concern in their environments. —Julia Bernath, school board member, Georgia

We’ve done the locked double doors, but we’re exceedingly weak on bullying. The problem starts with the board and the superintendent and proceeds downward. — school board member, Ohio

We have put in place visitor policies. Anyone coming to our buildings must have an appointment and show ID before entering our buildings. If a parent comes to drop something off we have boxes located outside the school they place it in.—Albert Miller, school board member, New Jersey

We are midway through a three-school renovation process that will address: (1) reducing access (our high school had over 50 entrances); (2) sealed lobbies; (3) safer drop off and pick up traffic patterns; (4) better locks on all rooms (and electronically controlled); and (5) increased screening for visitors at all schools. — Maureen King, school board member, Maine

As a follow-up to our external risk assessment, the school board and administrative team agreed on a phase-in of the recommendations based on the urgency of each item identified and the ability to fund the recommendations. It is an ongoing source of evaluation with adjustments embedded in our processes. —Phil Pritzker, school board member, Illinois

Equity challenges for rural schools

Just as rural voters and their economic prospects were the subject of much discussion during and after the last election cycle, a new report says rural schools deserve equal consideration. “Why Rural Matters,” from the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust, highlights “substantial challenges” facing rural schools with “high rates of poverty, diversity and students with special needs,” Politico reports. Among those challenges: insufficient high-quality preschool programs and difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers.

There are many successful rural schools, but inequitable funding means many others are unable to offer their students equitable opportunities. Nearly 8.9 million students attend rural schools, more than the enrollments of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the next 75 largest school districts combined, says the report. Alan Richard, board chair for the trust, tells Politico that the Trump administration’s emphasis on vouchers and charter schools “does little to help” rural communities “which often have far fewer charter schools or private schools.”

Good-bye class rankings

Although Central Magnet High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had 48 valedictorians this year, the tradition of ranking students based on grade point averages, is becoming less common. The Associated Press reports that many schools are opting instead for honors that recognize everyone who scores at a certain threshold, such as the college-style Latin honor system. It says, “About half of schools no longer report class rank, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Administrators worry about the college prospects of students separated by large differences in class rank despite small differences in their GPAs, and view rankings as obsolete in an era of high expectations for every student. There are also concerns about intense, potentially unhealthy competition, and students letting worries about rank drive their course selections.”

New York No. 1 in school spending

New York State tops the latest census report on school spending, with an expenditure of $21,206 per student in 2015. That’s 86 percent more than the national average of $11,392. Alaska is second, spending $20,172 per student, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Public Education Finances: 2015 Report.” States with the lowest per-student expenditures were Idaho with $6,923 and Utah with $6,575.

New York spent a total of $64.8 billion on elementary and secondary schools in 2015 to educate approximately 2.6 million students. It was second to California, which spent about $75.5 billion on 6.2 million students.

The total expenditure by public school systems nationally clocked in at $639.5 billion in fiscal year 2015, up from $613.7 billion in fiscal year 2014.

Funding formulas don’t always benefit poor kids

Research suggests increasing spending on education can improve student outcomes, especially among low-income students, but school funding policies vary widely. A report by the Urban Institute, a social and economic policy nonprofit in Washington, D.C., says that “whether funding is progressive, with the most money going to low-income students, or regressive, with more money going to nonpoor students, depends on the interaction of multiple funding streams, policies, and the demographic structure of the state and its districts.”

The report’s analysis finds that 35 states have funding formulas that attempt to target low-income students. Many states that have progressive funding formulas on paper do not achieve this goal in practice. In some states, the potential for progressive funding is constrained by how low-income students are spread across school districts. Demographics, however, need not be destiny, according to the report. It says that policy design also matters, and points to states with similar levels of economic segregation that have different levels of progressivity.

Alternate connections

Although high-speed internet access outside of school has become an essential tool for educating today’s students, about 5 million households with school-aged children can’t afford broadband or live in remote rural areas without a broadband provider. Such is the case in Virginia’s Albemarle County.

But instead of waiting for commercial internet providers to supply them with this important resource, Albemarle is among a handful of districts looking to a little-known alternative source: “a slice of the electromagnetic spectrum the federal government long ago set aside for schools,” Wired magazine reports.

In partnership with local government and businesses, the school system is accessing the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) to construct its own countywide broadband network. “Some internet-access advocates say EBS is underutilized at best, and wasted at worst, because loose regulatory oversight by the FCC has allowed most of the spectrum to fall into the hands of commercial internet companies,” says the magazine’s examination of EBS and the digital divide.

Civil rights office cutbacks

The Betsy Devos-led department of education plans to curb the agency’s investigations into allegations of civil rights violations and move away from enforcement policies set under the Obama administration, the New York Times reported. An internal memo issued by Candice E. Jackson, the acting head of the department’s office of civil rights, says that “requirements that investigators broaden their inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims” will be scaled back. And policies that require regional offices to alert Washington staff on issues such as “the disproportionate disciplining of minority students” in schools, and “the mishandling of sexual assault cases” on college cases will be dropped.

According to the Jackson memo, the new directives are designed to resolve civil rights cases quickly, reduce processing time, and ensure appropriate care and attention to individual cases. Critics of the action told the Times that the new directives will backfire “because efficiency would take priority over thoroughness.”

Google program teaches safe online exploration

A new educational campaign aims to teach preteens how to be safe explorers on the internet and avoid scams, predators, and other potential dangers. Tech giant Google developed the “Be Internet Awesome” digital citizenship and safety program with input from groups including the Family Online Safety Institute, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, and Connect Safely.

The program is built around a series of classroom lessons and activities tailored for children ages 8 to 12, “a time when many of today’s kids are getting their own smartphones and other devices that connect to the internet,” the Associated Press reports. Google and its partners developed an online game called “Interland” to help put the program’s lesson into practice. The game, free classroom curriculum, and other digital safety resources for school and home are available at g.co/BeInternetAwesome.

Project-based learning gains

Project-based learning (PBL) can help boost the achievement of high-poverty students, according to a recent study by two University of Michigan researchers. The study involved two sets of second-graders at high-poverty schools. One group learned social studies through project-based units. The other group had traditional instruction. At the end of year, standardized tests were administered to both groups. In the PBL group, gains were 63 percent higher for social studies and 23 percent higher for informational reading than in the control group.

“Rather than saying that PBL raises or does not raise student achievement compared to other approaches, the most defensible stance from our research is that PBL can raise student achievement in high-poverty communities,” the researchers wrote in an Edutopia blog post.

U.S. preschool enrollment lags

A new report on international early childhood education shows the U.S. is behind other countries in preschool enrollment and universal preschool offerings. “Starting Strong 2017” by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that, in the U.S., 40 percent of 3-year-olds and about 70 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs.

Preschool enrollment of all 3- to 5-year-olds in the U.S. is 67 percent, the lowest out of all OECD countries except Switzerland and Turkey.

In other countries included in the report, the average enrollment rate for 3-year-olds was 70 percent. In two-thirds of the countries included in the report, the enrollment for 4-year-olds was 90 percent or more.

Unlike the U.S., “universal or near-universal access to at least one year of [early childhood education] is now a reality in most OECD countries,” Gabriela Ramos, OECD chief of staff, told U.S. News & World Report.

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