Dashboard December 2017

This Edition's Dashboard

Gallup survey finds boost in public school confidence

Confidence in the nation’s public schools bumped up in 2017, with 36 percent of U.S. adults expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools. That’s a 6 percentage point increase from 2016 and marks the highest confidence rating since 2009, according to a Gallup News poll. The research organization has measured Americans’ confidence in public schools since 1986. Confidence hit its lowest point in 2014, when about one in four U.S. adults (26 percent) expressed confidence in the nation’s public schools. This low was nearly half the high mark of 50 percent in 1987. The boost in public school confidence parallels the increase in Americans’ satisfaction with public school education as measured in Gallup’s annual Work and Education survey, conducted in August. Nearly half of U.S. adults (47 percent) said they are “completely” or “somewhat” satisfied with the quality of education for K-12 students, up 4 percentage points from 2016 but still trailing the high mark for satisfaction (53 percent) that occurred in 2004.

Mental health support for Harvey-affected schools

At the request of Gov. Greg Abbot, Texas education Commissioner Mike Morath established a task force to identify and provide mental health supports and assistance to schools, universities, and their communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. The Texas Education Agency took the lead on the initiative, in partnership with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in collaboration with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. “The invisible wounds left behind after this storm are often the most difficult to recover from,” Abbott said in a statement. “It is crucial that the State of Texas provides our educators and students with all available resources to address mental health needs as quickly as possible.”

Court: Off-campus speech off-limits

Schools cannot discipline students who use profane language off campus, according to a preliminary ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania. The decision came in response to a school that removed a student from the junior varsity cheerleading squad after she used profanity in a social media post that was shared with her friends on a weekend. The school called the Snapchat post—in which the student and a friend also were shown extending their middle fingers—“negative,” “disrespectful,” and “demeaning.” Molly Tack-Hooper, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania who represented the student, told Public News Service that the court’s opinion was clear: “There is no question that in Pennsylvania, schools just don’t have the power to punish kids because they use the ‘F-word’ on social media if they do it on their own time.” The court reinstated the student to the cheerleading squad until a final decision is issued.

Opioid epidemic revives recovery schools

In its fight against the raging opioid epidemic, a Maryland state panel is examining reopening a specialized school for high school students in recovery from substance use or dependency. The Associated Press reports that Maryland opened the first such public recovery school program in the nation, the Phoenix School, in 1979, as an alternative program in Montgomery County. Combining both “an education and a positive peer culture centered on recovery,” the concept was soon replicated in a second Maryland school, Phoenix II, and in 40 similar public schools around the nation.” After years of successful work, the Phoenix schools began to lose their spark due to a lack of interest and attention, the report says. By 2012, both Maryland operations had been closed. Today, however, with the death toll from opioid overdoses climbing and the state committing attention and resources to the problem, a state panel has been charged with re-examining the public recovery school model. In July, the state’s Start Talking Maryland Act came into effect and directed schools to take precautionary measures against opioid exposure and abuse. It also established the work group looking at recovery schools.

Reducing social media misuses

In New Jersey’s Lenape High School District, educators and law enforcement officials are working together to alert parents to the “social, emotional and academic fallout stemming from the misuse of social media and phone apps.” Patrick Robey, a Medford, New Jersey, police officer and school resource officer for the district, tells the Burlington County Times that “nearly every conflict that police are called to investigate in district schools is related to some kind of social media misuse” —primarily bullying, inappropriate photo sharing, or planning fights. The district is responding with newsletters to parents, training educators, and hosting community events to get the word out about the misuse of online platforms and phone apps. In addition, school resource officers, teachers, and coaches are talking to students about social media awareness and the dangers of certain online behaviors.

Religious studies promotes understanding

A team of researchers at Harvard Divinity School are developing resources for teaching religion in classrooms. Created by the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard, the materials are aligned with the religious studies supplement issued in June by the National Council for the Social Studies in its College, Career and Civic Life Framework report. The supplement stresses that religious literacy is needed to promote understanding and communication in our increasingly diverse society. Prospect High School, in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, is helping pilot the new religious studies coursework. Although the U.S. Constitution prohibits public school officials from directing or favoring prayer, the new religious studies materials are designed to represent the academic study of religion, which the Constitution supports, Harvard scholar Diane Moore told the Chicago Tribune. “You can’t elevate one belief over another, and you can’t elevate a belief over a non-belief. But we’re teaching kids to live in an informed democracy, and these very important issues deserve discussion in a very respectful and critical way.”

ESSA plans include chronic absenteeism

An estimated 6 million students are “chronically absent” or missing 15 days or more from school each year. Growing attention to the problem likely will become even more pronounced now that it is becoming a key metric in measuring school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) federal law, a study finds. National Public Radio notes that ESSA requires states to cite five measures of school performance, with four focused on academic achievement and a fifth tied to a “non-academic” measure of school quality or student success. The Georgetown University FutureEd think tank analysis of the final state plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education finds that chronic absenteeism “is by far the most popular non-academic indicator,” with 36 states and the District of Columbia using some form of chronic student absenteeism in their plans.

ACT highlights extent of achievement gaps

Results from the most recent ACT college admission test underscore the “persistent achievement gaps” between disadvantaged student groups and their better-off peers, the Washington Post reports. Only 9 percent of students in the class of 2017 who came from low-income families, whose parents did not go to college, and who identified as black, Hispanic, American Indian or Pacific Islander are strongly ready for college, according to ACT scores. That compares to a readiness rate of 54 percent—six times higher—for students with none of those demographic characteristics. The finding “kind of shocked us,” ACT chief executive officer Marten Roorda told the paper. “We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know it was this bad.” This was the first such analysis conducted by the test company. The average composite score on the 2017 ACT was 21 out of a maximum 36 on the multiple-choice test of English, math, reading, and science. That score was up from 20.8 the year before.

FCC settles with Idaho over broadband contract

Idaho repaid $3.5 million to the Federal Communications Commission for federal funds used for a failed broadband contract for schools across the state. The payment helps settle claims that the state improperly used about $14 million in federal funds that were paid to the defunct Idaho Education Network (IEN), the Idaho Statesman reported. The payment came from funds appropriated by the state legislature in anticipation of a legal settlement. Advocates of the IEN (including Gov. Butch Otter and then-state schools Superintendent Tom Luna) initially promoted it as a broadband network linking every Idaho high school. But the state’s $60 million contract for the service, issued to vendors who had been major contributors to Otter’s campaigns, was declared illegal in court, shutting the service down. Lawmakers then allocated state funds to school districts to purchase their own broadband services, which ended up costing millions less. In the end, the state spent millions in legal fees, settlements, and other costs.

Utah students see ‘Hamilton’

A group of 2,300 students in Utah will get to see the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” during a special matinee when the show’s national touring company stops in Salt Lake City in the spring. But three members of the Utah Board of Education did not support signing on to the performance and curriculum project offered through the Hamilton Education Program. In an agreement with the board, the program will allow high school juniors from primarily rural and low-income areas to participate in a performing arts and U.S. history curriculum centered on the lives of Alexander Hamilton and America’s Founding Fathers, and to see the matinee performance. Critics on the board raised concerns about the discounted ticket price for students ($10), the use of adult language in the musical, and the stage production’s accuracy of historical events and figures, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Distracted driving dangers mapped

Distracted drivers are always a danger on the road. But that danger only increases when they are on roads near schools. A study that analyzed almost 4 million drivers cruising near 75,000 schools identified the five worst counties for distracted drivers. They are New York, Kings, and Queens Counties in New York state; San Francisco County in California; and Miami-Dade County in Florida. The five best: La Salle County, Texas; Braxton County, West Virginia; Claiborne County, Tennessee; Montgomery County, Missouri; and Jackson County, North Carolina. The study by Zendrive, a driving analytics technology company, found that almost nine in 10 drivers were using their phones while behind the wheel; 1 in 3 was engaged in unsafe behaviors in a school zone, CBS News reported. When it comes to school drop-offs, afternoon hours from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. a fact are more dangerous than those in the morning, especially from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., likely due to heavier work traffic, according to Zendrive’s number-crunching.

U.S. lags behind in developed world education spending

Overall spending on elementary and high school education declined 3 percent from 2010 to 2014 in the U.S. while education spending in the world’s developed countries, on average, rose 5 percent per student during the same period, a report shows. The decline in the U.S. came as the economy grew and student enrollment increased by just 1 percent, resulting in a 4 percent decrease in spending per student, according the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annual analysis on education indicators. Its data show that per-pupil spending in some countries rose at a far higher rate. For example, between 2008 and 2014, education spending rose 76 percent in Turkey, 36 percent in Israel, 32 percent in the United Kingdom, and 27 percent in Portugal. The cut in the U.S. “clearly puts constraints on the environment you have for learning,” Andreas Schleicher, chief of the OECD office that put together the report, told The Hechinger Report.

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