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Dashboard December 2018

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Early education alternatives

A new multiyear study of six early education systems that outpace the U.S. on money spent per child, percentage of children enrolled, and math achievement at age 15 offers thought-provoking ideas about ways to improve early child care and education in the U.S., say researchers. The Early Advantage: Early Childhood Systems that Lead by Example, written by Sharon Lynn Kagan of Columbia University’s Teachers College and Yale University and colleagues, examines services for young children in Australia, England, Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore. “While all the countries studied have low-income populations in need of extra assistance to provide their young ones with quality child care and education, none of them make income level a requirement for services,” notes The Hechinger Report. Also, “these countries offer near-universal systems that guarantee some level of education for children age 3 and older.” And except for Hong Kong, all the countries “also offer provisions for infants and toddlers,” be it “subsidized care or extended (compared to the U.S.) paid parental leave.”

Teacher housing faces opposition

Days before the start of classes in Detroit, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti shut off drinking water in all 106 school buildings after 16 schools showed high levels of copper and/or lead. Officials with Detroit Public Schools Community District said the cause of the water contamination “was likely the ages of the school buildings and older plumbing systems,” The Detroit News reported. At a school board meeting, Vitti recommended that the district install water hydration stations in every building, calling that option, “the most practical, long-term and safest solution for water quality problems inside district schools.” Similar systems are used in Flint, Royal Oak, and Birmingham, Michigan, schools, as well as in Baltimore, Vitti said. Cost for the hydration stations — one for every 100 students and placement in faculty rooms and gymnasiums — comes with a $2 million price tag.

Appeals court backs Wisconsin’s school busing limit

A federal appeals court supported the state schools chief’s decision to not require a public school district to provide busing to students attending a private religious school. Parents of students at St. Augustine School sued Superintendent Tony Evers and the Friess Lake School District in 2016 after the district and Evers said the students did not qualify to ride district buses to school for free. “Under state law, public school districts are required to bus private school students, but only to one school per religious denomination in an attendance area,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The district and Evers argued that St. Augustine’s attendance area overlapped that of another school operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and therefore wasn’t eligible. The plaintiffs countered that the students were eligible for free transportation because St. Augustine operates independently of the archdiocese and therefore is not part of the same denomination.

By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling siding with Evers and the school district.

Study links violent video games, aggressive behavior

Add another study to the ongoing debate over the impact of violent video games. This time, an international study looking at more than 17,000 adolescents, ages 9 to 19, from 2010 to 2017, found a “relatively small, but statistically reliable” link between playing violent video games and an increase over time of physical aggression. The analysis of 24 studies from countries including the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that those who played violent games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” “Call of Duty,” and “Manhunt” were more likely to exhibit behavior such as being sent to the principal’s office for fighting or hitting a nonfamily member. While acknowledging that “no single research project is definitive,” lead researcher Jay Hull of Dartmouth College told USA TODAY that, “based on our findings, we feel it is clear that violent video game play is associated with subsequent increases in physical aggression.”

Texas teens learn to interact with the police

Texas public high school students are now required to watch a 16-minute video showing them how to interact with the police. The requirement is a part of the new Community Safety Education Act, passed last year by the Texas Legislature as public tensions escalated following several deadly police encounters, many of them starting with traffic stops, the Texas Tribune reports. The law requires that teens, new drivers, and police officers be specifically taught about police and citizen interactions. Starting with this year’s ninth-graders, students will be required to participate in a class and watch the video instruction. A school curriculum, prepared by the Texas Education Agency, includes four sections: the duties of officers, citizen rights, proper behavior during an interaction, and filing a complaint or compliment.

Florida asked to end hair policies

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked the Florida Department of Education to act against schools that ban students from sporting dreadlocks, braids, and other traditionally African-American hairstyles. A letter filed by the racial justice legal organization followed an investigation by the online publication Huffington Post. It found that “at least 20 percent of private schools participating in Florida’s Hope Scholarship Program have strict hair policies with distinct racial undertones. Six schools ban or regulate dreadlocks, Afros, and braids.” The Florida Hope Scholarship is a voucher program that gives publicly funded scholarships to kids who have experienced bullying. However, many of the private schools that participate in this program either ban LGBTQ students or have strict hair policies that disproportionately affect African-American students.

A downside to school security?

The presence of security officers as well as outdoor cameras seems to make students feel safer in schools, but the placing of cameras indoors has the opposite effect, surveys of more than 54,000 middle and high school students find. Even though cameras inside the school may have been installed for security reasons, students had the sense that they were being spied upon, says the report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“We’ve been focusing on physical safety in our schools, but we also need to consider emotional safety,” Arizona State University in Tempe researcher Sarah Lindstrom Johnson told Reuters. “If we’re not careful in our efforts to improve physical security of our schools, there may be an impact on students’ emotional safety.” Although administrations may see many safety and security benefits to indoor cameras, they “need to be thoughtful about why and where” they are placed, Johnson advised.

Hawaii worst state for teachers

Named the second-worst state for teachers in 2017, Hawaii takes the dubious first place title in 2018. Based on an analysis conducted by the financial services company WalletHub, Hawaii came in dead last when it comes to teacher salary and teacher support. WalletHub put the average starting salary for teachers in Hawaii at $24,409 when adjusted for the cost of living, and the average salary for all teachers at $30,086 when the cost of living is considered, HawaiiNewsNow.com reported. The analysis also said Hawaii has the nation’s lowest percentage of teachers (39 percent) who feel supported by their administrator. WalletHub listed Arizona (last year’s worst state for teachers) as the second-worst in 2018 and North Carolina the third-worst.

There was some good news for Hawaii: It ranked first in three areas—teacher tenure protections, teacher union strength, and a robust teacher rating system.

Fewer GED takers

In the wake of changes to the high school equivalency exam, the number of GED test takers declined significantly, a data analysis shows. Research by the Center for an Urban Future finds that the annual number of adult learners who completed the GED or one of the two other high school equivalency exams dropped by more than 45 percent from more than 570,000 in 2012 to roughly 310,000 in 2016. And the number passing the exam and earning a diploma decreased by more than 40 percent, from almost 400,000 in 2012 to just over 225,000 in 2016.

The GED exam was retooled in 2014, the same year that two new exams, TASC and HiSET, were introduced. According to the Hechinger Report, “All three new tests are more rigorous than the old GED and were designed to mirror the changes in traditional high schools with the introduction of Common Core standards.”

N.C. reduces testing after Hurricane Florence

Elementary schools in North Carolina damaged by Hurricane Florence in mid-September received relief from state-required testing. The News & Observer reported that the State Board of Education voted to waive a policy requiring kindergarten through third-grade students to take three reading assessments during the 2018-19 school year. State education officials said districts that were hardest hit by the storm would be eligible for a one-year waiver.

Insurance Journal reported that, due to a record number of claims, North Carolina’s public school insurance fund set aside $40 million for school districts and community colleges damaged by Florence, nearly three times more than the $14 million it paid out for Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Half of N.Y. grads need remedial help

A statewide survey of recent New York state high school graduates suggests that more needs to be done to prepare students for postgraduation success. Released by the New York Equity Coalition, the survey of more 1,000 former students who graduated between 2013 and 2017 finds that just 34 percent felt “significantly challenged” by their high school courses and 47 percent of those who went to college reported having to take at least one remedial course. Math was of particular concern, with 45 percent of students saying they wished their high schools had done a better job preparing them in that subject, the Buffalo News reported.

Michigan school district released from state oversight

The Pontiac School District has been released from a consent agreement signed with the state of Michigan in 2013 after a $52 million deficit required emergency assistance. Today, the district manages all of its operations and finances without state oversight, has regularly adopted balanced budgets, and has reduced the deficit to $6.6 million, WDIV reported. “This five-year partnership with the state Treasury Department has gotten the school district stable enough to sustain operations,” Superintendent Kelley Williams said in a statement. “We have shown growth academically and have shown fiscal responsibility with the passing of audits and a boost in our school district’s credit rating.” As part of the consent agreement, the district worked closely with Oakland Schools, the intermediate school district that serves school districts in Oakland County, for business administration and information technology services.

D.C. schools plan an Early College program

District of Columbia Public Schools will partner with Bard College in New York to open a school next fall that will allow students to graduate from high school with a two-year associate degree from the liberal arts college. The new program is expected to be located east of the Anacostia River — the area of the city with the highest concentration of disadvantaged children, according to the Washington Post. The city said it will collect feedback from the public in coming months to determine a specific building location. Bard currently operates High School Early Colleges in New York, Newark, Cleveland, Baltimore, and New Orleans. It says that 85 percent of its students attend a four-year college within the first year of graduation. “With Bard High School Early College, we are answering the community’s call for more early college options and building new pathways to college for our young people,” Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement.

NYC teacher fired over slavery lesson

Following an investigation, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) terminated a middle school teacher whose lesson on slavery included having students lie on the floor as she stood on their backs. Initially, the DOE reassigned the teacher — who claimed she had no malicious intent — before firing her outright after the investigation, spokesman Doug Cohen told the New York Post. She “was terminated based on the results of this investigation and a review of her overall performance as an educator,” Cohen said. Several students from the class complained that the teacher’s lesson was humiliating, the paper reported. The teacher, Patricia Cummings, has denied trampling students’ backs and has filed a notice of claim against the city and contends that she is the victim of reverse discrimination.

Md. district challenged over summer school tuition

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has joined with four students in their challenge to Prince George’s County Public Schools’ summer school tuition policy. WTOP reports that the students and the ACLU are requesting that the Board of Education change its policy that allows for a tuition waiver of up to 25 percent for one class for students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. The waiver applies when students take required courses, such as English and math. According to the school district, it charged $455 per class this summer. The fees are both a burden for families and a violation of the state constitution, which requires a free public education, ACLU says. It argues that in some cases, those fees have prevented students from completing courses required for graduation. The legal group said it plans to sue the district over the fees and waiver policy if it does not completely waive the students’ tuition.

Groups sue Education Department for records to arm teachers

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is among a group of advocacy organizations suing the U.S. Department of Education over records detailing the government’s plan to allow schools to use federal funds to arm teachers with guns. The plaintiffs say the Education Department is violating federal law by not releasing records related to the decision in a timely manner. In August and September, AFT, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for more information on the decision. A first request, filed on behalf of the groups by Democracy Forward, seeks information detailing whether the Education Department was influenced by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, the Huffington Post reports. A second request sought information on which school districts were interested in arming teachers using federal funds.

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