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Dashboard February 2018

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Mixed results for teachers in 2018 election

Mixed results for teachers in 2018 election

For the past year, political activism by educators has been on the rise in numerous states, resulting in an unprecedented number of teachers who ran for seats in their state legislatures in November’s general election.

But while more than 40 current teachers were elected to their state legislatures, only 35 percent of those who were on the general election ballot will take office in January. While a step forward, it was not the wave educators had hoped for during a series of walkouts and protests over wages, benefits, working conditions, and per-student spending. Overall, current teachers were elected in 22 of the 33 states where they were on the ballot.

Four of the six states where large-scale walkouts occurred — Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia — saw the largest number of current teachers on the ballots. Seven of the 30 teacher candidates won races in Oklahoma, as did four school principals. Three of the 15 teacher candidates running in Kentucky won, while West Virginia saw three of eight added to its legislature. Five of the six candidates in Arizona lost.

In Colorado and North Carolina, states where teachers also walked out, educators seeking legislative seats failed to win their races. While pro-education voters forced out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in favor of three-term State Superintendent Tony Evers, they did not show the same support in races in Arizona and Oklahoma, although Arizona did manage to defeat a ballot initiative that would have increased funding for school vouchers.

Pro-education developments occurred in states where walkouts have been discussed and/or threatened because of the same issues that led to the earlier teacher protests. In New Mexico, five of six teacher candidates won legislative seats, and Michelle Grisham was elected governor after promising to increase teachers’ starting salaries to $40,000. Meanwhile, in Kansas, former State Sen. Laura Kelly was elected governor after she pledged to restore cuts to education made under the previous administration.

The National Education Association, which has pushed for #RedForEd walkouts, estimated that nearly 1,800 current and former teachers and education professionals sought seats on state legislatures in 2018. Among them: former NSBA President C. Ed Massey, who won his seat in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became the first African-American woman from Connecticut to be elected to Congress. “This history teacher,” she said on election night, “is making history.”

—By Glenn Cook

Earthquake shuts down Anchorage schools for two weeks

Anchorage-area schools closed for two weeks as staff and contractors inspected buildings and repaired damage following a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Nov. 30. The quake shook southcentral Alaska, “disrupting power and cracking roads,” the Anchorage Daily News reported. Many of the Anchorage School District’s 48,000 students were in class the morning of the quake.

The school system reported that all 92 of its school buildings sustained some damage; two remained unfit for use when students headed back to class on Dec. 10. According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 students resumed classes in a different school than the one they originally attended. Libraries also were consolidated and counselors from as far away as Portland, Oregon, arrived to support anxious children and teachers. There were no fatalities or serious injuries attributed to the earthquake, “in part because Alaska’s strict building codes are predicated on life in one of the most active seismic zones on the planet, in a northern corner of the Pacific Rim,” the Times reported.

Earthquake shuts down Anchorage schools for two weeks

Fears of deportation keep U.S. children out of school

U.S. immigration policies and deportation threats impact the school attendance and education of U.S. children, whether they are afraid of their own deportation or of a family member’s, finds a study by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. And that fear is exacerbated if schools allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to search the facilities or collect immigration information from students.

The study, reported by NBC News, found that 20 percent of Hispanic students in Hamblen County, Tennessee, missed school following a May 2018 workplace raid at a meatpacking plant in eastern Tennessee. And schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico, reported a 60 percent spike in absenteeism after raids by ICE shook the community in February 2017. According to the report, 7 percent of U.S. children are born to parents who don’t have a legal immigration status.

Awareness and access contribute to reading gap

Distractions caused by cellphones and video games aren’t the only thing hindering students’ reading abilities. Parent awareness and ability to provide resources also play a role, suggests an online survey conducted by the education technology company Age of Learning. Teachers surveyed said that 30 percent of their students are reading below grade level, but only 9 percent of parents surveyed put their own kids in that category. And 67 percent of parents didn’t know their child’s reading level, making it difficult for them to provide the necessary reading materials outside of school, Fortune magazine reported. More than half of parents said they have fewer than 50 books of any kind in their home. Ten percent of teachers said their school does not have a library, and 77 percent said they have used their own funds to buy books for the classroom.

Work needed to retain teachers of color in Tennessee

A study examining turnover and retention of teachers in Tennessee says that schools in the state should do more to hire and support teachers of color. Produced by the Tennessee Education Alliance, the study looked at data over a five-year period beginning in 2011. It found that black teachers “were no more likely to leave the profession than white teachers, but they were more likely to transfer schools,” the Associated Press reported. Turnover was especially high when black teachers were racially isolated. Previous research has shown that students

of color are more likely to have academic success when they are exposed to teachers of different races, the study states. They also are more likely to be identified for gifted services and less likely to be chronically absent. Only 13 percent of Tennessee’s teachers are teachers of color, while 37 percent of Tennessee students identify with a race other than white, the study reports. The Tennessee Education Research Alliance is a partnership between Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and the state Department of Education.

Condiment control effort targets sodium, sugar intake

Everything in moderation— even condiments in Eastport-South Manor Central School District. Out of concern for student health, the Long Island, New York, school system limits the number of ketchup, mustard, and mayo packets that students can get with their lunches to one or two, depending on the meal purchased. In a letter to families, Assistant Superintendent Tim Laube said the decision was an effort to stay within state and federal healthier eating goals, adding that condiments have “little or no nutritional value and only increase student sodium and sugar intake,” Newsday reported.

Out of nutritional concern, the district eliminated pump dispensers for condiments last year. Students, however, can bring extra condiment packets from home.

Suit: R.I. inadequately prepares students for citizenry

In what is believed to be a first of its kind in the U.S., a federal law suit-filed on behalf of 14 students contends that Rhode Island education and government officials failed to prepare students for active participation in a democracy. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court by Michael Rebell, executive director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Rhode Island Center for Justice. It claims that the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all students should have access to an education that prepares them to participate in their civic duties — whether that involves the right to free speech, the right to vote, or the ability to capably sit on a jury.

Rebell told the Providence Journal that the class-action suit “involves tens of thousands of students in Rhode Island.” To support its claim, the suit cites research showing that less than a third of eighth-graders understands the purpose of the Declaration of Independence; that, in 2006, fewer than half of Americans could name the three branches of government; and that only one in five Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 reads a newspaper.

Public dual-language schools planned for Mexico

When families are deported from the U.S. to Mexico, many of the children in those families arrive speaking little or no Spanish. That predicament applies to many of the approximately 53,000 students in Baja, Mexico, schools who are from the U.S., education officials say. The San Diego Union Tribune reports that, to address the educational challenges this presents, “teaching professors and education leaders from both sides of the border have created a “binational partnership” that will develop more bilingual teachers in Baja who can teach these students well.

The goal is to create dual-language schools that can immerse all students—both native English speakers and native Spanish speakers—in the two languages. Although dual-language immersion has become increasingly popular throughout the U.S., there are currently no public dual-language schools in Baja, officials told the paper.

CDC cites sharp rise in e-cigarette use

One in five high school students useS electronic cigarettes, risking nicotine addiction, lung damage and the temptation to try traditional cigarettes, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2011 and 2018, the number of high school students who started using e-cigarette devices increased from 220,000 (1.5 percent) to just over 3 million (20.8 percent). And use increased among middle school students, from less than 1 percent in 2011 to nearly 5 percent in 2018.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said these findings show “that America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction.” In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new measures against the sale of flavored nicotine products that have propelled the rise in the use of the products. In addition, the proposals call for stores that sell vaping products to make them available only in age-restricted areas, and for stricter age verification for e-cigarettes sold online.

Federal grant helps Navajo students

Initiatives that will assist Native American students in New Mexico’s Magdalena Municipal School District be better prepared for college and career readiness are getting a financial boost, thanks to a federal grant through the Office of Indian Education, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. The grant provides the school system with $1.9 million over the next four years. Navajo students comprise about 50 percent of the 400-student district’s enrollment.

Per new Every Student Succeeds Act requirements, the district was required to partner with a Native American tribe in its plans to use the funding. The district did that, cementing a relationship with the Alamo Navajo Chapter Council. “This is a huge deal, creating this partnership with the chapter,” Magdalena’s Keri James told the El Defensor Chieftain newspaper. “It’s a first, something that’s never been done before.”

Education Department plans to correct troubled TEACH grant program

The U.S. Department of Education announced a plan to fix its flawed TEACH grant program, which saddled teachers with federal loans they never agreed to. A year ago, an NPR investigation exposed problems in the program that offered grants to young teachers in exchange for teaching a high-need subject in a low-income school. NPR found that the Education Department converted the free grant money into loans for some teachers if they misfield paperwork. In some cases, that meant that teachers who met all of the grant’s requirements had to repay $24,000 or more because their paperwork was one day late.

Information released by the Education Department’s office of Federal Student Aid said that teachers will be allowed to request that the department revert their loans to grants. If they have been paying back these loans, the balances will be erased, and teachers will be refunded whatever they paid, NPR reported.

Calendar connection to ADHD diagnosis

Could there be a connection between a child’s birth month, school start date, and being at a higher risk for an ADHD diagnosis? Possibly, suggests a study led by a team of Harvard Medical School researchers. It finds that kids born in August who start school in states with a Sept. 1 cutoff enrollment date, were 30 percent more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis compared with their slightly older peers enrolled in the same grade.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, underscores the notion that, at least in a subset of elementary school students, the diagnosis may be a factor of earlier school enrollment, Science Daily reported. It notes that in states with a Sept. 1 cutoff, a child born on Aug. 31 will be nearly a full year younger on the first day of school than a classmate born on Sept. 1.

An upside to projected declining student enrollment

The declining birthrate in the U.S. could significantly change the look and feel of public schools, according to the Hechinger Report. It cites one set of national projections that finds there could be 8.5 percent fewer public school students a decade from now. “If it does come true, we’re going to see massive changes,” Mike Griffith, a school finance specialist at the Education Commission of the States, tells the publication.

He cites school closures around the country along with unexpected consequences, such as more full-day kindergarten and publicly funded pre-kindergarten. These options would allow districts to possibly “recoup lost state funds and use their real estate.”

Millennials’ presence felt on Md. school board

Millennials—the generation now between the ages of 22 and 37—are making their mark on society, and that includes school boards. The Washington Post reported that members of the millennial generation account for a majority of the elected school board representing Prince George’s County, Maryland. Five of the nine are in their 20s. All grew up in the county and graduated from its schools, one of the country’s 25 largest. Although none is a parent, they told the Post that they remain connected to the classrooms where they once studied. Nationally, the median age of school board members is 59, according to a 2018 survey by the National School Boards Association.

Along with the nine elected board members, the 14-member Prince George’s school board includes four appointees and a student member.

Md. district challenged over summer school tuition

More schools are helping students cope with the emotional turmoil caused by their parents’ drug addiction by offering on-site treatment counseling. Last fall, Congress authorized $50 million a year for the next five years to fund mental health services to help school districts treat students who have experienced trauma due to the opioid epidemic. “Schools have more kids who cannot access the learning environment,” Sharon Hoover, co-director of The National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine told NPR. Children are “suffering from family substance abuse and schools are feeling the burden.” Initial data collected about the programs indicate that students who receive these services have less absenteeism and better school performance.

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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