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Dashboard October 2017

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Tough vaccination law boosts compliance

Tough immunization requirements in California have boosted the number of children entering school properly immunized. However, vaccination rates in some schools must rise to ward off an outbreak of contagious disease.

That’s the findings of a Los Angeles Times analysis of state immunization data.

California enacted stricter immunization requirements in 2015 after a measles outbreak. Under the law, parents cannot cite religious or personal beliefs to exempt a child from vaccination.

Within a year of the law’s passage, the percentage of schoolchildren fully immunized jumped from 90.2 percent to 95.66 percent.

Yet, the Times reports, immunization rates are not high enough at all schools. At least 750 report immunization rates of 90 percent or lower—too low, medical experts say, to prevent the spread of disease.

It also appears some parents are seeking medical exemptions to avoid the legal mandate. Some schools report medical exemption rates more than six times the statistical average for students with medical conditions that would preclude the use of vaccines.

Charter schools lose support, but vouchers don’t

Public support for charter schools fell significantly in the past year, according to a 2017 Education Next poll examining public opinion on K-12 policy issues.

Support for opening new charter schools dropped 12 percentage points—to 39 percent of those polled, only slightly above the 36 percent of the public who oppose new charters.

The poll did not explain this decline, nor could it clarify another significant trend: Opposition to school vouchers and tax credit-funded scholarships is down.

Only 37 percent of those polled expressed opposition to universal school vouchers, down from 44 percent a year ago. That compares to 45 percent of the public who support vouchers, a slight increase over last year.

Suicide rate for middle school students soars

Twice as many 10- to 14-year-olds are committing suicide today than a decade ago, and suicide now accounts for more middle school student deaths than car crashes.

Health and education experts suggest a variety of reasons for this alarming increase, such as increased pressure to succeed academically or growing fears of terrorism.

But what may be a major factor is the use of social media by middle-schoolers. Unlike previous generations, emotionally vulnerable youth—with poorly developed coping skills—cannot avoid bullies after school and on weekends. Social media allows bullies to torment their victims anywhere, anytime.

Given this social media factor, psychologists say parents and teachers need to learn to identify the warning signs: changes in behavior, displays of distress, changes in appetite, sleep loss, lost interest in hobbies, or the giving away of possessions.

No homework:Read instead

How much homework is appropriate for students is a question that’s sparked national debate over the years. Now, one Florida school system has come up with its own answer: Less homework, more reading.

Starting this fall, the Marion County Public Schools adopted a no-homework rule in its elementary schools—but asks parents to read to their children for at least 20 minutes each night.

The ban was prompted by research that questions the value of homework in raising academic performance. Also, homework has long been “a catalyst for arguments at night with family members,” Superintendent Heidi Maier told USA Today. “That’s something we want to avoid.”

Older students aren’t included in the policy change, and teachers can assign younger students the occasional special project—such as book reports or extra work on classroom projects. But nightly worksheets are out.

Not everyone agrees that homework has no use. Many schools subscribe to the “10-minute rule,” which suggests that schools assign no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level.

National bus drivers shortages

Some 26 million children ride a school bus each day, but finding drivers for all those buses—approximately 480,000 in number—is getting harder.

All of the nation’s 50 largest school transportation companies agree that there’s a shortage of drivers, reports a recent survey by School Bus Fleet magazine. Eleven firms describe the shortage as “severe,” while five say the situation is “desperate.”

Low salaries and a work shift divided between morning and afternoon are two factors that work against employers, say transportation experts.

Some school districts have launched aggressive recruiting drives, while others are cutting nonessential transportation service or consolidating stops on bus routes.

The situation is tough, Kenny Chamlee, transportation director for Oklahoma’s Edmond Public Schools, told The Edmond Sun.

“Three weeks ago, we were down 17 drivers. In just a few short weeks, we have lost an additional 12 drivers, for a total of 29 drivers to date. Without enough drivers, we will not be able to meet the daily demands of safely transporting students.”

High school diplomas attract Chinese students

The number of international students attending U.S. schools has tripled since 2004, fueled significantly by a flood of new students from China.

What’s attracting the Chinese, particularly when enrollment rates are declining or static for students from other nations?

For a growing middle class in China, “a high school education is seen as a way of smoothing the path to what is increasingly being seen as the international holy grail of education, a place at a U.S. university,” reports Forbes magazine.

As a result, the number of international students has soared to 82,000, with

42 percent arriving from China.

In the past, many foreign students came to the U.S. as part of a limited-time exchange program, but the Chinese have more ambitious goals. Not only does their time in high school improve their chances of college acceptance in the U.S., but Forbes suggests it also eases the transition “in both the cultural and educational spheres.”

Fewer students play high school football

Are worries about head injuries responsible for a small but steady decline in the number of student athletes playing high school football?

Given that football is the most popular high school sport—with more than 1 million athletes putting on a team jersey—the reported drop in participation is almost miniscule: less than 26,000 players over five years.

Still, football supporters are watching the trend. At least two dozen students have died from football-related injuries in recent years, and there is growing evidence highlighting the risk of serious brain injury among professional football players.

The reality is that there’s no hard evidence that high school football is inherently dangerous. But, the Bleacher Report, an online sports site, recently raised the point that sports fans don’t want to hear:

“It would appear parents around the country may be paying close attention to the links between football and the potential for brain trauma as well.”

NAACP still skeptical about charters

Instead of opening more charter schools, the nation should focus on improving the neighborhood public schools that educate 90 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren.

That’s the conclusion of an NAACP report, “Quality Education for All: One School At A Time,” which earned headlines in August by calling for tougher accountability for charters and the elimination of for-profit charter schools.

More equitable funding, finance reform, and a greater investment in low-performing schools also were recommendations of the report.

The NAACP garnered some controversy last year when it adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter expansions. In response, its governing board organized a task force to take a closer look at the issue.

While acknowledging the quality of some charters, the task force stood behind its call for greater accountability, recommending that “states allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.”

Doing nothing does something

Goofing off gets a bad rap. yet brain researchers now are saying there is a scientific basis for scheduling some goof-off time into each child’s day.

Not sure you agree? Try sitting at your office desk for hour after hour without stretching your legs or getting a cup of coffee. Fact is, adults goof off, too.

“Even adults can only pay attention for about 20 minutes at a time before getting less effective,” writes Lea Waters, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne and president-elect of the International Positive Psychology Association.

In her article for The Atlantic magazine, Waters says that, when children look like they’re not doing anything, that’s not so.

“When a child has finished her math homework and is taking time between assignments to make a smoothie or read a chapter in a book [or] blows off steam by shooting baskets in the backyard for an hour before starting his homework, the brain is still processing information very effectively.”

More states allowing student sunscreen use

Tag along on a school field trip, and you might see teachers and adult chaperones slather themselves in sun lotion—but not the students. They’re not allowed to use sunscreen.

How can that be? In many districts, those are the rules. Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and, in many schools, that means students cannot bring it to school without a doctor’s note—and they must see a school nurse to apply it.

If all this seems a bit silly, you’re not alone. Well aware that skin cancer rates are climbing nationwide, six states this year enacted laws allowing students to use sunscreen at school, no doctor’s note required. They join four states that already had new rules in place.

S.F. schools support kids whose parents are jailed

Nearly 18,000 children in San Francisco have had a parent incarcerated over the past year—an experience that can be emotionally and socially traumatic for young ones.

That’s why the San Francisco Unified School District has launched an initiative to support these children, who often feel isolated, embarrassed, or afraid while at school.

“We want our district to be intentional about how we support these students,” said school board President Matt Haney in a written statement. “In some cases that could be individual support, or in other cases that could mean broader integration into the curriculum.”

In a resolution adopted by the school board, the district’s efforts would include training for school counselors, social workers, and other staff on the needs of students with incarcerated parents—and possibly the use of youth mentors from a community program that offers direct support to students.

The need for such interventions is not to be overlooked, educators say. As many as 2.7 million children nationwide have had a parent incarcerated over the past year, so there are likely affected children attending your schools.

As many as 2.7 million children nationwide have had a parent incarcerated over the past year—an emotionally and socially traumatic experience that educators need to consider.

Districts try new ways to recruit teachers

In august, with only three weeks left before school doors opened, the Atlanta Public Schools and its surrounding suburban districts were looking to hire about 1,400 teachers.

Their challenge wasn’t unique to the metro region. Nationwide, there was an estimated shortages of 60,000 teachers during the summer hiring months.

Although predictions of teacher shortages have been heard for years, several factors may have led to a tough current job market for school employers. For one, an improving economy may be drawing away potential teachers to higher-paying professions.

Teaching programs also have seen a decline in enrollments. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the number of students receiving teacher certificates for the first time fell from 12,436 a decade ago to 8,500 today.

In response, school districts are working harder to attract job candidates, raising starting salaries, and offering signing and retention bonuses. More worrisome strategies, however, include the growing use of uncertified teachers and long-term substitutes to staff classrooms.

Schools’ reactions to solar eclipse varied

When a rare solar eclipse crossed the u.s. this August, some schools closed—or kept kids indoors rather than risk their eyesight.

Although some schools claimed they wanted to allow families to experience the eclipse together, almost all cited safety concerns as the deciding factor in their response to the celestial event.

In Arizona, the Scottsdale Unified School District announced it would keep students indoors during the eclipse so they wouldn’t be tempted to look up and damage their eyes.

“When you’re talking about a large amount of children, it’s also very difficult to convince all of the kids to not look up...Scottsdale’s not going to take the chance,” a district spokesman told the local CBS affiliate.

Some science teachers managed to convince district officials to allow supervised observations after arguing that the risks to children were exaggerated.

“The fear has just been so pervasive—it’s so insane,” one teacher told USA Today. “When it comes to a real-life, once-in-a-lifetime science event, everybody just jumps into their foxhole.”

School debates Confederate namesake

After the violence surrounding a white nationalist rally in August in Charlottesville, Virginia, some communities are taking down their Confederate monuments—some in the middle of the night.

School districts don’t have monuments, of course. But many face challenges like Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools. A public debate is under way to rename a high school honoring Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

After the school board chair proposed changing the school’s name, the school district found itself embroiled in the nation’s culture wars. The chair of the county’s board of supervisors, who intends to run for the U.S. Senate next year, calls the idea “despicable.” Others in the community also have voiced opinions.

Approximately 100 public schools—nearly half in Virginia and Texas alone—are named after Confederate generals, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group.

Benefits of school consolidation disputed

Superintendents in Indiana are disputing a new study that concludes that the state should consolidate school districts with less than 2,000 students to improve test scores.

The study, commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation, concludes that consolidating small school districts will have a positive impact on SAT test scores, Advanced Placement test rates, state assessment scores, and some end-of-course assessment pass rates.

To achieve that larger student population, 154 of the state’s 289 school districts would have to consolidate with a neighbor.

The study argues that consolidation would lower per-student administration costs and allow money to be diverted to academic pursuits. Superintendents in these small districts say this solution is too simplistic.

Instead, school administrators note, small schools allow a closer bond between teachers and students and permit educators to focus instruction more effectively to individual student needs.

They also argue that the state’s funding formula is unfair to smaller school districts.

States starting out school year with money woes

Hundreds of school districts in three states were struggling in August to keep schools open this fall—because state lawmakers have been unable to approve funding plans.

As of mid-August, some $6.7 billion in Illinois education funds could not be distributed because of a dispute over a new school funding formula. In Wisconsin, budget approval was delayed by a fight over a $3 billion incentive package for a proposed factory.

“We’re six weeks late on a budget,” Reuters reported Wisconsin State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca telling fellow lawmakers. “I read yesterday that school districts are starting with substitute teachers because of the fact you have not fulfilled your obligation.”

More than 150 school districts in Connecticut are waiting to see when funding will be available, but with no budget decision in sight, some districts say they may be forced to eliminate jobs or put positions on hold.

Pre-Labor Day start skipped by some students

As more school districts in Michigan start school before Labor Day, they’re running into a challenge: Getting students to show up.

More than one-third of students missed the

Aug. 7 start of Holmes Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan, reports the Ann Arbor News.

Much of the reason for this attendance problem is attributed to the school’s early start date. Several years ago, educators at Holmes Elementary decided to shorten its summer break so students wouldn’t need to relearn academic concepts taught in the previous year.

Across Michigan, other schools on year-round or short-summer schedules report a similar challenge in getting students back to school. Meanwhile, schools on traditional, post-Labor Day schedules are recording much higher first-day attendance rates.

Some families simply continue to plan vacations through August, despite their children’s early school date, educators say. But the academic advantages of the shorter summer break are clear.

In Holt, Michigan, where two schools open early, students “are learning the current year’s content quicker than their counterparts on the traditional calendar,” Superintendent David Hornak told the News.

Keep preschool fun

Whether preschool programs should focus on play or academics has been a topic of debate for years, but one scholar is arguing the choice is a false one.

Both experiences are important to young minds, Deborah Stipek, an education professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, has written for The Hechinger Report.

“What we know about teaching and learning has evolved to provide a research-based alternative that can satisfy people on both sides of the debate: purposeful instruction that supports deep learning in a playful, engaging and fun way.”

In most instances, a trained educator can create lessons that are educational—for example, teaching such math skills as counting, graphing, and measurement—and children will not even realize they are receiving instruction, she argues.

The real issue, she insists: “Since research confirms that these well-crafted and playful learning experiences help children develop important and foundational skills and understandings, why aren’t they more common in preschool settings?”

Fewer police to patrol St. Paul schools

As part of its effort to decriminalize student misbehavior in its schools, the school boards in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have voted to trim the roster of police officers in their schools.

The cutback is small: Two of nine positions in St. Paul, and two of 16 in Minneapolis will be eliminated. Minneapolis also will be putting its school resource officers (SROs) in “soft uniform” polo shirts rather than traditional uniforms, a practice St. Paul already has put in place.

The St. Paul school system has been revising its approach to school safety and student discipline for some time—and, as these efforts took hold, the number of student arrests dropped from 56 to five in a single year.

The Minneapolis schools are moving in the same direction and working to keep misbehaving students out of the criminal justice system, Laura Olson, the district’s security director, told the Star-Tribune.

When a crime occurs, she says, “Yes, we could take the student downtown. However, what’s in the best interest of the student?”

NYC schools face high student homeless rate

If the current homeless rate among families continues in New York City, one in seven school-aged children will be homeless at some point during elementary school.

One hundred thousand students in the New York City public schools were homeless during the 2015-16 school year, reports a new study by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, a New York City-based policy research group.

“These children are not only struggling with maintaining a place to sleep, but also attending school, succeeding academically, and accessing supports for their additional educational and behavioral needs,” the institute says.

The city’s homeless rate is tied to a variety of problems, including underemployment among undereducated parents, rising rental prices, and less federal and state funding for low-cost housing.

For educators, the high homeless rate is a serious issue. “On average, one-third of homeless students are chronically absent, missing 20 or more school days in one year—the equivalent of one month of school,” the study concludes.

N.C. explores new teacher pay model

Instead of paying teachers based on seniority, North Carolina is experimenting with alternative models—such as paying teachers more based on student test scores or for agreeing to accept additional duties or leadership roles.

Over the next three years, six school systems will take part in the $10.2 million pilot program. Two districts are considering a plan to supplement teacher salaries by as much as 30 percent for those willing to teach more students than normal or lead a team of teachers.

Another district intends to boost pay for teachers who accept leadership positions in their schools and offer bonuses based on how well students perform on state tests.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools already offer higher salaries to teachers with 25 years of experience, but new teachers also could see a boost in pay if they agree to additional duties or participate in extra professional development.

The struggle to pay for classroom supplies is real

Teachers spend an average of $500 each year to put supplies in their classrooms. Some of that money comes from grants; some comes from private donations.

Some of that money comes out of their own pockets.

Teachers spend more than $1.6 billion on classroom supplies, according to the Education Market Association. Anecdotal evidence shows that they’re quite creative in how they acquire these supplies.

Take pencils, for example. In Tupelo, Mississippi, teacher Connie Gusmus grabs any pencil that’s lying around. “I’ll see a pencil or pen and think, ‘That’s a good pencil,’ and I’ll pick it up and take it to my classroom,” she told the Tupelo Daily Journal.

Some states provide grants or other funding streams to help teachers supplement the meager supplies that some cash-strapped schools make available. Other teachers aggressively seek out state and private grants.

Others turn to DonorsChoose.org, an online website where teachers can post their needs and solicit private donations.

The fact that school districts cannot fully fund a classroom’s needs—or provide everything for a child living in poverty—puts the onus on teachers such as Tupelo teacher Amanda Koonlaba.

“I think it’s so much a part of what we do as teachers—we don’t even think about it,” Koonlaba told the Daily Journal. “I want my students to have an artful, happy, fun and vibrant learning space, and I have to spend the majority of my time there, too, so I want it to feel happy.”

Grade retention not necessarily bad

Is a child’s chance of academic success improved—or harmed—by being forced to repeat a grade? That question has prompted decades of disagreement among educators.

A new study offers its own take on the issue: Holding students back at third grade can give them a short-term boost to their academic achievement, lead to higher grades in high school, and doesn’t reduce their chances of graduating high school.

Approximately 10 percent of students repeat at least one grade during their school career. Some research has identified obstacles that retention creates for student learning: loss of self-esteem, embarrassment at being older than classmates, and lower teacher expectations for the child.

The study, published in the Journal of Public Economics, looked at the academic results of nearly 1 million Florida students who attended third grade in the 2002-03 school year.

The study also noted that any benefits of retention depended on educators using this extra instructional time wisely. Students who are held back need attention to get back on track.

Illinois targets money hidden from education

An economic development tool used in Illinois is hiding the rising value of some taxable property, skewing the state funding formula for schools and depriving poor districts their fare share of funding.

That’s the claim of state lawmakers who say the problem lies in Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts, a mechanism that allows local governments to use tax revenues created by increasing property values in the districts to encourage development.

The problem, critics complain, is that this artificially freezes property values in the TIF districts. None of the tax revenues from rising property wealth is available to schools, and the rising property values districts are not counted in determining which school districts are most in need of state funding.

“It doesn’t give a clear picture as to how much wealth is within a district when we start talking about the allocation of state money,” the Illinois News Network reports state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, saying at a legislative committee hearing in August.

“This is money coming out of districts that don’t have TIFs paying for ones that do.”

Schools’ translation efforts are inadequate

Every school district struggles with the challenge of communicating with non-English-speaking families. Now the challenge appears to have higher stakes: legal liability.

That risk was brought home recently when a group of Latino parents sued Massachusetts’ Holyoke Public Schools for alleged discrimination. The district, the lawsuit contends, repeatedly failed to provide an adequate translation of educational documents to parents with limited English proficiency.

The problem has persisted for more than two decades, the lawsuit claims, despite a requirement to provide translations under federal law. Some 44 percent of students in Holyoke live in homes where English is not the first language.

The lawsuit also targets the state education department, alleging that state officials know of 113 schools and school districts that also fail to meet the translation needs of non-English-speaking parents.

School district officials declined to comment to news reporters, but Teresita Ramos, an attorney for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, which is helping parents with their suit, offered her rationale for legal action.

“When parents are precluded from directing and participating in their children’s educational programs due to language barriers, both parents and children are harmed.”

High school friendships help students in the long run

All teens want to be popular at school. but developing a few close friendships in high school is far more important, as close bonds have a long-term impact on a student’s happiness in later years.

That’s the finding of a University of Virginia (UVA) study that followed the lives of teenagers over a period of 10 years.

The study found that teens with close friendships by the age of 15 were less prone to social anxiety, experience an increased sense of self-worth, and were less likely to report symptoms of depression by the time they reached age 25.

By comparison, students who were considered “popular” in high school reported greater rates of social anxiety in their early adulthood.

“As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority,” said Joseph Allen, a psychology professor at UVA and co-author of the study, in a statement.

The science of comic books

For school districts looking for a new science textbook, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at comic books?

Probably not. But a new exhibition in Washington, D.C., recently examined how comic books portray science and depict advances in science and technology.

“S.T.E.A.M. Within the Panels: Science Storytelling Through Comic Books, Comic Strips, and Graphic Novels” was on display at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) over the summer.

The “science” in comic books takes many forms, the exhibit revealed. There’s pseudo science, such as the radioactive effects of kryptonite on Superman. There’s also real science to be found, as in the works of Matteo Frainella, a neuroscientist who is exploring how comics can affect public perceptions of science.

“Some of the pieces are explicitly connected to science, while others reflect reactions to science,” AAAS said of comics. “Others still are, in the tradition of science fiction, springboards to speculation based on scientific ideas. In all, they show how comics project the complicated and often contradictory ways that the public perceives science.”

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