Rate of Impoverished Students Soars

Boy sitting cross-legged with sign that reads "STUDENT" and coins in graduation cap

Funding for low income students is still a big issue in US schools.
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According to recent studies, students who come from impoverished backgrounds now make up the majority of public school enrollees. In 2006, 31% of students attended school in high-poverty districts. Now, almost a decade later, that number is 49%. The rising rate of students in poverty is alarming for a number of reasons, but in particular, students who suffer from poverty are often caught playing catch-up with their peers who are better off–and only rarely do they catch up.

Though poverty is present in all fifty states, its highest concentration exists in the Southern and Western states. “In 21 states, at least half the public school children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — ranging from Mississippi, where more than 70 percent of students were from low-income families, to Illinois, where one of every two students was low-income,” says The Washington Post. If students don’t have access to good education in schools or at home, they won’t be able to contribute meaningfully to their own lives—and that spells disaster both for the students and for the country as a whole.

As of 2014, most states received less funding than they did before the Great Recession. Now 51% of children across the nation qualify for free lunches. The amount of poverty in schools is staggering. Though the Obama administration wants $14.4 billion dollars to assist these impoverished children, more serious efforts need to be made to protect and education them, especially because children from disadvantaged households or areas are statistically more likely to encounter emotional or physical abuse and neglect.

Scott Simpson, director of media and campaigns for the Leadership Conference Education Fund, finds that those who make the decisions regarding educational funding distribution tend not to have children in the schools that need it. “In many cases the squeakiest wheels are the folks who happen to be on the more generous side of these formulas,” he says, indicating that the administrations that actually possess the power to affect school districts are out of touch with what’s going on in the disadvantaged ones.

Without serious changes being made to the way funds are allocated through state schools, the terrifying increase in student poverty is likely to continue. If many teachers have to worry about the physical and emotional well-being of their students, they can’t teach as much to their classes, and learning is stunted. We have to find a way to help our disadvantaged students—all children should have the right to equal education, regardless of family income.


Computer Science Education Lacking in Schools

Students and teacher in computer lab

A recent poll found that teachers, parents, and students value computer science in schools more than administrators do.
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A poll that surveyed 15,000 students, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents around the United States about the importance of computer science revealed something interesting: while kids and parents think preparation for a career in computer science is vital, administrators don’t agree.

Google spent a year and a half on the Gallup poll and found that while ninety percent of parents believe that computer science should be an integral part of their children’s education, only 7% of administrators think there’s a high demand for that kind of education. Many schools do not offer and kind of programming or coding classes, and even fewer offer advanced placement classes in those areas. The rub, apparently, is that schools don’t have a lot of room for student activities that aren’t going to be tested.

Yet the job growth in the technology sector is exploding, and at a much higher rate than in any other industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1 million more computer science jobs in the field than can be filled by 2020. That’s a lot of jobs that the labor force might not be able to fill without computer science being better integrated into school curricula.

A good way to create more opportunity for students to get into computer science is to educate them about it early. If kids have more chances to get involved in the field when they’re young, they’ll be more likely to pursue a career in the computer industry. Some programs, like Google’s RISE Awards, which offer grants to help get girls involved in computer science, are working to reach more children, but the rise in computer job availability will be a tough demand to meet without more programs.

What could a future of schools that teach and test computer programming look like? In an increasingly digital world like ours, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for everyone to know a little bit more about how to build and maintain computers and electronic systems. Computer usage is so widespread now that digital maintenance should be everyone’s responsibility, to some extent. Who knows what computer innovations are waiting to be discovered?

Wharton Business School’s Trump Card

Donald Trump

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is one of many well-known alums of Wharton Business School.
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Wharton Business School ranks right up there with big names like Stanford and Harvard, with one of the most-published business school faculties and big-name alums like Yotaro Kobayashi (CEO of Fuji Xerox), Robert Crandall (former president and chairman of American Airlines who invented the frequent flyer program), and Laura Lang (former CEO of Time). But the alum getting the most press these days is Donald Trump, would-be Republican nominee for President, who frequently cites Wharton as a badge of honor for his business career.

Established in 1881 by industrialist Joseph Wharton, the school is home to one of the most-often-published faculties and boasts 94,000 alumni in 53 countries. Its alums include Rene Kern of General Atlantic, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and Mortimer Zuckerman of U.S. News.

  • Lately, though, the alum on everyone’s mind is Donald Trump. “I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said multiple times in a July 11 speech in Phoenix. “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton,” he added. In an August 16 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he described Wharton as one of the most difficult business schools in the country to get into. And back in 2007, even before Trump’s notoriety as a Presidential candidate began, Wharton’s alumni magazine named him one of their 125 most influential people.
  • “He sort of had a magnetism about himself,” said classmate Ted Sachs. “He knew where he was going—that was clear.”

Wharton boasts on its website that MBA students will be “stretched, pushed, and ultimately, transformed.” A full time MBA can be earned in two years, offering students the opportunity to focus on one of 18 majors. (Many end up pursuing dual degrees.) Career management assistance is also available to both current students and graduates. The core curriculum covers traditional areas like accounting, finance, marketing, and management, while electives offer advanced learning options and the chance to interact with other University of Pennsylvania schools, including the Annenberg School for Communication, the School of Social Policy & Practice, and the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Trump may be in the spotlight now when it comes to Wharton alums, but Wharton has a history of turning out well-educated, high-powered graduates poised to positively influence the world around them.

Study Shows Well-Defined Solutions Curb Creativity


A study in LEGOs looked at whether more or less instruction makes us more creative.
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A recent study using LEGOs implies that for adults, following careful directions to solve a well-defined problem can reduce creativity when performing subsequent tasks.

Groups were given LEGO sets and told to either build a specific thing, or to build “something” and, after that, were assigned another task, either ill or well-defined. The groups that tackled the well-defined tasks had a harder time with subsequent, ill-defined tasks, and tended to prefer well-defined task thereafter.

At first glance, the study seems to imply that, while LEGOs are good for teaching kids creative thinking, the building toy is harmful for adults. It is unlikely that this problem is solely one of LEGO, but of how adults think, especially in the workplace. As children, even when we aren’t expressly told be creative, we often “think outside the box” to solve problems because we haven’t learned rote methods to do so. As adults, however, we have had years of learning to figure out how we’re “supposed” to do something–that’s part of the goal of education, in fact.

In a work environment, adults are encouraged to follow specific guidelines in most cases, and they are even punished for not following them, which makes being creative in that environment difficult. This is essentially why progress and invention are so difficult; we develop a system that “works” and stick with it. In less rigid environments, wherein employees are given the freedom to be creative, they are more likely to do so and less likely to rely on rote method.

What the study is really saying is that we can’t have it both ways. Employers, teachers, and parents can’t demand creativity while expecting people to perform exact sequences. Creativity and ingenuity are common buzzwords in a lot of industries, but just throwing those words around doesn’t mean they’ll actually make an appearance. Creativity isn’t like Beetlejuice; you can’t just say it three times and expect it to show up. You have to let it grow naturally.

Malaysian Government Seeks Help in Internet Censorship

Malaysian Prime Minister's palace

The Malaysian government is seeking to censor the Internet.
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The Malaysian government is seeking help from Internet companies, namely Google, Twitter, and Facebook, to stem the tide of “false content” online, which they feel can harm public safety. The information in question isn’t “click bait” articles or urban legends, but claims that the prime minister transferred $700 million to his own accounts from state funds.

The claims first surfaced online, although they haven’t been verified by news sources yet. It seems that around $700 million was transferred to the prime minster’s accounts, which his government maintains are donations, and not money that was taken from state funds. The fund in question 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which is under investigation for graft and financial mismanagement.

The government maintains that censoring the Internet is in the interest of public safety, presumably to keep people from getting up in arms over what could, admittedly, be false accusations. But there are a lot of people who disagree. Social media is one of the main ways people in Malaysia are able to express their political opinions, and restricting that seems to be a rather anti-democratic move. Pro-democracy group Bersih, which is planning a protest rally, maintains that the actions are censorship intended to hush up political dissent.

And indeed, the government maintains that even the Internet is not a lawless space, and that breaking the law online can still result in punishment. But what laws are being broken? It’s true that people across the globe can, and do, use the Internet for nefarious purposes, and those people should face legal action even if they’re acting digitally. But this certainly sounds different. While harassing people online or stealing their personal data should be illegal and punishable, what the Malaysian government seems to be doing is trying to use the law to clamp down on political dissent and make a controversy go away. It’s unlikely that it will work, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

From Maps to Menus: NYPL Crowdsources Research

NYPL building

NYPL is a leader in technological innovation, working with patrons to organize collections.
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The New York Public Library often leads the pack when it comes to library innovation, and their newest trend is no different. NYPL is redefining library services by digitally crowdsourcing the research for their many and varied collections. Staff, stacks, and patrons all come together to provide data that overcomes NYPL’s significant lack of funding.

The NYPL Labs division is a huge force behind the library’s support of innovative technology and research. Backed by the NYPL Board of Trustees, including William Ford of General Atlantic and Chairman Evan Chesler, NYPL Labs focuses on digitizing elements of the library in ways that engage the public. Their programs draw in library users to become part of the collections themselves.

Map Warper

The goal of the Map Warper program is to put together a virtual atlas of New York City by using photographs, newspapers, manuscripts, and other library holdings. Outside researchers are vital to the project, which involves putting together tens of thousands of maps and atlases from the last 500 years into historical layers that can be compared to modern maps of the area. Patrons can create free accounts to help with the process. Each user gets a four-minute tutorial on using the tool to “rectify” the maps in this way; then they’re let loose, with finalized work reviewed by staff. Whether it’s entering place names, colors, or building footprints, patrons can contribute as much or as little as they want (or as time allows).

What’s on the Menu?

NYPL has menus dating back to the 1850s, making it the curator of one of the world’s largest culinary archives. Because menus are often written in flowery handwriting, however, they can be hard to translate, particularly after a lot of time has passed. Enter NYPL Labs again with the What’s on the Menu program, which allows patrons to help view and transcribe dishes and pricing. The tool lets users to choose from over 17,000 menus by decade.

By relying on trust and a social contract of wanting to support community resources, NYPL is able to effectively crowdsource its research needs to keep its collections fresh and relevant. The process also gives patrons a feeling of ownership, since their work becomes publically available and far more in depth than anything either the patron or the library could manage on their own. It’s a reciprocal relationship that uses technology in a new, exciting way that gives back to the community and could signal great strides for technology and crowdsourcing in libraries of the future.

Student History Scores Too Low for Comfort

Blackboard and American flag

Test scores, particularly in history, are way down in American schools.
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Recent scores from civics, geography, and U.S. history tests administered to eighth-graders were, to say the least, disappointing. Results from the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only only about 25% of students were able to demonstrate proficient knowledge in these subjects, the same score as in 2010. With the increase in accessibility to news around the world, it’s important that students learn history and understand the world around them; without this knowledge, our nation’s future suffers.

The questions students were asked in the 2014 test concerned democracy, culture, and world roles, but did not ask about technology—a field students are more likely to be familiar with, perhaps in lieu of learning about history. Additionally, budget cuts have narrowed course selection for students, with emphasis on STEM education rather than the humanities. Part of the problem is also a reduced focus on history and states like Oklahoma who want to eliminate the A.P. U.S. History curriculum altogether.

According to the test results, only 27% of students were proficient in geography, and scores didn’t change between 1994 and 2014. But some schools want to initiate change in curricula and help students understand history and geography better by making civics education mandatory. Students would need to pass a civics test to graduate, says US News. History needs to be kept in the curriculum and students should be able to establish competency in civics.

Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of School, is troubled by the tests’ results and statistics in students’ history aptitude overall. “Barely a quarter to a third of students being able to demonstrate a frankly easy proficiency in these subjects is dangerous to the health of our republic,” he says.

Hopefully if schools begin to place more emphasis on the importance of history and geography, test scores will go up, and general social awareness will become a staple of student education and mindset.

Study Reveals Changes in Biology Staffing, Shortcomings

Girl looking through microscope

A recent study shows that there are more biology teachers out there, but not necessarily well-trained ones.
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A recent study has some interesting things to tell us about the state of biology education in the United States. Biology is often considered a “gateway” to further science education in high schools. It is often required and introduces students to more advanced concepts than elementary or middle school science. It’s also come to dominate hiring and employment practices.

According to the study, which was based on the National Center for Education’s Schools and staffing Surveys from 1987 to 2007, biology teachers take up 44% of the science teaching jobs in the country, more than twice as many as chemistry teachers. That number followed a 50% growth in the 30 years studied. In that same period, women went from occupying 39% to 61% of those positions, more than in any other related field.

However, between 1990 and 2007, the proportions of teachers with significant experience changed. The number of teachers in their 40s with 21 to 25 years of experienced dropped by 20% while the number of teachers in their 50s with 26 or more years of experience dropped by 27%. This is mostly the result of older teachers joining the workforce after other careers.

Those other careers are also something worth investigating. The range of fields that can qualify to teach biology is pretty wide, meaning that some biology teachers aren’t as well suited to teaching the field broadly to high schoolers. Many of the teachers coming from other careers also don’t have the pedagogical training that some of their peers have. The end result is that, while there are more people teaching biology, they aren’t necessarily as good at it as they could be. The researchers behind the study suggest that schools stop setting curriculum based on existing lesson plans and instead find ways to embrace the actual expertise of the teachers, allowing them to better educate and reach their students.

Reading Comprehension Tricks

Dad reading with two kids

Instilling a love of reading in your kids is just a matter of setting the right habits.
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Reading at home is a part of homework for almost every age group. Reading comprehension, while it may sound like a teacher’s union buzzword, is one of the most important things your student is learning in those homework assignments, and it starts early. So parents must think like a teacher, if they are to help their students develop this crucial skill.

You can actually begin this process long before school. “Tell Daddy what we did at the zoo today,” sets your child up for the simplest lesson in understanding a narrative – constructing one themselves. Walk them through telling a story in order, with lots of ‘and then what?’

Once they’re reading, you can set them up for success with each assignment. Front-load them with questions about what they’re about to read, making sure they have the information to understand it. If they’re reading fairy tales, ask them about why they think people told these stories. If it’s a book on bugs, make sure they know the vocabulary, and maybe encourage them to read it in the backyard with the real live subjects.

When you’re reading with your child, practice thinking aloud. It may seem disruptive to the story, but say everything you think about what you’re reading. Ask questions of the story, and point out to your child when they’re answered. They can learn to internalize this kind of dialogue later – in the early stages, it’s much more important that they learn to participate in it.

Let your child be the teacher. Ask them questions about the texts, and encourage them to lecture you on it. Teaching has always been known to be a great way to fix data in your head, and speaking aloud their theories on what they’ve read will give them a chance to examine why they think the way they do. Have them summarize pages or chapters, teach you about the characters in the story, or even just tell you about the pictures.

And as cliché as it sounds, give them books they want to read. If they like gross, give them gross. If they like comics, give them comics. Create a love of reading, and reading for school will become the easiest assignment they get.

Universities Dropping Requirements for ACT and SAT Test Scores

Test sheet with pencil

Some universities are beginning to drop their SAT and ACT admissions requirements.
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As of August 1st, 2015, George Washington University will no longer require incoming students to submit their SAT or ACT test scores. GW is the largest university to drop the requirement, with 25,000 total students in attendance. The decision comes as a bid to promote access to higher education for low-income students and to encourage universities to take a more holistic approach to their admission selection. Students can still send in their test scores with their enrollment applications, but those who do not will not be penalized for the omission.

According to their recent news release, “high school coursework and grades will continue to be the most important factors in GW’s holistic review process, along with a student’s writing skills, recommendations, involvement in school and community, and personal qualities and character.”

George Washington University is not the first college to drop the SAT/ACT requirement, but it is the largest university thus far to have done so. While GW will still require the test scores for a handful of students including those who have been homeschooled, student athletes, or students applying for some specific programs, the university hopes as a whole that students will be accepted for their merit rather than simply for their test scores. Says Karen Stroud Felton, Dean of Admissions at George Washington, “We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds—regardless of their standardized scores—to recognize GW as a place where they can thrive.”

FairTest.org provides a list of all the American universities that either do not require SAT/ACT scores or are flexible about them, and the list is long, providing many options for students who are unable to take the tests. The revision to George Washington’s application requirements is a positive turn in evaluating student population, favoring the potential of a student based on their character rather than a set of numbers. More colleges are sure to follow suit and drop the test requirements, paving the way for a system of higher education that is more accessible to everyone.