Absences a Huge Problem in New Jersey Schools

Children in classroom

For students in New Jersey, missing class has become a big issue.
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Roughly 10% of students at New Jersey schools–about 125,000 children–missed at least 18 days of school in the 2013-2014 school year, records show. Students are at risk of falling behind in their classes and letting their grades slip. Minority or low-income students were likely to miss more than 18 days as well as students in kindergarten or high school.

Part of the problem is the state’s weather preparedness. Woodbine School District found a correlation between bad weather and student absences because no transportation is provided to and from school, said Lynda Anderson-Towns, a retired superintendent. Other causes of absenteeism included attending doctor’s visits with parents who don’t speak English, dirty uniforms, or because parents schedule vacations during the school year.

Absenteeism is a significant problem for student well-being and development. Students who miss extended periods of their classes perform poorly on tests, have delayed reading and social skills, and are more likely to drop out of school. The statistics are worse for minority students: while black students make up about 16% of New Jersey’s school population, they represented an alarming 24% of the students who suffered the highest rate of absenteeism. Hispanic students, 25% of the total enrollment, represented 30% of the absenteeism rate.

Some recommendations to improve the problem include emphasizing the importance of attendance with students and building school environments that value students’ attendance; checking over absentee information in the first few weeks of school; alerting parents to the problem more quickly; and rewarding improved attendance with prizes, certificates, or pizza parties.

Students need to stay in school to be able to learn, and the more often a student is out of school, the less likely he or she is to do well in their classes or to develop normally. School is an important part of growth and essential to a well-rounded education–so much absence from school isn’t good for anyone.

Commuting, Though Resource-Heavy, Allows Poor Children to Escape Failing Schools

School bus

Low-income students do have commuting options to help them get to better schools, but those options come with a price.
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According to a recent study by sociologist Julia Burdick-Will of Johns Hopkins University, low-income neighborhoods do not trap children in poorly-performing schools. There has long been an assumption that, as median income in a neighborhood drops, local schools decrease in quality, effectively trapping already disadvantaged children there. Burdick-Will’s research shows that those children are in fact much more likely to commute further for school than are more affluent children.

As more school choices become available for children in cities like Chicago, poor children benefit more from those choices than do affluent children–up to a point, anyway. By having the opportunity to attend charter schools, those with open enrollment or those that are under-enrolled, low-income children have the opportunity to attend “better” schools at the cost of commuting longer distances.

Burdick-Will found that affluent children in Chicago rarely travelled more than a mile and a half or so to school, while some children from lower-income neighborhoods travelled up to 6 miles to get to school.

This is still problematic, because even though poor children aren’t inherently trapped in failing schools, they have to expend greater energy and money to get to better schools. Some of those kids might have to spend significant time commuting across town to get to school, which costs money and, in some locations, is exceedingly difficult. In cities like Chicago, Seattle, or New York, which have reasonably well-developed mass transit systems (by American standards), that commute is easier than in a city like Detroit, which has minimal mass transit. The whole process is worse for children in suburban environments, where mass transit simply might not exist, or if it does, may not serve those children well.

So in order for low-income children to receive a better education, they or their parents have to expend more resources to get to school, resources like time and money that are already tight. Choice is usually seen as a function of privilege, but in these cases, while choice does allow for a better education, it can make that education difficult to come by.

Stereotypically “Geeky” Classrooms Scare Girls Away from Computer Science?

Science teacher and two students

A recent study suggests that the way a science classroom is decorated could affect whether or not female students feel comfortable there.
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Computer science is a field that has long been dominated by men. It’s a hard industry for women to break into, and is often an unwelcoming and toxic environment for them. And that problem goes all the way back to high school.

According to a recent study of teenaged girls and boys, girls were more likely to enroll in computer science classes if they felt that they would actually be welcome in those classes. And part of the way to make them feel more welcome is to drop the “geeky” image those classes often carry.

Stereotypes about computer science classes often center around them being the purview of geeky boys, and in the study, students were shown photos of two different classrooms, one which features Star Trek and Call of Duty posters, and another which featured images from nature and other, more neutral decorations. They were asked to choose which room they would prefer to take classes in. Overwhelmingly, the girls preferred the latter, while boys didn’t seem to care. The issue here is that, despite the fact that women are well represented in geek culture and fandoms, they aren’t presented that way. Girls already interested in Star Trek might feel at home in such a classroom, but girls who are interested in computer science but not in the traditional trappings of that field’s culture feel unwelcome, so they don’t take the classes.

Of course, these are stereotypes, and not every high school computer class is bedecked in geeky posters. The key is to undermine those stereotypes and create a school culture in which girls don’t feel like they have no place in computer science. If that means redecorating class rooms, that’s a small price to pay to get girls in those classes. It’s up to educators to get rid of that stigma, and if they can enlist existing students to help, all the better.

Fighting the Fall In College-Readiness and SAT Scores

Standardized test and pencils

National Merit Scholarships and other programs are working hard to help students prepare more efficiently for college.
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The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition that recognizes distinguished achievement among high school students and provides a one-time $2,500 cash award. Students must take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) to enter the competition. Winners must have qualifying test scores, strong overall academic performance, extracurricular participation, a written recommendation from their high school, and a strong essay.

Greenwich Academy is an example of a school that produces National Merit Scholarship winners. It innovates excellence among its student population through its Signature Programs, a range of educational opportunities that encourage excellence in academics, the arts, science, and leadership. Programs like this are possible only with the support of volunteer leaders from the financial community like J. Timothy Morris, founder of Proprium Capital Partners, and Rene M. Kern, managing director of General Atlantic.

Contrasting Greenwich Academy’s example of academic achievement and extracurricular success is a disturbing downward trend in SAT scores. A growing number of students who complete high school aren’t ready for training programs that would lead to a career or for the stringent content encountered in college classes.

The College Board released figures earlier this month that showed a continued decline in achievement. In 2015 high school graduates had an average SAT score of 1490, a decline from the previous year’s average score of 1497.

A new SAT will be used in March of next year and will be designed to include what students need to know in college and what they are currently studying in high school. The new tests will have fewer unusual vocabulary words, an optional essay, and a return to a 1600-point scale. In partnership with the Khan Academy, the College Board will also be offering free online practice tests.

The PSAT/NMSQT was taken by 3.8 million students last year, up from 3.7 million in the previous year. Only 48 percent of test takers in the eleventh grade scored well enough to be considered college or career ready—another decline from the previous year.

The numbers don’t lie. More schools need to integrate courses and develop resources that prepare their students to better cope with the rigors of placement tests, college work, and career education. Perhaps they will also turn to enclaves of excellence like Greenwich Academy to help them improve their student preparation and test scores.

Recent Grads Would Take Drastic Measures to Pay off Student Loans

Woman in graduation gear holding up "student loan"

Recent grads would do some pretty extreme things to remove their college loan debt.
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Student loan debt in America is reaching crisis levels as more college-educated individuals are having trouble finding jobs, and it’s taking its toll on just about everyone. That’s why the personal finance site MyBankTracker asked 200 users what they would be willing to do in order to rid themselves of that horrible student debt. Their answers were somewhat surprising, somewhat disturbing, and very much disheartening.

While MyBankTracker did not mention the ages of respondents in the findings, they state that many of the respondents were recent grads (Forbes.com reports that the median age of MBT users is 32 with an average student loan debt of $34,500). Here’s what MyBankTracker found that many young adults are willing to do to get rid of their debt:

  • Sell their organs. Thirty percent of respondents said they would sell an organ (although they didn’t specify which ones they’d be willing to forego) to eliminate their debt. That means nearly a third of surveyed users would rather be debt free than have their bodies fully intact.
  • Sell their souls to the reality gods. More than half of respondents (55%) would be willing to eschew privacy and star in their own reality show in exchange for a debt free life. Think less monthly payments, more Kardashian.
  • Sell half of their possessions. It looks like personal items are more important than privacy, as 43% said they would sell half of their worldly possessions to pay off their loans. That’s downsizing your apartment and your balance.
  • Partake in questionable studies. Nearly 40% said they would volunteer their health and time to be guinea pigs in questionable medical studies if they paid thousands of dollars. It’s unsure if “questionable” also counts as “unethical.”

One thing that wasn’t popular among respondents: active duty. Almost 70% said “no way” to joining the military, even if they offered to help pay down debt.

Emotion Bridging Helps Toddlers Deal With Their Emotions

Two young children playing outside

A new study shows that emotion bridging can help toddlers express emotions in a healthy way.
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According to Holly Brophy-Herb, a professor of early childhood development at Michigan State University, emotion bridging is an important tactic for helping toddlers learn to express and deal with their emotions instead of simply lashing out.

In a study featuring 89 toddlers aged 18 months to 2 years, they found that children whose mothers engaged in emotion bridging were less likely to act out and more likely to use simple vocabulary to express themselves. The study involved mothers sitting down with their children and reading a wordless picture book about a girl who loses and then finds her pet. On each page, the mothers were instructed to not only identify the emotions the character experiences, but to explain why she was experiencing them, and to relate that emotion to experiences the child had.

This action, called emotion bridging, can help young children make sense of their emotions and allows them to better express them, something which can be difficult for young children. When children can’t express themselves verbally, they often do so physically, which is frequently met with punishment. This results in a vicious cycle which can continue into adolescence and adulthood. If children learn how to express themselves verbally early on, though, they are less likely to act out, and more likely to develop greater expression skills over the course of their lives.

Brophy-Herb made sure to point out that emotion bridging is even more important for disadvantaged children, who generally have less parental contact and less education outside of school, due to parents being away for work or other reasons; so they benefit more from small conversations about emotion when the opportunity arises. This will help them stay out of trouble later in life, as other studies have shown that disadvantaged children, especially minority children, suffer from compounding problems throughout the education system, and their actions are more likely to be met with punishment even by well-meaning educators.

Teachers Strike in Seattle

"Teachers strike!" written on blackboard

Teachers in Seattle went on strike last week as part of a fight for better pay.
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Schools in the Seattle School District were closed Thursday and Friday last week as more than 5,000 teachers walked out in a strike after inconclusive talks with district officials. The teachers have not received a cost-of-living raise in six years, despite the high cost of living and working in the Seattle area–a cost that’s skyrocketed in the last several years thanks to the influx of tech employees at Google and Amazon.

Teachers feel that students aren’t getting the time and attention they need bcause their own workloads are too demanding, an injury added to the insult of no additions to teacher healthcare programs in five years. “Monday night, the district proposed a counter offer of $62 million to the $172 million union demand,” says Education News. The district then made a counter offer, after which the teachers’ union announced that they would strike.

Stacy Howard, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools, said that the school board plans to establish a 14% pay raise for teachers over the next three years, a raise which would include a cost-of-living adjustment. The district is also willing to offer a three-year contract worth $29 million in its first two years; meanwhile, the union’s proposed contract would be worth close to $84 million.

Seattle teachers have not gone on strike since 1985, and though this particular strike is a response to low pay, teachers also seek to dismantle the school board’s plan to lengthen the school day for students, which would cut down on preparation time as well as time simply spent outside of work. They would also like to see the rate of institutional testing significantly reduced.

The State of Washington has faced problems like this before. The U.S. Supreme Court said the state had not fully paid for the education of 1 million students, and the state will be fined $100,000 per day until they come up with a solution to this problem.

Teachers in Pasco, in the southeast part of the state, are also on strike, defying a court order intended to stop the action.