Educational Stability

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Foster children have been notoriously underserved when it comes to schooling, but ESSA might change that.
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Students in foster care get the short end of nearly every stick. And one of the most damaging shortfalls for their long-term welfare is the lack of access to consistent, quality schooling. A year ago, a national study of over a thousand foster kids revealed that kids in the system moved schools an average of once a year and lost 5-6 months of academic progress with every move. More if they were moving between schools with very different performance levels (bad to good, mediocre to awful, good to bad.)

They also found that every single change in living arrangements with their attendant change in schools reduced the child’s chance of graduating by fifty percent. More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the United States, and just barely over half are statistically going to graduate at all.

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and later No Child Left Behind stressed the importance for schools to close the gap between their high and low performers, education agencies identified foster kids as officially high-risk for the first time. In 2014, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act was passed, which gave childcare welfare agencies important access to education records (these were previously only available to legal guardians). With agencies able to keep themselves up to date, they could ease some of the frustrations (enrollment delay, having to repeat courses, credits that didn’t transfer or went missing) that increased the odds a student would drop out.

This year, a clause in the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has gone a step further. The new act contains provisions to keep students in the same schools if at all possible, even if they move from one district to another. It requires schools and state agencies to provide transportation and to expedite enrollment and record transfer if a change of schools has to happen anyway. Perhaps more importantly, schools are required to report the progress of students in state care as they would any other minority group, so that for the first time, broad national data is available to be acted upon.

Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University to Become One

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Philadelphia University and Jefferson University have announced they will merge.
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Two universities, Thomas Jefferson and Philadelphia, both in the named city, have reached a preliminary agreement to merge together into one university. There are hopes that the deal, expected to close by the end of next summer, would give Philadelphia University more visibility in a very competitive marketplace. Through the merger many students may have better chances of getting into the medical school at Jefferson.

School administrators said that the unanimous agreement to merge will create “a combination that will drive innovation in health, science, architecture, design, fashion, business, and engineering.” Jefferson already has plans to merge with two hospital systems, and those mergers and the new one with Philadelphia will nearly double its student headcount.

“By integrating two financially and academically strong universities that already have incredible synergies and significant complementary programs, we can create a model that further disrupts and challenges higher education to deliver great outcomes for 21st century students, employers, patients, and our communities,” said Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

Both institutions acknowledge that the merger means they will be able to offer programs focused on real-world problems rather than traditional academic disciplines. Philadelphia University will not change its name, but it will be a part of the Jefferson system.

“Our vision for Jefferson’s academic pillar has been to develop forward-thinking education that integrates new learning models and delivers programs that meet the evolving needs of today’s students,” Klasko added. Jefferson currently has 1,072 students enrolled at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College and 281 at its School of Pharmacy; the university’s schools of nursing and health profession programs have almost 1,700 students. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has 2,300 full-time undergraduate students.

A signing ceremony for the letter of intent will occur on the Philadelphia University campus sometime soon.

Wheaton College Professor Suspended for Religious Views

Wheaton College campus

A Wheaton College professor has been suspended for discussing the similarities between Islam and Christianity.
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A professor at conservative evangelical university Wheaton College has been suspended for sharing her views on Islam on social media. Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor of political science at the school, wrote on social media that Christians and Muslims share the same God. The expression evidently did not go over well with her colleagues, and Hawkins was disciplined by the school.

Wheaton’s administration addressed the situation on Tuesday, writing that Dr. Hawkins had been placed on leave “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam…Dr. Hawkins’s administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions.”

Last week, Dr. Hawkins announced her intention to wear a Muslim headscarf in support of her Muslim neighbors. “I stand in solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she also wrote on social media. Dr. Hawkins had been inspired by a student’s suggestions that all female college students should wear hijabs on their flights home for the holidays.

The college insists that it was Dr. Hawkins’s commentary that lead to her suspension and decidedly not her decision to wear a hijab. She was asked to provide a theological response to several other statements, though no details have been released at this time. There have been mixed responses to the situation from students, many of whom speak in support of the professor and several of whom disparaged her comments and applauded the university’s action.

A former student of the college told the New York Times that Dr. Hawkins had been one of her “favorite, most influential professors.” Another student believed the school had taken appropriate action, arguing that it is an insult to both Christians and Muslims to say that they “unite under the same beliefs,” adding that she thinks “as an evangelical school that has a statement of faith, it is wrong for us to call Muslims brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Dr. Hawkins’s suspension was effectively immediately and will last through the spring semester. The announcement has sparked protests around the campus with many people maintaining solidarity with her.

Dual Language Programs Could Mean Higher Graduation Rates

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Studies show that being bilingual gives students a variety of advantages.
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Most schools around the nation teach almost exclusively in English, with the option for some students to pay for after-school language-learning programs or to take a language as an elective. As a result, students who enter schools without knowing English as their first language are less likely to do well in school or even graduate. But some schools, like those in the Woodburn School District, Oregon, are implementing dual-language programs—and seeing academic performance rise.

Woodburn has found that its dual-language programs not only help students learning English do better: they also foster children’s understanding of and appreciation for other cultures and other languages. Additionally, dual-language programs can help to close segregation gaps between students, segregation that places native English speakers in one room and all students learning English in another where they may never get the support they actually need.

“By becoming a dual-language district, we’ve made a statement about how much we value diversity and different viewponts,” said Chuck Ransom, Woodburn’s superintendent. “We’ve been a big player in helping to bring prosperity and solidarity.” Students in the programs are more likely to embrace diversity, too, through cross-cultural and cross-lingual friendships.

Learning new languages is proven to bolster children’s cognitive abilities, too. Some research suggests that young children who are bilingual developed the concept of “object permanence” more quickly than children who spoke only one language. Increased skills in critical thinking, creativity, and ability to adapt have also been observed.

But while dual-language programs are increasing in number around the United States, they still represent only a pocket of the nation’s education. The quest to find teachers who are qualified to teach science in math in languages that aren’t English isn’t easy, and Ransom is hoping to work with universities to find qualified teachers or get students on the path to becoming teachers who can instruct higher-level classes in other languages.

MBA Students Learn To Negotiate Ethical Dilemmas With Improv

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University business programs are refocusing on the importance of ethics–in the classroom and in business.
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In the traditional business school curriculum, the study of ethics occurs at the beginning of the Masters in Business Administration program. Students take this course before the core disciplines of accounting, marketing, and statistics. This practice appears to suggest that the study of ethics for business students is forgettable, not foundational.

Enron’s Ken Lay was a businessman with a great education and not an iota of ethical intent when it came to doing business. Business school students must have role models and training combined to ensure that they’ll develop and practice honorable methods of doing business.

Fortunately, schools like the University of Virginia’s School of Commerce have graduates active in the business community who have engaged their alma mater’s ethical culture. Robbert Vorhoff, Principal at General Atlantic, is a graduate of the University of Virginia, a school that values ethical business practices and trains their students with innovative programs that address actual dilemmas and provide strategies that work in the real world.

One of the problems encountered by students in business school programs is that sometimes their education forgoes the study of people when it comes to business. Many programs encourage their students to study the impact of numbers and data without the presence of human beings. Money has an impact on our culture as well as our collective finances. Ethical business students are taught to recognize that the impact on the life of human beings is an integral part of doing good business.

The problem with educating students about business ethics is the difference between the classroom and real life. Students don’t expect actually to meet a person doing wrong at the company where they’re working; so when they do, they’re at a loss.

Cady Garey, a drama professor at the University of Virginia, uses improv classes to teach students from the UV McIntire School of Commerce to respond in an authentic manner when confronted with a difficult ethical dilemma. The students in these classes are presented with problems they’ll encounter in the real world. They’re taught that not every person is a Mother Teresa–or a Bernie Madoff.

“We do not position ethics as a stand-alone concept, isolated from the rest of the curriculum,” said Darden Professor Andrew Wicks, who directs Darden’s Olsson Center for Applied Ethics. “We push students to think about the moral dimensions of the choices they make and develop a larger framework for making those choices.”

Learn more about how business students prepare to deal with ethical dilemmas here.

Digital Cheating

Male student cheating off of female student

Cheating in online courses is becoming a big problem, and educators are searching for a solution.
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Plato’s students probably plagiarized on their philosophy homework. We know Shakespeare cheated in his studies. Our grandparents wrote test answers on the bottoms of their shoes and the bills of their hats. Cheating and plagiarism have always and will always be obstacles on the academic landscape.

Cheating is, perhaps, at an all-time high now. Cheating is an industry today–and it’s not just upperclassmen selling off old essays and answer keys to freshmen. Freelancers and whole companies exist to not only write you your essays or study notes but to actually take your online courses for you. To the tune of one or two thousand dollars, they’ll even guarantee your grade. (Let’s set aside how this only widens the gap between the numbers of wealthy and poor college graduates.)

It’s not even subtle. No obfuscation about them helping you study or editing your work. Companies like No Need to Study and its ilk say it right out in the open: the service they offer is to take your classes and complete your course work for you, the client.

According to a 2014 survey, almost a third of all American upper-education enrollment is in online courses. Almost seven million students took at least one online class last year. And currently, there is virtually no way to check that the name on the roll-call for an online course is actually attached to the person behind the keyboard doing the work.

Online education is being seen as more legitimate every year. Already a global industry worth almost $100 billion, the one thing standing in its way is its trustworthiness–or rather, lack thereof. Fighting this, schools with online catalogs are scrambling to find ways to reduce academic fraud. Tactics like required video chats with the teacher, exit interviews by phone, and requiring major exams to be taken with an active web cam have all been tried, with varying degrees of success. But most of these also limit class size, cutting out one of the primary benefits of online courses in the first place.

Cheating is endemic to education. But as long as cheating in online education remains as rife as it is, it is hurting us all by making online accreditation unreliable.

Chinese Education is Changing, Too

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Chinese schools are going through a series of reforms.
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The United States isn’t the only place reworking its approach to education. China’s leaders are also experimenting with ways to enrich national exams and move teachers away from rote memorization and toward more socially aware students.

China’s national exams, or gaokao, have determined how people get ahead in Chinese society since the 10th century. Even today, a student from a small village can improve their standing by testing into a coveted Beijing university. You’ve probably heard that Chinese students consistently rank well in national exams on math and science, particularly as compared to other countries.

The downside of such a test-oriented educational structure is that Chinese students struggle with less analytical areas like literature and the humanities in general. They also, interestingly, don’t quite manage those engineering breakthroughs that change the face of technology and design.

Chinese leaders are working to change all that. The national exams have been refocused to include a broader range of topics, and classrooms are being encouraged to move away from solely focusing on lectures. Students’ performance in and choice of high school courses will now count toward their college admissions (it won’t be just math, Mandarin, and English assessments anymore). And, taking a cue from more progressive Western schools, Chinese schools will now support and take into account their students’ participation in their wider community.

“We must, by no means, allow into our classroom material that propagates Western values,” said Chinese Minister of Education Yuan Guiren earlier this year, according to The New Yorker. Yet up and coming teachers in China are looking for jobs in progressive “key schools” (a bit like charter schools in the US), and some schools already have in place programs that encourage students to take on community issues as part of their schoolwork.

Whether it’s welcomed or not, a shift is definitely taking place in Chinese schools. Because the competition for getting into elite universities is so challenging, the number of students bothering to sit for national exams at all is declining—from 10.5 million to 9.3 million between 2008 and 2010 alone. Change in Chinese education is making itself known…and how it will affect testing and other educational outcomes for the country remains to be seen.



Every Student Succeeds Act Has Special Meaning for American Indians

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It’s hoped that the new ESSA policy will be especially helpful for American Indian students.
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The Every Student Succeeds Act marks the first major federal overhaul for K-12 education in 15 years. Reversing much of the problematic No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, ESSA will give more administrative power back to the states while maintaining reading and math testing mandates. The general consensus seems to be that this will be an extremely positive change for schools—in particular those that are working to educate underserved populations such as American Indians.

Of particular interest is the section of the policy stating that it will “ensure that Indian children do not attend school in buildings that are dilapidated or deteriorating, which may negatively affect the academic success of such children.” It will also strive to promote culturally appropriate education for Native students (tribal language, history, and traditions) by supporting those efforts with well-trained teachers.

The new act is not without its own problems, though. On December 1, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights told Congress that, while they approve of ESSA as a better set of policies than NCLB, they are still concerned with certain elements of the act. It puts a lot of responsibility on the states and far less on the federal government, which could potentially cause problems in terms of supporting underserved communities that traditionally get more assistance federally as opposed to locally. Fewer checks and balances on power can have that effect.

Still, with the achievement gap for Native students—and many others—as prevalent as it is, changes were necessary.

Under the new policy, schools will still be required to give standardized reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8, but individual states will determine the standards and what tests to use. States will also be in charge of deciding what to do about schools that don’t live up to their standards, defined as schools in which two-thirds don’t graduate from high school, schools in the bottom 5%, and/or schools in which minority students in particular are struggling.

ESSA will also eliminate 50 education funding programs by combining them into one large block grant. That means no more School Improvement Grants or Race to the Top funding. But there will still be support for charter schools and early childhood education.

Siemens Competition 2015

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The winners of the Siemens Competition 2015 were all women this year.
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The winner of the annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology is only seventeen years old. Perhaps more impressively, the project that won Maria Grimmett the gold medal for a solo participant is one she began in the 6th grade. For six years, she’s studied and experimented with water purification, inspired by her family’s own substandard well water. And now her dedication has won her the top prize and a $100,000 college scholarship.

The competition, hosted at George Washington University in Washington D.C., is an annual look at the brightest up-and-comings. The finalists and winners were selected from a pool of more than 1,700 student project submissions, judged by a panel of highly renowned scientists and mathematicians. All national finalists (six individuals and six teams) received scholarships and silver medals.

Kimberly Te and Christine Yoo, from Manhasset High School, New York, won gold for their team project. Their goal was to find more cost-effective resources for cleaning up oil spills, and not only did they zero in on an all-natural absorbant to soak up and denature the oil, they took that one step further by turning the resultant contaminated material into a source of clean energy. Together, they estimate their project took more than 1,500 hours of work, on top of their busy high school schedules.

Together Te, Yoo, and Grimmett mark only the second time when women have taken all of the gold medals in the 16-year history of the competition. Each one of them credits early encouragement in the sciences from parents and teachers alike.

To be eligible for the Siemens Competition, high school students must be US citizens or permanent residents. Only seniors are eligible as individual entrants, but group members may be in any grade 9-12.

Regional finalists (30 individual and 30 groups per region) are selected by a blind jury based on their research reports. Those projects are then brought to one of the six partner universities (Caltech, UT Austin, Notre Dame, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Ga. Tech) to be presented in a science-fair-like environment. From each region, one individual and one group is selected to go to the finals in D.C, winning an all-expenses-paid trip for the occasion.

Harvard Launches Program Aimed at Building Better Quality Teachers

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A new Harvard program will help train K-12 teachers to be the best they can be.
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The benefits of a superior education are most often related to personal gain: higher wages, better economic mobility and, generally, a better life.

Education is highly valued at Harvard University, which offers a culture-enriching experience of intense learning combined with low student to faculty ratios and connections that will last a lifetime. It’s no surprise that the university’s alumni network is comprised of many accomplished individuals including Mark Zuckerberg, J Christopher Flowers, Bill Gates, and Natalie Portman.

To help improve the quality of teachers in struggling public schools in the United States, Harvard University is launching a new training program for teachers that will combine instruction in teaching processes with practices in the classroom under the guidance of a mentor. It’s hoped that this program will serve as a national model. Beginning in January 2016, two dozen Harvard seniors will participate in a three-year fellowship designed to combine pedagogy – studying the methods of teaching from industry experts through extensive practice in the classroom under mentor supervision. Next year, fellows will teach two or three classes a day while working with an on-site mentor, receive training from a faculty advisor, and take an online Harvard course. After working part time, the fellows will be put on full time, but will go back to the university for retreats, conferences, and summer courses.

They also have the option to take six more credits to earn a Master’s degree for about $10,000, compared to $45,000 for Harvard’s traditional Master’s program. “Thanks to $18 million from private donors who wish to remain anonymous, the program is free to fellows,” Lyndsey Layton notes in the Washington Post.

According to James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the university has three goals: to improve the quality of classroom teachers in urban schools, to construct a model that can be successfully used elsewhere, and to present teaching as a worthwhile career to Harvard students and their peers who don’t usually think of K-12 teaching in the same manner as law, medicine, or business.

The university plans to study the fellowship over time. “People are going to want to see how this goes. The hope is if this program is vibrant and successful, it will encourage replication,” said Ryan.