Teen Develops App to Help Others Make Friends at Lunch

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Bullying is a serious issue as it can have repercussions throughout a child’s life. Study after study has shown that it’s a problem that we have to tackle, and there have been numerous suggestions on just how to do that. We know, for example, that when the “cool kids” take a stand against bullying, it tends to catch on and reduce student conflict overall. We also know that kids can be bullied for almost anything, so finding ways to prevent them from becoming targets in the first place can have a strong impact on a student’s life.

High school junior Natalie Hampton knows that all too well. She spent her entire 7th grade year sitting alone at lunch. She was the target of a lot of bullying and her self-esteem suffered tremendously. Bullies tend to pick on kids who are perceived as weaker than themselves, and the implied rejection of always sitting alone signals weakness.

That’s why Hampton has developed a mobile app called Sit With Us, which allows kids to find table with open chairs that they can feel welcome at. Users can sign up as ambassadors, who are willing to open up their table to new faces, or they can look for tables that have ambassadors. She launched the app early in the school year and is already getting positive feedback on it.

Hampton is an example of a student who’s thinking about the bigger picture and who managed to take her personal experiences of bullying and funnel it into a constructive project. While she’s set an excellent example for other kids, she’s also set an excellent example for educators. Educators have a different perspective on bullying and they usually have a better understanding of the psychology behind it as well. Educators should use their own knowledge to the best of their advantage to help students feel included.

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A Head Start in the Long Race

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Head Start, the federal program from the 1960s that established free preschools for 3-4 year-old kids in low-income families, is fifty years old. Which means we have two full generations of data on the long-term effects of free early schooling on future performance. Children who attended Head Start have their own children. Some of their children have children.

The Hamilton Project, a think-tank based around identifying factors that improve the national economy (and named after America’s first economist), has assembled a twenty-year analysis on the lives of Head Start children, and their results show profound benefits. Sorted by parental income, children who were enrolled are more likely to graduate from both high school and college, with higher grades and higher degrees. The effects are most pronounced in vulnerable populations like African-Americans.

Aside from educational standards, adults who were enrolled from the age of 3 rank better on skills like pre-planning and problem solving.

Perhaps most important, the Hamilton Project’s analysis also found that grown Head Start children invest much more time and effort into their own children, indicating that the program’s effects indirectly reach into the second generation.

Tempering these positive results, however, is a history of data suggesting more disappointing results of the Head Start program. Early studies appear to indicate that Head Start’s positive gains faded away by the third grade. But this is the first 20-year study, and the first study to seek out and contact adult graduates of the preschool program.

There are other programs that show similar slow-burn results. Moving to Opportunity, a program from the ‘90s that gave poor families vouchers to help them move into lower-poverty neighborhoods with better schools, showed few positive results in the kid’s grades or their family’s incomes. But Moving to Opportunity children were 15% more likely to attend college, and 5% less likely to become single parents.

“This comes up over and over in the research literature: measurable impacts fade, then they come back when they’re adults,” says Diane Schanzenbach, the director of the Hamilton Project. “It’s happened enough that it should give us pause.”

America is Short on Educators

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The numbers are in and the fears are confirmed. The teacher shortage crisis is officially here. A new report by the Learning Policy Institute shows that between 2009 and 2014, teacher enrollment numbers dropped by 35%. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that the shortage is expected to continue and if student enrollment predictions are correct, the future is looking quite dismal. The National Center for Education Statistics is predicting student enrollment to increase by three million in the next decade. If things keep going the way they’re going, classrooms are going to get awfully cramped.

Once upon a time, teaching was a respectable, attractive career choice. The recent shortage crisis has people wondering: what’s changed since then? According to NPR, three things: frustration, burnout, and attrition.

The frustration is coming from a few different places: low-wages, over-crowded classrooms, mountains of paperwork, and increased violence in schools. The fact of the matter is, teaching isn’t the same as it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. Continual budget cuts have forced educators to take on more work for less pay. This is precisely what is leading to burnout.

Educators, more than anyone else, are feeling the strain of the economy. College tuition is high and teacher salaries are low. As it stands now, there doesn’t appear to be much of an incentive for college grads to pursue a career in education. Young teachers are figuring out very quickly that there are better job opportunities out there, and attrition statistics are proving it.

When it comes to attrition, many people are surprised to learn that retirement accounts for less than a third of the teachers who leave. Statistics show that teachers who work in high-poverty, high-minority schools are leaving at astronomical rates. Unfortunately, these are the schools that need teachers the most. But that’s not the full story. Administrative support, or lack thereof, was cited as one of the main reasons for teachers fleeing their jobs. Teachers are desperately lacking the assistance and encouragement they need to continue working.

On the bright side, the latest report provides the U.S. Department of Education with the information they need in order to fix the problem. Now that they know what the cause is, perhaps a solution is in store.

Student Punished for Sitting During the Pledge of Allegiance

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Leilani Thomas, a student at California’s Lower Lake High School, got points taken off her grade for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. Thomas, who is Native American, has been sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance since the second grade. Ever since her parents explained to her what the Pledge of Allegiance meant to them and their lineage, she decided to sit. Her peaceful form of protest never caused her any trouble… until now.

According to Thomas, her teacher took points off her participation grade for not standing.

“She told me I was being disrespectful and I was pretty mad. She was disrespectful to me also, saying I was making bad choices, and I don’t have the choice to sit during the Pledge,” Thomas stated in an interview with reporters.

Konocti School District Superintendent Donna Becnel supports Thomas’ decision, stating that the First Amendment affords her and other students the right not to participate. “They have the same right when they walk through the door into the schoolhouse than everybody else does,” Becnel said.

Thomas’ decision comes at a time when there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding patriotic rituals. Recently, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick came under fire for choosing to kneel during the National Anthem. Similarly, Kaepernick cited racial inequality issues as his reason for not participating.

The recent media coverage has created a domino effect, with more and more students electing to sit out. In Pearland, Texas, 10 year-old Skyla Madria also kneeled during the Pledge of Allegiance. Madria said ever since she listened to the third verse of the National Anthem, she no longer wanted to participate. The third verse of the National Anthem was written by slave owner Francis Scott Key. This third verse reads:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

As tensions mount over the subject, educators are wondering how to breach the subject matter with students. Most teachers have decided not to intervene and instead let parents initiate that conversation with their children.

Education Commissions and the Need for Transparency

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Education finance is an important issue around the country, but it can be hard to manage for a number of reasons. Maine recently established a new commission to address the issue, but they’ve gotten off to a pretty rough start. The commission held it’s first meeting in private, which violated standing laws in Maine that require those meetings to be accessible to the public. The Attorney General immediately filed a complaint, which will go to court in September. The commission subsequently voted to pay any fines assigned by the court, had a slight change of membership, and then held it’s next meeting according to the guidelines of state law.

The initial meeting was apparently intended for the commission to break the ice, but that isn’t an acceptable excuse for closing it off to the public. It may not seem like the biggest problem facing education, but the idea of such a commission meeting in private, and not allowing the public to monitor how such important discussions are going, is a chilling one. Though the commission doesn’t seem to have had any nefarious intent, it could have set a negative precedent. As the commission will be dealing with public education, the public needs to be kept abreast of its progress.

It is especially important that educators have access to such meetings, in order to express their own concerns and ideas. While parents and other citizens can certainly have good suggestions, and should be aware of things that affect their children, educators are all too often ignored or left out of significant decisions about the direction of education policy or finance. Maine has taken the right steps to ensure that this commission operates with transparency, and that it is capable of tapping the valuable resources that the public can provide.

School Heat Closures

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Summer 2016 has been a punishing season for the east coast, and as September looms, the heat shows no signs of breaking. The National Weather Service predicts the heat index to stay north of 90 degrees for the first week back in school for most districts in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Normally, this wouldn’t be an obstacle to kids going back to school, just a source of frustration as freedom turns into homework. But Baltimore’s schools have a new policy in effect this year, one for their protection. Now Hot Days will join Snow Days as a safety-driven school closure event. Any school without air conditioning must close on days when the heat index rises above 90.

(For those not in the know: ‘Heat index’ is the opposite end of wind chill—how hot does it feel as opposed to the number on the thermometer. It takes into account humidity and time of day for a more relevant statistic.)

The new policy requires the superintendent to announce a closure if the high index is reported by 8pm the night before a school day. Had it been in place for the 2015-16 school year, Baltimore schools would have closed for as many as 10 days.

37 of Baltimore County’s 200 schools are affected under the new policy. There are plans to install air conditioning in all of those schools, with a recent allocation of an $85 million dollar budget for the project, but it will not be complete for at least four more years.

Parents are of divided opinions on the closures. Some believe it inhumane for students and teachers to be stuck in sweltering classrooms where 35 bodies will drive the temperature up even higher. Others think that discomfort isn’t worth disrupting their education and forcing parents to find other childcare options with little notice.

The decision came after a conflict between concerned parents and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentz resulted in a refusal to install temporary window air conditioning units in buildings still waiting for installed AC.