The Weekly Connect 3/19/18

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

These are some of the things we’ve been reading about:

Tacoma, Wash., schools focus on social-emotional learning.

Amid student protests, the U.S. House of Representatives passes a school safety bill.

Florida will give bullied public school students a voucher so that they can attend private schools.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Creating Schools That ‘Fit Our Kids’
Education Dive: Social-emotional learning (SEL) can help all students achieve. SEL also creates a school culture that is “inclusive of and responsive to” diversity. These are some of the statements made by a panel of educators who spoke at Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional ,and Academic Development. The panel members say that integrating SEL into academics helps teachers better manage their classrooms, but that high-quality professional development is necessary in order for teachers to develop this skill. See related articles: Ed Week Rules for Engagement Blog “Teachers Say Social-Emotional Learning Is Important, But They Can’t Do It Alone” and Edutopia “Embracing the Whole Child.”

How One District Is Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Its Schools
Education Week: In a nationally representative survey of 884 principals, just 35% of respondents said their school was fully implementing a plan for incorporating social-emotional learning into policies and classroom work. The Tacoma, Wash., district uses a well-rounded social-emotional approach that focuses on relationships. Through a comprehensive effort, Tacoma seems to have leaped over hurdles that have stopped the growth of social-emotional learning strategies in other districts, hurdles such as a lack of teacher buy-in and the struggle to infuse SEL concepts into traditional classroom work. See related article: The Heartland Institute “New York to Require Mental Health Education in K-12 Schools.”

When Chicago Cut Down on Suspensions, Students Saw Test Scores and Attendance Rise, Study Finds
Chalkbeat: As school districts across the country have cut back on suspensions, critics claimed that the changes have led to chaos in the classroom. But there’s been remarkably little hard evidence either for or against that view. That’s why a new study of Chicago Public Schools is so significant. It found that a modest drop in suspensions for high-level offenses actually led to small increases in test scores and attendance for all students in a school. The research, recently published in the Peabody Journal of Education, bolsters the case of discipline reformers who argue that school suspensions are ineffective and disproportionately target students of color.

How Do Principals Influence Student Achievement?
Ed Week Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice Blog: Researchers from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research looked at data from hundreds of Chicago schools to learn how principals were most effective at achieving higher learning gains on standardized tests. The researchers found that principals’ primary influence was fostering strong learning climates in their schools. Other principal-led aspects of school organization that are associated with improving schools – such as teachers’ professional development, program alignment, and engagement with parents – matter for student achievement to the extent that they facilitate a strong school climate.

Florida School Shooting Underscores Need for New PD
District Administration: After February’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there was no shortage of suggestions for improving school security. These ideas included adding more guards and arming teachers. One area not widely addressed, however, is how to prepare teachers and administrators psychologically for dealing with a crisis. Unfortunately, not much is available in terms of social-emotional professional development for educators in crisis planning, says Amy Klinger, Director of Programs for The Educators’ School Safety Network and professor of educational administration at Ashland University. See related articles: District Administrator “How Schools Can Prevent Trauma During Emergency Exercises,” and Ed Week Teacher Beat Blog “Most Teachers Oppose Arming Educators and Fear a School Shooting, Says NEA Poll.”

Research-Tested Benefits of Breaks
Edutopia: Regular breaks throughout the school day—from short brain breaks in the classroom to the longer break of recess—are not simply downtime for students. Students, particularly young ones, often struggle with staying focused for long periods of time. Shorter lessons, however, keep student attention high. And there are more benefits to downtime than increased attention: It decreases stress, increases productivity, boosts brain function, and provides opportunities for children to learn social skills.

Two Behaviors Linked to High School Dropout Rates
Science Daily: While the national high school dropout rate has declined, many school systems still struggle with a high number of students who do not finish high school. The factors that may lead to a student’s decision to leave school are complex, but a new study published in the Journal of School Health sheds light on how two behaviors – aggression and weak study skills – contribute to the problem. 

Lullaby of Algebra: How Mixing Music and Math Helps Engage Students
EdSource: Jami Jorgensen is the human jukebox of quadratic equations. “Anything that’s an algorithm, I have a song for it,” said the energetic middle-school math teacher who works in California’s Hayward Unified School District, in the east Bay Area. Jorgensen, who teaches 7th– and 8th–grade math, leads her students in ditties, chants, and dance moves to help them remember basic formulas in algebra and geometry. Jorgensen said that weaving music into math lessons has boosted her students’ test scores, enhanced their understanding of the larger concepts, and improved the classroom climate.

Making Elementary School A Lot More Fun: Like Preschool!
NPR Ed: In Kelly Stevens’ kindergarten classroom, each day begins with circle time for what sounds like a menu of lesson options. Students can read at the green table, they can build boats or make things out of clay, among other options. Play-based activities like this one at Curtis Guild School are part of a new curriculum that Boston has been rolling out over the last five years. It’s a deliberate shift away from the “kindergarten as the new first grade,” way of thinking that’s become common in early childhood circles. So, is all of this effort actually making a difference? That’s what a group of researchers at the University of Michigan, Harvard and MDRC are investigating in Boston.

Policy

House Passes School Safety Bill Amid Student Protests
UPI: The House of Representatives passed a school safety measure that, while not including any gun control measures, seeks to prevent shootings like the one that killed 17 people last month at a school in Parkland, Fla. The Students, Teachers and Officers — or STOP — School Violence Act authored by Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., passed with a vote of 407-10. The bill would authorize $50 million in grant funding each year for schools to train students, teachers, and law enforcement officials on how to recognize and report threats of gun violence. It would also authorize $25 million for schools to improve security features like locks, lights, metal detectors, and panic buttons. See related articles: Education Week “Student Walkout Taps Well of Anger, Mourning Over Gun Violence” and Child Trends Blog “New School Safety Bills Could Make Schools Less Safe for Kids.” 

Democrats Seek More Money for Mental Health Services, Counseling in Schools
Ed Week Politics K-12 Blog: To help create safer schools in the wake of a Florida school shooting last month, several Democratic senators want Congress to give more money to an Every Student Succeeds Act program to fund more counselors, trauma-informed classroom management, and mental-health services for schools. In a letter to top Senators on the Senate appropriations committee, the Democrats said the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants—which are a part of Title IV in ESSA—should be funded at “the highest possible level” for fiscal 2018.

How States Plan to Use ESSA Funds for Early Learning
Ed Week Early Years Blog: An early-childhood education advocacy group has released a new report on how states are using the Every Student Succeeds Act to leverage federal support for early learning. The report is the latest component of what the First Five Years Fund calls an ESSA resource toolkit. The report breaks down how each state plans to either launch new early-childhood initiatives or increase their current offerings.

Around the Nation

More U.S. Schools Offering Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Youth
Reuters: A study suggests that growing number of U.S. schools are offering safe spaces for ‘tweens and adolescents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ). Schools are also prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some 62% of middle schools and high schools had a counselor’s office, designated classroom, or student organization where LGBTQ youth could get support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff in 2014, up from 51% in 2010. And just over 90% of schools had anti-harassment policies by 2014, up from 88% in 2010.

In Florida, Bullied Students Will Get Vouchers to Attend Private School
Education Week: The Florida legislature passed a sprawling education bill this week that, among several other unrelated provisions, creates a new scholarship program for students who suffer from harassment or violence so that they can attend private schools. The program is paid for with tax credits, and it further boosts the state’s already expansive private-school choice offerings. Florida is poised to become the first state to offer private-school vouchers specifically to students who are bullied or physically attacked in their public schools.

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