The Weekly Connect 4/16/18

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:

Urban school districts improving at a faster rate than all the nation’s schools.

Universal preschool is cost-effective.

State legislators have filed hundreds of bills to address school safety.

A suburban school in Illinois adopts trauma-informed approaches.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

NAEP: Urban School Districts Improving Faster Than the Nation
Ed Week Inside School Research Blog: America’s large urban districts have been improving faster than the nation as a whole, and they mostly held onto those gains during the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and mathematics. Urban 4th graders scored on average at the basic level in math and reading. Urban 8th graders scored on average at the basic level in reading and below basic in math. Yet, 27 percent of urban 8th graders scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2017, up 8 percentage points since 2007. That’s faster than the 5 percentage-point reading growth for students overall. See related articles: The Seattle Times “Nation’s Report Card Shows Flat Results in Students’ Reading, Math” and U.S. News & World Report “NAEP Shows Little to No Gains in Math, Reading for U.S. Students.” 

Data Helps K–12 School Districts Hire, Set Curricula, and Improve Student Outcomes
Ed Tech Magazine: While using analytics across all aspects of education might seem like micro­management, schools that do so on a daily basis would beg to differ. For instance, at the Downingtown, Penn.-based 21st Century Cyber Charter School, teachers and administrators rely on learning tools such as Edmentum’s Study Island, Blackboard Collaborate, and Moodle to identify student needs and trends. “Using analytics allows us to modify assignments or input alternate information,” says Lauren Michener, the organization’s learning coach. Now, she says, teachers can better understand a student’s strengths and weaknesses, collaborate with experts, integrate other online resources, and get real-time feedback. 

How Can School Leaders Maximize the Impact of Teacher Leadership?
Ed Week Teacher Beat Blog: Teachers want instructional leadership roles, a new report says—but too often, those roles lack the formal authority, support, and tools to be successful. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a group that works to increase educator effectiveness, has launched The Teach Factor, an initiative to find scalable solutions around a factor “pivotal” to the teaching profession each year. This year, the factor is teacher leadership—and how schools and districts can create formal roles for teachers.

New Study Brings Insight into Parental Choices in Early Education
New America: In a new study, researchers attempt to fill the research gap about how low-income parents make choices within the formal early education sector. They selected 80 early education programs that primarily served four-year-olds across five Louisiana parishes during the 2014-2015 school year (i.e., Head Start, state pre-K, and private child care centers). Within each program, one classroom was randomly selected and parents of enrolled students were asked to respond to surveys about various aspects of their search for an early learning program. Parents across all three types of settings agreed that the following features are the most important when selecting an early education program: the program builds academic skills, offers a clean and safe environment, and provides teachers who respond warmly to children.

Universal Preschool is Most Cost-Effective, Study Finds
The Hechinger Report: Preschool is most likely to help low-income children if their classmates come from a range of family incomes, according to a new study. The new research contradicts the current strategy in most states of targeting public preschool only to low-income kids. See related article: The Daily Sentinel “Early Achievers.”

Teachers on Tech: Good for Student Learning, Bad for Student Health
Ed Week Digital Education Blog: A new nationally representative Gallup poll offers more evidence that teachers are of two different minds when it comes to educational technology. On one hand, the 497 teachers surveyed expressed a tepid belief in technology’s educational value: 41% said they view digital devices as “mostly helpful” to students’ education, and another 30% described devices as “neither helpful nor harmful.” At the same time, though, 69% of those teachers said digital devices are “mostly harmful” to students’ mental health, and 55% described them as mostly harmful to students’ physical health. 

Teachers Can Help Reduce Mental Health Problems in Children, Study Finds
Medical Xpress: School-based mental health services delivered by teachers and staff can significantly reduce mental health problems in elementary-aged children, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The implications are significant considering approximately 30 to 40% of youth in the U.S. will be diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder by adolescence. The authors found that mental health services blended into routine academic instruction in the classroom are particularly effective, compared to pull-out services or implementation of a separate mental health curriculum altogether.

School-Based Yoga Can Help Children Better Manage Stress and Anxiety
Science Daily: Participating in yoga and mindfulness activities at school helps third-graders exhibiting anxiety improve their wellbeing and emotional health, according to a new Tulane University study published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

Policy

How States Are Addressing School Safety
National Conference of State Legislatures: NCSL has compiled a snapshot of state legislation addressing school safety as of early April 2018. Two hundred bills or resolutions addressing school safety have been introduced in 39 different states. Half of those bills were introduced—in 27 states—since the events in Parkland on February 14, 2018. State legislatures have proposed a variety of approaches to improve school safety measures. 

Civil Rights Groups to Congress: Betsy DeVos is Approving Plans That Violate ESSA
Ed Week Politics K-12 Blog: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is approving plans that fly in the face of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s protections for vulnerable children, according to more than a dozen civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The civil rights groups say that DeVos is greenlighting plans that allow schools to get a high rating even if vulnerable group of kids, like English-language learners, are struggling. And they argue she’s allowing states to use “super subgroups” which lump different groups of historically disadvantaged students together for accountability purposes. 

Measuring New Science Standards Is Hard. These Projects Aim to Change That
Ed Week Curriculum Matters Blog: About 18 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. And although these shared science expectations have been out for about five years, testing models that fully capture students’ grasp of them have lagged far behind. Naturally, this all begs for some testing innovation, which is expensive and difficult work. Now, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has begun a new project to craft model test items related to the standards’ energy practices. The project will involve the creation of “scenario based” tasks that illustrate the concepts of the transfer and conservation of energy, thermal energy transfer and dissipation, and energy and chemical reactions. Each scenario will require students to interact with a phenomenon, answering both multiple-choice questions and questions that require students to respond to prompts. 

Around the Nation

How K12 is Outwitting Anxiety
District Administration: National data indicates that about one-third of teenagers will experience an anxiety disorder, with 8% seriously impaired. In younger children, anxiety may manifest as clinginess or stomachaches; older children may report feeling overwhelmed. Some anxious children withdraw; others become aggressive or oppositional. And some refuse to go to school at all. To combat this damaging new reality, districts often begin by making students’ emotional health an explicit priority.

How One Suburban District is Helping Traumatized Students Succeed
Daily Herald: Educators nationwide are recognizing that early psychological traumas can have a huge impact on children’s brain development and learning. Just how teachers and schools can support students affected by adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, is not quite a science. That’s where Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300’s new initiative called DREAM Academy, Dedicated Reinforcement, Engagement And Motivation, comes in. This school year, roughly 100 students in first through fifth grades struggling with emotional traumas and behavioral issues are receiving additional support in smaller classroom settings to improve their academic performance and overall health. It’s the first suburban district to adopt a trauma-informed teaching and intervention program for early grades.

Idaho State Department of Education Rolls Out Free Online Program for Children
KMVT 11: The Idaho State Department of Education released a web-based program for 4-year-old children to get ready for kindergarten. The program is called “Smarty Ants,” an interactive website for 4 year olds to learn and get ready to read before going into kindergarten.

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