The Weekly Connect 1/27/20

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:

Historically Black Colleges and Universities offer K-12 leaders strong examples of how to promote African-American students’ success.

More states are expanding access to free school meals.

Most public schools in Minneapolis have a therapist on site.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

How HBCUs Can Help African American K-12 Students
District Administration: K-12 leaders should look to historically black colleges and universities to adopt strategies to promote the success of African American students, according to a new report. The report outlines best practices, such as cultivating nurturing support systems, leveraging African American culture and identity, and setting high expectations, that can be used in K-12 schools with demographics similar to HBCUs. “HBCUs have historically proven to be more successful at educating and graduating African American students—especially students from low- to moderate-income households; first-generation college students; or those who’ve had an inequitable K-12 education,” UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax said in a news release.

SEL Program’s Impact on State Test Scores Mixed
Education Dive: A social-emotional learning program focusing on skills such as cooperation, self-control, and empathy was associated with some positive results on state tests in reading and math, but the findings don’t match the large gains found in other research on the connections between SEL and students’ academic performance, a new study finds. Researchers at Penn State examined state test scores in grades 3-5 for 2nd graders who participated in the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program. While scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment were higher in some grade levels for students who participated in the program, the findings, in general, were not statistically significant.

The Learning Effect of Air Quality in Classrooms
The Hechinger Report: Education researchers have traditionally focused on the obvious ingredients of teaching and learning, such as instruction, curriculum, student motivation, and school funding. But now researchers are scrutinizing the physical environment that surrounds students, especially the air quality and temperature in classrooms. Several research studies written in recent years have found evidence that higher rates of air pollution are associated with lower test scores (see here, here, and here). One researcher from American University has also studied the impact of air pollution on suspension rates. 

Policy

School Districts Struggle with Special Education Costs
Ed Week On Special Education Blog: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires the federal government to help cover the excess costs of meeting students’ individual education needs, has bedeviled school systems for decades. Under the law, commonly known as IDEA, the federal government will award $13.6 billion in grants to states to help school districts this fiscal year. However, that funding has consistently fallen short of the target indicated in the law. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that federal grants cover less than 15% of the average per-pupil expenditure for special education students; less than half of the 40% lawmakers envisioned when the law was enacted. See related article: Ed Note “How States Allocate Funding for English Language Learners.” 

More States Expanding Students’ Access to Free School Meals
Education Dive: A Vermont bill that would make school meals free for all students is just one example of how anti-hunger advocates are pushing in the direction of universal school meals. Concerns over lunch shaming, unpaid meal debt, and proposals from the Trump administration to tighten eligibility for nutrition programs are being met with efforts to cover meal costs for more children. Eight states have eliminated the reduced price category for families whose incomes fall between 130%-185% of poverty. At the federal level, the Universal School Meals Act was recently introduced and would prohibit schools in the National School Lunch Program from denying a school breakfast or lunch to any student. See related article: UPI “Trump Administration Proposes Further Rollbacks of School Lunch Standards.”

 States and Cities are Banning Hair Discrimination. Here’s How That’s Affecting Schools.
Chalkbeat: In the past several years, schools across the country have had policies in place that forbid students from wearing braided hair extensions and dreadlocks. Now, a wave of new laws in states such as California, New York, and New Jersey gives millions of students new protections against discrimination if they wear their hair in these styles. The laws all look to prevent Black children and adults from facing negative consequences for how they wear their hair at school and work. And while most of the laws are too new to have made an impact, advocates hope they will prompt more changes to school dress codes and discipline policies.

In Arguments, U.S. Supreme Court Leans Toward Support for Religious School Aid
Education Week: The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard an intense hour of arguments in one of the most significant K-12 education cases in years, with conservative justices suggesting they were inclined to rule for parents who seek to reinstate a Montana tax credit funding scholarships for use at religious schools. Conservative justices asserted that it is unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of religion. Liberal members of the court questioned whether there was still a valid case, because the Montana tax credit program at the base of the case had been struck down, so no scholarships were flowing to religious or secular schools.

Around the Nation

Report Urges State to Take More Holistic View of School Performance
WBUR: A newly released annual report is urging Massachusetts to broaden how it evaluates school performance. As it currently stands, state officials examine factors that are mostly academic and include a combination of things like MCAS scores, English language proficiency, and chronic absenteeism. The report — the “Condition of Education,” from the nonprofit Rennie Center — continues to push state officials to expand the definition of success to include more robust factors that focus less on test scores. While the Rennie Center praised Massachusetts for its consideration of non-academic measurements, such as chronic absenteeism as well as its growing focus on social and emotional learning and its support of initiatives to improve student mental health, the authors of the report urged the state to continue to capture a more holistic picture of the learning experience.

In Many Minneapolis Schools, the Therapist is Just Down the Hall
MPR News: More than 15 years ago, Minneapolis Public Schools helped pioneer a national model of bringing community mental health care directly to its students. Today, most of the public schools in Minneapolis — more than 50 of them — have a therapist on site, and many other districts have followed suit. Families’ health insurance plans pay for the care the same way they would if a student were being seen in a clinic. The program was designed so that no student in need would be turned away for lack of insurance. This effort is also provides a road map for schools across the country, as more administrators realize that mental health is as important to students’ future success as academics. 

DC Schools’ Enrollment, Test Scores Increase
Education Dive: A report on Washington D.C. public schools by the D.C. Policy Center finds that after decades of decline, enrollment in D.C. schools has steadily increased. From the 2014-2015 school year to 2018-2019, enrollment for pre-K through 12th grade grew by an average of 1,700 students per year. In addition, students’ test scores are improving faster than those of peers in other cities. Compared with eight cities, D.C. moved from near the bottom of the list to the middle of the pack between 2003 and 2019. State assessment scores improved by 12% in ELA and 9% in math, with Latino students gaining the most ground.

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