The Weekly Connect 2/3/20

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:

New York City Community Schools reduce absenteeism and increase on-time grade progression.

Alabama’s Department of Education seeks more state funding for mental health programs.

Federal data shows student homelessness is at an all time high.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

NYC Community Schools, Focused on Child Poverty, Succeed in Key Metrics, Study Finds
The Washington Post: A large-scale program in New York City schools aimed at confronting child poverty succeeded in reducing absenteeism, reducing the number of disciplinary incidents, and moving students to the next grade, a large and potentially influential study from the RAND Corporation finds. The study of the city’s Community Schools program found only scant evidence of improved test scores, a widely used metric of success. That might be because the program is in its early years and possibly because other measures are needed instead of or on top of the services offered already. Still, the results offer a measure of good news in a field where failure is far more common. See related article: Ed Week District Dossier “A Massive Rollout of ‘Community Schools’ Shows Signs of Paying Off, Report Finds.” 

Mental Health in Schools: Black and Hispanic Students Say they Have Less Support
Ed Week Rules for Education Blog: Black, Hispanic, and rural students have a harder time getting mental health support in school, according to a new survey of thousands of students who took the ACT. Even in schools that offer mental health services, students are not always aware they are there. These findings come from the latest study in a series produced by ACT, the nonprofit group that administers the college admissions test. The study sought to explore more about students’ perceptions of safety and mental health support in their schools, which have become a primary source for mental health supports for children. Having access to these services is crucial to students’ academic success because, according to the study, they’ll do better in school, be more likely to graduate, and be less likely to use drugs or alcohol.

Social Media is ‘Tearing Us Apart’, Middle and High School Students Say
Ed Week Digital Education Blog: The digital world isn’t just exhausting for adults. More than half of the middle and high school students who participated in a recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media and Kahoot! say they sometimes turn off their phones just to get some relief from all the activity, even though they then feel disconnected. More than half of U.S. students surveyed—56 percent—say technology and social media are “tearing us apart more than they are bringing people together.” The surveys were administered by teachers in 219,754 sessions, engaging 457,330 middle and high school students from around the world. 

This Math Tutoring Program Gets ‘Blockbuster’ Results in High Poverty Schools
The Hechinger Report: Saga Education is a nonprofit that focuses on ninth grade math, a strong predictor of later success. Recent college graduates, working as Americorps members, serve as Saga’s tutors. The tutors work with two students at a time in a special class that follows a curriculum tailored to students’ individual needs and aligned with their schools’ traditional math classes. Tutors collaborate with a school’s math teachers and work with the same kids every day, all school year. A randomized controlled trial run by the University of Chicago found students who received the tutoring class during the 2013-14 school year learned as much as two additional years’ worth of math than their peers who didn’t get the tutoring.

New Assessments Needed to Identify Gifted Students Among Underrepresented Groups
Education Dive: Students in underserved populations are 25% to 50% less likely to be identified as gifted than those from higher-income groups, a study from the National Center for Research on Gifted Education finds. The underserved groups include African Americans, Latinx students, English learners, and those qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch. Assessments focused on students’ soft skills, interests, motivations, and curiosity can predict abilities better than high standardized test scores, Joseph Renzulli and Sally M. Reis write in District Administration, adding that educators should work to develop “gifted” behaviors seen in students, as these behaviors are prized by employers. See related article: Edutopia “A Strategy for Overcoming Equity Issues in Gifted Programs.”

Policy

Walton Family Foundation Expected to Invest $200M in Charters by Mid-2020
Education Dive: The Walton Family Foundation, through its Building Equity Initiative, has spent $185 million over three years to renovate charter facilities, according to a report released by the foundation. That investment is expected to reach $200 million by mid-2020. The foundation also said it expects $264 million to be available in the form of loans for small and emerging charters in high-need communities to construct, acquire, or renovate their facilities. In addition, the foundation announced the 26 charter school recipients of its Spark Opportunity Grant Program, 10 of which are located in Opportunity Zones created by Congress in 2017. The first round of grants is expected to create 20,000 additional seats for public charter students.

Stopping Violence in Schools: Effort to Create National Guidelines Underway
Ed Week District Dossier: Every time there’s a shooting in a school, many principals and district leaders feel the responsibility—and pressure—to take action. But it’s not always easy to find proven, research-based safety practices that work. Using a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, the National Association of School Resource Officers is leading a new effort to create the first-ever, national set of best practices for preventing school violence. The goal is to create an accessible and easy-to-use guide and curriculum for districts as well as training for district and school leaders so they can implement these practices in their schools.

Arizona Board Approves More Flexibility for ELs Under English-Only Law
Education Dive: Lawmakers in Arizona will try again this year to repeal a 20-year-old law requiring English learners to be separated during the school day for explicit English language instruction — a model many say has left them trailing their peers in core subject areas. In the meantime, state education officials are doing what they can to give schools more control over instruction for ELs — flexibility that includes allowing them more chances to participate in the state’s growing number of dual-language immersion programs. Recently, the Arizona State Board of Education approved a plan allowing schools to choose from one of four models to meet students needs and potentially give them more time in mainstream classrooms.

Literacy Education, Mental Health Services Big Requests in 2021 Budget
Alabama Daily News: More funding for early literacy efforts and mental health services were among the Alabama State Department of Education’s requests in the state’s 2021 education budget. One of the major asks from State Education Department Superintendent Eric Mackey was nearly $50 million to implement the Alabama Literacy Act, including $21 million to train every K-3 teacher in the state in the science of reading so they can help ensure that students are reading proficiently by the fourth grade. There’s also a $7.7 million request that would improve mental health services in K-12 schools, including more money for a program with the Alabama Department of Mental Health to provide more full-time therapists.

Around the Nation

Federal Data Shows Student Homelessness at All-Time High
Education Dive: Over 1.5 million children and youth were homeless during the 2017-18 school year, an all-time high and an 11% increase over the previous year, according to recently released federal data from the National Center for Homeless Education. The number of students sleeping in cars, parks, and on the streets more than doubled in one year’s time, the data shows, and the number of students living in hotels increased by 17%. The report also shows that student homelessness increased by 10% or more in 16 states and by 20% or more in eight states, while five states saw a reduction of 10% or more.

Nearly 2,000 NYC Children with Disabilities Could be Stranded without Pre-K Seats this Spring
Chalkbeat: As many as 2,000 students with special needs could be left without an appropriate pre-kindergarten seat this spring, because New York City’s education department has not met demand, and private providers have struggled to keep their doors open. Even as Mayor Bill de Blasio has championed universal pre-K, which now covers all 4-year-olds, preschoolers with disabilities often sit at home for weeks or months — leaving them without supports during a crucial developmental period. The looming shortage could hit hardest in the Bronx, according to a report from the nonprofit organization Advocates for Children.

Making Middle School Less Scary, Hundreds of Middle Schoolers Become Mentors
WKBW Buffalo: Starting middle school can be scary. That’s where WEB, standing for “Where Everybody Belongs,” comes in. About 400 student leaders from nine middle schools across Western New York recently gathered at the WEB regional conference on Grand Island. The 7th/8th graders mentor the new 5th/6th graders in their schools. The students at the conference shared ideas on how to be mentors. Deanna Przepiora is the WEB Coordinator at Veronica Connor Middle School, and she said the program has made an impact, noting, “This program is alleviating that stress.” Students are “no longer scared, they’re no longer fearful.” See related article: KUTV “Students Launch Project to Talk Mental Health at Elementary Schools in Utah County.”

South Bend Schools had a Plan to Reduce Racial Disparity in Discipline. The Opposite Happened.
South Bend Tribune: In 2013, the South Bend school district created a department to tackle the chronic problem of Black students being disciplined at higher rates than others. Seven years later — after the district has spent more than $1 million on the African American Student and Parent Services department — a greater percentage of Black students are suspended and expelled than before the department was created. Black students, who today make up 37% of the district’s enrollment, are still nearly five times as likely to be expelled and nearly four times as likely as their White classmates to be suspended from school, state data show. See related article: Education Week “Recent School Changes in Louisiana Win Praise, But Top Classrooms Still Have Sharp Racial Split.”

How Mississippi’s Districts are Separated into Haves and Have-Nots
The Hechinger Report: In some cash-strapped Mississippi school districts, families only have to drive one county over to see what a well-resourced school district looks like. Take Claiborne County, which has a student poverty rate of around 55 percent. Although the county is home to a large nuclear power plant, it’s not able to locally tax the business — which has a special exemption. Just over the district border, Hinds County School District has a healthy local tax base; just 14 percent of its students live in poverty. The 41-point gap between the percentage of students living in poverty in Claiborne and Hinds County isn’t just one of the largest in the state, it’s the fourth widest in the country, according to an update of a 2016 report from the nonprofit EdBuild.

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