The Weekly Connect 10/25/21

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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

MRDC makes recommendations for helping families affected by parental incarceration

Massachusetts expands low-income students’ access to school meals

National child healthcare organizations declare that children and teens are in a Mental Health State of Emergency.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

NAEP: Trends Assessment Data Shows Lowest Performers Faring Worse in Math and Reading
K-12 Dive: Recently released long-term trend National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores show the lowest-performers among 9- and 13-year-olds in math and reading performed worse compared to 2012. Scores of top performers plateaued or slightly increased. This divide was especially pronounced for 13-year-olds in math. Similar trends were noticeable in other subjects, such as U.S. history and science, as well as in other assessments, including the main NAEP assessment. Score gaps also increased since 2012 in math for Black and Hispanic 13-year-olds, who performed lower in the subject compared to their White peers. These data were collected prior to March 2020, so the declines among the lowest performers cannot be attributed to COVID-19 shutdowns. 

Six Recommendations for Supporting Families Affected by Parental Incarceration
MRDC: Over five million American children under 18 have had a parent jailed or incarcerated. Due to systematic inequalities rooted in policies and practices that affect the likelihood of being arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, Black and Latino children have been disproportionately affected. Parental incarceration has direct consequences for children and families. Family-strengthening programs seek to maintain and build healthy relationships between parents who are incarcerated and their children. A recent brief by MRDC includes six recommendations for family-strengthening programs for families impacted by parental incarceration, including: promoting families’ financial stability, collaborating across systems, and engaging caregivers who are not incarcerated.

Kids Left Schools Last Year Because of the Switch to Remote Classes; Early Numbers Suggest They May Not Be Coming Back Soon
The 74 Million: With the release of new data in recent months, a clearer picture is emerging of how K-12 enrollment has responded to the pandemic. In a study using data from hundreds of school districts, researchers at Stanford found that roughly one-quarter of the decrease in students is directly attributable to the move to all-virtual instruction, and that the trend mostly affected the very youngest students. And early indicators from states and school districts suggest that total enrollment won’t bounce back to the pre-COVID status quo this year. Thomas Dee, an economist and one of the Stanford co-authors, said that it wasn’t yet clear if or when the declines would be reversed, or how families might plan their re-entry into local schools. See related article: The Hechinger Report “420,000 Homeless Kids Went Missing From Schools Last Year. They May Never Be Found.”

Study Correlates SROs [School Resource Officers] with Increased Risk of School Firearm Discharges, Disciplines, Arrests
K-12 Dive: Research detailed in a working paper from researchers at the University of Albany and RAND Corporation suggests school police don’t prevent school shootings or gun violence in schools, and worsen rates of suspension, expulsion, arrests and police referrals for Black students, as well as chronic absenteeism rates for students with disabilities. The increase in punishment through suspension, expulsion, police referrals, and arrests in the presence of an SRO is twice as high for Black students when compared to their White counterparts, with particular disparities at the middle and high school levels. Increases are also greater for students with disabilities when compared to other students.

Policy

Gov. Baker Signs Bill Expanding Low-Income Students’ Access to School Meals
The Patriot Ledger: Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a new state law that focuses on students’ access to free breakfast and lunch. The bill Baker signed requires schools where a majority of students come from low-income families to enroll in federal programs allowing them to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, with language allowing schools or districts to opt out in certain circumstances. It also takes aim at a practice known as “lunch shaming,” prohibiting schools from publicly identifying or punishing students who have unresolved debt for school meals. See related article: EdSurge “Districts Want to Make School Meals Free Forever. But They Need Help Paying for It.”

Teachers and Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Oklahoma’s Ban on Critical Race Theory
N.P.R.: A group of educators and civil rights groups is challenging Oklahoma’s new law limiting public school teachings on race and gender issues in court. The lawsuit is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma. The organizations argue that HB 1775, which took effect in May, interferes with students’ and educators’ First Amendment rights to learn and talk about gender and race issues in school. This policy also prevents students from discussing in-depth American history that reflects the experiences and viewpoints of “all historically marginalized communities in this country,” the ACLU argues.

Around the Nation

Children, Teens Are in a ‘Mental Health State of Emergency’, Child Health-Care Groups Warn
Education Week: There’s been a quieter, parallel pandemic happening alongside COVID-19: a spike in significant mental health problems among young people, spurred by isolation, uncertainty, fear, and grief. Mental health emergency visits among children are on the rise. Between March and October of 2020, they increased 24% for children ages 5-11, and 31% for kids ages 12-17. There was also a more than 50% spike in visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12-17 in early 2021, compared to 2019. That boils down to a “mental health state of emergency” for children and adolescents, according to a recent statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.

How COVID-19 May Change the Conversation About Class Size
K-12 Dive: While average class sizes in K-12 grades have remained constant since 2016, new federal relief funding may give school districts the opportunity to fulfill long-desired aims to reduce the numbers of students in classes, a new review of state policies by the National Council on Teacher Quality said. Targeted class size policies, such as those for core academic courses, high poverty schools, or English learners may yield more support for students most impacted by pandemic hardships, rather than system-wide class reductions. Pandemic-forced virtual learning, cohorting, and social distancing will add another layer to the debate about how big classes should be.

Kids in Crisis: How Sackets Harbor is Creatively Tackling the Mental Health Needs of Their Students
North Country Public Radio: School districts across North Country, N.Y. received millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 stimulus funding this year to address the cost of the pandemic. Sackets Harbor Central School, in Jefferson County, N.Y., decided to use a big chunk of their money to create The Sackets Support Center. It’s an academic, emotional, and mental health support center in the heart of the school. The space is equipped with puzzles, a hot chocolate station, and tables for working and playing games. It is designed to be a haven for middle and high school students when they need space, quiet, connection, or if they are in crisis. The support center is run by two teachers with a combined 50 years of teaching experience, who have strong relationships with many of the students.

Bay County Schools Got Telemedicine 2 Years Ago for Students’ Mental Care. Has It Helped?
Panama City News Herald: Many students struggling with mental health issues have received the care they needed thanks to the telehealth technology installed in their schools more than 2 years ago, some Bay County school leaders say. The telehealth kiosks were installed after Florida first lady, Casey DeSantis, announced her plan to provide telehealth technology to help students with their mental health needs following Hurricane Michael in 2018. The kiosks let students have video calls with health care professionals whenever they need them to manage mental health and physical health needs.

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