Education

Briefly Stated: August 17, 2022

August 16, 2022 8 min read
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Monitoring Software May Hurt Students More Than It Helps

Big Brother is definitely watching and perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Monitoring programs on school-issued digital devices that are meant to keep students safe and on-task are more often being used for other, sometimes harmful purposes, finds a report by the Center for Democracy & Technology.

The software allows educators to keep an eye on students’ emails, documents, and search queries to scan for mental health problems or violent threats and to pinpoint when students have logged onto their device and for how long.

But, in fact, 78 percent of teachers whose school uses the software said it has helped identify students for disciplinary purposes. Just 54 percent said the programs have been used to connect students to a counselor, therapist, or social worker for help.

Districts have also used the software to identify students as part of the LGBTQ community without their consent. Thirteen percent of all students at schools that use student-activity monitoring said they or a student they know has been outed because of it.

All of this is having a chilling effect on students’ online behavior, the survey found. About half of students said they agreed with the statement, “I do not share my true thoughts or ideas because I know what I do online may be monitored.”

“We’ve found that nearly every school in the country is giving devices to students—and monitoring is hurting them,” said Alexandra Reeve Givens, the center’s president and CEO. “When you combine the resurgence of violence in schools with the mental health crisis among kids, schools are surveilling students’ activities more than ever. But these efforts to make students safer more often result in disciplining students instead.”

What’s more, just 31 percent of teachers say they have gotten guidance on how to use the monitoring systems securely.

In response to the findings, the center and other organizations sent a letter to Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, urging her to “curb [the] harms” to student privacy and mental health as a result of the monitoring software through guidance and, if necessary, enforcement.

Forget One-Off Bonuses and Paid Leave. Teachers Want Compensation Increases Tied to Inflation

Even for teachers, money talks.

Given a choice of different ways to increase compensation, teachers say the prospect of salary increases that keep up with inflation are more likely to keep them in the classroom than other financial perks—including more generous family-leave policies.

Meanwhile, one-off bonuses don’t seem to be much of a draw at all, unless districts are really prepared to shell out for them.

So finds a new survey from the EdWeek Research Center.

“$1,000 is nice, but it reinforces the idea that small amounts are the units of compensation for teachers. They need to feel like they are much more respected—and that districts are willing to do more for them with the money that’s there,” said David Rosenberg, a partner at Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting firm that advises districts on how to spend their money effectively.

Finances are only one part of the retention piece, though, he and other experts noted: Teachers want to work in mission-driven places where they enjoy collaborative relationships with peers and support from their principals.

Teachers say the financial strategy that would most encourage them to stay is to offer increases that exceed the cost of living and, in second place, salary increases that keep pace with the cost of living.

Nearly 4 in 10 teachers said that an increase in their pension or defined-benefit retirement plan would persuade them to stay.

Housing and paid leave—even maternity or paternity leave—were far less popular responses, despite skyrocketing housing costs nationwide and increased awareness about the family-care challenges that crop up in the women-dominated teaching profession.

The survey found that bonuses paled next to the other, more substantial forms of compensation. In fact, just 5 percent of teachers said that bonuses less than $2,000 would be apt to keep them in the profession. About a quarter said larger bonuses, of $5,000-$10,000, could encourage them to stay.

And a minority of teachers, 7 percent, said no financial policy would make a difference because their reasons for wanting to leave didn’t hinge on that issue.

Citing Shortages, Arizona and Florida Crack Open The Door to Teachers Without Bachelor’s Degrees

What a premium policymakers in Arizona and Florida are placing on education. Starting now, the teacher at the front of the classroom in those states doesn’t need a bachelor’s degree.

Given the teacher shortage in pockets across the country, some states have eased certification requirements but none like this.

In Arizona, people can have their own classrooms if they are enrolled in college and are supervised by a licensed teacher—unless, of course, there’s not a teacher around to supervise them.

And in Florida, military veterans can receive a five-year teaching certificate as long as they have at least 60 college credits, a 2.5 grade point average, and can pass a subject-area-knowledge test.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, called Arizona’s new law “dangerous” and an example of “the disrespect for knowledge in this country.”

“They do not care about children’s knowledge if they are watering down credentialing so that you do not have people who know their content, know how to teach,” she said.

Critics also warn that less-experienced teachers are more likely to end up in schools that serve more students of color and children from low-income families.

In contrast, Tonya Strozier, the principal of the Holladay Fine Arts Magnet Elementary School in Tucson, Ariz., said she thinks the policy change is an opportunity to diversify the teacher pipeline and better meet the needs of students of color.

Nearly fully staffed, her school doesn’t need to hire any teachers without a bachelor’s degree this fall, but she said she would be open to doing so because they need to be trained anyway. “When I get a teacher, I generally make a significant investment in training them—they don’t come ready,” she said.

Florida districts have long looked to veterans as strong candidates for a second career in the classroom.

Still, said Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, lowering the standard of entry is not the answer to teacher shortages. “There’s a lot more to being a teacher than being a student, or being a CEO, or being former military personnel. You need to understand the concept and the pedagogy of teaching and you need to be able to, in a really powerful way, build relationships with students.”

New Florida Law Subjects Schools to Added Pressure

Up. Down. Up.

That’s how the vote about adopting a sex ed. textbook in the Miami-Dade County school system has played out over the past few months. The latest—to accept Comprehensive Health Skills—took place late last month.

How sex education is taught has long been a contentious issue for schools. Since the eruption of the current culture war, however, navigating sensitive curricula with local communities has become more difficult for educators. The swings in Miami reveal just how difficult it is—and maybe more so in Florida and other states where schools also have to satisfy provisions of so-called “parents’ rights” bills.

To wit, the Miami-Dade County board voted in April in favor of the textbook for middle and high school students that includes such topics as nutrition, physical activity, and sexually transmitted diseases. At the time, the board asked the publisher to remove a chapter that covers gender and sexual orientation to comply with a new state law.

Still, parents complained that it violated that parents-rights law or what critics call the “don’t say gay” measure. As a result, the board reversed itself last month—during a meeting where 38 of the 40 speakers asked the board to keep the book.

Not all the complaints had to do with sexuality, either. Some of the 278 objections the district received challenged the book’s references to how vaccinations can prevent viral infections.

Following the board’s vote in early July, pressure again mounted, this time from the textbook’s proponents. Thus, another change of heart. The text will be allowed, though some material will be blocked.

According to Perla Tabares Hantman, the board chairwoman, the textbook will be online, and content that is not age appropriate won’t be accessible. And if that’s not sufficient, parents will be able to opt out their children from lessons.

COVID Claims Fla. Principal Critical of School Return Rule

Jimbo Jackson, a Florida principal who spoke out in 2020 against a state order for schools to return to in-person schooling, has died following complications from long COVID. He was 55.

The school leader of Fort Braden Elementary in Tallahassee is among at least 1,306 active and retired K-12 educators and personnel who had died of COVID-19 as of mid-July, according to a count by Education Week.

Jackson and his wife both contracted the virus in July 2020. When the state began urging schools to reopen in the fall of that year despite increasing COVID cases, Jackson advised parents to choose remote instruction for their children instead.

In a 2020 iCNN interview, Jackson said, “I think our greatest concern is the safety of our staff and our students and our connected school families. With our recent state mandate to have face-to-face and brick-and-mortar learning, we have extreme concerns.”

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans who contract COVID go on to develop long COVID, defined as “symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus, and that they didn’t have prior to their COVID-19 infection,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults in Jackson’s age range, between 50-59, are three times more likely to get long COVID than those 80 and older, the CDC says.

Jackson began his career as a teacher at Fort Braden Elementary in 1992 and became principal in 2006. He also had served as a Leon County commissioner since 2016.

Leon County schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna honored Jackson as the district’s principal of the month in December 2020. In announcing the recipient of the award, the superintendent noted that the principal had compassionately led his community through major grief “with the sudden and tragic loss of a valued staff member to COVID-19. Despite those immense and direct challenges associated with the pandemic, the school banded together with Jackson at the helm to provide students and families support both mentally, emotionally, and educationally through virtual learning tools.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Apoorvaa Mandar Bichu, Newsroom Intern; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Libby Stanford, Reporter; Stephen Sawchuk, Assistant Managing Editor; Madeline Will, Staff Writer; and Karen Diegmueller, Senior Contributing Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the August 17, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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