Education

Briefly Stated: February 1, 2023

January 31, 2023 8 min read
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College Preparation Falls From Grace In Americans’ View

What’s in? Career preparation and basic life skills. What’s out? College. Well, not out, but down—way down.

A new survey finds that adults in the United States think K-12 schools should put a higher priority on the former rather than on college readiness.

The nationally representative survey from Populace, a Massachusetts-based think tank, illustrates how the public’s view of education has shifted since pre-pandemic days. In 2019, Americans ranked college preparation as the 10th highest priority for K-12 schools. In 2022, that fell to 47 out of 57.

Instead, respondents cited teaching practical skills—such as learning how to manage personal finances, cook, and make appointments—as the top priority. They also identified “think[ing] critically to problem-solve and make decisions”; “demonstrat[ing] character,” such as honesty, kindness, integrity, and ethics; achieving basic reading, writing, and math skills; and having access to learning supports as the top five priorities.

Preparing students for careers landed at No. 6 compared with 27th in 2019.

While the education system has spent the past few decades emphasizing college readiness over career preparation, Americans have realized they want more options for their children, said Todd Rose, the CEO of Populace.

“It’s not that they don’t want their kids to be able to go to college,” Rose said. “They want it to be an option but not the point [of K-12 education]. We’ve just gotten so focused on this one outcome.”

Most survey respondents indicated they felt society doesn’t agree with their personal views. Preparing students for college ranked as the third highest “perceived societal priority”—how survey respondents felt the rest of society prioritizes education—despite ranking 47th among personal priorities. Having students prepared to secure one of the highest-paying jobs in the market also ranked high among perceived societal priorities at 9th place, while it ranked 53rd among personal priorities.

But respondents don’t think schools do a good job addressing their top 10 priorities. Only 26 percent rated their local schools as satisfactory in having students develop practical life skills. And just 30 percent said the same for preparing students for careers.

Racial Disparities Start as Early as Kindergarten In Science and Math Achievement, Study Finds

When it comes to STEM achievement, Black and Latino students appear to be behind before they start.

New research finds that inequities in science and math achievement begin as soon as students enter school, suggesting that schools should be providing earlier support and encouragement for students of color in STEM fields.

The study, from researchers at Penn State, the University of California Irvine, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, focused on high performers—those scoring above the 90th percentile in math or science assessments.

Starting in kindergarten, a greater share of white and Asian students met that marker than Black and Latino students. The gaps persisted, and in some cases widened, as students moved through elementary school.

Those gaps are troubling because other studies have shown that elementary school math and science achievement can predict later interest and success in STEM, said Paul Morgan, a professor of education at Penn State’s College of Education and the lead author. “We wanted to try to identify the earliest onset that we could, because there’s reason to believe that the earlier we intervene the better,” he said.

Researchers analyzed data from the federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. It focuses on about 10,900 students who started kindergarten in fall 2010, analyzing their achievement on tests through 5th grade. In kindergarten, between

13 percent to 16 percent of white children scored above the 90th percentile on math and science tests, compared with

3 percent to 4 percent of Black or Hispanic children.

When other factors were held constant—such variables as socioeconomic status, average math and science scores at the child’s school, or the child’s working-memory abilities—the achievement differences between white and Latino vanished. That wasn’t the case for Black students.

In general, the results suggest that creating more or better opportunities for math and science learning before kindergarten could be helpful for developing students’ interest and abilities, Morgan added. That could occur in a formal setting, like preschool, or at home.

Florida Blocks African American AP Course, Claiming Historical Inaccuracies, Illegality

Every time we think Florida lawmakers can’t find another way to offend a group of people, they manage. This time, it’s Black people, specifically students—again.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has blocked a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools, claiming in a letter to the College Board that it violates state law and is historically inaccurate.

In reply, the College Board said the course had undergone “a rigorous, multiyear pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars, and policymakers.”

The ban was met with immediate criticism from education experts and professors, who objected to lawmakers’ attempt to censor African American history. The White House condemned the action, calling it “incomprehensible.”

“Every student in our nation should be able to learn about the culture, contributions, and experiences of all Americans—including Black Americans—who shaped our history,” Vice President Kamala Harris told lawmakers during a visit to Florida. “Unfortunately, in Florida, extremist so-called leaders ban books, block history classes, and prevent teachers from freely discussing who they are and who they love.”

While Black history is required teaching in Florida, the state has added hurdles that make accurate and honest lessons about it harder to teach.

“Usually what happens in Florida with these kinds of problematic, conservative-leaning bills impacting education, is that other Republican conservative states ... usually follow suit,” said Amanda Vickery, an associate professor of social studies education and race in education at the University of North Texas.

A spokesman for the Republican governor, Bryan Griffin, charged that “the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”

Others, however, say that’s exactly what the DeSantis administration is doing—pushing its own political agenda and ideology.

Florida House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell called rejection of the course “cowardly” and said it “sends a clear message that Black Americans’ history does not count in Florida.”

Majority of Parents Say Kids Are Dishonest, Lazy

In the survey, parents paint a damning picture of their children—and they want teachers’ help in varnishing it.

Concerned about the poor behavior of today’s school-age kids, parents are looking to schools for help nurturing better character traits, according to a recent survey.

In a recent survey, a majority of parents said that, in general, children today don’t treat others with respect, are dishonest, don’t show gratitude, and are lazy.

Although nearly 90 percent of parents acknowledged that they have the most influence on their children’s character development, 69 percent said they depend on teachers to reinforce the core values they’re teaching at home, the survey conducted for nonprofit Character.org found.

The survey results come as schools have been putting more emphasis on social-emotional learning as a core part of their strategy to help students recover from the hardships brought on by the pandemic. Social-emotional learning emphasizes the development of skills such as resilience, emotional regulation, empathy, and collaboration.

In some parts of the country, though, there’s been pushback against teaching SEL skills because parents say those lessons are in direct conflict with their own values.

But the survey results show that there’s “more common ground” among parents and educators than some might think in the current political climate, said Kristy Rouch, the manager of educational partnerships for the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, a nonprofit that develops literacy and SEL programs.

“Whether you call it character education or social-emotional learning, these findings show that the work is something that matters, not just within the school day, but obviously parents are supportive of it,” Rauch said.

Mass. School Awaits Fixes To Finally Turn Off Lights

Schools often look to be a shining light. But enough is enough.

At least that’s the way the staff at a Massachusetts high school has to feel since they’ve been unable to turn off their lights for about a year and a half as the result of a computer glitch.

The ordeal faced by Minnechaug Regional High School, in the town of Wilbraham, means there has been no way to turn the lights off short of unscrewing bulbs or flipping circuit breakers that leave entire sections of the building in the dark.

“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” Aaron Osborne, an assistant superintendent of the Hampden-Wilbraham regional schools, told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”

Osborne estimated the extra cost to the district for the nearly 7,000 lights in the 248,000-square-foot building is in the thousands of dollars a month but “not in the tens of thousands.”

The school serves about 1,200 students from the towns of Wilbraham and Hampden.

The situation has drawn the attention of Saturday Night Live, which mentioned the lights-on challenge during the Weekend Update segment of its Jan. 21 broadcast.

In a November 2021 story, the student newspaper, The Smoke Signal, reported that a computer server that controlled what was supposed to be a lighting system designed to save power failed the previous August and could not be fixed.

The school reached out to the original installer and found the company had changed hands several times. Global supply-chain issues kept delaying efforts to get the parts needed to fix the system.

Osborne said officials had thought the repair could cost $1.2 million, which would have entirely replaced the system. Now, the actual cost of fixing the system by replacing lighting panels and the server, while updating the software, will be between $75,000 and $80,000.

Come the end of this month, the school is expected to go dark.

Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Sarah Schwartz, Staff Writer; and Libby Stanford, Reporter contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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