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Briefly Stated: January 31, 2024

January 30, 2024 9 min read
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Staying in School Is The Secret to Living A Long, Healthy Life

Education is a lifesaver. Literally.

So says a massive international research analysis published last week in the journal The Lancet Public Health.

An international team of researchers analyzed more than 40 years of data on adult mortality from more than 600 studies in 59 countries, including the United States. They controlled for adults’ age, sex, and marital status, as well as their socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

For each additional year of schooling, mortality for adults younger than 50 fell by nearly 3 percent, with smaller but still significant benefits for older adults, too.

Completing 18 years of education—the equivalent of K-12 plus a four-year college degree—cut adult mortality by 34 percent. That’s similar to the level of health protection linked to eating a healthy, vegetable-heavy diet and getting plenty of exercise.

The current analysis did not look at why more years of schooling lower the risk of death, but education has been linked to health in a variety of ways, including increasing children’s access to regular immunizations and health care, boosting professional and financial opportunities, building social networks and healthy lifestyle habits, and teaching people to understand and process health information.

The study suggests not going to school places as great a burden on the average adult’s health as drinking five alcoholic drinks a day or smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day for a decade.

The researchers analyzed older and newer studies, as well as those across industrialized and developing countries.

Emmanuela Gakidou, a study author and a professor of health-metrics sciences and a co-founder of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said she was surprised to find the benefits of schooling have stayed fairly consistent over time and across different countries. More time in school showed similar benefits for men and women and for those from different socio-demographic groups.

“It’s not just the quality of the education,” said Gakidou. “It’s also the going to school, navigating the school system, the social interactions in addition to the learning that happens in the classroom.”

N.C. Schools Agency Recommends Educators ‘Rethink’ Plagiarism in the Age of ChatGPT

Ever since ChatGPT appeared on the scene, educators have been wringing their hands over how to deal with the technology. For its part, North Carolina has decided to take an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach.

State education officials have released new guidelines that urge educators to “rethink” the meaning of plagiarism in classrooms.

“In the not-too-distant future, it will be a common assumption that all writing from academic papers to news reports and emails may be written with artificial intelligence,” the state education department says in its new 34-page generative AI guide. “In light of this, it is perhaps shortsighted to automatically consider all use of AI as ‘cheating.’”

ChatGPT in particular has raised plagiarism concerns in K-12 schools and on college campuses. This summer, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released rules on how students could ethically use generative AI. Meanwhile, some K-12 districts, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, still block ChatGPT on student devices.

But banning AI is futile and detrimental, the state department says, arguing that students need to develop generative AI skills to close the digital divide and be properly prepared for college and careers.

Instead, the department has introduced a five-step acceptable-use scale for deciding how students can use the technology to help complete assignments. The steps range from “0–No AI Use” to “4—Full AI Use with Human Oversight.” Each stage defines how students are meant to use artificial intelligence and the disclosures their instructors will require.

While ChatGPT’s ability to craft full-fledged essays in seconds has spooked some educators, the state contends the technology can be used to promote self-directed learning, creativity, and access for students with disabilities.

The department warned against the use of AI detectors to try to identify students who cheat, saying the tools frequently “catch” English learners and creative writers with false positives while failing to identify students “who are skilled at working with AI and are capable of fooling the detectors.”

Biden Administration Outlines Agenda to Tackle Attendance, Tutoring, and After-School Programs

With a probable rematch between President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, in the not so distant future, the current administration is ramping up its attention to education policy.

At a recent White House event with governors and state education leaders, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Neera Tanden, the White House domestic policy adviser, announced the administration’s new Improving Student Achievement Agenda for states and school districts: increase student attendance, adopt high-dosage tutoring, and expand summer and after-school learning to counter declines in student achievement.

“These three strategies have one central goal: giving students more time and more support to succeed,” Cardona said.

The Biden administration hasn’t had an aggressive K-12 policy agenda in its first three years. Cardona last fall said the administration “chose intentionally not to create a magic strategy” on K-12 education in favor of promoting state- and district-level solutions.

That approach has differed from the more aggressive and specific Race to the Top grant competitions of the Obama years and the No Child Left Behind Act from George W. Bush’s presidency. For his part, Trump has said he would penalize districts that teach about critical race theory and gender identity and give parents the power to elect principals.

The new student-achievement agenda doesn’t veer from the Biden administration’s previous direction on K-12 policy.

Rather than creating a large competitive grant program or pursuing a comprehensive law, the agenda will use accountability measures established in the Every Student Succeeds Act, reporting requirements, smaller grants, and technical aid to encourage states to adopt strategies proven to help student achievement.

In a fact sheet, the White House outlined actions it plans to take to encourage high-dosage tutoring and increase summer and after-school learning. For example, the department will examine whether states with high-dosage tutoring programs are implementing them effectively and provide guidance on improving programs when needed.

It will also encourage states to identify districts with the greatest pandemic achievement gaps and direct more resources to those districts for tutoring and summer and after-school programs.

Short ‘Bursts’ of Tutoring Can Boost Reading Skills

Bite-sized tutoring sessions—only 5 to 10 minutes daily—may help nip reading struggles in the bud in the earliest grades.

Students who participated in Chapter One—a nonprofit tutoring program that serves elementary children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—in their first two grades had higher oral-reading fluency and better performance on district reading tests than untutored students, finds a study released this month by the National Student Support Accelerator, which studies ways to scale up effective models for high-intensity tutoring.

High-intensity tutoring—with trained tutors meeting individually or in very small groups for at least 30 minutes several times a week—is considered the most effective tutoring model, but often, it’s the most expensive. This study suggests that districts may be able to get more bang for their buck by using short, tightly focused individual tutoring in the earliest grades.

Kindergartners and 1st graders in the Chapter One program have individual sessions with part-time tutors trained in highly scripted, five- to 10-minute lessons on phonics, oral reading, and other early-literacy topics. These “tutoring bursts” happen during regular class lessons three to five times a week, and students also complete tablet-based activities on their own to reinforce the lessons.

“If you’re thinking about teaching phonics—like a new sound—you can actually complete that in five minutes,” said Carly Robinson, a senior researcher at Stanford University and the Accelerator’s research director. “Thinking about the attention span of a 5-year-old, it actually might be more effective to layer bite-sized chunks several times for a few minutes, as opposed to try to reiterate [a new concept] in a 30-minute session.”

The tutors all have college degrees, and many have education experience, but they are paid part time. The program costs $350 to $450 per student annually, Robinson said.

It’s Become the Rare Teacher Who Now Wears a Mask

Just look around, the viruses are everywhere: COVID-19, the flu, RSV. But masking among educators, as among the general population, is largely a thing of the past.

New nationally representative survey data from the EdWeek Research Center show that just 3 percent of educators say they wear a face mask daily or almost daily at work this school year. Sixty-one percent never do.

The other 36 percent say they wear a mask at work only in certain circumstances, like if they’re not feeling well or are trying to avoid getting sick.

The survey of nearly 1,000 teachers, school leaders, and district leaders was conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, as virus activity began to ramp up. Now, COVID-19 and flu cases are surging.

“We haven’t seen any signs that we’re peaking, especially in terms of influenza,” said Andrew Pekosz, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies respiratory viruses. “I fully expect that for at least six to eight weeks, we’ll have very significant respiratory virus activity across the country.”

The survey found no significant difference in mask-wearing between job titles—teachers were not more likely than administrators, for instance. But geography did influence educators’ decisions.

Seventy percent of educators working in a rural or town district said they have never worn a mask this school year, compared with 58 percent in a suburban district and 51 percent in an urban district.

The size of the district also made a difference: Educators in smaller districts were more likely to say they never wore a mask than those in districts with 10,000 or more students.

Teachers who have worn a mask regularly year say they’ve remained healthy—and they don’t want to forgo that protection.

Susan Smith, a secondary social studies teacher in Minnesota, said she’s had a few people question why she’s still wearing a mask when most others aren’t, but she doesn’t mind: “To me, my personal health is way more important than your opinion of me,” she said.

Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; Libby Stanford, Reporter; Tribune News Service; and Madeline Will, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2024 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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