Education

Briefly Stated: June 15, 2022

June 15, 2022 8 min read
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Mental Health Needs of Students Rising, School Staff Report

Depression. Anxiety. Trauma. Those are some of the behaviors staff members at schools are noticing among students—in rising numbers.

New data out from the National Center for Education Statistics show at least 70 percent of public schools across the country have reported an increase in the number of students seeking mental health services at schools since the start of the pandemic.

Roughly 76 percent of schools reported an increase in staff members voicing concerns about students exhibiting symptoms.

“We’ve seen an increase in students seeking mental health services and in staff voicing concerns about students’ mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “The pandemic has taken a clear and significant toll on students’ mental health. This snapshot of the pandemic’s mental health impact is critical in informing the need for student mental health services.”

During the 2021-22 school year, the most common type of mental health service provided by public schools was individual-based intervention, such as one-on-one counseling, at 84 percent of public schools. That was followed by case management, such as coordinating mental health support, at 70 percent, and external mental health referrals at 66 percent.

Nearly all (96 percent) public schools reported providing mental health services for their students during the current school year. But 88 percent didn’t strongly agree they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.

The three most prevalent limitations cited were an insufficient number of mental health professionals to manage their school’s caseload, inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals, and inadequate funding.

The findings are from the latest round of the monthly School Pulse Panel, designed to be nationally representative of public primary, middle, high, and combined-grade schools.

Mental health among children and teenagers has been a topic of conversation since students returned to school in-person during the 2021-22 school year, learning how to readapt to attending school on a daily basis and socializing with teachers, school staff, and classmates.

Lack of Technology Access Foils Students’ Schooling, But Most Don’t Seem Too Concerned About Situation

The dog did not eat their homework.

Instead, many students cite other issues preventing them from doing their schoolwork at home. Nearly a third of teenagers report facing at least one academic challenge related to lack of technology access at home, the so-called “homework gap,” says a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

That’s the case even though nearly all K-12 students were back to in-person learning this school year, according to the survey, conducted April 14 to May 4.

“More than two years after the COVID-19 outbreak forced school officials to shift classes and assignments online, teens continue to navigate the pandemic’s impact on their education and relationships, even while they experience glimpses of normalcy as they return to the classroom,” the report’s authors note.

The survey found that 22 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds said they often or sometimes have to do their homework on a cellphone, 12 percent said they “at least sometimes” are not able to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection, and 6 percent said they have to use public Wi-Fi to do their homework “at least sometimes” because they don’t have an internet connection at home.

The “homework gap” is a term used to describe the difficulty students have in getting online at home to complete school assignments. It disproportionately affects students in low-income households, students of color, and students in rural areas.

The survey also found a majority of teenagers prefer in-person over virtual or hybrid learning. Sixty-five percent said they’d like school to be completely in person after the outbreak is over, while only 9 percent said they’d prefer online learning. And 18 percent said they would prefer a mix of online and in-person instruction.

When asked about COVID’s effect on their schooling, a majority of teenagers expressed little to no concern about falling behind in school. Hispanic teenagers and those from lower-income families were more likely to say they are “extremely” or “very” worried about falling behind.

Overall, 16 percent of teens said they are “extremely” or “very” worried they may have fallen behind in school because of COVID-19-related disturbances.

Segregation Climbs in Nation’s Public Schools, Especially Between Black and White Races

Segregation is thriving in the nation’s public schools.

That’s what researchers conclude in the latest attempt to get a handle on racial and ethnic diversity in public school systems.

Segregation has increased in the last 30 years, especially in the 100 largest districts that enroll about 40 percent of the K-12 population.

Even though the overall public school population has increased in diversity, and a majority of students are now nonwhite, schools remain highly segregated by race, ethnicity, and economic status, says a new report from the University of Southern California and Stanford University.

Segregation—both economic and racial—has been long linked to differences in test scores and educational opportunities in public education. In districts that are more segregated, systems may be providing unequal educational opportunities to white and Black students, said Sean Reardon, a professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University and a study author. Black students are attending schools in those districts that have fewer resources than schools with more white students.

The researchers measured segregation by gauging how evenly students of different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds are distributed among schools given the racial composition of the district. That way, the research removes the focus on the overall racial demographics of a district or school and puts it on how unevenly distributed students are within that district or school.

They found that white-Black segregation nationwide remains higher than any other racial- or ethnic-group combination. The level of white-Asian segregation is lower than it is between other groups. White-Hispanic segregation was the highest in 1991 but decreased by 10 percent by 2020.

The researchers also looked at segregation by income level and found that in the largest 100 districts, economic segregation has increased nearly 50 percent since 1991 and more than 30 percent since 1998.

Districts can attempt to reconfigure the demographics of each school, but dramatically reducing school segregation is going to be a challenge without also changing residential patterns, which are driven by racial and economic disparities, Reardon said.

Persistent Woes Worsen for ELLs Learning Virtually

The pandemic has been tough on everybody—some more so than others, of course. Take English-language learners.

A report from the Government Accountability Office released last month finds that teachers who were teaching in a virtual environment with at least 20 percent English-learners reported that their students “struggled with understanding lessons and completing assignments, having an appropriate workspace, accessing school meals, and getting assistance at their workspace.”

The findings are based on a nationally representative survey of elementary and secondary teachers conducted last summer.

Not that all these problems are new. “I think [the pandemic] really just exacerbated and made more obvious gaps that researchers have known for years,” said Jacqueline Nowicki, the director of K-12 education for the GAO.

The GAO findings include:

  • Elementary teachers with a high percentage of English-learners were at least three times more likely than other elementary teachers to report their students regularly lacked an appropriate workspace at home.
  • Middle school teachers with a high percentage of English-learners were about six times more likely than other middle school teachers to report their students regularly had difficulty understanding lessons.
  • Middle school teachers with a high percentage of English-learners were about six times more likely than other middle school teachers to report their students regularly had difficulty completing class assignments.
  • Teachers with a large number of students who received free or reduced-priced meals reported similar disparities.

The findings complement other researchers’ insights about virtual instruction for English-learners in particular—some the function of long-standing issues.

High Court Lets Florida Take Big Slice of Girl’s Settlement

The U.S. Supreme Court has come down on the side of Florida officials who said the state is entitled to a significant portion of the medical-care settlement received by a girl severely injured exiting a school bus.

The state sued the parents of Gianna Gallardo, who was 13 years old in 2008 when she exited her school bus and was struck by a pickup truck. She has been on life support ever since.

Her parents sued the Lee County, Fla., school district as well as the truck’s owner and driver. The parties reached an $800,000 settlement in 2015 to help pay her medical expenses.

The state’s Medicaid program, which was not a party to the settlement, had paid some $862,000 for the child’s care. It then placed a lien on the settlement, and under Florida law, was entitled to recover 37.5 percent of the amount, or about $300,000 of the settlement.

Gallardo’s family challenged Florida’s actions in federal court, arguing that the state was entitled to reimbursement for only a relatively small amount, $35,000.

As the case moved up the judicial ladder, court decisions went back and forth. When it reached the high court, though, the justices sided with the state.

In a dry opinion for the 7-2 majority June 6, Justice Clarence Thomas said that “Medicaid requires participating states to pay for certain needy individuals’ medical costs and then to make reasonable efforts to recoup those costs from liable third parties.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, said the majority read one Medicaid Act provision in isolation and gave “short shrift” to a larger context of the statute.

“The court’s holding is inconsistent with the structure of the Medicaid program and will cause needless unfairness and disruption,” she wrote.

Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Ileana Najarro, Staff Writer; Tribune News Service; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 15, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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