Education

Briefly Stated: June 19, 2024

June 18, 2024 8 min read
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Will AI Features Coming to iPhones and Macs Have School Impact?

Not to be left behind, Apple announced on June 10 that it will add generative artificial intelligence features to its products such as the iPhone as early as this fall, raising questions about how those upgrades will affect schools.

Apple Intelligence, as the company is calling its AI features, can proofread and rewrite documents, generate images and emojis, transcribe phone calls and voice memos, summarize emails and lectures, and solve math problems.

The announcement comes a few weeks after other “big tech” and education companies announced the expansion of AI products for school use.

While Apple’s announcement did not mention anything specific about K-12 education, many educators and students use iPhones and other Apple products and will most likely interact with these new features, according to some experts.

“Getting AI into the classroom so that students can both understand what AI can do and its limitations is super important. I think if this can be done on a device that students are familiar with, that can be powerful,” said Simon Guest, the chief technology officer of Code.org.

For the education space, two features that will most likely have implications for schools are the AI writing assistant and the new calculator app, said Claire Zau, a vice president for GSV Ventures. The AI writing assistant—powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT—is integrated into apps that have writing features and with a new calculator app on the iPad.

Many educators worry about students using generative AI tools to cheat on assignments and their overuse of cellphones.

Apple’s AI features are only available in its newest products, so it’s unlikely that most schools and students who have Apple devices will have access to them when they launch as a beta this fall and fully in the next year, Guest said.

And it will take time to figure out if these features will work as designed, Zau said.

Still, experts see great potential in Apple’s features. For instance, Zau said the announcement could signal what the future of AI and hardware will look like, as well as what human interaction with devices could look like in the future.

Parents Call Chronic Absenteeism a Problem, But Most Don’t Know What the Term Means

Educators are overwhelmed with worry about chronic absenteeism. Parents, too, even if they don’t know what it means.

A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that a majority of parents see chronic absenteeism as a “major problem,” but only about a third can correctly define it.

Parents often underestimate how often their own children miss class, said Robert Balfanz, the director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and the concept of chronic absenteeism, which has emerged as a research and policy priority in the last decade, may be new to them.

“There often is no easily accessible or continually provided supply of information to parents on students’ cumulative absences to date,” he said.

Rates of chronic absenteeism, most commonly defined as missing 10 percent of school days for excused or unexcused reasons, have spiked since the pandemic.

About 15 percent of students nationwide were deemed chronically absent in the 2018-19 school year, compared with 28 percent in the 2022-23 school year, according to a tracker maintained by the American Enterprise Institute. While many states have seen declines in absenteeism this school year, rates have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In the new poll, 58 percent of parents of school-age children identified chronic absenteeism as a major problem.

Most also failed to correctly define it. Thirty-two percent of parent respondents identified the correct definition, while

51 percent set the bar much higher, defining chronic absenteeism as missing 20 percent of school days.

A study issued in March by researchers at the University of Southern California found parents often undercount their own child’s absences. Among those whose children were chronically absent, just 47 percent said they were concerned, that study found.

The new poll shows parent respondents were most likely to identify illnesses and concern for student safety as acceptable reasons to miss school.

Appeals Court Backs School That Barred Student From Wearing ‘Only Two Genders’ T-Shirt

In an important ruling on student expression, a federal appeals court has upheld the authority of school administrators who barred a middle school student from wearing a T-shirt that said, “There Are Only Two Genders.”

“Precisely because the message was reasonably understood to be so demeaning of some other students’ gender identities, there was the potential for the back-and-forth of negative comments and slogans between factions of students” that could lead to “a deterioration in the school’s ability to educate its students,” the court said.

Liam Morrison was a 7th grader at Nichols Middle School in Middleborough, Mass., in April 2023 when he wore the shirt, which he and his father viewed as a comment on the hot political topic of gender identity and not a message aimed at any group or individual at his school, court papers said.

Administrators were aware that several students at the middle school were transgender or gender-nonconforming and that some students were bullied and had suicidal ideation or had attempted suicide. They invoked a provision of the student dress code that bars “hate speech or imagery that target[s] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

Morrison was not disciplined, but his father came to school to take him home when he refused to remove the T-shirt. About a month later, Morrison again wore the shirt to school, this time with the words “Only Two” covered with a piece of tape with the word “Censored.” Administrators decided that Morrison could not wear the altered shirt because it was so closely identified with his original message. The student removed the shirt. He later wore shirts with messages such as “Don’t Tread on Me” and “First Amendment Rights,” which he was not required to remove.

Morrison and his parents sued the school system and administrators under the First Amendment. A federal district judge ruled for the defendants, analyzing the case under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which upheld the right of students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War as long as school was not substantially disrupted.

The district judge cited a passage in Tinker that suggested student speech could not be in “collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone.”

In its June 9 decision, the appeals panel upheld the district judge but on different grounds from the Tinker decision. Instead of relying on the rights-of-others language, the panel grounded its decision in Tinker’s substantial disruption test.

David Cortman, Liam’s lawyer, said legal options were being weighed. “Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building,” he said. “This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own.”

A Quarter of N.C. Districts Defy School Calendar Law

It’s tourism versus the school calendar. And the winner in North Carolina is tourism, at least sort of.

Despite a judge striking down the school schedule in Carteret County, a popular coastal tourism area, this month, a quarter of North Carolina’s districts are defying the state’s school calendar law.

Traditional public schools can’t open sooner than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 or close later than the Friday closest to June 11.

Only 65 percent of traditional public schools follow the law, according to an analysis by public radio station WFAE. The other schools are either defying the law or received an exemption from the state.

It’s unclear whether the ruling will slow down the growing resistance to the calendar law.

“It’s disturbing that so many school districts are breaking the law, but what [the] ruling demonstrates is that any parent can challenge an illegal calendar, and the district is left scrambling to set a compliant calendar,” said Vince Chelena, the executive director of the North Carolina Travel Industry Association. “That’s a risk these districts shouldn’t be taking.”

Carteret County is home to popular summer beach tourism areas such as Atlantic Beach, Beaufort, Emerald Isle, and Morehead City.

State lawmakers have regulated school calendars for 20 years, since the tourism industry raised concerns about classes starting earlier in August.

“This forces traditional high schools to either end their semesters in mid-January after the winter break or have a significantly shortened fall semester,” Carteret County said after the ruling. Neither are ideal for our students’ academic achievement, yet they are our only practical choices.”

Efforts to modify the law have failed, resulting in a growing number of districts ignoring the requirement. Most of the districts defying the law plan to start the week of Aug. 12.

“Local boards of education should be allowed to choose the best start dates for the school systems they represent,” said Don Phipps, the superintendent of the Caldwell County district, which does follow the calendar law.

No enforcement mechanism exists to ensure compliance.

Due to legislative disagreement, enforcement has fallen on individual residents who’ve been willing to sue districts for not following the law. The Carteret lawsuit was brought by three businesses that benefit from the tourism industry—Atlantic Beach Surf Shop, Marsh’s Surf Shop, and Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant.

Mitchell Armbruster, a lawyer for parents and business owners who have sued their respective districts said: “It should not be the job of the public to have to sue their school boards for not following the law.”

Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer; Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; Tribune News Service; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 19, 2024 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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