Briefly Stated: November 2, 2022

November 01, 2022 8 min read
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Depression, Stress Top List of Cited Obstacles to Student Learning

Socializing isn’t getting in the way of their learning. Nor are gaming or jobs much of a factor. So what are the biggest barriers to adolescents’ learning? Middle and high school students overwhelmingly blame depression, stress, and anxiety.

Making matters worse, they also report struggling to get the support they need—in the form of school counselors and programs—from their schools, according to a report out last week by YouthTruth, a nonprofit that surveys K-12 students and families for school districts.

Only about a fifth of secondary students said they had access to a school counselor, psychologist, or therapist when they felt upset or had a problem.

And when asked if their school has services or programs to help them when they are having problems, fewer than half of middle school students and only about a third of high school students agreed that they did.

“There are not enough counselors and mental health services,” one 7th grade student responded in the survey. “We have 1,000 kids and only two counselors.”

The report is based on a survey of nearly 223,000 students from 845 YouthTruth partner schools across 20 states.

Half of middle school students and 56 percent of high school students identified feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious as the biggest obstacle to learning. Distractions at home and family responsibilities were cited as the second largest, with 35 percent of middle school students and 37 percent of high school students saying that was the case.

Gender plays a big role in how much depression, stress, and anxiety are getting in the way of academics. Significantly larger shares of female, transgender, and nonbinary students cite these emotions as an issue compared with boys.

Most alarmingly, large shares of LGBTQ students—32 percent—report having seriously considered suicide in the 12 months prior to taking the survey, compared with other students. In contrast, 7 percent of their non-LGBTQ middle school peers and 8 percent of their non-LGBTQ high school peers did.

Among transgender students, the numbers reached 48 percent for middle schoolers and 41 percent for high schoolers.

Earlier School Starting Times Don’t Appear to Be Harmful for Elementary Students

Rise and shine, young’uns. If school leaders pay heed to new research, you’ll be starting your day before other students.

Research released last month by the American Educational Research Association shows that beginning the school day earlier had “near-zero effects” on the youngest learners. The earlier times were linked to a small increase in absences, but they also appeared to lead to “modestly higher” math scores, particularly among traditionally disadvantaged students.

The findings for elementary students differ from research about secondary students that generally supports later start times. That research concludes that earlier start times lead to too little sleep for students—and poorer academic outcomes.

Older students need at least 8.5 hours of sleep, but adolescents’ sleep-wake cycle makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research on later start times for secondary students has shown they are absent less often and generally earn higher grades.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle schools start their days no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

“Earlier start times really have the least consequences and make the most sense at the elementary school level,” said Kevin Bastian, the director of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) at the University of North Carolina and a co-author the report.

Bastian said while much research exists about the impact of start times on secondary students, little has been done to examine how different times affect younger students.

“If schools are staggering their schedules, that means somebody has to go first, and that’s often elementary, but there’s not a lot of evidence out there about whether, in fact, that actually is also good,” he said. “So what we wanted to figure out was to what extent are elementary outcomes related to start times as well.”

The findings indicate that beginning elementary students’ day earlier to accommodate later secondary start times could be the most beneficial.

Nearly Two-Thirds of School Board Members Set to Step Down, Opening Door to Diversification

They’re fed up and not willing to take it anymore. “It” is the harassment aimed at school board members amid the national movement to curtail lessons on race, racism, and LGBTQ issues. Consequently, only 38 percent of current board members say, in a new survey, they plan to run for reelection.

Still, that could be an opportunity for districts to elect more members of color and make boards more representative of America’s diversifying student population, according to the report by School Board Partners, a national organization focused on training and recruiting anti-racist board members.

The predicted turnover on school boards also comes at a time when right-wing groups across the country are training potential candidates to push their own agenda. Many of these groups have also advocated book bans, supported policies that limit the rights of LGBTQ students, and pushed against equity initiatives.

“There’s going to be a lot of seats opening up. … We would say that the far right has been probably a step ahead with some tool kits and messaging and training,” said School Board Partners co-founder Carrie Douglass.

“School boards make important decisions, and who is on them matters,” she added.

School boards are nearly 40 percent whiter than the students they serve, the report says. Only 6 percent identify as LGBTQ compared with 16 percent of students, and board members are also less likely to have disabilities.

“Members of colors’ voices, our perspectives, are missing both around equity and addressing systemic racism in closing opportunity gaps,” said Ethan Ashley, the group’s other co-founder.

All school board members have some issues they want to work on in common: the mental and physical health and well-being of students and staff, student achievement, and teacher shortages, according to the survey.

But leaders of color were more likely to focus on student achievement for students of color and low-income students, as well as closing the achievement gap.

Equity and anti-racism policymaking was a focus of 41 percent of board members of color, while only 21 percent of white board members named it as one of their top five issues.

White House Gives Grants for ‘Clean’ School Buses

Schoolchildren across the country will soon get to make their trek to school if in not more luxurios vehicles, then at least in “cleaner” ones. Nearly 400 districts are getting roughly $1 billion in grants to buy about 2,500 “clean” school buses under a new federal program.

The Biden administration is making the grants available as part of a wider effort to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles and reduce air pollution near schools and communities.

Only about 1 percent of the nation’s 480,000 school buses were electric as of last year, but the push to abandon traditional diesel buses has gained momentum. Money for the new purchases is available under the federal Clean School Bus Program, which includes

$5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed last year.

The Environmental Protection Agency initially made $500 million available for clean buses in May and increased that to $965 million last month, responding to what officials called overwhelming demand. An additional $1 billion is set to be awarded in the budget year that began Oct. 1.

The EPA said it received about 2,000 applications requesting nearly $4 billion for more than 12,000 buses, mostly electric. Some 389 applications worth $913 million were accepted to support the purchase of 2,463 buses, 95 percent of which will be electric, the EPA said. The remaining buses will run on compressed natural gas or propane.

School districts identified as priority areas serving low-income, rural, or tribal students make up nearly all the selected projects, the White House said. They range from Wrangell, Alaska, and Teton County, Wyo., to Dallas and New York City.

White House adviser Mitch Landrieu said he expects many buses to be delivered by the start of the next school year, with the remainder likely to be in service by the end of 2023.

Calif. District Bans CRT; Student-Teachers Pulled

Don’t count on student-teachers in your schools anymore. That’s what California State University, Fullerton told an Orange County district after it outlawed the teaching of critical race theory.

Leaders in the university’s College of Education—among the biggest providers of teachers for the county’s public schools—told officials in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified school system that they did not believe the district would be able to support its student-teachers whose training is rooted in diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and tenets of critical race theory.

“It is critical that we place teacher candidates in districts that support their growth and development,” said Dean Lisa Kirtman. She added that she was open to working with the district to provide learning experiences that value “freedom of thought and expression” for the diverse student population.

Only six student-teachers from Cal State Fullerton are working in the district this academic year, down from the 70 to 80 that are typically placed there.

A resolution the school board narrowly approved in April encourages culturally relevant instruction and says the district “values all students and promotes equity and equality.” But it also says the district will “not allow the use of critical race theory as a framework to guide such efforts,” and that “other similar frameworks” cannot be used to guide teachings on race.

The university sent a letter to the district at the time, discouraging the move. In part, it said the university was proud to have students “come to you with the education to effectively explain and include CRT, as well as ethnic studies in their classrooms.”

That had the opposite effect on school board member Marilyn Andersen. She said the statement bolstered her support of the resolution. “It is important to pass because our teachers are coming into our district learning these principles and how to incorporate them in a K-12 setting. This is not imagination.”

GOP activists and lawmakers have denigrated the academic theory.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Caitlynn Peetz, Staff Writer; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Arianna Prothero, Assistant Editor; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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