Briefly Stated: September 20, 2023

September 20, 2023 8 min read
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For Older Students, Academic-Recovery Time Running Out

Time’s up, or it could be for older students trying to recover academic progress lost during the pandemic. At the same time, financial and educational recovery efforts primarily focus on younger grades.

That’s the conclusion of the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s State of the American Student report, released last week.

Three and a half years after the start of the pandemic, “we all want things to be back to normal,” said Robin Lake, CRPE’s director. “But it’s clear that the pandemic is continuing to derail learning throughout K-12. … And that derailment is looking more insidious and hidden in some ways, especially for older students.

“We think many students have already graduated without what they need, and that trend will continue unless we do things differently,” Lake said.

For its report, the education policy research center at Arizona State University analyzed data across a wide array of academic, social-emotional, and engagement indicators focusing on secondary students and their postsecondary trajectories.

Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California and co-author of the report, noted that pandemic disruptions have hamstrung some 13.5 million high school students across four graduating classes.

In addition to historically low math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, CRPE found spikes in high school course failure rates in districts around the country.

The rise in course failures has been significantly larger for Black and Hispanic students; the gaps in course failure rates between these students and Asian and white students are 10 percentage points wider than they were in 2019.

In addition, average college-placement scores for the ACT averaged 19.8 scale points out of 36, the first time average performance has fallen below 20 in more than 30 years.

Instead of asking high school seniors who are behind on credits to wait another year to graduate or attend a credit-recovery program, CRPE recommends districts work with higher education to create academic “gap year” programs, which allow students to complete high school credit while also beginning to earn college credits.

Teens Are ‘Digital Natives’ But More Susceptible Than Adults to Conspiracies Espoused Online

Today’s teens have been raised on smartphones—literally. The first iPhone came out 16 years ago, so many of them could have been swiping at their parents’ phones since infancy.

But while this age group of so-called “digital natives” may text at the speed of light and have a seemingly innate ability to outfox parental controls placed on digital devices, they are not so savvy when it comes to distinguishing fact from fiction online.

In fact, teens are decidedly more susceptible than adults to online conspiracies, according to new survey results released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. And the more time young people spend on social media, the more likely they are to believe in online conspiracies.

Six in 10 agreed with at least four conspiracy theories listed in the survey, compared to 49 percent of adults. Among teens who spend a lot of time on social media, nearly 7 in 10 said they believed at least four conspiracies.

John Cain, a high school history teacher, says youths are constantly online—and saturated in disinformation. “Our students are quick consumers of information,” said Cain, who teaches at Copenhagen Central School in upstate New York. “They don’t want to take the time to verify what they are seeing, and we know that they are seeing the same things across multiple platforms, and so it becomes internalized.”

Academically high-achieving students are every bit as susceptible to falling for a conspiracy as their peers who struggle academically, Cain has found. In his experience, the students who are most vulnerable to believing online conspiracies are those who are getting exposed to them at home from their family members, as well as through their own online habits.

Among some of the most common conspiracies circulating on the internet, teens expressed the most support or belief in the idea of a “deep state” controlling the government, antivaccine messaging, and “groomer” conspiracies that allege transgender activists are indoctrinating children. For every conspiracy statement presented in the survey, teens who reported spending four hours or more a day on social media were more likely to say they believed in the conspiracy

Teachers College to Dissolve Reading Project Founded by Controversial Literacy Icon

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the instructional consultancy housed at Columbia University and founded by the popular and controversial literacy icon Lucy Calkins, will soon be shutting its doors, Teachers College has announced.

Calkins, who remains a tenured faculty member, will be on sabbatical for the 2023-24 academic year.

Teachers College is creating a new division offering reading and writing professional development, the Advancing Literacy unit, which several former staff members from the project will lead, the college said.

It’s a big shift for Teachers College, which has been the project’s home since it launched four decades ago, and for Calkins, who built her reputation in the literacy world on its workshop approach. And it comes as Calkins has come under fire over the past few years from researchers and some teachers who say her approach is not aligned with the evidence base.

Calkins said she made the decision to move on, in part to focus on “trying to address the reading wars.”

“For me, a big plus in all of this is that I made the decision on what’s really a passion project of mine, which is to try to get past the—what I regard as—fake reading wars and to try to find common ground,” she said.

Calkins and her team will continue offering professional development services through her company, now called Mossflower. She has also launched a website, Rebalancing Literacy, which she hopes “brings people together and supports civil conversation.”

Last year, Calkins launched a revised version of her Units of Study that aimed to address some of these concerns. It received mixed reviews—some from educators and experts who thought the changes represented a big step forward, and others who believed they did not go far enough.

On the Rebalancing Literacy site, Calkins doubles down in response to her critics and accuses journalists of making false claims about her products. They “are scaring the public into thinking that somehow half the teachers in America have been hoodwinked into teaching reading.

Teaching With Technology Eludes Many New Teachers

Think all incoming teachers have a natural facility with technology just because most are digital natives? Think again.

More than half of incoming teachers—56 percent—lack confidence in using learning technology prior to entering the classroom, according to a report released last week by the International Society for Technology in Education.

The majority of early-career educators—55 percent—described their training to teach with technology in teacher-preparation programs as lacking. Just 21 percent thought it was “good”—and even those teachers wanted a better sense of how to manage a classroom in a technology-rich environment and more training on how to best select tools to support student learning.

Schools of education assume that many of their students are “digital natives” who instinctively understand technology, said Jenna Conan Simpson, the director of instructional technology at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth, Texas, who conducted the survey. “But just because you know how to use TikTok does not mean that you know how to integrate technology in a classroom.”

That could be partly because few educator training programs appear to prioritize preparing teachers to use technology in the classroom. Only 9 percent of programs reported that every faculty member embraces and models instructional technology, according to a separate survey of 43 faculty members from 36 educator preparation programs ISTE conducted last year that was included in the report.

The faculty members surveyed identified getting teachers ready to use technology in the classroom as a major area of needed growth, ISTE’s report found.

Nearly two-thirds of the educator preparation programs surveyed reported that they are in the process of updating their curriculum, which could provide the opportunity to focus more on getting preservice teachers ready to use instructional technology.

Want a TV? A Paddleboard? Get a Fla. School Voucher

In Florida these days, taxpayers aren’t just ponying up money for school vouchers, they’re also paying for theme park passes, 55-inch TVs, and stand-up paddleboards for those recipients.

Such purchases can be made by parents who home school their children or send them to private schools, if any money remains after paying tuition and fees.

The items appear in a list of authorized expenses in a guide published this summer by Step Up for Students, the scholarship-funding organization that manages the bulk of Florida’s vouchers. Many of the items are similar to what was permitted for vouchers to students with disabilities in the past, but now they’re available to anyone who receives an award of about $8,000.

The list quickly raised eyebrows as it circulated.

“If we saw school districts spending money like that, we would be outraged,” said Damaris Allen, the executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools. “We want to be [tax dollars are] being used for worthwhile things.”

By comparison, Allen and others noted, public school teachers who want some of the same items for their classrooms would have to pay out of pocket or turn to other sources such as GoFundMe because schools won’t pay for them.

Supporters of this year’s voucher expansion to any student don’t consider the program wasting taxpayer money. Young people today “expect 21st-century approaches to learning and recreational opportunities for their physical and mental well-being,” said Jeanne Allen, the founder of the National Center for Education Reform.

Some activists are concerned that the state could run into problems. Polk County school board member Lisa Miller, who has used vouchers for her nonverbal son, said the program was ripe for abuse even when it was more limited. She noted that many funding requests came around the winter holidays for items such as Legos and Xboxes. “Our public school system would not be able to operate like this,” Miller said.

Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Arianna Prothero, Assistant Editor; Sarah Schwartz, Staff Writer; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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