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Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

February 11, 2020 7 min read
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For Millions of Children Around Planet Earth, School Is Foreign Idea

If we’re living in a global economy, we’re in for a world of hurt, judging by the numbers of uneducated children and adults on Earth, where the gap between haves and have-nots isn’t going to be shriveling anytime soon.

New data out of the United Nations indicates that 258 million children younger than 17 are not going to school—and only 49 percent of those who do complete secondary education.

In addition, about 770 million adults are illiterate, most of them women, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the U.N. General Assembly late last month.

She called the situation an “alarming” crisis, not only because of the millions who aren’t getting an education—and never did—but also “because of the crisis in the number of children, young people, and adults who are in education but not learning.”

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the U.N. special envoy for education, has said he continues to be “shocked” that more than 400 million children leave school for good at age 11 or 12 and “800 million children are leaving the education system without any qualifications worth their name.”

The U.N. goal for 2030 is to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

To rethink education and prepare the coming generation to deal with major issues like the digital revolution and the climate emergency, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said UNESCO has appointed a commission of independent experts to produce a report in November 2021 on the Futures of Education.

Brown said one reason why the situation is “so grave” today is that there are 75 million children in crisis-affected countries who are unable to go to school, have their education disrupted, and don’t attain any educational standards.

He noted that only a fraction of refugees—3 percent or less—go on to higher education compared, for example, with Syria where it was 20 percent before the conflict began in 2011.

AP Scores, Participation Up—and Down

Scores are up, and scores are down—a little—in the Advanced Placement 2019 universe.

Nearly 60 percent of the high school graduates who took the exams scored a 3 or higher, continuing improvement trends among students overall, according to results released last week by the College Board.

But the results also show small one-year declines in level-3 scores—the level that most often qualifies students to earn college credit—among students in three ethnic or racial groups: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska natives, and white students.

In a call with reporters, the College Board focused tightly on the past decade’s gains, comparing the class of 2019 with the class of 2009. That focus showed mostly double-digit and triple-digit gains (with a notable exception for the American Indian/Alaska Native group, which showed a big drop fueled in large part by the College Board’s 2016 move to align its racial classifications with those of the U.S. Department of Education).

Participation climbed significantly between 2009 and 2019. College Board data show that 1.25 million, or 39 percent, of 2019’s graduates took at least one AP exam. That’s up from 793,300 students, or 26 percent, a decade earlier.

College Board CEO David Coleman noted that in the past decade, test performance and participation have risen together: 57 percent more students are taking at least one AP exam, and 60 percent more students are scoring 3 or higher. Often, when a testing pool expands to include less-well-prepared students, scores drop. But “when we opened the doors to AP and far more students participated, we found far more talent than had been seen” before, he said.

Then again, from 2018 to 2019, participation declined in several racial or ethnic groups.

Substantial Class Time Lost to Dilapidated Schools in Baltimore

Baltimore students collectively have missed nearly 1.5 million hours of class time over the past five years—equal to about 221,000 school days—when schools close because their buildings are too cold or hot, a pipe has broken, or an electrical problem has developed, says a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Most closings occurred in the past couple of years, after the school system put in more stringent policies to ensure that students were not learning in buildings that were too cool or too warm.

The Hopkins researchers said the project was an attempt to quantify the effect of poor facilities on students. “We think that this is a core issue of equity in the city. Kids should be able to go to school in a healthy environment,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a professor at Johns Hopkins and one of the authors.

The report, released last week, used data from the city schools and state sources to paint a detailed portrait of the issues at each school.

The state rates only 17 percent of the city’s schools as in good or excellent condition, compared with more than 60 percent in Baltimore County.

Money is insufficient, so only the most pressing problems are addressed annually, said Alison Perkins-Cohen, the district’s chief of staff.

A review of maintenance requests found 29 schools have HVAC systems with parts more than 20 years past their replacement date.

To bring just one high school complex up to date, Perkins-Cohen said, would cost $75 million, more than double the amount of money the district receives from the state in one year.

A bill in the Maryland legislature would provide an extra $2.2 billion over five years for construction.

Latest Social Media Craze Has School Leaders Fuming

Just when school leaders have put out one more fire, here comes another that, in fact, could literally spark a blaze.

Three students at Woodbury Middle School in Salem, N.H., late last month decided to try their hand at the latest social-media craze: the so-called “outlet challenge” popularized on TikTok, a video platform.

The gist: Users are encouraged to take a short video of themselves placing a phone charger near an electrical outlet, then dropping a penny between the outlet and the charger prongs. The result is a share-worthy spark.

The problem, of course, is that doing so can also damage the outlets, cause children to electrocute themselves, or start a fire.

Fortunately for Woodbury Middle, none of that happened.

The students succeeded only in short-circuiting the outlet—and getting disciplined by school leaders for their actions.

Other schools have also been hit by the challenge: damaged outlets in three classrooms at Dalhart High School in Texas, two burned outlets at Plymouth North High School in Massachusetts, and eight damaged ones at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School in Massachusetts.

The widespread nature of the incidents isn’t a big surprise. TikTok has more than 1 billion downloads worldwide. It’s so popular with teenagers that some schools are beginning to use it as a teaching tool.

While many of the challenges on the social media platform involve copying dances—sometimes with provocative moves—it’s also inspired users to create videos of themselves doing all sorts of ill-advised things, including eating cereal out of a friend’s mouth.

Test Vendor Blames Boston for Misusing Elite School Exam

The longtime vendor behind the entrance tests for Boston’s three prestigious exam schools has “put Boston Public Schools on notice” that it will no longer provide the exam, citing eight years of failed attempts to work with the district on equity issues.

The previously undisclosed April 2019 email leaves Boston in the last year of its contract with the Education Research Bureau, which provides the Independent School Entrance Exam, and it forces the district to find a new test provider after 25 years.

ERB President Thomas Rochon said the misapplication of test scores from its exams was “perpetuating admissions outcomes that disproportionately affect students belonging to underrepresented groups.”

The letter said ERB “attempted several times over the last eight years” to work with the district on the issues but was “always rebuffed.”

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement, “It is, literally, a smoking gun demonstrating that BPS has deliberately and intentionally refused to consider less discriminatory alternatives to help support students of color who are striving to attend ... elite exam schools.”

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement that the district is “actively working to expand equitable access” at exam schools and blamed the exam for creating the inequities the Education Research Bureau said it is trying to address.

Students of color are vastly underrepresented at Boston Latin School and Boston Latin Academy, where white students make up 45 percent and 30 percent of their respective student bodies. That’s double and triple the number of white students in the district as a whole.

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, the vice chairwoman of the education committee, said in a statement, “Today’s revelations are very concerning—if true, there have been decisions made against the advice of experts and hidden from Boston’s families and students.”

Briefly Stated contributors: Associated Press, Catherine Gewertz, Alyson Klein, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller
A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

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