Search This Blog

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

From The Onion

March 22, 2018

Parent-teacher conferences can be a valuable way to foster a better learning environment for children both in and outside of the classroom. The Onion offers tips to both teachers and parents for making the most of this meeting.

1.) Begin by acknowledging there’s more than enough blame to go around.

2.) Teachers can create a comfortable, relaxing environment by removing anything from the room that will remind parents of their kid.

3.) Teachers should pick a fight with the largest parent to exert their dominance.

4.) Parents must be prepared to respond to any mention of their child’s troubling behavior by crossing their arms and saying, “That doesn’t sound like Jacob at all.”

5.) Worried parents should remember that sexting technically counts as a type of writing.

6.) Educators should avoid using too much educational jargon with the parents, like “AR-15” or “ballistic trauma.”

7.) Parents should be crystal-clear with one another before inviting a teacher to their bedroom.

8.) It’s absolutely imperative that both teacher and parents do their best to not let on that they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

Record Numbers of College Students Are Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anxiety — But Schools Can't Keep Up

From TIME Magazine

By Katie Reilly
March 19, 2018

Dana Hashmonay, now 21, took a medical leave during her sophomore year
of college after struggling with anxiety at school. Eva O'Leary for TIME

Not long after Nelly Spigner arrived at the University of Richmond in 2014 as a Division I soccer player and aspiring surgeon, college began to feel like a pressure cooker. Overwhelmed by her busy soccer schedule and heavy course load, she found herself fixating on how each grade would bring her closer to medical school.

“I was running myself so thin trying to be the best college student,” she says. “It almost seems like they’re setting you up to fail because of the sheer amount of work and amount of classes you have to take at the same time, and how you’re also expected to do so much.”

At first, Spigner hesitated to seek help at the university’s counseling center, which was conspicuously located in the psychology building, separate from the health center. “No one wanted to be seen going up to that office,” she says.

But she began to experience intense mood swings. At times, she found herself crying uncontrollably, unable to leave her room, only to feel normal again in 30 minutes. She started skipping classes and meals, avoiding friends and professors, and holing up in her dorm. In the spring of her freshman year, she saw a psychiatrist on campus, who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, and her symptoms worsened. The soccer team wouldn’t allow her to play after she missed too many practices, so she left the team.

In October of her sophomore year, she withdrew from school on medical leave, feeling defeated. “When you’re going through that and you’re looking around on campus, it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going through what you’re going through,” she says. “It was probably the loneliest experience.”

Spigner is one of a rapidly growing number of college students seeking mental health treatment on campuses facing an unprecedented demand for counseling services. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30% on average, while enrollment grew by less than 6%, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found in a 2015 report.

Students seeking help are increasingly likely to have attempted suicide or engaged in self-harm, the center found. In spring 2017, nearly 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function, and 61% of students said they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the same time period, according to an American College Health Association survey of more than 63,000 students at 92 schools.

As midterms begin in March, students’ workload intensifies, the wait time for treatment at counseling centers grows longer, and students who are still struggling to adjust to college consider not returning after the spring or summer breaks. To prevent students from burning out and dropping out, colleges across the country — where health centers might once have left meaningful care to outside providers — are experimenting with new measures.

For the first time last fall, UCLA offered all incoming students a free online screening for depression. More than 2,700 students have opted in, and counselors have followed up with more than 250 who were identified as being at risk for severe depression, exhibiting manic behavior or having suicidal thoughts.

Virginia Tech University has opened several satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend time, stationing one above a local Starbucks and embedding others in the athletic department and graduate student center. Ohio State University added a dozen mental health clinicians during the 2016-17 academic year and has also launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up, and contact the clinic in case of an emergency.

Pennsylvania State University allocated roughly $700,000 in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017, citing a “dramatic increase” in the demand for care over the past 10 years. And student government leaders at several schools have enacted new student fees that direct more funding to counseling centers.

But most counseling centers are working with limited resources. The average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students — fewer than the minimum of one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services. Some counselors say they are experiencing “battle fatigue” and are overwhelmed by the increase in students asking for help.

“It’s a very different job than it was 10 years ago,” says Lisa Adams Somerlot, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling at the University of West Georgia.

As colleges try to meet the growing demand, some students are slipping through the cracks due to long waits for treatment and a lasting stigma associated with mental health issues. Even if students ask for and receive help, not all cases can be treated on campus.

Many private-sector treatment programs are stepping in to fill that gap, at least for families who can afford steep fees that may rise above $10,000 and may not be covered by health insurance. But especially in rural areas, where options for off-campus care are limited, universities are feeling pressure to do more.

"I needed something the university wasn’t offering."

At the start of every school year, Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CUCARD), says she’s inundated with texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life.

“Elementary and high school is so much about right or wrong,” she says. “You get the right answer or you don’t, and there’s lots of rules and lots of structure. Now that [life is] more free-floating, there’s anxiety.”

That’s perhaps why, for many students, mental health issues creep up for the first time when they start college. (The average age of onset for many mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder, is the early 20s.)

Dana Hashmonay was a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 2014 when she began having anxiety attacks before every class and crew practice, focusing on uncertainties about the future and comparing herself to seemingly well-adjusted classmates. “At that point, I didn’t even know I had anxiety. I didn’t have a name for it. It was just me freaking out about everything, big or small,” she says.

When she tried to make an appointment with the counseling center, she was put on a two-week waitlist. When she finally met with a therapist, she wasn’t able to set up a consistent weekly appointment because the center was overbooked. “I felt like they were more concerned with, ‘Let’s get you better and out of here,’” she says, “instead of listening to me. It wasn’t what I was looking for at all.”

During her freshman year, Hashmonay sought out help
on campus after she started having anxiety attacks before
her classes and crew practices. Eva O'Leary for TIME
Instead, she started meeting weekly with an off-campus therapist, who her parents helped find and pay for. She later took a leave of absence midway through her sophomore year to get additional help. Hashmonay thinks the university could have done more, but she notes that the school seemed to be facing a lack of resources as more students sought help.

“I think I needed something that the university just wasn’t offering,” she says.

A spokesperson for Rensselaer says the university’s counseling center launched a triage model last year in an effort to eliminate long wait times caused by rising demand, assigning a clinician to provide same-day care to students presenting signs of distress and coordinate appropriate follow-up treatment based on the student’s needs.

Some students delay seeing a counselor because they question whether their situation is serious enough to warrant it. Emmanuel Mennesson says he was initially too proud to get help when he started to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression after arriving at McGill University in Montreal in 2013 with plans to study engineering.

He became overwhelmed by the workload and felt lost in classes where he was one student out of hundreds, and began ignoring assignments and skipping classes. “I was totally ashamed of what happened. I didn’t want to let my parents down, so I retreated inward,” he says. During his second semester, he didn’t attend a single class, and he withdrew from school that April.

For many students, mental health struggles predated college, but are exacerbated by the pressures of college life. Albano says some of her patients assume their problems were specific to high school. Optimistic that they can leave their issues behind, they stop seeing a therapist or taking antidepressants. “They think that this high school was too big or too competitive and college is going to be different,” Albano says. But that’s often not the case. “If anxiety was there,” she says, “nothing changes with a high school diploma.”

Counselors point out that college students tend to have better access to mental health care than the average adult because counseling centers are close to where they live, and appointments are available at little to no cost. But without enough funding to meet the rising demand, many students are still left without the treatment they need, says Ben Locke, Penn State’s counseling director and head of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

The center’s 2016 report found that, on average, universities have increased resources devoted to rapid-access services — including walk-in appointments and crisis treatment for students demonstrating signs of distress — since 2010 in response to rising demand from students. But long-term treatment services, including recurring appointments and specialized counseling, decreased on average during that time period.

“That means that students will be able to get that first appointment when they’re in high distress, but they may not be able to get ongoing treatment after the fact,” Locke says. “And that is a problem.”

"We’re busier than we’ve ever been."

In response to a growing demand for mental health help, some colleges have allocated more money for counseling programs and are experimenting with new ways of monitoring and treating students. More than 40% of college counseling centers hired more staff members during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent annual survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

“A lot of schools charge $68,000 a year,” says Dori Hutchinson, director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, referring to the cost of tuition and room and board at some of the most expensive private schools in the country. “We should be able to figure out how to attend to their whole personhood for that kind of money.”

At the University of Iowa, Counseling Director Barry Schreier increased his staff by nearly 50% during the 2017-18 academic year. Still, he says, even with the increase in counseling service offerings, they can’t keep up with the number of students coming in for help. There is typically a weeklong wait for appointments, which can reach two weeks by mid-semester.

“We just added seven full-time staff and we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We’re seeing more students,” Schreier says. “But is there less wait for service? No.”

The university has embedded two counselors in dorms since 2016 and is considering adding more after freshmen said it was a helpful service they would not have sought out on their own. Schreier also added six questions about mental health to a freshman survey that the university sends out several weeks into the fall semester.

The counseling center follows up with students who might need help based on their responses to questions about how they’d rate their stress level, whether they’ve previously struggled with mental health symptoms that negatively impacted their academics, and whether they’ve ever had symptoms of depression or anxiety.

He says early intervention is a priority because mental health is the number one reason why students take formal leave from the university.

As colleges scramble to meet this demand, off-campus clinics are developing innovative, if expensive, treatment programs that offer a personalized support system and teach students to prioritize mental wellbeing in high-pressure academic settings. Dozens of programs now specialize in preparing high school students for college and college students for adulthood, pairing mental health treatment with life skills classes — offering a hint at the treatments that could be used on campus in the future.

When Spigner took a medical leave from the University of Richmond, she enrolled in College Re-Entry, a 14-week program in New York that costs $10,000 and aims to provide a bridge back to college for students who have withdrawn due to mental health issues. She learned note-taking and time management skills in between classes on healthy cooking and fitness, as well as sessions of yoga and meditation.

Mennesson, the former McGill engineering student, is now studying at Westchester Community College in New York with the goal of becoming a math teacher. During his leave from school, he enrolled in a program called Onward Transitions in Portland, Maine that promises to “get 18- to 20-somethings unstuck and living independently” at a cost of over $20,000 for three months, where he learned to manage his anxiety and depression.

Another treatment model can be found at CUCARD in Manhattan, where patients in their teens and early 20s can slip on a virtual reality headset and come face-to-face with a variety of anxiety-inducing simulations — from a professor unwilling to budge on a deadline to a roommate who has littered their dorm room with stacks of empty pizza boxes and piles of dirty clothes.

Virtual reality takes the common treatment of exposure therapy a step further by allowing patients to interact with realistic situations and overcome their anxiety. The center charges $150 per group-therapy session for students who enroll in the four-to-six-week college readiness program but hopes to make the virtual reality simulations available in campus counseling centers or on students’ cell phones in the future.

This virtual reality program — developed by Headset Health in partnership
with the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders — allows
students to confront their anxiety in a simulated college scenario.

Hashmonay, who has used the virtual reality software at the center, says the scenarios can be challenging to confront, “but the minute it’s over, it’s like, ‘Wow, OK, I can handle this.’ She still goes weekly to therapy at CUCARD, and she briefly enrolled in a Spanish course at Montclair State University in New Jersey in January.

But she withdrew after a few classes, deciding to get a job and focus on her health instead of forcing a return to school before she is ready. “I’m trying to live life right now and see where it takes me,” she says.

Back at the University of Richmond for her senior year, Spigner says the attitude toward mental health on campus seems to have changed dramatically since she was a freshman. Back then, she knew no one else in therapy, but most of her friends now regularly visit the counseling center, which has boosted outreach efforts, started offering group therapy and mindfulness sessions, and moved into a more private space. “It’s not weird to hear someone say, ‘I’m going to a counseling appointment,’ anymore,” she says.

She attended an open mic event on Richmond’s campus earlier this semester, where students publicly shared stories and advice about their struggles with mental health. Spigner, who meets weekly with a counselor on campus, has become a resource to many of her friends because she openly discusses her own mental health, encouraging others not to be ashamed to get help.

“I’m kind of the go-to now for it, to be honest,” she says. “They’ll ask me, ‘Do you think I should go see counseling?’” Her answer is always yes.

Mindfulness in Schools

From NESCA News & Notes

By Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
March 5, 2018

Open Google, type in "Mindfulness in Schools" and you are presented with a buffet of resources. What was once seen as an alternative idea has been mainstreamed. But what is Mindfulness and why is it something that deserves a place in schools?

Mindfulness was originally developed as part of the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism. With mindfulness, your attention would be turned inward, and also impact your relationship with the world through mindful actions and behaviors.

Now it is scientifically studied and found in locations from professional locker rooms, jails and hospitals to Fortune 500 companies like Nike, Google and Apple.

Advancements in brain imaging show that a regular mindfulness practice creates increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with working memory, executive function, emotional regulation, perspective taking and empathy, with decreases in the areas of the brain associated with depression, PTSD and stress (correlated with a decrease in amygdala size).

Mindfulness’ increased popularity may be due to the fact that it is an adaptable, take-with-you-anywhere antidote to a society that is increasingly fast-paced and technology-focused. In a global world, it helps us feel both connected to ourselves and grounded where we are.

More of us are stressed, anxious and depressed, and mindfulness can help soothe our worries without negative side affects.

Schools are responsible for teaching children skills and information across many content areas, yet how often are children taught the best way to pay attention, or how to use attention? Attention is the lens through which all of our experiences are filtered, yet it is rarely directly and specifically taught!

Mindfulness is at its core simply focusing on a single thing at time, in a particular way, without evaluation. It is an invaluable life skill for helping children become successful students, as well as happy, well adjusted and connected.

An informal survey of my colleagues and friends found that yoga and mindfulness is being adapted to various school settings. From class transitions that begin with listening bells, rounds of belly breathing before assessments, calming scented oils on cotton balls in the nurse's office, books clubs with teachers, introductions to mindfulness apps in health class and mindfulness or yoga activities and clubs. mindfulness is staking its place in schools.

When introducing mindfulness in classrooms and schools the following steps help outline ways to weave mindfulness into classrooms and schools.

1.) Learn more.

Starting with this blog post, the internet is full of articles and videos to explore.

2.) Model Mindfulness and practice yourself.

You can’t teach what you don’t know. Practicing mindfulness will help you be aware of your own reactions if at first your students are squirmy or resistant. Keep in mind that students may not use the words you expect to describe their experience, listen for what is behind their words.

3.) In an age appropriate way, explain how mindfulness is beneficial for them.

My teens love learning about how their brain works and that mindfulness is a form of training for their brain.

Some videos for younger kids:

4.) Teach about the monkey or animal mind.

Children of all ages enjoy the practice of noticing how many places their thoughts go and how quickly thoughts connect to others. There are fantastic books for younger kids such as Moody Cow Meditates and Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda.

Teens understand that if they walk into class and see their friends laughing with peers after glancing towards them, their thoughts immediately race to.... “what did I do” ...“ they are mad”...“I’m not going to have a partner for this project”... “ there goes my secrets, begin the rumors”... “I’ll be left out of the weekend plans” … “I’ll be alone forever”.

Teach them to acknowledge the chatter but not get caught in it.

5.) Start small.

Begin with 1-3 minutes at the start of class directing kids to feel their seat in their seat, their feet on the floor, their hands on their lap and intentionally take 5-10 long inhales and exhales.

Other ideas:
  • Practice silent snack one day a week. Take a mindful walk as a class and have them focus on their senses and record them in their own journals ( words or visuals) when back in the classroom. Create a mindful space in a corner of your room with coloring books, pencils, cushions as a safe break place.
  • For kids, it may be hard to focus on a single item at a time, so use manipulatives. A Hoberman Sphere, Pinwheels or feathers to demonstrate breath. Build Worry Jars, adapt Chutes and Ladders or other familiar games with mindful exercises. Use one of the many Yoga Card Decks. 

6.) There’s an App for this!

Ironic perhaps to use technology, but most kids love technology and it offers choice and control. Try “”, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, “Smiling Mind” or the “Insight Meditation Timer” (after medications my kids love to check out the world map and see all the locations where people are meditating!). Try a classroom program such as

7.) Be consistent.

Greater benefits and habits are created when mindfulness is done repeatedly. Colleagues who practice mindfulness daily, even for a few minutes notice the impact is greater than if done sporadically.

Mindfulness is good for us and our children and has a natural place in our schools. Benefits abound like enhanced attention, self-regulation, social competence, as well as greater kindness and compassion. After I have practiced mindfulness with my students or clients they look different, calmer and more relaxed, and they ask for it again.

I too notice the rest of my day feels more manageable and my smile is broader. Enjoy adding mindfulness to your classroom or express your hope to your child’s teacher or school leaders that mindfulness be a part of your child’s school experience.


Ann-Noelle McCowan has worked with children and adolescents since 2001, and practiced yoga and meditation since 2005. Since 2003, she has been employed as a school counselor in a local high-performing school district, and prior to that was worked in the San Francisco Public Schools.

She received her dual Masters Degree (M.S.) in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy (MFCC), and School Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2002, her B.A. from Union College in New York, and her 200 hour-Registered Yoga Credential (RYT) from Shri Yoga.

McCowan completed additional Yoga trainings including the Kid Asana Program in 2014, Trauma in Children in 2016 and Adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s in 2014.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ADHD Drugs Increase Brain Glutamate, Predict Positive Emotion in Healthy People

From Brown University
via ScienceDaily

March 14, 2018

Summary: New findings offer clues about how misused drugs affect healthy brains and hint at an undiscovered link between glutamate and mood.

A new study used MRI to show how ADHD drugs affect the brains of
healthy people. The study found that the drugs were associated with a surge
in the neurotransmitter glutamate in key regions of the brain. That surge was
associated with reports of positive emotion. Credit: White Lab / Brown University

A new study shows that healthy people who take attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs experience a surge in the neurotransmitter glutamate in key parts of the brain. And that increase in glutamate is associated with subsequent changes in positive emotion.

The findings, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, not only provide clues about how these drugs affect healthy brains, they also hint at a previously undiscovered link between glutamate and mood.

"This is the first time that an increase in brain glutamate in response to psychostimulant drugs has been demonstrated in humans," said Tara White, an assistant professor in the Brown University School of Public Health and lead author of the new study.

"That's important since glutamate is the major neurotransmitter responsible for excitation in the brain, and affects learning and memory."

Even more interesting, White said, the rise in glutamate predicted the magnitude and the duration of positive emotional responses to the drug.

"Given the timing of these effects -- the glutamate effect comes first, and the positive emotion comes later -- this could indicate a causal link between glutamate and positive emotion," White said. I think what we're seeing here is not just a drug effect, it's how positive emotion works in humans."

Drug Effects on the Brain

Millions of kids nationwide take prescription medication to treat ADHD. But in addition to prescribed usage, there's a thriving black market for these drugs, which young people use to improve attention, mood, and work and school performance. Yet little is known about what effects these drugs have on healthy brains, White said.

In this new study, subjects were first screened for mental and physical health and then underwent MRI spectroscopy scans designed to detect the concentration of neural compounds in specific regions of their brain.

From the medical literature on psychostimulants, White and her team wanted to look in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a "hub" brain region that connects multiple brain networks involved in emotion, decision-making and behavior.

They found that two ADHD medications, d-amphetamine and Desoxyn, significantly increased the overall amount of glutamate in the right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, even after controlling for possible confounding factors, such as volume of gray matter in the region.

The rise in brain glutamate predicted both the duration and the intensity of positive emotion, measured by participant ratings about whether they liked the drug or felt high after consuming it.

The authors caution that while this was a placebo-controlled study, the research demonstrates only an association between glutamate and positive mood, and not necessarily a causal relationship. However, the fact that the mood changes consistently followed changes in glutamate is suggestive of causality, though more research is necessary.

Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain, White said, and its roles in learning and memory are well established. A potential link between glutamate and mood would be a novel finding.

"This is the first time we've seen a link between increases in brain glutamate and increases in positive emotion in healthy people -- with both changes happening in real time," said White, who is based at Brown's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. "I think it's going to open up a whole new way of thinking about emotion in humans."

The research also found evidence of gender differences in drug effects. Women in the sample showed a larger increase in glutamate compared to the men in the sample. Women also responded more strongly to Desoxyn, compared to d-amphetamine. The gender difference is consistent with prior studies in animals, which show greater stimulant drug effects in females compared to males.

The differences between the two drugs also indicate that ADHD medications can have different effects on glutamate and other compounds in the brain.

White and her colleagues say there's evidence to suggest that the increase in glutamate involved drug-induced changes in enzymes and glutamate precursors. That suggests that the glutamate signal the researchers saw was from newly produced glutamate, rather than reuptake. With further research, the new data could help scientists to better understand how individuals respond differently to drugs, and changes in positive emotion over time.

"[The] present findings provide the first evidence in humans that drug-induced changes in [glutamate] correlate with subjective experiences of drug liking and drug high following drug ingestion" White and colleagues wrote.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA R21 029189), National Science Foundation (DGE 1058262), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA P01 007459).

Journal Reference
  • Tara L. White, Mollie A. Monnig, Edward G. Walsh, Adam Z. Nitenson, Ashley D. Harris, Ronald A. Cohen, Eric C. Porges, Adam J. Woods, Damon G. Lamb, Chelsea A. Boyd, Sinda Fekir. Psychostimulant drug effects on glutamate, Glx, and creatine in the anterior cingulate cortex and subjective response in healthy humans. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41386-018-0027-7

Education Law Center: Many Schools Funded Far Below What's Needed to Achieve Average Outcomes

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
March 20, 2018

A new policy brief, authored by researchers at Rutgers University and released by Education Law Center, shows that most U.S. states fund their public schools at a level far below what is necessary for students in high-poverty districts to achieve at even average levels in English and math.

The full report, entitled "The Real Shame of the Nation: The Causes and Consequences of Interstate Inequity in Public School Investments," is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between school funding, student achievement, and poverty levels across all states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

The report builds on the comparisons in state school funding systems in the "National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?"

The report presents a new "National Education Cost Model" that uses a unique dataset of school spending, student achievement, student and family income levels, and other factors to construct estimates of how much states and school districts would need to spend for their students to reach the national average in English and math.

Among the key findings in the report:

  • In numerous states - including Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan, and Georgia - only the lowest-poverty districts have sufficient funding to reach national average student achievement outcomes.
  • Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nevada, and Louisiana spend so little that even their lowest-poverty districts can't reach national average student achievement outcomes.
  • Only a few states - including New Jersey and Massachusetts - have higher levels of funding across all districts and have near-average outcomes, even in the highest-poverty districts.
  • The cost of achieving national average outcomes in very high-poverty districts is three times higher - or $20,000 to $30,000 per pupil - than in low-poverty districts.

The report also debunks the common misconception of a nationwide "failure" in U.S. public education based on international outcome comparisons.

When viewed from a state-by-state or district-by-district lens, there is wide variation in spending and student achievement outcomes, with strong performance in a few high-investment states and in low-poverty districts - even those in under-performing states - that rivals that of other high-performing nations.

"The extreme variations in funding and student achievement across the states strike at the heart of the national interest in preparing our students for post-secondary education, the workforce and citizenship," said Bruce D. Baker, lead author.

"Some states need to increase school funding across the board to ensure equitable outcomes for their students. Others need to target increases to higher-poverty districts. And the federal government should find new avenues to support states with comparatively less ability to boost school funding on their own," Dr. Baker added.

The report authors recommend a dramatic change in federal policy by pooling federal education dollars to address the wide disparities in state spending and performance, with an emphasis on raising funding levels in states with large spending gaps, low overall student achievement outcomes, and limited fiscal capacity to close those gaps on their own.

The authors also recommend that the federal government use its spending power to incentivize low-performing states with higher fiscal capacity to take action to boost funding levels, especially for high poverty districts.

"This groundbreaking report should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and educators around the nation," said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center.

"The U.S. education system as a whole is far from failing," said Mr. Sciarra. "Instead, particular states and regions of the country are letting their students and the entire nation down by failing to provide the resources needed for students to reach their potential."

Please visit to view the report and policy brief, explore findings with interactive graphics and download complete datasets for further analysis.

Education Law Center Press Contact

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director

973-624-1815, ext. 24

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How Empowering Girls to Confront Conflict and Buck Perfection Helps Their Well-Being

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By Katrina Schwartz
March 5, 2018

Participants in a Girls Leadership workshop. (Courtesy Girls Leadership)

Girls and boys have always grown up with cultural and societal stereotypes swirling around them. Despite the unparalleled access to opportunities that young women have today compared with the past, many are still absorbing strong messages about how they should look, act and be. For girls, many of the most powerful influences come from the media, but young girls could find relief among the real people in their lives.

Social media has changed the game, requiring educators and parents to also change strategies to help girls navigate complicated waters.

'Girls are focused on all these other people and they’ve lost track of themselves.'
-- Simone Marean, Co-Founder and CEO of Girls Leadership

“There's nothing I talk about practicing with girls that doesn’t also apply to boys,” said Simone Marean, CEO of Girls Leadership, a nonprofit working to help girls find and raise their voices. Marean spoke at the Innovative Learning Conference hosted at The Nueva School in Hillsborough, California.

Marean is raising two sons, so she knows many of the skills her organization teaches are important for all humans, but she also recognizes girls and boys are still socialized differently. “There are reasons why the expectations of girls make it particularly important that we practice this with girls,” she said.

A growing percentage of girls feel pressure to please everyone in their lives, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX). The college application process is more competitive than ever and the comparative culture on social media is always present.

“The pressure is greater, but they’re also experiencing it more and more each day as the time on media increases,” Marean said.

Some studies show the rate of depression and anxiety increasing more rapidly among girls, and social media culture has heightened the sense among many girls that they must be perfect, presenting a pleasant, well-behaved, curated persona to the world.

“Girls are focused on all these other people and they’ve lost track of themselves,” Marean said. She sees the same patterns from early elementary school girls through high school. And while social media has the potential to amplify damaging messages about bodies, perfection and beauty that have long existed, it would be too simple to ban digital devices.

Marean points out when educators and parents act from a place of fear they tend to go to extremes, alienating the girls they love in the process.

Instead, she advocates for helping girls gain the skills to navigate these spaces with a different script. She says it’s crucial that adults start helping young girls to engage in productive conflict, acknowledge and grow from mistakes, develop emotional intelligence and take responsibility for the role they each play in social situations.

While these are concerns for many parents, educators can also help girls develop skills to cope with these modern problems -- and doing so could help with academics, too.

“Relationships are integral and foundational to mental health and wellness,” Marean said. “When relationships are struggling there’s no way to take care of the next level of thinking.” Middle school teachers know this better than anyone -- when students are dealing with social drama, they have a lot less mental space for academics.

Emotional Intelligence

Girls can’t express how they feel effectively until they take time to notice and name their feelings. Marean says girls know they are supposed to feel happy, calm and confident, so they disrespect their other emotions. Many don’t even have the language to talk about more complicated, nuanced and less sunny feelings.

But when girls name how they feel in a situation, they can recognize that it’s the situation, not them, that’s the problem. That opens up a wider range of options for how they handle that situation.

“When we do that we are giving them a foundation of agency,” Marean said. “It works like a GPS. When you know where you are, you know where you need to go.

Two girls participate in a Girls Leadership workshop.
(Courtesy Girls Leadership)

One way educators and parents can help girls to develop an emotional vocabulary and give permission to feel less than “perfect” feelings is with role modeling. When girls hear that the important adults in their lives also feel excluded or jealous or hurt, it normalizes those complex feelings.

And, when a girl comes home talking about a difficult social experience, adults can help her build empathy by asking how the other person might have felt in that interaction.

Educators at the Girls Athletic Leadership Schools (GALS) in Denver are folding emotional intelligence into the core of their academic program. This all-girls public charter school is recognizing that the broader social and emotional skill set being discussed in many areas of education are most effective when contextualized to the lives of specific students groups. Gender is one layer of identity, but the messages girls receive about gender are situated within a broader context of race, class and cultural values.

“A big part of our program is girls being able to find their voice and say who they are,” said Lynnsey Gwaltney, the eighth-grade teacher of a class called GALS Series that covers topics like nutrition, well-being, identity, healthy sexuality and knowing one’s boundaries, among other things. This course is given the same weight, and time, as academic classes at the school.

At the start of the school year, teachers of GALS Series do a lot of relationship-building. They play icebreakers and run around together, do writing exercises and slowly build an environment where students feel comfortable talking about sensitive issues. They often practice role-playing conflict resolution -- a Girls Leadership staple -- and even ask students to bring real situations of conflict to the group for workshopping.

Social media is a big part of the conversation throughout middle school. In sixth grade, students are often watching things they don’t really know how to handle. A good example is a trend toward parody videos meant to be funny, but that are actually quite nasty. Together the class talks about how those videos make them feel and some productive ways to handle the emotions elicited.

“The biggest thing we’ve done is have a place for students to talk about it and think about what choices they’re making on social media,” Gwaltney said. With her eighth-graders, comparison is a big problem. “That’s the best way to help them to feel they have power in it. They have choice in what they look at and what they put into the world.”
GALS Series teachers have also done a lot to help students find their voices when talking with adults. And, they’ve found that the curriculum they developed in-house has to spiral throughout middle school because the conflicts a sixth-grader encounters aren’t the same ones an eighth-grader experiences. It’s worth covering conflict resolution, emotion-naming and social media issues again in the new context.

“We support students in bringing it to the forefront and dealing with it in a healthy, productive way as opposed to it existing under the surface as this shady, passive thing,” said Maggie Dickman, the sixth-grade GALS Series teacher. “We deal with conflict.” Role-playing how to handle conflict, normalizing it and demonstrating the good that can come out of direct confrontation is really important for girls.

Conflict as Opportunity for Change

In over 15 years of working with girls of all ages, Simone Marean has found that many believe conflict is bad. Girls are often raised to be socially aware and connected, so friendships are extremely important to them.

“What we see in our girls is they lack a script to have direct conflict,” Marean said. “They literally don’t know the words. They also lack the permission; they feel like something is wrong with the friendship if they have conflict.”

'Girls are dealing with a lot of the same things, no matter where they live.'
-- Ife Bell, Cincinnati Public Schools Districtwide School Community Coordinator for After School

Marean has found that girls from third grade through high school say the same thing about what it means to be a friend: like all the same things (or hate the same things), do everything together and never fight. That’s an unrealistic expectation for friendship and it doesn’t help equip girls for feelings of jealousy, anger or hurt that are regularly part of healthy relationships.

“Conflict is going to happen all the time,” Marean said. “Conflict is part of a normal, healthy, functional relationship. This is how we get things to change.” The challenge is helping girls to see it that way, to not be afraid of it.

She cautions that if kids don’t learn how conflict can lead to positive change from the adults in their lives, they’ll learn about it from friends online. And online there’s no eye contact, no tone of voice, and things can get nasty.

“Role play is the only way to talk about the how of communication,” Marean said. When a girl comes home upset about something that happened at school, it’s a normal parental reaction to want to take away her pain and get angry on her behalf. But that doesn’t help her develop the skills to deal with the situation.

Instead, Marean suggests offering empathy and asking questions about what she wants to do next. At this stage, many younger girls aren’t good at immediately articulating the result they hope for; instead they often go straight for what they want to do. This is where an adult can help them think through how a gut reaction might play out. Role-playing the situation gives the girl a chance to try out the words and debriefing solidifies it.

“The number one fear I hear from parents around teaching their girls to have a voice is that what if she does it all and she doesn’t get what she needs? What if her voice is not heard?” Marean said. Her answer: that’s all right; her voice won’t always be heard. But the experience of expressing it can be empowering and it’s a first step.

Marean also points to the idea of “contribution” raised in Bruce Patton's book “Difficult Conversations.” Both parties in a conflict contribute to it, so when mediating each person should come to the conversation aware of the ways he or she contributed to the situation. That helps remove some of the right or wrong feeling.

“Students often say to me, there are so many girls who need this and we want to take it to them,” said Ife Bell, coordinator of the Girls to Women program in Cincinnati Public Schools. Bell works on many of these issues with small groups of girls at several schools across the district.

The program she runs comes out of a recognition that outcomes for girls living in poverty are often just as poor as they are for boys. The district wanted to focus on helping to empower its young women.

Bell uses aspects of the Girls Leadership program in conjunction with another girls empowerment curriculum called Sister Accord. Bell’s approach to her program is one that Girls Leadership has been pivoting to over the past year, in recognition that while a gendered approach to social and emotional skills is necessary in all contexts, how the curriculum plays out may be different in various communities.

The original Girls Leadership materials were designed with a white, middle-class lens. Some of it makes assumptions about people’s values and experiences. Marean says the organization is in the midst of a pivot to listen and learn from a diverse set of communities about how to make what they offer more effective in all contexts.

Part of the shift revolves around recognizing the strengths different girls bring to any situation, and letting them lead the process of delving into specific experiences and scenarios they confront.

“Girls are dealing with a lot of the same things, no matter where they live,” Bell said, although she acknowledges young women growing up in poverty may have experiences they’d like to discuss in addition to the more universal ones. That’s why she works with student leaders in her groups to co-design the activities the Girls to Women facilitators use.

In that process, Bell often looks at the scenarios offered by Girls Leadership, which can seem aimed at a white middle-class audience, and have students tweak them until they feel authentic.

For example, there’s a role-playing scenario where Jessica and Brittany are talking about spring break at basketball practice. Jessica says she’s going on vacation to Florida with Marybeth’s family, but Brittany has always spent vacations with Marybeth.

That example didn’t feel very authentic to Bell or her students, so they changed the names and flipped the scenario in various ways to include a family with only one parent, or a girl who lives with her grandmother, or a girl who hasn’t ever been on vacation before. Sometimes Bell gives a group all the scenarios.

“I want them to see that addressing the conflict doesn’t use the same skills every time,” Bell said. She wants students to feel they have a variety of conflict resolution tools to rely on, no matter the situation.

One thing Bell wasn’t expecting was how powerful facilitating these conversations would be for herself and the other adult facilitators. Often the emotions, scenarios and strategies are ones adults can use, too, and perhaps never learned.

“One of the learnings is a lot of times when women don’t feel empowered to say what they really want to say, they just stop talking,” Bell said. She found an activity illuminating where she wrote down what someone said to her, and her response, along with what she really wanted to say. She began to reflect on how she could communicate more effectively about her emotions at work and in her personal life.

“We often speak our outside feelings instead of recognizing our inside feelings,” Bell said. For example, she might say, “I’m mad,” but the other person can’t do much with that. Underneath the feelings of anger are disappointment, fear, hurt or other emotions that can more effectively convey a possible next step to the other person.

Marean says Bell’s personal experience with the materials is common among the adults who bring their girls to Girls Leadership workshops. “We have to help the adults look at their own backgrounds and what were the gender expectations in their childhood, in their culture, in their socioeconomic background, because we’re not going to be able to help our girls if we can’t see it ourselves,” Marean said.

Schools across the country are beginning to recognize that social and emotional skills are important to lifelong success in school and beyond, but how to effectively teach those skills in school and at home is more of an open question.

Schools like GALS and programs like Girls to Women and Girls Leadership make the case that while the same conflict resolution, communication, emotional intelligence and empathy skills are needed by all kids, regardless of gender, the ways kids experience the world are still different.

As much as we’d like to believe the world is an equal place, with the same opportunities for everyone, the fact remains that context matters.