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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Four Ways That Students and Families are Getting Lost in an Avalanche of Confusing Information from Their Schools

From The 74 Million

By David Keeling
October 14, 2018

"We have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for his or her child, and we’ve seen that parents engage quickly and assertively when they become fully aware of a problem."


There’s no shortage of evidence that America’s public schools aren’t working as well as they should for all families. Beyond the shamefully persistent gaps in educational opportunity and achievement that divide students of different races and more- and less-privileged backgrounds, there’s the fact that, despite plenty of advantages, American kids are not keeping up with their international peers in general.

Why is this happening?


Over the years, education leaders and policymakers have pointed to a wide range of culprits, from mushy learning standards and poor teacher training to inadequate school funding and high class sizes.

Here’s another to add to the list, one that doesn’t get much attention but should: confusing information about how students are actually doing in school.

In New Orleans and Boston, where our organization provides direct, hands-on educational support to hundreds of working parents, we have observed that the entire process of communicating the progress of individual students to their families is a mess.

Parents have access to more information about students than ever, yet the avalanche of data has become its own problem. Parents get lost among individual fragments of data that are difficult to interpret and tell divergent stories about student performance.

This incoherence makes it easy for families to overestimate the performance of their children, to miss warning signs of major problems and to pass up learning opportunities that have the power to reshape a child’s basic educational trajectory.

Here are four major ways we see this problem manifest itself for families:

1.) Report cards are ridiculously confusing.

When we began supporting one New Orleans mom working as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, she shared her son’s report card, which showed a string of performance ratings like “AB” and “B.” She naturally assumed those ratings were positive — As and Bs.

In fact, they stood for terms like “Approaching Basic.” Her son was struggling in school, but you wouldn’t know it without reading the fine print.

Given that report cards serve as the official record of each student’s educational progress and the primary way schools communicate about student performance, you’d think that schools would invest a huge amount of time and energy to get them right — to ensure they are crystal clear, accurate, parent-friendly, and oriented toward specific actions that students, parents, and teachers all need to take to ensure each student’s success.

But you’d be wrong.

Every day we see report cards full of baffling codes and acronyms that are incomprehensible to parents, with little explanation or analysis.

2.) Information comes in bits and pieces, not as a complete picture.

Alongside report cards, parents are getting a constant stream of data from reading assessments, state tests, end-of-course exams and graded student work. The results are scored in different ways and require different kinds of interpretation, and they sometimes conflict with whatever story the student’s official grades tell, as was the case with Amalia, a seventh-grader outside New Orleans who earns straight As, yet has scored below grade level on most state tests for the past three years.

It’s on parents to sort through all the data and figure out what it means and which sources to trust; rarely does anyone help them with that analysis, explain the discrepancies, or offer the big-picture perspective. When in doubt, parents tend to focus on the most positive data point and disregard the others — which means results that should be bright red warning lights get lost or overlooked.

3.) Sometimes, schools literally speak a different language.

One report card we saw recently included a series of terse comments like “student is in danger of failing.” For any parent, this would be alarming. But there was one big problem for the mom who shared it with us: She spoke only Spanish, and the report card was entirely in English.

According to federal law, schools must communicate all key information to parents whose English is limited in a language they can understand. And this family was far from the only non-English-speaking family at her school, where over 40 percent of all students are English learners. Did none of them get report cards in Spanish?

How are their parents supposed to understand what’s going on, support their child’s education, or interact with teachers when they face such a fundamental language barrier?

4.) Bad news tends to be sugarcoated.

Many schools have adopted terminology like “progressing” to describe student progress in lieu of traditional grades or ratings. But these terms also can be a way to evade communicating the news that a student is struggling. After all, what happens if a student ends the school year “progressing” in a subject or skill? Isn’t that another way to say he or she has not learned it?

This tendency to play down difficult situations extends to parent-teacher conferences and other interactions, where teachers tend to sugarcoat problems and use coded language that a parent may not realize indicates a problem.

For instance, when a teacher says, “Michael is really trying hard,” the true message may actually be “Michael is not doing well in class, but he is compliant and does his work.” But the parent hears, “My son is working hard in school and will be OK.”

Why should we care about all this? Because confusing information makes it all but impossible for parents to engage in their child’s education effectively or understand how to respond when problems arise.

We have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for his or her child, and we’ve seen that parents engage quickly and assertively when they become fully aware of a problem.

Among parents who are balancing the never-ending demands of work and family obligations while trying to stay on top of what’s happening at school, however, the most common reaction to confusing or mixed messages is not to assume something is wrong and try to get clarity, but to trust that someone will say something if there’s a serious issue and hope for the best.

Sadly, most of the time, nobody does, and the best never comes.

David Keeling is a founding partner of EdNavigator, a nonprofit organization that connects busy families with personal education advisers who help them find a path to success in school and beyond. This essay was produced in partnership with Carnegie Corporation of New York, which provides financial support to The 74.

Suspending Little Kids Can Do More Harm than Good

From the University of Michigan

September 14, 2018

When schools suspend kindergartners and first-graders, some find it a challenge to turn things around in their academic life, a new study shows.


Further, these young suspended students—especially boys—are likely to be suspended again later in elementary school, says Zibei Chen, a research fellow at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Schools often use suspensions to discipline students, but how effective suspension can be in addressing future behavior problems and the impact on academic progress is unclear. When a solution isn’t found, students may be tempted to drop out.

“Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years,” Chen says.


Among the findings:

  • Boys teachers rated as aggressive, defiant, and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls teachers rated as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study reports.


The findings show that black students experience disproportionate suspensions, but these incidents are not always straightforward, says lead author Mi-Youn Yang, an assistant professor of social work at Louisiana State University.

Sometimes, teachers who report these behavioral issues may hold implicit racial biases and not issue the same penalties to white students, she says.

To conduct the study, which appears in Children and Youth Services Review, the researchers used data from an initiative of the Social Research and Evaluation Center at the LSU College of Human Sciences and Education.

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.08.008

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

How to Help Kids Manage Sleep, Schoolwork and Screens

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

October 6, 2018

KJ Dell’Antonia — the former lead editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog — writes about “how to create the best possible family life we can with the hand we’ve been dealt” in her book, How to Be a Happier Parent.

According to her research and lived experience, happier parenting often involves reframing our expectations and approach to the tough spots of family life. From chores to sibling relationships, she recommends first changing how we think about those issues and then change what can be done.

For example, how do we change how we think about sleep?

Abundant research confirms that lack of sleep can have cascading consequences – from poor mental health to emotional reactivity to impaired cognition.

A parent’s instinct might be to either attempt to impose sleep rules or take a completely hands-off approach. But a third way, said Dell’Antonia, is engaging teens in the why and then letting them manage the how for themselves.


Instead of focusing on the consequences of sleep deprivation, identify the sleep benefits that will be most appealing to your child – from increasing their speed as an athlete to performing better in school. After all, the teenage brain is more motivated by the possibility of pleasure than by the fear of pain.

“If you teach your kids why sleep is important and what it can do for them, they can genuinely want and learn to change,” said Dell’Antonia.

Parents can model this mental shift; “Don’t talk about it as ‘you have to go to sleep’ – it’s not a bad place to go! You ‘get to go to sleep.’ In fact, your morning self is begging you to go to sleep right now.


”Making healthy family sleep habits a reality might involve rethinking schedule – or overscheduling. For kids in multiple afterschool activities, after dinner marks the moment “you finally get free of other people telling you what to do,” said Dell’Antonia.

“If they are of the mindset that they don’t get any free time, some of those afternoon activities might need to go. It might be too much. You can’t have better mornings without significant shifts in days and evenings.”

Judge in Vaccine Case Faces Threats, Calls for 'Painful Death'

From the USA Today Network

By John Wisely
Detroit Free Press

October 31, 2017

DETROITA Michigan judge is facing online harassment, including calls for her to "die a painful death," for her handling of two controversial cases involving divorced parents who disagree about vaccines.

Judge Karen McDonald
Circuit Judge Karen McDonald has drawn the online ire of vaccine critics, upset with her decision to order a 9-year-old boy immunized over the objections of his mother.

In a separate case, McDonald questioned the qualifications of a witness brought in to argue vaccines are harmful.

Some of the videos online called for McDonald's execution. Another said "time to kill the judge" and one said it's "time to put a bullet" in that judge's head.

More: Michigan mom jailed over vaccine refusal: Don't give my son more shots

One YouTube user posted a 41-second video titled "Why Judge Karen McDonald must die a painful death."

The video poster refers to McDonald as a judge in California, perhaps confusing Oakland County, Michigan with the city of Oakland, California

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said the posts are offensive but don't appear to rise to the level of a criminal threat.

"We had the computer crimes unit look at it," said McCabe. "We met with the prosecutors and determined jointly that there is no crime. There are definitely offensive posts, but not every offensive post is a crime."

Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Paul Walton said the U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly defined what kind of messages constitute a threat.

"A true threat is the communication of a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals," Walton said.

The online hopes for her death don't meet that legal standard, Walton said. If new, more specific threats were made, detectives and prosecutors can revisit them, he said.

More: Jailed mom 'devastated' to learn son was vaccinated

McDonald said through a staffer that the postings caused unnecessary stress not only for her, but for her staff and her family, adding that she wouldn't be deterred.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what I was elected to do and make decisions based on what is in the best interests of children," said McDonald. "I'm going to do it after I listen to the facts and hear both sides. The fact that judges have to endure threats of physical violence via social media with virtually no protection or recourse is another matter and one that needs to be addressed."

Two Vaccine Cases

Earlier this month, McDonald sent Rebecca Bredow to jail for ignoring a court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. Court pleadings show that Bredow agreed months ago to the vaccinations. But her current attorney, Clarence Dass, said those pleadings were filed in error by a lawyer who no longer represents her.

Rebecca Bredow, 40, of Ferndale, Michigan served five days in
jail for refusing a judge's order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son.
(Photo: John Wisely, Detroit Free Press)

Bredow emerged from a 5-day jail stint to learn that her son had been vaccinated while in custody of his father. She's asking McDonald to halt any additional vaccines.

In the second case, another divorced mother, Lori Matheson, doesn't want her 2-year-old daughter immunized. But Matheson's ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, does.

Matheson testified about her religious and personal objections to vaccines and later called Dr. Toni Lynn Bark, an Evanston, Illinois doctor as a witness to argue against vaccinations.

Bark testified that she's practiced in pediatrics, emergency medicine and adversonomics, the study of adverse reactions to vaccines. McDonald seemed skeptical and refused to consider Bark a vaccine expert, though she allowed her to testify about the things she's done in her own practice.

Matheson is asking McDonald to delay any vaccinations until she can conduct genetic testing to see if her daughter is predisposed to adverse reactions to vaccines.

Vaccine Controversy

Public health professionals overwhelmingly champion vaccines as a prevention tool that has saved millions of lives.

"Vaccines have reduced — and in some cases eliminated — many diseases that killed or severely disabled people in previous generations," Robert Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier this month. "Vaccines are safe, effective and benefit everyone."

A 2011 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research articles on the topic and concluded that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines" and that "the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism."

The report acknowledged that "vaccines are not free from side effects, 'or adverse effects,' but most are very rare or very mild."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Secondary Traumatic Stress for Educators: Understanding and Mitigating the Effects

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

By Jessica Lander
October 7, 2018


Roughly half of American school children have experienced at least some form of trauma — from neglect, to abuse, to violence. In response, educators often find themselves having to take on the role of counselors, supporting the emotional healing of their students, not just their academic growth.

With this evolving role comes an increasing need to understand and address the ways in which student trauma affects our education professionals.

In a growing number of professions, including firefighters, law enforcement, trauma doctors and nurses, child welfare workers, and therapists and case managers, it is now understood that working with people in trauma — hearing their stories of hardship and supporting their recovery — has far-reaching emotional effect on the provider.

The condition has numerous names: secondary traumatic stress (STS), vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue.

The symptoms are similar in some ways to post-traumatic stress disorder: withdrawing from friends and family; feeling unexplainably irritable or angry or numb; inability to focus; blaming others; feeling hopeless or isolated or guilty about not doing enough; struggling to concentrate; being unable to sleep; overeating or not eating enough; and continually and persistently worrying about students, when they’re at home and even in their sleep.

But while STS is now well understood in many helping professions, there is a dearth of research, understanding, or acknowledgement of how it affects educators, according to Stephen P. Hydon, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California. One of the handful of studies of STS in schools found that more than 200 staff surveyed from across six schools reported very high levels of STS.


Teachers, counselors and administrators may recognize the cumulative stressors that they face, but they don't always realize that their symptoms are a common reaction to working with traumatized children — and that these symptoms have a name.

STS can affect teachers’ happiness, health and professional practice. But Betsy McAlister Groves, a clinical social worker and former faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says that she has often been surprised by the number of teachers, school counselors and administrators who recognized the cumulative stressors that they faced in their schools but did not realize that their symptoms were a common reaction to working with traumatized children — and that these symptoms had a name.

For the success of their students and the health and success of their educators, it is essential for schools to acknowledge, appreciate, and address the reality and impact of STS head on.

How Schools Can Acknowledge Secondary Trauma

Building a Culture of Awareness

The very acknowledgement by school leaders that teachers might be experiencing STS is a step in the right direction. Too often, teachers feel that they are working alone. For teachers experiencing STS, this can be particularly dangerous, as it can easily exacerbate feelings of being overwhelmed, isolated and hopeless.

School leadership should consider ways to appreciate staff both publicly and privately — not just by recognizing great work, but also by acknowledging that the work is difficult. Schools should connect school staff who might be experiencing STS with resources and make clear that symptoms are not a sign of weakness, but an indicator that they might need support because they work in an challenging profession.


Create Peer Groups

We know that ensuring that teachers have dedicated time to work together — to build curriculum, share lesson ideas and strategize about how best to support individual students — often results in improved academic success of students. Peer groups can be equally effective when trying to address the mental health of educators.

Peer support groups are an effective strategy to combat STS in other helping professions. Schools should replicate this practice, creating a regular space (maybe once a month, or even once a week) where teachers can come together to check in with each other about how they are doing emotionally.


If possible, these meetings should be supported by a mental health professional, and teachers should get to share their experiences, learn strategies for understanding their stress responses, and gain skills to cope with STS.

Trauma-Informed Schools


School leaders should take a school-wide approach. There is a growing movement around creating trauma-informed schools — schools that recognize and are prepared to support community members affected by trauma and traumatic stress. Such schools deeply integrate social-emotional learning into their teaching, culture and approach, understanding that the holistic health and wellbeing of their charges is essential for achieving academic success.

To do this, trauma-informed schools focus on fostering a supportive caring culture, training their entire staff to recognize and support students suffering trauma.

While centered on supporting the emotional care and wellbeing of students, trauma-informed schools, by their nature, foster communities where educators have the understanding and tools to recognize and address STS in themselves and each other.

Resources for Teachers and Schools

  • Assess how your work as an educator might be affecting you (both positively and negatively) by using the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) self-assessment tool and exploring the toolkit created by Teaching Tolerance to learn self-care strategies.
  • Learn how, as an educator, you can begin to identify secondary traumatic stress and learn strategies for self care through the tip sheet created by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
  • Learn about additional individual and organization strategies for addressing secondary traumatic stress, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Stay tuned for a new online curriculum for preK–12 teachers, named STAT (Support for Teachers Affected by Trauma), being created by experts in the fields of secondary traumatic stress, education, and technology. The curriculum, due for a 2019 launch, will feature five modules on risk factors, the impact of STS, and self-assessment, among related topics.

Jessica Lander, a high school teacher and a 2015 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes about education for Usable Knowledge, the Boston Globe, and other outlets. This post originally appeared in Usable Knowledge, which translates education research and well-tested practices so they're accessible to practitioners, policymakers, and parents.

With Karen Mapp and Ilene Carver, she is a co-author of Powerful Partnerships: A Teacher’s Guide to Engaging Families for Student Success. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_lander.

Democratic Senators Call for Investigation into Virtual Charter Schools

From the Huffington Post

By Rebecca Klein
October 10, 2018

Senators say they have questions about student performance and fiscal transparency in the online school systems.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is joining with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
in calling for a more comprehensive look at how virtual charter
schools operate. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Two Democratic senators asked Wednesday for the Government Accountability Office to launch an investigation into the practices and policies of virtual charter schools.

The request comes on the same day the Center for American Progress released a report outlining stark academic shortcomings at these schools and a disproportionate focus on profit over quality.

The virtual charter schools have come under scrutiny in states including California and Ohio. But now Democratic Senators Patty Murray (Washington) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) are calling for a more comprehensive look at how these schools work in the 27 states that house them. About 300,000 students attend these online public schools of choice. The enrollment has been steadily increasing over the years.

“There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs, especially for students who require specific accommodations, including English learners and students with disabilities,” says the letter from the senators.

Brown and Murray are asking the GAO to shed light on issues surrounding student outcomes, school funding and spending, rigor of academic courses, recruitment tactics and the relationship between enrollment growth and student performance.

The new report from the liberal Center for American Progress is providing a critical look at these schools. It looked at both for-profit virtual charter schools and virtual charter schools that are managed by for-profit companies, focusing on companies like K-12 Inc. and Connections Education.

K-12 Inc. has strong ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who had invested in the company and has championed its brand of school choice. But researchers, who looked at five states in the report, say that students at virtual charter schools are suffering poor academic outcomes while company executives get rich.

There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs.
-- Senators Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown

In 2017, for example, Idaho Virtual Academy, an online school with connections to K12 Inc., had a 44 percent graduation rate, compared with the state’s 80 percent graduation rate. While leaders connected to virtual schools often stress that they typically serve severely economically distressed children, the students attending Idaho Virtual Academy did not appear to be significantly poorer than those in the state at-large, according to the report.

Representatives of K12 Inc. were not provided with a copy of the report prior to its publication, but they emphasized that the students they serve often come to their school already behind. K12 Inc. is the largest for-profit virtual school company in the country.

“When [students] get to us, they’re not going to graduate with their normal class because they weren’t going to graduate with their class at the school they came from,” K-12 CEO Nate Davis told HuffPost by phone. “We have to remediate them.”

In a statement, Davis criticized the report for attacking the virtual school model rather than trying to “understand why parents are choosing online charter schools and how to best address students’ needs.”

The Center for American Progress report also criticizes these schools’ use of public dollars. Unlike traditional public schools, these institutions are designed to turn a profit, which means they place a disproportionate emphasis on recruiting new students. Financial records indicate that K12 Inc. spends over $30 million on marketing and advertising to recruit students, according to the report.

Top company executives can also earn millions of dollars. Executives are eligible for lucrative bonuses so long as less than 10 percent of K-12 Inc. schools are in jeopardy of closure.

Indeed, Davis told HuffPost that “schools’ ability to meet academic performance and stay open” is a measure that has been used in determining executive compensation. In the past, state proficiency scores have also been used as a measure.

Representatives of Connections Education noted that its own recent report had different results than CAP’s analysis. It found that its students performed similarly to those in schools with highly mobile populations.

But Meg Benner, author of the CAP report, said she hopes that for-profit charter schools start to receive more scrutiny, as do for-profit colleges.

“Overall the research is clear: The academic progress of for-profit charter schools, and online ones in particular, are really abysmal,” Benner said.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Teen Brain: How Schools Can Help Students Manage Emotions and Make Better Decisions

From Education Week

By Sarah D. Sparks
October 9, 2018

Research highlights supportive strategies.

In this series of brain scans taken from age 5 through age 20, blue areas

indicate more mature and efficient networks within the brain. In mid-to-late
adolescence, the brain rapidly matures, beginning with spacial perception
(center line visible from the top). The front areas associated with critical thinking
and planning continue to develop through the teenage years to the early 20s,
and the temporal lobe, located in the bottom curve and associated with learning
and memory, is among the last areas to fully mature.

Los Angeles -- Adolescence tends to be seen by parents—and many teachers—with dread. Teenagers are likelier to engage in risky behaviors and disengage from school. But emerging cognitive and neuroscience research suggests ways schools can help leverage teens' strengths in this unique developmental period.

In symposia at International Mind, Brain, and Education Society research conference here last week, and a consensus report funded by the Alliance for Excellent Education released here, cognitive and neuroscientists called for educators to foster school cultures that better support adolescent development.

"For some reason, when we talk about brain development in adolescents, we talk about it like we're terrified: 'Oh my god, their grades in school are dropping, they're driving cars, this is so alarming,' " said Sarah Enos Watamura, an associate professor at the University of Denver who studies the effects of stress on learning and spoke at the conference. "But they're testing their limits, they're doing things for the first time. … That's hard work, and they need a safe space to try out risks."

Adolescence, she said, is coming to be understood as a "second critical window" for developing skills to regulate emotions, making and evaluating decisions, and judging risk and reward. After years of childhood brain development, teenagers' brains focus on making strong connections.

"We need adolescents to hang out in this sensitive period and all that allows to develop … versus rushing them through it," Watamura said.

A Different Trajectory
Throughout their lives, students get steadily better at inhibitory control—the ability to avoid distractions and stay focused amid changing situations. The prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with attention, decisionmaking and self-control, develops rapidly in the mid-to-late teens. And teenagers are better than children and nearly as good as adults at focusing on unemotional tasks or situations.

But that pattern of development looks very different in emotionally charged situations.

In a series of studies discussed at the conference, Gregoire Borst, a professor of developmental psychology and neuroscience at the Paris Descartes University in France, found teenagers are significantly worse at avoiding emotional distractions than unemotional ones compared to either children or adults.

However, teenagers who participated in computer-based training to improve their ability to avoid distractions for 15 minutes a day for five weeks showed significantly better attention and focus than students who had studied in a control group.

"What is surprising is that despite the fact that adolescence is a developmental period in which you find incredible improvement of inhibitory control ... you traditionally have no inhibitory control training during adolescence," Borst said.

Good Risks

Developmentally, research shows teenagers are more open to risky behavior, and taking risks releases more of the chemical dopamine in adolescents than in either children or adults. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance find that teaching students about the objective risks of things like drug use or unprotected sex doesn't much lower their likelihood of doing them.

But that doesn't mean that teenagers don't evaluate potential harm, just that they put a higher priority on social approval. Imaging studies show that until their late teens, young people do not develop a part of the brain that reduces stress during peer evaluation or social isolation. The immediate danger of classmates' teasing can seem more threatening than the health or legal consequences of taking drugs.

That's one reason David Yaeger, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, suspects that many traditional anti-bullying programs that work for elementary and middle school students become ineffective in 8th grade—and can do more harm than good in high school. In a separate 2015 meta-analysis of these programs,

Yaeger and his colleagues found bullying often switches in secondary school from physical attacks to the less-visible rumors, isolation and social media attacks, and students looking to gain status among their peers are likely to engage in bullying, even of friends. Programs that depict bullies as physically aggressive and socially inept stereotypes or focus mainly on punishments do not address the more complex social situations.

"Does this mean that schools and researchers should not attempt to change bullying among older adolescents? No," Yaeger and his colleagues concluded in the study. To the contrary, they suggested that programs which focus on changing broader culture and using peer pressure to "nudge" bullies, victims, and bystanders into better behavior in positive ways.

The Alliance consensus report released at the conference recommended principals and educators teach students ways to recognize and develop healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners beginning early in adolescence, and help students find social benefits from "positive risks," such as leading class discussions or tackling challenging projects.

For example, developing a growth mindset—the belief that skills are not innate, but can be improved through effort—can be particularly important for teenagers, who are developing their sense of identity.

In a separate study presented at the conference, University of Amsterdam researcher Tieme Janssen tracked students' choice of problems on a challenging open test. While both students with growth and fixed mindsets slowed down after making mistakes, those with growth mindsets continued to explore and attempt even very difficult questions. By contrast, after making a mistake, students with a fixed mindset consistently picked problems well below their ability.

"We should be looking at agency and voice for students," said Winsome Waite, a co-author of the Alliance consensus report. "Students taking their own path in class may seem to be a negative. We want them to have the opportunity to manage [their] own thinking and take ownership of their learning."

Active learning, such as team projects, can provide students with positive ways for classmates to challenge each other, she said.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington advocacy group, plans two additional reports on the state of adolescent research, looking at the effects of culture and identity on how teenage students learn.

"Under [the Every Student Succeeds Act] 13,000 school districts will be handed lists of their lowest-performing schools and required to develop evidence-based plans for addressing them," said Bob Wise, president of the alliance, "It's an incredibly important time to recognize the science of adolescent learning to address the needs of your secondary schools."

Fixing Chronic Disinvestment in K-12 Schools

From the Center for American Progress

By Lisette Partelow, Sarah Shapiro, Abel McDaniels, and Catherine Brown
September 20, 2018

A middle school science teacher sets up her classroom in Scarborough, Maine

This year, teacher walkouts and protests in seven states highlighted the chronic disinvestment in U.S. K-12 classrooms. Accompanied by a successful social media campaign, these protests had Americans all over the country asking why public school teachers are not paid enough to support their families, why students are using dilapidated textbooks, and why students are attending crumbling schools.

The answer to these questions is that, on the whole, far too many states have systematically disinvested in K-12 funding in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession. These cuts affect school inputs, from teacher salaries to student resources; they also have significant impacts on critical outcomes such as student achievement.

In the decade-long recovery that has followed the recession, only a handful of states have returned to pre-recession levels of spending. The majority continue to spend less on education than they did 10 years ago. Some states have even chosen to cut taxes during the recovery rather than invest in education by raising spending back to 2008 levels.

This issue brief first presents data on the chronic underinvestment in schools since the Great Recession. It then explores research demonstrating that investment in K-12 education benefits students, as well as research on the impact that underinvestment is having on schools’ most important resources—teachers and students. Finally, the brief discusses how state and federal policymakers can prioritize this issue.

States Have Made Deep Cuts to K-12 Education Since the Recession

As mentioned above, due to dramatic revenue losses, state funding for K-12 education fell sharply after the Great Recession, and despite experiencing one of the longest recoveries on record, most states have funding levels that continue to lag behind. In fact, most states are still spending less per pupil than they were in 2008.

On average, 47 percent of K-12 education funding comes from state revenue, while local government provides 45 percent, and the federal government provides the remaining 8 percent. Because schools depend on state funding for about half of their revenue, they must drastically cut spending when states provide less—especially when local districts cannot cover the gap. Over the past decade, states with the steepest funding declines have seen one-fifth of state education funding vanish.



Some of these cuts, particularly those made immediately following the recession, were a result of economic forces outside of states’ control. Once revenue began to rebound, however, many states enacted massive tax cuts that deprived state governments of revenue needed to increase education spending.

In recent years, seven of the 12 states that have made the deepest funding cuts since 2008 chose to cut taxes rather than reinvest in education: Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Notably, in spring 2018, three of these seven states—Arizona, Oklahoma, and North Carolina—experienced teacher walkouts in protest of insufficient education funding and low teacher salaries. The first state to have a walkout, West Virginia, had not made tax cuts but still had some of the deepest funding cuts in the nation.

Although the federal investment in education has always provided a small proportion of overall funding compared with state and local investments, the Trump administration has nonetheless sought to disinvest in education. In its budget requests for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Trump administration attempted to decrease federal spending for K-12 education.

In the FY 2019 budget request—and just after enacting significant tax cuts for the wealthy—the administration suggested slashing funding for teachers and after-school programs, essentially requesting that teachers and students foot the bill for the tax cuts in the form of increased class sizes and canceled extracurricular and enrichment programming.

Money Matters in Education

For years, some policymakers and conservative education advocates have argued that spending more money on education does not necessarily improve results—and they have used this claim as an excuse to cut funding. Recently, however, more and more evidence is casting serious doubt on this position. Indeed, money matters a great deal, particularly for students from low-income families.

Historical increases in education spending—especially during the 1990s, when many states changed their school finance formulas—are associated with improved educational outcomes. A study on the effect of court-ordered increases on per-pupil spending, for example, found a positive correlation with student graduation rates.

Court-mandated reforms tended to increase spending in higher-poverty districts and allocate more resources to districts based on observable indicators of student need, such as free lunch eligibility and the enrollment of students of color.

Similarly, research indicates that greater state spending on low-income students leads to improvements in student learning in reading and math. One 2018 study connected state funding reforms to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data in low-income school districts between 1990 and 2011. It found that the NAEP test score gap decreased in states that passed school finance reforms to make funding more equitable but remained the same in states that did not.

Another 2018 analysis indicates a correlation between cumulative per-pupil spending and NAEP scores. The analysis also found that states with larger recessionary budget cuts experienced a decline in testing and student achievement. A 10 percent school spending cut, for example, reduced NAEP test scores by 7.8 percent of a standard deviation and reduced graduation rates by 2.6 percentage points.

There are large differences among states in educational spending and quality, with the highest-performing states tending to have high spending. The states ranked highest on Education Week’s 2017 Quality Counts K-12 achievement index have per-pupil spending well above the national average of $11,454.

Even when accounting for cost of living, most of these states are still spending far above the national average—with the exception of Maryland, where the high cost of living means that spending is still above, but closer to, the national average.

Although high spending does not always translate into high performance or vice versa, spending tends to be much lower among the lowest-performing states on the Quality Counts index.



Additional research points to the impact of education spending on students’ future earnings. Research examining the relationship across districts between per capita income and per-pupil expenditures on students who are now adults and earning income found a correlation between improving school finance equity and the intergenerational income mobility of low-income students. The study also explored how equalizing revenue is associated with reduced disparities across high- and low-income districts, including disparities in teacher-to-student ratios.

A recent study quantified this intergenerational mobility effect, finding that a 10 percent increase in per-student spending was associated with an increase in low-income students’ adult wages by about 7 percent, as well as a 3 percent lower poverty rate. Both this and the earlier study found correlations between specific inputs that were made possible through increased funding—such as raising teacher salaries and lengthening the school day—and student achievement.

Lack of Funding Means Low Salaries for Teachers

Cuts to education spending affect all aspects of students’ academic experience, from the condition of the school building to the courses offered and the teachers in the classroom. In fact, teacher salaries and benefits account for the majority of public school spending. As of 2015, salaries and benefits accounted for about 80 percent of per-pupil expenditures—including the salaries and benefits of teachers, administrators, and other staff. It is not surprising, then, that in this decade of brutal cuts to education funding, teachers are feeling the squeeze.

Teacher salaries have been stagnant for the last 20 years. In fact, from 1996 to 2015, the average weekly wages of public sector teachers decreased $30 per week, from $1,122 to $1,092 in 2015 dollars. During this same time period, the weekly wages of all college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416. As a result, teachers’ weekly earnings are now 23 percent lower than those of other college graduates.

Furthermore, midcareer teachers often struggle to afford a home and pay for basic necessities, especially if they live in high-cost areas. Many take on second jobs to support their families, and those who are breadwinners often qualify for a number of means-tested assistance programs as a result of their low salaries. In a study of 113 large public school districts, researchers found that it can take nearly 25 years, on average, for teachers to earn a yearly salary of $75,000.

Because teachers’ salaries tend to be higher in states where unions are stronger, the recent ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is expected to shrink and weaken unions, could mean teacher pay will lag even further.

Declining salaries and underfunded schools may be one explanation for the precipitous drop in the enrollment numbers of teacher preparation programs since 2008. While the exact cause of the decline is not yet known, enrollment in these programs is down 39 percent since 2008. Over this time period, schools have made not only recession-related funding cuts but also significant layoffs that have disproportionately affected new teachers.

As a result of both state disinvestment and declining interest in the teaching profession, some of the worst-funded states—including Arizona and Oklahoma—are suffering from acute teacher shortages. In many cases, this has led states to revert to substitute and emergency credentials in order to ensure that students have someone—no matter how unqualified—in front of their classrooms.

Studies demonstrate that there is a link between teacher pay and student outcomes. A 2011 study comparing teacher pay and student outcomes theorized that paying teachers a higher wage attracts new teachers, which promotes competition and, in turn, higher-quality applicants. The researchers found a correlation between higher pay and student performance across countries. Figure 3 illustrates a similar correlation.


Furthermore, a natural experiment that occurred in England, which isolated the impact of teacher pay, found that student academic performance suffers when teachers are paid below market rates.

U.S. research, meanwhile, showed that the inverse is also true. A meta-analysis of studies that isolated the impact of merit-pay programs for teachers found that when teachers were able to earn more based on performance, there was a statistically significant improvement in student achievement. An additional study of Texas teachers found that teacher pay may also increase student achievement because it is correlated with reduced turnover.

Lack of Funding Means an Inability to Invest in What Matters for Students

In addition to providing resources for higher teacher pay, there is a range of ways in which greater spending is likely to positively affect student achievement. Poor school conditions, for instance, can have negative effects on student learning.

Research indicates that poor air quality or lighting, uncomfortable temperatures, and excessive noise can all impede student learning. A study of New York City middle schools found that, among other aspects of the physical and social environments, the building condition was a contributing factor to academic performance.

Every student should be able to learn in a safe and comfortable environment. But more than half of U.S. public schools are in need of repairs. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that deferred maintenance and repairs alone would cost about $200 billion. Investing in crumbling school buildings and updating facilities would indicate that communities value student learning.

Hiring additional instructional coaches for teachers can also improve student achievement. Research indicates that high-quality coaching programs—especially content-specific programs—can help teachers not only improve students’ test scores but also support students’ social and emotional development.

Effective coaching requires more than a few professional development days or workshops; it must include coaches’ observations of teachers, scheduled time for feedback from coaches, and training of master coaches who support and train other coaches—all of which require significant investment.

Similarly, providing trained mentors for new teachers may significantly boost student achievement. One 2017 study looked at two school districts where some new teachers received up to 100 hours of training a year and met with mentor teachers once a week. It found that the new teachers who received these supports saw improved student achievement and higher student standardized test scores than the teachers who received more limited support. Another personnel-related intervention is class-size reduction, which, according to some research, is correlated with increased student achievement.

In addition, specialized pupil support services personnel, such as school psychologists and social workers, help to reduce many of the barriers that hinder student success. Mental health and behavioral issues—including delinquency, attention difficulties, and substance abuse—are significantly associated with lower achievement. Research indicates that psychological distress and depression may increase the likelihood of homework trouble, absenteeism, and course failure.

Likewise, experiencing trauma such as violence or abuse is associated with lower standardized test scores, not just for the students who experience trauma but also for their classmates. Nevertheless, many students’ mental health needs go unmet, as school-based mental health professionals are operating far below recommended ratios. Investing in additional specialized pupil support services personnel can address student needs that interfere with learning.

Investing in content-rich, varied, high-quality curriculum can also lead to significant gains in student achievement. Research shows that instructional materials can have an impact equal to or greater than the impact of teacher quality. While curriculum quality is not solely measured by cost, adopting new curricula requires significant investments in resources and educator training.

Conclusion: Prioritizing Investment in Education

Since the Great Recession, many states have systematically disinvested in education. This has affected all aspects of school quality, from teachers to school environment to instructional materials used in the classroom. By underfunding schools year after year, too many states are doing a great disservice to their students—and they are potentially harming the nation’s long-term economic potential. States should increase funding for K-12 public schools.

In addition, the federal government can play a role in investing in teacher pay, first, by rejecting administration efforts to cut funding and, then, by expanding existing funding streams. It can also bring forward any of a number of proposals to improve teacher compensation that have recently been introduced in Congress.

If education is truly to be an engine of opportunity and economic mobility, states and the federal government must invest far more in the communities that need resources most.

Lisette Partelow is the director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Center for American Progress. Sarah Shapiro is a former research assistant for K-12 Education at the Center. Abel McDaniels is a former research associate for K-12 Education at the Center. Catherine Brown is the vice president of Education Policy at the Center.