WHEN A MAJOR WINTER storm ripped across the South over the weekend, dumping nearly a foot of snow in parts of North Carolina and prompting some school systems to cancel classes Monday, it sparked a public debate about school segregation.
“Long thread about our countywide school system and inclement weather,” Wake County schools posted to Twitter Sunday afternoon. “Grab a mug of hot chocolate and listen in.”
What came next was a long explanation-cum-history lesson about Wake County schools’ integration efforts: “Most importantly, there is a very, very, very important reason why our school system is countywide,” Wake County schools posted to Twitter. “It’s the foundation of our success as a community. It is the reason our community has prospered. It’s why our taxes are low. It’s what attracted many of you to move here. It is why all of our schools are good schools.”
The thread was a response to someone on Twitter who, in reacting to a Wake County science teacher’s tweet about the possibility of school being canceled Monday, argued there should be two separate school systems in Wake County because the weather impacts parts of the county differently.
THE WHITE HOUSE announced Monday evening a five-year strategic plan for science, technology, engineering and math education, setting forth what it calls a “North Star” that “charts a course for the Nation’s success.”
“It represents an urgent call to action for a nationwide collaboration with learners, families, educators, communities, and employers,” the White House plan reads.
The administration’s goal is threefold: for every American to master basic STEM concepts, like computational thinking, in order to respond to technological change; to increase access to STEM among historically underserved students; and to encourage students to pursue STEM careers.
When she’s trying decide which art supplies to buy for her class, Tennessee art teacher Cassie Stephens hops on Instagram. She’ll post the question on her Instagram story, and within minutes, other art teachers will send her ideas and videos.
Teachers like Stephens have formed something of a community on the app. Using hashtags like #teachersofinstagram, teacher Instagrammers post photos of meticulously crafted classroom decorations, lessons and even their daily outfits (Stephens posted a picture of her pencil-shaped scarf).
“Instagram is just a way for me to constantly take a peek into another art teacher’s room,” Stephens says.
She has about 76,000 followers, which is not uncommon for some of the more popular teacher Instagram accounts.
SMALL CLASSES ARE VERY popular with parents. Fewer kids in a room can mean more personal attention for their little ones. Teachers like them, too. Fewer kids means fewer tests to mark and fewer disruptions. Communities across the United States have invested enormously in smaller classes over the past 50 years. Pupil-teacher ratios declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985 and dropped to a low of 15.3 in 2008. But after the 2008 recession, local budget cuts forced class sizes to increase again, bumping the pupil-teacher ratio up to 16.1 in 2014, according to the most recent federal data available.
There’s a general consensus among education researchers that smaller classes are more effective. (In graduate school, I was taught that the benefits of small classes kick in once the class size falls below 16 students.) The benefits of small classes have become something of an informal yardstick. When I have written about unrelated educational reforms, researchers often compare them to the effectiveness of class-size reductions to give me a sense of their relative impact.
This question came up again and again Tuesday during an at-times heated hearing of the Senate’s education committee: Does the law allow schools to use federal money to arm teachers?
The federal money in question comes from Title IV of the big, k-12 federal education law known as The Every Student Succeeds Act. It’s a billion-dollar pot intended for what the law calls “student support and academic enrichment.”
“There’s a range of services that Title IV funds, from computer science programs, music, art, STEM, extended learning time,” said Shavar Jeffries, one of four witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing and head of Education Reform Now.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today recognized 349 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2018. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
“I’m pleased to celebrate with you as your school is named a National Blue Ribbon School,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a video message to the honorees. “We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives. Congratulations on your students’ accomplishments and for your extraordinary commitment to meeting their unique needs.”
The coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.
Despite all the careful planning and prep, the school year has the capacity to quickly get stressful. As soon as I sense students are feeling overwhelmed, I try to find little techniques to help lighten the mood and detox any unnecessary stress from building up. When things start to feel like too much, I pull out one of my favorite techniques – The Dot Test – which I was fortunate enough to experience in graduate school. When I can pull it off, it’s one of my favorite lessons of the year.
The Story of the Dot Test
Upon entering the classroom, a lecturer greeted us and asked us to look up on the board and tell us what we saw. The board was seemingly empty. Everyone started looking at each other, all of us aware that we must be missing something. Finally, someone walked up to the board and said, “All I see is this small dot, is this what you meant?”
The lecturer said, “Yes that’s what I was hoping you’d find – the dot.” We were a bit confused, so he explained. “You see, I know you are all in the middle of a stressful year, but I wanted to tell you to enjoy it, because as stressful as the tests seem and as daunting as the homework might feel, throughout the grand scheme of your life you won’t remember any of it — it will be as significant as this small dot on this vast board. When you look back on this year, what you will remember are the friends you’ve made, the experiences you’ve had, and how your teachers made you feel. Don’t waste too much time being stressed out about the exams, because in the end, these tests won’t matter much in your life. They will become small dots. No matter what happens, you will all be okay and do great things.”
The new school year marches on, and so does our weekly roundup.
Tropical Storm Florence closes schools in the Carolinas
Rain measured in feet, not inches. Storm surges and power outages are the reality of this huge, slow-moving storm. Schools were closed Friday across coastal North Carolina and South Carolina. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, leaders made the controversial choice to keep nearly 150,000 students home under blue skies on Thursday to prep some schools as shelters.
DeVos loses court case on borrower forgiveness
A federal judge ruled this week that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ delay of a key Obama-era student borrower protection rule was unlawful. The judge is expected to order a remedy next week.
Sylvia Acevedo grew up on a dirt road in New Mexico. Her family was poor, living “paycheck to paycheck.”
After a meningitis outbreak in her Las Cruces neighborhood nearly killed her younger sister, her mother moved the family to a different neighborhood. At her new school, young Acevedo knew no one. Until a classmate convinced her to become a Brownie Girl Scout.
And from that moment, she says, her life took on a new path.
On one camping trip, Acevedo’s troop leader saw her looking up at the stars.
“I didn’t know that there were planets,” Acevedo remembers, “I didn’t know there were constellations.” Her troop leader pointed out the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and a few planets. Later, when the girls were earning badges, Acevedo’s leader remembered her fascination with the stars and suggested she try for her science badge.
The popular culture tells us that college “kids” are recent high school graduates, living on campus, taking art history, drinking too much on weekends, and (hopefully) graduating four years later.
But these days that narrative of the residential, collegiate experience is way off, says Alexandria Walton Radford, who heads up postsecondary education research at RTI International, a think tank in North Carolina. What we see on movie screens and news sites, she says, is skewed to match the perceptions of the elite: journalists, researchers, policymakers.
Today’s college student is decidedly nontraditional — and has been for a while. “This isn’t a new phenomenon,” Radford says. “We’ve been looking at this since 1996.”