Syrian refugees adjust to U.S. schools

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Samah Hussein, 13, and Abdulraheem Qadour, 11, study English on their laptops at Cajon Valley Middle School. Photo: Christine Armario/AP

Now a student at a suburban San Diego middle school, 12-year-old Abdulhamid Ashehneh thinks about his father, who vanished four years ago, writes Christine Armario for AP.  “Months later, Abdulhamid’s mother boarded a bus with her six children, the youngest 2, and fled to Jordan, the sound of bombs ringing in the distance.”

Cajon Valley Middle School enrolled 76 new Syrian refugees when school started this fall.

In addition to limited English and lost years of schooling, the Syrian children “have seen some pretty nasty stuff,” said Eyal Bergman, a family and community engagement officer for the Cajon Valley Union School District. “But I also see incredible resilience.”

Some refugee students are enrolled in “newcomer” classes where they are provided intense English instruction before being placed in mainstream classrooms. Others go directly into classes with English-fluent peers but are assigned to smaller groups for individual instruction. Teachers are trained in identifying trauma, and on-site counselors help students who need extra attention.

. . . At night, Arabic-speaking staff and teachers hold a “parent academy” where newly arrived moms and dads are given bilingual children’s books in English and Arabic and guided on how to help improve literacy at home.

In the 1970s, Chaldean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq found their way to El Cajon, which is 15 miles east of San Diego. “Those earlier, now established waves of migrants are playing a role in helping settle the new arrivals from Syria,” writes Armario.

Stress, race and the achievement gap

The stress of coping with racism may widen the achievement gap,writes Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic.

Blacks pump out more stress hormones than their white counterparts, researchers have found. That high level of stress can affect concentration, motivation and learning, according to a new Northwestern study.

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Zion Agostini, 15, worries about being stopped by police on the way to Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, writes Anderson.

Once he arrives, the sophomore must go through a metal detector. He’s often late to his first-period class “because I’m being scanned four times because of the metal in my necklace or my keys,” he complains. “It does make it extremely hard to focus on the classwork … You’re upset, or sad, or just emotional about what just happened. It takes a while to settle.”

Blacks and Latinos encounter “perceived discrimination” and “the stress of confirming negative expectations about your racial or ethnic group,” researchers found.

. . . perceived discrimination from teachers was “related to lower grades, less academic motivation … and less persistence when encountering an academic challenge.”

The study also found that the anxiety surrounding the stereotype of academic inferiority undermined students performing academic tasks.

To reduce stress, some students decide they don’t care how they do in school, says co-author Emma Adam. That leads to lower performance. “Promoting positive ethnic racial identity would be one way to reduce those feelings of separation or exclusion and improve students’ ability to focus in the classroom.”

Feds: Selective teacher ed hurts diversity

Eager to increase the number of black and Latino teachers, the U.S. Education Department wants teacher education programs to keep entry standards low, writes Jackie Mader for the Hechinger Report. It’s OK to be unselective, under new federal rules, as long as teacher education programs “maintain a high bar to exit.”

Only 18 percent of teachers are African-American, non-white Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American, according to a new Brookings report. Slightly more than half of public school students are non-white.


The report predicted the number of Latino teachers will fall even farther behind the rising number of Latino students.

Students do better with same-race teachers, some research shows, Mader writes. Black teachers expect more of black students, according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study. “For example, white teachers were almost 40 percent less likely than their black counterparts to expect black students to finish high school.”

Lowering standards is an insult to blacks and Latinos, said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “I’m very much opposed to anything that would lower the bar for entry, for a simple reason: It’s already about as low as you can go. In many institutions in the United States, there are lower bars for entry than playing college athletics.”

Haircut is $2 off, if kid reads to the barber

Ryan Griffin cuts a young reader’s hair.

The Fuller Cut barbershop in Ypsilanti, Michigan gives $2 discounts to kids who read books aloud to their barbers while they’re getting their hair done, reports the Huffington Post. Often, parents let their child keep the money.

Barber Ryan Griffin provides 75 to 100 books with “a positive images of African-Americans — whether it’s astronauts, athletes or writers,” he said.

He picked up the idea from barbers in Dubuque, IowaHouston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio, he told the Post.

“When little kids that don’t really know how to read or what’s going on see an older kid in the chair with a book and then grab a book too, that’s what’s important,” said Griffin. “Because when a kid thinks it’s cool to read, that’s a gift.”

From ‘no excuses’ to college success

Chicago’s Noble Street College Prep, a no-excuses charter high school, raises the test scores of students who win its admissions lottery, conclude researchers Matthew Davis and Blake Heller in Education Next.

The benefits don’t end there: Noble Street College Prep students are more likely to enroll in college, stay in college and get into a competitive four-year school.

Nearly all students in the Noble network of schools are Hispanic or black and 89 percent are eligible for subsidized school meals.

Schools in the network feature “frequent teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations,” Davis and Heller write.

The school day and year are longer, giving Noble students 18 percent more learning time than students in district schools.

Students are taught at their level in smaller groups organized by performance.

During morning and afternoon meetings, teachers track individual academic progress, mark behavioral infractions, and hold students accountable as a group for maintaining academic and behavioral standards. Each afternoon, teachers maintain office hours for optional academic support, which becomes mandatory if a student’s performance falls below a certain threshold. Most campuses also feature some form of after-school tutoring provided by outside organizations.

Noble aggressively recruits teachers with a demonstrated track record of success and rewards teachers whose students demonstrate above-average academic growth with performance bonuses.

Ninth graders, who often come from low-performing schools, score below the average for Chicago Public School students, Davis and Heller write. In only a few years, these students “are prepared to enroll and succeed in college”

Ed reform, race and ‘social justice’

Most education reform leaders are white, notes Education Next in Education Reform’s Race Debate.

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“Nearly everyone agrees that education reform would benefit from having more leaders of color, to better reflect and include the communities it aims to serve.”

But some advocates believe that “true school reform must be part of a broader social justice campaign led by people of color, which calls for progressive changes to health care, housing, immigration, and economic policies, as well as education.”

Is this a bold call for real social justice or a case of successful, bipartisan reform being overrun by identity politics and left-wing political agendas?

Education reform must discuss issues of race, class, and power, argues Ryan J. Smith of Education Trust-West.

Over the past year, the blogosphere has lit up with thoughtful commentary on this from Chris Stewart, Marilyn Anderson Rhames, and others. And EdLoc, launched by leaders of color across the country, is charting an inclusive third way to advance change in the polarized reform debate.

However, it’s important for education to “retain its collection of strange bedfellows,” he writes. “Recognizing race, class, power, and privilege isn’t a ploy to drive out white liberals or even social conservatives; rather, it is an attempt to help the movement mature.”

Jason Crye of Hispanics for Choice says his five children “don’t have time to wait for Utopia” before they get quality schools.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is trying to woo Hispanics, writes Crye. However, he believes “Latinos are ill-served by being treated as an accessory to a black-led movement.”

Perhaps this is why just one in three Hispanics expressed support for BLM in a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year, compared to two out of three African Americans. The history and needs of Hispanics are distinct.

One in four U.S. students is Latino, while blacks make up 16 percent of students, he points out. The Latino share is growing, while the black and white share of enrollment is shrinking.

Whites who think people of color should lead should step aside and let people of color lead, writes Robert Pondiscio. “Closing the achievement gap will take decades. Closing the leadership gap can be done this afternoon.

83% graduate — but are they educated?

The U.S. high school graduation rate has hit 83 percent, rising to a new high for the fifth year in a row. “We’ve made real progress,” said President Barack Obama at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C.

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

While 90.2 percent of Asian-American students and 87.6 percent of whites earn a diploma, that falls to 77.8 percent for Latinos and 74.6 percent for blacks.

Iowa has the highest graduation rate at 90.8 percent. Washington D.C., despite rapid improvement, is at the bottom with a 68.5 percent rate.

While graduation rates are rising steadily, there’s no evidence students are better prepared for college or careers, note Anya Kametez and Cory Turner on NPR.

. . . scores of high school students on the test known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” are essentially flat, and average scores on the ACT and SAT are down.

. . . “For many students, a high school diploma is not a passport to opportunity, it’s a ticket to nowhere,” says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a national nonprofit that’s long advocated for higher standards and graduation requirements.

High school graduation exams often require only eighth- or ninth-grade skills. Some states have dropped the exams.

Just last month, in a major school funding ruling, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher excoriated his state for watered down graduation standards that, he says, have already resulted “in unready children being sent to high school, handed degrees, and left, if they can scrape together the money, to buy basic skills at a community college.”

There are lots of ways to raise graduation rate, an excellent NPR series revealed. Monitoring students’ progress and closing “dropout factories” have helped in some places. In others, schools have fudged the numbers or used dubious “credit recovery” schemes.

Think big, fall hard: Why ed ventures fail

Most for-profit education ventures fail, writes Jonathan Knee, a Columbia business professor, in The Atlantic.  Moguls are thinking big — and losing their shirts, he writes.

Michael and Lowell Milken founded Knowledge Universe, with Oracle’s Larry Ellison “as a silent partner,” in 1996, writes Knee.

Milkin said it would be  “the pre-eminent for-profit education and training company,” serving the world’s needs “from cradle to grave.”

Most Knowledge Universe businesses, which “included early-childhood learning centers, for-profit K–12 schools, online M.B.A. programs, IT-training services for working professionals, and more,” ended badly, writes Knee. “Education was not transformed.”

In 2012, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein established the Amplify division within News Corp. At the time of his initial investment, Murdoch described K–12 education as “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

Their idea was to overturn the way children were taught in public schools by integrating technology into the classroom. Although inspirational, the idea entailed competing with a series of multibillion-dollar global leaders in educational hardware, software, and curriculum development. After several years and more than $1 billion, with no serious prospect of ever turning a profit, Murdoch and Klein sold their venture for scrap value to Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’s widow, last year.

Thinking small has worked for some educational businesses, writes Knee. “Recent examples include a business based on plagiarism detection; another that provides tools to high-school students and guidance counselors for college and career selection; and another that delivers day care and early-learning programs sponsored by employers.”

Laurene Powell Jobs is narrowing Amplify’s scope and spinning off marginal businesses, he writes.  “Targeting middle-school reading” may be less visionary but more doable.

Knee is the author of Class Clowns, subtitled “how the smartest investors lost billions in education.”

Digital revolution stalls without teachers

U.S. classrooms have lots of devices, but teachers aren’t trained to use technology effectively, according to this Pacific Research Institute video.

Moonshots in Education, by Palo Alto High’s famed journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki (who taught my daughter!) and PRI’s Lance Izumi gives examples of how teachers can use technology to help students grow.

Why has ed tech made so little difference?

Why has education technology made so little difference? asks Marc Tucker on his Ed Week blog.

He recalls three ’80s software programs that he’d thought would be transformative.

In one, players searched for dolphins while learning the basics of navigation and observing “weather, water temperature, currents and so on.” Students “were inevitably very excited, totally engaged.”

The second piece of software, created by Marge Cappo, was stunning.  She captured everyday phenomena like a child pedaling a bike down the road, and then, with the software, made it possible for the student to highlight the motions of the bicycle wheels in such a way that the abstract motion of the wheel as it moved traced classic curves on the screen that corresponded to the algebraic formulas that described these motions.  It enabled the student to actually ‘see’ the abstractions of mathematics and connect those abstractions to the formulas that described them.

Tucker thought it would revolutionize the teaching of geometry and algebra.

The third program simulated “the dynamics of the systems that function in every city — from the subway system to the bus system to the water distribution system to the sewer system and so on.”  Students could “change the variables and see what would happen.”

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What happened? Not much.

Dolphins, navigation and ocean currents aren’t in the curriculum, teachers told him. They’re not on the tests.

Beyond that, most primary and middle-school teachers “know very little about the curves described by a point on the bicycle wheel or the uses to which knowledge about such things can be put.,” writes Tucker. “How many elementary school teachers know anything about coastwise navigation or systems for distributing electricity or the crucial role that feedback plays in the control of such systems or the role that designed systems play in virtually every aspect of modern life?”

Instructional technology will not improve learning without large investments in teaching teachers “about the doors that the technology can open,” he writes.