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Painting a grim picture for American higher education, Moody’s Investors Service recently changed the industry’s outlook from “stable” to “negative.”

This return to negative ratings reinforces a number of trends that bear close review.

The facts are clear and inescapable. The comprehensive fee – tuition, fees, room and board – will approach $70,000 a year at a number of high sticker priced colleges and universities.

Related: The looming decline of the public research university

Students and their families are voting with their feet, with 46 percent of first-time students beginning or having had some experience in community colleges.

Politicians sensitive to anecdote, polling or simply worried about the price of a higher education degree, promote policies that reinforce this optic. Recent efforts to tax wealthy endowments to skew higher education spending priorities, often towards demands for moderated tuition or increased financial aid, illustrate this point further.

Higher education has taken some steps. Efforts have been underway to trim rising costs and achieve basic efficiencies since the Great Recession. These efforts vary widely depending upon the urgency felt within an institution, its level of creativity and nimbleness, shifting demographics, and the relative strength of the net tuition revenue it receives. Trimming costs or enrolling more students, however, cannot cure what higher education faces. America’s colleges and universities have a revenue problem.

Related: Like their students, colleges are vastly increasing the amount they borrow

Fixed costs in land, labor, and debt repayment and rising costs in health care and financial aid largely determine a college’s operating budget. Labor alone might be sixty percent of a typical small college’s budget. Most colleges are heavily tuition dependent. There is little or no discretion in the operating budget. For some of them the financial aid discount rate now approaches seventy percent. Dorms will be full until the institution, desperate for revenue, closes, merges or is acquired.

“The task ahead is to imagine the possible.”

Many of these colleges rely on other sources of support. Auxiliary revenue sources like residence and dining hall fees cover some of the territory lost to declining tuition revenue. Endowment income also helps but most colleges do not have sufficient endowment revenue to make a significant difference. Comprehensive campaigns and research grants and contracts address longer-term needs but do little to fund short-term revenue problems.

The truth is that colleges rely on an older, archaic operating model where tuition increases historically matched expenses to balance an annual budget, often aided by auxiliary services revenue. For many schools, it was that simple. As new financial, cultural, demographic, consumer, and program pressures build, these “Mom and Pop” shops do not have the flexibility or capacity to meet the new demands.

Related: Golden parachutes for public college presidents burden already thin budgets

What’s the path forward?

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There are a number of changes that must be made immediately to offset this growing crisis:

  • College governance is weak and ineffective and must be immediately adapted to meet new oversight demands, with the faculty playing a more important role in creating an innovative educational enterprise.
  • Colleges must understand the institution’s value proposition, if the mission is still relevant and differentiated from its peers, and where the college wishes to be in out years. Why should the college exist in the 21st century?
  • The “Mom and Pop” operations must give way to a newer, more flexible model that accounts for changes in how colleges use tuition, re-imagine underutilized real estate assets, re-configure capital campaigns to meet shorter-term needs, re-think the use of temporarily-restricted funds, and seek additional partners to produce new revenue streams.
  • Higher education institutions must set aside older enrollment strategies in favor of newer financial aid analytical models that differentiate academic programs, emphasize student life, expand when practical the traditional 18-22 year old applicant pool, and focus on outcomes through stronger career counseling networks that create a lifelong affiliation.

Related: Colleges say they could lower tuition if they could talk to each other about it

  • Stakeholders must work much more aggressively at retention and graduation strategies, using student life, including athletics, as an enrollment tool to increase student fit and the level of satisfaction.
  • Colleges must determine what facilities footprint the institution can afford. Its leadership must grow/shrink the college to create a better fit among people, programs and facilities.
  • Institutions must get out of those business arrangements that are eating up financial capacity for which there are better service providers. If the college can use its legal, accounting and student life teams to create a robust residential life program, for example, does it really need to own its housing, with its corresponding debt, that might otherwise go to academic support?
  • The campus community must think of technology as an ongoing operating lease rather than a draw against remaining levels of debt capacity.
  • Its supporters must remember that a college is both an educational enterprise and an economic engine for its region, and seek strong public private partnerships to mutual benefit.

Despite the dismal forecasts, the decentralized and complex higher education system remains a cornerstone of American ingenuity, creativity and promise. The task ahead is to imagine the possible.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Brian C. Mitchell is a founder and principal of Academic Innovators and the past president of Bucknell University and Washington & Jefferson College. With W. Joseph King, he is the author of How to Run a College: A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators and Policymakers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

The post OPINION: America’s colleges and universities have a serious revenue problem appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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Esther Fernandez, 17, is a high-school junior in Boston.

Everyone’s story starts somewhere. Mine started in the Dominican Republic when I was born to a teacher and an accountant. They had stars in their eyes when they envisioned my future. Looking around the small island during an economic depression amongst its beautiful palm trees, they knew that the future they envisioned would not be possible there.

With four small children, they took all they had and moved to the United States. Soon, our family became smaller, as my parents separated.

My mother was left to raise us all, which forced her to work long hours just to put food on the table. As the years passed, we grew and moved forward but my mother stayed stuck. Unable to pick up English fluently, she was never able to renew her license to teach. Even so, my mother made sure we always pushed ourselves in school. Education was our key to success, and knowing that fact would be the difference between us reaching our goals and having to settle as she did.

Thus, I have always tried to push myself in my studies. In high school, I have come to the realization that I couldn’t have succeeded without the support of my teachers.

When you grow up as a Hispanic woman with a single parent, the world is bound to view you in a certain way that is all too often not positive, regardless of how you see yourself.

Related: With no silver bullet, innovation abounds at this bilingual high school

My teachers at Boston Collegiate Charter School became my shield to the rest of the world. They let me know about opportunities I could take advantage of, helped me with my schoolwork and — most importantly — made sure I knew my worth.

They weren’t willing to give up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself, and I gained a deep respect for them because of that. When looking for an internship through the school’s Junior Internship Program, I expressed this to my teacher and she connected me with Teach For America (TFA).

This past January, I had the honor of interning with TFA for two weeks. Going in, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. I just knew I was passionate about education and the work my teachers did to make school more inclusive. That alone was a good starting point. As a non-profit, TFA works to send teachers to the kids who most need them, with the hope that some day every child will have access to a great education.

To gain insight into what we wanted, my friend Kanilla — who was also interning there — and I were assigned to write our own stories about what drove us to TFA. We then wrote letters to current and incoming teachers, and made a recruitment video explaining what TFA was and why people should get involved with it. Every day we’d come in around 9 a.m. and meet with some staff members, getting to hear their stories and what drives them.

Some days, we got to attend meetings with a coach and the executive director. During the meetings, we talked with principals about their goals for their schools and how they plan to achieve those goals, both inside and outside the classroom.

The principal of one school talked about how he really wanted students to shape the school’s atmosphere. The students could vote on topics such as uniforms after a debate. It is examples like these that excite me for the future, making students know that they have some control over the world around them.

Related: What happens when a regular high school decides no student is a lost cause?

At first glance, these tasks may not seem that significant, but they actually required an immense amount of self-reflection. I really had to dig down deep and figure out what drove me. It was as if I had to learn who I was all over again and, as a result, I found a newborn passion and an idea of how I was going to pursue it. I learned that I love giving every child an opportunity to receive a great education, and that I get frustrated knowing the world we live in isn’t yet like that.

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I am one of the lucky ones who happened to get into a great school, but what about those who aren’t so lucky? Children can’t continue to be forgotten — that is my mission.

I may only be a high-school junior, but the big question of college is always looming. I still don’t know exactly where I want to go or even what I want to study. However, I know that I definitely want to stay close to home and, though I hadn’t ever considered it before my internship, I feel that starting my career as a teacher is a possibility.

My end goal is clear: I want to get a job where I can help students in my community have access to a quality education. That vision consists of those students having great resources, teachers and facilities.

How am I going to get there? That’s the real question, and, at 17, I certainly don’t have the answer. But, my TFA internship gave me plenty of food for thought and I am excited knowing that, somehow, I am going to make a difference.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Born in the Dominican Republic and now a U.S. citizen, 17-year-old Esther Fernandez is a junior at Boston Collegiate Charter School.

The post STUDENT VOICE: ‘When you grow up as a Hispanic woman with a single parent, the world is bound to view you in a certain way that is all too often not positive’ appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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How schools in one district are giving kids more time to move - YouTube

APPLETON, Wisc. — Middle school students at Kaleidoscope Academy, a district charter school in Appleton, Wisconsin, are constantly moving. Everyone has a physical education class, called “phy-ed” here, at least twice a week. On top of that, there’s a daily lunch break that comes with time for kids to get outside and move around. Students can also choose from two additional exercise-focused electives — dance and personal fitness — which for some students can mean a 40-minute exercise period every day.

And the action doesn’t stop there. Teachers like Lisa Sackman in the sixth-grade wing offer “brain breaks” every 20 minutes. Teacher Travis Olsen has an exercise bike in the back of his seventh-grade science classroom that kids are welcome to use whenever they feel the need. And eighth-grade co-teachers Abby Jolma and Toni Giebel let kids sit on wobbly chairs — short stools with a curved base — yoga balls, or traditional chairs while they learn math and science.

“They need it,” Giebel says of the bouncing and fidgeting she now observes constantly during classes. “They need it so bad.”

Giebel said it’s clear to her that students concentrate better than they did three years ago when there were far fewer options for physical activity at school. But the kids themselves “don’t notice it,” she added. Indeed, students are mostly unimpressed with how much movement they get in their day.

During a group science lab in Giebel and Jolma’s class, Anna Wang, 13, sat on one of the wobbly chairs the school purchased for classrooms this year. “It was the only option,” Anna, 13, said with a shrug as she rocked back and forth on the chair, adding that she didn’t think the seating made any difference.

60 minutes — amount of vigorous physical activity children should get per day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite her stated disinterest, the level of physical activity Anna and her classmates experience during their school day is unusual and probably beneficial. In the U.S., where 31 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese, most school children move far too little, experts say. Thirty years of focus on increasing academic minutes in the school day has resulted in reduced recess and physical education time at many schools. The lack of physical activity is taking a toll on student fitness and that’s bad for growing brains, research shows.

But now a growing number of politicians and educators, like those in Appleton, have begun to heed the research and decided that to improve academic performance, they must do something about their students’ physical fitness as well.

Related: The Science of Learning Column — When body beats mind in learning

A student leaps during a game at Horizons Elementary School. Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report

As a result of this new attitude, at least 14 state legislatures considered new laws in 2016 that would increase the amount of physical education or recess schools are required to offer or raise the bar for qualifications for physical education teachers, according to a 2016 report by the Society for Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE). Some even took action. Florida and Rhode Island now mandate 20 minutes of recess time a day for elementary school students.

The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, also provides increased access to funding for physical education by including the subject in its definition of a “well-rounded education.”

“At least we’re at the table now,” said Carly Wright, advocacy director for SHAPE. “It sends a message: The federal government does believe [physical education] should be part of a student’s education; it should be part of the school day.”

Charles Hillman, a kinesiology professor at Northeastern University in Boston who studies the connection between the body and the brain, says there’s strong evidence that supports making physical education and recess a priority in schools.

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“The goal is to get kids moving throughout the school day,” Hillman said. While he grants that academic class time is also important, “clearly the academic at this point is at the cost of being physically active, and I think there has to be some level of accommodation.”

Hillman also cautions that physical activity alone has not been shown to increase cognitive performance. A slow walk for example, does little to make anyone smarter. What is definitely tied to brain health, Hillman said, is physical fitness.

A row of exercise balls in a classroom at Kaleidoscope Academy. Studnets at Kaleidoscope can sit on these balls or even exercise bikes while in class. Photo: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

“Effects are actually found in the brain,” Hillman said. “We find higher fit kids have differential brain function than lower fit kids.”

The prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus of physically fit children are better developed than those of less fit children, Hillman said. These two brain structures control many of the abilities that lead to high academic achievement: long-term memory, self-regulation and goal making, among other key functions.

Hillman, who is advising the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the latest exercise research for the 2018 revision of the department’s recommendations for physical fitness, said that evidence of a connection between fitness and brain function has mounted steadily over the years.

A 2009 Stanford University study found that fifth, seventh and ninth grade students in California who passed the state physical fitness test and those whose fitness improved between fifth and seventh grade scored better than their less fit peers on the state’s standardized tests. A 2013 study of nearly 12,000 Nebraska students also found that aerobically fit students were more likely to pass the state’s standardized math and reading tests, regardless of their weight or socioeconomic status. Another 2013 study that randomly assigned 8- and 9-year-old Illinois children to a nine-month after-school fitness program found that the kids whose fitness improved also got better at paying attention and ignoring distractions. They also improved to young-adult levels in their ability to regulate their behavior.

Related: When preschoolers spend every class outdoors

$764 — median budget for physical education equipment and supplies nationally, according to Society of Health and Physical Educators.

School districts that have added more physical activity to their daily schedules in the hope of improving academic performance have also seen measurable changes. When a Ft. Worth, Texas school made a much-publicized switch for its kindergarten and first-grade students from one 20-minute recess a day to four 15-minute recesses — or an hour, total —it found that students were more focused in class and that teachers were able to move through curricular material faster. Off-task behaviors in class decreased by 25 to 35 percent and students’ body mass indexes (weight divided by height) stabilized or decreased, said Deborah Rhea, a professor at Texas Christian University and the lead researcher on the longer-recess initiative.

“We’re at least getting closer to a healthy environment that’s conducive to learning for teachers and for kids,” Rhea said of the multiple 15-minute breaks.

All of this research comes after nearly three decades of school policies that decreased recess time amidst fears that the unstructured time led to student fights or took time away from students’ focus on passing standardized tests. One 2007 survey by George Washington University found that 20 percent of a representative sample of districts had decreased recess time by an average of 50 minutes a week and 9 percent had reduced physical education time by an average of 40 minutes.

Carrie Michiels, the physical education teacher at Horizons Elementary School, introduced “Fit in 15” breaks for classroom teachers to give kids the opportunity to move. Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report

Today, middle and high schools are still the least likely to have daily physical education or recess. Forty-one states require physical education at the middle school level, according to the 2016 annual report by SHAPE, and 46 require it in high school. But only 15 states include a specific amount of time middle school kids must spend in physical education per week; only six states have a similar time requirement at the high school level. Most states don’t require middle or high schools to offer recess at all.

The idea that young children need to move a lot is fairly intuitive to anyone who has ever spent time in the company of a child under age eight. But older children need movement too — at least an hour a day according to federal guidelines — and they are getting a lot less of it. Fewer than one in three high school students — 27 percent in 2015 — are getting the recommended number of minutes of daily exercise, according to data from Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focused on youth issues. Girls, black students and Hispanic students get less exercise than white boys.

Related: Fighting hunger in the Mississippi Delta (VIDEO)

Moreover, budgets for physical education equipment and supplies are tiny; the median is just $764 per year per school, according to SHAPE’s 2016 report.

Many blame the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was enacted under former President George W. Bush, for the dearth of physical education funds and focus. “There was no phys ed in NCLB,” Wright said. “Teachers were cut, budgets were cut, some states repealed state polices on phys ed. There were definitely some pretty serious unintended consequences.”

Several factors seem to be leading educators and policymakers to begin addressing those consequences: the current backlash against standardized testing, the ever-improving understanding of brain science and the influence of national campaigns like former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! and SHAPE’s efforts to influence national legislation, such as ESSA.

“It can be tricky. Once they get up, they can get silly and it takes time to get them back on task, but the benefits [of moving in class] outweigh the downsides.”

Gina Dresang, fifth grade teacher

In Wisconsin, for example, the state education department oversees a program called Core 4+, which features inexpensive interventions to increase movement throughout the school day. The program is now in place at 450 schools serving over 300,000 students. Appleton, which has seen several of its schools receive national recognition for their efforts in this area, is one of the cities participating in Core 4+, better known by school leaders here as “active kids, active classrooms.”

The idea of adding so many minutes of movement to the day, especially during class, was initially met with some resistance, said Mikki Duran, who oversees Appleton’s physical education department. Teachers told her they didn’t have time. Duran’s answer was that taking time to move would actually result in more focused time to learn. Once they tried it, she said, most teachers became quick converts.

A student throws a bean bag during an early morning game at Horizons Elementary School. Students say participating in morning exercise helps them focus for the day. Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report

Today, every school in Appleton has its own program, each aimed at increasing physical activity and fitness. At Horizons Elementary, at least 40 of the school’s 350 kids start every day in the school gym playing a game like “Castle” — a kind of dodge ball, capture-the-flag mash-up. The gym stays open all day for teachers or aides wanting to bring kids down to run a lap and burn off some excess energy. There’s also a running club, and the teachers themselves often start staff meetings with a few laps around the school track.

The physical education teacher here, Carrie Michiels, has also introduced “Fit in 15” breaks for classroom teachers for the days their students aren’t scheduled to take a full physical education class.

“Kids are more alert, more involved” after the breaks, said fifth grade teacher Gina Dresang, a 23-year veteran. “It can be tricky. Once they get up, they can get silly and it takes time to get them back on task, but the benefits outweigh the downsides.”

For several educators in Appleton, the pursuit of better fitness has also become personal. After learning more about the effects of physical fitness on the brain a few years ago, Kaleidoscope principal Al Brant decided he needed to make a change. Heavy-set all his life, he opted for gastric bypass surgery, improved his diet and started exercising. He lost 120 pounds and spent part of last summer on a trip with his daughter to climb 19,300 feet to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The photos of his trek decorate his office walls along with pictures of his bow-hunting expeditions.

“It changed my attitude about promoting phy-ed,” Brant said of his experience.

Now, he wants his students to know about personal fitness long before they become overweight adults. He has prioritized movement at his school, offering strong support to the physical education teachers here. Staff meetings are now regularly interrupted as teachers get up and move for a few seconds or minutes, just like the “brain breaks” offered in most classrooms. Brant has also fully bought-in to the idea of movement during class. Last spring, he authorized the $9,072 purchase of 144 wobbly chairs — the ones the kids appear to love even as they insist they don’t.

The change in students’ ability to focus, especially in the kids who struggle with attention deficit disorder, has been noticeable, he said. He advises other principals thinking of making a shift at their schools to find a few adult champions who can help explain the brain science and offer practical advice to other teachers on how to make movement a bigger part of the day. He also says it’s worth having physical education options with clear curricula and learning standards. The more kids understand about what they can do to be fit now, the more likely they’ll be able to stay fit as adults.

Indeed, said Wright, the national advocate from SHAPE, the biggest pay-off of more physical education and recess for America’s schoolchildren would be fitter adults.

“Students who are physically active and healthy have higher test scores, lower rates of discipline referrals and increased focus in the classroom,” she said. And while that’s important, Wright also emphasized the health and wellness value of high quality physical education: It teaches kids “how to be physically active for a lifetime.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

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A new research project aims to figure out why particular ed tech initiatives succeed or fail. Students in a Chicago charter school work on tablets during class. Photo: Tara García Mathewson/The Hechinger Report

Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Future of Learning newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every Tuesday with trends and top stories about education innovation. Subscribe today!

What makes educational technology initiatives succeed or fail? Hint: It’s not just the technology.

A new nonprofit, formed out of the Jefferson Education Accelerator at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, is embarking on an ambitious project to find the answer. The plan is to map out exactly what contributes to success and failure. And it’ll take tens of thousands of educators to bring a very blurry landscape into focus.

Right now, when a school is considering purchasing a new educational technology, whether it’s a device or a program, officials tend to research its track record. Did it work in other schools? But without knowing a lot of information about those schools, teachers and administrators can’t possibly make the best decisions, argues Bart Epstein, CEO of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, an ed tech evaluation and support venture at the university. Epstein said even if technology companies wanted to be helpful by steering prospective clients only toward the products that would be best for them, the fact is, they don’t have the information to do that, either.

Epstein will transition from leading the JEA to leading the JEX, or Jefferson Education Exchange, this year. The new nonprofit’s research project will get underway with $1 million in seed funding from the Strada Education Network and support from the Curry School of Education. Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School, will serve as chairman of the Jefferson Education Exchange board, whose members include leaders in government, philanthropy, education and research.

The goal is to build on expertise already honed by education associations, nonprofits that support schools, and others.

In determining what works in ed tech, it’s not just about student demographics or the geographic location of a school, although these factors do matter. Epstein and his team have already identified more than a dozen variables that contribute to the success or failure of educational technology initiatives. Among them:

  • Teacher agency — did teachers play a role in selecting the product?
  • Student access to technology and internet outside of the classroom
  • The number of ed tech products being implemented at the same time in the same school
  • The quality of professional development offered to help teachers learn to use new products
  • Whether a school fosters a culture of experimentation
  • Whether the school first introduced the new product in a pilot
  • The track record of previous ed tech initiatives
  • Whether the school has made a single- or multi-year commitment to the new product
  • Whether any educators had prior experience with the product before implementation

At its core, the JEX project aims to help schools and districts identify useful peer groups.

“A school in suburban Chicago may have much more in common with a school in Virginia when it comes to education technology than another school in the Chicago area,” Epstein said. “The two schools may have a brand-new principal, who is supervising a highly experienced ed tech director, who has a track record of implementing things well in a place where there is a great culture of experimentation, but the bandwidth is fairly low and there’s a lot of money for [professional development] but not a great track record of doing it well.”

Related: As market surges, schools struggle to find the best tech products

The Jefferson Education Exchange plans to offer stipends to tens of thousands of educators in the next couple years to get in-depth information about what is and isn’t going well in their own schools’ technology implementations. Researchers will ask about the variables they’ve already identified as being important and ask educators to consider additional variables that affect the implementation. With several responses from a single school, Epstein expects to get a good picture about what made a certain ed tech initiative succeed or fail there. Then, schools with similar characteristics — based on the long list of variables — can determine whether a product is likely to be a good fit for them.

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Epstein said that within two years, the organization should have strong data to show which variables stand out as having the greatest impact. Even if researchers can’t identify a secret sauce that guarantees successful implementation, they may be able to say which variables virtually guarantee failure. That would also be helpful.

“We’ll have negative correlation data long before we have the ideal recipe for success for these individual products,” Epstein said. “And that’s OK.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

The post Don’t ask which ed tech products work, ask why they work appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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  Credit: JakeOlimb via Getty Images

Imagine a device that in just 30 minutes makes your brain more receptive to new information, cutting the time it takes to learn in half. Some neuroscientists say they have demonstrated this very feat.

Their work is part of an effort to explore how low levels of continuous electrical current, delivered to the brain via electrodes placed on the scalp, could alter neural activity and improve a person’s performance.  In one experiment, for example, electric stimulation accelerated how quickly participants learned to spot concealed bombs or snipers in a military training simulation.

“We almost doubled people’s learning rate,” says Vincent Clark, a professor of psychology and clinical neuroscience at the University of New Mexico who conducted this research with his colleagues. Since the 2012 publication of that research, he and other scholars have replicated the study several times with similar results.

Clark’s study is not a lone example. Findings suggest this form of electric stimulation — known as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS — could make you better at math, more creative and even boost memory. Last year, the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced it would support a program using this technique in order to explore whether tDCS could accelerate foreign language learning by 30 percent. (The Department of Defense also financed the University of New Mexico team’s research.) And some members of the U.S. ski jumping team competing in the Winter Olympics trained using electric stimulation headbands from the company Halo Neuroscience, which sells their headsets to the general public.

The technique, which has existed for nearly two decades, is relatively simple. People place electrodes over regions of the brain relevant to a given task, then activate the electric stimulation while practicing that task. Researchers believe the electricity can encourage brain cells to form new connections and that such connectivity is fundamental to the process of learning. Transcranial direct current stimulation is one of several non-invasive approaches used to stimulate the brain, but it’s unique in that brave do-it-yourself-ers are trying out tDCS at home. That’s because the equipment is fairly cheap and safety concerns are minimal. At its most basic, the electrodes and a nine-volt battery can cost less than $100. Several studies have found only minor side effects: at worst, skin discomfort under the electrodes.

There’s evidence its popularity is steadily growing. For several years, Reddit has hosted a forum on DIY tDCS; it attracts as many as 10,000 visitors each month who trade opinions on topics such as which headset to purchase or how to use stimulation to help with mastering the guitar. On Youtube, enthusiasts share how they experienced “euphoria” during stimulation or improved their chess performance.

But more recently, companies have made it easier for people to try tDCS at home. On Amazon, the Halo headset, which costs $719, features more than 100 reviews and a four-star rating. Caputron, which sells tDCS equipment, has noted a surge in sales around exam time, leading the company to suspect that college students are zapping their brain to boost study sessions. (In light of that pattern, CEO Robin Azzam notes that the company now sends out discount codes during those timeframes.)

Related: How to study smarter

But for all of the excitement about this approach to mind enhancement, there’s a lot that’s still unknown. And that’s especially true for students who are seeking an edge during cram time.

“The evidence base, as far as the ability to make you perform well on exams and other things, is absolutely incomplete, which is not to say it does or does not work,” says Marom Bikson, a professor at the Grove School of Engineering at the City College of New York, who has studied tDCS.

Bikson says the research on how tDCS might affect attention, behavior and cognition is still young. He also suspects that, as when students take Adderall or down coffee during exam time, those using tDCS “off-label” are influenced more by anecdotes about the experience than by hard data.

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And there are plenty of reasons to be wary of the claims surrounding electric stimulation, according to Emiliano Santarnecchi, a Harvard Medical School instructor in neurology. He says, “It’s not as simple as it seems.”

Santarnecchi employs electrical stimulation in his research and sees it as a powerful tool for learning about the brain. But he says the strongest evidence of tDCS’s effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer comes from studies that pool data from multiple published papers, looking for an overall effect. Unfortunately, that strategy often involves combining many small studies of poor quality to yield a seemingly more significant result. It also means unpublished data that did not find an effect associated with stimulation are neglected.

Santarnecchi says he is also concerned by the lack of knowledge surrounding the effects on other brain regions as a particular area is stimulated. It’s possible, for example, that there might be a hidden cost, such as damage to an unstimulated part of the brain. Nor do we know much about the long-term effects of repeated use of tDCS or if the brain habituates to stimulation over time.

He also emphasizes that every brain is different and it’s hard to know how any one person might react to tDCS. Some data suggest that people may respond differently based on their genes or even their skill in the domain they’re trying to improve. For example, in 2016, one research team found that stimulating part of the prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain that’s involved in thinking and decision making — could improve improvisational ability in amateur jazz musicians but might harm the performance of experts.

And there are those who doubt the efficacy of tDCS altogether. Some scientists argue that many of the gains people attribute to brain zapping could be chalked up to a placebo effect. (A tingling sensation at the scalp, after all, would surely cause many of us to believe something interesting is happening.) There are even researchers who challenge whether the electrical current used in these studies can reach the brain at all.

None of these caveats diminish how exciting brain stimulation could be as a possible tool for studying the brain and even a new form of medicine. Stimulating the motor cortex, for example, could help stroke patients make greater gains during physical therapy. Already, tDCS is approved in Europe to help people suffering from pain conditions and depression, and scientists are exploring its potential to help people with epilepsy, schizophrenia and other conditions. (In fact, many DIY-ers are trying to self-treat their depressive symptoms.)

But until more is known about how it works and the best ways to use it, at-home tDCS is very much an “at your own risk” experiment. For some people, that uncertainty is part of the appeal. For the rest of us, it’s worth remembering that we already have some low-risk “biohacks” for learning: eating healthy, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep.

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UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 19: Washington, D.C., area students and supporters protest against gun violence with a lie-in outside of the White House on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

I’ve been asking the wrong question all along, and I only realized it after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week in Parkland, Florida. Ever since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, in which Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 students and one teacher, I’ve asked myself, how many have to die before we make it more difficult for people to access weapons?

It took 25 more school shootings for me to understand that children being shot to death in their classrooms won’t move Republicans who have been bought off by the National Rifle Association to pass gun control legislation. There have been 10 shootings since Columbine in which four or more people were killed, resulting in 122 fatalities, including the death or suicide of the perpetrators, and Republicans haven’t batted a legislative eye. The Washington Post calculated that approximately 150,000 students have experienced a shooting on a school campus since Columbine.

If we want to make it harder for people to buy guns, a new kind of standoff is necessary. Change, it seems, can only come from student-led civil disobedience. The youth will teach us adults how to convert the endless gun debate into actual legislative change, and that kind of education needs to be lived out in the real world, not from the safety of textbooks. Students are taking their demands for gun control to the streets, halls of Congress and courtrooms — on their own terms.

The growing number of student deaths clearly doesn’t move legislators to enact “common sense” restrictions on the ability to purchase weapons. For instance, a year ago, President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era regulation crafted in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that required the Social Security Administration to report beneficiaries with severe mental disabilities to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This directive would have affected about 75,000 people found mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs, according to an analysis by Fortune magazine. Trump also rolled back other rules that attempted to define who exactly is too incompetent to buy guns.

Attorneys for 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Marjory Stoneman, have cited his chronic battle with mental illness, family trauma and a fascination with guns and violence that was reflected in his social media profile and school disciplinary history. Gun laws that account for mental stability might have prevented him from buying the AR-15 he used to commit the shooting.

Related: Christian conservatives are trying to turn bigoted policies into higher education law

Republican lawmakers won’t budge on this issue because of the pile of money placed in front of them. Last week, The New York Times listed the top 10 career recipients of NRA funding among current House and Senate members, alongside their statements about the Las Vegas massacre. The lawmakers — all Republican — offered their “thoughts and prayers” to families but, not surprisingly, didn’t mention the need for legislation to regulate guns.

If we want to make it harder for people to buy guns, a new kind of standoff is necessary. Change, it seems, can only come from student-led civil disobedience.

Anticipating more inertia from Republicans in Congress, students and family members are speaking up and demanding to be heard.

After Trump tweeted, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” Marjory Stoneman student Sarah Chadwick’s reply went viral:

“I don’t want your condolences you f—ing price [sic] of s—, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

Related: When black history isn’t relegated to a single month

A grieving mother stared directly into a CNN camera during an interview, screaming exactly what Trump could do: “You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands!”

Yet the president made no mention of guns in his initial response to the shooting.

“If all our government and president can do is send “thoughts and prayers,” then it’s time for victims to be the change we need to see,” said Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman, in a passionate entreaty to elected officials at a rally in Florida.

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Thousands of students took to Twitter to organize a national walkout on the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20. They are using the hashtags #NationalSchoolWalkout, #April20 and #April20Walkout. Thousands more have signed a petition distributed by the Twitter account National School Walkout.

Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, an affiliate of the national organizing network Women’s March, is planning a national school walkout that will occur on March 14 at 10 a.m. in every time zone. Participants are instructed to leave their schools and gather in the streets for 17 minutes to honor the Florida victims.

This Wednesday, one hundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will march on the state capitol in Tallahassee for what is believed to be the first organized protest of their #NeverAgain movement.

Related: If black lives matter, so do historically black colleges and universities

Hopefully, there will be more protests. (And eventually, these students will turn 18 and be able to create change at the ballot box, too.)

Non-violent direct action rocks the boat. No one can ignore millions of students out in the streets as they might op-eds and interviews with grieving families. There are an estimated 3.6 million teachers and more than 50 million public school students in the country, and they live in blue districts and red ones, in neighborhoods where every family has a gun and cities where hardly anyone does. Mass shootings have made bedfellows of school students around the country, and this lobby may be even more powerful than the bags of money the NRA uses to buy its politicians.

Through sit-ins, boycotts and marches, student activists in the civil rights movement forced once-segregated places to integrate by spurring the passage of new laws and demanding the enforcement of existing ones; so, too, will teachers and students have to disrupt the status quo to fix our broken gun control laws.

Students are grabbing the education they need by walking out of schools. It’s time to give legislators the civics lesson they apparently never received.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about education in New Orleans.

The post Marjory Stoneman students give legislators a civics lesson appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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Children play outside during recess at Hokitika Primary School. Last year, the school lost 10 students to a nearby, more affluent school. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz/The Hechinger Report

This story is the first of a three-part series that examines how other countries approach the idea of school choice. Read upcoming reports on school choice in Sweden and France at The Hechinger Report.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos believes the key to improving schools in the United States is simple: Let parents choose where to send their children.

Many school choice advocates cheered DeVos’ appointment, hoping it would unleash new funding and federal support for more charter schools, private school vouchers and other “choice” options, such as virtual schools and online programs. Giving parents choices beyond the school closest to home would open the door to innovation and put pressure on traditional schools to improve, these advocates argue.

But research on whether more school choice improves education is mixed. Real-life examples from around the world also provide little evidence that allowing families more freedom of choice improves achievement.

New Zealand is a school choice utopia. In 1989, the country passed a set of ambitious education reforms based on the same arguments for school choice that DeVos and others have made here. The “Schools of Tomorrow” laws abolished the concept of neighborhood schools and gave parents total freedom to enroll their children wherever they wanted.

Parents in New Zealand said they are generally happy that they have choice and happy with their schools. Yet even though the country’s scores on international exams are above average, they have remained largely unchanged since the tests were first administered in 2000, and the percentage of students who were at least moderately proficient has decreased slightly in recent years.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I go on about image and how people make assumptions based on the way you look.”

Diane Parkinson, principal of Bucklands Beach Intermediate School

New Zealand is “a good example of the pitfalls of relying on choice and competition between schools,” said Cathy Wylie, a chief researcher for the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), an independent research organization. “Large scale choice isn’t a sufficient or reliable systemic lever to provide a good quality education for all a country’s students.”

Wylie and other critics maintain that there’s no indication that student achievement has improved as a result of school choice. They say this may be, in part, because parents and schools didn’t respond to choice as proponents anticipated they would.

Related: OPINION: Those who wanted federal power over schools now fear Betsy DeVos might use it to foster choice and voucher plans

School choice advocates believe schools will try to improve when faced with competition that could draw away students, diminishing their budgets and even forcing them to close. But in practice, many school administrators in New Zealand said that knowing their students could leave to go to other schools doesn’t motivate them to improve academics — they’d care about that regardless. Instead, the impact of competition often manifests in more superficial ways that might make parents happy but doesn’t drive performance.

For example, principals make sure they have printed information ready to hand out to interested parents and that their schools’ websites are up-to-date. They try to get the local paper to write about student accomplishments. They strive to keep the main office welcoming and the school clean.

Diane Parkinson, principal of Bucklands Beach Intermediate School (BBI), is a fan of competition and thinks it serves as a motivator to make the school the best it can be. BBI, which is located in an affluent suburb of Auckland, has three other schools that serve seventh- and eighth-year students (the equivalent of sixth- and seventh-graders in the U.S.) within a three-mile radius.

Students at Greta Valley Primary School record the weight of different objects as part of a math lesson. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz/The Hechinger Report

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Parkinson said, picking up a piece of trash. “I go on about image and how people make assumptions based on the way you look.”

She also puts her best foot forward when recruiting students.

On a sunny Monday in August, Parkinson, along with two students and an assistant principal, went to visit Bucklands Beach Primary School to talk to the sixth-year students there. The students would soon be making their final selection for middle school; although many had already put in applications for BBI, not all had done so. The visit was an opportunity to answer general questions about Intermediate School for all students, to help ensure a smooth transition, and to make a sales pitch for BBI to those who had not yet made up their minds.

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Sitting on the floor of their library, the dozens of students dressed in red and navy blue were an eager audience. Parkinson and the others explained how students are placed in their classes and what kinds of activities they can take part in during fifth period, such as beginner golf, orchestra, and karate. They mentioned a brand new sports facility that was under construction, called the “BBI Sports Cloud,” noting that incoming seventh-year students will be the first class to have use of these basketball and netball courts for their entire Intermediate School careers.

Students asked questions about science classes, whether there was a biking team and if they would have chances to play dodgeball. (The answer to the last one was yes, prompting a wave of hushed, happy murmurs.)

“Who’s excited?” Parkinson asked at the end of the visit. Almost every hand in the room went up.

Related: What can Betsy DeVos really do?

Other principals don’t even bother to spend time and energy recruiting students. In rural Greta Valley, located about an hour north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, Principal Malin Stone takes a more laid-back approach. He says he’s happy to show any prospective parent around the tiny Greta Valley Primary School, which has two multi-age classrooms that serve first- through sixth-year students, but doesn’t pressure them to choose his school. He also deliberately tries to minimize the competitive feeling between his schools and others. Any time an interested parent stops by, for instance, he’ll call their child’s current school to let the principal know.

“We’ve started this white flight and class flight. It was not based on the quality of the school.”

Liz Gordon, managing director of Pukeko Research

Similarly, he believes that if a family wants to leave his school, it probably means they’re not a good match. “If they don’t want to be here, we don’t really want them here,” he said.

Currently, two families who live closest to Greta Valley chose to go to another school, and three families bypass their local school to come to Greta Valley. But, they have to drive their kids there each day.

That’s another reason school choice hasn’t had the impact its supporters may have hoped in New Zealand: New Zealand only provides direct buses for students who attend their closest school. (Students not attending their local school can get on the bus at any point in its route, but this generally still requires extra travel on the family’s part.) So, the degree of choice parents have largely depends on where they live and what their resources are.

Victoria King wasn’t impressed by the local school when she was making her decision last year, so she drives her 6-year-old son about 20 minutes each way to get him to Greta Valley every day. She’s not sure if she’ll keep doing so, though. She’s taking on more responsibilities at the family’s farm, and has heard promising things about the impact a new principal is having at her local school.

“I am having to work out if the hour-and-a-half travelling a day for an excellent school balances up better than potentially having more time and also having better quality time with my children,” she said. “If the bus from Greta Valley were to come much closer to our house, I wouldn’t change schools at all.”

King originally looked at two other schools before picking the 40-student Greta Valley. She liked the teachers and the small size, and believed her son would get plenty of attention. She says she knew almost instantly after walking into Greta Valley’s campus that it was the right school. “It took no more than two and a half seconds” to decide, she said.

Parents often rely on gut feelings when choosing schools. Location, extra-curricular activities, and current or past attendance by other family members are also important considerations. And that’s another likely reason why school choice here hasn’t had the effect advocates hoped for. Academics aren’t always on the top of the list when parents choose a school and – even when they are – parents don’t always know what quality looks like.

That means there’s no guarantee that parent choices will empty out low-performing schools or fill up high quality ones.

Related: Charter schools aren’t measuring up to their promises

The country’s Education Review Office publishes reports on the quality of education at each school, which includes information about student performance, curriculum and leadership, about once every three years. At the elementary school level, parents can also look up what percentage of students meet national standards each year, and at the high school level, the pass rates of an optional national exam are available.

Construction was underway at Bucklands Beach Intermediate School for a new sports facility called the BBI Sports Cloud. The school makes sure prospective students know about all the opportunities they’ll have for sports and other extracurricular activities if they enroll. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz/The Hechinger Report

A 2015 NZCER survey found just 18 percent of parents or guardians of New Zealand high schoolers said they looked at a school’s annual test scores when choosing a school. By comparison, 23 percent said they looked at the school website and two-thirds attended open houses at the schools.

The same survey found that 35 percent of parents said academic results informed their choice — the same percentage that said a child’s friend going to a school was a factor.

The results track with international data. An 11-country survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that more parents said it was “very important” to consider a school’s reputation, safety and “active and pleasant environment” than its academic achievement. Research in the United States has also found that parents look at a variety of factors in addition to academics when making a school selection.

In some ways, that can be a good thing. Just about anyone in education would agree schools should be judged on more than just test scores. The New Zealand government explicitly warns families against picking schools based on only national standard results. But when parents are given free rein to choose schools, they may also consider non-academic factors that are problematic: the race and income of a school’s students.

Critics around the world have worried that one unintended consequence of more school choice is more segregation. U.S. studies have found charter schools can exacerbate segregation.

In New Zealand, segregation is also on the rise, researchers say.

A 2015 NZCER survey found just 18 percent of parents or guardians of New Zealand high schoolers said they looked at a school’s annual test scores when choosing a school. By comparison, 23 percent said they looked at the school website and two-thirds attended open houses at the schools.

Minority students in New Zealand, including indigenous Maori, are concentrated in the nation’s poorest schools, while fewer than 1 percent of students of European descent are enrolled in schools with the highest number of low-income students. Other research has shown that the number of students in poor schools is decreasing overall, while the number in rich schools is growing, suggesting that parents with means are increasingly turning away from low-income schools.

“We’ve started this white flight and class flight,” said Liz Gordon, managing director of Pukeko Research, a New Zealand-based group that focuses on education, social services and justice. “It was not based on the quality of the school.” She said that middle and upper-middle class families in New Zealand tend to trade up, picking schools just above their own social class.

New Zealand has inadvertently made it very easy for parents to pick and choose based on the demographic profile of a school. The country’s education funding system labels each school as decile 1 through 10 based on the socioeconomic makeup of its students. A decile 1 school has the poorest population, while a decile 10 school has the richest. Lower-decile schools get extra money. Critics warn that a well-intentioned funding system has become a way for wealthy parents to avoid schools with low-income students.

Related: It’s not who controls the schools that matters, it’s whether they care about equity

Hokitika Primary School is a decile 4 school in a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. When acting Principal Nicola Minehan moved to the small town two years ago, locals advised her against applying for a job at Hokitika Primary School. She changed her mind when she visited. “All I could hear was the laughter coming from the classroom,” she said. She submitted her application for deputy principal and also enrolled her granddaughter who lives with her.

The school’s biggest competitor is in a wealthier part of the town and is a decile 7. Former Hokitika Principal Kath Martin said the other school “is seen by locals to be the ‘best.’” She said the school lost 10 students earlier this year when the wealthier competitor opened up more slots.

That’s despite the fact that Hokitika received a generally positive review from the Education Review Office in 2014, which found that “most students are achieving at or above expected national levels in reading, writing and mathematics” and concluded “the school is well placed to sustain and improve its performance”

The competing school performs better on national standards, but Hokitika’s students made gains in recent years after new leadership and a new curriculum focused on social-emotional learning was introduced. Though kids at Hokitika are poorer and tend to arrive further behind, data shows the school has been successful at helping them catch up with the kids at the wealthier school by the end of primary school.

The school’s progress has stalled according to its most recent review, published in October, and reading achievement has started to dip. But, the review noted, the school had already put programs in place to monitor and improve student achievement.

Minehan and the school’s other educators are frustrated that the successes they have had Hokitika have yet to make a difference in its reputation.

So now, Minehan says, school officials are focusing on other things to raise their profile: sponsoring a float in the local Christmas parade and holding a Twilight Market. They try to get photos in the local newspaper every chance they get. “We’re getting better at that,” she said. “The pressure is there.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

The post What would actually happen if we gave all parents the chance to pick their children’s schools? appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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May 12, 2014 – New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, accompanied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaks at a public school in Queens. Fariña recently announced her retirement. Credit Image: © Bryan Smith/ZUMAPRESS.com

My 10-year-old child attends the Earth School, an inspiring, world-class, under-resourced public school in New York City. Half of the school’s students are black or Latino, and half receive free or reduced-price lunches. Some 70 percent of the school’s families opt their children out of the state’s standardized testing.

In the summer, my child also attends a teacher-training lab school that is part of a public university in Finland, a nation ranked No. 1 in childhood education in the world by both UNICEF and the World Economic Forum. Like other high-performing education nations such as Singapore and Canada, and unlike American education in the Bush-Obama-Trump eras, Finland’s schools are driven not by standardized testing, but by teacher professionalism and collaboration, tests and assessments designed by classroom teachers, and equity of school resources and funding.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is searching for a new chancellor of the New York City school system, the largest public school system in the U.S. and one of the largest, most influential and most racially and economically segregated systems in the world.

Despite his 2012 campaign pledge to involve the public in the selection process through a “serious, serious public screening” of candidates because “we need a chancellor who is presented to the public, not just forced down our throat,” the mayor is conducting the search in a shroud of total secrecy.

“The mayor and his new chancellor have the power to inspire the world with our public schools. New York City children, parents and taxpayers deserve nothing less.”

This is a mistake. It should be an open, public search, and the mayor should be consulting with a wide range of parents, teachers and students. The mayor and schools chancellor are servants of the people. We pay their salaries and they work for us. This is a critical hiring decision, and we should be consulted in the process.

Related: How Finland broke every rule — and created a top school system

As a New York City public school parent, I have four job-interview questions for schools chancellor candidates, the kind of questions and follow-ups that should be answered in depth, and in public, before a hiring decision is made:

1) Will you fight to desegregate our outrageously segregated school system? Generations of racial segregation, political mismanagement, neglect and educational privilege have crippled our schools, not our heroic New York City teachers. Specifically, how will you fight for desegregation?

2) Will you opt New York City out of the unnecessary and colossally time-and-money-wasting mass standardized testing of children — and put classroom teachers in charge of teaching and testing? If not, why not? If you are in favor of school management based on standardized testing, what evidence can you provide that it has benefited New York City children in any way?

3) Will you fight to equitably and fully fund our public schools? My child’s school, for example, receives only 87 percent of its “fair student funding” formula, and a number of other schools are similarly shortchanged, especially those with many poor and minority students. How is this fair and, specifically, how will you fix it?

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4) Will you fight to guarantee all our children these minimum educational requirements: a rich curriculum designed by childhood educators, fully qualified classroom teachers, optimal class sizes, child support services when necessary, daily physical education, at least 30 to 60 minutes of supervised unstructured recess per day, the freedom to fail and learn from failure as a pathway to success, and a school life based on love, respect and encouragement, not stress, overwork and fear? If not, why not?

Related: We’d be better at math if the U.S. borrowed these four ideas for training teachers from Finland, Japan and China

To select candidates for the job, Mayor de Blasio should heed the recent call of the parent leaders of the Citywide and Community Education Councils for him to look for these qualifications:

  • An educator with experience teaching in classrooms and serving as a school leader. Someone who does not need a waiver of the required certification.
  • Experience managing or working in an administrative position in a large school district with diverse students and families.
  • A track record in collaborating with parent leaders in the development of policies, initiatives and programs.
  • An innovator who can work the bureaucracy to find creative solutions.
  • An ability to use resources efficiently, equitably and creatively to maximize benefits for students.
  • Demonstrated commitment to, and a good track record working with, students with disabilities and English language learners.
  • A commitment to traditional public schools and to fighting the privatization of our schools.
  • Motivation to tackle challenging issues, including school segregation, charter school accountability and transparency, and to support our highest-need schools.

The mayor and his new chancellor have the power to inspire the world with our public schools.

New York City children, parents and taxpayers deserve nothing less.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

William Doyle is a New York writer and TV producer, a Fulbright Scholar, a 2017 Rockefeller Foundation Resident Fellow, and a Scholar in Residence at the University of Eastern Finland.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL — In the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, protesters attend a Feb. 17, 2018 rally at the Federal Courthouse here to demand government action on firearms. Photo: Mike Stocker/TNS via ZUMA Wire.

Here is what keeps happening and has to stop: nothing. Elected officials have failed time and time again to adopt gun-control measures that will prohibit and ban the sale of the high-powered weapons used in Sandy Hook, Parkland and countless other mass shootings across the country.

Here is a way forward: we can center our efforts around the transformative power of youth organizing on gun control and on creating safe, supported schools that don’t use highly politicized security tactics.

The transformation is happening already. Days after their classmates and teachers were gunned down, Parkland, Florida students called out President Trump and other elected officials for doing the bidding of the NRA and gun lobbyists while ignoring the clear common denominator: high-powered automatic weapons.

These students have gotten the nation’s attention.

As we move forward by centering around these students, and their families, we must include another group whose efforts become more important than ever in the face of this violent shooting.

They are the families and educators at the forefront of the movement to create, safe, supportive and inclusive school communities.

We have the opportunity to embrace solutions that work for all school communities. But first, we have to stop looking for Washington to lead.

These people are shifting the paradigm of school safety away from policing, surveillance and invasive security measures. Instead, they have embraced practices that can help every student: comprehensive social-emotional and mental health supports, restorative justice and trauma-informed care.

Related: Bullied by the badge?

Here is why the shooting in Florida makes their efforts so crucial: Across the country, the response to many previous school tragedies has been to prioritize invasive security measures, police presence and high-tech surveillance in schools.

The impulse to turn learning environments into some sort of militarized “safe zones” becomes the prevailing notion.

It’s a notion that is likely to become a lead talking point for the current administration.

It is a notion that isn’t effective.

And it is a notion that negatively impacts black, Latino and indigenous students.

These are the students who have been hyper-criminalized as a result of decades of school discipline and policing policies and practices.

Related: The painful backlash against ‘no-excuses’ school discipline

There is no conclusive evidence that the presence of law enforcement officers keeps our schools any safer. But regardless of the location or circumstances of school-based shootings, resources for police and security become prioritized for schools in low-income communities of color.

We have effectively created a pipeline to funnel young people of color and students with disabilities into the criminal justice system for routine and often subjective disciplinary matters such as truancy, disturbing the school, disrupting the peace, disorderly conduct and schoolyard fights. And we fail to build a path towards the supports needed to address the root causes of trauma, issues, isolation and conflict that young people are forced to navigate.

Schools do not need police officers or school resource officers, they need guidance counselors, social workers, mental health continuums, comprehensive social and emotional supports, trauma-informed care and restorative justice. Nationwide, 850,000 students do not have access to a school counselor and 1.6 million students attend a school with a law-enforcement officer on campus but not a school counselor. According to the National Association of School Nurses, less than half of all schools have a full-time nurse and schools in urban and poor districts have ratios as high as 4,000 students to one nurse. Four years ago, with little attention, two students died in Philadelphia schools that couldn’t afford full-time nurses.

In order to move forward without creating unintended harm for any community, we have to fundamentally rethink safety.

We can do this by centering the voices of the young people, educators and families and human rights advocates that have joined two groups: One group is ready to take to Washington following last week’s tragedy. The other group has been working for safe, supportive and inclusive school communities that embrace alternatives to zero-tolerance, punishment and criminalization.

Instead of equipping schools with metal detectors and children with bulletproof backpacks, we must redirect our school safety funding to equip school communities with the staff, training and supports that have been deprived from them for too long.

We must commit to bringing students closer to support systems integrated in schools and become less inclined to letting them disappear back into our communities. This way, we can wrap them in the supports they need and lessen their risk of isolation and further adverse experiences.

Related: School districts respond to growing fury over police shootings, black male achievement gap

Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, we should pull his voice into this conversation and reflect on his vision for creating a “beloved community,” by meeting the social needs of everyone in our community.

Addressing the systemic tragedies that go unnoticed will sustain safe and supportive schools. This is true in particular for students in marginalized communities. When people believe policing is a solution for the intentional lack of investment in social resources, it harms these students the most.

Over the weekend, President Trump and Vice President Pence said school safety will top the agenda when the president meets with the nation’s governors at the end of the month. It will perpetuate a continued moral failure if those meetings result in more funding for ineffective approaches to school safety, such as policing.

We have the opportunity to embrace solutions that work for all school communities. But first, we have to stop looking for Washington to lead. The agents we need for change are those who are closest to the problem.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Kesi Foster is an organizer with Make The Road New York, a member of the Urban Youth Collaborative and Dignity in Schools and Alliance for Educational Justice Coalitions. Make The Road New York builds the power of immigrant and working class communities of color to achieve dignity and justice.

Onyx Walker is a youth organizer with Future of Tomorrow, a member of the Urban Youth Collaborative and Dignity in Schools and Alliance for Educational Justice Coalitions. Onyx attended high school in East New York, Brooklyn, and has been leading efforts to end the school-to-prison pipeline and bring restorative justice to schools throughout New York City.

The post OPINION: Listen to our children – take away the guns, then counsel troubled youth instead of policing them appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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