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3 Books for Young Students Celebrating Black History Month

Schools across the United States are embracing Black History Month. While fewer than 25 percent of all children’s books have a main character that is black, Hispanic or Native American, there are some wonderful books that parents and teachers may want to consider reading to their students this month.

Tiny Stitches

Tiny Stitches is a full-color picture book telling the story of Vivien Thomas who was a pioneer in surgical techniques. This book that is most appropriate for grades three to five holds children’s attention with its heartwarming story of how Vivien pioneered open-heart surgery for infants but had to wait years to be recognized for her accomplishments. Author Gwendolyn Hooks closes the book with a substantial bibliography for students who want to learn even more.

Look What Brown Can Do

While T. Marie Harris aims this book to inspire three to five-year-olds black students that they can do anything that they set their mind to when they grow up, this inspirational book will be enjoyed by all young children. Most pages have a history lesson on the side of the page about a person of color who grew up to do something impressive in the world. Children will come away with the message that they can make important contributions in many different fields.

I Have a Dream

Kadir Nelson has created stunning photos to accompany the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech. The words on each page deliver the message while being rewritten for young readers. The original speech is printed in the back of the book, and it can be heard by listening to the accompanying recording. This book is appropriate for all ages as a way to introduce King’s iconic message to new listeners.

Reading these three books to young children is a wonderful way to introduce them to Black History month.

Taxpayer Money And Private School Vouchers

In Wisconsin, there is a debate about whether public funds should go to private schools. This specific debate is about private schools for special needs students.

The Special Needs Scholarship Program, which started in 2015, is at the center of this debate. In this program, children with disabilities are allowed to attend special private schools on vouchers paid for by taxpayers. Students are provided with these vouchers regardless of income.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has predicted that the cost of the Special Needs Scholarship Program will triple to about $10 million within the next year. This has sparked a lot of opposition for the program.

Opponents believe that it is unfair to use taxpayer money to fund private school bills—especially when many of the children who are being funded are not impoverished. The Special Needs Scholarship Program was approved in Wisconsin’s 2015-2017 state budget without the input of the public.

The increased costs that are expected in the next two years would have to be dealt with by either cutting services in public schools or making residents pay higher taxes. This is controversial because higher taxes can really break the bank for some home owners. Also, it does not seem fair that services should be cut in public schools just so that people in private schools are given more. In fact, the special education services in public may be suffering due to the fact that money is given to private schools.

According to a new rule that will take effect in Fall of 2018, 90% of the private school costs for special education children would be paid for by taxpayers, while only less than 26% of special education costs for public school children would be paid for via taxpayer money.

Proponents of the Special Needs Scholarship Program claim that it is not a problem because special needs students are really getting the education that they need. Also, all of the 28 schools who are participating in the program do not plan on incurring more than $12,207 for every student. It’s not like every single private school is going to start asking for infinity dollars per student.

Congress Grinds Away At Formulating New Higher Education Act Policy

Anyone paying attention to the top media headlines these days might be surprised to learn that Congress is getting closer to passing significant new reforms to the U.S. higher education system.

The Higher Education Act is in serious need of a rewrite. The current policy has not been updated in 10 years. Several committees in both the House and Senate have been drilling away at the problem, mostly away from the media spotlight – and that’s because bigger stories, such as the Russia probe, North Korea and tax reform have sopped up most of the oxygen in mainstream news rooms.

Changes being suggested by lawmakers to the Education Act will have major consequences for millions of families. That’s because it spells out the rules for student loans, how much schools charge for tuition, private vs. public school policies and much more.

While progress is being made, the effort to revamp USA education has produced the usual partisan wrangling. Many thorny issues still divide Democrats and Republicans. For example, Republicans want to eliminate the so-called “90/10 rule.” It states that for-profit private schools cannot get more than 90% of their revenue from federal sources. Democrats have called dumping the 90/10 rule “a non-starter.”

Surprisingly, however, there has been a lot of bipartisan deal-making despite the potholes remaining. Widespread agreement has emerged over simplifying the federal student loan application process, as well as making the time-frame for application shorter.

There also has been agreement on allowing students to “test out” of certain required fields of study. That means they can skip hours of costly class time and effort if they can pass a competency test on a particular subject beforehand.

Successfully cobbling together a new Higher Education Act would be significant accomplishment for Congress with wide-ranging implications for American college students.

Oklahoma and Education

Because of Oklahoma’s financial crisis, many Oklahoman teachers are leaving to other states for better-paying teaching jobs.

In 1992, Oklahoma created a ballot initiative. And it stated that Oklahoma would only raise taxes if it possessed a three-quarters majority in the state assembly. Since then, many tax cuts have also been passed. And said tax cuts, in a way, have become permanent. As a result, Oklahoma is currently in financial difficulties.

Oklahoma’s schools have been especially affected. Currently, over 90 districts are only offering four-day weeks. And teachers, in order to be able to supplement their income, have to work once a week elsewhere. Many Oklahoman pedagogues work on Mondays at Walmart. What is also surprising is that teachers of this state have not received a raise in 10 years.

So teachers are leaving. They have no choice. Shawn Sheehan, a high school math teacher who was named Teacher of the Year in 2016, left for Texas. As a matter of fact, he moved to Dallas shortly after receiving the prestigious award. In Oklahoma, teachers also pay a lot of money for health insurance. A married professor could pay up to $1,000 a month for health insurance. And teacher assistants struggle even more, for they are not payed enough to be able to cover their insurance plans. They basically are paying in order to be able to work. Thus, teachers have no choice but to get, for example, food stamps. Others get leftovers from school food-bank drives.

Police officers, for instance, are also struggling. They cannot even fill their gas-tanks completely. And Oklahoma’s prisons are collapsing. According to Paul Hill, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell, four-day weeks may not really make a difference in the state’s economy. At most, there will be a two percent difference. But Kent Holbrook, a superintendent of public schools in Inola, disagrees. Even small savings matter. Holbrook thinks that such sliver could save him four or six teachers. He has already lost at least 10 professors. Not only that, but he has reduced foreign language programs. He has also not been able to purchase textbooks on time.

Majority of Southerners Support Increased Education Spending

A recent large-scale poll illustrates just how much people in the South support public education. After results of The Education Poll of the South were analyzed, it was found that 84% of the respondents believe that the state should adjust school funding to achieve more parity between communities. Additionally, 57% of respondents were willing to trade off tax increases for increasing spending in education.

There were 2,200 total respondents from across 12 states. The poll was given by a group of seven nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations associated with education.

Across the country, isolated urban areas (think Manhattan and the wealthiest parts of California’s Bay Area and Los Angeles) and affluent suburban regions are relatively well-funded, have students who come from well-education families, and have strong parental participation. Just miles away, there are districts where single parents are struggling to get food on the table, kids come to kindergarten without strong foundations, and drop-out rates are high.

This is just as true, if not more so, in the South. States have high-performing districts like those in the Atlanta suburbs and low-performing schools in rural communities and downtrodden urban areas.

It seems that citizens are recognizing the fact that specific communities may need varying levels of support, especially in terms of financing a system that can attend to the needs of the students.

It remains to be seen whether the study’s findings will be reflected in the polls and whether a change in governing can lead to improvements in student achievement. What is known, though, is that the problem of inequity is an established one, and that many would be supportive of increased efforts to raise education spending.

Inspiring Teachers Making a Difference

Stop for a moment and think about the teachers that inspired you to keep giving your best. Day after day, they were there encouraging you to keep trying. Perhaps, it was the high-school-science teacher who helped you construct your first rocket that inspired your astronomy career. it may have been your junior-high-social-studies teacher who made you believe in yourself because of his constant praise at a time when you felt less than confident. Across the United States, LRNG Innovators starts out each year to look for the most innovative teachers.

John Legend, director of LRNG Innovators, announced the ten 2017 winners for the third year of the program. Each educator is then charged with sharing the word about their program. Winners include:

Let ‘Em Shine- Students attending the Albemarle County Public Schools are encouraged to make their own digital monuments showcasing the people of Charlottesville, Virginia. Students can choose from a variety of digital formats ranging from slides to songwriting.

Making A Future for All: Connecting Passion To Profession- Students attending middle school in Bath County Middle School in Owingsville, Kentucky, are encouraged to create a multimedia project about a career they want to pursue. Students will work with high school students to create a presentation to show to elementary students.

Philly School Media Network: With the support of paid journalists and writing teachers, students attending Edison High School, George Washington Carver High School and Henry C. Lea Elementary School will be encouraged to let their voices be heard about issues affecting Philadelphia.

Green is the New Pink: Girls in grades 8 through 11 will choose a citizen-science project that they will work on throughout the year. The projects created by students in Oxford, Mississippi, will then be presented on the University of Mississippi campus.

OneCity Stories: Students in Saint Louis’ Gateway Writing Project will connect with other students crossing neighborhood boundaries to prove that students are more alike than they are different. Students will present their work at various venues across the city.

Choice and Voice: Students in the rural Bastrop, Texas, school district will participate in the Heart of Texas writing project to write Wiki-type articles showcasing Bastrop.

Law Schools See Rise in Applications

The Law School Admission Council recently released statistics showing that the number of applicants for law schools rose significantly. The number of applications for the upcoming year was almost 11% higher, as of January of 2018, than it was at the same time in 2017.

Also supporting that data is the fact that 27.9% more LSAT tests were taken in December of 2017 than in December of 2016.

Some professionals in the industry see this positive trend as reflective of the current climate. The U.S. job market is relatively healthy, and young people now feel fairly confident about what their career prospects could be with a law degree in hand. These upticks in applications have also happened in the past, generally a few years after an economic slowdown. Once things begin to bounce back after a recession, people start considering graduate school as a practical step in advancing their careers.

The headlines involving the important role that lawyers and judges have been playing in politics and business affairs may also affect the number of law school applications. Both Democrats and Republicans may be able to see themselves going to work for the government, nonprofit organizations, corporate firms, and as general counsel where they can fight for the type of people they identify with. Young people who are passionate about making a difference and creating real change can do so in the legal field.

To help potential students afford advanced education, many law schools are using scholarships and tuition discounts to attract their top applicants. Public and private schools are trying to boost their numbers and the quality of their student body through these incentives, and many future lawyers are gladly accepting the extra assistance.

Educating Engineers Across All Fields

The United States is in the midst of an infrastructure crisis. The nation is also in the midst of an innovative boom in the digital sphere. Educators, investors and urban planners see a need for engineers in fields beyond technology, some going so far as to redefine exactly what a software engineer might be – and they don’t think “engineer” is the best term.

In a recent Forbes piece Marilyn Wait, a civil and environmental engineer, and Connie Bowen, who works with venture capitalists, argue that “When ‘engineers’ are mentioned in the startup world, people tend to mean ‘software engineers’… confusing coding with software engineering and software engineering with physical engineering. We need to stop confusing the term engineer with a computer programmer or coder.”

This miscategorization can confuse students who are interested in pursuing physical engineering degrees, causing them to think that the only kinds of engineers are those who build apps, wear casual clothes and make millions of dollars. In reality, the market is open for those with physical engineering degrees simply because of a failing infrastructure and the need to innovate in the physical world. Waite and Bowen point to several physical world startups in agriculture, bioplastics and cold-plasma technology. These innovations can help secure a safe and stable food supply and can improve recycling strategies.

Sebastian Turbot, former curator of the World Innovation Summit for Education, also sees a need for creative entrepreneurs within real-world scenarios. For urban centers to thrive and make use of new technologies, city planners and civil engineers must receive an education that rewards collaboration, emphasizes critical thinking and questioning, deductive reasoning and real-world applications of mathematical knowledge. Fostering a U.S. education system that achieves these goals can solve future infrastructure challenges and channel young talent into all areas of engineering.

Virginia Public School Sports Bill Fails

On Monday, the Virginia House Education Committee tied a vote on House Bill 496, effectively killing the bill. Nicknamed the “Tebow Bill”, the legislation would have allowed home-schooled students to compete on public school teams.

The bill was introduced by Delegate Robert Bell on January 8. It was adapted from a virtually identical bill, HB 1578, that Bell introduced in January 2017. The previous version passed the state Senate and the House, but was vetoed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in February 2017. In is latest incarnation, the bill was referred to the House Education Committee where the committee voted 11 to 11 over reporting the bill. Since the twelfth member of the committee, Delegate Glenn Davis, was not present to break the tie, the bill effectively died in committee.

The bill received its nickname from Tim Tebow, a former NFL quarterback who began his career as a homeschooler playing for a local public high school in Florida. Tebow’s ability to play was based on Florida’s Craig Dickinson Act, a piece of legislation that allowed homeschooled children to play on the teams of public schools in their district.

Robert Bell decided to introduce similar legislation in Virginia in 2005. However, the different iterations of the bill have never been able to both pass through the Virginia General Assembly and be signed into law by the governor. Bell stated that since home-schooled students are allowed to take some classes in public schools, they should also be admitted onto sports teams. However, Governor Ralph Northam’s office announced that they opposed the bill, indicating that it would likely be vetoed if it passed the House and Senate.

In Virginia, individual localities are able to decide if they will allow homeschooled students to play on their public school teams. The Virginia High School League, Virginia’s main sanctioning organization for interscholastic athletic competition, has banned homeschooled students from competition.

Education Department May Cut Student Relief Payments by 60%

According to new information obtained by the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Education plans to cut relief payments made to students defrauded by for-profit schools. The AP reported Wednesday that they had seen an internal estimate stating that the payments would likely be reduced by as much as 60%.

The new plan involves the Borrower Defense rule, a statute that was overhauled by the Department of Education during President Obama’s administration. The rule provides financial payments to students whose schools closed due to institutional misconduct. It also gives students who attended fraudulent schools the option to discharge their student loan debts. Many of the students eligible for the program were defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

Corinthian Colleges, a network of over 20 for-profit schools, was shuttered in 2015 for predatory recruiting practices and misleading student loan programs. The Department of Education fined the organization $30 million, effectively shutting it down. Other government agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the state governments of California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin also filed suit. The fallout from the suits and the closure of the schools resulted in thousands of students being left with large loans that they could not pay, and the Department of Education elected to expand the Borrower Defense rule to provide these students with relief.

The Department of Education announced in December that they plan to scale back their loan relief program due to its high cost. Rather than providing full relief from outstanding student loans, the new plan would only grant partial relief to students. The new estimates have emerged at a time when the department has not yet officially finalized their plans. A government spokesperson said that the numbers reported by the AP are not definitive and that the agency does not currently have an idea of how much they will cut student relief.