ACLU Sues State Over Education of English Learners

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union goes up against state education officials in a Los Angeles County court room. The claim: California is failing its non-English-speaking students. The lawsuit comes after 251 school districts reported that thousands of English learners were getting no special language help. State and federal laws require these students spend a part of their school day learning the English language.

Somali Refugees in San Diego Prep for College, Break Cultural Norms

Young men and women all over California are beginning to pack up their childhood bedrooms to head off to college. But for many Somali refugee girls in the immigrant San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, they're breaking ties with more than just the comforts of home. They're breaking cultural norms. We look at a rapid cultural shift that has Somali girls outpacing their male counterparts.

PBS NewsHour

Can after-school programs help shrink the ‘opportunity gap’ for low-income students?


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Most students in the U.S. spend far less time in school than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, and it’s been that way for a long time.

But now, as academic expectations are rising, one idea for improving student achievement that is gaining more attention is extending the school day.

John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television has our report.

JOHN TULENKO: When the school day ends at Middle School 223 in the Bronx, New York, the fun begins. Each day from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., the school offers all six graders a healthy dose of extracurriculars. There’s African drumming, Latin dance, chess, technology, and more.

PUJA RAO, Executive Director, Arete Education Inc.: I think every student should have the opportunity to have all these experiences available to them.

JOHN TULENKO: Puja Rao is the executive director Arete, a nonprofit that runs the extended day program in Middle School 223, where the majority of students qualify as low-income.

She used to teach math here, but says she recognized the need for a program like this long before that.

PUJA RAO: I came from a low-income family. And it was very much so, if my school wasn’t offering it, I wasn’t getting it. So I wanted to be able to give my students the experiences that I wish I could have had.

JOHN TULENKO: The after-school program isn’t just fun and games. About half the students are also getting personalized help in reading and math.

PUJA RAO: Different kids get what they need for their needs. So, if a kid is struggling and needs more help in math, they can go to math buddies and get that one-on-one help.

JOHN TULENKO: But it’s the fun stuff that get the kids’ attention.

Principal Ramon Gonzalez:

You have been doing this intensive model with sixth grade for a year. What’s been the effect?

RAMON GONZALEZ, Principal, M.S. 223: Kids want to be here. Kids are willing to stay here until 5:00 every day, when they can hang out in the street if they want. They are choosing to stay here. I think it’s because we have these different choices that they can make. And they feel like they’re getting smarter.

JOHN TULENKO: Interest in a longer school day is growing. About 1,000 schools across the country share $1 billion in federal funds earmarked for extended day programs. This program costs about $2,000 per child per year, about half of which comes from private donations.

In the year that it’s been running, principal Gonzalez says school attendance has increased. Proponents cite a long list of other benefits. Kids are safe, they exercise, they’re fit, they’re learning valuable social and emotional lessons, and they like it.

LUCY N. FRIEDMAN, President, The After-School Corporation: After school, you walk into a classroom and the kids are excited about what they’re doing, and it’s 4:00 on a Friday and they’re all raising their hands, that, to me, is success.

JOHN TULENKO: Lucy Friedman is president of the After-School Corporation, which provides financial support and guidance to schools that ant to start extended day programs, including Middle School 223. The students her students serve, Friedman argues, face more than an achievement gap.

Lucy, you have written about something you call the opportunity gap. What are you talking about?

LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: By sixth grade, disadvantaged kids have had 6,000 less hours of learning, learning, you know, what happens in preschool, but also what happens when your families take you to the beach or the zoo, summer camps, after-school programs.

And so, really, that’s what we want to do is open kids’ eyes, expose them to new kinds of activities and to new parts of themselves.

JOHN TULENKO: But at many public schools, closing the opportunity gap is a new mission. For more than a decade, schools have been cramming on academics in an effort to raise scores, especially in low-income schools.

RAMON GONZALEZ: I think what we have seen in our poorest neighborhood, that’s what it has become. It’s become test prep academies and we have taken out the arts and we have taken out the sports, with the idea that, if we just focus on academics, somehow, miraculously, these kids will be at the same level in three years.

And what we found is, that has worked for some kids, but for the majority of kids, it has not worked. The gap still remains.

JOHN TULENKO: But even here, extracurricular activities can feel like an afterthought.

What do they get in the way of art, music, dance, drama during the regular school day?

ALISSA ROGANOVIC, Math Teacher, M.S. 223: There isn’t much.

JOHN TULENKO: Many of Alissa Roganovic’s students find it hard not to drift off in a schedule dominated by academics.

ALISSA ROGANOVIC: They have 40 periods a week of instruction. Five of them are lunch. And then you take eight for math, 10 for ELA, five for science, five for social studies, five for technology, and you’re left with — and you’re left with two periods for gym. Unfortunately, a lot of that has to do with the tests that we’re required to prepare the students for.

JOHN TULENKO: Even with the focus on academics, math and reading scores here, while slightly better than in most New York City schools, are low; 75 percent of the students at Middle School 223 scored below proficient. That’s where the after-school tutoring comes in.

WOMAN: So now what is the formula?

JOHN TULENKO: Are they getting better at math?

ALISSA ROGANOVIC: They are. They’re getting better because their attitude is changing, because they’re getting some of the questions answered that are — in a class of 30 or when they’re at home they aren’t necessarily getting answered.

JOHN TULENKO: Although quality varies, research shows most after-school programs have a positive effect on student performance. But is waiting until the end of the day to catch kids up and give them fun activities they look forward to overlooking the real problem?

We asked Lucy Friedman of the After-School Corporation.

I would like to play around and give you an analogy, if I may.




JOHN TULENKO: Imagine schools as restaurants, there to serve nutrition food. The way we do it now, only about half of the kids get a nutritious meal. You all come in at the end of the day and you provide that nutrition, which is important. But someone could argue that you really ought to be more focused on the menu during the regular school day.

LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: Why aren’t we?  Because — because we think this is a way. I mean, partly, it’s who we are, right?  We — I mean, there are a lot of people who are putting a lot of effort into the front end.

RAMON GONZALEZ: I think with the ingredients we have, we are working on serving the best meal. We are reaching that point. But the reality is that, even as we’re crafting this menu of these great things, it’s still not enough, because our kids have not eaten for years. And so we’re trying to make up some of those nutrients, using your analogy, that they have lost along the way.

JOHN TULENKO: With the focus on tests, it’s unlikely the menu for the regular school day will change, but the dessert will get richer. New York State recently handed over $7.6 million to create more after-school programs like the one at Middle School 223. That’s on top of $145 million already pledged by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Those with ‘some college, no degree’ could hold key to U.S. education goals

By 2020, President Barack Obama wants the United States to regain its position as the country with the most educated residents. But in the last 20 years, nearly one in every 10 Americans started a college career that they never finished.

They may help account for the gap between the U.S. and the most educated members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2011, 43.1 percent of U.S. residents ages 25 to 64 had completed a degree beyond a high school diploma, while 63.8 percent of Koreans had a post-secondary degree.

But a report from the National Student Clearinghouse released Tuesday argues they can also be an important source of students for colleges and universities trying to close that gap.

The report identified 31 million who have taken college classes, but haven’t completed a degree. Nearly four million of those former students already have two or more years’ worth of credits and could be just a few courses away from an associate’s degree or other credential.

The report (which was funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, an organization that also supports the NewsHour) counted students who enrolled in college courses in the last 20 years, which means many of those 31 million people are unlikely to give college another try.

“In some fields (e.g., nursing) ‘old’ means more than two years. So if one is talking about bringing back students who have been out of school for 20 years, lots of luck,” Cliff Adelman of the Institute for Higher Education Policy told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

By 2020, analysts expect about 65 percent of available jobs in the U.S. to require some education beyond high school. That’s one reason those with some credit, but no degree can’t be overlooked, Dr. Joni Finney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, said in a statement released with Tuesday’s report.

“Ensuring that students who begin college complete their certificate and degree coursework must be a national priority,” she said. “A focus on creating viable educational pathways for these students is imperative if individual states and the nation are to realize higher levels of educational attainment.”

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Giving traumatized kids a head start in healing


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Every year, thousands of children in this country are expelled from school before they reach kindergarten. In fact, studies show that preschool children are expelled at significantly rates than those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem this trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these kids face at home.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In many ways, Desiree Kazee, is a typical 5-year-old girl. She’s bubbly, bright and affectionate. Her favorite color is pink. And she enjoys drawing and dancing.

But, two years ago, when Desiree began preschool at a Head Start program near her home in Liberty, Missouri, she didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.

RENEE SILVER, School Therapist: She was a very angry child. She would tantrum, she would scream, she would whine, she would complain of things bothering her that might not normally bother a child.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Renee Silver is a school therapist who worked individually with Desiree.

RENEE SILVER: She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She would want to do things when she wanted to do them. She did everything she could to try and gain control.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In most classrooms, Desiree’s behavior would be met with harsh discipline, but in this Head Start school, the teachers don’t punish kids for acting out. That’s because all these children, including Desiree, have experienced at least one traumatic event in their short lifetimes.

JANINE HRON, CEO, Crittenton Children’s Center: This would be separation from parents. This would be incarcerated parents, substance abuse or untreated mental illness in the home, witnessing violent interactions, being abused themselves.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Janine Hron is the CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center, a psychiatrist hospital in Kansas City. In 2008, Hron and her team developed Head Start Trauma Smart, an innovative program that evidence-based trauma therapy into Head Start classrooms.

The program was created in response to the pervasiveness of trauma in the Kansas City area. Of the 4,000 kids in Head Start, 50 percent have experienced more than three traumatic events.

JANINE HRON: This is not a one-and-done kind of a bad experience. This happens over and over and over, and it becomes rather a lifestyle of trauma.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.

Avis Smith, a licensed social work at Crittenton, explains why.

AVIS SMITH, Crittenton Children’s Center: Their behaviors are so extreme, that the adults don’t know how to keep everybody safe.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In Head Start Trauma Smart, safety comes first. Molly Marx has been teaching in the program for five years.

MOLLY MARX, Teacher, Head Start: The first thing you have to do is make them feel safe. And if you’re not making them feel safe, they are not going to learn or improve. So, most of how we teach starts with complete social-emotional. I am here. I will keep you safe. Help me keep it that way.

WOMAN: This is where I would like you to sit today to make sure your body is safe.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In training programs held year-round, Head Start Trauma Smart teachers learn to validate extreme emotions referred to as (INAUDIBLE) feelings using calm and quiet voices. They are also armed with practical and cognitive tools to help kids soothe themselves.

MOLLY MARX: In our room, the safe spot is in a really quiet corner, and it’s filled with kind of pillows and blankets. And then we have a calm down box. There are several sensory things that they can play with. We have squishy balls. We have sunglasses.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: All of the methods are aimed at quieting a tidal wave of emotions that often overwhelms these kids. Neuroscientists have found that trauma causes arrested development in children’s brains. This leaves them vulnerable to triggers that adults around them often don’t see.

AVIS SMITH: It might be a smell. It might be a touch. It might be a sound that that child experienced during that traumatic event that is a reminder for that child of what happened.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: This is the case for Desiree, who suffered traumatic events, including the incarceration of her mother and the death of a close family member. Desiree was also the victim of abuse.

The incident was so traumatizing that her father, Derek Kazee, said he saw a total shift in her personality.

DEREK KAZEE: Before everything, like, she just — she was a people person. She loved being around people. After the experience happened, she tended to turn off. She didn’t really want to be around adults. She didn’t want to be around kids. She just wanted to be at home, her safe spot.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Derek Kazee says it wasn’t until she began the trauma program that Desiree finally felt safe enough to go to school and to share her experience with the adults there. One of them was therapist Renee Silver, who works with kids individually to reinforce the self-regulating techniques of Head Start Trauma Smart.

In one activity, Silver applies lotion to Desiree’s hands.

RENEE SILVER: I’m going to get your pinkie and your ringy and your middle.

How often do kids get that nurturing, where each finger is individualized and pointed out, and they’re getting that focused attention, where nothing else matters? And so it really helps the kids. They — it’s almost like they melt.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: And it’s not just teachers and therapists who practice these techniques.

AVIS SMITH: Bus drivers, cooks, everyone who is in the life of that child.

Derek Kazee says he often works with Desiree at home, where they both use calm down stuff like counting and deep breathing.

DEREK KAZEE: Go ahead.

She tends to just walk away and calm herself down. And usually, like, before the program, she would just, you know, have a tantrum. Now she’s more in control of her feelings and her emotions. As a parent, it makes me completely happy.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Head Start Trauma Smart is still in its early stages, but it’s already showing promising results; 100 percent of the children enrolled have moved on to kindergarten. It’s this kind of success that Hron says she hopes will boosts the program’s growth nationwide.

JANINE HRON: If we can pull this off across the country, the dividends will be phenomenal.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Some of the Head Start Trauma Smart results are harder to measure. But to those who care for these children, they are impossible to miss.

DEREK KAZEE: All right.

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Dept. of Education encourages colleges to experiment with flexible credit systems

As a part of President Barack Obama’s push to make college more affordable, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that it will launch a new initiative to test innovative practices aimed at providing nontraditional, low-income and struggling students with better, faster and more flexible paths to academic and career success.

Nontraditional students, including those enrolled part-time, taking more than a year off from school after graduating from high school or working full-time, make up 85 percent of the country’s undergraduates, according to the American Council on Education.

By starting the Experimental Sites Initiative, federal education officials hope to open more paths for the nontraditional students to successfully complete degrees and help others pursue higher education for the first time. This will provide participating colleges with more flexibility in awarding federal financial aid to those participating in competency-based education programs.

Competency-based learning, also known as personalized learning, allows students to demonstrate mastery of academic content through a wider range of assessments at their own pace as opposed to solely measuring progress by the number of credit hours they accrue.

“At a time when a college degree matters more than ever, we have to provide a flexible, innovative experience that can meet the needs of every American,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the announcement. “This initiative will enable institutions to try some of their best ideas and most promising practices to provide more students with the opportunity to pursue a higher education and become equipped for success in today’s workforce.”

“The House is expected to pass the bill, but it’s less likely the U.S. Senate will follow suit,” reports Inside Higher Ed, “in part because of top Senate Democrats’ desire to deal with the issue as part of the broad set of proposed legislation relating to the Higher Education Act,”which will soon be up for re-authorization since 2008.

Lawmakers are considering bills that could promote the same kind of innovation at colleges and universities, but it’s unclear whether those efforts will go anywhere, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Stay tuned for more on competency-based learning practices during our special week of higher education reports coming up in August.

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