School Climate & Safety

Overview

School Climate & Safety

There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”

In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”

In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

There are multiple definitions of school climate, but most revolve around the environment affecting students and teachers. The University-Community Partnerships at Michigan State University defines a comprehensive school climate as a physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning, a social environment that promotes communication and interaction, an “affective” environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem, and an academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment.

The National School Climate Center, a New York City-based research and advocacy organization, says that a positive school climate is one where norms, values, and expectations support people feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe; students and others are engaged and respected; educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits of learning; and each member of the school community contributes to the operations of the school and the care of its physical environment.

Such definitions are helpful as ideals, but at many schools there is still a wide gulf between the goal and the reality. This Topics section discusses how students, teachers, administrators, and policymakers navigate and shape the climate on school campuses.

School Violence

Consider the most basic element of a good school climate—one that is free of violence and disruption. In the 2009-10 school year, 85 percent of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes, according to the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011.” That report is a compendium of statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice. The report says there were some 1.9 million crimes committed at schools during that academic year.

Also during that year, there were 33 violent deaths at schools, and students age 12-18 were the victims of some 828,000 non-fatal “victimization” incidents, including 470,000 thefts and 359,000 violent incidents.

While those figures are sobering (and there are many more in the report), the silver lining is that in several important categories school violence was on the downswing. The 33 violent deaths in 2009-10 were down from a recent peak of 63, in 2006-07. Meanwhile, the rate of non-fatal victimization for students 12-18 (incidents per 1,000 students) has been on a steady downswing since 1992.

While statistics present a cold look at trends in school safety, an ambitious journalistic effort can bring such numbers to life. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a multi-part series that detailed how a climate of violence was stifling the city’s public schools. The “Assault on Learning” series included vivid images of high school girls smearing Vaseline on their faces and donning scarves before engaging in a planned fight. Such measures would help keep their skin from scarring and their hair from being pulled out. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members in the 146,000-student district were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or were the victims of other crimes, the paper reported.

For the series, which won the Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service in the spring of 2012, the Inquirer developed a database and calculated a violence rate for each public school. One particularly disturbing part of the series found that young children, from kindergartners to 10-year-olds, “have been assaulting and threatening classmates and staff members with increasing ferocity and sophistication.”

The newspaper found that effective violence-prevention programs were flourishing “in small pockets,” but the school district “has failed to replicate them on a large scale.”

Bullying

Another key challenge to a safe school climate is bullying, the age-old intimidation tactics that can rise to the level of violent incident but often wreaks subtler, more insidious damage. There have been renewed efforts in the past few years to address the scourge of bullying in school classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, as well as in that newer neighborhood where young people hang out—cyberspace.

According to the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011” report, about 28 percent of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied in school. Common categories included being taunted or insulted; being pushed, shoved, or spit on; being the subject of rumors; being threatened with harm; being made to do things the student didn’t want to do; and being excluded from activities.

For this age group of middle school and high school students, 6th graders reported the highest proportion of being bullied (39 percent), with the proportion declining each grade through 12th, which had a 20 percent rate of students facing bullying.

As for the newer phenomenon of cyberbullying, the federal report found that about 6 percent of students 12-18 reported facing such a problem anywhere (inside or outside of school) during the 2008-09 year. Cyberbullying was defined as reporting that another student posted hurtful information about them on the Internet; or harassed them via online instant-messaging services, SMS text messages, e-mail, or while playing games online. Harassing text messages were the largest category of cyberbullying, with 3 percent of students reporting experiencing them, the federal report said.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have drawn attention to the problem of bullying, leading White House conferences and promoting multi-agency responses at the federal level. “Bullying is definable,” Duncan said at a 2010 federal bullying prevention summit meeting. “It has a common definition and a legal definition in many states. Good prevention programs work to reduce bullying. And bullying is very much an education priority that goes to the heart of school performance and school culture.”

The Education Department’s office for civil rights took the stance in 2010 that a school’s failure to properly respond to bullying could amount to a violation of a student’s civil rights. Many lawmakers at the state and federal level believe that more protection is needed.

Most states have some form of anti-bullying legislation on their books, but many have sought to strengthen their protections. New Jersey, for example, has a law requiring each school to have an anti-bullying specialist and to report incidents of the behavior to the state. Other provisions in a new crop of state anti-bullying measures include expanding the definition to include cyberbullying, increasing protections for victims of bullying and those who report incidents, and requiring professional development for teachers and awareness programs for students on the issue.

According to a 2011 federal Education Department report, 46 states have anti-bullying laws, and 45 of those laws direct school districts to adopt policies to combat bullying. One conclusion of the report is that “one of the most significant challenges to legislation has been in defining what types of behavior, and what conditions, constitute school bullying (e.g., what actions, what frequency, intent, location, and what degree of harm to victims), which can take place under often varied and difficult-to-define circumstances. Since there is no standard definition of bullying that is universally accepted in the research field or at the federal level, the states must establish their own definitions through legislative debate and administrative action.” Meanwhile, at the federal level, Congress in 2011 and 2012 was considering its own measures to combat bullying. One measure, sponsored by Senators Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would require federally funded school districts to establish codes of conduct that prohibit bullying and harassment, including on the basis of students’ sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure, called the Safe Schools Improvement Act, also would require states to report bullying statistics to the federal Education Department. Another measure, by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would add specific anti-bullying protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. In April 2012, President Obama publicly endorsed the two measures, though they had not moved forward as of June 2012.

LGBT Issues

On a related front for gay and lesbian issues in schools, the president participated in the “It Gets Better” project, a series of public service announcements aiming a positive message at gay young people, especially those who have considered suicide. “We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, that it’s some inevitable part of growing up,” President Obama said in his 2010 contribution. “It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids.”

The It Gets Better campaign underscores that bullying and discrimination against gay and lesbian students in school is not condoned or tolerated to the degree it was perhaps just a generation ago. But a major study of the school climate for LGBT teenagers suggests there is still work to be done. Just a few years ago, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a resource for students, teachers, and others, published its most exhaustive look at the issue, titled “The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” The study reports that schools nationwide remain “hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students—almost all of whom commonly hear homophobic remarks and face verbal and physical harassment and even physical assault because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.”

Nearly 89 percent of LGBT students in the survey had frequently or often heard the term “gay” used negatively at school, such as in the phrase “That’s so gay.” Some 72 percent heard other homophobic remarks frequently at school. Forty percent of survey respondents reported being physically harassed, such as being pushed or shoved, at school in the previous year because of their sexual orientation. Some 19 percent of respondents reported more serious physical assaults based on their sexual orientation.

Some 64 percent of students did not feel confident reporting such harassment to school officials because they did not think it would be taken seriously. And about one-third of all respondents said they had reported bullying or other harassment and that school officials had done nothing.

The report outlined problems of higher absenteeism, lowered educational aspirations, and poorer psychological well-being among gay and lesbian youths who had faced such situations in school.

On a positive note, the study outlines that students at schools with gay-straight alliances (student support clubs), gay-positive curricula, and supportive educators faced fewer instances of harassment and bullying.

GLSEN also reports that looking back as far as its first climate survey in 1999, there has been a decline in the hearing of homophobic remarks in school (though the rate has been steady in more recent years), there has been a significant increase in the number of gay-straight alliances as that movement spread across the country, and there has been a significant increase in the number of educators who are supportive of LGBT students.

There are other significant issues raised in the context of the school climate question—student mobility, sex discrimination, social support and counseling for students. The complexity of the topic underscores that American schools are far removed from the era when “teachers taught and students listened.” 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Trump Pick DeVos, Confirmation Hearing Is a Bear

Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for billionaire school advocate Betsy DeVos — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. secretary of education — was a doozy.

DeVos sought to present herself as ready to oversee the federal agency, but some of her remarks suggested a lack of familiarity with the federal laws governing the nation’s schools.

In her opening statement before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, DeVos said:

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Incoming DC Schools Chancellor Has Reputation For Reducing Suspensions

Antwan Wilson will take over as head of DC Public Schools following Kaya Henderson’s exit. While he is an outsider, he is not expected to make sweeping changes to the direction the district has been heading over the last decade. His success on reducing suspensions in Oakland comes at a time when the nation is moving away from zero tolerance discipline policies in favor of keeping kids in classrooms.

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

Member Stories

December 29 – January 5
Here's what we're reading by EWA members

Nationally, 84 percent of computer science majors are men. At Harvey Mudd College in California, women make up 55 percent of computer science graduates. Rosanna Xia explores the school’s gender-equity efforts in this Los Angeles Times story.

Member Stories

December 22-29
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

What will education in California look like under President Trump? Nan Austin of The Modesto Bee offers her take, noting the ”stability built in by state law and sheer size.”

 

In this story on tall tales during exam week, one Indiana University professor tells Michael Reschke of The Herald-Times that this ”can be an especially dangerous time of year for grandmothers, grandfathers and pets,” who all seem to fall suddenly ill.

 

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More Teachers’ Union Leaders Come Out Against New Student-Discipline Policies

Teachers in Fresno, California, and Des Moines, Iowa, have come out against their districts’ efforts to reform how students are disciplined. Teachers in Indianapolis and New York City registered similar complaints earlier this year. Teachers are arguing that efforts to change student-disciplinary practices—largely in an attempt to address big racial disparities in who gets suspended and expelled—are making their classrooms harder to manage.

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LA Unified Schools: Hubs for Education — and Social Services?

Los Angeles schools shouldn’t only be places where students go to learn; they should also be community centers, after-school gathering spots and hubs for social services.

That principle is better known nationally as the “community schools” model — and it’s about to get the endorsement of a newly-formed, powerhouse coalition of labor unions, faith-based groups and social justice organizations who see it as a new organizing principle for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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Protecting Or Policing?

 In the sweltering days of July, tensions between police and civilians were running high. A cop fatally shot Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, setting off a week of protests. Another police officer fatally shot Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, while his fiance and her 4-year-old daughter watched. A sniper shot and killed five police officers in Dallas.

Member Stories

November 17-December 1
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members in the last two weeks

Who is Betsy DeVos? Dale Mezzacappa, Greg Windle and Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook team up for a closer look at the Michigan billionaire who is poised to become the next U.S. secretary of education. 

 

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U.S. Secretary John King to States: End Corporal Punishment in Schools

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has called on states to stop allowing schools to use corporal punishment to discipline students, arguing that it is a “harmful practice.”

In his letter to governors and chief state school officers dated Tuesday, King pointed out that the corporal punishment practiced in some states’ schools could also be classified as criminal assault or battery under separate laws in those same states. Corporal punishment is often used disproportionately on certain groups of students, such as students of color, King said. 

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What 1.6 Million American Students Are Missing

John B. King Jr. understood the importance of school counselors from a young age, because his own mother served as one in his school. “I can remember hearing her talk with my father about her students and the kinds of support she was providing them,” he says.

Latest News

How a Happy School Can Help Students Succeed

A study published in the Review of Educational Research today suggests that school climate is something educators and communities should prioritize — especially as a way to bridge the elusive achievement gap. The authors analyzed more than 15 years of research on schools worldwide, and found that positive school climate had a significant impact on academics.

Latest News

What’s The Holdup Over Switching to Later Start Times for St. Paul’s Secondary Students?

At the St. Paul School Board meeting earlier this week, a number of parents, educators and community members showed up to weigh in on an issue the district has grappled with for years and suddenly seems poised to act on: whether to shift to later start times for most middle and high school students.

Those in favor of adopting later start times for secondary students cited the academic and health benefits that are supported by a large body of research. 

Latest News

Hillary Clinton Campaign Releases $500 Million Anti-bullying Plan

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is pitching a $500 million program to help states and schools combat bullying. At the same time, her campaign has a new ad framing her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, as a schoolyard bully.

Funding for the “Better Than Bullying” initiative would go to states to develop plans to combat bullying. Under the plan, states would be eligible for $4 in federal matching funds for every $1 of their own money they put into anti-bullying efforts.

Member Stories

October 20-October 27
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

In Texas school districts, it’s often the men who are calling the shots. Shelby Webb of The Houston Chronicle explores why it’s the case that in a state where three out of four teachers are women, only one of five superintendents are female. Click here to bypass the story’s paywall.

Latest News

Fearing Election Day Trouble, Some U.S. Schools Cancel Classes

FALMOUTH, Maine — Rigged elections. Vigilante observers. Angry voters. The claims, threats and passions surrounding the presidential race have led communities around the U.S. to move polling places out of schools or cancel classes on Election Day.

The fear is that the ugly rhetoric of the campaign could escalate into confrontations and even violence in school hallways, endangering students.

Latest News

Denied: Disabled Kids Forced Out to Meet Special Ed Target

Some schools across Texas have ousted children with disabilities from needed services in order to comply with an agency decree that no more than 8.5 percent of students should obtain specialized education. School districts seeking to meet the arbitrary benchmark have not only made services harder to get into but have resorted to removing hundreds and hundreds of kids.

Member Stories

October 13-20
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Who will win the U.S. presidential election? Just ask America’s schoolchildren, who have accurately predicted the last 13 presidential elections, Greg Toppo of USA TODAY reports. This year’s nationwide mock election showed a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton.

 

Chicago could become the first U.S. city to cap its number of charter schools using a union contract, Lauren FitzPatrick writes for the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

Member Stories

October 6 – October 13
Here's what we're reading by EWA members

Learn about Finland’s transition toward a school schedule that merges multiple subjects into extended learning blocks, a move that could be the exception to the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Education Week’s Madeline Will has the story.

Melinda D. Anderson explains in The Atlantic how the “stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts.”

Member Stories

September 8 – September 15
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Melinda Anderson for The Atlantic: “The study suggests that as the portion of students of color in the school increased, so did the odds that the school would rely on more intense surveillance methods.”

EWA Radio

Bright Lights, Big City: Covering NYC’s Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 89

(Unsplash/Pedro Lastra)

Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Crossing Borders Means Repeated Grades, Denied Enrollment for Some Mexican-American Students

Source: Bigstock

There are hundreds of thousands of students who cross borders to attend schools in both the U.S. and Mexico during their elementary, middle and high school years, but poor communication between the two nations often results in significant obstacles for their academic advancement, researchers said at a binational symposium in Mexico this week.

Key Coverage

And Everyone Saw It

The seventh-grader’s sext was meant to impress him. Then he shared it. It nearly destroyed her.

When Maureen’s parents were in middle school, if a girl wanted to show a boy her body in the middle of the night, she would have to sneak out of her house, find a way to get to his, evade his parents and yank up her shirt. For their daughter, all it took was a few clicks.

Member Stories

August 25-September 1
Highlighting some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

A tribal school in Puyallup, Washington, is no longer accepting students who are not registered with a Native American tribe, meaning many children who intended to return to the K-12 campus this school year will have to seek an education elsewhere, Debbie Cafazzo of The News Tribune reports.

 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Crossing International Borders for a Better Education

Public Domain

Crossing an international border can be a hassle. But some parents in Mexico do it every day in pursuit of a better education for their children. 

San Antonio-based KENS 5 recently aired a story of a father who walks his two young children across the Mexico-Texas border daily so they can attend school in the U.S. The trek is worth it, he says.

Member Stories

August 18-25
A snapshot of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Many people might think corporal punishment in U.S. schools is practically nonexistent in the modern era, but an Education Week analysis found more than 109,000 students were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished at school in 2013-14, Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin report.

 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Member Stories

August 12-18
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Who oversees a sexual assault charge on college campuses? There’s no set rule, and in some cases sports boosters adjudicate cases concerning student-athletes, reports Jake New for Inside Higher Ed.

After their son died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this couple began asking questions about the cancer risk students who play on artificial turf face. The culprit may be the shredded tire bits deposited between the turf’s fake blades of grass, writes Debbie Cafazzo for The News Tribune.

EWA Radio

Revisiting “Savage Inequalities” of School Funding
EWA Radio: Episode 85

HarperPerennial

For more than two decades, “Savage Inequalities” — a close look at school funding disparities nationwide — has been required reading at many colleges and universities. And with a growing number of states facing legal challenges to how they fund their local schools, author Jonathan Kozol’s work has fresh relevance. Education journalists Lauren Camera (US News & World Report) and Christine Sampson (East Hampton Star) talk with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about how Kozol’s book has influenced their own reporting.

EWA Radio

Why the ‘After-School Satan Club’ Is More than a Stunt
EWA Radio: Episode 84

(Flickr/Charles Rodstrom)

Why is an organization known as the Satanic Temple launching a national push to add after-school clubs in public elementary schools? And what does the group hope to accomplish when it comes to challenging perceived violations to the separation between church and state? Journalist Katherine Stewart, a contributing writer to The Washington Post, discusses her reporting on the controversy, which developed in response to the “Good News Clubs” — backed by a fundamentalist Christian organization — that have sprung up in thousands of elementary schools nationwide.

Stewart and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also discuss ideas for local reporters covering First Amendment and religious freedom issues in their own communities. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

D.C.-Area Latino Youth Programs Get Financial Boost

Source: Flickr via ||read|| (CC BY 2.0)

A community program working to reduce violence through soccer and an after-school robotics class serving Latino youth in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region have each received up to $50,000 in grants to aid their efforts from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Reporter Armando Trull provides insight into these two programs in a story for WAMU. 

EWA Radio

‘Glen’s Village’: From Childhood Trauma to the Ivy League
EWA Radio: Episode 82

Glen Casey, a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood, looks on as his school is demolished. (Philadelphia Public School Notebook/"Glen's Village")

Veteran education writer Paul Jablow and multimedia journalist Dorian Geiger discuss their documentary of a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood thanks to the intensive interventions of a network of support, including his mother, teachers, and social workers. Glen Casey is now a successful student at the University of Pennsylvania and plans on a teaching career. But how unusual is his story, particularly in a public school system of ever-dwindling resources?

Report

Drop Out, Push Out, & School-to-Prison Pipeline
GLSEN

Educational Exclusion: Drop Out, Push Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline among LGBTQ Youth provides an in-depth look at the conditions that effectively push LGBTQ youth out of school and potentially into the criminal justice system. The report provides specific, real world guidance to address the hostile school climates and damaging policies and practices that contribute to pushing LGBTQ youth out of their schools.

Read the report.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Security: Inside or Out?

A public safety officer participates in a safety demonstration with schoolchildren in Charleston, South Carolina. (Flickr/South Charleston)

The grim subject of violent attacks in schools seems unlikely to go away. While the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School appeared to be a watershed moment in the national conversation about how to keep schools and students safe, school shootings have continued and little has changed in how the issue is covered in the news media.

Most stories about school security center tend to focus on extreme events or threats.

Key Coverage

How to Teach Students Grit

All of which brings me back to the question of how to help children develop those mysterious noncognitive capacities. If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps.

EWA Radio

When Schools Become Crisis Centers
EWA Radio: Episode 75

Flickr/Will Foster

As Casey McDermott reports for New Hampshire Public Radio, teachers in the Granite State are increasingly functioning as de facto case managers for vulnerable students. She talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about the issues facing youth and their families, ranging from homelessness to food insecurity to substance abuse. The focus on vulnerable students is part of NHPR’s new “State of Democracy” project, examining the real-world implications of policy decisions.

EWA Radio

Are ‘No Second Chances’ Discipline Policies Hurting Florida’s Students?
EWA Radio: Episode 74

Infinity Moreland, now a senior at North Port High School, was expelled in the fall of 2014 for a fight she did not start. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune/Rachel S. O'Hara used with permission)

Education journalist Shelby Webb of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune spent six months digging into student suspensions and expulsions in Florida, and her findings took the local school board by surprise: Sarasota County has the second-highest rate of expulsions in the Sunshine State. But the district’s process for expulsions was certainly built for volume: as many as 14 students have been expelled with a single “yes” vote by school board members, some of whom haven’t even read the background on the individual students’ cases. The Herald-Tribune’s project also examines questions of equity of school discipline policies across Florida where — echoing a nationwide trend — many students of color face more severe punishments than their white peers.

EWA Radio

Palo Alto’s Student Suicides
EWA Radio: Episode 73

(Pixabay/kaleido-dp)

What’s behind a cluster of student suicides in the heart of ultra-competitive Silicon Valley?

In a cover story for The Atlantic, journalist Hanna Rosin investigated a disturbing cycle stretching back more than a decade for Palo Alto and Gunn high schools. She spoke with EWA public editor Emily Richmond: How are local educators, parents, and students are responding to the crisis? What’s next for the investigation by federal health officials? And how can reporters improve their own coverage of these kinds of challenging issues? Rosin’s story, “The Silicon Valley Suicides” won 1st Prize for magazine feature writing in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Student Protests Spread in Oregon After Latest ‘Build a Wall’ Clash

This election season, it has become common to read about candidates’ anti-immigrant rhetoric trickling down into schools and, in many cases, being used to insult Latino students. Over the past several days, the polarizing phrase “build a wall” — presumed to be inspired by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration plan to curb illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border — has been making headlines in Oregon, as it has inspired hundreds of studen

EWA Radio

Transgender Student Rights Debate Goes National
EWA Radio: Episode 72

(Flickr/Jzee)

A new federal directive intended to protect the rights of transgender students is causing waves for states and school districts.

Evie Blad of Education Week discusses the fallout from North Carolina’s new law — the first of its kind in the nation — setting limits on bathroom access for public school students who identify as transgender. She and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also discuss what might happen if states ignore the White House’s guidance, and how education journalists can approach their reporting on these issues with cultural sensitivity.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Behind the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Failure Factories Series

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Cara Fitzpatrick was in labor when her husband – and colleague at the Tampa Bay Times – asked her “So what can you tell me about segregation in Pinellas County?”

The paper had just decided to do a large-scale investigation into the district’s schools that were serving predominately low-income, black students. Two years later, Fitzpatrick’s son is walking and talking and she and the rest of the team have earned a Pulitzer Prize for their series Failure Factories.  

EWA Radio

Inside Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Failure Factories’
EWA Radio: Episode 70

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Update: On May 2, “Failure Factories” won the $10,000 Hechinger Grand Prize in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.

The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this year went to the Tampa Bay Times for an exhaustive investigation into how a handful of elementary schools in Pinellas County wound up deeply segregated by race, poverty, and opportunity.

Key Coverage

Bad Apples: Who is Teaching Mississippi’s Kids?

A principal served four years and two months in prison for attempted murder. Another pleaded guilty to embezzling $73,033 in electronics from his school. One teacher struck a student, and several others were accused of misconduct involving students.

 All of these individuals surrendered or lost their teaching license, and each of them was later reinstated by Mississippi’s commission responsible for disciplining educators.

Report

The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools
Southern Poverty Law Center

Every four years, teachers in the United States use the presidential election to impart valuable lessons to students about the electoral process, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship.

But, for students and teachers alike, this year’s primary season is starkly different from any in recent memory. The results of an online survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance suggest that the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.

EWA Radio

Chicago’s Noble Charter Schools: A Model Network?
EWA Radio: Episode 60

Flickr/Mike Procario

In the Windy City, one out of every 10 high schoolers is enrolled at a campus in the Noble Network of Charter Schools. And while Noble students typically perform well, the network is facing some growing pains in the nation’s third-largest school district. Among the challenges: An increasingly diverse student population, competition for enrollment from traditional Chicago Public Schools campuses seeking to reinvent themselves, and concerns about Noble’s strict discipline policies and emphasis on preparing for the ACT college entrance exam.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Do Boys Need ‘Manhood’ Lessons?

Chinese students in the classroom. The country's education officials are trying to increase the ranks of its male teacher workforce with an eye toward developing more "manly" qualities among boy students. (Flickr/Mike Hetherington via Creative Commons)

Two powerful new stories — one from China, the other set in Oakland, California — explore how educators are addressing perceived shortfalls in boys’ education: namely, bestowing them with the qualities needed for “manhood.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Radio: Here Are Your Favorites of 2015

It’s been a terrific year for our scrappy little podcast, and we’re thrilled to report an equally stellar lineup coming to EWA Radio in 2016.  

I’d like to take a moment to thank the many journalists and education experts who made time to join us for lively conversations, and to all of you who have offered suggestions for stories and guests to feature. Please keep the feedback coming! 

Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 most popular episodes of the year:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A View from Abroad: Exchange Students Highlight Differences in Schooling

A panel of exchange students spoke at EWA's recent conference on U.S. education in a global context. From left to right, they are Valentina Tobon of Virginia, Lili Hofmann of Germany, Chun-Te Wang of Taiwan, and Kamila Mundzik of Poland. Photo by Emily Richmond, EWA

Chung-Te Wang had never seen a calculator in school before traveling to the U.S. this year as an exchange student.

“We always calculate with our brain. No offense,” said the 16-year-old from Taiwan, spurring laughter in a room full of reporters at the Education Writers Association’s recent seminar on covering U.S. education in a global context.

Key Coverage

Amid Anti-Refugee Political Rhetoric, Nashville Schools Welcome Displaced Students

Such harrowing stories are among the real-world lessons in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, which continues to serve a diverse and growing refugee population amid a recent wave of anti-refugee sentiment in America. Some students are from Syria, and school officials say they’re more committed than ever to serving their share of the hundreds of thousands of people being displaced by war in Syria.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When Grit Isn’t Enough

Tyrone Howard, a professor and associate dean at UCLA, speakers to reporters about student trauma at EWA's seminar on Motivation Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

The first time I heard a preschooler explaining a classmate’s disruptive behavior, I was surprised at how adult her four-year-old voice sounded.

Her classmate “doesn’t know how to sit still and listen,” she said to me, while I sat at the snack table with them. He couldn’t learn because he couldn’t follow directions, she explained, as if she had recently completed a behavioral assessment on him.

Key Coverage

How Washington Created Some of the Worst Schools in America

Flash forward 46 more years. The network of schools for Native American children run by an obscure agency of the Interior Department remains arguably the worst school system in the United States, a disgrace the government has known about for eight decades and never successfully reformed. Earlier this fall, POLITICO asked President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, about perhaps the federal government’s longest-running problem: “It’s just the epitome of broken,” he said. “Just utterly bankrupt.” The epitome of broken looks like Crystal Boarding School.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Seattle Schools Ban Elementary Suspensions

Journalist Claudia Rowe, middle, speaks about discipline policies in Seattle schools during a panel discussion at the 2015 EWA National Seminar. (Source: Lloyd Degrane for EWA)

Discipline practices thought to disproportionately affect students of color have been at the center of debates across the country. And with a growing body of research showing the negative long-term effects of zero-discipline policies, especially on minority youth, many school districts have moved to abandon them. 

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Slow to Wake Up to Research on Sleepy Teens

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging public schools to start middle and high school classes later, to give adolescent students more time to rest. (Creative Commons/Psy3330 W10)

For the first time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging education policymakers to start middle and high school classes later in the morning to improve the odds of adolescents getting sufficient sleep to thrive both physically and academically.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: Story Ideas That Shine

Flickr/OddHarmonic

While it may seem that every back-to-school story has been written, the well is far from dry. Are you following the blogs teachers in your district write? Have you amassed the data sets you’ll need to write that deep dive explaining why so many local high school graduates land in remedial classes when they first enter college?

No? It’s OK. You’re not alone.

EWA Radio

Rethinking Classroom Discipline
EWA Radio: Episode 32

Conversations about classroom discipline typically focus on ways to teach kids there are consequences to their actions as a means of controlling future behavior. But a new approach gaining ground removes the sliding scale of punishment from the equation.

Clinical psychologist Ross Greene — whose books are well known to parents of so-called “problem kids,” is rewriting the rules for how some schools respond to challenging students.

Multimedia

Ways to Examine School Discipline
2015 EWA National Seminar

Ways to Examine School Discipline

Schools often say they suspend misbehaving students to restore order and keep others safe. But a recent study questions the link between suspensions and school safety. This session flips the script, as a researcher moderates a panel of reporters who have explored alternatives to the usual diet of suspensions and expulsions.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A Chicago High School’s Turnaround

Reporters visit Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago's North Side as part of EWA's 68th National Seminar (Jessica Smith for EWA)

Five years ago, Nicholas Senn High School on the Near North Side of Chicago was one some educators felt lucky to avoid. While student discipline might have been an issue elsewhere, “you would say, at least it’s not Senn,” Principal Susan Lofton said.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Solutions, Not Punishment, Focus of School Discipline Policies

Ed White Middles School in San Antonio uses restorative discipline methods in an attempt to mediate issues with student to improve academic performance. (Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News)

As school districts across the country work to address racial inequities in discipline, some campuses are trying alternative approaches to keeping students out of trouble and in the classroom.

Among the approaches gaining in popularity: positive behavior support programs, which reward students for good behavior, and restorative justice programs, in which students are brought into the process of identifying solutions, rather than simply punished.

Story Lab

Story Lab: Making Federal Data a Gold Mine for Your Reporting

Need a state or national statistic? There’s likely a federal data set for that. From fairly intuitive and interactive widgets to dense spreadsheets — and hundreds of data summaries in between — the U.S. Department of Education’s various research programs are a gold mine for reporters on the hunt for facts and figures.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reporting on Schools: Why Campus Access Matters

Hallway of Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, Texas. (Flickr/Dean Terry)

Back in December, reporter Lauren Foreman of the Bakersfield Californian sent an email titled “Banned from classrooms” to a group of education journalists.

“One of my district’s assistant supes told me today reporters aren’t allowed to observe classroom instruction, and parents aren’t even allowed to freely do that,” she wrote. Foreman wanted to know what policies were in other districts and how she ought to respond.

Report

When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research

This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

From the Beat: Memorable Education Stories of 2014

Cadets celebrate graduation at West Point. A USA Today investigation of  congressional influence over the nomination process at elite military academies was one of the year's most memorable education stories. Flickr/U.S. Army (Creative Commons)

When you write a blog, the end of the year seems to require looking back and looking ahead. Today I’m going to tackle the former with a sampling of some of the year’s top stories from the K-12 and higher education beats. I’ll save the latter for early next week when the final sluggish clouds of 2014 have been swept away, and a bright new sky awaits us in 2015. (Yes, I’m an optimist.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Discipline Policies Can Backfire

Source: Flickr/cdsessums (CC BY 2.0)

If tough school discipline measures are meant to maintain stability in the classroom, then a new definition of stable might be in order: A new study argues high use of suspensions and expulsions brings down all students – even the ones who behave well.

A researcher with the Albert Shanker Institute flagged the study, which was published this month in the American Sociological Review. Here’s more on the paper from the Shanker Institute scholar Esther Quintero:

Report

It’s About Time
Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools

IT’S ABOUT TIME draws on a statewide survey to examine how learning time is distributed across California high schools. The survey, conducted by UCLA IDEA during the 2013-2014 school year, included a representative sample of nearly 800 teachers. Survey findings highlight inequalities in the amount of time available for learning across low and high poverty High Schools.  Community stressors and chronic problems with school conditions lead to far higher levels of lost instructional time in high poverty high schools. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latino, Black Students Disciplined More Harshly Than Other Students

Source: Flickr via Eric E. Castro

Ever since my second week living in the District of Columbia, when I found myself alone on a commuter train the conductor had apparently deemed malfunctioning while I was lost in my music, I like to keep all five senses focused on my surroundings.

But on Monday, I decided to give the headphones another try. I’d heard good things about the podcast “This American Life” and decided to download the latest episode from Oct. 17 – “Is This Working?”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

In California, the Tide Shifts on ‘Willful Defiance’ Discipline

By Neon Tommy (originally posted to Flickr as Jerry Brown) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

California has limited schools’ ability to suspend or expel students for “willful defiance,” passing a law over the weekend that curbed the practice.

Approved by Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure is considered the first statewide law in the nation to apply limits on a school’s ability to punish a student for “willful defiance” – a catch-all term that many social justice advocates say disproportionately targets minority students for allegedly disobeying school officials.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Moving the Wrong Way on Student Health?

There’s a section in the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll out this week that hasn’t gotten much attention: what parents think about schools and student health. (You can read my overview of the full poll, which focuses heavily on questions about teacher quality and preparation, here.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Does Your School District Own Grenade Launchers?

U.S. Army Photo by Gary L. Kieffer
Does your school district own a grenade launcher?

Prompted by the controversy over the type of equipment the Ferguson police department used during protests over the death of Michael Brown, news organizations across the country started requesting information about a U.S. Department of Defense program that provided police departments with defense equipment.

Why should education reporters care?

Some of those police departments happen to belong to school districts, colleges and universities.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Los Angeles Schools End Zero Tolerance Discipline Policy

For years, students attending the Los Angeles Unified School District could earn citations from police officers for behaviors such as fighting.

The criminalization of routine offenses committed by students now appears to be coming to an end. The school system announced this week that it would stop giving citations for such offenses, and would instead focus on programs for students who misbehave.

EWA Radio

To Avoid Suspension, Students Talk It Out
EWA Radio, Episode 9

In Texas, a state known for its zero-tolerance approach to school discipline, 80 percent of its prisoners are high school dropouts. And as more research finds a link between suspensions and quitting school early, the evidence is mounting that keeping kids from learning for behavioral reasons hurts their academic outcomes. Against this backdrop is White Middle School in central Texas.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Increasing Focus on Student Mental Health

More students are walking into classrooms with high stress levels than in previous generations, but a few innovative schools are helping kids cope with these challenges and succeed academically.

For students who have experienced trauma at home, nothing replaces a caring adult at school, said Bill Bond, the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ specialist for school safety. And teachers the most likely to provide counseling at school, said Bond during an EWA National Seminar panel discussion on student mental health.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Denver Group Sees Improvement in Colorado School Discipline Data

An organization of Latino parents and youth has released a new report praising Colorado for progress the state has made in the discipline of Latino students.

The group has been critical of how strict disciplinary policies can contribute to a “school-to-prison pipeline,” reports Fox News Latino. The organization previously accused Colorado schools of using zero tolerance policies that swept students of color into the legal system.

Report

School Discipline Data: A Snapshot of Legislative Action – CSG Justice Center

Research suggests that suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions that remove  youth from their classrooms put students at greater risk for poor academic and behavioral outcomes. These students are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, receive future disciplinary actions, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. Youth of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), LGBT youth, and those with identified special education needs tend to experience exclusionary discipline actions at higher rates than their peers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Do Students Suffer When Snow Days Pile Up?

I’m in Atlanta right now, where schools took every precaution to avoid a repeat of the logistical nightmare that unfolded two weeks ago when two inches of snow paralyzed the city. And with the roadways iced over and the precipitation piling up, it looks like education officials made the right decision.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Do Small Schools Work for Latinos?

Former New York CIty Mayor Michael Bloomberg viewed breaking up large failing high schools and creating smaller ones as one potential remedy to closing the achievement gap.

Now his successor, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio will have the opportunity to reverse the program.

In a commentary piece for Education Week, University of California, Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller writes that many of the smaller campuses just furthered segregation by race and class. Small schools sometimes have just 200 students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After Sandy Hook: A New Approach to Campus Safety?

In the aftermath of Columbine in 1999, law enforcement began to rethink its response to mass shootings. Instead of presuming a quick entry into the scene by the first responders might do more harm than good, a new line of thought emerged: Stopping the “active shooter” had to be the top priority.

It’s too soon to know whether the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School a year ago will prompt long-term changes in the best practices of emergency response, but experts and educators believe another such tipping point may be upon us.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Should Schools Nurture Students’ Emotional Intelligence?

The New York Times Magazine’s annual education issue is out, and as always there’s a healthy mix of policy, practice, real-world realities for schools and students, deep dives, and memorable profiles.I imagine Carlo Rotella’s lead story on No Child Left Untableted will get generate quite a bit of response in the classroom technology debate.But I was just as interested in Jennifer Kahn’s piece on the attempt to cultivate

Multimedia

How I Did the Story: Title IX and Sexual Assault on Campus

How I Did the Story: Title IX and Sexual Assault on Campus

Justin Pope of the Associated Press talks about how he approached the timely and difficult topic of how universities are applying the Title IX gender discrimination law to sexual assault cases. Pope’s coverage won a special citation in Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in a Large Newsroom in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting.

Multimedia

How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”

How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”

Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio talks about following a group of teachers, administrators and students going through a turnaround effort at a failing school in Denver. “Trevista” was awarded first prize, Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in Broadcast in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting. Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013, at Stanford University.

*Please note: Due to technical difficulties during recording, the audio in the first half of this video is distorted. There is nothing wrong with your speakers.

EWA Radio

Opportunity Gaps and Out of School Factors

Much attention has focused on achievement gaps among children from different demographic groups, and on teacher effectiveness as the chief in-school influence on student performance. But what about factors that carry more weight than teachers? And how can society close opportunity gaps often associated with widely decried achievement gaps in school? Sarah Garland, The Hechinger Report (moderator); Prudence Carter, Stanford Graduate School of Education; Michael Petrilli, Thomas B.

Webinar

Beyond Victims and Villains: Covering Bullying and Suicide
1 hour

In the wake of several high-profile cases involving students who took their own lives, states are focusing heavily on making bullying prevention programs mandatory in public schools. But how much of the responsibility really rests with educators, and what steps should the broader community be taking to help students make smarter choices about their own behavior on campus, after school, and online?

Key Coverage

Recess in Schools: Research Shows It Benefits Children

 Repeated studies have shown that when recess is delayed, children pay less and less attention. They are more focusedon days when they have recess. A major study in Pediatrics found that children with more than 15 minutes of recess a day were far better behaved in class than children who had shorter recess breaks or none at all.

EWA Radio

School Violence: What Can Reporters Uncover?

In many communities, campus violence and student discipline issues are ever-present concerns for educators struggling to make schools safe places to work and learn. Members of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team from The Philadelphia Inquirer and others discuss the newspaper’s year-long project on school violence and its impact on the community.

Webinar

Homeless Students: Covering the School Safety Net
1 Hour, 3 minutes

From Maine to California, school districts are reporting significant increases in the number of homeless students. Our webinar takes a closer look at the underlying issues, and also gives participants a blueprint for localizing this important story. Our presenters will include Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children; Pamela Hosmer, Program Manager for the San Diego Unified School District’s Children and Youth in Transition program; and Dr.

Multimedia

Alex Kotlowitz on “The Interrupters”

Alex Kotlowitz on “The Interrupters”

The author of There Are No Children Here talks with Wall Street Journal education reporter and EWA President Stephanie Banchero about The Interrupters, a documentary he made with director Steve James. The film, which follows a group of anti-violence activists working in inner-city Chicago, airs on the PBS series Frontline Feb. 14, 2012.

For more information: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/interrupters

Recorded at EWA’s 64th National Seminar, held in April 2011 in New Orleans.

Key Coverage

New Rules Aim to Rid Schools of Junk Food

The Agriculture Department said Thursday that for the first time it will make sure that all foods sold in the nation’s 100,000 schools are healthier by expanding fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits to almost everything sold during the school day.

That includes snacks sold around the school and foods on the “a la carte” line in cafeterias, which never have been regulated before. The new rules, proposed in February and made final this week, also would allow states to regulate student bake sales. 

Multimedia

President Obama: It Gets Better

President Obama: It Gets Better is part of a national campaign started in 2010 to reassure gay and lesbian teens—who face disproportionate bullying and commit suicide at higher than average rates—that they could overcome the abuse and other struggles. (The text of this post was written by the White House deputy director of public engagement.)

Organization

The National School Safety Center

The National School Safety Center “identifies and promotes strategies, promising practices and programs that support safe schools for all students as part of the total academic mission.” The NSSC worked with the U.S. Justice Department to create campus safety guidelines and practices for institutions following the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. The organization also works heavily with K-12 schools.

Organization

The National School Climate Center

The National School Climate Center, headquartered in New York City, focuses on the issue of creating a “positive and sustained school climate: a safe, supportive environment that nurtures social and emotional, ethical, and academic skills.” The center originally was founded in 1996 as part of the Teachers College, Columbia University.

Organization

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network “strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.” In addition to researching and compiling data regarding the school lives of LGBT students, the network also advocates actively on their behalf.

Organization

The Cyberbullying Research Center

The Cyberbullying Research Center “serves as a clearinghouse of information concerning the ways adolescents use and misuse technology.” Since it went online in 2005, the website—founded by two criminal justice professors—has been gathering news and other resources that could assist reporters covering the topic of digital bullying.

Key Coverage

Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator

This shortfall in mathematical preparation for college-bound students has existed for a long time, but it is being exacerbated by the increased use of technology. College-level math classes almost never use graphing calculators, while high-school classes invariably do. College professors want their students to understand abstract concepts; technology advocates claim their products help teach students such abstractions, but in practice they simply don’t.

Key Coverage

Helping or Hovering? When ‘Helicopter Parenting’ Backfires

As the first generation of overparented kids continues to graduate into the world, a slew of studies now show that youngsters whose parents intervene inappropriately — offering advice, removing obstacles and solving problems that kids should tackle themselves — actually wind up as anxious, narcissistic young adults who have trouble coping with the demands of life. 

Key Coverage

With Police in Schools, More Children in Court

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

Key Coverage

Alliance of Big City School Dstricts Aims for More Healthful Meals

School districts in L.A., New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando, Fla., plan to announce Thursday efforts to use their collective clout — 2.5 million daily meals served and $530 million annually spent — to make wholesome food a national standard. The districts are also aiming for more eco-friendly practices — replacing polystyrene and plasticwith biodegradable trays and flatware, for instance.

Key Coverage

To Lock Classroom Doors or Not?

Behind a locked classroom door, a Los Angeles third-grade teacher purportedly committed lewd acts against students. The charges spurred demands for classrooms to remain open during the school day. But after the shooting deaths of 20 first-graders in Connecticut last month, calls were made to keep classrooms locked. The intent of both efforts is to keep students safe. But as school districts nationwide examine their security measures following the Newtown, Conn., massacre, the question of locked versus unlocked classroom doors is in debate.

Should teachers and administrators use their secured doors as a shield from an outside danger?

Key Coverage

Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate

These issues are at the heart of the 2013 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report: Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate. A collaboration between the Education Week newsroom and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, Quality Counts 2013 investigates the impact of a school’s social and disciplinary environment on students’ ability to learn and on the teachers and administrators tasked with guiding them.

The report’s journalism takes an in-depth look at a range of school-climate factors—including strong and positive peer interactions, a sense of safety and security, and school disciplinary policies and practices—that help to lay the groundwork for student achievement.

Key Coverage

Since Newtown School Shootings, Sales of Kids’ Bulletproof Backpacks Soar

Until recently, it seemed a foregone conclusion that body armor, like guns and knives, had no place in schools. Five years ago, there was no such thing as a bulletproof backpack, Uy said, and bulletproof vests were merely precautions for kids who hunted with their parents. But reinforced backpacks have become more popular since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and the gradual rise of the “prepper” movement, a subculture obsessed with preparations for the end of the world.

Key Coverage

In Southern Towns, ‘Segregation Academies’ Are Still Going Strong

A Hechinger Report analysis of private school demographics (using data compiled on the National Center for Education Statistics website) found that more than 35 such academies survive in Mississippi, many of them in rural Delta communities like Indianola. Each of the schools was founded between 1964 and 1972 in response to anticipated or actual desegregation orders, and all of them enroll fewer than two percent black students.

Key Coverage

When Roll Calls Go High-Tech

John Jay Science and Engineering Academy started making students carry “smart ID” badges implanted with microchips this fall to ensure they are counted as present, since some state funding is tied to student attendance. But Andrea Hernandez, a 15-year old sophomore at the magnet school for exceptional students, filed a federal-court petition on Nov. 30 seeking to be excluded from the program.

Key Coverage

Advent of ‘Smart Drugs’ Raises Safety, Ethical Concerns

Evidence is still limited—but growing—that some chemicals can boost attention, memory, concentration, and other abilities related to academic performance. Researchers at the Society of Neuroscience conference here questioned whether it is safe and fair to allow healthy people to boost their brain function chemically, or use drugs to correct environmental factors like poverty or bad instruction that can lead to brain deficits similar to those that characterize medical conditions like attention-deficit disorders.

Key Coverage

Washington State Makes It Harder to Opt Out of Immunizations

The share of kindergartners whose parents opted out of state immunization requirements more than doubled in the decade that ended in 2008, peaking at 7.6 percent in the 2008-9 school year, according to the state’s Health Department, raising alarm among public health experts. But last year, the Legislature adopted a law that makes it harder for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated, by requiring them to get a doctor’s signature if they wish to do so. Since then, the opt-out rate has fallen fast, by a quarter, setting an example for other states with easy policies.

Key Coverage

Pancakes for School Lunch? Perfect When It’s 9:45 a.m.

Fuentes’ pre-kindergarten son sits down to lunch in New Orleans at 9:45 a.m. and her first-grade daughter eats at 10:20 a.m. Similarly, at a school in Florida’s Seminole County, lunch starts as early as 9 a.m. and a middle school in Queens, N.Y., recently announced it will be serving students lunch at 9:45 a.m. On this month’s early morning menu: mozzarella sticks, penne pasta and roasted chicken.

Key Coverage

New Attendance Push Prized by Students, Educators

The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.

Some have asked families with children who missed school for avoidable reasons such as family trips to reimburse schools the $30-$50 a day the absence cost in lost funding, or at least consider having a child with the sniffles or a stomach ache show up for the first part of the day so he or she can be counted before going home sick.

Key Coverage

L.A. Schools Moving Away From Zero Tolerance Policies

But a new partnership among Los Angeles city, police and school officials aims to support — rather than punish — students like Garcia before it’s too late. In a decisive step away from the zero tolerance policies of the 1990s, Los Angeles school police have agreed to stop issuing citations to truant students and instead refer them to city youth centers for educational counseling and other services to help address their academic struggles.

Key Coverage

New Attendance Push Prized by Students, Educators

The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.

Key Coverage

How Kids Make Friends — And Why It Matters

To make friends, it turns out, children need to be able to carry out sophisticated social maneuvers, screening potential pals for certain positive qualities and making careful assessments about how much common ground they share. And in order to be a good friend—the kind that inspires loyalty and dedication—even a very young child must be not only fun to spend time with, but capable of being emotionally mature in ways that can be difficult even for grown-ups.

Key Coverage

Biggest Back-to-School Purchase: A New Home?

“A new analysis of Census data by the real-estate services company Trulia Inc. shows that the quality of schools remains a crucial factor in where parents choose to buy homes. Of course, schools have always been closely tied to real-estate sales, but Trulia’s findings indicate that despite the collapse of the housing market, education is sometimes even more important than factors such as price, commute time and nearby amenities.”

Key Coverage

California Defunds Program to Fix ‘Slum’ Schools

Eight years after California settled a landmark lawsuit promising hundreds of millions of dollars to repair shoddy school facilities, more than 700 schools still are waiting for their share of funds as students take classes on dilapidated campuses with health and safety hazards. California has funded less than half of the $800 million required by the Emergency Repair Program, which grew out of a class-action lawsuit against the state that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to settle.

Key Coverage

The Story of a Suicide

After Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge, anti-bullying advocates and others were quick to attribute his death to cyberbullying from his roommate Dharun Ravi, who used a webcam to spy on Clementi with a guest in their room. This exhaustively reported article shows that—in this case and others—the blame perhaps is not so easy to place.

Key Coverage

One Town’s War on Gay Teens

This article offers an unflinching look at how brutal bullying can be for LGBT students, focusing in particular in a “suicide cluster” in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota. As the debate in the story’s comments sections makes clear, allegations of bullying within mid-sized or smaller towns can be controversial and hard to resolve.

Report

Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies

This report examines what sorts of policies states use to address bullying. It found that “from 1999 to 2010, more than 120 bills were enacted by state legislatures nationally that have either introduced or amended education or criminal justice statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.

Key Coverage

Assault on Learning

The Philadelphia Inquirer education team won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of violence in the city’s schools. Their interactive site offers school-by-school databases for incidents of violence in addition to stories that includes an analysis of how even kindergarteners can be the perpetrators and victims of severe campus violence. The articles also are available as printable PDFs. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Key Coverage

Remarks by the President and First Lady at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention

During a conference to examine ways that schools and communities could work to prevent bullying, both the president and first lady offered personal remarks. “No child should feel that alone,” President Obama said. “We’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help and young adults that can help; that even if they’re having a tough time, they’re going to get through it, and there’s a whole world full of possibility waiting for them.

Report

Indicators of School Crime and Safety

This report is a comprehensive and wide-ranging compendium of statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Its “Key Findings” section is a go-to source for quick summaries of the numbers of different types of crimes reported during the school year.

Report

U.S. Department of Education “Dear Colleague” Letter

This letter from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali was issued to advise school administrators on how bullying could be addressed under existing federal laws. The letter notes that “by limiting its response to a specific application of its anti‐bullying disciplinary policy, a school may fail to properly consider whether the student misconduct also results in discriminatory harassment.

Report

The Myths About Bullying: Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the Bullying Prevention Summit

In the summer of 2010, several U.S. Cabinet departments held a summit to discuss ways they could collaborate to help the federal government to stem what was seen as a rising tide of bullying in the nation’s schools. Education Secretary Duncan spoke with the group, stating “bullying is doubly dangerous because if left unattended it can rapidly escalate into even more serious violence and abuse. Just as you have gateway drugs, bullying is gateway behavior.

Report

The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Youth in Our Schools

This report offers detailed statistics on the types of harassment and abuse that LGBT students reported experiencing in school. “Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students — almost all of whom commonly hear homophobic remarks and face verbal and physical harassment and even physical assault because of their sexual orientation or gender expression,” notes the report as a key finding.

Report

A National Analysis of School Racial Segregation, Student Achievement

This report considers the educational consequences of the considerable racial segregation that remains in schools today and the potential of controlled choice to address them. It begins with an extensive review of research regarding the effects of school integration. Previous research provides relatively strong evidence that desegregation helps minority students reach higher academic achievement and better long-term outcomes such as college attendance and employment.