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New Reports Show Wider Achievement Gaps After Pandemic

by Sandy Flores-Ruiz, age 16

Reports showing achievement gaps widened after students moved from in-person instruction to online learning are no surprise. Virtual instruction caused learning loss in thousands of school districts across the nation.

The switch from in-person instruction to online learning produced negative results in student achievement. Several factors—including the disruption of school schedules, remote learning, social isolation, and health or family-related stress—have contributed to a reduction in math and reading test scores. Researchers report that low test scores are an unsettling prediction for the future.

Research released in January by The Brookings Institution shows the academic achievement gap widening. Brookings used math and reading test scores from the previous two years. They examined data from 5.4 million U.S. students in third through eighth grade. Among those 5.4 million students, math and reading scores were lower than in previous years. [Read More]

Journalists Criticize Madison School District Handling of Open Records

by Yoanna Hoskins, age 17

The second largest school district in Wisconsin, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), which houses 52 schools and over 27,000 students, has been a hot topic of discussion in recent months. And not for good reasons.

In recent news reports, many members of the Madison community have come forward with stories about how MMSD hasn’t properly responded to open records requests. Specifically, journalists and community members who have submitted open records requests have yet to receive access to those public documents.

NBC15 Investigates has waited months for requested data. On the 9th of March 2022, they sent an email to MMSD filing an open records request. This request related to student conflicts at Madison East High School, student-led walkouts, and the subsequent reassignment of East’s principal to the central office. [Read More]

Science Fiction Writer, Octavia Butler, Recognized by NASA

by Elim Eyobed, age 11

Who is your favorite writer? Hemingway? Shakespeare? Well, one great writer you may have never heard of is Octavia E. Butler. Butler was an esteemed African American author who was recently recognized by NASA for her groundbreaking talents. NASA scientists even named a Mars landing site after her.

Butler was raised by her mother and grandmother and was extremely shy as a child. When she was 12 years old, Butler started to read fantasy books, and later wrote science fiction when she was a teenager. The science fiction she wrote helped make her a very strong writer. In fact, she became such a powerful writer that her books won the New York Times Notable Book of the Year award, The Nebula award for the best science fiction novel published in that year, and the Macarthur Genius Grant.

During the 1960’s, Butler attended college at Pasadena City College, California State University, and the University of California. She wasn't a good student in particular, but an avid one. While in Washington, Butler participated in the Black Power movement. She became familiar with The Clarion West Workshop, which was a well-known place for writers. [Read More]

Wisconsin Supreme Court 4-3 Decision Sparks Open Records Debate

by Leilani McNeal, age 17

Open government watchdogs say a recent 4-3 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court might weaken part the state’s landmark 1982 Open Records Law. The court ruled citizens are only entitled to certain types of open records requests if there is “some judicially sanctioned change in the parties’ legal relationship.”

The opinion dates back to a 2017 lawsuit filed by Waukesha residents and a taxpayer group, Friends of Frame Park. The dispute concerned city plans to bring an amateur baseball team to the community.

The litigants were granted their records request, but later denied access to a proposed draft contract between the City of Waukesha and Big Top Baseball. But city officials claimed public access during ongoing negotiations might compromise the future contract. Waukesha officials said “public disclosure of the draft contract before the Common Council has had an opportunity to consider the draft” might hinder negotiations. [Read More]

Wisconsin Begins PFAS Testing this Fall

by Sandy Flores Ruíz, age 16

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a family of synthetic chemicals. They are used in everyday household products, such clothes, carpets, nonstick cookware, packaging, and firefighting foam due to their ability to repel water and stains. The PFAS family of approximately 5,000 chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they last for a long period of time in the environment and human body. Research suggests that these chemicals can cause various types of cancers, decrease birth weights, damage the immune and reproductive systems, impact hormone regulation, and alter thyroid hormones.

Since 2019, the DNR has been working to develop standards for two of the better known PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to determine safe levels of these two chemicals in public water systems. Beginning this fall, Wisconsin communities will be required to test their water to ensure that the PFOA and PFOS do not exceed limits set by the State of Wisconsin. [Read More]

New Study Shows Pay Gap Between Men and Women even After College

by Devika Pal, age 17

Anisa Maredia carried an ambition of pursuing a career in dentistry but witnessed gender discrimination in the field. As a participant in hiring workers, she recalls interviewers inquiring about the marital status of female candidates. Maredia also called out the stark difference in pay salaries between males and females.

A 2015 Wall Street Journal report revealed a noticeable disparity in pay between men and women. Across some 2,000 universities, using 1.7 million graduates, the analysis found that men’s median pay surpassed females by 10%. This study shows that despite having similar credentials, the pay gap begins as soon as new graduates are out of college and are in the hiring process. [Read More]

How the Chicago Defender Newspaper Helped Spark “Great Migration”

by Mariama Bah, age 15

Once known as "The World's Greatest Weekly," the Chicago Defender newspaper has been publishing news and information for nearly 117 years. Providing dependable and important news to the African American people of Chicago, it remains one of the most influential black weekly newspapers in the nation.

The newspaper was launched by Robert S. Abbott in 1905. Inspired by his beliefs in equal job opportunities and social justice, Abbott published the first issue of the Chicago Defender on May 5th, of that year. By 1910 the Defender began to gain popularity and readership. [Read More]

State of Wisconsin Issues PFAS Warnings for Dane County Fisheries

by Makaya Rodriguez, age 17

PFAS, also known as (poly-fluoroalkyl substances), are man-made chemicals. They were used on clothing, carpets, non-stick pans, cookware, and as firefighting foam. PFAS are made to be stain and water-resistant. These PFAS chemicals are being found in many Wisconsin bodies of water, specifically in Dane County.

Anglers are being advised to watch out for certain fish in lakes and rivers around Madison waters, such as Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, Wingra Creek, Lake Waubesa, and Rock River. In these particular areas, officials have found levels of PFAS, and recommend not consuming walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, and northern pike more than once a month. Additionally, the consumption of fish such as yellow perch, pumpkinseeds, and bluegills is not advised more than once a week. Taking these precautions into consideration will help avoid the accumulation of PFAS in the human body. Black Earth Creek has seen especially high numbers of PFAS in brown trout. This raises concerns as the creek flows northwesterly, from Middleton into the Wisconsin River. [Read More]

Declining Newspaper Subscriptions Hamper Good Journalism

by Sydney Steidl, age 16

News collecting and reporting has changed a lot in the 21st century. American newspapers laid off at least 45% of newsroom staff between 2008 and 2017. About 1,800 print news outlets shut down between 2004 and 2015. It’s an overlooked crisis in modern American news, one that’s resulted in a massive loss of local news outlets.

The general shift to news distribution through the internet makes information more accessible. But it has also contributed to a downward spiral for journalism.

Over the years, consumers have grown to accept news as a free resource because most online outlets don’t require users to pay before reading an article. This has decreased the value of news in the public’s mind, and it is now considered abnormal to pay for news. Ultimately, this leads to news outlet shutdowns and fired news staff. [Read More]

Congress Struggles to Pass Big Tech Reform Bill

by Leilani McNeal, age 17

New legislation that targets Big Tech platforms has successfully passed both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The bill is expected to reach the Senate Floor this November.

The nation’s largest internet platforms, commonly known as Big Tech, are under fire for potential consumer choice violations. The bipartisan bill, which is sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee, pushes for antitrust reform for social media and big tech companies. But, as midterm elections loom, some in congress are hoping to run out the clock. 

Being pushed for two years, the bill, called the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, is a draft proposal that would issue civil penalties against platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, and Amazon for inapt use of user data collecting. So far, the bill is backed by several political leaders such as one of the bill’s chief sponsors’, Ken Buck (R-CO) and Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee leaders Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). [Read More]

Wisconsin School District Rejects Book About Japanese American Internment Camps

by Desteny Alvarez, age 17

On June 13th, Wisconsin’s Muskego-Norway School District rejected the book When The Emperor was Divine from a tenth-grade advanced English class.

Author of the 2002 historical novel, Julie Otsuka, wrote the novel based on her own family’s experiences. It has won the American Literary Association’s Alex Award and the Asian-American Literary Award for bring forth a significant perspective in the story of a Japanese family from Berkeley, California that was sent to an internment camp in Utah’s desert.

A new school board member of this district, Laurie Konteny said that the novel was selected as a “diverse” book. Some members of the Educational Service Committee said that by using the book, it will cause a problem with “balance” because the tenth-grade advanced English class curriculum already had a ten-page excerpt detailing Japanese internment camps during World War II. [Read More]

New Transfer Options Available for Wisconsin Nursing Students

by Melanie Bautista, age 16

Madison Area Technical College (MATC) and the University of Wisconsin - Madison have come to an agreement to let transfer students from MATC with earned associates in nursing to earn a bachelor's degree at UW-Madison.

The program BSN @Home was created in 1996 to address shortage of bachelor-degree nurses. According to David Wahlberg at the Wisconsin State Journal, “Wisconsin could face a shortage of about 11,000 nurses by the year 2030.” The agreement between both colleges will allow a smoother transition into online courses for the nursing program and for current nurses who want to pursue a higher position in the medical field. With COVID-19 occurring, nursing jobs have been in high demand; 10 percent of nursing positions have become unoccupied.

The highest role in healthcare, nursing assistant, has a vacancy of 17.2 percent, higher than previous years. Turina Bakken, a provost of MATC, says, “ This new nursing agreement adds to that legacy as we work together to meet the critical nursing demand in our communities and create meaningful career options for our collective students.” This makes the nursing pathway much smoother. [Read More]

How Newspaper Reporters Covered the Dust Bowl — by Gabby Shell, age 16

Often overshadowed by the wider Great Depression, the Dust Bowl was a major ecological crisis that gripped the Great Plains in the 1930s. The result of decades of failed land management and cyclical droughts, the Dust Bowl led to the loss of crops and livestock. It also took more than 7,000 human lives. [Read More]

Lisa Byington Makes History as Basketball's First Female Play-by-Play Announcer — by Josepha Da Costa, age 17

While the Milwaukee Bucks came up short in this year’s playoffs, it was still a great season. The team won its division, defeated the Chicago Bulls in a five-game playoff series, and once again excited Wisconsin basketball fans. The team made another move during the season that got less notice. The Milwaukee Bucks hired a new TV announcer. [Read More]

New Bill Directs Unspent Relief Funds to Child Opportunity Scholarships — by Sydney Steidl, age 16

Utah Representative Burgess Owens Proposed legislation that would redirect unspent Covid relief funds to low-income families to further their children’s educations. [Read More]

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Pledges to Diversify Newsroom — by Sandy Flores-Ruíz, age 16

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—the largest newspaper in Wisconsin—recently disclosed its goal to hire new staff, particularly focusing on hiring more women and people of color. Hiring new personnel will help bring more diversity to the newsroom and help the Journal Sentinel continue its commitment to employ a workforce that reflects the community it serves. [Read More]

Google Removes Apps For Stealing Users’ Personal Data — by Kadjata Bah, age 17

Just this spring, Google took numerous apps riddled with malware off of its Play Store. Its action came after various Android apps were discovered to contain data-harvesting code, sparking questions on cybersecurity and privacy. [Read More]

New Nigerian Music Genre Makes its Way to the Mainstream — by Aissata Bah, age 12

new musical genre, Afrobeat, is reaching the music charts. Making its way from Lagos, Nigeria, it continues growing off its successes. [Read More]

Recent Jr. NBA Conference Brainstorms Ways to Help Youth in Basketball — by Jules Da Costa, age 14

The Jr. NBA is an organization made to help basketball players in their youth improve and grow as players within the game. They teach skills that are crucial in order to be exceptional at basketball. [Read More]