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Education News

Movie Review:
The Right to Read

by Kadjata Bah, age 18

A new documentary film called The Right to Read adds to growing national debates about literacy and the science of reading. This timely and compelling film is streaming for free until March 9, 2023.

Directed by Jenny Mackenzie and produced by LeVar Burton, the film follows a long-time activist, a teacher, and two families as they navigate the future of education.

Kareem Weaver is an Oakland-based activist with the NAACP. He is an experienced educator, and his mission is to create a world where 95% of children can read. Working with Sabrina Causey, a rookie first grade teacher in Oakland, the two make a case for a new curriculum for their students based in the science of reading. [Read More]

New Test Results Show Significant Declines in Math and Reading

by Devika Pal, age 17

Virtual learning has led to some of the lowest math and reading scores among elementary and middle school students in more than 30 years, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education. The study showed online learning exacerbated pre-pandemic difficulties for students who were already struggling. Learning losses also disproportionately affected lower-income and minority students.

Educators say this is especially alarming because reading and math are the foundation for all other subjects and predictors of high school success. After 30 years of increasing scores, they plunged.

According to data collected by the education department from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, math, and reading scores for both 4th and 8th graders have dropped most significantly since 1990. In math, 38% of 8th graders tested below “basic” achievement levels, and 8th-grade reading scores also dropped. Fourth-grade reading had the lowest average score and math scores had their first-ever decline. Black and Hispanic kids had more significant drops than white students. Fourth-grade students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch struggled more than before compared to students who were not eligible. [Read More]

How Schools in Dane County Address Staffing Shortages

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 18

In August of 2022, just before the school year started, many schools in Dane County were still trying to fill job openings. At the time, there were about 650 open positions for teachers, support staff, and administrators across twelve Dane County school districts.

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD)—the second largest school district in Wisconsin, serving over 27,000 students in 52 schools—welcomed over 400 new educators after facing its largest staff shortage since 2017. [Read More]

Student Proficiency in Math and Reading Falls below 40% in Wisconsin

by Sydney Steidl, age 16

During the 2020-21 school year, less than a third of Wisconsin youth were rated as proficient in both math and language arts on the Forward Exam. This was the first testing cycle since the exam was implemented in the 2015-2016 school year where student proficiency levels fell below 40 percent.

Much of this decline can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which moved students to an online learning environment. Adapting to remote learning proved difficult for many students. But these adjustments tended to have a greater impact on lower income students. Also, some students have less access to resources such as tutoring, reliable internet, and library-quality work environment. Even with $2.6 billion for federal Covid relief funding allocated to education, these disparities have proved persistent. [Read More]

Rising College Debt and the “Parent Plus” School Loan Program

by Sandy Flores-Ruiz, age 15

Baylor University, based in central Texas, is one of the many institutions that use a federal loan program called Parent Plus. Among private schools with a minimum of $1 billion endowment, Baylor also had the lowest repayment rate for this particular type of loan.

The Parent Plus program offers federal loans to parents and allows them to help pay for their children’s tuition. Before the introduction of this program, undergraduate students were the largest demographic taking out college loans requiring payment. Now, in the Parent Plus era, parents and graduate students take out the most loans. [Read More]

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. [Read More]

Rare Zebra Species Struggles to Survive Drought in East Africa

by Allison Torres, age 14

In September 2022, Kenya experienced one of its worst droughts in the last four decades. This was a direct result of climate change.

The drought has especially impacted the East African country’s wildlife, affecting even the most drought-resistant animals, such as the camel, which is known to survive relatively long periods of time without water. Suze van Meegen, an emergency response manager for the Norwegian refugee council in East Africa told CNN, “Camels are a valuable resource for many people in this region.”

Kenya has lost two percent of the world’s rarest zebra species as well as many elephants. The drought has also jeopardized the country’s wildlife food sources by drying up plant life which has drawn the attention of conservationists. [Read More]

South Dakota Universities Offer In-state Tuition for Wisconsin Students beginning in 2023.

by Desteny Alvarez, age 18

In South Dakota, six public universities are offering in-state tuition to Wisconsin and Illinois students by the fall of this year. This offer is supposed to raise the population of young students in South Dakota.

A plan called the South Dakota Advantage Plan offered in-state tuition to 6 different neighboring states: Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. South Dakota’s Board of Regents has voted for Wisconsin and Illinois to be added to the plan.

Students from the states already in the plan and in-state will pay around $253.85 per credit hour at Northern State, Dakota State, and Black Hill State Universities. At the University of South Dakota, the state will charge $259.10 per credit hour for undergraduates. Lastly, for undergraduate studies at South Dakota Mines, students will pay $260.55 per credit hour. This plan does not include Minnesota because officials in public universities in both states came to a separate agreement in 1978. Residents of Minnesota attending any South Dakota public university are required to pay the higher rate between resident tuition of the school they currently attend and the average rate of nine schools in Minnesota. [Read More]

New Wisconsin Law Will Require Schools to Teach About the Holocaust

by Kadjata Bah, age 17

“History repeats itself”—a long-held caution for the world to learn from the mistakes of the past and make better choices for the future. Without education, however, this axiom becomes useless. How can people prevent history from repeating itself without properly teaching? Starting this school year, new state legislation requires all Wisconsin schools to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides.

The legislation does not include any specific guidelines about how or when the curriculum is taught. Some schools have opted for long and comprehensive classes, while others have adopted the curriculum into their classes for a day or two. Many schools are partnering with groups like the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) which says teaching about the Holocaust is especially new for some schools in rural areas.

“They weren’t really doing it, not because they didn’t want to, but because they don’t have as many teachers, their school is small, and it just hadn’t been a priority,” said HERC Executive Director Samantha Abramson. [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]

Dane County Students Gather to Discuss Climate Change at Second Annual Conference

by Desteny Alvarez, age 17

For the second year in row, students from around Dane County will gather to address climate change issues. The second annual Dane County high school climate action conference will take place at the Alliant Energy Center on Saturday, November 12.

The title for this year’s event is Gen Z: Meeting the challenge of Our Changing Environment. Local student members of the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee are helping plan the conference. A range of speakers and climate experts will make presentations and address topics of particular interest to young people.

“I learned a lot at last year’s conference” said Devika Pal, a student at Madison’s Memorial High School. “Now, I want to know more. I’m interested in learning what actions we can take to make a difference.” [Read More]

New UW Madison 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.” [read more]

Cómo las escuelas en el condado de Dane abordan la escasez de personal

por Moises A. Hernandez, 18 años de edad; traducida por Yoanna Hoskins, 17 años de edad

En agosto de 2022, justo antes de que comenzara el año escolar, muchas escuelas en el condado de Dane todavía estaban tratando de llenar las vacantes. En ese momento, había alrededor de 650 puestos vacantes para maestros, personal de apoyo y administradores en doce distritos escolares del condado de Dane.

El Distrito Escolar Metropolitano de Madison (MMSD), el segundo distrito escolar más grande de Wisconsin, que atiende a más de 27,000 estudiantes en 52 escuelas, dio la bienvenida a más de 400 nuevos educadores después de enfrentar su mayor escasez de personal desde 2017.

A principios de agosto, MMSD tenía 571 vacantes. Ese número se redujo a 135 el 19 de agosto, ya que el distrito logró contratar a 436 educadores. Los datos presentados a la Comité Escolar de MMSD dijeron que, entre mayo y julio de este año, hubo alrededor de 426 separaciones y 94 reclutamientos en MMSD. [Read More]

Powerful Advocate for Education:
Our Interview with Dr. Willie Larkin

by Mariama Bah, age 15

“Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.”

That’s a quote from Dr. Willie Larkin, the recently retired Director of Strategic Partnerships for Madison Metropolitan School District. In a recent interview, Dr. Larkin told us he lives by those words. During our discussion, he reflected on growing up on a sharecropper farm to pursuing higher education, something he had once believed was beyond reach.

Recently, a group of Simpson Street Free Press writers visited the school district’s Doyle Administration Building to meet and interview Dr. Willie Davis Larkin. We talked about his career, life experiences, and his time at MMSD. [Read More]

New Bill Directs Unspent Relief Funds to Child Opportunity Scholarships

by Sydney Steidl, age 16

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

The RECOVER Act, introduced on August 5th, is intended to combat the learning losses from the Covid-19 pandemic. Owens has expressed concern over the declining state of education in the United States, stating that “Not only is our nation falling behind as a leader in education, but our one-size-fits-all system is leaving our most vulnerable kids behind and pushing parents out of the driver’s seat.”

As of May, only 7% of funding targeted for education from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 had been used by states and school districts. Due to this, Owens has stated that he wants the RECOVER Act to “reallocate billions in unspent dollars so that low-income students can receive the targeted support they need to reach their God-given potential.” [Read More]

Open Records Case in Montana Bolsters Public’s Right to Know

by Kadjata Bah, age 17

District Court Judge Mike Menahan of Helena, Montana recently ruled that state agencies are prohibited from charging fees for legal reviews of documents sought through public records requests.

The Billings Gazette, owned by Lee Enterprises, requested documents concerning travel expense reimbursement appeals submitted by the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC demanded that the paper to pay a fee of $31,000 in order to review the 25,000 documents subject to the request. The PSC then suggested that the Gazette could narrow their request for a lower fee.

Under the Montana Constitution and state law, government agencies are obligated to process and review open records requests. Menahan’s order takes this a step further, adding agencies “may not negotiate how much information a party may receive based on the amount of money the party is willing to pay.” [Read More]

School Staffing Questions Spark Debate in Madison — by Kelly Vazquez, age 17

As inflation and staff shortages continue, it is no surprise that teachers are asking for a raise. And with the district unable to meet a 4.7% wage increase, some teachers are leaving the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) [Read More]

New Harvard Study: Remote Learning Significantly Widened Achievement Gaps — by Leilani McNeal, age 17

A recent report shows that students in school districts that relied on remote learning during the pandemic suffered much more learning loss than students who attended school in person. Education researchers say the limited success rates of remote instruction has widened achievement gaps nationwide. [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. [read more]

Alabama Invests in Summer Literacy and Science of Reading — by Sydney Steidl, age 16

Alabama policymakers, in a state traditionally known for poor education outcomes, are actively working to increase literacy skills—especially in early education. [read more]

Nuevo estudio de Harvard: el aprendizaje remoto amplió significativamente la brecha de logros de aprendizaje — por Leilani McNeal, 17 años de edad; traducido por Yoanna Hoskins, 17 años de edad

Una noticia reciente muestra que los estudiantes de los distritos escolares que usaron el aprendizaje remoto durante la pandemia sufrieron mucha más pérdida de aprendizaje que los estudiantes que asistieron a la escuela en persona. Los investigadores de educación dicen que las tasas de éxito limitadas de la instrucción remota han ampliado las brechas de rendimiento en todas partes del país. [Read More]

To Address COVID Learning Loss, Arizona Plans Robust Summer School Options — by Dyami Rodriguez, age 17

Educators and literacy experts in Wisconsin are sounding the alarm about academic learning loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows many students have fallen behind in subjects such as reading and math. One state, however, is planning to take action during 2022 by doing some rework on their summer school curriculum. [Read More]

New School in Fitchburg Uses Green Energy Technology — by Devika Pal, age 16

Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg is the first Net Zero Energy school in Wisconsin. The school opened in September of 2021, and is part of the Oregon School district. The district’s Superintendent Dr. Leslie Bergstrom said the school’s goal is to create “the best design for student learning that also incorporated technologies to efficiently use and conserve energy.” [Read More]