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Filtering by Category: Current Events

In The News: The Water Crisis in Flint, MI

Virginia Pavlick

At MyloWrites, we are strong advocates of bringing quality education and learning resources to students across the globe. The recent water crisis in Flint, MI has severely impacted the lives of Flint students and brought disturbing topics to light that deserve our attention.

The Effects of Lead Contamination

In brief, residents in the rustbelt city have been drinking contaminated water for nearly two years following a decision meant to save money for the financially depressed town. A switch in the source of water supply brought lead and iron contamination into the water and introduced a storm of harmful effects on the city’s population, particularly on infants and children.

A recent EdWeek article, found here, addresses the well-known link between elevated blood-lead concentrations and delays in brain development, IQ loss, and symptoms of learning disabilities. The article mentions research that ties high level of lead in blood to “poor classroom performance, impaired growth, and even hearing loss”. In another article published by U.S. News, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at a local children’s hospital and site of over 2,000 lead tests, says of the contamination, “It has such damning, lifelong and generational consequences”.

In an already low-income and struggling town, such consequences could be detrimental. EdWeek emphasizes the associated costs of increased special education services for those developmentally delayed students. Adding such financial stress to Flint presents a disturbing picture. Quoted from EdWeek,       

“Districtwide, nearly a quarter of (Flint’s) students drop out of high school before graduating, and poverty is pervasive. More than 80 percent of students quality for free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty in K-12 education.”

U.S. News mentions that Flint has become “a symbol of the decline of the U.S. auto industry”, a true statement for Midwesterners familiar with the area. With 41% of the population falling below the poverty line, the cost of increased special education resources will be near impossible to manage for many families, especially given that special education funding within school districts is often given low priority nationwide. Coupled with rising health bills, parents and educators face a troubling future.

Horrible School Conditions

Perhaps even more disturbing, however, are the school conditions currently present in both Flint and Detroit that the contamination news has brought to light. NewsOne reports on frustrations of Detroit public school educators, who have been sharing photos of the hazardous conditions in an effort to force officials to step in. The article includes photos and video that expose mold, dead rodents, and indoor fungus growth. A counselor at one elementary school  provides a video tour of the neglected classrooms and scarce resources. The gymnasium has been declared off-limits due to water damage, and children spend winter recess walking through the hallways. The music room has been abandoned, and dusty instruments sit locked away. In one particular classroom, a teacher hands out thin packets of reading that she spent hours preparing herself, as the school budget no longer allows for books.

As we process the Flint crisis and attempt to understand how such negligence could allow a disaster to come about, we hope that the media continues to bring attention to the school conditions that were already a reality for poor Michigan students. MyloWrites will continue to seek partnerships and collaborations with learning disability organizations in order to help those affected, and we encourage everyone to do what they can to help bring an end to the crisis.

Hot Button Issues in Education for 2016

Whitney Glockner Black

Happy New Year and welcome back from your holiday break! 2016 is bound to be a year of historic debates, and those surrounding education are no exception. Here is the MyloWrites team's take on the top issues facing students, parents, and teachers in the new year.

Too Much Homework

Homework is a lightning rod issue that is front and center of the debate on student learning versus wellness. Just in the past month, cover articles of the Atlantic Monthly  and the New York Times have highlighted homework as a stressor that some parents and educators believe leads to teen depression and suicide. Still others defend homework as the necessary hard work students need to remain competitive in our global society.

teen with homework in library

Not surprisingly, there is research of merit that points to both the benefits and the detractors on homework.  The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) supports a measured view basically stating that “appropriate” homework is better than no homework, especially given our shorter school day in the United States. ASCD writes:

"Cooper and colleagues' (2006) comparison of homework with no homework indicates that the average student in a class in which appropriate homework was assigned would score 23 percentile points higher on tests of the knowledge addressed in that class than the average student in a class in which homework was not assigned."

But what constitutes good homework? And how can you tell if your students are doing work that will help them succeed versus work that just stresses them out? We turn again to the ASCD who provides this post on the hallmarks of good homework.

One thing we can predict for 2016 is that homework will not go away no matter how much students complain. If getting your student to complete homework is a struggle, here are tips from author of The Homework Trap, Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D., on how to establish and maintain homework routines.

Mind the Gap - College Prep

College readiness ranks as our second top issue for 2016. At the core of this issue is whether or not students leave high school ready to take on postsecondary work. The latest research estimates that 60% of students show up unprepared to do the level of work expected at their postsecondary institution. This leads to poor performance, higher than necessary drop-out rates, and even spiraling student debt. For the curious, the report published by the National Center for Public Policy in Education (June 2010) goes on to outline causes behind this gap. Regardless of why the gap exists, the more pressing question for parents and teachers is what to do about it.  

If high school performance is not an indicator of college readiness, then what do parents and teachers need to do in order to prepare their students’ success? There isn’t a single roadmap to success for any given student, but again we turn to the ASCD for guidelines on the foundation for college or career readiness. In “’What Makes a Student College Ready,” David Conley argues that,

"a comprehensive college preparation program must address four distinct dimensions of college readiness: cognitive strategies, content knowledge, self-management skills, and knowledge about postsecondary education."

He goes on to layout four principles that research has revealed create a college preparatory atmosphere. Although the article is geared toward educators, it’s also a great read for parents wishing to understand how to evaluate their student’s learning environment.

As a parent, you may be looking for more assistance on how to help prepare your child for college level work and guide them on their journey. We recommend taking a look at the wide array of content available on Edutopia’s College Readiness page.  Some of our favorite topics include how true grit as a measure of success, failing as an essential learning experience, and a series on the deeper learning framework. Each article contains further reading suggestions, so you can really dig deeply into topics if you choose.

Adolescent Independence

We are starting to move past the “helicopter parent” meme that has dominated the parenting critiques for the last several years. In its place is emerging a more productive conversation about how to positively promote adolescent independence based on a broadening understanding of the teenage brain and mindset.

The recent book by neuropsychiatric expert Daniel Siegel. In the book, Siegel argues that adolescent brain-growth is defined by four traits: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. Parents and teachers often interpret these as threats to both the teen’s safety (as they often are) and threats to our relationships with teens as they naturally push us away. Though not thoroughly scientific in its approach, it is a measured inquiry into the topic and sets a foundation for understanding adolescent independence.

For another fantastic and shorter read on the teenage brain, turn to the National Geographic article from 2011.

In our opinion, the two best reads on the topic of adolescent independence on the market today are The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey and How to Raise an Adult by Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims. Both explore how concerned parents can serve their children best by letting go and letting them fail so they can grow from the experience and understand how to face failure and move past it before they experience it as adults.

Beyond Measure: A Reflection on the Film

Stacy Rosenblum

Last month, MyloWrites hosted a screening of Beyond Measure, by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  Ms. Abeles is well known for her previous film, Race To Nowhere, which documented the enormous pressure that students face from exhaustive assessments and huge homework loads.  Where Race To Nowhere illuminated all that is wrong in our educational system, Beyond Measure sets out to propose meaningful and evidence based strategies for positive change.  Beyond Measure is specifically a response to the stories of successful schools that Ms. Abeles heard as she toured the country, screening Race To Nowhere.

Beyond Measure tells the story of courageous educators and parents, the “strategically subversive heroes and heroines,” who innovate, collaborate, and take risks to move beyond the miserable standard of education in the U.S. These revolutionary educators ask new questions about student success and aren’t daunted by the patience, hard work and perseverance it takes to affect change in our country’s monolithic public education system. They challenge the assumption that progress must be quantified.  They dare to rethink the purpose of school from a place in which knowledge is transferred passively from teacher to student to a place in which individual passions are fostered. And they aren’t sitting around waiting for political and policy change - they are facing this challenge head on and changing a broken system of education, one school and district at time.   

Prominent education researchers and advisors including Sir Ken Robinson, Carol Dweck, and Jo Boaler provide the structure of evidence which supports the revolutionary ideas of student autonomy and ownership of learning. The viewer gets a look inside high schools from all different areas of the country whose leaders are committed to change. We see students who are clearly engaged, and whose enjoyment in their learning is evident in the smiles on their faces.

MyloWrites is the perfect partner for this film, and hosting a screening was an obvious choice for us. At our core, MyloWrites knows how important it is to keep students motivated and inspired to learn. Struggling and becoming defeated however, is an unfortunate, yet real byproduct of our passive and antiquated educational system. This struggling and defeatism leads to overwhelmed students who shut down, lose interest, and become unmotivated. Teaching to universal standards, and with the expectation that every child perform to preconceived levels of achievement is a tenet of our aged educational system. Instead, we should embrace the naturally diverse rates of cognitive development and celebrate this diversity. We need to hone in on students strengths to foster learning and support areas of struggle with new and innovative educational approaches that best suits individual needs. It is important that we understand that motivation and self confidence is the key to student success, as we see so clearly in Beyond Measure.

Every individual wants to be recognized and feel successful in their areas of strength. This recognition of mastery translates to motivation throughout all areas of life, even for those who may need more support to master new skills. It is our job as parents and educators to recognize and celebrate learning differences in order to ensure that we keep our children engaged, motivated and confident.

Beyond Measure is a call to action for educators and parents everywhere. Sir Ken Robinson sums it up perfectly, “change comes from the bottom up, not the top down.” Parents and educators are the agents of change, and their action is the only way that our educational system will develop into a system that is equitable and just for all students.  

Don’t wait another minute! Go see this film! Find a screening of Beyond Measure in your community here. If there isn’t a screening closeby, consider hosting one. Be an agent of change in your community!

Be sure to share your thoughts with us by commenting below or tweeting us @Mylowrites!