August 2017
  • America’s Super Schools In Spotlight for Star-Studded Prime-Time TV Special Celebrating HS Innovation

    By Laura Fay | August 31, 2017

    Photo XQ: The Super School Project

    Updated Sept. 5. 

    Some of the biggest names in entertainment will come together next week in an hour-long televised special celebrating innovations in education. Participating performers will include Tom Hanks, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sheryl Crow, and Yo-Yo Ma, USA Today reported.  

    EIF Presents XQ: Super School Live will air on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC on Friday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, with comedy, music, and documentary segments focusing on the work of the XQ Institute, a nonprofit organization that aims to rethink America’s high schools.

    Through its Super School Project, XQ last year awarded $100 million for winning proposals from schools across the country, including New York, Iowa, California, Michigan, Delaware, and Texas, in a competition for most innovative high school designs.

    (The 74: Laurene Powell Jobs Announces $50 Million Race to Rethink American High Schools)

    One contest winner, Washington Leadership Academy in D.C., got funding for a virtual chemistry lab that allows students to perform experiments without all the supplies of a traditional lab. In Los Angeles, the award helped launch a program focused helping students who are homeless or in foster care finish high school.

    Schools, organizations, and individuals from coast to coast will host viewing parties for the telecast, including events in Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh; New Orleans; Marine City, Michigan; Charlottesville, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio;  Milwaukee; Jersey City; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Santa Ana, California; Providence, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    XQ is led by co-founder and CEO Russlynn Ali, a former assistant secretary of education for civil rights. Its board is chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, president of the Emerson Collective and Steve Jobs’s widow.

    Academy Award-winning actress and producer Viola Davis and her husband, actor/producer Julius Tennon, are executive producers of the live event, which is sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

    “We are excited to team up with EIF and XQ Institute to help bring awareness to the issue of high school education and ensure that our students are receiving an education that prepares them for the future,” Davis and Tennon said in a statement.

  • Chiefs for Change Urges Trump to Protect DACA & Immigrant Students, Calling It a ‘Moral Issue’

    By Carolyn Phenicie | August 30, 2017

    Photo Getty Images

    State and district leaders Wednesday urged the Trump administration to continue protections for undocumented young people brought to this country as children, as the president faces a deadline within days to decide their fate.

    “Whatever you think about immigration policy, it’s not in our national interest to push our students into the shadows or have them deported,” Washington, D.C. State Superintendent Hanseul Kang, herself formerly an undocumented immigrant, said on a call with reporters.

    Kang and Broward County, Florida Superintendent Robert Runcie, who was born in Jamaica, highlighted the statement released earlier this week by Chiefs for Change, a coalition that advocates for educational reforms. The group is urging the Trump administration to continue protections granted under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program until a broader bipartisan immigration reform law is passed.

    The politics of the issue can be complicated, and Chiefs for Change is a bipartisan group, but it was a “moral issue” for the group’s members, CEO Mike Magee said on the call. DACA offers young people, often known as Dreamers, protection from deportation and permission to work legally in the U.S.

    (The 74: As Immigrant Students Worry About a New School Year, Districts & Educators Unveil Plans to Protect Their Safety (and Privacy))

    There’s been little opposition to the work Broward schools have done to reassure immigrant students and parents, including a supportive resolution by the school board, Runcie said.

    “I’m sure there’s some [opposition] out there, but given the demographics of where we are, it’s been very strongly supported,” he said.

    There are relatively few DACA recipients in K-12 schools in America, perhaps less than 3 percent of an estimated 800,000 total recipients. Elementary and secondary schools must educate all children in the U.S., regardless of immigration status, and DACA was in most cases only open to students who are at least 15. They also must have clean criminal records, and be enrolled in or graduated from school, or honorably discharged from the military.

    But undocumented children who don’t have a pathway to legal status have more limited opportunities for college or careers, Kang noted.

    There are also an estimated 20,000 DACA recipients currently serving as teachers, she said.

    A school principal in Washington told Kang that an undocumented mother had asked the principal to consider assuming legal guardianship of her child, should the mother be deported.

    “This is not abstract for us,” she said. “We are talking about real students in our schools.”

    The status of the program — and the nearly 800,000 young people currently given protections from immigration removals — is now in limbo. President Donald Trump on the campaign trail pledged to end the program begun in 2012 under President Obama immediately, but has since said the decision is “very, very hard,” CNN reported.

    Ten attorneys general sued the federal government to stop a companion Obama-era program that would protect parents of Dreamers, and have given the Trump administration until Sept. 5 to rescind DACA. If not, Texas, one of the states suing, will add it to the pending lawsuit, according to CNN.

    Louisiana State Superintendent John White was scheduled to be on the call, but was needed elsewhere as Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated southeastern Texas, made landfall in his state Tuesday morning.

    The chiefs aren’t the first education leaders trying to work to prevent undocumented young people from the threat of deportation. Nearly 2,700 education leaders have signed a petition, started earlier this year by the education advocacy group Stand for Children, calling on the president to leave DACA as-is. On Wednesday, The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools urged people to sign a petition supporting pending legislation that would offer legal status and a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

    (The 74: What John King and Other Education Leaders Who Signed Petition Want Trump to Know About DACA)

  • Dallas Schools Waive Enrollment Requirements, Provide Transportation for Displaced Houston Students

    By Laura Fay | August 29, 2017

    As hurricane evacuees stream out of Houston in what was supposed to be the first week of school, Dallas’s public schools are welcoming any students who want to enroll there.

    Dallas Independent School District leaders said they will register displaced students in city schools immediately — and even provide transportation to get them to class.

    “Students will not be turned away for any reason,” the district said in a statement on its website.

    “It’s too early to tell how many students we’re talking about, but we’re certainly ready to help out our brethren from the Gulf Coast,” district spokeswoman Robyn Harris told

    Students staying at the convention center will be placed at North Dallas High School, Alex W. Spence Middle School or John F. Kennedy Elementary School without having to provide the usual documentation, such as proof of residency, birth certificates, or immunization records. The district will provide transportation between schools and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, which opened as a shelter for 5,000 people Tuesday.

    District trustee Miguel Solis told The 74 that hurricane relief is not new to Dallas, which also took in evacuees during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “This is sort of in our DNA to want to step up and to want to support kids from all across the state,” he said. Two of the schools opening to displaced students are in his district.

    Solis started a drive for school supplies at his office Monday and said district staff will be on hand at shelters to help families enroll their children, as well as to provide information and counseling.

    The three schools are underenrolled, he said, so they have room for more children. If those schools fill up, the district will open others up to displaced students, Solis said.

    “The onus is on all of us to step up” when disasters like this happen, he said.


    Classes canceled in Houston

    Meanwhile, in Houston, continuing rain and flooding has prevented authorities from checking on all district schools, but at least 35 of 300 have water damage or power outages, according to The New York Times.

    Houston Independent School District Superintendent Richard Carranza said school will not open until after Labor Day, or later.

    “It’s a Houston-wide tragedy, so everybody is being impacted — our employees and our families,” Carranza told The Times. “We’ve been really transparent that weather conditions and, quite frankly, city infrastructure are going to determine whether we are going to safely be able to open” on Sept. 5.

  • 19 Years Later …Teachers Are Still Bringing Harry Potter Magic to Their Classrooms for the Start of the School Year

    By Kate Stringer | August 29, 2017

    This article is one in a series at The 74 that profiles the heroes, victories, success stories and random acts of kindness to be found at schools all across America. Read more of our recent inspiring profiles at

    They may not be traveling to school aboard a scarlet steam engine or learning how to turn toads into water goblets, but a few lucky students will be learning in classrooms this year that don’t look too different from the ones inside Hogwarts castle.

    Teachers have found inspiration in the Harry Potter books for every detail in their classrooms: from keeping students off their cell phones to managing good behavior to teaching literary devices.

    For example, at China Grove Elementary in North Carolina, fourth-grade teacher Jessica Moeller will sort her students into the four Hogwarts houses at the beginning of the school year using a sorting hat personality quiz. Those groups will be used for rewarding student behavior as well as facilitating day-to-day student group work in reading and math. “I am teaching in a very old building and when I walked into my classroom (Harry Potter) is the first thing that came to mind,” Moeller wrote in a message to The 74. “I’m a huge Harry Potter fan as well.”

    Inspired by the Harry Potter books, fourth-grade teacher Jessica Moeller decorated her classroom door in North Carolina as an entrance to Platform 9 3/4 (Photo by Jessica Moeller)

    While Harry Potter hasn’t been approved as a social emotional learning tool yet (we’re sure someone’s working on it), it’s already proven useful in teaching students empathy. A 2014 study found that the seven-book series helped reduce prejudice in its readers toward communities like immigrants, refugees, and LGBT groups.

    It’s all the more magical this school year, as Sept. 1, 2017, marks the famous “19 Years Later” epilogue of the final Harry Potter book. In this last scene, a grown-up Harry takes his children to the Hogwarts Express and waves goodbye. As it’s been 20 years this summer since the first Harry Potter book was published in the U.K., today’s young teachers grew up with the series and are just as eager as Harry to show their kids how to enter Platform 9¾.


    Some of the decorations are just too wand-erful:

    Some teachers know that the only thing more dangerous than a wizard gone rogue is a cell phone. Luckily, this prison doesn’t require dementors:

    This teacher is using the Harry Potter books to teach literary devices:

    Using the House point system to manage student behavior was somewhat effective at Hogwarts (though Dumbledore liked to subvert the system for his favorite bespectacled student), so it’s not surprising many teachers have adopted it in their own classrooms as well.

    And for the teachers who admire Minerva McGonagall’s classroom management style but can’t pull off her pointed hat look, there’s always this:

    Ten points to Gryffindor.

  • When It Comes to College, Only Half of America’s High Schoolers Say They Feel Prepared, Survey Finds

    By Kate Stringer | August 29, 2017

    Only half of U.S. students think their high schools have prepared them with the knowledge and skills they need for college, according to recent survey data.

    Compiled by the nonprofit YouthTruth, the data reveal an uncertainty among high schoolers in how to become ready for college and careers.

    The survey didn’t require students to explain why they felt they way they did — but anonymous comments provide some clues.

    “They just want us to have high grades, and that’s what most kids are doing by cheating or studying really hard, not by actually learning something,” one student wrote. “School has taught us that having better grades is better than actually learning something, and that’s not how it should be.”

    Another student wished for a bigger push toward college support services: “I’m actually really upset that my school doesn’t do more to help their students with the scary and confusing process. They haven’t helped me in choosing a major, choosing a school, applying to that school, knowing what I need to do to get into my dream school, how to pay for my school, what I should expect from college life, or even to help me register for scholarships or other things that could help me pay for my university.”

    The percentage of students who reported feeling prepared varied slightly across demographics, with 56 percent of Asian students saying they are ready, compared with 53 percent of black, 52 percent of Hispanic, 50 percent of white, and 46 percent of multiracial students. It also varied widely across schools, with the lowest score 11 percent and the highest 78 percent.

    Although a majority of students — 84 percent — said they want to go to college, only 68 percent said they expect they will.

    And many admitted they weren’t using college prep resources. Only about one-third of students said they use tools like admissions exam preparation or college counseling, though a majority of the students who did use the services found them helpful.

    “There’s a clear message that there is a lot of work to be done,” said Jen Vorse Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth.

    The surveys were taken between September 2015 and December 2016 by more than 55,000 high school students in 21 states. The students were 29 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic or Latino, 13 percent multiracial, 12.5 percent black, and 3.25 percent Asian.

    The data are not nationally representative, as they are collected from schools that pay to participate in YouthTruth programs and surveys.

    “It’s a reality check to let us know what our kids really think versus what we think they would say,” said Brian Shumate, superintendent of the Medford School District in Oregon.

    Though the data represent the perceptions of high school students who haven’t yet attended college classes, educators said the information is valuable for checking in on how students think their education is progressing.

    “We have to trust our students’ perceptions; they are our clients. They know themselves,” said John Boyd, superintendent of the Quincy School District in the state of Washington. “If they’re not feeling prepared for college, we’ve got to make them feel prepared for college.”

    There certainly isn’t a shortage of programs districts can choose from for college preparation, said Quincy Assistant Superintendent Nikolas Bergman. That’s why comparing student perception data and college-going rates is helpful when sifting through these offerings. Bergman said he has noticed students reporting that they feel more prepared for college since the district adopted AVID, a program that starts in eighth grade with college-readiness skills and behaviors. (Students gave the district an average YouthTruth preparedness score of 3.47 on a scale of 1 to 5, ranking in the 41st percentile of similarly sized schools.)

    “School has taught us that having better grades is better than actually learning something.”
    But they’re still experimenting: The district takes students on college tours as early as sixth grade, uses teaching resources designed for high-poverty and migrant populations, and is expanding dual credit courses. “We want to do things that are making a difference,” Bergman said.

    Medford students gave their district a college-preparedness ranking of 3.05, which falls in the 12th percentile of similarly sized schools. This surprised Shumate — but gave him ammunition to advocate for a career-academy model. The program is in its beginning stages: Currently, freshmen in Medford pick a subject pathway, similar to a college major, to take specialized classes that fit their interests.

    “We want it to be more like the outside world,” Shumate said.

    In 2011–12, 29 percent of students at four-year colleges and 41 percent of those enrolled at two-year schools had to take remedial classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2015, only one-third of high school seniors scored at or above proficiency in reading and math on the National Assessment of Student Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card.

    A 2011 nationally representative survey conducted for College Board found slightly better perceptions for students who were surveyed one year after graduating from high school. About two-thirds of students said their high schools did a good job of preparing them for college and college-level work, while one-third said their high schools should have done more.

  • New Teen Survey Reveals Cyberbullying Moving Beyond Social Media to Email, Messaging Apps, YouTube

    By Laura Fay | August 29, 2017

    Bullying among teens is nothing new, but social media outlets are providing new avenues for it, often out of sight of parents and teachers.

    Nearly one in three American high school students has been a victim of cyberbullying, according to a recent study by the cybersecurity company McAfee. Students reported witnessing or experiencing cyberbullying on all eight platforms listed on the survey, including Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube, according to results the company provided to The 74.

    However, experts said cyberbullying happens on other platforms as well.

    Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, said bullies often use text messaging, especially group text chats, to victimize other students. The appeal of texting, she said, is that parents usually don’t have access.

    “If you think about how traditional bullying happens, it’s usually outside the purview of adults … and we find it’s much the same case with online bullying,” Hertzog said.

    Students also use other apps to communicate online, said Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of Stomp Out Bullying. Ellis said she has heard about students using Tumblr, Askfm, After School, WeChat, and even Tinder to chat and, sometimes, to bully. She called these apps “breeding ground for bullying” — and expressed concerns about a new, free app called Sarahah that allows anonymous posts to be sent directly to users.

    “It’s ready-made for cyberbullying,” Ellis said, adding that pervasiveness of social media is part of the danger.

    “It’s never going to go away. Kids check their social media minimum a hundred times a day. That’s minimum,” she said. “They always need to know, especially the girls, what is being said about them. There’s a tremendous need, and there’s also a tremendous need to respond if something bad is being said. And that’s the worst thing that they can do. Because once they light that match, it’s going to turn into an inferno.”

    Because of this, parents need to learn what their kids are doing on social media, Ellis said, by reading reliable sources online, looking for community groups or classes that explain different apps, and trying them out. Without knowing what’s out there, parents won’t be able to help their children.

    “It’s got to start at home,” Ellis said.

    Nearly half of the surveyed teens said their parents try to help them deal with cybersafety issues. The students’ responses to the question “While at home do your parents talk with you about how to stay safe online while using connected devices? (either personal or school-owned)”:

    • 46%: Yes, my parents regularly talk with me about how to stay safe online
    • 33%: Yes, my parents have talked to me about staying safe online, but it’s not a regular conversation
    • 11%: Yes, my parents have tried to talk to me about staying safe online, but I think I know more than they do
    • 9%: No, my parents have never talked to me about how to stay safe online

    When problems do arise, Hertzog said, parents should focus on talking to their children about problem-solving and responsibility around technology rather than taking away their devices.

    “It’s not about removing kids’ access to tech, but instead letting them know that you’re going to help them talk through what options they have if (bullying) happens online and show them how to have a good, positive experience online,” she said.

    Slightly more than half of students said they feel their teachers and other educators at school openly discuss cyberbullying and try to prevent it, while 21 percent said adults at school discuss cyberbullying but don’t try to prevent it.

    The best way to prevent cyberbullying, said McAfee’s Gary Davis, is to embed expectations about responsible use of technology in school culture. Children are comfortable using phones and tablets as young as 2 or 3 years old, so teachers and parents should talk about responsible use sooner rather than later.

    “I would love to see a discussion like this at the kindergarten level,” Davis said. Responsible use of technology should be part of the “school’s DNA,” he added.

    About 1,200 American students ages 14 to 18 participated in the study, which was conducted in June and also included questions about cheating in school using technology. The full study included students from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Americans reported more cheating and more bullying than their peers from the other surveyed nations.

  • When College Grads Don’t Come Back Home: New Numbers Show a Widening Urban-Rural Education Divide

    By Kevin Mahnken | August 29, 2017

    The rate of college attainment in rural America is just a little over half that of urban and suburban areas, reports The Wall Street Journal, citing Census data in a story Tuesday on the heartland’s ongoing brain drain. While reports abound of educated millennials deserting Southern and Midwestern homes for coastal metropolises, college graduates often transplant themselves to regional capitals just a short distance away, remaining in red states but leaving their small towns behind.
    Interviewing parents and employers in tiny Mahaska County, Iowa, the paper found many complaining of limited economic opportunities and cultural attractions to attract young professionals, especially compared with the allure of Iowa City and Des Moines. Once they collect their degrees, most stick in their college towns or move on to still-larger urban centers.

    “Many young people in rural communities now see college not so much as a door to opportunity as a ticket out of Nowheresville,” the authors write.

    Although ambitious youngsters have always been drawn to the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles, the exodus from small towns has accelerated in recent decades as industrial jobs have disappeared and the Great Recession took its toll. In 2000, Mahaska County sent 73 people to nearby Johnson County (home of the University of Iowa) and received 71 people in return. In 2014, it sent 170 people and received around 20 back. Overall, the population of Mahaska is roughly the same as it was at the turn of the century, while Johnson is nearly one-third larger.

    Figures at the county level are easy to miss, but across a few decades and thousands of miles of highway, they become inescapable. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 759 rural counties lost inhabitants between 1994 and 2010; that period marked an economic boom compared with the years that followed, when an astonishing 1,300 such counties in 46 states saw their populations dwindle. Seventy percent of manufacturing-dominated counties shrunk in size following the recession and credit crunch of 2008, according to the Brookings Institution.

    But cities aren’t simply acting as magnets, drawing the creative and talented kids away from languishing communities. Those students are also being repelled from their hometowns — not only stunted by a dearth of job openings, but also prodded by their families and schools. Sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, who have studied the movements of young people in economically depressed regions, note that a gulf often opens in high school between those groomed for prosperity in other places and those resigned to staying where they were raised.

    “As achievers are pushed, prodded, and cultivated to leave, and credit their teachers for being integral to their success,” they write, “the stayers view school as an alienating experience and zoom into the labor force because few people are invested in keeping them on the postsecondary track, and the lure of a regular paycheck is hard to resist.”

    That two-track system slowly contributes to a national divide that manifests itself geographically, educationally, and socially. In a long data feature earlier this month, Vox highlighted the work of researchers who had dropped in on high school reunions in hollowed-out hamlets. They found a stigma affixed to those who stuck around after graduation, accompanied by important differences in personal outcomes and worldview. People who left their birthplace were less likely to fear “foreign influence” over American society, less likely to attend a funeral of someone under the age of 65, and less likely to express support for President Trump.

    Meanwhile, the gap in educational attainment is not merely one of college graduates versus everyone else. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, 467 counties across the United States demonstrate low levels of high school completion (i.e., 20 percent or more of the working-age population lacks a high school diploma) as well. In the 21st century, a diploma is no guarantee of even subsistence wages, and dropping out is tantamount to committing economic suicide. Of those low-attainment counties, 80 percent are rural.
    As parents watch their sons and daughters leave home and business owners scour for qualified job applicants, the small towns around them are sapped of vitality. The question posed by one Mahaska County employer is one that is increasingly difficult to answer:

    “How are we going to replace that workforce? There are a lot of people leaving the community, and they’re not coming back.”