Thursday, October 10th, 2013
A group of Malibu, California teachers are alleging that a number of chronic health issues they’re suffering from, including asthma and migraine headaches, are the result of poor building conditions at their schools. More from CNN.com:
A group of [high school junior Nicholas] Wiseman’s teachers at Malibu High School sent a letter to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s risk manager on October 4, complaining about a variety of illnesses. They suspect their working environment is at fault, but administrators say they are still investigating, and some experts are skeptical.
“At this point, there is nothing to let people know, other than employees had health concerns,” Sandra Lyon, the district superintendent, told CNN Newsource affiliate KCAL/KCBS. “We don’t have any evidence whatsoever that there is any contaminant, any issue in or around that building.”
The letter says the teachers “are extremely concerned about their health and safety.” Three teachers at the school have been diagnosed with stage 1 thyroid cancer in the past six months. Some seven teachers complained about migraines. The letter says the teachers who are sick work primarily in the main middle school building (the school services grades 6 through 12), the music and drama building, the visual arts building and in the school’s theater.
When one teacher moved to another building, her migraines got better, the letter states.
Another teacher who moved from one of the suspected buildings stopped getting a rash she’d been suffering from for four years.
The letter publicly requests environmental tests be done at the school and asks the district to make those test results public.
Image: Teacher with a headache, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, September 19th, 2013
Children who exercise regularly and who are in good physical condition are better able to absorb and retain information in school, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More from The New York Times:
[Researchers recruited] a group of local 9- and 10-year-old boys and girls, testing their aerobic fitness on a treadmill, and then asking 24 of the most fit and 24 of the least fit to come into the exercise physiology lab and work on some difficult memorization tasks.
Learning is, of course, a complex process, involving not only the taking in and storing of new information in the form of memories, a process known as encoding, but also recalling that information later. Information that cannot be recalled has not really been learned.
Earlier studies of children’s learning styles have shown that most learn more readily if they are tested on material while they are in the process of learning it. In effect, if they are quizzed while memorizing, they remember more easily. Straight memorization, without intermittent reinforcement during the process, is tougher, although it is also how most children study.
In this case, the researchers opted to use both approaches to learning, by providing their young volunteers with iPads onto which several maps of imaginary lands had been loaded. The maps were demarcated into regions, each with a four-letter name. During one learning session, the children were shown these names in place for six seconds. The names then appeared on the map in their correct position six additional times while children stared at and tried to memorize them.
In a separate learning session, region names appeared on a different map in their proper location, then moved to the margins of the map. The children were asked to tap on a name and match it with the correct region, providing in-session testing as they memorized.
A day later, all of the children returned to the lab and were asked to correctly label the various maps’ regions.
The results, published last week in PLoS One, show that, over all, the children performed similarly when they were asked to recall names for the map when their memorization was reinforced by testing.
But when the recall involved the more difficult type of learning — memorizing without intermittent testing — the children who were in better aerobic condition significantly outperformed the less-fit group, remembering about 40 percent of the regions’ names accurately, compared with barely 25 percent accuracy for the out-of-shape kids.
This finding suggests that “higher levels of fitness have their greatest impact in the most challenging situations” that children face intellectually, the study’s authors write. The more difficult something is to learn, the more physical fitness may aid children in learning it.
Image: Kids playing at recess, via Shutterstock
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Friday, August 16th, 2013
The average American family will spend more than $240,000 to raise a single child for 18 years, according to a new report released by the US Department of Agriculture. The costs of day care, food, transportation, clothing, and education are climbing, having risen 3 percent since 2011, and the new numbers don’t even reflect the cost of college. CNN Money reports on the finding, which is worrying to families who are continuing to struggle in economically tenuous times:
At the same time, wages aren’t keeping up. The country’s median annual household income has fallen by more than $4,000 since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, and many of the jobs lost during the recent recession have been replaced with lower-wage positions.
The USDA’s latest estimates include expenses for housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, education and child care, as well as miscellaneous expenses, such as toys and computers.
The biggest price tag is for families in the urban Northeast earning $105,360 or more. They will spend $446,100, much more than the national average, according to the report. Meanwhile, families earning less than $61,590 a year in rural areas will spend the least, at $143,160.
While expenses in all categories rose in 2012, health care, education and child care spending increased the most.
Health care spending made up around $20,000, or around 8%, of the USDA’s estimated child-rearing expenses for a child born in 2012. Meanwhile, child care and education expenses represented nearly 18% of the total costs for middle-income parents.
Since 2000, the cost of child care has increased twice as fast as the median income of families with children, according to the most recent report from Child Care Aware of America. In 2011, the average cost of full-time center-based care for an infant ranged from about $4,600 a year in Mississippi to more than $15,000 in Massachusetts.
“Many families are priced out of licensed child care services,” said Lynette Fraga, executive director of the nonprofit group. “If they are priced out, then the health and safety of those children are at risk.”
Image: Money, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
Coy Mathis, a transgender 6-year-old who identifies as a female but was born a male, has won a decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Division that will enable her to use the girls’ bathroom at school. Mathis’ parents filed their complaint in February after Eagleside Elementary School rescinded the child’s permission to use the girls’ bathroom. More from NBC News:
By not allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom, the school “creates an environment rife with harassment,” Steven Chavez, the division director, wrote in the decision.
The school district, about 15 miles south of Colorado Springs, Colo., also showed “a lack of understanding of the complexity of transgender issues” by referring to Coy as a male or using quotes around “her” throughout the litigation, Chavez wrote.
The school district could not be reached for comment on the ruling Sunday.
Coy was born a male, but began at an early age to identify as a girl through toys and dress and started calling herself a girl between the ages of 4 and 6, according to the summary of the division’s ruling.
Image: Girls’ bathroom, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
A growing number of elementary schools across the country are returning to “ability grouping,” a practice that groups students not by age, but by school level. The practice was popular in the 1980s and 90s, but fell out of favor amid discomfort from parents who feared the policy was unequal and placed poor and minority students at a disadvantage. More from The New York Times:
A new analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a Census-like agency for school statistics, shows that of the fourth-grade teachers surveyed, 71 percent said they had grouped students by reading ability in 2009, up from 28 percent in 1998. In math, 61 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported ability grouping in 2011, up from 40 percent in 1996.
“These practices were essentially stigmatized,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who first noted the returning trend in a March report, and who has studied the grouping debate. “It’s kind of gone underground, it’s become less controversial.”
The resurgence of ability grouping comes as New York City grapples with the state of its gifted and talented programs — a form of tracking in some public schools in which certain students, selected through testing, take accelerated classes together.
These programs, which serve about 3 percent of the elementary school population, are dominated by white and Asian students.
Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker who is running for mayor, has proposed expanding the number of gifted classes while broadening the criteria for admission in hopes of increasing diversity. (The city’s Education Department has opposed the proposal, saying that using criteria other than tests would dilute the classes.)
Teachers and principals who use grouping say that the practice has become indispensable, helping them cope with widely varying levels of ability and achievement.
Image: School children, via Shutterstock
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