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Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
It’s never a pleasant topic to discuss, but we need to talk about head lice.
When I was young, I caught the tiny pests from another kid at daycare. I wasn’t particularly close with this girl, so I’m confident that we weren’t sharing hats or rubbing our heads together, but somehow, I ended up with lice anyway. This was years ago now, but my mom still shudders when she thinks about it. Because naturally, my sister caught them too, and my poor mother was forced to spend hours washing and combing out our long hair. And it wasn’t easy for me either—she bagged up all my stuffed animals for two weeks! (Experts have since determined that those grueling days without my plush friends weren’t necessary, as lice can’t survive without human blood. So even worse, my suffering was all for nothing!) Needless to say, the head lice era was a dark time in my family’s history.
I was interested to hear that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has just updated their guidelines, saying that kids with lice should not be banned from school. Instead, the child should finish out the school day, be treated and then return to class the next day. Experts are reminding parents that lice are not a serious health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene—just a nuisance that can be dealt with.
I’m feeling a little conflicted about this. On one hand, I obviously trust that the experts know what they’re talking about, and I don’t necessarily believe that a child should be banned from school until every last bug is gone. But what if someone had forced that kid from my daycare to stay home? My whole family would have been a whole lot happier, I can tell you that much. Sure, lice won’t ruin your life—but they will be a massive pain to your family while they’re kicking around. (“Nuisance” is way too gentle of a word in my mind.) It seems to me that keeping your child out of school until you’ve gotten things under control is a reasonable request. Let’s just hope that no matter what the school policy is, parents will use common sense about when a child should stay home, much like with colds or other mild illnesses.
Tell us what you think: should kids with lice be allowed in school?
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Chrisanne Grise is an editorial assistant at Parents. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.
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Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015
Ellie Kay, a Moms Money Clinic advisor for Parents, guest blogs regularly to answer mail about money issues. Today she’s helping parents learn about college investment options.
Q. What are the best tax-smart ways to save for college?
A. There are quite a few options, depending on your needs as a family and your savings goals. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite investment options for college:
UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act) Parents of young children can start saving now for higher education, but should do so in a tax-smart way. By investing in a UGMA in your child’s name, the income is taxed at your little one’s marginal tax bracket rather than yours. At age 18 or 21 (depending on the state), control of the assets is turned over to your child, who can use them toward college. Note: This can be a disadvantage when it comes to financial-aid qualifications.
EE US Savings Bonds If the income from these bonds is used to pay for education expenses, it may be excluded from taxes, depending on your income level.
529 College Savings Plan This education savings plan, operated by a state or educational institution, is designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. As long as the plan satisfies a few basic requirements, the federal tax law provides special tax benefits to plan participants. Most notably, the money invested grows tax free, provided that you use it for eligible education expenses (such as tuition, room, board, and books). Grandparents and other relatives can also contribute to a 529. These plans are usually categorized as either prepaid or savings plans, although some have elements of both. Every state offers a 529 plan, and it’s up to each to decide on the particulars, such as tax exemptions and credits. Go here to review your state plan.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts A Coverdell lets you set aside up to $2,000 of pre-tax income to be invested as you like, assuming your family meets the modified adjusted gross income requirements. The funds must be spent before your child turns 30. On the plus side, they can also be used for private-school tuition prior to college. Because Coverdell funds can be rolled over into a 529 without penalty, parents can sidestep its principal drawbacks—the age limit and the fact that a Coverdell counts as a child’s asset (which can adversely affect his ability to receive need-based loans). Coverdells may be a smart investment option for parents whose income is below $50,000. The accounts are easier to set up than 529 plans, and people in this lower tax bracket aren’t usually able to take advantage of the maximum lifetime contributions allowed under a 529.
Free money Signing up with Upromise.com lets you get a percentage of your everyday purchases at grocery stores, gas stations, and other places you frequent anyway deposited into your child’s 529 account. Anywhere from 1 percent to 25 percent of each sale is deposited into your child’s 529. Be sure to have grandparents sign up and log in their spending too (they’ll need to set up their own 529 accounts to take advantage).
Ellie Kay is a family financial expert, the author of The 60-Minute Money Workout, and a mom of seven. Read more of her advice at elliekay.com.
Smart baby via ShutterStock
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Monday, April 6th, 2015
We’ll be watching the NCAA championship game at my house tonight, but we’re just as excited about the announcement today of the four finalists in Women on 20s’ campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.
My 10-year-old daughter, Jane, was one of the 255,000 people who voted in the past five weeks for their three favorites out of the fifteen candidates. I’d originally heard about the campaign from her teacher, because Clara Barton—whom Jane had written a report about earlier this year—was one of the candidates. Although Clara didn’t make it to the final four, Jane was thrilled to be able to cast her vote just like adults could.
She thought it was particularly cool that a 9-year-old girl was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and wrote to President Obama to ask why don’t women have coins or dollar bills with their faces on them. Now the organization, Women on 20s, is working to putting a woman on the $20 (sorry, Andrew Jackson) in time for the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the passage of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. The President can order the Secretary of the Treasury to change the portrait on paper money.
Last week, I happened to speak with Parents advisor Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., dean of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, about ways to help elementary school kids like Jane stay excited about school—at a time in their lives when it seems like there’s more work than play. Dr. Stipek, the author of the terrific book, Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning, thinks that one key is to show your child ways that what she’s learning in school relates to the real world. So Women on 20s was perfect timing for us.
Learn more about the final four candidates and vote for the winner along with your own daughters and sons.
Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two daughters. You can follow on Twitter at @ddebrovner.
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Monday, March 23rd, 2015
Last week nearly 1.4 million students in India sat down to take a high-stakes exit exam. Around the world, students participate in forms of standardized testing all of the time, so why are these 10th grade exams making headlines? Because some of the kids’ parents were climbing up walls in an effort to help them pass the exam, that’s why.
Yes, you heard correctly—family members and friends were photographed scaling up several floors to hand off cheat sheets to students inside. It’s also been rumored that security and police officers were accepting bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye—not shocking considering just how many people were participating in the “climb.”
These parents want their children to succeed and, in many cases, India’s flawed education system is not allowing students to do so. According to the Washington Post, ”Education experts say that cheating is just a symptom of the deeper problems that plague India’s education system, such as teacher absenteeism, emphasis on rote learning and inadequate school infrastructure.”
Nearly two dozen Indian parents were apprehended and released hours later, and approximately 600 students were expelled as a result of the cheating, reports the Daily News.
If a student in India fails this exam, it’s likely that they will drop out of school, and these parents were trying to prevent that. They want their children to be educated and have opportunities that they may not have had themselves, and isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?
Lest we forget, systemic cheating has happened in our own country as well. Just a few years ago, Atlanta’s public school system came under harsh scrutiny after 178 teachers and principals in 44 schools confessed to cheating on numerous state-mandated exams.
I believe cheating is wrong, of course, and in no way should a parent, who is supposed to be their child’s role model, exemplify this type of behavior—but when I saw the images of these parents going to such great lengths to help their kids, I couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit sympathic. What’s your take?
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
Image: Student using cheat sheet via Shutterstock
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Education, Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Over the past several months, I’ve become more and more concerned about the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (AKA the PARCC) that’s being given to students in grades 3 through 11 here in New Jersey and in a handful of other states. So concerned, in fact, that after doing extensive research on it, I chose to refuse the PARCC test for my daughters.
And now, I’m feeling even more convinced that there are major issues with the PARCC. Just this week, news surfaced that test-maker Pearson has been vigilantly monitoring social media for mentions of its controversial new standardized test, then asking the Board of Education to step in and punish students who are tweeting about the PARCC in ways that they deem inappropriate. The superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey was the first to sound the alarm bell, after receiving a late-night call from the New Jersey Department of Education. Pearson claimed the student had posted a screenshot of a test question during the testing timeframe—but it turned out that the student hadn’t posted an image, and had tweeted about the test after school hours.
This whole social media monitoring scheme seems to be pretty unfair, given the fact that some of the schools in New Jersey have not allowed parents and students to refuse the test or have used pressuring tactics like making them simply sit and stare during the duration of the test if they refuse to participate. So now, these kids not only may be forced to take this test against their will, but if they are caught “revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication,” Pearson will find out through their apparently eagle-eyed social media watching program, track down the student and their school district, and demand punishment. And at least one child in New Jersey is currently on suspension as a result. (I’m thinking that hardly seems legal to silence the students given the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment, and the fact that even though Pearson required all teachers and proctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the actual test takers are minors and can’t legally sign a contract.)
But Pearson is doing more than snooping on what your kid is tweeting. It’s getting quite a bit of data about your child through the PARCC test. That includes more than the basics, like name, birthdate, sex, and ethnicity. Pearson also knows what disabilities your child has, whether he or she has been labeled gifted and talented, and if she’s eligible for reduced/free lunch (so that gives them a clue about how your family finances look). And then, of course, Pearson is getting all sorts of data about how your child is doing on their test. (Though the actual value of that data is uncertain, given the concerns about the structure and style of the PARCC.)
The amount and types of data Pearson is collecting raises concerns about security breaches, as hackers could access this very personal information about children. And it also makes you wonder what Pearson has planned for this data. One potential clue is an Instagram image that’s been posted around, of a potential student data file of the future—it’s a screen capture from a video Pearson produced. For a kid that looks to be about a fifth grader, it suggests a single career path, five potential colleges, and a high school schedule. Should we really be trying to pigeon hole kids to a certain career before they hit junior high, based on a series of standardized tests? (I can assure you that my fifth grader’s current career aspiration, ballet dancer, won’t be among the choices offered by Pearson.)
If you’re worried that your child’s privacy may be compromised, there are steps you can take:
- Contact your child’s school and ask them what private companies or third-party providers have access to your child’s data. There are two laws in place that are meant to protect your child’s data at school: FERPA and COPPA. Neither is perfect, but they will at least allow you to find out who has your child’s data, and start contacting these companies to request that they remove identifying information.
- Refuse the PARCC tests. Even if your child took the first set of testing this March, there’s more PARCC to be had later in May. You can refuse the test and prevent Pearson from getting more of your child’s information.
- Share your concerns with your school board, state legislators, and local media. The more voices that speak up with concerns about these possible violations of student privacy and freedom of speech, the more likely that the voices will be heard.
Lisa Milbrand writes Parents.com’s In Name Only blog and is the mom of two girls.
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