Guest Commentary: Let’s Do More To Connect With Youth

Lawrence's Arlington Middle School students walk through the main hallway on their way to class. (Jesse Costa/WBUR/File)

By Tiziana Dearing

In the world of working with young people, there’s a concept called “disconnected youth.” That means young people, ages 16-24, who are neither working nor in school. As you can imagine, disconnection is a bad thing. It can lead to higher rates of poverty, poor health outcomes, crime and more.

As part of a new presidential issues project,  the Boston-area Opportunity Nation has been talking in social media about a report it commissioned this summer on disconnected youth. It showed alarming rates of disconnection at the national level, but relatively good numbers for Greater Boston – depending on who you are.

The report found that more than 5 million youth in America are disconnected. That’s “larger than the population of thirty US states,” and it cost the country $27 billion in 2013 alone. Read More →

At School For The Disabled, Families Feast And Give Thanks

Rose Pierre, a student at the Carter School, celebrates at the Carter Thanksgiving with her mother, Vivien Gilbert. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

BOSTON -- At Thanksgiving, Boston's most severely disabled students and their families have a special place to give thanks. It's a place that many say has transformed their lives: the Carter School.

Carter students come with extreme physical, developmental and mental conditions. And their families are eager to give thanks for the school that celebrates what students can do, rather than focusing on what they can't.

So, every year, the school holds a potluck Thanksgiving feast for its 25 students, their families and their friends. For those with limited mobility and no access to specialized transportation, it may be the only Thanksgiving dinner they'll be able to attend.

"Our students are thought to be kind of the 1 percent of individuals in our city with disabilities," says Carter principal Mark O'Connor.

One percent meaning the most severely disabled students in Boston's public school system. All but two use wheelchairs all the time. Most cannot operate them on their own. Few have advanced language skills; many can't speak at all. Read More →

Guest Commentary: In Social Emotional Learning, Massachusetts Should Step Up

So far this school year, 52 percent of bullying reported in Boston Public Schools involves elementary students, a sharp increase from the entire 2013-2014 school year. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

By Chad d’Entremont, Ph.D

Preparing today’s students for life after graduation must extend beyond academics. In an ever-changing global economy, employers want workers who can think critically, solve problems and adapt quickly. As more and more jobs become automated, ones that require both technical and interpersonal skills are still in demand.

Teaching our students reading, writing and arithmetic simply is not enough anymore -- they need to learn persistence, patience and compassion too.

A growing body of evidence points to the importance of teaching children how to manage their emotions and behaviors. Known as social and emotional learning (SEL), the development of these noncognitive skills, like self-motivation and grit, is linked to better academic performance, higher college retention rates and increased employment and wages. These abilities lead to improved health and well-being as well, including a lower risk of substance abuse, obesity and criminal activity. Read More →

Education Board Approves ‘MCAS 2.0’ For State Test

A student works on math problems as part of a trial run of a Common Core linked test on Feb. 12, 2013. Massachusetts education board voted Tuesday to adopt a hybrid test that combines the Common Core-aligned PARCC test with MCAS exams. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Updated at 6:35 p.m. 

MALDEN, Mass. -- Massachusetts students will take a new standardized test beginning in the spring of 2017. The yet-undeveloped test, unofficially dubbed "MCAS 2.0," will be a hybrid of the state's current MCAS exam and the PARCC test that Massachusetts districts have piloted for two years.

It marks the first major assessment overhaul since Bay State students began taking Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests nearly two decades ago.

The change was approved in an 8-3 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.

"I think it bodes well for the future of the Commonwealth and for the education system going forward," said Mitchell Chester, education commissioner. "It’s time for a next-generation. We’ve been sitting on our MCAS assessment for 18 years now." Read More →

From MCAS To PARCC And, Maybe, Beyond: A Testing Timeline

Dolores Wood leads a class about the similarities and differences between Les Miserables and Cell One, a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on Thursday morning, November 12th at West Roxbury Academy. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Students in Massachusetts have been taking the standardized test known as MCAS for almost 20 years. On Tuesday, that may change.

That's when the state board of education plans to decide whether to scrap the current MCAS in favor of a yet-undeveloped MCAS test, based largely on the Common Core-aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.

While the decision could have far-reaching effects for the classrooms of tomorrow, getting to this point has been anything but straightforward. Read More →

Commission Calls For Higher State Funding For Mass. Schools

A group of lawmakers and educators, including Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), released a set of recommendations Monday calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in new state spending on Massachusetts public schools. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/WBUR)

BOSTON -- A commission of lawmakers and educators is recommending hundreds of millions of dollars in new state funding for the state's public school systems.

In a report released Monday, the Foundation Budget Review Commission lays out recommendations for substantial updates to the state's school funding formula, a part of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. Although the act mandated that a commission review and update the formula every three years to stay abreast of changing education costs,  it’s been more than a decade since the last commission issued a report.

Since then, the school funding formula has only been adjusted for inflation.

"Our school districts are really struggling to keep up with the high expectations that we have rightly set for them, when our investments aren't matching that high level of expectation," said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), who co-chaired the commission. Read More →

Guest Commentary: Why We Shouldn’t Privatize Public Education

By Richard Stutman

A recent ruling by Washington state’s Supreme Court declared charter schools unconstitutional, which has only served to further fuel the debate surrounding these often controversial educational institutions. The ruling, which argued that charter schools are not truly public schools because they are not governed by elected boards, found that these schools largely adhere to their own standards and as such are not accountable to voters. Charter schools are in fact independently run and operate without the same accountabilities as truly public schools.

As someone who was a teacher and is now the president of the 11,000-member Boston Teachers Union, I agree that we need to provide more educational options to low-income students, but charter schools are not the way to do this. In fact, their growth is a step toward privatizing public education. Charter schools take opportunities away from the other public schools by cherry-picking the students who come through their doors. Read More →

Report: Schools Fall Short In Handling Students’ Digital Data

Many Massachusetts schools are using technology to monitor students, collect personal data about them and share that data in ways that raise troubling questions about student privacy, according to a new study from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The study, released Wednesday, examined 35 school districts across the state, including Boston, Springfield and various rural and suburban districts. Almost universally, the study found, students in those districts have "no expectation of privacy" when going online in school; many are similarly unprotected when using school-issued electronic devices, such as Chromebooks or iPads.

And many districts reserve the right to inspect those devices without notice or consent, the report said. Unlike searches of school lockers or student backpacks, the report said, in many cases school officials can search cellphones and other devices without even a "reasonable suspicion." Read More →