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.EDU News From Around the Nation

H1N1, Child Wellness, Depression, and Teacher Discounts

September/October 2009

Back-to-school and flu season go hand in hand. But anxiety is especially high as campuses prepare for the return of H1N1, the new strain of swine flu that erupted last April, killing more than 500 people, hospitalizing nearly 8,000, and forcing the temporary closure of some 700 schools nationwide.

The official response to the threat is an aggressive defense. “We absolutely must continue to make prevention our collective business,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in an August press conference. Saying that school closures should be a “last resort,” he urged parents to keep sick children at home, but said that healthy students should not be afraid to attend school.

Guidelines released by the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help districts plan for the swine flu stress the efficacy of common-sense measures, such as washing hands, covering coughs, and cleaning common surfaces like doorknobs and desktops.

The guidelines also suggest that students get vaccinated. Three quarters of districts, according to an Associated Press poll, are considering providing on-site flu vaccinations when the vaccine becomes available.

For students who do fall ill, districts are expected to provide distance-learning opportunities with “whatever resources” they have. For some, this will mean packets of photocopies, but tech-forward schools are looking into options such as real-time conference calling, video streaming, and video-on-demand classes.

A return of H1N1 will test school preparedness. Unexpectedly, it might also be the first real test of online learning.

Research Roundup
• Questioning the “Plateau Effect”
Conventional wisdom holds that after an initial period of big gains, test scores will even out over time. This so-called plateau effect challenges the premise that upward trends can be continued until all students achieve proficiency. A new study from the Center on Education Policy may dispel conventional wisdom. Analyzing 55 tend lines from 16 states over at least 6 years, the report shows that 15 exhibited a plateau pattern, while 21 demonstrated steady increases and 19 had fluctuating patterns that still moved upward over time. Furthermore, the largest gains did not always appear immediately, but were just as likely to come in any of the six years studied. On the other hand, the results suggested that over a longer period, flattening might be more likely. However, the evidence was too limited to be conclusive.

• School Wellness Programs Diagnosed
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released the most comprehensive overview of school wellness policies taken since a federal law mandating them took effect in the 2006–07 school years. According to the report, well over 90 percent of all students are enrolled in a school with a wellness program. However, the quality of the programs varies widely. Many are underdeveloped, fragmented, and poorly implemented. Among the report’s highlights: Most districts meet or exceed national nutrition standards for school meals, but have much weaker standards for vending machine and à la carte food.

The study also finds that only 18 percent of elementary school students were enrolled in a district that requires daily recess, and that some districts require a specific amount of time for physical activity but not for physical education. The report’s findings will set a benchmark for future assessments.

• Steep Rise in PE Injuries
The number of K-12 students admitted to emergency rooms as a result to injuries sustained from physical education increased 150 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. While the reasons for the increase were not included in the study, the head researcher suggested that contributors may include a movement toward more vigorous exercise, like running, and a shortage of trained instructors. Cutbacks in nurses may also mean that more injuries were taken to emergency rooms rather than treated on campus. Nearly all patients (99 percent) were treated and released. Three quarters of those hospitalized were boys, who accounted for 54 percent of all injuries.

• New Evidence for Childhood Depression
Children as young as 3 can suffer from chronic depression, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Researchers followed 200 children between the ages 3 and 6 for two years. Of the initially depressed children, 64 percent were still depressed 6 months later, and 40 percent experienced symptoms after two years. While previous research suggested that depression affects some 2 percent of preschoolers, it was widely thought that children under 6 were too emotionally immature to experience persistent depression. Childhood depression can manifest in a variety of forms, including loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and frequent temper tantrums. Depression was most common in children with depressed mothers or who had experienced a traumatic event, such as the death of a parent or sexual abuse. What the study did not examine was how best to treat childhood depression. The practice of prescribing psychiatric medication for children is highly controversial.
Teacher Discounts
A Baltimore housing complex offers new teachers affordable rentals.

Looking for perks to attract good teachers? Baltimore has an idea. While most rookie teachers can only afford tiny, uncomfortable apartments, 40 Baltimore teachers and their families are living in luxury, thanks to a new housing complex that provides apartments for teachers at discount rental rates.

This past July, former tin-can factory Miller’s Court opened as a high-quality apartment complex, complete with a grassy courtyard and an on-site fitness center.

Thanks to state and local tax credits, Seawall Development, which built Miller’s Court, was able to offer teachers steep rental discounts of $300 to $600 per month, publicized through teacher-recruitment programs such as Teach for America. A Seawall spokesman told the Associated Press that its one- to three-bedroom apartments usually go for $700 to $1,500 per month, so the discount rates are a steal for the area. There’s already a waiting list.

Where is ARRA Going?

The ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization Fund provides money to schools to offset cuts in state education budgets. Recently the American Association of School Administrators asked 160 school leaders in 16 states how they are using these funds. Here are some significant findings:

52% are trying to preserve positions in teaching and support.

28% have invested in professional development.

23% have purchased classroom technology.

17% have purchased classroom equipment or

12% have repaired or modernized school buildings.

10% have purchased new classroom software.

67% report that total ARRA dollars either are filling budget holes or represent only marginal growth in funding levels.

53% have cut core-subject teaching jobs.

85% have cut non-instructional jobs.


A Permanent Fix for Subs

Elaine Alexandres is the coordinator of substitute teachers for San Bernadino City USD, California’s sixth-largest district. It’s her job to see that every classroom in her 57 schools has a teacher each morning. Here are the five steps she used to streamline and strengthen the system:

Improve screening.
Applicants now fill out a seven-page application and undergo screening before advancing to the interview stage. The district also checks references.

Expand training.
Aspiring subs are taught school procedures, classroom management, and professional conduct. Trainees receive lesson plans they can implement, and they even get seating charts, names of reliable students, and nearby teachers who can assist if needed.

Increase communication.
The best advice in the world won’t work if it isn’t followed, so Alexandres visits schools to make sure they understand the system. She also checks that staff know how to use the district’s new substitute management software, SmartFindExpress.

Develop resident substitutes.
San Bernardino aims to create a cadre of site-specific subs. This will help the substitutes understand the school culture, build relationships with students, and get to know the teachers they’re filling in for.

Update databases.
When San Bernardino transitioned to SmartFindExpress, it culled the 6,000 names in its system to weed out outdated substitutes. Subs now sign up each year so the database stays current.

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