K-12 Education

CSG Midwest
Already one of the seven Midwestern states that limited schools’ non-emergency use of physical restraints and seclusion on students, Wisconsin has a new law that further restricts these techniques, while also strengthening the rules on training, data collection and parental notification.
SB 527 was signed by Gov. Tony Evers in March.
“This is a pretty tough issue, and every time we take it on it takes a long time and many redrafts of the legislation,” says Wisconsin Sen. Luther Olsen, primary sponsor of SB 527, as well as the state’s original law from 2012 on physical restraint and seclusion. “You have people coming from very different sides — advocates for students and children with disabilities, and advocates for schools. You want to get to a place where you’re protecting everybody.”
CSG Midwest
In their federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan, seven students of Detroit’s public schools told of buildings that were unsafe and of classrooms that were unfit for learning.
The smell of “dead vermin and black mold in hallways.”
Teachers absent as many as 50 days a year.
Classes run by substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or even the students themselves.
Out-of-date textbooks having to be shared by multiple students.
Classroom temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, or freezing cold other times of the year.
“The basic thesis of the case was that these were schools in name only, and they were not capable of delivering even basic literacy instruction,” says Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law firm in the nation and an attorney for the student-plaintiffs. “As a result, the students were not being put in a position where they could better their circumstances or where they could be meaningful participants in a democracy.”

CSG Midwest
After the end to an unforeseen school year across the Midwest, state and local education leaders now face a new set of challenges and uncertainties as the start of another year looms. “We have been encouraging our district leaders and our school leaders to have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C,” Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said in May during a Facebook Live discussion organized by Illinois Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch.
“We may see the start of school [in the fall] in a remote fashion. We may see a combination where some children are allowed to come to school on certain days, or where we take the upper grades and are able to spread them out in a school building with social distancing norms. Or we may be able to come back full force.”
CSG Midwest

In mid-March, the nation’s education community — school administrators, teachers, students and parents — began a crash course in e-learning. For state legislators, too, there have been important lessons to learn about their schools’ rollout of this alternative to face-to-face instruction, as well as many policy issues to consider about the potential fallout.

One likely consequence, for example, is a lag in student achievement, says Georgia Heyward, a research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which has created a database detailing and comparing the e-learning plans of school districts across the country.

“I think a learning slide should be expected,” she says. “Early on, we have been seeing very few school districts that offer live instruction, where you have a [professionally trained] teacher guiding the students rather than a harried parent. “And you have very few districts doing progress monitoring of students.”

That learning slide also may be unevenly distributed. Early on, anecdotal evidence pointed to disparities in the richness of the e-learning plans being developed and implemented by school districts.

CSG Midwest

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five 15-year-olds doesn’t understand basic financial concepts. For those young people, too, some very important financial decisions lie only a few years ahead — how to save and invest, how to choose between college and work, how to borrow wisely, how to manage debit and credit cards, etc.

One response by states to the challenge of improving personal financial literacy: Require more of high schools and students in this subject area, with the hope that it lays the groundwork for long-term economic success. “Well-implemented state financial education mandates lead to a clear improvement in financial behaviors,” according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
CSG Midwest
In Wisconsin, the path to getting any kind of dyslexia-related bill through the Legislature has never been easy, with bills in various sessions getting caught up in what has been called the state’s “reading wars” over issues such as phonics, whole language and how best to instruct students.
But proponents of getting the state, and its school districts, to do more to help young people with dyslexia and related conditions finally found some legislative success in early 2020. “It’s going to be a very good first step,” Wisconsin Rep. Bob Kulp says of AB 110, which became law in February. “[It] puts dyslexia on the radar screen in our state.”
CSG Midwest
Six years ago, with a $2 million legislative appropriation, Minnesota launched a pilot program to help some of that state’s most at-risk students — young learners who lack stable or adequate housing. The state began partnering with schools and local organizations to provide vulnerable families with subsidies that helped pay their rent over two school years. The goals: Stabilize housing and prevent homelessness, thus improving school attendance and, over the long term, academic performance among these students.
The early results, says Eric Grumdahl, were a “powerful signal” that this kind of intervention worked.
Ninety percent of the pilot program’s students with a known housing status were stably housed. (All of them had entered the program experiencing housing instability or school changes.) Further, these young people were more likely to be attending school on a regular basis than their homeless peers.
“That encouraged us to take this to a larger scale,” adds Grumdahl, who works for Minnesota’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Education.
The “larger-scale,” permanent program is now called Homework Starts with Home, and the Legislature appropriated $3.5 million for it this biennium as part of Minnesota Housing’s base budget.
The hope among legislators is to reach more young people, and to stop what can be a destructive cycle — homeless students are much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school; individuals who don’t complete high school are at a much higher risk of homelessness as young adults.
“The more children have to change schools [because of housing instability], the further they fall behind,” notes Barbara Duffield, executive director of the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, which advocates for policies that help these students. “They’re losing time and they’re losing coursework. At the same time, they’re also losing attachments to friends and teachers, and all of those emotional pieces of stability.”
Not surprisingly, then, the achievement gaps between homeless students and their peers are wide. Nationwide, for example, less than two-thirds of homeless youths graduate from high school on time. That compares to 84 percent among all students, and 77 percent among low-income students who have stable housing.
CSG Midwest

Student scores in the 11-state Midwest on math and reading either remained steady or fell between 2017 and 2019, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The latest NAEP results were released in October.

CSG Midwest
Last summer, a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune on abuse in Illinois’ largest school system came with a one-word headline: “Betrayed.” The story detailed the extent to which students in Chicago Public Schools had been raped, sexually abused or harassed by adults employed by CPS. Since 2011, the district’s Law Department had investigated 430 such reports; in more than half of these cases, credible evidence of misconduct had been found.
These findings led to immediate calls for better background-check systems and stronger rules to stop and discipline perpetrators. But Illinois Rep. Ann Williams thought something was missing from these two policy remedies. She wanted to find a way of empowering young people themselves — to help prevent all forms of harassment and assault.
Part of her legislative answer: Require the state’s schools to teach consent in any sex-education curriculum that it offers. With this year’s signing of HB 3550, Illinois is set to become the first state in the Midwest with such a mandate in place. “Consent used to be thought of as simply ‘no means no,’ but we now know it means much more than that,” says Williams, the primary sponsor of HB 3550.
CSG Midwest
Under emergency rules established this fall, the Illinois Board of Education banned the use of isolated seclusion by schools, and new legislation to codify the ban is expected in 2020. The state actions are the result of an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica that documented more than 20,000 incidents of isolated seclusion over the past 15 months. Under existing state law, this practice is only permitted if a student poses a safety threat. But according to the Chicago Tribune’s investigation, in many cases, students were getting “isolated timeouts” for disobedience or refusing to do schoolwork.

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