K-12 Education

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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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With nearly 700,000 workers employed in more than 12,000 firms, Ohio has the third-highest number of manufacturing jobs in the nation. That number, state Rep. Mark Romanchuk says, could be even higher. “Many good-paying manufacturing jobs are going unfilled,” he notes.
Ohio is not alone.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled across the nation over the next decade. Among the factors: low unemployment, a shortage of qualified workers, and retirement rates that are outpacing the entry of younger workers into this sector. In addition, despite competitive pay and good benefits, manufacturing jobs are often viewed as being low-skilled and undesirable, carrying the image of dirty factories filled with assembly lines and repetitive work.
Ohio policymakers are hoping to dispel these misconceptions by giving more young people early exposure to real-world, on-the-job experiences. Included as part of this year’s biennial budget bill, HB 166, the Manufacturing Mentorship Program will allow 16- and 17-year-old students to work part-time in manufacturing jobs. Previously, any minor working in a manufacturing facility had to be enrolled in a career technical education program.
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Civic education policies have begun to diversify over the past few years as state-level institutions have taken a holistic approach to become more involved in the administrative planning and support process. Included in the state-level changes are revamped curriculum standards, better professional support for educators and newly established assessment tools for classroom programs. New policies are making a difference in the quality of students’ education and civic engagement.

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In a national report on policies to promote K-12 instruction in computer science, Indiana is singled out as one of the nation’s five leading states.
Authors of the September study say that 45 percent of the nation’s high schools teach computer science. They note, too, that certain groups of students are more likely to attend a school that does not offer instruction in this subject area — minorities, young people living in rural areas, and low-income students. How can states close this gap? The “2019 State of Computer Science Education: Equity and Diversity” identifies nine policies in areas such as certification, professional development, statewide standards, and a requirement that all secondary schools offer computer science.
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With a law on third-grade reading set to take full effect in the spring and fall of 2020, Michigan legislators are doubling down on a key element of its plan to improve literacy among young learners. The state’s new education budget, signed into law in September, spends an additional $14 million (a total of $21 million) to bring more early-literacy learning coaches into Michigan schools.
“Teaching literacy is complex and challenging,” says Lisa Brown, a program consultant for the Michigan Department of Education. “What the coaches do is break down the research practices for teachers and help with implementation of literacy instruction.”
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Illinois has a new law to ensure that children with diabetes have access to the medical care they need. Under HB 822, which received unanimous approval in the state General Assembly, schools are given the authority to store an undesignated supply of glucagon.

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