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Education News and Trends

The Latino College Crisis

More students than ever are likely headed to postsecondary programs this month, if enrollment trends continue apace. But, even as millions take that significant step toward economic freedom, thousands are still left on the other side of the campus gates—and far too many of them are Latino.

From 1975 to 2005, the percentage of White adults with college degrees grew from 24 to 34 percent; of Black, 11 to 18 percent; and, of Latino, 9 to 11 percent—or not much at all.

The reasons are varied. Many Latinos are first-generation college-goers, which makes them less fluent in the vocabulary of SATs and FAFSAs—the tests and financial aid forms that make college possible. They’re also less likely to complete degrees because they’re more likely to work and live off-campus.

But the consequences of a lesser-educated Latino population could be disastrous, especially in states where Latinos increasingly support tax revenues. “This is not a boutique issue. This is everybody’s issue. This is everybody’s crisis,” said Patricia Gándara, University of California Los Angeles professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA.

2009 ESP of The Year: ESPecially Wonderful!

The moment Kathie Axtell was named the 2009 ESP of the Year, she almost forgot to breathe.

“It was overwhelming,” says Axtell, a paraeducator and president of the Washington Education Association Chinook UniServ Council. At one point, while the soft-spoken Axtell stood at the podium during her acceptance remarks at the 2009 ESP National Conference in Orlando, Florida in March, the audience sensed her respiratory problem.

“Breathe, Kathie, breathe!” they chanted.

Since then, Axtell is breathing easier, even while juggling the national work of ESP ambassador with her duties in Olympia. She currently reports to the Chinook council office on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Friday afternoons (under a release time agreement), where she assists members on issues ranging from grievance reports and contract language to professional development.

“The professional development part is what I love,” she says.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings, Axtell can be found at her Olympia School District office, coordinating training programs and lobbying legislators.

“Our state legislature is cutting the education budget by almost $2 billion dollars,” she says. “We can’t let that happen.”

2009 Teacher of The Year: From the jail house to the school house to the White House!

Tony Mullen, the National Teacher of the Year, has been on quite a journey. From his first career as a New York City police captain to his new calling as a teacher at the alternative ARCH school in Greenwich, Connecticut, and now, to the recognition of that work by President Barack Obama, Mullen has been traveling a road not frequently taken.

But, to him, the transition from police work to schoolwork made a lot of sense. The young people that he saw as a police officer, “that you’d see in jail, all told the same story: There’s no adult in their life,” he says. Consequently, without any role model or caring adult, they drifted out of school and into crime. “I really wanted to transform their lives,” he says.

And he could, as a teacher.

Since joining the faculty at ARCH, Mullen has reached hundreds of kids who probably would have dropped out otherwise. Recently, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel asked Tony for his secret. Simple: “Get to know the child. You can melt their hearts, and they’ll melt yours, too.”

The Improvement Nearly Doubled

Teachers and parents hoping to boost their school’s test scores can always rely on quality teaching, an instructive curriculum, and smaller class sizes. But it’s a lot easier to just go fishing! A recent Swedish study, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, found that teenage boys who eat fish weekly score 6 percent higher on cognitive skills tests. If they ate it more often, the improvement near doubled.


Banking an Education

A whole lot of kids (and Wall Street types, as it turns out) still don’t know what to do with money. Last year, nearly half of high school students failed a financial literacy quiz from the Jump$tart Coalition.

But, at Sylacauga High School in Alabama, you can trust kids with money. Last year, the first full-service credit union inside an Alabama school opened. The Heritage South Credit Union branch is run by students who can open accounts, make deposits and withdrawals, and sell prepaid debit cards. “Our students will now have the opportunity to enhance the skills learned in the classroom and apply them to real-world experiences,” says business teacher Sean Stevens.

The Case of the Missing Graduates

Just how many kids graduated last year? You’d think you could count them...

But apparently not. A recent Diplomas Count report, published by Education Week, says graduation rates between 1996 to 2006 rose by 2.8 percentage points, but dropped markedly— by almost a point and a half— between 2005 and 2006 to just 69.2 percent.

Or not, say researchers from the Economic Policy Institute, arguing that the rate estimates were “exceedingly inaccurate” and omitted students retained in the ninth grade. They say the rate is off by as much as 9 percent overall and 14 percent for minorities specifically.

Either way, it’s clear that too few students are graduating.

In its dropout prevention plan, NEA calls for accurate monitoring, but also for new programs and policies, like raising the minimum dropout age from 16 to 21; creating high school graduation centers for students 19 to 21 years old; and increasing career readiness programs.

At the same time, the White House also is calling for higher standards—all students should have at least a year of college, too, President Obama says.

Lights! Camera! Fight!

When it comes to schoolyard fights, the big question isn’t how many hits you got: It’s how many hits you’ll get.

Homemade videos of student brawls are increasingly showing up on Internet sites like YouTube, where thousands of young viewers can rate their brutality and comment on the quality of punches. For the victims, it can be devastating to learn that their humiliations have become prime-time viewing: “Basically, it’s like you’re abused twice—first when you’re beat up and then again when it’s posted,” says Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (

In response, some school districts, like the Vallejo City Unified School District in Northern California, have banned bystanders from recording fights. Others have turned the videos over to law enforcement officials, who use them to prosecute students on assault and harassment charges. But a better long-term solution, Willard suggests, is a new focus on the “social intelligence” of students. Programs that spotlight positive behavior, peer mediation, and simple social skills need to be taught to kids, “just like reading and math,” she says.

In Perfect Harmony

Music teachers like Kentucky’s Jim Sproul aren’t surprised to learn that multiple years of music lessons may be the backdrop for enhanced performance in language and literature, as shown by a recent study published in the journal Psychology of Music that linked piano lessons to better vocabulary and verbal sequencing skills. Students are “acquiring skills that serve them the rest of their lives,” said Sproul, now retired. “That’s why it upsets me when school systems are so quick to cut their music programs and then say it’s to improve test scores.” To improve scores, they should do the exact opposite! The Long Island University researchers also suggested their findings be used to support the integration of music into other subjects.

Can you Read This?

One out of seven adults in the United States can’t. In fact, they probably can’t even read their gas bill, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The report showed the number of illiterate adults has risen significantly over the past decade, mostly in states like California, Florida, and Nevada, where immigration also increased. At the same time, other states, most notably Mississippi, have dramatically improved literacy rates.

Even the Jetsons didn’t have this…

A robot teacher named Saya was tested in a Japanese classroom earlier this year, where it called roll and shouted orders like, “Be quiet!” Developed by a Tokyo University of Science professor, the robot can smile, say preprogrammed phrases such as, “Thank you,” and express six basic emotions, like surprise and anger. Its developer says the robot “has no ability to learn,” and is “just a tool.” (No kidding.) If this is the future, we don’t like it!


Even as legislators continue to debate what health care reform should look like in the United States, the NEA has a clear vision: health reform that will ensure every person in America has quality, affordable health care coverage.

More than 48 million Americans —including 9 million children—don’t have coverage. And, with the economy in a downturn, many more will likely lose access to medical care if Congress doesn’t act now. At the same time, health care premiums are rising four times faster than inflation: In 2008 they reached more than $12,000, on average, for a family of four.

The NEA believes delay is the enemy of reform, and our lobbyists continue to push for quick reform that includes a choice of plans and providers (including ones that employees already have through their employers), as well as a government-sponsored public health insurance plan option. The NEA opposes any proposal that would limit or cap employer-sponsored benefits, such as new taxes.

For more information, or to urge your Congressman to act, go to NEA’s Legislative Action Center at


A Growing Satisfaction With Your Job

Great news! As the school year kicks off, most of you are really happy to be back in the classroom. Indeed, despite the stresses associated with budget cuts and standardized tests, job satisfaction among American educators is at its highest point in the past 25 years, according to the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Past, Present and Future.

In 2008, 98 percent of teachers agreed with this statement: “I love to teach,” and 75 percent said they’d tell a young person to become a teacher, up from 45 percent in 1984! Overall, it’s teachers at opposite ends of the spectrum—newest and most experienced—who are most satisfied. Also, suburban teachers are generally happier than urban teachers, and elementary more satisfied than secondary.

A Green Start to the New Year

As the school year begins again, it’s time for a whole new host of resolutions that you can make yourself feel guilty over when you don’t keep, can’t keep, and what were you thinking anyway? Aha! Make them easier this time! Five simple things you can do to help the world:

1. Don’t buy plastic water bottles. Minnesota teacher Carol Sanders refills a glass bottle with filtered water and keeps it on her desk in a “bottle jacket” with her school mascot on it.

2. Turn off some of your classroom lights on sunny days.

3. Skip the Dixie cups and ask friends to donate coffee mugs and metal utensils for your classroom’s celebrations, suggests Maryellen Allison, a Corinth, New York, teacher.

4. Give up the Post-it notes! Use scrap paper instead.

5. Turn off your computer when you go home…

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