Why students skip school
September 14th, 2012
01:20 PM ET

Why students skip school

by Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) - “School is boring,” say about half of American students who routinely skip.  But when asked what they’re doing instead of attending class, most say they’re just hanging out with their friends or sleeping.

A survey recently published at Getschooled.com cites data that as many as 7 million students - about 15% of the K-12 population - are out of school 18 or more days of the school year.  And many of them don’t think skipping school will impact their future.

That’s not in line with reality.  The study points out that students who skip more than 10 days of school are significantly (about 20%) less likely to get a high school diploma.  And they’re 25% less likely to enroll in higher education.

Can parents have an impact here?  Absolutely.  In fact, parental encouragement to attend school was the most widely cited factor in what would make students want to go to class diligently.

But many of those surveyed said their parents didn’t even know when students skipped.  In fact, 42% said their parents either never knew or rarely knew when their kids were absent from school; another 24% added that parents knew “sometimes.”  So parental engagement and knowledge of children’s whereabouts seem key to keeping kids in class.

Students also said that encouragement from anyone to whom they felt a personal connection, from teachers to coaches to celebrities, could influence better attendance.  “If we - parents, educators, and even celebrities - show them we truly care about them, their aspirations and frustrations, they will be more likely to care about making it to school,” writes Marie Groark, executive director of the Get Schooled Foundation.

Other solutions:  Those surveyed said they wanted to see a “clear connection” between their classes and the jobs they’d like down the road.  They also cited a better understanding of consequences, greater support of teachers, and more friends at school as factors that could make them attend more often.

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Filed under: At Home • Behavior • Carl Azuz • High school • Middle school
September 14th, 2012
11:45 AM ET

Interview with a parent on the impact of the strike

(CNN) CNN Student News conducted a Skype interview with Chicago parent Nino Rodriguez about how he and his family are dealing with the teachers' strike.

We asked him about his family's daily routine during this time and how he felt about the strike.

Rodriguez says, "We are always doing stuff at home.  You know, keeping them away from the computer, keeping them away from television and movies, which is what they want to run to first.  They must either do writing, reading or something like that."

He looks forward to his kids being back in class because he feels that they are losing valuable instructional time.

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Filed under: At Home • teacher unions • Teachers • video
My View: A parent’s take on the CPS teachers strike
September 11th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

My View: A parent’s take on the CPS teachers strike

Courtesy Rebecca LabowitzBy Rebecca Labowitz, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Labowitz writes about the Chicago Public Schools on her blog CPSObsessed.com which has become a discussion board for parents and teachers in Chicago.  She began the blog in 2008 when her now fourth-grade son was entering kindergarten as a way to share information with other parents navigating school options in Chicago.

Parents of public school kids stayed up late Sunday night, glued to the TV and the Internet, waiting to find out whether they needed to make lunches, arrange backpacks, and get their kids hustled out the door in the morning.  Facebook alerts were flying fast and furious, similar to update I saw during the Olympics and the Oscars.  “She’s coming out now!”  No names needed.

We all collectively were waiting for outcome of the weekend negotiation session between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union – would our Chicago teachers call a strike?

Karen Lewis’ announcement of the strike was not surprising as most parents who’d been keeping up with the events suspected that the two sides were still fairly far apart in their negotiations.  What was a little more surprising was the anger that started to mount immediately.  Many parents didn’t seem to believe that CTU would actually pull the trigger and bring the school year to a halt.  Some parents feel inconvenienced, feel like the CTU is not working in the kids’ best interest by calling the strike, and feel like both sides should have found a way to work something out.

I’ve heard comments from angry parents who feel that teachers should feel lucky to have their job – a job that many feel is well-paying and secure compared to workers in the private sector.  There is a palpable sense of exasperation that the teachers gave up, wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t even prioritize their list of demands.  Whether or not this was true, it was the impression that many parents had after watching the press interview Sunday evening.

Parents who regularly comment on my blog have spent time talking to teachers, learning more about what it’s like to teach in an inner-city school with limited resources and a revolving door administration.  These parents realize that teachers are feeling disrespected lately both within CPS and as a profession as a whole.  Teachers are being blamed for a lot of the ills of the school system.  They’re being asked to work longer, being asked to do a lot with very little.  Most are spending their own money on school supplies.  They tell stories about their students that will break your heart.  Those of us who have listened have certainly had our eyes opened to the realities of teaching in CPS.  Having summer break doesn’t make it an easy gig.

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Filed under: At Home • Parents • teacher unions • Teachers • Voices
My View: Parent engagement = Child success
September 6th, 2012
04:18 AM ET

My View: Parent engagement = Child success

Courtesy Kaitlyn HambyBy Melissa Kicklighter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Melissa Kicklighter is the Florida PTA incoming vice president for Regions and Councils and is actively involved in PTAat the local, district and state levels. She is a proud wife and mother of three children who attend Duval County public schools. She was recently honored at PTA Day at the White House as a “Champion of Change”.

Thomas Edison said, “If we did all the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

This quote reminds me of why parent engagement is so important. As parents we have to be willing to do everything possible to protect our children and assure their success. This begins with prenatal care, continues after birth to providing for a child’s basic needs for health and safety and expands very quickly to educational and increased levels of emotional support.

When discussing these ideas with others, they agree that prenatal care, health, safety and emotional support are part of the responsibilities of a parent, but they see the educational needs of a child being the responsibility of teachers, schools or school districts. Education is typically referred to as something that children “receive” rather than something they actively seek or that we as parents need to participate in.

But, that could not be further from the truth.

This is a simple formula for any parent when thinking about their role in their child’s education: Parent Engagement = Awareness + Action.

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Filed under: At Home • Parents • Practice • Voices
Back to school by the numbers
September 4th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

Back to school by the numbers

By Amy Roberts and Caitlin Stark, CNN Library

(CNN) - It’s back to school time. Starting dates around the U.S. vary by state and district: Some schools started on different dates in August, while others start this week.  As we embark on the 2012-2013 academic year, here’s a numerical snapshot of education in the U.S.

Grades K-12

54.7 million – Number of students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, both public and private, in the U.S. in 2011.

3.7 million – Elementary and secondary school teachers working in U.S. schools in 2011.

$11,467 – The estimated average amount a typical public school will spend on each student in 2012-2013.

31.8 million – Number of children who received free or reduced price lunches through the National School Lunch Program in 2011.

3.4 million – Students expected to graduate from high school in the 2012-2013 school year.

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Filed under: At Home • College • Economy • Elementary school • High school • Middle school • Practice • School lunch
Surviving college after the loss of a parent
David Fajgenbaum created Students of AMF to support grieving college students. He is pictured here with his mom, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum, who died when David was a college sophomore.
September 3rd, 2012
04:27 AM ET

Surviving college after the loss of a parent

By Katherine Dorsett Bennett, CNN

(CNN) - David Fajgenbaum started his freshman year of college as a pre-med student at Georgetown University with much anxiety - worrying about his mother's failing health. His mom, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor just two weeks before he started classes.

"We placed my mom in Hospice about two months before she passed away, just as I was beginning my sophomore year, so I drove home every weekend to Raleigh, North Carolina, for those two months to see her," he said.

David had a couple of close friends he could confide in about his mother's situation, but he felt they couldn't relate to or understand the pain he was going through. "It's not an easy thing to bring up at a party or that anyone wants to talk about in the cafeteria," he said.

After a tough battle, David's mother passed away on October 26, 2004. His family held her memorial service a few days after her death and then David immediately returned back to school.

"Since I was pre-med, I decided to focus my efforts on fighting back against cancer, and I was able to connect my studies with honoring my mom, so I actually was able to do very well academically," he noted.

While David excelled in his studies, he struggled personally through her illness and passing. He knew he could speak with counselors at Georgetown, but he felt what he really needed was the opportunity to speak with other students going through the same experience that he was.

Her death prompted him to form an organization called Students of AMF -  a dual acronym for "Ailing Mothers and Fathers" that later changed to “Actively Moving Forward” - and his mother's name, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum.

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Filed under: At Home • College
August 31st, 2012
01:45 PM ET

Your first day of school photos

It's back to school time!  We asked you for your first day of school photos, and you responded!  We're still adding some to this gallery. In the meantime, check out these images of some enthusiastic - and not so enthusiastic - students on that special first day of school!

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Filed under: At Home • First day • iReport
Doing the math behind homeschooling
August 28th, 2012
07:51 AM ET

Doing the math behind homeschooling

by Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) – Public, private, parochial, charter schools: There's no shortage of options on where to send your children for their education.

But a growing number of Americans are choosing not to send them anywhere at all, opting instead to educate them at home.

The National Center for Education Statistics says that 1.7 percent of kids were homeschooled in 1999, 2.2 percent in 2003, and 2.9 percent in 2007. Today, that figure is at 4 percent, according to an article published at EducationNews.org.

So it appears that the homeschooling growth rate is more exponential than it is steady.

Most parents aren't certified teachers, so it stands to reason why some question the effectiveness of a homeschool education. But the Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group in favor of homeschooling, reported in 2009 that homeschooled students averaged 37 percentile points higher on standardized tests than their public school counterparts.

EducationNews.org backs that up, saying that while students in traditional schools mark the 50th percentile on standardized tests, students who are “independently educated” score between the 65th and 89th percentile.

Of course, there’s a time commitment involved in homeschooling that many families simply can’t make. If a single parent has a full-time job – or if both parents do – setting aside several hours a day to educate a child simply isn’t feasible.

And the arguments against homeschooling – from varying state requirements to reduced social interaction among peers to a lack of student competition – can be challenging issues to address.

But if the number of kids who are homeschooled continues to rise, it may signal a noteworthy trend.

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Filed under: At Home • Carl Azuz • Homeschooling • School choice
August 27th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

September's legacy: Taking on Harvard in a wheelchair

by Ben Mattlin, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Ben Mattlin is the author of "Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity," a memoir about his life with spinal muscular atrophy.

(CNN) - For many, back-to-school is a season of anticipation, nostalgia, and shopping. For me, it evokes memories of an unsung historical event: the integration of Harvard.

No, I'm not talking about racial integration; I'm talking about the full inclusion of students with disabilities.

When I entered Harvard College as a freshman in 1980, it happened to coincide with a new requirement - all institutions receiving federal funds had to become fully accessible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

I was a 17-year-old lifelong wheelchair-user, born with a neurological condition called spinal muscular atrophy. I'd never walked or stood and my arms were weak as a baby's. But, as my parents often said, there was nothing wrong with my head.

I had little awareness of the precedent I was setting.

At 17, I was too self-centered for that. I was preoccupied with how I'd cope my first time living away from my parents, depending on full-time, live-in personal-care attendants. Yet I had an Ivy League freshman's cockiness, too. Somehow I'd manage. I'd always managed before, hadn't I?

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Filed under: At Home • Policy • Practice • Voices
August 17th, 2012
01:27 PM ET

Best way to handle children's college debt?

CNN's Poppy Harlow interviews two money experts on ways to start planning for college costs while your kids are still young.

The Help Desk is all about getting answers to your financial questions! Upload a 30-second video with your question to iReport.com

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Filed under: At Home • College
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