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The Absolute Best School Climate Blogging (This Week): Who's Really Poor? Edition

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Happy Friday, Rules readers. Did you see my story this week about how schools are meeting the needs of low-income students, who are now the majority in U.S. public schools?

Research shows that growing up in a poor household can affect many facets of a student's educational experience: Poor students typically start school with smaller vocabularies, they face challenges with engagement in the classroom, and their parents less likely to be involved at school than the parents of their higher income peers. Schools are coming up with all kinds of creative and collaborative ways to address those issues.

rules-abscb.jpgHow do we know that low-income students are now in the majority? A heavily covered study by the Southern Education Foundation found that, in 2013, 51 percent of public school students qualified for free and reduced-price meals, a common socio-economic indicator in schools.

But there's been plenty of quibbling by think-tank folks and others about how reporters interpreted that figure. A headline in The Washington Post that said a majority of students are now living "in poverty" drew perhaps the strongest reaction. Students can qualify for free and reduced-price meals if their family income is as much as 185 percent of the federal poverty level, so they aren't technically "living in poverty," at least not by the federal government's definition, critics of the headline said.

Folks have long criticized the use of meal status as a proxy for financial need. And the federal poverty measure, upon which meal eligibility is typically determined, is also a frequent target of concern. To be clear, students who qualify for reduced-price meals aren't exactly from affluent families, especially if they live in high-cost-of-living areas. But there may be a more complete, precise way to measure student need in schools. I recommend you check out this August story by Sarah D. Sparks about efforts to create an alternative socio-economic indicator.

"When it comes to free school meals, it's increasingly clear that students aren't always what they eat," the story says.

When you're done with that, check out these other links about school climate and student well-being.

Student engagement often starts with a gifted teacher.

"Most of all he testified to the messiness of life. In high school a lot of people are trying to fix you and improve you and elevate you. Neal Tonken listened and affirmed that things were confusing. Because he loved passionately, spoke loudly (and occasionally out of turn), and found life overwhelming in both beauty and frustration, he understood what you were saying. What I was saying."
—Slate's John Dickerson writes about a high school teacher who inspired him to be engaged at school and in life.

On getting girls engaged with justice...

"I began to imagine what a radical young girl's social justice troop looked like, a group that centered and affirmed her experiences as a beautiful and brilliant brown girl against so many societal pressures to conform to mainstream ideals of girlhood."
—The PBS Newshour blog covers Radical Brownies, a new take on girls groups.

How can schools help black males?

"I am fascinated by the seeds of courage and determination that spurred a school district to make an unprecedented commitment to the education of black males."
—District Dossier covers praise for Oakland's Black Male Achievement initiative, which focuses engagement efforts on the district's most at-risk student group.

In cyberbullying, where's the line between privacy and protection?

"It's one thing for authorities to observe what employees, students or suspects are posting on social media," he says. "It's surely another to think that they have the automatic right to simply demand what is quite obviously personal information."
—The BBC covers questions raised by a new cyberbullying law in Illinois, where some districts have said they may ask for students' social media passwords to investigate bullying allegations.

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