Is Sixth Grade the Key to Ending the Dropout Crisis?

Students moving from fifth to sixth grade experience a significant drop in achievement.

When do students decide to drop out of high school? According to a new study of Florida schools by a team of Harvard researchers, a student begins to give up on education well before she sets foot in a high school classroom. The study found a strong correlation between a student’s middle school experience and whether she ends up doing well academically in high school.

According to the researchers, the transition from fifth grade at an elementary school to sixth grade at a separate middle school is especially critical. Students in the study experienced a “sharp drop” in math and language arts when they moved to sixth grade—unlike their peers who attended the same school from kindergarten to eighth grade.

So why does sixth grade—and middle school in general—represent such a cataclysmic shift for students? The study found that "structural school transitions—or being in the youngest cohort in a school—adversely impact student performance." Researchers also found that the negative effects of entering sixth grade at a middle school are most pronounced in urban areas.

That makes sense given the size of urban middle schools—some of the largest can have 2,000 students or more, making it easy for 10- or 11-year-olds who attended significantly smaller elementary schools to get lost in the shuffle. Overburdened middle school staff—who may teach 150 students or more every day—often don't have time to get to know each child at a time when students most need to know that someone cares about them. For students who enter middle school already behind academically, the inability to forge personal relationships with teachers creates an even greater disadvantage. If a student falls behind in sixth grade, that trend is likely to continue throughout middle and high school, making her more likely to dropout.

Another concerning factor is that school principals "expressed significantly lower levels of agreement with statements indicating that their ... teachers were excellent, suggesting that teachers in these schools may be less well equipped to deal with the challenges presented by their students." Many of the best teachers seek to avoid middle school because those students have a reputation for being difficult—hormones are flowing and violence is a problem at many schools.

Because students attending K-8 schools don't experience negative consequences when they transition to high school, the researchers suggest that school districts re-examine how they separate grades in different school buildings. If it's not working for students, it may well be time for a change.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user -Marlith-

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

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Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

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Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

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Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

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The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

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