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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

The days of report cards landing in the mail could be coming to an end — or not.

The time-honored practice of mailing nicely printed report cards or sending them home with elementary school students has already changed in some schools, which post them on an online grading system for parents.

Matt Larson, Lincoln Public Schools associate superintendent of instruction, wants to find a consistent way to deliver grades and recently suggested during a school board committee meeting that LPS email quarter grades.

Board member Barb Baier didn’t like the idea, saying students at high-poverty schools — where families move often, can’t always afford to pay for internet service or phone data plans and may not think to notify the school when their email address changes — would be at a disadvantage.

The district now emails links to the district’s student information booklet rather than mailing it before the start of school. 

If the email bounces back — indicating it’s no longer in use — the booklet is mailed.

Ultimately, emailing report cards at the end of the quarter (Oct. 16) proved too technically challenging. 

Instead, schools will keep delivering them by whatever method they've used before — and will make sure parents who want a printed copy get one. 

District officials will decide by the end of the semester whether they want to change things to make them more consistent from school to school — and how that might happen. 

One possibility: Letting parents indicate whether they would prefer to have grades mailed or put on the online grading system.

Social studies standards

Flip through the latest draft of the Nebraska Department of Education’s revised social studies standards and you'll see some new historical figures and events.

Harriett Tubman is there, now, as is Rosa Parks and the Tuskegee Airmen. Crazy Horse and Chief Standing Bear appear more often. 

One will find the Orphan Train and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; the Santee Exile and Native American Heritage Day.

The additions are found primarily in examples provided to teachers to guide (not mandate) them in teaching the required standards.

And they represent a priority for standard writers during the first revision of the standards since 2012: to ensure history, geography, civics and economics are taught from multiple perspectives.

For the first time, state education officials reviewed the standards using a review process from the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center to ensure they did not reflect bias.

They also considered suggestions from various advocacy groups, including the Nebraska Indian Education Association, which initially opposed the revisions, and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.

“Our goal was to ensure bias was not present,” said Cory Epler, chief academic officer for the Nebraska Department of Education. “What it’s really allowing us to do ... is ensure all students can see themselves in the standards, but it also allows (students to see) into the living experience of others."

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The work isn’t trying to change history, Epler said, but to add to what students learn and eliminate words that can reinforce bias, or add more examples that reflect a wider range of historical perspectives.

The review resulted in the addition of Tubman to a standard that asks fourth graders to identify contribution of historical people from a variety of cultures.

It prompted the writers to change an example on citing sources from “My grandma gave me this picture” to “family member.”

Frederick Douglass and Susan La Flesche were added as examples on one standard, and the Indian Removal Act and the Mexican-American War on another.

In broad terms, the revision reduces the number of standards and strives to add more depth to them.

They include more examples, intended as guidance, though the state standards don’t tell schools how to teach the information, only what they must cover.

The standards also encourage the use of primary sources, inquiry, historical thinking and gathering and analyzing data. They also focus more on personal finance.

The group revising the standards reviewed more than 1,200 comments from surveys and emails. You can see the proposed standards at https://cdn.education.ne.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Nebraska-Social-Studies-Standards_DRAFT-3-October-2019.pdf.

The Nebraska Board of Education is expected to vote on the standards next month.

Scissor-less box tops

Remember Box Tops for Education — the little rectangles on cereal boxes that moms of my era dutifully cut out and collected and took to our kids’ schools?

Schools got money for sending in those box tops and I stuffed more baggies full of them than I can count, a tradition as ingrained as shopping for notebooks and pencils at the start of each school year. 

Well, now they’ve got an app for that.

The app allows dutiful parents to scan receipts and earn 10 cents for every participating product, according to a General Mills news release that landed in my inbox.

Just download the free app (available via iTunes App Store and Google Play), select the school you want to support, then scan the receipt within 14 days of the purchase. 

General Mills will still accept box tops during the transition and will count them twice if determined parents also use the app. Receipts scanned through Nov. 15 are put in a drawing to win a $20,000 makeover for the school.

In the past 23 years, scissor-wielding school supporters have earned more than $913 million for their schools.

Game on, young parents.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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