Category: View Point

ViewPoint: Support your child’s learning in math at home with number talks

By Sandra Ubben, Math Consultant, Central Rivers Area Education Agency
Is it still important for children to learn their addition and multiplication tables? Yes! However, the way students learn these math facts may be different than the way most adults learned. Rather than memorizing math facts, the focus is on helping children develop efficient, accurate and flexible thinking strategies.
Many teachers use a routine called “Number Talks” to help children become flexible thinkers. A Number Talk takes 5 to 15 minutes. The teacher poses a computational problem and students determine the answer mentally. Then the teacher records the strategies as students share their thinking. For example, a teacher may write 9 + 8 on the board. Common student responses include:
“I know 8 plus 8 is 16, so 9 plus 8 is one more or 17.” (Use doubles)
“I know 9 plus 9 is 18, so 9 plus 8 is one less or 17.” (Use doubles)
“Ten plus 8 is 18, but I only have 9, so I need to subtract 1 to get 17.” (Use 10)
“If I add 1 to 9, I get 10. Then I have to add 7 more, so the answer is 17.” (Make 10)
Number Talks help students build a tool box of efficient thinking strategies over time. These strategies are important because: 1.) they provide a quick way to determine an answer if a child forgets a fact and; 2.) the same strategies apply to larger numbers, fractions, decimals and algebra. Put down your pencil and calculator and try applying the Make 10 strategy to solve the following problems:
9 + 8 “9 plus 1 is 10, and 7 more is 17.”
19 + 8 “19 plus 1 is 20, and 7 more is 27.”
59 + 28 “59 plus 1 is 60, and 27 more is 87.”
299 + 28 “299 plus 1 is 300, and 27 more is 327.”
3998 + 326 “3998 plus 2 is 4000, and 324 more is 4324.”
3.99 + 0. 18 “3.99 plus 0.01 is 4, and 0.17 more is 4.17.”
Great thinking! You can support this type of learning at home. Play math games with your child. For example, play Make 10 Go Fish. Use a regular deck of cards with the face cards removed. Rather than matching two of the same number, match two numbers that add to 10. This game will prepare your child to use the Make 10 strategy. Talk to your child about what he or she is doing in math class. Ask your child how he or she solved a problem when you look over math papers. Focus on good thinking strategies, rather than quick answers. Always let children know mistakes are opportunities to learn. Lastly, try Number Talks at home. It’s a great family activity when riding in the car!
Sandra Ubben can be reached at
subben@centralriversaea.org.
Central Rivers Area Education Agency which serves over 62,000 students in public and non-public school districts representing 18 counties in north central, central and eastern Iowa.

ViewPoint: Tips for positive relationships between home and school

By Sam Miller, Chief Administrator, Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA)
With the school year back in full swing, this is a great time to talk about the importance of parent and community involvement in our local schools. Researchers, educators and policymakers alike have all noted the importance of parent involvement as a key factor in helping students learn at their highest levels.
But what does involvement and support look like? How can you give your child, and your child’s school, the best chance of success? Here are three ways to help:
Open up the lines of communication with your child’s teachers. Make contact early and let them know that you are their partner this year. Be sure to indicate your preferences regarding how you wish to be contacted and explain that you want to hear not just concerns, but also good news, about how your child is performing. If your child is struggling, reach out early and be honest about your concerns. If you are having difficulty helping your child at home with homework or behavior expectations, let that be known as well. Your perspective is critical and sharing information back and forth between home and school can be extremely valuable in problem solving.
Back away from social media and talk directly with teachers and school administrators when you have concerns or something positive to share. Ask any teacher, principal or superintendent today and they will tell you how weary they are from social media posts. In many school districts, well-intentioned parent groups have turned into the first place some parents turn when they have a complaint. Others join in and the story spirals downward due to a lack of factual information and interest in common ground. Sometimes school officials don’t even know what has been written and later get blindsided by a disgruntled group who seem to “know” everything about a situation. Ask yourself whether you would want to be treated the same way and also whether this behavior does anything to really help the situation. I’ve heard countless stories regarding the distraction this has become to the hard work of educating students today.
Recognize the challenges local school districts are facing–especially in our rural areas. I recently saw a map that showed the shifts in population in our state and the projections for the coming decade. Generally, the trend shows Iowans moving closer to four main urban centers and away from our rural areas which means fewer “per pupil” dollars for school districts with declining student enrollment. This creates a secondary problem for many rural school districts which is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers. It’s not uncommon to hear school administrators talk about having only one or two applicants for hard to fill positions or seeing teachers stay for a short time and move on. Combine these two factors with the increasing behavior and mental health needs of many students and you quickly realize why many school districts are feeling stretched. As parents and community members, consider acknowledging these very real challenges and advocating for your school district with legislators and others who can make a difference. Without quality teachers in the classroom and adequate funding, student learning can indeed suffer.
A friend with school-age children recently commented to me that, “raising kids today isn’t easy work given everything happening in society.” Neither is educating them. We’ll all be of greater service to the children of our state when we are on the same team and communicating in healthy ways. Parents and community–we need you!
Sam Miller is the Chief Administrator with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA), based in Cedar Falls. He can be reached at smiller@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 65,000 students in 18 counties of Iowa.

ViewPoint: Farmers face risk when adopting new practices to improve water quality

By Katie Rock, Center for Rural Affairs
Water quality is a contentious issue across the country. For example, in Iowa, continued high nitrogen, phosphorous, bacteria, and sediment levels in surface waters threaten public health and outdoor recreation.
In 2012, the state released a strategy to reduce nutrient and sediment loading in surface waters. However, the best plan forward remains uncertain. This lack of clarity leaves farmers feeling frustrated.
Farmers face risks, both real and perceived, to their production systems when adopting a new practice, and often need technical and financial support to counter these risks.
We recently released “Catching Waves: Farmers Gauge Risk to Advance Water Quality In Iowa,” which examines perceived production and social risks to adopting water quality improvement practices in the state.
Results show a majority of farmers do not feel social pressure to install additional conservation practices to improve water quality. Beyond potential regulation, respondents identified soil health, nutrient retention, and cost savings as top reasons for new practice adoption.
Farmers say weather and shifting climatic patterns are the largest perceived threats to their operations. They also identified agricultural consolidation, fluctuating commodity prices, and nutrient and soil loss as top concerns.
As Iowa and other states continue to expand their watershed approach to water quality, understanding the needs, risks, and barriers farmers face will be critical.
These findings can help guide water quality efforts by researchers, farmers, watershed organizations, and government officials. The Center for Rural Affairs is dedicated to facilitating research-based solutions that elevate rural communities and people.
To view the report, visit cfra.org/publications/CatchingWaves.

ViewPoint: A healthcare solution both parties can support

By Janet Trautwein
Over 20 million Americans may soon pay less in taxes and medical bills. Lawmakers recently introduced a bipartisan bill that would expand “health savings accounts.” HSAs allow people to save money for future medical expenses tax-free. And they incentivize people to secure care from the healthcare providers that give them the biggest bang for their buck. The bill would expand HSAs so that they cover more medical expenses, such as chronic and preventative care.
This common-sense bill — the Bipartisan HSA Improvement Act — deserves the support of Congress. Advancing these important reforms into law will save patients and the nation’s healthcare system a significant amount of money.
HSAs are “triple tax-advantaged” — contributions are tax-deductible, the accounts accrue interest, dividends, and capital gains tax-free, and withdrawals are not taxed as long as they’re spent on health care. Individuals can put away up to $3,450 per year tax-free; for families, the contribution cap is $6,850.
Unlike flexible spending accounts, there’s no “use-it-or-lose-it” requirement or limits on rollovers, and money in an HSA stays with the account-holder even if she gets a new health plan or job.
These advantages have made HSAs popular. In 2018, HSA assets will likely exceed $53 billion.
One issue that some healthcare consumers take with HSAs is the fact that you can only open an HSA after enrolling in a high-deductible health insurance plan. High-deductible plans feature lower premiums. But individuals must cover the first $1,350 of their healthcare expenses out-of-pocket. Families must pay $2,700 before insurance kicks in.
Some individuals aren’t used to assuming responsibility for a few thousand dollars in health costs.
But high deductibles are a powerful way to battle America’s health cost crisis. Since patients have to spend their own money — typically, from their HSA — on care, they’re more likely to shop around for better prices on procedures or to insist upon cheaper generic drugs instead of expensive brand-name ones. Consumers who switch from traditional plans to HSA-eligible plans spend 21 percent less, according to a RAND study.
In other words, patients stopped visiting overpriced healthcare providers and opted instead for those that offered better value.
A separate study found no evidence that these savings stemmed from HSA patients deferring needed or preventive care.
The Bipartisan HSA Improvement Act would enable more people to share in these savings. The bill would allow high-deductible plans to cover the cost of routine primary care check-ups, medications for chronic conditions, and preventive tests before enrollees hit their deductibles. It also would allow people to use HSA funds to cover gym memberships and various fitness classes and sports programs.
The bill also would amend the definition of dependent in the tax code to mean children through age 26. That would allow parents to use their HSA funds to pay medical expenses for their older children.
These changes would make high-deductible HSA plans more consumer friendly — and more attractive. That means more savings for consumers and downward pressure on prices as more people shop around for high-value care.
The bill would offer millions more families the benefits of HSAs. It’s time for both parties to support it.
Janet Trautwein is the CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters.

ViewPoint: Rural farmers markets harvest demand for healthy food

Rural farmers markets harvest demand for healthy food
By Cody Smith, Center for Rural Affairs
Large, hand-painted signs lean against a tent, the buzz of friendly conversation cuts through the humid air, and the smell of fresh produce drifts in the breeze – you’ve found yourself at a farmers market.
Farmers markets are common in urban and rural communities around the nation. In urban areas, they provide an authentic, natural alternative for consumers to connect with those who produce their food.
In rural areas, farmers markets provide these same opportunities among many others – they serve as a stimulant for local businesses and farmers, an attraction for strangers and locals alike, and, perhaps most importantly, they offer direct, secure access to nutritious food for rural Americans.
Food security, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having access to enough food to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, is an ever-present challenge in rural communities. According to Feeding America, 12.9 percent of Americans were food insecure in 2016 and three-fourths of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity were in rural areas.
There are programs designed to help alleviate food insecurity, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, research suggests that rural participation in SNAP is significantly lower for eligible recipients in rural areas than in urban ones. Policies that support SNAP acceptance at more farmers markets are a proven way to make progress.
As we celebrate National Farmers Market Week from Aug. 5 to 11, we praise these events that serve a key role in feeding rural communities nationwide.

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