The new school year is upon us and with that comes news of several education-related topics that merit our attention. Everyone, young and old alike, has a stake in assuring the success of our students. It almost seems too obvious to say, but our youth are our future.


It's easy to think you have no “skin in the game” if your children are grown and are no longer attending school. A new law in Michigan may change your mind because it may save your life. “It's a new rule that kicks in this school year that says students must receive the CPR lessons — and training on automated external defibrillators (AED) — at least once between the seventh and twelfth grades. They'll learn to do chest compressions (but won't be required to learn things such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). The law was approved by the Legislature last year and signed into law in late December.” Pretty soon an entire generation will have the skills to save lives, pretty reassuring for all of us. (


Learning new things is exciting for students and beneficial for society in general, but that can't happen if the student is not in class. That's why a new study by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education is a bit alarming. “At 660 schools in the state of Michigan, more than 30 percent of the students are chronically absent. That number — which represents 19 percent of all schools in Michigan — puts the state well above the national average for the percent of schools with extreme levels of chronic absenteeism. The national average is 11 percent.”


Attendance Works says chronic absence should be defined as missing 18 days in a 180-day school year. Before anyone in Northern Michigan panics, it's valuable to point out that “half of the country's chronically absent kids are in just in 4 percent of school districts — including Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Cleveland.” In addition to big cities: “Many poor, small rural school districts have extremely high rates of chronic absenteeism.” Obviously, it's the job of students to learn. Just as obvious, it's the task of parents, grandparents, school officials, and anyone interested in the future of this country to do everything possible to get those students to school. ( and


Assuming the student gets to school and spends the day there, he or she will return home at some point. Sometimes the parent is away from home when the child returns from school, so the dilemma is when is it appropriate to have the child home alone. “Children face real risks when left unsupervised. Those risks, as well as a child’s comfort level and ability to deal with challenges, must be considered.”


Some states actually have laws to govern this situation. “Three states currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old before being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum

age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone.” 


To help parents make the decision, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has an excellent fact sheet for families at: It's just six pages long, but it's packed with information and resources. Well worth the read.


Many older students don't have to worry about returning home right after school because they are involved in sports. The cost of doing this, however, is rising. According to a TD Ameritrade survey: “Most American families (63percent) spend anywhere from $100 to $499 per child each month on youth sports. Another 18 percent fork over $500 to $999 monthly. Roughly one in ten (11 percent) spend $1,000 to $1,999. On the high end, 8 percent said they spend $2,000 per month or more, or $24,000-plus per year.”


Why is all this money being spent? Sixty-seven percent of parents have hopes that their investment will pay off in an athletic scholarship. For those parents spending at the top end of the scale, the expectation is a pro career. These expectations, however, may not square with reality. “The odds of playing Division I sports in college are long. Of the 546,000-plus kids playing in high school in 2015-2016, only 18,684 played NCAA college basketball and only 1 percent of those players, or roughly 187 kids, went on to play DI, NCAA data show. The odds of playing men’s DI are also slim in other major sports. Only 2.6 percent of football players, 2 percent of golfers and 4.6 percent of hockey players made the jump from high school to DI. The statistics are similar for women athletes. Getting to the pros is an even an longer shot. The probability of a college player going pro is 1.1 percent in basketball, 1.5 percent in football and 5.6 percent in ice hockey.”

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Being an elite athlete may get a student a college scholarship, but students and parents might also take academic excellence into consideration. “Each year, an estimated $46 billion in grants and scholarship money is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and the nation’s colleges and universities. In addition, about $3.3 billion in gift aid is awarded by private sources, including individuals, foundations, corporations, churches, nonprofit groups, civic societies, veteran’s groups, professional groups, service clubs, unions, chambers of commerce, associations and many other organizations.” (


All of this goes to show that education has changed quite a bit since most of us were in school. There's a lot more to think about. I, for one, am just glad I no longer have to walk to school uphill, through snow over my head, with one shoe I shared with my brothers, carrying a lunch of a lard sandwich on moldy bread.


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and