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Affects of Traumatic Stress on Academic Achievement

For years psychologists have known that Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACE) can lead to long-term physical and mental health deficits. As Felitti reported in 1998, there is a strong correlation between ACEs and adult health problems such as obesity, drug abuse, heart disease and attempted suicide, with each problem being more common as ACE scores increase. It’s important that psychologists expand the research into the long-term life outcomes of trauma victims. This paper will show how trauma exposure, especially in untreated cases, has all of the above negative affects as well as the potential to decrease college attendance. Victims who do not begin college directly after completing high school find themselves even farther behind their peers than the recovery from trauma has already made them.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a stress disorder that is best explained as an overactive amygdala. The amygdala is a more basic animalistic part of the brain that is designed to react quickly to potential dangers by activating a stress response in the body. It causes sensitivity and quick responses to small triggers such as the smell of smoke, a siren or a sudden loud noise, the stress hormones released increase heart rate and focus the brain on potential dangers. The stress response causes heightened vigilance of one’s surroundings as the brain looks for potential threats, limiting one’s ability to take in new information and learn from experience caused by the tunnel vision that stress creates. It is the prefrontal cortex that makes the executive decision of how to respond to the trigger and determine if it is a false alarm or not. If the amygdala reacts strongly enough, it can overwhelm the system and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex is overridden. At this point the individual “takes leave of their senses” and basically resorts to conditioned responses. In a traumatized individual the amygdala has learned to be hyper reactive, being triggered more easily, it is harder for the prefrontal cortex to control. Most modern trauma therapies focus on calming the amygdala by giving the person coping skills and processing the original trauma to prevent future unnecessary stress responses. Therapies teach victims to cope by challenging the victims new outlook developed in reaction to trauma and repeated stress responses. (Kolk, 2014)
Stress is a normal and even necessary part of life and psychological development. It is what drives productivity and future planning but if the body’s stress response system remains active for long periods of time stress can become toxic. The body’s near constant exposure to stress hormones in individuals with PTSD symptoms can lead to heart disease, obesity, adolescent pregnancy and early sexual activity. Early brain development in children is crucial and like toxins such as lead, mercury or alcohol, toxic stress can inhibit the optimal development of the neuroendocrine system. These structural changes, if not permanent, must be professionally treated. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014) In Tishelman’s 2010 paper on utilizing a trauma lens in school, it is cited how trauma can damage the building blocks a child needs to develop and excel in school. Maltreated children tend to have lower frustration tolerance, are more prone to anger, less persistent and exhibit greater challenge avoidance. Maltreated preschoolers have also been found to exhibit less cognitive flexibility and creativity in problem solving. Traumatized children also receive more disciplinary referrals and suspensions than their peers.
In 2014, Hoffman did a meta-analysis on health outcomes studied in trauma research and found a lack of research based questioning of disability, function, and health in most PTSD outcome studies. Trauma studies have come a long way in the past century but a good understanding of health outcomes is still lacking, possibly due to the heterogeneity of trauma experiences and their contexts. Trauma is a very variable illness, some events will not be traumatic for everyone and the circumstances of the event can affect how PTSD manifests.
In 2011 Gallagher used hopelessness ratings as a way to compare prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. The study found a relatively strong association between feelings of hopelessness and PTSD symptoms. Hopelessness is a well known and discussed symptom of PTSD. It can lead to self destructive behaviors and limit future planning. Hopelessness is often used as a measurement to gauge a person’s level of trauma processing.
In 2005, Finkelhor showed that juvenile victims are prone to re-victimization which further compounds the negative affects of trauma. In this sample, Finkelhor found that twenty-two percent of victimized children experienced four or more different forms of victimization in just the previous year. This makes sense as we know that trauma survivors are known to consciously or subconsciously attempt to relive events and can put themselves in dangerous situations in an attempt to gain control of past experiences. Untreated childhood and adolescent trauma can lead to more psychological damage and further limit life outcomes.
In 2005, Anda found a correlation between a high levels of perceived stress and ACE scores. As participants reported more adverse childhood experiences they also reported higher levels of stress. A low stress tolerance does not lend itself to higher education and an individual would probably be less likely to start college if they already feel they are under a lot of stress. The study also found increased depressed affects as participants reported more ACEs. Fifty percent of participants with ACEs of four or more, presented with a depressed affect and only eighteen percent of participants having zero ACEs. Depression causes a lack of motivation which will also inhibit higher achievement.
Children are the most vulnerable to experiencing potentially traumatic events compared to any other population. Limited ability to see signals of potential aggression, lack of autonomy and the inability to escape the abusive environment all mean children are highly susceptible to poly-victimization. In 2018, Marshall showed higher instances of intimate partner aggression (IPA) and parent-to-child aggression (PCA) in parents with trauma exposure than those without. They found that high amounts of anger or fear in trauma exposed men increased the likelihood of committing PCA but not IPA. Women without trauma exposure are more likely to engage in IPA, but the study found no correlation between trauma exposure/fear or anger and likelihood to engage in PCA. On the other hand, abuse of males in early childhood can make trauma pass through generations because of the likelihood of victims to become abusers themselves. A study in 2017 by Pabayo found a higher prevalence of lifetime PTSD among residents of low income households. Since low income residents are also less likely to enter higher education and low income residents are more likely to acquire PTSD, this shows a correlation between PTSD and not going to college that requires more research.
Economic inequality and trauma in the family increases a person’s likelihood of experiencing potentially traumatic events which limit lifetime achievement and advancement in society. PTSD clouds the individual’s ideas of self and others; it leads to feelings of inevitability and helplessness in life and lends to apathy. If people in already disparate conditions of poverty are more likely to experience trauma, everything is compounded, making escape from economic trouble both less likely and more difficult. If left untreated, PTSD like poverty, limits social mobility and can increase chances of engaging in substance abuse and crime. (Pabayo, 2017)
Lauterbach’s 2002 study found that although college students’ drug use differs by gender, there is a significant increase in drug use as more traumatic events were experienced. This study also found an association between heavy drinking and psychoticism. Drug use and addiction can become a limiting factor in academic achievement. Addiction can destroy a person’s savings and make higher education inaccessible to them. If a traumatized individual starts drug use in adolescence, it can interfere with identity development and cause them to further isolate themselves. If they get into trouble with the law they may not be able to finish high school when they typically would have or not be able to start college while incarcerated. This creates a series of limiting forces that stop victims from reaching their full potential in addition to the initial limitations put on them by past trauma.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a complicated illness with many variable symptoms, which are not universal to all afflicted. It is easy for trauma symptoms to be over looked by family and peers especially if the trauma survivor is a teenager as any emotional distress can be dismissed as hormones or immaturity. The lack of research into life outcomes for trauma survivors may mean we are underestimating its impact. It is important that parents and teachers become informed about trauma symptomatology, so that they can notice the signs and provide support. Untreated trauma will seriously limit an individual’s potential and life satisfaction. It can lead to avoidance of challenging and potentially rewarding experiences. The inability to move on from past events can stop any growth for individuals. It can isolate them and compound any other issues they may have. Each study cited further shows the long term impacts of trauma and its limiting effects on development. It is important that we consider PTSD as a contributing factor limiting upward mobility in our society.
Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Bremner, D. J., Walker, J. D., Whitfield, C., Perrt, B. D, Giles, W. H. (2005). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hoffman, K., Cole, E., Playford, E. D., Grill, E., Soberg, H. L.,

U.S. Department of Education: Comparison of the Trump and Obama Eras

In Article Ⅱ, Section 2 of the Constitution the cabinet is established. The cabinet is made up of the Vice President and the secretaries of 15 executive branch departments. It helps the president in carrying out his education policies and enforcing laws put in place by Congress. The Department of Education is a vital part of our society. Without it, our future leaders would not be educated or educated poorly. One of the main purposes is to, “strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.” The Department of Education was formed on May 4, 1980, in the Department of Education Organization Act; Section 102, Public Law 96-88. The department’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. The Department of Education is the smallest cabinet-level department. This year the president requested $9 billion or a 13 percent reduction from the 2017 budget. This would help the taxpayers, but it may affect the way the department uses the money. But the department has requested more grant money this year as opposed to last year. For example, in the Title Ⅰ Grants Local Educational Agencies They requested $15,881,500,000 as opposed to last years $14,881,500,000.
Betsy DeVos is the current secretary of the department of education. She has been the secretary since February 7, 2017, she won the vote with a 51-50 margin. This was the first time in U.S. history that a Cabinet nominees confirmation required a vice president’s [Mike Pence] historic tiebreaking vote to secure a cabinet post. DeVos has since proved her worth by revising President Barack Obama-era guidelines for student-loan debt relief and rules governing sexual assault cases on college campuses. Elisabeth Dee Prince was born in Holland, Michigan on January 8, 1958. Her parents Edgar and Elsa Prince were both very successful. Her mother was a public-school teacher at a local school near her childhood home. DeVos’s father was a wealthy businessman and that helped push her into the political spotlight. His wealth and influence of their local community helped her get into the eye of the people. Her mother was a big part in getting DeVos interested in education and its aspects. Her parents are also avid donors to very conservative groups such as anti-LGBTQ groups and that made her a bad guy with liberals. This also wasn’t helpful while she was running because she as well donated to these groups. Even though Betsy DeVos didn’t attend public school; all the DeVos children attend a private school. This sparked controversy for DeVos when running for department secretary; with no public-school education or any background in education, it was hard for some people to understand why or how she was fit for the position. This made pleasing people when she got into office much greater of a deal because of the number of people waiting for her to screw up then blame it on her lack of background. This would just give motivation to the newly elected secretary; as she went on to prove most people wrong by working to improve some of the biggest Obama-era controversies. Even though people doubted her because of her lack of experience in the educational community; Trump was able to look past all of that and see an advocate for what is right. She has been focusing on sexual assault case on college campuses. In fact, on August 29, 2018, DeVos proposed a new policy on campus sexual misconduct that would enhance the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce accountability for institutions of higher education and encourage schools to provide more backing for victims. This would make the “definition” of sexual harassment much smaller and only involving school when it has occurred on their campus. This law may only seem to apply to colleges, but it would also apply to elementary, middle and, high schools. The law also would protect teachers, administrators, and other school employees. This would make for a smoother legal process for not only the victim but also the school if it must get involved and quite possibly make the entire process more discrete which would benefit the current and future reputation of both the school and victim without sparing the rightful justice that would be applied to the accused.
While DeVos may be our current secretary during the Obama-era we had Arne Duncan. He became secretary on January 20, 2009 when he was confirmed into office by the U.S. Senate following his nomination by [at the time] President Barack Obama. Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools; a position he held from June 2001 through December 2008. His parents, Starkey and Susan Duncan, helped him achieve whatever Duncan wanted to do. For nearly 50 years Susan Duncan has run an after-school tutoring project out of church basements on the South Side of Chicago. Her work has helped kids from Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, and inspired Arne to pursue a career in education. She continues to show up four days a week to help students. His father also helped his interest in education blossom being that he was a psychology professor. He attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. In 1987, he graduated from the Harvard University as a ‘magna cum laude’ with a degree in sociology. One of Arne’s main accomplishments was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s $100 billion that funded 325,000 teaching jobs. Arne Duncan was huge advocate for gun control in schools; he even went as fat as to tweet, “This is brilliant, and tragically necessary. What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?” He tweeted this after a shooting in Santa Fe, TX which left 10 students and many more injured. While this is a little extreme, he was putting his thoughts out for people to see. After he left office, he went on to work as a managing partner at the Emerson Collective, where he works to promote gun safety. In December of 2015 he helped pass the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” a replacement to the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” law. This law was one that he said he would replace; when he was first elected which is something Duncan did his entire time in office. He was able to repeal, replace, or enact almost every law he said he would, fulfilling his promise to the people. Duncan also persuaded 42 states to implement education goals based on the Common Core, and 21 of those states use tests that directly correlate with those standards, which were created to make schools more challenging and the curriculum more similar from state-to-state. Like his successor Duncan also was a strong supporter of charter schools, helping cities such as Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA adopt them. Duncan also supported community colleges; working with Obama to help them become free and universal. Throughout his entire time in office he had Obama backing him; “Arne has dedicated his life to the cause of education — and sometimes in the nicest possible way, he has gotten on people’s nerves because he has pushed them and prodded them,” the president said at the signing of Every Student Succeeds Act. Arne helped to secure congressional support for President Obama’s investments in education, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s $100 billion to fund 325,000 teaching jobs. He has helped secure an additional $10 billion to avoid teacher layoffs. Duncan has helped secure increases in the Pell grant program to increase the number of young Americans attending college and receiving postsecondary degrees.
The Department has been around since October 17, 1979. The U.S. Department of Education is the agency of the federal government that establishes policy for, administers and coordinates most federal assistance to education. In 2007, the Department’s elementary and secondary school programs served roughly 55 million students attending 100,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools. Department programs also provided grant, loan and work-study assistance to about 10 million undergraduate students. Although the Department is relatively new, its origins goes back to 1867. President Andrew Johnson signed legislation creating the first Department of Education. However, due to concern that the Department would exercise too much control over local schools, the new Department was demoted to an Office of Education in 1868. While its time as a department was short lived it continued to give ideas on new teaching methods and many more things. Over the years, the office remained moderately small, housed in several agencies. Then in the 1950’s the need for education sparked when the Soviet Union’s sputnik launch was successful. The need for scientific education had never been more needed in history as we entered the space race. The 1960’s called for finial funding for students in poverty not only in elementary but also college. The 60’s merged into the 70’s when the need for programs that would give racial minorities, women, disabled, and non-English speaking children an equal education. In October 1979, Congress passed the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88). The Department finally began operations in May 1980. The department started with a measly 4 employees and $15,000 budget in 1860 to a whopping 2,100 employees and a 1.5-million-dollar budget in 1965. The Department dispenses financial aid to qualified candidates for all stages of education.
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