First Person

Sexting in the news, and how to talk to your kids

Sexting” has been in the headlines recently due to the revelation that U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner exchanged sexually explicit messages and photographs with several women. As you undoubtedly know, Rep. Weiner intended to send a sexually explicit photograph as a private message to one of the women on his Twitter account. Instead, he accidentally sent the photograph to his entire list of followers. Initially, Weiner claimed his Twitter account had been hacked. Eventually, Weiner admitted that he was responsible for the photograph and, later, resigned.

Rep. WienerRep. Weiner’s story is not isolated. In the past few years, the media has frequently reported about sexting incidents, including those involving Brett Favre, Vanessa Hudgsens, Rhianna and Former Miss California Carrie Prejean.

These news stories can provide an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about a range of topics, including digital citizenship, online reputation and privacy. In addition, this discussion should outline the possible consequences for minors who save, text, forward or e-mail a nude or semi-nude photograph of themselves or their peers.

What is “sexting”?

The term sexting is not legally defined. Instead, it is a loose term generally used to describe the exchange of sexually explicit messages and photographs (1) between adults; (2) between minors; and (3) between adults and minors.

Lumping these three categories together under the term “sexting” is a great disservice to kids because it fosters an assumption that all three categories are treated equally. When an exchange is between two consenting adults, the disclosure of the messages and photographs can have personal and reputational consequences, such as with Rep. Weiner.

However, when the exchange is between minors and/or between adults and minors, the consequences are not only personal and reputational, but potentially criminal. For purposes of this post, we will focus on minors who exchange sexually explicit photographs.

Legal consequences for youth

A minor who creates, sends or possesses an image of a minor engaged in “sexually explicit conduct” (including an image of him or herself) can be charged with the production, distribution and/or possession of child pornography. Not all nude or semi-nude images of minors will qualify as child pornography. In fact, what constitutes an image depicting “sexually explicit conduct” varies.

Federal law defines it as an image showing (i) sexual intercourse . . .; (ii) bestiality; (iii) masturbation; (iv) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or (v) lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person” 18 U.S.C. § 2256(2)(A). Many state laws have a broader definition and images that don’t fit into one of the categories above might still qualify as child pornography under state law.

Significantly, under federal law and most state laws, it doesn’t matter whether the minor depicted in the photograph was complicit in creating the photograph. For example, even if the image was willingly created by a 15-year-old for her 16-year-old boyfriend, with no intent to distribute beyond those two individuals, a charge of possession, distribution and/or production of child pornography is possible.

When speaking to school administrators, parents and teachers about minors texting nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves or their peers, I find the term “sexting” insufficient. It does not adequately convey the true risks involved. Instead, I use the term “self-produced child pornography,” which was first advanced by Professor Mary Leary in 2007 and the term “youth-produced sexual images” recently used by Crimes Against Children’s Research Center. (See Mary Graw Leary, Self-Produced Child Pornography: The Appropriate Societal Response to Juvenile Self-Sexual Exploitation, 15 VA. J. SOC. POL’Y & L. 1 (2007).

These terms provide better notice to minors that their activities may not be viewed as harmless youthful indiscretions, but instead, can have serious consequences.

EdNews Parent published this post with the permission of

Nancy GiffordAuthor Nancy Gifford is an attorney in the Center for Medicare Advocacy’s Connecticut office, and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut from 1998 until 2003. During her tenure, Gifford prosecuted a wide variety of federal criminal cases, including cases about health care fraud, tax evasion and crimes against children. Gifford served as a U.S. District Court law clerk for the Hon. Janet Bond Arterton, the Hon. Alvin W. Thompson and the Hon. Christopher F. Droney. Gifford graduated cum laude from the University of New Hampshire and received her law degree cum laude from Boston University. The opinions shared in this blog are strictly Gifford’s – they do not reflect those opinions of her employers.

First Person

I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention. 

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.