Concrete examples don't help
students learn math, study finds
A new study challenges
the common practice in many classrooms of teaching mathematical concepts by
using “real-world,” concrete examples.
Researchers led by
Jennifer Kaminski, researcher scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for
Cognitive Science, found that college students who learned a mathematical
concept with concrete examples couldn’t apply that knowledge to new situations.
But when students
first learned the concept with abstract symbols, they were much more likely to
transfer that knowledge, according to the study published in the April 25 issue
of the journal Science.
“These findings cast
doubt on a long-standing belief in education,” said Vladimir Sloutsky,
co-author of the study and professor of psychology and human development and
the director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State.
“The belief in using
concrete examples is very deeply ingrained, and hasn’t been questioned or
Kaminski and Sloutsky
conducted the study with Andrew Heckler, assistant professor of physics at Ohio
Teachers often use
real-world examples in math class, the researchers said. In some classrooms,
for example, teachers may explain probability by pulling a marble out of a bag
of red and blue marbles and determining how likely it will be one color or the
But students may learn
better if teachers explain the concept as the probability of choosing one of n
things from a larger set of m things, Kaminski said.
The issue can also be seen
in the story problems that math students are often given, she explained. For
example, there is the classic problem of two trains that leave different cities
heading toward each other at different speeds. Students are asked to figure out
when the two trains will meet.
“The danger with
teaching using this example is that many students only learn how to solve the
problem with the trains,” Kaminski said.
“If students are later
given a problem using the same mathematical principles, but about rising water
levels instead of trains, that knowledge just doesn’t seem to transfer,” she
“It is very difficult
to extract mathematical principles from story problems,” Sloutsky added. “Story
problems could be an incredible instrument for testing what was learned. But
they are bad instruments for teaching.”
In the research
presented in Science, the researchers did several separate experiments that
examined how well undergraduate students learned a simple mathematical concept
under different conditions. The concept involved basic mathematical properties
such as commutativity and associativity – the fact that you can change the
order of elements without changing the results. For instance, 3+2 and 2+3 both
In the various
experiments, some students learned these principles using generic symbols, in
which combinations of two or more symbols resulted in a predictable resulting
Others were presented
with one or more concrete examples that involved this same concept. In one
concrete example, students viewed three images of measuring cups with varying
levels of liquid. Participants were told they needed to determine the remaining
amount when different cups of liquid were combined.
Two other concrete
examples were used in various experiments – one involving how many slices of
pizza in a pizza pie were overcooked, and one involving how many tennis balls
were in a container.
After learning this
math concept using the concrete examples or abstract, generic symbols, the
students took a multiple-choice quiz demonstrating that they learned the
principles involved. And in all cases, the study showed that most undergraduate
students picked up the knowledge easily.
However, the true test
came later when the researchers asked these students to apply the same
principles in a totally different setting, which was described to them as a
children’s game from another country. The rules of this game followed the
principles which they had just learned. The researchers calculated how well the
participants did on a multiple choice test involving the rules of that
In the first
experiment, involving 80 students, some participants were given one concrete
example before testing on the children’s game, while some were given two or
three examples. One group only learned the generic symbols.
When tested on the
children’s game, the group that learned the generic symbols got nearly 80
percent of the questions right. Those who learned one, two or even three
concrete examples did no better than chance in selecting the right answers.
“They were just
guessing,” Kaminski said.
In a second
experiment, the researchers gave 20 participants two concrete examples and
explained how they were alike. Surprisingly, this still did not help students
apply the concept any better and they still did no better than chance when
tested later about the game.
In a third experiment,
the researchers presented 20 students with two concrete examples and then asked
them to compare the two examples and write down any similarities they saw.
After this experiment, about 44 percent of the students performed well on the
test concerning the children’s game, while the remainder still did not perform
better than chance.
This suggests that
only some students, not all, benefit from direct comparison of learned concrete
Finally, in a fourth
experiment involving 40 students, some learned the concrete example first
followed by the generic symbols, while others learned only the generic symbols.
The thought here was that the concrete example would engage the students in the
learning process while the generic symbols would promote transfer of that
But even in this
experiment, students who learned only the generic symbols performed better on
subsequent testing than those who learned the concept using the concrete
example and then the generic symbols.
The authors said that
students seem to learn concepts quickly when they are presented with familiar
real objects such as marbles or containers of liquid, and so it is easy to see
why many advocate this approach. “But it turns out there is no true insight
there. They can’t move beyond these real objects to apply that knowledge,” said
The problem may be
that extraneous information about marbles or containers might divert attention
from the real mathematics behind it all, according to Kaminski.
“We really need to
strip these concepts down to very symbolic representations such as variables
and numbers,” she said. “Then students are better prepared to apply those
concepts in a variety of situations.
The authors said they doubt
this paper will end the debate over approaches to teaching mathematics, but
they hope it will generate interest into systematic examination of which ways
of teaching mathematics are most effective.
Engaged for Success
Service-learning emerges as
an essential tool in fighting high school dropout. New research from teacher
focus groups and a nationally representative survey of high-school students
show that service-learning can address most of the educational factors that
lead students to drop out of high school. Service-learning can keep students
engaged in school while helping them become model citizens.
How America is Failing Millions of
High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families
Today in America, there are
millions of students who are overcoming challenging socioeconomic circumstances
to excel academically. They defy the stereotype that poverty precludes high
academic performance and that lowerincome and low academic achievement are
inextricably linked. They demonstrate that economically disadvantaged children
can learn at the highest levels and provide hope to other lower-income students
seeking to follow the same path.
Sadly, from the time they
enter grade school through their postsecondary education, these students lose
more educational ground and excel less frequently than their higher-income
peers. Despite this tremendous loss in achievement, these remarkable young
people are hidden from public view and absent from public policy debates.
Instead of being recognized for their excellence and encouraged to strengthen
their achievement, high-achieving lower-income students enter what we call the
“achievement trap” — educators, policymakers, and the public assume they can
fend for themselves when the facts show otherwise.
Very little is known about
high-achieving students from lower-income families — defined in this report as
students who score in the top 25 percent on nationally normed standardized
tests and whose family incomes (adjusted for family size) are below the
national median. We set out to change that fact and to focus public attention
on this extraordinary group of students who can help reset our sights from
standards of proficiency to standards of excellence.
This report chronicles the
experiences of highachieving lower-income students during elementary school,
high school, college, and graduate school. In some respects, our findings are
quite hopeful. There are millions of high-achieving lower-income students in
urban, suburban, and rural communities all across America; they reflect the
racial, ethnic, and gender composition of our nation’s schools; they drop out
of high school at remarkably low rates; and more than 90 percent of them enter
But there is also cause for
alarm. There are far fewer lower-income students achieving at the highest
levels than there should be, they disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving
group during elementary and high school, they rarely rise into the ranks of
high achievers during those periods, and, perhaps most disturbingly, far too
few ever graduate from college or go on to graduate school. Unless something is
done, many more of America’s brightest lower-income students will meet this
same educational fate, robbing them of opportunity and our nation of a valuable
This report discusses new and
original research on this extraordinary population of students.
Study suggests too much screen time and
not enough physical activity may lead to childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is a
growing concern for pediatricians and caregivers. In response to this problem,
the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) created guidelines for children
regarding physical activity and screen time, which includes both watching
television and playing video games. The AAP has made the following
recommendations: 1) boys should take at least 11,000 steps a day; 2) girls
should take at least 13,000 steps a day; and 3) children should limit total
screen time to two hours a day. A new study soon to be published in The Journal
of Pediatrics evaluates these recommendations and the combined influence of
screen time and physical activity on a child’s risk of being overweight.
Kelly Laurson and
colleagues from Iowa State University and the National Institute on Media and
the Family studied a group of 709 children between 7 and 12 years of age in an
effort to assess the recommendations of the AAP. The children were asked to
wear pedometers and were given surveys to measure the amount of time spent
watching TV and playing video games each day. The researchers then calculated
the body mass index, a measurement that can be used to determine obesity, of
each child. Almost 20% of the children surveyed were found to be overweight,
with less than half meeting both recommendations of the AAP. According to
Laurson, “Children not meeting the physical activity or exceeding the screen
time recommendations were 3-4 times more likely to be overweight than those
complying with both recommendations.” He also notes that although some children
surveyed met one of the guidelines, very few of the children met both. By
encouraging physical activity and limiting screen time, caregivers may be able
to reduce the risk of children from becoming overweight.
The study is reported
in “Combined influence of physical activity and screen time recommendations on
childhood overweight” by KR Laurson, M.S., JC Eisenmann, Ph.D., GJ Welk, Ph.D.,
EE Wickel, Ph.D., DA Gentile, Ph.D., and DA Walsh, Ph.D. The article appears in
The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2008.02.042, published by
Trends in Infancy/Early Childhood and Middle Childhood
Foundation for Child Development's Special Focus Report, "Trends in Infancy/Early Childhood and Middle Childhood
Well-Being, 1994-2006," presents the first wide-ranging picture
of how children in their first decade of life are faring the the U.S. It
is the first report to look comprehensively at the overall health, well-being,
and quality of life of America's youngest children - from birth through
eleven years old, using the FCD Child Well-Being Index (CWI), and to track and
compare child well-being across three primary stages of development - early
childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
Language skills develop at 6, say
Psychologists at the
University of Liverpool have discovered that children as young as six are as
adept at recognising possible verbs and their past tenses as adults.
In a study conducted
by the University’s Child Language Study Centre, children aged between six and
nine were given sentences containing made-up verbs such as ‘the duck likes to
spling’ and were asked to judge the acceptability of possible past tense forms.
The study focused on the process the children used to come to their conclusions
rather than whether their answers were right or wrong.
They found that the
children’s judgements followed a virtually identical pattern to those of
linguistics students who took part in a similar study at the University of
California, Los Angeles, in the US.
Liverpool psychologist, Ben Ambridge, said: “Previous studies have concentrated
on getting children to produce past tense forms for made-up words. This study
is unique in that the children were asked to judge the acceptability of
different forms that we gave them.
“One of the main
questions raised when looking at children’s ability to pick up their native
language is whether abstract symbolic rules or the use of memory and comparison
affect how a child attributes past tenses to words.
“The study was
designed to investigate whether we coin novel past-tense forms like ‘emailed’
by applying the default rule of adding ‘ed’ to the present-tense form or by
making an analogy with similar-sounding words stored in the memory, for example
in the way we know to form ‘sailed’ from ‘sail’ by linking it to like-sounding
words such as ‘tail’ or ‘fail’. The study found evidence for the latter,
supporting the view that we solve problems by making analogies with similar events
stored in our memory rather than by applying abstract mental rules.”
Grammaticality judgements are generally used by adult linguists so it’s
impressive that children have been able to make them. They can’t tell you how
they do it, but even six-year-olds know when a made-up word just doesn’t sound
intelligence with training on working memory
refers to the ability to reason and to solve new problems
independently of previously acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence
is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it is
considered one of the most important factors in learning. Moreover,
Fluid intelligence is closely related to professional and educational success,
especially in complex and demanding environments.
Although performance on tests
of fluid intelligence can be improved through direct practice on the
tests themselves, there is no evidence that training on any other
regimen yields increased fluid intelligence in adults. Furthermore, there
is a long history of research into cognitive training showing that,
although performance on trained tasks can increase dramatically,
transfer of this learning to other tasks remains poor.
Here, the authors
present evidence for transfer from training on a demanding working
memory task to measures of fluid intelligence. This transfer results
even though the trained task is entirely different from the
intelligence test itself.
authors demonstrate that the extent of gain in intelligence critically
depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more
improvement in fluid intelligence. That is, the training effect is
dosage-dependent. Thus, in contrast to many previous studies, the
authors conclude that it is possible to improve fluid intelligence
without practicing the testing tasks themselves, opening a wide
range of applications.
Numerical information can be persuasive
or informative depending on how it's presented
Would you rather
support research for a disease that affects 30,000 Americans a year or one that
affects just .01 percent of the U.S. population?
The numbers represent
about the same number of people, but how you answered explains how you
understand numerical information, according to a psychology professor at Kansas
comfortable with simple frequencies and percentages," said Gary Brase, an
associate professor of psychology at K-State. "Everybody can understand
five, six, 10, 20 or even 100, and percentages like 30 percent or 40 percent.
We have a really good sense of how much that is.
"But it's really
large numbers that we don't have nailed down exactly. If you say there were
20,000 people at a concert versus 30,000 people, we don't have a good sense of
how much bigger that is exactly."
Brase has studied the
perceptions and applications of various numerical formats. He will present a
talk on the topic at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference May
1-3 in Chicago. The research has appeared in several publications including the
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, the Journal of Nonprofit and Public
Sector Marketing and the Journal of Extension, where it can be viewed at
Brase's research also
is in the current issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
Brase's interest in
people's preferences for numerical formats began with research on theories
about how the mind processes numbers in complex math problems. Brase said this
research suggested that people prefer working with frequencies.
"But then we
thought, let's just start asking them what they prefer," Brase said
To find out, Brase
conducted two studies. One looked at adults participating in forestry Extension
activities and asked them to evaluate statistical information about forestry
issues. They had to compare two statements using different numerical formats.
Participants were asked which statement was clearer and which expressed a
greater value. The research showed that people find percentages and simple
frequencies, such as one-third or two-out-of-five, easiest to understand.
However, the people studied also perceived absolute frequencies -- like 30
million Americans, for instance -- to be a greater number than a fraction or
ratio, even when the numbers were equivalent.
Another study analyzed
the responses to postcards asking recipients to show their support for cancer
research. Each group of postcards presented the same information about cancer
mortality rates in varying numerical formats. The researchers measured how many
responses they received by each type of postcard. They found that people
responded most often when the information was presented in absolute frequencies.
That is, framing cancer mortality rates in millions of Americans rather than a
ratio like 1 out of 100.
Brase said these
findings have implications for the way people and groups convey numerical
information, whether it's to inform or to persuade.
"When you want to
persuade, you're interested in whole numbers and using a large reference class
like the U.S. or world population," Brase said. "Take the numbers of
people who have a rare disease. The percentage could be a tiny amount. But it
also could be an impressive number if you consider a large population. You get
something that sounds like an important issue."
The opposite, Brase
said, is doing something like saying that a person has a .0001 percent chance
of getting that disease.
are not understanding the numbers," Brase said. "All they get out of
that information is that it's a really, really tiny amount."
For people to really
understand an issue, Brase said perhaps the best approach is to present
numerical information in as many ways as possible.
Reports Detail Student
Performance After High School
Massachusetts high schools
have received the first-ever reports detailing the performance of graduates
attending a Massachusetts public college or university.
According to the state
Among public high school
graduates in the class of 2005 who attended a public college or university in
Massachusetts, 37 percent enrolled in at least one developmental (remedial)
course in their first semester in college.
Of students enrolled at
community colleges, 65 percent of students enrolled in a community college took
at least one developmental course, as did 22 percent of students at state
colleges and 8 percent of students at state university campuses.
Fifty percent of students who
scored in needs improvement on the Grade 10 Math MCAS exam enrolled in
developmental math in college.
More than 80 percent of
first-time, full-time degree seeking students reenrolled for a second year of
college in fall 2006.
The class of 2006 reports
will be released later this year. Future reports will be released each spring,
approximately two years after each cohort's high school graduation.
The statewide report is
posted online at www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/0208bhe.doc.
Local school reports can be
found at www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/s2c.html.
The Under-Appreciated Role of Humiliation in the Middle
In his book
"The World Is Flat," Friedman (2005) argued that people have
under-appreciated the role that humiliation plays in terrorism. If it is true,
that humiliation plays a role in terrorism, what role might this
under-appreciated emotion play in middle school? If terrorists act, in part,
based on humiliation, how do middle school students act when they experience
this emotion? To answer these questions, the authors interviewed 10 middle
school teachers and 10 students. They asked them about times they (or their
students or peers) were humiliated and what happened. The responses from the
teachers and students about the ways that students are humiliated clustered
into three major areas: (1) bullying; (2) teacher behavior; and (3) remedial
the authors searched the ERIC database for documentation about the impact
humiliation has on middle school students. This article begins by discussing
the findings from the authors' interviews and surveys. Then it describes the
effects of humiliation on middle school learners and examines the perspectives
of teachers and students on each of these issues, including: (1) drug and
alcohol use; (2) attendance problems; (3) dropping out of school; (4) pregnancy;
and (5) suicide. Recommendations for reducing humiliation in the middle school
Intelligence and rhythmic accuracy
go hand in hand
People who score high
on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research
shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing
is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and
Researchers at the
medical university Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University have now
demonstrated a correlation between general intelligence and the ability to tap
out a simple regular rhythm. They stress that the task subjects performed had
nothing to do with any musical rhythmic sense but simply measured the capacity
for rhythmic accuracy. Those who scored highest on intelligence tests also had
least variation in the regular rhythm they tapped out in the experiment.
“It’s interesting as
the task didn’t involve any kind of problem solving,” says Fredrik Ullén at
Karolinska Institutet, who led the study with Guy Madison at Umeå University.
“Irregularity of timing probably arises at a more fundamental biological level
owing to a kind of noise in brain activity.”
According to Fredrik
Ullén, the results suggest that the rhythmic accuracy in brain activity
observable when the person just maintains a steady beat is also important to
the problem-solving capacity that is measured with intelligence tests.
“We know that accuracy
at millisecond level in neuronal activity is critical to information processing
and learning processes,” he says.
They also demonstrated
a correlation between high intelligence, a good ability to keep time, and a
high volume of white matter in the parts of the brain’s frontal lobes involved
in problem solving, planning and managing time.
“All in all, this
suggests that a factor of what we call intelligence has a biological basis in
the number of nerve fibres in the prefrontal lobe and the stability of neuronal
activity that this provides,” says Fredrik Ullén.
and variability in a simple timing task share neural substrates in the
prefrontal white matter’, Fredrik Ullén, Lea Forsman, Örjan Blom, Anke
Karabanov and Guy Madison, The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 April 2008.
changes in youth -- even at-risk youth
by SAGE in Journal of Adolescent Research
Millions of dollars
are spent annually on research to reduce risky and problem behaviors in youth.
Conversely, far less has been directed toward research promoting positive
development -- particularly in at-risk youth. The May 2008 special issue of the
Journal of Adolescent Research reports the results of nearly two decades of
research at the Miami Youth Development Project (YDP), a community-supported
positive youth development program of outreach research.
The research published
by SAGE in the special issue draws on a perspective called Developmental
Intervention Science (DIS) -- a fusion of the literatures of both developmental
and intervention sciences. This approach suggests new directions for developing
affordable youth interventions that are not only highly cost-effective but also
meet the needs of both the community and its youth. The key concepts of the DIS
interventions that meet youth and community needs
and sustainable interventions in "real world" settings
Targets risky and
problem behaviors while promoting positive self development
Research that aims to
promote both short and long term life course changes
"The Miami Youth
Development Project (YDP) represents watershed work in developmental
science," observe leading researchers in human development Richard Lerner
and Willis Overton in their commentary on the issue. "This special issue
of Journal of Adolescent Research gives developmental scientists and the youth
they seek to understand a potent example of how researchers can transcend the
confines of conceptual reductionism and reliance on a single methodology to
help enhance the lives of the diverse young people of America."
The special issue of Journal
of Adolescent Research, entitled, "Promoting Positive Youth Development:
New Directions in Developmental Theory, Methods, and Research" by William
M. Kurtines of Florida International University and colleagues is available at
no charge for a limited time at http://jar.sagepub.com/current.dtl.
Low grades, bad behavior? Siblings may be to
blame, FSU study says
We all know the story
of a man named Brady and the group that somehow formed a family. But if the
iconic ‘70s sitcom about a “blended” family reflected reality, the Brady Bunch
likely would have been dealing with much more than silly sibling squabbles.
Here’s the real story:
On average, adolescents living with half- or stepsiblings have lower grades and
more school-related behavior problems, and these problems may not improve over
time, according to Florida State University Assistant Professor of Sociology
Kathryn Harker Tillman.
“These findings imply
that family formation patterns that bring together children who have different
sets of biological parents may not be in the best interests of the children
involved,” Tillman said. “Yet one-half of all American stepfamilies include
children from previous relationships of both partners, and the majority of
parents in stepfamilies go on to have additional children together.”
Many studies have
focused on the structure of parent-child relations in connection to academic
achievement, but Tillman’s study is unique in that it focuses on the
composition of the entire family unit. Tillman studied data from the National
Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative study of
more than 11,000 adolescents in grades 7 through 12 in the United States. Her
study is published in the journal Social Science Research.
All stepfamilies are
not equal -- at least in terms of their impact on children’s academic
performance. Surprisingly, teens who live in the most seemingly complicated
family arrangement of all -- those with both half- and stepsiblings fare better
than those who live with only stepsiblings or only half-siblings. Tillman
theorized that perhaps the decision of the parents in these families to have a
biological child together reflects a stable relationship or one in which child
rearing is especially important. Only 1 percent of youth in Tillman’s study
lived in this so-called complex blended sibling composition, however.
Boys living with half-
or stepsiblings appear to have the hardest time coping, with average GPAs
one-quarter of a letter grade lower than boys who live with only full siblings.
Girls with half- or stepsiblings also had lower GPAs than those living with
only full siblings, but the difference was much smaller. Boys and girls in
these types of families also had more school behavioral problems, such as trouble
paying attention, getting homework done and getting along with teachers and
Tillman looked at how
long children had been living with their half- or stepsiblings and found that
it didn’t really matter. Things did not tend to improve with time.
“We cannot assume that
over time, children will naturally ‘adjust’ to the new roles and relationships
that arise when families are blended,” she said. “This research indicates that
the effects of new stepsiblings or half siblings may actually become more
negative over time or, at the least, remain consistently negative.”
Part of what makes
stepfamily life difficult for young people is the complexity, ambiguity and
stress that come with having nontraditional siblings living in the same home,
she said. Stepsiblings who are living together may also engage in, or at least
perceive, more competition for parental time, attention and resources than full
In addition to
stressful life changes and ambiguous family roles, stepfamily formation leads
to the introduction of a new parent-figure who may be less willing or able to
invest in a child’s development and academic success, Tillman said.
Stepparent-child relationships tend to be more conflict ridden than
relationships with biological parents, and stepparents tend to offer children
less parental support, closeness and supervision. The presence of a stepparent
also generally leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision
children receive from the biological parent with whom they live.
stepparents generally report feeling less of an obligation to provide financial
support for stepchildren’s postsecondary education, and both biological parents
and stepparents report actually providing less support for children’s education
when they are living in a stepfamily.
“Lower social and financial
investments may signal to children a lack of parental interest and lower
expectations for academic achievement and college attendance,” she said. “In
turn, youth in stepfamilies may be less likely to get academic assistance when
needed, less likely to work for higher grades and more likely to act out at
Sexual harassment at school – more
harmful than bullying
Girls and sexual minorities suffer most from this type of abuse
Schools’ current focus on
bullying prevention may be masking the serious and underestimated health
consequences of sexual harassment, according to James Gruber from the
University of Michigan-Dearborn and Susan Fineran from the University of
Southern Maine in the US. Their research (1), just published online in
Springer’s journal Sex Roles, shows that although less frequent, sexual
harassment has a greater negative impact on teenagers’ health than the more
common form of victimization, bullying.
Gruber and Fineran’s study,
the first of its kind to compare bullying and sexual harassment victimization
using equivalent measurements and time frames, looked at the frequency and
health implications of both bullying and sexual harassment among 522 middle and
high school students. The teenagers completed a questionnaire which asked how
often they had experienced each behavior during the school year, who the
perpetrators were, and their reaction.
Bullying was more frequent
than sexual harassment for both boys and girls - just over half the students
(52%) had been bullied and just over a third (35%) were sexually harassed.
Almost a third (32%) had been subject to both behaviors. Girls were bullied or
harassed as frequently as boys, but gays, lesbians and bisexuals – sexual minorities
– were submitted to greater levels of both.
Both behaviors have a
negative effect on victims’ health. After taking into account the effects of
other stressful life events, ranging from parents’ divorce, moving house,
falling in love and getting into trouble with the law, Gruber and Fineran found
that sexual harassment causes more harm than bullying in both boys and girls.
Girls and sexual minorities, however, appeared to be the most affected by
sexual harassment, suffering from lower self-esteem, poorer mental and physical
health, and more trauma symptoms (thoughts and feelings arising from stressful
experiences) than boys.
In the authors’ view,
schools’ current focus on preventing bullying, as well as the tendency to
regard sexual harassment as a form of bullying rather than an issue in its own
right, draws attention away from a serious health issue. They argue that sexual
harassment prevention should receive equal attention as a distinct focus, so
that schools can continue to provide a healthy environment for children.
Teens do not consider a lot of their electronic
texts as writing
considerable benefits to using technology in their school and non-school
writing and say they would welcome even more writing instruction
The state of writing
among teens today is marked by an interesting paradox: While teens are heavily
embedded in a tech-rich world and craft a significant amount of electronic
text, they see a fundamental distinction between their electronic social
communications and the more formal writing they do for school or for personal
youth ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic
personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant
messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.
60% of teens do not
think of these electronic texts as "writing."
Teens are utilitarian in
their approach to technology and writing, using both computers and longhand
depending on circumstances. Their use of computers for school and personal
writing is often tied to the convenience of being able to edit easily. And
while they do not think their use of computers or their text-based
communications with friends influences their formal writing, many do admit that
the informal styles that characterize their e-communications do occasionally
bleed into their schoolwork.
57% of teens say they
revise and edit more when they write using a computer.
63% of teens say using
computers to write makes no difference in the quality of the writing they produce.
73% of teens say their
personal electronic communications (email, IM, text messaging) have no impact
on the writing they do for school, and 77% said they have no impact on the
writing they do for themselves.
64% of teens admit that
they incorporate, often accidentally, at least some informal writing styles
used in personal electronic communication into their writing for school. (Some
25% have used emoticons in their school writing; 50% have used informal
punctuation and grammar; 38% have used text shortcuts such as "LOL"
meaning "laugh out loud.")
All of this matters more than ever because teenagers and their parents
uniformly believe that good writing is a bedrock for future success. Eight in
ten parents believe that good writing skills are more important now than they
were 20 years ago, and 86% of teens believe that good writing ability is an
important component of guaranteeing success later in life.
Recognizing this, 82% of teens say they think their writing would
improve if teachers had them spend more class time doing writing. Blacks and
those from lower-income households are the most ardent believers in the
importance of writing and in the likely payoff of more class time devoted to
These are among the key findings in a national phone survey of 700
youth ages 12-17 and their parents conducted by the Pew Internet & American
Life Project and the National Commission on Writing. The survey was completed
in mid-November and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The report also contains findings from eight focus groups in four U.S. cities
conducted in the summer of 2007.
"There is a raging national debate about the state of writing and
how high-tech communication by teens might be affecting their ability to think
and write," noted Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at Pew who
co-authored a report on the findings titled Writing, Technology and Teens.
"Those on both sides of the issue will see supporting data here. There is
clearly a big gap in the minds of teenagers between the 'real' writing they do
for school and the texts they compose for their friends. Yet, it is also clear
that writing holds a central place in the lives of teens and in their vision
about the skills they need for the future."
Adds Richard Sterling, chair of the advisory board for the National
Commission on Writing, executive director emeritus of the National Writing
Project and senior fellow at the College Board: "We think these findings
point to a critical strategy question for all educators: How can we connect the
enthusiasm of young people for informal, technology-based writing with
classroom experiences that illuminate the power of well-organized,
This survey finds that, apart from their text-based electronic
communications, teens write with some frequency inside and outside of the
school environment. All teens do at least some writing for school, and 93%
write for themselves outside of school at least on occasion.
Writing is a common activity within the school environment, as 50% of
teens say that they write something for school every day. However, most writing
assignments are short: 82% of teens say their typical writing assignment is a
paragraph to one page in length.
Beyond using technology to facilitate their writing, teens also use the
internet to research their school writing projects; 94% of teens use the
internet at least occasionally to do research for their school assignments.
Nearly half (48%) of teens say they use the internet to research something for
school once a week or more often.
In our focus groups, teens outlined what motivates and inspires them to
write. They appreciated the opportunity to choose topics relevant to their own
lives and experiences, and the chance to write for teachers and other adults
who challenge them. Teens feel encouraged by opportunities to write creatively,
and spoke of the motivation of having an audience for their work.
Launching Students into Their Decade
In the 2007
edition of "Diplomas Count", "Education Week" reported that
nationally more than one-third of the students lost from the high school
pipeline fail to make the transition from the ninth to the 10th grade. This
explains why, for more than two decades, schools and districts across the
country have struggled to develop freshman transition activities and courses to
address this critical transitional time for students. Unfortunately, many of
these efforts have failed to impact school retention because there has been no
plan, no roadmap, no guidelines or standards to point the way to success.
Teachers are left to their own devices to develop from scratch what should be a
rigorous, comprehensive course. In far too many cases, due to lack of resources
(i.e., time, money and energy), the outcome does not meet expectations and,
eventually, the program is abandoned. It was this realization and the resulting
"Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes" that launched the
Freshman Transition Initiative of George Washington University in 2004.
the necessary standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for
Career Connections and Career Investigation became the starting point to design
the framework for this eighth- or ninth-grade course because they were among
the best career exploration standards. It was also clear that in order to
achieve the ambitious goal of impacting school retention, the new standards had
to go beyond traditional career exploration. Working on the premise that
individuals don't work hard until they understand the benefits of their
efforts, the "Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes" serve
as the blueprint for well-designed freshman courses that not only carry the
same rigor, credibility and status of traditional academic courses, but that
also increase school retention, academic achievement, and postsecondary
Urban School Students Score at Highest
Levels Ever On State and Federal Tests
Includes City-by-City Profiles of Big-City School District Trends
and Reading Assessments
Students in the nation’s major city public school districts
continue to advance in reading and math on state tests and on the more rigorous
federal test– the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
A new report analyzing academic progress in 66 urban school
systems in 37 states and the District of Columbia shows substantially higher
test scores in 2007 than in 2003 in fourthand eighth-grade mathematics and
reading on state assessments. It indicates that the state and national test
scores are at their highest levels since academic proficiency data have been
collected for urban schools.
Beating the Odds: An Analysis of Student Performance and
Achievement Gaps on State Assessments by the Council of the Great City Schools compares this past school
year’s state test scores with those reported a year after the federal No
Child Left Behind law was
implemented in 2002, requiring school districts to report performance levels
based on state tests and show the percentage of students who score at the
The Beating the Odds findings for the 2006- 2007 school year show that 63 percent of
urban school students scored at or above the proficient level in fourth-grade
math on their respective state assessments, a whopping 14 percentage point gain
from 49 percent in 2003. For eighth-graders, the percentage climbed to 55
percent, compared with 42 percent in 2003, a 13 percentage point rise.
In reading, urban schoolchildren also posted gains over the past
four years. From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of fourth-graders scoring at or
above the proficient level in reading on state tests rose to 60 percent from 51
percent – a 9 percentage point hike. For eighth-graders, the percentage increased
to 51 percent from 43 percent in 2003, an 8 percentage point gain.
National Test Assessments
The report also reveals that the state-test trends coincide with
NAEP gains by urban students, but with lower percentages of students scoring at
or above the proficient level on what is generally considered a more rigorous
exam than most state tests.
Students in big-city public schools have made faster math and
reading gains than the nation on the NAEP over the past few years, according to The Nation’s Report Card for 2007 released by the U.S. Department of Education. The report
last November marked the first time that the nation could see four- or
five-year trends on NAEP for the country’s major urban public school systems
since the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) was launched in reading in
2002 and math in 2003.
Some 28 percent of urban fourth-graders scored at or above the
proficient level in math in 2007 on NAEP, an 8 percentage point hike from 20
percent in 2003. In reading, 22 percent of urban schoolchildren in fourth grade
reached or went beyond the proficient level in 2007, a 5 percentage point
increase from 17 percent in 2002.
Beating the Odds also includes how student test scores in 11 big-city school
districts that volunteered for the trial urban NAEP compare with scores on
their respective state tests. Among the 11 cities are New York, Los Angeles and
Chicago, the nation’s three largest school systems.
Although urban schools show gains in math and reading performance,
the districts still generally lag behind state and national averages in fourth
and eighth grades, and acknowledge that they still have a long way to go to
reach proficiency levels. But there are exceptions.
State Math Achievement
In the report’s eighth annual analysis, data show that 22 percent
of urban school districts now score as high as or higher than their respective
states in fourth-grade math, and 16 percent score as high or higher at the
eighth-grade level in 2007.
The school districts with both fourth- and eighth-grade math
scores equal to or greater than their respective states are Anchorage, Broward
County (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)., Charleston, New Orleans, Palm Beach and
State Reading Progress
In 2007, 16 percent of urban school districts scored at or above
their respective states in fourth-grade reading, and 14 percent at the
eighth-grade level. The school districts with both fourth- and eighth-grade
reading scores equal to or greater than their respective states are Anchorage,
Broward County (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Charleston, New Orleans, Portland,
Ore., San Diego and San Francisco.
Beating the Odds VIII also indicates that racial achievement gaps in urban schools
narrowed in math between 2003 and 2007, although they remain wide. Some 66
percent of bigcity school districts narrowed the gap between their fourth-grade
African-American students and white counterparts statewide in math proficiency
– 63 percent in eighth-grade math.
Among Hispanic students, 63 percent of the urban school districts
narrowed the gap with white fourth-graders statewide – 58 percent in
In reading, between 2003 and 2007, 64 percent of major city school
systems narrowed the achievement gap between fourth-grade African-American
students and white counterparts statewide in reading proficiency – 67 percent
at the eighth-grade level. Among Hispanic students, 57 percent of urban school
districts narrowed the gap with white fourth-graders statewide – 63 percent in
Urban Environment America’s big-city school systems enroll about one-quarter, or 26
percent, of all students of color in the nation, and a disproportionately high
number of English language learners and poor students.
The report attributes the standards movement as the catalyst that
triggered change in urban schools. It gave urban school administrators
direction on what they were being held responsible for delivering.
Beating the Odds analyzed two assessments – state and national – because the nation
does not have a single system to measure progress relative to the same standard
across school districts in all states.
Full city-by city data:
“Education for the 21st Century
(e21) High School Redesign Initiative: Report to the Community 2002-2007 and
In 2002, high school students in the Sacramento City Unified
School District (SCUSD) attended five comprehensive sites—some with enrollments
of 2,700; 2,600 or 2,400—or they might attend one of two alternative programs.
They were graduating at a rate of slightly more than 76 percent. First time
passage rate for 10th graders of the California High School Exit
Exam English Language Arts and math was 68 percent in 2003.
the District’s nearly 14,000 high school pupils have 42 options from which to
choose. They may attend one of the 36 Small Learning Communities (SLCs) within
the six comprehensive high schools or one of six, soon to be seven, small
theme-based high schools. None of the campuses has more than 2,250 students,
even though more high school students are enrolled district wide. In 2005-06,
despite increased graduation requirements and greater enrollment, 86.8 percent
of the District’s youth graduated. In 2006-07, 73 percent of 10th graders passed the exit exam’s English Language Arts, and 74 percent of 10th graders passed the math portion.
changes—which affected every student in each of the high schools—occurred after
implementation of the e21 Students First High School Redesign Initiative
launched in 2003 after three years of planning with the assistance of local
partner, LEED-Linking Education and Economic Development (LEED), and more than
$12 million in grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation. Sac City was one of seven school systems
selected by the two philanthropic organizations to better prepare youth for the
M. Magdalena Carrillo Mejia, Ph.D. said the initiative was about increasing the
number of graduates and much more; it is also focused on success after
graduation by preparing students to meet the rapidly changing skills required
for thriving in the new century. “Our students are living in a global community.
They can enjoy communication with people all over the world via new
technologies. They will compete for jobs regionally, and globally. They will
need to work well with others, be able to adapt to change, and contribute to
their communities,” Dr. Mejia said. “The redesign of our high schools was a
major collaborative effort that resulted in more of the positive outcomes we
want for students to prepare them for bright futures: more rigorous academic
skills, leadership development, stronger community relationships, and the
creation of more options when they enter high school and after they graduate.”
Chief Executive Officer David Butler said, “The major role of schools is to
equip all students with the education and skills needed to compete and succeed
in the 21st Century and the SCUSD high school redesign initiative is
doing just that.” He added, “Transformational change truly takes root when an
initiative survives and thrives despite changes in leadership, staff, and
High school design built around seven essential
elements determined by stakeholders
adopted seven “essential elements” in redesigning each school and then created
two basic structures: SLCs at large comprehensive schools and small high
schools with enrollments of 500 or fewer pupils. At the core of the redesign,
the District focused on rigor, relevance and relationships. Under this new set
of “three R’s,” the seven essential elements that guided the District’s plan
are small, caring, personalized learning communities; student-centered systems
with supports and safety nets; pathways to the world of work and post-secondary
education; rigorous, relevant, standards-driven teaching and learning; a
culture of continuous learning; collective responsibility; and home-school-community
alliances. The seven essential elements and the smaller learning structures
were determined by public planning meetings that began in October 2000. The
District conducted a series of town hall meetings, a conference attended by
more than 500 students, monthly school meeting and bi-monthly team meetings,
all open to the public. The town halls gatherings were conducted on a Saturday
in three locations for the convenience of working parents. The half-day events
included brainstorming sessions, question and answer segments and background
presentations. Several schools also conducted additional town hall meetings
targeting non-English speaking parents. Newsletters were also distributed to
parents, students, and other interested parties.
National model in career and technical education
adhering to these elements, Sac City’s redesign resulted in the progress and
changes noted, but also in creating common planning time for teachers and
administrators which allows site educators to meet together to discuss student
data, engage in staff development, and share information about their pupils and
school. Sac City has also become a national model in career and technical
preparation education (CTE). Almost every student participates in a career or
technical pathway, contrary to what is occurring in districts both nationally
and in the state. Sac City has increased its CTE classes by almost 25 percent
over the past five years, and students may select classes from five fields:
arts, media and entertainment; business and information technology; health;
human and public service; and engineering and industrial technology. Through an
entrepreneurial model, one District staff person, an entrepreneur recruited
from business and industry, works with high school faculty and students to
determine needs. The entrepreneur then works to create connections with
business partners to site meet needs.
the high school experience to engage students resulted in instructional changes
and greater community engagement as the District reached out to offer students
more opportunities with mentors, work and community service opportunities. New
“student voice” opportunities were created for students to develop leadership
skills and participate in school and District governance.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell praised the District for
its progress and innovation. “The Sacramento City Unified School District has
created a model for public schools working with community and foundation
partners to create options for successful learning,” O’Connell said. “The
District’s high school reform plan is sensitive to the diverse needs of a
diverse student population. It also addresses the need to connect to students
with rigorous courses, relevant learning opportunities, and relationships with
adults who care about their future. I applaud the District for producing their
report and implementing its recommendations that will lead to future student
Lessons learned and challenges
addition to successes, the report also cites “lessons learned” that include
investing time to engage all stakeholders, creating multiple opportunities for
student and staff learning, prioritizing communication and recognizing the
complexity and importance of facilities.
ongoing challenge is California’s education funding. The District’s ability to
maintain common planning for teachers and provide additional counseling
services that have increased graduation rates, increased first time passage of
the California High School Exit Exam and enhanced teacher collaboration are all
dependent on adequate funding.
“We are pioneers in the
national call to redesign our high schools, and our mantra has been continuous
learning, continuous improvement. We began implementation of our redesign in
the fall of 2003. As we near completion of our fifth year of implementation,
I’m proud of our progress and proud of the greater personalization and
engagement of our students and community,” Dr. Mejia said. “Our high school
redesign has made a difference in the lives of our students and the fabric of
our community. We need to ensure its sustainability.”
More Money Spent on Regular High School
Instruction Directly Related To Student Achievement; Teacher Compensation has
Largest Effect on Student Performance
The amount of money a high
school spends on regular classroom instruction is directly related to the
achievement level of its students—the more money, the greater the achievement.
Of regular classroom spending, higher teacher compensation expenditures has the
largest effect on student performance.
The researchers found that
the amount that high schools spend on regular classroom instruction has a
sizable impact on student learning outcomes. All other things being equal, an
increase of $500 per pupil spent on regular classroom instruction in a school
is associated with an increase of nearly half a point on students’ average scores
on End of Course examinations. The differences in spending on regular classroom
instruction between high schools serving high-poverty populations and those
with the fewest low-income students are about $300 per pupil.
“Our findings strongly
suggest that more resources targeted to the low performing schools and more
effective use of existing resources will be needed to offset the effects of
lower levels of student’s prior performance and, ultimately to improve
performance in chronically low-performing high schools,” said the study’s lead
researcher and FPG Fellow, Dr. Gary Henry.
It is not just about how
much money you spend, but where you spend it. Schools receive a certain amount
of money per student, known as the total per pupil expenditure. They then
decide how to spend that money on everything from special education to
supplemental programs to regular classroom instruction. It is how the money was
allocated that proved important as the total per pupil expenditures had little
effect. So even though the high schools with the largest percentage of
low-income students spent on average about $1,500 more total per student than
high schools serving the lowest percentage, they allocated only $300 more pupil
to regular instruction.
Expenditures for regular
instruction include teachers’ salaries, supplementary pay, benefits, and
bonuses; salaries for teachers’ assistants, tutors, and substitutes;
instructional supplies and textbooks; and library or media services. More
detailed analysis indicates that higher teacher compensation expenditures had
the largest effect on student performance.
“The higher teacher
salaries may allow the schools to hire and retain teachers that have important
but unmeasured strengths, or the additional salary may motivate those who receive
it to perform at higher levels than similarly qualified teachers who do not
receive the extra pay,” according to Henry. Expenditures for supplies and media
services do have a positive effect, albeit smaller. The findings indicate that
materials and supplies make a difference when measures of teacher quality such
as experience and education are taken into account.
higher levels of expenditures on supplementary instruction (outside the normal
school day and week) and student services (guidance, psychological, health,
speech, and related services) are actually associated with lower student test
Charles Thompson, professor
of educational leadership at East Carolina University, discussed the distinctly
different leadership in schools with high concentrations of poverty who were
“beating the odds” and those labeled as chronically low performing. “In the
high schools that are ‘beating the odds’, we observed principals who instilled
a strong sense of commitment to student performance and educators who held each
other responsible for students’ success on the End-Of-Course exams. In these
schools, the educators found creative ways to offer students multiple
opportunities to learn the material within a caring and orderly environment.”
The study was commissioned
in 2006 by North Carolina Governor Mike Easley to examine if low-performing
schools were using existing resources in the most effective manner.
Education Next: Americans Vastly
Underestimate Spending on Schools and Teacher Salaries, Survey Finds
Do Americans have an
accurate grasp of how much is currently being spent on public education? Not
according to a recent analysis of national survey results by University of
Chicago’s William Howell and Brown University’s Martin R. West published in the
summer issue of Education Next. The average respondent surveyed in 2007 thought
per pupil spending in their district was just $4,231 dollars, even though the
actual average spending per pupil among districts was $10,377 in 2005 (the most
recent year for which data are available).
Howell and West also
found Americans think that teachers earn far less than is actually the case. On
average, the public underestimated average teacher salaries in their own state
by $14,370. The average estimate among survey respondents was $33,054, while
average teacher salary nationally in 2005 was actually $47,602.
Almost 96 percent of
the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or
teacher salaries in their states.
Howell and West also
looked at whether some citizens are better informed about education spending
than others. In general, they found that the responses of men were closer to
the truth than those of women, and that parents of school-aged children gave
more accurate responses about teacher salaries. Homeowners also appeared to be
much more responsive than other Americans to higher spending levels in their
districts. In districts spending more than $10,000 per pupil, for example, the
responses of homeowners were closer to actual spending levels than those of
individuals who rented or lived with other families. Homeowners appeared better
informed about teacher salaries too, offering responses that were $7,502 higher
than non-homeowners’ responses.
differences between all of these groups are dwarfed by the overall gap between
the public’s perception of spending on education and the truth. Even
homeowners, for example, were off by more than $5,000 on average for per-pupil
spending and by more than $11,000 for teacher salaries.
Howell’s and West’s
findings may shed light on the widespread public support for increased spending
in public education. According to the 2007 Education Next-PEPG national survey
of American attitudes on public education, Americans who support increased
spending in their district outnumber those who want spending to decrease by a
five-to-one margin. A majority (59 percent) believe that spending more on the
public schools in their district will increase student learning.
support for education is to be applauded. However, it is also important that
citizens make an effort to become more aware of exactly what is being spent on
education in their own communities so that they can make well informed
decisions,” say Howell and West.
Included in an
extensive battery of survey questions in the Education Next-PEPG survey was the
following: “Based on your best guess, what is the average amount of money spent
each year for a child in public schools in your school district?” Half of the
sample, randomly chosen, was offered a prompt to encourage them to consider the
full range of costs associated with educating a child. These respondents were
told that “Individual student costs go toward teacher and administrator
salaries, building construction and maintenance, extracurricular activities,
Howell and West found
that reminding people of the range of expenses school districts face did little
to improve their assessments. Respondents who were given the prompt claimed, on
average, that their districts
spent $5,262 per pupil, about $1,000 more than the estimate of those who
weren’t prompted, but still only 54 percent of the actual per-pupil spending
levels in their districts. More than one-third of the sample still thought that
their districts spend no more than $1,000 per student each year.
“Is the Price Right? Probing
Americans’ Knowledge of School Spending” is now online at http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/18144719.html
The New Boss...Same as the Old Boss?
performance in their schools, and frustrated by reports of corruption and petty
politics in the school boards, mayors and legislative bodies in the United
States' largest cities have in recent years dismissed the elected boards and
moved to a model of appointed boards. With cities such as Boston,
Chicago, and New York City in the lead, this bold move has been mostly praised
in the media and by the public.
In a groundbreaking new
article for the American Journal of Education, education scholar Frederick Hess
(American Enterprise Institute) observes that “few researchers have sought to
examine [in a systematic fashion] the effects of governance reforms on
achievement, reform, school improvement, or similar outcomes,” thus leaving
unexamined the comparative merits of the two systems. In “Looking for
Leadership: Assessing the Case for Mayoral Control of Urban School Systems,”
Hess opens a critical discussion of the progress of this important trend, and
lays the groundwork for a vitally important conversation about big city
Ironically, the popular
election of boards of education was itself instituted as a reforming measure.
During the Progressive era, roughly the years 1890-1920, large cities installed
elected school boards to save the education system from the politicking and
patronage that marred local politics at the time. By the time that Boston's
city council placed the schools under mayoral control in the early 1990s, the
elected school boards became known for precisely the political intrusion, low
standards, inflexibility, and micromanagement that they were created to combat.
Boston, thanks to a strong working relationship between the mayor and the
school superintendent, was considered a success. Other big cities soon followed
suit—notably Chicago; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and most
recently, Los Angeles. The public generally saw the measure as a get-tough move
by a decisive executive, but little in the way of quantitative analysis has
been performed on the system as a whole.
In his research, Hess also
finds that to even initiate mayoral control reform, the mayor in question must
have an unusually high abundance of political capital. The Chicago and
New York City programs would likely have not made it off the ground had no less
than Richard M. Daley and Rudolph Giuliani, respectively, been at the helm.
Without a coherent strategy for the appointed board, the plan can quickly fail,
especially if a strong mayor leaves office. High profile failures and
half-measures in Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles show that the opportunity to
“reshuffle the deck” is not a reason in itself to replace elected school
boards. When implemented, appointed boards can repeat the mistakes of the past,
falling prey to the temptations of micromanagement and lack of transparency
that plagued their predecessors.
Even the cases where the
transfer to mayoral control is politically successful, Hess find that there
exists little analysis of the test scores, graduation rates, and other markers
of actual educational success. Mayoral control of schools, moreover, does not
directly address the fundamental problem of the Progressive-era school boards,
argues Hess. In an attempt to de-politicize them, the Progressive
reformers employed the “scientific management” techniques then in vogue. The attendant
rigidity of the strategy has left most schools unprepared to teach children in
a rapidly changing world. Frederick Hess concludes that the trend towards
mayoral control of big city school boards is neither positive nor negative
development in itself. Regardless of the form of the school board, a
clear mission for the education of the city’s children must be accompanied by a
flexibility to address the problems of a rapidly changing society.
Hess, Frederick M. ““Looking
for Leadership: Assessing the Case for Mayoral Control of Urban School
Systems”” American Journal of Education May 2008 (114:3).
A National Issue: Whether the Teacher
Turnover Effects Students' Academic Performance?
teacher turnover rate and low student academic performance are two urgent
issues that threaten the education of America's children--our greatest
resource. The technical core of schools nationally is to provide a quality
education to produce literate generations to function in our global society. If
the United States is to equip its young people with the problem-solving and
communication skills that are essential in the new economy it is more important
than ever to recruit and retain high-quality teachers (Murnane & Steele,
2007). This article focuses on whether teacher turnover affects students'
A National Focus: The Recruitment,
Retention, and Development of Quality Teachers in Hard-to-Staff Schools
A shortage of
quality teachers in high-risk urban schools has compelled school leaders to
examine innovative methods of recruiting and retaining new teachers to
hard-to-staff campuses. Principals must work aggressively to attract new
teachers to their campuses by forming university partnerships for early
recruitment, and initiating on the job training for new recruits as early as
the previous school year. Early immersion in the school environment is key to a
smooth transition. Additionally, principals must allocate the necessary fiscal
resources to the task of retaining new teachers, particularly in mentorship and
professional development. Hard-to-staff campuses must invest in a full-time
teacher mentor as well as retired teachers to provide intense mentorship and
relevant professional training. Principals must also integrate other critical
components to building teacher quality and commitment, such as on-site
certification preparation, graduated retention bonuses, and most importantly,
weekly formal and informal interactions between the principal and new teachers.
The development of new teachers in hard-to-staff schools should be of the
highest priority for principals, as stability is key to long-term school
improvement. The commitment to this initiative must not only be evident in a
principal's agenda and campus improvement goals, but the campus expenditures as
Parent Expectations and Planning for
College: Statistical Analysis Report
This report uses data from
the 2003 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) Parent and Family
Involvement Survey (PFI) to examine the characteristics associated with the
educational expectations parents ha for their children and the postsecondary
education planning practices families and schools engaged in.
The results presented in this
report are based on a sample of students in grades 6 through 12 who represented
the 28,182,000 students in grades 6 through 12 in the United States in early
2003. The data revealed that roughly nine out of every 10 students (91 percent)
in grades 6 through 12 had parents who expected them to continue their education
beyond high school, with about two-thirds (65 percent) having had parents who
expected them to finish college.
Other findings presented in
this report show that about one-third (32 percent) of students had parents who
perceived that their child’s school did very well at providing information to
help their child plan for postsecondary education.
Finally, among students whose
parents expected them to continue their education after high school, 82 percent
had parents who reported that the family was planning on helping to pay for
their child’s postsecondary education costs, and among those whose parents
reported that the family was planning on helping to pay the costs, 66 percent
had parents who reported that they had enough information about postsecondary
education costs to begin planning.
Surprising language abilities
in children with autism
What began as an
informal presentation by a clinical linguist to a group of philosophers, has
led to some surprising discoveries about the communicative language abilities
of people with autism.
Several years back,
Robert Stainton, now a philosophy professor at The University of Western
Ontario, attended a presentation by his long-time friend Jessica de Villiers, a
clinical linguist now at the University of British Columbia. The topic was
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). De Villiers explained that many individuals
with ASD have significant difficulties with what linguists call “pragmatics.”
That is, people with ASD often have difficulty using language appropriately in
social situations. They do not make appropriate use of context or knowledge of
what it would be “reasonable to say.” Most glaringly, many speakers with ASD
have immense trouble understanding metaphor, irony, sarcasm, and what might be
intimated or presumed, but not stated.
Drawing on his
philosophical training, however, Stainton noticed less-than-obvious pragmatic
abilities at work in de Villiers’ examples, which were drawn from transcripts
of conversations with 42 speakers with ASD – abilities that had been missed by
Thus began research to
more clearly understand and define the conversational abilities and challenges
of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Stainton and de Villiers’
research, in collaboration with Peter Szatmari, a clinical psychiatrist at
McMaster University, has shown that indeed, many individuals with ASD do have
“a rich array of pragmatic abilities.”
These researchers do
not contest the well-established claim that people with ASD have difficulty
with non-literal pragmatics, such as metaphors (“Juliet is the sun”) or
irony/sarcasm (“Boy, is that a good idea”). They have, however, found that many
speakers with ASD do not show the same difficulty with literal pragmatics. An
example is the phrase, “I took the subway north” from a transcript of a
conversation with a research participant with ASD. The use of the word “the”
could indicate there is only one subway in existence going north. “The subway”
could also be referring to a subway car, a subway system or a subway tunnel.
Taking account of the context and the listener's expectations, however, the
individual using the phrase was able to convey the specific meaning he
intended. That is, he used pragmatics effectively.
In short, Stainton and
his colleagues produced surprising evidence to show that speakers with ASD use
and understand pragmatics in cases of literal talk, as in the subway example.
Stainton, who is also
Acting Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at
Western, says, “It is especially gratifying and encouraging, because this is an
Arts and Humanities contribution to clinical research. Without a philosophical
perspective, this discovery might not have been made.”
allowed de Villiers and Szatmari to develop a rating scale of pragmatic
abilities that can be used in the clinical assessment of people with ASD.
Stainton says, “In the short term, their new tool will help identify where an
individual fits on that spectrum. In the longer term, however, by making use of
recent results in philosophy of language, it may contribute to our theoretical
understanding of the boundary between knowledge of the meanings of words, and
non-linguistic abilities – specifically pragmatics.”
Treatment Yields Promising Results for Children with Autism
Stainton believes that both
clinicians who work with people with ASD, and language theorists who are
interested in pragmatics for philosophical reasons, will find these results
Parents of children
with autism are increasingly turning to sensory integration treatment to help
their children deal with the disorder, and they’re seeing good results. In
2007, 71 percent of parents who pursued alternatives to traditional treatment
used sensory integration methods, and 91 percent found these methods helpful.
A new study from
Temple University researchers, presented this month at the American Occupational
Therapy Association’s 2008 conference, found that children with autistic
spectrum disorders who underwent sensory integration therapy exhibited fewer
autistic mannerisms compared to children who received standard treatments. Such
mannerisms, including repetitive hand movements or actions, making noises,
jumping or having highly restricted interests, often interfere with paying
attention and learning.
The children assigned
to the sensory integration intervention group also reached more goals specified
by their parents and therapists, said study authors Beth Pfeiffer, Ph.D.,
OTR/L, BCP, and Moya Kinnealey, Ph.D., OTR/L, from the Occupational Therapy
Department in Temple University’s College of Health Professions. The children
made progress toward goals in the areas of sensory processing/regulation,
social-emotional and functional motor tasks.
Sensory integration is
the ability of the brain to properly integrate and adapt to the onslaught of
information coming in through the senses. Dysfunction in this area makes it
difficult for people with autism to adapt to and function like others in their
environment. They may be hypersensitive to sound or touch, or unable to screen
out distracting noise or clothing textures. Their response might be impulsive
motor acts, making noises or running away.
Pfeiffer and Kinnealey
are part of a group of researchers seeking to bring more scientific
understanding to occupational therapy using a sensory integration approach.
“It’s been heavily
documented that children on the autistic spectrum have differences in the way
they process sensory information and respond motorically,” Pfeiffer said.
“While more families are seeking out the sensory integration approach because
of its positive results, more research is needed to scientifically establish
sensory integration therapy typically participate in sensory-based activities
to enable them to better regulate their behavioral responses to sensations and
situations that they find disturbing or painful. A child who is oversensitive
to light touch may enjoy rolling and playing in a giant foam pillow, after
which he might be more able to calmly explore, touch and play with other
textures. This in turn makes self-care such as dressing and washing and classroom
activities that require touch more manageable.
child’s behavior as intentional and controllable and not recognizing the
underlying cause and hypersensitivities is common in educational and home
settings, but is an approach that Kinnealey discourages as stressful for the
The study took place
this past summer at a camp near Allentown, Pa., for children with autism.
Participants were between the ages of 6 and 12 years old and diagnosed with
autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
One group (17)
received traditional fine motor therapy and the other group (20) received
sensory integration therapy. Each child received 18 treatment sessions over a
period of six weeks.
randomly assigned the participants to groups; this information was provided to
the project coordinator at the site. The primary researchers were blinded to
group assignment and served as evaluators before and after the study.
Parents were also
blinded to the interventions that their children were assigned to and were not
on site. However, there was the potential for the verbal children to talk about
the activities that they participated in, which may have influenced the
blinding for the parents.
For their outcome
data, researchers used a series of scales that measure behavior. While both
groups showed significant improvements, the children in the sensory integration
group showed more progress in specific areas at the end of the study.
“This pilot study
provided a foundation for how we should design randomized control trials for
sensory integration interventions with larger sample sizes,” Pfeiffer said.
“Specifically, it identified issues with measurement such as the sensitivity of
evaluation tools to measure changes in this population.
treatment is a widely used intervention in occupational therapy. There is a
real need for research such as randomized control trials to validate what we
are doing with sensory integration in the profession,” she added.
Practices from the Portfolio, Volume I
This first volume
of Practices from the Portfolio includes some of the most effective practices
in use by the organizations in NewSchools Venture Fund's portfolio, many of
whom are working to create new systems of public charter schools. With the help
of FSG Social Impact Advisors, NewSchools
documented the details of how these practices were developed and implemented,
and collected tools and templates used by these entrepreneurial organizations
along the way. The result is a set of case studies that they believe will
inform practitioners who are looking to improve practice within their own
organizations across three areas: human capital, organizational growth, and
educational curriculum and quality.
Student Expression: The Uncertain
On June 25,
2007, the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision in "Morse v.
Frederick", a long-awaited ruling regarding student speech in public
schools. For nearly twenty years, the Supreme Court had been silent on the
issue while lower courts attempted to apply the rules announced in previous
Supreme Court decisions. It is unclear what impact the "Morse"
decision will have on the lower courts and the daily administration of schools.
provides a brief overview of Supreme Court precedent pertaining to student
speech, the specifics of the "Morse v. Frederick" decision, and an
analysis of what this decision means for future student-speech decisions as
well as for public school educators.
Decoding the dictionary: Study
suggests lexicon evolved to fit in the brain
The latest edition of
the Oxford English Dictionary boasts 22,000 pages of definitions. While that
may seem far from succinct, new research suggests the reference manual is
meticulously organized to be as concise as possible — a format that mirrors the
way our brains make sense of and categorize the countless words in our vast
often been thought of as a frustratingly tangled web of words where the
definition of word A refers users to word B, which is defined using word C,
which ends up referring users back to word A,” said Mark Changizi, assistant
professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “But this
research suggests that all words are grounded in a small set of atomic words —
and it’s likely that the dictionary’s large-scale organization has been driven
over time by the way humans mentally systematize words and their meanings.”
Dictionaries are built
like an inverted pyramid. The most complex words (e.g., “albacore” and
“antelope”) sit at the top and are defined by words that are more basic, and
thus lower on the pyramid. Eventually all words are linked to a small number of
words — called “atomic words,” (such as “act” and “group”) — that are so
fundamental they cannot be defined by simpler terms. The number of levels of
definition it takes to get from a word to an atomic word is called the
“hierarchical level” of the word.
which was published online this week and will appear in the June print edition
of the Journal of Cognitive Systems Research, indicates that the dictionaries
we use every day utilize approximately the optimal number of hierarchical
levels — and provide a visual roadmap of how the lexicon itself has culturally
evolved over tens of thousands of years to help lower the overall “brain space”
required to encode it, according to Changizi.
Many other human
inventions — such as writing and other human visual signs — have been designed
either explicitly or via cultural selection over time so as to minimize their demands
on the brain, Changizi said.
By conducting a series
of calculations based on the estimation that the most complex words in the
dictionary total around 100,000 different terms, and that the number of atomic
words range from 10 to 60, Changizi was able to devise three signature features
present in the most efficient dictionaries — as well as in their human
counterpart, the brain.
Most importantly, he
discovered that the total number of words across all the definitions in the
dictionary (and thus the size of the dictionary) changes in relation to the
total number of hierarchical levels present. Optimal dictionaries should have
approximately seven hierarchical levels, according to Changizi.
“The presence of
around seven levels of definition will reduce the overall size of the
dictionary, so that it is about 30 percent of the size it would be if there
were only two hierarchical levels,” Changizi said.
will find that there are progressively more words at each successive
hierarchical level, and that each hierarchical level contributes mostly to the
definitions of the words just one level above their own, according to Changizi,
who put his three predictions to the test by studying actual dictionaries.
The Oxford English
Dictionary and WordNet — a large, online lexical database of English, developed
at Princeton University — were found to possess all three signatures of an
economically organized dictionary, and thus were organized in such a way as to
economize the amount of dictionary space required to define the lexicon,
according to Changizi.
centuries, these revered reference books have achieved near-optimal
organization,” Changizi said. “That optimality can likely be attributed to the
fact that cultural selection pressures over time have shaped the organization
of our lexicon so as to require as little mental space and energy as possible.”
Changizi believes his
research has potential applications in the study of childhood learning, where
scientists could analyze how students learn vocabulary words and possibly
develop ways to optimize that learning process.
Physical activity, healthy eating
and BMI not linked in older teens: study
Contrary to what many
researchers expect, physically active older teens don’t necessarily eat a healthier
diet than their less-active contemporaries.
And there appeared to
be no link between body mass index (BMI) values and levels of physical
activity, the research showed.
The study of 900
Vancouver-area teenagers in Grades 10 through 12 was conducted by Dr. Catherine
Sabiston, of McGill University, and P.R.E. Crocker, of the University of
British Columbia (UBC). The results of their research – conducted in Vancouver
while Dr. Sabiston was still a PhD student at UBC – were published in the
Journal of Adolescent Health earlier this year.
Sabiston, now an assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Kinesiology and
Physical Education, boys reported participating in more physical activities but
ate a less-healthy diet than did girls. Moreover – and contrary to established
wisdom in the field –researchers found that people with “healthier” BMI values
were no more likely to be physically active than those with higher,
“unhealthier” values. Unexpectedly, it was the latter who were more likely to
eat a healthier diet.
“A lot of people are
surprised,” Dr. Sabiston said, “but when you think about it, BMI doesn’t have a
huge impact on physical activity. And in terms of diet, it actually makes sense
that someone who is not happy with their body might try to eat more healthily.”
According to Sabiston,
who is also director of McGill’s Health Behaviour and Emotion Lab, the results
showed only a very weak correlation between physical activity and healthy
eating, and virtually no correlation between an individual’s BMI and his or her
level of physical activity. The study was undertaken to test a comprehensive
model of physical activity and healthy eating behaviour in teens aged 15 to 18,
partially in response to two perceived problems with existing research in the
“First of all, older
adolescents are an unrepresented sample in research studies,” Sabiston said.
“Researchers have generally looked at youths or at university populations and
have completely missed this unique, intermediate age group.” Second, Sabiston
said, many researchers have traditionally treated physical activity and healthy
eating as separate phenomena, and have only rarely explored their similarities
and differences simultaneously.
The study also found a
significant difference in the way boys and girls approach physical activity and
healthy diet. Boys, Sabiston said, need to attach value to a healthy diet and
feel confident in their ability to follow a healthy diet before they’ll
actually do it. Girls, she said, regardless of how they feel about their
ability to eat a healthy diet, only need to feel it is important to do so
before they’ll eat properly.
What this study really
says, Sabiston explained, is that one cannot assume that someone who is
physically active necessarily eats a healthy diet – or the reverse, that
someone who is more sedentary or has a high BMI by definition eats a diet of
“This study drives
home the point that as a society, we’re primarily focused on extrinsic things
like appearance and weight versus the betterment of health,” Sabiston said.
“From a public health perspective, this means we should probably focus on
people who are at a healthy weight or even underweight, and emphasize that
healthy eating is not just about weight-change.”
Opportunities in Rural Areas
Successes, and Challenges
The Center for
American Progress released a new report entitled “Additional Learning
Opportunities in Rural Areas.” The report, by Roy Forbes, takes a look at an
often-overlooked aspect of public education – the troubles of rural districts.
low-income students are more at risk of becoming high school dropouts than
their city and suburban peers. This fact alone should be a sufficient reason to
address the challenges facing rural schools that serve low-income areas, but
the negative findings do not stop with that one statistic. Students eligible
for free and reduced-price lunches do not score as well on assessments as other
students, and students attending rural schools do not perform as well as
students who attend suburban schools. Rural schools, especially those serving
low-income areas, need the nation’s attention, but currently they are not
receiving the attention they deserve.
achievement gaps are to be closed in this country it is just as important to
address challenges in rural areas as urban and some suburban areas. One
promising strategy that should be considered by policymakers at every level as
they respond to these challenges is the expansion of learning time for all
students attending schools with large concentrations of low-income students. A
comprehensive approach to school reform that adds time to school days, weeks,
and/or years for all students can result in significant learning gains. These
so called “expanded learning time,” or ELT programs, when appropriately
implemented, have obvious demonstrable advantages over other programs that
provide additional learning time services. The problem is, ELT programs have
proven difficult to put into place in rural areas.
in low-income areas are usually resource-poor—because of weak tax bases and in
some states because of state education funding formulas that treat rural areas
inequitably. Even the federal Title I educational program funding formula
disadvantages many rural states, particularly in the South, Southwest, and
West. This translates into serious funding challenges.
also face additional challenges related to the availability of high quality
instructional staff, access to professional development opportunities,
expertise in fund development, and parental engagement. The upshot: Increasing
the number of hours in the school day and/or the number of weeks in the school
year is not currently feasible in rural areas without significant new investments
by state and/or federal governments, no matter how desirable.
there are programs that are successfully providing additional learning services
for rural students with the greatest challenges in a limited number of rural,
low-income areas. Afterschool, beforeschool, intersession, weekend, holiday,
and summer learning programs are being successfully operated in rural areas.
Referred to throughout this paper in a variety of ways, these “extra” or
“additional” learning opportunities or programs are academically focused and
proving to be effective in serving the needs of students who require more than
what is available through the regular school day.
Still, it must
be acknowledged that these kinds of additional schooling options for low-income
parents in rural areas are much rarer for them than their non-rural peers.
There are exceptions (see box, page 2), but in most rural areas expanded
learning time programs that lengthen the school day, week or year for all
students in the school are virtually non-existent. Similarly, charter schools
are scarce, the number of service providers for federally funded tutoring
programs for low-income schools is limited, and the promise of virtual courses
has not yet been realized in most rural places. What extra learning
opportunities there are usually exist in afterschool programs serving
relatively small proportions of students.
limited in rural areas, these voluntary programs can have a positive impact.
The keys to success are similar to those of best practices in non-rural areas.
Strong, committed leadership and
quality instructional staff
Adult-to-student ratios at levels
that are low enough to make realistic the development of supportive
Emphasis on making learning engaging
and exciting by providing academic- based enrichment activities while assisting
students in meeting achievement standards.
opportunities provide a means of reaching students that regular
during-school-time programs are not effectively serving and could be the basis
for programs that lengthen the school day, week, or year for all students.
These additional learning
opportunities in low-income, rural areas help many students and families. In
the following pages, this paper will examine the essential characteristics of
successful additional learning programs and then detail where the author saw
those characteristics in action in select programs in school districts in the
Carolinas and Iowa. The paper will then explore the possible federal, state,
and private sources of funding to replicate these kinds of programs across
discussion of the successes and challenges associated with such opportunities
can begin, however, we must first start with an understanding of what is meant
by rural. Rural is not an easy concept.
Download the report:
Teacher Career Choices: Timing of
Teacher Careers Among 1992-93 Bachelor's Degree Recipients
This report uses longitudinal
data from the 1992-93 Baccalaureate and Beyond Study (B&B:93/03) to analyze
the teaching career choices of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients. As of
2003, some 87 percent of graduates reported not teaching in 1994, 1997, and
2003 (nonteachers). Of the 13 percent of graduates who were teaching at one or
more of the three follow-up interviews, 31 percent taught consistently, 41
percent were late starters, 16 percent were leavers, and 12 percent were other
The report also provides an
in-depth look at the teacher career choices of those graduates with various
demographic characteristics, academic backgrounds, teaching assignments, and
salaries. Among those who taught, graduates with dependents in each year (1993,
1997, and 2003) taught consistently at higher rates than graduates without
dependents. Most graduates who taught consistently had majored in education for
their bachelor's degree (77 percent). On the other hand, 40 percent of
education majors were not teaching at the elementary/secondary level in 1994,
1997, or 2003.
Many of the 1992-93 graduates
who became teachers had earned a master's degree or higher by 2003 and had done
so at higher rates than graduates who did not teach: 39 percent of graduates
who taught had attained a master's degree or higher by 2003, compared with
about one-quarter of those who did not teach.
An Exploratory Analysis of the
Content and Availability of State Administrative Data on Teacher Compensation
This report identifies state
education agencies (SEAs) that maintain records on pay for public school
teachers, the comparability of these records, and whether the data might be
available to the research community. The report finds that many states maintain
teacher-level records with earnings and other teacher characteristics, and are
willing to share these data with researchers. It is feasible to use teacher
employment and compensation data collected by SEAs to conduct large multistate
comparative studies of teacher pay. These studies would not only permit overall
comparisons of pay, but also comparisons of teacher pay at various points along
typical career trajectories, with breakdowns by teacher demographics and state
or district characteristics.