Queue News

Education Research Report


May 2008
No. 39


© 2008 AICE































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 tested.”

Kaminski and Sloutsky conducted the study with Andrew Heckler, assistant professor of physics at Ohio State.

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 other.

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 said.

“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 equal 5.

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 symbol.

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 children’s game.

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 examples.

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 knowledge.

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 Sloutsky.

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.


Full report:








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 college.


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 resource.


This report discusses new and original research on this extraordinary population of students.


Full report:






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 Elsevier.


Trends in Infancy/Early Childhood and Middle Childhood Well-Being

The 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.

Full report:






Language skills develop at 6, say researchers

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.

University of 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.”

He added: 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 right.”

Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory

Fluid intelligence 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.

Furthermore, the 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.

Full article:




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 State University.

"People are 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 http://www.joe.org/joe/2007august/a1.shtml

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.

"People really 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 report:


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 School


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 reading.


In addition, 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 are presented.









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 reasoning.

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.

Publication: ‘Intelligence 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.


Promoting positive changes in youth -- even at-risk youth

Research published 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 approach include:


·       Community supported interventions that meet youth and community needs

·       Developing affordable 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 other students.

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 siblings.

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.

Furthermore, 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 school.”





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

They see 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 reasons.


·       85% of 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 it.


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, well-reasoned writing?"


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.


Full report:






Launching Students into Their Decade of Transition


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.


In developing 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 matriculation.


Full text:







Urban School Students Score at Highest Levels Ever On State and Federal Tests

Report Includes City-by-City Profiles of Big-City School District Trends

On Math 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 “proficient” level.


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 Portland, Ore.


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.


Achievement Gaps


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 eighth-grade.


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 eighth grade.


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 Beyond”


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.


            Today, 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.


            The 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 21st Century.



            Superintendent 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.”


            LEED 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 partners.”


High school design built around seven essential elements determined by stakeholders

            SCUSD 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

            In 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.


            Personalizing 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.


            State 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 success.”


Lessons learned and challenges

            In 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.


            An 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.”


Full report:







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.


Perhaps surprisingly, 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 scores.


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.


Full report:








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.

However, the 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.

“American's strong 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, transportation, etc.”

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?


Facing ever-declining 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 education.


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?


The high 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' academic performance.


Full article:






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 well.


Full article:









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.


Full report:






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 clinicians.

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.”

Related research 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.”





Sensory 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 striking.

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 its effectiveness.”

Children receiving 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.

Interpreting the 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 child.

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.

A statistician 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.

“Sensory integration 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.


Full report:






Student Expression: The Uncertain Future


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.


This article 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 vocabulary.

“Dictionaries have 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.

Changizi’s research, 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.

Additionally, users 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.

“Somehow, over 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.

Overall, said 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 field.

“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 junk food.

“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.”


Additional Learning Opportunities in Rural Areas


Needs, 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.


Rural, 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.


If educational 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.

Rural schools 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.


Rural schools 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.


Fortunately, 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.


Although 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. They include:

·  Strong, committed leadership and quality instructional staff

·  Adult-to-student ratios at levels that are low enough to make realistic the development of supportive staff/student relationships

·  Emphasis on making learning engaging and exciting by providing academic- based enrichment activities while assisting students in meeting achievement standards.

These learning 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 rural America.


Before any 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 teachers.


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.


Full report:






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.


Full report: