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Education Research Report

 

June 2007
No. 18

Copyright
©
2007
Queue, Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Dropout Rates for Public School Students in Grades 9-12: 2002–03 and 2003–04

The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. History 2006

The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2006

National Council for the Social Studies Calls for Change as Nation's Report Card Predicts Trouble Ahead for Next Generation of Citizens, Healthy Democracy

Pre-K – The South Leads the Nation

U.S. High School Courses Lack Rigor Needed to Prepare Students for College-Level Coursework

Little Evidence STEM Programs Work

Emergency Management: Status of School Districts' Planning and Preparedness

I CAN Learn® Algebra and Pre-Algebra Math Programs Earn Top Honors from U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse

Intervention: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS)©

Development: Brain Norms for 6- to 18-Year-Olds

Teacher Quality Most Important School-Based Factor in Boosting Student Achievement

Good Decision-Makers May Be Made, Not Born, Says Carnegie Mellon Study

Teacher Effectiveness Matters: Economist

SRI International Study Shows Increased Middle School Mathematics Learning With Technology-Based Approach

New Research Shows Parents of Students in High-Poverty Schools Value Teachers Who Raise Achievement

Monster Reveals Findings from Its First Annual Survey of High School Graduates

Scripps National Spelling Bee: University of Virginia Education Expert Spells Out Pros and Cons of Spelling Bees

Stereotype-Induced Math Anxiety Undermines Girls' Ability to Perform in Other Academic Areas

Teaching Gap Exists Among U.S. and Asian Math Teachers, Study Says

Psychological Bullying Hits Just as Hard

The Length Fingers Key to Test Success

Middle School Entry Year and Student Behavior

Religion, Intact Families, and the Achievement Gap

Children Can Perform Approximate Math Without Arithmetic Instruction

Community Colleges and Teacher Preparation: Roles, Issues and Opportunities

Parents Likely to Dismiss Attention Problems in their Kids as Typical Childish Behavior, According to Cogmed Survey

Educating Researchers

Parents Report Improvements and Concerns in Georgetown Study on DC Voucher Program

The Arizona Teacher Working Conditions Survey

How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind

The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics

How Good is Good Enough? Moving California's English Learners to English Proficiency

Findings from the Condition of Education 2007: High School Coursetaking

New Research Shows Intended Major Matters Most in College Selection Process

A Voice from the Middle

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Dropout Rates for Public School Students in Grades 9-12: 2002–03 and 2003–04

The report summarizes and compares event dropout rates for public high school students, by state, for 2002-03 and 2003-04. Among reporting states in 2003-04, the rates ranged from a low of 1.8 percent in Connecticut and New Jersey to a high of 7.9 percent in Louisiana.

The event dropout rate measures the percentage of high school students who drop out in a given year. A dropout is a student who was enrolled at the beginning of the year, not enrolled at the beginning of the next year, and who did not graduate from high school or complete some other district- or state-approved educational program.

To see full report: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007026

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The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. History 2006

This report presents results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2006 U.S. history assessment. The national results show an increase in the average U.S. history score at all three grades, compared to the scores of both earlier assessments. The report also includes sample assessment questions and examples of student responses.

National results for a representative sample of students at grades 4, 8, and 12 are reported in terms of students’ average U.S. history score on a 0–500 scale, and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. National scores at selected percentiles on the scale (indicating the percentage of students whose scores fell at or below a particular point) are also discussed.

This report also provides results by four U.S. history subscales, and for groups of students defined by various background characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, and students’ eligibility for free/reduced-price school lunch). Comparisons are made to results from 1994 and 2001—the previous years in which the NAEP U.S. history assessment was administered.

The technical notes section provides information about sampling, statistical significance, use of accommodations, and school participation.

To see full report: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007474

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The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2006

This report presents results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2006 civics assessment.

The national results show an increase in the average civics score since 1998 at grade 4, but no significant change in average scores at grades 8 and 12.

The report also includes sample assessment questions and examples of student responses.

National results for a representative sample of students at grades 4, 8, and 12 are reported in terms of students’ average civics score on a 0–300 scale, and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. National scores at selected percentiles on the scale (indicating the percentage of students whose scores fell at or below a particular point) are also discussed.

This report also provides results for groups of students defined by various background characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, and students’ eligibility for free/reduced-price school lunch). Comparisons are made to results from 1998—the previous year in which the same assessment was administered.

The technical notes section provides information about sampling, statistical significance, use of accommodations, and school participation.

To see full report: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007476

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National Council for the Social Studies Calls for Change as Nation's Report Card Predicts Trouble Ahead for Next Generation of Citizens, Healthy Democracy

      The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and its more than 25,000 members are concerned, but not surprised, by the findings that America's 4th, 8th and 12th graders know only very slightly more than they did about history and civics today than in the 1990s. Two reports, The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2006 and The Nation's Report Card: Civics 2006, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, reveal important and troubling data about the achievement of U.S. students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in history and civics.

       According to NCSS:

“The United States depends on a well-informed and civic-minded population to sustain its democratic traditions. If 53 percent of 12th graders are leaving high school with "below basic" knowledge of US history, and just 27 percent are deemed proficient in civics, clearly, our democracy is in peril.

       "Educators teaching the core disciplines that make up social studies - civics/government, economics, geography and history - can remedy this crisis if these disciplines are restored to their rightful place as an essential component of the K-12 curriculum.

       "In this day and age of data driving education policy decisions, NCSS members argue that NAEP assessments in these areas must continue and expand. Further, in order to better inform policy discussion, they must be administered regularly and the results be accompanied by state comparative data and sub-scores, as is currently the practice in reading, math and science.”

       These reports are published by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, and include The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2006 and The Nation's Report Card: Civics 2006. The findings detail national results for fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders, based on a random sampling of 29,000 students.

       Founded in 1921, the National Council for Social Studies has grown into the largest association in the country for social studies professionals, with 25,000 members in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and 69 foreign countries. Membership includes K - 16 classroom teachers, curriculum supervisors and specialists, curriculum writers and designers, and teacher educators. The NCSS serves as an umbrella organization for K - 16 teachers of civics, history, geography, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and law related education. Social Studies is the integrated study of social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Visit the NCSS website at http://www.socialstudies.org

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Pre-K – The South Leads the Nation

Over the last 140 years, Southern states have made significant progress in catching up with the nation in education and income, but in recent decades the South’s gains have virtually flattened as the world economy continues to elevate the critical role of education in innovation, productivity and income. Today, most Southern states remain where they were in the early 1980s, closer to the national average than they were decades ago, but still at or near the bottom of the nation’s major rankings in education, income and well-being. There is an all-important exception to this pattern of Southern underperformance: high-quality, early childhood education – pre-kindergarten (Pre-K). Several Southern states have become the nation’s leaders in Pre-K over the last 10 years. As a result, the South in 2007 leads the nation in offering state-funded Pre-K to three- and four-year-old children: 19% of three- and four-year-olds in the South are in state-funded Pre-K, more than double the rate in non-South states.

But Pre-K has not developed uniformly across the South. For instance, as of the start of 2007, Mississippi was the only Southern state that had no state Pre-K program. Alabama has a state program with only a minuscule enrollment. In contrast, Georgia and Oklahoma have ranked at the top of the nation in terms of both enrollment and high-quality standards for the last several years, and Arkansas has emerged as a new national leader in Pre-K.

  • Two-thirds of the states with the highest standards for Pre-K quality are in the South.
  • Only six states require full-day Pre-K programs statewide, and all are in the South.
  • Nine Southern states fund Pre-K above the national average cost per child.

 An overwhelming body of independent research confirms that early childhood education has become strategically important in shaping a child’s real-life prospects and a state’s long-term future. The research shows that high-quality, state-supported Pre-K across the South is helping all children – especially low-income, African American and Latino children – prepare for school. In Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia, independent researchers have recently undertaken studies that found strong evidence of positive effects on young children’s learning in areas of language, literacy and math skills. In some states, primarily Oklahoma, Louisiana and Georgia, the results appear phenomenal. In six Southern states, independent cost-benefit studies consistently document very large economic gains from investing in Pre-K. In Texas, for example, for each dollar invested in high-quality Pre-K, the state can realize as much as $3.50 in direct benefits or as much as $7.70 in direct and indirect benefits. The research evidences substantial economic gains for all Southern states where these studies have been undertaken.

To see the full report: http://www.southerneducation.org/pdf/Pre-KSouthReport-Final.pdf

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U.S. High School Courses Lack Rigor Needed to Prepare Students for College-Level Coursework

U.S. high school core courses too often lack the rigor they need to adequately prepare students for college-level work, according to a new report from ACT, Inc. The research report, titled Rigor at Risk, suggests that even students who take the recommended college preparatory curriculum in high school are often ill-prepared to handle college material. The findings also suggest that many students lose academic momentum during their last two years of high school.

"We've been urging college-bound students to take the core curriculum in high school for many years," said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT's education division.
"But now it is clear that just taking the right number of courses is no longer enough to ensure that students will be ready for college when they graduate. Students must take a number of additional higher-level courses in high school to have a reasonable chance of succeeding in college courses, and even that does not guarantee success."

Rather than simply accepting the fact that students must take more and more courses in high school to prepare themselves for college, ACT recommends that schools improve the quality and rigor of their core course offerings.

"It's neither realistic nor justifiable to expect all students to take more courses just to learn the skills they need to be ready for success after high school," said Schmeiser. "We have to ensure that the essential core courses provide all students with this knowledge."

The core curriculum recommended by ACT is based on recommendations made in the influential 1983 federal report A Nation at Risk. The ACT-recommended curriculum consists of four years of English and three years each of math (Algebra I and higher), science, and social studies. ACT score results have consistently shown that students who take this core curriculum are much more likely than those who don't to be prepared for college.

College readiness lags, however, even among those students who take the recommended coursework. Among ACT-tested 2006 high school graduates nationally who took the core curriculum, only around a fourth (26%) met all four of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, math, reading and science. The benchmarks represent a high likelihood that students will earn a "C" or higher in specific first-year college courses such as English composition, algebra, biology, and social science courses. Nearly one in five (19%) of those students met no benchmarks at all.

The report suggests that some students progress toward college readiness in high school, but many lose momentum during their last two years there. ACT tracked results from students taking its EXPLORE test for eighth graders, its PLAN test for 10th graders, and the ACT college admission exam, each of which has its own grade-specific College Readiness Benchmarks. While the results showed an incremental increase in the percentages of students meeting all four benchmarks from 8th through 12th grade (from 18 to 23 percent), they also showed a net increase between 10th and 12th grades in the percentages meeting none of the benchmarks (from 13 to 21 percent), as well as a rapid decline in the percentages meeting one to three benchmarks (from 68 to 56 percent).

"During the high school years, the rate of failure is exceeding the rate of success in terms of preparing students for college," said Schmeiser.

The report cites a number of factors that contribute to inadequate college preparation in high schools.

  • State diploma requirements—More than half of states do not require students to take specific core courses in math or science in order to graduate from high school.
  • State learning standards—The majority of states' learning standards are not aligned with college expectations and do not prescribe the skills and knowledge that students should learn in specific high school courses.
  • High school readiness—Many students enter ninth grade without having learned in elementary and middle school the skills they need to perform well in high school.
  • High school course grades—Whether because of grade inflation, lack of challenging content, or both, high grades in high school courses do not translate to college readiness for around half or more of ACT tested students taking Algebra II and physics.
  • Teacher quality—The quality of teachers and their qualifications to teach assigned courses have a dramatic impact on student learning.

But ACT research shows that high school courses can be made rigorous and that rigorous content can be effectively taught and learned. The organization identified nearly 400 high schools across the U.S. whose students have shown greater-than-average increases in scores on the ACT Mathematics or Science Tests. The score increases suggest that students at these schools benefit more from taking core courses such as Algebra II and chemistry than do students who take these courses at other schools nationwide.

The report recommends five action steps that states and schools can take to improve the rigor of high school core courses:

  • Specify the number and kinds of courses that students need to take to graduate from high school ready for college and work.
  • Align high school course outcomes with state standards that are driven by the requirements of postsecondary education and work.
  • Hire qualified teachers and provide training or professional development support to help them improve the quality of the courses they teach.
  • Expand access for all students to high-quality, vertically aligned core courses.
  • Measure results at the course level.

View the full ACT research report (Rigor at Risk): http://www.act.org/path/policy/reports/rigor.html

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Little Evidence STEM Programs Work

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has released the findings of the Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC) and its recommendations to integrate and coordinate federal education programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law by President Bush in February 2006, established the Academic Competitiveness Council, led by Secretary Spellings, to review all federal programs with a focus on math and science education and to report its findings to Congress.

The Council's review revealed that, despite decades of significant federal investment in science and math education, there is a general dearth of evidence of effective practices and activities in STEM education. When these recommendations are implemented, our knowledge of effective math and science education practices will grow, American students will benefit and the nation's overall competitiveness will be strengthened.

The statute charged the Council to:

  • Identify all federal programs with a mathematics or science education focus;
  • Identify the effectiveness of those programs;
  • Determine areas of overlap or duplication among those programs;
  • Identify target populations served by such programs; and,
  • Recommend processes to efficiently integrate and coordinate those programs.

Based on data provided by the agencies and validated by the Office of Management and Budget, the Council created an inventory of federal math, science, engineering and technology programs, including the populations served by each program. Among the 105 STEM education programs totaling $3.12 billion in fiscal year 2006, 45 programs have a goal to recruit and retain teachers with majors or minors in STEM fields or to increase the content knowledge of current K-12 STEM teachers. Pre-service teachers are a target population in 22 programs and in-service teachers are a target population in 39 programs. Only 1 percent of ACC program funding is targeted solely to mathematics education.

Based on its analysis, the Council is making the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: The ACC program inventory and goals and metrics should be living resources, updated regularly and used to facilitate stronger interagency coordination.
Recommendation 2: Agencies and the federal government at large should foster knowledge of effective practices through improved evaluation and-or implementation of proven-effective, research-based instructional materials and methods.
Recommendation 3: Federal agencies should improve the coordination of their K-12 STEM education programs with states and local school systems.
Recommendation 4: Federal agencies should adjust program designs and operations so that programs can be assessed and measurable results can be achieved, consistent with the programs' goals.
Recommendation 5: Funding for federal STEM education programs designed to improve STEM education outcomes should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place, appropriate to the types of activities funded.
Recommendation 6: Agencies with STEM education programs should collaborate on implementing ACC recommendations under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).

For more information about the American Competitiveness Initiative and STEM education programs visit and http://www.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/competitiveness/index.html

To see the full report: http://www.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/competitiveness/acc-mathscience/index.html

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Emergency Management: Status of School Districts' Planning and Preparedness

Events such as the recent shootings by armed intruders in schools across the nation, natural disasters, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and potential pandemics have heightened awareness for the need for school districts to be prepared to address a range of emergencies within and outside of schools buildings.

Federal and state governments have a role in supporting emergency management in school districts. While no federal laws require school districts to have emergency management plans, 32 states reported having laws or policies requiring school districts to have such plans. The Departments of Education and Homeland Security (DHS) provide funding for emergency management planning in schools.

However, some DHS program guidance, for specific grants, does not clearly identify school districts as entities to which state and local governments may disburse grant funds. Thus, states receiving this funding may be uncertain as to whether such funding can be allocated to school districts or schools and therefore may not have the opportunity to benefit from this funding. States also provide funding and other resources to school districts to assist them in planning for emergencies.

School districts have taken steps to plan for a range of emergencies, as most have developed multi-hazard emergency management plans; however some plans and activities do not address federally recommended practices. For example, based on GAO's survey of a sample of public school districts, an estimated 56 percent of all school districts have not employed any procedures in their plans for continuing student education in the event of an extended school closure, such as might occur during a pandemic, and many do not include procedures for special needs students.

Fewer than half of districts with emergency plans involve community partners when developing and updating these plans. Finally, school districts are generally not training with first responders or community partners on how to implement their school district emergency plans. Many school district officials said that they experience challenges in planning for emergencies and some school districts face difficulties in communicating and coordinating with first responders and parents, but most said that they do not experience challenges in communicating with students. For example, in an estimated 62 percent of districts, officials identified challenges stemming from a lack of equipment, training for staff, and personnel with expertise in the area of emergency planning as obstacles to implementing recommended practices.

To see full report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07821t.pdf

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I CAN Learn® Algebra and Pre-Algebra Math Programs Earn Top Honors from U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse

These Two Education Programs are the Only Technology-based Interventions Found to Show “Positive Effects” on Middle School Math Achievement by What Works Clearinghouse

The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), the central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education, just awarded its highest rating to the I CAN Learn® Algebra and Pre-Algebra programs for their “Positive Effects” in raising student test scores on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - required high-stakes testing.

According to the department’s latest report, the technology-based I CAN Learn® Education System has demonstrated “Positive Effects” in teaching math skills to a diverse range of students, including minority and those considered “at-risk.” The report cites strong evidence of positive effects in raising students’ scores on NCLB high-stakes criterion reference tests. The WWC recognized that the I CAN Learn® Algebra and Pre-Algebra programs equip students, especially at-risk and minority students, with the skills they need to meet district and state math standards.

This official recognition confirms recent studies showing how I CAN Learn® Algebra and Pre-Algebra math programs improved students’ scores. Of note is a study of the LEAP high-stakes mathematics test in New Orleans. The positive effects of this study were demonstrated at scale for 2,400 students from 13 schools. The effects translated into a significant closing of the achievement gap for students taking the 8th Grade LEAP test after just one year of program use.

The What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse was established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education.

The WWC promotes informed education decision making through a set of easily accessible databases and user-friendly reports that provide education consumers with high-quality reviews of the effectiveness of replicable educational interventions (programs, products, practices, and policies) that intend to improve student outcomes. To do this, the WWC uses standards for reviewing and synthesizing research. The WWC is currently conducting systematic reviews of existing research, and producing intervention and topic reports. A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) composed of leading experts in research design, program evaluation, and research synthesis works with the WWC to ensure the quality and integrity of its efforts. The TAG helps establish and validate the standards for reviewing research, informs the methodological aspects of the evidence reviews, and provides guidance to the WWC contractors.

The WWC is administered by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences through a contract to a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research and the Campbell Collaboration. Both organizations are nationally recognized leaders in education research and in rigorous reviews of scientific evidence. Subcontractors to the project are Caliber/ICF International, Lockheed Martin Information Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania.

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Intervention: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS)©

Developer: Lynn and Doug Fuchs and distributed by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development

More Information

Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies is an instructional program for use in elementary school classrooms to improve student proficiency in reading and math. It was developed for use with students with diverse academic needs, including English language learners. Although other programs emphasize peer-to-peer learning strategies that can be utilized in classrooms, this report focuses on Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies because of its possible usefulness with students with diverse academic needs, including English language learners with learning disabilities.

View the Intervention Report in PDF

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Development: Brain Norms for 6- to 18-Year-Olds

      Yes, there are gender differences in cognitive function, but they're more limited than previously thought. And yes, income does affect cognitive performance - but less than expected when only healthy children are considered. And while basic cognitive skills steadily improve in middle childhood, they then seem to level off - questioning the idea of a burst of brain development in adolescence. These findings, published online on May 18 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, are the first data to emerge from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) MRI Study of Normal Brain Development, a large, population-based study that began in 1999 and is documenting structural brain development and behavior from birth to young adulthood.

       The analysis, led by Deborah P. Waber, PhD in the Department of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston, focused on cognition and behavior in healthy 6- to 18-year-olds enrolled at Children's and five other metropolitan areas across the United States. Population-based sampling techniques used U.S. Census data to ensure demographic diversity. A rigorous screening process eliminated children with medical, neurologic or psychiatric disorders, familial risk factors for such disorders, or prenatal exposure to toxic substances, providing a glimpse of how a healthy brain develops.

       "This report - and many others that will follow - provides a comprehensive set of benchmark values that clinicians and scientists studying brain development can reference for many years to come," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD.

       From an initial sample of more than 35,000 target families, the researchers were able to enroll approximately 450 children, of whom 385 were 6 years or older. Once enrolled, the children underwent MRI scans of the brain and completed a battery of behavioral and cognitive tests to ascertain their overall IQ, verbal ability, mental processing speed, spatial ability, memory, fine motor dexterity, psychosocial function, reading and calculation ability, and other measures of cognitive function. Most have returned two more times so that their development can be tracked.

       Overall, this healthy group performed better than previously reported norms. However, analysis of the first wave of data also found that:

  • Sex predicted few aspects of cognitive function, with gender effects less prevalent than in some previous studies. Boys performed better on perceptual analysis, and girls performed better on processing speed and motor dexterity. Girls also showed a slight advantage on verbal learning, but by adolescence, this advantage had disappeared.
  • Income predicted IQ and academic achievement. Lower income was associated with lower IQ scores (mean IQs were 105, 110, and 115 for low-, middle- and high-income children respectively). Lower-income children were more likely to be excluded from the study because of medical or developmental conditions; the healthy low-income children who qualified performed, on average, better than previously reported population averages. "We were pleasantly surprised by how well the lower-income children did when we focused on those who were healthy," says Waber. Although income did not predict performance on basic cognitive tasks, such as memory or reading individual words, lower-income children did score lower on tests like reading comprehension and calculation. The authors suggest that such tasks, which require more reasoning and integration of cognitive abilities, are more vulnerable to the effects of poverty-related factors than are more basic skills.
  • Age predicted performance on every measure of cognitive function. Performance climbed steeply from age 6, but leveled off overall for most tests between 10 and 12 years of age, then improved more slowly or not at all during adolescence. Waber cautions, however, that these data are "snapshots" at a single point in time, averaging the performance of a whole population. "We don't know whether everyone's performance improves more slowly in adolescence, or whether some children continue to improve while others do not, or whether our standard tests can measure what really changes in adolescence," she notes. "As we follow these children over time, we will have a better understanding of what happens in adolescence."

       "In the past, studies of structural brain development and often studies of cognitive development were performed on samples of convenience that weren't necessarily representative of the overall population," Waber adds. "This study provides information on a much more diverse and representative sample, and a much larger one than previously available."

       To view the article, "The NIH MRI study of normal brain development: performance of a population based sample of healthy children aged 6 to 18 years on a neuropsychological battery," visit www.journals.cambridge.org/jid_INS and select the link "Forthcoming Articles."

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Teacher Quality Most Important School-Based Factor in Boosting Student Achievement

Reforms to Teacher Preparation Imperative for Success in Knowledge Economy, Says Carnegie Corporation Expert in Congressional Testimony

      Quality teachers have a greater influence on pupil achievement than any other school-based factor. How the nation educates teachers will largely determine the degree to which the United States can participate and succeed in the emerging knowledge economy, Daniel Fallon, Carnegie Corporation of New York's Program Director, Higher Education, told the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness.

       Fallon cited Carnegie Corporation's seven-year initiative to stimulate construction of excellent teacher education programs at selected colleges and universities as an important effort to improve the quality of teaching in the nation's schools. The Annenberg Foundation and the Ford Foundation are also contributing to this ambitious initiative. He noted that the teacher education reform effort, called Teachers for a New Era, is organized around three principles that help schools of education prepare teachers who positively impact pupil learning:

  • A teacher education program should be guided by a respect for evidence, including attention to pupil learning gains accomplished under the tutelage of teachers who are graduates of the program.
  • Faculty in the disciplines of the arts and sciences must be fully engaged in the education of prospective teachers, especially in the areas of subject matter understanding and general and liberal education.
  • Education should be understood as an academically-taught clinical practice profession, requiring: close cooperation between colleges of education and actual practicing schools; master teachers as clinical faculty in the college of education; and residencies for beginning teachers during a two year period of induction.

       "The Teachers for a New Era initiative is connecting teacher education programs to working classrooms. The design principles require an ongoing professional relationship between the education school and its recent graduates, and uses pupil learning in the classrooms of those graduates as the primary means of measuring the new teachers' quality," Fallon told the Subcommittee.

       Fallon concluded his testimony by describing three early findings emerging from Teachers for a New Era and their potential relevance to the Committee's deliberations:

  • The first finding concerns difficulties in retrieving the data on particular teachers and particular students necessary for legitimate program improvement purposes in teacher education. Incentives to states and local school districts to construct comprehensive high-quality educational data systems, to entrust these data systems to research institutions, and to make the data available to teacher education programs for purposes of program improvement would accelerate the production of high quality teachers.
  • The second finding is the success of the implementation of academy-based induction supplemental to district-based induction programs, including reduced teacher turnover and consequent instructional improvements and cost savings. Creating incentives for institutions of higher education to engage in these academy-based induction programs will pay substantial dividends in teacher quality, teacher retention, and pupil achievement.
  • The third finding is the beneficial impact of an evidence-based continuous-improvement design for teacher education reform on the management of teacher education within a higher education institution and ultimately on the production of high quality teachers. It may be worthwhile, therefore, to consider incentive grants to partnerships between institutions of higher education and school districts that pledge to restructure teacher education in this way.

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Good Decision-Makers May Be Made, Not Born, Says Carnegie Mellon Study

People who do well on a series of decision-making tasks involving hypothetical situations tend to have more positive decision outcomes in their lives, according to a study by decision scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the RAND Corp. The results suggest that it may be possible to improve the quality of people’s lives by teaching them better decision-making skills. The study is being published in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The paper marks an important step forward for decision science, because it shows that tasks developed to study decision-making errors in psychological labs can be used to gauge decision-making ability in real life. The study also shows that, although decision-making competence is correlated with verbal and nonverbal intelligence, it is still a separate skill.

“Intelligence doesn’t explain everything. Our results suggest that people with good decision-making skills obtain better real-life outcomes, even after controlling for cognitive ability, socio-economic status and other factors,” said Wändi Bruine de Bruin, a researcher in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the study. “That is good news, because decision-making skills may be taught.”

The study recruited 360 people with diverse backgrounds. Each completed seven tasks measuring “Adult Decision-Making Competence,” or their ability to avoid common decision-making errors. For example, a good decision-maker should be able to make choices independent of how information is presented, or framed. Imagine that you are learning about a type of medication that is 99 percent effective, for instance. You should be equally likely to use it if it is described as 1 percent ineffective.

Study participants also completed a survey with questions about controllable life experiences that might reflect poor decision-making. They were asked, among other things, whether they had ever spent a night in jail; been unfaithful to a romantic partner; bounced a check; been arrested for driving under the influence; had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than a year; and been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. As it turned out, those who reported the greatest number of negative controllable life experiences fared the worst on the decision-making tasks.

The authors cautioned that this study does not definitively prove that good decision-making skills lead to better life outcomes. The direction of causality has not yet been examined. It could be that the stress of difficult life experiences erodes decision-making skills. Further research could examine whether a person’s life experiences improve after they have received decision-making training.

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Teacher Effectiveness Matters: Economist

The top 10 per cent of teachers are twice as effective as the bottom 10 per cent, according to new research from The Australian National University.

The research, by ANU economist Dr Andrew Leigh, differs from previous Australian studies in that it uses a measure of teacher effectiveness based on test score gains, not levels.

“The problem with looking at a single test is that you cannot separate factors such as family background from teacher effectiveness,” said Dr Leigh.

“But by looking at how students’ performance changes over time, it is possible to focus on teachers’ value-added.”

he study found that teachers who are effective at teaching literacy tend to also be better at teaching numeracy. It also concluded that there is a large degree of dispersion between the best and worst teachers.

“In terms of raising literacy and numeracy scores, the top 25 per cent of teachers achieve in three-quarters of a year what the bottom 25 per cent of teachers achieve in a full year,” Dr Leigh said
“And the top 10 per cent of teachers achieve in half a year what the bottom 10 per cent achieve in a full year.”

The wide dispersion in teacher effectiveness across Australian teachers is similar to what has been observed in studies carried out in the United States.

The report also looked at whether observable teacher characteristics could explain the differences between teachers.

“More experienced teachers are more effective, with the biggest increase in the early years of a teacher’s career. Female teachers are also slightly better at teaching literacy.

“Teachers with a masters degree or some other form of further qualification do not appear to achieve larger test score gains.”

Despite these systematic differences, the report concluded that teacher characteristics found in the education department’s payroll database can explain only a small share of the variance in teacher performance.

A copy of the paper, Estimating Teacher Effectiveness From Two-Year Changes in Students’ Test Scores, is available at: http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/~aleigh/pdf/TQPanel.pdf

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SRI International Study Shows Increased Middle School Mathematics Learning With Technology-Based Approach

First-of-a-Kind Scientific Study Demonstrates the Effectiveness of a New Approach to Math Education 

Scientists from SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, today released the results of its evaluation of a new approach to learning conceptually difficult middle school mathematics. SRI has provided compelling evidence that SimCalc, a technology-enhanced mathematics program, has increased students’ mathematics learning.

Scientific Evaluation Offers Compelling Results

SRI’s Center for Technology in Learning completed its first large-scale study of the SimCalc program during the 2005-2006 school year as part of a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The study found that SimCalc materials, designed to teach higher level mathematics through an approach that integrates technology, curriculum and professional development, resulted in significant learning gains for a broad cross section of students throughout the state of Texas. A diverse group of approximately 1600 students and 95 teachers from 74 schools participated in this experiment, in which scientists randomly assigned schools to use either SimCalc materials or their usual textbooks to teach rate and proportionality.

Although random assignment experiments are rare in education, such experiments provide the strongest evidence of the effectiveness of innovative approaches. In this experiment, researchers found that students using Texas’ typical curricula increased their test scores by an average of 19%, while students using the innovative SimCalc materials gained an average of 46%. Statistically, the size of the SimCalc effect was measured at 0.84, which is considered a large effect in education. In comparison, a recent U.S. Department of Education evaluation of 16 commercially available technology-based products found no effects.

Researchers have long observed that the effectiveness of educational technology depends on the nature of the software used, the degree of integration of technology with the core curriculum and instruction, and the sensitivity of the test to student learning. SimCalc’s large effect strong enough to move the average student from the 50th percentile to the 80th percentile on a test of relevant mathematics provides scientific evidence for the distinctive contribution of SimCalc's integrated approach to improving student learning.

Gains on the rate and proportionality test were particularly pronounced in more advanced, conceptually difficult mathematics. For example, students learned to use graphs, tables and formulas to represent real-world phenomena such as motion. In addition, they extended their study of proportion to algebraic functions. These topics are recommended for middle school in the Curriculum Focal Points recently established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, though they are often left out of widely used middle school textbooks.

“Both mathematicians and scientists see the concepts of rate and proportionality, a focus of middle school, as essential for learning in high school and beyond. On these crucial concepts, we found strong learning gains across varied regional demographics and school conditions; a range of teacher backgrounds, attitudes and philosophies; and differences in students’ ethnicity, poverty level and gender,” said Jeremy Roschelle, Ph.D., director of SRI’s Center for Technology in Learning and principal investigator of this study. “These robust results show the power of an integration of software, curriculum, and teacher training to enable all students to make progress in important yet conceptually difficult mathematics.”

The study tested a 2-3 week technology-enhanced unit on rate and proportionality, a central part of middle school mathematics that builds important foundations for students to learn more complex mathematics such as algebra and calculus. After completing a training workshop over the summer, teachers were randomly assigned either to teach with their usual Texas curriculum or to replace their usual materials with the SimCalc software and curriculum. To measure learning, researchers gave students a test of rate and proportionality concepts both before and after they were taught the unit.

Later this year, SRI plans to release second-year results from the 7th grade study along with results from a parallel 8th grade study. The additional data will add to researchers’ understanding of the results announced today. Additional research in Massachusetts is exploring the impact of SimCalc and classroom networks in high school mathematics learning. SRI and the University of Massachusetts are also collaborating to support studies of SimCalc in Singapore schools, a first step toward international impact.

James J. Kaput, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth designed the SimCalc program in the early 1990s to achieve his vision of “democratizing access to the mathematics of change,” i.e., making concepts of proportionality, linearity and rates of change accessible to students of all cultural and demographic backgrounds. Through use of interactive software, the SimCalc program advances student learning of proportionality beyond the familiar cross-multiplication procedure. The SimCalc MathWorlds™ software runs on computer, handheld, and graphing calculator hardware, and versions are complimentary at a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth website: http://www.simcalc.umassd.edu.

The development of SimCalc and this experiment have been supported by grants from the NSF. Research collaborators include Virginia Tech; University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; the University of Texas, Austin; and the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Austin. More information on this study is available at http://math.sri.com.

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New Research Shows Parents of Students in High-Poverty Schools Value Teachers Who Raise Achievement

In More-Affluent Schools, Parents Prefer Teachers Who Keep Students Satisfied

When it comes to teachers, what do parents value most -- high student test scores or the ability to keep students satisfied? The answer depends in part on what kind of school you go to, according to a new study in the summer issue of Education Next. According to economists Brian A. Jacob of the University of Michigan and Lars Lefgren of Brigham Young University, parents in high-poverty schools strongly value a teacher’s ability to raise student achievement and appear less concerned about student satisfaction. In more-affluent schools the results are reversed: parents most value a teacher’s ability to keep students happy.

“Our findings suggest that what parents want from school is likely to depend on the educational context in which they find themselves,” Jacob and Lefgren write. In low-income schools where academic resources are scarcer, motivated parents are more likely to request teachers based on their perceived ability to improve academic achievement. On the other hand, in higher-income schools parents seem to respond to the relative abundance of academic resources by seeking out teachers who also increase student satisfaction. This may reflect parental preferences for having their children enjoy school, Jacob and Lefgren speculate, or parental preferences for teachers who emphasize academic facets that increase student satisfaction but are not captured by standardized test scores, such as critical thinking and curiosity.

Jacob and Lefgren’s findings suggest that different socioeconomic groups are likely to react quite differently to accountability policies, such as those embodied in No Child Left Behind.

“In more-affluent schools, parents are likely to oppose measures that increase the focus on standardized test scores at the cost of student satisfaction,” note the researchers. “And programs that increase the focus on basic skills or classroom management at the expense of student enjoyment are also likely to be unpopular in the more-affluent schools.”

Jacob and Lefgren drew their data from 12 elementary schools in a midsized school district in the western United States. Achievement levels in the district nearly match the average of the nation (49th percentile on the Stanford Achievement Test). Seventy-three percent of the students in the district are white, roughly 35 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Twenty-one percent of the students are Latino, 84 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

For their study, Jacob and Lefgren combined data on parent requests for specific teachers and principals’ evaluations of the teachers. Parents were able to submit requests for specific teachers during the spring or summer, when principals were planning their schedules for the following school year, though the district had no formal procedure for such requests. Principals assigned students to classes with an eye toward balancing race, gender, and ability across classrooms within the same grade and reported that they were generally able to honor almost all parent requests.

With the assistance of the district, Jacob and Lefgren linked the parental request data to administrative data on teachers and students. The researchers also administered a survey to all elementary school principals in the district, asking them to evaluate their teachers in a number of categories, including dedication and work ethic, organization, classroom management, parent satisfaction, positive relationship with administrators, student satisfaction, role model value for students, and the ability to raise math and reading achievement.

In addition to what their research revealed about parent preferences, Jacob and Lefgren’s findings suggest that the parents of low-income, minority, and low-achieving children are much less likely to take advantage of informal opportunities to exercise choice by requesting a specific teacher for their child. In the district the researchers studied, families who were not eligible for the federal lunch program are about twice as likely to request a teacher for their child as those that are eligible.

Read “In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach”in the new issue of Education Next now online at www.EducationNext.org.

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Monster Reveals Findings from Its First Annual Survey of High School Graduates

More Than 2,000 High School Seniors Reveal College, Career and Lifestyle Plans
Despite Current Trend toward Boomeranging, Few Students Anticipate Moving Home After College Graduation

The high school graduating class of 2007 is a tenacious and well-connected demographic, according to Monster’s first annual nationwide survey of graduating seniors. Among the findings, two-thirds of those surveyed already have work experience under their belts as they commence the next phase of their life, whether that involves pursuing higher education, beginning their career or entering the military.

“Monster’s inaugural High School Graduate Survey shows that seniors are not passively waiting for opportunity to knock on their door – they have strategic post-graduation plans and they realize it is never too early to consider their long-term career path,” said Diana Nicholson, senior vice president and general manager of Monster Youth. “Many students already have an intended major and are aggressively preparing for their future now.”

College Choices and Financing

The Monster survey reveals that for students choosing college as their post-high school course:

  1. Most plan to call a public, medium-sized university in an urban location home for the next four years.
  2. Eighty-three percent view the availability of their intended major as the most important factor in choosing their future university, with the availability of financial aid packages a close second.
  3. Interestingly, the presence of fraternities and sororities was cited as the least important factor in attracting incoming freshmen.

To finance higher education, 80 percent of students surveyed plan to utilize scholarships, 48 percent will rely on their parents and 46 percent will use their own income as the primary means for footing the bill. Additionally, nearly 75 percent of students responding plan to rely upon Federal financial aid assistance, while 34 percent will take advantage of private student loans in order to close the gap between available Federal assistance and the rapidly-increasing cost of higher education.

Career Plans and Future Aspirations

Forty-one percent of seniors headed straight into the workforce have already secured employment. Additionally, three-fourths of students continuing on to college plan to work while they pursue their studies and nearly half plan to volunteer. Although only 44 percent plan to complete an internship during college, students should note that relevant work experience and personal characteristics are cited as the most important factors in hiring recent college graduates, according to an earlier 2007 survey of entry-level hiring managers by MonsterTRAK, the student division of Monster.

However, high schoolers are serious about their long-term career goals and do not expect to job hop upon entering the workforce. This is evidenced by the 63 percent of seniors who report they plan to hold only one or two jobs within their first 10 years of employment. When looking for their first job, students cite growth opportunities, job fulfillment and work environment as the most important factors, and view retirement plans and occupation title as the least important.

According to the survey, the top anticipated majors for incoming college freshmen are healthcare, education and social services, engineering and science/bio-pharmaceutical, suggesting a talented pipeline of future candidates in these respective growth fields. This is especially encouraging news for the healthcare and education sectors, given the current skills shortage within these industries.

Lifestyle Perceptions and Communication Preferences

While only seven percent of high school students plan to “boomerang” home after college, their perception may not be entirely realistic; nearly half of this year’s college graduates anticipate spending at least some time living at home after graduation, according to MonsterTRAK’s 2007 survey of college students.

The survey also revealed that while high school students generally communicate through multiple channels – including social networking sites, email, text messaging and instant messaging – the preferred means of communication for the “Internet Generation” is, surprisingly, talking on the telephone. Not to be discounted, social networking is also extremely popular among high school students – three-in-four maintain an online profile.

“Students need to realize the importance of portraying a positive image online, as the general public, including college administrators and future employers, have access to the information,” added Nicholson. “A startling statistic from Monster’s survey of graduating high school seniors shows that only 30 percent of students plan to modify their online profile when looking for a job.”

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Scripps National Spelling Bee: University of Virginia Education Expert Spells Out Pros and Cons of Spelling Bees

      In recent years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has captured more and more public attention. Not only is the final round televised live on primetime network television - this year's finals were on Thursday, May 31 on ABC - but three popular movies and a novel have also been based on the competition.

       Marcia Invernizzi, an expert on spelling and learning language at the University of Virginia, says that while spelling bees are terrible teaching tools, they offer a glimpse of how spelling is "a rich, language-based phenomenon."

       "Certainly there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of students, who have been embarrassed by the spelling bee and learned nothing from it." "From that point of view, they are dreadful," said Invernizzi, the Edmund H. Henderson Professor of Education and program coordinator at the McGuffey Reading Center.

       On the other hand, Invernizzi calls spelling the doorway to the world of human meaning.

       "Spelling is central to reading and writing competency," says Invernizzi, who has shown clips of the documentary film "Spellbound" in the word study class she teaches at the Curry School of Education.

       From a linguistic point of view, Invernizzi says that watching the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee shows how sound, meaning and syntax are connected.

       "When you watch the contestants asking for the linguistic cues about words they are asked to spell, it is a great demonstration of the richness of our orthography," Invernizzi says. "It shows how their minds are working to integrate all of the word's identity."

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Stereotype-Induced Math Anxiety Undermines Girls' Ability to Perform in Other Academic Areas

Study suggests impact for standardized tests

A popular stereotype that boys are better at mathematics than girls undermines girls' math performance because it causes worrying that erodes the mental resources needed for problem solving, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

The scholars found that the worrying undermines women's working memory. Working memory is a short-term memory system involved in the control, regulation and active maintenance of limited information needed immediately to deal with problems at hand.

They also showed for the first time that this threat to performance caused by stereotyping can also hinder success in other academic areas because mental abilities do not immediately rebound after being compromised by mathematics anxiety.

"This may mean that if a girl takes a verbal portion of a standardized test after taking the mathematics portion, she may not do as well on the verbal portion as she might do if she had not been recently struggling with math-related worries and anxiety," said Sian Beilock, Assistant Professor in Psychology and lead investigator in the study.

"Likewise, our work suggests that if a girl has a mathematics class first thing in the morning and experiences math-related worries in this class, these worries may carry implications for her performance in the class she attends next," she added.

The results of the study appear in the paper "Stereotype Threat and Working Memory: Mechanisms, Alleviation, and Spill Over," published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Co-authors are Robert Rydell, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Allen McConnell, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Miami University.

Researchers have been aware that stereotypes can undermine achievement in schools in many ways, but little research has focused on the specific mental processes that prompt this response.

In order to examine those mental processes, the team selected a group of college women who performed well in mathematics. They were then randomly assigned to two groups, with one set of women being told that they were being tested to see why men generally do better on math than women, and the other group being told simply that they were part of an experiment on mathematics performance.

The information that men do better in mathematics than women undercut performance drastically. The accuracy of women exposed to the stereotype was reduced from nearly 90 percent in a pretest to about 80 percent after being told men do better in mathematics. Among women not receiving that message, performance actually improved slightly.

The researchers asked the women exposed to the stereotyping message what they were thinking during the tests and many of them reported being distracted by thoughts such as "I thought about how boys are usually better than girls at math so I was trying harder not to make mistakes" and "I was nervous in the last set because I found out that the study is to compare mathematical abilities of guys and girls." Women not exposed to stereotyping had fewer such thoughts of inferiority.

Further tests showed that the verbal portion of the working memory was the portion of the women's mental resources that was most strongly undermined by the anxiety. The researchers showed that women experiencing mathematics anxiety found it more difficult to do problems when they were written out horizontally than when they appeared vertically. Previous findings show that solving horizontal problems relies heavily on verbal resources.

In order to see if mathematics anxiety had any lasting impact on performance in the short term, the researchers again had women solve math problems, with half being told they were part of a test to determine why men generally do better in mathematics than women and the other half being told only that they were being tested for mathematics performance.

They then gave the women a standard memory test involving verbal information and found that the women did less well on that test if they were exposed to the mathematics stereotyping.

"We demonstrated that worries about confirming a negative group stereotype may not only impact performance in the stereotyped domain, but that this impact can spill over onto subsequent, unrelated tasks that depend on the same processing resource the stereotype-related worries consume," Beilock and her colleagues wrote.

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Teaching Gap Exists Among U.S. and Asian Math Teachers, Study Says

U.S. teachers less effective in use of analogies in math instruction, UC Irvine study finds

Compared to math teachers in the high-achieving nations of Hong Kong and Japan, teachers in the United States offer less of certain supports that could help students learn more. This could contribute to the lower performance among U.S. students on international math tests, a UCI researcher discovered.

The findings are published in the May 25 issue of Science.

The study analyzed how analogies – a reasoning practice that involves connecting two concepts, often a better-known concept to a less familiar one – are used in the United States, Hong Kong and Japan. They are known to be helpful for learning mathematical concepts, but only if teachers use enough imagery and gestures that students’ attention to the analogous relations. These strategies, or cognitive supports, are necessary to ensure that students notice and understand the analogies.

U.S. teachers incorporate analogies into their lessons as often as teachers in Hong Kong and Japan, but they less frequently utilize spatial supports, mental and visual imagery, and gestures that encourage active reasoning. Less cognitive support may result in students retaining less information, learning in a less conceptual way, or misunderstanding the analogies and learning something different altogether.

"There is no guarantee that without these cues, the students are actually benefiting from the analogies and thinking about math in a comparative way," said Lindsey Richland, assistant professor of education and co-author of the study.

Richland and research colleagues analyzed videotapes of math lessons from the large-scale video portion of the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. That study found U.S. teachers engaged students in complex connected reasoning and problem solving significantly less than teachers in countries where students score higher in math. Richland examined the instructional uses of analogy in the videotapes and coded the frequency of teaching strategies that provide cognitive supports for students’ reasoning.

The "teaching gap" with respect to analogy could be attributed to different cultural orientations to relational reasoning. However, the authors conclude U.S. math teachers could improve the effectiveness of their analogies through slight adjustments in their instruction.

"Teachers are already using analogies; we’re not recommending going into the classroom and changing the way they’re doing things. But if teachers could be more attentive to the use of these kinds of supports, the students would be likely to benefit and learn a lot more," Richland said.

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Psychological Bullying Hits Just as Hard

School bullying doesn’t have to leave physical bumps and bruises to contribute to a hostile and potentially dangerous school environment. Behavior that intentionally harms another individual, through the manipulation of social relationships (or ‘relational aggression’), is just as significant a concern for adolescent psychosocial development and mental health, according to Dr. Sara Goldstein from Montclair State University and her colleagues from the University of Michigan.

Their study[1], published this month in Springer’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence, shows that adolescents exposed to high levels of relational aggression perceive their school to be less safe, and are less pleased with the general social atmosphere of the school. Adolescent boys who are exposed to relational aggression are also more likely to carry a weapon to school. This is not the case for girls.

A total of 1,335 African American and European American adolescents, aged 11 – 19 years, from a public school district in Detroit, Michigan, took part in an Internet survey which looked at how relational aggression at school is associated with adolescents’ perceptions of, and participation in, a hostile school environment.

Respondents were asked about their direct experience of being victims of both relational aggression (e.g. How often in the last month have students told stories about you that were untrue? How often in the previous month did students not include you in joining in what they were doing?), and overt aggression. Respondents were also asked about their experience of witnessing both relational and overt aggression.

Most of the research to date looking at aggression in schools has focused on physically and verbally harmful behaviors, such as hitting, pushing, and name calling.  This study looks at how other forms of aggression that target victims’ relationships and peer standing can lead to school-related problems. Contrary to other work in this field, it also looks at the effect of witnessing relational aggression, rather than simply focusing on victims.  There is already strong evidence to link relational aggression with social anxiety, loneliness and depression, peer difficulties and substance use.

The authors conclude that the impact of school aggression is such that it calls for “creative means to (a) detect relational aggression, and (b) address it in a manner that respects adolescents’ need for autonomy over their peer relationships but also discourages relationally aggressive behavior.”

1 Goldstein SE, Young A, Boyd C (2007).  “Relational aggression at school: Associations with school safety and social climate”, Journal of Youth and Adolescence  (DOI 10.1007/s10964-007-9192-4)

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The Length Fingers Key to Test Success

The results of numeracy and literacy tests for seven-year-old children can be predicted by measuring the length of their fingers, shows new research.

In a study to be published in the British Journal of Psychology, scientists compared the finger lengths of 75 children with their Standardised Assessment Test (SAT) scores.

They found a clear link between a child’s performance in numeracy and literacy tests and the relative lengths of their index (pointing) and ring fingers.

Scientists believe that the link is caused by different levels of the hormones testosterone and oestrogen in the womb – and the effect they have on both brain development and finger length.

"Testosterone has been argued to promote development of the areas of the brain which are often associated with spatial and mathematical skills," said Dr Mark Brosnan, Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, who led the study.

"Oestrogen is thought to do the same in the areas of the brain which are often associated with verbal ability.

"Interestingly, these hormones are also thought have a say in the relative lengths of our index and ring fingers.

"We can use measurements of these fingers as a way of gauging the relative exposure to these two hormones in the womb and as we have shown through this study, we can also use them to predict ability in the key areas of numeracy and literacy."

The researchers made photocopies of the palm of the children’s hands and then measured the length of their index finger and ring finger on both hands using callipers, accurate to 0.01mm.

They then divided the length of the index finger by that of the ring finger – to calculate the child’s digit ratio.

When they compared this ratio to the children’s SAT scores, they found that a smaller ratio (i.e. a longer ring finger and therefore greater prenatal exposure to testosterone) meant a larger difference between ability in maths and literacy, favouring numeracy relative to literacy.

When they looked at boy’s and girl’s performance separately, the researchers found a clear link between high prenatal testosterone exposure, as measured by digit ratio, and higher numeracy SAT scores in males.

They also found a link between low prenatal testosterone exposure, which resulted in a shorter ring finger compared with the index finger, and higher literacy SAT scores for girls.

This, says the scientists behind the study, suggests that measurements of finger length could help predict how well children will do in maths and literacy.

"We’re not suggesting that finger length measurements could replace SAT tests," said Dr Brosnan.

"Finger ratio provides us with an interesting insight into our innate abilities in key cognitive areas.

"We are also looking at how digit ratio relates to other behavioural issues, such as technophobia, and career paths.

"There is also interest in using digit ratio to identify developmental disorders, such as dyslexia, which can be defined in terms of literacy deficiencies."

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Middle School Entry Year and Student Behavior

The organization of U.S. schools has changed little over the past half century, with children generally educated through 12 grades separated into three groupings: elementary school, high school, and middle or junior high school. Although junior high school was originally instituted as a bridge between elementary school and high school, the structure of the institution has varied, with configurations that span grades 7–8; grades 7–9; or grades 5 or 6–8. The ideal arrangement for these varying grade structures in middle schools is unclear, however, and some educators have questioned expanding the 7–8 model to include the 6th grade. One recent study found that high school completion rates for students who entered middle school in the 6th grade were about 1–3 percent lower than for there peers who entered later…

To see entire research brief: http://www.ascd.org/portal/site/ascd/menuitem.bf94f2521501fd98dd1b2110d3108a0c/;
jsessionid=GdVnRd0ldabmdnBKUf58OpfZrjO8ezCwJDyzOsqrszsRCALmy1cw!-91809162

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Religion, Intact Families, and the Achievement Gap

Using analyses of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and meta-analysis, the author, William H. Jeynes, California State University at Long Beach, presents data that indicate that in religious, mostly Christian, schools, the achievement gap between white and minority students, as well as between children of high- and low-socioeconomic status, is considerably smaller than in public schools.

He then undertakes statistical analyses to indicate why this is the case, including examining school culture, the encouragement of religious commitment, and an emphasis on the family.

One of the most notable findings that emerges from this study is that using the NELS dataset, when African American and Latino children who are religious and come from intact families are compared with white students, the achievement gap disappears. Other findings indicate that religious schools have more racial harmony, fewer drug problems, and a more demanding curriculum than do public schools, features that probably help to explain the smaller achievement gap.

Go here to register and download article: http://www.religjournal.com/

For related article, please go to: http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_6006246

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Children Can Perform Approximate Math Without Arithmetic Instruction

Study shows that children spontaneously show a sense of number when presented with symbolic math

Children are able to solve approximate addition or subtraction problems involving large numbers even before they have been taught arithmetic, according to a study conducted at Harvard University, by researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard.

The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that children do not need to master either the logic of place value or the addition table in order to perform approximate addition and subtraction. Children’s difficulty with learning school arithmetic may stem from the need to produce an exact number when solving problems. Elementary education in mathematics might be improved – and children’s interest in the subject enhanced – if children’s talent for approximate calculation could be built upon in the classroom, the authors suggest.

Researchers presented five-year-old children with a series of illustrated problems, in the form of scenarios that involved the approximate addition and subtraction of symbolic numbers between five and 98. A subtraction question, for example, stated: “Sarah has 64 candies and gives 13 of them away, and John has 34 candies. Who has more?”

Even though the children had not yet been taught about symbolic arithmetic, and were yet to master the mechanics of symbolic addition and subtraction, they performed well above chance on the tests and without resorting to guessing. The children's inability to provide an exact solution to the problems showed that their approximate performance was not dependent on precise knowledge of the numbers.

The authors – lead researcher Camilla Gilmore, now at the University of Nottingham, with Elizabeth Spelke, Marshall L. Berkman Professor of Psychology and Shannon McCarthy, a research assistant in the department of psychology, both of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard– found evidence for these abilities in children from a broad range of backgrounds, when studies were conducted in both a quiet “laboratory” setting and in the classroom.

The study also assessed whether children used their nonsymbolic number sense in order to perform the approximate addition and subtraction. Adults, children and even infants are sensitive to number in arrays of dots and sequences of sounds. These number representations display characteristic limitations: arrays of dots can be numerically compared, added, or subtracted only approximately, subtraction is less precise than addition, and numerical comparison becomes more difficult when the ratio of the two numbers involved in the problem approaches one. The children involved in the study displayed these same characteristics with regard to the symbolic addition and subtraction problems.

“We’ve known for some time that adults, children, and even infants and nonhuman animals have a sense of number. We were surprised to see, however, that children spontaneously use their number sense when they’re presented with problems in symbolic arithmetic. These children haven’t begun to be taught place value or exact addition facts,” says Spelke. “Nevertheless, their natural sense of number gives them a way to think about arithmetic.”

The authors suggest their findings may be useful for the teaching of elementary mathematics.

Gilmore, who is a research fellow based in Nottingham's Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI), says: "Exact symbolic arithmetic takes years to learn and poses difficulties for many children. For this reason, teachers were concerned that our problems would frustrate the children, and they were amazed at the children's success and engagement. Our findings suggest new possible strategies for teaching primary mathematics and making it fun."

The full paper is online at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v447/n7144/full/nature05850.html

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Community Colleges and Teacher Preparation: Roles, Issues and Opportunities

This is an issue paper that explores the expanding and evolving role community colleges are playing in teacher preparation to help meet the ongoing demand for quality teachers.

The paper is the outcome of a meeting convened by ECS and the National Center for Teacher Transformation (NCTT) in August 2006, which brought together representatives from state higher education executive officers, community colleges, teacher preparation programs, teacher accreditation and K-12 education. Participants discussed the challenges, successes and opportunities available through full utilization of community colleges in collaboration with university systems and local education agencies.

The paper describes the forces shaping education policy and practice around teacher preparation; and offers suggestions on how community colleges can capitalize on their unique attributes to meet critical workforce demand in local and regional communities to positively impact the field of teacher education.

Highlighted recommendations from the report include:

  • Teacher preparation should be viewed as a four-year process that includes content and pedagogical training throughout the four-years
  • Program and course development should be a collaborative process including representation from universities, community colleges and the K-12 sector
  • Each state department of education should encourage ongoing collaboration and communication among legislators, community colleges, universities and the K-12 sector on how community college teacher preparation can be used to improve the quality of teacher preparation and ameliorate teacher shortages
  • Policymakers and institution leaders should consider providing resources to community colleges and K-12 school districts to support customized training for teachers through contracts and/or partnerships between community colleges and school districts.

To see report: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/74/01/7401.pdf

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Parents Likely to Dismiss Attention Problems in their Kids as Typical Childish Behavior, According to Cogmed Survey

A vast majority of parents are likely to dismiss attention problems in their children after failing to distinguish them from ordinary childish behavior that will be outgrown. A new survey of 1,000 parents reveals that nine in 10 acknowledge that attention problems can be confused easily with typical childish antics. The survey was conducted on behalf of Cogmed America Inc., www.cogmed.com, a developer of working-memory training products, through online research leaders Zoomerang and MarketTools.

The survey polled parents of children who exhibit a range of attention problems from mild to severe, including half of whom have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Parents shared their concerns, experiences and attitudes regarding attention problems occurring in their children and adolescents. The survey findings reveal how parents of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and parents of children with milder problems share similar experiences and views and where they differ.

“Recent research has led to a wealth of new insights on the different causes of attention problems and potential remedies,” said Jonas Jendi, Cogmed’s chief executive officer. “We wanted to understand the extent to which these new ideas have impacted the thinking of parents who encounter the effects of attention problems in their children every day.”

Parents are confident they can recognize symptoms, but admit all attention problems look alike

Parents of both survey populations say in general, they can identify the signs of attention problems in children but find it difficult to discern the slight nuances that distinguish those symptoms from ordinary behavior.

  • Seventy-two percent of the parents say they can readily identify the symptoms of an attention problem in children
  • Eighty-seven percent of the parents say it is easy to mistake the signs of an attention problem for normal childish behavior

Math and reading are problematic for a wide range of children who experience attention problems

Parents of both survey populations cited math, reading comprehension and grammar as the most difficult subjects for children with attention problems. Music and art were identified as the least difficult for these children.

For those with mild to moderate attention problems, academic struggles may be subtle, but can worsen over time

While parents of children with severe attention problems see a clear connection between their child’s problem and academic performance, more than half of the parents of children with mild to moderate attention problems do not detect as strong a connection.

  • Eighty-six percent of parents of children with severe attention problems say there is a clear connection between their child’s attention problem and poor academic performance
  • Only thirty-eight percent of parents of children with milder attention problems have detected a similar connection

Despite this, the academic performance of children with mild to moderate attention problems may decline gradually over time. Many such children struggle in high school and beyond.

  • Only 27 percent of six year olds who exhibit mild or moderate attention problems experience trouble in school
  • Yet, 55 percent of 15 year olds in this same group struggle academically

No matter how mild or severe the attention problem, parents want more help from schools

While an overwhelming majority of all parents surveyed feel most responsible for identifying attention problems in their children, 80 percent say teachers are in fact the most likely to recognize such problems. Parents expressed the desire for schools to be more involved in the recognition and reporting of attention problems.

  • Nine of 10 parents surveyed said that schools should make recommendations to parents if a child is performing below average
  • Three in four parents surveyed said schools should offer tests to detect attention problems

“Attention problems exist in varying degrees of severity, yet parents tend to dismiss all but the most severe cases,” said noted child and adolescent psychologist and author, Dr. William Benninger. “Parents need to be better informed about the often subtle signs that distinguish mild and severe attention problems, while working closely with professionals and schools to identify potential cases and resolve them without confusion and fear.”

Seven Tips to Better Discernment: Recommendations for assessing the level of severity of attention problems

The survey revealed many of the obstacles and concerns that parents encounter in dealing with potential attention problems in their children. The following tips can help parents avoid common missteps:

Consider your child's behavior compared with peers

Attention abilities develop incrementally in children. It is normal for younger children to have more limited attention spans. When considering your child's behavior, be sure to compare it to the behavior of his or her peers.

Gauge your child's behavior over at least six months

Attention problems cannot be observed in one isolated moment. They exhibit themselves over a period of time. If you think your child may have an attention problem, consider his or her recurring behavior over a period of at least six months.

Frequent struggles to complete homework are a warning sign

Nearly all kids have a problem completing some of their homework some of the time. Those with real attention problems struggle greatly to complete some of their homework most of the time.

Observe your child's performance in key academic subjects

Survey takers identified poor academic performance as the indicator of an attention problem most likely to prompt parents to seek professional help. Stay in contact with your child's school and teachers, assessing his or her performance in various subjects, particularly math and reading comprehension.

Know which situations best spotlight attention problems

Almost all children can concentrate on something they enjoy. Attention problems show when a child is put in a situation that demands sustained focus, or when a child considers an activity to be boring.

Don't be afraid to assess the problem with a qualified expert

Attention problems range from mild to moderate to severe. For each level there are appropriate means to improve attention, ranging from tutoring and training to strategies that focus on improving learning environments and daily routines. Don't be afraid to seek an assessment for your child.

If you see a problem, don't wait--your child may not grow out of it

The leading obstacle to proper identification of attention problems as identified by the survey takers was the likelihood of parents to wait for their child to "grow out of it." If you consistently observe the indicators of an attention problem in your child for a period of six months, it is often very useful to seek an assessment. The problem will not go away with time.

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Educating Researchers

This is the third in a series of policy reports on the results of a four-year study of America's education schools. This report focuses on the need for quality education research and on the preparation of the scholars and researchers who conduct it.

After more than two decades of a school improvement movement, education research, traditionally an academic matter of little public interest, has taken on new importance. In today's assessment-driven, standards-based school systems, it is essential to be able to measure what students learn. It is also critical in a time when a cornucopia of reform measures are being touted and a plethora of improvement initiatives are being undertaken to know what works. In an era when the nation needs a more educated population to compete globally and sustain a democratic society, we need to advance our knowledge of teaching and learning. In an age when our children need higher-level skills and knowledge than ever before to get a decent job, it is important to understand what educational policies and practices are most effective.

Hand in hand with our need to find answers to the educational challenges that face us, we need to agree on what constitutes "good" research and on how best to prepare education researchers, the next generation of scholars, to study education and to teach in the nation's universities and colleges. Today, researchers, policymakers and practitioners disagree about both subjects.

This is the context for the third report. The first focused on the education of school administrators. The second dealt with the education of school teachers. This third report examines the quality of education research and the preparation of education scholars and researchers.

Download the Full Report (PDF): http://www.edschools.org/EducatingResearchers/educating_researchers.pdf

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Parents Report Improvements and Concerns in Georgetown Study on DC Voucher Program

The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute has released its second qualitative report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federally funded initiative for low-income families living in the District of Columbia.  The report, titled “The Evolution of School Choice Consumers: Parent and Student Voices on the Second Year of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” provides responses from participating families indicating improvements in the program’s operations and progress in the number of parents acting as confident and well informed school choice consumers.  

"This qualitative study provides unprecedented insight into the early stage experiences of families participating in the first federally funded voucher program,” said Georgetown University assistant research professor Stephen Q. Cornman, co-author of the study.    "The participating students and parents expressed greater enthusiasm for the Program in its second year, citing improvements in information sources, financial policies and procedures, and communication between parents and their children, independent schools and the program administrator. The majority of parents emphatically stated that their parental involvement dramatically increased when their children entered the OSP program.”     

The SCDP team of researchers obtained their data through a series of personal interviews and focus group discussions with parents and older students from approximately 100 families participating in the OSP during the 2005-2006 academic year.   

“By far, the greatest concern of participating families was that increased earnings might make them ineligible for their Opportunity Scholarships,” said co-author Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas noting that Congress has amended the law to limit the number of families in danger of earning out of the Program.  

Participants shared their thoughts on a variety of issues, including the opportunities and challenges they experienced in their new schools.    "We observed an increased level of confidence in parents and students as they articulated their thoughts about their second year experiences with the OSP," said Thomas Stewart, senior research associate at the SCDP and co-author of the study. "The families noted measurable improvements in their children's attitudes and behaviors towards learning, and they were very enthusiastic about keeping their children in the Program for at least one more year."  

The report’s key findings include:  

  • Families report being active, well informed school choice consumers.  Parents actively utilize their school choice consumer skills to find the perfect match for their children when choosing schools.
  • Parents reported greater involvement in their child’s education since entering the OSP, specifically in the areas of homework and parent teacher conferences.   The vast majority of parents however, say they do not formally participate in organized parent groups.
  • Parents noted increased communication with their children since entering the OSP, including soliciting input and support from their children during the school selection process.
  • Many parents expressed the view that OSP has resolved the concerns noted during the initial year of implementation, such as ambiguity about financial policies and student confidentiality.
  • Parents share a growing concern that they will lose eligibility for the program for various reasons including an increase in earnings and the scarcity of slots at the high school level.
  • A sizable majority of parents are satisfied with their school choice experiences, and approximately ninety percent of participants in the study indicated that they were certain to remain in the Program for at least another year.  

SCDP’s research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through a grant to Georgetown University.  The report is available on the SCDP’s Web site at: http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp/files/Evolution%20of
%20School%20Choice%20Consumers%20PSV.pdf

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), launched during the fall of 2004, is the country’s first federally sponsored K-12 scholarship initiative, offering low-income students the opportunity to attend one of the 58 participating DC private schools of their choosing at public expense.  Eligible applicants are selected through a lottery system to receive annual scholarships valued at $7,500 per year.  The OSP is managed by the Washington Scholarship Fund, a non-profit organization in DC, under contract with the U.S. Department of Education.    

About the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP)

The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), based within the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI), is an education reform research effort devoted to the non-partisan study of the effects of school choice and other education policy.  The center is staffed by leading education reform researchers and scholars. SCDP’s national team of researchers, institutional research partners and staff are devoted to the rigorous evaluation of school choice and other education reform efforts across the country. SCDP is currently collaborating with other research agencies on the official quantitative examination of DC Opportunity Scholarship Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services, to be released in 2007.  For more information on SCDP, visit:   http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp/

See related article: http://ent.groundspring.org/EmailNow/pub.php?module=URLTracker&cmd=track&j=144049269&u=1381741

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The Arizona Teacher Working Conditions Survey

The Arizona Teacher Working Conditions Initiative provides data on issues critical to improving student achievement and keeping teachers. The unique data represents the perceptions of those who understand these conditions best—the educators who teach in them every day. The initiative provides data from nearly 32,000 educators representing more than half (53 percent) of the Arizona teaching force.

A teacher working conditions data report is available for the State of Arizona as a whole
http://www.aztwc.org/reports/report_main.php?orgID=state&masterSiteID=state as well as every participating school and district with a sufficient response rate (50 percent): http://www.aztwc.org/reports/

The data represents the unique and collective perception of educators regarding teaching and learning conditions in their school community.

Nearly 700 Arizona schools have reached a sufficient response rate on the survey (50 percent) to receive a customized data report for their school.

One key question from the statewide survey:  “Overall, my school is a good place to work and learn.”  Results: 72% agree or strongly agree.

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How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind

Most state education officials grumble that the pressure-packed annual tests and rigid adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets engendered by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law are flawed means of measuring student proficiency, raising academic standards, holding schools accountable and fostering learning. But since the penalty for defying the law is loss of federal funds, most treat NCLB's prescriptives like bitter medicine they can't afford to spit out. All, that is, except the iconoclasts who run the public schools in Nebraska.

Eschewing the Washington-created remedy, they have developed a homemade model called the School-based Teacher-led Assessment Reporting System (STARS) that has yielded impressive results, been praised by education scholars and attracted interest from Edward Kennedy, NCLB's Senate custodian. "We just told the Department of Education that if they were really trying to [serve] all kids and close the proficiency gap that high-stakes testing isn't the way to do it," says Doug Christensen, state commissioner of education. "We told them we would show them that we had a better way."

Under Nebraska's model, the state sets curriculum standards, but gives teachers free reign on instruction and lets local school districts design their own tests to measure how well students are meeting the grade-level norms. And unlike the vast majority of states, which rely solely on multiple choice exams to measure student achievement and determine yearly progress, Nebraska's students also write essays as part of a unique statewide writing exam. Districts can also include student oral presentations, demonstrations and projects in their battery of assessments. Christensen says the writing requirement gives state officials confidence that the multiple choice test scores are a true reflection of actual learning. Since the system was installed eight years ago, he says, the statewide writing scores on average have lined up "almost perfectly" with results on both math and reading proficiency tests. "Ours is a bottom-up model," Christensen says. "It begins in the classroom with instruction that's aligned to our standards and extends to assessments developed locally that are tied to how well students apply concepts and problem solve, rather than simply memorize facts and figures and dates that they can't remember 10 minutes later."

Overall last year, just over 87% of all elementary students met federal accountability goals in reading... In math, more than 87% of Nebraska primary schoolkids reached their federal goals…

To read complete article: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1626423,00.html

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The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics
DAVID L. KIRP

The rich have always valued early education, and for the past forty years, millions of poor kids have had Head Start. Now, more and more middle class parents have realized that a good preschool is the smartest investment they can make in their children's future in a competitive world. As The Sandbox Investment shows, their needs are key to the growing call for universal preschool.

Writing with the verve of a magazine journalist and the authority of a scholar, David L. Kirp makes the ideal guide to this quiet movement. He crouches in classrooms where committed teachers engage lively four-year-olds, and reveals the findings of an extraordinary longitudinal study that shows the life-changing impact of preschool. He talks with cutting-edge researchers from neuroscience and genetics to economics, whose findings increasingly show how powerfully early childhood shapes the arc of children's lives.

Kids-first politics is smart economics: paying for preschool now can help save us from paying for unemployment, crime, and emergency rooms later. As Kirp reports from the inside, activists and political leaders have turned this potent idea into campaigns and policies in red and blue states alike.

The book will be published in August.

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How Good is Good Enough? Moving California's English Learners to English Proficiency

Only 9.6 percent of English Learners (ELs) in California public schools were redesignated to Fluent English Proficient status during the 2005-06 school year. According to one state education department study, only one-third of those who start in kindergarten are reclassified by fifth grade. This prompted state Superintendent Jack O’Connell to instruct school districts to reexamine their reclassification policies and procedures.

Some school districts set higher bars for reclassification than others, requiring higher scores on state tests, writing or math proficiency and passing grades. However, some districts with high requirements also have high reclassification rates because of effective instruction, close monitoring of students' progress and a higher percentage of ELs from middle-class and Asian families.

State and federal policies may delay reclassification: Districts lose extra funding when students leave EL status; they also may find it harder to meet state goals for improving English proficiency as the most proficient students are reclassified.

Are California’s EL students learning English and academic skills? Are they learning the skills but getting stuck in an “EL track” that leads nowhere? This paper explores these and other questions.

To see full report: http://www.lexingtoninstitute.org/docs/785.pdf

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Report on the State of American Education Shows High School Students Taking More Advanced Coursework

High school students in the United States are taking more courses in mathematics and science, as well as social studies, the arts, and foreign languages, according to The Condition of Education 2007 report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The general increases in credits earned since the early 1980s are, in large part, a product of more graduates taking more advanced courses.

“The recent emphasis on mathematics and science in the high school curriculum has raised some concerns that growth in these and other high priority subject areas has squeezed out courses in other areas, such as the arts and history,” said Mark Schneider, NCES Commissioner. “We have not found this to be the case. In fact, credits earned in other subjects have increased at the same time.”

The Condition of Education is a congressionally mandated report that provides an annual statistical portrait of education in the United States. The 48 indicators included in the report cover all aspects of education, from student achievement to school environment and from early childhood through postsecondary education.

The report shows that enrollment in U.S. public schools is becoming increasingly diverse. In addition, more individuals are enrolling in postsecondary education, and more bachelor’s degrees have been awarded than in the past.

The Condition of Education 2007 in Brief contains a summary of 20 of the 48 indicators in The Condition of Education 2007. The topics covered include: public and private enrollment in elementary/secondary education; projections of undergraduate enrollment; racial/ethnic distribution of public school students; student achievement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading, mathematics, and science; adult literacy; status dropout rates; immediate transition to college; school violence and safety; educational attainment; parental choice of schools; expenditures for elementary and secondary education, and federal grants and loans to undergraduate students.

The Condition of Education 2007 in Brief: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007066.pdf

Complete report: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007064.pdf

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Findings from the Condition of Education 2007: High School Coursetaking

Using the national data from high school transcript studies conducted from 1982 to 2005, this special analysis addresses the following questions related to students’ coursetaking patterns and trends during this period:

  • What do states require and what do schools offer for coursework?
  • How many course credits do students earn by high school graduation, on average, and how has the number of credits changed, overall and by subject, since the 1980s?
  • What percentage of high school graduates complete advanced courses in science, in mathematics, in English, and in foreign languages?
  • Do these percentages vary across student characteristics, including sex, race/ethnicity, and school control?
  • What is the coursetaking pattern in 9th and 10th grades for students who drop out compared with students who graduate?
  • What percentage of high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) examinations, and how well do they do?

The first section of this special analysis describes state-level standards related to coursework and high school exit examinations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which is treated as a state in this analysis. This is followed by a discussion of the availability of advanced course offerings in public schools.

Both requirements and offerings provide a context for examining the patterns of student coursetaking as they relate to minimum standards and expectations. The second section describes the number and types of credits that public and private high school graduates earned. It then examines the percentages and characteristics of public and private high school graduates who took advanced courses in science, mathematics, English, and foreign languages. The special analysis concludes with a summary of key findings.

Special Analysis: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2007/analysis/2007065.pdf

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New Research Shows Intended Major Matters Most in College Selection Process

Although the reputation of a university remains important to students in selecting their college of choice, students' primary criteria has shifted toward a university's strength in their intended major, according to Eduventures' latest report: College Search and the Millennial Generation.
The study, conducted exclusively for Eduventures' Enrollment Management Learning Collaborative membership, surveyed nearly 8,000 college-bound high school juniors and seniors. It was designed to identify emerging attitudes, influencer relationships, information use and intensity, and decision criteria used by today's prospective students at multiple stages of the college search. In addition to academic strength in a student's intended major, prospective students also considered the institution's overall academic program, career preparation, and affordability.

"Compared to previous generations, today's students tend to be career-focused at a younger age with 90 percent of high school juniors and 92 percent of high school seniors having already identified their primary field of interest," says Jim Quinn, Eduventures' Enrollment Management senior research analyst. "They tend to be more actively engaged in their educational development and increasingly place importance on internships, study abroad, and experiential learning programs."

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A Voice from the Middle

The 2007 NASSP/PDK Middle School Student Poll

More than 1,800 middle school students participated in the poll, which was conducted in February 2007.

Optimism Abounds

Analysis — Middle school students are optimistic about their future. Ninety percent of the students polled felt they were very or somewhat prepared to succeed in their current school, and 85% felt that they were either very or somewhat prepared to succeed in high school. Ninety-two percent indicated that they will definitely or probably attend college, and 93% said there was no chance that they would drop out of high school and not graduate.

Results disaggregated by race or parents’ education levels were similar.

But this optimism does not match what happens when middle school students reach high school and make important decisions about continuing their education in college or even finishing high school. Although high school graduation rates are hotly contested, no one would suggest that 93% of middle-level students, particularly African-American and Latino students, go on to earn a high school diploma. Everyone has an opinion about schools. Just sit for a few minutes in any public place, and you’ll hear discussions about schools and teachers as parents and grandparents share their children’s and grandchildren’s successes or frustrations, businesspeople acknowledge the skills, or lack of skills, of their younger employees, and the rest of us reminisce about the good old days when we were in school. Schooling provides a common experience for us all, although our individual impressions vary greatly.

One voice, however, is often missing from this conversation: the student voice. Rarely is there any opportunity for students, on a broad scale, to express their opinions on issues that affect them daily. And this lack of opportunity to express themselves is all the more true of students in middle-level schools. Practitioners, policy makers, and pundits debate the merits of middle-level school reform, but few know firsthand what middle-level students across the nation are thinking.

As a first step to remedy this situation, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK), and Lumina Foundation for Education, through its KnowHow2GO campaign, joined forces to find out directly from middle-level students what they think about their schools, their teachers, their fellow students, and their plans for the future.

 And although 92% of the students polled indicate they will definitely or probably attend college, the percentage of students who actually begin college at either a two-year or four-year institution directly after high school is roughly 66%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The disparity between the high expectations students express and the sobering graduation and college-going rates highlights the continuing challenge schools face to provide students with a robust transition between middle-level and high school. The ninth grade in particular represents a weak link where students sometimes begin to disengage from their schools and so place themselves in danger of dropping out.

According to our survey data, 40% of those middle school students who say there's a good chance they may drop out of high school also say that low grades or their inability to keep up with the coursework would be the primary reason. This finding points to the need for strong support systems within middle and high schools to counteract the sense of anonymity and weakness that these respondents experience.

Regarding college attendance, the 26% gap between the stated plans of middle school students and actual college enrollment data offers an opportunity for educators and policy makers to examine and improve their belief systems, practices, and policies. We know that the U.S. economy has already shifted from manufacturing to information and innovation, skills requiring not just a high school diploma but, in most cases, a two-year or four-year college degree. It is, therefore, crucial to close the gap and make college enrollment data match the high expectations of our middle level students.

RECOMMENDATIONS – The survey findings suggest that we create a middle-school-to-college pipeline that offers students opportunities to succeed. In Breaking Ranks II and Breaking Ranks in the Middle, for instance, NASSP recommends that schools develop a program to support Personal Plans for Progress that allow students to plan their learning and the activities to support it. Because schooling is a continuum, educators must understand what is required of students at every stage and ensure a smooth transition academically and socially for each student from grade to grade and from level to level.

Journeys Without Maps

Analysis — Clearly, the survey documents middle school students’ general optimism about their future in high school and college, but the results also reveal important inconsistencies that will close doors of opportunity for young people even before they know these opportunities exist.

Although students said they were prepared for and would not drop out of high school and that they intended to attend college, 83% of the students surveyed also said that they know nothing or very little about the high school courses that are required to graduate. Indeed, only 32% said they have a great deal or quite a bit of information about selecting high school classes that will prepare them for college. In fact, 28% said that they had no information about selecting the right high school courses at all. Even worse, middle-level students who earn low grades or whose parents have less education have even less information about what is required of them to graduate from high school and in general feel less prepared to succeed once they get there. Equally troubling is that 92% of students who said there’s a chance they might not attend college said the reason was that it costs too much.

Conversations about school reform refer frequently to the “achievement gap.” Our data document an “information gap.” The testing company ACT has uncovered this same information gap. According to ACT data, only 56% of the 2005 high school graduates took the core college-preparatory curriculum that includes four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, social sciences, and natural sciences. That's much lower than the 66% who will attend college or the 92% who want to go to college.

RECOMMENDATIONS — These findings suggest that educators and policy makers should provide middle-level students with an academic, social, and financial compass that will guide them through their educational journeys. The Lumina Foundation for Education, the American Council on Education, and the Ad Council have launched the “KnowHow2GO” campaign (http://www.knowhow2go.org/). This campaign helps empower students to take charge of their education journey by seeking help in finding the correct pathway to postsecondary education.

Middle and high schools must also address the “information gap” by clearly outlining which high school courses are required to enter college and by making these courses accessible to all.

Finally, students who want to go to college and are adequately prepared to do so should not be denied the opportunity because of financial concerns. We recommend approaching this issue both by increasing the amount of funds available for college attendance and by examining the current structure of postsecondary education.

Policy makers should consider: a) increasing the amount of need-based funding, such as Pell Grants, that is available for lower-income students; b) supporting greater access to low-interest student loans; and c) evaluating for cost- effectiveness and academic soundness such models of delivering postsecondary education as aligning community college curricula with university requirements so that students can complete their freshman and sophomore years in a lower cost setting before transferring to the university.

The Pathways to College Network (http://www. pathwaystocollege.net) is also a valuable resource for students, parents, educators, and policy makers who want to close the college gap.

Caring Teachers Are Key to Student Success

Analysis — When asked how teachers help them learn, students said that helpful teachers provide detailed explanations (21%), are friendly and caring (17%), listen to students (13%), and give of their time (13%).

When asked how many teachers were helpful to them in school, however, an overwhelming 72% of students indicated that, throughout their school career, only one to five teachers had been helpful. Further, students gave mixed reactions when asked to rate how well their teachers gave them a chance to learn the subject matter, with 50% indicating excellent or very good and 41% saying good, and 8% saying poor. Middle school students clearly believe that helpful teachers help them learn more, but more teachers need to provide such support. At the same time, middle schools have been criticized for lacking rigor, and there has been a push for middle school teachers to focus only on content mastery. The challenge for school reformers is to resolve the tension between the need for caring, helpful teachers and a desire for a rigorous and demanding course of instruction.

RECOMMENDATIONS — These findings suggest that an infrastructure that promotes collaborative learning by teachers could be an important reform initiative to help greater numbers of teachers establish high expectations in a nurturing environment.

Although middle-level teachers should demonstrate competency in their subjects, the faculty and administrative team should also convey a sense of caring so that students know that adults have a stake in student learning.

Testing: How Valid Is It?

Analysis — Eighty-eight percent of middle school students felt that it was very important or somewhat important to do well on standardized tests, and this is matched by the importance students felt that teachers and parents attached to standardized tests. Fully 96% of students said teachers think standardized tests are very or somewhat important, and 92% said parents believe so too. And although the NCLB legislation requires testing only in reading, math, and science, the students overwhelmingly thought that social studies should also be assessed.

Alternatively, 71% of middle school students who said they have taken standardized tests said the grades that their teachers give their work are a more accurate reflection of their achievement. Just 29% thought the standardized test scores better documented their achievement. The issue of student assessment is central to school reform, as it has become essential to holding educators and policy makers accountable for student achievement in U.S. schools. But our middle school students clearly believe that the grades their teachers give them are more valid than standardized tests.

RECOMMENDATION —Although standardized tests have their place in accountability systems, a balanced approach to measuring students’ academic success that includes formative assessments, such as teacher-made tests and class grades, is important in any reform initiative. The state of Nebraska has made a concerted effort to follow a balanced approach to assessment by using both standardized test results and the results of formative assessments from the classroom.

In its policy recommendations for middlelevel reform, NASSP recommends that states use multiple assessments that are aligned with state standards and include performancebased measures. Multiple assessments are more likely to capture the complete picture of a student’s achievement and therefore to inform instruction.

Technology

When asked how much they used the Internet to complete school assignments, only 23% of students said a great deal or quite a bit. That contrasts with 46% saying they spent an hour or more on the Internet the day before they took this survey. U.S. schools have invested heavily in technology.

According to students participating in this poll, access to information on the Internet is not used often in classroom instruction.

Schools Get Good Grades

Middle school students like their schools. When asked to grade their current school using an A-F scale, 69% assign grades of A or B. This is almost identical to the grades assigned by parents when they are asked about the school their oldest child attends in the annual PDK/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. This is a key finding and should help guide school reform efforts.

Safety

A safe and orderly environment is very important to middle school students. When asked about the biggest problems faced by the public schools in their community, students listed as the number-one problem discipline issues — a broad topic that includes inappropriate behavior, bullying, gangs, social pressure, and fights. Furthermore, 97% said it was very important or somewhat important that the high school they attend be a safe and orderly place.

Diversity

The students surveyed were almost equally likely to report attending a school where the other students were of the same racial or ethnic background as they were or to report that their school had a diverse student body. And 73% students felt that racial and ethnic diversity in their classes mirrored that in their schools.

This indicates that, regardless of the level of diversity in their schools, the students do not perceive racial or ethnic tracking. However, 77% of respondents report that students in their schools have a negative attitude toward people who are or are thought to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, suggesting that educators need to protect this vulnerable group of students. 14

Conclusion

As the survey suggests, middle school students view their future with confidence and optimism. Together, educators and policy makers should respond to these bright visions by providing middle-level students with high-quality educational opportunities and by removing obstacles to their dreams.

Complete poll results: http://www.pdkintl.org/ms_poll/07ms_poll.pdf

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