Feb ERR #14

Expanding School Time to Expand School Learning

Across the nation, more than 1,000 schools have increased learning time in order to raise students' core academic skills and ensure a truly well-rounded education. Most of these schools have adopted what the authors of this Policy Perspectives paper term the "new day" — about two more hours of scheduled school every day.

This paper highlights a dozen design principles that the authors, Christopher Gabrieli and Warren Goldstein, believe should be part of future new day schools. Their conclusions are based on their direct experience in helping create such schools, on-site visits, review of the available data, and best judgment. Gabrieli and Goldstein's intent is to encourage more people to seek change and to help those who want to make the new school day work. The paper ends with a discussion of key issues that call for more experience, data, and perhaps innovation.

"The new school day is still young as an educational strategy," the authors note. "We should learn a good deal over the next few years. We hope our candor about matters that need more thought and work will help stimulate a creative, productive dialogue as well as more research and experimentation."

Full report:


MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Past, Present and Future (2008)

This is the 25th anniversary edition of a survey series begun in 1984, and there is good news to report. Many of the findings are substantially more positive than they have been in the past.

One striking finding is the improvement in teachers’ assessment of the state of their profession. Teachers today are more satisfied in their careers than teachers were in earlier years. While their love of teaching has been a constant over the last 25 years, today more teachers feel respected in society, recognized for their work and better compensated than they have in the past. They rate the quality of their schools higher, as well as their school’s academic standards and curricula. Overall, principals agree with teachers on the improvements of career satisfaction and school quality and are generally even more positive than teachers in their assessments.

The trends on student achievement are also positive. Teachers view students today as better prepared for grade level work and they see improvements in student knowledge on specific subjects and skills. Most principals and teachers believe their schools do well in preparing students for college, and a higher percentage of students aspire to attend college today than 20 years ago (and girls aspire to go at higher rates than boys). Teachers and students generally feel encouraged by their school culture to build strong relationships with one another.

Students generally rate teachers highly in preparing them academically, and students today are more trusting of their teachers than they were in past decades. Students often mention interpersonal skills when asked about what makes a good teacher.

The MetLife Survey also reveals encouraging signs for the quantity and quality of teachers for the future. The majority of teachers and principals do not see the supply of qualified teachers as a serious problem for their school, and teachers and principals also rate the training preparation of teachers for the classroom more highly than they did in the past. Furthermore, teachers today are more likely to recommend a career in teaching than they were a generation ago.

However, there are serious causes for concern which pose challenges to educators and policy makers.

Educators in urban schools are significantly less positive in their assessment of many factors than their colleagues in suburban and rural schools. Teachers and principals tend to rate urban schools significantly lower on school quality, and teachers and principals in schools with a high proportion of minority students give significantly lower ratings on academic standards, curriculum, and student preparation. Urban educators also show greater concern about factors including the supply of qualified

teachers, teacher turnover, student dropout rates, quality of college preparation, school disciplinary policy, parental support, poverty and poor nutrition. One notable exception to this pattern of urban schools being more at-risk is in the area of professional development. Urban principals give professional development higher ratings than their suburban or rural counterparts, and urban teachers report that their professional development has prepared them to face a variety of challenges effectively at rates in line with their suburban or rural counterparts.

Much has changed in education over the past 25 years, and the education environment will continue to change.

Education reform since 1984 has shifted from a focus on teaching to a focus on student achievement, with teachers as leaders in a responsibility more broadly shared among teachers, administrators, parents, the community and the students themselves. Teachers today have access to a wider range of resources for instruction, professional development, and professional communication than teachers did in 1984. Most new teachers meet at least once a month and a substantial amount meet once a week with more experienced teachers to discuss teaching.

Most teachers also meet at least once a month to discuss student data with other teachers in their school to improve teaching. Teachers see progress in addressing outside challenges that can inhibit learning, and in how well prepared they are to address those challenges, yet areas for improvement remain. Fewer teachers today value standardized testing as a resource for improving teaching than in the past. Although some improvement in grade level preparation of students is evident, substantial numbers of teachers seldom communicate with teachers at other grade levels in their district about how well students are prepared, and ratings of student preparation do not increase as students progress from primary to secondary grades.

Looking forward, digital information and communication represent both challenges and resources for schools and for educators. Teachers value technology and use the Internet. They are using the Internet and technology in a variety of ways including accessing online courses, using software to track student performance, and participating in social networking sites related to teaching, but do so with varying frequency. In fact, digital communication and information accessing is more common among principals than teachers.

Complete report:


Supports Intensity Scale is effective for identifying needs in people with intellectual disability

New study confirms SIS effectiveness

Study was conducted with 274 adults with intellectual disabilities currently receiving funding from a state developmental disability agency

Washington, DC—(February 23, 2009)—The Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) assessment tool can effectively predict funding for people with intellectual disability based on individual needs, and it is truly a needs-based assessment tool, unlike adaptive behavior instruments or other measures of personal competence commonly used to determine services for people with intellectual disabilities, reveals a new study with 274 adults currently receiving funding from a state developmental disability agency. The study, titled, "Efficacy of the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) to Predict Extraordinary Support Needs" is published in the January 2009 issue of the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AJIDD). The SIS is a planning tool developed by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to assess needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 85 life areas.

"The most significant finding of this study is that the Supports Intensity Scale measures something unique from measures of personal competence. It captures a person's support needs," explains Dr. Michael Wehmeyer, Senior Scientist at the Beach Center on Disability and the study's co-author. "This is significant because it presents the field of developmental disability with a unique opportunity to base services and funding decisions on the needs and goals of a person living with an intellectual disability."

Dr. Wehmeyer explains further, "Measures of personal competence such as IQ tests and adaptive behavior assessments, while serving an important role in the diagnosis and classification of intellectual disability, are not necessarily designed to provide meaningful information for developing programs and services for people with developmental disabilities." Historically, in developmental disability services, funding and services for people are based on the assessment of the skills of a person with an intellectual disability, that is, what a person can or cannot do. The Supports Intensity Scale on the other hand, measures the level and intensity of support a person needs to do whatever the individual needs or wants to do in life.

In the study conducted by six researchers, including four of the original SIS authors, 274 people with intellectual disability currently receiving funding from one state using the Developmental Disabilities Profile (DDP), a commonly-used tool to determine eligibility for developmental disability services, were administered the Supports Intensity Scale assessment. The researchers then examined the variations in support needs as a function of level of disability, medical concerns, and other factors.

The study concludes: "Using the SIS as a means to determine actual supports needed would be as or more effective than using the DDP or professional/personal judgment alone…the SIS would be potentially more effective for equitably determining need for extraordinary funding if equitable refers to funding on the basis of an individual's intensity of supports needed."

The Supports Intensity Scale was developed by 10 disability experts over five years and the Scale is currently adopted by 13 North American states and Canadian provinces. To learn more about the Scale, visit http://www.siswesbite.org/.

Full report:


Report find Communities in Schools provides positive support to almost 90,000 students a year

Communities In Schools (CIS) of Texas, a best practices dropout prevention program, annually provides positive support that helps keep almost 90,000 at-risk students in school, a new study found.

The report titled Evaluation of Communities In Schools (CIS) of Texas conducted by ICF International of Fairfax, Va. found that “For middle and high school students, CIS was clearly making a difference. It was common to hear students express how CIS helped them with their attitudes and behaviors both within and outside of school. As a result of CIS, students indicated they were fighting less with parents and peers, making better decisions, taking more responsibility for their actions and accepting the consequences of their actions, doing better in school on homework, grades and even tests and that they understood why going to school was important.”

CIS provides personalized case management services to students and coordinates community resources in schools. Begun in 1979 in Houston, CIS of Texas now has 28 affiliates located in 55 counties throughout the state. The state invests more than $20 million annually in CIS dropout prevention efforts. The CIS program is part of a national organization that operates in more than 30 states. Communities In Schools of Texas is managed statewide by the Texas Education Agency.

The evaluation, required by the 80th Texas Legislature, found that TEA “provides significant management and technical support to local affiliates. This support is credited with the implementation of a statewide CIS program that is well managed and of high quality.”

The evaluation looked at data through the 2006-2007 school year. During that year, CIS of Texas served 86,836 students in 741 schools. Those students received 2,233,719 hours of service or an average of 26.6 hours of service per student per school year.

Services provided through CIS include supportive guidance and counseling; health and human services, parental and family involvement, career awareness and employment, enrichment and additional educational services. The evaluation found that through both direct and brokered services, CIS provides the necessary services to address risk factors for preventing school dropout.

The report found that supportive guidance, such as having an adult advocate or mentor, was one of the most successful aspects of the program. “Providing more hours of general supportive guidance is associated with lower odds of dropping out of school, greater odds of being promoted to the next grade level and greater odds of staying in school,” according to the evaluation.

This type of assistance can be helpful as students transition to a new school, such as moving from elementary school to middle school as this is a period of great adjustment for students.

Regarding parent involvement in education, the report found that “CIS has been successful in engaging parents, which is a necessary ingredient to a child’s success.”

The report concludes that “If CIS can serve more students within a school for a longer period of time, the impacts, both immediate and long term, are expected to be greater.”

The full report is available at:


Report on Best Practices in Dropout Prevention

A new report on Best Practices in Dropout Prevention recently released by ICF International, in partnership with the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, found that three Texas programs had consistent, positive and meaningful effects on preventing dropouts. The three dropout programs with the most potential for success were CareerAcademies, Communities In Schools, and Project GRAD.

Career Academies operate as alternative schools within a larger high school and focus on making students career-ready by combining regular academic coursework with career centered curricula, having students focus on one career track, and giving them the opportunity to intern with local businesses.

Communities In Schools is a stay-in-school program utilizing a case management model to help students by providing services directly or linking students with other agencies and programs in the community to help them stay in school, attain better attendance rates, reduce behavior problems, improve academically and graduate or receive a GED.

Project GRAD works with high schools and their feeder schools to prevent dropouts and encourage college attendance by providing scholarships, while focusing on classroom management, student performance, parental involvement, graduation rates and college acceptance rates.

The Best Practices in Dropout Prevention study was a requirement of House Bill 2237, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007. The bill, which included a number of provisions and programs aimed at improving high school completion and success rates, required the Texas Education Agency to conduct a study on best practices in dropout prevention.

In addition to identifying the most effective dropout programs, the study provides an overview of dropout prevention efforts and research, both nationally and across Texas. The study found that the most effective dropout programs utilized the following dropout strategies:

_ School-community collaboration;

_ Safe learning environments;

_ Family engagement;

_ Mentoring/tutoring;

_ Alternative schooling;

_ Active learning; and

_ Career and technology education

The report also provides legislative recommendations and identifies dropout prevention programs that have potential for success in Texas.

The report stated that “results indicate that dropout prevention programs are reporting successes in various settings and with different populations. The evidence demonstrates that it is possible to achieve positive results using a core set of effective strategies, even among the highest risk populations.”

To view the full report, go to http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/comm/leg_reports/bpdp_finalreport_20081219_toTEA.pdf

Artificial Turf Fields: Experts Weigh in on Potential Dangers

While the recognized benefits include the potential for increased use and thereby increased physical activity, these benefits must be tempered by the potential risks. It is widely recognized that there is a potential for burn injuries related to high temperatures on the turf surface in the heat of the day. Studies in athletes have also shown increased risk for wound infections when playing on these surfaces.

A major question that remains unanswered is whether exposure to the myriad of potential toxins found in recycled tires may unduly expose players on the fields and hence negatively impact health. There is a potential for these toxins to be inhaled, absorbed through the skin and even ingested.

These exposures do not remain on the field alone. Players track the rubber pellets found in the surface into their homes where young children may also be exposed. More recently, lead, a toxin with well-studied health concerns, was found in the plastic, green blades of fake grass that top the fields. Citizens and school boards should question the wisdom of installing synthetic turf until a credible independent study has been conducted and published.

Tips for safer uses of turf fields:

• Do no use the turf fields on extremely hot days.

• Be sure to clean and monitor any “turf burns” obtained while playing._

• Attempt to remove all pellets from shoes and clothes prior to leaving the fields._

• At home, shake out your equipment and clothes in the garage or over the garbage._

• Shower and wash thoroughly after playing on the field.
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Feb ERR #13


Children in pre-K classrooms, randomly assigned to the experimental group, who viewed WordWorld in school benefited significantly in:

• Learning oral vocabulary featured in WordWorld and

• Reading or recognizing written words featured in WordWorld

as compared to children in pre-K classrooms randomly assigned to the control group who did not participate in viewing WordWorld in school.

Full report:


Certified teachers+modern instruction=better public-school math scores

In another “Freakonomics”-style study that turns conventional wisdom about public- versus private-school education on its head, a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum.

Sarah Lubienski, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the U. of I. College of Education, says teacher certification and reform-oriented teaching practices correlated positively with higher achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for public-school students.

“According to our results, schools that hired more certified teachers and had a curriculum that de-emphasized learning by rote tended to do better on standardized math tests,” Lubienski said. “And public schools had more of both.”

To account for the difference in test scores, Lubienski and her co-authors, education professor Christopher Lubienski (her husband) and doctoral student Corinna Crane, looked at five critical factors: school size, class size, parental involvement, teacher certification and instructional practices.

In previous research, the Lubienskis discovered that after holding demographic factors constant, public school students performed just as well if not better than private schools students on standardized math tests.

“There are so many reasons why you would think that the results should be reversed – that private schools would outscore public schools in standardized math test scores,” she said. “This study looks at the underlying reasons why that’s not necessarily the case.”

Of the five factors, school size and parental involvement “didn’t seem to matter all that much,” Lubienski said, citing a weak correlation between the two factors as “mixed or marginally significant predictors” of student achievement.

They also discovered that smaller class sizes, which are more prevalent in private schools than in public schools, significantly correlate with achievement.

“Smaller class size correlated with higher achievement and occurred more frequently in private schools,” Lubienski said. “But that doesn’t help explain why private schools were being outscored by public schools.”

Lubienski said one reason private schools show poorly in this study could be their lack of accountability to a public body.

“There’s been this assumption that private schools are more effective because they’re autonomous and don’t have all the bureaucracy that public schools have,” Lubienski said. “But one thing this study suggests is that autonomy isn’t necessarily a good thing for schools.”

Another reason could be private schools’ anachronistic approach to math.

“Private schools are increasingly ignoring curricular trends in education, and it shows,” Lubienski said. “They’re not using up-to-date methods, and they’re not hiring teachers who employ up-to-date lesson plans in the classroom. When you do that, you aren’t really taking advantage of the expertise in math education that’s out there.”

Lubienski thinks one of the reasons that private schools don’t adopt a more reform-minded math curriculum is because some parents are more attracted to a “back-to-basics” approach to math instruction. The end result, however, is students who are “prepared for the tests of 40 years ago, and not the tests of today,” she said.

Tests like NAEP, Lubienski said, have realigned themselves with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards for math instruction, which have moved away from the brute-force memorization of numbers to an emphasis on “geometry, measurement and algebra – things that private school teachers reported they spent less time teaching,” Lubienski said.

“The results do seem to suggest that private schools are doing their own thing, and that they’re less likely to have paid attention to curricular trends and the fact that math instruction and math tests have changed,” she said.

Lubienski cautioned that the relationships found between the two factors and public-school performance might not be directly causal.

“The correlations might be a result, for example, of having the type of administrator who makes teacher credentials and academics the priority over other things, such as religious education,” she said. “That's often not the case for private religious schools, where parents are obviously committed to things beside academic achievement.”

The schools with the smallest percentage of certified teachers – conservative Christian schools, where less than half of teachers were certified – were, not coincidentally, the schools with the lowest aggregate math test scores.

“Those schools certainly have the prerogative to set different priorities when hiring, but it just doesn’t help them on NAEP,” Lubienski said.

Lubienski also noted that public schools tend to set aside money for teacher development and periodic curriculum improvements.

“Private schools don’t invest as much in the professional development of their teachers and don’t do enough to keep their curriculum current,” she said. “That appears to be less of a priority for them, and they don’t have money designated for that kind of thing in the way public schools do.”

Lubienski hopes that politicians who favor more privatization would realize that the invisible hand of the market doesn’t necessarily apply to education.

“You can give schools greater autonomy, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to use that autonomy to implement an innovative curriculum or improve the academics of the students,” she said.

Instead, some private schools try to attract parents by offering a basic skills curriculum, or non-academic requirements, such as students wearing uniforms.

Privatization also assumes that parents can make judgments about what schools are the best for their children.

“With schools, it’s tough to see how much kids are actually learning,” Lubienski said. “Market theory in education rests on the assumption that parents can see what they’re buying, and that they’re able to make an informed decision about their child’s education. Although parents might be able to compare schools’ SAT scores, they aren’t able to determine whether those gains are actually larger in higher scoring schools unless they know where students start when they enter school. People don’t always pick the most effective schools.”

The results were published in a paper titled “Achievement Differences and School Type: The Role of School Climate, Teacher Certification, and Instruction” in the November 2008 issue of the American Journal of Education. The published findings were based on fourth- and eighth-grade test results from the 2003 NAEP test, including data from both student achievement and comprehensive background information drawn from a nationally representative sample of more than 270,000 students from more than 10,000 schools.

New research offers guidance for improving primary grade writing instruction

New research from Vanderbilt University's Peabody College offers guidance for teachers to help them improve writing instruction in the primary grades and develop stronger student writers.

The two new studies by Steve Graham, professor and Curry Ingram Chair in Special Education, were recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

"The primary purpose of both articles is to inform teachers about writing practices that work with a wide variety of students," Graham said. "We're hoping to help give teachers the opportunity to creatively incorporate effective writing strategies in the classroom to improve the writing of their students."

The National Commission on Writing has stated that writing should be placed at the center of the school agenda.

In "A Meta-Analysis of Single Subject Design Writing Intervention Research," Graham and Leslie Rogers, a current Vanderbilt University doctoral student in special education, identified effective writing practices for all students including students who struggle within the classroom. This research focuses on the current writing practices in grades 1 through 12, including some suggestions for improvement.

"Among the more important findings is the need for students to be taught how to plan, revise and set clear and specific goals for their writing," Graham said. "Students also need to be taught the skills to write clear and effective paragraphs."

Graham's other paper, "Primary Grade Writing Instruction: A National Survey," co-authored with Laura Cutler, a graduate student in Special Education at the University of Maryland when the research was conducted and currently a teacher in Florida, provides more direct recommendations to improve classroom writing practices.

"Primary grade teachers need to focus on increasing the time spent writing, balancing the time spent writing with the time spent learning how to write, boosting their students' motivation for writing, making computers a more integral part of their writing curriculum, and improving their own preparation for teaching writing," Graham said. "These recommendations offer educators the opportunity to focus on their weakest areas to improve instruction and the quality of student writers produced in our classrooms."

Unraveling bias from student evaluations of their high school science teachers

In this study, the evaluation of high school biology, chemistry, and physics teachers by their students is examined according to the gender of the student and the gender of the teacher. Female teachers are rated significantly lower than male teachers by male students in all three disciplines, whereas female students underrate female teachers only in physics. Interestingly, physics is also the field that suffers the greatest lack of females and has been criticized most for its androcentric culture.

The gender bias in teacher ratings persists even when accounting for academic performance, classroom experiences, and family support. Furthermore, male and female teachers in each discipline appear equally effective at preparing their students for future science study in college, suggesting that students have a discipline-specific gender bias. Such a bias may negatively impact female students and contribute to the loss of females in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

Full report:


The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

New Study Shows Selective Use of Data and Political Bias in International Test

Report Also Finds Encouraging Progress in Big City Districts, Despite Continued Achievement Gaps

A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds serious flaws in a prominent international test and concludes that the test should not be used as a benchmark for state assessments.

The report zeroes in on an international testing program known as PISA, short for the Programme for International Student Assessment, which is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although the United States participates in PISA, Tom Loveless, senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy and author of the new study, said it has generally “flown below the radar” in this country. That may soon change, however, as the National Governor’s Association, backed by other powerful groups in Washington, pushes for states to use PISA as an international benchmark of student performance. Loveless concludes that without major reform, serious deficiencies in PISA’s approach to student assessment make it “inappropriate for benchmarking against U.S. tests.”

The study closely examines the science portion of the test and argues that PISA’s architects make unwarranted leaps between student attitudes and academic performance. It contrasts PISA’s educational philosophy with that of another international test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). While TIMSS aims simply to assess how well students have learned mathematics and science taught in school, PISA defines knowledge more broadly and views social environment and attitude, not just instruction, as crucial to how much students learn. The study casts doubt on PISA’s claim that “building students‘ confidence in their ability to tackle scientific problems is an important part of improving science performance.”

When the Brown Center recalculated the correlation between national indices of student attitudes and academic performance, using a methodology more conventional than the one employed in the latest PISA report, in almost every area it found a negative correlation between attitudes and substantive knowledge. This is consistent with a previous Brown Center report that found, for instance, that relatively low-scoring American eighth graders have much higher confidence in their math abilities than much higher-scoring Singaporean eighth graders. On the PISA science test, a similar pattern exists. High scoring nations in science do not necessarily have students with more positive attitudes toward the subject.

The report says, “Nations that launch bold new programs to increase student enjoyment of science may see no benefits from their efforts. Whether changing students’ attitudes, beliefs, and values will help or hinder science learning cannot be determined from PISA data.”

The Brown Centeraalso found ideology in PISA. The test asks students various “attitudinal” questionabout environmental issues. These question the students’ beliefs about issues, not their knowledge of issues. The items that measure sense of responsibility for sustainable development are especially troubling. Students are presented with several environment policies and asked if they agree or disagree with them. Students who astrongly agree with these policies possess “a sense of responsible isustainable developm. Students who strongly disagree with these policies are deemed deficient in such responsibility.

The Brown Center Report argues that the positions students take on environmental policies reflect political judgment, not scientific literacy, and that questions eliciting political beliefs are inappropriate on the PISA assessment. The report concludes that PISA needs nongovernmental participation built into its oversight structure and a thorough review for political bias.

“The OECD routinely scrubs PISA items for gender and cultural bias,” the study says. “It is imperative that PISA be scrubbed for ideological bias as well.” That doesn’t mean attempting political “balance” by including items reflecting different political views, it says. Instead, the Brown Center report concludes, “the solution is to avoid asking such questions altogether. This is a science test. Stick to the science.”

Student Achievement On The Rise in Many Big City Schools

Another section of the new Brown Center report offers positive news about student achievement in many of the nation’s largest urban school districts. While a number of recent reports have given encouraging accounts of improvement in big-city classrooms, this new analysis goes further by comparing large urban schools to their rural and suburban counterparts in the same state.

“Our approach stems from a concern for equity,” says Loveless. While it is always encouraging to see urban schools improve on state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Loveless said, “if more affluent schools are improving even faster, that would raise disquieting questions about whether urban children are receiving an inferior education just because of where they live.”

The study examined test scores for 37 urban districts, using a statistical measure known as a “z-score” to standardize scores between states using different tests. “City districts still lag behind,” Loveless said, “but we were glad to find that twenty-nine of the thirty-seven big city school districts closed the gap between their test scores and state averages.”

For eight districts, the gap did not close, and the report cautions that the positive news must be kept in perspective. “Most big city school districts still trail far behind their suburban and rural peers,” it says. In Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, for instance, test scores are two standard deviations below state averages.

The study is also cautious in attributing improvements in urban schools to a particular policy or practice. It acknowledges a range of possible explanations, including the rise of accountability systems that reward or sanction schools based on gains among low achievers, most notably No Child Left Behind; the spread among urban school reformers of strategies that include school choice, standards, and lower class size; and the growth of mayoral control over city schools.

A third section of the report, which was released in September 2008, documents the trend of placing unprepared eighth-graders into algebra and other advanced math classes.

For a full copy of the report :


Grad Nation: A Guidebook to Help Communities Tackle The Dropout Crisis

America's Promise Alliance recently commissioned Grad Nation, a new tool comprising the best evidence-based practices for keeping young people in school paired with suggestions for effectively preparing them for life after high school.

It is a guidebook that provides a road map to help communities tackle the dropout crisis. It is designed to help communities develop tailored plans for keeping students on track to graduate from high school, prepared for college, work and life. Grad Nation is a natural outgrowth of our local summit work to ensure that solutions are developed to put our youth on a path to success.

Grad Nation also includes ready-to-print tools and links to additional online resources, in addition to research-based guidance. It provides information and tools for developing and implementing a customized program that’s right for individual communities.

On the left side of each page, the user will find valuable information on the topic being discussed. This is accompanied by “A Deeper Look,” which are references to online resources that provide more information.

On the right side of each page are suggestions for specific action — what you can do — along with links to tools to help get the job done. These tools, identified by a symbol, include:

• informational handouts to build support for community action

• forms and tables to help you organize and analyze local data

• charts to guide your decision making

Complete guidebook:


Maryland Takes National Lead to Preserve Foreign Language Assets

A state task force co-directed by the University of Maryland and the State Department of Education concludes in a new report that the state is "uniquely positioned" to help meet national foreign language needs by tapping its abundant pool of well-educated, bilingual speakers.

The Task Force on the Preservation of Heritage Language Skills, created by the Maryland General Assembly, is the first state-sponsored effort of its kind in the nation.

It recommends a series of steps to harness the bilingual abilities of first, second and third generation Americans that thrive at home or in community settings to recruit teachers and translators. A population strong in both English and other languages is essential for the nation's security and commerce, it says.

The report recommends no-cost/low-cost state action to help existing community efforts prevent these skills from withering away as immigrants age and families assimilate.


1. Given the state's demographic profile and proximity to the nation's capital, Maryland is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in supporting the language needs of government and industry by developing its community-based skills.

"We spoke to businesses, federal agencies and community groups, and heard loud and clear that the unmet need for bilingual speakers harms the nation in its security and business competitiveness," says task force member Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-College Park). "In a number of cases, religious and community organizations are already doing some of this language preservation work. As a start, we should do everything that's feasible to coordinate and make the most of these existing efforts."

2. In surveys with hundreds of Maryland's cultural heritage speakers and organizations, the task force found a deep commitment to preserve their cultures and languages. For example, task force members learned from private organizations about their programs to teach Chinese, Tamil, Korean and Bengali.

"There's a sense of urgency in heritage communities because they understand how fragile language skills are - especially among their children," says Ingold, the task force chair. "As a result, these community-based groups are highly motivated, often quite skilled and have made significant beginnings."

3. The business sector considers foreign language skills a "valuable asset," but offers little formal training. Also, the task force reported a "strong correlation between many of Maryland's heritage languages and the countries engaged in trade with the State," emphasizing the commercial benefits of heritage language preservation.

4. Federal agencies charged with national security noted a need for specific language skills: Arabic, Pashtu, Russian, Chinese, French, Urdu, Korean, Japanese, Indic, Iranian, and several African languages - areas of strength for Maryland heritage speakers.


"Heritage speakers are a very large and diverse group in Maryland representing more than 140 languages, and many are extremely well-educated - they have valuable skills to offer that we ought to use and protect," says Sen. Rosapepe. "The main challenges we face in assuring that Maryland benefits from these skills are leadership, coordination, and innovation - not taxpayer dollars. We need to make better use of existing resources."

1. Award high school credit by exam. Maryland school districts have authority to award high school credit for foreign language proficiency gained outside school, but demonstrated through testing. Credit by exam would encourage participation in non-public heritage language programs, the report concludes. This is likely to save taxpayer money, Rosapepe says.

2. Advanced English classes for adults. The task force notes the high number of highly educated heritage speakers who need advanced English proficiency training, though most classes only teach basic literacy. Greater availability of advanced classes would improve Maryland workforce competitiveness, the report says.

3. Increase dual immersion programs in Maryland public schools. Maryland has a few intensive dual immersion programs that concentrate on both English and heritage language proficiency. Research demonstrates their effectiveness, the report says, and recommends increasing the number in the state to 10 by 2012, within existing resources.

4. Expand teacher certification. A shortage of certified language teachers is a main obstacle to the acquisition of critical foreign languages. While Maryland has taken steps to expand options for teacher certification, the report calls for further progress.

Other recommendations include helping community organizations find space for language classes, listing Maryland employment opportunities for heritage speakers, expanding library collections of children's heritage language books, and developing a long-term strategic plan to meet Maryland's language needs.

The full report:

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Feb ERR #12

The Early School Transitions and the Social Behavior of Children with Disabilities: Selected Findings from the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study.

PEELS involves a nationally representative sample of children, ages 3 to 5 years at entrance to the study, with diverse disabilities who are receiving preschool special education services in a variety of settings. Topics covered in the report include changes in services and eligibility at times of transition, transitions into kindergarten, and social skills and problem behavior of young children with disabilities from 2003-04 to 2005-06.

The report found approximately 20 percent of children who transitioned from preschool to kindergarten were declassified each year. In contrast, of children who did not undergo a transition, less than 10 percent were declassified each year. Kindergarten teachers used, on average, five strategies to facilitate a child’s transition to kindergarten. However, the number of strategies used by kindergarten teachers varied significantly by district size, metropolitan status, and district wealth.

Parents' reports changed significantly for some of their children's social skills and behaviors, generally in the direction of improved social skills and fewer behavior problems. The percentage of parents who reported that their children's behavior was age appropriate increased significantly, from 58 percent in 2003-04 to 61 percent in 2005-06.

Complete report:

Impact Evaluation of the U. S. Department of Education's Student Mentoring Program

This study provides rigorous information on the impact of the Student Mentoring Program funded through the U. S. Department of Education. The evaluation is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in which students in the fourth through eighth grades were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive school-based mentoring from one of the U. S. Department of Education’s mentoring grantees. Students were compared on seventeen measures across four domains: school engagement, academic achievement, delinquent behavior, and prosocial behavior.

The evaluation found that for the full sample of students, the program did not lead to statistically significant impacts on any of the measures. In addition, the evaluation estimated impacts across five subgroups for each of the outcome measures, four of which were found to be statistically significant (i.e., increased self-reported scholastic efficacy and school bonding for girls, increased self-reported future orientation for boys, decreased truancy for students under age 12, and decreased self-reported prosocial behavior for boys).

These impact findings are in the context of several key program delivery findings. Thirty-five percent of the students who were assigned to the no-mentoring group received mentoring services, primarily from other providers in the community. Also, 14 percent of the students assigned to the mentoring group were never matched with a mentor. Of students assigned to the mentoring group and met with their mentors, the average was 1.1 hours per meeting, 4.4 times per month for 5.8 months.

Complete report:
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Feb ERR #10

Technology and the Future of Student Assessment

At a time when students are tested more than ever—and test results are used to make critical judgments about the performance of schools, teachers, and students—our testing methods don't serve our educational system nearly as well as they should. Since the late 1930s, fill-in-the-bubble test score sheets and scanners have remained the dominant methods used in local, state, and national assessments, but these technologies and the approaches underlying them do not align well with what we know about how students learn, nor do they tell us much about how to help students do better.

In a new Education Sector report, Chief Operating Officer Bill Tucker argues that technology has the potential to drastically improve our current assessment systems and practices, leading to significant improvements in teaching and learning in the nation's classrooms. Tucker evaluates a number of new research projects that demonstrate how information technology can both deepen and broaden assessment practices in elementary and secondary education by testing new skills and concepts and doing so more comprehensively. And, importantly, these research projects have produced assessments that reflect what cognitive research tells us about how people learn.

Tucker acknowledges that technology alone cannot transform assessment. To be successful, new approaches to assessment would have to be aligned with standards, curricula, professional development, and instruction. Thus, fundamentally changing our approach to testing in our public education system would not be easy. But, Tucker concludes, the impending reauthorization of NCLB offers an opportunity to begin to chart a different course for the future of educational assessment, one that would maintain accountability goals but prioritize the use of technology-enabled assessment and enhance teaching and learning.
Read full report:
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Feb ERR #11

Writing in the 21st Century

This new report by Kathleen Blake Yancey, NCTE Past President and writing researcher and writing faculty member, Florida State University, discusses writing in school, the workplace, and civic society.

Complete report:


Educational Video Games Effective In Classroom If Certain Criteria Are Met

Playing and studying are not incompatible activities. A team of researchers from Madrid's Complutense University (UCM) looks to integrating virtual graphic adventures into online education platforms and analyzes the educational and technological aspects that they should have to promote expansion.

According to research, the graphical adventure genre (e-Adventure) is the most flexible, covering the greatest number of subjects or areas of knowledge, and the one that, possibly, "works best in the area of education". In these games, a wide variety of problems must be resolved through a story line designed to aid in the learning process.

The Spanish researchers believe that including video games in the online education platforms is the best way to achieve mass, economic distribution of this tool, the educational effectiveness of which is now rarely a topic of debate in the academic field.

However, widespread use of video games in these environments must still overcome certain educational and technical difficulties. According to the authors, an educational video game must be designed with three key elements in mind: the possibility for evaluation, adaptability and ease of integration.

According to this research, "teachers must be able to determine the progress of students playing at home, how they interact with the game, how they perform". The problem is that it is not possible to completely track all of the actions taken by the students during the game, since that would hinder follow-up, nor limit the evaluation to one or a few actions. The idea, says the researcher, "is to identify the points that are relevant from an educational point of view".

The technology must also enable the video game to be adapted to the specific educational needs of each student. "The machine needs to be taken advantage of so that the game is not static, rather it varies depending on the student's profile", explains Moreno-Ger, who also indicates that video games are "the ideal medium for adaptation; much richer than web pages".

The final important element in designing educational video games is standardization; that is, "packaging the content so that it can move from one platform to another, launching it without problems", the experts explain. This characteristic must also make the technical difficulties as transparent as possible, enabling the teacher to concentrate solely on preparing the content.

Journal reference:

Morenoger et al. Educational game design for online education. Computers in Human Behavior, 2008; 24 (6): 2530 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.03.012

Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

This study reports on the relative impacts of four math curricula on first-grade mathematics achievement. The curricula were selected to represent diverse approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. The four curricula are Investigations in Number, Data, and Space; Math Expressions; Saxon Math; and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. First-grade math achievement was significantly higher in schools randomly assigned to Math Expressions or Saxon Math than in those schools assigned to Investigations in Number, Data, and Space or to Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. This study is being conducted as part of the National Assessment of Title I.

Full report:


Gestures lend a hand in learning mathematics

Hand movements help create new ideas

Gesturing helps students develop new ways of understanding mathematics, according to research at the University of Chicago.

Scholars have known for a long time that movements help retrieve information about an event or physical activity associated with action. A report published in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, however, is the first to show that gestures not only help recover old ideas, they also help create new ones. The information could be helpful to teachers, scholars said.

"This study highlights the importance of motor learning even in nonmotor tasks, and suggests that we may be able to lay the foundation for new knowledge just by telling learners how to move their hands," writes lead author and psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow in the article "Gesturing Gives Children New Ideas About Math".

Goldin, Meadow, the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology, was joined by Susan Wagner Cook, now Assistant Professor of Psychology a the University of Iowa and University of Chicago research assistant Zachary Mitchell, in writing the article and doing the research.

For the study, 128 fourth-grade students were given problems of the type 3+2+8=__+8. None of the students had been successful in solving that type of problem in a pre-test. The students were randomly divided into three instruction groups.

One group was taught the words, "I want to make one side equal to the other side." Another group was taught the same words along with gestures instantiating a grouping problem-solving strategy--a V-shaped hand indicating 3+2, followed by a point at the blank (group and add 3 and 2 and put the sum in the blank). A third group was taught the words along with gestures instantiating the grouping strategy but focusing attention on the wrong numbers--a V-shaped hand indicating 2+8, followed by a point at blank. The experimenter demonstrating the gesture did not explain the movement or comment about it.

All of the students were then given the same mathematics lesson. On each problem during the lesson, they were told to repeat the words or words/gestures they had been taught.

After the lesson, students were given a test in which they solved new problems of this type and explained how they reached their answers. Students who repeated the correct gesture during the lesson solved more problems correctly than students who repeated the partially correct gesture, who, in turn, solved more problems correctly than students who repeated only the words.

The number of problems children solved correctly could be explained by whether they added the grouping strategy to their spoken repertoires after the lesson, Goldin-Meadow said. Because the experimenter never expressed the grouping strategy in speech during the lesson, and students picked it up on their own as a new idea, the study demonstrates that gesture can help create new concepts in learning.

"The grouping information students incorporated into their post-lesson speech must have come from their own gestures," Goldin-Meadow said.

"Children were thus able to extract information from their own hand movements. This process may be the mechanism by which gesturing influences learning," she said.

In battle against teacher turnover, MSU mentoring program proves effective

Beginning teachers in urban school districts quit at an alarming rate – often from lack of support – and Michigan State University education experts are targeting the problem with an innovative mentoring program.

The research-based initiative already has proven successful in the Lansing School District, based on a new study, and now is being replicated at a much larger district in Atlanta. It could ultimately serve as a national model.

A major component involves freeing up veteran teachers to advise their beginning peers throughout the school year. It’s a huge commitment – the Fulton County School System has released seven teachers from the classroom to act as full-time mentors – but holds promise for districts struggling to raise teacher quality and keep new teachers from becoming frustrated and leaving for another system.

Previous research has shown that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years and student achievement often suffers as a result.

“We call it the revolving door,” said Randi Stanulis, MSU associate professor of education and director of the program.

A study by Stanulis and Robert Floden, University Distinguished Professor and associate dean for research in MSU’s College of Education, found the mentoring program improved teacher effectiveness in the Lansing district when it was tested there during the 2005-06 school year. The findings are published in the March/April edition of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Stanulis said many school districts’ mentoring, or induction, programs are ineffective because the mentors are poorly chosen and not trained properly. This is typical in states such as Michigan that have an unfunded mandate requiring each beginning teacher to have a mentor. Often, the mentor simply becomes a “buddy” – available for advice and explaining school procedures but rarely observing or providing feedback about teaching and learning.

Through the MSU program, which is funded by the Carnegie Foundation’s Teachers for a New Era, veteran teachers are recruited and interviewed for mentor positions. They are matched with beginning teachers based on teaching responsibilities related to content and grade level. The mentors are continually trained throughout the school year.

Some mentors are then trained as coaches – meaning they can train mentors themselves and eventually make the program self-sufficient within the school system.

Stanulis said effective mentoring can create better novice teachers, improve student performance and potentially curb high teacher turnover.

“It’s not that first-year teachers are unqualified,” she said. “You wouldn’t take a student who just graduated from medical school and have him perform surgery the next day. But that’s what we do with teachers: They graduate in May and in August they’re expected to do the same thing as someone who’s been teaching 10 years.”

In Fulton County, as in many large districts, teacher turnover remains a problem. The school system loses about 1,000 teachers a year – or about 10 percent of its instructional work force, according to Tawana Miller, the system’s director of Title I and school improvement. Miller worked closely with the MSU team to implement the mentoring program in the Fulton County School System this year.

“Many new teachers are placed in an environment where it’s a do-or-die, sink-or-swim situation,” said Miller, who explains that she has “battle scars” from her first few years as a teacher in Fulton County. “It’s almost an impossible task.”

NAEP Researchers: Data Available for 2007 Writing Assessment and National Indian Education Study

Restricted-use data for the 2007 writing assessment is now available, joining the datasets for mathematics and reading issued last year. The writing assessment data are for students in grades 8 and 12, with state data at grade 8 only. Read more about the 2007 writing assessment at


The 2007 National Indian Education Study (NIES) used samples of students in grades 4 and 8 who took the NAEP mathematics and reading assessments. The NIES contains data for selected states. Read more at


New research on NAEP data is vital for improving our nation's education system. NAEP offers many resources for researchers, such as:

* Help in planning research--explore public-use data using the NAEP Data Explorer:


* Listings of variables available across several years of datasets:


* An e-library and information about periodic researcher trainings and seminars:


* Funding opportunities for researchers and policymakers performing secondary analysis of NAEP data:


All NAEP Report Cards may be read and downloaded at


Ordering information for the two new data sets is here:

2007 NIES


2007 NAEP writing


This summer, the datasets for the 2008 long-term trend assessment in mathematics and reading will be available to NCES-licensed researchers.

NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences.

Restricted-use data for the 2007 writing assessment is now available, joining the datasets for mathematics and reading issued last year. The writing assessment data are for students in grades 8 and 12, with state data at grade 8 only. Read more about the 2007 writing assessment at


The 2007 National Indian Education Study (NIES) used samples of students in grades 4 and 8 who took the NAEP mathematics and reading assessments. The NIES contains data for selected states. Read more at


New research on NAEP data is vital for improving our nation's education system. NAEP offers many resources for researchers, such as:

* Help in planning research--explore public-use data using the NAEP Data Explorer:


* Listings of variables available across several years of datasets:


* An e-library and information about periodic researcher trainings and seminars:


* Funding opportunities for researchers and policymakers performing secondary analysis of NAEP data:


All NAEP Report Cards may be read and downloaded at


Ordering information for the two new data sets is here:

2007 NIES


2007 NAEP writing


This summer, the datasets for the 2008 long-term trend assessment in mathematics and reading will be available to NCES-licensed researchers.

NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences.
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Feb ERR #9

University of Virginia Study Finds Teaching Quality Inadequate in Most U.S. First-Grade Classrooms

Most American first-grade classrooms are pretty happy places to be. Children smile and enjoy working with one another and have positive interactions with their teachers, who recognize their students' cues for help and offer timely responses.

But that doesn't mean that all of the students are getting the academic content they need, according to a new study being published by two University of Virginia researchers in the March issue of The Elementary School Journal.

Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and director of its Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, and Megan Stuhlman, a senior research scientist at the center, based their study on data collected from direct observations of 820 first-grade classrooms in nearly 700 private and public schools in 32 states.

Trained raters used scoring guidelines to assess the types and frequency of social and instructional interactions between teachers and students. For example, a teacher ignoring a student with a question would score low on "sensitivity," while a teacher who responds quickly would score high.

Based upon those observations, Pianta and Stuhlman grouped the classrooms into four major categories. Teachers who worked to both create a positive social climate and strong instructional support - 23 percent of classrooms - were given the score of "high overall quality." Twenty-eight percent of classrooms had teachers scoring just below the mean and were thus deemed "mediocre." Seventeen percent of the classrooms were "low overall quality."

The largest category in the sample, accounting for 31 percent of the classrooms, was labeled "positive emotional climate, low academic demand." Stuhlman, who earned a Ph.D. from U.Va. in 2004, explained that in these classrooms, teachers interacted warmly with the students and did not discipline with threats. However, their "low academic demand" was revealed in their tendency to not give constructive feedback - for instance, not asking students to think a little bit harder about their questions, or by making basic facts more real to students in ways that would expand their understanding of those facts.

"We found that quality, particularly instructional features of teacher behavior, was rather low across the sample," said Pianta, the study's lead investigator. "In other studies, we have demonstrated the connection between these observed teacher-child interactions and student learning gains. So what we are seeing here may influence the extent to which children can perform at standards consistent with accountability frameworks such as No Child Left Behind."

Part of a 17-year longitudinal study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, this study sought to identify factors that measure teacher quality based on the evidence in the data collected from the large classroom sample.

Interestingly, the study found that factors traditionally thought to influence quality, such as class size and teacher credentials, had little influence on classroom quality. Instead, the study found that high classroom quality is linked more strongly to teachers who are both creating a positive social climate and offering strong instructional support.

"The results of this study point to incredible variation in educational opportunities for children in our country," Pianta said. "To increase the chances that more children will receive a high-quality education, we have to provide teachers with effective and targeted support to help them promote their students' learning and understanding."

For more on Pianta's work on teacher quality, visit http://www.virginia.edu/vpr/CASTL .

The Accountability Illusion

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Kingsbury Center at Northwest Evaluation Association have released a new study, The Accountability Illusion. It examines the No Child Left Behind Act as implemented and reveals an enormously uneven and misleading system of school accountability.

Analysts took 36 real schools (18 elementary, 18 middle) and “moved” them from state to state (28 states in all) to see how many would make “adequate yearly progress” under each state's NCLB rules. The alarming results? In some states, nearly all of the elementary schools would make AYP while in others practically none of them would. These are the exact same schools. This tells us that the present system isn’t working.

A school’s AYP status depends at least as much on what state it's in as on the performance of its students.

Full report and state reports:



Achieve has released, “Closing the Expectations Gap,” its fourth annual report on the progress of high school reform efforts in all 50 states. The report, which tracks efforts by states to set expectations for high school graduates that are in line with the demands of college and careers, shows progress in a majority of states towards making the high school diploma more meaningful – particularly in the area of standards – though there is still considerable work to be done.

Since Achieve launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) Network in 2005 to challenge states to work together to align their standards, graduation requirements, assessments and accountability systems with the realities of college and the workplace, Achieve has surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia about the status of their efforts to adopt and implement the rigorous ADP agenda.

The 50-state survey looks at the number of states that have raised standards and adjusted their graduation requirements, P-20 data systems, assessments and accountability systems to support the college- and career-ready agenda.

Specifically, the report’s findings include:

• All but six states have aligned, or plan to align, their end of high school standards in English and mathematics with college and career readiness expectations. Twenty-three states have completed this work.

• In 2005, only two states required students to complete a college- and career-ready curriculum in order to earn a high school diploma. Today, 20 states and the District of Columbia have set their graduation requirements at the college- and career-ready level.

• Only 10 states have assessments rigorous enough to measure whether high school students have met college and career readiness standards. Twenty-three additional states are planning to put such assessments in place in the next several years.

• Before 2006, only three states had P-20 longitudinal data systems and regularly matched student-level K-12 and postsecondary data to measure progress and improve the transition from high school into college or the workplace. Now, 12 states have P-20 data systems, and all but one state are working to put such a system in place.

• School accountability systems in most states are currently not anchored in the goal of graduating all students college- and career-ready. In most cases, the expectations for schools are much lower. States are beginning to develop more ambitious goals and broaden the indicators used to report on school progress and hold schools accountable for improvement.

To see a full copy of the report, go to


Impact of For-Profit and Nonprofit Management on Student Achievement:

The Philadelphia Intervention, 2002-2008

The School District of Philadelphia, in the summer of 2002 contracted out thirty elementary and middle schools to for-profit management organizations; 16 schools to nonprofit organizations. Using individual student test-score data made available by the School District of Philadelphia, the authors estimated the impact of for-profit and nonprofit management on student achievement by tracking the performance of students in math and reading from 2001 to 2008.

Of the 30 schools included in the study that were under for-profit management, 20 were managed by Edison Schools, five by Victory Schools, and five by Chancellor Beacon Academies. Of the 16 schools included in the study that were managed by nonprofits, five were managed by Foundations, three by the University of Pennsylvania, five by Temple University, and three by Universal Companies. the authors compare the performance of the privately managed schools to that of 71 schools that remained under regular school district management whose students performed below the district median.

This paper includes information for two more years (school years ending in 2007 and 2008) beyond what was previously reported in Peterson and Chingos (2007). It also examines the impact on test scores of the five schools for whom the for-profit contract was revoked by the school district.

Nonprofit Management

The impact of nonprofit management appears to have been negative. At schools under nonprofit management, students learned, on average for the six years, 21 percent of a standard deviation less in math each year than they would have had their school remained under regular district management. Calculated in terms of years of schooling, the negative impacts on math performance were, on average, approximately 50 percent of a year’s worth of learning annually, a large impact. However, the negative impact was statistically significant in only the first year after the intervention began. In reading the average adverse impact of nonprofit management was roughly 10 percent of a standard deviation less annually, about 32 percent of a year’s worth of learning each year. However, the effect on reading performance was statistically significant in only the first year after the intervention began.

For-profit Management

The impact of for-profit management was generally positive, though only the math impacts are statistically significant. At schools under for-profit management, students learned in math, on average, 25 percent of a standard deviation more each year of the six years of the intervention than they would have had the school been under district management. The estimated impact each year was roughly 60 percent of a year’s worth of learning, a large, statistically significant impact.

Full report:


Lots of Education $ in Recovery Act

The ARRA provides more than $100 billion in education funding and college grants and tuition tax credits, as well as billions more for school modernization. It includes:

• $40 billion in state stabilization funds to help avert education cuts. Funds will be given to states in exchange for a commitment to begin advancing education reforms. School systems have discretion to use some of this money for school modernization.

• $13 billion for Title I, including $3 billion for Title I school improvement programs.

• $12 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs.

• $5 billion in incentive grants to be distributed on a competitive basis to states that most aggressively pursue higher standards, quality assessments, robust data systems and teacher quality initiatives. This includes $650 million to fund school systems and non-profits with strong track records of improving student achievement.

• $5 billion for Early Childhood, including Head Start, early Head Start, child care block grants, and programs for infants with disabilities. (Includes Department of Health and Human Services programs).

• $2 billion for other education investments, including pay for performance, data systems, teacher quality investments, technology grants, vocational rehab, work study, and Impact Aid.

College Affordability — $30.8 Billion:

• $17 billion to close the shortfall in the Pell Grant program and boost grant amounts by $500 to $5350 in the first year and more in the second year, serving an estimated 7 million low and moderate-income young people and adults.

• $13.8 billion to boost the tuition tax credit from $1800 to $2500 for families earning up to $180,000.

Additional School Modernization — (up to) $33.6 Billion:

• An additional $8.8 billion in state stabilization funds are available for other state services including education. School modernization is an eligible use of this funding.

Authority for states and school systems to issue $24.8 billion dollars in bonds over the next 10 years for renovation, repairs and school construction that will be retired through a combination of local, state and federal dollars.
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Feb ERR #8

School District Governance Reform: The Devil is in the Details

A Greater Milwaukee Foundation report looks at what happens when school districts are run by mayors or appointed boards.

The Foundation report – School District Governance Reform: The Devil is in the Details – was researched by the Public Policy Forum.

The Foundation report does not draw conclusions about whether or not other forms of school governance are an option for Milwaukee. “That is an issue that requires input from the entire community,” stated Foundation Board president Judy Jorgensen. “We hope the report will prompt a wider, more in-depth examination of the issue.”

The report does, however, note several major findings based on the experience of five communities similar to Milwaukee:

• School governance reform happens over years and may occur in several incarnations;

• If a mayor takes over a school district, his/her ability to achieve improvements is dependent on outside factors, such as state policy and labor contracts;

• Governance reform does not happen in a vacuum and is impacted by political conditions, other educational reforms and larger policy initiatives;

• There are nearly as many models as there are districts that have attempted governance reform;

• The impact of governance change on a district’s fiscal stability are positive to mixed; and

• Governance change can result in some improvements in student performance, but not across the board.

Full report:


Assisting Students Struggling with Reading: Response to Intervention (RtI) and Multi-Tier Intervention in the Primary Grades

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance within the Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) practice guide.

The guide formulates five specific recommendations to help educators identify students in need of intervention and implement evidence-based interventions that promote reading achievement. The guide also describes how to carry out each recommendation, including how to address potential roadblocks to implementation.

Full report:


Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from Two Student Cohorts

This is a report on the impacts on student achievement of a second year of use of selected software programs in first-grade reading, fourth-grade reading, sixth-grade math, and algebra I. The evaluation found no significant difference in student achievement between the classrooms that used the technology products and the classrooms that did not use the technology products, in any of the four groups, in either the first or second year of use by teachers. Only one product, Leap Track in fourth-grade, had a statistically significant positive effect on student achievement.

Full report:


Public School Teacher Retirement Costs Significantly Higher than in Private Sector

Analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that employer contributions to retirement benefits for public school teachers in 2008 were substantially higher than for private professionals, a group that includes lawyers, physicians, financial managers, engineers, computer programmers, and others. According to new research by economists Robert Costrell of the University of Arkansas and Michael Podgursky from the University of Missouri-Columbia, employer contributions to teacher pensions grew from under 12 percent of earnings in 2004 to well over 14 percent in 2008, while pension costs for private sector professionals remained essentially unchanged.

Costrell’s and Podgursky’s research, published in the new issue of Education Next (Spring 2009), reveals that employer contributions to public school teachers’ retirement benefits, as a percent of earnings, were more than 4 percentage points higher than in the private sector, up from less than 2 points higher in 2004 -- a gap that has more than doubled in the past four years.

Costrell and Podgursky found that when compared with the private sector, total employer contributions are higher for teachers whether or not they are also covered by Social Security. In states with employer contribution to social security benefits for teachers, the total average contribution to pensions is over 15 percent of earnings; in states without, the average is just over 11 percent of earnings. In both cases, teachers benefit from greater average employer contributions than those received by private sector employees, which run just over 10 percent of earnings.

The authors note that their estimate of the gap in retirement benefits favoring teachers is underestimated since the U.S. Department of Labor survey data on which they rely does not include retiree health insurance, a benefit that has all but disappeared in the private sector.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, the nation’s public schools spent $59 billion in benefits for instructional personnel, adding about 32 percent to salaries. The vast majority of teacher pension plans are not fully funded. This means that contributions include both the “normal cost” of pension liabilities accruing to current employees and the legacy costs of amortizing unfunded liabilities accrued previously. The sharp downturn in the economy has contributed to a precipitous fall in the market value of pension funds. Barring a major market recovery, teacher pension funds across the country will have significantly larger unfunded liabilities, and the gap in pension benefit costs is likely to widen further. This will be a further burden for K-12 school districts in coming years.

Read the full study here:


Teaching science: Is discovery better than telling?

Western Michigan University researchers have discovered that in the academic debate over whether young science students learn more through experimenting or direct instruction, there's little difference.

Neither teaching approach provides a significant advantage for middle school science students, according to research by three Western Michigan University faculty.

Drs. William Cobern, David Schuster and Renee Schwartz, who hold joint appointments in the departments of physics and biological sciences, studied middle school instruction during two-week summer programs over several years. In comparing the two methods of instruction, they found there actually was no significant difference in learning by students. More important, they say, was having a positive attitude toward science, a well-designed curriculum and good teachers.

"The data, while marginally favoring inquiry, really show that as long as the instruction is good either way, the two approaches lead to no significant difference--at least as far as science content understanding is concerned," says Cobern.

Evolution education for K-12 teachers needs beefing up, says CU-Boulder professor

A failure to grasp the fundamentals of biological systems may be leaving K-12 teachers and students vulnerable to claims by intelligent design creationists, new-age homeopaths and other "hucksters," according to a University of Colorado at Boulder biology professor.

On the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's classic book "The Origin of Species" that first described natural selection in detail, polls still show that only about one third of Americans believe evolution is supported by scientific evidence, said Professor Mike Klymkowsky of CU-Boulder's molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. "The questions we are asking ourselves as scientists and educators is what the problem is here, and what are the objections to evolution," he said.

Klymkowsky said the disconnect is due in part to the inability of students and the public to understand the evidence for and the mechanisms behind the evolutionary process. There is difficulty in grasping the idea that random biochemical events can produce novel and useful adaptations, he said, and an inability to understand how such random events take place at the molecular and cellular level to generate evolutionary change.

"We can't leave students with mysteries about how biochemical processes work, because that's when nonscientific information sneaks in," he said. Klymkowsky gave two presentations on innovative science education programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting held Feb. 12-15 in Chicago.

Klymkowsky and CU-Boulder Research Associate Kathy Garvin-Doxas co-developed the Biology Concept Inventory at CU-Boulder, which includes online surveys to measure undergraduate understanding of fundamental biological concepts. The inventory is especially useful when it is administered to students prior to course instruction to allow professors to better understand the needs of students in particular courses, he said.

The BCI effort also includes obtaining short essays from thousands of students regarding their understanding of evolution and natural selection, genes and traits, including the notion of dominant and recessive genes, he said. Such essays have helped to identify commonly held misconceptions of biochemical processes, he said. As part of BCI, Klymkowsky and his colleagues also surveyed campus science faculty in different disciplines to assess which key concepts and ideas in fundamental biology they felt should be covered.

Klymkowsky and Clemson University chemistry Professor Melanie Cooper were recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year project titled Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything, or CLUE. The project includes developing a general chemistry curriculum using the emergence and evolution of life as a springboard to introduce and explain related chemistry concepts, Klymkowsky said.

Klymkowsky also is involved in the national Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics program at CU-Boulder, designed to improve introductory science and math courses and to recruit and train future K-12 science teachers. CU's STEM program includes CU-Teach, an undergraduate program found on the Web at http://www.colorado.edu/cuteach that leads to a math or science degree and a secondary education teaching license in four years.

"A staggering percentage of the American public, ranging from plumbers to presidential candidates, fail to accept, at least in part because they don't understand, the evidence for and mechanisms behind evolutionary processes," said Klymkowsky. "Understanding the nuts and bolts of biological systems is important for all students, and particularly critical for those planning to become biology teachers or general science teachers."

College science requirements keep US ahead of world, MSU researcher argues

Science literacy researcher finds a silver lining

Despite frequent warnings of the inadequacy of education in the United States, citizens here are still among the world's most scientifically literate, a Michigan State University researcher said.

You can thank those general education requirements that force English majors to sit through biology classes and budding engineers to read Hemingway, Jon Miller said.

Miller, the John A. Hannah Professor of integrative studies and director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at MSU, for many years has conducted social research on scientific literacy around the world. He summarized his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago at a C.P. Snow retrospective symposium today.

Fifty years after English novelist and physicist C.P. Snow warned of a disturbing lack of scientific literacy among the cultural elite and a parallel literary void among Britain's scientists and technologists, little has changed in most of the world, Miller argued. And that's part of what keeps the U.S. at the forefront of scientific endeavor and technological innovation.

"What makes the American market and society different," he said, "is that we have more science- and technology-receptive citizens and consumers, and as a society we're willing to spend money for basic science and have been doing that for years."

Americans as a group tend to be more open-minded about innovations such as genetically modified food, he said. Scientific reasoning also works its way into such disciplines as law, he noted, where facts are routinely marshaled to support or disprove theories. And faith in scientific progress might even make people more optimistic overall, with effects spilling over into politics and other realms.

That being said, Miller's research over the years has revealed what he describes as a general lack of scientific knowledge overall. Most adults in the United States and Europe, he said, don't have a sufficient understanding of important issues facing society, issues such as stem cell research. Americans, he found in 2006, are less likely to accept evolution than Europeans – a third of U.S. citizens surveyed reject the concept.

Snow sparked debate in a 1959 lecture, "The Two Cultures," a discussion that continues today. As post-war technological advances took greater prominence in society, he lamented the divide between the leading lights of British science and the humanities. It's an issue with pronounced relevance overseas, Miller said, given the relatively narrow educational paths afforded by higher education there.

"An engineer in Europe is an engineer, and that's all they know," he asserted. "That's all you study."

The general education requirements common to most American colleges and universities, in contrast, add a year of broader education to the curriculum. That, he added, is a critical patch to what he describes as a woefully underperforming high school educational system and an increasingly complex world.

"If you don't have a clue about how the solar system or universe is organized, the 21st century is going to be very strange to you," he said.

At MSU, science requirements for nonmajors aren't the only manifestation of the Snow critique. The university's science residential college curriculum embodies the principle.

"Briggs was founded explicitly to bridge the gap that C.P. Snow identified," said Lyman Briggs College Professor Robert T. Pennock, a noted science advocate. "We really believe that our students will be better scientists to the extent that they also become fluent in the humanities."

"Our courses in science and mathematics not only introduce the topics and methods of a particular field, but also demonstrate the interrelation of the various scientific disciplines: how chemical principles underpin biological processes, how mathematical models can make sense of physical behaviors," said Briggs Dean Elizabeth Simmons. "At the same time, our courses in the history, philosophy and sociology of science draw students into analyzing the way scientists think about questions in their own disciplines, and how academics from other fields evaluate the methods and conclusions of science."
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Feb ERR #7

An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification

Every year, thousands of new teachers pass through hundreds of different teacher preparation programs and are hired to teach in the nation’s schools. Most new teachers come from traditional route to certification (TC) programs, in which they complete all their certification requirements before beginning to teach. In recent years, however, as many as a third of new hires have come from alternative route to certification (AC) programs, in which they begin teaching before completing all their certification requirements (Feistritzer and Chester 2002). AC programs have grown in number and size in recent years in response to a variety of factors, including teacher shortages and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which requires that every core class be staffed with a teacher who has obtained full certification or, in the case of alternative routes to certification, is enrolled and making adequate progress toward certification through an approved program.

Despite the expansion of these new routes into teaching, there exists little research to provide guidance as to the effectiveness of different teacher training strategies. The increased variation in teacher preparation approaches created by the existence of various AC and TC programs offers an opportunity to examine the effect of different components of training on teacher performance. For example, some AC programs require less education coursework than TC programs. We can exploit this type of variation to examine whether the form of training is associated with differences in teacher performance.

The potential advantages and disadvantages of the various routes to certification have been debated, and the amount of coursework required by AC and TC programs is critical to issues of certification and teacher effectiveness.

Some critics contend that the coursework required by TC (and some AC) programs is excessive and unnecessarily burdensome (Finn 2003; Hess 2001; U.S. Department of Education 2002), providing little benefit while discouraging talented people from entering the teaching profession (Ballou and Podgursky 1997). AC programs have been viewed as a way to eliminate these barriers. However, supporters of TC programs argue that easing requirements degrades quality because AC teachers are insufficiently prepared for the classroom and less effective than TC teachers (Darling-Hammond 1992). Even in cases where the coursework is similar, TC programs require that people complete their requirements prior to becoming a teacher of record, while AC programs allow them to begin teaching first. None of these claims, however, have been rigorously studied in the context of the programs that are most prevalent.

This study is intended to inform this effort by rigorously examining the effect of AC teachers on student achievement and classroom practices compared to the effect of TC teachers in their same school and grades. The study also provides suggestive evidence about what training and pretraining characteristics may be related to teacher performance.

The main findings of the study are:

• Both the AC and the TC programs with teachers in the study were diverse in the total instruction they required for their candidates. The total hours required by AC programs ranged from 75 to 795, and by TC programs, from 240 to 1,380. Thus not all AC programs require fewer hours of coursework than all TC programs. The degree of overlap in coursework requirements between AC and TC programs in the study was dictated by variations in state policies on teacher certification programs. For example, in New Jersey all AC teachers were required to complete fewer hours of coursework than all TC

• While teachers trained in TC programs receive all their instruction (and participate in student teaching) prior to becoming regular full-time teachers, AC teachers do not necessarily begin teaching without having received any formal instruction. Overall, low-coursework AC teachers in the study were required to take an average of 115 hours of instruction—64 percent of the total amount of instruction they would receive—before starting to teach, and high-coursework AC teachers in the study were required to take an average of 150 hours—about 35 percent of the total amount they would receive— before starting to teach. Nine AC teachers in the study, seven of them from New Jersey, were not required to complete any coursework before becoming regular full-time teachers.

• There were no statistically significant differences between the AC and TC teachers in this study in their average scores on college entrance exams, the selectivity of the college that awarded their bachelor’s degree, or their level of educational attainment. Both low- and high-coursework AC teachers were more likely than their TC counterparts to identify themselves as black (40.5 percent versus 17.5 percent and 32.4 percent versus 7.5 percent) and less likely to identify themselves as white (50 percent versus 75.5 percent and 40.5 percent versus 70 percent). In addition, the low-coursework AC teachers were more likely than their TC counterparts to report having children (70.2 percent versus 28.3 percent).

• There was no statistically significant difference in performance between students of AC teachers and those of TC teachers. Average differences in reading and math achievement were not statistically significant. Furthermore, students of AC teachers scored higher than students of their TC counterparts in nearly as many cases as they scored lower (49 percent in reading and 44 percent in math). The effects of AC teachers varied across experiments, and nonexperimental correlational analysis of teachers’ pretraining and training experiences explained 5 percent of the variation in math and 2 percent in reading. Therefore, the route to certification selected by a prospective teacher is unlikely to provide information, on average, about the expected quality of that teacher in terms of student achievement.

• There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom. The experimental results provided no evidence that students of low-coursework AC teachers scored statistically differently from students of their TC counterparts, nor did students of high-coursework AC teachers compared to those of their TC counterparts. Correlational analysis similarly failed to show that the amount of coursework was associated with student achievement. Therefore, there is no evidence that AC programs with greater coursework requirements produce more effective teachers.

• There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness. After controlling for other observable characteristics that may be correlated with a teacher’s effectiveness, there was no statistically significant relationship between student test scores and the content of the teacher’s training, including the number of required hours of math pedagogy, reading/language arts pedagogy, or fieldwork. Similarly, there was no evidence of a statistically positive relationship between majoring in education and student achievement.

Executive Summary:


Full study:


tate education rankings released for 15th straight year, again show spending does not correlate with student results.

February 3, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A majority of students in American public schools failed to meet proficiency levels in fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and reading, and SAT and ACT scores stagnated, despite decades-long increases in public-school spending, according to a new report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Using nationally recognized test results, the ALEC Report Card on American Education ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia accordingly, one being the best and 51 the worst. Minnesota placed first in the unique ranking, Washington, D.C. last.

“The Report Card on American Education clearly shows there is no correlation between educational dollars spent and student achievement in our traditional public school system,” said Andrew T. LeFevre, author of the report and executive director of the Pennsylvania-based REACH Foundation. “At some point, state policymakers must ask themselves if more of the same is going to produce a different result.”

The report also provides extensive data from 1986-87 to 2007-08 on state and federal funding, school resources, graduation rates, GED completion rates, and school-choice initiatives, including tax credit, scholarship, and charter school programs—alternatives to traditional public education ALEC supports. With the federal administration expected to ramp up education spending through a host of new public programs, the evidence is undeniably clear: Further government funding does not necessarily produce corresponding results.

“States across the country have proved that through education reforms rooted in freedom and accountability, more can be done with less,” said Jeff W. Reed, director of ALEC’s Education Task Force. “But it is up to state lawmakers to give taxpayers a break and parents and students the opportunity to choose what works best for them.”

Full report:


New resource for teachers, public on how to recognize science when you see it

'Understanding Science' clarifies what science is, is not

If you think you know what science is and how science works, think again.

A new University of California, Berkeley, Web site called "Understanding Science" (http://undsci.berkeley.edu/) paints an entirely new picture of what science is and how science is done, showing it to be a dynamic and creative process rather than the linear – and frequently boring – process depicted in most textbooks.

Funded by the National Science Foundation as a resource for teachers and the public, the material was vetted by historians and philosophers of science as well as by K-12 teachers and scientists.

"Through this collaborative project, we hope to overturn the paradigm of how science is presented in our classrooms," said Roy Caldwell, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology who led the project along with colleague David Lindberg. "The Web site presents, not the rigid scientific method, but how science really works, including its creative and often unpredictable nature, which is more engaging to students and far less intimidating to those teachers who are less secure in their science."

"Part of the fun of science is lost when you present it as a linear thing," said Natalie Kuldell, an instructor in biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of 18 scientific advisors for the project. While the five-step process described in textbooks – ask a question, form an hypothesis, conduct an experiment, collect data and draw a conclusion – isn't wrong, "it is an oversimplification," she said.

The core idea, said Judy Scotchmoor, assistant director of the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley and coordinator of Understanding Science, is that science is about exploring, asking questions and testing ideas. The site provides a Science Checklist that can be used to determine just how "scientific" particular activities are.

Scotchmoor will discuss the Understanding Science approach at a Friday, Feb. 13, session celebrating the Year of Science 2009. The session is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Columbus EF room of the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

"The goal was to present (the concept) that testable ideas are right at the center of science, and if you don't generate testable ideas, then you are really not doing science," Kuldell said.

Testing, however, is intertwined with exploration and discovery – the "cowboy" aspect of science, in the words of one project advisor – review of hypotheses and theories by skeptical peers, and actual application of the science to real world problems.

Within the Web site, personal stories contributed by top scientists around the country illustrate the interplay of exploration, peer review and outcomes, and demonstrate the different pathways to discovery taken in different fields of science, from biology to cosmology.

Scotchmoor hopes that the site will show students and the public that "science really is an adventure. There are certain rules that you need to follow, but really you can't predict where questions will take you."

The Web site premiered on Jan. 5 during the launch of Year of Science 2009, and received rave reviews from New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer, who referred to it in his blog as "a guided tour through the basic questions of what science is and how it works." He particularly praised the Process of Science flowchart illustrating how science works. A set of four interlocking circles represent the interplay between hypothesis testing and the ways scientists generate these hypotheses, while multiple arrows connect the circles to illustrate the roundabout way scientists make their discoveries.

"At best, I think, stories about science can only be snapshots of small patches of science's cycles within cycles," Zimmer wrote of the flowchart. "It (story telling) uses the one-dimensional medium of language to gesture towards science's mind-boggling multidimensionality. This picture from Understanding Science will help me remember to make that gesture, long after the Year of Science is over."

Four years ago, Scotchmoor, Caldwell and Lindberg created a Web site called Understanding Evolution that now provides a much-needed resource for teachers and the public.

"We discovered, however, that there was a lot of confusion about what science is and isn't," Scotchmoor said.

"Teachers had misconceptions, such as what a theory is or whether creationism is science," Caldwell said. "Many even thought science wasn't creative, in part because of cookbook labs, in part because of the emphasis on testing factual knowledge, not process."

With advice and input from historians, philosophers, teachers and scientists, Scotchmoor, Caldwell and Lindberg constructed the Web site from scratch, modeling it after Understanding Evolution. Understanding Science has been endorsed by the California Science Teacher's Association and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and will be part of the next edition of a popular high school biology textbook, "Biology" (Prentice Hall), by Ken Miller and Joe Levine.

Kuldell uses it in her second- and third-year college lab courses to "set the expectations of my students, (to show them) that science is iterative and messy and doesn't always make a clean story – and that that should be expected. You work and then you rework, you get feedback, you rethink your ideas, and then retest. Science isn't quite as neat as people wish it were and think it should be."

The Web site will continue to grow, with personal profiles of scientists and their research, each accompanied by a flow chart showing how they proceeded from ideas to discovery.

"We hope these cool stories will draw people in," Scotchmoor said.

Better late than never?

For most of us, thinking of high school graduation brings memories of walking across a stage to “Pomp and Circumstance” after four years of hard work.

But for a persistent and overlooked group of students—late graduates—the picture is different. While we admire their staying power, was it worth the extra effort for them and their schools?

The short answer is yes. On-time graduation remains the best prospect for students, and districts should make on-time graduation the first priority for all students. But the extra work late graduates and their schools put toward earning a high school diploma pays off—not only in academic outcomes, but in every aspect of life including work, civic, and health. Late graduates do markedly better in all arenas than GED recipients and dropouts. And, when the data is controlled to compare students of equivalent socioeconomic status and achievement level, late graduates come close to on-time graduates’ achievement.

The Center for Public Education found these results by conducting a new study comparing late graduates’ outcomes to their peers who graduated on time and those that did not.

The data for the study came from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), which followed a nationally representative sample of eighth graders through high school, college, and the workforce until the year 2000. The results, as summarized below, show the benefits late graduates receive and also make a strong case for providing students with the support they need. Additionally, it makes a case for giving schools the incentives they need to help students who take longer than four years to graduate.

Who are late graduates?

• Late graduates are those who take more than four years to graduate high school. They are more likely to be minority or language minority students, live in a poorer household, and have two or more risk factors associated with dropping out.

• Late graduates end middle school and start high school with skills comparable to those who will eventually drop out or receive a GED; in the eighth grade they are no more prepared to go on to high school math or English. Late graduates fall further behind their on-time classmates in ninth grade, where they mainly take non-academic math courses.

• Late graduates start making better grades in high school than those who eventually drop out or receive a GED. This may suggest that late graduates exhibit more persistence.

How do late graduates fare?

In post-secondary education:

• Late graduates distinguish themselves not so much by enrolling in college, but in completing a degree. While they are not significantly more likely (59 percent) than GED recipients (51 percent) to enroll in college, they are much more likely to go on and obtain either an Associates or Bachelors degree.

In employment:

• More late graduates than GED recipients and dropouts are employed with full-time jobs. Late graduates are also less likely to earn incomes at the low end of the income scale.

• Late graduates are significantly better off in terms of job benefits. Of the late graduates who were employed after 1994, close to two-thirds (63 percent) held a job that offered retirement benefits compared to just over half (53 percent) of GED recipients and less than half of dropouts (45 percent). Seventy-six percent of late graduates also had health insurance coverage compared to 66 and 61 percent of GED recipients and dropouts, respectively.

What can school boards do?

• It is worth a district’s time and resources to graduate students who fall behind, even if they take longer than four years.

• Ensure that all students leave eighth grade prepared for high school work. All students should take an academic math course in ninth grade to remain in the mathematics pipeline.

• Identify possible dropouts in middle school and establish effective dropout programs. (See also the Center for Public Education’s “Keeping kids in school”.)

• Provide support in high school for low-achieving students to develop their ability to think ahead, persist, and adapt to an environment. These, more than ability, are the crucial qualities that help late graduates succeed.

Fulll report:


Trends in Geoscience Education from K-12 through Community College

The "Status of the Geoscience Workforce" report is based on original data collected by AGI as well as from federal data sources, professional membership organizations, and industry. The report integrates all of these various data sources into a comprehensive view of the human and economic parameters of the geosciences, including supply and training of new students, workforce demographics and employment projections, to trends in geosciences research funding and economic indicators.

"Chapter 1: Trends in Geoscience Education from K-12 through Community College," takes an in-depth-look at the access students have to earth science education. The report details state requirements for earth science education in middle through high school and the number of high school teachers nationwide.

In addition to course requirements, the report focuses on trends in college bound students including SAT scores and choice of college major. The Status Report also highlights the availability of geosciences education at community colleges and examines the trends in associate degrees conferred from geosciences programs at these institutions.

To view chapter one in its entirety, please go to http://www.agiweb.org/workforce/reports.html. The rest of the "Status of the Geoscience Workforce" report will be released over the course of February 2009.


The federal government should make preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders and promoting mental health in young people a national priority, says a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. These disorders -- which include depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, and substance abuse -- are about as common as fractured limbs in children and adolescents. Collectively, they take a tremendous toll on the well-being of young people and their families, costing the U.S. an estimated $247 billion annually, the report says.

Research has shown that a number of programs are effective at preventing these problems and promoting mental health, the report says. Such programs could be implemented more broadly, but currently there is no clear federal presence to lead these efforts. The White House should create an entity that can coordinate agency initiatives in this area, set public goals for prevention, and provide needed research and funding to achieve them, said the committee that wrote the report.

"There is a substantial gap between what is known about preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders and what is actually being done," said Kenneth E. Warner, committee chair and dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "It is no longer accurate to argue that these disorders can never be prevented. Many can. The nation is well-positioned to equip young people with the skills and habits needed to live healthy, happy, and productive lives in caring relationships. But we need to develop the systems to deliver effective prevention programs to a far wider group of children and adolescents."

Most mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders have their roots in childhood and adolescence, the report notes. Among adults who have experienced these disorders, more than half report the onset as occurring in childhood or early adolescence. In any given year, an estimated 14 percent to 20 percent of young people have one of these disorders.

First symptoms typically occur two to four years before the onset of a full-blown disorder – creating a window of opportunity when preventive programs might make a difference, the report says. And some programs have shown effectiveness at preventing specific disorders in at-risk groups. For example, the Clarke Cognitive-Behavioral Prevention Intervention, which focuses on helping adolescents at risk for depression learn to cope with stress, has prevented episodes of major depression in several controlled experiments.

Other programs have demonstrated broader preventive effects in general populations of young people, the report says. Programs that can be offered in family or educational settings show particular promise in promoting mental health and addressing major risk factors.

One example of an effective school-based program is the Good Behavior Game, which divides elementary school classes into teams and reinforces desirable behaviors with rewards such as extra free time and other privileges. Studies have shown that the program significantly reduces aggressive and disruptive behavior during first grade. The one-year intervention also has benefits over the long term, lowering the students' risk of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts. And it significantly reduces the likelihood that highly aggressive boys will be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as adults. Research has shown that programs that focus on enhancing social and emotional skills can also improve students' academic performance, the report notes.

Still other programs improve children's mental health and behavior by enhancing parenting skills, the report says. The Positive Parenting Program, for example, uses a range of approaches, from a television series on how to handle common child-rearing problems to in-person skills training for parents struggling to handle children's aggressiveness or lack of cooperation. These methods have been shown to lower kids' disruptive behaviors, a positive change that persisted one year later.

The report recommends that the White House create an entity to lead a broad implementation of evidence-based prevention approaches and to direct research on interventions. The new leadership body should set public goals for preventing specific disorders and promoting mental health and provide the funding to achieve them. The departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services should align their resources and programs with this strategy. These agencies should also fund state, county, and community efforts to implement and improve evidence-based programs. At the same time, the report cautions, federal and state agencies should not support programs that lack empirical evidence, even if they have community endorsement.

The committee also urged continued research to build understanding of what interventions work for whom and when, and how best to implement them. The National Institutes of Health should develop a comprehensive 10-year plan to research ways to promote mental health and prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders in young people. In addition, agencies and foundations should establish equality in research funding between ways to prevent mental and behavioral disorders and ways to treat these problems, the report says; currently, the balance is weighted toward research on treatment.

The report also discusses screening programs that attempt to identify children with risk factors for mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. Screening can be helpful for targeting interventions, but it should be used only if it meets certain criteria, including that the disorders to be prevented are a serious threat to mental health and that there is an effective intervention to address the risks or early symptoms. Parents should be given detailed information about the purpose and methods of screening, and the wishes of those who don't want their children included should be respected. Without community acceptance and sufficient capacity to respond to the needs identified, screening is of limited value, the committee noted. It added that approaches to connecting screening with specific interventions need to be tested.

The report was sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Voucher Programs Grow by 8 Percent in 2008-09, National Report Shows

Two New Programs, Bipartisan Support Featured in New School Choice Yearbook 2008-09

More than 171,000 children are benefiting from school voucher and scholarship tax credit programs this year, according to the national nonprofit Alliance for School Choice. The Alliance today released its School Choice Yearbook 2008-09, the school choice movement's most-comprehensive digest of facts, trends, news, and research.

The 60-page Yearbook is complete with fast facts and useful data for education reformers. For example:

• There are 18 school choice programs operating in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

• Student enrollment in school choice programs grew 8 percent—to a projected 171,332 students—over the 2007-08 school year and has grown 89 percent since the 2003-04 school year.

• There are 24,190 students with special needs receiving scholarships to attend the private schools of their parents' choice.

• Legislators in 44 states introduced school choice bills during the 2007-08 legislative session.

• Pennsylvania has more students (43,764) in school choice programs than any other state, but Florida is a close second with 41,843 students. Florida's enrollment numbers are expected to increase during the school year.

In 2008, new private school choice programs were created in Georgia and Louisiana, while four additional programs were improved or expanded. As a result of 2008 successes, there are now an estimated 22,700 additional scholarship opportunities available for the 2008-09 school year.

The Yearbook, an award-winning annual publication, contains detailed information about each state's school choice offerings, as well as features about the growing Democratic support for school choice and support among public school teachers for vouchers and tax credit programs.

“The success and growth of the school choice movement comes not as a result of work in Washington, D.C., but because of work by state-level activists, parents, and committed lawmakers across the country,” said Alliance Interim President John Schilling. “Through the Yearbook, we are honored to chronicle the hard work and achievements of the school choice heroes spanning the country from Phoenix to Providence.”

The School Choice Yearbook is available for download online at http://www.allianceforschoolchoice.org/UploadedFiles/ResearchResources/Yearbook_02062009_finalWEB.pdf

Report: Oakland Charter Schools Outperform District Peers with Poor, Minority Students

Charter Schools in Oakland Outperform at Every Grade Level, with High-Poverty Students and with Minority Students

Charter public schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are outperforming their district public school peers at all grade levels, with high-poverty students, with English Language Learner (ELL) students and with ethnic minority students with the exception of whites, according to a new report released today by the California Charter Schools Association. The report also found that these gains are most prominent at the middle and high school levels, and that these gains are increasing over time.

Entitled, “A Longitudinal Analysis of Charter School Performance in Oakland Unified School District,” the report analyzed results from California’s Academic Performance Index (API) Growth results and also assessed, in the most detailed analysis to date, charter schools’ performance compared to their most “similarly-matched” Oakland district public schools that students would otherwise likely attend.

The report found that nearly seven in 10 charter schools (69 percent) on average outperformed their three most “similarly-matched” district schools on 2008 API Growth results.

The report also found that charter schools significantly outperformed district public schools in middle (836 to 624) and high schools (688 to 528) and slightly outperformed district schools at the elementary school level (725 to 705). Of the top ten highest-performing public schools in Oakland, all secondary schools were charter schools.

Oakland’s charter schools outperformed Oakland’s district public schools on behalf of Asian, African-American and Latino students, as well as ELL and high-poverty students while they slightly trailed in the performance of white students. Of all subgroups, charter schools most significantly outperformed among African-American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (a gap of 77 and 76 points, respectively).

“Charter schools in Oakland are shattering the myth which says that, if you are a poor or minority student, you will not do well in our public schools,” said Peter Thorp, Chief of Staff of the California Charter Schools Association. “Charter schools are making incredible strides at succeeding with students that have not historically done as well in traditional public schools. We urge administrators and educators to closely and openly analyze what these laboratories of innovation are doing right so that we can stimulate improvements in district public schools.”

The report also found that Oakland’s charter schools are serving a significantly higher percentage of Latino students, a higher average percentage of high-poverty (low socio-economic status) students, roughly an equal percentage of African-American students, and a lower percentage of Asian-American and white students.

Oakland Unified currently has 33 charter public schools serving nearly 8,000 students. Seventeen percent of the district’s public school students attend charter schools, meaning that Oakland Unified has one of the highest percentages of charter school enrollment in California.

The analysis used California’s API data collected from the California Department of Education during the 2005-06 through the 2007-08 academic school years to conduct a district-level longitudinal assessment of charter schools and district public schools, including elementary, middle and high school levels, as well as specified subgroup populations.

The analysis compared charters’ performance to their three most similar traditional public school peers within a five-mile radius. All but one charter school had three similar matches. Similar schools were selected based on the school’s enrollment, racial composition, average parent level of education, and free/reduced price lunch participation, methodology based on a foundation of national research. The report was authored by Stanford Ph.D. Aisha Toney, Senior Data Analyst for the California Charter Schools Association.

To download a copy of the full report and executive summary, visit: www.myschool.org/pressroom

Air Pollution Too High Near Some US Schools

Air pollution is dangerously high around schools near some U.S. industrial plants, according to a recent study involving researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University.

The study, conducted by USA Today reporters, examined air pollution levels near schools around the U.S. over an eight month period. They used a computer model from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that tracks the paths of industrial air pollution around the United States to predict the areas of highest air pollution. The USA Today reporters then partnered with university researchers, including Amir Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, to monitor the air quality around schools in areas predicted to have both low and high levels of pollution. The findings were published on the front page of USA Today on December 10, 2008.

The researchers found high levels of toxins, including volatile organic compounds (VOC) and fine particulate matter, in the air near schools in the path of industrial pollution. Most of the affected schools were located on the East Coast and in the Midwest with the largest numbers in states like Illinois, New York, Louisiana and West Virginia . In many cases, toxin levels were much higher than those considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. In some cases, the pollution was high enough to cause concern for long term adverse health effects.

"The study brings the air pollution problem to the forefront and shows that we need to pay more attention," said Sapkota. "By making people aware of the problem so that they can take action, this study serves an important purpose."

Sapkota helped measure and identify the VOCs collected from around the designated monitoring sites. VOCs are organic compounds that react to produce ozone (photochemical smog) and fine particulate matter or haze. They are found in emissions from burning oil and gasoline, as well as in cleaners, paints and tobacco smoke. They can cause both short- and long-term health effects.

Another researcher, Patrick Breysse of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, analyzed the metallic compounds collected from the air.

The Smallest Victims

The study focused on schools because children are required by law to be there for long periods of time. This prolongs their exposure to any chemicals that might pollute the surrounding air. Children are most susceptible to these compounds because their bodies are small and in the process of developing.

"Exposure to a certain amount of toxin in a child is not the same as the exposure of an adult to the same amount of toxin," Sapkota said. "Because the child weighs less, he or she is exposed to more toxin per unit of body weight than an adult." Sapkota believes the next step is for the schools that are in these toxic hotspots to do more monitoring, especially of their indoor air quality, to assess the extent of the problem.

"The monitoring in this study was conducted outdoors," said Sapkota. "That doesn't necessarily mean that the toxin concentration is the same indoors, where people spend most of their time."

According to the EPA, the concentration of VOCs indoors can be up to ten times higher than concentrations outside. Air filters cannot remove gaseous VOCs from the air.

Sapkota also emphasized that everyday pollutants do not just come from industry. "VOCs also come from cleaning solvents, furniture, stored gasoline, and car exhaust, all of which can be found in or near our houses" he said.

He says individuals can help reduce VOC exposure by taking certain actions, such as choosing cleaning products with low VOC s, and taking public transportation rather than driving individual cars.

"The primary reason for taking action is that air pollution affects our health," Sapkota said. "We want to prevent people from getting sick and to do that we must remove or minimize exposure to air pollution."

Pre-verbal number sense common to monkeys, babies, college kids

Basic arithmetic and "number sense" appear to be part of the shared evolutionary past of many primates; it's the use of language to explain abstractions that apparently takes human math to a higher level.

Elizabeth Brannon, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, studies how human adults and infants, lemurs, and monkeys think about numbers without using language. She's looking for the brain systems that support number sense and trying to figure out how this cognitive skill develops.

"Number is one of the more abstract domains of cognition: three coins and three loaves of bread are very different concepts," says Brannon. "Yet, many studies show that babies, even in the first year of life, can tell the difference between quantities."

She runs about 500 babies per year through her testing lab at Duke, as well as macaques, lemurs and the odd undergraduate. Most of the experiments involve computer touch-screens and sets of brightly colored dots.

After seeing the same number of objects repeated in different-looking sets, infants recognize the novelty of a new number of objects. So do macaques. And both college kids and macaques can do a rough sort of math by summing sets of objects without actually counting them. Their speed and accuracy are about the same, in fact.

That the evolved brain has some fundamental sense of number without language should come as little surprise, Brannon says.

"There are all sorts of reasons why number would be useful for nonhuman animals in the wild. In foraging situations animals need to make decisions about how long to stay in a given patch of food and when to move on," Brannon says. "Territorial animals may need to assess the number of individuals in their own group relative to competing groups to decide whether to stand their ground or retreat."

Understanding the biological basis of our number sense might also help early childhood educators.

Brannon's latest work is aimed at understanding how the human brain changes to accommodate symbolism as a child learns the names of numbers and begins to grasp more abstract manipulations. "If the nonverbal number sense is really providing a critical foundation for math achievement, then this will suggest teaching methods that provide more grounding in the nonverbal quantity system."

Brannon is also exploring the macaque's sense of an empty set, what we'd call zero with our linguistically intensive sense of number. The monkeys are more likely to confuse an empty set with a 1 or a 2 than they are to confuse it with an 8 or a 9, she says, which shows they're putting zero in the proper place on the number line.

"We're trying to understand how the animal mind works. How much of human thought is dependent on language?"

Students Who Feel Connected To Peers, Teachers Are More Inclined To Warn Of Dangerous Fellow Student

Students who feel connected to their peers and teachers are more inclined to alert a teacher or principal if they hear a fellow student "wants to do something dangerous," according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

But those students who don't feel connected are less likely to act. Researchers from The Pennsylvania State University and Missouri State University looked into why some students adopt a "code of silence" when faced with a fellow student's dangerous intentions.

The researchers presented a hypothetical scenario of a peer's plan "to do something dangerous" to 1,740 middle and high school students from 13 schools. The students were asked if they would (1) intervene directly, (2) tell a teacher or principal, (3) talk it over with a friend but not tell an adult, or (4) do nothing.

High school students (964) were less likely than middle school students (776) to talk directly to the peer planning to do something dangerous or tell a teacher or principal, said lead author Amy K. Syvertsen, MEd. "High schools are generally larger than middle schools and provide less opportunity for teachers and students to interact, which is the foundation for building trust, caring and community between the two."

Most students who said they would take action favored directly approaching the peer rather than telling an adult. "This may be a reflection of where many of these students are developmentally. They want to assert their autonomy, make decisions and handle the situation on their own," said the authors.

Students who generally felt a sense of pride in their school and concern for others were more likely to say they would act rather than ignore the situation. For all students, Syvertsen said, knowing they could voice their opinions and be heard by a school official along with their sense of belonging – how they and their friends fit into the school culture – best predicted whether they would confront the peer themselves or tell an adult.

Fear of getting into trouble makes students less willing to go to a teacher or principal with their concerns about a peer's potentially dangerous plan and more likely to ignore the situation, said the authors. Yet those students who said they would speak directly to the peer said they didn't believe they would get into trouble.

Certain school policies, such as zero tolerance, may create an atmosphere that prevents students from confiding in a teacher or school administrator because of the perceived repercussions, said Syvertsen. "Blanket policies that are often not clearly explained to teachers or students can create an atmosphere in which rules get in the way of relationships between students and teachers, to the detriment of keeping the schools safe," said the authors.

"Fostering a caring school climate where students and teachers look out for each other to keep one another safe can't be taught in a single lesson or by using deterrents, like metal detectors or harsh policies," Syvertsen added. "It is built on daily interactions between the teachers and students."

Although the nature of the dangerous school event used in the study was hypothetical, the results of this study provide some sense of students' willingness to act should a similar situation arise.

Journal reference:

Amy K. Syvertsen et al. Code of Silence: Students' Perceptions of School Climate and Willingness to Intervene in a Peer's Dangerous Plan. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 101, No.1

Unfocused Ambitions, Inequitable Allocation of Counseling Resources Contribute to Stressful College Admission Process for Students

Unfocused ambitions, in part, help fuel the intense college application process in some high schools, according to a research paper released today by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Combined with the inequitable distribution of college counseling resources, such ambitions may unnecessarily complicate the college admission process for many students across the country, the report notes.

The paper, "College Choice and Adolescent Development: Psychological and Social Implications of Early Admission," was written for NACAC by Barbara Schneider, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. Key findings include:

- Students' college aspirations, when unaligned with career interests, may contribute to "college fever," or the perception that getting into a highly selective college is the primary goal of the transition from high school to college. Unfocused adolescent postsecondary aspirations could be channeled into more well-crafted expectations. The task is not simply "cooling out" adolescents to apply to less competitive institutions, but to try to align their interests with institutions that offer the types of programs and majors that compliment their future goals.

- The prospect of paying for college, the complexity of financial aid applications, and varied requirements for admission applications continue to constrain the college decision process. Between the technical nature of information requested and the procedures students are required to follow, the college decision process has become profoundly complicated, with most adolescents depending on parents and counselors to help make post-high school plans for them.

- The increasing responsibilities required of high school counselors, unmanageable student-to-counselor caseloads, and the expansive period of adolescence has resulted in one of the greatest challenges facing high school counselors today-the inability to fully assist students for whom guidance is especially valuable at this stage of development.

- Existing literature suggests that Early Decision admission practices seem inconsistent with adolescent development. While the case has yet to be made empirically, this research paper suggests that discussions about Early Decision policies should address the challenges such policies create for students, and the inequities they may produce among those who could, but do not, apply.

Full report:


Teachers to make house calls?

A Florida state council is recommending that teachers and principals be required to make quarterly home visits and weekly phone calls.

The suggestion is one of many in the just released 2008 report of the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. (The education section begins on page 51.)

The report notes that 80 percent of black males in Florida high schools are scoring below grade level on the FCAT, and that by one measure, only about one-third of them are graduating on schedule. The home-visit recommendation specifically targets the "parents of students who are earning less than a C average or are clearly underperforming even if their grades are on average a C or better."

Among other recommendations:

- Better tracking of student disciplinary actions.
- Hiring more black teachers.
- The creation of voluntary orientation programs for the parents of black male students entering high school.

Full report


Results of the Third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study Published

A special Supplement to the February 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association presents findings from the recently released Third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III), conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., as well as research from other studies using SNDA-III data. Sponsored by the Food and Nutrition Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNDA-III assesses the quality and contributions of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the

School Breakfast Program (SBP), longstanding government efforts to bring good food to the children of America.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), created in 1946, currently operates in nearly all public and many private schools in the United States, providing subsidized meals to more than 30 million children each school day. More than 10 million children also take advantage of the School Breakfast Program (SBP), which became a permanent federal program in 1975.

SNDA-III examines the school food environment, children’s dietary behaviors at school and outside of school and child overweight/obesity. SNDA-III was based on a nationally representative sample of 130 public School Food Authorities (districts that offer federally subsidized school meals), 398 schools within those districts and 2,314 public school students in grades 1-12 in 287 of these schools. Data were collected in the second half of school year 2004-2005 from district foodservice directors and their staff, school foodservice managers, principals, students and their parents. In addition, field interviewers who were collecting data from students and parents observed and recorded the types of competitive foods available in visited schools.

Supplement Guest Editor Mary Story, PhD, RD, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, emphasizes the importance of the SNDA-III study. She writes, “Results of SNDA-III show that many schools have improved the nutritional quality of the NSLP and SBP school meals and foods sold outside of the reimbursable meal programs (competitive foods). However, there is much more room for improvement. Schools need to do even more to reduce the availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and make school meals more nutritious. Although the majority of US schools offer breakfasts and lunches that meet the standards for key nutrients (such as protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron), reimbursable school meals remain too high in saturated fat and sodium, and children are not consuming enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Many public schools are constrained in providing better meals because of limited funds. It is time to reexamine the formulas used to set national reimbursement rates with reference to the costs of producing and serving school meals that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.”

“As an Institute of Medicine expert panel considers revisions to the meal patterns and nutrition standards for USDA’s school meal programs and Congress takes up reauthorization of the school nutrition programs again in 2009, the SNDA-III findings are particularly important,” commented Anne Gordon, PhD, a senior researcher at Mathematica in Princeton, NJ, who led the SNDA-III analysis. “Future studies will look back to SNDA-III to examine how school meals and school food environments have changed after implementation of subsequent federal policy initiatives. SNDA-

III data could also be used to estimate the potential effects of proposed changes in policy on schoolchildren’s diets.”

Clare Miller, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant and member of the American Dietetic Association School Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, offers a commentary on the key findings of SNDA-III, and identifies many areas of concern for food and nutrition professionals, as well as for policymakers and parents. She notes, for example, that few schools provided lunches that met the recommendations in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for fiber and none of the schools met the recommended sodium limitations. Also, she discusses the availability of competitive foods in public schools and how, regardless of whether children ate a school lunch, the competitive foods purchased were generally low-nutrient, energy-dense foods, including candy, desserts, salty snacks, french fries, muffins, donuts, sweet rolls, toaster pastries and caloric beverages other than milk or 100% fruit juice.

In a second commentary, Nancy Montanez Johner, Undersecretary, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the US Department of Agriculture, emphasizes the need for studies such as SNDA-III to address critical challenges that remain to make the programs as effective as they can be in meeting the needs of participating children. Although more than 70% of schools serve meals that meet standards for many nutrients that contribute to healthful diets, few schools (6% to 7%) met all nutrition standards in school year 2004-2005, primarily because most meals served contain too much fat, too much saturated fat or too few calories. Although most schools offer the opportunity to select a balanced meal, few students make the more healthful choice.

The Special Supplement continues with nine research contributions coauthored by staff from Mathematica that expand on the findings of SNDA-III. The first describes the background and study design including complete details of the sampling methods and study limitations. “Because the SNDA-III study is comprehensive, recent and nationally representative, it provides not only a clear picture of the meals currently eaten by many of our nation’s children, but also a strong foundation for future policy development and research,” said Mary Kay Crepinsek, a senior researcher at Mathematica who oversaw the compilation of the special supplement.

Four articles present the central SNDA-III results regarding the nutrient content of school meals as offered and served, students’ nutrient intakes on school days, foods offered in school meals and in breakfasts and lunches consumed by students and the availability and consumption of competitive foods in school.

Two further articles examine students’ consumption of low-nutrient, energy-dense foods at home, school or other locations and the relationship of the school food environment to their dietary behaviors. Two final articles tie the SNDA-III results to the data on children’s body mass index to assess the effects of the school meal programs, the school environment and dietary behaviors on children’s weight status and child obesity. The Supplement closes with a summary of the findings and policy implications.

Full text:

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