July ERR #12

District of Columbia Public Schools: Important Steps Taken to Continue Reform Efforts, But Enhanced Planning Could Improve Implementation and Sustainability

Early efforts to improve student achievement at DCPS have focused on improving student performance, closing underutilized and reorganizing underperforming schools, and creating and enhancing data systems. During the first 2 years of its reform efforts, DCPS implemented many initiatives to improve overall student performance, such as classroom-based initiatives to improve basic skills of students. In addition, under the No Child Left Behind Act, DCPS restructured 22 schools before the fall of 2008, after the schools failed to meet academic targets for 6 consecutive years. Finally, DCPS and the state superintendent's office are developing new ways to monitor student achievement and school performance. Specifically, a longitudinal database is being developed that is intended to allow DCPS and other key users to access a broad array of data, including student test scores.

DCPS is modifying its approach to many of these initiatives such as focusing on effective teaching as opposed to implementing disparate programs. DCPS has focused on improving the quality of its workforce by replacing teachers and principals and by providing professional development, but it has encountered challenges in effectively implementing these changes. After the 2007-2008 school year, about one-fifth of the teachers and one-third of the principals resigned, retired, or were terminated from DCPS.

However, because DCPS did not have an effective way to evaluate teacher performance, officials are uncertain if the new staff improved the quality of its workforce. DCPS is currently working on a new teacher evaluation system. In addition, DCPS introduced professional development initiatives for teachers and principals. For example, it began placing teacher coaches at schools to support teachers at their work sites. However, late decisions to hire these teacher coaches led to inconsistent implementation of this initiative during the 2008-2009 school year.

The state superintendent's office and DCPS each developed their 5-year strategic plans and involved stakeholders in developing these plans. The state superintendent plan and the DCPS draft strategic plan each contain many elements of effective plans, such as aligning short-term objectives to long-term goals. DCPS has recently increased its efforts to involve stakeholders in various initiatives; however, it has not always involved stakeholders in key decisions and initiatives. DCPS and the state superintendent's office have taken steps to improve accountability and performance. For example, both offices have started implementation of new individual employee performance management systems. However, while DCPS has taken some additional steps to improve accountability, it has not yet linked its employee expectations and performance evaluations to organizational goals to improve central office operations.

Full report:


62% of Registered Voters in D.C. Approve of How Rhee is Handling Her Job, Up Sharply from 55% Last Year

DC School Reform Now (DCSRN), a non-profit organization committed to education reform in the District of Columbia, released -- along with several other groups -- new polling data on voter approval of local officials.

Voters indicated strong approval for how D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee is handling her job. With an approval rating of 62 percent, Rhee is clearly gaining in popularity among District residents, with a 7% increase over a similar poll conducted in 2008. Among DC officials, Chancellor Rhee had the highest proportion of respondents (27 percent) who "strongly approve" of her job performance.

"Its clear from this new poll that Washingtonians' support for Michelle Rhee's efforts to reform the DC public school system continues to grow," said Anne Martin, Executive Director of DC School Reform Now. "The task before her certainly isn't an easy one and it's great to see that DC residents are showing patience and enthusiasm as Chancellor Rhee works hard to rebuild our long-suffering school district which is in desperate need of revitalization."

In addition, the poll results show education has become even more of a priority for DC voters, despite the recession, than it was this time last year. A plurality of voters (29 percent) identified "K-12 education and schools" as their top priority.

"Rhee's leadership couldn't come at a better time," continued Martin. "As this new poll illustrates, District residents are tremendously concerned about the quality of education their children are receiving from the DC Public School System and desperately want to see improvements. It's clear that Washingtonians see the Chancellor's efforts as a step in the right direction."

"The Chancellor has done a great job in dealing with student achievement, although she had to face many challenges," said Terry Goings, a board member of DCSRN whose three children graduated from Coolidge High School. "Rhee's management style of holding the adults that deal with our children accountable in DCPS sends a clear message to parents and students that their concerns are first. We have a long way to go, but thanks to Rhee's hard work, we are finally making progress."

In a joint effort with DC School Reform Now, the polling results were released by the Alliance for School Choice, the Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO), Center for Education Reform, DC Children First, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Greater Washington Urban League, and the Heritage Foundation.

View the results of the poll here: http://dcschoolreform.org/images/pdf/forkintheroad.pdf
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July ERR #11

Overconfidence Among Teenage Students Can Stunt Crucial Reading Skills

Too much confidence among teenage students can be harmful. In a study that reinforces the danger of indiscriminately bolstering a child's self esteem -- whether the child earns that distinction or not -- the results show a clear connection between overconfident students and low reading comprehension, and suggest recommendations for parents and teachers.

"While some self-confidence is helpful, overconfident 15-year-olds are often below-average readers in all 34 countries we studied," says Ming Ming Chiu, the lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction in the University at Buffalo's Graduate School of Education. "In contrast, under-confident 15-year-olds are more likely to be above-average readers in all 34 countries."

The difference lies in a student's ability to accurately assess and evaluate his or her own reading level, according to Chiu. Those who can accurately gauge their strengths and weaknesses are usually in a better position to identify realistic goals and achieve them.

"If an overconfident student chooses a book that is too hard -- such as 'The Lord of the Rings' rather than 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' -- he or she might stop reading after a few pages and let it sit on a bookshelf," says Chiu. "In contrast, a more self-aware student is more likely to finish an easier book and continue reading more books."

The research was the first large-scale international study of almost 160,000 students' overconfidence and reading levels (including nearly 4,000 U.S. students). It was co-written by Robert Klassen, associate professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Educational Psychology, and was published in the July edition of the professional educators' journal Learning and Individual Differences. The educators used data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In their study, Chiu and Klassen also found interesting cultural differences relevant to student achievement; countries that stressed individualism, such as the U.S. and Switzerland, tended to produce students whose overconfidence worked against their ability to assess their strengths and weaknesses accurately. In contrast, so-called collectivist countries that favored group interests (e.g., South Korea and Japan) had greater reading comprehension.

"As students in more collectivistic countries were more aware of peers' reading skills," says Chiu, "they assessed their own reading ability more accurately and were less likely to be overconfident."

Reading has long been considered essential to student learning. "Strong reading skills open doors to learning -- whether through books, Web pages or other media," says Chiu. The two researchers recommend parents and teachers help their children and students become suitably confident and strong readers by doing the following:

• Cultivate the Idea of the Self-test. Have students ask themselves, "How can I apply the ideas I'e learned in today' class to my daily life?"This self-test gives students feedback on how well they understand the ideas and thereby helps develop a suitable level of self-confidence.

• Review Past Performance. Reflecting on past performance on homework, tests and writing assignments anchors their confidence to a suitable level and prevents overconfidence.

• Peer Evaluation. Using classmates as a ruler to evaluate one's own strengths and weaknesses can reduce overconfidence (for example by asking, "Do I understand the books as well as my classmates?").

• Identify Achievable Goals. Encourage children to choose goals that they can successfully accomplish. Healthy confidence and self-assessment can help children set more realistic and achievable goals to ignite a virtuous cycle of high motivation and high achievement.

Facts From NLTS2: Secondary School Experiences and Academic Performance of Students With Mental Retardation

The report uses data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) to provide a national picture of the secondary school experiences and academic achievements of students with mental retardation who received special education services. The NLTS2, initiated in 2001 and funded by NCSER, has a nationally representative sample of more than 11,000 students with disabilities.


How children view and treat their peers with undesirable characteristics

A study by Kansas State University researchers is looking at how children perceive and interact with peers who have various undesirable characteristics, such as being overweight or aggressive.

The researchers' study explored children's perceptions of the ability of the peer to control or change such traits.

The K-State research team included Mark Barnett, professor of psychology; Rachel Witham, graduate student in counseling and student development, Hutchinson; and Jennifer Livengood, Wamego, Natalie (Brown) Barlett, Ames, Iowa, and Tammy Sonnentag, Edgar, Wis., all graduate students in psychology. Their research was presented in May at the Association for Psychological Science annual convention in San Francisco, Calif.

"This study provides some evidence that if a child feels that an undesirable characteristic is under some sort of personal control, they are less likely to respond favorably to someone who displays that characteristic," Livengood said. "The study implies that if a child doesn't have experience with that particular undesirable characteristic, they are less likely to respond favorably to someone with that specific quality."

The researchers found that children who perceive themselves or a friend as similar to a peer with an undesirable characteristic might experience heightened empathy for that peer, and then might respond in a positive manner toward the peer. The findings also showed that boys, more than girls, tended to have negative attitudes toward peers with undesirable characteristics.

The study included third-graders and sixth-graders who completed questionnaires that had descriptions of hypothetical peers. The peers included a poor student, nonathletic student, obese student, aggressive student, shy student, asthmatic student and a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

When the children read a brief description of a hypothetical peer, they were asked to rate statements regarding the peer's personal control and change over the characteristic, and how they would respond to such a person. The children also were asked to indicate if they or a friend were similar to the peer.

The findings showed that the more the children agreed that the peers were at fault for their characteristic, the more they agreed that they would tease those peers, and the less they agreed that they would like or help those peers if they needed assistance.

According to the researchers, the sixth-grade boys displayed stronger agreement than the sixth-grade girls that the peers were at fault for the undesirable characteristic and that they would tease them. They also had less agreement that they would help such a peer if they needed assistance.

The study showed that the aggressive and asthmatic peers tended to receive the most extreme ratings. The aggressive peer was rated high on having fault for the characteristic and low on having a desire to change. The asthmatic peer was rated high on having the characteristic caused by something in the peer's body or brain and low on having fault for the characteristic.

The children's ratings showed that they consistently anticipated treating the asthmatic peer more favorably than the aggressive peer. The researchers said it appeared that the children perceived the highly aggressive peer's behavior as under personal control, and the asthmatic peer was perceived as suffering a medical condition that was largely out of personal control to cause or change. The obese peer also was rated high on having fault for the characteristic.

The children agreed more strongly that girls would improve more than boys with the help of adults to alter an undesirable characteristic. The researchers said since girls tend to seek assistance from adults and comply with directives from adults more frequently than boys, the children might have anticipated that girls would respond more favorably than boys.

Study: being active as a preschooler pays off later in childhood

Being active at age 5 helps kids stay lean as they age even if they don't remain as active later in childhood, a new University of Iowa study shows.

“We call this effect 'banking' because the kids benefit later on, similar to having a savings account at a bank. The protective effect is independent of what happens in between," said lead author Kathleen Janz, professor of health and sport studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "The implication is that even 5-year-olds should be encouraged to be as active as possible because it pays off as they grow older."

The UI team tested the body fat and activity level of 333 kids at ages 5, 8 and 11 using gold-standard technology: a special scanner that accurately measures bone, fat and muscle tissue, and an accelerometer that measures movement every minute. The kids wore accelerometers to record their activity level for up to five days, providing much more reliable data than relying on kids or parents to track minutes of exercise.

The study, published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, indicates that kids who are active at age 5 end up with less fat at age 8 and 11, even when controlling for their accumulated level of activity.

The average 5-year-old in the study got 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. For every 10 minutes on top of that, kids had one-third of a pound less fat tissue at ages 8 and 11.

Janz said further investigation is needed to learn what happens to the active kids' bodies that keeps them in better shape down the road. It may be possible that the active 5-year-olds didn't develop as many fat cells, improved their insulin response, or that something happened metabolically that provided some protection even as they became less active. _ _The study also indicated that boys are more likely to experience the sustained benefit from being active as preschoolers, possibly because they are more active at age 5 than girls, highlighting a need to especially encourage young girls to exercise.

"The CDC recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of age-appropriate physical activity every day, and an activity like coloring madly won't cut it," Janz said.

The challenge is that it can be difficult to measure minutes of activity, since kids exert themselves in short bursts -- think sprinting after a ball -- rather than continuous activities, like jogging. So what can parents do?

"Avoid long periods -- more than 60 minutes -- of sedentary activity, insist that schools provide morning and afternoon recesses and whenever possible get kids outside. Kids who meet the CDC activity recommendations tend to be kids who spend a fair amount of time outdoors enjoying unstructured play," Janz said. "In the end, it doesn't take that much extra physical activity to see a measurable outcome. Even 10 extra minutes a day makes a difference in protecting against excessive fat gains."
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July ERR #10

Proper placement of defibrillators key to effective use in schools

The appropriate placement of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) is critical to optimize their use in public places, according to two studies published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. Without immediate bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), brain death and permanent death start to occur in just four to six minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can be reversed by immediate bystander CPR and treatment within a few minutes with an electric shock to allow the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. More than 92 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims don’t survive to hospital discharge. In cities where bystander CPR and defibrillation is provided within 5 to 7 minutes, the survival rate from out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest is as high as 30 percent to 45 percent, according to the American Heart Association.

In one study, researchers found that school-based AED programs have a high rate of survival for students and others on school grounds.

Researchers found that 83 percent of 1,710 U.S. high schools with AED programs that they studied had an established emergency response plan for sudden cardiac arrest. However, only 40 percent practiced and reviewed their plans at least annually with potential school responders.

Of 36 cases of sudden cardiac arrests at the 1,710 schools:

• 94 percent received bystander CPR,

• 83 percent received an AED shock and

• 64 percent survived to hospital discharge including 9 of 14 student athletes and 14 of 22 non students.

Three factors — prompt recognition of sudden cardiac arrest, the presence of a trained rescuer to initiate CPR and access to early defibrillation through on-site AEDs — are critical to improving survival from sudden cardiac arrest in schools, said Jonathan A. Drezner, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor and team physician in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington-Seattle.

“It is not just about the AEDs — schools must have a comprehensive emergency response plan for _sudden cardiac arrest that includes training anticipated responders in CPR and AED use, access to an AED, and practice and review of the response plan,” Drezner said.

“It is crucial to recognize that AEDs permit early defibrillation not only in young athletes but also in other individuals who may experience an unexpected sudden cardiac arrest. We found that more than half of sudden cardiac arrest events reported in schools occur in adults working at the school or attending a school event. Schools are a strategic location for AED programs to serve large concentrations of people at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.”

In a Danish study, researchers examined strategic placement of AEDs in public urban locations. A significant amount of interest and money is focused on AED deployment and public access defibrillation programs worldwide, but knowledge about where and how widespread AED deployment in the community should be is lacking, said Fredrik Folke, M.D., lead author of the study and a cardiology research fellow at Gentofte University Hospital, Hellerup, in Denmark.

To evaluate whether public AEDs were located where the majority of cardiac arrests occurred, Folke and colleagues digitally marked the exact locations of all arrests on a map and then analyzed the locations of 104 AEDs placed in municipal institutions in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 1994 through 2005. About 25 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occurred in public places.

According to the cardiac arrest analysis, carefully choosing AED coverage in 10 percent of the city area would provide coverage for about 67 percent of all cardiac arrests occurring in public. The highest rates of cardiac arrest in cities were in high-density public areas such as major train stations, large shopping centers, central bus terminals and sports centers.

“Our findings suggest that public access defibrillation programs should cover the greatest possible number of arrests in public, which is consistent with the recommendations from the American Heart Association,” Folke said. “But if AED deployment in the community is driven by local or political initiatives and not on strategic AED placement, there is a high risk of AEDs being placed primarily in low-incidence areas of cardiac arrest and hence low likelihood of the AEDs ever being used.”

Placing AEDs in about 10 percent of the city area cost an estimated $41,000 per extra year of a survivor’s life — deemed “acceptable” by the researchers. However, unguided AED placement trying to cover the entire city had an estimated cost of $108,700 per extra life year.

In an accompanying editorial, Dianne L. Atkins, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Iowa, wrote that the two “informative” studies demonstrate that the mere presence of an AED in the general area of an arrest does not guarantee success. Successful AED programs require immediate bystander CPR and non-equipment components in addition to AED-availability, she said.

“The need for ongoing CPR training, fully-developed and executed emergency plans and links to EMS are vital to the immediate and long-term outcomes of shock delivery,” Atkins wrote.

Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education

Using data from the 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01), this Statistics in Brief focuses on undergraduates who enter STEM programs and examines their characteristics and postsecondary outcomes (persistence and degree completion) several years after beginning postsecondary education. Findings include:

• Twenty-three percent of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students had majored in a STEM field at some point between their initial enrollment in 1995–96 and about 6 years later, as of 2001.

• STEM entrants generally did better than non-STEM entrants in terms of bachelor's degree attainment and overall persistence.

• Among all STEM entrants between 1995–96 and 2001, some 53 percent persisted in a STEM field by either completing a degree in a STEM field or staying enrolled in a STEM field, and the remaining 47 percent left STEM fields by either switching to a non-STEM field or leaving postsecondary education without earning any credential.


On Track to Complete? A Taxonomy of Beginning Community College Students and Their Outcomes 3 Years After Enrolling: 2003-04 through 2006

This study uses a classification scheme, the Community College Taxonomy (CCT), to analyze outcomes for beginning community college students according to how "directed" (strongly directed, moderately directed, or not directed) they are toward completing a program of study. Levels of direction are based on factors associated with student persistence and degree attainment, and outcomes examined included institutional retention, student persistence, 4-year transfer rates, enrollment continuity, and first-year attrition. The study is based on data from the 2004/06 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/06), a national sample of undergraduates who enrolled in postsecondary institutions for the first time between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004; participants were interviewed in 2004 and 2006. This study includes only students who initially enrolled in a community college and were not enrolled concurrently in any other institution. Some key findings include:

• Students classified according to the CCT as "strongly directed" toward completion had higher rates of institutional retention, student persistence, AA degree attainment, and 4-year transfer than did their less-directed peers.

• Nearly one-fourth left college in their first year and did not return within the 3-year study period. "Strongly directed" students left college in their first year at a lower rate (16 percent) than did their "moderately directed" (29 percent) or "not directed" (41 percent) counterparts.

• Overall, 49 percent of students had maintained their enrollment or completed a program of study at their first institution, and 55 percent had persisted in any postsecondary institution, within three years after their enrollment.

• Some 10 percent of students had earned an AA degree, 5 percent had obtained a vocational certificate, and nearly 20 percent had transferred to another institution.


A Profile of Successful Pell Grant Recipients: Time to Bachelor’s Degree and Early Graduate School Enrollment

This report describes characteristics of college graduates who received Pell Grants and compares them to graduates who were not Pell Grant recipients. For both groups of graduates, data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:2000/01) were analyzed to determine the time it took them to complete a bachelor’s degree as well as the percentage who enrolled in graduate school within one year of college graduation. Key findings include the following:

• About 36 percent of 1999-2000 bachelor's degree recipients received at least one Pell Grant while in college.

• Higher percentages of Pell Grant recipients had at least one of several undergraduate risk characteristics (e.g., delaying postsecondary enrollment or failing to graduate from high school) than did nonrecipients.

• Parents' education was the only factor consistently related to both time-to-degree and graduate school enrollment for Pell Grant recipients. Those whose parents did not attend college took longer to attain a bachelor’s degree and enrolled in graduate school at lower rates than recipients whose parents had a least a bachelor’s degree.

Although Pell Grant recipients had a longer median time-to-degree than nonrecipients, when controlling simultaneously for parents’ education, undergraduate risk characteristics, and transfer history, recipients had a shorter time-to-degree than nonrecipients.

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July ERR #9

Little Tolerance for Zero Tolerance Policies

Zero tolerance policies leave no room for error but in many cases, the policies themselves show flaws. University of Delaware researcher Dariel Janerette compared how zero tolerance policies are implemented nationwide. Janerette found systems where teachers feel powerless and students, disproportionately minority and special needs, too often end up incarcerated.

Janerette’s work gives school districts questions to ponder including:

What effects are zero tolerance policies having on student achievement?
What are the benefits of these policies as compared to their costs?
What can states do to support professional development for teachers to enable them?

Read the whole Policy Brief at http://tinyurl.com/zerotoleranceinschools

Caffeine-Drinking Teens Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Fueled by caffeine teens are up late at night, and they aren’t just focusing on homework. Web surfing, text messaging and gaming are keeping them up for hours into the night, according to a recent study by Drexel University’s Dr. Christina Calamaro, assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

The study “Adolescents Living 24/7 Lifestyle: Effects of Caffeine and Technology on Sleep Duration and Daytime Functioning,” found that the more multitasking a teen did, the more likely the teen would be dozing off during the day. The findings were published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Calamaro and researchers (Mason B. Thornton and Sarah Ratcliffe) asked 100 middle and high school students aged 12 to 18 to complete a questionnaire to measure nighttime intake of caffeinated drinks, use of media-related technology and sleep patterns. The majority of the sample used some form of technology, with 66 percent having a television in their bedroom, 30 percent a computer, 90 percent a cell phone and 79 percent an MP3 digital audio player.

The researchers found that 20 percent of those studied got the recommended eight or more hours of sleep during school nights with the rest getting less than eight hours. The average sleep for U.S. adolescents is seven hours, according to Calamaro. At least 30 percent of teenagers reported falling asleep during school. Caffeine consumption tended to be 76 percent higher among those who fell asleep. Most teenagers used multiple electronic media late into the night and consumed a variety of caffeinated beverages, including many popular energy drinks marketed to their age group, said Calamaro.

To gauge how heavily the study participants used technology at night, Calamaro and her team developed a measure they call “multitasking index.” The index took the total amount of hours a teen spent doing each of nine different activities—ranging from watching TV, listening to MP3s, watching DVDs, surfing the web and doing homework—and divided that by nine or the number of hours between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The index was significantly related to falling asleep during school and difficulties falling asleep on weeknights.

“Many adolescents used multiple forms of technology late into the night and concurrently consumed caffeinated beverages,” said Calamaro. “Their ability to stay alert and fully functional throughout the day was impaired by excessive daytime sleepiness.”

At least 85 percent of those studied reported drinking caffeine. For those, the average caffeine intake was 144 mg with a range from 23 to1458 mg. Only 27.5 percent consumed less than 100 mg of caffeine daily or the equivalent of drinking a single espresso, whereas 11.2 percent drank more than 400 mg daily or the equivalent of four espressos.

Although caffeine consumption tended to be lower for the 20 percent that slept for eight to 10 hours on a school night, it wasn’t enough to merit statistical significance. Sleep was significantly related to multitasking. Teenagers getting eight to 10 hours of sleep had lower multitasking indexes; those getting six to eight had higher multitasking indexes. At least 33 percent of the teenagers reported falling asleep at least twice during school hours.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, teenagers tasked on average four activities late into the night, according to Calamaro.

“Even though we know adolescents are on a different time schedule than adults, we still need to get them less wired at night,” she said. “Parents need to discourage teenagers from drinking caffeine past noon time and keep TVs, computers and especially cell phones out of kids’ bedrooms.”

Gains Seen from School-Wide Positive Behavior Support

Two University of Oregon-led studies provide insights on a fast-growing positive-reinforcement behavioral program for improving the social and academic outcomes for schools.

Both studies on School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

The first study reports that, in addition to safer environments, third-graders in elementary schools in Illinois and Hawaii elementary that use SWPBS increased their mastery of state reading assessments compared to students in control schools. Researchers, however, cautioned that academic gains were not a result of just improving the behavior support in these schools; such improvement like came from the new behavioral approach coupled with effective instruction.

The second study, looking at high-school adoption of SWPBS, found that high-school teachers were suspicious of any new approach to behavior support. The results suggest that strong buy-in and commitment from administrators -- and possibly from students -- are needed for successful implementation.

More than 9,000 schools in 44 states -- including more than 1,000 schools in Illinois alone -- have or are in the process of implementing SWPBS, said Robert H. Horner, a UO professor of special education and lead author on the study of elementary schools. More than 800 high schools currently are engaged in its implementation.

SWPBS initially was developed by George Sugai in the early 1990s when he was on the faculty of the UO College of Education. Sugai now holds an endowed College of Education chair at the University of Connecticut. Horner and Sugai now share the lead in the National Technical Assistance Center on SWPBS, a five-year, multi-institutional program funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education designed to foster positive behavior in the nation's schools.

Evaluations of SWPBIS so far have found that schools adopting it have seen 20-60 percent reductions in discipline referrals, fewer suspensions and expulsions and reduced referrals of students to special education, Horner said.

"The fundamental message from this research is that schools become effective learning environments not only through attention to quality curriculum and instruction, but also by creating a school-wide culture that is predictable, consistent, positive and safe," Horner said. "Investing in the social behavior of students is central to achieving academic gains."

The study on high-school implementation was led by K. Brigid Flannery, also a UO professor of special education, who teamed with Sugai and Cynthia M. Anderson, a UO professor of school psychology. They surveyed 43 implementation-team leaders in 12 states -- most had been involved in their projects for at least one year but less than three years.

Understanding the challenges to implementation is important as more high schools begin to move in this direction, Flannery said, noting the complexities involved at the high-school level, where set-up teams must draw from representatives from multiple departments and faculties.

Researchers found that barely 50 percent of faculty members were supportive of SWPBS and that actual participation by teachers was even lower. Previous research by Sugai and Horner had found that a minimum of 80 percent support by teachers was necessary for successful implementation. Among reasons for resistance was a feeling that appropriate behavior was expected by high-school students and that rewards were not necessary.

Flannery says the research suggests that leadership teams at the high-school level may need to be larger and draw from the departmental infrastructure when building implementation teams. "More time is needed for high schools to secure faculty support and develop strategies to break down barriers to increase support," she said. Part of that strategy, she noted, needs to be aimed at getting staff to acknowledge student behaviors in addition to their academic prowess.

Flannery's team also concluded that while student participation may not be needed in the implementation process in lower schools levels, such representation in high schools may be critical. The researchers cautioned that the study's results should be considered preliminary because they did not include a control group and their sample size was small.

"We do feel that our results may be useful to high schools implementing or considering SWPBS," Flannery said. "Our findings suggest that more time is needed up front to lay the groundwork for its implementation so that buy-in can be realized from students, staff and administrators."

Study Finds that Good Teaching can be Enhanced with New Technology

Analysis of Controlled Studies Shows Online Learning Enhances Classroom Instructio

Providing further evidence of the tremendous opportunity to use technology to improve teaching and learning, the U.S. Department of Education today released an analysis of controlled studies comparing online and face-to-face instruction.

A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified over 1,000 empirical studies of online learning. Of these, 46 met the high bar for quality that was required for the studies to be included in the analysis. The meta analysis showed that “blended” instruction – combining elements of online and face-to-face instruction – had a larger advantage relative to purely face to face instruction or instruction conducted wholly online. The analysis also showed that the instruction conducted wholly on line was more effective in improving student achievement than the purely face to face instruction. In addition, the report noted that the blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions.

“This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to bring broadband access and online learning to more communities.

“To avoid being caught short when stimulus money runs out, school officials should use the short-term federal funding to make immediate upgrades to technology to enhance classroom instruction and to improve the tracking of student data,” Duncan added. “Technology presents a huge opportunity that can be leveraged in rural communities and inner-city urban settings, particularly in subjects where there is a shortage of highly qualified teachers. At the same time, good teachers can utilize new technology to accelerate learning and provide extended learning opportunities for students.”

Few rigorous research studies have been published on the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students. The systematic search found just five experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing the learning effects of online versus face-to-face instruction for K-12 students. For this reason, caution is required in generalizing the study’s findings to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings, such as in medical, career, military training, and higher education.

“Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction,” said Marshall “Mike” Smith, a Senior Counselor to the secretary. “The studies of more recent online instruction included in this meta-analysis found that, on average, online learning, at the post-secondary level, is not just as good as but more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction..”

The study was conducted by the Center for Technology and Learning, SRI International under contract to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Policy and Program Studies Service, which commissioned the study.

The full report can be found at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html#edtech.

Reducing Stereotype Threat in Classrooms: A Review of Social-Psychological Intervention Studies on Improving the Achievement of Black Students

Stereotype threat arises from a fear among members of a group of reinforcing negative stereotypes about the intellectual ability of the group. The report identifies three randomized controlled trial studies that use classroom-based strategies to reduce stereotype threat and improve the academic performance of Black students, narrowing their achievement gap with White students.

This review located and summarized the findings of randomized controlled trial stuies on classroom-based social-lpsychological interventions aimed at reducing the experience of stereotype threat that might otherwise lead some Black students to underperform on difficult academic tasks or tests. Reducing the achievement gap between Black and White students is a critical goal for states, districts, and schools. Experimental research on both inducing and reducing stereotype threat can inform discussions of strategies.

Some students may perform below their potential because of the stress of being under constant evaluation in the classroom. Black students, however, may experience another source of stress in addition to this general one (which they share with their nonminority peers). This second source of stress is specific to negatively stereotyped groups. It arises from a fear of reinforcing negative stereotypes about the intellectual ability of their racial group. Because Black students must contend with two sources of stress rather than one, their performance may be suppressed relative to that of their nonminority peers.

A systematic search was conducted for empirical studies of classroom-based social psychological interventions designed to reduce stereotype threat and thus improve the academic performance of Black students. After applying relevant inclusion criteria for topical and sample relevance, three experimental studies were identified.

The three studies found positive impacts on the academic performance of Black students for the following social-psychological strategies: Reinforce for students the idea that intelligence is expandable and, like a muscle, grows stronger when worked. students that their difficulties inschool are often part of a normal learning curve or adjustment process, rather than something unique to them or their racial group. Help students reflect on other values intheir lives beyond school that are sources of selfworth for them.

These three experiments are not an exhaustive list of the interventions to consider in reducing the racial achievement gap, nor are they silver bullets for improving the academic performance of Black students. Rather, they present scientific evidence suggesting that such strategies might reduce the level of socialpsychological threat that some Black students might otherwise feel in academic performance situations. It is important to note that while the strategies use established procedures that can be emulated by teachers and administrators, they also require thought and care on the part of schools and teachers in applying them in their particular situations.

Complete report:


Mom, School’s Making Me Sick!

With summer ending and school about to get underway, parents are transitioning from hearing their children moan about not being able to swim everyday, to hearing their child complain about homework, their new teachers or being in a different class than their friends. Many parents also begin to hear more complaints of tummy aches and headaches as a result of their child returning to school.

The psychological term for illnesses a child may develop when he or she is trying to avoid school is School Avoidance, or School Refusal. Symptoms may include nausea, fatigue, headaches and abdominal pain. According to Lori Crosby, Psy.D., Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in general, if children complain about stomachaches and other ailments and do not have symptoms of fever or a contagious illness, parents should feel comfortable sending them to school. “If the parent is unsure about whether to send a child to school, scheduling a visit with the child’s pediatrician to rule out a ‘true’ medical problem may be helpful. The parent may feel more confident sending the child to school with a clean bill of health” said Dr. Crosby.

Approximately 1-5 percent of children in the United States suffer from School Avoidance. An article in the American Family Physician states that School Avoidance/Refusal should be considered when a student will not go to school and experiences emotional distress of physical symptoms.

Dr. Crosby says there are several reasons why a child may begin to display characteristics of School Avoidance, among them are social problems such as being bullied or isolated; having problems with learning, taking tests, giving presentations; or the child being worried about family issues such as divorce, moves, deaths, parent’s job changes/losses. Many young children experience School Avoidance when they learn that they will be spending a lot of time away from their families and their familiar settings.

Dr. Crosby suggests that while School Avoidance is not out of the ordinary, parents can seek professional treatment if they want to help their child overcome fears associated with attending school. “Brief counseling with a psychologist or mental health professional may be helpful. In addition, parents should talk with school personnel. Psychologists are very familiar with such issues and can be very helpful with implementing a plan for the child,” she said.

Dr. Crosby says that children who have School Avoidance issues usually go back and forth between liking school and not liking it. “Often children with these histories wax and wane in that they have good phases and more avoidant phases,” she said. “Children usually start the year off with a great outlook about attending school, and after a brief honeymoon of high hopes and good attendance that may last for a few days to a few months, they slide back into some School Avoidance behaviors,” said Crosby.

Children may not outgrow their School Avoidance issues. However, Dr. Crosby says that there are some actions that parents can take to help solve the problem.

“The best approach is for parents to remain consistent with getting their child to school, setting limits, and establishing a regular routine,” she said. “The routine should be very predictable and consistent in the morning. Children benefit from having everything ready and set out before they go to sleep which reduces the morning rush,” Dr. Crosby says that this helps to reduce anxiety. She adds that parents also need to be aware of their own anxiety related to sending their child to school because children pick up on subtle messages and may use them to their advantage.

Back-to-School Health: Are Your Child’s Eyes Ready for the Classroom?

Good vision can be directly correlated with a child’s learning ability. As much as 80% of the learning a child does occurs through his eyes and approximately 1 in 4 school-age children have some type of vision impairment.

Does your child have normal, healthy vision needed for classroom learning, or is there a problem that requires treatment by a pediatric ophthalmologist, optometrist or pediatrician?

“Generally, the earlier we diagnose vision issues, the better the outcome for the child,” said Dr. Mark Borchert, a pediatric ophthalmologist and the director of The Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and associate professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “Professional eye examination tests not only measure distance of vision, but also how accurately the eyes focus and how well the eye muscles are working,” he said.

Below are four suggestions from The Vision Center for parents concerned about their child’s eyesight.

1. Don’t wait until your child enters kindergarten for his first complete eye exam. Pediatricians should perform a dilated eye exam to detect any serious eye problems within the first two months of life. Children are often more responsive to treatment when diagnosed early, so every child should have a comprehensive eye exam by age three. Some of the more serious eye diseases like amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (crossed eyes) are correctable with eye patches or surgery if caught early. Once a child is seven or eight years old, the opportunity to correct the problem may have been lost, resulting in permanent vision problems.

2. Children that avoid books or reading may have a vision problem. Generally, preschoolers are eager to look at books and try and figure out words. Most children are reading by first grade. In general, most reading problems are not caused by vision problems. For instance, the child may have dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning differences and this may not be the result of poor vision. In these cases glasses, while helpful, will not fully solve the problem. However, if a child is having trouble learning to read, a comprehensive vision examination by a pediatric ophthalmologist or optometrist should be one of the tools used in making a diagnosis.

3. If your child is resistant to wearing glasses, point out those with familiar faces who also wear them. Defeating the stereotype that glasses are “dorky” is half the battle with school-aged children. Getting your child to wear glasses, without tearing them apart is the other. When children see relatives, cartoons or classmates wearing glasses, they are typically drawn to the attractiveness of someone they admire wearing them. If your child needs to wear glasses, you should allow the child to pick out the frames as it gives them a sense of ownership and pride.

4. Children age 10 and above can usually manage contact lenses. Children of all ages, even infants, can be fitted with contact lenses if their vision requires it. Under the age of 10, an adult will usually need to insert, remove and clean the lens. Many children over 10 can handle wearing and cleaning the contact lenses themselves.
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July ERR #8

Is There a Plateau Effect in Test Scores?

Many in the research, policy, and media worlds have taken for granted the existence of a phenomenon known as the “plateau effect,” wherein test scores rise in the early years of a test-based accountability system and then level off. The theory holds that the first few years of score gains, in which teachers and students are rapidly adjusting to the new test, are “low hanging fruit,” and that scores plateau in later years once the “easy” ways of making gains have been exhausted. But the most comprehensive study of the plateau effect to date, released today by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), calls this phenomenon into question.

Drawing from its database of reading and math test results from all 50 states going back as far as 1999, CEP researchers looked for evidence of a plateau effect in 55 trend lines from 16 states with six to ten years of consistent test data. The study revealed several main findings:

In the current testing context, one cannot assume the existence of a plateau effect when trying to predict state test score trends.

The largest gains did not consistently show up in the early years of a testing program.

A clear upswing in test results was apparent after the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

In the three states with longer trend lines, gains generally did level off after nine or ten years, but the data were too limited to know whether this is a consistent pattern in state test performance.

The full report, State Test Score Trends Through 2008: Is There a Plateau Effect in Test Scores?, is the second in a series of 2009 CEP reports analyzing student achievement trends.

The report, along with more information and data, is available on the Center’s website at http://www.cep-dc.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=document_ext.showDocumentByID&nodeID=1&DocumentID=282

Part I of the report is available here:


What Will It Take to Turn Around Low Graduation-Rate High Schools?

New Report Identifies Key State, District and School Level Factors for Success

The federal government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stimulate significant progress in solving the nation’s graduation crisis, according to Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools, a new report released by Jobs for the Future and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

While high schools with low graduation rates exist in every state and many communities across the country, they are concentrated in a subset of 17 states that produce approximately 70 percent of the nation’s dropouts. Data from these states are used to develop new analytic tools for examining the characteristics of schools, districts, and states that make certain approaches more likely to succeed in certain places.

“The go-it-alone approach of leaving it to failing schools to fix themselves has not worked,” said report coauthor Robert Balfanz of the Everyone Graduates Center. “With the federal government ready to invest billions of dollars into turning around low-performing schools, the time is right to form the federal-statelocal and community partnerships needed to transform or replace the low graduation-rate high schools that drive the nation’s dropout crisis.”

“To successfully transform or replace low graduation-rate high schools, states and districts need access to the growing knowledge base of what works and where it works,” said report co-author Adria Steinberg, of JFF. “It would be a waste of precious resources to quickly scale up interventions that were successful in one place without carefully analyzing the conditions that make success possible, and understanding which innovations work under what circumstances.”

“Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools” examines three major factors that should be considered when making choices about improvement strategies: patterns of geographic spread and concentration; state, district, and school characteristics; and socioeconomic, demographic, and political trends in the community.

Immediate federal action would make a significant difference in efforts to help hundreds of thousands more high school students earn a diploma and prepare for postsecondary education. The report’s authors make the following recommendations to the federal government:

• Require states seeking ARRA “Race to the Top” funding to use analytic data on graduation rates and low graduation-rate high schools as part of their plans for turning around failing schools.

• Build the capacity of states, districts, and schools to implement appropriate high school reform strategies.

• Designate additional federal innovation funding for development and replication of effective school designs to use in transforming or replacing low graduation-rate high schools.

• Target federal financing to high schools, districts, and states with the most pressing dropout problems.

The 17 states identified in this report are: Alabama, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina,

To download Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools:


National Education Standards: To Be or Not to Be?

With another drive for national education standards gathering steam, a new publication from Educational Testing Service (ETS), reviews the debate, details previous and current efforts, discusses the challenges and explores avenues for moving the nation toward greater commonality.

The report, National Education Standards: Getting Beneath the Surface, is the latest in a regular series of Policy Perspectives from ETS's Policy Information Center, and is written by noted educational researcher Paul Barton. The report covers issues such as: what must be considered in creating national education standards, what problems must be addressed, and what trade-offs might be required among conflicting objectives.

"The most daunting issue," says Barton, "is the huge degree of variation that now exists in our educational system." For example, Barton points out that:

• States set very different standards to determine student proficiency. According to North Carolina's standards, 88 percent of the state's eighth-graders are "proficient" on its state National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scale while neighboring South Carolina sets a much higher bar, resulting in only 30 percent of its eighth-graders reaching this level.

• In student achievement, the lowest scoring 17-year-olds do no better in math and reading than the top scoring 9-year-olds. In addition, the spread in achievement scores in reading within a grade is as large, or larger, than the difference in average scores between grades 4 and 12.

• Evaluations of the state content standards and tests by the Fordham Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers found large variations in quality. Even when states teach the same material from the first to the eighth grade, they may teach the material at different grades.

• A review of the textbooks used in 10 states showed that only four of 108 possible learning expectations for fourth-graders were common across those states.

While there is increasing advocacy for creating common or national standards, there is seldom any detail given about the nature of the standards sought, Barton contends. "Some want federal standards and others national. Some talk about the content of instruction, some about a national test, and some about both. Certain groups push for voluntary standards and others for a single cut-point on a test that can be used for accountability. People are speaking from different pages and it will be necessary to get on the same page before there can be significant progress," says Barton.

Getting everyone on the same page is one of the goals of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Initiative, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), is a state-led process to develop two sets of common core state standards in English-language arts and mathematics: one for grades K–12, and one for college students and the workforce. The standards will be research- and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills.

"This is no longer a debate — it is a necessity. The development of a common core of state standards builds directly on recent efforts of leading organizations and states that have focused on developing college- and career-ready standards and ensures that these standards can be internationally benchmarked to top-performing countries," stated CCSSO Executive Director Gene Wilhoit. "The common core state standards will be fewer, clearer, and higher, making them more accessible to educators, students, parents, and the public."

The report reviews the nation's recent history with standards and testing and identifies some lessons that can be learned to avoid past mistakes. For example, the current system of content standards, curriculum and tests does not tie the components together in most states. The report also:

• Describes the on-going and significant disagreements over the best methods to teach math and reading, and points out topics, such as evolution, where we can expect even more controversy. Can these differences be accommodated in national standards?

• Points out that much of what we know about the courses that students take is limited to course titles — Algebra 1, for example. Yet, the content of an algebra course can vary tremendously across schools.

• Looks at ways federal funding can be used to develop common standards without federal control.

• Offers some ways to greater utilize NAEP, which currently serves as the nation's report card.

"There seems to be widespread dissatisfaction with the present system," says Barton. "As the Secretary of Education put it, ‘we have 50 different goal posts now.' However, this is not an advocacy document but an effort to help people who are grappling with the issue by providing information that can help."

Full report:


Study claims pay bump for teachers with master’s degrees could be put to better use

In this recessionary climate of depressed revenues and budget cuts for education, school districts across the U.S. “would be foolhardy” not to rethink paying teachers for master’s degrees, according to a new report.

“On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement,” say education researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in their short paper, Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master’s Degrees.

The brief was produced jointly by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.

“During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates such large sums of the average per-pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement,” say the authors.

In hard dollars, this means New York state spends an extra $416 per student (for a total of $1.121 billion a year) just because 78 percent of its teachers hold master’s degrees. In Washington state, the analogous numbers are $319 per pupil (or $330 million a year total) for the 56 percent of its teachers with a master’s. These expenditures, respectively, represent 2.78 percent and 3.30 percent of the total federal, state, and local money devoted to education in each state.

Roza and Miller chart these numbers for each state and suggest that the money now committed to the master’s bump in pay could be better spent, writing that: “Teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master’s degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else being equal. A master’s degree in engineering, for example, should be construed as evidence that a candidate possesses a deep understanding of a subject matter that is relevant to teaching mathematics or science.”

The authors acknowledge that changing long-established pay practices and contractual schedules will not be easy. But they argue that from a strategic point of view, this master’s bump in pay “makes little sense because these monies could be channeled into teacher compensation in ways that lead to improved student performance.”

Seeing the issue in the context of how a financial crisis can inspire education reform focused on benefiting students, Roza and Miller conclude:

“In the fiscal climate ahead, school systems serious about improving results for students will have no choice but to reconsider their long-automated ways of spending money, uncover how much money is at stake, and compare current ways of spending to alternative ones with greater potential to benefit students.”

This is the fourth “Rapid Response” brief in the $CHOOLS IN CRISIS: MAKING ENDS MEET series, designed to bring relevant fiscal analyses to policymakers amidst the current economic crisis.

Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master’s Degrees is available at


Drivers of Choice: Parents, Transportation, and School Choice

Transportation is clearly a consideration to be factored into any discussion of school choice. Yet we know very little about how much it matters in family’s decisions about their children’s school, and almost nothing about how much of a barrier it is to school choice, especially for low-income families. How far does the average family want their child to travel to school? Would they be as comfortable letting their younger children travel as far as they might a middle or high school student? What transportation options are available to low-income families? These are the kinds of questions we tried to address in this study, in order to obtain meaningful data to help shape school transportation policy.

This project first surveyed the landscape of transportation and school choices. It examined the density of large districts in the U.S. The project team contacted large school districts to find out their policies on transportation and choice, then examined district budgets to see how much they actually spend on transportation. Most importantly, the project surveyed families in two cities—Denver and Washington, D.C.—to find out their travel patterns and school choice options. The study breaks down that data, collected from households earning less than $75,000 in annual income, to determine how much transportation is a barrier to choice.

This report addresses the following questions:

* How far do children travel to school?

* Is transportation a big barrier to choice for families, especially for low-income families?

* Would families make different school choices if they had better transportation options?

* How do these choices vary by income, age of child, type of school, and location?

* Do families know their districts’ transportation policies?

• Given these results, how might district transportation policies better adapt to a choice environment?

Full report:

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July ERR #7

No Child Left Behind Increases Accountability of School Boards, Principals in California

The federal No Child Left Behind Act has made local school board members and principals more accountable for improving students' academic progress -- a key goal of the law -- a study released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) concludes.

California voters are more likely to re-elect their local school board members if schools meet goals for student achievement mandated by the law, and districts in California are more likely to demote principals whose schools repeatedly fail to meet the targets. However, there is no evidence that the law has succeeded in making district superintendents more accountable for student achievement.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is intended to improve students' academic achievement by defining the primary goals of schools and districts -- as measured by standardized test results -- and holding officials accountable for meeting the goals. The PPIC study looks at the re-election rates of school board members and the salaries and turnover rates of principals and superintendents in California to assess how effective these accountability programs have been. It finds:

- In districts that meet NCLB's "adequate yearly progress" targets for student achievement, incumbent school board members are more likely to be re-elected than would have been the case before NCLB.

- In schools that have been sanctioned for repeatedly failing to make adequate yearly progress, principals are more likely to be demoted than would have been the case before NCLB. However, there is no evidence that changes in principals' salaries are linked to the academic achievement of their students.

- Neither the salaries nor retention rates of superintendents are related to student achievement in their districts.

"NCLB gives voters and parents a clear measure of how students are doing and a way to judge schools and districts. The threat of sanctions may also be a factor in increasing accountability," says S. Eric Larsen, PPIC research fellow and author of the study.

Taken together, the study's results point to ways in which NCLB can be improved when Congress considers reauthorizing it. Among the recommendations:

- Improve the information available to voters. Test results reflect the students who live in a district as well as the effectiveness of the officials who run it. Low achievement may be attributable to the low socioeconomic status of a district's students, rather than poor management. An accountability system based on growth in student achievement, rather than on a percentage of students reaching a specific target, would provide voters with better information about the effectiveness of the governing board and administrators.

- Refocus NCLB sanctions on school boards rather than schools and districts. These governing boards have a better understanding of conditions in their districts and are better positioned to decide the most appropriate interventions and sanctions for schools and administrators. Sanctions imposed on school boards would hold these officials -- and the voters who elect them -- accountable for making wise choices.

- Help school boards determine the best way to improve student achievement. NCLB should provide more support to rigorous evaluation of promising interventions.

This report is available at http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=789

New science of learning offers preview of tomorrow's classroom

Of all the qualities that distinguish humans from other species, how we learn is one of the most significant. In the July 17, 2009 issue of the journal Science, researchers who are at the forefront of neuroscience, psychology, education, and machine learning have synthesized a new science of learning that is already reshaping how we think about learning and creating opportunities to re-imagine the classroom for the 21st century.

“We are not left alone to understand the world like Robinson Crusoe was on his island,” said Andrew Meltzoff, lead author of the paper and co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “These principles support learning across the life span and are particularly important in explaining children’s rapid learning in two unique domains of human intelligence, language and social understanding.

“Social interaction is more important than we previously thought and underpins early learning. Research has shown that humans learn best from other humans, and a large part of this is timing, sensitive timing between a parent or a tutor and the child," said Meltzoff, who is a developmental psychologist.

“We are trying to understand how the child’s brain works – how computational abilities are changed in the presence of another person, and trying to use these three principles as leverage for learning and improving education,” added co-author Patricia Kuhl, a neuroscientist and co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

University of California, San Diego robotics engineer Javier Movellan and neuroscientist-biologist Terrence Sejnowski are co-authors. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The National Science Foundation has funded large-scale science of learning centers at both universities.

The Science paper cites numerous recent advances in neuroscience, psychology, machine learning and education. For example, Kuhl said people don’t realize how computational and social factors interact during learning.

“We have a computer between our shoulders and our brains are taking in statistics all the time without our knowing it. Babies learn simply by listening, for example. They learn the sounds and words of their language by picking up probabilistic information as they listen to us talk to them. Babies at 8 months are calculating statistically and learning,” Kuhl said.

But there are limits. Kuhl’s work has shown that babies gather statistics and learn when exposed to a second language face to face from a real person, but not when they view that person on television.

“A person can get more information by looking at another person face to face,” she said. “We are digging to understand the social element and what does it mean about us and our evolution.”

Apparently babies need other people to learn. They take in more information by looking at another person face to face than by looking at that person on a big plasma TV screen,” she said. “We are now trying to understand why the brain works this way, and what it means about us and our evolution.”

Meltzoff said an important component of human intelligence is that humans are built so they don’t have to figure out everything by themselves.

“A major role we play as parents is teaching children where the important things are for them to learn,” he said. “One way we do this is through joint visual attention or eye-gaze. This is a social mechanism and children can find what’s important – we call them informational ‘hot spots’ – by following the gaze of another person. By being connected to others we also learn by example and imitation.”

Infants, he said, learn by mixing self-discovery with observations of other people for problem-solving.

“We can learn what to do by watching others, and we also can come to understand other people through our own actions,” Meltzoff said. “Learning is bi-directional.”

The researchers believe that aspects of informal learning, the ways people, particularly children, learn outside school, need to be brought into the classroom.__“Educators know children spend 80 percent of their waking time away from school and children are learning deeply and enthusiastically in museums, in community centers, from online games and in all sorts of venues. A lot of this learning is highly social and clues from informal learning may be applied to school to enhance learning. Why is it that a kid who is so good at figuring out baseball batting averages is failing math in school?” said Meltzoff.

Even though it appears that babies do not learn from television, technology can play a big role in the science of learning. Research is showing that children are more receptive to learning from social robots, robots that are more human in appearance and more interactive.

“The more that interacting with a machine feels like interacting with a human, the more children – and maybe adults – learn,” said Kuhl. “Someday we may understand how technology can help us learn a new language at any age, and, if we could, there are countless schools around the world in which that would be helpful.”

“Science is trying to understand the magic of social interaction in human learning,” said Meltzoff. “But when it does we hope to embody some of what we learn into technology. Kids today are using high-powered technology – Facebook, Twitter and text messaging – to enhance social interaction. Using technology, children are learning to solve problems collaboratively. Technology also allows us to have a distributed network from which to draw information, a world of knowledge.”

“To understand how children learn and improve our educational system, we need to understand what all of these fields can contribute,” explains Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and co-director of the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) at the University of California, San Diego, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. “Our brains have evolved to learn and adapt to new environments; if we can create the right environment for a child, magic happens.”

The paper is the first major publication to emerge from a unique collaboration between the TDLC and the University of Washington’s Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. The TDLC focuses on the study of learning—from neurons to humans and robots—treating the element of time as a crucial component of the learning process. This work complements the psychological research on child development that is the principal focus of the LIFE Center. Both have been funded as part of the NSF’s Science of Learning initiative.

Among the key insights that the authors highlight are three principles to guide the study of human learning across a range of areas and ages: learning is computational— machine learning provides a unique framework to understand the computational skills that infants and young children possess that allow them to infer structured models of their environment; learning is social—a finding that is supported by studies showing that the extent to which children interact with and learn from a robot depends on how social and responsive its behavior is; and learning is supported by brain circuits linking perception and action— human learning is grounded in the incredibly complex brain machinery that supports perception and action and that requires continuous adaptation and plasticity.

As the only species to engage in organized learning such as schools and tutoring, homo sapiens also draw on three uniquely human social skills that are fundamental to how we learn and develop: imitation, which accelerates learning and multiplies learning opportunities; shared attention, which facilitates social learning; and empathy and social emotions, which are critical to understanding human intelligence and appear to be present even in prelinguistic children.

These and other advances in our understanding of learning are now contributing to the development of machines that are themselves capable of learning and, more significantly, of teaching. Already these “social robots,” which interface with humans through dialogue or other forms of communication and behave in ways that humans are comfortable with, are being used on an experimental basis as surrogate teachers, helping preschool-age children master basic skills such as the names of the colors, new vocabulary, and singing simple songs (see image).

“Social interaction is key to everything,” Sejnowski says. “The technology to merge the social with the instructional is out there, but it hasn’t been brought to bear on the classroom to create a personalized, individualized environment for each student.” He foresees a time when these social robots may offer personalized pedagogy tailored to the needs of each child and help track the student’s mastery of curriculum. “By developing a very sophisticated computational model of a child’s mind we can help improve that child’s performance.”

“For this new science to have an impact it is critical that researchers and engineers embed themselves in educational environments for sustained periods of time,” says coauthor Javier Movellan, Ph.D., co-PI of TDLC’s Social Interaction Network and director of the Machine Perception Laboratory at UC San Diego. “The old approach of scientists doing laboratory experiments and telling teachers what to do will simply not work. Scientists and engineers have a great deal to learn from educators and from daily life in the classroom.” Movellan is collaborating with teachers at the UC San Diego Early Childhood Education Center to develop social robots that assist teachers and create new learning opportunities for children.

What makes social interaction such a powerful catalyst for learning, how to embody key elements in technology to improve learning, and how to capitalize on social factors to teach children better and foster their innate curiosity remain central questions in the new science of learning.

“Our hope is that applying this new knowledge to learning will enhance educators’ ability to provide a much richer and more interesting intellectual and cultural life for everyone,” Sejnowski says.
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July ERR #6

Geography literacy declines

A study in the Journal of Geography reports that despite increased support for K-12 geography education over a 15-year period, geography knowledge among Indiana college freshmen has not improved.

A test measuring ability in map skills, place name location, physical geography and human geography was administered in 1987 and again in 2002 to college freshmen at public and private colleges and universities in Indiana. Test scores were two percent lower in 2002 than in 1987.

"We were dismayed to see this decline, which is much more significant than it appears. With the efforts we put into K-12 geography education statewide through the Geography Educators Network of Indiana during the 15-year period we anticipated an increase in geography literacy, not a decline," said study author F.L. (Rick) Bein, Ph.D., professor of geography, School of Liberal Arts, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

These results reflect a national trend verified by similar findings by the National Geographic Society. "In Indiana, like in many other states, state educational standards are so focused on math and science, that geography and the other high school social studies are neglected," said Dr. Bein.

The few resources allocated to the social studies are consumed by the history programs. Geography is often taught only to less academic high school students and rarely integrated into history classes. In fact, Dr. Bein and co-authors found no significant difference in geography literacy between the scores of those students who had taken high school geography and those who had not.

In both tests students did best in the place names category and least well in map skills.

In 1987 and 2002, male students scored significantly higher than the female freshmen. Arts and sciences students scored much better than students in education, business and other majors. Travel was the primary source of geography knowledge, not high school geography classes. Not surprisingly, the more places the students had lived, the higher their scores.

In 1987 there was no significant difference between Asian, white, Hispanic and other students although the African American students scored noticeably lower. In 2002 whites had the highest scores and Hispanic students were the second highest scoring group. Asian students scored lower than Hispanics, but somewhat higher than African American students. The study authors noted that the sample size was small for both Asians and Hispanics which may have influenced the ranking of both groups.

Market-style incentives to increase school choice have opposite effect

A market-based approach to increasing school choice actually leads to fewer educational opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged students in urban areas, according to a University of Illinois expert in education.

As schools compete for students to improve their market position, the demands of the market often trump specific educational policy goals such as increased equality and access to better-performing schools, according to Christopher Lubienski, a professor of educational organization and leadership at the U. of I. College of Education and primary author of the study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Education. The study examined school options in three major metropolitan areas.

“When there’s competitive incentives for schools to recruit students, new market hierarchies form,” Lubienski said. “Some schools consciously avoid riskier students because they see themselves as up-market, and therefore serve a more up-market clientele. That leaves riskier students marginalized and excluded from the better schools.”

Lubienski said free-marketers have been touting school choice and markets in education for years as a way to level the socio-economic playing field. School choice was seen as a way of cutting across boundaries, of opening up private schools to students who ordinarily couldn’t afford tuition or didn’t live in wealthy districts. Competition for students was expected to generate greater educational opportunities, leading to more equitable access for students across varied, and often segregated, urban areas.

But now, according to Lubienski, there’s evidence to question “this notion of an open market leveling the playing field.” Market-based educational policies, he said, despite being implemented to alleviate social injustice in education, are actually helping to exacerbate inequality and erect further barriers for poorer students.

“We’re seeing some evidence that schools are changing their behaviors in undesirable ways, as far as only serving specific populations and avoiding those other students who would be seen as a drag on that school’s reputation,” Lubienski said.

To study the effects of markets on school choice, Lubienski and co-authors Charisse Gulosino, a professor at Brown University, and Peter Weitzel, a graduate student at Illinois, conducted geo-spatial analyses of education markets in Detroit, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

On paper, Lubienski said, the cities are very different, “but they’re probably the most competitive urban markets in terms of school choice,” he said.

“Unlike in, say, Des Moines, where people seem to accept the idea of a neighborhood school, parents in these cities expect to be able to choose from different options, so the schools there really do have to compete with each other to attract students.”

All three cases showed that schools embraced patterns of exclusionary strategies to enhance market position, Lubienski said, including employing a ringing strategy where new and independent schools don’t serve high-need areas, but instead remain on the periphery.

“That allows schools to target and recruit better students, rather than produce them,” he said. “It’s a strategy where they can still serve disadvantaged students, but they’re only serving the disadvantaged students who have the most active families from that sub-group.”

Another tactic is putting money into marketing at the expense of improving the curriculum.

“It’s easier to put out advertisements and make it appear as if your school is one thing, rather than change what’s actually happening in the school, which history has shown us is a very difficult thing to do,” Lubienski said.

In New Orleans, which Lubienski describes as a “near-universal choice city – about as close as we can get to a true experiment in market-based education” – the lack of a public school system has amplified the problems of relying on the invisible hand of a self-regulating market.

“Lots of cities have charter schools and voucher programs, but there’s usually a pretty strong public school system that’s still the big player in the room and acts as a buffer,” Lubienski said. “But after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans really wiped the slate clean by firing all the teachers in the city and starting over with all the charter schools.”

The brute-force application of markets to schools doesn’t seem to be having the effect that school-choice advocates expected because education is “too fragmented to be a true market,” Lubienski said, and schools “aren’t responding the way free-marketers assumed they would.”

“The generic model for markets in education just doesn’t seem to be working,” he said.
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July ERR #5

How noise and nervous system get in way of reading skills

A child's brain has to work overtime in a noisy classroom to do its typical but very important job of distinguishing sounds whose subtle differences are key to success with language and reading.

But that simply is too much to ask of the nervous system of a subset of poor readers whose hearing is fine, but whose brains have trouble differentiating the "ba," "da" and "ga" sounds in a noisy environment, according to a new Northwestern University study.

"The 'b,' 'd' and 'g' consonants have rapidly changing acoustic information that the nervous system has to resolve to eventually match up sounds with letters on the page," said Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, where the work was performed.

In other words, the brain's unconscious faulty interpretation of sounds makes a big difference in how words ultimately will be read. "What your ear hears and what your brain interprets are not the same thing," Kraus stressed.

The Northwestern study is the first to demonstrate an unambiguous relationship between reading ability and neural encoding of speech sounds that previous work has shown present phonological challenges for poor readers.

The research offers an unparalleled look at how noise affects the nervous system's transcription of three little sounds that mean so much to literacy.

The online version of the study will be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):


The new Northwestern study as well as much of the research that comes out of the Kraus lab focuses on what is happening in the brainstem, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain that scientists in the not too distant past believed simply relayed sensory information from the ear to the cortex.

As such, much of the earlier research relating brain transcription errors to poor reading has focused on the cortex -- associated with high-level functions and cognitive processing.

Focusing earlier in the sensory system, the study demonstrates that the technology developed during the last decade in the Kraus lab now offers a neural metric that is sensitive enough to pick up how the nervous system represents differences in acoustic sounds in individual subjects, rather than, as in cortical-response studies, in groups of people. Importantly, this metric reflects the negative influence of background noise on sound encoding in the brain.

"There are numerous reasons for reading problems or for difficulty hearing speech in noisy situations, and we now have a metric that is practically applicable for measuring sound transcription deficits in individual children," said Kraus, the senior author of the study. "Auditory training and reducing background noise in classrooms, our research suggests, may provide significant benefit to poor readers."

For the study, electrodes were attached to the scalps of children with good and poor speech-in-noise perception skills. Sounds were delivered through earphones to measure the nervous system's ability to distinguish between "ba," "da" and "ga." In another part of the study, sentences were presented in increasingly noisy environments, and children were asked to repeat what they heard.

"In essence, the kids were called upon to do what they would do in a classroom, which is to try to understand what the kid next to them is saying while there is a cacophony of sounds, a rustling of papers, a scraping of chairs," Kraus said.

In a typical neural system there is a clear distinction in how "ba," "da" and "ga" are represented. The information is more accurately transcribed in good readers and children who are good at extracting speech presented in background noise.

"So if a poor reader is having difficulty making sound-to-meaning associations with the 'ba,' 'da' and 'ga' speech sounds, it will show up in the objective measure we used in our study," Kraus said.

Reflecting the interaction of cognitive and sensory processes, the brainstem response is not voluntary.

"The brainstem response is just what the brain does based on our auditory experience throughout our lives, but especially during development," Kraus said. "The way the brain responds to sound will reflect what language you speak, whether you've had musical experience and how you have used sounds."

The Auditory Neuroscience Lab has been a frontrunner in research that has helped establish the relationship between sound encoding in the brainstem, and how this process is affected by an individual's experience throughout the lifespan. In related research with significant implications, recent studies from the Kraus lab show that the process of hearing speech in noise is enhanced in musicians.

"The very transcription processes that are deficient in poor readers are enhanced in people with musical experience," Kraus said. "It makes sense for training programs for poor readers to involve music as well as speech sounds."

Achievement Gaps: How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress

In 2007, mathematics scores for both Black and White public school students in grades 4 and 8 nationwide, as measured by the main NAEP assessments of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were higher than in any previous assessment, going back to 1990. This was also true for Black and White fourth-graders on the NAEP 2007 Reading Assessment. For grade 8, reading scores for both Black and White students were higher in 2007 than in the first reading assessment year, 1992, as well as the most recent previous assessment year, 2005.

White students, however, had higher scores than Black students, on average, on all assessments. While the nationwide gaps in 2007 were narrower than in previous assessments at both grades 4 and 8 in mathematics and at grade 4 in reading, White students had average scores at least 26 points higher than Black students in each subject, on a 0-500 scale. This report will use results from both the main NAEP and the long-term trend NAEP assessments to examine the Black-White achievement gaps, and changes in those gaps, at the national and state level.

The main NAEP 2007 Reading and Mathematics Assessments included grade 4 and grade 8 students both nationally and for all 50 states, as well as the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and the District of Columbia (hereinafter referred to as states). Not all states had Black (or White) student populations large enough to provide reliable data, and not all states participated in the earliest NAEP state assessments.

Most of the data in this report comes from the main NAEP assessments, supplemented with some data from the NAEP long-term trend assessments. Main NAEP assessments, which began in 1990 for mathematics and 1992 for reading, are administered at the fourth and eighth grades, both nationally and at the state level. Because main NAEP only assesses public schools in its state assessments, this report contains only public school results. The most recent results in this report are for 2007.

NAEP long-term trend assessments are administered by age rather than grade. This report references long-term trend assessment public school results from the earliest assessment through 2004, with results for ages 9 and 13 instead of grades 4 and 8. The long-term trend assessments provide public school results for mathematics going back to 1978 and for reading going back to 1980, at ages 9, 13, and 17, at the national level only, on a 0-500 point scale.

At both ages 9 and 13, mathematics scores for both Black and White students were higher in 2004 than in any previous assessment. The 23-point Black-White achievement gap in mathematics for age 9 public school students in 2004 was narrower than in the first assessment in 1978 but not significantly different from the gap in the most recent previous assessment in 1999. The same was true for the 26- point gap at age 13.

For age 9 reading, scores for both Black and White students were higher in 2004 than in any previous assessment, going back to 1980. The 26-point gap between Black and White students in 2004 was not significantly different from the gap in 1980, but was narrower than the gap in 1999. At age 13 reading, scores were higher for Black students in 2004 than in 1980, but did not show a significant difference from 1999. Scores for White students were not significantly different for either comparison year. The 21-point gap in student performance at age 13 reading in 2004 was narrower than in both 1980 and 1999.

The following two sections summarize state-level achievement gaps between Black and White students in the main NAEP assessments in mathematics and reading.
State Black-White Achievement Gaps—Mathematics

* At the state level, gaps in grade 4 mathematics existed in 2007 in the 46 states for which results were available. In 15 states, the 2007 gaps were narrower than in 1992, as Black students demonstrated a greater gain in average scores than that of the White students.
* At grade 8, mathematics gaps existed in 2007 in the 41 states for which results were available. The gaps were narrower in 2007 than in 1990 in four states: Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. In all four, scores for both Black and White students increased, but scores for Black students increased more.
* At grade 4, five states had mathematics gaps in 2007 that were larger than the national gap of 26 points, while 10 states had gaps that were smaller.
* At grade 8, seven states had mathematics gaps in 2007 that were larger than the national gap of 31 points, while 12 had gaps that were smaller.

State Black-White Achievement Gaps—Reading

* At the state level, gaps in grade 4 reading existed in 2007 in the 44 states for which results were available. Gaps narrowed from 1992 to 2007 in Delaware, Florida, and New Jersey, due to larger increases in Black students’ scores.
* At grade 8, reading gaps existed in 2007 in 41 of the 42 states for which results were available. In Hawaii, the 7-point difference between Black and White students’ scores in 2007 was not statistically significant, and thus there was no gap for Hawaii. There was no significant change in the gap in any state from 1998 to 2007.
* At grade 4, eight states had reading gaps that were larger than the 2007 national gap of 27 points, while nine had gaps that were smaller.
* At grade 8, one state had a reading gap that was larger than the 2007 national gap of 26 points, while nine had gaps that were smaller.

The NAEP reading and mathematics scales make it possible to examine relationships between students’ performance and various background factors measured by NAEP, such as race. However, a relationship that exists between achievement and another variable does not reveal its underlying cause, which may be influenced by a number of other variables. Similarly, the assessments do not reflect the influence of unmeasured variables. At the state level, changes in the size of the achievement gap between Black and White students could be affected by demographic changes in the size and makeup of the populations involved, as well as policy changes in the schools and communities. The results of this study are most useful when they are considered in combination with other knowledge about the student population and the education system, such as trends in instruction, changes in the school-age population, and societal demands and expectations.

This report focuses on the size of the achievement gap between Black and White students and the direction of average scores within states, regardless of the states’ scores. Large gaps may occur in some states with scores above the national average, as well as in states with scores below the national average. Similarly, small gaps may occur in states with scores above or below the national average. All differences discussed in this report are statistically significant at the .05 level after controlling for multiple comparisons. The technical notes for this report provide information about sampling, accommodations, interpreting statistical significance, and other technical features. For more information on both the main NAEP and long-term trend assessments, see appendix A.

Complete report: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2009455.pdf
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