Report Calls For Greater Federal Responsiveness To Needs Of Rural High Schools

Despite rural high schools often being shortchanged by current federal education policies, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that rural schools routinely use practices that could be useful to boosting student performance in their urban and suburban counterparts.

According to the report, Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers, the tight-knit nature of rural communities has resulted in the development of promising practices in meeting the challenge of preparing students for success in the twenty-first century. For example, in the highly personal rural environment, at-risk students are not as likely to be overlooked. Additionally, successful rural high schools have utilized online courses and other distance learning to expand advanced learning opportunities for their students. By using local businesses as “place-based” learning opportunities, schools engage students’ interests, which often creates a college- and career-ready culture.

One third of the nation’s high schools are rural and that number is on the rise, the report finds. Nationally, one in five children attends a rural school. This growth in enrollment brings new challenges such as growing population diversity in the form of English language learners and additional costs for bilingual teachers, new curricula, and other services.

Current Challenges and Opportunities finds that rural high schools receive disproportionately lower amounts of Title I dollars, the largest source of federal funding for low-income school districts. Often characterized by declining local tax bases, rural school districts also encounter difficulty generating sufficient property tax revenues. Furthermore, rural districts have less staff to apply for additional competitive grant funds.

Financial constraints are just one of the challenges that the report identifies. A shortage of teachers trained to deliver a rigorous college- and career-prep curriculum, difficulty in addressing the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, limited social service support, and less access to teacher professional development create other challenges in ensuring that all students in rural areas graduate from high school prepared for college, work, and life.

The challenge for the federal government, working with local and state partners, is to develop policy solutions that recognize and address the unique circumstances that rural high schools and communities present. As the report notes, it is imperative that federal leaders understand the full impact—and unintended consequences—of current education reform efforts on America’s rural communities as Congress begins to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
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Brief Highlights Online Learning To Combat Teacher Shortages, State Budget Shortfalls, And Low Student Achievement

The Alliance for Excellent Education has released a brief that details how the integral use of online technology in today’s secondary school classrooms can strengthen the teacher workforce, improve student outcomes, and allow states to do more despite flat education budgets.

According to the brief, The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education, state and local public officials are faced with stark realities that will force major changes in traditional education processes, especially for middle and high schools. This educational “perfect storm” includes:

• Global skill demands vs. educational achievement. At present, the nation cannot meet President Obama’s goals for college completion without dramatically improving the quality of learning in secondary schools. Even improving high school graduation rates will not result in achieving much greater postsecondary achievement unless students are better prepared in high school.

• The funding cliff. The current recession will not permit continued education spending increases for most states. As a result, state policymakers and education leaders will be challenged with raising student performance while dealing with tightening budgets.

• Looming teacher shortages. Placing high performing teachers in thousands of low performing classrooms becomes even more difficult due to large-scale retirements of experienced teachers in the coming years as well as low retention rates for new educators.

According to The Online Imperative, whether the setting is a virtual school or blending online instruction with a teacher in a classroom, student learning shows improvement. The brief cites a 2009 U.S. Department of Education study that found students who took all or part of their classes online did better than students in face-to-face classrooms, and that the advantage was stronger in blended classrooms than in online-only classrooms. The Alliance brief also argues that policymakers can reasonably hold online educators to higher learning standards than they can traditional educators.

With almost every state facing budget shortfalls, the Alliance brief also points to how online instruction can positively affect the states’ financial bottom lines and student performance. For example, rather than paying three Chinese language instructors to teach a limited number of students in three different schools, one instructor could reach all the students through online instruction and students would no longer be bound by rigid time schedules.
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“Public” Schools in Name Only? 2,800 U.S. Public Schools Serve Virtually No Poor Students

Complete report.

More than 1.7 million American children attend “private public schools” where low-income pupils make up less than 5 percent of the student body, a new analysis finds. In some metropolitan areas, as many as one in six public-school students—and one in four white youngsters—attends such schools. Nationwide, more children attend “private public schools” than attend charter schools.

The analysis examined public elementary, middle, and high schools, using information from the federal government’s Common Core of Data for 2007-2008. Among the national findings:

• 2,817 “private public schools” exist across the United States.

• While 17 percent of public school students nationwide are African-American, that’s true of just 3 percent of the pupils in “private public schools.” Hispanic students account for 21 percent of the nationwide public school population, but 12 percent of the students in “private public schools.”

• On the other hand, Asian students comprise 5 percent of public school students nationwide but 10 percent of students in “private public schools.” And white students account for 75 percent of the “private public school” population, compared to 56 percent of public school students nationwide.

Among states and major metropolitan areas, there’s great variation:

• More than one child in ten attends “private public schools” in Connecticut (18%), New Jersey (17%), South Dakota (16%), Arizona (14%), and Massachusetts (12%).

• n twenty-three other states, however, no more than 1 percent of the public school population is enrolled in “private public schools.” These include Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina.

• The metro areas with the largest shares of students in “private public schools” include Boston (16%), New York (13%), Phoenix (11%), San Francisco (10%) and Denver (9%).

• In some metro areas, a high percentage of white students in public schools attend “private public schools:” New York (27%), San Francisco (21%), Boston (20%), Philadelphia (14%), Denver (14%) and Los Angeles (13%).
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Higher-Performing Middle Grades Schools Set High Goals for Students, Hold All Accountable for Outcomes


Study Links Performance to Clear Expectations, Data Use, Leader Evaluations

A new report by EdSource finds that middle grades schools in which middle- and low-income students do well academically have a lot in common. These schools embrace high expectations and design instructional programs to prepare all students for a rigorous high school education. This orientation toward the future and intense focus on student outcomes may represent a culture shift in these schools, affecting everything from the way they use data to the way educators are evaluated.

The report, Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better, is based on a study of 303 principals, 3,752 English Language Arts (ELA) and math teachers in grades 6-8, and 157 superintendents in California. Each group was given a survey exploring 10 broad domains of effective middle grades practice. Educator responses to a combined total of over 900 survey items were analyzed against spring 2009 scores on California’s standards-based tests in ELA and math in grades 6, 7, and 8, which were taken by close to 204,000 students.


To identify the practices common in higher-performing schools, survey questions were organized into 10 areas: focus on academic outcomes; standards-aligned instruction and curriculum; use of data to improve instruction and learning; proactive academic interventions; teacher competencies, evaluation, and support; principal leadership; superintendent leadership and district support; school environment; organization of teaching and instruction; and attention to student transitions.

Researchers found that the key distinguishing factor between higher- and lower-performing schools was an intense schoolwide focus on improving student academic outcomes. Other common practices among the higher-performing schools include setting measurable goals for improved outcomes on standards-based tests; a shared mission to prepare students academically for the future; and expecting students and parents to share the responsibility for student learning. The research also showed that higher-performing middle grades schools stress early identification of and proactive intervention for struggling students, and use data extensively to monitor student progress and improve teacher practice.

The study found that superintendents and principals in higher-performing middle grades schools were more likely to report that student outcomes were a part of their evaluations. Slightly more than half of the 157 superintendents in the study reported this practice, while fewer than half of the 303 principals did so.


Educators have for years tried to figure out the best way to organize the middle grades. However, this study did not find that a school’s internal organization of teachers and instruction was associated with higher student outcomes. Another finding, related to grade configuration, was also unexpected. About half of the 303 participating schools were grades 6-8, one-quarter were 7-8, and one-quarter were K-8. No single one of these configurations was consistently associated with higher performance on the state’s standards-based tests in ELA and math. In another finding with implications for federal, state, and local policies, the report found that only 5 percent of principals and 24 percent of superintendents reported that they received salary adjustments based in part on improvements in student achievement. Performance-based pay was not significantly related to student outcomes in this study.

The report offers important recommendations. It encourages educators to use its findings to learn more about what is working in the classroom and to inform staff discussions about ways to improve student outcomes. And it urges state policymakers to examine the extent to which current initiatives and budget cuts either strengthen or inhibit local schools’ and districts’ ability to carry out the practices this study found to be significant.
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Human Capital in Boston Public Schools:

Attracting and Retaining Effective Teachers

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has issued a report on Boston Public School policies that have an impact on teacher quality, concluding that while the district has many smart, strategic policies already in place, improving teacher rules could help the district do a better job attracting and retaining effective teachers. Undertaken in partnership with the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), the report focuses largely on Boston’s current collective bargaining agreement with its teachers, up for negotiation this spring.

NCTQ spent four months analyzing the regulations governing the work rules of Boston’s teachers, comparing the city to other districts both in the state of Massachusetts and nationwide. It also spoke with local stakeholders, including teachers and principals and examined key personnel data to help illuminate how policies play out in practice.

The 52-page report focuses on the areas governing teaching that can be most directly transformed by better policies, including hiring, assignment, compensation and evaluations.

Among the primary findings:

• Principal authority is undermined by hiring rules that put the interests of teachers before the interests of schools.

• Boston attracts teachers with strong academic backgrounds, but does not do enough to aggressively recruit the best teachers early enough in the year. Nearly a quarter of new teachers hired for the current school year were hired in the two weeks prior to the start of school.

• The design of Boston’s mentoring program for its new teachers appears outstanding.

• Teacher evaluations are in need of serious improvement; Only half of all teachers have been evaluated between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, and a quarter of the city’s schools failed to turn in a single evaluation over the two previous school years.

• Teachers do not appear to be held accountable for their job performance with only 41 teachers out of 4, 873 found unsatisfactory last school year, less than one percent of all teachers.

• Like districts across the nation, the process to dismiss a teacher is cumbersome and too prone to procedural errors. An underperforming teacher can languish in the system for years, permitted to appeal a dismissal multiple times before a decision is final.

• Again reflecting practices in districts across the nation, and state policy, Boston teachers earn tenure too easily.

• Boston teachers get high marks for having a much higher attendance rates than teachers in other districts, with teachers using less than half of their allotted sick and personal leave.

• While teacher salaries are competitive with the surrounding districts, the city devotes too much of its resources to strategies that do not build a stronger teacher corps. For example, Boston spends nine percent ($33 million) of its teacher payroll to reward teachers for post-graduate coursework—even though research has conclusively found that most coursework has no impact on teacher effectiveness.

NCTQ’s recommendations to improve teacher quality in Boston include:

• Give principals full authority to interview and hire the teachers who are to work in their school buildings.

• Recruit top candidates earlier, especially those qualified to serve in hard-to-staff positions.

• Hold principals responsible for completing teacher evaluations and allow senior leaders in schools to evaluate their peers.

• Make teacher evaluations a more meaningful process by 1) better differentiating teachers’ performance levels and 2) making sure that only teachers who are effective instructors are able to qualify for a satisfactory rating.

• Shorten the remediation schedule for underperforming teachers so that ineffective teachers are not assigned to a new class of students.

• Restructure the salary schedule so that the district can use resources strategically, gradually eliminating ineffective compensation schemes such as rewarding teachers for earning advanced degrees.
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School STD Programs Have Limited Influence on Teens’ Sexual Behaviors

Teaching teens about sexually transmitted infections at school boosts factual knowledge, but does not necessarily translate to increased condom use, according to a new review from the United Kingdom.

“The school-based programs that provide information and teach young people sexual health negotiation skills that were included in our review had limited effects on young people,” said lead author Jonathan Shepherd, Ph.D. “In nearly all cases they helped young people improve their knowledge about the transmission and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. However, the effects of the studies on other outcomes were mixed.”

Shepherd is a principal research fellow at the Southampton Health Technology Assessments Centre (SHTAC) at the University of Southampton, in England.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that in the United States, about 1 million teens and young adults reported chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis infection in 2006. One quarter of 15- to 19-year-old U.S. girls reported human papillomavirus infection in 2003 to 2004.

In the review, which appears in the latest issue of Health Technology Assessment, researchers evaluated data from 12 studies of school-based sexually transmitted disease (STD) education programs.

The authors also analyzed three additional studies; however, these studies were ranked as less methodologically sound. Some review findings, like follow-up length, include all 15 studies, while others, like effective findings, take only the higher-quality studies into account.

All told, the studies comprised more than 30,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 19.

The studies, which included both peer-led and teacher-led programs, examined the programs’ influence on when teens started sexual intercourse, their use of condoms, sexual intercourse rates, contraception and pregnancy rates and number of sexual partners. Twelve studies took place in the United States.

“Some, but not all, studies showed that they were able to help young people to increase their self-efficacy — their belief that they were able to successfully negotiate the use of condoms in sexual encounters — and also to strengthen their intentions to protect themselves when having sex,” Shepherd said.

In addition, 10 of 12 studies showed that teen program participants knew more about how STDs were transmitted and prevented, compared to teens who did not participate.

However, when researchers analyzed the combined study results, the interventions’ effect on specific sexual behaviors, such as using condoms for sex, remained unclear. “It cannot be concluded that the interventions encouraged or discouraged the use of condoms,” Shepherd said.

Participation in STD education programs failed to influence the age at which teens started having sexual intercourse significantly, the reviewers reported. Three of the five studies that evaluated this outcome found no difference in age of first intercourse between the students who participated in the program and students who served as a comparison group.

On the other hand, participating in these programs did not increase teens’ sexual activity or number of sexual partners, either.

“What we often worry about is that these interventions that talk about making good sexual decisions will lead to an increase in sexual behaviors, but they don’t. That’s an important thing to remember,” said Susan Rosenthal, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York Presbyterian in New York City. She has no affiliation with the review.

“It’s clear that we need to do something to help teenagers make good decisions,” said Rosenthal, whose research focuses on prevention of sexually transmitted infections. “I think they looked at the right outcomes, but you have to look at how those outcomes transition over time.”

The authors reported that 10 of the 15 studies followed participants for less than a year, which made it difficult to determine whether the programs had a lasting effect on teens’ behavior.

“This is a sensitive area of health promotion and is challenging to evaluate, particularly to establish whether there is any long-term benefit,” Shepherd said.

As part of the analysis, researchers also examined the overall cost-effectiveness of the programs. Most notably, they found that teacher-led interventions proved cheaper than peer-led programs, since teachers did not require yearly retraining.

Though this analysis pointed to mixed outcomes on sexual behaviors, Rosenthal said it would be misleading to suggest that STD prevention programs are not valuable.

“The key remains that every parent whose adolescent is in these interventions ought to know what the intervention is. The intervention should be fact-based, and not fear-based. Talking to kids about contraception and decision-making doesn’t lead to an increase in risky behaviors. You want to keep the lines open and foster communication,” Rosenthal said.

Shepherd J, et al. The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of behavioural interventions for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections in young people aged 13–19: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technology Assessment 2010; 14
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Neuroscientist: Think twice about cutting music in schools

A Northwestern University neuroscientist argues that music training has profound effects that shape the sensory system and should be a mainstay of K-12 education.

"Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice," says Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern University.

"Cash-strapped school districts are making a mistake when they cut music from the K-12 curriculum," says Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Northwestern's School of Communication.

Kraus will present her own research and the research of other neuroscientists suggesting music education can be an effective strategy in helping typically developing children as well as children with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately encode speech.

"People's hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences they've had with sound throughout their lives," says Kraus. "Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion."

Researchers in the Kraus lab provided the first concrete evidence that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem's sensitivity to speech sounds. The findings are consistent with other studies they have conducted revealing that anomalies in brainstem sound encoding in some learning disabled children can be improved with auditory training.

The Kraus lab has a unique approach for demonstrating how the nervous system responds to the acoustic properties of speech and music sounds with sub-millisecond precision. The fidelity with which they can access the transformation of the sound waves into brain waves in individual people is a powerful new development.

The neural enhancements seen in individuals with musical training is not just an amplifying or volume knob effect," says Kraus. "Individuals with music training show a selective fine-tuning of relevant aspects of auditory signals."

By comparing brain responses to predictable versus variable sound sequences, Kraus and her colleagues found that an effective or well-tuned sensory system takes advantage of stimulus regularities, such as the sound patterns that distinguish a teacher's voice from competing sounds in a noisy classroom.

They previously found that the ability of the nervous system to utilize acoustic patterns correlates with reading ability and the ability to hear speech in noise. Now they have discovered that the effectiveness of the nervous system to utilize sound patterns is linked to musical ability.

"Playing music engages the ability to extract relevant patterns, such as the sound of one's own instrument, harmonies and rhythms, from the 'soundscape,'" Kraus says. "Not surprisingly, musicians' nervous systems are more effective at utilizing the patterns in music and speech alike."

Studies in Kraus' laboratory indicate that music -- a high-order cognitive process -- affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream. "The brainstem, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain, is modified by our experience with sound," says Kraus. "Now we know that music can fundamentally shape our subcortical sensory circuitry in ways that may enhance everyday tasks, including reading and listening in noise."
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A midday nap markedly boosts the brain's learning capacity

Findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter

If you see a student dozing in the library or a co-worker catching 40 winks in her cubicle, don't roll your eyes. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour's nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Indeed, the findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.

Conversely, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become, according to the findings. The results support previous data from the same research team that pulling an all-nighter – a common practice at college during midterms and finals –- decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead investigator of these studies.

In the recent UC Berkeley sleep study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups – nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.

These findings reinforce the researchers' hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Walker, who is presenting his preliminary findings on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, Calif.

Since 2007, Walker and other sleep researchers have established that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space.

"It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail. It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder," Walker said.

In the latest study, Walker and his team have broken new ground in discovering that this memory- refreshing process occurs when nappers are engaged in a specific stage of sleep. Electroencephalogram tests, which measure electrical activity in the brain, indicated that this refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2 non-REM sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Previously, the purpose of this stage was unclear, but the new results offer evidence as to why humans spend at least half their sleeping hours in Stage 2, non-REM, Walker said.

"I can't imagine Mother Nature would have us spend 50 percent of the night going from one sleep stage to another for no reason," Walker said. "Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need."

Walker and his team will go on to investigate whether the reduction of sleep experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented decrease in our ability to learn as we age. Finding that link may be helpful in understanding such neurodegenerative conditions as Alzheimer's disease, Walker said.
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Cyberbullying -- a growing problem

Around 10 percent of all adolescents in grades 7-9 are victims of internet bullying.

'This type of bullying can be more serious than conventional bullying. At least with conventional bullying the victim is left alone on evenings and weekends', says Ann Frisén, Professor of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg.

'Victims of internet bullying - or cyberbullying - have no refuge. Victims may be harassed continuously via SMS and websites, and the information spreads very quickly and may be difficult to remove. In addition, it is often difficult to identify the perpetrator.'

Ann Frisén's research concerns body image, identity development and different types of bullying among children and adolescents. She is also part of an EU network of researchers studying cyberbullying and is since 1 January the national coordinator of this type of research.

What is cyberbullying?

'Cyberbullying occurs when new technologies such as computers and mobile phones are used to harass or bully somebody. The perpetrators often use SMS, e-mail, chat rooms and Facebook to spread their message.' One example of this is the Facebook group 'Vi som hatar Stina Johansson' (Those of us who hate Stina Johansson).

'This Facebook group was very difficult to remove. It took Stina's parents almost one whole month', says Frisén.

A clear link to school life

Who are the victims? 'Around 10 percent of all adolescents in grades 7-9 are victims of cyberbullying. There is a clear connection to school life - it usually calms downs in the summer.

The perpetrator is almost always from the same school as the victim. 'It is a lot easier to be a perpetrator on the internet since it enables you to act anonymously. This also makes it possible for a weaker person to bully a stronger, which is uncommon in conventional bullying', says Frisén.

Blurring of boundaries is another important factor:

'In these contexts, people take liberties they normally wouldn't. For example, nobody would ever think of starting a magazine called "Those of us who hate Stina Johansson"'. So how can cyberbullying among children and adolescents be prevented?

Parents have an important role, according to Frisén:

'Adults shouldn't be so naive about what they put out about themselves on the internet, for example pictures. Kids get inspired by what adults do. In addition, it's good if parents show interest and ask their children to show them which sites they like to visit. But it's usually not a good idea to forbid them from visiting certain websites; they should instead teach them how to act when they are there.

'It is also important not to blame victimised children, since it's really not their fault. Our job is instead to help them end the harassment.' Frisén feels that people in Sweden generally are a bit naive when it comes to these issues:

'All school children in the UK are taught to "zip it, block it and flag it" - don't share information, block contacts and tell an adult!'
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Parents Are Major Influence on Child’s Decision to Pursue Science Careers

Parental influence and access to mathematics courses are likely to guide students to careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medicine (STEMM), according to research from Michigan State University.

The findings of Jon Miller, MSU Hannah Professor of Integrative Studies, and colleagues were presented at a symposium titled "Tomorrow's Scientists and Engineers." at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The education of more researchers, engineers and others in the field of science is critical, said Miller.

"Failure to build and maintain a competitive scientific workforce in the decades ahead," Miller said, "will inevitably lead to a decline in the American standard of living."

Miller used data from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, which kept track of nearly 6,000 students from middle school through college, attempting to determine what led them to or guided them away from STEMM careers.

According to Miller, "The pathway to a STEMM career begins at home." He said this is especially true in families in which children were strongly encouraged to go to college.

"Only four percent of students who experienced low parent encouragement to attend college planned to enter a post-secondary program and major in a STEMM field," he said. "This compares to 41 percent of students whose parents strongly encouraged college attendance."

The research also found that sons were slightly more encouraged than daughters to do well in science and math.

Also influential, although not on the same level as parental encouragement, is the parents' education level. The research found that approximately 27 percent of the children of college graduates planned to major in a STEMM field, compared to 18 percent of parents with a high school diploma.

The research also reinforced the role mathematics plays in the pursuit of a STEMM career.

"Mathematics is a primary gateway to a STEMM career," Miller said, "beginning with algebra track placement in grades seven and eight, and continuing through high school and college calculus courses."

The researchers said high school and college science courses have "small, positive effects" on a student's decision to pursue a STEMM career, but is not at the level of mathematics.
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Graduation Rates Among American Indian and Alaska Native Students in Twelve States

On average, less than 50% of American Indian and Alaska Native students from the Pacific and Northwestern regions of the United States graduate high school, according to a new study by The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSE&IS).

The report, "The Dropout/Graduation Crisis among American Indians and Alaska Native Students: Failure to Respond Places the Future of Native People At Risk," reveals drastic disparities in graduation rates between American Indian and Alaska Native students and non-American Indian and Alaska Native students. It includes the most recent graduation statistics as well as a discussion of challenges and possibilities specific to the education of American Indian and Alaska Native students in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

"Many American Indian and Alaska Native students face a wide variety of challenges including attending schools in rural and isolated areas, high teacher and principal turnover, lack of relevant curricula and assessment practices, inadequate funding, and other health, social, and economic disparities. Effective leadership at the local, tribal, state and national levels is essential to addressing these challenges," said co-author of the report, John W. Tippeconnic, III, director of the American Indian Leadership Program and Batschelet Chair of Educational Administration at Pennsylvania State University.

Unfortunately, there has been a lack of published studies and other data focused on the educational conditions and subsequent academic outcomes for Native students. According to Susan C. Faircloth, co-author of the report and associate professor ofeducation at Penn State, "American Indian and Alaska Native students continue to graduate at alarmingly low rates across the nation. With the exception of Arizona, California, Montana and Oklahoma, on average, less than 50% of Native students in the states included in this study graduate each year. Failure to respond to this crisis will have devastating effects on the educational, economic, health and social well-being of Native peoples and communities."

Overall non-Native student graduation rates in the 12 states included in this study ranged from 54.1% to 79.2%, with an average of 71.4%. In contrast, graduation rates for American Indian and Alaska Native students ranged from 30.4% to 63.8%, with an average of 46.6%. The graduation rates for all American Indian and Alaska Native students were lower than the overall state rates, and with the exception of Oklahoma and New Mexico, the degree of disparity was approximately 17 percentage points or more.

On average, the report found that graduation rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives (46.6%) were lower than the graduation rates for all other racial/ethnic groups including whites (69.8%), Asians (77.9%), Blacks (54.7%) and Hispanics (50.8%).

Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Right Project stated, "We have been working on the dropout issue for almost a decade and constantly frustrated by the lack of data on American Indian students, so we are fortunate to be working with prominent Native scholars who answer these major questions."

The report indicates that a lack of student engagement is a primary attributing factor to the dropout crisis. School level factors associated with dropping out of school include large schools, a perceived lack of empathy among teachers, passive teaching methods, inappropriate testing and lack of parent involvement. Student level factors specific to American Indian and Alaska Native students include feeling "pushed out" of schools, poor quality of student-teacher relationships, lack of parental support, peer pressure, distance from school, difficulty with classes, poor attendance, legal problems and language barriers, among other factors.

Co-authors Tippeconnic and Faircloth recommend educators and policymakers review and revise school policies and avoid practices that exclude, demean, embarrass, harass or alienate Native students. They also recommend making schools physically, mentally and emotionally safe by working to end racism, demonstrate care and concern for all students, actively involve parents and families in schools, provide opportunities for students to be immersed in their Native language and culture, and prepare educators to work with American Indian and Alaska Native students.

"A variety of comprehensive, yet flexible approaches are needed to decrease the dropout rate and in turn increase the number and percent of Native students who go on to graduate from high school. When developing and implementing these strategies, schools must work in consultation and collaboration with Native families, communities, tribes and organizations. Unfortunately, the education of Native students has historically been conducted without their input, thus nurturing a sense of distrust and detachment from the educational system for many Native families and communities," said Tippeconnic and Faircloth.

Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, professors at UCLA. Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It has commissioned more than 400 studies, published 13 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country.
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Ringing the Bell for K-12 Teacher Tenure Reform

This study
hoped to identify and explain the variance in tenure policies across states. But further investigation has revealed that very little variation in tenure policies exists; states have done remarkably little experimentation in this area. Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, for example, observed that, “states really haven’t done anything interesting on tenure. To date, tenure reform is all talk and hasn’t made it to the mainstream.” She noted, however, that, “a huge paradigm shift is underway that recognizes that tenure shouldn’t be automatic, but the discussion is really just starting.” In sum, the chorus calling for tenure reform is loud and growing, but the enactment and sustenance of tenure reform on the ground is still quite rare.

The seminal “A Nation at Risk” report was released in 1983, and in the 25 years since, education reforms at the state and national level have increasingly focused on improving student academic performance and reducing persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. These efforts have encompassed a wide array of different reforms, but contemporary researchers and policymakers have highlighted the importance of improving teacher quality at schools that serve poor, minority, and/or special needs students.

A number of states have instituted new policies in this area since the 1990s, and the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 contained a mandate requiring that all classrooms be staffed with a “highly qualified teacher.” Yet much of the political and scholarly attention in the area of teacher quality has to date focused on the issues of teacher recruitment, preparation, compensation, and distribution. The issue of teacher tenure, or “continuing contracts,” has received less attention despite its potential importance to efforts to improve teacher quality.

Legislated and bargained contractual protections make the process of dismissing an ineffective teacher with tenure prohibitively lengthy and expensive in most states, and teacher tenure evaluation processes remain largely disconnected from teachers’ performance in the classroom or student achievement. Yet a number of proposals to reform teacher tenure at the state level have emerged during the past 20 years. These proposals have generally sought to do one or more of the following: lengthen the probation period for new teachers, strengthen the teacher evaluation process, streamline the teacher dismissal process, or “end tenure” by moving to renewable contracts.

Unfortunately, existing research in the area of teacher quality has devoted very little attention to the enactment and implementation of tenure reforms. In the few instances when researchers have focused on the issue of teacher tenure specifically, they have generally sought to document the costs and benefits of tenure, make normative arguments about whether tenure should or should not be abolished, or propose specific ways in which tenure policies could be improved. Little analysis has been conducted on actual past state efforts to bring about such changes or the political dynamics around the issue.

This report seeks to begin to fill the void in the scholarly literature and direct researchers to fruitful lines of future investigation. It will provide an overview and history of teacher tenure; analyze the nature of current and past teacher tenure reform proposals and their variation across states; offer a brief assessment of the reforms where they have been enacted; and highlight recommendations for policymakers going forward.

The political opposition and technical challenges around tenure reform have historically prevented these efforts from advancing very far in state legislatures, but both have decreased in recent years. The establishment of annual systematic student testing and data collection systems at the school, district, and state levels has created an opportunity for policymakers to link teacher evaluations and tenure to student performance in a way that was heretofore impossible. At the same time, increased public and elite concern about the effect of underperforming schools on national equity and economic competitiveness has created new political incentives for policymakers to embrace innovative approaches to teacher quality and school reform generally. As a result the time appears ripe for a more sustained and efficacious effort to improve the process by which new teachers are granted continuing contract status.

The paper makes a number of recommendations for federal and state policy that would reform state tenure laws and district tenure processes:

• The federal government should continue to leverage education funding to push states to develop and deploy more meaningful teacher evaluation systems based on a clear definition of teacher effectiveness. Such evaluation systems are an essential precondition for effective tenure reform, but have been missing from most past state tenure reform proposals

• The U.S. Department of Education should fund research and pilot demonstration programs that will provide empirical evidence of how effective different kinds of teacher tenure policies are on raising teacher quality and student achievement

• Empirical evidence should be the basis for a serious—and unprecedented—conversation among policymakers as well as the general public about the costs and benefits of teacher tenure and the circumstances under which it should be granted and revoked

• States should change their tenure statutes to explicitly mandate that teacher retention and dismissal decisions incorporate teacher effectiveness data. Alternatively, states with a preference for local control should loosen prescriptive state tenure policies and give districts the flexibility to experiment with new approaches to teacher evaluation and tenure. Federal grant-in-aid conditions should be used to prod states in one of these directions

• Legislators should ensure that state-level tenure reforms are not overridden by local collective bargaining agreements by articulating explicit statutory language to this effect

• States should improve their teacher licensing processes to ensure that the effectiveness of all teachers is assessed on a regular basis as a condition for the granting and renewal of a state teaching license—regardless of the particular criteria for evaluation and tenure laid out in state tenure laws and collective bargaining contracts

• Think tanks and organizations such as the National Governor’s Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and Education Commission of the States should provide more informational resources and policy guidance to states interested in pursuing teacher tenure reform

• Creative reform-minded school administrators operating within existing statutes and collective bargaining agreements can and should bring about significant improvements in the teacher tenure process

• Teachers unions should embrace efforts to streamline the removal process for ineffective teachers and only contest those dismissals that clearly violated due process or were unsubstantiated by the teacher evaluation process

This report provides an overview of state teacher tenure reform in the United States as well as case studies of reform efforts in a sample of six states—Georgia, California, Florida, Wisconsin, New York, and Ohio—and the District of Columbia. These areas were selected for study because they each represent a different approach or result in terms of tenure reform.
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Research Finds Positive Action® Program Improves Students’ Test Scores and Behavior

A study by Oregon State University researchers found that Positive Action, a program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children, can improve academic test scores as much as 10 percent on national standardized math and reading tests.

Other key findings include:

* 21% improvement on state reading tests
* 51% improvement on state math tests
* 70% fewer suspensions
* 15% less absenteeism

Supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and published in the January issue of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, this study was conducted in 20 public elementary schools in Hawaii, 10 of which were randomly assigned to receive the program and the rest were controls. Participating schools had below-average standardized test scores and a diverse student population with an average of 55 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Behavioral findings from the same study were published by the American Journal of Public Health last October. Researchers found that students who had gone through the Positive Action® program were about half as likely to engage in alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse, violent behavior and/or sexual activity as those who did not take part in the program.

“This research demonstrates that a comprehensive, school-wide social and character development program can have a substantial impact on both reducing problem behaviors of public health importance in youth and improving their school performance,” said Dr. Brian Flay, a professor in the Department of Public Health at OSU and the study’s principal investigator.

The positive results from this study reinforce Positive Action’s recognition by the U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as the only character education program out of 41 such programs that improves either academics or behavior.
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Reading to kids a crucial tool in English language development

Poring over the works of Dr. Seuss, the adventures of the Bernstain Bears or exploring the worlds of Hans Christian Andersen with a child has always been a great parent-child bonding exercise.

But, according to George Georgiou, a University of Alberta professor in educational psychology, it is instrumental for English-speaking children if they are to acquire the language skills, particularly comprehension, essential to their future reading ability.

Georgiou and his colleagues recently published a study in Learning and Instruction examining the cognitive and non-cognitive factors that may predict future reading ability in English and Greek. Since the study was published, Georgiou has expanded his research to Finland and China, with the same outcomes.

He says the home literacy environment-what parents do at home in terms of literacy-and motivation predict children's various initial literacy skills, such as letter knowledge and vocabulary, differently across languages. These skills, in turn, ultimately predict future reading ability.

Studying language for success

Orthography is the part of the study of language dealing with letters and spelling. Georgiou points out that English is an orthographically inconsistent language; in other words, letters can have more than one sound each. Because of this, he says, children learning English "need someone to show them the letters, teach them the letter sounds, play with letter magnets on the fridge.

"We have found that in English, you need a rich home literacy environment. It's absolutely necessary," he says.

But that's not the case in other languages. Georgiou notes that students are able to learn to read faster in languages such as Greek and Finnish, because there is one-to-one correspondence between a letter and its sounds. This difference with English, he says, implies that Greek or Finnish parents do not need to read as frequently to their children to give them an edge on learning the language. Simply put, Greek or Finnish children will eventually learn to read regardless of how rich the home literacy environment may be.

"In Greece, parents intuitively know that as soon as a child goes to school, within three months, unless there are some severe situations that may interfere with learning, that child will be able to learn to read," said Georgiou. "Alternatively, in English, having someone read to you frequently as a child-explaining what the meaning of words are and playing around with the letters-makes a big difference as to whether you will become a good reader."

English-languages challenges for students

Without that learning support and because of the inconsistencies of English orthography, English-speaking children run the risk of falling behind at least two years in terms of their reading skill when compared to children learning to read in languages with a direct relationship between letters and sounds, he said. But, if mom and dad don't have the time to invest in reading to their children and still want them to succeed with language development, then educational programs, such as Sesame Street, and multimedia tools, such as spelling programs or games, may be an alternative.

Georgiou also lauds the efforts of communities in getting behind literacy programs and encouraging the development of literacy skills through initiatives such as "raise a reader" and "read-in week." He says that these types of programs pay dividends because they are a key component in motivating children to appreciate and embrace reading as a worthwhile activity.
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Processes and Challenges in Identifying Learning Disabilities Among English Language Learner Students

To help districts accurately identify students who are English language learners and also have learning disabilities, this study examines practices and challenges in the processes applied in three New York State districts in identifying learning disabilities among students who are English language learners.

Using interviews with district and school personnel and documents from state and district web sites, the study finds both similarities and differences in practices, with more differences in the prereferral process than in the referral process.

It identifies eight challenges to the identification of learning disabilities in English language learner students: difficulties with policy guidelines; different stakeholder views about timing for referral of English language learner students; insufficient knowledge among personnel involved in identification; difficulties providing consistent, adequate services to English language learner students; lack of collaborative structures in prereferral; lack of access to assessments that differentiate between second language development and learning disabilities; lack of consistent monitoring of struggling students who are English language learners; and difficulty obtaining students' previous school records. Further analysis suggests five interrelated elements that appear to be important for avoiding misidentification of learning disabilities among students who are English language learners: adequate professional knowledge, effective instructional practices, effective and valid assessment and interventions, interdepartmental collaborative structures, and clear policy guidelines.
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Simple test may help judge concussion in athletes

A simple test of reaction time may help determine whether athletes have sustained a concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury) and when they are ready to play again, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto April 10 to April 17, 2010.

"Research has shown that reaction time is slower after a concussion—even as long as several days after other symptoms are gone," said study author James T. Eckner, MD, of the University of Michigan Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Ann Arbor. "But the tests currently used to measure reaction time require computers and special software."

Eckner and his colleagues developed a simple, inexpensive device to measure reaction time: a cylinder attached to a weighted disk. The examiner releases the device and the athlete catches it as soon as possible.

For the study, the researchers gave the test to 209 Division I college football, wrestling and women's soccer athletes during their preseason physicals. Then any athlete who had a concussion diagnosed by a physician during the season took the test again within three days of the concussion.

Eight athletes had concussions during the study. Of those, seven of the athletes had a prolonged reaction time after the concussion compared to the preseason time. Catching the object took about 15 percent longer.

"Because of its simplicity and low cost, this test may work well with youth athletes, where there is limited access to computerized testing of reaction time," Eckner said.
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U.S. Department of Education Releases New Report on Use of Data Systems to Support Reform

States and districts are making significant progress in building educational data systems and are starting to use that valuable data to change classroom practice and improve student achievement, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

But school leaders are still searching for the best models to mine the data to discover the best instructional methods for students, the report says.

“Data should be part of a feedback loop used to drive improvement at every level of the education system. This study helps us understand the kinds of data that need to be available for teachers and school leaders if they’re going to use data to improve their practice,” said Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

In “Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountability to Instructional Improvement,” researchers surveyed officials from 529 districts, conducted in-depth site visits to 36 schools in 12 districts leading the way in data usage, and analyzed secondary data from a survey of over 6,000 teachers to obtain a national picture of current data use practices at the local-level.

Major findings from the report include:

Data-driven decision making is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event centered on the acquisition of a data system. Districts will get more out of their investments in electronic data systems if they think about data-driven decision making as a system-wide innovation and develop a long-term strategy for its implementation as part of a continuous improvement process.

To influence teachers’ day-to-day instruction, data systems must provide teachers with information that is both timely and relevant to their instructional decisions. To be useful to teachers, systems need to provide data from recently given assessments that provide diagnostic information on students’ learning needs

Human and organizational supports for data use are just as important as the technical quality of the data system. Professional development around data use is widespread, but only a small minority of districts and schools have made data use a regular part of teachers’ practice.

Districts can promote data-driven decision making in schools by providing time for teachers to meet with colleagues to discuss and use data, funding positions for instructional coaches who help teachers connect data to alternative instructional approaches, and by modeling data-driven decision making for continuous improvement in their own operations.

Districts’ greatest perceived area of need with respect to data-driven decision making is for models of how to connect student data to instructional practices. Among teachers, there is a need to enhance their assessment interpretation and data use skills.

Building and expanding state data systems is one of the four areas of reform under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The ARRA provided $250 million in money to help states improve their data systems. The money is supplementing the $65 million available in fiscal 2009 and the $58.2 million in fiscal 2010. States that win grants from the competitive $4 billion Race to the Top state grant program will have additional dollars available to improve their capability to use data to drive student achievement.
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When science teachers do research in university labs, their students ultimately benefit--and it shows in their state assessments

Research experiences for science teachers can have a direct impact on the achievement of their students, increasing their performance significantly on state assessments. There are also economic benefits--to the schools and to society at large--in having science teachers take part in research experiences.

Middle school teacher Anita Edwards did research as part of a group studying nitrogen greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment processes.

Credit: Summer Research Program for Science Teachers, Columbia University

These are the findings Samuel C. Silverstein of Columbia University and colleagues describe in the Oct. 16 issue of Science magazine.

Silverstein, who is a past chairman of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics and professor of medicine at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is also founder and director of Columbia University's Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers (CUSRP).

CUSRP is a program that brings middle and high school science teachers from the New York City metropolitan area to Columbia's campuses to work on research projects, under the guidance of faculty mentors, for two successive summers. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the teachers work in all scientific disciplines represented at Columbia University, from biology and medical sciences to chemistry physics, astronomy, engineering, and earth sciences. A few teachers have even done research at sea on one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's oceanographic research vessels.

Silverstein's Science paper describes how, over time, students of teachers who participated in CUSRP outperformed other students in New York State's Science Regents examinations (the state's annual assessment) by 10 percentage points.

Silverstein and his co-authors, including Columbia economist Sherry Glied, also document the economic benefits to students, Departments of Education, and society at large of making this kind of experience widely available to science teachers. They estimate that the program returns to New York City's Department of Education $1.14 within four years for every $1 its sponsors have invested in it. These savings are realized from increased teacher retention and decreased need for students to repeat coursework.

They also suggest that this approach is likely to benefit society generally by increasing the number of students completing high school.
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If children won't go to school

Children and adolescents who refuse to attend school should not be given doctors' sick notes. In the current issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2010; 107[4]), child and adolescent psychiatrist Martin Knollmann and colleagues explain the causes of school avoidance and describe measures to tackle the problem.

Truancy assumes psychiatric relevance only if it occurs frequently and is accompanied by psychiatric symptoms. Children typically play truant for the first time at the age of about 11 years, whereas anxiety related school avoidance occurs in children as young as 6 years. School avoiders seem to be exposed to more stressful life events, but physical disorders such as asthma or obesity may also play a part.

In contrast to truancy, of which parents are usually unaware, children displaying school avoiding behavior often stay at home. They often express fears and anxieties, especially in the morning, and complain of diffuse physical symptoms.

The authors assume that a proportion of 5% to 10% of children is regularly absent from schools in Germany. How many of these children have mental health problems is not known. In adolescents, school avoidance is clearly more common than in children, and some studies have shown that boys are affected twice as often as girls.

In school avoidance, the primary objective of treatment is to quickly re-establish regular school attendance. Sick notes or prescriptions for residential care breaks are usually not advisable because the child's behavior may deteriorate as a result.

Appropriate treatment options include cognitive behavior therapies, in combination with antidepressants if required. Exclusively child and adolescent psychiatric treatment, however, is usually not sufficient; those children who are affected need a support network consisting of school staff, youth services, and medical professionals.

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Correlation exists between increased voter turnout at school board elctions and higher test scores

President Obama’s “Race to the Top” grant program, which encourages school districts to compete for $4.35 billion, has made a strong push for education reform. While much of the education reform debate has focused on issues of adequate funding and teacher qualifications, few have addressed the role of citizen involvement in local education policy making. A University of Missouri researcher has examined the link between school board elections and local school performance. He has found a correlation between increased voter turnout for school board elections and state assessment scores.

“Education researchers know that parental involvement makes a difference, but few political scientists have asked: does voting make a difference?” said David Webber, associate professor of political science in the MU College of Arts and Science. “Because voter turnout and candidate competition in school district elections reflect a district’s social capital, these characteristics of school board elections should affect how schools perform and be valued as a means for improving school performance. While the local, nonprofessional atmosphere of school board elections could potentially attract high levels of citizen involvement, few candidates and equally few voters tend to get involved in school board elections. To encourage citizen involvement, school districts should host forums to discuss important issues and send newsletters to keep citizens informed of school progress.”

In the study, Webber examined official Missouri election records and 206 Missouri school districts’ data records. For each district, he collected voter turnout and school board candidate competition information. During the 1998 to 2001 school board elections, on average 22 percent of voters cast ballots. Webber found that a 1 percent increase in school board election voter turnout correlated to increased state assessment scores by more than one point. Unexpectedly, he found that candidate competition and graduation rates have a negative correlation, suggesting that school districts with lower graduation rates attract more candidates than do school districts with higher graduation rates.

“While concern for and involvement in schools may motivate some citizens to vote in school board elections, the same level of community involvement seldom motivates citizens to become candidates,” Webber said. “On average, for every school board seat on which voters were asked to vote, there were fewer than two candidates vying for the position. Clearly, races for school board do not provide voters with a large number of candidates or choices. These low numbers might suggest a lack of citizen involvement in the education community that would lead to school board candidacy.”

The study, “School Districts Democracy: School Board Voting and School Performance,” was published this month in Politics & Policy.
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Students can learn some science concepts just as well from computers simulations as they do from direct observation, new research suggests.

A study found that people who used computer simulations to learn about moon phases understood the concepts just as well – and in some cases better – than did those who learned from collecting data from viewing the moon.

The results suggest the use of computer simulations in science classes may be an effective and often less expensive and time-consuming way to teach some science concepts, said Kathy Cabe Trundle, lead author of the study and associate professor of science education at Ohio State University.

“These results give us confidence that computer simulations can be effective in the classroom,” Trundle said. “But now we need to do further study to see if it works in others areas of science.”

Trundle conducted the study with Randy Bell, associate professor of science education at the University of Virginia. Their study appears online in the journal Computers & Education and will be published in a future print edition.

While there have been many studies examining computer use in the classroom, most have only examined whether students find computers easy to use and enjoy using them.

The few studies that have examined whether computers are effective for learning content have had mixed results, Trundle said. This study is an improvement because it actually compares people who used a computer simulation with those who had more direct observations.

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Those who used only computer simulations did just as well as others in learning causes of moon phases and shapes of moon phases. But those who used the simulations were actually slightly more likely than others to understand the sequences of moon phases.

“Our expectation was that the computer simulation would be at least as effective as direct observation in teaching about moon phases,” Trundle said.

“When we did our analysis, the simulation was just as effective in teaching two aspects of moon phases, and more effective in a third aspect. So we were excited by that.”

Participants in the study were 157 pre-service teachers-- master’s degree students who are in training to become early childhood teachers.

Studies have shown that the majority of people – including preservice students and the students they teach – do not understand the cause of moon phases.

This study examined how well these preservice teachers understood moon phases before and after taking a 10-week science methods course that included a unit on moon phases.

In contrast to traditional instruction, this class was inquiry-based, which meant that students learned from gathering data themselves -- either directly from viewing the moon or from the computer simulation. The participants then analyzed the data they gathered to identify patterns.

One class learned about moon phases using only a computer simulation, one group from nature alone, and a third group from both a computer simulation and nature.

The computer simulations were provided through a commercially available software program that allows users to visualize the movement of the sun and the moon through time from any point on Earth.

The researchers tested the participants’ understanding before and after the class in three areas: knowledge of sequences of moon phases, the causes of moon phases, and the shapes of moon phases.

Before the class, none of the preservice teachers had a complete scientific knowledge of the moon phases.

But after the class, teachers in all three groups – computer simulation only, nature only and simulation and nature – dramatically improved their scores. Up to 98 percent of the teachers showed they understood moon phases after the class was completed.

Those who used only computer simulations did just as well as others in learning causes of moon phases and shapes of moon phases. But those who used the simulations were actually slightly more likely than others to understand the sequences of moon phases.

“We believe that the computer simulation was more effective at teaching moon sequences because the students who used it had a complete set of data,” Trundle said.

“Those who observed the moon in nature didn’t – there were cloudy days and nights and other reasons why they couldn’t collect data every night they were supposed to.”

The ability to collect all the available data is just one reason why computer simulations may be better for teaching some science concepts.

“Classroom teachers don’t always have time to do nature-based instruction,” Trundle said. “In this case, computer simulations allow teachers to speed up instruction, which means students gather the same amount of data in a shorter period of time. It’s faster, easier and much less frustrating.”

Computer simulations may be especially important in teaching earth and space science, because it offers opportunities that aren’t available in the real world. For example, the software program used in this study allows students to see how the earth looks from the moon or from the sun, giving them a better perspective on how the earth-moon-sun system interacts.

Trundle said computer simulations might also be effective in teaching introductory biology. For example, students can take part in simulated animal dissections, overcoming some of the ethical and practical concerns.

Simulations would also allow students to “see” microscopic or even sub-atomic particles, giving them a better understanding of how particles interact.

“We’re finding that technology can help students learn and understand scientific concepts in a way that may be easier for teachers and just as effective for students,” Trundle said.
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More Diverse Group of US Students Succeeding on AP Exams

In its sixth annual AP Report to the Nation, the College Board, the not-for-profit membership association that owns and administers the AP Program, highlights the successes educators have achieved in helping students from a wide variety of backgrounds gain access to and be successful in college-level AP course work. As the report documents, of the estimated 3 million students who graduated from U.S. public schools in 2009, more than 479,000 (15.9 percent) earned an AP Exam score of at least a 3 on one or more AP Exams during their high school tenure. This is up from 15.2 percent in 2008 and 12.7 percent in 2004.

Out of all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Maryland led the nation for the second straight year with the highest percentage (24.8) of public school students scoring at least a 3 on an AP Exam. Florida attained the largest single-year increase in the percentage of high school graduates who scored a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, while Virginia achieved the largest five-year gain.

The report also highlights the seven states with the highest five-year gains: Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Maine, Colorado, Vermont and Florida. (See "States with the Greatest Expansion of AP Scores of 3 or Higher Since 2004" on page 6 of the national report.) Additionally, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut, California and Colorado all saw more than 20 percent of their public school students graduate from high school having earned an AP Exam score of 3 or higher. AP achievements for each state's class of 2009, class of 2008 and class of 2004 are detailed in the report. (See The 6th Annual AP Report to the Nation, Table 1, page 5, and Appendix A.)

"It should be noted that initiatives that provide instruction as early as middle school are helping students build skills and confidence," Caperton said. "These initiatives are preparing students for strong academic careers that culminate in college success and open doors to a lifetime of opportunity."

The report notes that an equity and excellence gap appears when traditionally underserved students — such as African American, Latino or American Indian students — constitute a smaller percentage of the group of students experiencing success in AP than the percentage these students represent in the overall graduating class. Although the gap has been closed in some places, inequity in preparation and access continues to exist in many states across the country. This means that despite strides that have been made by educators to provide traditionally underrepresented students with access to AP courses, more work remains.

Sixteen states have successfully closed the equity and excellence gap for Hispanic or Latino students, and as of 2009, two states — Hawaii and Montana — have eliminated the gap for black or African American students. While 18 states have closed the gap for American Indian or Alaska Native students, no state with a substantial student population in this demographic has eliminated the gap.

Additionally, 15 schools lead the nation in the number of African American and/or Latino students succeeding in particular AP subjects, and the report celebrates the example these schools are setting in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Texas. (See "Schools with the Largest Numbers of African American and Latino Students Experiencing Success in AP," page 12, and the corresponding Table 3, page 13, for details.)

The report also highlights that more low-income students are participating and experiencing success in AP than ever before. In the 2009 graduating class, 18.9 percent of AP examinees were low-income students, up from 17.0 percent in the class of 2008 and 13.7 percent in the class of 2004. Additionally, low-income students made up 14.7 percent of the students experiencing success in AP from the graduating class of 2009, compared to 13.4 percent from the class of 2008 and 11.7 percent from the class of 2004.

In addition to national initiatives such as the National Governors Association's Advanced Placement Expansion Project, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the National Math and Science Initiative, the College Board has a College Readiness System™ that integrates programs, services and professional development for educators. It is designed to help schools and districts create a culture focused on student success; implement rigorous, high-quality curricula; effectively assess student learning to inform instruction; and help teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

Among these programs and services are SpringBoard®, an English language arts and mathematics curriculum for grades six through 12; CollegeEd®, a college and career planning curriculum for students in grades seven through 12; the PSAT/NMSQT®, a rigorous national assessment that measures skills that are important for success in college; AP Potential™, a tool that identifies potential AP students; and the College Board Standards for College Success™, freely available content standards for middle school and high school English language arts, mathematics and statistics, and science that will prepare all students for AP or college-level work.

About the Advanced Placement Program®

The College Board's Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) enables students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Through more than 30 college-level courses, each culminating in a rigorous exam, AP provides willing and academically prepared students with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both. Taking AP courses also demonstrates to college admission officers that students have sought out the most rigorous curriculum available to them. Each AP teacher's syllabus is evaluated and approved by college faculty from some of the nation's leading institutions, and AP Exams are developed and scored by college faculty and experienced AP teachers. AP is accepted by more than 3,600 colleges and universities worldwide for college credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of successful AP Exam scores. This includes over 90 percent of four-year institutions in the United States. In 2009, students representing more than 17,000 schools around the world, both public and nonpublic, took AP Exams.

The College Board

The College Board is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board is composed of more than 5,700 schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations. Each year, the College Board serves seven million students and their parents, 23,000 high schools, and 3,800 colleges through major programs and services in college readiness, college admission, guidance, assessment, financial aid and enrollment. Among its widely recognized programs are the SAT®, the PSAT/NMSQT®, the Advanced Placement Program® (AP®), SpringBoard® and ACCUPLACER®. The College Board is committed to the principles of excellence and equity, and that commitment is embodied in all of its programs, services, activities and concerns.
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Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau's Report: Public Virtual Charter Schools

Virtual charter schools in Wisconsin are publicly funded nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer the majority of their classes online. They began operating in Wisconsin during the 2002-03 school year. Pupils typically attend from their homes and communicate with teachers using e-mail, by telephone, or in online discussions. During the 2007-08 school year, 15 virtual charter schools enrolled 2,951 pupils. Most were high schools.

Enrollment in virtual charter schools has increased in every school year since 2002-03. Virtual charter schools spent an estimated $17.8 million in the 2007-08 school year. In the 2007-08 school year, 161 virtual charter school teachers were licensed in Wisconsin.

On statewide assessment exams, virtual charter school pupils typically scored higher than other public school pupils in reading and lower in mathematics.

Complete report.
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Charter Schools Show Increased Rates of High School Graduation and College Enrollment, According to New Study

“The Unknown World of Charter High Schools"

In the first-ever analysis of the impacts of charter school attendance on educational attainment, educational researchers find that attending charter high schools is associated with higher graduation rates and college attendance. The findings show that students attending charter high schools in Florida and Chicago have an increased likelihood of successful high-school completion and college enrollment when compared with their traditional public high school counterparts.

In Chicago, students who attended a charter high school were 7 percentage points more likely to earn a regular high school diploma than their counterparts with similar characteristics who attended a traditional public high school. The graduation differential for Florida charter schools was even larger, at 15 percentage points.

The findings for college attendance are remarkably similar in Florida and Chicago. Among the study population of charter 8th graders, students who attended a charter high school in 9th grade are 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college than similar students who attended a traditional public high school.

The results, point out the researchers, are comparable to those of some studies which find that attending a Catholic high school boosts the likelihood of high school graduation and college attendance by 10 to 18 percentage points.

In exploring the various factors that might play a role in the charter schools’ positive effect on educational attainment, the research team focused in on the fact that grade configurations in charter schools often differ from those of traditional public schools. In the traditional public school sector in both Florida and Chicago, high schools are almost always separate from middle schools, which is not the case for charter schools. In 2001-02, about 30 percent of Florida charter 8th-grade students attended schools that also offered at least some high-school grades. In Chicago, nearly half of the 8th-grade charter students could attend at least some high-school grades without changing schools. The researchers point out that this raises the possibility that the positive effects of attending a charter high school on educational attainment could simply reflect advantages of grouping middle and high school grades together, thereby creating greater continuity for students and eliminating the disruption often associated with changing schools.

The state of Florida and the city of Chicago were selected for study because both locations have the necessary data and data systems in place to support the research. The Florida data, which cover four cohorts of 8th grade students for the study from the school years 1997-98 to 2000-01, came primarily from the Florida Department of Education’s K-20 Education Data Warehouse (K-20 EDW), an integrated longitudinal database covering all public school students in the state of Florida. The K-20 EDW includes detailed enrollment, demographic, and program participation information for each student, as well as reading and math achievement test scores. The Chicago data, which cover five cohorts of students who were in 8th grade during the school years 1997-98 to 2001-02, were obtained from the Chicago Public Schools. The data include 8th-grade math and reading test scores and information on student gender, race/ethnicity, bilingual status, free or reduced price lunch status, and special education status.

To address the issue of student self-selection into charter schools, the researchers compared high school and postsecondary outcomes for 8th-grade charter students who entered charter high schools with outcomes for 8th-grade charter students who entered conventional public high schools, ensuring that both the comparison group and the treatment group of students were once charter choosers.
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New Report Explains that Charter Schools' Political Success is a Civil Rights Failure

The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA has issued "Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards," a nationwide report based on an analysis of Federal government data and an examination of charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia, along with several dozen metropolitan areas with large enrollments of charters. The report found that charter schools continue to stratify students by race, class, and possibly language, and are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the country.

The study's key findings suggest that charter schools, particularly those in the western United States are havens for white re-segregation from public schools; requirements for providing essential equity data to the federal government go unmet across the nation; and magnet schools are overlooked, in spite of showing greater levels of integration and academic achievement than charters.

The study offers several recommendations for restoring equity provisions and integration in charter schools, including establishing new guidance and reporting requirements by the Federal government; federal funding opportunities for magnet schools, which have a documented legacy of reducing racial isolation and improving student outcomes; and incorporating some features of magnet schools into charter schools. The report also recommends heightened enforcement of existing state-level legislation with specific provisions regarding diversity in charter schools, and monitoring patterns of charter school enrollment and attrition, focusing particularly on reporting the demographic information of charter school students on low-income and ELL characteristics.

More information about charter school segregation from the report

The Obama Administration has promoted charter schools as a central component of educational reform. In two major funding programs, with billions of dollars at stake, the Education Department is giving priority to states and districts committed to quickly expanding the number of charter schools. In addition, the Administration's budget request for charter schools for fiscal year 2010 increased nearly 20 percent over the prior year's funding level.

Even before this recent push, the enrollment of charter schools has nearly tripled since 2000-01, and states previously serving no charter school students now enroll tens of thousands. While the number and size of charter schools is increasing, charter school enrollment presently accounts for only 2.5 percent of all public school students.

Based on a review of prior studies, the report indicates charter schools currently render no real net academic gain for students. With little evidence reported by charter schools on student graduation rates - an important academic goal of any school - studies on academic achievement of charter students offer mixed conclusions, and provide scant data on important topics such as student attrition rates.

While more than one million students attend charter schools, enrollment remains concentrated in a handful of states. Federal pressure to create more charter schools guarantees the proliferation of charter schools nationwide. The report discloses that although vibrantly diverse charter schools exist, they are not reflective of the majority and charter school trends vary substantially across different regions:

Latinos are under-enrolled in charters in some Western states where they comprise the largest share of students; five of the six states with the largest shares of Latino students are states in which Latinos are under-enrolled in charter schools. Also, a dozen states report a majority of Latino charter students attend intensely segregated minority schools. Nearly 80 percent of Latino charter school students in Texas, for example, are in schools that have 90-100 percent minority student populations.

Although in national totals white students are under-enrolled in charter schools, patterns in the U.S. West, where traditional public schools are the most racially diverse, show an over-enrollment of white students: whites comprise 44 percent of students in traditional public schools in the West, yet charter schools in that region report 49 percent of students as white. In some states and metropolitan areas, white segregation is higher in charter schools despite the fact that overall charters enroll fewer white students. These trends suggest charters contribute to white flight in the two most racially diverse regions in the U.S.

Charters attract a higher percentage of black students than traditional public schools, in part because they tend to be located in urban areas. While segregation for blacks among all public schools has increased over the last two decades, black students in charters are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. Fully 70 percent of all black charter students attend schools that have student populations that are 90-100 percent racial and ethnic minorities, nearly twice the rate of traditional public schools. Also, more than 40 percent of black charter school students are in schools that have 99-100 percent minority student populations.

In the industrial Midwest, more students enroll in charter schools compared to other regions, and Midwestern charter programs display high concentrations of black students; of students enrolled in Midwest charter schools in 2007 - 08, 51 percent were identified as black, 37 percent white, and 8 percent Latino. Among students enrolled in traditional public schools in Midwestern states for that same year, 74 percent were identified as white, 14 percent black, and 8 percent Latino.

Major gaps in multiple federal data sources make it difficult to answer basic, fundamental questions about the extent to which charter schools enroll, concentrate, and graduate low-income students and English language learners (ELLs). Approximately one in four charter schools do not report data on low-income students or information on ELLs. Federal data on charter schools in California, arguably the country's most significant gateway for immigrants, describe just seven ELL students attending its state charter programs.
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States' Data Quality Evaluated

A new Data Quality Campaign (DQC) report finds that states are making impressive progress toward building longitudinal data systems and are taking the first steps to ensure that new information is used to improve student outcomes and system-wide performance. But the results, which are based on a survey of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, also show that most states have much work to do around key practices, such as following student progress from pre-school through college and the workforce, sharing student-level progress reports with teachers, and providing adequate training around data use.

Since 2005, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) has supported state development of longitudinal data systems that provide policymakers with information to create and adjust policies and practices to improve student achievement. The DQC’s annual survey of states’ progress on implementing the 10 Essential Elements of these systems shows that states have made impressive gains, and every state has committed to having a system with all 10 Essential Elements by 2011.

Although creating state longitudinal data systems and collecting vital information to answer key questions about performance are important steps, states also must have policies and practices in place to ensure that all education stakeholders are able to access, understand and use the information for continuous improvement.

The DQC 10 Essential Elements and 10 State Actions provide states a common roadmap to reach this goal. This year, for the first time, the DQC survey also asked questions about the 10 State Actions that are vital to using longitudinal data for continuous improvement. This inaugural overview reveals that states are just beginning to take the necessary steps:

The majority of states (43) have implemented three or fewer of the DQC State Actions.
Only ten states are sharing individual progress reports with educators, and fewer than half of states provide reports to stakeholders using aggregate-level statistics.
The same political will, energy and resources that coalesced to build robust longitudinal data systems over the past three years must now be harnessed to assist states in putting into place practices and policies that will ensure these rich data are used to inform decisionmaking across the P–20/workforce spectrum.

Overview Documents

Inaugural Overview of States’ Actions To Leverage Data To Improve Student Success

Data are useful only when they are transformed into actionable information that people are able to access, understand and use. Thanks to federal, state and local investments of political will and resources, the education sector is on the cusp of becoming an information-based enterprise. But reaching this goal depends on states taking actions that change the historically entrenched culture of using data for compliance reporting into one that values analysis of data and prioritizes constant communication to all stakeholders of the education system. Only when students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers have timely and ready access to academic and performance data will their decisions, practices and policies be driven by relevant information.

DQC 2009-10 Survey Results Compendium - 10 Elements

States have made tremendous progress in developing longitudinal data systems that can track student progress and answer critical policy questions. However, more work is needed, particularly on certain elements. Data on course-taking and grades (element 6), college readiness test scores (element 7), and other feedback from post-secondary institutions (element 9) can help determine whether high school courses and graduation standards are aligned with college and workplace expectations. However, states have made the least progress on implementing these three elements since 2005. This compendium provides a national overview on state progress towards implementing each of the 10 Elements and answering critical policy questions.

DQC 2009-10 Survey Results Compendium - 10 Actions

Now that longitudinal data are collected, states must take actions to facilitate stakeholders’ use of the information to improve system and student performance. The DQC has identified three overarching imperatives for changing the culture around data use and maximizing the return on states’ data infrastructure investments. These three imperatives include 10 State Actions that states should take to change how data are used to inform state and local decisionmaking regarding the improvement of system and student performance. In 2009, for the first time, the DQC surveyed states progress against these 10 State Actions. This compendium provides a national overview on state progress towards implementing the 10 Actions.

Individual State Reports (scroll down)
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