Rushing Too Fast to Online Learning?


Study looks at outcomes of Internet versus face-to-face instruction

A combination of fiscal constraints and improvements in technology has led to an increased reliance on online classes of all types -- many of which use Internet versions of traditional, live lectures. Now a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) raises questions about that fast-growing trend in higher education.

"Online instruction may be more economical to deliver than live instruction, but there is no free lunch," said David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and primary author of the NBER working paper released this month. "Simply putting traditional courses online could have negative consequences, especially for lower-performing and language minority students."

The rush to online education may come at a greater cost than educators suspect, according to Figlio and study co-authors Mark Rush and Lu Yin of the University of Florida. The release last summer of a report by the U.S. Department of Education added to the growing trend.

"Our findings suggest that universities interested in exploiting economic efficiencies should carefully consider whether they want to put traditional lecture classes online," said Figlio. "Our study for the first time presents experimental evidence about the relative efficacy of face-to-face versus recorded traditional lectures.

"We didn't test whether Internet courses are good or bad per se," said Figlio, who teaches in Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy and is a faculty fellow at its Institute for Policy Research. "But we did find modest evidence that live-only instruction results in higher learning outcomes than Internet instruction."

The study, "Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning," is by no means definitive, according to Figlio. It does, however, provide the first "apples-to-apples" comparison of live versus online delivery of traditional classes.

The study's strongest findings in favor of live instruction were for relatively low achieving students, male students and Hispanic students. While they may be better served by face-to-face education delivery, often those are the students who are most likely to receive online education.

"At the least, our findings indicate that much more experimentation is necessary before one can credibly declare that online education is peer to traditional live classroom instruction, let alone superior to live instruction," the authors write.

The study made use of data from an experiment conducted in a Principles of Microeconomics class taught at a large, selective doctorate-granting university.

Typically, students register for a "live" section of the microeconomics class in which they can watch the lecture in a room with 190 seats or they can register for an online section in which they watch the lecture online. Because 1,600 or more students typically participate in the class taught by a single instructor, most students register for an online section.  

Prior to the Spring 2007 semester, the instructor of the class offered students the opportunity to participate in the experiment. Of nearly 1,600 registered students, 327 volunteered to take part and, in return, were given a half letter boost in their grade at the end of the semester.

The volunteers were randomly assigned to watching the lecture live or to watching the lecture online. Measures were taken to ensure that instruction delivery was made only in the manner in which students were randomly assigned.

"Until further studies on the effectiveness of online learning versus in-class learning are necessary, universities would be wise to recognize that all Internet courses are not created equally," Figlio said. That, he added, was the salient point of last year's U.S. Department of Education report.
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Study shows Chile's school voucher program increased graduation rates


With the effectiveness of school vouchers a hot topic of debate, researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chile have completed a lengthy study on the effects of Chile's school reforms in 1981. Along with other school decentralization efforts, the reforms included making Chile the only nation in the world to have a nationwide school voucher program.

Most notably, the study, which looked at students who began school in the early 1970s all the way up through students who began school in the early '90s, showed that the reforms increased high school graduation rates by 3.6 percent, and increased college-going rates by 3.1 percent. It also increased the rate of those completing at least two years of college by 2.6 percent, and the rate of those completing at least four years of college by 1.8 percent. The voucher program also significantly increased the demand for private subsidized schools and decreased the demand for both public and nonsubsidized private schools.

In addition, although opponents of school voucher programs have long theorized that vouchers would mostly benefit the rich, this study showed that individuals from poor and non-poor backgrounds in Chile, on average, experienced similar educational attainment gains under the voucher program. And, there was also a modest reduction in earnings inequity once the voucher reforms were enacted. However, overall, the reforms did not lead to increased overall average earnings.

"The reform reduced the number of people ages 16 to 25 in the workforce by about 2 percent," explained Sankar Mukhopadhyay, assistant professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, "because more people were staying in school longer. So, the earnings benefits of having greater educational attainment were at least partly offset by the delay in entering the workforce."

Mukhopadhyay and the research team drew their information from nearly 4,000 people, ranging in ages 6 to 45. The study will be published in its entirety in the inaugural issue of a new journal published by the Econometric Society, Quantitative Economics, in August.

Mukhopadhyay said that while there have been quite a few studies on the possible effects of school vouchers on grades and test scores, there has been very little research conducted on the possible effects of school vouchers on the level of education attained by students, or on employment and earnings.

"I think this study provides very interesting, new information for those considering school vouchers," Mukhopadhyay said. "I think these results will surprise some people; the results actually surprised us."

A preliminary draft of the complete study may be viewed here.
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Report Evaluates Charter School Impacts


The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts: Final Report

Adding to the growing debate and evidence base on the effects of charter schools, this evaluation was conducted in 36 charter middle schools in 15 states. It compares the outcomes of 2,330 students who applied to these schools and were randomly assigned by lotteries to be admitted (lottery winners) or not admitted (lottery losers) to the schools. Both sets of students were tracked over two years and data on student achievement, academic progress, behavior, and attitudes were collected. The study is the first large-scale randomized trial of the effectiveness of charter schools in varied types of communities and states.

Key findings include:

• On average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving math or reading test scores, attendance, grade promotion, or student conduct within or outside of school. Being admitted to a study charter school did significantly improve both students’ and parents’ satisfaction with school.

• Charter middle schools’ impact on student achievement varied significantly across schools.

• Charter middle schools in urban areas -- as well as those serving higher proportions of low-income and low achieving students -- were more effective (relative to their nearby traditional public schools) than were other charter schools in improving math test scores. Some operational features of charter middle schools were associated with less negative impacts on achievement. These features include smaller enrollments and the use of ability grouping in math or English classes. There was no significant relationship between achievement impacts and the charter schools’ policy environment.

Because the study could only include charter middle schools that held lotteries, the results do not necessarily apply to the full set of charter middle schools in the U.S.
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Comprehensive Teacher Induction Study Reveals No Impact on Teacher Retention, Mixed Findings on Student Achievement


The final report on an impact evaluation of comprehensive induction on beginning teachers compares retention, achievement, and classroom practices of teachers who were offered comprehensive induction services to teachers who were offered the support normally offered by the school.

Teachers assigned to receive comprehensive induction for either one or two years were supported by a full-time mentor who received ongoing training and materials to support the teachers’ development. The teachers also were offered monthly professional development sessions and opportunities to observe veteran teachers.

The teachers were followed for three years. Key findings include:

• There were no impacts on teacher retention rates after each of the three years of follow-up.

• There were no impacts on teachers’ classroom practices, which were measured during teachers’ first year in the classroom.

• For teachers offered one year of comprehensive induction, there were no impacts on student achievement in any of the teachers’ first three years in the classroom.

• For teachers offered two years of comprehensive induction, there were no impacts on student achievement in either of the first two years. However, in the third year, there were positive impacts on student achievement, based on the sample of teachers whose students had both pre-test and post-test scores. These impacts were equivalent to moving the average student from the 50th percentile to the 54th percentile in reading and the 58th percentile in math.

The report, Impacts of Comprehensive Teacher Induction: Final Results from a Randomized Controlled Study, uses data collected from 1,009 beginning teachers in 418 schools in 17 districts. Districts included in the study were not already offering comprehensive induction services, including paying for full-time mentors.

Novice teachers in approximately half of the schools were assigned by lottery to receive comprehensive induction services. In 10 of the districts, these teachers were provided one year of comprehensive induction services; in the remaining 7 districts, the teachers were provided two years of services. Teachers in the schools not assigned to receive comprehensive induction services were provided the support normally offered to novice teachers by the school.

Teacher practices were measured via classroom observations conducted in the spring of 2006. Data on teacher retention were collected via surveys administered in the fall of 2006, 2007, and 2008. Student test scores were collected from district administrative records for the 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08 school years.

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Public Education Finances: 2008


In 2008, public school systems spent an average of $10,259 per pupil, a 6.1 percent increase over 2007. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia spent above this amount; 32 spent less.

These data come from Public Education Finances: 2008, which provides tables on revenues, expenditures, debt and assets (cash and security holdings) of elementary and secondary public school systems with data for the nation, states and school districts. The tables also include more detailed data on spending, such as instruction, school lunches, transportation and salaries, among others.

"This report on public school spending shows us how taxpayer money is being spent on education," said Lisa Blumerman, chief of the Governments Division at the U.S. Census Bureau. "Public education is the single largest category of all state and local government expenditures. These data provide a detailed picture of how available resources are spent within the public education system."

Public school systems received $582.1 billion in funding in 2008, up 4.5 percent from 2007. Of that amount, state governments contributed 48.3 percent, followed by local sources, which contributed 43.7 percent, and federal sources, which made up the remaining 8.1 percent (see Table 5).

Public school systems' spending was up 6.0 percent in 2008, totaling $593.2 billion. Total current spending was $506.8 billion (85.4 percent), of which $304.8 billion went to instruction, followed by $175.9 billion, which went to support services, such as transportation and school maintenance (see Table 6).

Total school district debt increased by 7.9 percent in 2008 to $377.4 billion (see Table 10).

Other highlights:
• States and state equivalents that spent the most per pupil were New York ($17,173), New Jersey ($16,491), Alaska ($14,630), the District of Columbia ($14,594), Vermont ($14,300) and Connecticut ($13,848) (see Table 11).
• States that spent the least per pupil were Utah ($5,765), Idaho ($6,931), Arizona ($7,608), Oklahoma ($7,685) and Tennessee ($7,739).
• Instructional salaries made up the largest spending category for public elementary and secondary education at $203.5 billion (40.2 percent) in 2008 (see Table 6).
• The percentage of public school funding from the federal government was highest in Louisiana (16.8 percent), Mississippi (16.0 percent) and South Dakota (15.2 percent) and lowest in New Jersey (3.9 percent), Connecticut (4.2 percent) and Massachusetts (5.1 percent) (see Table 5).
• The percentage of funding from state government was highest in Vermont (88.5 percent), which surpassed Hawaii (84.8 percent) this year, where elementary and secondary education is run by the state government, followed by Arkansas (76.0 percent). The percentage of funding from state government was lowest in Nebraska (33.0 percent), South Dakota (33.2 percent) and Illinois (33.8 percent).
• Among states, the percentage of funding from local governments was highest in Illinois (58.2 percent), Nebraska (57.3 percent) and Connecticut (57.3 percent) and lowest in Hawaii (3.0 percent), Vermont (5.0 percent) and Arkansas (13.4 percent).
• The $254.1 billion schools received from local sources included $218.4 billion from taxes and local government appropriations (see Table 4).
• Property taxes accounted for 63.7 percent of revenue for public school systems from local sources.

The data used in the tabulations came from a census of all 15,569 public school districts. As such, they are not subject to sampling error. Although quality assurance methods were applied to all phases of data collection and processing, the data are subject to nonsampling error, including errors of response and miscoding.
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Healthier Cafeteria Food, More Intense Gym Classes Lower Students' Obesity


Healthier cafeteria choices, longer and more intense periods of physical activity and robust in-school education programs can lower rates of obesity and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, according to a national study called HEALTHY.

UC Irvine was among eight academic medical centers nationwide chosen to participate in the three-year effort, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, and the American Diabetes Association.

"This is the first-ever study to show you can reduce obesity and other risks for type 2 diabetes in kids and do it in schools with at-risk, high-ethnic-minority populations," said pediatrics professor Dr. Dan M. Cooper, UCI's principal investigator for HEALTHY. "It emphasizes that schools can have a tremendous positive impact on a child's health."

Because type 2 diabetes disproportionately affects minorities and low-income people, the study was conducted in U.S. schools with high enrollments of minority children -- 54 percent Latino and 18 percent African American, on average -- and kids from low-income families. UCI partnered with middle schools in the Long Beach Unified School District: Bancroft, DeMille, Hoover, Hughes, Marshall and Stephens.

Nationwide, 4,603 students in 42 middle schools were tracked from the beginning of sixth grade through the completion of eighth grade. Half the schools were randomly chosen to implement the study's "intervention" program of longer gym classes, more nutritious food choices, classroom education units and other schoolwide activities encouraging healthy behaviors.

The "comparison" schools got no specific intervention but did receive discretionary funds for food options and physical activities of their own choosing. Parents at all UCI-participant schools were given written feedback on student health screenings and notified if their children were found to be at high risk for diabetes.

At the beginning of the study, many sixth-graders at both intervention and comparison schools were considered in jeopardy. Nearly half were overweight or obese, 16 percent had elevated fasting blood glucose levels, and nearly 7 percent had elevated fasting insulin levels -- all risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

At the end of the study, researchers found that the then-eighth-grade students in intervention schools who had been overweight or obese in sixth grade had a 21 percent lower rate of obesity than their counterparts in comparison schools. Students at intervention schools also had lower average levels of fasting insulin and smaller average waist circumferences.

Surprisingly, the number of overweight and obese students declined in both intervention and comparison schools. Additionally, the study groups did not differ in mean glucose levels or the percentage of students with elevated fasting glucose in the overweight category.

"Although more research is needed to better understand why all schools showed improvement, a possible explanation is that comparison school parents were informed of their children's risk and may have made healthy changes on their own," Cooper said. "Plus, comparison schools volunteering to be in the study did so out of concern for the health of their student body and may have later made independent changes in the school environment."

Over the course of the study, intervention schools provided students with low-fat, high-fiber foods and more fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on water, low-fat milk and drinks with no added sugar. These students also had longer, more intense periods of physical activity -- defined as achieving a heart rate of at least 140 beats per minute, with a target of 150 minutes or more of such activity every 10 days. And they were involved in highly interactive, small-group classroom activities and awareness campaigns promoting long-term healthy behaviors.
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The General Educational Development (GED) credential is issued on the basis of an eight hour subject-based test. The test claims to establish equivalence between dropouts and traditional high school graduates, opening the door to college and positions in the labor market. In 2008 alone, almost 500,000 dropouts passed the test, amounting to 12% of all high school credentials issued in that year.

This paper reviews the academic literature on the GED, which finds minimal value of the certificate in terms of labor market outcomes and that only a few individuals successfully use it as a path to obtain post-secondary credentials. Although the GED establishes cognitive equivalence on one measure of scholastic aptitude, recipients still face limited opportunity due to deficits in noncognitive skills such as persistence, motivation and reliability. The literature finds that the GED testing program distorts social statistics on high school completion rates, minority graduation gaps, and sources of wage growth. Recent work demonstrates that, through its availability and low cost, the GED also induces some students to drop out of school. The GED program is unique to the United States and Canada, but provides policy insight relevant to any nation's educational context.

This paper is available online for purchase. - - 24k - 2010-06-03
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First Report on National Study of KIPP Schools Consistent, Substantial Positive Impacts on Math and Reading Achievement


The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a network of charter schools designed to transform and improve the educational opportunities available to low-income families, and ultimately, prepare students to enroll and succeed in college. KIPP has grown from a core of two middle schools established in the mid 1990s to a nationwide network of 82 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. In the wake of its growth, the KIPP Foundation was eager to rigorously assess the programs’ effectiveness and identify best practices that lead to positive student outcomes.

Study: Mathematica Policy Research is conducting a multiyear evaluation of KIPP scheduled to continue through 2014. The evaluation includes both experimental and quasi-experimental components designed to examine KIPP’s impacts on student achievement and college readiness. This initial report uses a matched, comparison group design to estimate KIPP’s effects on achievement in 22 middle schools—making this the first study that applies a rigorous (nonexperimental) methodological approach across a nationwide sample of KIPP schools.

Findings: For the vast majority of KIPP schools included in the initial report, impacts on students’ state assessment scores in mathematics and reading are positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. The main findings include:

Impacts for large majorities of the 22 KIPP middle schools included in the study are positive in both reading and math in all four years after students enter KIPP schools.

Impacts in many KIPP schools are large. Three years after entering KIPP schools, many students are experiencing achievement effects that are approximately equivalent to an additional year of instruction, enough to substantially reduce race- and income-based achievement gaps.

Students entering these 22 KIPP schools typically had prior achievement levels lower than average achievement in the schools of their local districts.

Compared to the public schools from which they draw students, KIPP middle schools have student bodies characterized by higher concentrations of poverty and racial minorities, but lower concentrations of special education and limited English proficiency students.

Quote: “The positive impacts in KIPP schools are compelling in their consistency and size across diverse states and students served,” said Christina Clark Tuttle, researcher at Mathematica and co-author of the report. “In future reports, we’ll incorporate even more KIPP schools and students, examine effects on other student outcomes beyond state test scores, and test the robustness of the results against different analytic methods.”

The Report: “Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools.” Christina Clark Tuttle, Bing-ru Teh, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Brian P. Gill, and Philip Gleason.

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Denver’s Professional Compensation System for Teachers

An Outcomes Evaluation of Denver’s Alternative Teacher Compensation System
2010 Report

Denver’s Professional Compensation System for Teachers (“ProComp”) is among the most prominent alternative teacher compensation reforms in the United States. Although teacher compensation that departs from the traditional “single_salary schedule” 1 is not new, it has recently gained popularity again in policy circles as an approach for increasing student achievement and improving teacher quality. Accordingly, two primary goals of ProComp are to: 1) increase student achievement; and 2) attract and retain high_quality teachers to the district.

This is the first of two reports detailing possible effects of Denver’s ProComp on student achievement, educator attitudes and behaviors, and teacher retention. This first report describes outcomes that may be associated with ProComp at the program level; a subsequent report (to be released in September, 2010) describes outcomes at a finer level of granularity to betterunderstand differential outcomes of the program’s various elements for educators of various backgrounds.

Key findings include:
District_wide student achievement trends
_ Growth in mathematics and reading achievement has increased substantially from 2002_
03 to 2002_09.
_ Teachers’ median conditional growth percentiles have seen a 3_8% increase over the last
eight years, based on a conditional achievement measure similar to that of the Colorado
Growth Model.
_ Trends are similar as measured in value_added teacher “effect” estimates.
Student achievement outcomes
_ Some evidence of ProComp composition/selection effects
o Teachers hired after the implementation of ProComp (subsequent to which
program participation has been mandatory) exhibit higher first_year achievement
than those hired prior to the program.
o This finding is:
• _ Positive for both mathematics and reading
• _ Consistent across school levels (though more pronounced at elementary
• level)
• _ Outcomes similar regardless of whether measured in terms of conditional
• growth percentiles or more common estimated value_added achievement
• effects
_ Less evidence of ProComp productivity effects
o Teachers who have voluntarily opted into the ProComp program slightly
outperform their non_participant colleagues, though differences are less
pronounced when adjusted for individual differences between teachers who
choose to participate and those who do not. Mixed effects models offer little
evidence of significant changes in effects for voluntary participants after
implementation compared to the effects before implementation

Teacher and principal attitudes
_ Teachers:
o Generally, teachers who participate in ProComp hold more favorable views of
ProComp than those who are not in ProComp
_ Teachers who voluntarily entered ProComp are most supportive of the
_ Teachers who were automatically enrolled in ProComp (due to joining
the district after January 1, 2006) reported attitudes that were more
similar to voluntary participants than to the attitudes of teachers who
were not in ProComp (This suggests positive selection into DPS for new
o A majority of ProComp participants indicated that they believed the ProComp
program could motivate teachers to improve instructional practices, with
positive respondents outnumbering negative responses by a 3_to_1 margin.
o Participants indicating that the ProComp program would ultimately improve
student achievement outnumbered those who disagreed by a 2_to_1 margin.
o Participants were evenly split regarding whether they believed ProComp had
improved teacher collaboration.
_ Principals:
o Generally, principals reported more favorable beliefs about ProComp than did
_ More also reported favorable beliefs about ProComp than about the
traditional salary schedule
o In a pattern opposite that of teachers, more principal respondents believed
ProComp could increase student achievement than believed ProComp could
improve instructional behaviors
Attitudes, Instructional Behaviors, and Student Achievement
_ Teachers who reported favorable attitudes towards ProComp were more likely to report
they had changed their instructional behavior and practices
_ The relationship between favorable attitudes toward ProComp and reported changes in
instructional behaviors persisted regardless of whether models included controls for
prior achievement history
_ Changing the way attitudes were conditioned on prior achievement resulted in different
effects on reported changes of instructional behavior
o Teachers’ percentages of high_growth students (students with student growth
percentiles above the 55th percentile) had little relation to teachers’ reported
changes in their instructional behaviors
o Greater relationships appeared between changes in teachers’ instructional
behaviors and percentages of students with high_growth students than between
instructional behaviors and the dichotomous distinction of an effective teacher
_ Suggests prior student achievement gains that occur around the 55th
percentile may be more influential on teachers’ attitudes
2010 ProComp Evaluation Report
P a g e 9
Retention in Hard_to_Serve Schools
_ Over the past decade, DPS has generally experienced an upward trend in teacher
_ Schools with greater rates of ProComp participation have experienced higher rates of
retention in recent years
_ Retention trends at hard_to_serve schools lag behind those of schools that are not
designated “hard_to_serve”
_ Schools with greater rates of ProComp participation that are designated “hard_to_serve”
experienced a sharp increase in retention rates in the first full year ProComp was
implemented (2006_07)
o These schools also saw the greatest increase in retention (from 74% to 86%) over
the past decade
o Suggests there may be a positive effect on retention trends associated with
ProComp and the hard_to_serve bonus
This study is observational (rather than experimental) in nature.
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Common Core State Standards: Tackling the Long-Term Questions

The "common core" state standards for grades K-12 have been released. Some states have already adopted them. Others are considering this step. Much will need to happen if these standards and related assessments are to get traction in American education over the next few years. But the Fordham Institute is looking even further ahead: they are considering the issues that will determine the long-term viability of this endeavor. Simply stated: in 2020, who will be in charge of the common standards-and-testing effort? How will this work? Who will pay for it?

To spur discussion and smart thinking about these crucial issues, the Fordham Institute commissioned a set of background papers from authoritative observers and analysts. Read on to find out what they have to say.

The Oversight of State Standards and Assessment Programs: Perspectives from a Former State Assessment Director
Pasquale J. DeVito, Ph.D.
Director, Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAS)
Measured Progress

Networked Governance in Three Policy Areas with Implications for the Common Core State Standards Initiative
Paul Manna
Associate Professor, Department of Government
Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy
College of William and Mary

E Pluribus Unum in Education? Governance Models for National Standards and Assessments: Looking Beyond the World of K-12 Schooling
Patrick McGuinn
Associate Professor, Departments of Political Science and Education 
Drew University

What Can the Common Core State Standards Initiative Learn from the National Assessment Governing Board?
Mark Musick
James H. Quillen Chair of Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Clemmer College of Education, East Tennessee State University
Former President, Southern Regional Education Board
Former Chairman, National Assessment Governing Board

How will the Common Core Initiative Impact the Testing Industry?
Thomas Toch
Executive Director, Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington; and
Founder, Education Sector

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Are school wellness policies stuck in the Ice Age?


Researchers recommend involving teachers in nutrition education policy making

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, 2004, requires that all school districts have a Wellness Policy if they participate in federal school meal programs. As part of the Wellness Policy, schools are mandated to include nutrition education activities which promote student wellness. A study in the July/August issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior evaluates elementary teachers' overall acceptance and implementation of nutrition competencies in the classroom as part of their School Wellness Policy.

Earlier studies have reported that the majority of school wellness policies include written goals for nutrition education. In the new study, researchers at The University of Mississippi begin development of an instrument to identify the extent of implementation and/or compliance with nutrition education goals. To measure this, Lewin's Organizational Change Model was used to determine elementary school teachers' progression as it relates to the School Wellness Policy. By using this Model, researchers were able to develop an online survey to evaluate whether teachers were in one of the following stages: unfreezing (individuals become dissatisfied with the status quo and believe that change is needed), moving (change comes when individuals have input, allowing them to take ownership), or refreezing (change is complete and has become standard organizational protocol and/or culture).

To ensure that teachers were informed about their School Wellness Policy, only those who answered "Yes" to two items, ''My school has a School Wellness Policy'' and ''I am informed and understand the School Wellness Policy in my school,'' were included. Of the 321 Mississippi teachers surveyed, only 69% (221 teachers) of the teachers' answered "Yes", allowing the researchers to evaluate their stage for implementing change in nutrition education. However, of the 221 teachers informed of the School Wellness Policy, 86% supported it and 81% believed it will allow students' opportunities to practice healthful living (unfreezing stage).

Involvement and commitment to a project plays a large role when determining whether teachers are in the moving stage. This study found that 58% of the teachers surveyed thought they did not have adequate classroom time to include nutrition competencies and only 26% thought they would be given time to attend an in-service on strategies to incorporating nutrition education into their lessons. When determining if nutrition education can become a standard of practice for teachers (refreezing stage), the researchers found that the majority of teachers (64%) thought they had the skills to incorporate it into their curriculum, however, fewer than one third of teachers (30%) are actually including nutrition competencies into their lesson plans.

So what seems to be the problem? The researchers found that teachers feel little involvement in implementation of the school wellness policies and therefore "teachers may not view inclusion of nutrition competencies into classroom instruction as a part of the SWP [School Wellness Policy]. A lack of involvement in the SWP development may have led teachers to believe that the role of implementing it is not their responsibility but that of other school staff such as physical education instructors, school nurses, and school food-service staff" says lead author Dr. Laurel Lambert, Associate Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, University of Mississippi.

Successful implementation of new policies cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of school administration. New policies must also have the support of a well-rounded team which includes teachers (including physical education), food-service employees, and school nurses. This study documents that teachers need to participate in the development and implementation of School Wellness Policies in order to move out of the unfreezing stage (and out of the "Ice Age").

Within the article, the researchers give recommendations that could support teachers' progression out of the moving and into the refreezing stage. The recommendations to incorporate nutrition competencies into the classroom include, "(1) Involve[ing] teachers in the development of an evaluation tool that can be used to assess how the nutrition competencies are being presented in the classroom. Use results obtained with this tool to recognize those teachers who have demonstrated effective ways to incorporate nutrition competencies within limited classroom time. (2) Inform[ing] teachers of the numerous resources, including credible Internet links that provide nutrition education information and classroom materials. Many resources are available at minimal or no cost from federal government agencies, state extension services, and nonprofit health organizations. (3) Conduct[ing] specific focused in-services on strategies for incorporating state-mandated nutrition competencies into lesson plans. (4) Require addressing nutrition competencies in terms of time (minutes) for scheduled classroom instruction… (5) Create a nutrition education coordinator position within the Mississippi Department of Education [recommendations could be used in other states] to assist school districts on current and effective practices for implementation of nutrition education programs."

The article is "Mississippi Elementary School Teachers' Perspectives on Providing Nutrition Competencies under the Framework of Their School Wellness Policy" by Laurel G. Lambert, PhD, RD, LD; Ann Monroe, EdD; Lori Wolff, PhD, JD. It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 42, Issue 4 (July/August 2010) published by Elsevier.
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Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores


Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the "digital divide" by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs). Students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure. The study covers 2000 to 2005, a period when home computers and high-speed Internet access expanded dramatically. By 2005, broadband access was available in almost every zip code in North Carolina, Vigdor said.

The study had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, Vigdor said. The sample size was large -- numbering more than 150,000 individual students. The data allowed researchers to compare the same children's reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer, and to compare those scores to those of peers who had a home computer by fifth grade and to test scores of students who never acquire a home computer. The negative effects on reading and math scores were "modest but significant," they found.

"We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation," Vigdor said. "The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception." Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.

Vigdor and Ladd concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children's computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes.

The research suggests that programs to expand home computer access would lead to even wider gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students, Vigdor said. Several states have pursued programs to distribute computers to students. For example, Maine funded laptops for every sixth-grader, and Michigan approved a program but then did not fund it.
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National School Lunch Program Increases Educational Achievement


A new article from the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management is the first to evaluate the long-term health and educational effects of participation in the National School Lunch Program. The study finds that the program leads to a significant increase in educational opportunity and attainment, but an insignificant increase in health levels from childhood to adulthood.

The Congress-led program, which first began in 1946 under President Harry S. Truman, built off the existing New Deal food subsidy programs, first started under Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program was largely inspired by the disqualification of sixteen percent of eligible soldiers from serving in World War II, due to malnutrition or underfeeding causes, and was originally perceived as a “measure of national security.”

Dr. Peter Hinrichs, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and author of the study, remarks, “My research found that the National School Lunch Program has not had a dramatic effect on health into adulthood, but it has had a significant effect on educational attainment. School feeding programs, and the National School Lunch Program in particular, have some effect on adult health, but do not necessarily improve every outcome we hoped they would improve.” Federal spending on the program is now measured at over eight billion annually.

The study asserts that the low-cost, subsidized lunches offered to children in the program may have encouraged children to attend school more than they would have, based on data on educational attainment from the U.S. Census.

However, based on data from the National Health Interview Survey, the study finds no lasting effect on adult health. The author speculates that food from the National School Lunch Program may have just replaced food that children were going to consume from other sources, or that perhaps the program improves health temporarily but that the effects fade away by adulthood. Hinrichs says, “The NSLP today is still broad in its reach, but it has some elements of being targeted toward poorer children. These include higher standards for eligibility and also special funding for poorer schools. Had these elements been in place at the inception of the program, the program may have had more of a detectable effect on health in its early years.”

The results found in this new study has implications for developing countries that are considering introducing large scale school feeding programs similar to the National School Lunch Program and related programs, such as the School Breakfast Program.
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New Report Offers Plans to Help Low-Income Students Succeed in College


Over the last several years, new policies have been enacted to make higher education more equitable. Roughly 100 colleges and universities have reached out to lower and moderate-income students with more generous financial aid packages. Likewise, the Obama Administration has recently boosted funding for Pell Grants and community colleges. But are these and other efforts to increase equity in higher education working?

"Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College," a new book from The Century Foundation, examines two strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity: better financial aid programs and admissions policies that level the playing field for hard working, economically disadvantaged students of all races. This report follows a 2004 Century Foundation study, America's Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education, which found that, at selective universities and colleges, 74 percent of students come from the richest quarter of the socioeconomic population and just 3 percent from the bottom quarter. Moreover, it comes at a time when a new legal challenge to racial preferences at the University of Texas may be headed to the Supreme Court, which is prompting new discussions about the future of affirmative action and what alternative forms it may take in coming years.

"Rewarding Strivers" is edited by Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a highly regarded expert on education policy. Included in the volume are:

- "How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do about It," by Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University. This research updates and expands Carnevale's controversial "strivers" research from his stint at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the late 1990s. The research seeks to identify promising disadvantaged students who beat the odds and score higher than expected on the SAT.

- "The Carolina Covenant," by Edward B. Fiske, former education editor at the New York Times. This is the first major analysis of one of the nation's leading financial aid and support programs. In recent years, some one hundred institutions have adopted new, more generous financial aid programs. This chapter examines how well this closely watched program is working.

Significant findings of the two studies include the following:

- Disadvantaged students start the SAT's "100-yard dash" 65 yards behind.

The highly disadvantaged applicant (low-income, black, parents are high school dropouts, attends high-poverty public school, etc.) is expected to score 784 SAT points lower than the highly advantaged student (wealthy, white, highly educated parents, attends private school, etc.). This 784-point gap accounts for 65.3 percent of the 1200-point possible score range on the math and verbal SAT (400-1600 points.) If the SAT were a 100-yard dash, advantaged kids start off 65 yards ahead of disadvantaged kids as the race begins. Carnevale and Strohl suggest that universities consider how far a student has come as well as what his or her raw scores are.

- Obstacles are more closely associated with class than race, suggesting affirmative action should be primarily about socioeconomic status.

Racial discrimination continues to play a role in education, but its influence is dwarfed by the role of socioeconomic status. Of the 784-point SAT gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, Carnevale and Strohl found that just 56 points are solely attributable to race per se (being black as opposed to white). By contrast, 399 points of the gap are from factors that are socioeconomic in nature. These findings suggest that colleges and universities should provide a lot of affirmative action to economically disadvantaged students who beat the odds, and some affirmative action based on race. Yet today's colleges and universities do the opposite: providing substantial preferences based on race and virtually no preference based on class.

- Financial aid can help increase graduation rates, but by itself will not necessarily increase socioeconomic diversity.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to Edward B. Fiske's chapter, a generous financial aid program, instituted in 2004, has been successful in boosting the graduation rate among low-income students. At the same time, however, the proportion of low-income students (defined as those eligible for Pell Grants) has remained flat, as Carolina has insisted that low-income students should not be given any break in admissions. The lesson: to increase access, universities must address both financial aids and admissions policies.

- Stratification is increasing in higher education.

The good news is that more students are going to college than ever before; but the bad news, according to Carnevale and Strohl's research, is that stratification is increasing within higher education. Just as public elementary and secondary schools saw affluent white flight to suburban schools in the 1970s and 1980s, so higher education is seeing the same flight by affluent white students to selective institutions. Between 1994 and 2006, Carnevale and Strohl find white student representation declined from 79 percent to 58 percent at less-selective and noncompetitive institutions, while black student representation soared from 11 percent to 28 percent, twice their share of the high school class. American higher education is in danger of quickly becoming both separate and unequal.

- Attending a selective college is likely to be worth the investment.

Colleges with low selectivity spend about $12,000 per student, compared with $92,000 per student at the most selective institutions. Selective institutions are much more likely to graduate equally qualified students than less-selective colleges and universities. Earnings are 45 percent higher for students who graduated from more-selective institutions, particularly low-income students. And according to research by Thomas Dye, 54 percent of America's corporate leaders and 42 percent of government leaders are graduates of just twelve institutions.

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Study: Seasoned profs prepare students for advanced learning


But students' evaluations reward immediate gratification

Highly credentialed and experienced professors are better at preparing students for long-term academic success than their less-experienced counterparts, but that ability isn't necessarily reflected in their students' teaching evaluations. That's according to research by a pair of economists published in this month's Journal of Political Economy.

The study's authors, Scott Carrell of U.C. Davis and James West of the U.S. Air Force Academy, say their results raise questions about the value of student evaluations as measures of instructor quality.

Student evaluations are widely used by colleges in tenure and promotion decisions, but Carrell and West considered a different measure of instructor quality. They looked at how well instructors in introductory courses prepare students for more advanced courses in related subjects.

Their data come from Calculus I and follow-on classes at the U.S. Air Force Academy. All Air Force Academy students are required to take Calculus I, Calculus II, and nine math-based technical courses regardless of their majors, and professors in all sections of classes use an identical syllabus and give identical exams. That gives the researchers a chance to compare instructors on a relatively even playing field.

The study found that students' achievement in follow-on coursework was strongly influenced by their Calculus I instructor. Students who had a seasoned Calculus I professor with a Ph.D. tended to do better in follow-on coursework than students who had less-experienced and less-credentialed Calculus I instructors. This happened despite the fact that students of seasoned professors tended to have lower grades in Calculus I. The results, the researchers say, suggest that less experienced instructors have a tendency to "teach to the test," while more experienced teachers produce "deep learning" of the subject matter that helps students down the road.

The findings weren't a result of newer professors being "easy-graders," because the Calculus I course was designed to remove as much instructor discretion as possible from their student's grades. Midterm and final exams are group graded, where one instructor grades a single question for the entire course to ensure uniformity of partial credit.

The deep learning produced by more-experienced instructors was not reflected in their students' teaching evaluations, the study found. Less-experienced instructors—whose students tended to do better in the short-term but worse in later classes—received higher ratings on student evaluations. For example, the instructor who ranked dead last in "deep learning" in the sample of 91 Calculus I instructors ranked sixth best in student evaluations.

Taken together, the findings imply that student evaluations give instructors—especially those who do not have tenure—incentive to teach in ways that "have great value for raising current scores, but may have little value for lasting knowledge," the authors conclude.
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Teen automobile crash rates are higher when school starts earlier


Early school start times promote sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness, which can reduce the alertness of teen drivers

Earlier school start times are associated with increased teenage car crash rates, according to a research abstract that will be presented Wednesday, June 9, 2010, in San Antonio, Texas, at SLEEP 2010, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.

Results indicate that in 2008 the teen crash rate was about 41 percent higher in Virginia Beach, Va., where high school classes began at 7:20 a.m., than in adjacent Chesapeake, Va., where classes started more than an hour later at 8:40 a.m. There were 65.4 automobile crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach, and 46.2 crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Chesapeake.

"We were concerned that Virginia Beach teens might be sleep restricted due to their early rise times and that this could eventuate in an increased crash rate," said lead author Robert Vorona, MD, associate professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. "The study supported our hypothesis, but it is important to note that this is an association study and does not prove cause and effect."

The study involved data provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. In Virginia Beach there were 12,916 drivers between 16 and 18 years of age in 2008, and these teen drivers were involved in 850 crashes. In Chesapeake there were 8,459 teen drivers and 394 automobile accidents. The researchers report that the two adjoining cities have similar demographics, including racial composition and per-capita income.

Further analysis by time of day found that in both cities the afternoon crash rates were higher than the morning crash rates. In Virginia Beach, where the school day ended around 2 p.m., the afternoon crash rate peaked from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. In Chesapeake, where school dismissed at about 3:40 p.m., the afternoon crash rate peaked from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Six-hour analysis indicated that the overall afternoon crash rate per 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach (35.2) was higher than in Chesapeake (20.6).

According to Vorona, delaying high school start times may promote driver alertness by reducing the severity of chronic sleep restriction, which is a common problem during adolescence. This idea is supported by a study in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which reported that the teen crash rate dropped by 16.5 percent in one county that delayed high school start times by an hour.

"We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times," said Vorona. "Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. A burgeoning literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues."

The SLEEP 2010 abstract supplement is available here.
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Changes in Liability Laws Could Open Up Schools for Community Recreation

Politicians can't outlaw childhood obesity, but they can tweak current laws to encourage public schools to open their recreational facilities after hours without the fear of getting sued.

So concludes John Spengler, an associate professor in the University of Florida's Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sports Management.

Spengler recently completed a national study that found that even small legislative changes could encourage public schools to open their playgrounds and other sport and recreational facilities on school property for healthy recreation after school hours.

"For children in communities with few resources, a school in the heart of their community may be the only option for physical activity when a public park is too far away or their family can't afford to join a fitness center," said Spengler. "Without this option, they are more likely to stay in the house, watch television and play video games."

Schools are ideal for community recreation because they usually are closer to home, are more safe and familiar to kids and parents, and have exercise amenities such as tracks, gymnasiums, ball fields, playgrounds and courts, Spengler said.

But principals and school districts often close the facilities after hours because they fear costly lawsuits and liability for payouts if someone is hurt, he said.

One remedy is small changes to existing laws, Spengler said. The study he led, scheduled for publication in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and available online today, analyzes recreation use laws from all 50 states. It found that 42 states have laws that, with minor legislative changes, could potentially limit public schools' liability when members of the public use school property for recreation after regular classroom hours.

While these laws include broad language about liability protection, they lack uniformity and depth of coverage, Spengler said. They would be more effective if they listed specific recreational activities that would likely take place on school property after hours and that are conducive to physical activity, he said.

Five state laws simply refer to activities undertaken for the purpose of recreation, leaving courts to interpret the meaning of "recreation" within the context of a particular case, Spengler said. Other states use broad terms such as "winter sports," "athletic competition," "recreational activities" and "sporting events and activities," he said.

Of the small number of states that list activities protected from liability, bicycling was the most commonly mentioned in recreational laws, by 16 states, followed by rollerskating and rollerblading, 4, and skateboarding, 3. Only one state, Idaho, identified "playing on playground equipment" as a protected activity and no state recreational laws specifically mentioned activities that take place in indoor facilities, he said.

"It's important for legislators to consider incorporating changes that would cover activities in gymnasiums since weather constraints often prevent people from exercising outdoors," Spengler said.

Another possible solution, although not addressed in the paper, would involve splitting the risk of liability between parties, such as a school district and a city, through a joint use agreement, he said.

"Liability is not the only barrier to public access to school facilities," he said. "There is also cost, maintenance, security and supervision. But we feel it is the most important issue that needs to be addressed in terms of making school administrators feel more comfortable about opening their facilities."

The subject is particularly timely with increasing public awareness about the relationship between physical inactivity and obesity, particularly among children, a problem that is receiving national prominence with attention from First Lady Michelle Obama, he said.

Despite the health benefits of schools allowing members of the general public to use their facilities for recreation, community access remained unchanged for youth and adult community sports teams, classes and open gym between 2000 and 2006, Spengler said. In addition, unpublished data from a national study of school principals found that schools were limiting after hours activities for their own students and others out of fear of lawsuits, he said.
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The City Must Overhaul Its Tenure Process, Do More to Support Struggling Teachers
and Increase Compensation If It Wants to Retain Effective Teachers

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has released a report on Baltimore City Public Schools policies that praises the district for hiring new teachers with strong academic backgrounds, but criticizes it for not doing all it can to hold onto them. Among the report’s findings:

• When it comes to giving principals authority over the composition of their schools’ faculties, Baltimore is among the most progressive districts in the country.
• Despite district rules requiring annual evaluations of all teachers, only half were evaluated in 2008-09.
• While Baltimore’s salaries can’t compete with pay in surrounding districts, across-the-board raises are not the solution. The district should develop targeted strategies for increasing talent, such as offering high salaries to its most effective teachers.

In partnership with the Education Reform Project of the ACLU-Maryland, NCTQ studied both city and state regulations, comparing them with those found in NCTQ’s 101-district TR3 database ( NCTQ also spoke with students, teachers, parents, administrators and union leaders, to see how policies play out in practice.

The 57-page report explores 10 policy goals, including those pertaining to hiring, assignments, support for new and struggling teachers, evaluations and dismissal of ineffective teachers. The report also addresses working conditions and compensation.

Among the findings:
• As in most American school districts, principals in Baltimore do not adequately perform a critical task: evaluating their teachers. All teachers in Baltimore are supposed to be evaluated annually, but only half are. And those evaluated are almost always guaranteed a good rating, with 98 percent rated “satisfactory” in 2008-09.
• Baltimore is ahead of most districts in allowing principals to fill their own vacancies, discarding the common practice of forced placements by the central office. But the district is also required, by state law, to keep a tenured teacher who’s lost a position on the payroll, even if she can’t find a position in another school.
• Baltimore has a hard time holding onto good teachers, with a three-year retention rate of 65 percent and barely half of teachers remaining in the same school. The district also hurts itself by not allowing non-tenured teachers to transfer from one school to another.
• To comply with a new state board regulation requiring that student growth account for at least 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation, the district will need to change its teacher-evaluation system, which does not sufficiently factor in student achievement.
• Baltimore teachers are given less planning time, but receive 30 percent more sick leave, on average, than their colleagues nationally.

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

• Change Maryland law so that teachers who are without a permanent school-based assignment for one year can be dismissed.
• Acknowledge that the way Baltimore has always tried to do mentoring isn’t particularly effective, and look to alternative models.
• Lengthen the work day to eight hours to provide teachers with more planning time.
• Reduce the number of sick-leave days from 15 to 10.
• Change the structure of raises so that teacher salaries are tied to school responsibilities and classroom effectiveness—not the years teachers have worked in Baltimore or the number of graduate credits they have accumulated.
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WWC Reviews Research on "Read Well" for English Language Learners

The latest report from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) looks at the effectiveness of Read Well® on improving English language literacy for English language learners. This reading curriculum for kindergarten and first-grade students provides instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. The WWC reviewed five studies that investigated the effects of Read Well®, one of which meets WWC evidence standards. This study included 34 first-grade English language learner students from a school in rural Colorado. Based on this study, the WWC found Read Well® to have no discernible effects for reading achievement and potentially positive effects for English language development.
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Regular bedtimes linked to better language, reading and math skills in preschool children


Study highlights the importance of a consistent bedtime reinforced by intentional parenting practices for a child's overall cognitive development

Children in households with bedtime rules and children who get adequate sleep score higher on a range of developmental assessments.

Results indicate that among sleep habits, having a regular bedtime was the most consis¬tent predictor of positive developmental outcomes at 4 years of age. Scores for receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities were higher in children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed. Having an earlier bedtime also was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures.

The study also provides a wealth of information about typical sleep patterns in 4-year-old children. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, preschool children should get a minimum of 11 hours of sleep each night. Getting less than this recommended amount of sleep, the study's authors found, was associated with lower scores on phonological awareness, literacy and early math skills. The data show that many children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep, which may have negative consequences for their development and school achievement.

"Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on children's emergent literacy and language skills," said lead author Erika Gaylor, PhD, early childhood policy researcher for SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. "Pediatricians can easily promote regular bedtimes with parents and children, behaviors which in turn lead to healthy sleep."

Gaylor recommended that parents can help their preschooler get sufficient sleep by setting an appropriate time for their child to go to bed and interacting with their child at bedtime using routines such as reading books or telling stories.

The study involved a nationally representative sample of approximately 8,000 children who completed a direct assessment at 4 years of age as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort. This analysis included information from parent phone interviews when their child was 9 months old and again when their child was 4 years old. Nighttime sleep duration was based on parent-reported usual bedtime and wake time. Developmental outcomes were assessed using a shortened set of items from standardized assessments. Results were controlled for potential confounders such as child and bedtime characteristics.

"This is by far the largest study of its kind to date. Previous studies have included up to 500 children in this age group," Gaylor said. "It's fortunate to have this rich dataset available for analysis."

Last year a study in the August 2009 issue of Sleep Medicine also emphasized the importance of an early bedtime and consistent bedtime routine for children. It reported that children with a bedtime after 9 p.m. took longer to fall asleep and had a shorter total sleep time. Children without a consistent bedtime routine also were reported to obtain less sleep.

The SLEEP 2010 abstract supplement is available for download
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Having friends who attend the same school is key to good grades


Enrichment classes, after-school activities, tutoring, not to mention the gentle prodding of parents — all may count in giving a child that extra academic edge. But parents still puzzle over what the right mix is to make their children excel in school.

It turns out that the missing ingredient could be the friends a child keeps, specifically their in-school friends, the ones who sweat the same tests and homework and complain about the same teachers, rather than those they may make outside of school.

UCLA professor of psychiatry and senior study author Andrew J. Fuligni and first author Melissa R. Witkow, a former graduate student of Fuligni's, report in the online edition of the Journal of Research on Adolescence that adolescents with more in-school friends than out-of-school friends had higher grade-point averages and — complementing this finding — that those with higher GPAs had more in-school friends.

The authors found that these associations were similar for boys and girls and cut across all ethnic groups.

Drawing from three Los Angeles–area high schools, the researchers recruited 629 12th-grade students, split almost evenly by sex, with an average age of 18; no single ethnic group predominated. The students filled out a questionnaire, then kept a diary in which they logged such activities as time spent studying, time spent with in-school or out-of-school friends, and other activities.

Roughly speaking, the more in-school friends a child had, the higher the GPA.

"We found that within an adolescent's friendship group, those with a higher proportion of friends who attended the same school received higher grades," said Witkow, now an assistant professor of psychology at Willamette University. "This is partially because in-school friends are more likely to be achievement-oriented and share and support school-related activities, including studying, because they are all in the same environment."

This is not to dismiss or put a negative spin on a child's friends from outside school, Witkow said. "These friendships are still important in terms of fulfilling adolescents' social needs, and they are not necessarily always detrimental to achievement. For instance, friendships that form in academic settings outside of school, such as at an enrichment class, may very well promote achievement."

The next step, the authors say, is further research to better understand how out-of-school friendships are formed and how they are different from in-school friendships. The authors hope to expand their studies to draw upon younger ages and earlier grades.

Still, the findings from this work suggest that, on average, in-school friendships help support achievement because of the ways in which they engage adolescents in the school experience, Witkow said. The bottom line? Know who your child's friends are.

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How smarter school lunchrooms increase fruit sales


How many more apples can a school cafeteria sell if the fruit is displayed in an attractive basket and placed in a well-lit area?

That's the sort of question researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab are exploring as part of their Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative—an effort to discover and share low-cost changes that can be made in lunchrooms to subtly guide smarter food choices.

Led by Professor Brian Wansink, the researchers observed a 58 percent increase in fresh fruit sales at one Upstate New York school simply by moving the fruit from a stainless steel tray and into a basket lit by an ordinary desk lamp.

"The best solution is often the simplest one," Wansink explained. "Rather than penalizing a less healthy food choice, we just made the healthier item much more likely to be noticed and chosen."
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Graduation and Dropout Rates from 2007-08


Nationwide, 75 percent of public high school students who started as freshmen in the fall of 2004 graduated high school in 2008—up from 74 percent who graduated on time in the spring of 2007.

This First Look presents findings associated with public high school graduation and event dropout counts for the 2007–08 school year. These data were collected as part of the Common Core of Data (CCD), a universe survey of public schools operating in the United States and associated other jurisdictions by the National Center for Education Statistics. Other findings include:

• The Average Freshmen Graduation Rate increased by at least 1 percentage point in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

• Four percent of high school students dropped out of school during the 2007–08 school year. This marks a decrease of at least half a percentage point for 14 states and the District of Columbia from 2006-07.
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Educational Researcher devotes May issue to 'Report of the National Early Literacy Panel'


The May 2010 issue of Educational Researcher (ER)
provides a significant scholarly review of Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP). Educational Researcher is one of six journals published by the American Educational Research Association. In the special issue, NELP Panel members Timothy Shanahan and Christopher J. Lonigan provide a summary of the report followed by nine peer-reviewed commentaries written by literacy scholars who examine the report and offer suggestions for where it illuminates issues and where it is lacking or ambiguous. The commentaries are followed by two responses, written by Shanahan, Lonigan, and Christopher Schatschneider.

The National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) Report
, issued in 2009, presents the work of the nine-member panel, convened in 2002 by the National Institute for Literacy, in consultation with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Education, Head Start Bureau, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report provides the findings of meta-analyses of approximately 300 studies showing which early literacy measures correlate with later literacy achievement. It also provides a series of meta-analyses on ways of teaching early literacy (preschool and kindergarten) that have been published in refereed journals. These analyses examine the effects of code-based instruction, shared book reading, home/parent interventions, preschool/kindergarten interventions, and early language teaching

The May ER takes up the topic of early literacy where Developing Early Literacy leaves off, by creating a forum for additional dialogue on future research that needs to be conducted, including translational research and research that will build a sufficient knowledge base concerning early literacy skill development.

"The nine [commentary] contributors to this special issue have a long-standing commitment to the early literacy field; they also have broad-based research expertise, an understanding of early literacy practice, and a grasp of the ways in which policy reports, such as the NELP report, if left unexamined, can influence research and pedagogy with unintended consequences," writes Anne McGill-Franzen, the issue's guest editor, in her introduction. "The views of these authors as well as those of the panel are widely respected, and their insight is critical, particularly now as early literacy policy is taking shape on a national level."

Early literacy—the central focus of NELP—confers a transformative power on individuals, and there now is "a sense of urgency about the need for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers to understand the limitations as well as the strengths of the NELP report," adds McGill-Franzen, Professor of Teacher Education and Director of the Reading Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education.

Commentary authors also provide perspectives that look backward and forward, noted McGill-Franzen. As an example, she cited the lead commentary by P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert, which locates the NELP report "within the universe of scientific reports on reading research, spanning more than five decades' worth of policy contexts."

In a reflective article, Susan B. Neuman, formerly Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the George W. Bush administration, writes, "We need to expose children to language-rich and content-rich settings that can help them acquire the broad array of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that build a foundation for literacy and content learning." Neuman, who conducts research on early childhood policy and early reading instruction in urban settings, is now Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan, School of Education. She argues that effective interventions must mediate a knowledge and technology gap between economically advantaged children and those who are poor.

Data reported by NELP underrepresented the importance of language, a slowly acquired and highly complex ability, David K. Dickinson and his colleagues contend. They expressed concern that schools will target the easier to teach code skills, such as letter knowledge and the ability to link sounds to symbols, rather than language and background knowledge, which are harder to teach and may require longer interventions.

Commenting on prekindergarten and kindergarten classroom instructional practice, William H. Teale and his colleagues argue that the NELP report is "both insufficiently clear and overly narrow with respect to what preschool teachers should be focusing on instructionally in early literacy."

One of the many aspects of early literacy addressed in the ER commentaries focused on dual-language learners (DLLs). Kris D. Gutiérrez and her colleagues point out that dual-language learners are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States, and yet gaps in knowledge exist. They call for "a more expansive research agenda for young DLLs," noting that the field would benefit from "longitudinal studies that examine how children exposed to two languages from an early age develop in relation to their specific individual differences and sociocultural contexts, including different types of educational interventions."

The intent of the ER special issue is to provide an introduction to the NELP report and commentaries that foster continued conversation and inquiry around critical issues in the field of early literacy research and practice.

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