Kindergarten Teachers DO Make a Difference


From the New York Times:

Researchers... examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives...

Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
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Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — the most common childhood psychiatric condition in the United States — are less likely to finish high school on time than students with other mental-health disorders that often are considered more serious, a large national study by researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine has found. The study found that nearly one third of students with ADHD, twice the proportion as students with no psychiatric disorder, either drop out or delay high school graduation.
The study also examined the effects of substance use and abuse on high school graduation and found that among students who engage in substance use, including alcohol and other drugs, teens who smoke cigarettes are at greatest risk of dropping out.

There are three types of ADHD: the hyperactive type, the inattentive type and the combined type. Symptoms include not being able to pay attention, daydreaming, being easily distracted and being in constant motion or unable to remain seated.

“Most people think that the student who is acting out, who is lying and stealing, is most likely to drop out of school. But we found that students with the combined type of ADHD — the most common type — have a higher likelihood of dropping out than students with disciplinary problems,” said Julie Schweitzer, an expert on ADHD at the UC Davis MIND Institute, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s senior author. "This study shows that ADHD is a serious disorder that affects a child’s ability to be successful in school and subsequently in a way that can limit success in life.”

Published online in July in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the study “Childhood and Adolescent-onset Psychiatric Disorders, Substance Use, and Failure to Graduate High School on Time” found that 32.3 percent of students with the combined type of ADHD — which incorporates hyperactive and inattentive symptoms — drop out of high school. Fifteen percent of teens with no psychiatric disorder drop out.

“Understanding the factors that contribute to dropping out of high school has major public-health implications, given that a third of youth in this country do not complete high school on time. Supporting mental-health interventions for students may have a significant impact on reducing high school dropout,” said study author Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics and an adolescent medicine specialist at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

In 2006 an estimated 4.5 million children in the United States between 5 and 17 years of age were diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 9.5 percent of boys and 5.9 percent of girls are diagnosed with the condition.

The next most at-risk teens are students with conduct disorder, whose symptoms include aggression, lying, stealing, truancy, vandalism and a general pattern of rule-breaking. Thirty-one percent of students with conduct disorder drop out, said Joshua Breslau, associate professor of internal medicine and the study’s lead author. Breslau said the research shows there are different pathways to poor high school performance.

“This study identifies multiple ways in which mental-health problems can affect education at the high school level. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder impacts achievement because it affects how well students are able to perform basic classroom tasks from paying attention to turning in their homework,” said Breslau. “Students with conduct disorder are able to do just as well as everyone else academically but disciplinary issues and dealing with the routines of school life may cause them to drop out.”

For the study, the researchers examined the joint, predictive effects of childhood- and adolescent-onset psychiatric and substance-use disorders on failure to graduate high school on time, using data collected during 2001 and 2002 from the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions. A total of approximately 43,000 racially diverse male and female participants over 18 from throughout the United States were interviewed by U.S. Census Bureau representatives about the age of onset of psychiatric diagnoses, substance use and high school graduation. Respondents were excluded if they had less than eight years of education or arrived in the U.S. after age 13. A total of 29,662 of the respondents were included in the UC Davis study.

Among childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders, diagnosis with either the combined type of ADHD or the inattentive type — at 28.6 percent — resulted in the highest dropout rates. Students with mania, a mood disorder, and panic disorder dropped out at 26.6 and 24.9 percent respectively. Students with other mental-health disorders had dropout rates in the high teen- to low 20-percent range. The disorders included specific phobias (like fear of water), social phobia (fear of people), post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and depression.

But more predictive of dropping out than all other mental-health disorders except ADHD and conduct disorder was tobacco use. The study found that 29 percent of students who used tobacco failed to complete high school on time. Only 20 percent of teens who used alcohol and 24.6 percent of teens who used drugs dropped out. However, when the three substances were examined together, the effect of drinking and using drugs was no longer significant, Breslau said.

"Kids who smoke had a much higher risk of dropping out than kids who drink alcohol or use other drugs. When we looked at smoking in combination with other substances, drinking and using drugs did not increase one’s risk of not completing high school on time. There’s no additional increment of risk of dropping out once you account for smoking,” Breslau said.

The reasons why this is the case merits further investigation, he said. However, existing literature suggests that poor educational performance contributes to smoking. If this is true, then breaking the connection between smoking and education may be essential to further reduction in the prevalence of smoking, Breslau said.

The implication of the findings, according to Breslau, is that the impact of mental health on education is likely to arise from a small set of conditions.

“This study suggests that focusing on a relatively narrow and hopefully more manageable range of mental-health conditions may have a consequential impact on improving school performance in secondary education.”

Schweitzer said that devising effective interventions to help students with ADHD graduate high school would have important long-term societal consequences.

"If you don’t have your high school degree, you’re going to have less income. You can’t buy houses and cars. People who drop out of high school are more likely to be reliant on public assistance. This is a disorder that has serious long-term impacts on your ability to be successful and contribute to society, not just in school, but for the rest of your life,” she said.
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Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public School Districts


Three states -- California, Florida, and Texas -- accounted for almost half of the 100 largest public school districts, according to new report. Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2007–08 is an annual report that provides basic information from the Common Core of Data about the nation's largest public school districts in the 2007-08 school year. The data include such characteristics as the number of students and teachers, number of high school completers, the averaged freshman graduation rate, and revenues and expenditures. Other findings include:

• These 100 largest districts enrolled 22 percent of all public school students and employed 21 percent of all public school teachers in 2007-08.

• The districts produced 20 percent of 2006-07 school year public high school completers (both diploma and other completion credential recipients).

• Current per-pupil expenditures in fiscal year 2007 ranged from a low of $5,886 in the Alpine District, Utah to a high of $21,801 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Building Strong Families Project


Strengthening and stabilizing the relationships of low-income couples has emerged as a focus of national policy development and testing. If unmarried parents can be helped to fulfill their aspirations for stable, healthy lives together, there could be important benefits for child well-being. Building Strong Families (BSF) is an initiative to develop and evaluate programs designed to help interested unwed parents achieve those goals. This website is designed to document the progress of the BSF project, the services being tested, and the results of the evaluation.

Strengthening Unmarried Parents’ Relationships: The Early Impacts of Building Strong Families

This report provides impacts of BSF on couples about 15 months after they applied for the program. Early impacts show that, when results are averaged across the eight individual programs included in the evaluation, BSF did not achieve its primary objective of improving the stability and quality of the couples’ relationships. Results varied across the eight programs with positive effects for one program and negative effects for another. Other programs had little or no effects on relationships. BSF had overall positive effects for African American couples—improving the quality of their relationships.

A response to an evaluation of the above report.

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Special Report: Fighting the Dropout Crisis

Complete report

The Washington Monthly sent reporters to three large urban school districts—New York City, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon—that have worked strenuously in recent years to apply the new research to improve their chronically low graduation rates. The reports that have come back from the field give reason for qualified optimism. Yes, it is possible to move the needle on the dropout problem, but good intentions and effort are no guarantee of success.

All three cities have taken remarkably similar approaches to the problem. Those approaches fall into two general categories: fixing existing low-performing high schools, often by breaking them into smaller schools; and creating alternative schools and programs—“multiple pathways,” in the jargon of the trade—that cater to the diverse needs of those kids who are on the verge of dropping out or already have done so. All three cities also have very active civil sectors—business groups, nonprofits, local and national foundations—which are playing central roles in the reform dramas, from spurring school officials into action to designing and running alternative programs.

And yet despite these similarities, the three cities have had quite different outcomes. New York has achieved the most impressive progress in lowering its dropout rate. Philadelphia has made real if less dramatic headway. Portland, on the other hand, has seen zero measurable improvement. These results are almost the opposite of what you’d expect. After all, New York and Philadelphia are much bigger districts with much higher concentrations of poverty.

Policy choices can’t really explain the differences, since all three districts tried similar approaches. Rather, the explanation seems to lie in leadership and attitude. The New York schools have had one very capable and driven chancellor, Joel Klein, running them for eight years, whereas Philly and Portland have each gone through several superintendents, each bringing his or her own vision. And in New York, Klein has fostered an atmosphere of high expectations and accountability: every student is presumed capable of getting a diploma, and schools are measured and rewarded based on that assumption. In Portland, the opposite has been true. Dropouts and at-risk kids, especially those in the city’s alternative schools, are coaxed into showing up in class, not challenged to actually graduate, and almost no adults are held accountable for results. (On the expectations-and-accountability front, Philly is closer to the New York model, and so is its level of success.)

What do these three case studies tell us about whether the Obama administration’s efforts are likely to work? For one thing, they suggest that success, if it comes, will not be uniform, but will vary according to the quality of local leaders and the engagement of local civic actors. For another, it confirms that school districts can get the job done and ought to be held responsible for doing so. “The problem is too big and complex for individual schools to handle on their own,” notes education consultant Chris Sturgis. They also suggest that the administration is on the right track with the policies it’s pushing, but not totally so. The vast majority of the funds the administration is making available are for turning around existing, low-performing high schools (by bringing in new leaders, new teachers, or turning them into charter schools). But turning around chronically low-performing schools is awfully hard to pull off and will likely fail more often than it succeeds.
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The Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is a non-profit organization that funds and operates a neighborhood-based system of education and social services for the children of low-income families in a 100 block area in Harlem, New York.

The HCZ education components include early childhood programs with parenting classes; public charter schools; academic advisors and afterschool programs for students attending regular public schools; and a support system for former HCZ students who have enrolled in college. Health components include a fitness program; asthma management; and a nutrition program. Neighborhood services include organizing tenant associations, one-on-one counseling to families; foster care prevention programs; community centers; and an employment and technology center that teaches job-related skills to teens and adults.

The HCZ has received remarkable media attention, including a best-selling book, Whatever it Takes, and a 60 Minutes feature.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned on replicating the HCZ as the first part of his plan to combat urban poverty:
The philosophy behind the project is simple — if poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence; failing schools and broken homes, then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works . . . . And it is working . . . . And if we know it works, there's no reason this program should stop at the end of those blocks in Harlem.

True to his campaign promise, President Obama instituted a Promise Neighborhoods Initiative intended to replicate the HCZ in 20 cities across the country. The program received a $10 million appropriation from Congress in 2010, under which 339 communities applied to the U.S. Department of Education for planning grants to create Promise Neighborhoods. The administration has requested $210 million in new funding for the 2011 budget year to move from planning to implementation.

What is unique and attention-getting about the HCZ is that it is designed on the assumption that it takes both effective, achievement-oriented schools and strong social and community services to support the educational achievement of children in poverty. The presumption is that effective schools alone are insufficient. In this the HCZ and Promise Neighborhoods are aligned with the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, an advocacy position taken by an influential group of proponents of the view that public investment in the communities and society in which children are reared is a necessary condition for education reform.

Does the HCZ Work?

The entire rationale and appeal of the HCZ is its holistic, neighborhood-based approach to the educational achievement of low-income students. With the administration proposing hundreds of millions of dollars of new federal funding for Promise Neighborhoods, with the shape of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under influence from the Broader, Bolder philosophy, and with the academic future of a generation of poor children on the line, we should ask whether the HCZ works, and whether it works as advertised.

Whether the HCZ works and whether it works as advertised are different questions. Imagine that students who receive the full panoply of HCZ services have superior achievement to similar students who don’t receive those services. We would conclude that the HCZ works. But what if students who received the schools-only component of the HCZ did as well as students who received the full treatment? Then we would have to conclude that the HCZ works, but not as advertised. Under the latter scenario the HCZ would be an exemplar of the very schools-only approach that the Broader, Bolder proponents reject as ineffective.

HCZ works, at least to raise academic achievement among the population of students whose families try to enroll them in HCZ charter schools. Harvard researchers Dobbie and Fryer conducted a study of the HCZ, The Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, that took advantage of a New York City regulation that requires public charter schools to select students by lottery when the demand for slots exceeds supply.

By comparing academic outcomes for lottery winners vs. lottery losers, they were able to create the conditions of a randomized experiment, thus assuring that any differences among the two groups in academic outcomes were due solely to the opportunity for enrollment in the HCZ charter schools. The researchers found very large effects on academic achievement, particularly for math at the end of middle school. They conclude that, “the effects in middle school are enough to reverse the black-white achievement gap in mathematics.”
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Taking music seriously


Scientific review of how music training primes nervous system and boosts learning

Those ubiquitous wires connecting listeners to you-name-the-sounds from invisible MP3 players -- whether of Bach, Miles Davis or, more likely today, Lady Gaga -- only hint at music's effect on the soul throughout the ages.

Now a data-driven review by Northwestern University researchers that will be published July 20 in Nature Reviews Neuroscience pulls together converging research from the scientific literature linking musical training to learning that spills over to skills including language, speech, memory, attention and even vocal emotion. The science covered comes from labs all over the world, from scientists of varying scientific philosophies, using a wide range of research methods.

The explosion of research in recent years focusing on the effects of music training on the nervous system, including the studies in the review, have strong implications for education, said Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature perspective, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Scientists use the term neuroplasticity to describe the brain's ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person's life. The studies covered in the Northwestern review offer a model of neuroplasticity, Kraus said. The research strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication.

An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, she said, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.

"The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant," Kraus said. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.

"A musician's brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound," Kraus said. "In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean." The efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication, she said.

The Nature article reviews literature showing, for example, that musicians are more successful than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Children who are musically trained show stronger neural activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability than children who did not receive music training.

And musicians trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies are primed to understand speech in a noisy background. They exhibit both enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities that give them a distinct advantage for processing speech in challenging listening environments compared with non-musicians.

Children with learning disorders are particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of background noise, according to the article. "Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise."

Currently what is known about the benefits of music training on sensory processing beyond that involved in musical performance is largely derived from studying those who are fortunate enough to afford such training, Kraus said.

The research review, the Northwestern researchers conclude, argues for serious investing of resources in music training in schools accompanied with rigorous examinations of the effects of such instruction on listening, learning, memory, attention and literacy skills.

"The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, " the researchers conclude.

"Music training for the development of auditory skills," by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, will be published July 20 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.
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Summer reading keeps skills strong


Researchers find evidence that summer reading is key to maintaining or improving students' reading skills

To children, the summer slide means water, garden hoses and slippery plastic sheets. To teachers, the "summer slide" is the noted decrease in reading skills after a vacation without books.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty members Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen have completed a three-year study showing a significantly higher level of reading achievement in students who received books for summer reading at home. Allington and McGill-Franzen are both professors of education; McGill-Franzen is also director of the Reading Center in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

Allington compares the slide in reading ability to an athlete's fitness. "Just like hockey players lose some of their skills if they stay off their skates and off the ice for three months, children who do not read in the summer lose two to three months of reading development," Allington said.

According to the professors' research, the summer reading setback is the primary reason for the reading achievement gap between children who have access to reading materials at home and those who do not. Students who do not have books at home miss out on opportunities to read. Those missed opportunities can really add up.

"What we know is that children who do not read in the summer lose two to three months of reading development while kids who do read tend to gain a month of reading proficiency," Allington said. "This creates a three to four month gap every year. Every two or three years the kids who don't read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do."

In designing their study, Allington and McGill-Franzen set up three important differences from previous studies on the summer slide. First, while other experiments lasted one year, their study ran three years from 2001 to 2004. McGill-Franzen said their study was designed to cover three summers because previous researchers had demonstrated that a single summer school session did not boost achievement.

Second, earlier studies had given the students pre-determined books, but in the Allington and McGill-Franzen study, students chose their books. Pop-culture books were the favorites, featuring musicians, athletes and television and movie characters.

"Research has demonstrated that choice makes a very important contribution to achievement," said McGill-Franzen.

The third difference was the grade levels. McGill-Franzen and Allington targeted younger students, who were in first and second grades at the beginning of the study. Previous studies were done on students completing third through sixth grades. The researchers randomly selected 852 children to receive books and 478 students to be in the control group.

The researchers' study found that summer reading is just as effective, if not more so, as summer school. McGill-Franzen and Allington compared their outcomes with studies on the impacts and costs of summer school attendance and found the summer reading program effect equal or even greater.

"We found our intervention was less expensive and less extensive than either providing summer school or engaging in comprehensive school reform," Allington said. "The effect was equal to the effect of summer school. Spending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for each child began to alleviate the achievement gap that occurs in the summer."

To get books into the hands of all children for summer reading, Allington and McGill-Franzen suggest keeping school libraries open during the summer break, sending books home with the students; and building on children's prior knowledge by providing books on pop culture and local animals and habitats.

The researchers' study will be published in the fall issue of Reading Psychology.
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Large National Study Strongly Links Educational Leadership to Student Achievement


A new study released today, the largest of its kind, offers important new evidence affirming the strong connection between what school leaders do and student achievement - and sheds new light on what effective leadership involves.

The conclusions in the report, "Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning," by researchers Kyla Wahlstrom and Karen Seashore Louis from the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development and Kenneth Leithwood and Stephen Anderson from the University of Toronto, have broad implications for the understanding of how leadership affects learning across the United States.

The study demonstrates a strong, positive link between educational leaders - particularly principals - and student learning outcomes. As the topic of student achievement and test scores dominates policy discussions at the local, state, and national levels, schools and districts face mounting pressure to improve student outcomes. The report provides vital information for policymakers and educational leaders to help students succeed.

Researchers of the $3.5 million study, funded by The Wallace Foundation and conducted over six years, conducted more than 1,000 interviews, surveyed more than 8,000 teachers and administrators, and observed in more than 350 classrooms at all grade levels.

Learning from Leadership is an important contribution to The Wallace Foundation's 10-year body of research into understanding and improving leadership in educational settings. The study's authors examined leadership extensively and in its many forms - from the state and district levels to individual principals, school board members, teachers, and community members. They found that collaboration among these stakeholders correlated with improved student learning.

Learning from Leadership discusses how superintendents and principals can most effectively drive gains in student achievement and how and why their practices result in instructional improvement in some contexts and not others.

Among the report's key findings:

- Student achievement is higher in schools where principals share leadership with teachers and the community; principals play a key role in encouraging others to join.

- Higher-performing schools generally ask for more input and engagement from a wider variety of stakeholders.

- District support for shared leadership fosters the development of professional communities. Where teachers feel attached to a professional community, they are more likely to use instructional practices that are linked to improved student learning.

- In districts where levels of student learning are high, district leaders are more likely to emphasize goals and initiatives that reach beyond minimum state expectations for student performance.

Major challenges to effective school leadership include:

- The stark lack of district support for principals' professional development and a lack of regular contact between most principals and their district office. District leadership also needs to increase support for principals to use data-driven decision making.

- The direct negative effect of principal turnover on student achievement due to disruptions in cooperation and shared leadership with teachers

- A lack of real and sustained leadership directed to improve instruction in high schools

- The absence of comprehensive approaches to education reform in most states

The rich set of findings in Learning from Leadership can help educators, policymakers, and other thought leaders understand how student achievement is linked to leadership at all levels of the education system, from the classroom to the state capital. The report's implications are vast, but one message is clear: "Schools and districts that don't have good leaders will struggle," said Wahlstrom. "So leadership absolutely makes a difference. I can't say that strongly enough: Good leadership is critical to good education."
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Common Core standards better than English standards in 37 states, math standards in 39 states


The K-12 academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics produced last month by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are clearer and more rigorous than those currently in use in three-quarters of the states, reports the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the basis of a comparison released today. Specifically, the Common Core standards are stronger than today’s ELA standards in 37 states and today’s math standards in 39 states. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bests both ELA and math standards.

Yet California, Indiana and the District of Columbia have ELA standards that are clearly superior to those of the Common Core. And the ELA standards of 11 states (and the math standards of 11 states plus D.C.) are “too close to call,” meaning they’re in the same league as the Common Core standards.

In The State of State Standards – and the Common Core – in 2010, content experts reviewed the ELA and math standards of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the Common Core standards; each was awarded a letter grade. This is the latest in a series of Fordham evaluations of state standards going back to 1997.

Reviewers gave the Common Core math standards the grade of A-minus and the Common Core ELA standards a B-plus.

Here are the TOO CLOSE TO CALL standards:

TOO CLOSE TO CALL - English language arts

Massachusetts A-
Tennessee A-
Texas A-
Common Core B+
Colorado B+
Georgia B+
Louisiana B+
Oklahoma B+
Virginia B+
Alabama B
Arizona B
Florida B

TOO CLOSE TO CALL - Mathematics

California A
District of Columbia A
Florida A
Indiana A
Washington A
Common Core A-
Georgia A-
Michigan A-
Utah A-
Alabama B+
Massachusetts B+
Oklahoma B+
Oregon B+
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Student test scores and future proficiency

The New York State Education Department – together with testing experts Daniel Koretz and Howard Everson (both are members of the State’s Technical Advisory Group) and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state’s assessment contractor – conducted a series of studies and surveys concerning student scores and student proficiency. Among their findings were the following:
• Nearly a quarter of students in all New York State two and four-year institutions of higher education take remedial coursework;
• Students taking more remedial courses in their first year of college are less likely to persist in higher education;
• Students who score below an 80 on their math Regents exam have a much greater likelihood of being placed in a remedial college course;
• Students who score above an 80 on their math Regents exam have a good chance of earning at least a C in college-level math;
• Students who score at least a 75 on their English Regents exam have a good chance of earning at least a C in Freshman Composition;
• Institutions of higher education around the state consider a score of 75-85 on Regents exams to be the bare minimum for college readiness;
• Students at the current Level 3 proficiency standard on their 8th grade math exam have less than a 1 in 3 chance of earning an 80 on their math Regents;
• Students in high need districts at the current Level 3 proficiency standard on their 8th grade ELA exam have about a 50-50 chance of earning a 75 on the English Regents;
• Students scoring below 80 on their math regents and below 75 on their English Regents exams have a high likelihood of scoring below 500 on the SAT.
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How New York City's New Small Schools Are Boosting Student Achievement and Graduation Rates


Since 2002, New York City has closed more than 20 underperforming public high schools, opened more than 200 new secondary schools, and introduced a centralized high school admissions process in which approximately 80,000 students a year indicate their school preferences from a wide-ranging choice of programs. At the heart of these reforms lie 123 new “small schools of choice” (SSCs) — small, academically nonselective, four-year public high schools for students in grades 9 through 12. Open to students at all levels of academic achievement and located in historically disadvantaged communities, SSCs were intended to be viable alternatives to the neighborhood high schools that were closing.

SSCs are more than just small. They were authorized through a demanding competitive proposal process designed to stimulate innovative ideas for new schools by a range of stakeholders and institutions, from educators to school reform intermediary organizations. The resulting schools emphasize strong, sustained relationships between students and faculty. Each SSC also received start-up funding as well as assistance and policy protections from the district and other key players to facilitate leadership development, hiring, and implementation.

The first step in New York City’s high school admissions process is to require eighth-graders to select in rank order of priority up to 12 high schools that they want to attend; when an SSC has more applicants than spaces, the district uses a lottery-like process to randomly assign students to the SSC or to another school in the district. These lotteries provide the basis for an unusually large and rigorous study, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of the effects of SSCs on students’ academic achievement.

This report presents encouraging findings from that study, providing clear and reliable evidence that, in roughly six years, a large system of small public high schools can be created and can markedly improve graduation prospects for many disadvantaged students. Specifically:

* By the end of their first year of high school, 58.5 percent of SSC enrollees are on track to graduate in four years compared with 48.5 percent of their non-SSC counterparts, for a difference of 10.0 percentage points. These positive effects are sustained over the next two years.

* By the fourth year of high school, SSCs increase overall graduation rates by 6.8 percentage points, which is roughly one-third the size of the gap in graduation rates between white students and students of color in New York City.

* SSCs’ positive effects are seen for a broad range of students, including male high school students of color, whose educational prospects have been historically difficult to improve.
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K-12 Education in Philadelphia Undergoing Dramatic Change

A comprehensive new study from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that K-12 education in Philadelphia is undergoing a sweeping transformation that has given parents a new array of choices about where to send their children to school but has left families thinking they still do not have enough quality options.

The study, Philadelphia’s Changing Schools and What Parents Want from Them, finds that the three largest educational systems in the city—traditional public schools, charter schools and Catholic schools—have changed dramatically in size and composition during the past decade. Only one of them, the charter schools, has been growing. Indeed, charters, which have been in existence for only 13 years, now have more students than the Catholic school system.

The report features a first-of-its-kind poll of and focus groups with parents of school-age children in Philadelphia. Among the findings of the survey are these:

* Seventy-two percent of those polled say that parents in the city do not have enough good choices when it comes to picking a school.
* Forty-two percent say they find it “very hard” or “somewhat hard” to get enough information about the educational options for their children.
* Sixty-two percent of parents with children in district-run schools have actively considered sending their kids to charter, Catholic or private schools. Sixty-eight percent of African American parents and 77 percent of all parents under the age of 30 have considered doing so.

School safety is a major concern for parents, and it accounts for one of the biggest differences in how the three groups of school parents—traditional public, charter and Catholic—rate their schools. Only 31 percent of parents with children in district-run schools think that their schools are doing an excellent job on safety, compared to 67 percent of charter-school parents and 73 percent of Catholic-school parents. And 29 percent of parents with children in district-run schools say their schools are “only fair” or poor on safety, compared to 5 percent for charters and 1 percent for Catholic schools.

The study’s heavy focus on parental attitudes and experiences is a reflection of how the educational landscape in Philadelphia is changing. With the increased emphasis on parental choice in the city and in cities throughout America, what parents want takes on greater importance.

“The quiet transformation in K-12 education in Philadelphia that has taken place in the past decade has given parents more choices and has put more pressure on them to make those choices wisely,” said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative. “But parents across the board say they welcome the challenge and wish they had even more options.”

Over the course of the past decade, the traditional public schools, those run directly by the School District of Philadelphia, have lost 19 percent of their enrollment, falling from 200,435 in the 2000–2001 school year to 162,662 in 2009–2010. At the same time, the district offers more choices than ever before, particularly at the high-school level. In 2002, there were 38 public high schools, most of them large, so-called comprehensive schools. Today, there are 63, many of them specialized schools open to students citywide.

During the decade, the district’s overall budget, which includes spending on charter schools, has doubled to $3.2 billion. This infusion of money has been used to reduce class size, target additional funds to the poorest schools and launch a major capital improvement program to repair older schools and build new ones. Even so, the district’s per pupil spending, as calculated in 2009 by the state Department of Education, remains among the lowest in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania region and slightly below the statewide median.

Enrollment at the Catholic schools, operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is down 37 percent over the same period, dropping from 47,102 to 29,884. Twenty-three grade schools and two high schools have closed. The once-robust Catholic educational system in the city, which gets high ratings for educational quality from the families it serves, is being weakened by two factors over which it has little control. One is the reduction in the number of church-registered Catholics in Philadelphia, down by 180,000 since 1990. The other is competition from charter schools, which, unlike the Catholic schools, charge no tuition.

Enrollment in the charter schools, which are independently run but publicly funded, has grown by 170 percent, from 12,284 in 2000 to 33,107 in 2009, surpassing the Catholic schools as the city’s largest alternative system. Those figures do not count another 3,019 students staying at home to attend cyber charters over the Internet. And the waiting lists for the city’s 67 charter schools are only slightly smaller than the total enrollment. Currently, there is one student in a charter school for every five in a traditional public school. With the district now turning over several troubled schools to charters, that ratio will almost surely rise in the years to come.

Among the other findings of the poll are these:

* Sixty percent of all parents rate the performance of the school district as “only fair” or poor. At the same time, 71 percent of parents with children in district-run schools judge their own children’s schools to be good or excellent.
* Charter-school parents are highly-satisfied with the education their children are receiving, with 90 percent of them rating their children’s schools good or excellent. Despite reports of financial irregularities involving some charter operators, 62 percent of all the parents polled, regardless of what sort of school their children attend, think that the growth of the charters has been a good thing.
* Catholic-school parents are similarly happy with their schools, with 92 percent of them handing out good or excellent ratings. Seven percent of Catholic-school parents rate their schools as “only fair” or poor, compared to 8 percent of charter-school parents and 28 percent of parents with children in district-run schools. But in a focus group consisting of respondents to the poll, Catholic-school parents said they worry about the long-term future of their schools.

The poll, conducted by Abt SRBI Public Affairs in consultation with veteran pollster Cliff Zukin, included representative samples of parents with children in public, charter and Catholic schools, making it possible to compare levels of satisfaction among these three broad options. To further probe parental attitudes regarding K-12 education in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Research Initiative conducted focus groups among the three groups of parents polled.

This study does not include the independent, private schools that account for about 7 percent of K-12 enrollment in Philadelphia.
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Behavior Problems in School Linked to Two Types of Families


Contrary to Leo Tolstoy's famous observation that "happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," a new psychology study confirms that unhappy families, in fact, are unhappy in two distinct ways. And these dual patterns of unhealthy family relationships lead to a host of specific difficulties for children during their early school years.

"Families can be a support and resource for children as they enter school, or they can be a source of stress, distraction, and maladaptive behavior," says Melissa Sturge-Apple, the lead researcher on the paper and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

"This study shows that cold and controlling family environments are linked to a growing cascade of difficulties for children in their first three years of school, from aggressive and disruptive behavior to depression and alienation," Sturge-Apple explains. "The study also finds that children from families marked by high levels of conflict and intrusive parenting increasingly struggle with anxiety and social withdrawal as they navigate their early school years."

The three-year study, published July 15 in Child Development, examines relationship patterns in 234 families with six-year-old children. The research team identified three distinct family profiles: one happy, termed cohesive, and two unhappy, termed disengaged and enmeshed.

Cohesive families are characterized by harmonious interactions, emotional warmth, and firm but flexible roles for parents and children. "Think the Cosby family," says Sturge-Apple, offering an example from the popular TV series about the affable Huxtable family.

Enmeshed families, by contrast, may be emotionally involved and display modest amounts of warmth, but they struggle with high levels of hostility, destructive meddling, and a limited sense of the family as a team. Sturge-Apple points to the emotionally messy Barone family in the family sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond as a good example of an enmeshed family.

Finally, disengaged families, as the name implies, are marked by cold, controlling, and withdrawn relationships. The seemingly pleasant suburban family in the movie Ordinary People provides a classic illustration of a disengaged family, according to the authors. Reacting to the death of their oldest son, the parents in the film retreat emotionally, creating a barren home environment in which feelings cannot be discussed.

Although the study demonstrates solid evidence of a family-school connection, the authors caution that dysfunctional family relationships are not responsible for all or even most behavior difficulties in school. Other risk factors, such as high-crime neighborhoods, high-poverty schools, troubled peer circles, and genetic traits also influence whether one child develops more problems than another child, explains co-author Patrick Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

The new study builds on the long-established family systems theory, which consistently has identified the three types of families using clinical observations. This study, however, is the first to empirically confirm their existence across multiple relationships within the family: in the marriage, in child-parent interactions, and among all three together, says Davies. "We were really able to look at the big picture of the family," he adds, "and what was striking was that these family relationship patterns were not only stable across different relationships but also across time, with very few families switching patterns."

The research found that children from disengaged homes began their education with higher levels of aggressive and disruptive behavior and more difficulty focusing on learning and cooperating with the classroom rules. These destructive behaviors grew worse as the child progressed through school.

By contrast, children from enmeshed home environments entered school with no more disciplinary problems or depression and withdrawal than their peers from cohesive families. But as children from both enmeshed and disengaged homes continued in school they began to suffer higher levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness and alienation from peers and teachers. The authors conclude that, "children in the early school years may be especially vulnerable to the destructive relationship patterns of enmeshed families."

In the study, families were assessed using parent and teacher reports and through direct observation in the lab. Families came to the lab each year for two visits spaced one week apart. Both parents and the child played Jenga, an interactive game, for 15 minutes, and on alternate weeks each parent interacted alone with the child for five minutes of play and five minutes of clean up. Parents were also asked to discuss two topics picked to elicit disagreement. The sessions were videotaped and evaluated for behavior patterns.

The study examined how the parents related to one another, noting any aggression, withdrawal, or avoidance and observing their ability to work as a team in the presence of the child. The researchers coded the emotional availability of the parent toward the child, whether he or she provided praise and approval or simply ignored the youngster during shared activities. Observers also followed how the child related to his or her mother and father, noting whether attempts made to engage the parents were brief and half-hearted or sustained and enthusiastic.
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Student Victimization in U.S. Schools

About 4.3 percent of students ages 12 through 18 reported that they were victims of crime at school in the 2006–07 school year. The National Center for Education Statistics collects data on student criminal victimization through its sponsorship of the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, administered by the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. The purpose of this report is to provide data on student criminal victimization and the characteristics of crime victims and nonvictims from the 2007 collection. It also provides findings on student reports of the presence of gangs and weapons, the availability of drugs at school, and bullying and cyberbullying.

Other findings include:

• Three percent of students ages 12 through 18 reported being victims of theft, 0.4 percent of students reported a serious violent victimization (which includes sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) and 1.6 percent of students reported a violent victimization (which includes simple assault plus the serious violent crimes).

• An equal percentage of males and females reported being victims of theft at school.

• Students who reported any criminal victimization at school also reported they were the targets of traditional (62.2 percent) and electronic (11.6 percent) bullying. Traditional bullying occurs at school and includes whether another student had made fun of them, spread rumors about them, threatened them with harm, pushed or shoved them, forced them to do something they did not want to do, excluded them from activities, or destroyed their property. Electronic bullying can occur anywhere via the Internet, instant messaging, and text messaging.

• A higher percentage of students reporting any crime avoided specific places at school because of fear of attack or harm than did nonvictims (13.1 vs. 5.4 percent).
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The Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups


The Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups report examines educational progress and challenges in the United States by race and ethnicity. This report shows that over time, the numbers in each race/ethnicity who have completed high school and continued their education in college have increased. Despite these gains, the rate of progress has varied. Differences on key indicators of educational background, performance, and attainment persist among the various races and ethnicities studied.

• In 2008, a higher percentage of children who identified as Asian (51 percent) had a mother with at least a bachelor’s degree than did children who identified as White (36 percent), as two or more races (31 percent), as Black (17 percent), as American Indian/Alaska Native (16 percent), and as Hispanic (11 percent).
• Forty-eight percent of public school 4th-graders were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2009, including 77 percent of Hispanics, 74 percent of Blacks, 68 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 29 percent of White 4th-graders.
• From 1999 to 2008, the total number of Black and Hispanic students taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam more than tripled, from 94,000 to 318,000 students. In 2008, Asians had the highest mean AP exam score (3.08) across all exams, while Blacks had the lowest (1.91).
• Among 8th-graders in 2009, 63 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders had no absences in the past month, compared to 35 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives.

In 2008, 44 percent of White 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges and universities (a 16 percentage point increase from 1980); approximately 32 percent of Black 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges or universities (an increase of 12 percentage points from 1980); and 26 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled (an increase of 10 percentage points from 1980).
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WWC Reviews Research on Reading Programs, Head Start Study, and Abstinence-Only Education Study


Programs designed to improve reading comprehension and fluency are the focus of two new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) interventions reports.

Reading Apprenticeship® is an instructional approach targeted to middle, high school, and community college students that aims to improve reading fluency and comprehension through the use of professional development activities for teachers and an emphasis on peer interaction, problem-solving, and knowledge-building for students. Based on the research evidence, the WWC found the approach to have potentially positive effects on comprehension for adolescent learners.

The second intervention report from the WWC reviews the research on READ 180®, a reading program designed for students in grades 3–12 whose reading achievement is below the proficient level. READ 180® aims to address gaps in students’ skills through the use of computer software, literature, and direct instruction in reading skills. The WWC identified 56 studies investigating the effects of READ 180® on students with learning disabilities.

Two new quick reviews are also available this week. These reviews give timely guidance about whether education research in the news meets WWC standards.

The WWC Quick Review on the “Head Start Impact Study: Final Report” examines the effects of offering the federal program Head Start to preschoolers. Head Start aims to improve the school readiness of low-income children by providing preschool education and health and nutrition services.

The “Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months” quick review looks at a study that examined whether abstinence-only education program based on behavioral change theory could reduce sexual behavior over a 24-month follow-up period.research at:
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Drug Testing in Schools


Students involved in extracurricular activities and subject to in-school drug testing reported less substance use than comparable students in high schools without drug testing, according to a new evaluation released today by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Although illicit substance use among adolescents has declined over the past decade, it remains a concern. Under one approach to address this problem, students and their parents agree to students being tested for drugs (and in some cases, tobacco or alcohol) on a random basis as a condition of participation in athletic or other school-sponsored competitive extracurricular activities.

The study, The Effectiveness of Mandatory- Random Student Drug Testing, examined 7 districts that were awarded grants in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to implement mandatory-random drug testing programs in their 36 high schools. The districts volunteered to be in the program and were spread across seven states. Because these were districts committed to adopting such programs and they were clustered in mostly Southern states, the study results cannot be generalized to all high schools nationally.

The evaluation involved more than 4,700 students and compares the substance use reported by those in “treatment” high schools randomly assigned to implement the drug testing program immediately (in the 2007-08 school year) with the substance use reported by students in “control” schools assigned to delay implementing the program for a year (until 2008-09).

The goal of the mandatory drug testing program was to reduce student substance use in three ways -- by deterring substance use, by detecting substance use, and by having spillover effects on other students in the school as they observe and are influenced by the behavior of their peers.

Students were surveyed before and after the program started about: their participation in school activities; their attitudes about school and knowledge of school policy; their attitudes about substance use and awareness of drug testing; and their report of substance use in the past month, in the past six months and their lifetime. Researchers focused primarily on students who participated in activities that would make them subject to the random drug testing, but also examined the impacts on other students.

Key findings include:

• Some 16 percent of students subject to drug testing reported using substances covered by their district’s testing in the past 30 days, compared with 22 percent of comparable students in schools without the program. Similar patterns were observed for other measures of student-reported substance use, but those differences were not statistically significant.

• In the one-year period studied, there was no evidence of any “spillover effects” to students who were not subject to testing -- the percentage who reported using substances in the past month was the same at both treatment and control schools.

• There was no effect on any group of students’ reported intentions to use substances in the future. Of the students subject to drug testing, 34 percent reported that they “definitely will” or “probably will” use substances in the next 12 months, compared with 33 percent of comparable students in schools without the program.

• There was no evidence that the drug testing reduced students’ participation in extracurricular activities or affected their connection to school.

• Researchers also examined whether students in schools with drug testing , perhaps because they were more aware of the consequences of substance use, might be underreporting such use. However, there were no differences between the treatment and control groups in students’ reports of how honest they were in completing the surveys or in how often students didn’t respond to particular questions. Also, there were no inconsistencies in reports of lifetime use between the surveys they completed before knowing whether their school required drug testing and afterwards.

The study was directed by the National Center for Education Evaluation within IES and conducted by RMC Research Corporation and Mathematica Policy Research.
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Voters Want Federal Action on High School Reform, According to New National Poll


Improving the quality of public high schools through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a voting issue for over eight in ten voters, according to a new national poll released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Additionally, over half of voters say that their decision to vote for a current elected official in the 2010 congressional elections will be affected if Congress takes no action to reform the law currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The Alliance commissioned this bipartisan poll to gain insight into Americans' views of the public education system," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. "The overwhelming takeaway from the poll is that Americans are concerned about the growing problems with the nation's high schools and they want President Obama and the Congress to act—this year—to improve them."

According to the poll, voters see a clear connection between the nation's ability to educate its students and its ability to compete, but believe that the nation's public high schools currently do a poor job of preparing students for success. For example, two thirds of voters believe that a high dropout rate has a lot of impact on the nation's economy (69 percent) and America's ability to compete in the global economy (65 percent). However, nearly seven in ten voters (69 percent) say that a diploma from America's public high schools does not prepare graduates to get a good-paying job, while less than half of voters believe that a high school diploma prepares graduates to succeed in college.

"The poor state of the economy has gotten most of the headlines going into the congressional election cycle, but, as our poll shows, voters are keenly aware of how a poor education system hampers the economy's ability to operate at full speed," said Wise.

According to the poll, voters want President Obama, the U.S. Congress, and the nation's governors to pay more attention to the nation's public high schools. Nearly half of voters (49 percent) think President Obama is not paying enough attention to public high schools while majorities of voters say that Republicans in Congress (62 percent) and Democrats in Congress (58 percent) are not paying enough attention to the state of public high schools in the United States.

"The belief that the president and the Congress are not paying enough attention to the nation's public high schools crosses party lines," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, one of the firms that conducted the poll. "This finding is significant during a time when large segments of the voting public are polarized going into the congressional elections."

One way the federal government could act to improve high schools is through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Overall, more than half (52 percent) of the nation's voters believe NCLB has done a fair or poor job for public schools in their community. The demand for change to NCLB is much clearer, with over three quarters of voters wanting Congress to change NCLB to improve the quality of public high schools this year. Only 11 percent believe it should stay the way it is now.

"NCLB was groundbreaking when it was signed into law," said Wise. "But almost ten years later it's a compact disc in an iPod world—useful but in desperate need of an upgrade. By reauthorizing ESEA, the Congress can address the aspects of NCLB that time, experience, and research have shown need to be significantly improved or updated while doing more to help ensure that every student graduates from high school prepared for college and a career."

According to the poll, voters overwhelmingly agree, with nearly eight in ten saying it is personally important to them that Congress change ESEA to improve the quality of public high schools and three quarters (74 percent) saying that it is important for Congress to act this year.

"Incumbents and challengers alike have been looking for an issue that speaks to both Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming congressional elections," said Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research and Consulting. "This poll finds that solid majorities of Democrats (86 percent), Republicans (70 percent), and Independents (69 percent) say it is personally important to them for Congress to change ESEA to improve public high schools."

Voters are clear that bipartisanship is important but should not hold up ESEA reauthorization. In fact, two thirds of voters (66 percent) would be more likely to support a candidate who calls for Democrats and Republicans to work together, but add that passage of ESEA should not be delayed if both parties cannot reach agreement.

"As congressional incumbents head into the final months of their session as well as heated elections, this poll shows that the public will reward them for action while many will punish them for inaction," said Wise.

Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting designed and administered this survey in a bipartisan manner for the Alliance for Excellent Education. The survey was conducted via telephone by professional interviewers and reached a total of one thousand likely voters nationwide. The survey was conducted June 15–23, 2010.
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National Indicators of the Well-Being of Children


The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics has released "America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2010." This report continues a series of annual reports to the nation on the well-being of children in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences, in cooperation with 21 other federal agencies, contributes indicators to the report and supports its production.

According to the report's section on education, eighth graders’ average mathematics scale scores increased between 2007 and 2009, as did eighth graders’ average reading scale scores. Not all the report's findings were positive, however; the proportion of youth aged 16-19 who were neither enrolled in school nor working increased from 8 percent to 9 percent between 2008 and 2009.

The 2010 Childstats website includes 68 tables and 59 figures that describe the population of children and depict their well-being in the areas of family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health.
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A significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences


Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences.

The findings -- which undermine the assumption that all speakers have a core ability to use grammatical cues -- could have significant implications for education, communication and linguistic theory.

The research, conducted by Dr Ewa Dabrowska, showed that basic elements of core English grammar had not been mastered by some native speakers.

The project assumed that every adult native speaker of English would be able to understand the meaning of the sentence:

"The soldier was hit by the sailor."

Dr Dabrowska and research student James Street then tested a range of adults, some of whom were postgraduate students, and others who had left school at the age of 16. All participants were asked to identify the meaning of a number of simple active and passive sentences, as well as sentences which contained the universal qualifier "every."

As the test progressed, the two groups performed very differently. A high proportion of those who had left school at 16 began to make mistakes. Some speakers were not able to perform any better than chance, scoring no better than if they had been guessing.

Dr Dabrowska comments: "These findings are ground breaking, because for decades the theoretical and educational consensus has been solid. Regardless of educational attainment or dialect we are all supposed to be equally good at grammar, in the sense of being able to use grammatical cues to understand the meaning of sentences.

"Of course some people are more literate, with a larger vocabulary and greater exposure to highly complex literary constructions. Nevertheless, at a fundamental level, everyone in a linguistic community is supposed to share the same core grammar, in the same way that given normal development we can all walk."

The supposition that everyone in a linguistic community shares the same grammar is a central tenet of Noam Chomsky's theory of universal grammar. The theory assumes that all children learn language equally well and that there must therefore be an underlying common structure to all languages that is somehow "hard-wired" into the brain.

Dr Dabrowska has examined other explanations for her findings, such as limitations to working memory, and even so-called "test wiseness," but she concluded that these non-linguistic factors are irrelevant.

She also stressed that the findings have nothing to do with intelligence. Participants with low levels of educational attainment were given instruction following the tests, and they were able to learn the constructions very quickly. She speculates that this could be because their attention was not drawn to sentence construction by parents or teachers when they were children.

She adds: "Our results show that a proportion of people with low educational attainment make errors with understanding the passive, and it appears that this and other important areas of core grammar may not be fully mastered by some speakers, even by adulthood.

"These findings could have a number of implications. "If a significant proportion of the population does not understand passive sentences, then notices and other forms of written information may have to be rewritten and literacy strategies changed.

"What's more, the existence of substantial individual differences in native language attainment is highly problematic for one of the most widely accepted arguments for an innate universal grammar: the assumed 'fact' that all native speakers of a language converge on essentially the same grammar. Our research shows that they don't."
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Full report

In the Higher Education Amendments of 1986 (P.L. 99-948), Congress created the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance to be an objective, nonpartisan source of expertise and advice on student aid policy. Its legislative charge is to make recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of Education that maintain and improve college access and persistence for needy students.

Through four administrations, eleven Congresses, and four reauthorizations, the Committee has made every effort to fulfill this mandate. In the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (P.L.110-315), Congress reauthorized the Committee and charged it to monitor and report annually on the condition of college access and persistence through 2014. Specifically, the annual report is required to contain analyses and policy recommendations regarding the adequacy of total grant aid and the postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates of low- and moderate-income students.

The major focus of this first report is on 4-year college enrollment and bachelor’s degree attainment, not because every high school graduate must or should enroll in a 4-year college or pursue a bachelor’s degree, but because our financial aid system is founded on the principle that any youth, regardless of family income, should have the financial opportunity to do so, if he or she has the aspiration and prepares adequately. This longstanding principle is highly practical: Americans benefit greatly from increased educational attainment and economic productivity. Because our nation’s competitiveness in the world economy is a particular focus and concern of federal policy today, assessing the extent to which total grant aid is adequate to ensure enrollment and degree completion of academically qualified high school graduates is of overriding importance.

Specifically, this report focuses on how financial concerns about college expenses and financial aid, triggered by high prices of 4-year public colleges net of all grant aid, affect low- and moderate-income high school graduates – in particular the steps they take toward college enrollment, and the consequences for degree completion. For analytical purposes, to focus as much on finances as possible, the report excludes a large portion of low- and moderate-income 8th and 10th graders who did not graduate from high school or graduated without being at least minimally prepared to attend a four-year college. But nothing in this report should be construed as implying that these students, who are also deserving recipients of Title IV assistance, should be left behind, or that scarce funds should be shifted away from them to their peers who are better prepared.

Title IV has multiple purposes, one of which is to offset the continuing disparity in college preparation among poor and wealthy students. And the data show clearly that we are a long way from achieving a level playing field in that regard. The same is true of the large population of low- and moderate-income nontraditional students. As do previous Advisory Committee reports, this one does not deal with that problem directly, but chooses to focus on the underlying access and persistence pipeline that gives rise to this population in the first place. Financial barriers to college are a primary cause of delayed and part-time enrollment to begin with, and become a major obstacle to re-enrollment of nontraditional students in pursuit of a college degree. Lastly, while this report centers on 4-year college enrollment and completion, we recognize and wish to call attention to our belief that all types of postsecondary training, certificates, and degrees contribute greatly to our nation’s well-being by enhancing workforce skills, critical thinking,
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Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008-09 - First Look


This report presents findings on the numbers and types of public elementary and secondary schools in the United States and the territories in the 2008-09 school year, using data from the Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey of the Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system.

Findings include:

• About 49 million students attended 98,706 operating public elementary/secondary schools in the 2008–09 school year.
• Almost 1.4 million students, approximately 3% of public school students, were enrolled in 4,694 charter schools in 2008-09.
• Across all active regular public schools with students, the student/teacher ratio in 2008-09 was 15.8. It ranged from 11.0 in Vermont to 27.0 in Utah.
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Inactivity 'no contributor' to childhood obesity epidemic


Fatness leads to inactivity, but inactivity does not lead to fatness

A new report from the EarlyBird Diabetes Study suggests that physical activity has little if any role to play in the obesity epidemic among children. Obesity is the key factor behind diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. All the programs to increase activity to fight obesity are for naught?

EarlyBird is based at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, UK, and has been observing in detail a cohort of city school children for the past 11 years.

A review published in 2009 of all trials using physical activity to reduce childhood obesity showed weight loss amounting to just 90g (3oz) over three years, and the EarlyBird study wanted to know why the trials were so ineffective. So they challenged some popular paradigms.

It is well known that less active children are fatter, but that does not mean – as most people assume it does – that inactivity leads to fatness. It could equally well be the other way round: that obesity leads to inactivity.

And this is the question EarlyBird was uniquely placed to answer. With data collected annually over several years from a large cohort of children, it could ask the question – which comes first? Does the physical activity of the child precede changes in fatness over time, or does the fatness of the child precede changes in physical activity over time?

And the answer, published recently in Archives of Disease in Childhood, was clear. Physical activity had no impact on weight change, but weight clearly led to less activity.

The implications are profound for public health policy, because the physical activity of children (crucial to their fitness and well-being) may never improve unless the burgeoning levels of childhood obesity are first checked. If this cannot be achieved through physical activity, the focus has to be on what – and how much – children consume.

EarlyBird has already shown how the trajectory leading to obesity is established very early in life, long before children go to school, and how most childhood obesity is associated with obesity in the same-sex parent.

While portion size, calorie-dense snacks and sugary drinks are all important contributors, early feeding errors seem crucial - and physical activity is not the answer.
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1 in 5 preschoolers in the US demonstrates mental health issues when entering kindergarten


Social competence and behavior problems that are evident at kindergarten and first grade are known to be strong predictors of a child's academic and social functioning. However, findings reported in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggest that psychosocial risk factors can be identified even earlier and can be observed during the transition from preschool to formal schooling.

The article titled "Prevalence of DSM-IV Disorder in a Representative, Healthy Birth Cohort at School Entry: Sociodemographic Risks and Social Adaptation" Dr. Alice S. Carter and colleagues report on 1,329 healthy children born between July 1995 and September 1997 in the New Haven–Meriden Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area of the 1990 Census. The researchers sought to determine the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the early elementary school years and to examine the relationship between the sociodemographic and psychosocial risk factors and these disorders.

The study sample was ascertained through birth records, and represents one of the first longitudinal studies to evaluate psychopathology in children within the United States as they negotiate the transition to school. One parent from each family of a subsample of 442 enriched for child psychopathology was interviewed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children–Version IV (DISC IV) to determine the diagnosis. Parents were surveyed about sociodemographic factors, such as parental age and education, and poverty as well as psychosocial characteristics. Both parents and teachers of the children were surveyed about social competence.

Dr. Carter and colleagues report that as children transition to formal schooling, approximately one in five (21.6%) will have a psychiatric disorder with impairment. The findings confirm that the prevalence of psychopathology during the transition to school age is not dissimilar to that documented for preschool-aged children.

In addition, the risk of comorbidity (the risk of two or more disorders of any type) was 5.8%. Within the study cohort, the prevalence of externalizing disorders was 13.8% and 11.1% for internalizing disorders. Of those individuals who had more than one disorder, more than 60% had both an externalizing and an internalizing disorder.

In the article, the researchers report, "Sociodemographic and psychosocial correlates included persistent poverty beginning in early childhood, limited parental education, low family expressiveness, stressful life events, and violence exposure. Finally, diagnostic status was significantly associated with poorer social competence and family burden."

An accompanying editorial by Dr. Neil W. Boris of Tulane University can be found in the same issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. About the study, Dr. Boris states, "More than anything, Carter et al. remind us that young children are at significant risk for psychopathology just like older children. As children transition to school age, be on the lookout for problems."

Commenting on the potential impact of their findings, Carter and colleagues observe, "Epidemological data on prevalence and risk co-incidence with disorders during the transition to school can and should inform conversations about psychosocial school readiness, early intervention, and prevention programming."

Screening for psychopathology at the transition to school age is warranted and based on the impairment data of affected children early intervention seems appropriate. Cater and colleagues further state that, "intervention should also take into account the social context, not only within the school setting but also with respect to risk factors in the home and broader community."
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Study shows real data and relevant videos make environmental issues come alive in classroom


Framing familiar environmental issues in everyday language—whether the topic is a Gulf Coast oil spill or the spread of Lyme disease—may be the key to successfully engaging high school students with conservation biology research in their ecology classes. A study, presented in the latest issue of Conservation Biology by Yael Wyner, an assistant professor at the City College of New York, and Rob DeSalle, a curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), advocates a pedagogical model where students learn about normal ecological processes (biodiversity and ecological integrity) by studying what goes wrong when human actions disturb those processes.

The authors of the study tested this "ecology-disrupted" framework using two case studies in the classrooms of more than 30 teachers in New York City public schools in 2008 and 2009. They found that students in all cases developed a better understanding of ecological concepts such as "abiotic and biotic factors" and "habitat," as well as a better understanding of how their daily life can affect the natural world.

"We hope our model will be used to encourage students to understand the complexity of ecological processes and the role of human behavior in disrupting ecosystems," said Wyner, the study's first author. "This may lead students to be more environmentally aware and perhaps be more environmentally responsible."

"Many conservation biology research studies can easily be rephrased as questions that link daily life to the particular environmental issues described in the studies," said DeSalle. "For example, a report on land use and climate change can be explored in the classroom as 'how does having a big backyard harm native wildlife?' "

In the two case studies used in the research, the authors used real data from published studies and Science Bulletin video presentations developed at the American Museum of Natural History. One study examined how highways bisecting the Sierra-Nevada Mountains are blocking the movements of bighorn sheep and leading to inbreeding, while the other study explored how salt added to roadways to melt snow was causing freshwater streams to become progressively saltier. The Science Bulletins, which are produced by the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology, a part of the Department of Education at AMNH, were screened to present students with other examples of people disrupting abiotic factors in unexpected ways.

The authors intend to modify and retest their teaching modules by introducing their "ecology-disrupted" case study model into the classrooms of 60 teachers for the 2010-2011 school year. After testing, the modules will be available for dissemination on the Museum's education website at
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Adolescent cyberbullies and their victims


Adolescent victims and perpetrators of electronic bullying appear more likely to report having psychiatric and physical symptoms and problems, according to a report in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Cyberbullying is defined as an aggressive, intentional, repeated act using mobile phones, computers or other electronic forms of contact against victims who cannot easily defend themselves, according to background information in the article. In a U.S. survey on Internet use among individuals age 10 to 17 years, 12 percent reported being aggressive to someone online, 4 percent were targets of aggression and 3 percent were both aggressors and targets. "There are several special features regarding cyberbullying when compared with traditional physical, verbal or indirect bullying such as the difficulty of escaping from it, the breadth of the potential audience and the anonymity of the perpetrator," the authors write.

Andre Sourander, M.D., Ph.D., of Turku University, Turku, Finland, and colleagues distributed questionnaires to 2,438 Finnish adolescents in seventh and ninth grade (age range, 13 years to 16 years). Of those, 2,215 (90.9 percent) were returned with sufficient information for analysis. In addition to information about cyberbullying and cybervictimization, the teens were asked to report their demographic information, general health, substance use, traditional bullying behavior and psychosomatic symptoms, such as headache and abdominal pain.

In the six months prior to the survey, 4.8 percent of the participants were only victims of cyberbullying, 7.4 percent were cyberbullies only and 5.4 percent were both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.

Being a cybervictim only was associated with living in a family with other than two biological parents; perceived difficulties in emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with other people; headache; recurrent abdominal pain; sleeping difficulties and not feeling safe at school. Being a cyberbully only was associated with perceived difficulties in emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with other people; hyperactivity; conduct problems; infrequent helping behaviors; frequently smoking or getting drunk; headache and not feeling safe at school. Being both cyberbully and cybervictim was associated with all of these conditions.

"Of those who had been victimized, one in four reported that it had resulted in fear for their safety," the authors write. "The feeling of being unsafe is probably worse in cyberbullying compared with traditional bullying. Traditional bullying typically occurs on school grounds, so victims are safe at least within their homes. With cyberbullying, victims are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

The results suggest that cyberbullying is an increasingly important type of harmful behavior, the authors note. "There is a need to create cyberenvironments and supervision that provide clear and consistent norms for healthy cyberbehavior. Clinicians working in child and adolescent health services should be aware that cyberbullying is potentially traumatizing," they conclude. "Policy makers, educators, parents and adolescents themselves should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of cyberbullying."
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Competition is a double-edged sword for teenage girls


Study compares ‘competing to win’ and ‘competing to excel’ in adolescents

Is being competitive a good or a bad thing when you’re a teenager? Well, a bit of both actually: competing to win is detrimental to girls’ social relationships and was linked to higher levels of depression, whereas this was much less the case for boys. However, competing to excel is beneficial to the well-being of both genders. A new study1 by Dr. David Hibbard from California State University and Dr. Duane Buhrmester from the University of Texas, US, finds that the influence of competitiveness on psychological well-being and social functioning in adolescents depends on both the type of competitiveness and the teenager’s gender. Their findings are published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

Competitiveness can be both a virtue and a vice. One person’s win can be another person’s loss and the drive to be better than others, when taken too far, can appear ruthless and selfish. Consequently, competitiveness may have social and emotional downsides and its effects are likely to differ for males and females. Indeed, research shows that competitiveness is rated both as more typical of adult males and as more desirable for males than for females.

To date, the implications of competitiveness for males and females during late adolescence – a time when high school seniors are looking to assert their identities for jobs that involve varying levels of ambition and competition, while at the same time working to establish close friendships and romantic relationships – have not been investigated fully.

Hibbard and Buhrmester’s work looks at the effect of two types of competitiveness on teenagers’ psychological well-being and social functioning in late adolescence: competing to win i.e. to dominate and outperform others; and competing to excel i.e. to perform well and surpass personal goals. A total of 110 twelfth-grade high school students from the Richardson Independent School District in Dallas, Texas, their best same gender friends and their parents completed questionnaires assessing a combination of competitiveness, gender-role orientation, self-esteem, depressive symptoms, loneliness, aggression, empathy, close relationship qualities, and school grades.

The authors found that teenage boys scored higher on ‘competing to win’ than girls but there were no gender differences for ‘competing to excel’ scores. For girls, competing to win was linked to higher levels of depression and loneliness and to fewer and less close friendships. Competing to excel was linked to higher self-esteem and less depression for both genders, but was largely unrelated to social functioning.

Hibbard and Buhrmester conclude: “The overarching issue this study explored was whether competitiveness as a motivational orientation is good or bad for males and females. The findings clarify, to some degree, western cultures’ ‘ambivalence’ about competitiveness. The view that competitiveness is the road to emotional well-being is supported to the extent that one is talking about competing to improve oneself or excel. On the other hand, if one is talking about competing to win or show dominance over others, then females seem to pay a socio-emotional price.”
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New study confirms positive effects of delayed school start times

A pilot study conducted in a small private high school confirms what many have been touting for years: the benefits of a delayed school start time. Judy Owens, MD, a sleep expert with Hasbro Children's Hospital, reports that a modest delay in school start time of only 30 minutes was associated with significant improvements in adolescent alertness, mood and health. Her findings are published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Inadequate sleep in adolescents, defined as less than nine hours per night, is a known problem and a major public health concern. Owens and other pediatric sleep experts have been encouraging delayed school start times to address the concern. To prove the benefits of a delayed start time in doing so, Owens conducted a study at a small private high school in Rhode Island, which delayed their start time from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Biological changes in adolescents can cause what is known as a "phase delay," which calls for later sleep onset and wake times due to a shift in circadian rhythms. The optimal sleep amount for adolescents is nine to 9 ¼ hours per night, despite the shift in their preferred wake/sleep times. Owens, who is also an associate professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School Brown University says, "On a practical level, this means that the average adolescent has difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m., so the ideal wake time is around 8 a.m."

She also notes, "In addition to these biological factors, adolescents are exposed to multiple environmental and lifestyle factors such as extracurricular activities, homework and after-school jobs, which can all significantly impact their sleep patterns. As a result of sleep loss during the week, adolescents often "sleep in" on the weekends, further contributing to a disruption of their circadian rhythm and decreased daytime alertness levels." Owens comments further, "It's not surprising that a large number of studies have now documented that the average adolescent is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy."

The consequences of sleep deprivation are far-reaching: impairments in mood, attention and memory, behavior control and quality of life; lower academic performance and a decreased motivation to learn; and health-related effects including increased risk of weight-gain, lack of exercise and use of stimulants.

During the winter term, the start time at St. George's School was delayed by 30 minutes, to 8:30 a.m. In order to avoid extending the length of the school day, small schedule changes (five to 10 minutes) were made across both academic and non-academic periods. For boarding students, lights out procedures and restrictions on use of electronics did not change.

Students who received parental permission and who agreed to participate in the study responded to an e-mail survey that was conducted both before and after the start time change. The Sleep Habits Survey (SHS) is a comprehensive 8-page self-report survey that has been administered to over 3,000 high school students in RI, as well as in a number of other countries, and is used to evaluate typical sleep and wake behaviors. It also includes scales measuring sleepiness, sleep-wake behavior problems and depression. Of the 278 students who agreed to the survey and received consent, 225 completed the first survey and 201 completed the second survey.

The study found that there was a significant average increase in sleep duration on school nights of 45 minutes across all grades (nine to 12) after the change in the school start time. The self report showed drastic declines in the percent of students who felt they "rarely/never" got enough sleep (69 percent to 34 percent), and those reporting "never" being satisfied with their sleep (37 to 9 percent).

Other findings of note are that fewer students reported being impacted by fatigue or lack of motivation, and the percent of students rating themselves as "at least somewhat unhappy" or depressed decreased significantly, from 66 percent to 45 percent. Also, there was a considerable reduction in the number of students who reported visiting the school's health center for "fatigue-related complaints," dropping from 15 percent to only five percent. Meanwhile, the health center also reported a 56 percent decrease in requests for "rest passes." Another finding supporting the benefits of the delayed start time is that teachers reported a 36 percent reduction in absences or tardiness for the first class of the day.

Overall the percent of students getting less than seven hours of sleep after the change in school start time decreased by 80 percent. Still, only a small minority of the students (11 percent) reported getting the recommended nine or more hours of sleep. Owens sums up the findings, "A modest start time delay was associated with a significant increase in self-reported sleep duration and a decrease in a number of ratings of daytime sleepiness. Perhaps most importantly, students rated themselves as less depressed and more motivated to participate in a variety of activities."

The researchers conclude, "The ongoing debate regarding the more widespread institution of later school start times is a controversial one with many logistical considerations. It is particularly important to continue to assess outcomes in schools that have implemented such a change." They also comment, "The results of this study add to the growing literature that supports the potential benefits of such an adjustment to better support adolescents' sleep needs and circadian rhythm in order to improve the learning environment and their overall quality of life."
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