Children with Food Allergies Are Often Victims of Bullying


In the first-ever study to assess the social impact of food allergies in children, Mount Sinai researchers have found that approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies, who are over the age of five, were reported to have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies.

Of those experiencing teasing or harassment, 86 percent were reported to have experienced repeated episodes. Classmates were the most common perpetrators, but surprisingly more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff. The data are reported in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers analyzed survey responses from 353 parents or caregivers of children with food allergies and food-allergic individuals. The survey was conducted at meetings of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Tarrytown, New York, Rosemont, Illinois, and Baltimore, Maryland in 2009.

“We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression, and stress for them and their parents,” said Dr. Sicherer. “However, our study is the first to explore teasing, harassment and bullying behaviors aimed at these children. The results are disturbing, as they show that children not only have to struggle with managing their food allergies, but also commonly bear harassment from their peers.”

More than 43 percent were reported to have had the allergen waved in their face and 64 percent were reported as having experienced verbal teasing. No allergic reactions resulted from the bullying, but approximately 65 percent reported resulting feelings of depression and embarrassment.

“It was recently estimated that nearly one in 25 children has a food allergy,” said Dr. Sicherer. “What is so concerning about these results is the high rate of teasing, harassment and bullying, its impact on these vulnerable children, and the fact that perpetrators include not only other children, but adults as well. Considering the seriousness of food allergy, these unwanted behaviors risk not only adverse emotional outcomes, but physical risks as well. It is clear that efforts to rectify this issue must address a better understanding of food allergies as well as strict no-bullying programs in schools.”

A previous study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that 17 percent of children in grades 6 through 10 reported being bullied. While this study was not designed to determine prevalence of bullying in children with food allergy, the number of patients bullied in the corresponding age group according to the survey is double that of the prior study.

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Assessment of US doctoral programs released, offers data on more than 5,000 programs nationwide


The National Research Council has released its assessment of U.S. doctoral programs, which includes data on over 5,000 programs in 62 fields at 212 universities nationwide. The assessment is designed to help universities evaluate and improve the quality of their programs and to provide prospective students with information on the nation's doctoral programs. (See Full Report)

"This report and its large collection of quantitative data will become in our view an important and transparent instrument for strengthening doctoral education in the United States," said the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine in a foreword to the assessment. NAS President Ralph Cicerone, NAE President Charles Vest, and IOM president Harvey Fineberg serve on the governing board for the National Research Council. "All those interested in graduate education can learn much from studying the data, comparing programs, and drawing lessons for how programs can be improved," they added.

The assessment includes a report explaining the study committee's methodology and general findings about doctoral education, along with an Excel spreadsheet containing data on characteristics for each program. The spreadsheets also include five sets of illustrative rankings that show how the data can be used to compare programs based on the importance of particular program characteristics to various users -- in this case, to faculty at participating universities. The rankings are not endorsed by the Research Council as an authoritative conclusion about the relative quality of doctoral programs, but illustrate the kinds of valuations that can be generated from the data.

A spreadsheet containing the data and illustrative rankings for all programs can be found at, along with the full text of the report and a detailed guide to the study's methodology.

The assessment provides data on the following characteristics for participating Ph.D. programs. The data were collected from institutions for academic year 2005-2006 through questionnaires distributed to faculty, administrators, and students, as well as from public sources. The data set will allow universities to update key information on a regular basis.

Publications per faculty member
Citations per publication
Percent faculty with grants
Awards per faculty member
Percent interdisciplinary faculty
Percent non-Asian minority faculty
Percent female faculty
Average GRE scores
Percent 1st-yr. students with full support
Percent 1st-yr. students with external funding
Percent non-Asian minority students
Percent female students
Percent international students
Average PhDs, 2002 to 2006
Average completion percentage
Median time to degree
Percent students with academic plans
Student work space
Student health insurance
Number of student activities offered
Illustrative Rankings Based on Data, Faculty Values

The data presented in the assessment also were incorporated into illustrative rankings of programs in each field. While the illustrative rankings should not be interpreted as definitive conclusions about the relative quality of doctoral programs, they provide important insights on how programs can be ranked according to different criteria and on the characteristics faculty value most.

Two different methods were used to determine how much importance or "weight" faculty in each field attach to 20 different program characteristics (19 in the case of computer science and the humanities fields). These weights were then applied to data on the characteristics for all of the programs in the field, resulting in two sets of illustrative rankings for each program. The illustrative rankings are given as ranges of numbers -- rather than a strict "1,2,3"-style ordering of programs -- to reflect some of the uncertainties inherent in any effort to rank programs by quality.

In addition to these two "overall" ranges of rankings, illustrative rankings are included for each program for three separate aspects of graduate education: the research activity of program faculty, student support and outcomes, and diversity of the academic environment.

The report urges prospective students, administrators, faculty members, and others to consider which characteristics are most important to them and to compare programs accordingly. Tutorials that demonstrate how to use the spreadsheets to compare programs can be found at In addition,, an independent web site not affiliated with the National Research Council, has incorporated data from the assessment into its Graduate School Guide. Users of's Guide can assign weights to the program characteristics measured by NRC and others, and rank graduate programs according to their own priorities.

Trends in U.S. Doctoral Education

The study committee also assessed the data to discern trends in U.S. doctoral education since the National Research Council's last assessment was released in 1995, based on data collected for 1993. The following comparisons are limited to programs that participated in both studies.

The number of students enrolled has increased in engineering by 4 percent and in the physical sciences by 9 percent but has declined in the social sciences by 5 percent and the humanities by 12 percent.

On average, all fields have seen a growth in the percentage of female students. The smallest growth -- 3.4 percent -- was in the humanities, which were already heavily female; the greatest growth was in engineering, where female enrollment grew by 9 percent, increasing to 22 percent overall.

The percentage of Ph.D.s awarded to students from underrepresented minority groups has increased for all fields. For example, minority Ph.D.s increased from 5.2 percent to 10.1 percent in engineering, and from 5 percent to 14.4 percent in the social sciences.

The report also includes general findings on doctoral education in the U.S. -- for example, on the amount of time it takes students to finish their degrees. Over 50 percent of students in agricultural science and engineering complete their degrees in six years or less, while only 37 percent of those in the social sciences do -- the same percentage of humanities students who complete by eight years.
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Less academically promising students should not be discouraged from setting high educational goals, according to one Kansas State University professor's research.

Chardie Baird, K-State assistant professor of sociology, and John Reynolds, Florida State University professor of sociology, looked at the mental health consequences of shooting for the stars versus planning for the probable in their publication "Is There a Downside to Shooting for the Stars? Unrealized Educational Expectations and Symptoms of Depression."

Their research, published earlier this year in the American Sociological Review, recently won the best publication award for the mental health section of the American Sociological Association.

As educators themselves Baird and Reynolds were especially interested in studying college students. Baird said recent research suggests that younger generations have ambitious educational plans.

Additionally, Baird said many social-psychological theories suggest that if people do not realize their plans, they're likely to be depressed. Baird and Reynolds wanted to see if the same would hold in the specific case of educational goals and outcomes.

"We were interested in the topic on a personal level because we want to provide the best advice to our students," Baird said. "We were also interested because there has been a real push toward college for all, and we wanted to see what the consequences might be for pushing those with apparent limited academic potential toward higher degrees."

The researchers used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which are both nationally representative secondary data sources. Their research ended with positive results: Baird and Reynolds found that there is nothing wrong with encouraging students, even less academically promising students, from pursuing their higher education goals.

"The big story is that we shouldn't really discourage students from shooting for the stars," Baird said. "At least in terms of mental health, there are no real consequences for trying and failing to meet educational plans."

The researchers coined the term "adaptive resilience," which means that people will adapt their reactions to prevent depression if they don’t meet their educational plans. For instance, people may actively work to downplay negative feedback by focusing on the best-case scenario or the lessons learned on the way to a failure.

"Considering that there are material and psychological rewards for getting more education, there is just no reason to discourage students or your children from trying, even if it looks like they don't show academic potential," Baird said. "The worst thing that could happen to them if they fail is they will not suffer from depression. The best thing that could happen is that they will live healthier, happier lives like others with higher educational attainment."
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Segregation in Public Schools

A new report published by researchers at Northeastern University ranking public, primary schools in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas finds that New England has four of the top 10 most segregated areas for Hispanic students. Springfield, Mass., is ranked second in the nation behind Los Angeles.

The report shows that 73 percent of Hispanic students in Springfield would have to switch schools for enrollment to become desegregated.

The researchers also found that segregation was highest for black students, particularly in older Midwest and Northeast metropolitan areas concluding that in Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Detroit, and Cleveland, over 80 percent of black students would have to move to another school in order for the metro area to be completely desegregated. Click here to read a story by The Boston Globe.

“This year, students returned to schools that remain largely separate and unequal,” says Nancy McArdle, adjunct associate professor in the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences.  “Many people are surprised to see that Springfield, Boston, Hartford, and Providence rank in the top 10 of most segregated areas for Hispanic children.”

Overall, researchers found that black and Hispanic children are disproportionately segregated and concentrated in high-poverty schools compared to white children throughout the country’s major metropolitan areas.

The following table shows the top 10 most and least segregated metros for blacks and Hispanics: (Scroll down)

Most segregated Most segregated Least segregated Least segregated
(black students) (Hispanic students) (black students) (Hispanic students)
1. Chicago, IL 1. Los Angeles, CA 1. Lakeland, FL 1. Honolulu, HI
2. Milwaukee, WI 2. Springfield, MA 2. El Paso, TX 2. Palm Bay, FL
3. New York, NY 3. New York, NY 3. Honolulu, HI 3. Raleigh, NC
4. Detroit, MI 4. Boston, MA 4. Boise City, ID 4. Virginia Beach, VA
5. Cleveland, OH 5. Hartford, CT 5. Albuquerque, NM 5. Lakeland, FL
6. Youngstown, OH 6. Cleveland, OH 6. Modesto, CA 6. Augusta, GA
7. Syracuse, NY 7. Chicago, IL 7. Raleigh, NC 7. Jacksonville, FL
8. Cincinnati, OH 8. Milwaukee, WI 8. Greenville, NC 8. Colorado Springs., CO
9. Springfield, MA 9. Providence, RI 9. Las Vegas, NV 9. Akron, OH
10. Indianapolis, IN 10. Allentown, PA 10. Santa Rosa, CA 10. Toledo, OH

 Some of the report’s key findings include:

• Enrollment is already “majority-minority” nationally but differs substantially across regions, with the West being almost two-thirds minority.
• Residential segregation and school assignment plans lead to high levels of school racial segregation, particularly for blacks.
• Metropolitan areas with the highest school poverty rates are concentrated in California and the Deep South.
• 43 percent of black and Hispanic students attend schools with poverty rates over 80 percent, compared to 4 percent of white students.
• Even within the same metro areas, black and Hispanic students attend schools with dramatically higher poverty rates than whites or Asians. Bridgeport and Hartford have the largest disparities.

Based on 2008-09 school year data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report, “Segregation and Exposure to High-Poverty Schools in Large Metropolitan Areas,” is published by, an online resource developed by the three Northeastern co-authors:  McArdle; Dolores Acevedo-García, associate professor and associate director of the Institute on Urban Health Research; and Theresa Osypuk, assistant professor of health sciences.

In addition, researchers point to links between racial isolation and concentrated poverty. They said children in high-poverty schools face large challenges, such as lower student graduation rates, less involved parents, and less experienced teachers.

To address inequalities, they said national policies must lead to stronger enforcement of fair housing laws, improving school and neighborhood quality, and allowing students to cross district boundaries to attend better schools.

“Schools should be designed to prepare all our students to excel,” said Acevedo-García. “The fact that such gross levels of disparity continue in American public schools must not be met with apathy or acceptance but be confronted to ensure that our children and our nation can thrive in an increasingly diverse and challenging world.” 

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The nation needs a sustained investment in education


The outlook for America's ability to compete for quality jobs in the global economy has continued to deteriorate in the last five years, and the nation needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to keep from slipping further, says a new report requested by the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, and authored by members of the committee that wrote the influential 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.

What progress has been made in addressing America's competitiveness challenges came largely as the result of the America COMPETES Act and stimulus package spending advancing its provisions, but both are due to expire soon, warned authors of the new report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.

"The Gathering Storm effort once again finds itself at a tipping point," said Norman R. Augustine, one of the new report's authors and chair of the original Gathering Storm committee. "Addressing America's competitiveness challenge is an undertaking that will require many years, if not decades." The new report assesses changes in America's competitive status since the release of Gathering Storm and the degree to which its recommendations have been implemented.

The report's authors concluded that the nation's competitive outlook has worsened since 2005, when Gathering Storm issued its call to strengthen K-12 education and double the federal basic-research budget. While progress has been made in certain areas, the latitude to fix the problems being confronted has been severely diminished by the economic recession and the growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion, the report says. Moreover, other nations have been markedly progressing, thereby affecting America's relative ability to compete for new factories, research laboratories, and jobs.

In 2007 Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, which authorized many recommendations from the Gathering Storm report. But most of the Act's measures went unfunded until the stimulus package was passed early in 2009, a package that increased total federal funding for K-12 education, provided scholarships for future math and science teachers, and funded the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which is dedicated to supporting transformational basic research on energy.
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Building Language Skills More Critical for Boys Than Girls


Developing language skills appears to be more important for boys than girls in helping them to develop self-control and, ultimately, succeed in school, according to a study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Thus, more emphasis should be placed on encouraging boy toddlers to "use their words" -- instead of unruly behavior -- to solve problems, said Claire Vallotton, MSU assistant professor of child development.

"It shouldn't be chalked off as boys being boys," Vallotton said. "They need extra attention from child-care providers and teachers to help them build language skills and to use those skills to regulate their emotions and behavior."

The study, co-authored by Catherine Ayoub from Harvard Medical School, is the first to suggest language skills have a bigger impact on boys' self-regulation than on girls'. The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

The researchers examined data on children as they aged from 1 to 3 and their mothers who participated in the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation study. As with previous research, Vallotton and Ayoub found that language skills -- specifically the building of vocabulary -- help children regulate their emotions and behavior and that boys lag behind girls in both language skills and self-regulation.

What was surprising, Vallotton said, was that language skills seemed so much more important to the regulation of boys' behavior. While girls overall seemed to have a more natural ability to control themselves and focus, boys with a strong vocabulary showed a dramatic increase in this ability to self-regulate -- even doing as well in this regard as girls with a strong vocabulary.

As the United States competes in an increasingly competitive global economy, Vallotton said education officials are focusing many of their efforts on these facets of early childhood education.

"There's been a concentrated effort lately, through policy and programs, to emphasize that kids build their social and emotional skills by the time they reach kindergarten so they can be ready to learn in that environment and throughout their school careers," Vallotton said. "Self-regulation is increasingly talked about as a pivotal skill."

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Better way to improve perceptual skills important for language comprehension and reading

Scientists long have recognized that many perceptual skills important for language comprehension and reading can be enhanced through practice. Now research from Northwestern University suggests a new way of training that could reduce by at least half the effort previously thought necessary to make learning gains.

The research also may be the first behavioral demonstration of metaplasticity -- the idea that experiences that on their own do not generate learning can influence how effective later experiences are at generating learning.

"Prior to our work much of the research into perceptual learning could be summed up as 'no pain, no gain,'" says Beverly Wright, first author of a study in the Sept. 22 Journal of Neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern. "Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain."

The findings could lead to less effortful therapies for children who suffer from language learning impairments involving perceptual skills. And they hold potential for members of the general population with an interest in enhancing perceptual abilities -- for musicians seeking to sharpen their sensitivity to sound, people studying a second language or physicians learning to tell the difference between regular and irregular heartbeats.

Previous research showed that individuals become better at many perceptual tasks by performing them again and again, typically making the training tedious and long in length. It also showed that mere exposure to the perceptual stimuli used during practice on these tasks does not generate learning.

But the Northwestern researchers found that robust learning occurred when they combined periods of practice that alone were too brief to cause learning with periods of mere exposure to perceptual stimuli. "To our surprise, we found that two 'wrongs' actually can make a right when it comes to perceptual learning," says Wright.

What's more, they found that the combination led to perceptual learning gains that were equal to the learning gains made by participants who performed twice as much continuous task training (training which by nature of its repetition and length often is onerous).

"It's as though once you get your system revved up by practicing a particular skill, the brain acts as though you are still engaged in the task when you are not and learning still takes place," says Wright, who teaches in Northwestern's School of Communication.

Wright and Northwestern researchers Andrew Sabin, Yuxuan Zhang, Nicole Marrone and Matthew Fitzgerald worked with four groups of adult participants aged 18 to 30 years with normal hearing and no previous experience with psychoacoustic tasks. Their goal was to improve participants' ability to discriminate between the pitches of different tones.

The researchers initially determined the smallest difference in pitch that participants could discriminate from a 1,000 Hertz standard tone. They then divided the participants into four groups, each of which went through a different training regimen.

Participants in one group were trained for 20 minutes per day for a week on the pitch-discrimination task. Over and over again, they were asked to tell the difference between the 1,000 Hertz tone and a lower tone but showed no improvement.

Of greatest importance for the study, participants in a second group showed significant learning gains when the same amount of target task training (20 minutes) was combined with 20 minutes of work on an unrelated puzzle while repeatedly presenting a 1,000 Hertz tone through headphones.

Impressively, the learning of the second group also was comparable to that of a third group that for a week practiced the pitch-discrimination target task for 40 minutes per day.

A fourth group of participants repeatedly exposed to a 1,000 Hertz tone for 40 minutes per day while performing an unrelated task showed no learning gains.

Further experiments revealed that the order of presentation -- whether the 20 minutes of target task training occurred before or after the 20 minutes of the related task -- did not affect learning. Each scenario yielded equal pitch discrimination learning gains.

In addition, the researchers discovered that the effectiveness of the combination of the target task training and of the unrelated training plus stimuli presentation began declining if the two tasks were separated by more than 15 minutes. Pitch discrimination learning -- or evidence of metaplasticity -- disappeared completely if the sessions were separated by four hours.
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Positive behavioral interventions programs found to improve student behavior and learning


Adopting the evidence-based procedures of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) helped 21 elementary schools reduce student suspensions, office discipline referrals and improve student academic achievement, according to a study published in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. SWPBIS is a rapidly expanding approach to improving educational environments that is estimated to be used in more than 9,000 schools nation-wide

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence (Catherine P. Bradshaw, Mary M. Mitchell, and Philip J. Leaf) randomly assigned Maryland elementary schools to either receive training in SWPBIS (21 schools) or not (16 comparison schools) and followed the schools over a five-year period.

Improving our nation's schools is a perennial challenge, yet districts often fall prey to untested and faddish approaches. Researchers found that in both the SWPBIS schools and the comparison schools, other programs were being used in the schools at the same time, including character education programs, bullying prevention and drug prevention programs (for example, D.A.R.E.). However, it was only in schools that had formal SWPBIS programs that had significant improvements in student behavior and learning.

"This study demonstrates how important it is for schools to commit to sustained implementation of SWPBIS over multiple years," said lead author Catherine Bradshaw. "We are currently examining student-level factors to identify for whom and under what conditions SWPBIS has the greatest impact."

"I'm so impressed by this research because Bradshaw and her colleagues not only documented the effectiveness of SWPBIS, they also noted that 'context matters,'" said George Sugai, the Carole J. Neag Endowed Chair and Professor of Special Education at the University of Connecticut. "Kudos to this group for conducting quality research in socially important and real contexts."

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American High Schools Increasingly Embrace Online Education


Online education is increasingly being embraced by American high schools according to a new study by the Babson Survey Research Group, Class Connections: High School Reform and the Role of Online Learning.

Using data collected from a national sample of over 400 high school principals, the study found that these administrators see online learning as meeting the diverse needs of their students whether through advanced placement, elective college courses, or credit recovery. The major reason cited for online and blended offerings is to provide courses that otherwise would not be available.

Study coauthor Anthony G. Picciano of The Graduate Center and Hunter College at City University of New York noted the critical importance for online education among the smaller and rural schools. "High schools in all locales are facing serious challenges, but rural schools probably have the most difficulty. Online and blended learning are a critical part of the strategy they are employing to deal with limited tax bases, low enrollments, and difficulty in attracting and keeping certified teachers," he said.

Concerns that online learning is not as effective as face-to-face instruction remain, yet high school administrators see benefits to online learning programs that overshadow concerns about pedagogical value - the vast majority of their schools are moving forward with their programs and looking to expand them in the future.

Other key findings include:

- Credit recovery (for students to make up courses that they did not complete) is the most popular type of online course being offered at the secondary level.

- Urban high schools, which historically have the lowest graduation rates, are embracing online credit recovery as a basic part of their academic offerings.

- High school administrators consider online elective college-level courses as an effective means for the more able students to begin their college careers.

- Survey respondents report that offering online and blended courses makes financial sense when trying to meet specific needs for small groups of students.

- Rural schools are in the vanguard in offering online and blended learning programs to their students- using online courses to overcome significant problems in funding, teacher certification, and small enrollments.
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Beginning Reading, High School Math, Study of Knowledge is Power Program, and Charter School Evaluation


The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released four new reports this week that review the research on education programs, curriculums, and strategies.

Beginning Reading

Sound Partners
is a phonics-based tutoring program that provides supplemental reading instruction to elementary school students in grades K–3 with below average reading skills. The WWC reviewed 18 studies that investigated the effects of Sound Partners on beginning readers. Based on seven studies that meet WWC evidence standards with or without reservations, the WWC found Sound Partners to have positive effects for alphabetics, fluency, and comprehension and no discernible effects for general reading achievement for beginning readers.

Read the full report.

High School Math

Core-Plus Mathematics
is a four-year curriculum meant to replace the traditional mathematics program. Courses integrate strands of algebra and functions, statistics and probability, geometry and trigonometry, and discrete mathematics. The WWC reviewed 17 studies that investigated the effects of Core-Plus Mathematics on high school students. Based on one study that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations, the WWC found Core-Plus Mathematics to have potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement for high school students.

Read the full report.

Quick Reviews

These reviews give timely guidance about whether education research in the news meets WWC standards. See how the WWC rated the research design used in the following studies:

Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools
— This study examined the effects of charter schools that are part of the the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) network on the reading and math achievement of 5th- through 8th-grade students. The study analyzed scores on state assessments for more than 5,600 students who attended 22 KIPP charter middle schools in nine states and Washington, DC, in the 2000s.

See how WWC rated this study at:

The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts: Final Report — This study examined the effect of being offered enrollment at a charter middle school on student achievement and behaviors. The study analyzed data from two cohorts of more than 2,100 students in 29 sites across 15 states between 2005 and 2008. Enrollment offers at each charter school were granted by lottery.

Read the full report

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Teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores


Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a new study issued by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.

This and other findings from a three-year experiment – the first scientific study of performance pay ever conducted in the United States – were released at a conference on evaluating and rewarding educator effectiveness hosted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt.

Paying teachers bonuses based on their performance has been a controversial issue nationwide since the 1950s, but until now the concept has never been scientifically researched.

“We tested the most basic and foundational question related to performance incentives — Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? – and we found that it does not,” Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives, said. “These findings should raise the level of the debate to test more nuanced solutions, many of which are being implemented now across the country, to reform teacher compensation and improve student achievement.”

The Project on Incentives in Teaching, called the POINT Experiment, took place over the 2007 – 2009 school years with participation by mathematics teachers in grades 5 through 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Nearly 300 teachers, approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools, volunteered to participate. The complete study, including setup and analysis, began in 2005 and ended in 2010.

POINT tested no other types of incentives or systems of support for the teachers, such as professional development or guidance on instructional practices – many of which have evolved over the five years since POINT began.

“We designed POINT in this manner not because we believed that an incentive system of this type is the most effective way to improve teaching performance, but because the idea of rewarding teachers on the basis of students’ test scores has gained such currency,” Springer said. “We sought a clean test of the basic proposition: If teachers know they will be rewarded for an increase in their students’ test scores, will test scores go up? We found that the answer to that question is no. That by no means implies that some other incentive plan would not be successful.”

Here’s how the POINT experiment worked:

Following a year of detailed project design by a multi-disciplinary team from Vanderbilt and RAND, all middle-school math teachers in Nashville were invited to volunteer for the experiment. Approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools stepped forward to participate.
Approximately half of the nearly 300 volunteers were randomly assigned to a “treatment” group, in which they were eligible for bonuses of up to $15,000 per year on the basis of their students’ test-score gains on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).
The other half were assigned to a “control” group not eligible for these bonuses. Teachers were evaluated based on an historical performance benchmark for MNPS teachers, not on competition with one another. All teachers in the treatment group had the chance to earn bonuses. (The names of participating teachers – and which group they were in – have been kept confidential by the research team.)
The annual bonus amounts were $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000. Over the course of the experiment, POINT paid out more than $1.27 million in bonuses. Overall, 33.6 percent of the original group received bonuses, with the average bonus being approximately $10,000.
Teacher attrition occurred during the experiment. About half of the 296 teachers who initially volunteered remained through the end of the third year. The teachers who left the study either left the school system, moved to other grades or stopped teaching mathematics. Only one participating teacher specifically asked to be removed from the experiment.

While there was no overall effect on student achievement across the entire treatment group, the researchers found a significant benefit for fifth graders in Year 2 and Year 3 of the experiment: fifth graders taught by teachers who earned bonuses did show gains in test scores. However, the effect did not carry over to sixth grade when students were tested the following year. Springer said this finding raises questions about what is different about fifth grade and what factors –student development, curriculum, teaching and classroom structure – may have played a role.

He also noted that implementation of POINT went smoothly, with no complaints from teachers about the calculation of bonuses, the payment of awards, bonuses they did or did not receive or the fairness of the process. This in itself is a significant finding, Springer said, because historically, teacher associations have opposed performance or merit pay plans, particularly if the pay plan awarded teachers solely on their individual value-added score.

Springer attributed this smooth implementation of the POINT experiment to a broad partnership involving the Metropolitan Nashville School Board and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools administrators, the Mayor’s Office, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, the Tennessee Education Association and the Tennessee Department of Education. The POINT experiment team received guidance and support from these organizations, as well as the participating teachers, throughout the project.

“We believe there is an important lesson here: Teachers are more likely to cooperate with a performance pay plan if its purpose is to determine whether the policy is a sound idea, than with plans being forced on them in the absence of such evidence and in the face of their skepticism and misgivings,” Springer said.

The full report is available at Archived video of the announcement will be available at that website Sept. 22.

The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development partnered with the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit public policy research institute based in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2006 to complete the study. The POINT experiment was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Performance bonuses were funded by a private donor.

Springer is an assistant professor of leadership, policy and organizations at Peabody College. For more information about Peabody College, ranked the No. 1 education school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the past two years, visit
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Pathways for State-to-District Assistance in Underperforming School Districts


This paper
begins by briefly identifying the phases of state-to-district assistance from the time of the publication of the seminal report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education on our nation’s educational failures, “A Nation at Risk,” in 1983 to the present. Since then, in each successive phase of reform, state departments of education have had to assume greater responsibility for school and district underperformance. The paper then highlights what we’ve learned from this national experience by examining the educational, organizational, and political aspects of state-to-district assistance. It provides the platform for learning from and avoiding the recurring examples of unsuccessful practices.

The third section describes the components needed in a strategy to move from mission impossible—essentially the current state of affairs—to mission possible, wherein states can achieve better results. It focuses on the threefold challenge of:

* Meeting the educational requirements of balancing state responsibilities with federal statutes and traditions of local control
* Building the organizational capacities necessary for reconfiguring the current policy compliance system into an effective service-delivery system
* Addressing the political implications of balancing political pressure with educational wisdom

The arena of state-to-district assistance includes some better practices, but not yet best practices. Therefore, this third section also includes litmus questions that state departments of education can use to guide their decision-making about where to exert leadership and utilize resources for greater impact. In short, these questions can be used to shape a new generation of interventions that are characterized by best practices.

Getting markedly better results requires leadership that understands and uses these three key levers for change to maximize the state’s impact in transforming underperforming school districts and building community capacity, thereby ensuring a better future for students. This paper will describe how these levers for change can make the state the difference maker.
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The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Study Final Report


The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade Readers

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According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, just over 70 percent of students nationally arrive in high school with reading skills that are below "proficient" — defined as demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter. Of these students, nearly half do not exhibit even partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental to proficient work at grade level. These limitations in literacy skills are a major source of course failure, high school dropout, and poor performance in postsecondary education. While research is beginning to emerge about the special needs of striving adolescent readers, very little is known about effective interventions aimed at addressing these needs.

To help fill this gap and to provide evidence-based guidance to practitioners, the U.S. Department of Education initiated the Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study — a demonstration and rigorous evaluation of supplemental literacy programs targeted to ninth-grade students whose reading skills are at least two years below grade level. As part of this demonstration, 34 high schools from 10 school districts implemented one of two reading interventions: Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL), designed by WestEd, and Xtreme Reading, designed by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. These programs were implemented in the study schools for two school years. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education funded the implementation of these programs, and its Institute of Education Sciences was responsible for oversight of the evaluation. MDRC — a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization — conducted the evaluation in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and Survey Research Management.

The complete study

The goal of the reading interventions — which consist of a year-long course that replaces a ninth-grade elective class — is to help striving adolescent readers develop the strategies and routines used by proficient readers, thereby improving their reading skills and ultimately, their academic performance in high school. The first two reports for the study evaluated the programs’ impact on the two most proximal outcomes targeted by the interventions — students’ reading skills and their reading behaviors at the end of ninth grade. This report — which is the final of three reports for this evaluation — examines the impact of the ERO programs on the more general outcomes that the programs hope to affect: students’ academic performance in high school (grade point average [GPA], credit accumulation, and state test scores) as well as students’ behavioral outcomes (attendance and disciplinary infractions). These academic and behavioral outcomes are examined during the year in which they were enrolled in the ERO programs (ninth grade), as well as the following school year (tenth grade for most students).

Overall, the findings from these reports show that over the course of ninth grade, the ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension skills and helped them perform better academically in their high school course work. However, these benefits did not persist in the following school year, when students were no longer receiving the supports provided by the ERO programs. The key findings from the study follow (the statistical significance of all impact estimates in this report is evaluated at the 5 percent level):

* The ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension skills over the course of ninth grade. Across both cohorts of participating ninth-grade students, the ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension scores by an effect size of 0.09, corresponding to an improvement from the twenty-third percentile to the twenty-fifth percentile nationally. However, 77 percent of students assigned to the ERO classes were still reading at two or more years below grade level at the end of ninth grade.

* During the ninth grade, the ERO programs also had a positive impact on students’ academic performance in core subject areas. Students’ GPA in core subject areas (English language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) was 0.06 point higher (out of a maximum of 4 points) as a result of being assigned to the ERO program (effect size = 0.07). The programs also helped students earn 0.6 percentage point more of the core credits that they need to graduate (effect size = 0.06). In the subset of high schools located in states where standardized tests are administered in ninth grade, students also scored higher on their English language arts and mathematics tests as a result of having been assigned to the ERO program; the estimated effect size of these impacts are 0.11 and 0.07, respectively.

* However, in the school year following students’ participation in the ERO programs, the programs no longer had an impact on academic performance. Estimated impacts on students’ GPA in core subject areas, credit accumulation, and standardized state test scores are not statistically significant in the school year following program participation (tenth grade for most students).

* The ERO programs did not increase students’ vocabulary scores, nor did the programs affect students’ reading behaviors or their school behaviors. The programs did not have a statistically significant impact on students’ vocabulary scores at the end of ninth grade. Nor did the programs have a statistically significant effect on how often students read school-related or non-school-related texts, or on how often students use the reading strategies taught by the two programs. Similarly, impacts on student attendance and suspensions were not statistically significant, in either the program year or the following school year.

The first two study reports also examined how well the ERO programs were implemented in the study schools, as well as the extent to which the experience of students in the ERO programs compared with the literacy support received by students not selected for the programs. A key finding from these reports is that, by the end of the second year of program operation, implementation of the reading interventions, as rated through classroom observation, was well aligned with the respective program models. In both implementation years, students in the ERO class received a greater amount of literacy support than they would have received had they not been assigned to the program.
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For 4-year-olds, interactions with teacher key to gains


Pre-kindergartners who spend much of their classroom day engaged in so-called free-choice play with little input from teachers make smaller gains in early language and math skills than children who receive input from teachers in a range of different activity settings. Low-income children benefit particularly when a higher proportion of their time is spent in individual instruction settings.

Those are the findings of a new study that appears in the September/October 2010 issue of Child Development.

"If early childhood education is to level the playing field by stimulating children's academic development, more quality instructional time spent with teachers and less free play time without teacher guidance may prepare children better for starting kindergarten," according to Nina C. Chien, a postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics at the University of California at San Diego, who led the study (Chien was at the University of California at Los Angeles at the time of the study). "Our work has implications for policy and practice."

Chien and colleagues note that teachers who modify instruction to fit children's changing needs can do so during play settings by asking thought-provoking questions or using new words to describe what children are doing, so it's not a matter of play versus instruction. But it appears that play without such teacher input doesn't support learning to the same extent as contexts involving more introduction of instructional content by teachers.

In the study, researchers looked at more than 2,700 children enrolled in public pre-kindergarten programs in 11 U.S. states; more than half the children were poor. Based on their observations, they categorized the children according to the types of settings in which they spent the bulk of their time: Some spent most of their time freely choosing from a wide variety of educational materials to play with and less time engaging in pre-academic activities. Some spent a lot of time learning individually through teacher-directed activities, focusing more on fine motor and early literacy activities. Some spent much of their time in small- and whole-group instructional activities. And some were taught by teachers who worked across a range of individual and group settings.

The researchers found that children who were engaged in free-choice play made smaller gains in language and math than the other children. The free-choice play model involving limited teacher intentional instruction is popular in many early childhood classrooms—more than half the children in this study had free-choice play as their primary pattern of activities. The study suggests that this approach may not be best for children's early achievement. In the study, the researchers noted that the children who took part in free-choice play spent little time on academic activities.

The study also found that low-income children who were guided by teachers in individual instruction made greater gains than children who spent their time primarily in other activity settings. This finding lends support to the idea that low-income children do better in a program that's focused on learning, with more time spent in individualized instruction.
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Gender gap in spatial ability can be reduced through training


Barriers to children's achievement in the areas of science, math, and engineering have become a particular concern as policymakers focus on America's economic competitiveness. A gender difference in girls' spatial abilities emerges very early in development, and researchers have suggested that this difference may be a source of gaps in achievement in math and science for girls. A new study just published in Child Development describes an intervention that is effective in eliminating the gender gap in spatial abilities. While the research doesn't yet show that the intervention leads to better achievement in science, math, and engineering for girls, this is a promising direction for supporting girls' achievement and eventual contributions in these areas.

"Given the value of good spatial skills in math and science, this study tells us that it's possible to implement intervention programs and develop curricula aimed at overcoming gender differences that many believe have a biological contribution," according to David Tzuriel, professor of psychology and education at Bar Ilan University in Israel, where the study was conducted. "We still need to see if eliminating the gender gap in spatial relations results in eliminating the gap in math and science achievement. But this is a critical first step."

The research appears in the September/October 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.

Tzuriel and a colleague studied more than 100 first graders, placing about half of them in a training program that focused on expanding working memory, perceiving spatial information from a holistic point of view rather than based on particular details, and thinking about spatial geometric pictures from different points of view. The other children were placed in a control group that took part in a substitute training program.

After eight weekly sessions, initial gender differences in spatial ability disappeared for those who had been in the first group.

This is the first study to find that training helps reduce the gender gap in spatial ability. Further work can follow up on these findings by determining whether eliminating the gender gap contributes to achievement in math and science.

"Training that starts early can prevent gender differences in spatial abilities and provide equal opportunities for girls to excel in skills that are required for success in scientific domains," according to Tzuriel.
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Cognitive skills in children with autism vary and improve, study finds


People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are thought to have a specific profile of cognitive strengths and weaknesses—difficulties appreciating others' thoughts and feelings, problems regulating and controlling their behavior, and an enhanced ability to perceive details—but few studies have tracked children's cognitive skills over time. Now new longitudinal research provides clues that can inform our understanding of ASD.

"Parents and clinicians already know that the behavioral signs of ASD wax and wane throughout development," notes Elizabeth Pellicano, senior lecturer of autism education at the Institute of Education in London, who carried out the study. "What we know a lot less about is how the cognitive skills of children with ASD change over time. In this study, we found that these skills vary from child to child, and also that some of them can improve over time."

The research, which was conducted in Western Australia, appears in the September/October 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.

The cognitive strengths and weaknesses typically exhibited by people with ASD include difficulties predicting others' behavior based on their thoughts and feelings (so-called theory of mind) and problems regulating and controlling their behavior (termed executive function), combined with an aptitude for detecting parts of objects or small details (also called weak central coherence).

The study assessed 37 children with ASD and 31 typically developing children when they were 5 to 6 years old and again three years later. The researcher explored children's theory of mind by asking children to watch a series of social interactions on video and predict a character's behavior based on his or her mental state. She tested children's executive function by having them take part in problem-solving tasks that required them to plan ahead and show flexibility. And she assessed children's central coherence by asking them to construct patterns from wooden blocks and search for shapes hidden in pictures.

On the whole, Pellicano found, children with ASD exhibited the same profile that's typically associated with ASD, both at the start of the study and three years later. But a closer look at individual children's patterns of performance revealed that not all children with ASD displayed the same profile of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Instead, the profiles of cognitive skills varied from one child to the next: For example, while one child with ASD showed difficulties in theory of mind alone, another child showed problems in theory of mind plus executive function.

Furthermore, although previous research has reported little change over time in theory of mind and executive function skills of children with ASD, this study found that most of the children's skills in these areas improved considerably over time: Most of the children had better appreciation of others' thoughts and feelings, and they were better able to plan, regulate, and control their thoughts and actions over the study's three years.

"These findings are encouraging," notes Pellicano. "They stress the importance of understanding the breadth of cognitive skills—a set of weaknesses and strengths—in children with ASD, and how these skills progress over time. A key question for the future is whether there are approaches that can facilitate progress in some of these areas."
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High-quality child care for low-income children: Long-term benefits


More than 12 million U.S. children under age 6 attend child care or preschool programs. A new longitudinal study of low-income children has found that children in high-quality preschool settings had fewer behavior problems in middle childhood, and that such settings were particularly important for boys and African American children.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Boston College, Universidad de Los Andes, Loyola University Chicago, and Northwestern University, appears in the September/October 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.

"This study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting the need for policy and programmatic efforts to increase low-income families' access to high-quality early care and education," according to Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study.

The researchers looked at about 350 children from low-income families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio when they were preschoolers (ages 2 to 4) and again in middle childhood (ages 7 to 11). The children were part of the Three-City Study, a long-term study of the well-being of low-income children and families in the years following 1996 welfare reform. The authors note that the families in the study used child care normally available in their communities, including center-, Head Start, and home-based programs, rather than model or intervention programs.

Children who attended more responsive, stimulating, and well-structured settings during preschool had fewer externalizing behavior problems (such as being aggressive and breaking rules) in middle childhood, according to the study.

High-quality child care was particularly important for boys and African American children, the study found. These children seem to be especially responsive to the added supports of stimulating and responsive care outside the home.

"Beyond a few model early intervention programs and a handful of short-term longitudinal studies, our knowledge is limited concerning the implications of child care experiences for low-income children's later development," notes Votruba-Drzal. "This study strengthens our understanding of how the varying quality of child care experiences available to children in low-income families shapes children's development into middle childhood."
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Children’s brain development is linked to physical fitness


Researchers have found an association between physical fitness and the brain in 9- and 10-year-old children: Those who are more fit tend to have a bigger hippocampus and perform better on a test of memory than their less-fit peers.

A bigger hippocampus in nine- and ten-year-old children appears to boost their performance on a relational memory task, said University of Illinois doctoral student Laura Chaddock. | Photo courtesy Laura Chaddock
The new study, which used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the relative size of specific structures in the brains of 49 child subjects, appears in the journal Brain Research.

“This is the first study I know of that has used MRI measures to look at differences in brain between kids who are fit and kids who aren’t fit,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Art Kramer, who led the study with doctoral student Laura Chaddock and kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman. “Beyond that, it relates those measures of brain structure to cognition.”

The study focused on the hippocampus, a structure tucked deep in the brain, because it is known to be important in learning and memory. Previous studies in older adults and in animals have shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. A bigger hippocampus is associated with better performance on spatial reasoning and other cognitive tasks.

“In animal studies, exercise has been shown to specifically affect the hippocampus, significantly increasing the growth of new neurons and cell survival, enhancing memory and learning, and increasing molecules that are involved in the plasticity of the brain,” Chaddock said.

Rather than relying on second-hand reports of children’s physical activity level, the researchers measured how efficiently the subjects used oxygen while running on a treadmill.

“This is the gold standard measure of fitness,” Chaddock said.

The physically fit children were “much more efficient than the less-fit children at utilizing oxygen,” Kramer said.

When they analyzed the MRI data, the researchers found that the physically fit children tended to have bigger hippocampal volume – about 12 percent bigger relative to total brain size – than their out-of-shape peers.

The children who were in better physical condition also did better on tests of relational memory – the ability to remember and integrate various types of information – than their less-fit peers.

“Higher fit children had higher performance on the relational memory task, higher fit children had larger hippocampal volumes, and in general, children with larger hippocampal volumes had better relational memory,” Chaddock said.

Further analyses indicated that a bigger hippocampus boosted performance on the relational memory task.

“If you remove hippocampal volume from the equation,” Chaddock said, “the relationship between fitness and memory decreases.”

The new findings suggest that interventions to increase childhood physical activity could have an important effect on brain development, Kramer said.

“We knew that experience and environmental factors and socioeconomic status all impact brain development,” he said.

“If you get some lousy genes from your parents, you can’t really fix that, and it’s not easy to do something about your economic status. But here’s something that we can do something about,” Kramer said.
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The Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning


This paper presents the first experimental evidence on the effects of live versus internet media of instruction. Students in a large introductory microeconomics course at a major research university were randomly assigned to live lectures versus watching these same lectures in an internet setting, where all other factors (e.g., instruction, supplemental materials) were the same. Counter to the conclusions drawn by a recent U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of non-experimental analyses of internet instruction in higher education, the authors find modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students.
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Big Racial Gap in Suspensions of Middle School Students


Middle schools across the country are suspending children with alarming frequency, particularly in some large urban school districts, where numerous schools suspend a third or more of their black male students in a given year, according to a new study: Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis.

The study found that African-American children are suspended far more frequently than white children, in general, with especially high racial differences in middle school, causing them to miss valuable class time during a crucial period in their academic and social development.

In a national sample of more than 9,000 middle schools, 28.3 percent of black males, on average, were suspended at least once during a school year, nearly three times the 10 percent rate for white males. Black females were suspended more than four times as often as white females (18 percent vs. 4 percent).

For all students in the schools examined, the suspension rate was 11.2 percent. Hispanic males faced a 16.3 percent risk of suspension.

In 18 urban districts examined more closely, the average suspension rate for all students was 22.2 percent, double the average for all districts. The study found that 175 middle schools in these districts suspended more than one third of their black male students. Of those, 84 suspended more than half the black males enrolled. Schools with high rates of suspension were also found for other racial groups.

"It’s clear from these findings that zero-tolerance policies are pushing too many children out of school at a critical point in their education and are having a disproportionate impact on students of color," said Marion Chartoff, a senior SPLC staff attorney specializing in education issues.

The study adds to a growing body of research questioning the fairness and effectiveness of zero-tolerance polices, which often mandate suspensions for specified offenses.

"As the number of suspensions for kids of all races and all grades has risen dramatically, the gap between suspension rates for blacks and whites has more than tripled – from about 3 percentage points in the 1970s to over 10 percentage points today,” Losen said. “The incredibly high frequency of suspension use in urban middle schools, and the large numbers of youth of color who miss school as a result, is rarely discussed in debates about what we must do to improve our schools."

The researchers focused on middle schools because studies suggest that suspensions in those grades may have significant, long-term repercussions for students and because few previous studies have separated middle school data from that for all grades, masking the extraordinarily high frequency of suspension in middle schools.

Using 2006 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights – the most recent data available – the study examined suspensions in approximately 9,220 middle schools in every state in the country. This data was used to calculate the percentage of a given racial or ethnic group suspended at least once during a school year.

Most of the 18 urban districts studied had several schools that suspended more than 50 percent of a given racial/gender group. In the Palm Beach County, Fla., school district, for example, the suspension rate for black males was 53 percent. The Milwaukee, Wis., school district had a suspension rate of 52 percent for black females.

"The study shows very high rates of discipline for black students in some of our large urban districts," Skiba said. "The important policy question this raises is whether we as a society are comfortable with putting this many students out of school, especially since we know about the negative effects of being out of school."

An earlier study of all out-of-school suspensions in one state found only 5 percent were issued for disciplinary incidents typically considered serious or dangerous, such as possession of weapons or drugs. The remaining 95 percent were either categorized as “disruptive behavior" or "other."

The study released today also notes there is, in general, no evidence that racial disparities in school discipline are the result of higher rates of disruption among black students.

The study recommends that policymakers pay much closer attention to school suspensions at the school and district level and use this information as part of school and district evaluations. Further, the U.S. Department of Education should identify and address unlawful discrimination, and federal law should require an increase in the collection and reporting of school suspension and related discipline data, especially data that looks at both race and gender. This data could help identify schools with high suspension rates for review, as well as determine the need to provide technical assistance on effective alternatives to suspension for schools in crisis.
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Research in Adolescent Literacy, Elementary School Math, and English Language Learners


The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released nine new reports this week that review the research on education programs, curricula, and strategies.

Adolescent Literacy

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) is a program that aims to prepare middle and high school students for enrollment in four-year colleges. The program targets underserved, middle-achieving students and provides increased access to advanced courses and ongoing academic support. The WWC reviewed 66 studies that investigated the effects of AVID on adolescent learners.

See how WWC rated the research on AVID and its effects on comprehension for adolescent learners at

Corrective Reading is a program designed to promote the reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension skills of students in grades 4–12 who are reading below their grade level. A total of 129 studies reviewed by the WWC examined the effects of Corrective Reading on adolescent learners' alphabetics, reading fluency, and comprehension.

Read the full report

Reading Plus® is a web-based reading intervention that uses technology to provide individualized, scaffolded, silent reading practice for students in grade 3 and higher. The WWC reviewed 18 studies that examined the effects of Reading Plus® on adolescent learners. One study that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations included 13,128 students, ranging from grade 5 through grade 9, who attended schools in Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Read all the details and the effect that Reading Plus® had on comprehension for adolescent learners.

Reciprocal teaching is an interactive instructional practice that aims to improve students' reading comprehension by teaching strategies to obtain meaning from a text. The WWC reviewed 164 studies that investigated the effects of reciprocal teaching on adolescent learners.

Find out how WWC rated the research on reciprocal teaching and its effects on comprehension for adolescent learners.

Book clubs provide a reading framework designed to supplement or organize regular classroom reading instruction for students in grades K–8. The WWC identified 284 studies of book clubs for adolescent learners.

Read the results of the WWC review in the full report.

Elementary School Math

Accelerated Math™ is a software tool used to customize assignments and monitor progress in mathematics for students in grades 1–12. The WWC reviewed 32 studies that investigated the effects of Accelerated Math™ on elementary school students. Three studies included 2,179 students from grades 2–5 in more than 60 schools across multiple states.

See the full report and the results of the studies.

Everyday Mathematics® is a core curriculum for students in prekindergarten through grade 6. The WWC reviewed 72 studies that investigated the effects of Everyday Mathematics® on elementary school students. One study that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations included 3,436 elementary students in third through fifth grades in a large urban school district in Texas.

Read all the details and what effects the curriculum had on students' math achievement.

Saxon Elementary School Math
is a core curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade 5 that uses a distributed approach – which spreads practice and instruction for any single math content strand across the course of the entire instructional year – as opposed to a chapter-based approach. The WWC reviewed 20 studies that investigated the effects of Saxon Elementary School Math on elementary school students. Three studies the meet WWC evidence standards with or without reservations included students in grades K–5 from 325 schools in 19 states.

See what effects these studies show for this elementary school math curriculum.

English Language Learners

ClassWide Peer Tutoring is a teaching strategy that uses a team-focused game format to engage students in the learning process. A classroom is divided into two competing teams, and the students in each team then pair off and take turns tutoring each other, earning points for correct answers. For this review of the research, the WWC identified eight studies that examined the effects of ClassWide Peer Tutoring on English language learners.

Read the WWC assessment of the research.

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Latest Teacher Compensation Data


This report provides an overview of the Teacher Compensation Survey (TCS) data collection in 17 states for school year 2006-07. It also includes a comparison of state administrative records with other sources of data, data availability and quality. This report discusses the uses of the data and the limitations and advantages of the TCS.
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New studies highlight benefits of teacher coaching


A set of studies released in this month's special issue of The Elementary School Journal reveals the powerful effect that the coaching of teachers can have on both teachers and students.

"Many in the field have trusted that intuitive feeling that putting a knowledgeable coach in a classroom to work with a teacher will result in improved teacher practices and increased student learning," write the issue's guest editors, Misty Sailors of The University of Texas at San Antonio and Nancy L. Shanklin of University of Colorado, Denver. "The jury of these researchers and the peer reviewers of their work has delivered its verdict: while coaching may be new, it is no longer unproven."

The eight research articles included in the issue span multiple subject areas and grade levels, and suggest that teacher coaching programs could be an important part of efforts to increase teaching quality in the coming years, the editors say.

Long-Term Gains in Student Reading Achievement: A literacy program with a strong coaching component helped increase student literacy learning by 16 percent in its first year, 28 percent in its second year, and 32 percent in the third, according to a study tracking students from kindergarten through second grade in 17 schools. "[T]his study contributes important new evidence of the potential for literacy coaching to yield improvements in student literacy outcomes," the researchers write. --Gina Biancarosa, Anthony S. Bryk, and Emily R. Dexter, "Assessing the Value-Added Effects of Literacy Collaborative Professional Development on Student Learning."

Coaching Benefits New Teachers:
High teacher turnover is a problem in many urban school districts and can disrupt professional development efforts. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University investigated the effect of coaching on new teachers in a high-turnover school. The study found that schools with coaching programs saw significant improvement in measures of teacher practices and student outcomes compared to schools without coaching programs. The findings suggest that new teachers benefit from going to work at schools with strong coaching programs in place, and that coaching programs could have an added benefit in high-turnover urban schools. --Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Helen E. Garnier, Richard Correnti, Brian Junker, and Donna DiPrima Bickel, "Investigating the Effectiveness of a Comprehensive Literacy Coaching Program in Schools with High Teacher Mobility."

Advantages of Coaching over Traditional Professional Development: Susan Neuman and Tanya Wright of the University of Michigan compare the effectiveness of university-based coursework and coaching as means of professional development for early childhood educators. On measures of classroom environment that supports literacy learning, teachers in the study who received coaching outperformed teachers who received coursework. "In sum, coaching appears to improve a number of quality practices in language and development for early childhood educators," the researchers write. "It reaches teachers where they are, demonstrating that quantitative changes in language and literacy development in the short term are possible when professional development is targeted, individualized, and applicable to its audience." --Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright, "Promoting Language and Literacy Development for Early Childhood Educators: A Mixed-Methods Study of Coursework and Coaching."

What Coaches Do and How Teachers React: A study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh explores what coaches do, how teachers perceive that work, and how coaching affects student learning. The study found that coaching activities fall into five broad categories: "working with teachers (individually or in groups), planning and organizing that supported the work with teachers, management or administrative tasks, school-related meetings and outreach to parents or community, and working with students in assessment or instruction." Most teachers involved in the study had positive perceptions of coaches' work, the study found. Moreover, in schools where coaches spend more time coaching (as opposed to administrative or planning tasks), a higher percentage of students demonstrate proficiency in reading, the study found. --Rita M. Bean, Jason A. Draper, Virginia Hall, Jill Vandermolen, Naomi Zigmond, "Coaches and Coaching in Reading First Schools: A Reality Check."

What Teachers Value in a Coach:
Michelle Vanderburg and Diane Stevens of the University of South Carolina used interviews with 35 teachers who had participated in coaching programs to find out what teachers value about the work of coaches. "Patterns in the data suggest the teachers valued how the coaches created a space for collaboration, provided ongoing support, and taught about research-based instructional strategies," the authors write. "Teachers credited their coach with helping them try new teaching practices, incorporate more authentic assessments, ground their decisions in professional literature, and create curriculum that was more student centered." --Michelle Vanderburg and Diane Stephens, "The Impact of Literacy Coaches: What Teachers Value and How Teachers Change."

Balancing the Relationship with Teachers: Jacy Ippolito from Salem State College investigated the way coaches balance two potentially competing roles as they work with teachers: being responsive and being directive. "Responsive relationships are those in which coaches focus on teacher self-reflection, thereby allowing teachers' and students' needs to guide the coaching process," Ippolito writes. "Directive relationships are those in which coaches assume the role of expert and are assertive about what instructional practices teachers must implement." The research found that coaches flip between the two roles frequently during the course of a single coaching session, often using established protocols to balance the two. --Jacy Ippolito, "Three Ways That Literacy Coaches Balance Responsive and Directive Relationships with Teachers."

Going from Teacher to Coach: Researchers from the University of Missouri and Penn State University followed a group of first-year mathematics coaches to see how they settled into their new roles. The researchers found four components to a new coach's identity: "coach as supporter of teachers, coach as supporter of students, coach as learner, and coach as supporter of the school-at-large." These roles were shaped not only by the coaches themselves, but also by teachers and principals. --Kathryn B. Chval, Fran Arbaugh, John K. Lannin, Delinda van Garderen, Liza Cummings, Anne T. Estapa, Maryann E. Huey, "The Transition from Experienced Teacher to Mathematics Coach: Establishing a New Identity."

What Coaches Do Right: Researchers from the University of Delaware, University of Virginia, and Georgia Department of Education identify several specific aspects of teacher coaching that have a significant influence on teaching practice. The study could help create a framework to evaluate teacher coaching programs. --Sharon Walpole, Michael C. McKenna, Ximena Uribe-Zarain, and David Lamitina, "The Relationships between Coaching and Instruction in the Primary Grades: Evidence from High-Poverty Schools."
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NCEE Releases Final Report on Two Adolescent Literacy Programs


There is substantial interest in helping the more than 70 percent of students who arrive in high school with reading skills that are below “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) demonstration evaluated two supplemental literacy programs – Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL) and Xtreme Reading (XR) – targeted to ninth grade students whose reading skills were at least two years below grade level.

Over two years, about 6,000 eligible students in 34 high schools from 10 districts were randomly assigned to enroll in the year-long ERO class or remain in a regularly scheduled elective class (non-ERO group). At the end of 9th grade, both groups were assessed using a standardized, nationally normed reading test, and participated in surveys about their reading activities and behaviors. School records were used to examine the effect of the literacy programs on academic performance during the program year (9th grade) and a year afterwards.

The study found:

• Taken together, the ERO supplemental literacy programs improved students’ reading comprehension skills during the 9th grade, corresponding to an improvement from the 23rd to the 25th percentile. However, 77 percent of students assigned to the ERO class were still reading 2 or more years behind grade level at the end of the 9th grade.

• During the 9th grade, the ERO program also had a positive impact on students’ academic performance in core subject areas, including their grades and credit accumulation. Students in the ERO group scored higher on their states’ English/Language Arts and mathematics assessment than did those in the non-ERO group.

• The ERO program effects did not continue beyond the program year. While there were statistically significant and positive impacts on students’ GPA, credit accumulation and state test scores in 9th grade, the impacts were not significant the following school year. When analyzed separately, the RAAL program significantly improved students’ reading comprehension during the 9th grade year while the XR program did not have a statistically significant impact on reading comprehension. Impacts on other outcomes were similar for the two programs.
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Study: Teasing about weight can affect pre-teens profoundly


Results are a signal for more early identification, intervention efforts at schools, researchers say

Schoolyard taunts of any type can potentially damage a child's sense of self-confidence. But a new study suggests that a particular kind of teasing – about weight – can have distinctive and significant effects on how pre-teens perceive their own bodies.

The research, among the first to specifically examine the impact of weight-based criticism on pre-adolescents, also hints that the practice can cause other health and emotional issues for its victims.

"We tend to think of adolescence as the time when kids become sensitive about their body image, but our findings suggest that the seeds of body dissatisfaction are actually being sown much earlier," said Timothy D. Nelson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study's lead author. "Criticism of weight, in particular, can contribute to issues that go beyond general problems with self-esteem."

For the study, Nelson and his colleagues surveyed hundreds of public school students whose average age was 10.8 years. They collected participants' heights and weights and calculated their Body Mass Index, then examined the relationships between weight-related criticism and children's perceptions of themselves.

Their results showed that overweight pre-teens who endured weight-based criticism tended to judge their bodies more harshly and were less satisfied with their body sizes than students who weren't teased about their weight.

The effects of weight-based teasing were significant even when researchers removed the effects of students' BMI from their analysis in an attempt to separate the relative contributions of physical reality and children's social interactions to their body perceptions, Nelson said.

Because children who develop such negative views of their bodies are at higher risk for internalizing problems, developing irregular eating behaviors and ongoing victimization, researchers said these results should be a signal for more early identification and intervention efforts at schools.

"In a way, weight-related criticism is one of the last socially acceptable forms of criticism," Nelson said. "There's often a sense that overweight people 'deserve' it, or that if they are continually prodded about their weight, they'll do something about it.

"In fact, our research suggests that this kind of criticism tends to increase the victim's body dissatisfaction, which has been shown to be a factor in poorer outcomes with pediatric weight management programs. It becomes something of a vicious cycle."

The study notes that children's views of their bodies are a complex interaction between physical reality and socially influenced perceptions. Peer criticism about weight is an important social factor that could affect how pre-adolescents interpret the physical reality of their bodies, Nelson said.

The findings, Nelson said, should be relevant to understanding the consequences of weight-related criticism and considering interventions with preadolescents who are frequent targets of the taunts.

"While weight-related criticism is identifiable, programs targeting it are limited," he said. "Early identification of children who are targets of frequent and chronic weight-based criticism may also be important in reducing it and its harmful effects."
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Personality predicts cheating more than academic struggles


Students who cheat in high school and college are highly likely to fit the profile for subclinical psychopathy – a personality disorder defined by erratic lifestyle, manipulation, callousness and antisocial tendencies, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. These problematic students cheat because they feel entitled and disregard morality, the study found.

Cheating, a perennial concern for educators, "has been facilitated by new technologies," said Delroy Paulhus, PhD, who led the research. "At the same time, cheating may seem more apparent because we can more effectively detect it." Because it's hard or even dangerous to try to reform a psychopathic person, he recommends blocking cheating using other means.

College students who admitted to cheating in high school or turned in plagiarized papers ranked high on personality tests of the so-called Dark Triad: psychopathy, Machiavellianism (cynicism, amorality, manipulativeness), and narcissism (arrogance and self-centeredness, with a strong sense of entitlement). Of the three dark personality types, psychopathy was most strongly linked to cheating. These findings appear in the September Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Students were spurred to cheat by two motivations, the research found: First, they sought to get the grades to which they felt entitled; second, they either didn't think cheating was wrong or didn't care.

The first of three studies at the University of British Columbia surveyed 249 second-year college students who, without having to share their identities, filled out take-home personality tests that looked at the Dark Triad and psychology's "Big Five" core traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, stability and openness.

Also anonymously, students were asked whether they had cheated on high-school tests or handed in essays copied from someone else. (Questions specifically referred to high school to allay concerns about admitting to cheating at the university.)

Each of the Dark Triad variables went hand in hand with cheating at a high level of statistical significance. The more likely students were to have cheated, the higher they ranked on the psychopathy scale, followed by Machiavellianism and narcissism.

Students who were more conscientious and agreeable were significantly less likely to have cheated. Those low in conscientiousness were probably more likely to cheat because they were less prepared and more desperate, the authors wrote, adding that disagreeable students would by definition be less cooperative. However, the predictive power of those two core traits paled next to those of the Dark Triad.

A second study measured actual, not self-reported, cheating by analyzing two of each student's term papers -- one summarizing a research topic and one summarizing a personal experience. The students, who took the same personality tests, were warned that their papers would be scrutinized by an online service that calibrates how much of a paper directly matches sources in a database. Plagiarism was flagged when any string of seven words or more directly matched a published source or another finished paper.

Of the 114 students studied, 16 plagiarized on at least one essay. Again, the Dark Triad and plagiarism were closely and significantly linked, with psychopathy leading the pack. Although for the essay, poor verbal skills were also tied to cheating, the association with psychopathy was tighter still.

With both the self-report and the plagiarism screen detecting cheating, the authors concluded that personality profiling can help predict cheating.

Finally, a third study examined why students cheat. A total of 223 college students went online to take personality tests and rate themselves on a Self-Report Cheating Scale that included items tapping motivation, such as "I needed to get (or keep) a scholarship," or "I'm not concerned about punishment if caught."

Analysis unearthed subgroups of students who felt that cheating was an appropriate strategy for reaching their ambitious goals, who were not afraid of punishment, or who were not morally inhibited. Psychopathy was significantly linked with all three motivations.

"Incentives such as high grades and scholarships seem to activate dishonesty in these individuals," the authors wrote. "The achievement goals shared by most college students trigger cheating in psychopaths alone." Making it worse, moral deterrents don't matter to psychopaths, who scoff at social norms.

The authors caution that subclinical psychopaths are unlikely to exhibit the extreme behaviors of criminal psychopaths. Even with subclinical levels, however, it's nearly impossible and potentially dangerous to intervene with psychopaths. To foil the natural cheaters, the authors recommend that teachers use different forms of the same test, ban cell phones and other electronics, use random or assigned seats, ask for essays about personal experiences (which are not easily duplicated), and use plagiarism screening software.

To a lesser extent, educators can expect that students who aren't well prepared are also more likely to cheat. The authors suggest that making a classroom less competitive could avoid tempting the weaker students.
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