Poor Behavior Doesn't Always Lead to Poor Academics

Despite popular belief, a new study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions finds that students who have poor behavior in the classroom do not always have poor grades.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina -- Charlotte (Bob Algozzine, Chuang Wang and Amy Violette) followed 350 students in seven at-risk schools over a 5-year period. They assessed both teacher perceptions of student behavior and academic achievement, as well as actual performance. They found that teachers were more likely to report that well-behaved students did better academically and expected more of them -- even when some of these students were struggling with school-work. At the same time, students who acted out in school were seen as having more academic difficulties, even though this was not always the case.

"Children are not well served when teachers believe that teaching behavior requires different skills than teaching academics," said lead author Algozzine. "Or that teaching academics will magically improve behavior."

The researchers concluded that it is important not to focus solely on improving academic or behavior problems in at-risk students, but to emphasize teaching both behavior and academic skills for these children.

"The take-away message in our work is that children have to be carefully taught academics and behavior if we want to see evidence of these accomplishments in school," said Algozzine.
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Collaborative Strategic Reading practices: no effect on 5th grade reading


REL Southwest conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) practices on student reading comprehension in 26 linguistically diverse schools in 5 districts in Texas and Oklahoma. CSR is a set of instructional strategies designed to improve the reading comprehension of students with diverse abilities.

The study, The Impact of Collaborative Strategic Reading on the Reading Comprehension of Grade 5 Students in Linguistically Diverse Schools, found that this set of instructional strategies did not significantly improve the reading comprehension of Grade 5 students.

The CSR study included 26 schools, 74 classrooms and teachers, and 1,355 5th grade students (681 treatment and 674 control students).

Other findings include:

• Grade 5 former and current English language learner (ELL) students in CSR classrooms did not have significantly higher average reading comprehension posttest scores on the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE) than ELL students in control classrooms.

• Grade 5 non–ELL students in CSR classrooms did not have significantly higher average reading comprehension posttest scores on the GRADE than non–ELL students in control classrooms.
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School energy audits find millions in potential energy savings


Energy audit model developed can apply to other schools

A two-year energy audit of Hamilton schools has identified energy conservation measures that could reduce their energy costs by almost $2.4 million annually. The audit was conducted by engineering faculty and students at McMaster University

The measures, presented today to officials from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, range from recaulking windows, adding insulation and using more efficient lighting to new investments in advanced heat recovery systems and boilers, and solar and wind generating systems.

"We found that the school boards are already involved in implementing many of the more achievable energy conservation measures at their schools," said Samir Chidiac, professor of civil engineering at McMaster and one of the lead organizers of the audit. "But they need support and decision tools to install technologies that will generate the greatest savings over the long term."

The energy audit, which was sponsored by Union Gas, was conducted by seven mechanical and civil engineering students working on co-op terms, supervised by two McMaster research engineers.

"Through the Union Gas EnerSmart program, we help our business customers make smart investments in energy-efficient equipment and technologies," said Mel Ydreos, vice-president of marketing and customer care at Union Gas. "The McMaster students and their advisors have clearly demonstrated investment opportunities for Hamilton schools to significantly reduce energy costs while also reducing their environmental footprint."

The students first classified all the schools into groups with similar characteristics referred to as archetypes. The criteria for establishing archetypes included the school size, operation, building envelope, electrical, heating, cooling and ventilation system properties. The students then visited a subset of the schools representing the various archetypes to conduct full energy audits. The findings for each school were applied to the rest of the schools in their archetype to calculate savings potential. The use of archetyping reduced the time that would normally be required to fully audit all schools by six years.

"This archetype system can very easily be applied to any school system in a similar climate zone to calculate energy savings potential," said Jim Cotton, associate professor of mechanical engineering, McMaster University. "The opportunities for reduced energy consumption and cost saving are tremendous."

If all the audit's recommendations were implemented in Hamilton-Wentworth's schools, natural gas consumption could be reduced by more than 5 million cubic meters, or enough to heat more than 2,140 homes, and electrical consumption would be reduced by almost 2.8 million kWh.

"We are very appreciative of the work done by McMaster," said Tim Simmons, Vice-Chair of the HWDSB Board of Trustees. "It is not something we could have done on our own. The findings reaffirm that our current programs are moving in the right direction. It will also help us assess opportunities for energy savings requiring larger investments for both existing schools and schools that will be built in future."

"This initiative builds upon our system's commitment to the efficient use of all resources and good stewardship practices," said HWCDSB Chairperson Patrick J. Daly. "We are looking forward to further developing our relationship with McMaster in assessing energy reduction programs, particularly where students can be involved. We have found that energy consumption in our schools decreases when students are actively engaged in helping to save energy."

The engineering students have also given talks to science and physics classes regarding their work. One high-school student also became involved in the energy audit.

"One of the greatest benefits of this program is the hands-on experience gained by our students," said David Wilkinson, dean, Faculty of Engineering at McMaster. "They are the ones who will be designing our schools and energy systems in the future so this work is invaluable for them and for all of us."
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Study: Teachers unaware of growing gender gaps in classrooms

A gap in reading and math scores still exists in lower grades, with boys continuing to outpace girls in math, and girls ahead of boys in reading, two University of Illinois education professors say.

Sarah Lubienski | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Using national longitudinal data to perform their analysis, Joseph P. Robinson and Sarah Lubienski investigated male and female achievement in math and reading, looking for when gender gaps first appeared and where in the distribution the gaps were most prevalent.

Except for kindergarteners in the 99th percentile, boys and girls generally start out on equal footing in math competency. In elementary school, girls throughout the distribution lose ground to boys in math achievement before eventually regaining some ground in middle school, according to research published by the professors in the American Educational Research Journal.

"If you just look at the average gap, there is no gap in math between boys and girls when they start kindergarten," Robinson said. "But when you start to break it down throughout the distribution, taking a look at the low- and high-achieving girls and boys, that's where we see that there's a gap favoring boys at the upper-most extreme of the distribution. The 99th percentile of boys is outscoring the 99th percentile of girls."

Over time, as students progress through elementary school, the gap "begins to widen, favoring boys in the lower part of the distribution," Robinson said. "By third grade, you can see it throughout the whole range of kids."

Robinson and Lubienski also compared teachers' assessments of boys and girls. They discovered that teachers seem to overestimate girls' mathematics achievement relative to boys, rating girls higher than boys in both subjects, even when cognitive assessments suggest that boys have a math advantage.

"Our results suggest that there is still a gender gap, not only with achievement, but with teachers' perceptions," Lubienski said.

Based in part on other research, the professors suspect that teachers might be mistaking girls' compliance in the classroom for comprehension, a topic that the researchers are exploring in a forthcoming study.

"We thought that teachers might rate boys higher in math, but we found that even when boys are outscoring girls, the teachers think the girls are outscoring the boys," Lubienski said. "This might be because girls tend to be perceived as 'good girls' in the classroom, and then teachers assume that they understand the material because they complete their work and don't cause trouble."

The researchers say that there's also a gap in reading that favors girls. Although the gap favoring girls generally narrows over time, it also eventually widens among low-achieving girls and boys, who struggle to keep up with their classmates.

"Clearly, the boys start out behind the girls in reading achievement," Lubienski said. "In general, the mid-achieving boys eventually catch up, but the lowest-achieving boys don't. In other words, if you're a boy and you're really struggling to read, you most likely won't catch up with your peers. It's those boys at the bottom that teachers should be most concerned about when it comes to reading."

The issue of gender gaps in math and reading in U. S. schools has been an ongoing one in education circles, with some researchers arguing that a gender gap doesn't exist in math anymore, something that was concluded from looking at test results from several states. "There have been debates about whether there really is a gender gap in math," Lubienski said.

"But our research looked at national data, and they show that there is indeed still a gender gap in math. It's small, but it's there, and it grows between kindergarten and fifth grade."

As a country, the U.S. seems to have more of a gender gap in early elementary education than in most countries, the researchers say. One hypothesis to explain the gap could be that the U.S. has first and second grade female teachers who are "math-anxious."

"I've seen a surprising number of teachers who want to teach in the lower grades because they're scared of math," Lubienski said. "Other research has shown a link between math-anxious teachers and girls' math performance, so that could also account for the early gender disparities that we found."

Instead of having one teacher for all of the subjects, Robinson and Lubienski believe that having math specialists teaching in the elementary grades, and not just generalists who teach every subject, could help to close the achievement gap.

"If you have a teacher who actually likes math, rather than one who just wants to get it over with, then I think it would be helpful, especially considering that we have these early gaps and other countries don't," Lubienski said. "There's some debate about whether kids need to stay with one teacher because it nurtures them. But from a math education standpoint, having dedicated math specialists is certainly worth exploring."

For education policymakers, the professors say their research suggests that teachers need to intervene earlier when students struggle.

"We should target effective interventions for the content domains where we see gaps, and we must ensure that these interventions are in place by the grades in which we start to see gaps emerge, which our research suggests is earlier than previously thought," Robinson said.

"We can't just ignore the gender gap and think that it's done," Lubienski said. "There's been some concern about boys being short-changed in school, and our research supports that claim for boys who have difficulty with reading."

"But teachers might also underestimate the attention that young girls need in math," Lubienski said. "So we need to pay attention not only to the low-achieving boys who are struggling with reading, but also to the girls – both the high-achievers as well as the low-achievers – as they learn math in the early grades."
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The Impact of Enhancing Students' Social and Emotional Learning:


This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. School teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs. The use of 4 recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes. The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence-based SEL programming into standard educational practice.

Related article: Study: Promoting Students' Personal and Social Development Boosts Academic Outcomes
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Number of Schools Often Referred to as “Dropout Factories” Fell


A report released today by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center shows the nation continues to make progress in its efforts to keep students in school. The report found that the number of high schools graduating 60 percent or less of students on time decreased by 112 between 2008 and 2009.

These schools—often identified as “lowest performing” or “dropout factories” – totaled 1,634 in 2009. This is down from 1,746 in 2008 and a high of 2,007 in 2002. As a result, 183,701 fewer students attended dropout factories in 2009 than 2008. These numbers and additional analysis are detailed in an update to the November 2010 report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, authored by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center, sponsored by AT&T.

“Our data and case studies show that improvement is continuing and even accelerating in some areas,” said Robert Balfanz, one of the authors of the update and a senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center. “This means that real progress is possible when school districts and community partners confront this crisis strategically and commit themselves to solving it.”

Other findings from the report update include:

-The West saw the greatest decline in the number of “dropout factory” schools with a 12.5 percentage-point decrease. The number of schools fell by 39 from 313 in 2008 to 274 in 2009.
-The Midwest marked a decline of 8.5 percentage points from 269 schools in 2008 to 247 in 2009.
-The Southeast continued to see improvement with a 4.8 percentage-point decline of 912 schools in 2008 to 868 in 2009.
-The Northeast saw the least amount of progress with a 2.8 percentage-point decline from 252 schools in 2008 to 245 in 2009.
-Rural school districts significantly outpaced their city, suburban and town counterparts. They posted a 15.5 percentage-point decline, a drop of 54 in the number of schools from 349 in 2008 to 295 in 2009.
-Cities and suburbs continue to make progress with a decline of 3.4 and 4.7 percentage points, respectively, while towns saw more progress with a decline of 7.5 percentage points.

The following states saw the greatest change, decreasing the number of “dropout factory” schools by more than 10 between 2008 and 2009: California (-25); South Carolina (-25); Illinois (-20); North Carolina (-16); Connecticut (-13); and Tennessee (-10).

The number of schools increased in a few states between 2008 and 2009 including: Georgia (+10); New York (+10) and Ohio (+5)

Overall, the number of students attending dropout factories has declined from 2.6 million in 2002 to 2.1 million in 2009 – nearly a 20 percent improvement.

Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). They used two indicators to determine students’ progress – the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) and promoting power, both calculated from grade-level enrollment numbers and, in the case of AFGR, district-level data on the number of diplomas awarded.

The report update also includes four case studies highlighting success: Baltimore, MD; Canton, OH; Cincinnati, OH; and Hillsborough County, FL. These overviews provide a closer look into the work, programs and resources that these communities are deploying and the success they are seeing as a result. All communities share the themes of strong leadership with clear graduation rate goals and a commitment to raising standards. All have support and involvement from many sectors and rely heavily on data to inform decision-making.
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Transcendental Meditation improves standardized academic achievement


A study with at-risk urban middle school students

This graph shows the increased math achievement in meditating students.

The Transcendental Meditation® technique may be an effective approach to improve math and English academic achievement in low-performing students, according to a new study published in the journal Education.

The study was conducted at a California public middle school with 189 students who were below proficiency level in English and math. Change in academic achievement was evaluated using the California Standards Tests (CST).

"The results of the study provide support to a recent trend in education focusing on student mind/body development for academic achievement," said Dr. Ronald Zigler, study co-author and associate professor at Penn State, Abington. "We need more programs of this kind implemented into our nation's public schools, with further evaluation efforts."

Students who practiced the Transcendental Meditation program showed significant increases in math and English scale scores and performance level scores over a one-year period. Forty-one percent of the meditating students showed a gain of at least one performance level in math compared to 15.0% of the non-meditating controls.

Among the students with the lowest levels of academic performance, "below basic" and "far below basic," the meditating students showed a significant improvement in overall academic achievement compared to controls, which showed a slight gain.

"This initial research, showing the benefits of the Quiet Time/Transcendental Meditation program on academic achievement, holds promise for public education" said Sanford Nidich, EdD, lead author and professor of education at Maharishi University of Management. "The findings suggest that there is an easy-to-implement, value-added educational program which can help low-performing minority students begin to close the achievement gap," said Dr. Nidich.

This graph shows the increased English achievement in meditating students.

The middle school level is of particular concern to educators because of low academic performance nationally. Sixty-six percent of eighth-grade students are below proficiency level in math and 68% are below proficiency level in reading, based on 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress data.

Faculty surveyed as part of the project reported the Quiet Time/Transcendental Meditation program to be a valuable addition to the school. They reported the students to be calmer, happier, and less hyperactive, with an increased ability to focus on schoolwork. In terms of the school environment, faculty reported less student fights, less abusive language, and an overall more relaxed and calm atmosphere since implementation of the program.

Study Facts

-This study evaluated change in academic achievement in public middle school students practicing the Transcendental Meditation program compared to non-meditating controls. -A total of 189 students (125 meditating and 64 non-meditating students), who were below proficiency level at baseline in English and math, were evaluated for change in academic achievement, using the California Standards Tests (CST).
-Ninety-seven percent were racial and ethnic minority students.
-The Transcendental Meditation program was practiced in class twice a day as part of the school's Quiet Time program for three months prior to post-testing.
-The Transcendental Meditation program was taught in the context of a school-wide Quiet Time program in which students voluntarily chose the Quiet Time program in which they wanted to participate.
-The Transcendental Meditation technique is a simple, natural, effortless technique that allows the mind to settle down and experience a silent yet awake state of awareness, a state of "restful alertness." Practice of this stress reduction program does not involve any change in beliefs, values, religion, or lifestyle.
-Compared to eyes-closed rest, research has found that Transcendental Meditation practice is characterized by decreased activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system, as reflected in decreased breath rate and lower sympathetic nervous system activity. The Transcendental Meditation program has been shown to increase electroencephalographic (EEG) brain integration and coherence, especially in the frontal area of the brain, responsible for higher-order processing.
-Other published research on high school and college students has shown reduced psychological distress, improved positive coping ability, decreased blood pressure, reduced cardiovascular reactivity to stressful stimuli, reduced absenteeism, and decreased school suspensions.
-Results of the current study indicated improvement for meditating students compared to controls on English scale scores (p = .002) and math scale scores (p < .001). A greater percentage of meditating students improved at least one performance level in math and English compared to controls (p values < .01).
-A matched-control subgroup of 50 students in each group yielded similar results.

Facts on Academic Achievement

-According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 68% of eight grade students nationally are below proficiency level in reading and 66% are below proficiency in math, based on 2009 data.
-Nearly 1.3 million students did not graduate from high school in 2010.
-For further facts please see the National Assessment of Educational Progress: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subjectareas.asp
Also see Alliance for Excellence in Education website http://www.all4ed.org/files/UnitedStates.pdf
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Effective Methods of Measuring Teachers’ Impact on Student Learning


Few education issues are raising more questions and greater interest than that of how the nation should fairly and accurately evaluate teachers and assess their influence on student performance. And few issues are more important. To help better understand how teachers are assessed in this new era of school improvement, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards convened a task force of leaders in education evaluation, research, and policy to debate and share their collective knowledge about teacher evaluation.

The resulting report, Student Learning, Student Achievement: How Do Teachers Measure Up?, outlines effective methods of using student learning as a measure of teacher effectiveness. The full report and the executive summary provides principles for selecting and using large-scale assessments to evaluate teacher practice. Additionally, it offers recommendations about how the National Board Certification process can be used more effectively to measure accomplished teachers’ contributions to student learning and how those lessons can be shared with the field. The report provides guidance to educators and policymakers about appropriate ways to ground teacher evaluation in student learning.

In the most rigorous and comprehensive study to date about National Board Certification, the National Research Council found that students taught by National Board Certified Teachers make higher gains on achievement tests than students taught by teachers who have not applied and those who did not achieve certification.
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World Education Leaders See Increasing Role for Technology


More than three-quarters of top education officials around the world believe technology can play a major role in how students learn and how teachers educate, according to a global survey commissioned by Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) and conducted by Clarus Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm.

Telephone interviews were conducted with 500 education administrators and information technology decision-makers in 14 countries on five continents. The countries surveyed were Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. One half of the survey respondents were K-12 school officials, and half were college and university officials.

Critical Teaching and Learning Issues
The survey shows that educators across the globe see three critical learning issues:

* Preparing students to compete in a global economy and helping to ensure their employability after graduation were cited by 83 percent of respondents as key concerns. Today's students need a core school program that prepares them to engage in an increasingly connected ecosystem, requiring an understanding of how to use technology to compete effectively and become productive members of tomorrow's workforce.
* Most educators, 85 percent, see technology playing a "large role" in how students learn. They also cited the impact technology can have in encouraging student engagement and participation.
* The need for programs and curriculum that enable students to develop skills in team and project-based learning was noted by 86 percent of the educators. Improved communications with parents, faculty and staff is considered critical.

Importance of Key Technology Issues

* Internet abuse, collaboration, and cybersecurity are top technology issues.
Educators rated protecting students from Internet abuse very high; close behind were using technologies to collaborate better, developing stronger cybersecurity on campus, and using technology to reduce administrative expenses.
* Increasing efficiency, using more video, and broadening data-driven assessments were also highly rated.
The survey revealed that educators also see technology as a means to "do more with less" and to become more efficient. They are also aggressive with plans to implement more video and embed the technology and media in the learning process. They are also seeking more impact from investments in data-driven assessments and decision-making systems.
* College officials across the globe want expanded online international education.
Looking ahead five years, 65 percent of the college and university officials surveyed say online international programs are a "major opportunity" for them, as those can result in a greater "virtual" student body and can enrich learning opportunities by diversifying faculty, students and expert viewpoints.

Education and a Networked Economy
These survey results point to a new "connected learning" networked economy, which calls for technology skills development to increase global competitiveness within education. Technology can address these educators' concerns in many ways; for example:

* By personalizing teaching and learning to address the level of proficiency of each student rather than leaving students behind or going at the pace of the slowest learner. Teachers have found that using networked PC or online approaches to teaching math allows the students to progress at their own pace, freeing teachers to focus on students who need more help on a given concept.
* Technology can provide innovative approaches to education while reducing the overall cost of providing education. For example, using telepresence to educate remotely improves accessibility, reducing the cost of delivering education to all students.
* Video and collaboration technologies are rapidly allowing educators to be more effective and productive in teaching, anytime, anywhere. This can increase productivity by reducing travel between schools or even countries, decreasing the cost of travel downtime. "Presence" technology is becoming an emerging factor in teacher training and staff development areas; at the same time, increasing the availability of collaboration tools is fostering new "project-based" learning environments.

What are educators in regions around the world finding most important to them?

A heavy majority of education officials across the Asia-Pacific region believe that improved communications with students is a top priority. Investing in improved research infrastructure and capabilities was also key. Education officials in this region believe technology will play a critical role in preparing the workforce of the future.

European education officials see funding, online security, a greater international presence, and stronger research capabilities and infrastructure as chief concerns. Additionally, 68 percent of top European college and university officials say online international curricula are a "major opportunity" to expand learning programs, globally.

Emerging Markets
Senior education officials in emerging markets see preparation for a global economy, student attendance, and employability as the top teaching issues they face today. Among all the regions of the world, Latin America rated highest on overall aspirations for education and the positive effect it can have on society.

A survey of similar attitudes conducted in 2010 found that among U.S. educators:

* More than half (53 percent) of the administrators and information technology decision-makers in K-12 institutions, community colleges and universities say they are likely to invest in video technology over the next year to make their schools "more effective and efficient."
* Most respondents (84 percent) believe that technology will play a large role in "improving how students learn."
* A similar number (82 percent) believe that technology will play a large role in "helping prepare students for the workforce of the future."
* After "retaining good students" -- which ranked first -- U.S. respondents feel that the most important administrative and strategic issues facing schools are:
* Communicating better with students and parents
* Providing physical safety on campus
* Providing online network security
* Taking advantage of new technology
* Improving the ability of teachers to use technology, media and computing tools
* Communicating better with faculty and staff
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60-minute exercise raises GPAs of minority students


Along with the excitement and anticipation that come with heading off to college, freshmen often find questions of belonging lurking in the background: Am I going to make friends? Are people going to respect me? Will I fit in?

Those concerns are trickier for black students and others who are often stereotyped or outnumbered on college campuses. They have good reason to wonder whether they will belong – worries that can result in lower grades and a sense of alienation.

But when black freshmen participated in an hour-long exercise designed by Stanford psychologists to show that everyone – no matter what their race or ethnicity – has a tough time adjusting to college right away, their grades went up and the minority achievement gap shrank by 52 percent. And years later, those students said they were happier and healthier than some of their black peers who didn't take part in the exercise.

"We all experience small slights and criticisms in coming to a new school" said Greg Walton, an assistant professor of psychology whose findings are slated for publication in the March 18 edition of Science.

"Being a member of a minority group can make those events have a larger meaning," Walton said. "When your group is in the minority, being rejected by a classmate or having a teacher say something negative to you could seem like proof that you don't belong, and maybe evidence that your group doesn't belong either. That feeling could lead you to work less hard and ultimately do less well."

Walton's paper, co-authored by psychology and education Professor Geoffrey Cohen, reports that the grade point averages of black students who participated in the exercise went up by almost a third of a grade between their sophomore and senior years.

And 22 percent of those students landed in the top 25 percent of their graduating class, while only about 5 percent of black students who didn't participate in the exercise did that well. At the same time, half of the black test subjects who didn't take part in the exercise were in the bottom 25 percent of their class. Only 33 percent of black students who went through the exercise did that poorly.

Walton and Cohen split about 90 second-semester freshmen at a top American university into "treatment" and "control" groups. About half of the students in each group were black; the others were white.

All the test subjects – who were unaware of the full purpose of the exercise – were told the researchers were trying to understand students' college experiences.

Those in the treatment group read surveys and essays written by upperclassmen of different races and ethnicities describing the difficulties they had fitting in during their first year at school. The subjects in the control group read about experiences unrelated to a sense of belonging.

The upperclassmen had reported feeling intimidated by professors, being snubbed by new friends and ignored in their quest for help early in their college careers. But they all emphasized that, with time, their confidence grew, they made good friends and they developed strong relationships with professors.

"Everybody feels they are different freshman year from everybody else, when really in at least some ways we are all pretty similar," one older student – a black woman – was quoted as saying. "Since I realized that, my experience . . . has been almost 100 percent positive."

The test subjects in the treatment group were then asked to write essays about why they thought the older college students' experiences changed. The researchers asked them to illustrate their essays with stories of their own lives, and then rewrite their essays into speeches that would be videotaped and could be shown to future students. The point was to have the test subjects internalize and personalize the idea that adjustments are tough for everyone.

"We didn't want them to think of difficulties as unique to them or specific to their racial group," Walton said of the black test subjects. "We wanted them to realize that some of those bad things that happen are just part of the transition that everyone goes through when they go off to college."

The researchers tracked their test subjects during their sophomore, junior and senior years. While they found the social-belonging exercise had virtually no impact on white students, it had a significant impact on black students.

Along with improved GPAs by their senior year, the black students who were in the treatment group reported a greater sense of belonging compared to their peers in the control group. They also said they were happier and were less likely to spontaneously think about negative racial stereotypes. And they seemed healthier: 28 percent said they visited a doctor recently, as compared to 60 percent in the control group.

Despite the impressive outcomes, Walton and Cohen say the social-belonging exercise isn't a quick fix to closing the academic race gap – a problem fed by a host of issues tied to diversity, socioeconomics and public policy. But their research shows how addressing feelings of belonging can improve student performance. And similar exercises may succeed in addressing concerns about belonging among other groups, like first-generation college students, immigrants and new employees.

"This intervention alone is not the answer, but we know more about what types of things help," Cohen said. "The intervention is like turning on a light switch. It seems miraculous when the lights go on, but it all hinges on the infrastructure that's already in place."
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Teacher incentives do not increase student performance


Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools

Financial incentives for teachers to increase student performance is an increasingly popular education policy around the world. This paper describes a school-based randomized trial in over two-hundred New York City public schools designed to better understand the impact of teacher incentives on student achievement. The author could find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor did he find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.

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Urban Boarding Schools: Achievement Vs. Cost


Estimating the Returns to Urban Boarding Schools: Evidence from SEED

The SEED schools, which combine a "No Excuses'' charter model with a five-day-a-week boarding program, are America's only urban public boarding schools for the poor. The authors provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending SEED schools on academic achievement, with the goal of understanding whether changing a student's environment through boarding is a cost-effective strategy to increase achievement among the poor. Using admission lotteries, the authors show that attending a SEED school increases achievement by 0.198 standard deviations in reading and 0.230 standard deviations in math, per year of attendance. Despite these relatively large impacts, the return on investment in SEED is less than five percent due to the substantial costs of boarding. Similar "No Excuses'' charter schools -- without a boarding option -- have a return on investment of over eighteen percent.

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Strategic High School Choice In Texas


Jockeying for Position: Strategic High School Choice Under Texas' Top Ten Percent Plan

Beginning in 1998, all students in the state of Texas who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes were guaranteed admission to any in-state public higher education institution, including the flagships. While the goal of this policy is to improve college access for disadvantaged and minority students, the use of a school-specific standard to determine eligibility could have unintended consequences. Students may increase their chances of being in the top ten percent by choosing a high school with lower-achieving peers.

This analysis of students’ school transitions between 8th and 10th grade three years before and after the policy change reveals that this incentive influences enrollment choices in the anticipated direction. Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top ten percent. Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top ten percent pool. The net effect of strategic behavior is to slightly decrease minority students’ representation in the pool.
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American Achievement in International Perspective


The latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) garnered all the usual headlines about America’s lackluster performance and the rise of competitor nations. And to be sure, the findings—that America’s 15-year-olds perform in the middle of the pack in both reading and math—are disconcerting for a nation that considers itself an international leader, priding itself on its home-grown innovation, intellect, and opportunity.

But that’s not the entire story. Particularly among other industrialized and advanced nations, the U.S. still has the upper hand in one critical measure—size. In this brief analysis, the authors analyzed the data to compare the PISA performance of the U.S. and thirty-three other nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Among the findings:

* In raw numbers, the U.S. produces many more high-achieving students than any other OECD nation—more high-achievers than France, Germany, and the UK combined (both in reading and in math).
* On the downside, in raw numbers, the U.S. also produces many more low-achieving students (both in reading and in math) than any other OECD nation, including Mexico and Turkey.
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Used woodwind and brass musical instruments harbor harmful bacteria and fungi


Research on instruments of a high school band has shown that playing a musical instrument can help nourish, cultivate, and increase intelligence in children, but playing a used instrument also can pose a potentially dangerous health risk.

Used woodwind and brass instruments were found to be heavily contaminated with a variety of bacteria and fungi, many of which are associated with minor to serious infectious and allergic diseases, according to a study published in the March/April 2011 issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

"Many children participate in their school's band ensemble and often the instruments they play are on loan," said R. Thomas Glass, DDS, PhD, lead author of the study. "Most of these instruments have been played by other students, and without the proper sanitation, bacteria and fungi can thrive for weeks and even months after the last use."

A total of 117 different sites, including the mouthpieces, internal chambers, and cases, were tested on 13 previously played instruments of a high school band. Six of the instruments had been played within a week of testing, while seven hadn't been touched in about one month. The instruments produced 442 different bacteria, many of which were species of Staphylococcus, which can cause staph infections. Additionally, 58 molds and 19 yeasts were identified.

"Parents may not realize that the mold in their child's instrument could contribute to the development of asthma," said Dr. Glass.

Additionally, the yeasts on the instruments commonly cause skin infections around the mouth and lips ("red lips").

"Because these instruments come into contact with the mouth, it's no wonder they're a breeding ground for bacteria," said AGD spokesperson Cynthia Sherwood, DDS, FAGD. "As dentists, we see this same growth of bacteria in dentures, athletic mouthguards, and toothbrushes."

Researchers found that many of the bacteria can cause illness in humans and are highly resistant to the antibiotics normally prescribed by general practitioners. This finding makes sterilization of instruments extremely important.

"Instruments should be cleaned after each use to reduce the number of organisms," said Dr. Sherwood. "And cleaning should not be confined to the mouthpiece, since the bacteria invade the entire instrument."

To avoid transmission of bacteria from instrument to player, parents and students should frequently wipe the surface of the instrument that comes into contact with the skin and mouth. The instrument should be taken apart for thorough cleanings on a regular basis. Dr. Glass suggests using cleaning cloths and solutions made specifically for instruments. Most importantly, students are advised not to share their instruments with others. Students should consult with their band instructor for additional ways to disinfect their instruments.
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Eighty percent of US children under five years old using the internet


Always Connected: The new digitial media habits of young children

This report by Sesame Workshop and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center takes a fresh look at data emerging from studies undertaken by Sesame Workshop, independent scholars, foundations, and market researchers on the media habits of young children, who are often overlooked in the public discourse that focuses on tweens and teens. The report reviews seven recent studies about young children and their ownership and use of media. By focusing on very young children and analyzing multiple studies over time, the report arrives at a new, balanced portrait of children’s media habits.

Related article:

Eighty percent of US children under five years old using the internet: new study

90 percent of children over five watching at least three hours of programming per day.
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Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation.


Full, short report - well worth reading

International comparisons show that in the countries with the highest performance, teachers are typically paid better relative to others, education credentials are valued more, and a higher share of educational spending is devoted to instructional services than is the case in the United States.

Many nations declare that they are committed to children and that education is important. The test comes when these commitments are weighed against others. How do they pay teachers compared to the way they pay others with the same level of education? How are education credentials weighed against other qualifications when people are being considered for jobs? Would you want your child to be a teacher? How much attention do the media pay to schools and schooling? Which matters more, a community’s standing in the sports leagues or its standing in the student academic achievement league tables?

Related article

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Comparing profiles of learning and memory impairments


Children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

- A new study has compared the verbal learning and memory performance of children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) with that of children with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- The children with PAE had initial problems with learning information, reflecting inefficient encoding of verbal material.
- The children with ADHD had difficulty retaining information over time, reflecting a deficit in retrieval of learned material.

While children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are known to have deficits in verbal learning and recall, the specifics of these deficits remain unclear. This study compared the verbal learning and memory performance of children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) with that of children with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), finding that both groups of children have difficulty with learning and memory but in different ways.

Results will be published in the June 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Children with FASD and ADHD can appear very similar," explained Sarah N. Mattson, a professor in the department of psychology at San Diego State University and corresponding author for the study. "Both alcohol-exposed children and those with ADHD demonstrate behavioral difficulties such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, and children with FASD often meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Studies that compare these groups can aid in accurate identification and appropriate diagnoses, which are important as they have implications for the kinds of interventions and resources provided to these children and their families."

"The broad range of neurodevelopmental, cognitive, and behavioral abnormalities that occur in FASD most likely result from a combination of prenatal alcohol exposure and other factors such as other drug exposures, disrupted home environment, abuse, and co-morbid conditions," added Jeffrey R. Wozniak, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. "This heterogeneity or wide range of potential problems among this population remains a significant challenge to researchers attempting to identify a 'profile' of abnormalities that are associated with PAE."

Mattson and her colleagues used the California Verbal Learning Test - Children's Version (CVLT-C) to examine three groups (n=22/group) of children, ages seven to 14: those with heavy PAE and ADHD (10 boys, 12 girls); those not exposed to alcohol and with ADHD (14 boys, 8 girls); and those not exposed to alcohol and without ADHD (12 boys, 10 girls). The groups were matched on age, sex, race, ethnicity, right or left-handedness, and socioeconomic status. The test required the children to learn and remember a list of words.

"The children with alcohol exposure had problems with learning information initially, but they were able to remember what they did learn later on," said Mattson. "The children with ADHD, however, were better at recalling information immediately after it had been presented but had difficulty retaining this information over time."

"This pattern of results suggests that FASD may be associated with a specific deficit in the initial encoding of verbal information while, in contrast, ADHD may be associated with a deficit in retrieval," said Wozniak. "The authors speculate that the encoding problems seen in FASD may be related to underlying difficulties in executive functioning – those processes by which a child organizes and directs his/her own learning."

Mattson explained that "inefficient encoding of verbal material" means that when children are presented with verbal information, they have difficulty learning that information. "If children have encoding deficits, it may be experienced as a memory problem as they will recall less than their peers," she said. "They may also find it difficult to remember and follow instructions given to them by teachers or parents and have difficulty learning material presented in the classroom."

A "deficit in retrieval of learned material," on the other hand, is related to memory but is different from "forgetting," said Mattson.

"If a child has a difficulty retrieving learned material, the problem is related to accessing material that is stored in the brain," Mattson explained. "These children won't be able to independently generate the material, but if you presented them with some choices they could recognize the correct answer. 'Forgetting' refers to learned information that is no longer available for recall."

"Children with FASD might need additional repetition of the information as well as guidance about how to organize the information as they are learning it," added Wozniak. "In contrast, children with ADHD might benefit most from assistance in developing strategies for retrieving information from memory, such as self-cueing."

"This research has important implications for clinicians and educators," noted Mattson. "Understanding the profiles of learning and memory impairments in these populations of children can allow for appropriate intervention and remediation strategies to be implemented."

Wozniak agreed. "Both educators and clinicians will benefit from knowing that children with FASD are, in fact, struggling at the level of encoding information but that their retrieval mechanisms are less affected. Individuals with FASD might benefit most from additional efforts to improve their initial encoding, such as developing strategies for active learning and techniques for 'deepening' their initial processing in order to improve encoding of the information into memory."
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Blended Learning Innovations & Schools of the Future


A new report on schools implementing blended, or “hybrid,” instructional methods — which integrate traditional face-to-face teaching with greater use of online instruction — are pointing the way toward more effective and efficient school models. The report profiles several charter schools that utilize sophisticated computer technology to individualize instruction, reinforce students’ basic skills, and provide immediate data on student progress, all of which helps teachers to fine-tune instruction and students to learn at their own pace.

The article, “Future Schools: Blending Face-to-Face and Online Learning,” by Jonathan Schorr and Deborah McGriff, will appear in the Summer 2011 issue of Education Next.

The authors visited a selection of charter schools in communities across the country that are using blended or hybrid approaches. They write that Rocketship Education, for example, a network of three charter schools founded in 2007 in San Jose, California, has “probably done more than any other single place to create the market for ‘hybrid schools.’” Rocketship is building a model in which kids learn much of their basic reading and math skills in a computer lab using adaptive software such as DreamBox, leaving classroom teachers free to focus on critical-thinking instruction and provide extra help when students are struggling. The software provides teachers with a steady stream of data that will help them adjust instruction to students’ specific needs, and to guide afterschool tutors. Two of the network’s three schools rank among the 15 top-performing high-poverty schools in the state, and the newest site, opened last year, was the number-one first-year school in the state.

The key advancement in the new hybrid models is that they “use technology intensively and thoughtfully to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs, and provide robust, frequent data on their performance.” Their use of technology goes far beyond the level of student engagement with computers that has been in place in most U.S. schools to date. The authors report that much of the enthusiasm for the potential of blended learning comes from School of One, a math program operating inside three New York City public middle schools. The classroom is an open space that runs the length of the building wing, but is subdivided by bookshelves into workspaces where small groups of students work with the teacher or individually with laptops. “The first sight that greets the eye,” they observe, “is an airport-style video display, listing not cities and flights, but students’ names and how they will receive their instruction during that period.” The real power of School of One is its creation of real-time, hourly reports of students’ progress and shortfalls, which are reviewed by teachers at any time before, after, or during the school day.

Another school profiled is the Denver School of Science and Technology, which enrolls a mostly-minority, 47 percent low-income student population and has achieved “national renown” for its results, including the second-highest longitudinal growth rate in student test scores statewide. Among graduates, 100 percent have been accepted to four-year colleges, and only 1 percent require remedial courses, compared to 56 percent for the Denver district.

The authors also visited High Tech High, whose campus near the San Diego airport they describe as “perhaps the most eye-poppingly technology-rich charter school in the country.” The school features warehouse-sized buildings delineated with glass walls 15 feet high. Students use the same computer-aided design systems that they would find in a professional design firm and the hallways are lined by prize-winning robotics projects, with mixed-media art hanging from every wall, door, and metal roof beam. High Tech High uses an “artificially intelligent assessment and learning system” called ALEKS, which provides teachers with detailed diagnostics that enable them to target areas where students need extra help. Students begin each session on ALEKS by taking an adaptive assessment that pinpoints their level of knowledge in a given content area, and ALEKS produces a multicolored pie chart documenting student progress that is continually updated for both teacher and student.
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Gender stereotypes about math develop as early as second grade


Children express the stereotype that mathematics is for boys, not for girls, as early as second grade, according to a new study by University of Washington researchers. And the children applied the stereotype to themselves: boys identified themselves with math whereas girls did not.

The "math is for boys" stereotype has been used as part of the explanation for why so few women pursue science, mathematics and engineering careers. The cultural stereotype may nudge girls to think that "math is not for me," which can affect what activities they engage in and their career aspirations.

The new study, published in the March/April issue of Child Development, suggests that, for girls, lack of interest in mathematics may come from culturally-communicated messages about math being more appropriate for boys than for girls, the researchers said.

But the stereotype that girls don't do math was odd to lead author Dario Cvencek, who was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia. "We didn't have that stereotype where I grew up," said Cvencek, a postdoctoral fellow at the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "People there thought that math went with girls just as much as it did with boys."

Cvencek and his co-authors wanted to examine whether American children have adopted the cultural stereotype that math is for boys during elementary-school years, and if so, whether they apply that stereotype to themselves.

Math self-concept – how much youngsters identify themselves with math, as in "math is for me" – has been left out of previous studies of the math-gender stereotype. Even though other studies using self-report measures show that boys and girls alike make the "math is for boys" linkage, the studies don't distinguish between whether girls simply know about the math-gender stereotype but aren't fazed by it, or are instead applying it to themselves so that it affects their identity, interests and actions.

The researchers used a computer-based categorization test, the Implicit Association Test, to assess how school children link math with gender. In adults, the test can predict actual math performance and real-world choices.

The adult test, developed by UW psychology professor Anthony Greenwald, also a co-author of the research, probes implicit self-concepts, stereotypes and attitudes. It captures stereotypes by measuring, for example, how strongly respondents associate various academic subjects with either masculine or feminine connotations. The stronger the stereotype is, the faster the response.

The UW researchers adapted the adult Implicit Association Test for children and used it to examine three concepts: - Gender identity, or the association of "me" with male or female. - Math-gender stereotype, or the association of math with male or female. - Math self-concept, or the association of "me" with math or reading.

The kids, 247 children (126 girls and 121 boys) in grades one through five in Seattle-area schools, sat in front of a large-screen laptop computer and used an adapted keyboard to sort words into categories.

In the math-gender stereotype test, for example, children sorted four kinds of words: boy names, girl names, math words and reading words. Children expressing the math-gender stereotype should be faster to sort words when boy names are paired with math words and girl names are paired with reading words. Similarly, they should be slower to respond when math words are paired with girl names and reading words are paired with boy names.

As early as second grade, the children demonstrated the American cultural stereotype for math: boys associated math with their own gender while girls associated math with boys. In the self-concept test, boys identified themselves with math more than girls did.

The researchers also used self-report tests and on all three concepts found similar responses to the Implicit Association Test.

"Our results show that cultural stereotypes about math are absorbed strikingly early in development, prior to ages at which there are gender differences in math achievement," said co-author Andrew Meltzoff, a UW psychology professor and co-director of the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. Meltzoff holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair at UW.

Parental and educational practices aimed at enhancing girls' self-concepts for math might be beneficial as early as elementary school, when the youngsters are already beginning to develop ideas about who does math, the researchers said.

"Children have their antennae up and are assimilating the stereotypes exhibited by parents, educators, peers, games and the media," Meltzoff said. "Perhaps if we can depict math as being equally for boys and girls, we can help broaden the interests and aspirations of all our children."
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Argumentive reasoning a basic skill studets need

Why Argue? Helping Students See the Point

Read the comments on any website and you may despair at Americans’ inability to argue well. Thankfully, educators now name argumentive reasoning as one of the basics students should leave school with.

But what are these skills and how do children acquire them? Deanna Kuhn and Amanda Crowell, of Columbia University’s Teachers College, have designed an innovative curriculum to foster their development and measured the results. Among their findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, dialogue is a better path to developing argument skills than writing.

“Children engage in conversation from very early on,” explains Kuhn. “It has a point in real life.” Fulfilling a writing assignment, on the other hand, largely entails figuring out what the teacher wants and delivering it. To the student, “that’s its only function.”

Kuhn and Crowell conducted a three-year intervention at an urban middle school whose students were predominantly Hispanic, African-American, and low-income. Beginning in sixth grade, two classes totaling 48 children participated; a comparison group of 23 were taught in a more conventional way.

Each year comprised four 13-class segments. Each quarter, the students entertained one social issue—beginning with subjects close to their lives, such as school discipline, and proceeding to issues of broader social consequence, such as abortion and gun control. Choosing their sides and working in groups, students prepared for debate—enumerating and evaluating reasons for their beliefs, surmising opponents’ arguments, and considering counterarguments and rebuttals. Then, pairs of same-side students debated opposing pairs.

In years two and three, participants were asked during each cycle to generate questions whose answers would help them make their arguments—a way of promoting their appreciation of evidence. Soon, they not only generated many questions but also volunteered to research the answers.

The debates took place via computer—another innovation of the intervention—so the dialogue remained on the screen, promoting reflection. The cycle culminated in a lively “showdown” between the teams, in which students individually took the “hotseat” debating an opponent but could turn to their teammates for tactical “huddles.” Finally, students wrote individual essays justifying their positions on the topic.

The comparison class engaged in full-class teacher-led discussions of similar topics and wrote essays—14 annually compared to the intervention groups’ four.

Before the intervention and after each year, all students wrote essays on entirely new topics. The researchers analyzed these for the kinds and number of arguments—those focused on the virtues of one’s own side; those addressing the opposing side (“dual perspective”); and those attempting to weigh pros and cons of each side (“integrative perspective”). They also looked at the questions the students would like answers to.

On each count, the experimental group did better, making more of the higher forms of arguments and listing more questions of substance than the control group.

Crucially, says Kuhn, the children embraced a core value of citizenship: informed argument matters. They expressed it too. “We have gotten a little complaint from nearby classrooms that it’s a bit noisy,” she adds.

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New Quality-Blind Layoffs Research


As school districts across the country grapple with massive budget cuts, thousands of great teachers could lose their jobs despite a track record of success in the classroom, according to an analysis released today by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). “The Case Against Quality-Blind Layoffs” identifies 14 states where top teachers are in greatest danger of losing their jobs this spring, because of laws making it illegal for schools to consider job performance in making layoff decisions.

Revenue shortfalls in 10 of these states are projected to be greater than 10 percent, making layoffs a serious possibility. Schools in these states are mandated to lay off the least senior teachers first, meaning that success in the classroom provides no additional job security. TNTP’s analysis also summarizes recent research showing that that these quality-blind policies—sometimes called “last-in, first-out,” or “LIFO”—strip schools of great teachers, with potentially devastating consequences for the neediest students.

“This is a real test of leadership for policymakers across the country,” said Timothy Daly, president of TNTP. “Almost nobody disputes that quality-blind layoff policies have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Will policymakers really stand by and allow great teachers to lose their jobs because of these outdated rules? There’s still time to put common sense back into layoff policies—but we have to take action right now.”

The 14 states that mandate quality-blind layoffs are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin. A combined 40 percent of the nation’s teachers (1.25 million) work in these states.

Despite a national emphasis on effective teachers in recent years, only the District of Columbia and three states—Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma—require schools to make job performance a major factor in teacher layoff decisions. Legislation requiring quality-based layoffs is currently pending in several states, including Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Washington.

Research shows that basing layoff decisions on seniority alone has disastrous consequences for students, teachers and school communities:

-Better teachers are forced to leave classrooms, while lower-performing teachers remain.
-Schools serving the poorest students bear the brunt of the layoffs—an average of 25% more than wealthier schools.
-Students in affected classrooms lose an average of 2.5-3.5 months of learning a year—the equivalent of ending the school year in March.
-More total job losses are necessary to achieve a given budget reduction, since quality-blind layoffs affect only the newest, lowest-paid teachers.

Furthermore, a policy brief TNTP released last year (“A Smarter Teacher Layoff System”) showed that many teachers oppose quality-blind layoffs. It reported the results of a survey conducted in two large urban districts in which a majority of teachers at every experience level favored considering factors other than seniority in layoff decisions. That policy brief also described how districts can quickly implement a quality-based approach to layoffs based primarily on teachers’ attendance, their overall performance rating on their regular evaluation, and their classroom management rating. Under a quality-based policy, veteran teachers would generally still be laid off less often, because they tend to perform better. But high-performing novices would no longer be blindly dismissed.

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Collective Bargaining and Student Performance


New Mexico’s public employee collective bargaining law seems to have increased the performance of high-achieving students while simultaneously lowering the performance of poorly achieving students, according to a study published in the Yale Law Review.

More info and comments here.
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Children taught how to think and act like scientists


Children who are taught how to think and act like scientists develop a clearer understanding of the subject, a study has shown.

The research project led by The University of Nottingham and The Open University has shown that school children who took the lead in investigating science topics of interest to them gained an understanding of good scientific practice.

The study shows that this method of ‘personal inquiry’ could be used to help children develop the skills needed to weigh up misinformation in the media, understand the impact of science and technology on everyday life and help them to make better personal decisions on issues including diet, health and their own effect on the environment.

The three-year project involved providing pupils aged 11 to 14 at Hadden Park High School in Bilborough, Nottingham, and Oakgrove School in Milton Keynes with a new computer toolkit named nQuire, now available as a free download for teachers and schools.

Running on both desktop PCs and handheld notebook-style devices, the software is a high-tech twist on the traditional lesson plan — guiding the pupils through devising and planning scientific experiments, collecting and analysing data and discussing the results.

The pupils were given wide themes for their studies but were asked to decide on more specific topics that were of interest to them, including heart rate and fitness, micro climates, healthy eating, sustainability and the effect of noise pollution on birds.

The flexible nature of the toolkit meant that children could become “science investigators”, starting an inquiry in the classroom then collecting data in the playground, at a local nature reserve, or even at home, then sharing and analysing their findings back in class.

Professor Mike Sharples, who led the project at Nottingham, said: “Mobile devices such as smartphones and netbooks are sophisticated scientific instruments, with built-in cameras, voice recorders, and location sensors. The children quickly learned how to use the nQuire toolkit to follow investigations.

“The results from the trials we conducted showed a positive effect on learning outcomes, a maintained enjoyment of science lessons and a small but genuine improvement in pupils’ understanding of the scientific process.

“Science can be a hard sell in terms of persuading young people to consider it as an option for further education or as a career, particularly those from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds. However, it shapes the world in which we live and it is incredibly important that people develop the skills necessary to navigate the huge amount of ‘bad science’ and misinformation which is propagated in the media. Our results show that the personal inquiry learning process can take pupils in the right direction.”

Professor Eileen Scanlon, Associate Director (Research & Scholarship), who led the project at The Open University, said: “We wanted to examine whether we could effectively use technology and the process of investigation — or ‘personal inquiry’ — to get pupils to start thinking like scientists.

“The tool this project has produced enables teachers to construct the kind of support pupils need to really engage with a subject area. Using mobile devices gave the pupils support wherever they were, which is an important element of learning. Teaching doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom and in fact, as our research shows, can be much more effective when it’s allowed to extend beyond the typical learning environment. Our focus at the OU has been on support for the geography elements of the curriculum, so it has been particularly important for us to encourage pupils to investigate, and engage with, their local environment.”

The trials showed that after using nQuire, the pupils were able to better grasp the principles underpinning sound scientific practice and whether decisions made during the course of their inquires could threaten the validity of their investigations.

The project has been supported by ScienceScope, a company that develops sensing and data logging equipment, and funded with £1.2 million from the joint Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme.

The nQuire software is now available to teachers and schools as an Open Source application, available for free download at www.nquire.org.uk and can by run on a Windows, Macintosh or Linux PC, on mobile device web browsers such as the Apple iPad or can be downloaded to a USB data stick to allow it to be run from the stick rather than installed as software on a computer.
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Negative classroom environment adversely affects children's mental health


Negatives include inadequate resources, teachers who feel colleagues don't respect them

Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources and children whose teachers feel they are not respected by colleagues exhibit more mental health problems than students in classrooms without these issues, finds a new study in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"Sociologists and other researchers spend a lot of time looking at work environments and how they are linked to the mental health of adults, but we pay less attention to the relationship between kids' well-being and their 'work' environments—namely their schools and more specifically their classrooms," said Melissa A. Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, who led the study. "Our research shows that the classroom environment really matters when it comes to children's mental health."

According to Milkie, who co-authored the study, "Classroom Learning Environments and the Mental Health of First Grade Children," with Catharine H. Warner, a sociology PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, policymakers typically measure school quality and teacher effectiveness in terms of academic outcomes such as test scores. But, Milkie said, their study demonstrates that schools and teachers also impact children's mental health, making it a barometer that deserves more attention.

"I think parents care a lot about their children's mental health—their emotional and behavioral well being—but we as a society don't tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes," said Milkie.

The study relies on a nationally representative sample of approximately 10,700 first graders, whose parents and teachers were interviewed.

As part of their study, the authors considered how the classroom environment impacted four components of mental health: learning (e.g., attentiveness), externalizing problems (e.g., fights), interpersonal behavior (e.g., forming friendships), and internalizing problems (e.g., anxiety and sadness).

Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources and children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them experienced worse mental health across all four measures.

The material resources ranged from basics such as paper, pencils, and heat to child-friendly furnishings, computers, musical instruments, and art supplies.

"Being in a classroom with a lack of resources might adversely impact children's mental health because children are frustrated or disheartened by their surroundings," Milkie said. "Teachers also may be more discouraged or harsh when they can't teach properly due to the fact that they are missing key elements."

Regarding children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them, Milkie suggested there is an adverse trickle down effect on students.

"For teachers to get the support and encouragement that they need from colleagues, including the principal, is likely important for whether the teachers are able to create a classroom climate that helps children thrive," Milkie said. "If teachers are feeling stressed out because they aren't getting what they need from their colleagues, that stress may carry over to the kids."

While the study focuses on first graders, Milkie expects similar results for older children. "I would be surprised if there were different findings for older children, but our study only looks at first graders so we can't be certain," Milkie said.
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School-based Intervention Lowers Obesity Rate in Children at Risk for Diabetes


Researchers recently announced results from the HEALTHY clinical trial, led by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The 3-year study, conducted in middle schools with a high enrollment of minority youth from low-income families, found that a school-based intervention could lower the obesity rate in students at highest risk for type 2 diabetes—those who started out overweight or obese in sixth grade. However, schools that implemented the intervention did not differ from comparison schools in the study’s primary outcome—the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined.

Type 2 diabetes is an emerging health problem in youth, particularly minority youth, being driven by the obesity epidemic. The HEALTHY study’s results were published in the July 29, 2010, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The intervention included changes in school food services; longer, more intense periods of physical education; and classroom activities to promote behavior change. Conducted from the beginning of the sixth grade to the end of the eighth, the study involved 4,600 students attending 42 middle schools in seven areas of the United States. Half of the schools implemented the program, and the other half served as comparison schools.

When students were first evaluated in sixth grade, about half were overweight or obese. Many had other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as a first-degree relative with diabetes, large waist size, and elevated blood glucose and insulin levels. By the end of the study, the number of overweight and obese students had declined by 4 percent in both comparison and program schools. One possible explanation for this result is that comparison schools may have independently implemented healthful changes to the school environment because of increased awareness about the problem of childhood obesity fostered by the study.

Program schools outperformed comparison schools in several areas. Among children in the study who started out overweight or obese in the sixth grade, children in program schools had 21 percent lower odds of being obese at the end of the study than similar students in comparison schools, a statistically significant difference. The percentage of children with waist size above the 90th percentile was lower in program schools than in comparison schools. Insulin levels were also lower in program schools. High insulin levels or a large waist increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, independent of body weight. High insulin levels reflect insulin resistance, the first step on the path to type 2 diabetes.

“The study shows that a school-based program can help lower obesity and certain risk factors for type 2 diabetes in youth at high risk for the disease,” said Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P., director of the NIDDK.

Visit the HEALTHY study’s website, www.healthystudy.org, and www2.niddk.nih.gov/Research/ClinicalResearch/HEALTHY/QandA for additional information about the study.
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Teacher incentive pay did not increase student achievement


Complete article

New York City’s heralded $75 million experiment in teacher incentive pay — deemed “transcendent” when it was announced in 2007 — did not increase student achievement at all, a new study by the Harvard economist Roland Fryer concludes.

“If anything,” Fryer writes of schools that participated in the program, “student achievement declined.” Fryer and his team used state math and English test scores as the main indicator of academic achievement.

Schools could distribute the bonus money based on individual teachers' results, but most did not. Most teachers received the average bonus of $3,000.

The program, which was first funded by private foundations and then by taxpayer dollars, also had no impact on teacher behaviors that researchers measured. These included whether teachers stayed at their schools or in the city school district and how teachers described their job satisfaction and school quality in a survey.

The program had only a “negligible” effect on a list of other measures that includes student attendance, behavioral problems, Regents exam scores, and high school graduation rates, the study found...
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Projections of Education Statistics to 2019


Projections of Education Statistics to 2019 provides national-level data on enrollment, teachers, high school graduates, and expenditures at the elementary and secondary school level and enrollment and earned degrees at the postsecondary level for the past 14 years and projections to the year 2019. This is the 38th edition of a publication first initiated in 1964.

Postsecondary enrollment rose by 34 percent between 1994 and 2008, and is projected to increase another 17 percent by 2019.

Other findings include:

• Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 10 percent between 1994 and 2007 and is projected to increase an additional 6 percent between 2007 and 2019.

• Reflecting actual and projected changes in the high school-age population, the number of high school graduates increased by 27 percent between 1994-95 and 2006-07, and a further increase of 1 percent is projected by 2019-20.

• After adjusting for inflation, current expenditure per pupil increased by 29 percent between 1994-95 and 2006-07, and a further increase of 14 percent is projected by 2019-20.
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Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program


The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new quick review of the report “Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report”. This study examines whether winning a lottery for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers vouchers to students to attend private schools, improved low-income students’ reading and math achievement and their probability of graduating from high school. The study found that winning a lottery for a private school scholarship did not have statistically significant effects on reading and math achievement. However, students who won the scholarship lottery were significantly more likely to graduate from high school: 82% for the group that won the lottery compared with 70% for the group that lost the lottery, an effect size of 0.26. Similar results were found for the subset of students attending schools designated as “in need of improvement” under the No Child Left Behind Act when they applied for a scholarship. Winning the lottery did not have a statistically significant effect on reading.
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Virtual Reality Can Improve Design Skills in Younger Generation


Rapidly improving technology is changing everyday life for all generations. This constantly changing environment can be a difficult adjustment for older generations. However, for the current generation known as “Generation Y”, this sense of constant technology adaption isn’t an adjustment; it is a way of life. A University of Missouri researcher says a widening gap is occurring between educators and students due to the difference in how older and younger generations approach evolving technologies. Newton D’Souza, an assistant professor of architectural studies at MU, is looking for ways to move beyond traditional teaching methods and to bridge the technology gap between teachers and students.

“In a traditional educational model, learning only occurs in the classroom,” MU researcher Newton D’Souza said. “Now, with technology like laptops and mobile phones, learning can occur anywhere from classrooms to hallways to coffee shops. For older generations, technology is a separate fixture. For Generation Y, it’s a part of their lives. On one hand, it is exciting; on the other hand, it challenging because we must find ways to adjust teaching styles.”

Researchers at the University of Missouri are studying ways to integrate technology into design learning, specifically to learn how to teach children design basics. In an effort to study how children who have grown up in a wired, video game culture use technology, D’Souza engaged young students using a 3D virtual reality platform to teach design. Using a popular existing virtual reality platform called 2nd Life, researchers directed students to design a small zoo. The zoo project involved a topic that young students could relate to, while providing adequate research restraints.

The 2nd Life platform provided a realistic 3D spatial simulation for students to explore. They were given instructions on certain design specifics and then allowed to work within the simulation. By studying how the students worked within the virtual reality platform and their eventual design product, D’Souza was able to observe the improvement of specific design skills.

D’Souza found that students working within the 3D virtual reality environment tended to improve spatial skills, including kinesthetic and logical abilities. However, verbal and intrapersonal skills seemed to suffer. He attributed this mixed result as a lesson to constantly work on creating better interfaces for today’s learners. D’Souza also was surprised to find how quickly the students grasped the virtual reality concept and were able to begin working with it.

“Because they are wired in media, the kids entered into the system much faster than we expected,” D’Souza said. “Today’s students already exist in a 3D environment; we need to find a way to teach them where they already are.”

Ultimately, D’Souza says that because each individual learns differently, new media technologies like the 2nd Life platform will teach researchers even more about how students learn. He believes it is important to continually question the assumptions about how humans learn.

“Right now we are failing to communicate with younger children,” D’Souza said. “Learning is effective when previous assumptions are questioned, and nothing is taken for granted. It’s not that we should entirely abandon our traditional teaching techniques; we need to consolidate what we have, and yet improvise to meet the needs of current day learners.”

This study was published in the Journal of Design Studies. Newton D’Souza is an assistant professor of architectural studies at the University of Missouri where he teaches design studio and environment behavior and design research. He has an academic and professional background as an architect and design researcher in the United States, Singapore, and India. During the past 10 years, intrigued by his own experience as an architect, he has conducted research in design process, learning environments, creativity research, and the use of new media in design education. His team at the i-Lab facility in architectural studies department at MU is conducting further research in this area through grants secured from MU Research Board and Mizzou Advantage initiatives.
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Report offers framework for evaluating D.C. school reform efforts, along with first impressions


A new report from the National Research Council offers a framework for evaluating the effects of a 2007 reform law on the District of Columbia's public schools. The evaluation program must include systematic yearly public reporting of key data as well as in-depth studies of high-priority issues, such as teacher recruitment and retention, the report says. As part of the evaluation program, the Mayor's Office should produce an annual report to the city on the status of the public schools, including an analysis of trends and all the underlying data.

The evaluation program should be structured to provide ongoing, independent monitoring and feedback on a number of key aspects of D.C.'s public education system, which are described by the committee that wrote the report. "Although the immediate goal for the District is to evaluate the changes enacted in 2007, we also see an opportunity to build a continuing program of analyses that will be useful regardless of future political or personnel changes," said Christopher Edley, committee co-chair and dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2007 the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) shifted control of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) from an elected school board to the mayor and created the position of chancellor, among other changes. The act also mandated an independent five-year evaluation to determine whether enough progress has been achieved to warrant continuation of the new structure. The D.C. City Council asked the Research Council to provide guidance on how to structure the evaluation and to offer initial feedback about implementation of PERAA, to the extent possible.

Report Offers First Impressions, With Cautions

The report offers some first impressions of school reform under PERAA and notes that the city and DCPS have made a good-faith effort to implement the required changes, but the committee cautions that it is premature to draw general conclusions about the reforms' effectiveness at this time.

Data suggest that a modest improvement in student test scores has continued since PERAA was enacted. However, the report stresses that scores on their own cannot identify the reasons for that improvement. Further examination is necessary to determine whether they can be linked to the reforms or are the result of other factors, such as demographic changes in D.C.'s highly mobile student population. Also, because the rising scores are averages, further analysis and monitoring are needed to determine how various subgroups of students -- such as particular grade levels or students in particular areas -- are faring; some could be making gains while others are not.

The report emphasizes that student test scores should not be the only factor used to judge improvement in the school system. A comprehensive evaluation should address the full range of district responsibilities: quality of teachers, principals, and other personnel; quality of classroom teaching and learning; capacity to serve vulnerable children and youth; promotion of family and community engagement; and quality and equity of operations, management, and facilities.

Although the committee found that the administrative and governance changes required by PERAA have generally been carried out, the report notes that the Office of the Ombudsman was defunded three years after its creation. Since the office was intended to be the primary channel for parents to communicate with school officials and seek redress for complaints, its absence is significant, said the committee.

Evaluation Program Should Be Long-Term, Independent

The report offers a framework for evaluating key elements of reform under PERAA that affect student outcomes -- including management structures and roles and conditions for learning -- as well as the student outcomes themselves.

A set of specific, measurable indicators should be established as soon as possible, building on suitable indicators already collected in the District, the report says. These would track how well the city's public schools are doing, how well the key strategies the city has chosen to improve education are working, the conditions for student learning, and the capacity of the system to produce valued outcomes.

In addition, in-depth studies should be designed to provide deeper analysis of specific questions about high-priority issues, including both the targets of PERAA and long-standing challenges in District schools, such as special education. These studies can answer questions about the causes of trends seen in indicator data, explore potential reasons for disappointing outcomes, provide information to help alter existing strategies, or help explain why some strategies appear to be working better in some schools than in others. They are key, the report notes, because they are the means by which evaluators can answer policymakers' questions about the effects of particular policies and practices.

To develop and sustain an infrastructure for ongoing research and evaluation of its public schools, D.C. will need to engage local universities, philanthropic organizations, and other institutions, the report says. The program must be independent of school and city leaders and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders, and its research should meet the highest standards for technical quality. There is no one model for the city to follow, but examples of research and evaluation programs that have been created in other cities -- such as Chicago, New York City, and Baltimore -- could be useful as D.C. develops its own program, the report notes.

"An independent evaluation program that can be an ongoing source of objective information and analysis will be an invaluable resource for the city," said committee co-chair Robert Hauser, executive director of the National Research Council's Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. "There are no quick answers. Education reform itself is a long-term process, and the evaluation of its outcomes also has to be seen in the long term."
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