Unlocking Academic Potential of Students of Color Key to Future of American Economy

As students of color and diverse ethnicities rapidly become the leading population of public school systems in numerous states, closing educational achievement gaps and providing a quality education to all students can secure the United State’s future economic prosperity, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. Noting that two-thirds of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, the report, Inseparable Imperatives: Equity in Education and the Future of the American Economy, argues that raising individuals’ education levels will boost their purchasing power and increase the national economy.

“Historically, the country’s moral failure to provide all children with an adequate and equal education did not incur a noticeable economic cost,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “This is no longer the case. Today, the moral imperative to equitably provide all students with a quality education is now a critical factor in maintaining the United States’s national economic strength.

“Thanksgiving weekend is the year’s busiest shopping period,” Wise continued. “Ask any retailer whether their future depends on consumers earning a high school dropout’s $9 per hour or the $20 per hour of postsecondary achievement.”

As shown in the map above—taken from the report—students of color make up more than half of the K–12 population in twelve states (dark green) and comprise between 40 and 50 percent of the student population in an additional ten states (light green).

At the same time, however, the high school graduation rates of students of color trail those of their white peers by an average of more than 20 percentage points.

Educational disparities continue into higher education where, in 2011, 31 percent of whites age twenty-five and older held at least a bachelor’s degree compared to just 20 percent and 14 percent of blacks and Hispanics, respectively.

According to the report, individuals lacking a quality education will struggle to compete in today’s knowledge-driven economy where 60 percent of jobs require some education after high school. Based on the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , high school dropouts are more than three times as likely to be unemployed than are college graduates. Even when employed and at the peak of their earnings career, high school dropouts average about $9 per hour compared to high school graduates and those with bachelor’s degrees, who earn $13 and $25 per hour, respectively, according to an economic model developed by the Alliance for Excellent Education with the support of State Farm®.

As the report notes, individuals earning $9 per hour will face difficulty supporting themselves, much less a family. Making rent and car payments would be even more challenging. And a down payment and a monthly home mortgage payment—the bedrock of family and community stability—would be completely out of reach.

“Two-thirds of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending,” said Wise. “A dropout’s subsistence level is a tough situation for any individual and a disaster for any economy based on growing numbers of consumers living this reality,” said Wise. “To be prosperous in this century, the United States must have more than a $9-per-hour economy. As students of color fast become the largest group of consumers, their ability to be major drivers of individual and national economic growth depends upon the quality of their education.”

For example, if every state had reached America’s Promise Alliance’s goal of graduating 90 percent of its students, many of whom are students of color, for just the Class of 2011, America would have more than 750,000 additional high school graduates. These “new graduates”—many of whom would have likely pursued postsecondary education—would earn more during their lifetimes, and in turn, they would spend more with a high school diploma than without, thus driving America’s economic productivity and growth.

Specifically, the additional graduates from just one high school class would likely earn an additional $9 billion each year compared to their earnings without a high school diploma, the report notes. With this additional income, these students would spend more money in their communities. This increased economic activity would create a ripple effect, supporting the creation of as many as 47,000 additional new jobs and $2 billion of increased tax revenue by the time these new graduates reach the midpoint of their careers.

Wise also noted that previous economic research by the Alliance demonstrates that raising the graduation rates for the growing numbers of African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American students would produce an increasingly significant boost for the economy. “Achieving a 90 percent graduation rate for students of color or ethnicity for just the Class of 2011,” Wise stated, “means an annual gain of as much as $6.4 billion in increased earnings, additional spending creating as many as 34,000 new jobs, and as much as $1.5 billion in increased tax revenues.

“As federal and state policymakers wrestle these next months with how to improve a slow economy,” Wise continued, “this report conclusively demonstrates that in this information age, achieving a successful economy is now directly linked to achieving educational equity.”

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Snapshot of School Improvement Grants Data

The U.S. Department of Education has released an early snapshot of student performance data at schools that have received federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program funds, a key component of the Department’s blueprint for helping states and districts turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Under the Obama Administration, the SIG program has invested up to $2 million per school at more than 1300 of the country’s lowest-performing schools. The data released today provides the first overview of performance for the first cohort of schools after one year of implementing SIG. The data begins in the 2009-2010 school year and ends in the 2010-2011 school year, the first year schools received SIG funds.

In three main areas, these early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools;

- Schools receiving SIG grants are improving. The first year of data show that two thirds of schools showed gains in math. And two thirds of schools showed gains in reading.
- A larger percentage of elementary schools showed gains than did secondary schools, suggesting that it is easier to improve student performance at a young age than to intervene later. Seventy percent of elementary schools showed gains in math, and seventy percent showed gains in reading, a higher percentage of improving
schools than was found in middle or high schools.
- Some of the greatest gains have been in small towns and rural communities.
- Another third of SIG schools had declines in achievement, a not surprising finding given the steep institutional challenges that these schools face.

“There’s dramatic change happening in these schools, and in the long-term process of turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “But what’s clear already is that almost without exception, schools moving in the right direction have two things in common; a dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations, and talented teachers who share that vision, with a relentless commitment to improving instruction.”

The SIG snapshot focuses on proficiency rate changes in the first year of SIG implementation, from 2009-10 to 2010-2011 in SIG-awarded Tier I and Tier II schools. It covers just over 730 (approximately 90 percent) of the 831 SIG-awarded Tier I/II schools in the program’s first cohort. Not included were fall-testing states and the very small number of closed schools.

Because this snapshot covers only a single year of SIG implementation, and because many factors contribute to student proficiency rates, it is too early to establish a causal connection between SIG funds and school performance.

The Institute for Education Sciences is conducting a long-term, gold-standard evaluation of the SIG program with student-level longitudinal data that will also compare to similarly situated schools that did not receive SIG funds. Moreover, at least one rigorous study, by Professor Thomas Dee at Stanford University, already found positive results in SIG schools as compared to similarly situated schools that did not receive SIG funds.

As a part of the Department’s transparency efforts, it is making available three years of state assessment data on all schools in the country through restricted-use files for research purposes. These files will include data for the 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011 school years broken down by subgroups.

In January, the Department plans to publicly release all school-level assessment data, including state-by-state SIG assessment data, once protections to ensure privacy of students are finalized and put in place. This public file will be posted on the Department’s website. The Department is also collecting data on other leading indicators that will give a more complete picture of performance in SIG schools, like student attendance, teacher attendance, and enrollment in advanced courses; it intends to publish that data early in 2013.

In the meantime, the Department is encouraging states to improve transparency by making as much data publicly available as possible in order to shine a spotlight on school performance, and to target additional support to schools that aren’t demonstrating success and hold these schools accountable for making progress. Federal resources that can help states improve transparency include the Privacy Technical Assistance Center and the National Forum on Education Statistics.

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States Report New High School Graduation Rates Using More Accurate, Common Measure

Provisional Data File: SY2010-11 Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates

The U.S. Department of Education released data today detailing state four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-11 – the first year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure. The varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable, while the new, common metric can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.

The new, uniform rate calculation is not comparable in absolute terms to previously reported rates. Therefore, while 26 states reported lower graduation rates and 24 states reported unchanged or increased rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot.

"By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready."

The transition to a common, adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate reflects states' efforts to create greater uniformity and transparency in reporting high school graduation data, and it meets the requirements of October 2008 federal regulations. A key goal of these regulations was to develop a graduation rate that provides parents, educators and community members with better information on their school's progress while allowing for meaningful comparisons of graduation rates across states and school districts. The new graduation rate measurement also accurately accounts for students who drop out or who do not earn a regular high school diploma.

In 2011, states began individually reporting 2010-11 high school graduation rates, but this is the first time the Department has compiled these rates in one public document. These 2010-11 graduation rates are preliminary, state-reported data, and the Department plans to release final rates in the coming months. Beginning with data for the 2011-12 school year, graduation rates calculated using this new method will become a key element of state accountability systems, including for states that have been approved for ESEA flexibility.
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Innovative treatment for developmental coordination disorder

An Indiana University study in the Journal of Child Neurology proposes an innovative treatment for developmental coordination disorder, a potentially debilitating neurological disorder in which the development of a child's fine or gross motor skills, or both, is impaired.

DCD strikes about one in 20 children, predominantly boys, and frequently occurs alongside ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and other better known conditions. Like ADHD, DCD has broad academic, social and emotional impact. It can severely affect reading, spelling and handwriting abilities; and insofar as children with DCD both struggle with and avoid physical activity, it can also lead to problems with self-esteem, obesity and injury.

Severity of the disorder varies, and as the researchers explain, it is sometimes called the "hidden disorder" because of the way those with milder cases develop coping strategies that conceal the disorder, such as using computers to avoid handwriting tasks, and wearing shirts without buttons, or shoes without laces. But children with DCD have been generally thought unable to learn or improve their motor skills.

"The results of this study were remarkable," said lead author Geoffrey Bingham, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. "After training the children over a five- to six-week period, one day a week for 20 minutes at a time, the differences between children with DCD and typically developing children were all but obliterated."

Key to the training was a unique technology: a three-dimensional virtual reality device, the PHANTOM Omni from Sensable Technologies, developed for the visualization of knots by topologists, who study geometric forms in space. Holding a stylus attached to a robot, participants in the study developed their fine motor skills by playing a game in which they traced a three-dimensional virtual path in the air, visually represented on a computer screen. Forces such as magnetic attraction and friction can be applied to the path and adjusted so participants could actually feel a surface that changed as the parameters were altered.

The study compared the progress of a group of eight 7- to 8-year-olds with DCD to a group of eight 7- to 8-year-old typically developing children in a three-dimensional tracing game. The task was to push a brightly colored fish along a visible path on a computer screen from the starting location to the finish point while racing a competitor fish.

The training started with the highest level of magnetic attraction, slowest competitor and shortest path. The goal of the training was to allow the children to progress at their own pace through the different combinations and levels of attraction, paths and competitors.


As Bingham's collaborator Winona Snapp-Childs, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, explains, the particular challenge facing children with DCD is a "Catch-22" situation. Children must first be able to approximate a movement by actively generating it themselves before they can improve it through practice and repetition. But because children with DCD have been unable to produce this initial movement, they have been unable to improve their skills.

The technology provided the tool needed to overcome this impasse. It gave both the support needed to produce the movement, as well as the flexibility to let children actively generate the movement themselves. It allowed the children to do what they otherwise could not do: produce the requisite initial movements that could then be practiced to yield quantitative improvements.

The researchers say the technology could potentially be widely accessible: It can be used without a therapist and is portable enough to be put in clinics, classrooms or the home. It can also be adjusted to suit the needs of children across the spectrum of DCD severity.

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Multi-touch, multi-user desks can boost skills in mathematics

Researchers designing and testing the ‘classroom of the future’ have found that multi-touch, multi-user desks can boost skills in mathematics.

New results from a 3-year project working with over 400 pupils, mostly 8-10 year olds, show that collaborative learning increases both fluency and flexibility in maths. It also shows that using an interactive ‘smart’ desk can have benefits over doing mathematics on paper.

Using multi-touch desks in the new classroom, the children were able to work together in new ways to solve and answer questions and problems using inventive solutions. Seeing what your friends are doing, and being able to fully participate in group activities, offers new ways of working in class, the researchers say.

The ‘Star Trek classroom’ could also help learning and teaching in other subjects.

The findings published in the journalLearning and Instruction, show that children who use a collaborative maths activity in the SynergyNet classroom improve in both mathematical flexibility and fluency, while children working on traditional paper-based activities only improve in flexibility.

During the project, the team found that 45% of students who used NumberNet increased in the number of unique mathematical expressions they created after using NumberNet, compared to 16% of students in the traditional paper-based activity.

Lead researcher, Professor Liz Burd, School of Education, said: “Our aim was to encourage far higher levels of active student engagement, where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem-solving and creating, rather than by passive listening. This classroom enables both active engagement and equal access.

“We found our tables encouraged students to collaborate more effectively. We were delighted to observe groups of students enhancing others’ understanding of mathematical concepts. Such collaboration just did not happen when students used paper-based approaches.”

The Durham University team designed software and desks that recognize multiple touches on the desktop using vision systems that see infrared light. The project called SynergyNet set out to integrate a fully collaborative system of desks, building it into the fabric and furniture of the classroom. The new desks with a ‘multi-touch’ surface are the central component, and these are networked and linked to a main smartboard.

In terms of current teaching, the new system means that the ‘move-to-use’ whiteboard is by-passed and the new desks can be both screen and keyboard. The desks act like multi-touch whiteboards and several students can use any one desk at once.

The technology allows all students to take part as opposed to one individual dominating.

Researcher, Emma Mercier, School of Education, said: “Cooperative learning works very well in the new classroom because the pupils interact and learn in a different way. The children really enjoy doing maths in this way and are always disappointed when you turn the desks off!

“We can achieve fluency in maths through practice, however, boosting a pupil’s ability to find a range of solutions to arithmetic questions is harder to teach. This classroom can help teachers to use collaborative learning to improve their pupils’ flexibility in maths.”

The teacher plays a key role in the classroom and can send tasks to different tables to individuals and groups. The teacher can also send one group’s answers on to the next group to work on and add to, or to the board for a class discussion.

A live feed of the desks goes directly to the teacher who can intervene quickly to help an individual while allowing the group work to continue.

Professor Steve Higgins said: “Technology like this has enormous potential for teaching as it can help the teacher to manage and to orchestrate the learning of individuals and groups of learners to ensure they are both challenged and supported so that they can learn effectively.”

Such a classroom may be some way off being a regular feature of schools across the world due to the costs in setting it up, and the level of support needed to make it work, however, in just 3 years the project team have noted major improvements in the technology, and a reduction in costs.

The researchers also recognise that task management in the class environment is an issue requiring thought and planning, but the overall potential of the new classroom for improved numeracy, learning, and on-going assessment is very good.

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Students are cheating, lying and stealing less than in previous years

A survey of 23,000 high school students, which was conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, reveals that for the first time in a decade students are cheating, lying and stealing less than in previous years. The Institute conducts the national survey every two years.

CHEATING: In 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year; in 2012 that rate dropped to 51 percent. Students who copied another’s homework dropped 2 percent, from 34 percent in 2010 to 32 percent this year. Other good news:

LYING: Students who said they lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant dropped from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2012. Those who lied to their parents about something significant also dropped from 80 percent to 76 percent. In 2012, 38 percent of the students said they sometimes lie to save money; that is a drop of 3 percent from 2010.

STEALING. In 2010, 27 percent of the students said they had stolen something from a store in the past year. In 2012 that number dropped to 20 percent. In 2010, 17 percent said they stole something from a friend in the past year compared to 14 percent in 2012. The percentage who said they stole something from a parent or other relative in the past year also decreased (from 21 to 18 percent).

“It’s a small ray of sunshine shining through lots of dark clouds,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and a nationally-noted commentator on behavior. “Changes in children’s behavior of this magnitude suggest a major shift in parenting and school involvement in issues of honesty and character. The number of schools adopting our CHARACTER COUNTS! program, and parents who visit our website, suggests that adults interacting with young people are more concerned with teaching kids that honesty really is important.” Josephson added, “Though there is still far too much cheating, lying and stealing, I think we have turned the corner.”

Josephson’s theory is supported by survey results showing that 93 percent of students said their parents or guardians always want them to do the ethically right thing, no matter the cost. Eighty-five percent said most adults in their life consistently set a good example in terms of ethics and character.

Other important findings:

Young people believe ethics and character are important, and they think highly of their own ethics despite very high rates of dishonesty and other unethical conduct.

  • 99 percent say it is very important to have good moral character.
  • 93 percent say they are satisfied with their own ethics and character.
  • 81 percent believe that when it comes to doing what is right, they are better than most people they know.

Boys are much more likely to harbor negative attitudes and engage in dishonest conduct than girls.

  • Almost one-quarter of the boys (23 percent) admitted stealing from a store in the past year, compared to 17 percent of the girls.
  • Boys were almost twice as likely to steal from a friend as girls (19 percent compared to 10 percent). Boys were 6 percent more likely to steal from a parent or other relative (21 percent versus 15 percent).
  • Nearly half of the boys (45 percent) believe that “a person has to lie and cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed.” Twenty-eight percent of girls surveyed possess this cynical belief.
  • Boys are twice as likely as girls (20 percent versus 10 percent) to believe “it is not cheating if everyone is doing it.”
  • While 95 percent of the girls agree that “being good is more important than being rich,” only 86 percent of the boys have this belief.
  • One in five (19 percent) of the boys disagreed with the statement: “It’s not worth it to cheat because it hurts your character.” One in ten girls did not agree with the statement.

Since 1992, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has issued a biennial report on the ethics of American high school students. It is the largest study of its kind to look at student attitudes and behavior, an important predictor of how they will act as adults. More than 23,000 students across the U.S. participated in the 2012 survey. The survey findings have an error margin of plus or minus less than one percent, as validated by Dr. Rick Hesse, D.Sc., Department Chair, Decision Sciences & Marketing, Pepperdine University.

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Teaching students about the benefits of post secondary education

Information and College Access: Evidence from a Randomized Field

High school students from disadvantaged high schools in Toronto were
invited to take two surveys, about three weeks apart. Half of the
students taking the first survey were also shown a 3 minute video
about the benefits of post secondary education (PSE) and invited to
try out a financial-aid calculator. Most students' perceived returns
to PSE were high, even among those not expecting to continue. Those
exposed to the video, especially those initially unsure about their
own educational attainment, reported significantly higher expected
returns, lower concerns about costs, and expressed greater likelihood
of PSE attainment.

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Dance boosts young girls' mental health

Young girls can dance their way to better mental health. Symptoms like depression, stress, fatigue, and headaches are alleviated with regular dancing. This is shown in a study run by Anna Duberg, a physical therapist at Örebro University Hospital and a doctoral candidate at Örebro University in Sweden. Regular dance training can thereby be regarded as a strategy for preventing and treating low spirits and depression. Dance also brings enhanced self-esteem and a greater capacity to deal with everyday problems.

The dance study included 112 Swedish girls 13 to 19 years of age. On multiple occasions, these girls had gone to see the school nurse for symptoms such as anxiety and depression, fatigue, headaches, and back, neck, and shoulder pain. In the study, 59 of the girls were randomized to a group that regularly danced together two days a week and 53 girls to a control group where the girls did not change their living habits.

The study results indicated that the girls in the dance group, despite all the challenges entailed by being a teenage girl, increased their self-esteem compared with the control group. The positive effect persisted at follow-ups four and eight months after the dance training ended. Fully 91 percent of the girls in the dance group felt that the dance study had been a positive experience. In the long run this may also lead to a more healthful lifestyle.
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Teens in arts report depressive symptoms

Teens who participate in after-school arts activities such as music, drama and painting are more likely to report feeling depressed or sad than students who are not involved in these programs, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

This is the first study to find that young people's casual involvement in the arts could be linked to depressive symptoms, according to the researchers. The article was published online in APA's journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

"This is not to say that depression is a necessary condition for either a teen or an adult to become an artist, nor are we showing that participating in the arts leads to mental illness," said lead author Laura N. Young, MA, of Boston College. "However, previous research has revealed higher rates of mental illness symptoms in adult artists. We were interested in whether this association is present earlier in development."

While girls were more likely to take part in the arts after school and reported somewhat higher rates of depression than boys, the study found that both boys and girls involved in arts reported more depressive symptoms than those who were not involved in extracurricular arts activities.

Teens involved exclusively in sports were the least likely to report depressive symptoms. However, there was no difference in depressive symptoms between teens involved in the arts who also did sports and teens involved in the arts who did not also participate in sports. This suggests that arts participation rather than a lack of sports participation was associated with depression, the authors said.

The researchers looked at American teenagers' involvement in extracurricular activities in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 using data from the U.S. Longitudinal Survey of Youth collected from 2,482 students 15 to 16 years old. Of the sample, 1,238 were female, 27 percent were black, 19 percent were Hispanic and 54 percent were non-Hispanic whites.

The students responded to survey questions asking how often they participated in "lessons in music, art or drama, or practice of music, singing, drama, drawing/painting" and "going to sports lessons, playing sports or practicing any physical activity" after school. Answers could range from "often" to "almost never," the study said.

To determine rates of depressive symptoms, the survey asked teens how often they experienced various moods or problems associated with depression, such as poor appetite, difficulty concentrating, downcast mood, lack of energy or motivation, restless sleep and sadness. Their answers could range from "none of the time" to "all of the time."

As for why there appears to be a link between the arts and symptoms of mental illness, one theory the authors presented is that people drawn to the arts may have certain cognitive traits, such as taking in a higher than average level of information from their surroundings. While dealing with excessive stimuli could lead to general distress and depression, a heightened awareness of self and surroundings could lead to greater creativity and artistic expression, the authors said. Personality traits such as introversion, which has been linked to depression, could also lead to preferences for more solitary activities that are more likely to be associated with practice of the arts than with sports, they said.

"When positive behaviors such as being involved in the arts are associated with symptoms of mental illness, it's essential that we understand why," said Young. "Further research can address the question of whether potential psychological vulnerabilities can be transformed into strengths through the practice of the arts."

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School Exclusion Policies Stigmatize Arrested Teens and Contribute to Educational Failure

“Zero- tolerance” policies that rely heavily on suspensions and expulsions hinder teens who have been arrested from completing high school or pursuing a college degree, according to a new study from The University of Texas at Austin.

In Chicago, 25,000 male adolescents are arrested each year. One quarter of these arrests occurred in school, according to the Chicago Police Department. The stigma of a public arrest can haunt an individual for years — ultimately stunting academic achievement and transition into adulthood, says David Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center.

The study, published in the January 2013 issue of Sociology of Education, indicates that punitive school policies — more so than social and psychological factors — pose significant barriers to educational attainment for students with criminal records.

“Being officially designated a ‘criminal’ changes the way educational institutions treat students,” Kirk says. “In the interest of accountability and school safety, arrested students may be pushed out of high school through exclusionary policies.”

Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, Kirk and co-author Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard University, analyzed 659 adolescents in Chicago public schools between 1995 and 2002. To measure arrest records, neighborhood demographics and school statistics, they collected data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police and Chicago Public Schools.

As part of the study, the researchers measured the adolescents’ frequency of criminal offending, family incomes, peer deviance, grade-point averages, neighborhood demographics and school quality. Among otherwise equivalent adolescents, 73 percent of arrestees dropped out of high school compared with 51 percent of those not arrested — a substantial difference of 22 percentage points. Only 18 percent of arrested teens with high school diplomas or GED certification later enrolled in four-year colleges compared with 34 percent of similar non-arrestees.

“Students may drop out of school or opt not to enter college following arrest because they assess, perhaps correctly, that the touted benefits of education are not likely to materialize given the stigma of a criminal record,” Kirk says. “Though they might not even be conscious of it, teachers and advisers tend to think of arrested teens as ‘problem students,’ and focus more of their time on the students with promising futures while alienating problem students.”

In addition to rejection from teachers, parents and peers, students who have been arrested face a series of academic roadblocks as they navigate their way through the criminal justice system. This interruption significantly limits their competitiveness in the college admission and financial aid process.

This life-course trap raises troubling questions about the interaction of the criminal justice and educational systems, Kirk says. The exclusion and resulting educational failure of stigmatized youths creates a pipeline to prison from many inner-city schools.

“Urban schools face an enormous challenge in fostering a safe learning environment while trying to provide an education to at-risk students,” Kirks says. “Although exclusionary policies are intended to keep classrooms safe and productive, schools must develop better programs for encouraging at-risk students to re-engage in the schooling process.”

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Homework doesn’t improve course grades but could boost standardized test scores

A study led by an Indiana University School of Education faculty member finds little correlation between time spent on homework and better course grades for math and science students, but a positive relationship between homework time and performance on standardized tests.

"When Is Homework Worth the Time?" is a recently published work of Adam Maltese, assistant professor of science education in the IU School of Education, along with co-authors Robert H. Tai, associate professor of science education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and Xitao Fan, dean of education at the University of Macau.

The authors examined survey and transcript data of more than 18,000 10th-grade students to uncover explanations for academic performance. The data focused on individual classes for students, examining the outcomes through the transcripts for students from two nationwide samples collected in 1990 and 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics. Contrary to much of the published research, a regression analysis of time spent on homework and the final class grade found no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not. But the analysis found a positive association between student performance on standardized tests and the time they spent on homework.

"Our results hint that maybe homework is not being used as well as it could be," Maltese said.

The authors suggest in their conclusions that other factors such as class participation and attendance may mitigate the association of homework to stronger grade performance. They also indicate that the types of homework assignments typically given may work better toward standardized test preparation than for retaining knowledge of class material. Maltese puts forward the idea that "if students are spending more time on homework, they're getting exposed to the types of questions and the procedures for answering questions that are not so different from standardized tests."

Maltese said the genesis for the study was a concern about whether a traditional and ubiquitous educational practice, such as homework, is associated with students achieving at a higher level in math and science. Many media reports about education compare U.S. students unfavorably to high-achieving math and science students from across the world. The 2007 documentary film "Two Million Minutes" compared two Indiana students to students in India and China, taking particular note of how much more time the Indian and Chinese students spent on studying or completing homework.

"We're not trying to say that all homework is bad," Maltese said. "It's expected that students are going to do homework. This is more of an argument that it should be quality over quantity. So in math, rather than doing the same types of problems over and over again, maybe it should involve having students analyze new types of problems or data. In science, maybe the students should write concept summaries instead of just reading a chapter and answering the questions at the end."

This issue is particularly relevant given that the time spent on homework reported by most students translates into the equivalent of 100 to 180 50-minute class periods of extra learning time each year.

"The results from this study imply that homework should be purposeful," Tai said, "and that the purpose must be understood by both the teacher and the students."

The authors conclude that given current policy initiatives of the U.S. Department of Education, states and school districts to improve science, technology, engineering and math education, more evaluation should be done about how to use homework time more effectively. They suggest more research be done on the form and function of homework assignments.

"In today's current educational environment, with all the activities taking up children's time both in school and out of school, the purpose of each homework assignment must be clear and targeted," Tai said. "With homework, more is not better."

"If homework is going to be such an important component of learning in American schools, it should be used in some way that's more beneficial," Maltese said. "More thought needs to be given to this, rather than just repeating problems already done in class."

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Promoting Effective Teaching in New Mexico


In 2003, New Mexico introduced the three-tiered system to increase the recruitment and retention of quality teachers to improve student achievement. The system created a three-level career ladder for teachers to ascend based on experience, leadership, and skills. Movement up a level results in pay increases of $10 thousand. Previous evaluations of the three tiered system confirmed the system decreasing widespread teacher shortages, reducing unqualified teachers, and improving teacher pay.

Student performance, however, has not improved with taxpayer investments in teacher pay. A 2009 Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) evaluation using one year of performance data confirmed small differences in performance despite large differences in pay among teachers and offered solutions for improvement. The recommendations were not implemented. Since that time, nearly 6,000 teachers advanced to new license levels, receiving $59 million in mandatory salary increases.


New Mexico’s three-tiered career ladder system does not align pay with student achievement. Student performance within teacher licensure levels and between licensure levels suggests local and state evaluation systems are not screening teachers for effectiveness in the classroom. The difference in performance between teachers of each of the three licensure levels is small, with many high and low-performing teachers at each level. Teachers maintain levels throughout their careers because student achievement is not factored into licensure renewal. Establishing expectations for student achievement in the local and state evaluation systems will better align pay with student achievement.

Improving student achievement was a key policy goal of implementing the three-tiered system. The three-tiered system’s founding legislation identifies student success as the fundamental goal of New Mexico’s education system. The three-tiered system was designed to help achieve this goal by attracting, retaining, and holding accountable quality teachers.

The state has not established expectations for student achievement in evaluation of level I, II, and III teachers. Competencies used in the state and local evaluations of the three-tiered system include examples of student performance, but the evaluations have no expectations for the performance of all students, particularly on standardized tests. When the three-tiered system was established, the SBA was new and lacked longitudinal information; student performance, therefore, was not incorporated into evaluations. Teachers at different license levels achieve similar student performance, and a majority of New Mexico teachers do not feel the state evaluation process identifies effective teachers.

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Swimming kids are smarter

Children who learn how to swim at a young age are reaching many developmental milestones earlier than the norm.

Researchers from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research surveyed parents of 7000 under-fives from Australia, New Zealand and the US over three years.

A further 180 children aged 3, 4 and 5 years have been involved in intensive testing, making it the world’s most comprehensive study into early-years swimming.

Lead researcher Professor Robyn Jorgensen says the study shows young children who participate in early-years swimming achieve a wide range of skills earlier than the normal population.

“Many of these skills are those that help young children into the transition into formal learning contexts such as pre-school or school.

“The research also found significant differences between the swimming cohort and non-swimmers regardless of socio-economic background.

“While the two higher socio-economic groups performed better than the lower two in testing, the four SES groups all performed better than the normal population.

The researchers also found there were no gender differences between the research cohort and the normal population.

As well as achieving physical milestones faster, children also scored significantly better in visual-motor skills such as cutting paper, colouring in and drawing lines and shapes, and many mathematically-related tasks. Their oral expression was also better as well as in the general areas of literacy and numeracy.

“Many of these skills are highly valuable in other learning environments and will be of considerable benefit for young children as they transition into pre-schools and school.”

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States Have Not Yet Shifted Their Focus from Building Education Data Systems to Helping People Like Parents and Teachers Use Them

The Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) eighth annual state analysis, Data for Action 2012, shows that although states are making progress in supporting effective data use, the hardest work remains. States collect quality data and have enacted policy changes, but they have not yet focused on helping people, especially parents, teachers and students, effectively use data.


“States should be commended for their hard work building robust data systems. But it’s time to focus on the people side of the data equation — how this benefits teachers and students,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign. “State policymakers must actively support a culture in which all education stakeholders are actually using and learning from this crucial information to improve student achievement — not just using data for shame and blame.”


Without exception, every state in the country collects quality data extending beyond test scores. Yet no state has taken all of the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use, which support making better use of the rich data states now collect. For example:

  • States have laid the foundation to link P–20/workforce (P–20W) data systems but lack governance structures with the authority necessary to share appropriate and limited critical data. This deficiency makes it nearly impossible to provide people the data they need to ensure that students stay on track for success in college and careers.

  • States are producing reports and dashboards using longitudinal data but are lagging in ensuring data access by stakeholders such as parents; there is more work to do to meet all stakeholders’ needs.

  • States are increasingly providing training to help stakeholders use data but have not done enough to build the capacity of all education stakeholders to effectively use data, especially teachers.

However, some states are doing cutting-edge work, proving that these challenges can be addressed now:

  • Kentucky has refined providing information to high schools about their graduates’ performance in college and used this information to increase college enrollment rates and reduce remediation rates for Kentucky students.

  • Delaware has implemented 9 of the 10 State Actions by leveraging P–20W leadership, state policy, federal opportunities and resources and can now use data to answer important policy questions like which students enroll in postsecondary institutions and whether they get jobs in the field in which they were trained.

  • Maine collaborated with stakeholders from critical agencies to build the policy, support and infrastructure to link data systems across the P–20W pipeline, which ensured that data collection, sharing and use are aligned with the state’s broader policy priorities aimed at improving student outcomes.

  • Indiana has made great progress ensuring that stakeholders have access to the data they need, developing a web-based portal and college- and career-readiness reports that provide data, resources, and tools for districts, schools, educators and families. Indiana also achieved the greatest growth on the 10 State Actions over the past year, from 3 to 8 State Actions.

  • Ohio has developed a strong teacher-student data link (TSDL) that has helped the state generate teacher performance data to share with teacher preparation programs, which provides them the data they need to improve their programs and ensure their graduates are prepared to enter the classroom.
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Developing a comprehensive digital strategy

School, district, and state leaders must make critical decisions in the next two years involving digital learning that will shape education for decades, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, The Nation’s Schools Are Stepping Up to Higher Standards, identifies four key challenges that public school district leaders must systemically address in the next two years and outlines the essential elements for developing a comprehensive digital strategy.

The report and the webinar accompanying its release are the first steps in a major effort by the Alliance to help district leaders make smart, far-reaching decisions about implementing education technology that support teachers and improve student outcomes in K–12 public schools.

“As I travel across the United States talking to district leaders from large urban city centers to the most rural areas of the country, I hear the same thing: ‘We’ve come a long way, but we have so far to go in effectively using technology to benefit student learning,’” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “If you’re a school or district leader who is considering using education technology and digital learning in your schools, STOP—and go no further—until you have a comprehensive plan that addresses your district’s specific challenges and learning goals for all students.”

The four key challenges identified in the report that all school district leaders need to face include: (1) graduating all students college and career ready; (2) managing shrinking budgets; (3) training and supporting teachers; and (4) dealing with the growing technology needs of society and individual students, especially low-income students and students of color who are most at-risk of being left behind. By employing effective educational strategies that link and improve the “three Ts”—teaching, technology, and use of time—district leaders can create the conditions for whole-school reform and effective instruction, the report finds.

According to Wise and the Alliance, many school districts have already stepped up to address these challenges by developing comprehensive plans for digital learning strategies and will serve as examples to others in the next two years, while other districts are in the process of implementing aspects of digital learning. On the other hand, far too many districts have yet to begin preparation.

“Whatever stage a district is in,” Wise said, “there is real value in taking a self assessment to make sure your district’s technology strategies meet its educational needs, including changing curriculum and instruction.”

The major force driving the need to change is the move by all states to raise academic expectations by requiring students to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. For forty-six states and the District of Columbia, adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) also requires using technology to prepare students for computer-administered assessments in the 2014–15 school year.

If schools and districts adopt a comprehensive digital learning strategy, the effective application of technology assists in the implementation of the CCSS by supporting profound changes to teaching and learning. Technology also plays a critical role guiding educational, administrative, budgetary, and policy decisions by providing constant data about student and school performance to educators, parents, students, and policymakers.

The Alliance, which will be partnering with national membership organizations on this initiative, has identified a framework that will provide education leaders in states and school districts with tools to make good decisions about how technology aligns with the goals and vision for their students. This growing effort, which includes access to a team of experts, a self assessment tool, and other resources, will help districts through a comprehensive planning process around seven interconnected areas within the education system where technology and digital learning can maximize the impact on student achievement:

• academic supports;

• budget and resources;

• curriculum and instruction;

• data systems and online assessments;

• professional learning;

• technology and infrastructure; and use of time.

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School Programs’ Success Can Hinge on Principals Going “All In”

When principals go “all in” in terms of supporting school programs, teachers stand a better chance of successfully implementing change, according to new research published by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia (UVA).

The researchers report in Prevention Science that if school principals lack enthusiasm or show little support, they are actually viewed as a hindrance by teachers, posing “major challenges” to the success of school programs like the Responsive Classroom®, an approach boasting social-emotional learning. Additionally, apprehensive teachers fearing change are more willing to try new approaches in their classrooms if they know they have administrators’ support.

“Implementation matters,” said lead author Shannon Wanless, Pitt assistant professor of psychology in education. “When implementation is weak, school programs are not able to have as strong of an effect as they could. This spurred us to figure out why this integration is weak.”

Together with Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman, principal investigator and UVA associate professor of education, Wanless focused on implementing the Responsive Classroom approach, a program developed by the Massachusetts-based Northeast Foundation for Children, into third- and fourth-grade classrooms. In this model, a sense of community is stressed wherein students use skills like cooperation, assertiveness, and empathy to better achieve their academic goals. Such emotional connectivity is proven to promote a deeper style of learning.

For the study, the Northeast Foundation for Children provided coaches trained in the Responsive Classroom approach who worked alongside teachers and were able to answer questions when needed. Teachers viewed these coaches as important assets for helping them to understand the strategies and making sure the strategies were integrated.

“We’re going through a period when schools have become bombarded with new initiatives and programs,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “Sorting through those and creating priorities has become an increasingly challenging task for our teachers. This work calls attention to the importance of school coaches—and school leadership—in better understanding and implementing those priorities.”

All teachers involved in the study were trained in the Responsive Classroom approach and monitored over two consecutive years. In the first year, the researchers sought to determine the biggest roadblocks to successful implementations. In the subsequent year, the researchers evaluated how school personnel rated one of their own potential roadblocks: principal support.

Year One: High Fidelity

During the first year of the study, the team collected data from only third-grade teachers. Participants in the study hailed from the mid-Atlantic United States, and the number of participating teachers ranged from two to eight in 13 different schools across one district.

The research team looked specifically at the fidelity of implementation—how well the teachers introduced practices in the manner in which they were intended. After the first year of teaching with Responsive Classroom, teachers were asked to reflect on barriers and gateways.

“We found that some teachers were afraid to shift out of what felt tried and true—afraid of the chaos that comes with initially trying new programs,” said Wanless. “However, when they felt a sense of empowerment or support from their administrators, they were more likely to successfully implement the program.”

Wanless said teachers noted that they could tell when the principal was “behind something”—specifically through their motivation, consistency in use of related practices, and the accommodations they provided to teachers. At the same time, a lack of support also was noticeable and viewed as a barrier.

Year Two: Put Me In, Coach

In a subsequent study, the research team decided to take a different look at the rating system. They again focused on principal support, this time studying how the perceptions of this level of support varied amongst those in different roles. There were four raters: principals, teachers, intervention coaches for teachers, and an intervention coach for principals.

All 48 fourth-grade teachers in 13 schools participated during their second year of teaching with the Responsive Classroom approach. Teachers rated their principals’ level of support based on why they thought the principals wanted them to be trained. Coaches rated principals based on indicators such as how often principals initiated contact with them. Principals rated their own involvement with the approach, and principal coaches rated how invested the principals seemed.

The intervention coaches for teachers and principals provided a unique perspective unseen by the teachers or administrators. They could most accurately rate the level of administrator support—or lack thereof.

“The coaches’ ratings were the most predictive of actual implementation of the program,” said Wanless. “This indicates a need to consider changing the way we gather data in schools, including an external person to collect this type of information.”

“The study points to the critical role that school leaders and coaches play in predicting the implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “The work calls attention to the importance of school leadership in producing school change. As with any intervention, this approach only relates to positive outcomes if teachers are actually using the practices in their classrooms. The work helps shed light on what school leaders can do to set the stage for success of new interventions.”

The paper, “Setting-Level Influences on Implementation of the Responsive Classroom Approach,” was published Oct. 14 by Prevention Science.
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Youth with autism gravitate toward STEM majors in college — if they get there

It’s a popularly held belief that individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gravitate toward STEM majors in college (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

A new study, co-authored by Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, confirms that view yet finds that young adults with an ASD also have one of the lowest overall college enrollment rates.
The study, “STEM Participation Among College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was published online Nov. 1 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“STEM careers are touted as being important for increasing both national economic competitiveness and individual career earning power,” Shattuck says. “If popular stereotypes are accurate and college-bound youth with autism gravitate toward STEM majors, then this has the potential to be a silver lining story for a group where gloomy predictions about outcomes in adulthood are more the norm.”

The study provides the first national picture of college enrollment and STEM participation for young adults with an ASD, compared with 10 other disability categories, including learning disabilities; speech/language impairment; intellectual disabilities; emotional disturbances; hearing impairment; visual impairment; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment; traumatic brain injury; and multiple disabilities.

The study found that 34.3 percent of students with an ASD gravitated toward STEM majors. That’s not only higher than their peers in all 10 other disability categories, but also higher than the 22.8 percent of students in the general population who declared a STEM major in college. Science (12.1 percent) and computer science (16.2 percent) were the fields most likely to be chosen by students with an ASD.

But the study also learned that young adults with ASD have one of the lowest overall college enrollment rates when compared with students in other disability categories. Factors such as gender, family income and ability to carry on a conversation played a role in whether or not the individual with ASD attended college.

“Clearly, only a subset of youth with autism will head to college after high school,” Shattuck says. “A low family income puts these young people at a disadvantage even if they are cognitively capable. We need to get better at connecting students with financial aid to help them achieve their highest potential and be contributing members of society.”

The study says the tide may be turning. Advances in early identification and treatment of ASDs are likely to increase college enrollment rates, and with it increased participation in STEM majors.

“More and more children are being identified as having autism,” Shattuck says, “children who grow up to be adults. With the majority of a typical lifespan spent in adulthood, that phase of life is the one we know least about when it comes to autism spectrum disorders.

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State Loopholes Stalling Progress of Physical Education Programs

The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA, released today by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association, finds that while 74.5 percent of states mandate physical education in elementary through high school, most still fail to require a specific amount of instructional time and nearly half allow exemptions, waivers and/or substitutions. These "loopholes" reduce the effectiveness of policy efforts to ensure the quality of physical education currently taught in the nation's schools.

"The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood obesity epidemic," said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. "Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious problems."

The report found that the majority of states mandate that students take physical education (43 states for elementary, 41 states for middle, and 44 states for high school). However, gaps exist in over half of these states. Thirty-three states permit schools and school districts to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit. Twenty-eight states allow schools or school districts to grant exemptions/waivers for physical education.

Other key findings include:

• Only six states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12.

• Forty nine states plus the District of Columbia have their own state standards for physical education; only Iowa has not adopted state standards.

• Only 26 states (51 percent) require some form of student assessment in physical education.

• Only 30 states (59 percent) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online physical education courses.

• Compared to 2010, twice as many states (28 vs.14) require physical education grades to be included in students' grade point averages.

• Only 14 states (27 percent) require schools/school districts to perform fitness assessments. Only 11 states (22 percent) prohibit the practice of withholding physical activity, including recess, as punishment and prohibit the use of physical activity as punishment for inappropriate behavior or for disciplinary reasons.

NASPE and the American Heart Association recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week/30 minutes per day of instructional physical education for elementary school children, and 225 minutes per week/45 minutes per day for middle and high school students for the entire school year. Currently, no states follow these nationally recommended guidelines at all levels. The complete list of physical education program recommendations is included in the full report.

In addition to pushing for mandatory physical education in all K-12 schools in the United States, the two associations encourage parents to be more proactive in advocating for school districts and communities to develop and promote the use of safe, well-maintained and close-to-home sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and facilities for physical activity and sport participation. More importantly, parents and other adult role models need to set good examples by being active themselves.

The Shape of the Nation Report, which surveys physical education coordinators in all 50 state education agencies and the District of Columbia, raises awareness and provides data for an ongoing evaluation of the progress made and challenges that remain in physical education policies. This year's Shape of the Nation report includes new elements that address the areas of school physical activity requirements such as recess, classroom physical activity breaks, the use of physical activity as punishment, support for the Safe Routes to School program and local school wellness policies.

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Principal plays surprising role in why new teachers quit

Why do so many beginning teachers quit the profession or change schools? Surprising new research finds it’s not a heavy workload or lack of resources that has the most significant effect, but instead the relationship between teachers and their principal.

Peter Youngs, associate professor of educational policy at Michigan State University and lead investigator on the study, said the findings reinforce the need for principals to serve as strong, supportive leaders in their schools.

“The principal isn’t there just to help the novice teacher handle discipline and classroom management,” Youngs said. “What really makes a strong administrative climate is when the principal also knows the academic content well and can work with the beginning teacher on curriculum and instruction.”

Youngs and Ben Pogodzinski of Wayne State University surveyed 184 beginning teachers of grades 1-8 in 11 large school districts in Michigan and Indiana. Their study, published in Elementary School Journal, was prompted by the fact that nearly a third of teachers in their first two years either change schools or quit altogether. This can be particularly harmful to low-income urban schools that have trouble recruiting and retaining teachers, Youngs said.

The study gauged novice teachers’ intent to remain teaching and the factors that might influence that decision. Youngs said he was surprised to learn the frequency with which novices met with their school-assigned mentor teachers did not make them more or less likely to continue teaching.

In fact, the most important factor that influenced commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger predictor of intent to remain teaching than having adequate resources, the amount of administrative duties the teacher had or the size of their workload.

Youngs said the findings point to a potential need for more training for principals in university or professional-development programs.

“The focus,” he said, “would be on how principals could increase their knowledge of setting a healthy, productive school climate and understanding ways that their actions and leadership can impact new teachers’ attitudes and outcomes.”

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The Aftermath of Calculator Use in College Classrooms

Math instructors promoting calculator usage in college classrooms may want to rethink their teaching strategies, says Samuel King, postdoctoral student in the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research & Development Center. King has proposed the need for further research regarding calculators' role in the classroom after conducting a limited study with undergraduate engineering students published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

"We really can't assume that calculators are helping students," said King. "The goal is to understand the core concepts during the lecture. What we found is that use of calculators isn't necessarily helping in that regard."

Together with Carol Robinson, coauthor and director of the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University in England, King examined whether the inherent characteristics of the mathematics questions presented to students facilitated a deep or surface approach to learning. Using a limited sample size, they interviewed 10 second-year undergraduate students enrolled in a competitive engineering program. The students were given a number of mathematical questions related to sine waves -- a mathematical function that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation -- and were allowed to use calculators to answer them. More than half of the students adopted the option of using the calculators to solve the problem.

"Instead of being able to accurately represent or visualize a sine wave, these students adopted a trial-and-error method by entering values into a calculator to determine which of the four answers provided was correct," said King. "It was apparent that the students who adopted this approach had limited understanding of the concept, as none of them attempted to sketch the sine wave after they worked out one or two values."

After completing the problems, the students were interviewed about their process. A student who had used a calculator noted that she struggled with the answer because she couldn't remember the "rules" regarding sine and it was "easier" to use a calculator. In contrast, a student who did not use a calculator was asked why someone might have a problem answering this question. The student said he didn't see a reason for a problem. However, he noted that one may have trouble visualizing a sine wave if he/she is told not to use a calculator.

"The limited evidence we collected about the largely procedural use of calculators as a substitute for the mathematical thinking presented indicates that there might be a need to rethink how and when calculators may be used in classes -- especially at the undergraduate level," said King. "Are these tools really helping to prepare students or are the students using the tools as a way to bypass information that is difficult to understand? Our evidence suggests the latter, and we encourage more research be done in this area."

King also suggests that relevant research should be done investigating the correlation between how and why students use calculators to evaluate the types of learning approaches that students adopt toward problem solving in mathematics.
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Academic and Fiscal Benefits of Universal Preschool

This brief is authored by Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

There is near-universal agreement among researchers “that high-quality preschool programs more than pay for themselves in economic and social benefits,” Mathis writes. Indeed, high-quality preschool for at least two years has been found to close as much as half the achievement gap. Such preschool participation is also associated with a wide range of more positive adult outcomes, including less drug use, less welfare depen
dency, higher graduation rates, higher college attendance, and higher employment.

Despite these demonstrated outcomes and the increase in children attending pre-school, “in inflation adjusted dollars, overall funding per child served is lower than a decade ago,” Mathis writes. For preschool to reap its proven substantial benefits, lawmakers must assure that the programs are of high quality and are adequately supported.

The brief explains the key elements of a quality pre-school program. It also discusses research findings concerning basic issues such as the entrance age for preschool, comparisons of center-based and home-based programs, and whether preschool should be universal or targeted by socioeconomic group.
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Link Found Between Child Prodigies and Autism

A new study of eight child prodigies suggests a possible link between these children’s special skills and autism.

Of the eight prodigies studied, three had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. As a group, the prodigies also tended to have slightly elevated scores on a test of autistic traits, when compared to a control group.

In addition, half of the prodigies had a family member or a first- or second-degree relative with an autism diagnosis.

The fact that half of the families and three of the prodigies themselves were affected by autism is surprising because autism occurs in only one of 120 individuals, said Joanne Ruthsatz, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

“The link between child prodigies and autism is strong in our study,” Ruthsatz said. “Our findings suggest child prodigies have traits in common with autistic children, but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.”

The study also found that while child prodigies had elevated general intelligence scores, where they really excelled was in working memory - all of them scored above the 99th percentile on this trait.

Ruthsatz conducted the study with Jourdan Urbach of Yale University. Their results were published in a recent issue of the journal Intelligence.

For the study, the researchers identified eight child prodigies through the internet and television specials and by referral. The group included one art prodigy, one math prodigy, four musical prodigies and two who switched domains (one from music to gourmet cooking, and one from music to art). The study included six males and two females.

The researchers met with each prodigy individually over the course of two or three days. During that time, the prodigies completed the Stanford-Binet intelligence test, which included sub-tests on fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual spatial abilities and working memory.

In addition, the researchers administered the Autism-Spectrum Quotient assessment, which scores the level of autistic traits. The prodigies’ scores on the test were compared to a control group of 174 adults who were contacted randomly by mail.

Ruthsatz said the most striking data was that which identified autistic traits among the prodigies.

The prodigies showed a general elevation in autistic traits compared to the control group, but this elevation was on average even smaller than that seen in high-functioning autistic people diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Autism is a developmental disability characterized by problems with communicating and socializing and a strong resistance to change. People with Asperger’s are more likely than those with autism to have normal intelligence, but tend to have difficulties with social interaction.

The prodigies did score higher than the control group and the Asperger’s group on one subsection of the autism assessment: attention to detail.

“These prodigies had an absolutely amazing memory for detail,” she said. “They don’t miss anything, which certainly helps them achieve the successes they have.”

Ruthsatz said it was not the three prodigies who were diagnosed with autism who were driving this particular finding. In fact, the three autistic prodigies scored an average of 8 on attention to detail, compared to 8.5 for the entire group of prodigies.

On the intelligence test, the prodigies scored in the gifted range, but were not uniformly exceptional. While five of the eight prodigies scored in the 90th percentile or above on the IQ test, one scored at the 70th percentile and another at the 79th percentile.

“Our findings suggest child prodigies have traits in common with autistic children, but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.”

But just as they did in the autism assessment, the prodigies stood out in one of the sub-tests of the intelligence test. In this case, the prodigies showed an exceptional working memory, with all of them scoring above the 99th percentile.

Working memory is the system in the brain that allows people to hold multiple pieces of information in mind for a short time in order to complete a task.

The findings paint a picture of what it takes to create a prodigy, Ruthsatz said.

“Overall, what we found is that prodigies have an elevated general intelligence and exceptional working memory, along with an elevated autism score, with exceptional attention to detail,” Ruthsatz said.

These results suggest that prodigies share some striking similarities with autistic savants - people who have the developmental disabilities associated with autism combined with an extraordinary talent or knowledge that is well beyond average.

“But while autistic savants display many of the deficits commonly associated with autism, the child prodigies do not,” Ruthsatz said. “The question is why.”

The answer may be some genetic mutation that allows prodigies to have the extreme talent found in savants, but without the deficits seen in autism. But the answer will require more study, Ruthsatz said.

“Our findings suggest that prodigies may have some moderated form of autism that actually enables their extraordinary talent.”

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Kids need at least 7 minutes a day of 'vigorous' physical activity

Most aren't getting that

Children need a minimum of seven minutes a day of vigorous physical activity, demonstrates recently published findings by University of Alberta medical researchers and their colleagues across Canada.

"If you watch late-night television, or look in the backs of magazines, you'll see magical ads saying you need just 10 minutes a day or five minutes a day of exercise to stay fit. And for those of us in the medical field, we just rolled our eyes at that. But surprisingly, they may actually be right and that's what this research shows," says co-principal investigator Richard Lewanczuk, a researcher with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the U of A.

"Our research showed children don't need a lot of intense physical activity to get the health benefits of exercise – seven minutes or more of vigorous physical activity was all that was required. But the seven minutes had to be intense to prevent weight gain, obesity and its adverse health consequences. And most kids weren't getting that."

Lewanczuk worked on this study with Jonathan McGavock, his co-principal investigator and former post-doctoral fellow, who now works with the Manitoba Institute of Child Health. They collaborated with Black Gold Regional Schools in Leduc and surrounding communities just south of Edmonton, as well as researchers from the University of Manitoba, Queen's University, the University of Newcastle, and U of A researchers from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, the School of Public Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. The team's findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

More than 600 children, between the ages of nine to 17 from Leduc and surrounding areas, wore monitors that tracked their physical activity levels for seven days. These children also had their weight, waist circumference and blood pressure regularly monitored.

Researchers reviewed the data collected through the Healthy Hearts program via Black Gold Regional Schools and determined the children spent almost 70 per cent of their time doing sedentary activities; nearly 23 per cent was devoted to light physical activity; almost seven per cent to moderate physical activity and 0.6 per cent to vigorous physical activity.

Overall, boys were less sedentary than girls. And the more vigorous the physical activity, the less apt the children were to be overweight. Children who were overweight had improved fitness levels and shrinking waist lines when they increased the amount of time spent doing vigorous activities.

Lewanczuk said the team made some other notable findings including the following: there weren't the expected health benefits from doing only mild or moderate activity even if the time spent doing this type of activity increased. What seemed to be critical was taking part in intense physical activity. For kids who took part in vigorous physical activity that lasted longer than seven minutes, their health benefits were significantly better. And the whole notion of being overweight but fit? The team's data didn't support that finding in children. If children were overweight, they were also unhealthy, Lewanczuk says.

"This research tells us that a brisk walk isn't good enough," says Lewanczuk, a professor in the Department of Medicine who has been studying this topic for eight years. "Kids have to get out and do a high-intensity activity in addition to maintaining a background of mild to moderate activity. There's a strong correlation between obesity, fitness and activity. Activity and fitness is linked to a reduction in obesity and good health outcomes."

Getting young children to make vigorous physical activity part of their daily routines is important, especially considering activity levels in the teenage years drop right off, Lewanczuk says. And previously published research from the same group of children shows kids are more active at school than they are at home.

"Quite often the activity levels on evenings or weekends would be almost flat," he says. "We made the presumption that kids were just sitting in front of a screen the whole time."

Lewanczuk hopes the research findings will help schools decide what type of mandatory physical activity is needed.

He praised the school district involved in the study, noting the research wouldn't have been possible without its support.

Paul Wozny with Black Gold Regional Schools said physical activity is always worthwhile and noted that increased moderate to intense activity was closely associated with lower weights from year to year. He said the Healthy Hearts project has truly created "a school and community culture where regular physical activity and healthy nutrition are seen as essential ingredients for students' health, wellness and life-long learning. Everyone is involved – students, their parents, teachers, staff, researchers and the community as a whole.

"We are always striving to improve, so we regularly review the research results to help us fine tune and develop future activity and wellness programming at all of our school communities. Black Gold Regional Schools' Health Hearts project has received both national and international recognition as a world-leading school and community initiative dedicated to the improvement of student cardiovascular health through regular physical activity and multi-stakeholder support."

The primary funders of the research were: the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research.

"The Canadian Diabetes Association is proud to be a leading supporter of diabetes research in Canada, investing more than $7 million annually in diabetes research," said Janet Hux, chief scientific advisor for the Canadian Diabetes Association. "The association encourages Canadians to pursue healthy lifestyles in order to prevent and manage diabetes. Dr. Lewanczuk's work provides important new insights that may make enhanced activity more feasible for children and youth."

The Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research added: "Having this kind of evidence should make it easier for parents, schools and daycare programs to do activities with children that will help develop lifelong healthy attitudes towards exercise and activity," stated Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research President and CEO, Robyn Blackadar.

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Record Shares of Young Adults Have Finished Both High School and College

Record shares of young adults are completing high school, going to college and finishing college, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available census data. In 2012, for the first time ever, one-third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have completed at least a bachelor’s degree.

These across-the-board increases have occurred despite dramatic immigration-driven changes in the racial and ethnic composition of college-age young adults, a trend that had led some experts to expect a decline in educational attainment.

College completion is now at record levels among key demographic groups: men and women; blacks, whites and Hispanics; and foreign-born and native-born Americans.

Also, a record share of the nation’s young adults ages 25 to 29 (90%) has finished at least a high school education. And another record share—63%—has completed at least some college.

Some of the “credit” for recent increases appears to go to the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the sluggish jobs recovery since. With young adults facing sharply diminished labor market opportunities, their rate of high school and college completion has been rising slowly but steadily since 2007, after having been stagnant during better economic times earlier in the decade.

Changing public attitudes about the importance of going to college to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based labor market may also have played a role. In 1978, the public was evenly divided over whether a college education was necessary to get ahead in life. Roughly 30 years later, a lopsided majority firmly endorsed the necessity of a college degree. In a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, 73% of American adults agreed that, in order to get ahead in life these days, it is necessary to get a college education. Similarly, when the Gallup Organization asked about the importance of college in 2010, 75% of Americans said a college education is “very important.” In 1978, only 36% said the same.

The nation’s college-age population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse – today some 44% of 18- to 25-year-olds are non-white, up from 17% in 1971. Historically, Hispanic and black youths have trailed white and Asian youths in educational attainment. That remains the case, but rates for all four groups are rising at a similar pace.

The trends on college attainment are not all positive, however. The recent increases in the U.S. come at a time when other advanced economies are registering similar or greater gains, leading experts and college presidents to question whether the U.S. has been losing its competitive position as the global leader in higher education. In 2011 the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of more than 1,000 college presidents nationwide. Among those college presidents surveyed, only 19% said the U.S. system of higher education is currently the best in the world, and just 7% said they believe it will be the best in the world 10 years from now. A plurality of presidents (51%) described the U.S. system as one of the best in the world.

That same survey also found that college presidents are concerned about the quality, preparedness and study habits of today’s college students. Overall, 52% of presidents say college students today study less than their predecessors did a decade ago; just 7% say they study more.

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Why Superintendents Turn Over

Although superintendent turnover can hinder district reform and improvement, research examining superintendent exits is scarce. This study identifies factors contributing to superintendent turnover in California by matching original superintendent and school board survey data with administrative data and information hand-collected from news sources on why superintendents left and where they went. Among 215 superintendents studied beginning in 2006, 45% exited within 3 years.

Using a multinomial framework to separate retirements from other turnover, the authors find that factors such as how highly the school board rates its own functioning and the superintendent’s performance and whether the superintendent was hired internally strongly predict non-retirement exits 3 years later. Short-term district test score growth, however, is uncorrelated. Superintendents who move migrate away from rural districts toward larger, higher-paying districts in urban and suburban locations.

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Assistive listening devices may improve dyslexic student reading skills

Children with dyslexia may benefit from wearing assistive listening devices in the classroom, a study suggests. Nina Kraus and colleagues studied 34 dyslexic children who ranged in age from 8 to 14 years. Nineteen of the students wore an assistive listening device, similar to a Bluetooth receiver, throughout the school day for the duration of the school year. The brain responded to sound more consistently in children wearing the devices, the authors report, a finding that could have implications for improved reading skills.

According to the authors, the devices could help improve focus and awareness in children with dyslexia while reducing background noise. The benefits could extend beyond the classroom, the authors propose, by addressing the abnormal sensory representations of speech in children with dyslexia, who have a tendency to misperceive the meanings of similar sounds such as "cat" as "bat" or "pat." Use of assistive listening devices could potentially transform how the nervous system processes sound and help normalize speech comprehension, even in children with pervasive reading impairments, according to the authors.

"Assistive listening devices drive neuroplasticity in children with dyslexia," by Jane Hornickel, Steven G. Zecker, Ann R. Bradlow, and Nina Kraus

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Gender biases within academic science

Science faculty display subtle gender biases that may contribute to the underrepresentation of women within many fields of academic science, according to a study. Using a randomized, double-blind study design, Corinne Moss-Racusin and colleagues asked a nationwide sample of 127 biology, chemistry, and physics professors to evaluate the application materials of an undergraduate student who was ostensibly applying for a lab manager position. All professors received identical applications, which were randomly attributed to either a male or a female student.

The authors found that the male student was more likely to be hired and offered mentoring opportunities, was rated as more competent, and was offered a higher starting salary compared with the female student with identical credentials. This bias occurred independently of the faculty member's gender, scientific discipline, age, and tenure status. According to the authors, the findings suggest that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent than the male student.

Additional analyses revealed a pre-existing subtle bias against women that undermined the faculty participants' perceptions and treatment of the female applicant. The findings suggest that the faculty members' bias may be unintentional, stemming from widespread cultural stereotypes about women's competence in science, and could potentially hinder female participation in science, according to the authors.

"Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students," by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman

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Reading instruction and brain development influence each other

A child's ability to read may largely depend on when that individual's brain circuitry is sufficiently developed yet capable of growth, a longitudinal study reports. Jason Yeatman and colleagues tracked reading proficiency over a 3-year period for 55 children who ranged in age from 7 to 12. Thirty-nine of those children underwent at least three scans measuring development in brain regions associated with reading skills. The measurements focused on white matter, the brain component involved in transmitting signals from one region to another.

While every child's reading skills increased from one year to the next, their skills relative to peers did not vary significantly. Compared with other children, those with above-average reading skills initially had less-developed white matter that increased over the 3-year period. In children with below-average reading skills, however, white matter development declined over time.

The authors suggest that the timing of reading instruction should perhaps take into account when an individual's brain circuitry is adequately developed but retains the potential for further plasticity. This developmental timing might not just rely upon age, but on other factors that can drive the process, such as genetics and prior life experiences. As a result, children in the future may benefit from instruction that is tailored and timed to their particular stages of brain development, according to the authors.

"Development of white matter and reading skills," by Jason Daniel Yeatman, et al.
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Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement

On average, 36 percent of teachers nationally were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year based on the 56,837 schools analyzed in the dataset

On any given school day, up to 40 percent of teachers in New Jersey’s Camden City Public Schools are absent from their classrooms. Such a high figure probably would not stand out in parts of the developing world, but it contrasts sharply with the 3 percent national rate of absence for full-time wage and salaried American workers, and the 5.3 percent rate of absence for American teachers overall. Certainly, it isn’t unreasonable for Camden residents to expect lower rates of teacher absence, particularly when the district annually spends top dollar—more than $22,000 per pupil—to educate its students. And advocates for students of color, who constitute 99.5 percent of the district’s enrollment, could potentially use these new data from the Department of Education to support a civil rights complaint.

Beginning in 2009 the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education included a new item on its biennial Civil Rights Data Collection survey—teacher absences. Notwithstanding concerns about equity, attention to this issue is appropriate for two reasons:

. First, teachers are the most important school-based determinant of students’ academic success. It’s no surprise researchers find that teacher absence lowers student achievement.
. Second, resources are scarce, and any excess of funds tied up in teacher absence, which costs at least $4 billion annually, should be put to better use.
This report uses the Civil Rights Data Collection dataset released in early 2012 to raise questions and drive debate about the subject of teacher absence. This dataset comes from the first national survey to include school-level information on teacher absence. The measure constructed from this information is the percentage of teachers who were absent more than 10 times during the year. The Department of Education calls the measure a “leading indicator,” a reasonable label given the documented relationship between absence rates measured at the teacher level and student achievement. Yet very little is known about the properties of this new school-level measure.

On average, 36 percent of teachers nationally were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year based on the 56,837 schools analyzed in the dataset. The percentages reported by individual schools range from 0 percent to 100 percent, with 62 percent of the variation in the measure occurring between districts and a third occurring within districts. The latter statistic is significant because all schools within a given district operate under the same leave policies, and teacher absence levels well above a district average may be a symptom of a dysfunctional professional culture at the building level.

State averages on the novel Civil Rights Data Collection measure of teacher absence range from a low of 20.9 percent in Utah to a high of 50.2 percent in Rhode Island. A ranking of states on page 8 raises questions about the wisdom of some states’ teacher absence policies.

This report also notes that teacher absence is yet another item that can be added to the list of ways in which charter schools differ from traditional public schools. Teachers are absent from traditional public schools more than 10 times per year at a rate that is 15.2 percentage points higher than in charter schools.

A school’s grade-level configuration provides some indication of its teachers’ absence behavior. An average of 33.3 percent of teachers were absent more than 10 days in high schools. The corresponding figures for elementary and middle schools are 36.7 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively. In this sense, this novel measure tracks conventional rates of absence constructed from teachers’ daily absence records.

This report also supplies evidence that students in schools serving high proportions of African American or Latino students are disproportionately exposed to teacher absence. Holding constant the grade-level and whether a school is a charter, a school with its proportion of African American students in the 90th percentile has a teacher absence rate that is 3.5 percentage points higher than a school in the 10th percentile. The corresponding differential based on percentages of Latino students is 3.2 percentage points.

With these and other findings, this report seeks to draw attention to the too long-neglected subject of teacher absence. The costs of teacher absence, both in financial and academic terms, can no longer be borne in silence. The abundance of variation in teacher absence behavior, both between districts and within, means that there is room in many districts and individual schools for teachers to have adequate access to paid leave while being absent less frequently.

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