CDC estimates 1 in 88 children (11.3 per 1,000) has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)


Complete report

This marks a 23% increase since the last report in 2009 and a 78% increase since CDC's first report in 2007. Some of the increase is due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and served in their local communities, although exactly how much is due to these factors in unknown.

The number of children identified with ASDs varied widely across the 14 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network sites, from 1 in 47 (21.2 per 1,000) to 1 in 210 (4.8 per 1,000).

ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).

The largest increases over time were among Hispanic children (110%) and black children (91%). Some of this increase is probably due to greater awareness and better identification among these groups. However, this finding explains only part of the increase over time, as more children are being identified in all groups.

There were increases over time among children without intellectual disability (those having IQ scores above 70), although there were also increases in the estimated prevalence of ASDs at all levels of intellectual ability.

More children are being diagnosed at earlier ages—a growing number of them by age 3. Still, most children are not diagnosed until after they reach age 4, even though early identification and intervention can help a child access services and learn new skills.

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The characteristics and experiences of beginning teachers


This report describes the characteristics and experiences of beginning public school teachers (teachers with fewer than five years of teaching experience) in the Northeast and Islands Region states and compares them with the characteristics and experiences of beginning teachers nationally using data from the 2007/08 Schools and Staffing Survey.

The study focuses on variables related to teachers’ preparation and workplace supports that research suggests might be associated with their perceptions of preparedness, effectiveness, and retention.

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Meditation Improves Emotional Behaviors in Teachers


Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed – and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.
The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.
“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”

Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.

Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama

The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?
From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:
* Concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience;
* Mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one’s body and feelings;
* Directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others.
In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.

“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Kemeny.

As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship. In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.
Some of the teachers’ key facial movements during the marital interaction task changed, particularly hostile looks which diminished. In addition, depressed mood levels dropped by more than half. In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.

“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” Kemeny said. “It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”

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Characteristics of school districts identified for improvement


Like other states across the country, the seven REL Midwest Region states have been striving to meet the performance targets established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Under the act, districts are identified as “in improvement” and schools as “in need of improvement” after two successive years of not meeting adequate yearly progress performance targets.

This report, Characteristics of Midwest Region school districts identified for improvement, presents statistical profiles of school districts designated as in improvement in the Midwest Region states as of 2009/10. It compares the prevalence and characteristics of these districts and those of districts not in improvement. It also reports the prevalence of districts in improvement under three states’ own accountability systems.

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Descriptive analysis of the principal workforce in Wisconsin,


National and state policymakers are concerned that the principal workforce is aging, that fewer new principals are joining the workforce, and that fewer female and racial/ethnic minority educators are entering and remaining in the principal workforce.

This study describes trends in demographic characteristics and retention rates in the Wisconsin principal workforce between 1999 and 2009. Over this period, the principal workforce remained predominantly White and male, but the share of female and racial/ethnic minority principals rose. Fewer than half of new principals remained as principals in Wisconsin after eight years.

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Study Shows Promise of Grade Contracts for Improved Learning


Contracts are meant to hold people accountable, including college students who sign contracts for admission into school, financial aid and housing. How about also using contracts to hold college students accountable for their grades?

Two Western Illinois University psychology professors and researchers did just that in a behavioral research study.

Assistant Professor Dana Lindemann and Associate Professor Colin Harbke assigned 40 freshmen introductory psychology students to a traditional or an experimental contract grading system. The experimental group signed individual contracts at the beginning of the semester. Terms of the contract included choosing their coursework from a variety of assignments, grading their exams and assignments as pass or fail, requiring that each student master 85 percent of the material to receive a passing grade and allowing students to correct and resubmit their assignments one time in order to earn a passing grade.

The study, “Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades Among College Freshman in Introductory Psychology,” was published by SAGE Open

A Jan. 12, 2012 publisher’s news release was picked up by more than 250 national outlets, including Psych Central, the Internet’s largest independent mental health and psychology network. It also was featured as the “Study of the Day” in the Feb. 21 edition of The Atlantic.

Lindemann and Harbke support using contract grading in contemporary college classrooms, based on their results. Contract graded students were one-third as likely to fail or withdraw from the course, three times more likely to earn an “A” grade and were more likely to perceive a high degree of control over their grade. They also rated their effort, instructor and course more favorably.

"Students indicated higher ratings for working hard for their grade, enjoying the course format and for enhancing independent thinking," wrote Lindemann and Harbke. "Contract graded students may be more motivated to perform well."

Because the assignments are graded on a pass-fail basis, there is more emphasis on a full understanding of the material instead of just partial understanding. Minimal changes to the pre-existing material were required to implement contract grading, they added.

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Middle school boys who are reluctant readers value reading more after using e-readers


Middle school boys rated reading more valuable as an activity after two months of using an e-reader, according to a new study.

The findings come from a study of 199 middle school students who struggle with reading and who participated in a reading improvement class that included Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, said one of the study’s authors, Dara Williams-Rossi, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The researchers found that boys consistently had a higher self-concept of their reading skill than girls both before and after using the e-readers. After use of the e-readers, boys’ attitudes about the value of reading improved, while girls’ attitudes declined, said Williams-Rossi, an assistant clinical professor in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU.

Technology motivated boys; girls appear to prefer actual books

“The technology appeared to motivate the boys to read, while many girls preferred the actual books,” said Williams-Rossi, who is also director of undergraduate programs in Simmons. “The data showing the girls’ preference were statistically significant and particularly intriguing. This is part of a 3-year study and this data came midway through, so we are continuing our investigation and interviewing girls to understand their reaction to the e-readers. It may be that they prefer curling up with actual books and that they enjoy sharing their reading with their friends.”

Among the findings, students generally liked using e-readers and many felt that using it helped their reading improve. Sixth- and seventh-graders were more enthusiastic than eighth-graders about the e-readers, the researchers found.

Based on anecdotal comments from the children, the researchers found the e-readers sparked excitement among the students, resulting in positive attention for the students in the reading improvement classes. Over the course of the study, word about the e-readers spread around the school, and students who weren’t in reading improvement classes began asking how they could join “the Kindle classes.”

Access to Internet a challenge; boosts need for teacher monitoring

For the study, the researchers provided e-books on the Kindle e-readers to 199 students at an urban middle school in Fort Worth, Texas. The students had about 15 to 25 minutes during their silent reading improvement class period to read high-interest chapter books and stories on the Kindle. Books included 25 classics, including The Wizard of Oz and Black Beauty, as well as ghost stories and scary stories, which were the most popular. Students said they read between one and four e-books over the course of the two-month study.

Teachers generally thought the e-readers were better at getting their reluctant readers engaged, but they reported being frustrated by students’ easy Internet access through the district’s Wi-Fi, which required them to monitor the students more closely. Also, the teachers had to spend time keeping the e-readers charged, checked-out and locked up each night, but teachers told the researchers they plan to incorporate e-readers into their classes in coming years.

Overall, the students and their two teachers rated the experience as highly satisfying. In asking individual students what they liked about the e-readers, they said they liked not having to carry a lot of books; they liked other students not knowing their reading level or choice of book; they liked that the book they were reading was always available and hadn’t been removed from the classroom. The voice-to-text feature was popular with students for whom English is a second language.

In describing their reactions to the e-readers, students advised improvements to the Kindle and the books: a light, so it can be read in the dark; pictures; more books; and graphic novels.

Middle schoolers read less than younger students; “boring way to spend time”

Study findings were published in the International Journal of Applied Science and Technology as “Reluctant Readers in Middle School: Successful Engagement with Text Using the E-Reader,” authored by Williams-Rossi with three other researchers from Fort Worth, Texas: Twyla Miranda, Texas Wesleyan University; Kary A. Johnson, The Reading Connection; and Nancy McKenzie, Tarrant Community College.

“It’s inevitable that e-reader technology will enter school classrooms,” said the study’s authors. “Our study presents reasons e-readers may be beneficial, in particular, to reluctant readers in middle grades.”

Previous research in the field has shown that upper elementary and middle school students tend to read less than younger students because of time spent with their friends and in other activities. Also, these same students, particularly boys, may not value reading as much as they did when they were younger. One study found that most students indicated reading is a “boring way to spend time.”

Among those students, research has shown that low-skilled readers have trouble starting, continuing and finishing a book, and that they are stymied by vocabulary and reading comprehension challenges. Skilled readers, on the other hand, enjoy books.

Researchers have suggested that technological gadgets, enlarged text and a more favorable environment might encourage reluctant readers. For those reasons the authors pursued a study to see how reluctant readers would respond to e-readers. Rotary International purchased the e-readers for the research.

The findings also will be published in “E-Readers: The Next Big Thing for Reluctant Middle School Readers,” in Educational Leadership, which Williams-Rossi authored with Miranda and Johnson; and “Using E-Readers to Engage Middle School Students” in the “Proceeding of the 35th Annual Reading Association of Ireland Conference,” which Williams-Rossi authored with Miranda, Johnson and McKenzie.

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Connected Mathematics 2: no greater results on Math Achievement in Grade 6


The 2006-11 Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic at Penn State University has concluded a rigorous experimental study of the effect of the Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) on the mathematics achievement and engagement of grade 6 students.

CMP2 is designed to encourage students to be responsible for their mathematics learning by exploring different solution pathways, sharing their ideas with other students, listening to the ideas of others, and questioning each other.

The study, Effects of the Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) on the Mathematics Achievement of Grade 6 Students in the Mid-Atlantic Region, found that students who experienced CMP2 did not have greater mathematics achievement or engagement than comparison students who experienced other curricula. The study was conducted in 70 schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Postsecondary Enrollment, Graduation Rates, and Student Financial Aid


For those attending public 4-year institutions, average price before aid was approximately $16,900 and net price was about $10,200; for those attending nonprofit 4-year institutions, average price before aid was roughly $32,700 and net price was about $16,700; and for those attending for-profit 4-year institutions, average price before aid was approximately $27,900 and net price was about $23,800, according to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2010; Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2010; and Graduation Rates, Selected Cohorts, 2002-2007 presents findings from the spring 2011 data collection of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences.

Other findings include:

• In fall 2010, Title IV institutions enrolled 19 million undergraduate and 3 million graduate students. Of the 19 million undergraduates, 56 percent were enrolled in 4-year institutions, 42 percent in 2-year institutions, and 2 percent in less-than-2-year institutions.

• Approximately 58 percent of full-time, first-time students attending 4-year institutions in 2004 who were seeking a bachelor’s or equivalent degree completed a bachelor’s or equivalent degree within 6 years at the institution where they began their studies.

• Overall, first-time undergraduate student 1-year retention rates were higher for full-time students (72 percent) than for part-time students (44 percent).

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Heart healthy lessons plus better food offerings lower heart disease risk factors in sixth-graders


Portable program could help middle schools across the country keep kids heart healthy

Sixth-graders taking part in a 10-week program that included interactive lessons to get heart smart coupled with healthier food and beverage options in the cafeteria and vending machines had marked reductions across all cardiovascular risk factors, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.

"To see this kind of an impact in such a short period of time is pretty encouraging, and something that distinguishes it from other childhood obesity programs," said Taylor Eagle, pre-medical student, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Mich., and the study's lead investigator. "Teaching these kids heart-healthy lessons clearly makes a real difference, and it could affect their lives forever. It's also important for controlling health care costs down the road because children who are obese in childhood are much more likely to be obese in their adulthood."

In addition to favorable physiologic changes in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides and random glucose (p≤0.001), pre-/post- analyses showed the program also supported better dietary and exercise habits. Students reportedly consumed more fruits and vegetables and became more physically active, spent less time in front of the TV and/or computer and more time playing intramural sports.

The messages and activities promoted throughout the 10-week intervention centered around five goals: eat more fruits and vegetables; make better beverage choices; perform at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week; eat less fats and fatty food, and spend less mindless time in front of the TV and computer. Volunteers and program staff were trained to implement the program consistently in the 20-plus participating schools. The intervention included 10 interactive lessons that reinforced the five goals, related to changes to nutritional offerings and other activities to promote healthy eating and exercise.

"We are not just teaching lessons to the students, but we are also altering the environments to make it easier to make healthier food choices," Eagle said.

Researchers used standardized questionnaires to collect information about health behaviors from 2,048 sixth-graders in middle schools in four Southeast Michigan communities participating in Project Healthy Schools (PHS). Baseline physiological markers were also assessed; these and health behaviors were compared before and after students were exposed to the program. Participating schools also have the freedom to adopt other activities to boost healthy behaviors; for example, walking programs after school, buses to YMCAs to exercise in a safe environment, and starting farms to be grow their own vegetables.

"We are not going to solve childhood obesity epidemic without raising awareness and engaging communities," said Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich. "This program could be implemented in any middle school in the U.S. – at the very least it gives every child basic skills which can be used to make improvements in key health behaviors, and may result in long-term healthier lifestyles."

Researchers say further studies are needed to understand which aspects of middle-school based interventions are most successful in improving students' health. PHS is supported by a broad community partnership.

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When targeting obesity in sixth-graders, gender matters


Behaviors and cardiovascular risk factors differ; For boys, getting exercise and playing sports predicts healthy weight and for girls, it's drinking milk

Intervention programs aimed at curbing obesity in adolescents may be more effective if they are gender-specific, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.

This study looked at the health behaviors and cardiovascular markers —including blood cholesterol, random blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting and recovery heart rate —of more than 2,000 sixth-graders to tease out factors that may protect against obesity in boys and girls. There are important differences between boys and girls in both behaviors and risk factors that are associated with obesity.

"As kids start approaching adolescence, we need to think about what motivates them to be active and stay healthy," said Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich. "The best way to target healthier behaviors may be to have a different message geared toward boys and girls." Based on the analysis, vigorous physical activity (exercising ≥5 times/week) and involvement in team sports appear to be especially protective against obesity in boys, but not girls. Surprisingly, when it comes to obesity in girls, drinking milk emerged as an independent predictor of healthier weight.

"We were expecting to see exercise as important for both genders but, in general, girls tend to exercise less than boys," said Morgen Govinden, medical student, University of Michigan and the study's lead investigator. "Interestingly, both the obese and non-obese girls were exercising at about the level of the obese boys. This underscores the need to devise tailored approaches that will appeal to girls and encourage regular physical activity."

Govinden speculates that girls may not classify certain activities like cheerleading or dancing as exercise, and said that if the definition for "vigorous physical activity" was lowered from five to three times a week, it might include more girls. Previous studies have shown that as girls move into adolescence, they are less likely to get involved with team sports. While the role of milk in controlling obesity remains unknown, there is other research showing increased calcium consumption correlates with healthier weight.

Further reinforcing previous study findings by the same research group, data showed that regularly eating school lunches and watching more than two hours of television per day can independently predict obesity in both girls and boys. Therefore, any intervention to help curb obesity should focus on improving the nutritional value of school lunches and reducing time in front of the TV or computer. While the nutritional content of school lunches was not evaluated, eating school lunches correlates with poorer lifestyle behaviors and socioeconomic status.

Researchers at the University of Michigan collected and analyzed data from 2,048 sixth-grade students enrolled in more than 20 participating Project Healthy Schools (PHS) from 2004-2011. They compared health behaviors and physiologic markers, including lipids, random glucose, blood pressure, and resting and recovery heart rate. Students were stratified by gender and obesity (defined as a body mass index (BMI) > 95th percentile for age and gender).

Not surprisingly, students who were not obese had significantly healthier physiologic markers compared to obese students. But some physiological markers differed by gender. For example, there was not a significant difference between total cholesterol or LDL between the obese and non-obese girls. Also, the obese boys had much higher cholesterol than both obese and non-obese girls.

Obesity and its related health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol, which typically do not manifest until adulthood, are a growing public health concern and have become a top priority for many communities and schools. PHS is designed to teach sixth grade students about heart-healthy lifestyles, with hopes of reducing their future risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and is supported by a broad community partnership.

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'Coaching Boys into Men' an effective tool for stopping teen dating violence


Male high school athletes' ability to recognize and intervene to stop dating violence -- the physical, sexual and emotional aggression prevalent in adolescent romantic relationships -- is improved with the intervention of some of the most important role models in young men's lives: their coaches.

A new study conducted in Sacramento, Calif., led by UC Davis researchers has found that a structured program delivered by coaches, called "Coaching Boys into Men," is effective for discouraging adolescent dating violence. The research is published online today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"The high school male athletes whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning that these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors towards girls which they witnessed among their male peers," said Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

"Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes," said Miller, who is now chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "With the right training and support, coaches can encourage their athletes to be positive leaders in their communities and to be part of the solution."

In the United States, one in three adolescent girls experiences physical, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner. Promoting non-violent attitudes among teen boys toward girls is recognized as a critical step to reduce the incidence of violence in these relationships.

"Coaching Boys into Men" (CBIM) is a high school athletics-based program that seeks to reduce dating violence by engaging athletic coaches as positive role models to deliver violence-prevention messages to young male athletes. It is a national program created by Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund, in 2000. For the program, the coaches are trained in the use of the "Coaches Kit," a series of training cards that offers strategies for opening conversations about dating violence and appropriate attitudes toward women with young athletes.

The study was conducted among over 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, Calif., between winter 2009 and fall 2010. Eight of the schools were randomly selected to receive the program, while the other eight schools served as comparisons. Of the coaches approached, 87 percent agreed to participate in the study. The ninth- through twelfth-grade student athletes who agreed to participate were administered a 15-minute baseline survey at the beginning of their sports season, which assessed their attitudes about dating violence and behaviors toward adolescent girls. A similar survey was administered at the end of the sports season (the study included fall, winter and spring sports).

For example, questions sought to assess teens' perceptions of abusive behaviors such as "telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to" and "telling them they're ugly or stupid." Responses were assessed using a five-point scale that ranked answers from "not abusive" to "extremely abusive." Additional survey items assessed the athletes' level of agreement with statements such as "If a girl is raped it is often because she did not say no clearly enough" or "A boy/man will lose respect if he talks about his problems." Youth were also asked about how likely they would be to intervene when witnessing various abusive behaviors, such as hearing a peer make derogatory comments about a girl's appearance.

The surveys also asked whether the athletes had witnessed any abusive behavior and actually intervened. The young men who had ever dated were asked whether they themselves had participated in any of 10 abusive behaviors including physical, sexual and emotional abuse toward a female partner in the past three months. Eighteen percent of the male athletes who had ever dated reported perpetrating any abusive behavior toward a female partner in the past three months, with verbal and emotional abuse being most common.

The study found that the young males who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men program said that they were more likely to intervene when observing abusive behavior toward a peer when compared with the control group of teens, while the likelihood that control athletes would intervene diminished overall during the course of the sports season. And the youth who were exposed to Coaching Boys into Men were significantly more likely to report actually doing something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors among their male peers, when compared with controls.

"There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design. This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts," said Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study.

"This study reminds us that in order to prevent violence before it happens, we need to take advantage of the positive influence that coaches have in shaping young athletes' attitudes towards women and girls." said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence. "We hope these findings will spotlight the importance of dating violence and sexual assault prevention and encourage other schools to implement similar programs."

The Coaching Boys into Men program is available for free download through Futures Without Violence. In Sacramento, WEAVE (a partner in this research study) is continuing to provide training and support to coaches in area high schools. The study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools at 18 Months


Can chronically low-performing schools dramatically improve in a short period of time? That was the question that the Renaissance Schools Initiative – Philadelphia’s approach to the turnaround school reform model – sought to answer when it was implemented in 2009.

Eighteen months into the Initiative, as the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission deliberate its future against the backdrop of severe budget cuts, Research for Action (RFA) has released results of its evaluation of the Renaissance Schools.

RFA’s research represents an exhaustive study of school turnarounds– a key element in federal and state education reforms. The study focused on determining whether the first group of 13 schools – both District-run Promise Academies and Charter-managed schools – made early progress toward the longer-term goal of dramatically improving student outcomes.

The Institute of Education Sciences/ What Works Clearinghouse released the following Quick Review:

What is the study about?
The study examined the effectiveness of Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative after one year of implementation. The Renaissance Schools Initiative, which began in the 2010–11 school year, aimed at improving low-performing schools by providing new management, additional resources, and new educational strategies.

What did the study report?

The study reported that students in grade K–8 Renaissance Schools had higher math achievement, reading achievement, and attendance rates than students in comparison schools.

How does the WWC rate this study?

This study does not meet WWC evidence standards because the Renaissance schools and comparison schools did not have similar achievement levels in the year before the Renaissance Schools Initiative began. Therefore, any changes in student achievement or attendance cannot be attributed solely to the implementation of the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

Gold, E., Norton, M. H., Good, D., & Levin, S. (2012). Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative: 18 Month Interim Report. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Action.

In response RFA released the following:

Statement on the Institute of Education Sciences/What Works Clearinghouse Rating of Renaissance Schools Initiative: 18 Month Interim Report

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) yesterday released a rating of Research for Action’s most recent evaluation of Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative. The rating – does not meet WWC’s evidence standards – was assigned with the explanation that “the Renaissance schools and comparison schools did not have similar achievement levels in the year before the Renaissance Schools Initiative began. Therefore, any changes in student achievement or attendance cannot be attributed solely to the implementation of the Renaissance Schools Initiative.”

However, further explanation is required to clarify the WWC’s rating. It was not possible to create a comparison school group with equivalent achievement levels prior to the Renaissance Initiative because the District selected the lowest performing schools in the District to participate in the reform effort, thereby removing the possibility of identifying a fully equivalent comparison school group. In identifying schools to participate in the Initiative, the School District of Philadelphia included all of the lowest-performing schools in the District, based on the District’s School Performance Index (SPI). As a result, researchers identified a set of comparison schools that most clearly mirrored the Renaissance Schools.

RFA utilized two sets of controls to rule out alternative explanations of the performance of the Renaissance Schools. First, the Renaissance Schools were compared to 72 schools in the District that were as similar as possible to the Renaissance Schools: They had very low School Performance Indices, and very similar demographic characteristics. Second, RFA utilized an interrupted time series design that compared the performance of both the Renaissance Schools and the comparison schools five years prior to the Renaissance Schools Initiative, and then one year after, to determine whether school performance differed prior to the Initiative. RFA’s analyses revealed that the rate of student growth in the five years prior to the start of the Renaissance Initiative was statistically equivalent to the comparison group of schools. Given the implementation of the Initiative, this research design provides the most rigorous examination possible of its impact. As such, RFA’s study provides strong evidence of an early, positive effect of the Renaissance Schools reform model.

Kate Shaw, RFA’s executive director, said in response to the WWC’s rating: “The District’s goal with the Renaissance Schools Initiative was to significantly improve student performance in the lowest performing schools in the district—not to conduct a scientific experimental study by randomly assigning schools to the Initiative. RFA constructed the most rigorous study available given the lack of random assignment. Our analyses detected initial, encouraging gains in student achievement and attendance in all K-8 Renaissance schools, and it is highly likely that these gains are due to participation in the Renaissance Schools Initiative. However, we continue to feel strongly that more research is needed to determine whether these gains will be sustained over time. RFA remains committed to its goal of contributing the rigorous research needed to make responsible decisions to the field of education, and we stand behind the integrity and accuracy of our evaluation on the Renaissance Schools.”

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The Human Side of Portfolio School District Reform


This study examines the politics of portfolio school district reform, with a primary focus on the issues surrounding high school closures. The authors take an in-depth look at how school closure policies have played out in four urban districts—New York City, Chicago, Denver, and Oakland—and offer a political assessment of what worked or failed and why. The political analyses, case studies, cross-district comparisons, and analysis frameworks may help education leaders anticipate and better address the challenges of closing schools within their own communities.

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Middle School Teacher Support Lowers Risk for Early Alcohol Use


Anxiety, depression, stress and social support can predict early alcohol and illicit drug use in youth, according to a study from Carolyn McCarty, PhD, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle University.

Middle school students from the sixth to the eighth grade who felt more emotional support from teachers reported a delay in alcohol and other illicit substance initiation. Those who reported higher levels of separation anxiety from their parents were also at decreased risk for early alcohol use. The study, “Emotional Health Predictors of Substance Use Initiation During Middle School,” was published in advance online in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Relatively few studies have examined support for youth from nonfamily members of the adolescent’s social support network, including teachers. “Our results were surprising,” said Dr. McCarty, who is also a University of Washington research associate professor. “We have known that middle school teachers are important in the lives of young people, but this is the first data-driven study which shows that teacher support is associated with lower levels of early alcohol use.” Middle school students defined teacher support as feeling close to a teacher or being able to talk with a teacher about problems they are experiencing.

Youth that are close to or even cling to parents can have separation anxiety and may be less susceptible to negative influences from peers, including experimentation with risky behaviors like alcohol use. “Teens in general seek new sensations or experiences and they take more risks when they are with peers,” said Dr. McCarty. “Youth with separation anxiety symptoms may be protected by virtue of their intense connection to their parents, making them less likely to be in settings where substance use initiation is possible,” she said.

The study also found that youth who initiated alcohol and other illicit drug use prior to sixth grade had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms. This suggests that depression may be a consequence of very early use or a risk factor for initiation of use prior to the middle school years. Depression was defined by asking youth about their mood and feelings, and asking them if statements such as “I felt awful or unhappy” and “I felt grumpy or upset with my parents” were true, false or sometimes true during a two-week timeframe.

“Based on the study and our findings, substance use prevention needs to be addressed on a multidimensional level,” said Dr. McCarty. “We need to be aware of and monitor early adolescent stress levels, and parents, teachers and adults need to tune into kids’ mental health. We know that youth who initiate substance abuse before age 14 are at a high risk of long-term substance abuse problems and myriad health complications.”
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Getting in rhythm helps children grasp fractions


Tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings due to be published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics. An innovative curriculum uses rhythm to teach fractions at a California school where students in a music-based program scored significantly higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.

"Academic Music" is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions. The program, co-designed by San Francisco State University researchers, addresses one of the most difficult -- and important -- topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum.

"If students don't understand fractjavascript:void(0)ions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling," said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University. "We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math."

The program has shown tangible results at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Courey's study included 67 students. Half the group participated in a six-week Academic Music curriculum and the rest received the school's regular math instruction.

Students in the music-based program scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test, taken at the end of the study, compared to students in the regular math class.

Significant gains were made by students who struggle with academics. The researchers compared the test scores of lower-performing students in both groups and found that those who were taught the experimental music curriculum scored 40 percent higher on the final fractions test compared to their lower performing peers in the regular math class.

"Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers," Courey said. "Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them."

Courey devised Academic Music with music teacher Endre Balogh. They borrowed aspects from the Kodaly method, a Hungarian approach to music education that incudes movement, songs and nicknames for musical notes, such as "ta-ah" for a half note.

The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note's Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.

The program has also proven itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school -- not included in the study -- that has been using the Academic Music program since 2007.

"Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that's symbolic and not dependent on language," said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School, who introduced the program to help the schools' diverse student body learn math in ways that are not language-based. The school serves many students from low-income families, and 60 percent of students don't speak English as their first language.

"In every lesson I've observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions," Cosgriff said. "It's a picture of what you would like every class to look like."

Cosgriff believes the school's recent jump in standardized test scores reflects the impact of Academic Music. Since implementing the program for all third-grade math classes, the percentage of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test for math increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. On the California Achievement Test (CAT/6) for mathematics, the percentage of third graders who scored at or above the national average increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008.

Academic Music is a 12-lesson program that is designed to be taught by regular classroom teachers without the help of a music teacher. Courey's next step is to publish curriculum materials for teachers.

"We're suggesting that teachers put music in their arsenal of tools for teaching math." Courey said.

"It's fun, it doesn't cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom."

"Academic Music: Music Instruction to Engage Third Grade Students in Learning Basic Fraction Concepts" has been accepted for press in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics and will be published online next week.

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High school math teachers show gender bias


Do some high school teachers think math is harder for girls than boys? The authors of a new study say yes.

Researchers looked at student grades, test scores and how teachers rated their students' abilities. They found that while on average teachers rate minority students lower than their white male counterparts, these differences disappear once grades are taken into account. (Those findings are consistent with decades of research on the minority gap in math achievement.) The new research, however, found bias against white girls that can't be explained by their academic performance.

"This speaks to the presence of a subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: That math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study "Exploring Bias in Math Teachers' Perception of Students' Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity." The paper will appear in the April issue of Gender & Society.

Riegle-Crumb and her co-author Melissa Humphries say they aren't dismissing the possibility that bias against minority students exists in high school math classrooms, but the patterns they found indicate a consistent bias in teacher ratings for white girls versus white boys. "Even with the same grades and the same test scores, the teachers are still ranking the girls as less good at math than the boys," says Riegle-Crumb.

One reason for this may be that gender bias is so socially ingrained teachers may find it "hard to grasp and, therefore, hard to resist." Riegle-Crumb says the misconception that white girls can't handle math persists "because the idea that men and women are different in this regard is considered natural, and not discriminatory." At the same time, teachers may be more aware of race and ethnicity – and the problems of racial discrimination – than they are when it comes to gender.

"It is very likely that teachers are unaware of holding any kind of gender bias, and they are not consciously thinking about gender when assigning student ratings," says Riegle-Crumb, who is working on a multi-year National Science Foundation grant studying how academic preparation in high school predicts students' entry into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). "Yet the implicit nature of this bias suggests that it may be insidious and difficult to confront."

The research was drawn from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (National Center of Education Statistics), which followed 15,000 U.S. students from their sophomore year of high school, into college and the work force. Earlier research on math bias has been very limited, with only a few elementary schools studied; it left virtually untouched the question of bias at the high school level – a time when students often make decisions about their future fields of study.

Bias against girls likely has ripple effects well beyond high school. "If we continue to send young women the message that they aren't as good at math it's unlikely we'll be able to increase the number of women working in STEM fields," says Riegle-Crumb.

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Sleeping after processing new info most effective, new study shows


Nodding off in class may not be such a bad idea after all. New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that going to sleep shortly after learning new material is most beneficial for recall,

Titled "Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake," the study was published March 22 in PLOS One.

Notre Dame Psychologist Jessica Payne and colleagues studied 207 students who habitually slept for at least six hours per night. Participants were randomly assigned to study declarative, semantically related or unrelated word pairs at 9:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m., and returned for testing 30 minutes, 12 hours or 24 hours later. Declarative memory refers to the ability to consciously remember facts and events, and can be broken down into episodic memory (memory for events) and semantic memory (memory for facts about the world). People routinely use both types of memory every day – recalling where we parked today or learning how a colleague prefers to be addressed.

At the 12-hour retest, memory overall was superior following a night of sleep compared to a day of wakefulness. However, this performance difference was a result of a pronounced deterioration in memory for unrelated word pairs; there was no sleep-wake difference for related word pairs. At the 24-hour retest, with all subjects having received both a full night of sleep and a full day of wakefulness, subjects' memories were superior when sleep occurred shortly after learning, rather than following a full day of wakefulness.

"Our study confirms that sleeping directly after learning something new is beneficial for memory. What's novel about this study is that we tried to shine light on sleep's influence on both types of declarative memory by studying semantically unrelated and related word pairs," Payne says.

"Since we found that sleeping soon after learning benefited both types of memory, this means that it would be a good thing to rehearse any information you need to remember just prior to going to bed. In some sense, you may be 'telling' the sleeping brain what to consolidate."

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Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching


Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching is the final report from The National Study of CMO Effectiveness, a four-year study designed to assess the impact of CMOs on student achievement and identify CMO structures and practices that are most effective in raising achievement. This report provides an in-depth look at two promising practices that exhibit a strong association with impacts: high expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching.

Researchers from CRPE and Mathematica identified CMOs that have above-average impacts and tend to emphasize teacher coaching or schoolwide behavior programs (or both) more than other CMOs. Five CMOs meet these criteria: Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools. This report delves into how these CMOs put their approaches into practice. The descriptions and examples in the report are based on interviews with CMO central office and school staff, along with data from surveys of CMO staff, principals, and teachers.

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Untapped Potential: The Status of Middle School Science Education in California


Untapped Potential: The Status of Middle School Science Education in California finds that the state’s middle schools have the potential to provide students with high quality science education, but significant challenges limit opportunities for science learning, leaving that potential unfulfilled. The report’s findings are based on the results of a statewide study of science education conducted in 2010 and 2011 among teachers, principals and school district leaders in California, as well as analysis of secondary data in selected school districts. The study was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and SRI International as part of their Strengthening Science Education in California initiative.

The research shows that:

- nearly 40 percent of teachers view students’ lack of interest as a major or moderate challenge to science instruction.
- nearly half (47%) of principals report students’ lack of preparation as a major or moderate challenge.
- nearly one-quarter of middle school teachers may not have an adequate background or preparation for teaching the subject.
- nearly 60 percent of surveyed teachers identified insufficient professional development as a barrier to high-quality science instruction.
- just 14 percent of middle school teachers provide a pattern of classroom practices that support regular engagement of students in the practices of science.
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How teacher turnover harms student achievement


This study estimates the effects of teacher turnover on over 850,000 New York City 4th and 5th grade student observations over eight years. The results indicate that students in grade-levels with higher turnover score lower in both ELA and math and that this effect is particularly strong in schools with more low-performing and black students. Moreover, the results suggest that there is a disruptive effect of turnover beyond changing the distribution in teacher quality.

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Middle School Science Professional Development Program Evaluated


The 2006-11 Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd has concluded a rigorous experimental study of the effects of the Making Sense of ScienceTM Force and Motion professional development program. The program is designed to improve teachers’ pedagogical and science content knowledge.

The study, Effects of Making Sense of SCIENCETM professional development on the achievement of middle school students, including English language learners, found that grade 8 teachers who received the professional development had greater content knowledge about force and motion and confidence in teaching force and motion than teachers who did not receive the professional development. However, there was no impact of the program on students’ physical science test scores.

The Making Sense of ScienceTM Force and Motion course for teachers incorporates physical science content, analysis of student work and thinking, and classroom instruction to develop teacher expertise about force and motion and science instruction. The course emphasizes inquiry-based instruction practices.

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10,000 Teachers Share Views on the Teaching Profession



  • Primary Sources 2012: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession is a survey of more than 10,000 public school teachers from every state, urban and rural districts and who are representative of novice and experienced professionals at all grade levels and in all specialties.
  • The survey was conducted online in July 2011 by research firm Harrison Group Inc.
  • Primary Sources 2012 is the second report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to survey America’s teachers on their views and opinions. The first report, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America's Schools was released in 2009 and continues to be recognized as the largest-ever national survey of teachers.


  • Challenges facing students are significant and growing: 46% of veteran teachers say they are seeing fewer students prepared for challenging work than when they began teaching in their current schools. 56% are seeing more students living in poverty, and 49% are seeing more students coming to school hungry
  • Only 22% of teachers rate student academic achievement at their schools as "Excellent"
  • High-school teachers believe only 60% of students in current classes could leave high school prepared to succeed in a 2- or 4- year college
  • Teachers welcome and are eager for more frequent evaluation of their practice from principals, peers and even students. Plus, they welcome feedback from a variety of sources.
  • Teachers are open to tenure reform: Eighty percent of teachers agree that tenure should be regularly reevaluated, and on average, teachers say that tenure should be granted after 5.4 years of teaching.
  • Teachers work an average of 10 hours, 40 minutes per workday, three hours and 20 minutes longer than the average required teacher workday nationwide.
  • Standardized tests do not reflect student skill: Only 45% of teachers say their students’ take the test seriously and perform on them to the best of their ability
  • Family involvement is the highest ranked factor for improving student achievement with 98% of teachers in agreement that it has a strong or very strong impact on student academic success. At the same time, 47% of veteran teachers report lower parental participation in their schools.
  • The majority of teachers are satisfied in their jobs: Eighty nine percent of teachers are either very satisfied or satisfied in their jobs and only 16% of teachers plan on leaving teaching.
  • 23 is the average number of students in the American public school classroom. On average, teachers report that student achievement is negatively affected once class size reaches 27 students.
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Competing for School Improvement Dollars - State Grant-Making Strategies


In 2009 the Obama administration announced a focused commitment to turn around 5,000 of the United States’ chronically lowest-performing public schools as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA. This commitment came with $3 billion in funding for the School Improvement Grant program, or SIG, along with new guidelines to ensure that federal dollars are effectively invested at the district and school level.

While states have welcomed the increased funding, the revamped SIG program is sometimes criticized for being overly prescriptive. The administration narrowed the program’s focus to 5 percent of the lowest-performing schools in each state, prioritized focus schools into three tiers, limited the menu of school improvement strategies that schools could implement with federal dollars, and urged states to distribute SIG dollars to schools and districts on a more competitive basis.

This shift to a competitive subgrant process likely represents an important policy change for states. Prior to the new rules, states could distribute SIG dollars to school districts based on either a formula or a competitive process. But with nearly 13,000 schools identified for improvement, the revamped SIG program requires states to competitively award grants only to schools and districts that demonstrate the greatest need for federal support and the strongest commitment to use the dollars effectively. This should theoretically prevent limited federal dollars from being spread too thinly.

In practice, however, selectivity across state SIG competitions appears to vary widely. A Government Accountability Office, or GAO, report evaluating early implementation of the new SIG grants in six states found that one state funded only 20 percent of school applicants, two awarded grants to 60 percent to 75 percent, and three states funded all eligible schools.

A U.S. Department of Education report examining the first round of SIG-ARRA grants across all states includes similar findings. In addition, the Department of Education report notes that Tier III applicants, the least prioritized schools among those eligible for SIG grants, obtained a grant in only a handful of states. Eleven states awarded grants to their Tier III schools while most other states reserved federal dollars for higher-priority schools. Among these 11 states several funded nearly all of their Tier III-eligible schools. SIG dollars were spread very thinly in those states as a result.

As this paper highlights, states have a great deal of discretion in how they target school improvement dollars even while the new federal regulations have defined and limited their use. States’ evaluation of district and school grant applications, the type of technical assistance that they provide to districts and schools during the application process, and their process for monitoring and renewing grants all influence the robustness of states’ subgrant competitions.

This paper takes a closer look at state grant-making strategies for federal school improvement dollars. Further, it reviews the way in which state funding practices for school improvement have changed as a result of the updated SIG requirements and how states have used their flexibility to implement a competitive grant process.

Specifically, this paper details the approach that three states—Illinois, Louisiana, and Vermont—have taken in administering their grant competitions. These states illuminate the spectrum of competitiveness in the state grant-making process that has emerged as a result of the new school improvement regulations.

There are five significant findings that emerged from examining these three states that call for further investigation across all states:

- First, it is evident that states continue to have a great degree of flexibility in implementing their grant-making strategy. They continue to possess discretion and flexibility in their process for evaluating applications, the type and degree of technical assistance that they provide to districts and schools during the application process, and their process for monitoring and renewing grants.

- Second, as other early research on SIG implementation indicates, access to SIG dollars may be more competitive in some states than in others. Despite the SIG program’s narrowed emphasis on the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools, states face a persistent challenge in striking the appropriate balance between supporting only high-quality school improvement initiatives, investing sufficient dollars to achieve impact, and addressing schools’ dire needs for funds.

- Third, all three states needed to provide substantial technical assistance to strengthen the quality of the applications that they received. The new competitive nature of the SIG program did not, in itself, generate robust and bold school-intervention proposals, which suggests that states must be prepared to strengthen their capacity to support SIG-eligible districts and schools during the grant application process.

- Fourth, application rates varied substantially across the three states. A smaller proportion of SIG-eligible schools and their districts applied for federal dollars in both the first and second round in Illinois and Louisiana in comparison to Vermont’s turnout in the first round. There are several potential reasons for this variance, including the rigor of the new SIG guidelines, the degree to which states provided technical support to applicants, and the perceived likeli- hood of winning a grant.

- Fifth and finally, the criteria that states use to monitor districts are clear but the process for grant renewal and termination could be more formal and transparent. The three states are generally clear about the criteria that they use to evaluate applications for funds. Illinois and Louisiana’s scoring system, which includes clear-cut scores that applications must reach to be funded, further increases the transparency of their reviewing process. All three states also provide clear criteria on how districts and schools will be monitored and evaluated for grant renewal or termination. States, however, should consider how their grant-renewal process, not simply their criteria, can be more transparent in their district-level applications, statements of agreements with districts, and on their websites to support public accountability for school improvement.

This paper begins with an overview of how the SIG program has evolved into a more competitive process. It next takes a brief look at how all states changed their practices once the program was altered and then examines in detail how three states—Illinois, Louisiana, and Vermont—have approached the competitive grant-making process.

Lastly, the paper concludes with findings and policy implications and underscores the promise of the SIG program’s commitment to turn around schools and address the systemic failures that allow our schools to flounder.

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Early Elementary Performance and Attendance in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten


This study looks at attendance in the early grades of elementary school. In particular, The researchers focus on students enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten (PreK) and Kindergarten (K). The researchers follow these young students over several years to determine their pattern of chronic absence (CA), defined as missing more than one-ninth of days enrolled, and their later attendance and academic outcomes.

The researchers found that students who are CA in both PreK and K often continue to be CA in later years, e.g. one-half of them will be CA the following year. They are also more likely to be retained, with more than a quarter being retained by Grade 3. Interestingly, for students who experience a first episode of CA in K the consequences are also continued low attendance, and lower academic outcomes compared to their peers who attend school more regularly. If attendance patterns for these students change, the impact of CA can be reduced. This is important because it suggests that it’s never too late to improve attendance.

One of the more striking findings was that Head Start students began with, and maintained higher rates of attendance compared with similar students. While they underperformed in reading and math in Grades 1 and 2, by Grade 3, they performed as well as their peers on the state assessments; perhaps their high attendance finally paid off. Further study is needed to explore this pattern.

One area of concern is the consistent underperformance of children who were in home care prior to enrolling in K. The researchers were surprised to find that these students shared similar demographic characteristics with the Head Start students in the study. The researchers discovered that these students may have met the economic qualifications for Head Start in that they qualified for “free” meals in K. A concerted effort needs to be made to determine why they are not attending a pre-school program, and to ensure that all qualified children are enrolled in Head Start or public school PreK.

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Watching Harry Potter Films Enhances Creativity in Children


Researchers from Lancaster University have discovered that youngsters who watch films like Harry Potter improve their imagination and creativity.

This is the first attempt to study whether there any educational benefits in exposing children to magical content like witches and wizards, Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.

Watching Harry Potter films could make young children more creative, say researchers at Lancaster University in the UK.

The study examined if there was a link between magical thinking and creativity in preschool children – and it found that there was.

The small-scale study involved 52 four to six-year-old children. The youngsters were split into two groups and shown two 15-minute clips from Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.

The findings show that after watching the clips, the group who watched the magical scenes in general scored "significantly better" in all three areas than their peers in the other group who watches scenes without any magical content.

Researchers Dr Eugene Subbotsky, Claire Hysted and Nicola Jones from the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University concluded that: “Magical thinking enables children to create fantastic imaginary worlds, and in this way enhances children’s capacity to view the world and act upon it from multiple perspectives. The results suggested that books and videos about magic might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively.”

Magical thinking involves believing in supernatural events like animals speaking human languages, or a witch flying on a broomstick. This involves the ability to construct an alternative world and research has shown that most 4 to 6 year olds think magically in everyday life.

Some of the scenes includes animals talking and witches and wizards performing spells and using wands, while other scenes featured the same characters but without any magical content.

The children were then tested for creativity which included being asked to pretend they were a rabbit or driving a car. They were also asked to think of different ways of putting plastic cups in a bin and for alternative uses for the cup.

The children who had watched the magical scenes performed significantly better on the creativity tests.

The researchers concluded that rather than just being used for entertainment, “magical thinking can be viewed as an additional source of development of imagination and divergent thinking in children.”
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U.S. Education Reform and National Security



The United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role, finds a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security.

"Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk," warns the Task Force, chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state. The country "will not be able to keep pace—much less lead—globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long," argues the Task Force.

The report notes that while the United States invests more in
K-12 public education than many other developed countries, its students are ill prepared to compete with their global peers. According to the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science every three years, U.S. students rank fourteenth in reading, twenty-fifth in math, and seventeenth in science compared to students in other industrialized countries.

Though there are many successful individual schools and promising reform efforts, the national statistics on educational outcomes are disheartening:

  • More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40 percent.
  • In civics, only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, roughly eight in ten Americans speak only English and a decreasing number of schools are teaching foreign languages.
  • A recent report by ACT, the not-for-profit testing organization, found that only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met "college ready" standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students.
  • The College Board reported that even among college-bound seniors, only 43 percent met college-ready standards, meaning that more college students need to take remedial courses.

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

"Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America's security," the report states. "Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy."

The Task Force proposes three overarching policy recommendations:

  • Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. "With the support of the federal government and industry partners, states should expand the Common Core State Standards, ensuring that students are mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country's national security."
  • Make structural changes to provide students with good choices. "Enhanced choice and competition, in an environment of equitable resource allocation, will fuel the innovation necessary to transform results."
  • Launch a "national security readiness audit" to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness. "There should be a coordinated, national effort to assess whether students are learning the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard America's future security and prosperity. The results should be publicized to engage the American people in addressing problems and building on successes."

The Task Force believes that its message and recommendations "can reshape education in the United States and put this country on track to be an educational, economic, military, and diplomatic global leader."

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Literature-Based Character Education Program in Elementary Schools Ineffective


The 2006-11 Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd has concluded a randomized controlled trial in California that evaluated Lessons in Character, a character education program designed to integrate easily into a schools’ existing English language arts curriculum.

The study, Lessons in Character Impact Evaluation, found no effect of the program on the academic achievement, social competence, or problem behavior of students who participated in the program, compared to students who did not participate.

Lessons in Character is a supplementary literature-based language arts program that uses a collection of multicultural literature, classroom lessons, and decision-making training to enhance student problem solving skills; promote student understanding, endorsement, and behavioral enactment of core values; and boost language, grammar, mechanics (punctuation, spelling), and composition skills.

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Teachers, parents trump peers in keeping teens engaged in school


Teachers and parents matter more than peers in keeping adolescents engaged in school, according to a new study that counters the widespread belief that peers matter most in the lives of adolescents.

"We were surprised to find that most adolescents continue to be influenced greatly by their teachers and parents when it comes to school engagement," said Ming-Te Wang, the lead author of the study, the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study, and a faculty research fellow at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

"Even though this is a stage when young people are moving toward establishing autonomy and independence, teachers and parents remain important in helping them stay involved in school, and in extracurricular activities. And this is true for all ethnic groups and races, and across all the economic groups we studied."

For the study, which was published in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Child Development, Wang and co-author Jacquelynne Eccles analyzed longitudinal data on nearly 1,500 teens from 23 schools in the Washington, D.C., area. Students were interviewed in 7th, 9th and 11th grades, with researchers asking about four indicators of student engagement: compliance with school rules, participation in extracurricular activities, identification with one's school and value placed on education.

The researchers also asked about the support students received from teachers, parents and peers, and assessed school records and other information.

The analysis was funded by the Spencer Foundation. The data are part of the U-M Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study, also known as the Prince George's County Family Study, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by the National Institutes of Health.

As the researchers predicted, school engagement declined from 7th to 11th grade, more steeply among boys than among girls.

"The overall declines may result from a mismatch between the student's developmental stage and the secondary school environment," Wang said. "In comparison to elementary schools, middle and high schools are larger, more departmentalized and more performance-oriented.

"This results in fewer opportunities for teachers and students to develop strong personal relationships, and fewer chances for students to participate in extracurricular activities at a time when they need relationships with adults outside their families to feel competent in their school work."

The greater engagement of girls may be a result of gender socialization and differential expectations of parents and teachers, according to Eccles.

"For instance, parents tend to monitor girls' progress more closely, correct girls' mistakes and make decisions for girls more than they do for boys," she said. "These practices may communicate to girls, more so than to boys, the importance of regulating progress toward one's goals and meeting those goals.

"Teachers also tend to respond differently to boys and girls in the classroom, in ways that may lead students to believe that certain behavior patterns associated with their gender are expected by their teachers."

For both boys and girls, the researchers found that social support from adults, particularly from teachers—in the form of encouraging engagement in school, emphasizing the value of an education and facilitating participation in extracurricular activities—could counteract the negative influence of peers. They also found that peers were just as likely to exert a positive rather than a negative influence on teen school engagement.

"Adolescence is a period when relationships with adults who aren't your parents become increasingly important," Wang said. "Our results suggest that supportive teachers play a particularly important role in keeping teens engaged in school."

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Examining Why Women Students Abandon Math and Science Majors


Back when Roxanne Hughes was teaching high school science and coaching track, she noticed an inherent difference between boys and girls — both in the classroom and on the field. Boys, it seemed, were supremely more confident. Girls tended to doubt their own abilities.

“Even when I was coaching, I noticed that a boy could spend the season on the bench and still think he could get a college scholarship,” she recalled, “while a girl who was an MVP (most valuable player) might think she couldn’t get one.”

Hughes, who recently earned a doctorate in educational policy from Florida State University and now works as an educational outreach coordinator at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, ultimately explored her observations — though from a slightly different angle — in her doctoral dissertation.

That dissertation, “The Process of Choosing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Careers by Undergraduate Women: A Narrative Life History Analysis,” investigated the reason many undergraduate women abandon science and math for other majors.

And now that research is winning high praise.

Hughes was honored in February by Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK), the premier professional association for educators, which named her research one of five outstanding doctoral dissertations internationally.

“This year, PDK received more than 40 exceptional entries for its dissertation award, and Dr. Hughes’ research stood out to the review panel,” said William Bushaw, PDK International’s executive director. “Research is central to PDK’s mission, and we are thrilled to honor Dr. Hughes’ work. She has made an important contribution toward advancing the field of education.”

Hughes examined factors that influenced undergraduate women to stick with a degree in a STEM field. Her research focused on 26 women who attended Florida State between 2006 and 2010. Fifty percent of the women she studied — all of whom had Bright Futures scholarships, high SAT scores and were heading into STEM majors — decided to pursue other fields midway through their college careers.

Those who ultimately completed STEM degrees had some important confidence builders in common, including positive support from parents and educators, strong peer networks with other STEM students, and the opportunity to conduct research at the undergraduate level.

Meeting role models was also a factor, probably because it put a human face on potential career paths, according to Hughes’ findings. So was having a genuine — and deep — interest in the academic subject.

“Choosing the field for the money or because you wanted to help others wasn’t enough,” said Hughes, whose articles on women in STEM fields have been published in several peer-reviewed journals including the International Journal for Gender Science and Technology.
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Teachers’ effectiveness rises during first four years of career,


The most dramatic gains occur in chemistry and physics

The Effects of Experience and Attrition for Novice High-School Science and Mathematics Teachers in the March 2 issue of Science demonstrates that while teacher effectiveness rises during the first four years of a teacher’s career in all subjects, the gains are most dramatic in chemistry and physics.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Georgia State University studied results from North Carolina’s exemplary program of end-of-course exams (which was recently cut due to budget considerations). They compared “Teachers’ Average Value-Added Test Score Gains” in units of “Standard Deviation Units” (SDU), the one-sigma spread in student test scores in a particular EOC exam.

During teachers’ first four years in the classroom, biology teachers’ gains are about 0.10 SDU, while those in Geometry, Algebra 2 and Physical Science are near 0.15 SDU. In contrast, the corresponding gain for chemistry teachers is near 0.27 SDU, and the physics gain is an astounding 0.37 SDU.

The authors conclude:
Different high-school subjects show different impacts of teacher turnover. For courses with steeper effectiveness growth curves – physics, chemistry, and geometry – the loss of these experienced teachers has the greatest consequences for student performance. For courses with less steep growth curves – algebra 1, algebra 2, biology, and physical science – the loss of more experienced teachers has less severe consequences. But both cases call for recruiting more able, motivated, and committed teachers. Could these teachers be better screened by evaluating their academic performance, persistence, ability to engage audiences, and projected commitment to teaching, specifically teaching STEM courses to high-school students? Would incentives, such as higher salaries, assignment to fewer courses per year, or paid opportunities for research with university faculty during summers or semester leaves, help retain more of the experienced teachers?

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Diagnosis of ADHD on the Rise


Ten million American children diagnosed with ADHD during doctors’ visits

The number of American children leaving doctors’ offices with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis has risen 66 percent in 10 years, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study. Over this same timeframe, specialists, instead of primary care physicians, have begun treating an increasing number of these young patients, the study found.

The study, which will be published in the March/April issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics, analyzed ADHD trends from 2000 to 2010 among children under the age of 18 who were diagnosed and treated by office-based physicians. Researchers analyzed changes in the diagnosis of ADHD and treatment of the disorder over this 10-year time period.

“ADHD is now a common diagnosis among children and teens,” said Craig Garfield, M.D., first author of the study. “The magnitude and speed of this shift in one decade is likely due to an increased awareness of ADHD, which may have caused more physicians to recognize symptoms and diagnose the disorder.”

Garfield is an assistant professor in pediatrics and medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Symptoms of ADHD, such as trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors and being overly active, can affect children and teens both academically and socially, Garfield said.

In the past decade several important regulatory and clinical changes regarding ADHD and the medications used to treat it have occurred, yet it was unknown how these factors have affected ADHD management, Garfield said.

For the study, Garfield and his team of researchers quantified ADHD diagnosis and treatment patterns among people under 18 using the IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index. This is a nationally representative sample of office-based visits and included 4,300 office-based physicians in 2010.

According to the study, in 2010, 10.4 million children and teens under age 18 were diagnosed with ADHD at physician outpatient visits, versus 6.2 million in 2000.

Researchers also found that psychostimulants have remained the most common medication prescribed to children with ADHD. Psychostimulants were used in 96 percent of treatments in 2000 and 87 percent in 2010. The exact reason for the decrease is unclear, but there was not an increase in treatment with other, substitute medications, Garfield said.

While the majority of children and teens with ADHD are still managed by primary physicians, the study found that there has been a substantial shift away from primary doctors and towards specialists, such as pediatric psychiatrists.

“Recently, there’s been more public health advisories issued about problems or side effects of different ADHD medications,” Garfield said. “It may be that general pediatricians are shying away from treating patients themselves and instead rely on their specialist colleagues to provide the treatment and management of these medications.”

Given the short supply of psychiatrists specializing in pediatric ADHD, Garfield said this trend might make it difficult for many children to receive medical treatment of ADHD in the future.

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'Look at me' toddlers eager to collaborate and learn


Attention-seeking children's development is fostered by favorable response

Parents should think twice before brushing off their child's calls to "look at me!" A Concordia study published in the journal Child Development is the first to show that toddlers' expectations of how their parent will respond to their needs and bids for attention relate to how eager they are to collaborate and learn.

Collaboration in toddlers has been linked to the acquisition of social rules and norms later in childhood.

Understanding what contributes to more collaboration can help improve conscience development in children.

Marie-Pierre Gosselin, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and lead author of the study explains that "toddlers whose parents have consistently responded positively to their attention-seeking expect interactions to be fulfilling. As a result, they're eager to collaborate with their parents' attempts to socialize them."

While scientists and caregivers alike have long theorized that toddlers have certain expectations of their parent's behavior, no one had provided a reliable measure of those expectations. By observing the quality of toddlers' attention-seeking, Gosselin and co-author David R. Forman, currently at the State University of New York at Geneseo, were able to quantify toddlers' expectations.

In the first part of the study, parent and child were put in the same room and the parent was asked to fill out a long survey with questions that required attention and focus. This usually provoked attention-seeking behaviors in the child. Some toddlers pointed at and shared objects with their parent, laughed and smiled while talking to the parent, and used phrases like, "excuse me mommy." This constituted high-quality behaviour in the researchers' eyes. Low-quality attention-seeking behaviour was shown by toddlers who cried, screamed, or even took the parent's pen and threw it across the room.

Gosselin says that they expected to find that parents who had been attentive, sensitive and responsive to their child in a variety of contexts would have children who showed more positive, high-quality attention-seeking behaviours than children of less responsive parents because these behaviors reflected the child's expectations of a parent's response.

In the second part of the study, the child had to watch his or her parent perform a series of actions (such as, how to retrieve a ball using three specific movements) and then try to imitate them. Gosselin found that toddlers who showed positive attention-seeking behaviours collaborated more with the parent in this task than those who showed more negative attention-seeking behaviours when the parent was busy.

According to Gosselin, the study shows that it is important to encourage positive or high-quality attention-seeking in toddlers because it predicts their motivation to collaborate and participate in skill building activities.

"For parents it's important to know that it's not the amount of attention seeking but really the quality of attention seeking that their toddler displays that matters for their development," says Gosselin.

Gosselin is now in the process of analyzing data on what happens when the parent is busy on the phone. She says that with the spread of cell phones it is important to see what kind of attention-seeking behaviors children resort to in this situation, how parents respond, and what are the implications for their development. She also plans to look into how toddlers seek attention from teachers and day-care workers.

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More than Half of States Increased Graduation Rates


Number of “Dropout Factory” Schools Declined by 23% Since 2002

Graduation Rate Topped 75% in 2009 with Tennessee and New York Leading the Progress

With one in four U.S. public school students dropping out of high school before graduation, America continues to face a dropout epidemic. Dropping out makes it harder for these young people to succeed in life, our economy loses hundreds of billions of dollars in productivity and our communities suffer enormous social costs. The nation continues to make progress to end the dropout crisis, according to a report released today by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report found that 24 states increased their high school graduation rates by modest to large gains, while the number of high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer students on time—often referred to as “dropout factories”— decreased by 457 between 2002 and 2010, with the rate of decline accelerating since 2008.

The number of “dropout factories” totaled 1,550 in 2010, down from 1,634 in 2009 and a high of 2,007 in 2002. The number declined by 84 between 2009 and 2010. As a result, 790,000 fewer students attended dropout factories in 2010 than 2002. These numbers and additional analysis are detailed in the 2012 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, an annual report authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The report is sponsored by AT&T with additional support from the Pearson Foundation.

Other findings include:

The national graduation rate increased by 3.5 percentage points between 2001 and 2009 from 72 percent to 75.5 percent in 2009.

  • 20 states made the most significant gains in graduation rates (+3 to +17 percentage points). Tennessee (+17.8) and New York (+13) saw double-digit gains.
  • 12 states were responsible for the majority of progress during the past decade: New York, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Combined, these states added nearly 109,000 additional graduates in 2009.
  • Nine of these 12 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) were also among the top 15 states with the biggest declines in students attending “dropout factories.”
  • The following states actually saw declines in their graduation rates during this period: Nevada (-15.6), Connecticut (-4.3), New Mexico (-2.6), Arizona (-2.2), California (-1.7), Utah (-1.1), Nebraska (-1.0), Arkansas (-0.8), New Jersey (-0.5) and Rhode Island (-0.4).
  • Only one state, Wisconsin, has a graduation rate of 90 percent.
  • The following 13 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington have to graduate the largest number of students and be most aggressive in accelerating their graduation rate to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

The South and the suburbs saw the largest declines in the number of “dropout factory” schools with 410 and 171, respectively, between 2002 and 2009.

  • The number of “dropout factory” high schools declined by 98 in cities in 2009-2010 while suburbs saw a decrease of 41.
  • Between 2002 and 2010, the Northeast had the second largest decline of 43 while the West decreased by 35.
  • The Midwest increased their number of “dropout factory” schools by 33 during 2002-10.

Contrary to 2008-09, progress in towns and rural areas stalled in 2009-2010.

  • School districts in towns and rural areas saw an increase in the number of “dropout factory” schools between 2009 and 2010. Towns increased the number of these schools by 42 and rural areas by 33 schools.
  • This slight increase does not diminish progress between 2002 and 2010 where towns decreased their dropout factory schools by 33 percent, slightly behind their suburban counterparts at 36 percent.

The following states saw the greatest change, decreasing the number of “dropout factory” schools by more than 50 between 2002 and 2010: Texas (-122); Florida (-62); and Georgia
(-54). These states increased graduation rates during this period as well.

If each state had a graduation rate of 90 percent, 580,000 additional students would have graduated in the class of 2011, increasing the GDP by $6.6 billion and generating $1.8 billion in additional revenue as a result of increased economic activity.

The report used the best and most recent data available: the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) and Promoting Power for 2010. Although all states were expected to use the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate starting in the 2010-11 school year, not all states are reporting these data at this time.

The report also includes updates on progress on the 10 Civic Marshall Plan benchmarks, such as grade-level reading, chronic absenteeism, early warning systems, and state compulsory school age requirements. As highlighted by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address, state laws dictate the minimum and maximum age that all youth must attend school. While the majority of states have a compulsory school age of 17 or 18, a total of 18 states still permit students to drop out before age 18 or the age students drop out.

The report also features states and school districts that are making significant gains, serving as a challenge that others can too. It also shares promising practices from nonprofits, businesses, media, educational and governmental institutions across the country, and five case studies in: Dothan, AL, the State of Georgia; Henry Grady High School in Atlanta, GA; Houston, TX; and Washington County Public Schools in Maryland.

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