Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Child's home learning environment predicts 5th grade academic skills

Children whose parents provide them with learning materials like books and toys and engage them in learning activities and meaningful conversations in infancy and toddlerhood are likely to develop early cognitive skills that can cascade into later academic success, finds a new study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The study, published online in the journal Applied Developmental Science, followed a group of children from birth through 5th grade to track the influence of early home learning environments on later cognitive skills and understand the factors that might explain long-term influences.

"There is growing evidence for the power of early learning environments on later academic success," said Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, the study's lead author and a professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt. "Our study confirms that strong home learning environments arm children with foundational skills that are springboards to long-term academic achievement."

Research shows that the home learning environment powerfully shapes children's language and cognitive development. Children's participation in learning activities, the quality of parent-child interactions, and the availability of learning materials like books and toys are three key features of the home learning environment that support language and pre-academic skills in early childhood.
In this study, Tamis-LeMonda and her colleagues examined early home learning environments and whether they predict 5th grade academic skills for children of families from ethnically diverse, low-income backgrounds. The researchers studied 2,204 families enrolled in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project.

Children's learning environments were measured through a series of home visits at 14 months, at 2 and 3 years, and at pre-kindergarten. The researchers looked at literacy activities (including book reading, storytelling, and teaching letters and numbers), learning materials in the home (including books, toys, or games that facilitate expression and learning), and the quality of mothers' interactions with their children. Examples of high quality interactions included labeling objects in the environment and responding to children's cues; these sensitive interactions are attentive to children's needs and cognitively stimulating.

Learning environments were again assessed in 5th grade based on the number of books in the home and the quality of mothers' engagement with children, both spontaneous interactions and during a discussion-based task.

At the pre-kindergarten and 5th grade visits, children were assessed on age-appropriate academic skills. The pre-K visit included measures of vocabulary, letter and word identification, and math problem-solving; the 5th grade visit measured vocabulary, reading, math, and general cognitive abilities.

The researchers found that early learning environments supported the emergence of pre-academic skills that persisted into early adolescence to predict children's 5th grade academic skills. Pathways from early learning environments to later academic skill were similar for children from White, Black, Hispanic, English-speaking, and Hispanic Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

Notably, learning environments were highly stable over the 10-year study, suggesting that the experiences parents provide their infants as early as the first year of life may solidify into patterns of engagement that either continue to support or impede children's emerging skills.

The study highlights the importance of early childhood experiences for children's skill development and long-term academic success, and reinforces the notion that families have a major influence on children's academic outcomes.

The researchers note that the findings have implications for policy and practice, including the design of interventions for young children and parents from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Improvements to early learning environments, whether it be in the home or through early childhood programs like Early Head Start, can effectively support the development of children exposed to socioeconomic disadvantage," said Tamis-LeMonda, who also co-directs the Center for Research on Culture, Development and Education at NYU Steinhardt.

Sleep makes it possible for babies to associate words with content

While babies sleep, astonishing processes take place in their brains. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig observed that babies succeed in associating a meaning with a word between the age of six and eight months -- a capability which until now was known for older children and adults. Memory which is assigned to the meaning of words passes through the same stages during sleep that also happen in typical lexical development: So-called protowords which combine only simultaneously occurring visual and acoustic stimuli become real words that are connected to content.

The scientists investigated these relations by introducing six- to eight-month-old infants to fantasy objects which they gave fantasy names such as "Bofel" or "Zuser." Objects that differed only in form or colour were called the same names -- just as cats are called "cats" although they differ in their details. The researchers chose these fictitious objects to make sure that the young study participants could not access any existing knowledge.

From the infants' brain reaction it was clear that the children could not connect new objects of the same category with the corresponding name. That means they did not recognise a new Bofel as a "Bofel" although it was quite similar to the previously seen Bofel versions. For the babies, every new object-word pair was unknown and unique, they could not yet build a general relation between them.
This changed after a midday nap. In babies who fell asleep after the learning phases, the brain could differentiate between the right and wrong term for a new object. They had consolidated their knowledge while sleeping. Babies that stayed awake could not manage to do so.

Interestingly, the children developed two different types of knowledge depending on the duration of sleep. After a half-hour nap they showed a brain reaction which three-month-olds already have after associating a visual stimulus with an acoustic one. During their nap they filtered similar features out of the objects and connected them with the sound of a word. Similar to the three-month-old babies, they perceived the word as a random sound with no meaning.

Unlike the infants who napped for half an hour, babies that slept for about 50 minutes showed a brain reaction that was previously only known for older children and adults. Here, the so-called N400 component occurred, which signals that incongruous meanings were processed in the brain -- whether it be in sentences, word pairs, picture stories or object-word pairs. By means of this component the researchers were able to recognise that the young participants in fact learnt the meaning of the words.
"Our results demonstrate that children hold real word meanings in their long-term memory much earlier than assumed. Although the brain structures relevant for this type of memory are not fully matured, they can already be used to a distinguishable extent," explains Angela D. Friederici, director at MPI CBS and senior author of the underlying study which has recently been published in Current Biology.

In this context, one stage of sleep could be of particular importance: The duration of the second of the four stages of sleep, in particular, seems to have an important influence on the development of lexical memory. "During this light sleep, the transition from a simple early developing form of lexical memory to an advanced later developing form evidently takes place," says study leader Manuela Friedrich. "These two types of memory which develop during sleep are comparable with those that we know from infant development. Whereas during sleep there are just minutes in between the two types, in typical development there are months." The formation of memory content in sleep clearly takes place in fast motion.

"In our study, however, the babies received such a lot of information which they normally pick up within a longer time period," Manuela Friedrich adds. "But only during sleep, when the child's brain is disconnected from the outer world, can it filter and save essential relations. Only during the interaction between awake exploration and ordering processes while sleeping can early cognitive and linguistic capabilities develop properly."


The Characteristics of Public School Teachers in the U.S.

Public school teachers had an average of about 14 years experience in 2015-16, and nearly half (47 percent) had earned a master’s degree, according to a new report released today.

The National Center for Education Statistics released Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results From the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey. The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) is a nationally representative sample survey of public K–12 schools, principals, and teachers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

• This First Look report provides tables containing descriptive information regarding public school teachers. Key findings in the report include:In the 2015–16 school year, there were an estimated 3,827,100 teachers in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. About 3,608,600 taught in traditional public schools and about 218,500 taught in charter schools. About 80 percent of all public school teachers were non-Hispanic White, 9 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 2 percent were non-Hispanic Asian;

• Regular full-time teachers in public schools spent, on average, about 53 hours per week on all school-related activities, including 27 hours that they were paid to deliver instruction to students during a typical full week. Public school teachers were required to work an average of 38 hours per week to receive their base pay;

• In 2015–16, the average base salary of regular full-time teachers in public schools was $55,100; and

• The largest percentage of public school teachers listed a master’s degree as their highest degree earned (47 percent), followed by a bachelor’s degree (41 percent). Relatively more teachers in traditional public schools listed a master’s degree as their highest degree (48 percent) than those in public charter schools (38 percent).

Realistic stories are better for promoting young children's prosocial behavior

For millennia, adults have told children stories not only to entertain but also to impart
important moral lessons to promote prosocial behaviors. Many such stories contain
anthropomorphized animals because it is believed that children learn from anthropo-
morphic stories as effectively, if not better than, from stories with human characters,
and thus are more inclined to act according to the moral lessons of the stories. 
This study experimentally tested this belief by reading preschoolers a sharing story with
either human characters or anthropomorphized animal characters. Reading the human
story significantly increased preschoolers’ altruistic giving but reading the anthropo-
morphic story or a control story decreased it. Thus, contrary to the common belief,
realistic stories, not anthropomorphic ones, are better for promoting young children's
prosocial behavior.

Characteristics of Private Schools in the U.S. (2015-16)

There were more than 34,500 private schools in the United States in the fall of 2015, serving nearly 5 million students, according to a new report released today (August 15).

The National Center for Education Statistics released a new First Look report entitled Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results from the 2015–16 Private School Universe Survey. This report examines the characteristics of private school in 2015-16 school year.

Results include:

• There were 35,576 private schools in the United States in fall 2015, enrolling 4,903,596 students, and employing 481,558 full-time-equivalent teachers.

• In 2015-16, there were more private schools in suburban locations (12,662) and cities (11,476) than in rural areas (7,539) and towns (2,900); About 96 percent of all private schools in 2015-16 were coeducational, while 2 percent enrolled all girls and 2 percent enrolled all boys; and

• Of the grade 12 students enrolled in private schools on October 1, 2014, about 97 percent graduated in 2014-2015. Of the 343,252 private high school graduates in 2014–15, about 65 percent attended 4-year colleges by the fall of 2015.

To view the full report, please visit http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2017073

9 in 10 parents believe their child is at/above grade level in both reading and math

Nine in 10 parents believe their child is at/above grade level in both reading and math. But both state level and national student performance data indicate that only about 1/3 are performing at grade level.

This report discusses why this perception gap exists, the high aspirations parents hold for their children and their deep dedication. It also identifies areas where parents could use some support and help.

Charter schools have experienced a sharp decrease in support

Charter schools have experienced a sharp decrease in support in the past year, according to a new poll, one of the largest changes in opinion that Education Next has seen in 11 years of conducting its annual education policy poll.

Public support for charters decreased from 51 percent in 2016 to 39 percent in 2017, the poll found. Support fell 13 percentage points for Republicans and 11 percentage points for Democrats.
The survey was designed to see if the decline in support for charter schools was related to the Trump administration’s stance on school choice, but the results were counterintuitive: Informing respondents about Trump’s support for school choice also increased support for charters by 6 percentage points.
Public disdain for the Common Core has come to a halt after falling for three years, from 65 percent in 2013 to 42 percent in 2016, the poll found. Now, 41 percent support the standards, while 38 percent oppose them. But a dramatically higher proportion, 61 percent, support similar standards across the states — as long as they aren’t referred to as the Common Core. And this support for shared standards increased from 56 percent last year to 61 percent this year. Teachers’ opinions on Common Core remain evenly split: 45 percent support and 44 percent oppose the standards.split.