Saturday, April 25, 2015

Understanding the Gap in Special Education Enrollments Between Charter and Traditional Public Schools

A widely cited report by the federal Government Accountability Office found that charter schools enroll a significantly smaller percentage of students with disabilities than do traditional public schools. However, thus far no hard evidence exists to definitively explain or quantify the disparity between special education enrollment rates in charter and traditional public schools.

This article uses student-level data from Denver, Colorado, to map the creation and growth of the special education gap in elementary and middle school grades.

The gap begins because students with disabilities are less likely to apply to charter schools in gateway grades than are nondisabled students. However, the special education gap in Denver elementary schools more than doubles as students progress between kindergarten and the fifth grade. About half of the growth in the gap in elementary grades (46%) occurs because of classification differences across sectors. The remaining 54% of the growth in the gap in elementary grades is due to differences in student mobility across sectors. However, the gap does not primarily grow—and in fact tends to shrink—due to the movement of students with disabilities across sectors and out of the city’s school system. Rather, the impact of student mobility on the gap is driven primarily by nondisabled students: Regular enrollment students are more likely to enter into charter schools, thus disproportionately reducing the percentage of students with disabilities within the charter sector.

Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City: Significan Impact

Tenure is intended to protect teachers with demonstrated teaching skills against arbitrary or capricious dismissal. Critics of typical tenure processes argue that tenure assessments are superficial and rarely discern whether teachers in fact have the requisite teaching skills. A recent reform of the tenure process in New York City provides an unusual opportunity to learn about the role of tenure in teachers’ career outcomes.

This study finds the reform led to many fewer teachers receiving tenure. Those not receiving tenure typically had their probationary periods extended to allow them an opportunity to demonstrate teaching effectiveness. These “extended” teachers were much more likely to leave their schools and be replaced by a teacher who was judged to be more effective.

Teachers who switch grades: negative effects

Research on teacher stability typically focuses on the extent to which teachers remain in the same school, district, or the teaching profession from one year to the next.

This study investigates another facet of stability—whether teachers remain in the grade they teach. Drawing on administrative data from a large district in California, the study find that high shares of teachers switch grades. Disproportionately, these are early career teachers who come from low-achieving or high-minority schools.

Teachers who switch grades leave schools at higher rates than their colleagues and exhibit lower impacts on their students’ achievement. For teachers who switch to a nonadjacent grade, these negative effects can wipe out any gains due to increased experience and can persist in the year after the switch occurs.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reducing school bus pollution will improve children's health

Use of clean fuels and updated pollution control measures in the school buses 25 million children ride every day could result in 14 million fewer absences from school a year, based on a study by the University of Michigan and the University of Washington.

In research believed to be the first to measure the individual impact on children of the federal mandate to reduce diesel emissions, researchers found improved health and less absenteeism, especially among asthmatic children.

A change to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel reduced a marker for inflammation in the lungs by 16 percent over the whole group, and 20-31 percent among children with asthma, depending on the severity of their disease.

"The national switch to cleaner diesel fuel and the adoption of clean air technologies on school buses lowered concentrations of airborne particles on buses by as much as 50 percent," said Sara Adar, the study's lead author and the John Searle Assistant Professor of Public Health at the U-M School of Public Health. "Importantly, our study now shows measurable health improvements from these interventions, too.

Although the study focused only on school children, Adar said it is easy to imagine similar benefits for other groups of people such as commuters, occupational drivers and people living in communities impacted by heavy diesel traffic.

The team's research appears online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The Environmental Protection Agency's National Clean Diesel Campaign required the production of cleaner fuel and set stricter emissions standards for diesel vehicles purchased after 2006.

It also provided EPA-administered grant-based funding to retrofit, replace or repower older diesel engines, ranging from farm equipment to consumer haulers, and school buses to public transit vehicles. From 2008 to 2010, nearly 20,000 school buses were altered or replaced in effort to reduce the amount of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide released into the air.

The researchers followed 275 Washington state elementary children who rode buses to and from school, before and after their districts adopted cleaner fuels and technologies. Air pollution was measured during 597 trips on 188 school buses from 2005 to 2009.

Technicians went to the schools to perform monthly measurements to check lung function and inflammation, and child absenteeism from school was recorded.

Over the course of the four years, the bus fleet of two school districts was altered with special emissions devices or with the fuel used to power them. Some were fitted with diesel oxidation catalysts or closed crankcase ventilation systems, which are used to reduce tailpipe and engine emissions, respectively. All the buses switched to ultra low sulfur diesel and some used biodiesel. These fuels are projected to reduce particle generation by about 10-to-30 percent, the researchers say.

Children in the districts missed an average of 3.1 school days over nine months but there was an 8 percent lower risk of being absent in the previous month when riding a bus with ultra low sulfur diesel fuel. For those riding a bus that was fitted with a diesel oxidation catalyst, there was a 6 percent reduction in the risk of absenteeism.

Using these and other measurements, the researchers were able to extrapolate a 14 million day reduction in absenteeism for the nation's bus-riding children if all vehicles were altered to reduce emissions.

"Our research also suggests that children riding buses with cleaner fuels and technologies may experience better lung development as compared to those riding dirtier buses," Adar said. "This is consistent with recent findings from the Children's Health Study in California, which reported more robust lung development in children with improvements in outdoor air quality."

Children with disabilities need a best friend in kindergarten

Dropping off a child at kindergarten for the first time can be one of the most memorable yet terrifying experiences of parenthood. Among the many concerns parents face is the worry whether your child will make friends - a key factor, research shows, in reducing anxiety, depression and the likelihood of being bullied.

For parents of children with disabilities, the concern is even greater as four-out-of-10 of their children will enter kindergarten without the social skills necessary to develop close friendships. The response from schools has been to create inclusive classrooms, where a significant number of students with disabilities now receive the majority of their education and are believed to have a better chance at developing close relationships with peers.

But after studying six inclusive classrooms, Lori Erbrederis Meyer, assistant professor of early childhood and early childhood special education at the University of Vermont, has found that inclusive classrooms with disability awareness curricula alone do not increase friendships for students with disabilities. Her study, forthcoming in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education and available now via the journal's OnlineFirst service, also showed that having a best friend helps children with high rates of problem behaviors and low rates of social skills still gain peer acceptance.

"The fact that about 40 percent of young children with disabilities will enter kindergarten without age-appropriate social relationship skills is striking, because these skills help them form friendships, which in turn supports smoother transitions in kindergarten and may prevent later peer victimization," says Meyer, a former inclusive early childhood teacher herself. "We found that inclusion in and of itself does not equate to increased acceptance, classroom membership or peer relationships. This research emphasizes the importance of individualizing class-wide programs based on children's support needs."

Investigating the impact of a disability-focused curriculum

In her article, "Impact of an Affective Intervention on the Friendships of Kindergarteners with Disabilities," Meyer investigates a disability awareness curriculum's impact on the development of close friendships among 26 kindergarteners with disabilities enrolled in six inclusive classrooms. She also looked into whether the presence of at least one best friendship mediated the relationship between children's social skills/problem behaviors and peer acceptance.

The study compared the results of two groups, each containing students with and without disabilities. In one group, classroom teachers implemented the "Special Friends" program, a curriculum designed to increase children's positive attitudes about disabilities. In the other, teachers implemented a curriculum with a focus on science. Each program included class-wide shared book reading, mixed-ability cooperative learning groups where students egnaged in play-based activities with one another, and a lending library, allowing children to bring books read at school home to read with their families.

The Special Friends program read books with a focus on disability-related themes, with teachers discussing the book's plot, connections between the children and the characters in the books, understanding of disabilities and disability-specific vocabulary. Teachers using the science program led shared book reading in a very similar way, except that they read books with science-related content.

"Contrary to our hypothesis that the number of best friendships would increase in the Special Friends program, we found a significant increase in the number of best friendships for children with disabilities participating in the science program," Meyer says.

There was, the study notes, one important difference between the cooperative learning groups' activities in Special Friends versus the science curriculum. While the former encouraged open-ended, dramatic play -- like pretending to run a restaurant -- the latter worked on project-based activities that had clearly defined outcomes -- like working together to build a bird's nest.

"Evidence shows that children in the Special Friends program may not have had the play skills necessary to engage in extended, independent play interactions during the cooperative learning group activities," Meyer says. "Some of the children weren't sure how to initiate interactions. This may account for the group's decline in the mean number of best friendships."

Other findings showed that self-regulation and social skills are directly related to having at least one best friend and acceptance among peers. "Children who had higher rates of problem behavior and lower social skills also had lower rates of peer acceptance," Meyer says. "However, when children with these social-behavioral characteristics had a best friendship, it did not result in lower peer acceptance scores."

Meyer says that to increase the chances of children with disabilities making friendships, high-quality inclusion models must be structured in a way that creates an environment that supports young children's acceptance, membership and the development of friendships.

"Our research shows that at the same time we're focusing on improving children's social skills and decreasing their challenging behaviors, we also have to be helping them make friends in the classroom because of the protective factors that it has and its effect on producing better social and academic outcomes." she says. "Within our early learning environments we need to think deeply about how we create opportunities for children to grow in both their academic and social skills. This is especially prevalent for children who may enter kindergarten with delays or disabilities that may impact their social-emotional development and impact their ability to develop close friendships with classmates."

Students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts

A study from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health finds students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts. In fact, preliminary results show 12 percent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks, which equates to an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, were based on a study of almost 300 children in second through fourth grade who were observed over the course of a school year. Engagement was measured by on-task behaviors such as answering a question, raising a hand or participating in active discussion and off-task behaviors like talking out of turn.

Standing desks - also known as stand-biased desks - are raised desks that have stools nearby, enabling students to sit or stand during class at their discretion. Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, who is an ergonomic engineer by trade, originally became interested in the desks as a means to reduce childhood obesity and relieve stress on spinal structures that may occur with traditional desks. Lessons learned from his research in this area led to creation of Stand2Learn™, an offshoot company of a faculty-led startup that manufactures a classroom version of the stand-biased desk.

Benden's previous studies have shown the desks can help reduce obesity - with students at standing desks burning 15 percent more calories than students at traditional desks (25 percent for obese children) - and there was anecdotal evidence that the desks also increased engagement. The latest study was the first designed specifically to look at the impact of classroom engagement.

Benden said he was not surprised at the results of the study, given that previous research has shown that physical activity, even at low levels, may have beneficial effects on cognitive ability.

"Standing workstations reduce disruptive behavior problems and increase students' attention or academic behavioral engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work," Benden said.

"Considerable research indicates that academic behavioral engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat."

The key takeaway from this research, Benden said, is that school districts that put standing desks in classrooms may be able to address two problems at the same time: academic performance and childhood obesity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Teaching Pre-Schoolers How To Do Something Limits Exploration and Discovery

This study looks at how teaching affects exploration and discovery.

Experiment 1 investigated children’s exploratory play after an adult pedagogically demonstrated a function of a toy, after an interrupted pedagogical demonstration, after a naïve adult demonstrated the function, and at baseline. Preschoolers in the pedagogical condition focused almost exclusively on the target function; by contrast, children in the other conditions explored broadly.

Experiment 2 showed that children restrict their exploration both after direct instruction to themselves and after overhearing direct instruction given to another child; they do not show this constraint after observing direct instruction given to an adult or after observing a non-pedagogical intentional action.

In pedagogical contexts, a teacher’s failure to provide evidence for additional functions provides evidence for their absence; such contexts generalize from child to child (because children are likely to have comparable states of knowledge) but not from adult to child. Thus, pedagogy promotes efficient learning but at a cost: children are less likely to perform potentially irrelevant actions but also less likely to discover novel information.

Similar study here.