Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation’s youth, according to a report by researchers from Clemson University and Professional Data Analysts Inc., and published by the Hazelden Foundation.

“Bullying continues to affect a great number of children in all age groups, with the highest prevalence observed in third and fourth grades, where roughly 22 percent of schoolchildren report that they are bullied two or three times or more per month,” said Sue Limber, co-author of the report and professor in the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson.

Research shows that bullying affects individuals across ethnicity, gender, grade and socioeconomic status, whether they live in urban, suburban or rural communities. Bullying can have serious effects during the school years and into adulthood.

Using data collected from the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire, they analyzed a representative sample of more than 200,000 questionnaires administered to students at schools that intended to, but had not yet implemented, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, an internationally respected anti-bullying program.

The sample included 1,000 girls and 1,000 boys from each grade between third and 12th — and the results were broken down by grade level and gender.

“We found that 18 percent of all students surveyed were involved in bullying others, were bullied by others or both, and that cyberbullying was one of the least common forms of bullying experienced,” Limber said.

A substantial proportion of bullied students did not confide in anyone about being bullied, and boys were less likely to confide in others than girls. Although more than 90 percent of girls and 80 percent of boys said they felt sorry for students who are bullied, far fewer reached out to help them.

“Many students also lacked confidence in the administrative and teaching staff to address bullying and, by high school, less than one-third of bullied students had reported bullying to adults at school,” she said. “Although half of students in grades three to five believed that school staff often tried to put a stop to it when a student was being bullied, this percentage dropped to just 36 percent by high school.”

The researchers say that one of the best tools that schools have for decreasing the problems associated with bullying behavior is to implement evidence-based prevention programs.

“We hope that this report helps teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers and concerned citizens raise national awareness about bullying and improve school environments so every child can feel safe at school,” said Limber.

Children in high-quality early childhood education are buffered from changes in family income

While losses in family income predict increases in behavior problems for many children, attending high-quality early childhood education and care centers offers some protection against families' economic declines, according to a new study out of Norway. In Norway, publicly subsidized high-quality early childhood education and care is available to all children, from low-income to affluent, starting at age 1. The study found that children who don't take part in such programs have more early behavior problems when their families' income drops.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, and Boston College. It appears in the journal Child Development.
"Our study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the potential power of universal access to high-quality early childhood education and care for improving children's well-being and growth," according to Henrik Daae Zachrisson, senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who was with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health at the time of the study, and Eric Dearing, associate professor at Boston College and senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who conducted the study.

When families' incomes (adjusted for family size and yearly median income in Norway) decreased, their children's behavior problems increased, the study found. Conversely, when families' incomes increased, their children's behavior problems decreased. These patterns were strongest in low-income families, so fluctuations in income seemed to matter most for those with the least. Children in both low- and middle-income households who attended high-quality centers had stable, low levels of internalizing problems (such as withdrawal and anxiety) regardless of whether their families experienced worsening or improving economic circumstances.

The researchers drew data from a longitudinal study of more than 75,000 children and their families who participated in assessments from birth through age 3. Family income data were taken from public tax records. When children were 1 and a half and 3 years old, mothers reported on children's aggression and noncompliance (externalizing problems), withdrawal and anxiety (internalizing problems), and attendance at an early childhood and care center. Children who did not attend a center or were not cared for by a parent or family member were typically cared for by a family day care, nanny, or outdoor nursery (i.e., monitored playground); these settings are unregulated. At 36 months, almost 88 percent of the children were in an early childhood education and care center.

"Even in a context such as Norway, which has relatively little income inequality and relatively strong social supports for families, children in low-income families still appear to be sensitive to acute fluctuations in income, a finding that's also been demonstrated in the United States," according to Zachrisson and Dearing. "However, children in regulated, high-quality early childhood education and care centers appear to be protected against the negative effects of changes in income within families when it comes to internalizing problems."

The Character Factor: Drive and Prudence as Important as Academic Ability in Determining Educational Success

A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths do better in life in terms of work, earnings, education and so on, even when taking into account their academic abilities. Smarts matter, but so does character.
This paper assesses the quality of measures available in US survey data for two specific character traits, or non-cognitive skills, drive and prudence, which the authors term “performance character strengths” – non-cognitive skills that relate to outcomes important for economic mobility, such as educational attainment. 
The authors evaluate and rank the measures of drive and prudence found in these surveys, categorizing them as broad or narrow, and indirect or direct. Next, we use one of these measures (the BPI-hyperactivity scale in the NLSY) to look at socioeconomic gaps in performance character strengths, and the relative importance of performance character strengths for educational attainment. 
The authors find that family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths, and that the influence of the measure on educational attainment is comparable to the influence of academic scores.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Early intervention could boost education levels

Taking steps from an early age to improve childhood education skills could raise overall population levels of academic achievement by as much as 5%, and reduce socioeconomic inequality in education by 15%, according to international research led by the University of Adelaide.

In a study now published in the journal Child Development, researchers from the University of Adelaide's School of Population Health and colleagues at the University of Bristol in the UK have modelled the likely outcomes of interventions to improve academic skills in children up to school age. They considered what effect these interventions would have on education by age 16.

Lead author Dr Catherine Chittleborough from the University of Adelaide says socioeconomic disadvantage is a known risk factor for education and related outcomes.

"Childhood socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with reduced ability to benefit from schooling, poorer educational outcomes, a lower likelihood of continuing to tertiary education, and less job success. A poor education is associated with increased welfare dependence and lower skilled jobs with lower pay, helping to continue the cycle of disadvantage," Dr Chittleborough says.

"We've known for some time that intervening before the age of five can improve skills necessary for educational success, but the effect of these interventions on socioeconomic inequalities has remained unknown," she says.

Using data of almost 12,000 children from the UK, the researchers found that progressive educational interventions – and more intense interventions for those with greater need – could improve school entry academic skills and later educational outcomes.

"Based on our models, population levels of educational achievement could rise by 5%, and absolute socioeconomic inequality in poor educational achievement could be reduced by 15%," Dr Chittleborough says.

"That is an important finding, especially when you consider that in 2012 there were more than 620,000 pupils aged 15-16 in secondary education in the UK. A 5% improvement in their educational outcomes means that 13,500 students would be better off. This would then impact on their future employability and their ability to contribute to society economically. I expect we would see similar outcomes on education if we used Australian data."

Dr Chittleborough says pre-school education is extremely important to set children on the right path. "By providing the appropriate educational support, we could make a difference to a lot of children's lives," she says.

More thoughtful assessments can better inform teaching and more equitable resources for schools

The adoption by most states of new academic  standards has marked a shift in education policy from a narrowly focused concept of school  achievement to a more ambitious one that aims for college and career readiness for all students. A new report argues that in order for these  goals to be realized, a more comprehensive and balanced system of accountability is necessary. Such a system should rest on three pillars — a focus on meaningful learning, adequate resources, and professional capacity — and should be driven by processes for continuous evaluation and improvement.

“For more than a decade, the definition of 'accountability' in education has manifested largely in the form of consequences to schools that do not meet annual targets for growth on yearly state tests. This definition has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum and a widening of the opportunity  gap,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, the report's co-author and Stanford University Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education. "A powerful accountability system must offer a rich and well-taught curriculum to all students, raising expectations not only for individual schools but for the functioning of the system as a whole."

The report, Accountability for College andCareer Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm, draws on research, actual practice of states and nations, and input from leading policymakers, researchers, administrators, and practitioners (see list of advisors, below) to develop a vision of this new accountability, which is portrayed in an imagined “51st state.” The report was released jointly by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University and the National Center for Innovation in Education (NCIE) at the University of Kentucky. It was authored by Darling-Hammond, NCIE Executive Director Gene Wilhoit, and NCIE staff member, Linda Pittenger.

“We propose these ideas as a step forward that challenges our prior assumptions about how one acquires knowledge and skills and invites practitioners to expand our vision of what is possible. It will take time and vigorous debate for states to develop accountability policies that fit their specific contexts and cultures,” Wilhoit said. "But if the United States is to keep its promise to provide a high-quality education for each and every child, it is urgent that a very purposeful national discussion be underway so that we can generate a system that is truly accountable to students and parents. No system should be frozen in time."

To ensure the effectiveness of a new accountability system, the report recommends more thoughtful assessments that can better inform teaching, more comprehensive initiatives to support educators’ knowledge and skills, and more equitable resources for schools, with greater accountability for how these resources are allocated to ensure the success of all students.  The report also outlines systems of multiple indicators, School Quality Reviews, and school improvement strategies that  can support continuous evaluation and improvement. To evaluate student learning, educator performance, and school performance, states, districts and schools should  use rich sources of data and expert judgment.   Rather than mete out formulaic sanctions,  interventions should design strategic changes that protect students’ rights to a high-quality education and promote system improvement.

The report draws from research and current practices that show potential for producing more robust and effective accountability systems. Among them, New Hampshire’s system of state and local performance assessments; New York’s Performance Standards Consortium; California’s Envision Schools and Linked Learning schools and its Local Control Funding Formula; and the School Quality Review approaches being used by Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Drawing off of these rich data and examples, the report recommends the following critical elements be put in place:

   Sophisticated curriculum and assessments that evaluate deep understanding of content, critical and creative thinking, problem solving, multiple modes of communication, and uses of new technologies.
   Adequate and equitably distributed resources ensuring students access to the quality of teaching, materials, and technology they need to engage the new standards productively, and which address the additional needs of students who live in poverty, are new English learners, or who have other special educational needs.
   Capacity-building for schools and educators that enables the delivery of more challenging content to an increasingly diverse group of students, including developing pedagogies for deeper learning, personalizing instruction, and creating school designs that allow students to learn and apply their knowledge in ways that take advantage of new technologies and link to the world beyond traditional school walls.
   Evaluation and improvement models that foster the collaborative changes needed to transform schools from the industrial model of the past to innovative learning systems for the future. These models must enable thoughtful risk-taking informed by continuous evaluation using multiple measures to inform improvement. They should be transparent, reciprocal, focused on capacity-building, and adapted to local conditions. 


As school districts around the country consider investing in technology as a way to improve student outcomes, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) finds that technology—when implemented properly—can produce significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk.

“This report makes clear that districts must have a plan in place for how they will use technology before they make a purchase,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “It also underscores that replacing teachers with technology is not a successful formula. Instead, strong gains in achievement occur by pairing technology with classroom teachers who provide real-time support and encouragement to underserved students.”

Written by Stanford Professor and SCOPE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford Professor Shelley Goldman, and doctoral student Molly B. Zielezinski, the report is based on a review of more than seventy recent research studies and provides concrete examples of classroom environments in which technology has made a positive difference in the learning outcomes of students at risk of failing courses and dropping out. Specifically, the report identifies three important components to successfully using technology with at-risk students: (1) interactive learning; (2) use of technology to explore and create rather than to “drill and kill;” and (3) the right blend of teachers and technology.

The report, Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning, also identifies significant disparities in technology access and implementation between affluent and low-income schools. First, low-income teens and students of color are noticeably less likely to own computers and use the internet than their peers. Because of their students’ lack of access, teachers in high-poverty schools were more than twice as likely (56 percent versus 21 percent) to say that their students’ lack of access to technology was a challenge in their classrooms. More dramatically, only 3 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools said that their students have the digital tools necessary to complete homework assignments, compared to 52 percent of teachers in more affluent schools.

Secondly, applications of technology in low-income schools typically involves a drill and kill approach, through which computers take over for teachers and students are presented with information they are expected to memorize and are then tested with multiple-choice questions. In more affluent schools, however, students tend to be immersed in more interactive environments in which material is customized based on students’ learning needs and teachers supplement instruction with technology to explain concepts, coordinate student discussion, and stimulate high-level thinking.

“When given access to appropriate technology used in thoughtful ways, all students—regardless of their respective backgrounds—can make substantial gains in learning and technological readiness,” said Darling-Hammond, who will appear in a webinar today to discuss the report’s findings. “Unfortunately, applications of technology in schools serving the most disadvantaged students are frequently compromised by the same disparities in dollars, teachers, and instructional services that typically plague these schools. These disparities are compounded by the lack of access to technology in these students’ homes.”

The report includes several recommendations that could expand the use and positive impact of technology among at-risk high school youth:

Technology access policies should aim for one-to-one computer access.

Technology access policies should ensure that speedy internet connections are available.

States, districts, and schools should favor technology designed to promote high levels of interactivity and engagement and make data available in multiple forms.

Curriculum and instruction plans should enable students to use technology to create content as well as learn material.

Policymakers and educators should plan for “blended” learning environments, characterized by significant levels of teacher support and opportunities for interactions among students, as companions to technology use.

The report cautions that its recommendations must be accompanied by adequate professional learning opportunities for teachers on how to use the technology and pedagogies that are recommended, including technical assistance to help educators manage the hardware, software, and connections to the internet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mental rest and reflection boost learning

A new study, which may have implications for approaches to education, finds that brain mechanisms engaged when people allow their minds to rest and reflect on things they've learned before, may boost later learning.
Scientists have already established that resting the mind, as in daydreaming, helps strengthen memories of events and retention of information. In a new twist, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have shown that the right kind of mental rest, which strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks, helps boost future learning.
The results appear online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Margaret Schlichting, a graduate student researcher, and Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, gave participants in the study two learning tasks in which participants were asked to memorize different series of associated photo pairs. Between the tasks, participants rested and could think about anything they chose, but brain scans found that the ones who used that time to reflect on what they had learned earlier in the day fared better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped. Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before.
"We've shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning," says Preston. "We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come.
Until now, many scientists assumed that prior memories are more likely to interfere with new learning. This new study shows that at least in some situations, the opposite is true.
"Nothing happens in isolation," says Preston. "When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge."
Preston described how this new understanding might help teachers design more effective ways of teaching. Imagine a college professor is teaching students about how neurons communicate in the human brain, a process that shares some common features with an electric power grid. The professor might first cue the students to remember things they learned in a high school physics class about how electricity is conducted by wires.
"A professor might first get them thinking about the properties of electricity," says Preston. "Not necessarily in lecture form, but by asking questions to get students to recall what they already know. Then, the professor might begin the lecture on neuronal communication. By prompting them beforehand, the professor might help them reactivate relevant knowledge and make the new material more digestible for them."
This research was conducted with adult participants. The researchers will next study whether a similar dynamic is at work with children.
This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the NSF CAREER Award and the Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program.
Journal Reference:
  1. M. L. Schlichting, A. R. Preston. Memory reactivation during rest supports upcoming learning of related contentProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404396111