Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teacher attendance rert

This report breaks down teacher attendance for 40 districts in the nation's largest cities in the 2012-2013 school year. The report identifies districts with the greatest percentage of teachers with excellent attendance as well as those with the biggest percentages of chronically absent teachers. 
In addition to identifying districts that are leaders and laggards in school attendance, the report takes a look at the impact of school poverty levels on teacher attendance and whether or not policies to curb absences made a difference. 

District Summary Information
Atlanta Public Schools
Austin Independent School District
Baltimore City Public Schools
Buffalo Public Schools
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Cincinnati Public Schools
Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Columbus City Schools
Dallas Independent School District
Denver County School District No. 1
District of Columbia Public Schools
Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL)
Granite School District (Salt Lake City, UT)
Hartford Public Schools
Hillsborough County Public Schools (Tampa, FL)
Houston Independent School District
Indianapolis Public Schools
Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville, KY)
Kansas City Public Schools (MO)
Los Angeles Unified School District
Milwaukee Public Schools
Minneapolis Public Schools
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
New York City Department of Education
Newark Public Schools District
Northside Independent School District (San Antonio, TX)
Oklahoma City Public Schools
Orleans Parish School Board (New Orleans, LA)
Orange County Public Schools (Orlando, FL)
The School District of Philadelphia
Phoenix Union High School District
Pittsburgh Public Schools
Portland Public Schools (OR)
Providence Public School District
Sacramento City Unified School District
San Diego Unified School District
San Francisco Unified School District
San Jose Unified School District
Seattle Public Schools
St. Louis Public Schools

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

'Getting-by girls' straddle gap between academic winners and losers

UC Berkeley sociologist finds high school subculture that threatens to perpetuate struggling lower-middle class

Everyone notices the academic superstars and failures, but what about the tens of millions of American teens straddling these two extremes? A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, has spotlighted a high school subculture that has made an art of slacking – even with ample educational resources – and may be destined to perpetuate the nation's struggling lower-middle class.

UC Berkeley sociologist Michele Rossi studied white teenage girls in their last year of a well-funded high school. What she found was a group she dubbed "getting-by girls," whose coping strategies include paying attention in class, placating teachers and other authority figures, copying one another's schoolwork or cheating, avoiding challenges and bringing home B-average report cards.

But while getting-by girls put in just enough effort to meet the demands of schoolwork, athletics, school clubs and partying, their practice of sufficing keeps them from making the most of the academic resources at their disposal. The U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that reading, math and social science scores among 17-year-olds have flatlined since the 1980s while scores among middle school and elementary students have risen. Peer groups and school culture are said to have a major impact on academic achievement, particularly in high school, and Rossi's two-year investigation reinforces this dynamic.

"These girls under-perform academically not because they lack ability, or self-esteem, or good teachers," said Rossi, who will present her findings Aug. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco. "They under-perform because their white lower middle-class culture values sociability, and doing enough to have enough. In a high school context, this culture clashes with an upper-middle class culture that prizes striving and individual advancement."

Rossi's findings come at a time when political attention and resources, as well as media coverage, are sharply focused on the educational needs of low-income, at-risk students on the one hand, and the more affluent, highly competitive students (and their parents) vying for spots in top-ranking universities on the other.

They also provide a rare insight into the attitudes and aspirations of the children of America's struggling lower-middle class. A recent report by the Hamilton Project found that lower-middle-class families are more likely to be headed by two-income married couples, with at least one parent having attended college, but who still face many of the same financial insecurities as those living in poverty.

Looking at "how class differences shape young white women's aspirations and strategies for social mobility," Rossi interviewed 56 girls in the 12th grade of a racially and socio-economically diverse East Coast public high school. She also interviewed 30 of their mothers. At that time, the school district's per-pupil spending was $13,000, higher than today's national average per-pupil spending of $11,000.
Parents of the getting-by girls typically held mid-level positions in a large company or ran small, independent businesses. By contrast, the upper-middle-class parents of the students referred to as "overachievers" were professionals or executives who held advanced and/or bachelor's degrees from a selective institution, and the working class or poor parents of the under-achievers, referred to in the study as "nowhere kids," had a high school education or GED at best.

Defining themselves as "regular kids" or "slackers," the getting-by girls distanced themselves from the privileged, competitive overachievers they refer to as "AP kids," "honors kids" and "dorks," (and whom they consider pushy, uptight or neurotic) and the low-income, low-performing students they refer to as "losers," "burnouts" or "kids who act ghetto." That does not mean, however, that they occupy higher moral ground.

"Getting-by girls are good kids who do not get into trouble. Their teachers, coaches, school administrators and school staff like them. Their friends' parents like them," the study says. "However this does not mean that all getting- by girls always follow the rules … Rather when they do violate rules or expectations or defy authority, they do not get caught."

Next, Rossi, a doctoral student in sociology at UC Berkeley, plans to follow up with the getting-by girls she studied to see how they have fared in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-09, and if their attitudes and aspirations have changed in the face of a more competitive employment market.
"The getting-by girls' emphasis on fun and cultivating social ties is appealing, as is their resistance to the cut-throat competitiveness and pursuit of self-interest they see among their 'overachiever' peers," Rossi said. "However, in an increasingly polarized job market, where educational attainment – particularly in STEM fields – is the key to 'good' jobs, it is not clear there is a place for them."

Range of skills students taught in school linked to race and class size

Pressure to meet national education standards may be the reason states with significant populations of African-American students and those with larger class sizes often require children to learn fewer skills, finds a University of Kansas researcher.

"The skills students are expected to learn in schools are not necessarily universal," said Argun Saatcioglu, a KU associate professor of education and courtesy professor of sociology.

In effort to increase their test scores and, therefore, avoid the negative consequences of failing to meet the federal standards set by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (e.g., school closures, student transfers, or lost funding), some states are reducing the skills students are expected to learn.

"Narrowing the skills students are expected to learn, results in higher proficiency gains on state assessments because students have to be proficient in fewer skills," said Saatcioglu, who will present his findings at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. "In other words, requiring students to learn less actually helps to improve state assessment results."

In order to measure the range of skills students learn, Saatcioglu examined the correlation between fourth graders' performance on state assessments and their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam between 2003 and 2009. The NAEP provides a stable reference point, which allows for comparisons between different states' assessments. A decline in the correlation between student performance on a state's assessment and the NAEP indicates that the tests are not measuring the same skill set.

"If a state's assessment is more comparable to the NAEP, that means the state expects its students to have mastered more skills," Saatcioglu said. "If a state's assessment becomes less comparable, in that the exam measures fewer skills and hence is less demanding than NAEP, then the state's proficiency scores are likely to rise."

Saatcioglu said his findings indicate that states with higher African-American populations and those with larger class sizes tended to teach more skills in the early years of his study, but then reduced the number of skills by 2009. He argues that this may be, in part, a response to a drop in state assessment scores.
According to Saatcioglu, the study is not aiming criticism at states or districts that he found were teaching fewer skills, but instead on the effect that school accountability laws have seemingly had on perpetuating inequality within already disadvantaged communities.

"While school accountability laws were enacted to address the inequalities in our nation's public school system, our findings suggest these laws may be hurting the children they were intended to benefit," Saatcioglu said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Physically fit kids have beefier brain white matter than their less-fit peers

A new study of 9- and 10-year-olds finds that those who are more aerobically fit have more fibrous and compact white-matter tracts in the brain than their peers who are less fit. "White matter" describes the bundles of axons that carry nerve signals from one brain region to another. More compact white matter is associated with faster and more efficient nerve activity.
The team reports its findings in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
"Previous studies suggest that children with higher levels of aerobic fitness show greater brain volumes in gray-matter brain regions important for memory and learning," said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman, who conducted the study with kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman and psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer. "Now for the first time we explored how aerobic fitness relates to white matter in children's brains."
The team used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI, also called diffusion MRI) to look at five white-matter tracts in the brains of the 24 participants. This method analyzes water diffusion into tissues. For white matter, less water diffusion means the tissue is more fibrous and compact, both desirable traits.
The researchers controlled for several variables – such as social and economic status, the timing of puberty, IQ, or a diagnosis of ADHD or other learning disabilities – that might have contributed to the reported fitness differences in the brain.
The analysis revealed significant fitness-related differences in the integrity of several white-matter tracts in the brain: the corpus callosum, which connects the brain's left and right hemispheres; the superior longitudinal fasciculus, a pair of structures that connect the frontal and parietal lobes; and the superior corona radiata, which connect the cerebral cortex to the brain stem.
"All of these tracts have been found to play a role in attention and memory," Chaddock-Heyman said.
The team did not test for cognitive differences in the children in this study, but previous work has demonstrated a link between improved aerobic fitness and gains in cognitive function on specific tasks and in academic settings.
"Previous studies in our lab have reported a relationship between fitness and white-matter integrity in older adults," Kramer said. "Therefore, it appears that fitness may have beneficial effects on white matter throughout the lifespan."
To take the findings further, the team is now two years into a five-year randomized, controlled trial to determine whether white-matter tract integrity improves in children who begin a new physical fitness routine and maintain it over time. The researchers are looking for changes in aerobic fitness, brain structure and function, and genetic regulation.
"Prior work from our laboratories has demonstrated both short- and long-term differences in the relation of aerobic fitness to brain health and cognition," Hillman said. "However, our current randomized, controlled trial should provide the most comprehensive assessment of this relationship to date."
The new findings add to the evidence that aerobic exercise changes the brain in ways that improve cognitive function, Chaddock-Heyman said.

"This study extends our previous work and suggests that white-matter structure may be one additional mechanism by which higher-fit children outperform their lower-fit peers on cognitive tasks and in the classroom," she said.

Black students at any class level are more likely than their white counterparts to attend a four-year university

Students who have books and computers at home, who take extramural cultural classes, and whose parents give advice and take part in school activities are most likely to enroll for a four-year college degree. Also, more American black students – irrespective of their class or background – will set off on this education path than their white counterparts. So says David Merolla of Wayne State University and Omari Jackson of Colby-Sawyer College in the US, in Springer’s journal Race and Social Problems. Merolla and Jackson studied class and race differences in college enrollment, and how it is influenced by the culturally enriching resources available to families.
Data of 8,116 participants from the Educational Longitudinal Study were analyzed. Surveys for this nationally representative study of the 2002 10th grade class in the US were done biennially until 2006. The results show that, after adjusting for differences in family background, black students at any class level are more likely than their white counterparts to attend a four-year university. Black middle-class students take the lead, followed by black middle-income, black low-income and white middle-class students.
Class disparity continues to influence overall enrollment between races. The researchers found that 37.5 percent of white students are from middle-class families, compared to 15.7 percent of blacks. Also, 40.7 percent of white students hail from middle-income backgrounds versus 30.8 percent of blacks. Most black students (53.6 percent) are from low-income backgrounds, compared to just 21.8 percent of whites.
Not surprisingly, middle-class families representing both races possess more cultural resources than others. In all, college enrollment is significantly higher for students from homes where newspapers, books or computers are available. It is also true for students who take extra music or art classes. The odds of college attendance increase with 11.7 percent if parents are involved in school activities and by 28 percent when students receive parental advice. High school students on an academic track are 2.7 times more likely to attend college.
White students tend to have more literacy resources and higher educational aspirations. They go on more day trips and vacations, their teachers rate them as hardworking and well behaved, and they are often on an academic track. Even though black students tend to possess fewer resources, they activate and use cultural resources better. Their families are more involved in school activities such as the Parent Teacher Association, and have more positive school contact. Black students also do extra exam preparations, actively seek information, and receive guidance from parents.
“Black students are less likely to come from middle-class families. However, those families who do have the material resources associated with middle-class status tend to invest in their children’s education at similar or higher levels than their white counterparts,” says Merolla.
“Policies should help families to obtain access to educational and cultural resources that would help ameliorate educational inequality and promote success for all students,” adds Jackson.

Charter School Productivity Report Lacks Validity

A recent report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform (DER) on charter school productivity asserts charter schools are more effective in producing achievement on standardized tests and are also less costly per pupil than traditional public schools. A new review released today finds the report’s claims suffer from multiple sources of invalidity, rendering the report useless.

Gene V Glass, Regents' Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, reviewed The Productivity of Public Charter Schools for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

The report uses findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and “revenues received” to support its claim that charter schools spend less per pupil than traditional public schools and produce achievement as good as or superior to that of traditional public schools.

In his review, however, Glass points out that  the report inaccurately employs NAEP test results, and that its calculation of expenditures in charter and traditional public schools relies on questionable data. The report, meanwhile, also discounts the fact that demographic differences between the two sectors are highly correlated with NAEP performance. In short, Glass says, “The sector with the higher percentage of poor pupils scores lower on the NAEP test.”

Taken together, the report’s flaws leave readers with little evidence on which to base any valid conclusions, Glass concludes. He predicts, however, that despite its many shortcomings, charter school supporters will attempt to use the findings to advocate expanded funding for charter schools. In that respect, he writes, “The report continues a program of advocacy research that will be cited by supporters of the charter school movement.” 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Unemployment: The problem isn't lack of education but over-education

Concerns that there are problems with the supply of skills, especially education-related skills, in the US labor force have exploded in recent years with a series of reports from employer-associated organizations but also from independent and even government sources making similar claims.  These complaints about skills are driving much of the debate around labor force and education policy, yet they have not been examined carefully. 

This paper examines the range of these charges as well as other evidence about skills in the labor force.  There is very little evidence consistent with the complaints about skills and a wide range of evidence suggesting that they are not true.         

Indeed, a reasonable conclusion is that over-education remains the persistent and even growing situation of the US labor force with respect to skills.

A separate commentary makes the point in a different way:

If this is really a skills gap story then it seems that it is showing up most sharply in the retail and restaurant sectors.  Job openings in the retail sector are up by 14.6 percent from their 2007 level, but hires are down by 0.7 percent. Job opening in the leisure and hospitality sector are up by 17.0 percent, while hiring is down by 7.4 percent.
If the disparity between patterns in job openings and hires is really evidence that workers lack the skills for available jobs then perhaps we need to train more people to be clerks at convenience stores and to wait tables.