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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Emergency epinephrine used 38 times in Chicago Public School academic year

During the 2012-2013 school year, 38 Chicago Public School (CPS) students and staff were given emergency medication for potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. This finding is detailed in a new Northwestern Medicine® report in partnership with CPS. 

Following national and local legislation, CPS was the first large, urban school district in the nation to develop and implement an initiative to supply all public and charter schools in Chicago with epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs) -- medical devices used to treat acute allergic reactions.

The impact during the initiative’s first year, the 2012-2013 school year, underscores the need for stocking undesignated epinephrine in schools across the country, according to the report.

“Currently, there is no treatment or cure for food allergy,” said Ruchi Gupta, M.D., Northwestern Medicine® pediatrician and the corresponding author of the report. “Timely administration of an EAI is a child’s first and primary line of defense in the event of anaphylaxis resulting from allergic reaction.”

Gupta is an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen.

Since last year, 41 states passed policies encouraging schools to stock undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors in their schools for a possible anaphylactic emergency.

The report will be published Oct. 20 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and Gupta will present the findings at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting, to be held Nov. 6 to 10 in Atlanta.

Other highlights from the report:

The majority of those receiving an EAI were students (92 percent)

More than half didn’t know they had an allergy (55 percent)

Twenty-one of the EAIs given were to treat food induced allergic reactions

Among food-induced reactions, peanut was the most common followed by fin fish

The trigger of more than a third of all reactions are unknown

Elementary schools had the most cases of EAIs administered

School nurses administered the medication the majority of the time

“At CPS, it is our goal to prevent any health-related barriers to learning, which is why we have worked with all of our schools to address this critical issue by equipping them with tools and guidance that they need to keep students safe and healthy,” said Stephanie A. Whyte, M.D., study coauthor and chief health officer of CPS.

The district-issued medication is available at all CPS schools and is to be used when a person is having a severe allergic reaction and his/her own epinephrine is unavailable or if he/she has no history of allergic reactions.

“Because of the amount of time kids spend in school, and given the fact that many first-time allergic reactions occur on school grounds, it is imperative for school districts across the country to provide access to emergency epinephrine to students who may not otherwise have access to the potentially life-saving medication,” Gupta said.

Most district-issued EAIs were administered on the city’s north-northwest side where the rate of food allergy has been found to be higher, the report found. However, a large number of these EAIs were used on the far south side, too -- an area of the city with a low reported rate of food allergy. This highlights the need for access to district-issued EAIs citywide, as children on the far south side may not have access to food allergy diagnosis and could experience their first allergic reaction at school. 

“This is definitely a national issue in schools around the country,” Gupta said. “We think the situation in Chicago schools is representative of schools everywhere. Most states now have policies in place for stocking epinephrine in schools. This is an essential step to keep kids with food allergies safe

How teachers, students use technology inside and outside the classroom

Net Generation aren’t more tech savvy than their teachers just because they were born into a world full of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaxing and support of their educators, many students would never use their electronic devices for more than playing games or listening to music. So says Shiang-Kwei Wang of the New York Institute of Technology in the US, who led a study on how middle school science teachers and their students use technology inside and outside the classroom. The findings¹ appear in the journalEducational Technology Research & Development², published by Springer.

Wang and her team investigated the technology skills of 24 science teachers and 1,078 middle school students from 18 different schools in two US states. The students surveyed are considered third-generation digital natives, for whom technology access and ownership has become the norm.

Both teachers and students were found to have rich outside-of-school technology experience, but students were not tech savvy in the classroom. Most were not very familiar with information and communication technology or even Web 2.0 tools designed to make information production and sharing easier. Their teachers, on the other hand, depended much more on using technology to solve daily problems, to improve productivity, and as learning aids.

Wang says that this disconnection cannot be linked to how old teachers are or what kind of technology skills they have. The problem rather lies with how little opportunity students get to practice technology beyond pursuing personal interests, such as entertainment. Much depends on how teachers require their students to make use of new technologies, and the ways that these technologies are integrated into teaching. School-related tasks usually require students to use technology limited to researching information and writing papers. Rarely do teachers provide opportunities to allow students to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity.

The findings reinforce directions currently being proposed to reduce the gap between how technology is used inside and outside the school setting. High-quality training should be provided to teachers on how they can integrate content-specific technology into their curricula – and how to teach their students how to use technology more effectively in the process.

“School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems,” says Wang. “The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students’ technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it.”

1. Wang, S-K. et al. (2014). An Investigation of Middle School Science Teachers’ and Students’ Use of Technology Inside and Outside of Classrooms: Considering whether digital natives are more technology savvy than their teachers, Educational Technology Research & Development. DOI 10.1007/s11423-014-9355-4
2. Educational Technology Research & Development is a publication of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology

Friday, October 17, 2014

Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession

States are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did seven years ago — often far less.  The reduced levels reflect primarily the lingering effects of the 2007-09 recession.  At a time when states and the nation need workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern.
A review of state budget documents finds that:
  • At least 30 states are providing less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before the recession hit.  Fourteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.  (These figures, like all the comparisons in this paper, are in inflation-adjusted dollars and focus on the primary form of state aid to local schools.)
  • Most states are providing more funding per student in the new school year than they did a year ago, but funding has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years.  For example, Alabama is increasing school funding by $16 per pupil this year.  But that is far less than is needed to offset the state’s $1,144 per-pupil cut over the previous six years.