Friday, June 23, 2017

Children who are younger than their peers when they start school are more likely to develop poorer mental health


New research has shown that the youngest pupils in each school year group could be at risk of worse mental health than their older classmates.

Starting school young is an exciting but sometimes challenging milestone for children and their families. Some children will be nearing their fifth birthday as they enter foundation classes while others will be only just four.

Now, a study led by the University of Exeter Medical School which investigated more than 2,000 children across 80 primary schools in Devon, has found that children who are younger than their peers when they start school are more likely to develop poorer mental health, as rated by parents and teachers. Overall the effect was small, however researchers believe the additional stress of keeping up with older peers could prove a "tipping point" for vulnerable children, such as those with learning difficulties or who were born prematurely.

The research team was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research Programme and the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

The research, published in the journal Child Care, Health and Development, could have implications on parents' decisions on whether to defer their child's school entry for a school year, permissible under guidance introduced in 2014.

The findings could also influence how teachers interact with younger children, particularly those with additional complex needs in the class, and on assessments and teaching and support structures within classrooms.

Anna Price, of the University of Exeter Medical School, was motivated to study the issue after home schooling her own April-born son, who has pre-existing learning difficulties, and was not ready to start school aged five. She said: "Using such a large dataset was a chance to explore what's really happening in practice for children who start school at a young age. We found that children who started younger had slightly worse well-being- however, this effect was very small and unlikely to make a difference for most. The challenge to well-being of being young for your school year might however be one struggle too many for children who face other challenges to their mental health. Our findings can help guide parents and teachers in making decisions that best support the child."

The researchers also explored the impact of starting school early on the child's happiness levels and behaviour. In contrast to previous research, they found no significant impact on either. The research paper noted that the schools in the study had strong support in place, such as small group learning, which may have helped improve happiness and behaviour overall.

Professor Tamsin Ford, of the University of Exeter Medical School, oversaw the research. Professor Ford, a practising child psychiatrist, said: "Being relatively younger could be the tipping point for some, but certainly not all, children. For most it would just be something for teacher's to be aware of but for children with other needs or who were born prematurely this difference could be significant. Awareness of this issue among teachers and educators means measures can be put in place that could help to mitigate this effect and get the best outcome for children."


State-Level Policies Supporting Equitable K–12 Computer Science Education


This report surveys state-level efforts to improve access to K–12 computer science education opportunities in the United States. The report examines progress towards 10 policy priorities widely seen as central to broadening participation in K–12 computer science education and offers recommendations for advocates and policymakers on improving alignment of state-level efforts. Emerging best practices in scaling up computer science education opportunities are also addressed.

Key Recommendations

  • Build a broad base of leadership and ownership among key stakeholders
  • Develop short-, medium-, and long-term strategies, with a view to coherence and sustainability
  • Use data to monitor progress, inform decision making, and drive continuous improvement
  • Use the growing talent pool of national expertise in national organizations and in leadership states

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Improve early education and care to help more children get ahead and boost social mobility


A new OECD report, Starting Strong 2017 .finds that most governments have increased their investments to expand enrolment and open more daycare centres and schools in recent years. It notes that countries should next focus on improving the working conditions of teachers, ensuring equitable access for all children and introducing new teaching methods.

Every child benefits from high-quality ECEC. Evidence from PISA 2015 reveals that in almost all OECD countries, 15-year-olds who had access to ECEC outperformed students who had not. Disadvantaged children benefit the most and targeting them would generate the highest returns, says the report.

Spending on ECEC accounts for an average of 0.8% of GDP across OECD countries, with 80% or more coming from public sources.

Around one third of children aged under 3 are enrolled in formal childcare on average across OECD countries. Rates vary widely, ranging from less than 10% of children in the Czech Republic, Mexico and the Slovak Republic to more than 50% in all Nordic countries, except Finland and Sweden, and in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Increases in enrollment rates of 3-year-olds in pre-primary education exceeded 15 percentage points between 2005 and 2014 in a group of countries, including Austria, Chile, Israel, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation and Slovenia.



Across OECD countries, on average 70% of 3-year-olds are enrolled in pre-primary education, ranging from 20% or less in Australia, Greece, Switzerland and Turkey to 95% or more in Belgium, France, Iceland, Norway and Spain.
    
Universal or near-universal access to at least one year of ECEC is now a reality in most OECD countries, marking significant progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ education targets. Among 4-year-olds, 90% or more are already enrolled in pre‑primary or primary education in two-thirds of the countries with available data.


The US, with about 67% of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in such programs, ranks lower than most other OECD countries.

The report outlines a numbers of findings and recommendations, including:

Better salaries and working conditions would attract or retain young people to the profession. Yet only in Austria, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Turkey and the United Kingdom are 25% or more of pre-primary teachers aged under 30.

Despite needing at least a bachelor’s degree in most countries, ECEC teachers earn less than their peers in secondary education or higher, and only 74% of the average salary of a tertiary-educated, full-time worker. Nine out of ten pre-primary teachers are women across the OECD, compared to around four in ten at the tertiary level.

Making quality childcare more affordable would help more mothers with very young children return to work and achieve a better work life balance. Above 70% of mothers in Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Switzerland work ─ these countries also have the highest shares of children enrolled in formal childcare.

Parental engagement is also key. Helping children learn at home and having more contact between teaching staff and parents is strongly associated with children’s later academic success and socio-emotional development.

Quality Early Childhood Education and Care will benefit disadvantaged kids the most, particularly by providing the basis for successful lifelong learning and by fostering their socioemotional skills.

The report is available at https://www.oecd.org/edu/starting-strong-2017-9789264276116-en.htm.

A complementary report, Starting Strong V - Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education, is available at https://www.oecd.org/edu/school/starting-strong-v-9789264276253-en.htm

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The oral storytelling skills of preschoolers make a difference in how quickly their reading skills


The oral storytelling skills of African American preschoolers make a difference in how quickly their reading skills develop, according to a new study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Researchers say the effect is much different for girls and boys.

"Knowing how to tell a clear and coherent story is an important skill for helping young children to develop strong reading skills, which, in turn, can help them to be successful across a number of different subjects in school," said FPG advanced research scientist Nicole Gardner-Neblett. "Prior research suggests that historical and cultural factors foster strong storytelling skills among African American children, which has implications for their development as readers."

Two years ago, Gardner-Neblett's own research was the first to demonstrate the connection between African American preschoolers' storytelling abilities and their early reading skills in kindergarten. That study found a link between storytelling and reading only for the African American children, from households across income levels, but not for any other demographic group.

Stark differences in reading achievement exist between Black and White elementary schoolchildren, as does a gender gap in reading outcomes, with girls outperforming boys. Because of both disparities in achievement, Gardner-Neblett and FPG advanced research scientist John Sideris wanted to better understand if and how gender plays a role in the link between African American children's storytelling skills and reading development.

"We asked preschoolers to tell a story from a wordless picture book and analyzed their skill in structuring and organizing the story," Gardner-Neblett explained. "We examined how boys' and girls' storytelling skills as preschoolers predicted their scores on a reading achievement test for each grade, from first through sixth."

According to Sideris, the connection between children's storytelling skills and reading achievement is more complex than expected.

"We found that oral storytelling is linked to different trajectories for boys and girls," he said. "Boys' storytelling skills had an effect on how quickly their reading scores increased from first through sixth grade. The stronger the boys' storytelling skills as preschoolers, the faster their reading scores increased over time."

Gardner-Neblett explained that preschool girls told more coherent and organized stories than boys did.

"Girls' storytelling skills appeared most important for their reading achievement during the first years of school," she added. "In contrast to the boys, storytelling skills were less important over time for the girls and unrelated to how fast their reading scores increased."

According to Gardner-Neblett, a number of studies have looked at factors that account for low reading achievement, but researchers have not paid as much attention to investigating competencies that are associated with successful reading outcomes among African American children. However, she said, this study suggests that educators and parents could capitalize on a cultural strength to support reading development by promoting storytelling skills among African American girls and boys.

"Expanding skills for nurturing children's reading development beyond book reading to include oral storytelling could be crucial for African American children," she said. "This could help to provide a strong foundation for success--and not only for how well boys and girls do in school, but in life."


Electronic books captured the attention of toddlers and led to greater learning than print


Pediatricians, educators, and parents have always agreed on at least one thing: reading to your toddler - early on in life and regularly - is vital to promote language acquisition and also an enthusiasm for learning.

But does it make a difference if parents read from traditional print books, or for parents and kids to engage with electronic books? This ongoing debate has seen several studies in recent years, but there are still many unanswered questions.

A new study conducted by Gabrielle A. Strouse of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota in the U.S.A., and Patricia A. Ganea of the Language and Learning Lab of the University of Toronto in Canada, and published in Frontiers in Psychology has found some striking trends. Electronic media may pose less of a disruptive impact to learning for toddlers than is the case for preschoolers.

Parents of 102 toddlers aged 17 to 26 months were randomly assigned to read two commercially available electronic books or two print books with identical content with their toddler. After reading, the children were asked to identify an animal presented in the books.

Strouse and Ganea found that the toddlers who were read the electronic books paid more attention, made themselves more available for story time, participated more in the process, and commented more about the content than toddlers who were read the print versions of the books. The electronic books included background music, animation and sound effects for each page as well as an automatic voiceover that read the text aloud to the child. There were no actions or hotspots for parents and children to tap for extra features. The publisher for the electronic book had printed books that were similar in content, but not an exact replica, so the researchers printed screenshots of the electronic books and bound the single sheets together to create "print books."

Both electronic and print materials included farm animals (duck, horse, sheep, cow - animals the parents confirmed the children already knew) and also wild animals (koala, crocodile, zebra, and lion - some of which parents identified as new). To test for word learning, toddlers were asked to identify one of the wild animals they did not know prior to the session.

Strouse and Ganea tested three broad hypotheses: 1) Parents will tend to point less to the pictures and pose fewer questions about the content with electronic books than print books; 2a) Children will point less to pictures and talk less about the electronic books; 2b) Children will exhibit higher levels of attention and engagement with electronic books; and 3) Children will learn less from electronic books.

Results showed that indeed parents tended to point at the book more often. There was no difference between the books in the amount they talked with their children about the story.

Secondly, children who were read the electronic books tended to more pointing than those who read print books, although this didn't significantly alter results. Children's overall attention was significantly higher to electronic format books than to print books and they were more ready for story time with electronic books.

Thirdly, while toddlers were more inclined to correctly identify an animal from electronic books, this difference was explained by differences in child attention and availability for reading. Thus, electronic books may not have been more supportive of learning on their own, but the increased amount of attention children paid to these particular electronic books may have resulted in increased learning. It's important to note that this may not be true of all types of electronic books.

Strouse and Ganea say, "One important caveat to our findings is that increased engagement does not always translate into increased learning." Books with different features may capture child attention more or less.

Other researchers have indicated that when electronic books have many highly interactive features such as hotspots that can significantly distract from learning. Indeed, say Strouse and Ganea, "... experiences activating built-in features that act as entertainment may heighten any tendencies children have to interpret electronic media as games rather than learning tools."

The researchers say further that electronic books for toddlers primarily feature standalone content on individual pages - a sentence or two. Whereas for preschoolers narrative content stretches across pages and children must knit together, or make sense of the story across the medium. To that point, electronic media may pose less of a disruptive impact to learning for toddlers than is the case for preschoolers.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Students of all races & ethnicities benefit from ethnically diverse middle school


More than half of school-age youth in the United States are members of ethnic minority groups, yet the nation's public schools are becoming less ethnically diverse. Recognizing these conflicting trends and the lack of research on the effects of ethnic diversity, a new study sought to determine how the diversity of middle school students and classrooms shapes students' self-reported well-being and their views on race. The study found that in general, as the ethnic diversity of a middle school increases, students of different ethnicities have better outcomes in these areas - but class composition also plays a large role in their views.

The research was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and appears in the journal Child Development.

"Our study is the first to show such a wide range of personal and social benefits for students of all races and ethnicities from attending ethnically diverse schools," according to Jaana Juvonen, professor of psychology at UCLA, the study's lead author. "When multiple ethnic groups are of relatively equal size - the hallmark of school diversity - there may be more of a balance of power, with one or more large ethnic groups less likely to exert their influence over one or more small ethnic groups."

The researchers looked at 4,302 sixth-grade students from four ethnic groups - African American, Asian, Latino, and White - in 26 urban middle schools in California. They focused on middle schools because previous research shows that this is when race and ethnicity take on heightened meaning and adjustment problems (such as bullying) increase. The ethnic compositions of each of the schools differed, with some having two large and relatively equally sized ethnic groups, some having one clear numerical majority ethnic group, and some having four similarly sized and smaller ethnic groups. The students were from middle-income and working-class families.

The study assessed school diversity by considering both the number of ethnic groups and their relative sizes. A similar measure was used to determine the average level of ethnic diversity that each student encountered in academic courses. At the end of sixth grade, students rated how socially vulnerable (e.g., feeling unsafe, bullied, lonely) they felt at school, how close they felt to different ethnic groups, and whether their teachers treated all students fairly and equally.

Students from all four ethnic groups felt less vulnerable, reported better attitudes across ethnic groups, and believed teachers treated all students more fairly and equally in more diverse schools, the study found.

However, the findings on students' racial views and teacher treatment depended on whether the ethnic diversity of students' academic classes matched the diversity of their school. When students attended classes that were less diverse than their school, the benefits of school diversity for students' racial views and their perceptions of teachers' treatment disappeared. In contrast, being exposed in their classes to students from a range of ethnicities boosted the positive effects of school diversity on their race-related perceptions.

"Our findings also underscore the importance of class placement," notes Sandra Graham, distinguished professor of education at UCLA, who contributed to the study. "To reap the social benefits of ethnic diversity, students need to be placed in classes that reflect the overall diversity of their school. It may not be sufficient to focus solely on increasing the overall ethnic diversity of schools, which is the goal of most policy initiatives that address racial and ethnic segregation. Equally important is whether students of different ethnic groups are exposed to one another during the school day, even in very diverse schools."


Positive engagement in preschool key to developmental gains


Many interventions and programs designed to improve low-income children's lives focus on providing high-quality early-childhood education. Preschool classrooms that are emotionally supportive, well-organized, and cognitively stimulating can help boost children's learning and development. Yet for the most part, focusing on the quality of early-childhood education has emphasized teachers, often missing the central role that children play in their own development. A new study has found that children's individual engagement with teachers, peers, and tasks was important to the gains they made during the preschool year, even after taking into account differences in classroom quality.

The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, Montana State University Billings, and the University of Virginia, is published in the journal Child Development.

"Children can have very different experiences in the same classroom and their individual engagement is associated with their learning gains above and beyond the average quality of classroom instruction," explains Terri J. Sabol, assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, who led the study. "It's important to look beyond overall classroom quality and capture children's individual experiences in classroom settings."

The study looked at 211 low-income, racially and ethnically diverse 4-year-olds in 49 classrooms in state and federally funded preschool programs. Researchers measured the children's engagement in the classroom by observing their positive and negative interactions with teachers, peers, and tasks (e.g., their ability to communicate with teachers, sociability and assertiveness with peers, self-reliance in tasks, conflicts with teachers and peers).

The quality of the classroom setting was also measured (e.g., the classroom climate, teachers' sensitivity, emotional support, classroom organization), and children were assessed on measures of school readiness in the fall and the spring of their preschool year. Most previous research has examined either the effect of classroom interactions or the role of individual children's engagement in the classroom on children's outcomes; this study included both.

"To truly understand and support individual children's development, it is vital that we have observational tools that capture individual children's engagement and the overall classroom context," notes Natalie Bohlmann, associate professor of education at Montana State University Billings, who collaborated on the study.

Children's individual engagement was related to their developmental gains, even after accounting for emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support at the classroom level, the study found. Specifically, children's positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills and their positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills. In addition, their positive engagement with tasks related to closer relationships with teachers.

Children who were negatively engaged in the classroom (e.g., those who got into conflicts with teachers or peers) were at a comparative disadvantage in terms of their school readiness, the study found. Children with higher levels of negative engagement performed at lower levels across nearly all of the academic, language, and social outcomes measured, including lower language, literacy, and self-regulatory skills.

"Interventions designed to prepare children for school should include a focus on children's individual behaviors in the classroom," adds Jason Downer, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, who was the lead investigator. "Observing children's engagement can guide decisions about where, when, and how to intervene with at-risk children, and help educators enact more useful individualized strategies in the classroom."