Thursday, September 3, 2015

As a neighborhood's income decreases, its range of educational experiences greatly expands

Contrary to assumptions that disadvantaged neighborhoods trap children in failing schools, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist has found the opposite to be true: as a neighborhood's income decreases, its range of educational experiences greatly expands.

Julia Burdick-Will found it was actually children in affluent neighborhoods who stayed close to home for school. In lower-income neighborhoods, kids in search of better options dispersed to dozens of other schools, often commuting alone for miles.

In Chicago neighborhoods with a median household income of more than $75,000, most students attended one of two or three schools. But when the neighborhood median income dropped to less than $25,000, students dispersed to an average of 13 different schools.

"We clearly show that the belief that where one lives determines where one goes to school isn't the reality in Chicago or in an increasing number of U.S. cities," Burdick-Will said. "You have kids scattering everywhere."

Burdick-Will, an assistant professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education, presented her findings at the recent American Sociological Association annual meeting. The conclusions have implications for inequality and social mobility, particularly as non-traditional school choice options like charter schools and open enrollment continue to increase nationwide.

"We think of children in poor neighborhoods as 'stuck.' But they're not stuck in one geographic place," she said. "They're stuck navigating a complicated and far-flung school system."

Burdick-Will examined administrative records for more than 24,000 Chicago Public Schools eighth graders entering high school in the fall of 2009. The freshmen attended 122 high schools, including standard neighborhood schools that admit students from outside the neighborhood when they are under-enrolled, open-enrollment schools, charter schools and magnet schools.

While just over half of the students attended a neighborhood school, one third of them weren't attending their neighborhood school.

Essentially no one in higher-income neighborhoods attended open enrollment schools or charter schools, but in disadvantaged areas, more than 20 percent of students attended open enrollment schools and another 7 percent chose charter schools.

And the low-income students endured the longest commutes to school.

In affluent neighborhoods almost no one traveled 4 miles to school; the average commute was about 1.7 miles. But in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the average commute for children was 2.7 miles, with 25 percent of the kids traveling more than 4 miles. Ten percent of the low-income kids traveled more than 6 miles.

Burdick-Will found that a student in a disadvantaged neighborhood was also 35 percent more likely to be the only person from their neighborhood at school.

In low-income neighborhoods the problem isn't just access, Burdick-Will said, but the potential social costs of traveling far across the city every day, possibly alone -- costs that don't apply to similarly achieving students in higher income neighborhoods.

"We think of choice as a thing of privilege," she said. "But what we see is that there is a privilege of not having to choose."

More black teachers = higher student perception of fairness in school discipline

Black students in schools with more black teachers have more positive attitudes and higher perceptions of fairness in school discipline, according to a new study that includes a University of Kansas researcher.

The study also found white students who attend schools with a higher number of minority teachers are more likely to believe discipline from school officials is fair as well.

"Increasing the proportion of minority teachers in a school enhances all students' perceptions of school discipline fairness," said Don Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the KU Department of Political Science who was a co-author of the study. "Our findings provide empirical support for the arguments of some political theorists that the legitimacy of public institutions is enhanced when those institutions are staffed by people who look like the population more generally."

Because public schools provide young people with their first real interaction with government, it is important to study these environments and their impact on perceptions; the urgency is even greater in light of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York after African-Americans were killed during encounters with police officers, Haider-Markel said.

Haider-Markel co-authored the study with University of Missouri professors Lael Keiser and Rajeev Darolia. They will present their findings in the paper "Race, Gender and Symbolic Representation in American Schools" on Sept. 4 at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The federal government has found black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled and the protests earlier this year highlighted the disproportionate harsh treatment of African-Americans within the criminal justice system, the high levels of distrust African-Americans have for police and political institutions in general and the lack of diversity in public institutions, the researchers said.

"Schools teach young people about democracy and being a citizen directly, but schools, through their treatment of students, also teach students how the government views them as citizens," Haider-Markel said. "So students who do not perceive fair treatment might take away the message that the government will not be fair or treat everyone equally."

Such a message might lay the foundation for making a young person less likely to participate in civil society through voting, attending public meetings or other means, he said.

Other researchers have found that increasing diversity in police departments enhances perceptions of fairness and legitimacy in how civilians evaluate police officers, but this is only part of the solution in enhancing policy and community relations, Haider-Markel said.

The researchers said the study supports a recommendation that schools with few or no minority teachers could benefit from hiring teachers that more closely match the demographic of their enrollment. Also, because white student perceptions of legitimacy did not decline in schools with more minority teachers, government bureaucracies in general could presume that increasing representation of its work force would not come at the cost of increasing negative perceptions by Caucasians, Haider-Markel said.

High school athletes using smokeless tobacco more than non-athletes

A Dangerous Trend - Smokeless Tobacco Use Among High School Athletes
A Dangerous Trend - Smokeless Tobacco Use Among High School Athletes.
Entire Infographic
High school athletes who play on sports teams smoke tobacco products at a lower rate than non-athletes, but use smokeless tobacco at a higher rate, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Data from national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) show that while current use of combustible tobacco products (cigarettes and cigars) dropped dramatically from 2001 to 2013 among all high school students (31.5 percent to 19.5 percent), current use of smokeless tobacco remained unchanged among non-athletes (5.9 percent) and increased among athletes (10 percent to 11.1 percent).

The lower use of combustible tobacco products might result from athletes’ awareness of how smoking can hurt athletic performance. The higher use of smokeless tobacco suggests athletes may perceive these products as harmless, socially acceptable, or perhaps even as a way to boost athletic performance. However, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals and may increase the risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Notable athletes with a history of smokeless tobacco use have been diagnosed with or died from oral cancer.

“We can do more to protect America’s youth from a lifetime of addiction,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The fact is, smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, snuff or dip, can cause cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. And the nicotine in these products is harmful to the developing brain. Because we know tobacco-free policies in schools and other public recreational areas work, we must take action now so that our children are safe from these toxins.”

The data show a relationship between the number of sports teams on which an athlete plays and his or her tobacco use. Athletes who play on multiple sports teams use smokeless tobacco more and combustible tobacco less. During 2013, prevalence of smokeless use was 5.9 percent, 10.2 percent, 11.5 percent, and 12.5 percent among students participating in zero, one, two, or three or more sports teams, respectively. But combustible tobacco use was 21.3 percent, 19.6 percent, 17.1 percent, and 15.8 percent among students participating in zero, one, two, or three or more sports teams, respectively.

The tobacco industry has marketed smokeless products as an alternative to cigarettes in situations where smoking is prohibited, which might further promote their use among athletes. Although Minor League Baseball prohibits use of smokeless products, Major League Baseball restricts but does not prohibit their use. San Francisco has adopted a policy, which becomes effective January 1, 2016, that would prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco and all other tobacco products at all city professional and amateur athletic venues. On September 2, 2015, Boston enacted a similar policy that goes into effect April 1, 2016. Smokeless tobacco use among professional athletes is concerning because youth may view them as role models.

“Tobacco use among youth athletes is of particular concern because most adult tobacco users first try tobacco before age 18,” said Brian King, Ph.D., deputy director for research translation in the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. “The younger people are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted and the more heavily addicted they can become.”

Tobacco-free policies that prohibit all tobacco use by players, coaches, referees, and fans on school campuses and at all public recreational facilities—including stadiums, parks, and school gymnasiums—might help make smokeless tobacco use less socially acceptable and reduce its use among student athletes.

Increased participation in this years PSAT/NMSQT®, SAT®, and AP® Exams

According to the 2015 College Board Program Results released today, a larger and more diverse group of students than ever before is participating in challenging course work and taking advantage of the opportunities associated with College Board programs and assessments.

The PSAT/NMSQT®, SAT®, and AP® Exams always have been opportunity assessments, linking students to scholarships, college admission, and course credit. Anchored in the belief that students today need more opportunities — not more tests — the College Board has redesigned these exams and connected them to a wider array of educational and scholarship benefits.

The PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, and AP results provide valuable information that can help ensure that more students graduate from high school ready for college and career.

Below are highlights from the 2015 Program Results and the recommended strategies to support educators and students.

Access and Participation

Expanding access to actionable assessments and challenging course work is an important way to connect students to college and career opportunities. Significant gains were made in access to the three College Board programs.

PSAT/NMSQT: Record number of test-takers. In the fall of 2014, a record 3.8 million students took the PSAT/NMSQT, up from 3.7 million in 2013 and 3.6 million in 2010.

SAT: Growing participation. A record 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT, compared to 1.67 million students from the graduating class of 2014 and 1.65 million in the class of 2011. A total of 25.1 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2015 took the exam using a fee waiver, compared to 23.6 percent in the class of 2014 and 21.3 percent in the class of 2011.

AP: Record number of students takes AP Exams. 2.5 million students took an AP Exam in 2015, compared to 2.3 million in 2014 and just under 2 million in 2011.

Performance and Success

Increased access to assessments can help educators monitor student progress, understand skill areas in need of improvement, and identify students’ potential to succeed in challenging course work. Results from the PSAT/NMSQT are the best predictor of a student’s potential to succeed in certain AP courses. In 2014-15, about 520,000 10th-grade PSAT/NMSQT takers overall showed potential to succeed in at least one AP course.

AP courses offer students the opportunity to pursue college-level course work while still in high school. Students who succeed on AP Exams are more likely than other students to graduate from college on time, and they have the potential to save time and money through placement and credit-granting policies. More than 1.5 million students received a score of 3 or higher on an AP Exam in 2015, compared to 1.4 million in 2014 and 1.2 million in 2011.

Assessment results also can inform whether students are on track for college and career readiness. Nearly 766,000 (48 percent) of 11th-grade PSAT/NMSQT takers met the grade-level benchmark, indicating they are on track for college and career readiness. In addition, these results can help educators and policymakers see areas of progress and growth, as well as areas for improvement.

The SAT is a proven and trusted indicator of college readiness and success for students from all backgrounds. More than 712,000 students (41.9 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2015) met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark. High school graduates who reach the benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year college and graduate on time than those who do not meet the benchmark.

Fewer than 4 in 10 middle grades assignments were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard

Nearly every state has adopted new, more rigorous standards for college and career readiness over the past five years. How has classroom instruction changed? What types of assignments are students being asked to complete? After countless hours of professional development and revised observational protocols, is the rigor of the new standards reaching students? In a new report, The Education Trust responds with “not so much.”

In “Checking In: Do Classroom Assignments Reflect Today’s Higher Standards?,” Ed Trust examines more than 1,500 English language arts, humanities, science, and social studies assignments given to middle school students and finds that only 5 percent of assignments fell into the high range on our assignment analysis framework centered on Common Core alignment, text centrality, cognitive challenge and student motivation and engagement. And while our results did show some positive movement toward actualizing the instructional shifts demanded by the Common Core, significant work remains.

“The findings were surprising. They pose as many questions as they provide answers,” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice-president of K-12 policy and practice and co-author of the report. “District and state leaders routinely cite the number of professional development hours spent bringing teachers up to speed as evidence of preparing educators to teach to the higher standards. Yet, our report shows there is clearly a disconnect when it comes to incorporating these practices into the tasks in classroom assignments.”

Ed Trust gathered assignments from six diverse middle schools from two large, urban school districts. Assignments were collected from 92 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teachers instructing English language arts, humanities, history, and social studies classes over a two-week period. The assignments were then analyzed by a team of content area experts experienced in college- and career-ready standards.
Our analysis shows:
  • Fewer than 4 in 10 assignments (or 38 percent) were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard. Moreover, rates in high-poverty schools were considerably lower, at roughly one-third of all assignments.
  • Fifty-five percent of assignments were connected to a text. However, overall, only 16 percent of assignments required students to use a text for citing evidence as support for a position or a claim.
  • Only 4 percent of all assignments reviewed pushed student thinking to higher levels. About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or requiring author critiques. Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but these are largely surface level.
  • Relevance and choice — powerful levers to engage early adolescents — are mostly missing in action. Only 2 percent of assignments meet both indicators for engagement.
The Ed Trust report urges school district and education leaders to ask themselves tough questions about what students are being asked to do in the classroom, and whether these assignments are preparing them for success.

“College- and career-ready standards have enormous potential to focus teaching on what today’s students need to be successful in a global economy, and to also be a powerful force in getting all students — not just some — to reach the highest academic levels. But, as our findings show, that potential remains unrealized, and there is still much work to do,” Santelises said.

“Checking In” was written for school district and education leaders to help them examine, question and refine their own educational practices to elevate student learning outcomes. The Education Trust notes that by looking closely at student assignments across grades and in all content areas, school leaders can track where teachers are in their own understanding of more rigorous standards. This is the first paper in our Equity in Motion series, which will take a close look at how issues of equity are playing out in the daily activities of schools and educators.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Charter School Program Diversity Unproven

Program diversity has long been touted as an advantage of charter schooling. In a recent American Enterprise Institute report, authors Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield advocate for the expansion and deregulation of charter schools on the basis that they provide greater variety and are more responsive to parental desires. The report, however, comes up short in providing evidence of greater program diversity or of over-regulation.

Arnold Danzig and William J. Mathis reviewed Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings for the Think Twice think tank review project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education. Find Danzig and Mathis’s review on the NEPC website at:

By examining charter school websites, the report finds schools evenly split between Specialized (e.g., “no excuses” or STEM) and General. It finds small to moderate correlations between city demographics and certain types of charters but also finds that specialized schools tend to morph into homogenized general schools. In relying on the schools’ own websites, the authors admit that coding schools in this manner can be error-prone, yet no accuracy check of the data is used.

The reviewers found several additional weaknesses with the report. It claims the superior program diversity of charters but fails to empirically compare charter offerings with those of traditional public schools. It claims that charter schools are hampered by red tape, but again offers no evidence.

The correlations between charters and city demographics are based on only a sample of 17 cities, which provide a weak base for supporting the report’s conclusions. There are minimal citations, mostly to charter school advocacy organizations.

The reviewers conclude that the report is an advocacy piece with methodology problems that “render the report of little validity or utility.”

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dialect influences Appalachian students' experiences in college

An in-depth dialect study from NC State University researchers shows that some students from rural Appalachia feel that their dialects put them at a disadvantage in a college classroom, even in the South.

The Journal of Higher Education study raises important questions about language as a type of diversity that isn't always celebrated on campus, says lead author Stephany Dunstan, a linguist and associate director of assessment at NC State.

In their interviews, some rural Appalachian students recalled times when they spoke up in class only to be met with snickers for sounding "hillbilly" or "country." Others reported they had been hesitant to speak in class, felt singled out, dreaded oral presentations, tried to change the way they talked, and felt that they had to work harder to earn the respect of faculty and peers.

"When you think about it, dialect is the last acceptable personal trait to make fun of or try to 'correct,' although the way we speak is an important facet of identity,"Dunstan says. "In academic circles we seem to believe in the myth that there's only one acceptable form of "standard English" that scholars use. We also seem to believe that it's students' responsibility to change the way they speak to accommodate 'the standard,' rather than recognizing that we all speak dialects - all of which have their own valid systems and patterns."

Dunstan analyzed dialect features of participants' speech (variation in pronunciation and grammatical features) by recording student interviews and having participants read a passage of text. She was looking for markers of stigmatized dialects associated with dialects of southern Appalachian English, which may carry stigma even among other Southerners. Examples include pronouncing "rice" like "rahs" or pronouncing "weight" like "white." Participants had graduated from high school in a rural Appalachian county, had lived in the area since childhood, and had at least one parent who was born and raised in Appalachia.

College attendance and graduation rates for students from rural areas are often lower than those of students from other regions for a number of reasons, but few studies have examined whether language plays a role, says co-author Audrey Jaeger, a higher education professor at NC State.

"Language is one of our most important social tools and it plays a huge role in daily life," Jaeger says. "There's an important connection in higher education between students' perceptions of belonging and competence and their rates of persistence and college completion."

While some students in the study felt their dialects posed a barrier to academic success, others refused to be intimidated.

"In particular, one bright, high-achieving student in the study essentially said, 'I'm not changing my speech. My grades speak for themselves,'" Jaeger says.

Dunstan, who conducts campus workshops about linguistic diversity, says universities should include a section on language diversity in their orientation and training programs.

"You don't have to be a linguist to recognize the variety of languages and dialects on campus," she says. "We want people to have an awareness and respect for the ways other people speak."