Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chewing Gum Helps Test-Takers


Have an important final exam coming up? Maybe your test prep should include chewing some gum.

St. Lawrence University Assistant Professor of Psychology Serge Onyper conducted a study that showed that students who chewed gum for five minutes before taking a test did better on the test than non-gum-chewing students. "Mastication-induced arousal" is credited for the boost, which lasted for about the first 20 minutes or so of testing. Results of the study were published in the journal Appetite.

A "battery of cognitive tasks" was given to the study participants, who chewed gum either prior to or throughout testing. Their performance was then compared with subjects who did not chew gum.

Many studies have shown that any type of physical activity can produce a performance boost; this study points out that even mild physical activity can bring on such a boost.

Chewing gum gave the subjects multiple advantages, but only when chewed for five minutes before testing, not for the duration of the test. Benefits persisted for the first 15 to 20 minutes of testing only. Onyper notes that a possible reason the benefits didn't continue throughout testing may be due to "a sharing of resources by cognitive and masticatory processes."

In other words, you can't chew gum and think productively at the same time.

Onyper was the lead researcher on a study presented earlier this year showing that students who took classes starting earlier in the morning tended to get higher grades, even though they may have gotten less sleep.

Training peers improves social outcomes for some kids with ASD


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who attend regular education classes may be more likely to improve their social skills if their typically developing peers are taught how to interact with them than if only the children with ASD are taught such skills. According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, a shift away from more commonly used interventions that focus on training children with ASD directly may provide greater social benefits for children with ASD. The study was published online ahead of print on Nov. 28, 2011, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

"Real life doesn't happen in a lab, but few research studies reflect that," said Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a part of NIH. "As this study shows, taking into account a person's typical environment may improve treatment outcomes."

The most common type of social skills intervention for children with ASD is direct training of a group of children with social challenges, who may have different disorders and may be from different classes or schools. The intervention is usually delivered at a clinic, but may also be school-based and offered in a one-on-one format. Other types of intervention focus on training peers how to interact with classmates who have difficulty with social skills. Both types of intervention have shown positive results in studies, but neither has been shown to be as effective in community settings.

Connie Kasari, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues compared different interventions among 60 children, ages 6-11, with ASD. All of the children were mainstreamed in regular education classrooms for at least 80 percent of the school day.

These children were randomly assigned to either receive one-on-one training with an intervention provider or to receive no one-on-one intervention. The children were also randomized to receive a peer-mediated intervention or no peer-mediated intervention. The two-step randomization resulted in four intervention categories, each with 15 children who had ASD:

- Child-focused: direct, one-on-one training between the child with ASD and intervention provider to practice specific social skills, such as how to enter a playground game or conversation
- Peer-mediated: group training with the intervention provider for three typically developing children from the same classroom as the student with ASD; the affected student did not receive any social skills training. The participating children were selected by study staff and teachers and were taught strategies for engaging students with social difficulties.
- Both child-focused and peer-mediated interventions
- Neither intervention.

All interventions were given for 20 minutes two times a week for six weeks. A follow-up was conducted 12 weeks after the end of the study. After the follow up phase, all children with ASD who had received neither intervention were re-randomized to one of the other treatment categories.

Children with ASD whose peers received training—including those who may also have received the child-focused intervention—spent less time alone on playgrounds and had more classmates naming them as a friend, compared to participants who received the child-focused interventions. Teachers also reported that students with ASD in the peer-mediated groups showed significantly better social skills following the intervention. However, among all intervention groups, children with ASD showed no changes in the number of peers they indicated as their friends.

At follow-up, children with ASD from the peer-mediated groups continued to show increased social connections despite some of the children having changed classrooms due to a new school year and having new, different peers.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that peer-mediated interventions can provide better and more persistent outcomes than child-focused strategies, and that child-focused interventions may only be effective when paired with peer-mediated intervention.

In addition to the benefits of peer-mediated interventions, the researchers noted several areas for improvement. For example, peer engagement especially helped children with ASD to be less isolated on the playground, but it did not result in improvement across all areas of playground behavior, such as taking turns in games or engaging in conversations and other joint activities. Also, despite greater inclusion in social circles and more frequent engagement by their peers, children with ASD continued to cite few friendships. Further studies are needed to explore these factors as well as other possible mediators of treatment effects.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kindergarten friendships matter, especially for boys


High-quality friendships in kindergarten may mean that boys will have fewer behavior problems and better social skills in first and third grades, said Nancy McElwain, a University of Illinois associate professor of human development and co-author of a study published in a recent issue of Infant and Child Development.

"The findings for girls were different," said Jennifer Engle, lead author of the study. "Overall, teachers reported that girls in the first and third grade had good social skills, regardless of the quality of their kindergarten friendships. Boys, on the other hand, clearly benefited from the good start that early high-quality friendships provide."

Engle said the study was unique in comparing how the presence and quality of children's kindergarten friendships are related to their behavior problems and social skills in kindergarten, first, and third grades.

She noted that friendship quality was important for both boys and girls in kindergarten. Kindergarten kids with high-quality friendships tended to have fewer behavior problems and better social skills than those whose friendships were of low or moderate quality. In contrast, kids who had low-quality kindergarten friendships had more behavior problems during kindergarten.

The differences in friendship quality for boys versus girls didn't show up until the children were older, she said.

"Boys who had no friends in kindergarten had more behavior problems, but not until they had reached first and third grades," she said.

The researchers examined data from 567 children who had participated in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

Mothers in the study reported on whether their kindergarten child had at least one friend and on the quality of their child's friendships. Researchers then compared the progress of children with no friends, low-quality friendships, average-quality friendships, and high-quality friendships. Teachers provided feedback on children's behavior problems in kindergarten and first and third grades.

"As we expected, high-quality kindergarten friendships that featured cooperation and sharing, taking turns, low levels of hostility, and little destructive conflict, gave children—especially boys—practice in positive interaction, which they demonstrated in grades 1 and 3," Engle said.

How can you help your child learn to be a good friend? McElwain stressed that peers become important as children enter kindergarten. Parents should make an effort to help children, especially boys, make friends at this age through play dates and other social activities, she said.

Children also will likely relate to friends in more positive ways if they have experiences in their family that model positive expectations, caring, and respect.

When children learn to expect that people will respond positively to them, they will be responsive and friendly to others, she noted.

"Those children will be able to handle their emotions better when the going gets rough, and they'll learn how to work through conflicts. Conflict isn't necessarily good or bad; it's a matter of how kids approach disagreements with their friends or parents," she said.

McElwain offered reassurance to parents of friendless kindergartners. "Almost all of those children had made a friend by the time they reached third grade," she said.

Abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior


States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined.

The researchers looked at teen pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states to evaluate the effectiveness of those states' approaches to sex education, as prescribed by local laws and policies.

"Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates," said Kathrin Stanger-Hall, assistant professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Hall is first author on the resulting paper, which has been published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said.

"This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior," said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. "It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries."

Along with teen pregnancy rates and sex education methods, Hall and Stanger-Hall looked at the influence of socioeconomic status, education level, access to Medicaid waivers and ethnicity of each state's teen population.

Even when accounting for these factors, which could potentially impact teen pregnancy rates, the significant relationship between sex education methods and teen pregnancy remained: the more strongly abstinence education is emphasized in state laws and policies, the higher the average teenage pregnancy and birth rates.

"Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction," said Stanger-Hall.

The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

These results come at an important time for legislators. A new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was signed into federal law in December 2009 and awarded $114 million for implementation. However, federal abstinence-only funding was renewed for 2010 and beyond by including $250 million of mandatory abstinence-only funding as part of an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee's health-reform legislation.

With two types of federal funding programs available, legislators of individual states now have the opportunity to decide which type of sex education—and which funding option—to choose for their state and possibly reconsider their state's sex education policies for public schools, while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision.

"Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don't learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?" said Stanger-Hall.


Income & Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) for School Districts


The U.S. Census Bureau, with support from other Federal agencies, created the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program to provide more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than those from the most recent decennial census.

Estimates are created for school districts, counties, and states. The main objective of this program is to provide updated estimates of income and poverty statistics for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions. Estimates for 2010 were released in November 2011. These estimates combine data from administrative records, intercensal population estimates, and the decennial census with direct estimates from the American Community Survey to provide consistent and reliable single-year estimates. These model-based single-year estimates are more reflective of current conditions than multi-year survey estimates.

Children At Risk: A State-by-State Report on Early Intervention


Easter Seals new report -- Our Nation’s Children at Risk: A State-by-State Report on Early Intervention -- gives a sense for how well each state takes care of its youngest children with disabilities and delays. The fact is: infants and toddlers in nearly every state continue to fall behind, many will never catch up. Yet, with the right investment in treatment and therapy before the age of five, we can change the state of early intervention for millions of families across the country.

While there are many choices for families seeking early identification and early intervention services, the federally funded Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C program offers all families services designed to help them facilitate their infant or toddler’s development. It’s a program created to help young children with disabilities or developmental delays catch up with their peers without disabilities, or enhance their development so they can better learn and grow.

These individual state profiles provide a comprehensive overview of the current status of federal and state funding for early intervention services through the Part C program of IDEA in each of the 50 states and the District of Colombia. Easter Seals looked at funding levels compared not only to the number of children (ages 0-3) served under Part C every year, but also how many children fail to receive the proper screenings to identify their special need and how many children are at risk for developmental delays, autism or disabilities in each state.

It’s also important to note, funding cuts or limitations have forced states to make difficult choices to limit the number of children who are eligible for Part C services to those children with only the most significant disabilities. The report identifies the number of children who may have mild to moderate disabilities, developmental delays or who are at risk for developmental delays who could benefit from such services -- beyond those children who are currently eligible.

Distance Education Courses in Public School Districts: 2009-10


According to a new NCES report, during the 2009-10 school year, 55 percent of school districts reported having students enrolled in distance education courses. Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2009–10, a First Look from the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), provides national data about enrollment in distance education courses, how districts monitor these courses, the motivations for providing distance education, and the technologies used for delivering distance education. Other findings include:

• Of the 55 percent of school districts reported having students enrolled in distance education courses, 96 percent of districts reported having students enrolled in distance education courses at the high school level, 19 percent at the middle or junior high school level, 6 percent at the elementary school level, and 4 percent in combined or ungraded schools.

• Districts reported an estimated 1.8 million enrollments in distance education courses for 2009–10. Seventy-four percent of the distance education enrollments were in high schools, 9 percent were in middle or junior high schools, and 4 percent were in elementary schools.

• Twenty-two percent of districts with students enrolled in distance education courses reported that students enrolled in regular high school programs could take a full course load in an academic term using only distance education courses, while 12 percent reported that students could fulfill all high school graduation requirements using only distance education courses.

Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education


In recent years there have been increasing efforts to use accountability systems based on large-scale tests of students as a mechanism for improving student achievement. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a prominent example of such an effort, but it is only the continuation of a steady trend toward greater test-based accountability in education that has been going on for decades. Over time, such accountability systems included ever-stronger incentives to motivate school administrators, teachers, and students to perform better.

Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education
reviews and synthesizes relevant research from economics, psychology, education, and related fields about how incentives work in educational accountability systems. The book helps identify circumstances in which test-based incentives may have a positive or a negative impact on student learning and offers recommendations for how to improve current test-based accountability policies. The most important directions for further research are also highlighted.


Achievement Gains under No Child Left Behind


Test-Based Accountability Projected To Yield Large, Long-Term Economic Returns

An analysis of a new report by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC), the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education shows that average student gains from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) test-based accountability measures would yield, over the next 80 years, a national economic benefit of approximately $14 trillion. When examined in this light, the impacts of NCLB – which the NRC estimates at a 0.08 standard deviation improvement in average achievement nationwide – are far greater than suggested by the NRC committee, which concludes that test-based accountability under NCLB had minimal impact and probably should be abandoned.

Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, prepared the analysis entitled “Grinding the Antitesting Ax: More bias than evidence behind NRC panel’s conclusions.”

The NRC report, titled “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education,” was released in draft version to the media five months in advance of its expected publication date, an indication, notes Hanushek, that the NRC “clearly wants to enter the current debate about the reauthorization of NCLB.” Hanushek examines the report’s two main conclusions: a) that test-based incentive programs “have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the level of the highest achieving countries;” and b) that high school exit exam programs “decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.” He finds that the report’s “strongly worded, unequivocal conclusions” about test-based accountability “are only weakly supported by scientific evidence.”

Hanushek writes that the NRC’s average estimated impact of test-based accountability at 0.08 of standard deviations of student achievement “may well be too low.” The NRC committee considers a 2008 review of 14 studies, as well as 4 studies conducted after that review. He notes that these studies produce a wide distribution of estimated impacts, and that the committee chooses to emphasize the 10% of these studies with negative findings, while downplaying the 90% of these studies that have positive findings. Even leaving this concern aside and accepting the 0.08 of standard deviation achievement boost, Hanushek finds that “we are hard pressed to come up with any other education program working at (national scale) that has produced such results.” Further, the cost of designing, administering, and reporting the results from statewide examinations have been estimated at between $20 and $50 per pupil, a small sum compared to the average U.S. per-pupil education expenditures of above $12,000 annually, or to the costs of reforms such as in-service training programs or class size reductions.

Drawing on his previous work on the impact on U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of higher levels of student achievement, Hanushek explains that an NCLB impact of $14 trillion over 80 years is “very close to the current $15 trillion level of our entire (annual) GDP.” If a $100 per student testing cost is assumed and the U.S. tested students in all grades (rather than grades 3-8 and 10, as is now the case), the rate of return on investment would be 9,189 percent. “Not a bad return,” he states.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Impact of Transitions to Middle and High School


The authors of this study used statewide administrative data from Florida to estimate the impact of attending public schools with different grade configurations on student achievement through grade 10. Students moving from elementary to middle school suffer a sharp drop in student achievement in the transition year. These achievement drops persist through grade 10.

The authors of this study also find that middle school entry increases student absences and is associated with higher grade 10 dropout rates.

Transitions to high school in grade nine cause a smaller one-time drop in achievement but do not alter students’ performance trajectories.

CT Charter Schools Test Results Analyzed


by Jon Pelto, Wait, What

Achievement First and other major urban charter schools base their demand for more public funds by claiming that their standardized test scores prove that their charter schools are providing students with a superior education.

However, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument these charter school advocates are putting forward.

Putting aside the broader problems associated with using standardized mastery tests to measure educational outcomes; there is overwhelming evidence that test scores are impacted by a number of factors beyond simply what is going on in the classroom.

Study after study has indicated that poverty and standardized test scores (like the mastery test) are closely correlated. More poverty means lower school test scores; less poverty means higher school test scores.

What policymakers are not regularly told is that although poverty level in all urban schools are high (both at charter and at traditional public schools), the students at many of Connecticut’s urban charter schools are significantly “less poor” than the students who attend the public schools in those same communities.

In Bridgeport, where 99% of the city’s public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to the data provided to the State Department of Education, the number of students who meet that standard at Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is more than 30 points percentage points lower.

The percentage of students at the other two major Bridgeport charters (The Bridge Academy and Park City Preparatory) who qualify for free or reduced lunches are also significantly lower than in the Bridgeport school system.

There is a similar pattern in Hartford, where 93% of public schools students qualify for free or reduced lunches compared to 68% at Achievement First’s Harford Academy and 72% at the Jumoke Academy charter school.

And it is the same in New Haven, where 81% of all New Haven public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches, while at the Amistad Academy 66% meet that poverty standard. At Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Prep charter school, the number of students getting free or reduced lunches is 69%.

Considering these schools are more racially isolated these statistics indicate that charter schools have the effect of leaving the poorer students in each city’s public schools systems.

According to their marketing materials and testimony at legislative hearings, charter schools claim that their students score 10 to 30 percent better on master tests than do students in the nearby public schools.

However, a portion of that difference may be due to the poverty level of the students served in those schools.

An even greater impact may come from the language barriers students bring with them to school.

When it comes to the Connecticut Mastery Tests (3-8 grades), 84% of all Connecticut students score at the proficient or better level in math. However, for English Language Learners (ELL students) that is, “students who lack sufficient mastery of English,” the percent of students who achieve a proficient or better score drops all the way down to 57%.

The language barrier has an even more stunning impact on the test results for the reading portion of the Connecticut Mastery Test. While 78% of all Connecticut students score at the proficient level or better, only 37% of ELL (those not proficient in the English Language) test at the proficient level or better.

These numbers mean that schools that have more ELL students do significantly worse than schools that don’t have as many non-English proficient students.

So, back to the data on charter schools:

In Bridgeport, 13% of the public school students are ELL students. At Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy the number is just 6%.

Less than ½ of 1% of the students at The Bridge Academy charter school are ELL students, while only 2.5% of the students at Park City Prep charter school are ELL.

In Hartford, where over 17% of public school students are non-English proficient (ELL), the percent of ELL students at Achievement First’s Harford Academy is less than 5% and there are literally no ELL students at the Jumoke Academy charter school.

In New Haven, the disparity is less prevalent. 12% of New Haven public school students are ELL, which is similar to the percent at the Amistad Academy charter school, but at Elm City College Prep charter school only 9% of the students are ELL.

While the impact of these statistics has yet to be fully documented, the fact remains that Connecticut’s charter schools are simply not in a position to claim that the quality of their education programs are substantially better than the education in the public schools.

Charter schools may claim that they utilize an “open lottery system and that allows every child to have access to their schools, but the facts simply don’t back up the charter schools’ claim that their student populations represent the full spectrum of students that attend public schools. Therefore their claim of educational superiority doesn’t add up.

Achievement First and a number of the other urban charter schools are more racially isolated, they educate a student population that is less poor and they fail to take on their fair share of non-English proficient (ELL) students.

While CMT test scores in charter schools may be marginally higher than public school scores, the evidence suggests that their teaching methods may not fully explain those results.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Students Displaced by School Closures Need High-quality Alternatives


Closing schools can have negative effects on displaced students, but these ramifications can be counteracted if students are moved to schools that are substantially higher performing. A new study from the RAND Corporation, Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and Mathematica Policy Research finds that closing low-performing schools does not necessarily benefit their students and can undermine student achievement – depending on the quality of the students' new schools.

School closures have become increasingly common in some districts due to declining enrollments and financial constraints. Further, reinforcing existing sanctions in the No Child Left Behind Act, the Obama administration is encouraging states and districts to consider closing schools that are chronically low-performing.

These new findings argue that many students displaced by school closures experience adverse effects both on test scores and attendance—unless they are transferred to substantially higher-performing schools.

“Closing schools is one of the most controversial actions a district can take, but districts across the nation are closing schools due to declining enrollments and low achievement,” said Peabody’s Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education. “This recent upsurge has given rise to concerns about the impact on student achievement, neighborhoods, families and teaching staff.”

The researchers examined an anonymous urban school district in which decreasing enrollment and financial strain made school closures a necessity. The district used prior school performance as the main criterion for choosing schools to close, rather than often-used criteria such as building condition or neighborhood support.
The anonymous district hoped the closures would provide an opportunity to improve student achievement.

“What we actually found is that students who moved to similarly performing schools experienced declines in reading and math test scores,” said Gema Zamarro, an economist at the RAND Corporation. “Our study suggests that students would have to transfer to much higher performing schools before they would score at the same level as they had prior to the move.”

Brian Gill, a senior fellow at Mathematica, said, “Simply closing a low-performing school is not enough to improve student outcomes. When schools are closed, districts should ensure that displaced students have the opportunity to attend high-performing schools.”

The researchers also found that displaced students initially experienced lower attendance, but the negative effect on attendance disappeared after the first year in the new school.

The authors caution that further research needs to be conducted across a wide array of districts before strong conclusions can be drawn. Follow-up research should also examine longer-term implications of school closings, including effects on later cohorts of students who never attended the closed schools and therefore did not experience the disruption associated with displacement.


Sleep Better, Score Higher in Math & Physical Education


Adolescents with an average amount of nightly sleep score higher on mathematics than those who slept little or slept a great deal, according to new research. Those who sleep between six and ten hours (ie. an average sleep pattern) got significantly better scores, as compared to those with a short (6 hours or less per night) or long (more than 9 hours per night) pattern of sleep. This difference is particularly prominent in physical education.

This was the conclusion drawn in a study published in the January 2001 issue of the journal International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology by Raúl Quevedo-Blasco, a professor at the Department of Personality Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, at the University of Granada, and by Víctor J. Quevedo-Blasco, a secondary school teacher at the I.E.S Flavio Irnitano in Seville, Spain.

The aim of this study was to analyze how sleep patterns can affect students' academic performance. Their academic performance was measured in terms of mean grade -in common subjects and at global level- of a group of Secondary School students. To such purpose, the authors analyzed a sample of 592 students aged 12 to 19 years from a Secondary School center in a rural region in Seville. From these middle-class 592 students, 231 (39%) were men and 361 (61%) were women.

Two Different Questionnaires

The students answered two different questionnaires aimed at measuring the quality of sleep, level of sleepiness or tendency to get asleep of students in different situations. Authors found that adolescents sleeping more hours get higher marks in mathematics and that - --within average sleep patterns --- differences are more significant in physical education, as compared with the rest of school subjects. This can be due to the inherent characteristics of these subjects, as these two subjects involve skills that are more influenced by sleep patterns, as the study authors explain.

The researchers observed that bedtime and wake time do not significantly influence academic outcomes, except for those individuals who go to bed earlier and get up later. These students showed significantly lower academic achievement, as compared with their classmates.

The researchers also found significant information in connection with sleep latency (the time elapsed since the subject is lying in bed intending to sleep until they fall asleep). Scientists found that those who have a good sleep latency (less than 15 minutes) get significantly better marks than the rest.

As a general conclusion, the authors found that sleep patterns influence academic performance, probably because those adolescents with less daytime sleepiness got higher marks than their classmates.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Optimism Helps Female Students Achieve Higher Grades


But Males Score Lower When Overconfident

Female students who were more optimistic achieved significantly higher grades than their less optimistic peers, according to a new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers. For male students, however, too much optimism led to overconfidence and less studying, resulting in lower grades.

“Optimism in male students can lead to overconfidence or an attitude of ‘things will work out for the best’,” according to Tamar Icekson, a Ph.D. student in BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “So instead of studying enough for a test, they go out the night before.”

Icekson, along with BGU Prof. Ayala Malach-Pines, dean of BGU’s business faculty, and Prof. Oren Kaplan of Israel’s College of Management, examined the attitudes and grades of 174 BGU business undergraduates (28% men and 72% women, ages 20 to 28, with an average age of 24). The study was recently presented at the International Conference of Positive Psychology.

Icekson and Kaplan focus their research on positive psychology – the effect of positive emotions and thinking on behavior. Those male students who scored as most optimistic got the lowest grades.

For male students, optimism tempered by conscientiousness produced the best results. However, there was no correspondingly high rate of conscientiousness among female students because it was not necessary to achieve higher grades, according to Icekson. “For female students, optimism alone was beneficial because they’re naturally more conscientious than their male counterparts,” she says. “Women have lower self-esteem, and so if they are not sure things will work out, they study for the test.”

Previous positive psychology studies have shown the value of dispositional optimism and conscientiousness in the workplace; however, the academic context has not been particularly well studied as yet.

In Icekson’s study, each participant completed an anonymous self-report questionnaire, for which extra course credit was awarded. Optimism was assessed using the Life Orientation Test. It is a one-dimensional measure that consists of 10 choices, such as: “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” or “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”

Academic performance was estimated using the student’s final B.A. grade

Poverty-Related Stress Affects Readiness for School


Stress in the lives of poor children is one cause of the early achievement gap in which children from low-income homes start school behind their more advantaged classmates.

That's the finding from a new study by scientists at Pennsylvania State University, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

A group of cognitive processes called executive functions are considered important for regulating behavior, managing new and potentially confusing information, adjusting to school, and making academic progress in the early elementary grades. We know that executive functions develop rapidly in early childhood, and that they're compromised by stress. Researchers in this study asked whether or not executive functions in early childhood are influenced by stress in children's lives.

Looking at almost 1,300 young children in mostly low-income homes, they examined aspects of children's early environment between 7 and 24 months, including demographic characteristics, the household environment (such as safety and noise levels), and the quality of parenting (for example, levels of mothers' sensitivity, detachment, and intrusiveness when interacting with their children). They also examined one indicator of stress -- by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the children -- and administered a battery of three tests related to executive functions when the children were 3.

The researchers found that children in lower-income homes received less positive parenting and had higher levels of cortisol in their first two years than children in slightly better- off homes. Cortisol was higher in African American children than in White children. Higher levels of cortisol were associated with lower levels of executive function abilities.

"In sum, early stresses in the lives of children living in poverty affect how these children develop executive functions that are important for school readiness," explains Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology at New York University, who led the study.

New Data on Postsecondary Employees and Salaries


While adjusted 9-month average salaries for professors at degree-granting public 4-year institutions have increased from 2004-05 to 2010-11 (adjusted for inflation) for both men and women, the adjusted 9-month average salaries (adjusted for inflation) for their counterparts at degree-granting 2-year public institutions have decreased for both men and women from 2004-05 to 2010-11 according to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2010, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Staff, 2010-11 presents data from the Winter 2010-11 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, including data on the number of staff employed in Title IV postsecondary institutions in fall 2010 by occupation, length of contract/teaching period, employment status, salary class, faculty and tenure status, academic rank, and gender.

Other findings include:

• Institutions reported employing approximately 3.9 million individuals in fall 2010. Of the 3.9 million individuals, about 2.5 million were reported to be employed full time and about 1.4 million were reported to be employed part time.

• Of the nearly 594,000 reported instructional staff, 154,000 were professors, 129,000 were associate professors, 132,000 were assistant professors, 98,400 were instructors, and 29,600 were lecturers. The remaining 50,900 instructional staff had no academic rank.

• Compared with fall 2004, the number of instructional staff reported to be employed at degree-granting institutions (excluding administrative offices and medical schools) in fall 2010 increased from approximately 1.1 million to about 1.3 million. During this same time period, the proportion of these instructional staff classified as full-time decreased from 49 percent to 45 percent.


Approaches to Nutrition and Physical Education in Secondary Schools


The global prevalence of childhood obesity has nearly quadrupled over the past 30 years. Three contributors are decreases in physical activity, increases in food portion sizes, and increases in the availability of sugary drinks and foods with high levels of saturated fats. State and local governments have sought to reduce childhood obesity levels through health education programs and nutrition policies.

This study provides data on the health education programs, policies, and practices in secondary schools in the seven jurisdictions.

Formative Assessment Initiatives in Two States


As schools and districts work to improve student learning outcomes, demand has grown for information on efforts to promote formative assessment and strategies that support its implementation. Formative assessment has been defined by a national group of education leaders and researchers as an ongoing instructional process rather than a discrete event. Using formative assessment, teachers collect feedback daily and systematically with students to inform adjustments to instruction to help students reach learning goals.

This study examines two state-supported initiatives (in New York and Vermont) that seek to promote this definition of formative assessment. Using publicly available information and interviews with state, district, and school leaders for each initiative, the study examined the primary components of each initiative and strategies that each state has used to support implementation.

Strategies include:

• Providing training by well-known experts,

• Providing credible evidence of the benefits of formative assessment,

• Aligning initiative reforms with existing context and concurrent training efforts,

• Providing ongoing training and support at different levels of the system,

• Establishing accountability and monitoring methods for sustaining initiative implementation, and

• Building independent state and district capacity to sustain and spread teacher training.

Texas New History Standards Fail on College Readiness


A new report for the board that manages higher education in Texas confirms that the State Board of Education (SBOE) recklessly put politics ahead of getting students ready for college when adopting new social studies curriculum standards for public schools last year, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today. This new report follows a scathing review earlier this year in which the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute called the standards a “politicized distortion” of American history filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

The new report for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and the Social Studies Faculty Collaborative (which includes college and university faculty and was established by the coordinating board) warns that the public school American history standards adopted last year are “ineffective,” “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards,” and “ignore the principles of sound pedagogy.” The report, “Bridging the Gap Between K-12 and College Readiness Standards in Texas: Recommendations for U.S. History,” lays fault partly in the State Board of Education’s politicized process for adopting those standards:“

(M)idway through the process the board of education abandoned its committees (composed of practicing educators) and its expert reviewers (some of whom were trained historians and college professors). Over the course of eight months, the lawyers and realtors and dentist on the board made hundreds of changes to the standards. As the politicians squabbled over the politics of who should be in or out, they tacitly adopted a bi-partisan agreement to ignore principles of sound pedagogy.

The report offers numerous recommendations for how teachers can bridge the gap between the deeply flawed curriculum standards and the College and Career Readiness Standards prepared by the THECB. Some recommendations directly challenge specific curriculum standards adopted by the SBOE.

In one section, for example, the report notes that the supposed causes of American Civil War listed in the curriculum standards include “states’ rights” even though Texans at the time ”did not talk about states’ rights.” The report asks “why would modern members of the State Board of Education cite a reason that historical Texans did not” in their “Declaration of Causes” for secession? The report charges that at least one section of the standards is plagiarized from Wikipedia.

The report specifically criticizes “a widespread pattern of neglect of college readiness skills” in the state board’s new history standards:

“No student will succeed in college or the workplace if he confuses writings with speeches, conducts a one-sided analysis, or simply spits back a string of memorized information. No Texas parent would desire this for her child and no profit-minded Texas business leader would hire a graduate who had attained only these abysmal standards.”


Texas school districts teaching about contraception along with abstinence in sex education classes


Report Shows Big Increase in Public Schools

A new Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) study shows a big increase over the past three years in the percentage of Texas school districts teaching about contraception along with abstinence in sex education classes.

This encouraging shift away from failed abstinence-only policies is especially important because Texas has one of the highest teen birthrates in the nation, TFNEF President Kathy Miller said today. These changes at the local level have come despite the fact that the Legislature has refused over the past four years to enact any statewide reforms for sex education.

"It’s clear that more and more local school officials realize ignorance won’t protect our kids," Miller said about the new TFNEF report, Sex Education in Texas Public Schools: Progress in the Lone Star State. "So now we’re seeing the adoption of common-sense sex education policies that deal with a real public health crisis and that polling shows most parents support."

The TFNEF report is based on an analysis of data collected by a Texas Education Agency survey of school districts this past spring. The analysis shows that 25.4 percent of the 677 school districts responding to the survey (out of the more than 1,000 districts across the state) used abstinence-plus curricula for sex education in the 2010-11 school year. Such curricula encourage teens to abstain from sex but also include medically accurate information about contraception.

A 2009 TFNEF study showed that just 3.6 percent of Texas school districts were teaching abstinence-plus sex education in the 2007-08 school year. Nearly all school districts at the time took either an abstinence-only approach or taught nothing at all about sex education.

Texas has the third-highest teen birthrate in the nation. According the Texas Department of State Health Services, a teen gets pregnant every ten minutes in the state. Moreover, teen childbearing costs Texas taxpayers about $1.2 billion annually.

A 2010 statewide poll conducted for TFNEF by the national firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas support teaching about condoms and other forms of contraception along with abstinence in high school sex education classes.

"We are encouraged that local policies are beginning to catch up with public opinion," Miller said. "But the Legislature and the State Board of Education should also help school districts provide more effective, evidence-based sex education programs."

Miller called on the Legislature to require that all sex education materials taught in public schools at least be medically accurate and backed by scientific evidence showing that they are effective in helping teens adopt behaviors that protect their health and future. The State Board of Education should also adopt new health curriculum standards that provide more robust information about contraception as well as the importance of abstaining from sex.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Students being harassed or bullied by text on the rise


From Reuters:

Of more than 1,100 middle school and high school students surveyed in 2008, 24 percent said they had ever been "harassed" by texting. That was up from about 14 percent in a survey of the same kids the year before.

"Harassment" meant that peers had spread rumors about them, made "rude or mean comments," or threatened them.

Outright bullying, which was defined as being repeatedly picked on, was less common. In 2008, about eight percent of kids said they'd ever been bullied via text, versus just over six percent the year before.

Researchers say the findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, suggest that attention needs to be paid to kids' text-messaging world. But they also stress that parents need not be alarmed.

The study included 1,588 10- to 15-year-olds who were surveyed online for the first time in 2006. The survey was repeated in 2007 and 2008, with about three-quarters of the original group taking part in all three.

When it came to Internet-based harassment, there was little change over time. By 2008, 39 percent of students said they'd ever been harassed online, with most saying it had happened "a few times." Less than 15 percent said they'd ever been cyber-bullied.

And even when kids were picked on, most seemed to take it in stride.

Of those who said they'd been harassed online in 2008, 20 percent reported being "very or extremely upset" by the most serious incident. That was down a bit from 25 percent in 2006. (The study did not ask about distress over text-message harassment.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teens with Autism Face Major Obstacles to Social Life Outside of School


Hanging out with friends after school and on the weekends is a vital part of a teen’s social life. But for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), social activity outside of school is a rarity, finds a new study by Paul Shattuck, PhD, autism expert and assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, “Participation in Social Activities among Adolescents with an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” is published in PLoS ONE, the journal of the Public Library of Science.

“We looked at data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a group of over 11,000 adolescents enrolled in special education,” he says.

“Out of this group, teens with an ASD were significantly more likely never to see friends out of school (43.3 percent), never to get called by friends (54.4 percent), and never to be invited to social activities (50.4 percent) when compared with adolescents from all the other groups.”

The NLTS2 includes groups of adolescents with ASDs, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and speech and language impairments.

Shattuck says that these findings show that the majority of adolescents with an ASD experience major obstacles to social participation.

“It appears that experiences with peers are more likely to occur one-on-one, and perhaps at home rather than in the community,” he says.

Shattuck notes that limited or absent peer relationships can negatively influence health and mental health, especially during the teen years.

“One mechanism for promoting social relationships is by fostering participation with peers in group activities such as clubs, scouting, or sports,” Shattuck says.

“Only one-third of adolescents with an ASD are accessing such opportunities, and there is an obvious need for greater supports and services to promote community inclusion for this population,” he says.

The study found that conversational impairment and low social communication skills were associated with a lower likelihood of social participation.

“Having impaired conversational ability was associated with an elevated risk for friends never calling, never being invited to activities, and having no involvement in extracurricular activities,” Shattuck says.

Adolescents from families with lower income had an elevated risk for no involvement in activities, but not an elevated risk for limited contact with friends.

Age, sex, race, ethnicity, and school context factors were not significantly related to social participation.

New Data on State Education Reforms Website


New state-level data on open enrollment policies are now available on the State Education Reforms website. The State Education Reforms website, which draws primarily on data collected by organizations other than NCES, compiles and disseminates data on state-level education reform efforts in five areas:

1) Accountability,

2) Assessment and standards,

3) Staff qualifications and development,

4) State support for school choice and other options, and

5) Student readiness and progress through school.

Online schools: Questions About Quality & Accountability


Thirty Percent of U.S. High School Students Have Taken At Least One Course Online, NEPC Report Finds Serious Problems With Full-time Virtual Schools, More Oversight is Necessary

Virtual schooling is the fastest growing alternative to traditional K-12 education in the United States. Forty states operate or authorize online classes for K-12 students, say researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, with more than 30 percent of the nation’s 16 million high school students having been enrolled in at least one online class. Yet these schools are subject to only minimal government oversight. “Few rules, little supervision, many students and families who struggle, and an unacceptably large number of enrollees who won’t make it through to the end,” said report co-author Dr. Gene V Glass.

Cash-strapped states and school districts are using online education – including full-time virtual schools with no face-to-face contact between students and teachers – as a lower-cost alternative to traditional public schools. In states such as Florida, virtual schools are used as a loophole in laws that limit the size of classes. According to the report, full-time “cyber schools” including scores of virtual charter schools, are now operating in twenty-seven states. In at least one case in Arizona, a private firm outsourced essay grading to low-paid workers in India.

The report, Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation, by University of Colorado education professors Gene V Glass and Kevin G. Welner, was released through the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). In an accompanying report, Model Legislation Related to Online Learning Opportunities, University of Kentucky educator professor and attorney Justin Bathon offers statutory language to bring state policies in line with the research.

This expansion in virtual schools, especially full-time virtual schools, is taking place, Glass and Welner write, despite the absence of any data on the effectiveness of full-time cyber programs for K-12 students: “There’s zero high-quality research evidence that full-time virtual schooling at the K-12 level is an adequate replacement for traditional face-to-face teaching and learning,” said Prof. Welner. Nationwide, more than 200,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual school programs.

“Private operators are gaining access to large streams of public revenue to run cyber schools,” said Prof. Glass. “But the public is not getting full information on the actual costs of these programs, so it’s not clear if taxpayer money is being used properly.”

Cyber schools frequently claim they need the same per-pupil funding as traditional schools, despite the fact that they do not build or operate school buildings, have no student transportation costs, and have a much higher student-to-teacher ratio than traditional schools.

Just five companies, Glass and Welner report, account for most of the content and services sold to full-time cyber schools: K12 Inc., Education Options Inc., Apex Learning, Plato: A+LS, and Connections Academy. These firms, the researchers found, are increasingly involved in funding the campaigns of public officials, lobbying for public funding for their private operations, and writing the rules under which they can use public funds. “These are not illicit activities,” said Welner, “but in the absence of other influential voices representing the interests of students and society there is a clear danger of those interests being damaged.”

As virtual schools continue to grow, Glass and Welner offer several recommendations for state legislators and other policy-makers—recommendations codified in Bathon’s accompanying model legislation. These include:

· Financial audits of cyber schools to determine their actual per-student expenses, so states can determine appropriate reimbursement.

· Authentication of student work: An online instructor, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, has no way to determine whether work submitted via computer was performed by the student enrolled in the class. Trusted organizations should be engaged to administer in-person exams, as is currently the practice at a few virtual schools.

· Accreditation: To avoid abuses that have been found in other proprietary schools – such as truck driving and cosmetology academies – traditional high school accrediting agencies and state and federal departments of education should work together to develop a rigorous approach to accreditation of both part-time and full-time cyber schools.

“Cyber schools and virtual learning will be a growing part of the education landscape,” said Prof. Bathon. “The challenge for educators and policy-makers is how to use this new tool to deliver results for students in a responsible and cost-effective manner.”

“We have to make sure that cyber schools don’t become just a cheap way of providing second-rate service to disadvantaged school districts,” said Prof. Glass.

Welner added, “No matter where they live or in what form they receive instruction, all students deserve quality teachers, supported by a rigorous program of accreditation and accountability. Right now, cyber schools are the wild west of American education. Our children will benefit when policymakers address these key issues.”

International Growth in K-12 Online Learning


The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has released a new study reporting significant growth for online and blended-learning models of K-12 education, not only in the United States but around the world.

The study, Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice of K-12 Schools Around the World, found that almost 60 percent of the more than 60 countries included in the study reported government funding for blended-learning or full-time online programs at the primary and secondary levels.

The report uncovers several trends. Among them, it finds that adoption is mostly
via online and blended-learning programs, or programs that combine online learning with
face-to-face student-teacher interactions. Teacher training for online learning is currently required in
25 percent of the countries surveyed.

Among a number of other findings, iNACOL reports:

o Almost 60 percent of the surveyed countries reported government funding for
blended or online programs at the primary and secondary levels.

o China’s first online school was created in 1996; today it has expanded to more
than 200 online schools with enrollments exceeding 600,000 students.

o Seventy-two percent of the surveyed countries reported that their online and
blended classroom teachers participated in professional development for online

o Universities and colleges were reported as the primary source of training for
educators, followed by regional centers and local schools.

o In British Columbia, online schools provide complete programs or individual
courses to 71,000 students, which is about 12% of the student population.

o In 2010, Hong Kong enacted a policy recommendation for digital learning that
debundled‖ textbooks and teaching materials to make them more affordable and
accessible to schools, and accelerated the development of an online depository of
curriculum-based learning and teaching resources. A pilot scheme later resulted
in a program made available to all 410,000 primary and secondary students in
300,000 low-income families—especially the 8 percent without Internet access at
home—to gain access to the Internet for the purpose of learning.


State of K-12 Online Learning: US


Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice (2011) is the latest in a series of annual reports that began in 2004 that examine the status of K-12 online education across the country. The report provides an overview of the latest policies, practices, and trends affecting online learning programs across all 50 states.

Some findings:

Full-time, multi-district online schools continue to grow.

o Even as district programs grow, multi-district schools continue to flourish as well. There are now 30 states with full-time, multi-district schools that enrolled an estimated total of 250,000 students in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 25%. Maine, Indiana, and Tennessee are among the states that have, in the last two years, changed their laws to allow full-time online schools for the first time, or to allow significant growth in them.

State virtual schools are dividing into two tiers—those with significant impact and those without— largely based on funding model.

o While 40 states have a state virtual school or similar state-led initiative, these programs are increasingly falling into two divergent categories: those that are sustainably funded at a level to have a real impact on their states, and those that do not have a level of reliable support. States in the former category include Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, and Alabama. Other state programs are in decline, mostly due to funding cuts. These include programs in Maryland, Missouri, and California. Nonetheless, all state virtual schools together accounted for 536,000 course enrollments (one student taking one semester-long course) in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 19%.

Several states passed important new online learning laws, some of which cited the Ten Elements of Digital Learning created by Digital Learning Now.

o Florida, Utah, Idaho, Ohio, and Wisconsin were among the states passing new online learning laws that will change the education landscape in those states in coming years. Digital Learning Now—an initiative managed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education—released its Ten Elements of Digital Learning in December 2010. Some of the new laws cite the DLN elements.

The Common Core State Standards are taking hold, common assessments are next, and open educational resources are an increasingly important element.

o The move toward the Common Core means that providers are able to create content for use across dozens of states and by millions of students. That is helping push online and blended learning, and the trend will accelerate as the common assessment consortiums progress. Open educational resources, from sources including Khan Academy and the National Repository of Online Courses, are helping districts add a digital component without investing in developing or acquiring content.

The provider landscape is changing rapidly.

o Both new start-ups and consolidations are affecting the market landscape. In the past year Kaplan acquired Insight Schools, and then K12 Inc. bought Kaplan’s Virtual Education division. Pearson Education acquired Connections Education. New providers such as Education Elements, a start-up focused on blended learning, continue to enter the field. Providers are increasingly offering services that combine elements of content, technology, instruction, and other services.

Special student needs gain new focus.

o The release of a Request for Proposal in mid-2011 by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), for the establishment of a Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities, suggests that the federal government believes that online learning can serve all students. In general, there is a newly sophisticated emphasis on meeting special student needs in online and blended learning.

High school acceleration programs in Florida


In recent years, there have been renewed efforts to improve the college and career readiness among students and young adults. States are adopting acceleration programs (advanced-level courses that offer credit toward both a high school diploma and a college degree) to increase students’ academic engagement, better prepare students for the demands of postsecondary education and the job market, and boost college completion rates.

This REL Southeast study
examines dual enrollment programs in Florida (collaborative programs allowing high school students to enroll in college-level courses and earn credit toward both a high school diploma and a college degree or a career preparatory certificate) and compares them with other acceleration programs offered, such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE). The report describes the number and characteristics of grade 11 and 12 students enrolled in acceleration programs overall and by district during 2006/07 and it examines dual enrollment partnerships between high schools and colleges in nine sample school districts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Business (and Education) Majors Don't Do Much Work

David Glenn, The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: Nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that on a national test of writing and reasoning skills, business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than do students in every other major….

The Studying Gap from ThinkProgress by Matthew Yglesias:

None of that’s to say that there’s anything wrong with business (or education) as a subject to study. But a good starting point for colleges across the country would be to say that if they have degree-granting programs that don’t seem to require the students to do any work, they’re probably doing something wrong.

Cyberbullying and school bullying are associated with lower school performance and mental distress among student victims


"Cyberbullying, School Bullying, and Psychological Distress: A Regional Census of High School Students" will appear in the American Journal of Public Health® under “First Look” at

A high proportion of high school students are victims of cyberbullying and school bullying, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. These forms of bullying are shown to be negatively associated with school performance as well as mental health.

Researchers used a regional census of high school students to document the prevalence of cyberbullying and school bullying victimization and their associations with psychological distress. In fall 2008, researchers surveyed 20,406 ninth through 12th graders in Boston’s MetroWest region to assess their bullying victimization and psychological distress, including depressive symptoms, self-injury and suicidality. A total of 15.8 percent of students reported cyberbullying, and 25.9 percent reported school bullying in the past 12 months. Reports of cyberbullying were higher among girls than among boys, whereas reports of school bullying were similar by gender. Both cyberbullying and school bullying victimization were higher among non-heterosexually identified youths. Victims of bullying reported lower school performance and school attachment. Victims also reported elevated levels of depressive symptoms and suicide attempts.

The study’s authors concluded, “Our study provides a better understanding of cyberbullying and its relationship to school bullying, which is critical to informing school-based prevention efforts and engaging parents and other community members in combating this significant public health issue.”

Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time


In American schools today, especially in schools that serve large percentages of disadvantaged children, … schools tend to dedicate only limited class periods for science, and the types of activities and learning that take place in them are similarly truncated. Collaboration among students—an essential ingredient of scientific practice—is unusual given the time-consuming mechanics of organizing student groups and skillfully facilitating deep, student-led discussions. There is also insufficient opportunity in more traditional science classrooms for students to engage fully in the process of trial and error, or to observe and examine natural phenomena, because complicated experiments cannot be conducted in brief spurts. Instead, classes tend to take shape as lectures, with teachers imparting information and students dutifully recording it. While this method might use limited time efficiently, such one-way, single-track teaching deprives students of the chance to experience science in action.

Consider the state of science education in America today. Not only have science proficiency rates held flat over the last decade, but these rates are alarmingly low. Only one-third of fourth graders and a mere one-fifth of high school seniors scored proficient on the most recent NAEP test. Meanwhile, time for science has declined. According to one survey, elementary schools devote an average of 75 minutes less per week to science than they did in the days before NCLB. How can we ever hope to achieve greatness in science in the face of these facts?

The National Center on Time & Learning
addresses this question in its new report Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement.


Median current expenditures per pupil 2008-2009: $9,791


A new NCES report finds that for regular school districts, median current expenditures per pupil were $9,791 in Fiscal Year 09. This First Look report, released by the National Center for Education Statistics, also presents district-level data on revenues by source and expenditures by function for public elementary and secondary education for school year 2008-2009. Other findings include:

• Adjusting for inflation, for regular school districts median per pupil current expenditures decreased by 1 percent or more in 6 states and increased by 1 percent or more in 38 states from FY 08 to FY 09.

• In a comparison of median current expenditures for the regular noncharter school districts (i.e., districts which do not contain any charter schools) and independent charter school districts in the 25 states that have such districts, median current expenditures per pupil ranged from $6,906 in Utah to $16,408 in the District of Columbia for regular noncharter school districts in FY 09. Median current expenditures per pupil ranged from $4,492 in South Carolina to $14,767 in the District of Columbia for independent charter school districts in the same set of states.

Conditional Waivers - Legal and Policy Issues


The Obama administration characterizes its plan to offer states waivers from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as a necessary response to glacial congressional progress on reauthorizing and revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (whose current version is NCLB). In exchange for the states’ acceptance of the administration’s “principles” set forth in its Blueprint for Reform, they will be exempt from some of the more onerous NCLB timetables and yearly-progress provisions. While the conditional waivers are welcomed by many states – 41 have indicated their intent to apply for them – some analysts are questioning their legal status and effect on school accountability.

Martha Derthick and Andy Rotherham discuss whether the conditional waivers are necessary and will stand up to legal scrutiny.

Raising concerns to which the NCLB waivers point, Derthick asks, “Just how far is the United States going to take government-by-waiver?” The framers of the United States Constitution wrote that it is a duty of the chief executive to “take care” that the law be faithfully executed, but waivers began to make a significant appearance in public policymaking in the 1980s and 1990s. While recognizing that waiver provisions in federal law have repeatedly been upheld in court, Derthick cautions, “waivers threaten to get out of hand, and to undermine the rule of law.” “Nothing in the law,” she writes, authorizes the administration “to craft new conditions – in effect, to attempt making law itself – even if the new conditions are not called law or rules or conditions or standards, but merely ‘principles.’”

Derthick and Rotherham agree that some action to revise NCLB is needed. Rotherham observes that foot-dragging on reauthorizing and revising NCLB reflects the current political and governmental stalemate in Washington. “This dysfunction matters,” he writes, “because when NCLB was passed in 2001, no one involved imagined the law would run for at least a decade without a congressional overhaul.”

Rotherham observes that there are some broadly supported provisions in the administration’s waiver package, such as getting rid of NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher rules,” which many states “have the point of meaninglessness.”

However, a key reform of NCLB, Rotherham writes, was that it “changed the unit of analysis for educational performance and accountability from schools to students.” Thus, NCLB has shined a light on the performance of minority students and students with disabilities even in schools that had generally high levels of student achievement. Accountability provisions such as these are likely to be muted under the new NCLB waivers, which stipulate that states must focus their improvement efforts on the lowest-performing 15% of schools, but de-emphasize performance of student sub-groups in every school. He states that the law “does not need a rollback of this bright and often uncomfortable light.”

Derthick observes, “there is a lot of prescription woven in among the principles” that U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stipulates. For example, six states, including Virginia and Texas, have not yet adopted the Common Core standards in reading and math that are one of the conditions for being granted waivers. She wonders if the Department of Education will withhold federal funding if these states apply for waivers but offer much less in the way of conforming principles than Secretary Duncan would like. She also wonders how the Department will respond if some states “just stop complying with NCLB and drag their feet on the waivers.” Courts have been applying a “clear statement” rule for federal grant-in-aid conditions, stipulating that a federal agency cannot withhold funds unless states have been told their obligations in plain language. “If that were the test,” Derthick states, “The Department of Education would be heading into court with a weak hand.”

About the Authors

Martha Derthick is professor emerita of government at the University of Virginia and co-author of the legal beat column for Education Next. Andrew Rotherham is a former White House aide for President Clinton, co-founder of Bellwether Education, and columnist for Time magazine.

Performance of Students With Disabilities


Secondary School Programs and Performance of Students With Disabilities: A Special Topic Report of Findings From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2
uses data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 dataset to provide a national picture of what courses students with disabilities took in high school, in what settings, and with what success in terms of credits and grades earned.

Selected findings include:

* Students with disabilities earned, on average, 22.7 credits during their time in high school. Academic courses accounted for an average of 12.7 credits, vocational courses accounted for an average of 4.5 credits, and other courses that were neither academic nor vocational, such as physical education and life skills, accounted for an average of 5.7 credits.
* Students with disabilities averaged fewer credits than did their peers in the general population (22.7 vs. 24.2). Whereas the coursework of students in the general population was focused more heavily on academic courses, compared to that of students with disabilities (16.1 vs. 12.7), students with disabilities earned more vocational and nonacademic, nonvocational credits than did students in the general population (4.5 vs. 3.1 and 5.7 vs. 4.9, respectively).
* On average, students with disabilities who attended typical high schools earned 16.7 credits in general education courses and 6.1 credits in special education courses (72 percent and 28 percent of their overall credits, respectively).
* More than one-quarter (27 percent) of secondary school students with disabilities spent all of their course time, and earned all their credits, in general education courses there, whereas 3 percent of students with disabilities earned all their credits in a special education setting.
* On average, students with disabilities who received grades earned a 2.3 GPA on a 4-point scale, a lower GPA than that of the general student population (2.7).
* Approximately 6 percent of students with disabilities had GPAs of 3.35 or higher (mostly As and Bs), compared to 20 percent of students in the general population; 11 percent of students with disabilities had GPAs lower than 1.25 (mostly Ds), compared to 1 percent of general population peers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Transcendental Meditation effective antidote to record stress levels in school students


With record levels of student stress reported in a recent UCLA survey, can a simple stress-reducing meditation technique be a viable solution?

A new study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique significantly decreased psychological distress in public school students. The study, conducted with at-risk minority secondary school students, showed a 36 percent reduction in overall psychological distress. Significant decreases were also found in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Rising Stress Levels Affect Emotional and Physical Health

The percentage of students in the UCLA survey reporting good or above-average high school emotional health dropped from 55.3 percent in 2009 to 51.9 percent in 2010. This marks the lowest level within the past 25 years.

Dr. Charles Elder, MD, lead author of the TM study, and investigator at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, emphasized the important implications of the findings on reduced stress. "It is vital that we start addressing the high levels of emotional stress being reported by high school and college students. Decreased stress can have a positive impact on mental health, and can also reduce the risk for hypertension, obesity, and diabetes—major risk factors for heart disease," explained Dr. Elder.

Educational research has also linked student stress to negative school behavior and poor academic performance.

Promising Findings for Education

"These new findings on reduced stress, along with the recent research on academic achievement gains, hold tremendous promise for public education," said Sanford Nidich, EdD, principal investigator, and professor of education at Maharishi University of Management. "There is a growing body of evidence showing Transcendental Meditation to be an easy to implement, value-added educational program that promotes emotional health and increases academic achievement in at-risk students," said Dr. Nidich.

A total of 106 secondary school students, 87% racial and ethnic minorities, took part in the study. Results showed that over a four-month period, students practicing Transcendental Meditation as part of their schools' Quiet Time program exhibited significant reductions in psychological distress factors compared to controls.

According to James Dierke, 2008 National Association of Secondary School Principals—National Middle School Principal of the Year, "Stress is the number one enemy of public education, especially in inner-city schools. It creates tension, violence, and compromises the cognitive and psychological capacity of students to learn and grow. The TM/Quiet Time program is the most powerful, effective program I have come across in my 39 years as a public school educator for addressing this problem. It is nourishing children and providing them an immensely valuable tool for life. It is saving lives."

Study Facts

• This study evaluated change in psychological distress factors in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation program compared to non-meditating controls. A total of 106 students (68 meditating and 38 non-meditating students), took part in the study. The study included students from four public secondary schools.
• Eighty-seven percent were racial and ethnic minority students, including 26% Hispanic, 25% African American, and 19% American Indian.
• The Transcendental Meditation program was practiced in class twice a day as part of the schools' Quiet Time program for four months prior to posttesting.
• The Transcendental Meditation program was taught in the context of school-wide Quiet Time programs in which students voluntarily chose the Quiet Time program in which they wanted to participate.
• Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural, effortless technique that allows the mind to settle down and experience a silent yet awake state of awareness, a state of "restful alertness." Practice of this stress-reduction program does not involve any change in beliefs, values, religion, or lifestyle.
• Compared to eyes-closed rest, research has found that Transcendental Meditation practice is characterized by decreased activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system, as reflected in decreased breath rate and lower sympathetic nervous system activity. The Transcendental Meditation program has been shown to increase electroencephalographic (EEG) brain integration and coherence, especially in the frontal area of the brain, responsible for higher-order processing.
• Other published research on high school and college students has shown reduced psychological distress, improved positive coping ability, decreased blood pressure, reduced cardiovascular reactivity to stressful stimuli, reduced absenteeism, and decreased school suspensions.
• Results of the current study indicated significant reductions in overall psychological distress (p=.010) and trait anxiety (p=.035) compared to controls. Within-in group differences in depressive symptoms were found for meditating students (p=.003).

Characteristics of GED Recipients in High School: 2002–06


A new report from NCES found that GED recipients’ socioeconomic status was lower than that of high school graduates, but higher than the socioeconomic status of high school dropouts. This report uses longitudinal data to compare 10th-graders who four years later were GED recipients, high school graduates or high school dropouts. Characteristics of GED Recipients in High School: 2002–06 uses data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) to compare the demographics, high school experiences, and academic achievement of students.

The results show that students who earned a GED four years after the 10th grade(in 2002) differed during their high school year in some aspects from both graduates and from students who dropped out, were more like graduates in some aspects, and were more like students who had dropped out in other aspects. Other findings include:

• In ninth grade, the grade point average of GED recipients was between that of high school dropouts and high school graduates. However, by tenth grade GED recipients did not differ from students who dropped out; both groups had lower grade point averages than graduates.

• Generally, GED recipients and students who dropped out reported similar reasons for leaving high school prior to graduation, except that a higher percentage of students who dropped out reported that they could not complete the courses or pass the tests needed to graduate.

Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning

The latest installments of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series address the implications of this education revolution for teachers and school finance.

The first paper in the series, “Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches” by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, tackled accountability for digital schools.

In a new paper, “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction,” Public Impact’s Bryan and Emily Hassel “propose that digital education needs excellent teachers and that the teaching profession needs digital education.”

They propose a smaller—but more talented and better paid—teaching force with its impact magnified through the expanded reach and efficiency allowed by digital technology. “Time-technology swaps” allow the unbundling of teacher roles and the more efficient use of their time, supported by new, lower-paid positions with appealing, shorter hours. Realizing the potential of this new system requires, however, that policymakers revamp everything from certification to teacher preparation, from compensation to class size.

In the second new paper, Paul T. Hill zeroes in on the policy area most in need of reform if digital learning is to succeed: funding. “Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students,” he writes in “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era.” “Yet to encourage development and improvement of technology-based methods, we must find ways for public dollars to do just that—and to follow kids to online providers chosen by their parents, teachers, or themselves.”

Hill explains why our current school funding system could cripple the promise of digital learning—and then proposes innovative solutions. By consolidating education funding from different sources into a “backpack” model that follows students and creating debit cards that parents can use for online enrichment courses, the system Hill outlines would ensure that families can choose from a diverse range of robust schooling options.

Upcoming papers in the series will examine local control in the digital era and the costs of online learning. These next installments are scheduled for release in January 2012.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Policy reforms 'demoralizing' teaching profession?


A provocative new article in the American Journal of Education argues that many teachers in the age of rigid curricula, high-stakes testing, and reduced classroom autonomy are finding it difficult to access the "moral rewards" of their profession. This demoralization of teaching threatens to drive away even the most passionate and dedicated of teachers.

"The moral rewards of teaching are activated when educators feel that they are doing what is right in terms of one's students, the teaching profession, and themselves," writes Doris Santoro, a professor of education at Bowdoin College. But, she argues, current policy reforms often take away a teacher's ability to be responsive to students' needs, and blunt the sense that a teacher is doing what is right for students. This in turn leads to feelings of frustration and hopelessness that are too often misdiagnosed as "teacher burnout."

"However, the burnout explanation fails to account for situations where the conditions of teaching change so dramatically that moral rewards, previously available in ever-challenging work, are now inaccessible," Santoro writes. "In this instance, the phenomenon is better termed demoralization."

To illustrate her point, Santoro describes the experience of Stephanie, a teacher Santoro interviewed in 2008 for a project on why once-passionate teachers decide to leave the profession.

Stephanie taught at a diverse elementary school in Virginia she felt was "a collaborative, respectful environment that enjoyed a cooperative relationship with parents and the community," Santoro writes. "Stephanie felt as though she was able to exercise her professional judgment and engage in good teaching … and students, while underprepared, were eager to learn."

Stephanie drew moral rewards from her freedom to respond to her students' needs. For example, she told Santoro how she relished finding innovative ways to help her students understand scientific and mathematical terminology in her Spanish-language immersion classes. But Stephanie's sense of having the authority to do good work for her students was ultimately undermined by a new set of statewide curriculum standards adopted in Virginia. The reforms prioritized testing over "real teaching," Stephanie lamented. She came to see herself as not a teacher but as a dictator of facts.

"What had been hallmarks of good teaching for Stephanie—connecting student learning with their experiences, helping them learn to think in ways that will transfer to success in higher-order analysis and their everyday needs, and maintaining creativity in her work and her students' problem-solving—was being jettisoned by the exigencies of passing the test" and satisfying state standards, Santoro writes. "The moral rewards that she enjoyed previously by learning about her students' needs, finding new ways to reach them, and connecting learning to concerns beyond the school became stunted by mandated curriculum and scripted lessons."

Stephanie ultimately decided that, "This is not what I signed up for," and left the profession.

What happened to Stephanie is not burnout, Santoro argues. Burnout indicates a personal failing on the part of a teacher—an inability to cope with the stresses inherent in the work, or an exhaustion of the personal resources needed to do the job. Stephanie's case was not one of personal failing. Rather it was a case in which the profession itself changed in a way that nullified the moral rewards of doing good work.

"Policy makers, educational leaders, and teachers need to find ways to promote, protect, and assess quality teaching that takes into account good teaching and successful (or effective) teaching," she writes. "Attracting practitioners with the moral significance of the work, while at the same time eliminating the moral dimension of the practice in assessing teacher quality, is a recipe for demoralization."



High school health classes fail to help students refuse sexual advances or endorse safe sex habits when teachers focus primarily on testing knowledge, a new study reveals.

But when teachers emphasized learning the material for its own sake, and to improve health, students had much better responses. In these kinds of classrooms, students had lower intentions of having sex and felt better able to navigate sexual situations.

“A focus on tests doesn’t help students in health classes make healthier choices,” said Eric M. Anderman, lead author of the study and professor of educational psychology at Ohio State University.

“In health education, knowledge is not the most important outcome. What we really want to do is change behaviors, and testing is not the way to achieve that.”

The study appears online
in the Journal of Research on Adolescence and will be published in a future print edition.

This study is part of a larger 5-year project that is studying HIV and pregnancy prevention in rural communities in Appalachia.

Researchers from Ohio State, the University of Kentucky and George Mason University are collecting data from more than 5,000 students in 32 Appalachian high schools.

For this study, students were surveyed in 9th grade before taking a health class that included information on HIV and pregnancy prevention. They were then surveyed again between four and six weeks after their class, and at the end of 10th grade, about one year later.

After taking the class, students were asked if their teachers had encouraged them to learn the material because they would be tested on it (called an extrinsic focus), or if the teachers encouraged them to truly learn and understand the information because it would be important for their lives (termed a mastery focus).

The researchers then compared these two groups of students on a variety of measures.

Overall, the results showed that students in classes with a mastery focus were better off on a variety of health-related measures than were those whose teachers emphasized testing, Anderman said.

One example is the ability to refuse unwanted sexual advances. Findings showed that students in mastery classes reported they were better able to refuse sex 4 to 6 weeks later and even one year later than they were before the class began.

However, those in the extrinsic-focused classes “actually felt less effective at refusing sex after they took the class than they did before,” Anderman said.

Similar results were found when students were asked whether they thought they would wait to have sex.

Four to six weeks after the class, students whose teachers emphasized mastery were more likely to report that they wanted to wait to have sex, although there was no significant effect at a year later. That was not true for those who had extrinsic-focused classes, who were actually less likely to want to wait for sex after taking the class.

“That’s a really scary finding. The class was not having the intended effect when teachers emphasized the tests,” Anderman said.

Students were asked if their teachers had encouraged them to learn the material because they would be tested on it (called an extrinsic focus), or if the teachers encouraged them to truly learn and understand the information because it would be important for their lives (termed a mastery focus).

Students in the mastery classes reported they felt better able to tell partners they would not have sex without using a condom at both time points after the class. Those in the extrinsic-oriented classes did not at the first follow-up.

Similar results favoring students in mastery-oriented classes occurred when students were asked about communication with parents about sex-related topics, knowledge about sex-related health issues, actual intentions to have sex, and belief about the importance of these health issues and whether they had the ability to learn more.

The results are clear, Anderman said.

“Focusing on knowledge about health does not equate to healthy behavior,” he said. “It’s more important for the students to improve their health than it is to get a 90 percent on a test.”

When students focus on tests, they are thinking about what they need to remember to get a good grade, he said. They are not taking the time to think about why they are learning this information, and why it is important in their life.

“Ideally, in the perfect world, I would say students shouldn’t be tested in health classes. Tests are important in a lot of areas, but health is not one of them,” he said.

“But if you have to have tests, make them minimal and low-pressure. This is not about separating students in terms of ability. It is about getting students to adopt healthy habits.”