April 18, 2014

The trend of less talk and more medication for patients with mental disorders

by Grace

Clinical psychologist Brandon A. Gaudiano wrote in the New York Times that psychotherapy is in decline while the use of medication is on the rise for the treatment of mental disorders.

…  In the United States, from 1998 to 2007, the number of patients in outpatient mental health facilities receiving psychotherapy alone fell by 34 percent, while the number receiving medication alone increased by 23 percent. This is not necessarily for a lack of interest. A recent analysis of 33 studies found that patients expressed a three-times-greater preference for psychotherapy over medications.

Yet psychotherapy for the most common conditions is considered the best treatment “of first choice”.  What is going on? The benefits of psychotherapy seem fuzzy to many potential patients, but pharmacological treatment enjoys “clearer, better marketed evidence” of its efficacy.  Some of this comes from the failure of psychotherapists to take a scientific approach to patient treatment.

But psychotherapy’s problems come as much from within as from without. Many therapists are contributing to the problem by failing to recognize and use evidence-based psychotherapies (and by sometimes proffering patently outlandish ideas). There has been a disappointing reluctance among psychotherapists to make the hard choices about which therapies are effective and which — like some old-fashioned Freudian therapies — should be abandoned.

Psychologists need better, well-defined treatment guidelines.

There is a lot of organizational catching up to do. Groups like the American Psychiatric Association, which typically promote medications as treatments of first choice, have been publishing practice guidelines for more than two decades, providing recommendations for which treatments to use under what circumstances. The American Psychological Association, which promotes psychotherapeutic approaches, only recently formed a committee to begin developing treatment guidelines.

Lack of clarity is also a problem in diagnosis. Gary Greenberg, a practicing psychotherapist and author of of The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM-5 and the Unmaking of Psychiatry, argues that another problem is the method used to diagnose mental disorders, which “is not scientific, but political and bureaucratic”.

Psychiatry and psychology just seems fuzzy all around, more art than science.

Related:  ‘Every 20-something I know is in therapy for something’ (Cost of College)

April 17, 2014

Teenage boys lag behind girls in developing ‘critical social skills’

by Grace

According to a six-year Dutch study, teenage boys are slower to develop two social skills.

Cognitive empathy — “the mental ability to take others’ perspective”

Affective empathy — “the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings”

In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.

“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict.

Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.

Affective and cognitive empathy are valuable skills in the school setting, and these gender differences could help explain why boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college”.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

Testosterone and social pressure may both be determining factors.

The decline in affective empathy among young teenage boys may spring at least partly from a spurt during puberty in testosterone, sparking a desire for dominance and power …

Boys also feel pressure from peers and some adults to “act like a man,” which they often define as being detached, tough, funny and strong …

How much do fathers matter?

Fathers seem to play a special role. Teens whose fathers are supportive, who say they feel better after talking over their worries with their dads, are more skilled at perspective-taking, says a 2011 study of 15- to 18-year-old boys in Developmental Psychology.

Ambiguous terminology in the use of “cognitive” and “noncognitive” can be confusing.  The term”noncognitive” seems to vary in meaning depending on context.  Daniel Willingham helps explain how it is sometimes used as shorthand for what many people consider “non-academic” skills.

“Non-cognitive factors” is a misleading but entrenched catch-all term for factors such as motivation, grit, self-regulation, social skills. . . in short, mental constructs that we think contribute to student success, but that don’t contribute directly to the sorts of academic outcomes we measure, in the way that, say, vocabulary or working memory do.

Boys can try to catch up to girls.

I keep hearing that boys tend to shape up and mature after freshman year in high school.  That has not been my observation, but even if they do this just means they have to catch up to girls in a few short years or else suffer long-term consequences from getting off track in their early teen years.

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Sue Shellenbarger, “Teens Are Still Developing Empathy Skills”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2013.

April 16, 2014

How to talk to your kids about paying for college

by Grace

When should parents have the “talk” with their children?

Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed.  According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late.  And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.

It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.

“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.

If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”

So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.

In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk.  It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding.  Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.

One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions.  It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.

April 15, 2014

‘credit cards have only been around for about 50 years’

by Grace

It seems almost crazy now to think that credit cards were just getting started about half a century ago….

Many of us find it hard to imagine navigating through life without a credit card to pay for things like online purchases, department store shopping sprees, or a latte at the corner coffee shop.  Use cash or checks?  That’s so inconvenient!  (A debit card is handy for some cash purchases, but it does have its drawbacks.)

Some history

Credit cards as we know them — with their Visa V -1.03%  , MasterCard, Discover and American Express logos in the corner — first emerged in 1958, when Bank of America started BankAmericard. That was the first consumer credit card available to middle-class consumers and small- to medium-sized merchants in the U.S., according to Visa’s website — BankAmericard was the first of the global brand of products that became Visa.

MasterCard came along in 1966 (the same year a debit card pilot program began at the Bank of Delaware), but the roots of the credit card go back even further.

Remember Diners Club?

It started in Brooklyn, when the Flatbush National Bank issued cards for local use in 1947. Local merchants could deposit sales slips at the bank and the bank billed the customer who made the purchase. But the big industry breakthrough came in 1950 when the Diners Club card became the first charge card — Diners Club founder Frank McNamara was at dinner and realized his wallet was in another suit, which inspired him to create the card. It allowed restaurant patrons to settle their bill at the end of each month.

First there were “charge” cards, which required payment in full each month.

These were charge cards, which means the cardholder had to pay his or her account in full when billed, unlike credit cards, which allow you to carry a balance. (Credit cards can be helpful in emergencies and for financing large purchases, but the shift from charge to credit cards has enabled overspending, which has contributed to the $856 billion in outstanding U.S. credit card debt. Perhaps we should have stuck with this charge-card thing.)

American Express also started offering charge cards in 1958, but didn’t offer credit cards until 1987.

I vaguely remember knowing the distinction between a “charge” card and a “credit” card.  But I do remember when my American Express card had to be paid off each month.

You can’t earn points by paying for college with a credit card.

It would be nice to be able to get reward points by paying college tuition with a credit card.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), that’s usually not an option.  Either the schools won’t accept credit card payments, or they charge a processing fee that wipes out any financial benefit.

Related:  College debt levels higher than all other types of consumer loans (Cost of College)

——

Christine DiGangi, “Where did credit cards come from?”, MarketWatch, April 8, 2014.

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April 14, 2014

It’s no longer feasible to work your way through college

by Grace

Let’s get this straight once and for all.

It’s impossible to work your way through college nowadays

Michigan State University graduate student Randy Olson listened to “his grandfather extol the virtues of putting oneself through college without family support’”  But then Olson did some calculations to show how that is almost impossible to do today.

Here is the trend of wages and tuition costs from 1987 to 2010.

20140410.COC.ImpossibleToWorkPayCollege1

 

To get a better sense of the trend, I fit a linear regression to the data. According to the model, students have to work 23.7 extra hours every year to pay for tuition. If we extrapolate this trend back to 1979 and forward to 2013, we recover the same trend that I found in my previous post: The average university student in 1979 only had to work 182 hours per year (a part-time summer job) to pay for tuition, whereas the average 2013 student had to work 991 hours (a full-time job for half the year). That’s over 5x as many hours worked for the same education!

Today’s American Dream differs from that of previous generations.

…  somehow, the idea that we can work our way through college still persists. This ethos seems to be the latest generation’s version of American Dream: If you work long and hard enough, and if you sacrifice enough, you will eventually graduate college without debt and land your dream job. But with the way this trend is going, it looks like even long and hard hours at work won’t even pay off any more.

In short, I’d like my readers to walk away knowing that it’s not nearly as easy to work your way through college as it used to be — stop telling us to do it just because you did a decade or more ago.

Loans and other forms of financial aid make up some of the difference.

… If the Federal aid trends in the past 30 years are any indication, students actually have less of their tuition costs paid for by financial aid nowadays than 30 years ago! With rising costs and lowered financial support, it’s no wonder that student debt has spiraled out of control in the past decade. The system is practically setting the modern university student up for financial failure.

Related:  Recent college graduates suffering worst unemployment rates in 50 years (Cost of College)

April 11, 2014

Are our ‘digital brains’ losing the ability to handle ‘deep reading?

by Grace

Are we “developing digital brains” that are suitable “for skimming through the torrent of information online” but unable to handle “traditional deep reading”?

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”…

Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.

Linear vs. nonlinear reading

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

The consequences may include a dwindling proficiency in “reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses”.  Wolf hears from college professors about this problem.

 Several English department chairs from around the country have e-mailed her to say their students are having trouble reading the classics.

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.”

Convoluted prose is not limited to fiction, but also exists in history and science texts.  I am currently reading a text dealing with the tax benefits of college savings options, and it’s replete with convoluted syntax.

… Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text….

Compared to print, online content lends itself to nonlinear reading.  Sentences tend to be shorter and syntax is simpler.  Links encourage interruptions.

Sometimes we are biased in thinking screen reading offers superior comprehension.  This might be especially true for younger readers.

…A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students — who grew up in the world of screens — looked at their comprehension while reading the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete the task.

The students believed they did better on screen. They were wrong. Their comprehension and learning was better on paper.

Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard.

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April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

April 9, 2014

Want to appeal your college financial aid?  Go for it

by Grace

Ron Lieber in the New York Times has some tips for students hoping to appeal their college financial aid packages before making the final decision on where to enroll in the fall.

A change in a your financial situation holds the best chances for a successful appeal.

Your best shot with an appeal will come from a change in your family’s financial circumstances since you applied for aid. Possibilities include job loss or other reduction in income, new health expenses, death of a parent, disability of a family member, nursing home costs, natural disasters or parental credit woes that make borrowing impossible.

Adjusting need-based aid may be a more straightforward proposition, but that’s not always true since need-based awards are often based on a ‘student’s academic merit’.

Some tips:

Some schools automatically match offers from similar schools.

Cornell instantly corrects itself if you’ve got higher need-based aid offers from other Ivy League schools or M.I.T., Duke and Stanford; it will match that offer, no questions asked.

Carnegie Mellon appears to be acting similarly, noting on its site that the university has “been open about our willingness to review financial aid awards to compete with certain private institutions for students admitted under the regular decision plan.” …

Go for it.
Based on some feedback from colleges, Lieber seems to suggest that the odds are not bad that an appeal will result in increased aid.

The worst that can happen is that the financial aid office says no …

Related:  Will colleges negotiate financial aid packages? (Cost of College)

April 8, 2014

‘Budget woes are particularly acute at small, mid-tier private’ colleges

by Grace

Tough financial times are hitting many colleges, and “some are downsizing staff, while others are slashing athletic programs and even selling off buildings”.

Hardest hit are ‘mid-tier private schools’.

Budget woes are particularly acute at small, mid-tier private schools, which lack the massive endowments and guaranteed stream of top students of their more prestigious counterparts. In an effort to compete with higher-profile competitors, many of these schools borrowed heavily to fund expensive construction projects during the early 2000s, only to see their endowments shrink when the financial crisis hit. Making matters worse, tuition revenue has dwindled with declining enrollment.

One example of such a school is Ashland University in Oregon.

The “glory days” are gone.

… Such colleges ‘might have been doing fine in the glory days,’ when they had ‘more students coming in than you knew what to do with,’ she said, ‘but that doesn’t work now.’”

What will happen to second-tier private colleges that charge premium prices?

Students who face little chance of getting into an Ivy League school or select liberal arts college (Williams or Amherst in the East, Pomona in the West) are increasingly asking: why should my family pay $30,000 to $50,000 a year (the exact amount unknown at the time of application because of uncertainties arising from massive price discrimination in the form of so-called “scholarship” aid) to go to a mid-quality private school when for somewhat less, say $20,000 to $30,000 a year, I can go to a top public flagship school of roughly equal quality?

Related:  Private colleges see declining enrollment (Cost of College)

——

“More Colleges Are Feeling the Pinch”, The Feed / The American Interest, April 3, 2014.

April 7, 2014

Be careful — your college financial ‘award’ may include loans

by Grace

College financial award letters can sometimes be difficult to decipher.  With the May 1 deadline for fall enrollment decisions fast approaching, families must be careful as they review details about the types of aid listed in these letters.

That number next to the word “financial aid award”? It’s not all a gift This is the single biggest point of confusion, financial aid experts say. There may be a line at the bottom of your letter that reads, “this is your award amount,” and the number next to that phrase could look like a lot of dollars. However, you have to look at the lines above the “total aid award” number to figure out what went into calculating that total – and chances are, there are some loans mixed in. Since loans need to be paid back with interest, these are hardly a “gift.”

This sample award letter shows a $39,000 “award” that “includes “$2,000 you’re expected to earn and another $6,500 you’ll have to pay back”.

20140403.COCFinAwardLetter1

 

What’s worse, Mark Kantrowitz says, you may not be able to quickly tell which items are grants and which are loans. “There’s no interest rate, no monthly payment listed, and they may not use the word loan. They set up a character limit for the name of the award and they use lots of abbreviations. Sometimes they’ll say L or LN instead of using the full word for loan,” he says. So, for instance, you may see “Fed Staff L,” and there may be a “sub” or “unsub” afterwards. This stands for “federal Stafford loan,” a loan that comes from the government and whose current interest rate is 3.9%. “Sub” stands for subsidized, which means the interest does not accrue while you’re in school; “unsub” stands for unsubsidized, which means the interest does accrue while you’re in school so the amount you owe upon graduation will be larger than the amount you borrowed (unless you pay down the interest while you’re in school).

Sometimes loans to parents are included in the award amount.

Stafford loans are loans that go in the student’s name, but parents need to be careful to scan the award letter for the addition of loans that will be in their names, too. Troy Onink, CEO of college planning service Stratagee.com (and a FORBES contributor), says that some schools will even include a Parent Plus loan into the “award” mix. Though this item is just a suggestion — you’re not required to take out a Parent Plus loan, whose interest rate was 6.41% this past academic year and whose 2014-2015 interest rate has not been set yet –some schools include a parental loan to inflate the “award” and make it look better than it is.

Forbes has additional tips for “Decoding College Financial Aid Award Letters.

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