Archive for ‘K-12 education’

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.

——

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

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)

March 12, 2014

Public universities want more ‘smart students who can pay’

by Grace

Public colleges and universities have shifted their financial aid priorities away from need-based to merit-based awards.  Low-income students are feeling the brunt of this change, but pressure on schools to admit only college-ready students and to raise revenue will probably cause this trend to continue.

Public colleges are turning away from their mission to offer access to an affordable college education for all students.

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that, from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants—as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts—to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets the hardest.

Universities feel the dual pressures of raising their revenues and ratings.

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Donald R. Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve those goals, colleges use their aid to draw wealthier students—especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition—or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a college might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT and who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student will.

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”

The student profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article offered a clue to the reason many low-income students are losing out.  They are academically unprepared for college-level work.

Ms. Epps had a combined SAT score of 820 on mathematics and critical reading…

That score is below the College Board SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, indicating a lack of “skills and knowledge that research demonstrates are critical to college and career readiness”.  The same low SAT scores that disqualify some students for merit aid also signal they are at high risk for dropping out of college.

Problem should be addressed before the college years.

The answer is not to give more need-based aid to students who are not prepared for college, but to do a better job of educating students to be college and career ready.  That is the job of K-12 education and community colleges.

Related:  Increasing college merit aid decreases enrollment of minority and low-income students (Cost of College)

March 10, 2014

High school students spend only about half the time expected by teachers on homework

by Grace

We know there is a disparity between the amount of homework teachers assign and the amount of homework students actually do.  Here are some numbers that illustrate that difference.

HOW MUCH HOMEWORK IN HIGH SCHOOL?

Harris Poll 2013 Assigned by teachers: 3.5 hours a day 
National Center for Educational Statistics 2007 Done by students: 1.4 hours a day

Admittedly, this data probably does not show fully accurate numbers.  For one thing, six years separate the times when the two different surveys were conducted.  Plus the information is self reported, so some error is likely for that reason.  Still, I’m willing to accept that it reflects what goes on in real life.

On average, students complete about half of the homework assigned by their teachers.

Or, more accurately:

On average, students spend about half the time expected by their teachers in doing their homework.

Why the difference?

Teachers cannot always accurately predict how long it will take their students to complete assigned homework.  And clearly there are slacker students who simply don’t do their school work.  Another element is the cynicism about the value of homework, sometimes prompting both parents and students to ignore some assignments.

This anonymous comment from a teacher captures some of the reasons for the cynicism felt by families.

Funny I was just thinking about this and other things we do in our school to satisfy parents who want their kids “busy” . I teach kindergarten and we give homework! We do it so the After School workers have something to do with the kids. Most of our kids don’t go straight home they go to daycare or After School so rather than have them do unrelated work we send work for them to do.

I don’t think homework is necessary and find that many teachers use it as an abdication of their own teaching. Many teachers, for example, will tell parents to practice reading sight words because their child is not learning to read in school. Right there parents are made responsible for teaching their child to read. Parents often made to feel guilty about their child not learning. This is just one example of how homework turns into school work.

I spiral the work so it’s always something the kids can do independently.

We have been told as teachers that homework is to teach self discipline but it’s really to show the parents that their kids are doing something in my school.

Some homework is just for show?

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Related: Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

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March 7, 2014

What is the most important secret for a SAT ‘Perfect Score’?

by Grace

20140304.COCPerfectScoreProject1The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by my friend Debbie Stier is described as “one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever”.

As it climbs the charts in popularity, this book is attracting praise as “a toolbox of fresh tips”, as well as some criticism that it is the work of a “hyperprotective, status-seeking” helicopter mom.  The criticism seems to stem mainly from some selective editing in the book’s promotion, and clarification is provided over at Kitchen Table Math.  While there’s no doubt that Debbie is a very involved parent, I can attest that she does not fit the image of an overbearing, pushy mother.  In fact, she has helped me in gaining better insight into the type of supportive parenting that is instrumental in launching children to a satisfying and independent adult life.

The revamped SAT may change some details on the best ways to prepare for the test, but I believe that one of Debbie’s core messages will endure:

… if you have a solid foundation, test prep, great test prep works. if you don’t have a solid foundation, no amount of test prep can help you.

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March 6, 2014

SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)

February 28, 2014

‘We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system’

by Grace

Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic political strategist. has been a proponent of school choice ever since he was a kindergartener and his mother fought to allow him to attend a safer school outside his neighborhood.

Trippi was recently interviewed by Reason.tv at a National School Choice Week event.

“… The status quo is not working.  Let’s put everybody’s ideas on the table.  If you’re in support of current public school system the way it is let’s talk about it, but I don’t think it’s working….

The reason for School Choice Week is because technology is moving so fast that most government bureaucracies can’t keep up with it.  One of them is education….

We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system.”

Not having school choice has “been wrong for 50 years”.

“…  we have more choice at a 7-Eleven them in the way we educate our children. That’s crazy….”

School choice is becoming more of a bipartisan movement.

Democrats and school choice have a long, tangled relationship. Few know better than Trippi. He’s been deep inside Democratic politics since the 1970s, and his firm, Trippi & Associates, has advised National School Choice Week since its inception in 2010. So what’s he seeing on the ground now? A lot of Democrats coming around on school choice, especially at the local level, especially in inner cities.

Along with the trend of increased support for school choice, Trippi sees a libertarian president in the near future.

… Four important changes in American politics are creating this opportunity: a socially tolerant public, the effective end of the two-party system, disruptive technologies, and the growing popularity of politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“The younger generation is probably the most libertarian and sort of tolerant, and has more libertarian values, I’d say, than any generation in American history” …

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February 27, 2014

Ready or not, K-12 is moving to increased online instruction

by Grace

It can be argued that K-12 online instruction in and of itself is no better or worse than traditional teaching.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails miserably.

In any case, the education industry is eagerly embracing online methods in yet another attempt to “innovate” K-12 education.

 … by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online.

That’s the prediction from Clayton Christensen, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns.  I will not be surprised to see this come true.

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There is very little good research on K-12 online learning.

… the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies….

Online instruction fills a need and is effective for some K-12 students.

“Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”

Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than ever before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.

Any combination of lousy administration, inept teachers, and poor curriculum will produce poor results whether online or traditional methods are used.

Here are letters from Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum high school students defending their fraudulent blended-learning program where one “social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects”.

20140226.COCErrorLettersNYC1

A junior wrote that the program “made it less challenging and more understandable. We watched a video, answer a few questions, and took an online quiz/test. It was simple, and reasonable.” This helped him score 85 in chemistry, he said.

But professors at CUNY — where nearly 80 percent of New York City grads who attend must take remedial classes in math, reading or writing — said online instruction often leaves students ill-prepared.

No kidding.

February 17, 2014

More students taking AP exams

by Grace

More high school students are taking AP exams, but the passing rate is lower.

  • 33.2 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP Exam, compared to 18.9 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.
  • 20.1 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 earned a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, compared to 12.2 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.

The goal of the AP program is to promote both equity and excellence in education.  This means increasing access to AP course work while also increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher.

As would be expected, as more AP exams are taken passing rate has dropped.

2003:  61%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher
2013:  43%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher

These figures exclude those students who take AP courses but do not sit for the exam.  Not all schools follow the policy at our local high school, which requires students who take an AP course to also take the AP exam.

A campaign to help increase AP enrollment among academically prepared minority students

“All In” Campaign: Despite significant progress, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native students who show AP potential through the PSAT/NMSQT still typically enrolled in AP classes at lower rates than white and Asian students.

In order to help academically prepared but underserved students access the AP course work for which they are ready, the College Board is currently developing an “All In” campaign, a coordinated effort among College Board members to ensure that 100 percent of underserved students who have demonstrated the potential to succeed in AP take at least one AP course.

Related:  A glossary of high school standardized tests (Cost of College)

January 30, 2014

Support for school choice unites strange political bedfellows

by Grace

Support for school choice unites Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is about as liberal as it gets, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s about as conservative, reports Reason.

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74% of Americans favor school choice, and this popularity may be pushed even higher by the growing dissatisfaction with Common Core Standards, newly adopted by most public schools.

. . .

Two senators have proposed redirecting $35 billion in federal funds to supplement school choice

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Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., proposed plans Tuesday to redirect nearly $35 billion in existing federal education funds to supplement school choice programs in different states. Under Alexander’s Scholarships for Kids Act, students in eligible states would receive $2,100 scholarships that would follow those children from families in poverty to the school of their choice. Alexander said the legislation would reach about 11 million American students….

Piggybacking off Alexander’s proposal, Scott said he plans to introduce legislation, known as the CHOICE Act, which would also redirect federal funds to three areas in education: students with disabilities, students from military families and students in the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship program (DC OSP).

The CHOICE Act would direct federal IDEA funds to offer school choice for special education students.

National School Choice Week is January 26 — February1.

Related:  Confidence in public schools at historic low (Cost of College)

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