Archive for ‘K-12 education’

March 27, 2015

Achievement gap cripples opportunities for minorities in nation’s increasingly diverse workforce

by Grace

The stark differences that show blacks and Hispanics trailing in academic achievement indicate a growing problem for our country’s future economic health.

Primary working-age population in the United States will experience a net loss of 15 million whites between 2010 and 2030.

Who has the skills to prosper, or even survive, in our knowledge economy?

20150324.COCNAEPReadingByRace1

20150326.COCNAEPMathByRace1

By 2044, people of color will account for a majority of the U.S. population. In the newest Brookings Essay, Jennifer Bradley examines efforts in U.S. metropolitan areas to prepare a more diverse workforce, with a particular focus on Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Minnesota reflects the achievement gap common throughout the United States.

With most of the future growth in the labor force coming from people of color, it’s alarming to have to acknowledge how profoundly the existing education and training systems have failed them. Statewide, 85 percent of whites graduated from high school on time in 2013, compared to 58 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks (including both U.S.-born African-Americans and African immigrants), and fewer than half (49 percent) of American Indians. The gaps are slightly larger at the metropolitan level, and wrenching for the largest city, Minneapolis, where just 51 percent of Africans, 41 percent of Hispanics, 40 percent of African-Americans, and 34 percent of American Indians graduate from public schools on time.

Business leaders have become heavily involved in trying to find solutions.

It’s a matter of pure business necessity. “This is not just about charity or being nice to people of color.”

Some employers have initiated training programs geared toward helping low-skills workers develop into self-sustaining employees.  But that doesn’t blunt the recognition that K-12 education is at the core of any solution.

Still, Rybak understands that it all comes back to education. To take on leadership positions and help companies compete globally and engage with many different cultures, children first need to succeed in primary and secondary school, which is why, after his last term as mayor, Rybak signed on as executive director of Generation Next. This is a coalition of leaders from universities, city and county governments, city school systems, major companies, local philanthropies, and non-profit organizations who came together in 2012 to try to eradicate the achievement gap among students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He sees the education gap as the hardest thing to overcome in the region, and also the most important. Fortunately, the interest in doing something about it crosses party lines. Republicans who control the state House of Representatives have called for education reform to help deal with the gap, and the head of the state Republican Party calls it “arguably the defining issue of our time in Minnesota.”

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Jennifer Bradley, “The Changing Face of the Heartland: Preparing America’s Diverse Workforce for Tomorrow”, Brookings Institution, March 17, 2015.

 

March 26, 2015

‘Background information’ is a key reading skill

by Grace

In an interview with Deseret News, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham elaborates on the importance of background information in the development of reading comprehension skills.

DN: You talk a lot about “background information” as a key reading skill. This seems to be an enormously important concept that is not often discussed?

Willingham: I strongly agree. Once you spell it out it is sort of obvious to people that in all communication — speaking as well as writing — that we don’t make explicit every detail needed to comprehend. If you did, communication would take forever. You assume that your reader has certain knowledge.

We have to connect ideas, sometimes within a sentence or across sentences, and very frequently information is omitted. If you don’t have the right information in a voice conversation, it’s not that big a problem. You can ask them to clarify, or dumb it down. But when you’re reading you don’t have that option. And what will happen is you will just stop reading because you don’t comprehend.

Nonfiction reading is important in building background information.

DN: You write that we are shortchanging our reading by focusing so heavily on language arts. What do you mean by that?

Willingham: That’s absolutely true in the early grades. There is very little time devoted to science or civics or history or drama or art. English language arts focuses very narrowly on narrative fiction, and a lot of the time they’re not even reading. They are doing writing and spelling. It’s not that these things are not important, but we have to recognize that later on, in middle school and high school, the lack of background knowledge is going to come back and bite our kids.

Schools have an even greater obligation to teach background information to low-income and minority students.

DN: This seems to have important implications for closing the achievement gap suffered by low-income and minority kids?

Willingham: Absolutely. The kids coming from wealthier homes have much richer resources to acquire that broad background knowledge. They’re much more likely to be immersed in it at home, and their parents have more money, which they can use to provide experiences that are rich in information.

Willingham’s latest book is “Raising Kids Who Read”.  Among other recommendations, he advises that parents avoid using baby talk with their children.

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Eric Schulzke, “What parents can do at home to prepare their children to read”, Deseret News, March 22, 2015.

March 12, 2015

Middle school advice

by Grace

Getting Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

High school prepares a student for college, and middle school in turn prepares him for high school.  Grown & Flown has created a concise list of middle school tips that allow “kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest”.

Here’s the first bit of advice.

1. Do one thing well
I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity. Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play. I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

While I agree with this idea, in reality it can sometimes be really hard for a middle-schooler to find his “one thing”.  Many kids are still trying out activities, and as much as parents try they may not be able to make them stick with just one or two.  Sometimes the reasons are legitimate, but sometimes a lack of persistence is the cause for a young person’s fickleness.  Parents should keep guiding and emphasizing the importance of practice and hard work, but some kids still never find their one thing until later in life.

Don’t despair, because the counter argument is “that if you want to raise a really successful child, you should let them quit things”.  No doubt, there are many paths on the road to success.

Here is the rest of  the list, and for more details you can go to the Grown & Flown site.

2. Sleep is an elixir
3. Look away from the screen
4. Good food will always be good
5. Everyone needs a trip to the deep end
6. Self-control is modeled, not taught
7. Body beautiful, take care
8. Get it together
9. Character is everything

March 6, 2015

Most booster clubs don’t qualify for tax-deductible contributions

by Grace

Most school booster clubs are not compliant with IRS regulations, potentially affecting parents and other donors who deduct contributions on their tax returns.

There are an estimated 100,000+ school, sports, band, and other booster clubs currently in existence in the United States …. Surprisingly, however, estimates indicate that less than 10% of these clubs are compliant with Internal Revenue Service Code regulations. Along with failure to register with the IRS, violation of the “inurement” prohibition under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3) is one of the most prevalent issues presently challenging local booster clubs.

This problem came to light at a local high school, where concerned parents hired a private investigator to look into their athletic booster club.

Run by parents and athletic officials in the Mount Pleasant school district, the booster club has been soliciting tax-deductible contributions for years after it was stripped of its federal tax-exempt status. In fact, the club has not filed an annual financial report with the IRS since 2009.

Contributors may face trouble with the IRS.

“I thought I was giving money to a tax-deductible charity,” said parent Mike Nicosia. “I was claiming it on my taxes. Everybody who did that, I would assume, now has to worry about an audit or a liability as far as interest and penalties.”

Even if the clubs don’t explicitly promote themselves as 501(c)3 nonprofits, many donors make that assumption.

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Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, “Westlake boosters under fire over tax-exempt status”, lohud.com, March 1, 2015.

February 19, 2015

Do kids only need ‘college’ because high schools are failing?

by Grace

Amy Otto believes the Obama administration’s overall push for more school before and after K-12 is a way to avoid solving the real problem”.

The “real problem” that needs urgent attention is K-12 education, but President Obama proposes “to spend money on preschool or community college instead of substantive reform of K-12″.

Do Kids Need ‘College’ Because High Schools Aren’t Doing Their Job?

Mandating “free” thirteenth and fourteenth grades via community college should make one wonder what is going wrong in tenth through twelfth grade that makes two more years of de facto public school now necessary. Only increasing opportunity can reduce poverty. More “free” preschool or thirteenth grade only serves as palliative care for those in poverty. These programs don’t spark real change, as demonstrated from studies from Obama’s own administration. It’s a tacit admission from Democrats that their goal is not to eliminate poverty but to paper over it with politically charged policy. In fact, what would animate the Democratic Party if poverty were significantly reduced? They much prefer the self-satisfaction of saying they care without ever having to produce results. If no one were poor, whom would they have to feel superior to?

That’s the problem Democrats won’t be addressing any time soon and it’s the one that deserves this nation’s attention. Institutionalizing children earlier and longer won’t lead to more creativity and innovation, which are the real stimulus of economic growth. Real-world experiences—whether it play when young or entry-level jobs when they’re teens—are being taken off the table while politicians mandate more isolation and testing within the confines of public school. Don’t fall for the bait and switch. It’s time to tackle the real challenge that we are already paying too much for universal education and getting diminishing returns.

Even though Head Start produces no long-term benefits, Obama pushes for more of the same.  His recent idea of “free” community college only emphasises the failure of our existing K-12 system to produce competent graduates.

… More “free” preschool or thirteenth grade only serves as palliative care for those in poverty. These programs don’t spark real change, as demonstrated from studies from Obama’s own administration….

Otto offers only vague ideas for alternative solutions: more real world experiences in the form of less structured child care and entry-level jobs for teens.  Those may be helpful, in theory at least.  Actually implementing them successfully is a whole other challenge.  Poor single parents are not easily trained to properly nurture their children and jobs are not instantly created by government dictum.  But if Otto’s ideas are not the best solutions, then “free” preschool and college certainly also fail the test for the best use of taxpayer money.

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Amy Otto, “President Obama Pushes Pre-K And ‘Free’ College Because He’s Got Jack For K-12″, The Federalist, January 23, 2015.

February 12, 2015

Mindfulness for preschoolers

by Grace

A recent study demonstrated the potential of mindfulness-based curriculum in helping young students improve academic and social skills.

While mindfulness-based approaches for children have become popular in recent years, few are backed by rigorous scientific evidence. The research team — graduate research assistant Simon Goldberg; outreach specialist Laura Pinger; and CIHM founder Richard Davidson, the UW-Madison William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry — set out to change that.

The team developed a curriculum to help children between the ages of 4 and 6 years learn how to be more aware of themselves and others through practices that encourage them to bring mindful attention to present moment experience. These practices, the researchers hypothesized, could enhance the children’s self-regulation skills – such as emotional control and the capacity to pay attention — and influence the positive development of traits like impulse control and kindness.

Past studies show the ability to self-regulate in early childhood predicts better results later in life with health, educational attainment and financial stability. Flook says early childhood is an opportune time to equip children with these skills since their brains are rapidly developing. The skills may also help them cope with future life stress.

“Knowing how critical these skills are at an early age, if there are ways to promote them, it could help set kids on a more positive life trajectory,” says Flook.

Mindfulness techniques are scaled down for preschoolers.

The curriculum itself is rooted in long-standing adult mindfulness-based practices but was adapted to the children’s developmental ability.

The results showed improvements in delayed gratification, attentiveness,  and task switching.  In addition to gains in academic performance, students demonstrated “less selfish behavior over time and greater mental flexibility”.

While these results are promising, “larger studies are needed to demonstrate the curriculum’s true power”.

I look forward to more studies that support existing research indicating that mindfulness improves our ability to focus and “may be better than medication in treating ADHD”.

Their labeling of this method as “kindness curriculum” is a turn-off to me, but perhaps it has broad appeal to most parents.

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Kelly April Tyrrell, “Kindness curriculum’ boosts school success in preschoolers”, University of Wisconsin-Madison News, Jan. 23, 2015. 

February 10, 2015

Better math skills lead to better personal financial behavior

by Grace

A new study suggests that children need to learn more math, not finance, to be better with money.

The way our schools teach students about personal financial planning may be misguided.

For decades, studies have extolled the benefits of financial education, pointing out that students who take finance classes score well on tests of financial knowledge—and higher financial literacy leads to better financial behavior.

Conclusions like these have led to a growing consensus that schools should teach children about managing their finances, with 43 states now mandating some kind of training.

Shawn Cole found this troubling. Not because the studies aren’t true: Many, he says, do show a correlation between financial education and good financial behavior. But few studies demonstrated a strong causal link.

Mandated financial education did not lead to improved personal financial outcomes.

So, the professor of finance at Harvard Business School wondered, if widespread financial education were really effective, why are so many young people struggling with debt, foreclosure and low asset accumulation? He and a group of researchers set out to find an answer. They looked at the states that mandated personal-finance curriculums in high school, and compared the financial health of students who graduated before the mandates to those who graduated after. Their hypothesis: If personal-finance education worked, the students who graduated after the programs were implemented would be better off financially.

They weren’t. After controlling for state, age, race, time and sex, and analyzing a huge pool of historical financial data, the group found that there was no statistically significant difference between people who graduated within a 15-year span either before or after the personal-finance programs were implemented. Graduates’ asset accumulation and credit management were the same, with or without mandated financial education.

But better math skills lead to better personal financial outcomes.

But the study, issued last year and currently under revision for publication, did find one school subject that does have an impact on students’ financial outcomes: math. Students required by states to take additional math courses practiced better credit management than other students, had a greater percentage of investment income as part of their total income, reported $3,000 higher home equity and were better able to avoid both home foreclosure and credit-card delinquency.

Well, this seems obvious.

“A lot of decisions in finance are just easier if you’re more comfortable with numbers and making numeric comparisons,” says Mr. Cole.

The lesson here is to focus more on better math instruction.

A new magazine from Jean Chatzky wants to teach children financial lessons.

Last month, Ms. Chatzky and Time for Kids, a division of Time Inc., introduced a magazine intended to teach financial literacy to fourth, fifth and sixth graders. The PwC Charitable Foundation, which was started by the giant financial consulting firm PwC, is backing the publication.

“Kids are very interested in money,” Ms. Chatzky said. “What we’re trying to get across to them is money is a tool that they need to know how to manage to succeed in life.”

… Each four-page issue will cover an aspect of finance, like budgeting, investing and taxes.

Perhaps this new magazine should include a section on math instruction.

Related:  ‘math skills are correlated to higher earnings’

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Charlie Wells, “The Smart Way to Teach Children About Money”, Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2015.

Sydney Emberfeb, “New Magazine Teaches Children Financial Lessons”, New York Times, February 1, 2015.

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January 30, 2015

More money, better schools?

by Grace

Spending More Money Won’t Fix Our Schools

or

When public schools get more money, students do better

Which is it?  Does the United States need to increase its spending on education?

On one side, economist Eric Hanushek and others have argued that decisions to increase education spending were simply “throwing money at schools.”

…  His research found that there was little correlation between how much schools spent and how well their students performed on tests.

But wait, a new study shows more money does improve student outcomes.

More recent research, however, has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education. A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.

The authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, released a revised draft of their as-yet-unpublished paper this week. The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families. They found that a 10 percent increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5 percent increase in students’ earnings as adults. A public investment in schools, they wrote, returned 8.9 percent annually for a typical pupil who started kindergarten in 1980.

The findings are evidence that public schooling can be a way for children who grow up in poverty to overcome their circumstances, Johnson argued.

“Those increases in instructional expenditures proved to have large dividends, significant economic returns, in the lives of these children,” he said. “We’re always searching for what can break that cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.”

The common opinion among everyone participating in this debate is that it is not the amount of spending, but the way the money is allocated.

Still, the authors don’t advocate simply throwing money at the problem of education, either. “Money matters, but it matters how it’s spent,” said Jackson of Northwestern.

Megan McArdle makes a similar point in how to address failing schools.

Should we fix the issues with those schools? Absolutely — and doing so might mean spending more money. But that doesn’t mean that we need to increase the overall level of educational funding. It means that we need to identify ways to improve those underperforming schools, then find out how much more it would cost to implement those programs. It is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources as that they will require us to pour more money into failing institutions.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, long viewed as a stalwart liberal, agrees on this matter.

It’s a view still held by many politicians today, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.). “We spend more than any other state in the country,”he said a year ago. “It ain’t about the money. It’s about how you spend it — and the results.”

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Megan McArdle, “Spending More Money Won’t Fix Our Schools”, Bloomberg, January 14, 2015.

Max Ehrenfreund, “When public schools get more money, students do better”, Washington Post, January 20, 2015.

January 29, 2015

School choice is making ‘steady progress’

by Grace

Momentum for school choice has grown in recent years, and “courtroom victories are overwhelming teachers union obstacles”.

January 26-31 is National School Choice Week, and supporters believe there is much to celebrate.

… There are more than 50 such school choice programs — including school vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs — in 25 states serving more than 300,000 children. Furthermore, about half of these programs were enacted in the past five years, which indicates that momentum for school choice is rapidly accelerating.

300,000 doesn’t actually seem like much, considering there are approximately 56 million K-12 student in this country.

Wealthier families have always had school choice.

School choice is shaking up the public education establishment, but it would be wrong to say that it’s a new, or even radical, idea. After all, if you are the child of middle- or upper-class parents, then it is almost certain that you benefited from school choice. Perhaps your parents chose where to buy a home based on the quality of the local public school. Or perhaps they paid to send you to a private school. In any event, the reason you got a quality education is because your parents were able to afford choices that put you in a school, public or private, that they determined best suited your needs. Your educational fate was not determined solely by the ZIP code into which you were born.

The present battle is being fought mainly for lower-income families, against teachers’ unions and their allies.

… In recent years, they have challenged school-choice programs in Arizona, Indiana and New Hampshire — where they’ve suffered decisive losses — and Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina — where their lawsuits are ongoing, but have suffered big setbacks. (They prevailed in Louisiana, but the state legislature quickly undid their victory.) When more states pass school-choice programs, the unions will no doubt file more lawsuits.

Bert Gall, an Institute for Justice attorney who is at the heart of the battle, is optimistic.

… the unions’ legal onslaught is not a sign of strength, but of desperation. Their lawsuits are often a collection of weak legal claims that are thrown against the wall in the hope that one will stick. While the unions may win the occasional skirmish, they will ultimately lose the legal battle — with the result that school-choice programs will expand to serve more and more families.


Success Academy Bronx 2 scholars perform the School Choice Week Dance.

 

In addition to dancing skills, these student have consistently demonstrated high academic achievement levels.

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ADDED:  Charter schools serve 4% of school-age children in the U.S.

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Bert Gall, “The steady progress of school choice”, Washington Times, January 25, 2015.

January 23, 2015

Education jargon

by Grace

Education jargon continues to confuse, sometimes getting in the way of effective reform.

… Edu-speak—the incomprehensible babble used to describe what are often relatively straightforward teaching methods, learning styles, and classroom designs—is plaguing the country’s schools. Intended to help people understand education reform, edu-speak often ends up doing the exact opposite: It muddles those reform strategies and, left unchecked, it could end up making positive change a lot more difficult to achieve. As Liz Willen, the editor of The Hechinger Report, wrote in 2013, it all adds up to a “communication breakdown that hampers education reform.” Just like its cousins in the corporate or legal worlds—synergy! Ex parte!—such jargon only adds confusion to already-confusing things.

Everyone from parents to journalists get caught up in trying to understand the bewildering language used by “educrats”.

Parents get status reports on their kids and are baffled as to what half of the words mean. Teachers are ordered to alter their instruction but left unsure of what they’re actually being ordered to do. Kids are told to take random tests with weird names and remain unconvinced they’re doing anything productive. Journalists like me transcribe soliloquies at school board meetings and legislative hearings, dreading all the translation that we’ll have to do later.

During the first few years of my children’s public school experience, I was often perplexed by terminology used by teachers and administrators.  At first I thought I was the only parent not in the know, but later I realized many parents were in the same boat as I was.  Soon enough I learned that the lovely sounding “enrichment action-items” consisted mainly of mundane arts and crafts activities that almost always made sure to include some type of politically correct message.  “Differentiated instruction” meant that my kids sat around in groups shooting the breeze and wasting time while waiting for the teacher to teach.  And the goal of “life-long learning” seemed to be an excuse for producing high school graduates with significant gaps in what they should have learned in their K-12 experience.

Some random phrases I generated from an education jargon generator:

We will orchestrate visionary strategies throughout multiple modalities.

We will deploy diverse competencies in data-driven schools.

 We will enhance mastery-focused curriculum integration through the collaborative process.

We will integrate real-world assessment within a balanced literacy program

We will engage strengths-based functionalities through the experiential based learning process

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Alia Wong, “Why Education Reporting Is So Boring”, Atlantic, Jan. 14, 2015

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