Archive for ‘K-12 education’

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.

20150128.COCSuccessAcademy2ProficiencyScores2

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

20150129.COCCharterSchoolGrowth1A

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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

January 22, 2015

Majority of U.S. schoolchildren are NOT poor

by Grace

A recent attention-grabbing headline is wrong.

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty
Washington Post

The headline is wrong, even though Layton gets the facts pretty much right: 51 percent of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which are available only to low-income families. That’s an important story. But participation in the federal lunch program is, as she notes, only a rough proxy for poverty: you qualify if you have a family income less than 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four this comes to about $44,000, which certainly qualifies as working class or lower middle class, but not poverty stricken.

School lunch programs do not accurately measure poverty, and poverty rates have not changed much over the long term.

But wait! It’s even more complicated than that—and this part is important. On the one hand, lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don’t participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. So there’s always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible. On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible, and the number is growing quickly. For example, every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible. Overall, then, although the official numbers have long undercounted some kids, CEP means they now increasingly overcount others. Put this together, and participation in the school lunch program becomes an even rougher proxy for poverty than it used to be—and any recent “explosion” in the student lunch numbers needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt. This is especially true since overall child poverty hasn’t really changed much over the past three decades, and if you use measures that include safety net programs it’s actually gone down modestly since the end of the Reagan era.

Economist Alex Tabarrok points out that about 20% of school-age children live in poverty according to several other measures.

20150121.COCChildTrendsPovertyHistorical1


Obviously poverty is a serious problem that should not be ignored, and the causes are probably complex.  But inaccurate reporting does not help in finding solutions.

It’s certainly worthwhile discussing why poverty has increased. The economy is one possible reason as are issues to do with family formation and marriage rates. Another possibility is immigration. A higher poverty rate caused by the immigration of more low-income children is compatible with everyone becoming better off over time and not necessarily a bad thing. Those are just a few possible topics worthy of investigation. I don’t claim that any of them are correct.

I do claim, however, that we won’t get very far understanding the issue by shifting definitions and muddying the waters with misleading but attention grabbing statistics.

———

Kevin Drum, “Half of All Public School Kids in Poverty? Be Careful.”, Mother Jones, Jan. 17, 2015.

Lyndsey Layton, “Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty”, Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2015.

Alex Tabarrok, “No, A Majority of US Public School Students are Not In Poverty”, Marginal Revolution, Jan. 17, 2015.

Children in poverty, Child Trends Databank, 2014.

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January 9, 2015

Education issues of 2015

by Grace

Among NPR’s “provocative predictions” for K-12 education in 2015:

Interest in school choice will grow.

I predict that in 2015, recognition will grow for the idea that “public” education means publicly financing K-12 education, but means providing instruction in a wide-variety of settings: charters, private schools, online options and more.

Lindsey Burke
Fellow, Heritage Foundation

Blended learning in public schools is here to stay.

…  Blended learning — coupling technology based-instruction with live instruction — is evolving from an idea that was mostly hype to a daily practice for students in all kinds of public schools.

Andrew Rotherham
Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit consultancy

Game-based learning will expand.

… A simple example would be a game like Jeopardy [where teachers can write their own answers and questions] — but a smarter version of that….

Jordan Shapiro
Professor at Temple University and an expert on game-based learning

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is back, and The Daily Caller has some predictions.

The law, passed with bipartisan support in 2001, is now almost universally seen as broken thanks to mandating standards, such as universal proficiency in math and reading, that have proven impossible to reach. Dissatisfaction is so high that Arne Duncan’s Education Department has virtually suspended much of the law by handing out legally dubious waivers from its tougher requirements.

In 2015, however, there are promising signs that the partisan gridlock that prevented any update to the law may finally be breaking down. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who will be taking over the Senate’s education committee, has declared an NCLB update his top priority, and he wants to attack the issue fast, potentially having a bill up for debate before the end of January.

The most obvious change Alexander could pursue against NCLB is the scaling back or elimination of the “adequate yearly progress” requirement, which severely sanctions schools that aren’t quickly progressing towards universal proficiency. …

Another change Alexander could pursue is a major reform to NCLB’s oft-criticized standardized testing requirements. …  If they do, they’ll face initial opposition from President Obama, who has defended annual testing as an essential accountability measure. Even if Obama is opposed, though, Republicans will have an unlikely ally in strongly-Democratic teachers unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, which have loudly called for testing requirements to be changed.

From the right, Alexander will be pressured to take things further, and reform NCLB in order to substantially reduce the federal government’s role and influence over public education (some have proposed letting states opt out of federal control entirely)….

Cynicism compels me to agree with this prediction that we’ll see more of the same tired rhetoric, but not much improvement.

I suspect that with the rumored reauthorization of ESEA that we will see an anti-testing narrative, but the entire system will still be tied to testing. [Politicians] will talk about teacher quality, but we will see a renewed emphasis on sending the least qualified candidates (such as Teach For America) to teach primarily poor children. They will talk about local control and will tweak accountability formulas, but the educational system will likely still be controlled in a top-down fashion instead of a bottom-up approach like California recently introduced for school finance. They will talk about turning around 1,000 schools, when in fact very few of the schools stay “turned around” because the poverty in the communities and special learning needs of the students are not being addressed. In essence, our politicians will give us more of the same failed education policy in 2015, while calling it a new direction and/or reform.

Julian Vasquez Heilig
Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, California State University, Sacramento

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“Kindergarten Entry Tests And More Education Predictions for 2015″, NPR, January 3, 2015.

Blake Neff, “These Will Be The Five Biggest Education Issues Of 2015″, Daily Caller, January 1, 2015.

December 29, 2014

A New York high school diploma is too easy to attain

by Grace

What’s the point of helping students graduate from high school if that doesn’t prepare them for college and career success?  This question arises from a study seeking ways to improve the public schools in Yonkers, New York.

The holy grail for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.

But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success….

But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.

“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”

The study, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, found the utterly predictable “strong link between poverty and students’ readiness for college”.

Class size doesn’t matter.

While some study results were not surprising, other findings contradict conventional wisdom by showing that “class size and per-pupil spending” have little correlation to student readiness for college.

New York high school graduation standards are too low.

A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. Students need to pass only one Regents exam in math, for instance, to earn a Regents diploma. Because of the way the state curves its algebra exam, a student could get a 65 “passing” score on the June 2013 exam by earning only 34 percent of all points on the test.

“The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”

The next challenge will be finding the elusive best practices in high-performing schools and then implementing them in the low-performing schools.

The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.

“We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”

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Gary Stern, “Statistics show poverty’s impact on student success”, Journal News, December 20, 2014.

Bud Kroll, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, Yonkers Partners in Education, YPIE Research Report 14-01, May 2014.

December 25, 2014

French school lunches are fit for a holiday meal

by Grace

What are you having for dinner this Christmas Day?  This sounds like a wonderful holiday meal:  endive salad with herbal vinaigrette, roast veal, pureed butternut squash, emmental cheese, and vanilla flan with caramel sauce for dessert.

But wait, this delicious meal is what a Paris student eats for lunch on a typical school day.

Nina Camic happened to see a lunch schedule posted on the side of a school during a recent trip to Paris.

20141121.COCParisSchoolLunch1

I won’t translate the whole thing, but the ministry has proclaimed that today, for example (“Mardi”), children from age 3 through 10 shall eat: a salad of chopped endive for starters, along with chinese cabbage with an herbal vinaigrette, then they will proceed to roast veal with a puree of butternut squash (which shall be organic), this will be followed by two cheeses — emmental and mimolette (the latter, btw, was banned by our FDA because of the way it is manufactured — the rind depends on some mite activity and the FDA appears not to like that), and finally, there seems to be a choice of two desserts — a flan, either chocolate, or vanilla with caramel sauce. This is the main meal of the day for French kids. Supper at home is a light and simple affair.

Enjoy your holiday meal today!

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