Posts tagged ‘Middle school’

March 27, 2013

Quick Links – Middle school mess; hypergamy and single-parent families; bipartisan cuts to higher ed; and more

by Grace

◊◊◊  The middle school debate

Various views on the middle school model were presented in the New York Times last year.

You don’t have to have to read all the studies to know that the ages between 10 and 13 are socially awkward ones. But they are also important ones academically, crucial in determining college and career outcomes. Would these preteens be better off staying in an elementary school that covers kindergarten through eighth grade? Or is there a reason why this age group needs to be sectioned off into a separate middle school?

Another observation on the Middle School Mess:

American middle schools have become the places “where academic achievement goes to die.”  — Cheri Pierson Yecke

◊◊◊  Fewer college-educated men are reason for rise in single parent families?

The effects of a low sex ratio

As this column has repeatedly noted, women are hypergamous, which means that their instinct is to be attracted to men of higher status than themselves. When the societywide status of women increases relative to men, the effect is to diminish the pool of suitable men for any given woman. If most women reject most men as not good enough for them, the effect is no different from that of a low sex ratio. High-status men, being in short supply, set the terms of relationships, resulting in libertine sexual mores and higher illegitimacy.

I rarely see the term “illegitimacy” used these days.

◊◊◊  ‘Bipartisan Support for Cutting Higher-Ed

The national trend is marked: between 2009 and 2012, 47 states cut higher education spending per FTE. The median (mean) reduction was just over 23 percent (22 percent). Just three states saw increases: Illinois (unified Democratic government), North Dakota (unified Republican government), and Rhode Island (divided government with Republican governor).

When they have had unified government, both Democrats and Republicans have cut higher education funding. If we look at the seven states with unified Democratic control over this period, six reduced funding. Those six (excluding Illinois’s 2.8 percent increase) reduced funding by between 19 and 31 percent (West Virginia and Washington respectively) for an average reduction of 22.9 percent.

Of the nine states under unified Republican control, eight reduced funding by an average of 25.2 percent, ranging from a 0.2 percent decline in South Dakota to 42.8 percent reduction in Idaho. Texas, one of Leonard’s great villains, reduced funding by 9.2 percent (less than any of the Democratically-controlled states). Florida cut funding by 27 percent, which outranked all but one unified Democratic state. So while Republican-controlled states did cut higher education spending, they were not alone; unified Democratic governments more than held their own. (Of the 17 states with divided government, 16 reduced higher ed spending by an average of 25 percent during the period)….

These data suggest a bipartisan national trend, not a conservative conspiracy. The vast majority of states–whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats–have cut higher education funding in response to budget deficits.

◊◊◊  Grandparents’ contribution make up about 9.5 percent of the total 529 assets

By all accounts, Grandma and Grandpa are more active than ever in funding their grandkids’ educations, including sinking money into 529 college savings plans….

By the end of 2012, American families had a record $190.7 billion socked away in 529 college savings plans, according to a March 13 report from the College Savings Plans Network. …

Parents still contribute the lion’s share of funds invested in 529 accounts. But contributions from grandparents now make up about 9.5 percent of the total, according to the most recent data from the Financial Research Corp, which tracks 529 investments. It was a substantial enough increase that FRC started keeping track of which types of relatives were funding 529s for the first time last year.

February 12, 2013

Even if boys score better than girls on standardized tests, they get lower grades

by Grace

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 sometimes controversial Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about this problem of “Boys at the back” in our public schools, illustrated in this chart posted by Mark Perry.


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. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.

The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

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.

That last sentence, which I’ve highlighted, may hold a key to one reason for the gender gap in school performance.  Girls have the edge over boys not only in earlier development of certain social and organizational skills, but also in reading and writing.  Over time schools have pushed down more rigorous academic and organizational requirements to younger grades, making it more likely for boys to develop early gaps that often persist to the upper grades and college.

A related reason for the gender gap may be what David Brooks called the lack of cultural diversity.

… The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys….

I wrote about this last year.

Brooks is describing what is often called the “feminization” of public schools.  This term is distasteful to some, probably because it reinforces gender stereotypes.  Whatever the label, it does appear that schools have become “culturally homogeneous” in a way that hurts boys more than girls.  It starts in elementary school when an early reader is told that he got the wrong answer because he picked “mad” instead of “sad” to describe how the boy in the story feels after he doesn’t get the bike he wanted for his birthday.*  It continues through high school where group discussions in history class only allow expressions of compassion for victims of war but no praise for brilliant military maneuvers.  The message is clear – only certain types of behaviors and thoughts are welcome in the classroom.

There’s no doubt that students do need to be ”studious and industrious” to perform well academically.  It just seems that public schools are misguided in the methods they use in trying to develop those qualities in all students, particularly in boys.

Suggested reforms

Sommers points out that this gender gap should motivate schools to find ways to promote boys’ academic achievement, as they have done for girls in recent cases when the gender gap has been reversed.  She suggests some changes that the British, the Canadians and the Australians have implemented.

… These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).

One example of how poor noncognitive skills can create a misalignment between grades and test scores

I know of a case where a middle school boy consistently earned almost perfect test scores in his social studies class and who reached the finals in his state’s geography bee contest.  However, his average grade was significantly lowered by his poor class notes, likely due to a deficit in “noncognitive skills”.  Because of his grades, and because “behavior and work habits” counted so heavily in the admissions process, he was shut out of his high school’s social studies honors track.  If not for his parents’ intervention to override the school’s policies and allow him to enroll in the honors course, he might have languished in courses that were too easy and boring for him.  As it happened, he went on to graduate with honors and enroll in an elite university.


December 19, 2012

Quick Links – gift registry for college tuition; School of One; focus on short term for your career

by Grace

»»»  Have you heard about GiveCollege or Instagrad?  They’re like wedding registries for college tuition.

The Instagrad fees look high, about 8-9% of contribution amounts, while GiveCollege fees range from about 4-6% depending on the gift amount.

GiveCollege lists occasions where you can invite “friends and family to contribute to your 529 college savings plan instead of buying a traditional gift”.

  • Baby showers
  • Christenings
  • Communions
  • Bar or bat mitzvahs
  • Birthdays
  • Holidays
  • Graduations

School of One offers personalized math instruction that could increase classroom productivity

In elementary school, John Perez was left in the dust if he hadn’t mastered a concept by the teacher’s second or third explanation. The whole class would move onto something else.

Now in sixth grade at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, John doesn’t feel that way any longer. A computer algorithm tracks his progress through daily quizzes and adjusts his schedule based on which skills he’s mastered. Each day, he is grouped with students learning at his skill level.

“You’re always learning at your own pace,” said John, 11 years old. “You’re never behind.”

John’s school is one of four in the city to adopt this year a highly touted program known as School of One, which offers the type of personalization that officials see as the future of the nation’s largest school system. Five city public schools now use the program, which has been launched under a different name in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

So far the mixed results from the School of One pilot program in New York City could be attributed to any number of factors, including significant staff turnover at one school.

A more efficient way to handle formative assessment
Having been told some teachers have no time to perform formative assessments that would help diagnose and address individual learning issues among their students, I see School of One as a possible solution to that problem.  This would seem to help dispel the argument that schools cannot significantly increase productivity.  One problem is that innovations to increase productivity are often politically controversial.

»»»  Indian entrepreneur advises young people to ‘pick a career that excites you at the moment’

Unlike the typical middle-aged manager in the US, “Indians long ago accepted jumping from one role to another in shorter time frames”.  Entrepeneur Rajendra Singh Pawar’s advice to young Indians that they should focus on the short term makes sense, given the nature of today’s ever-changing workplace.

The good news is that youngsters these days are very footloose. They can move from event management to software development to marketing. You get in but you don’t stay there. This is a marked difference not just in India from before but from the whole world.

Today I am more inclined to tell you to pick the career which excites you at the moment. An underlying change is happening in India. While BPO [business process outsourcing, such as call centers and medical transcription] will continue to grow, there are areas that are small now but with high growth percentages.

Pawar points out that a willingness to be flexible and mobile makes it easier for India to “build a transient work force”.  That appears to be our future – a “transient workforce”.

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