April 28, 2009

Sizing up Baltimore's charter schools

Here's the report on Baltimore charter schools that I write about in today's newspaper. Not surprisingly, the report found that academic performance at the city's charters varies significantly. Climate-wise, they seem to be better than regular city schools, especially at the middle school level. We've always known that charter students (except those at neighborhood conversion charters that take the place of zoned schools) have an inherent advantage because their parents are making a choice and seeking out a quality option on their behalf. Now we know how that translates: The charters have fewer special ed, over-age and free/reduced lunch students than regular schools do. As a whole, they're also more racially diverse, though there are examples of charters that are almost completely segregated and charters that are almost perfectly integrated. One finding that was a little surprising: There aren't many students coming to the charters from out of the system, though seven schools are the exception to that and draw students who wouldn't be attending city public schools otherwise.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!

April 24, 2009

Light weekend reading

McKinsey & Co. released a troubling report this week called "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools." It concludes that:

"If the United States had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and Korea, US GDP in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher, representing 9 to 16 percent of GDP."

"If the United States had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, GDP in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher, or roughly 2 to 4 percent of GDP. (The magnitude of this effect will rise in the years ahead as blacks and Latinos become a larger proportion of the population.)" 

If you don't feel like spending time this sunny weekend reading the whole report, here's a good summary from Tom Friedman.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Study, study!

April 14, 2009

Experience Corps study shows big reading gains

I write today about how being a volunteer in an urban school helps kids and the health of adult tutors. 

In talking about the tutors, I barely mention the kids. But a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis is worth a little more attention. It says that children who had these older adults as tutors made better than 60 percent more progress in two reading skills: reading comprehension and sounding out words.

Experience Corps is a national volunteer program that places at least 15 older tutors in a given school in kindergarten through third-grade classes. The volunteers, who have to be 55 or older, must commit to coming to the school for at least 15 hours a week for the academic year.

The Washington University study found that having an Experience Corps member in the classroom was the equivalent of reducing class size by 40 percent. The only groups that did not benefit, the study said, were students in special education.

The study was conducted over two years was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies. It followed 800 students in 23 elementary schools in three cities. Half the students in the study were with Experience Corps volunteers and half were not.

What is so interesting, too, about these volunteers, is that many of them come from the communities around the schools. It's almost a formal way of having more neighborhood grandmas in schools. What kids wouldn't be helped having a grandma or grandpa there when they struggle to sound out a word or understand the meaning of a sentence?

And getting to know a few more adults in the neighborhood might also have benefits that carry into the streets. I am guessing here, but don't you think when those children move on to middle school and high school, they would be less likely to act up when they see the Experience Corps volunteer who sat beside them for hours in third-grade walking by?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:03 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Study, study!

April 8, 2009

On aging teachers and all-girls education

Two new studies I bring to your attention:

1) Just out from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. It predicts that more than half the current teachers in American schools will retire in the next decade. The largest teacher retirement wave in history is upon us, it says, with the peak predicted for 2010-2011. Charts with state demographics show Maryland's "upper quartile" for age starting at 53 (thanks to MSTA for correcting my earlier misreading).

2) Western and the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women can find common ground in a report out of UCLA that found graduates of all-girls schools are more academically inclined, more politically engaged and more likely to pursue a career in engineering than their peers at co-ed schools. Western and BLSYW joined with private girls schools in the area to put out a press release on the study. Worth noting, though, that the report was funded by the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:28 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Study, study!

February 26, 2009

Brown Center report gives Baltimore schools poor marks

The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution issued a major new report on education yesterday. It examines the performance of 37 big city school districts in the 2006-07 year and compares their test scores against the averages in their respective states on whatever standardized tests the states were using for NCLB. Generally, the results are positive, indicating a narrowing of the achievement gap between urban districts and their suburban counterparts. But Baltimore is one of eight districts where the report concludes that's not the case. In five districts -- Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis and Philadelphia -- scores were more than two statistical standard deviations below the state average. Keep in mind that Baltimore's test scores improved more than the state average last year.

The report also compares the 06-07 results with data from 2000-01, which, in Maryland at least, seems problematic since the state switched the test it was using during that time period.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:08 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Study, study!

February 25, 2009

Transcendental meditation and student behavior

We've talked a lot on this blog about student disciplinary problems, but not as much about how to prevent them... Last weekend in Timonium, the results of a national study were released suggesting that transcendental meditation can reduce the behavioral outbursts associated with ADHD. Researchers followed a group of middle school students with ADHD who were meditating twice a day in school. After three months, they found more than a 50-percent reduction in stress and anxiety and improvements in ADHD symptoms. The lead researcher, a cognitive learning specialist from George Washington University, said the effect was "much greater than we expected."

The study is published this month in the journal Current Issues in Education. And here's a video of kids talking about their experience meditating.

November 25, 2008

Report: Don't forget about magnet schools

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a study today recommending that, with all the buzz about charter schools, the nation's public school systems shouldn't forget about magnet schools, which tend to be more diverse than charters.

The country's 2,683 magnet schools have improved both the quality and the equity in public schools over the past 40 years, the report says, but they have been left out of the discussion on how to reform schools. Magnet schools enroll 2 million students, twice as many as charter schools.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools, Study, study!

September 23, 2008

Help for failing schools

The Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based non-profit that has closely monitored just how No Child Left Behind is working, says in a report released today that the federal and state governments aren't doing enough to help failing schools find solutions to improve.

The bottom line is there is no one solution that is working to fix broken schools in America. That doesn't mean nothing is working, but that you can't use the same game plan at one school in Maryland that you use in another in Georgia and expect the same result.

CEP calls for the feds to come up with other choices than the ones that currently exist for schools to use to improve achievement. They also caution that the fix most often used in Maryland -- getting rid of staff and the principal -- may not work very well if there isn't a lot of support for the new principal to hire new staff. CEP found some principals at these schools said they spent so much time hiring new teachers over the summer that they had little time for developing strategies to improve instruction. So CEP said the school district has to take on some of that responsibility for recruiting new teachers. In addition, there has to be a ready supply of highly qualified teachers in the area or all a school is doing is replacing existing staff with untrained newbies.

In addition, CEP says that there are still many schools that go through a process of restructuring that don't get any better. So there has to be a national focus on what to do -- besides punish -- schools that have been bad for five or eight or 10 years and aren't improving.

The CEP study is interesting because they have spent years studying five states in depth and one of them is Maryland. For those policy wonks and other educators who are intensely interested in the work of improving schools, here's the link.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

September 22, 2008

Are students unprepared for algebra in eighth grade?

A national push to get more eighth-graders to take Algebra I may be hurting students who are now struggling to keep up in classes they are unprepared to take, according to a new report released today by the Brown Center on Education at the Brookings Institution.

While only gifted math students took Algebra I in eighth grade a generation ago, today 31 percent of the nation's eighth-graders are in an algebra course. The theory was that students could not compete in a global economy unless they were able to take advanced math classes in high school. Whether it is good to push higher math classes earlier has never been proven one way or the other.

Tom Loveless at the Brown Center looked at students who scored poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only long-standing national test, and found that many of them are sitting in advanced math classes.

Between 2000 and 2005, as the enrollment in Algebra I grew in eighth grade, there was a jump in the number of students in those classes that scored in the bottom 10th percentile on the NAEP.

In other words, there are roughly 120,000 eighth-graders with fourth-grade math skills sitting in those advanced eighth grade classes.

That isn't just bad for those students, Loveless argues, but also for the more advanced students who will be slowed down by students who are far behind.

"This is not a call to lower expectations for what students can learn," Loveless said in a statement. "Instead, we have to give more students the preparation they need to succeed in algebra."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:38 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Study, study!

September 17, 2008

Can KIPP's success be replicated?

We've talked before on this blog about the reasons for the success of the 60-plus schools in the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which runs Baltimore's highest-performing middle school. Now, the research group SRI International is releasing a three-year study of KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzing why their students outperform their peers in other public schools. The study, commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, cites four factors: 1) a culture of high expectations; 2) more time in school and more support for struggling students; 3) a focus on tracking student progress and careful instructional planning; 4) a philosophy of continuous improvement, where school leaders and teachers often revise their strategies.

We've seen all these things before at KIPP Ujima Village in Baltimore. To me, the more interesting question that the study poses is not what causes KIPP to be successful, but whether its success can be replicated on a large scale. And its answer to that is maybe not: It's a lot harder when the students and parents aren't choosing to be at the charter school, making a commitment to do the work. It's a lot harder when teachers aren't choosing to work many extra hours and be available for their students around the clock.

It's not that KIPP students are coming in more able, as is often alleged. In fact, the report found that the Bay Area KIPP schools tend to attract lower-performing students than the traditional public schools in their areas. Perhaps these students and their parents feel desperate that the traditional public schools aren't working for them. In any case, they're choosing to be at KIPP.

The report concludes that KIPP's experiences "don't directly map onto those of other schools and districts," but they demonstrate a lesson relevant to everyone: "High expectations and hard work pay off. There are no shortcuts."

The study's findings are similar to those of another report released in by Johns Hopkins researchers about KIPP Ujima Village last year. An article we wrote about the report at the time said KIPP was transforming the lives of its students, but "translating the methods and successes of KIPP to other middle schools in the city probably would be challenging and costly."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!

September 12, 2008

Restructuring schools try staff replacement

As Liz reports today, a new study is out by the Center on Education Policy about the schools that have restructured under No Child Left Behind. Maryland, with its recent emphasis on replacing the staff at schools required by law to restructure, is now taking among the most aggressive steps in the nation. But it's too soon to know whether the strategy is working.

Until 2006, most Maryland schools that have failed to meet targets on standardized tests for several consecutive years chose the restructuring option of hiring a "turnaround specialist," usually to work with the principal. And usually, that move didn't do much good, so the option was discontinued.

The CEP report questions the logistical challenges associated with creating school restructuring plans as more schools need them. It says that Maryland's resources are being "stretched thinly." In districts such as Baltimore and Prince George's County with lots of schools in restructuring, there's concern that plans are not being individualized for each school and staff replacement is the automatic option. Other choices include reopening as a charter school and entering into a contract with a private school management company. But as the report points out, "becoming a charter school takes about 18 months, which does not fit with the required federal restructuring timetline."

In Baltimore, the school improvement teams at all the restructuring schools chose the option of staff replacement. (These teams typically include the principal.) The city school board then signed off on the teams' recommendations and forwarded the choices to the state. Mary Minter, the city's chief academic officer, is quoted in the report saying that principals often didn't realize selecting that option meant they could be replaced as well. She said that discussion "came later on... 'You mean I can be replaced, too?' It was after the fact. I think had they known, they would not have selected that option." Dr. Alonso is also quoted about principals being in the dark about their own fates: "I find it difficult to believe that in every single case, something which should be so basic to the conversation has escaped the debate until the very end."

Now that the cat's out of the bag, what option will schools select this year?

July 25, 2008

Report tracks African-American boys

The Schott Foundation for Public Education today released a report on the state of education as it pertains to African-American males. It also launched an interactive Web site with all sorts of interesting information about the achievement gap for black boys. Check it out here.

The report contains data not only for the 50 states, but also for their largest school districts. According to Schott's calculations, Maryland's graduation rate for black boys in 2005-2006 was slightly higher than the national average: 55 percent, compared with 47 percent nationally. That's due in part to the fact that Baltimore County reported one of the nation's highest graduation rates for African-American males, 72 percent. Montgomery County's rate was 69 percent and Prince George's was 59 percent. And then there was Baltimore City: 31 percent.

Using data from 2004-2005, the report said white, non-Hispanic boys were admitted to gifted and talented programs in Baltimore at twice the rate of black boys. Four times as many white boys as black participated in math Advanced Placement courses. Nine times as many white boys took science A.P. courses. Although this information is nearly four years old, it highlights the opportunities that have long existed for the small number of white students (less than 10 percent of total enrollment) in the city school system.

The report's release and the Web site launch coincided with this week's UNITY convention of 10,000 journalists of color, who gathered in Chicago.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:43 PM | | Comments (5)

July 21, 2008

Study of Baltimore youth ties academic struggles, depression

A new study of students in Baltimore concludes that black first-graders -- especially girls -- who are already struggling academically are at a higher risk of experiencing depression by middle school.

Psychologists examined data for 474 African-American boys and girls in nine Baltimore public schools. The students were assessed in first, sixth and seventh grades. 

The study’s findings are in the July issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association. According to the association, this is the first time psychologists have examined the link between academic performance and depression among African-American children living in an urban setting.

The study showed that "girls tend to internalize academic problems more than boys," according to Keith Herman, the study's lead author. “It is critical for counselors and psychologists who are working with underachieving African-American youth to find ways to highlight their nonacademic skills, such as social, music or art abilities, and work with their parents and teachers to do the same. This may help improve their present and future emotional well-being.”

For more on the study's methodology and findings, keep reading.

Continue reading "Study of Baltimore youth ties academic struggles, depression" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Study, study!

June 27, 2008

Failing marks for math teacher preparation

The National Council on Teacher Quality issued a report yesterday concluding that most of the nation's education colleges are not doing enough to prepare prospective elementary school teachers to teach math. The council studied entry and exit requirements, curriculum, textbooks and state licensing tests for 77 education colleges in 49 states. It found only 13 percent of the schools were giving teachers adequate math training.

Kate Walsh, president of the council, said in a statement: "As a nation, our dislike and discomfort with math is so endemic that we do not even find it troubling when elementary teachers admit to their own weakness in basic mathematics. Not only are our education schools not tackling these weaknesses, they accommodate them with low expectations and insufficient content."

But there's good news for Maryland: The University of Maryland at College Park is among the 10 schools where the council determined the math preparation was adequate. Towson University is one of five that the report said would pass muster with improved focus and textbooks. That's better than the 37 schools, among them American University, that were found to fail on all measures. Some schools, including Hampton University and University of Richmond, don't require prospective elementary teachers to take any math classes at all.

Think you're qualified to teach elementary school math? See how you do on this test that the council says all elementary math teachers should be able to pass. 

UPDATE, 6/30: See the comments for a rebuttal from the dean of Amerian University's education school, who says the report was not compiled responsibly.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Study, study!, Teaching

June 25, 2008

Study shows shrinking achievement gaps

The Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank that's become the leading non-partisan analyst on all matters No Child Left Behind, issued a report yesterday that's bound to make Bush administration officials smile. Called "Has Student Achievement Increased Since 2002?: State Test Score Trends Through 2006-07," the report analyzed state test data as well as the results of the only standardized test administered nationwide, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (called NAEP). And it concluded that, yes, for the nation as a whole, test scores are up and achievement gaps have narrowed since the federal law was enacted, though there's still a long way to go.

In Maryland, the report found that the percentage of students passing the standardized tests grew at a "moderate to large rate" in reading and math in nearly every grade level analyzed. The exception was high school math, where -- the report says -- too few years of data were available to determine a trend. 

The gap between the performance of Maryland's African-American and white students narrowed in every grade analyzed in reading. In math, that gap narrowed in elementary school but widened in middle school.

A variety of interest groups quickly issued statements reacting to the study's findings. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, criticized the study for not taking into account the results of the international tests known as PISA and PIRLS, which show the performance of American students declining in every grade and subject since the passage of No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, said the study was proof that American educators are making an impact in spite of NCLB.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

May 21, 2008

An uneven road to NCLB proficiency

It appears that 23 states -- Maryland not among them -- might have been banking on No Child Left Behind going away by now, or at least lessening its mandate that 100 percent of public school students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

A new report by the Center on Education Policy reviewed the pace with which states require their schools to improve each year as they work towards all kids being proficient. Maryland is among those that increase schools' targets incrementally each year.

But in almost half the country, states only required small improvement in the early years of the law, making it relatively easy for schools to make AYP. But as 2014 approaches, schools in these states now have to show big improvements every year. In California, for example, reading proficiency must increase by 11 percentage points a year for the next six years, a goal viewed by many as unrealistic.

The challenge "is about to become much more difficult for 23 states that generally set lower expectations for the percentages of students reaching proficiency between 2002 and 2008 in contrast to much steeper expectations later on," the report says. "The higher goals are now becoming a reality."

The report concludes that, while it will be harder for schools in the 23 states to make AYP than for schools in places like Maryland, almost no one is on track for 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB, Study, study!

March 28, 2008

Do Teach for America teachers get better results?

A new study by the Urban Institute says yes. The nonpartisan think tank studied achievement data in North Carolina high schools and found that students whose teachers were placed through Teach for America scored higher on math and science exams than their peers.

Teach for America, or TFA, selects graduates of the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities and assigns them to work in some of the nation's toughest schools for a two-year commitment. With 17,000 applicants, TFA placed more than 2,000 teachers in 2005 and expects its ranks to grow to 4,000 by 2010. While few would question the intelligence of the program's participants (several of whom work in Baltimore), critics have two major gripes: 1) that TFA is sending to our neediest schools teachers who are not only uncertified, but sometimes culturally unprepared for an inner-city environment, and 2) that it perpetuates a revolving door of teachers in needy schools (since some college grads see the program as a resume-builder while they figure out what they want to do with their lives).

The Urban Institute's study indicates that those criticisms are unfounded. "TFA teachers are able to more than offset their lack of teaching experience, either due to their better academic preparation in particular subject areas or due to other unmeasured factors such as motivation," the report says. The advantage still held when TFA teachers were compared with colleagues fully certified in their fields. The report's authors say their findings stress the importance of finding teachers with strong academic backgrounds and -- yikes! -- indicate that teacher recruitment is more important than teacher retention.

I have no doubt that this report will generate controversy. Do its findings ring true in your experience?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Study, study!, Teaching

March 4, 2008

Does studying music make you smart?

For years, educators and researchers have noted that students who are good at the arts also seem to be high-achieving students as well.  Look at the test scores from the Baltimore School for the Arts or the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County and you can see this trend clearly. Those schools admit students based on their promise in a particularly artistic field, but not necessarily on their grades. So how is it that they do so well academically too?

The question, according to a Dana Foundation report released this afternoon, is this: "Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?"

The report examines the correlation between arts education and brain development, comblining the research of cognitive neuroscientists from seven universities in this country. Each one worked on a different study about the arts and the brain. So it appears that children who study the music, dance or drama develop "attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that has apply to other subject areas," the report says.

There are several conclusions of interest, according to report:

1. Being involved in the performing arts gives students motivation to focus for a long period of time. That long attention span helps students in other areas.

2. Correlations exist between music training and reading acquisition.

3. There is a link between high levels of music training and the abilitly to minipulate information in both working and long term memory.

The research is preliminary and does not establish definate causal relationships, according to the researchers. More study is needed to do that.

For those who want to read the studies, they're available here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Study, study!, Trends

March 3, 2008

How do schools treat gay and lesbian parents?

Not well, according to a new report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and two other advocacy groups. The study looks at the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families have in K-12 education. Its title: "Involved, Invisible, Ignored."

The study's authors received completed surveys from 588 gay and lesbian parents nationwide and from 154 of their middle and high school-aged children. Compared with a national sample of all parents, the gay and lesbian parents were more involved: 94 percent had attended an event such as a back-to-school night or a parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared with 77 percent in the general parent population. They were also more likely to have volunteered in their children's school and, in high schools, more likely to be a member of the PTA.

Yet more than half of the parents reported being excluded from their school community in some way, and more than a quarter said they had been mistreated by other parents. Among students, 42 percent said they had been harassed in the past year because of their parents' sexual orientation. Twenty-two percent said that a teacher, principal or other school staff member had discouraged them from talking about their family at school.

What steps can schools take to make all families feel welcome? In this case, the report recommends anti-bullying policies and legislation; training school staff to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment; supporting of clubs such as gay-straight student alliances; and increasing student exposure to information about gay and lesbian people, history and events.

February 25, 2008

Study finds limits to class-size reduction reform

Education Week is reporting on a new study suggesting that class-size reduction "might not necessarily reduce the achievement gaps that exist between students in a given classroom." (A summary of the article is here; sorry, you'll need an EdWeek registration to get the whole thing.) The study found that class-size reducation can improve test scores overall.

In my eight years as an education reporter, I've seen mixed results of class-size reduction initiatives. I was working in California after that state mandated caps of 20 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes. The result at first was an acute teacher shortage, and schools found themselves hiring teachers they wouldn't have otherwise. In addition, many of the best teachers in low-performing districts left to fill the new job openings in more affluent, higher-performing schools.

Ideally, of course, every child would be in a small class with a great teacher. But few parents would choose a small class with a mediocre or lousy teacher over a big class with a great teacher. On the other hand, class size is one of the biggest factors predicting teachers' satisfaction in their jobs. And if that great teacher with a big class gets burnt out and quits, then everyone loses out. Having small classes seems particularly important to English teachers and others who spend a lot of time on every paper they grade.

I'd be interested to hear from teachers about how your class sizes have impacted not only your personal satisfaction in your job, but also your students' achievement. Does the study's conclusion ring true?

You can find more information here on Project STAR, the Tennessee class-size reduction initiative on which the study is based.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Study, study!, Teaching

February 14, 2008

Study says NCLB is increasing dropout rate

There is an interesting new study out from Rice University and the Unversity of Texas-Austin.

Researchers found that the state that was the model for No Child Left Behind -- Texas -- loses about 271,000 students a year. And most of those students are African-American, Latino and students for whom English is a second language.

The researchers said pressure on principals and teachers to have high pass rates on state tests has led to higher dropout rates.

"High stakes, test-based accountability doesn't lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities," said Linda McSpadden McNeil, director of the Center for Education at Rice. "It leads to avoidable losses of students. Inherently the system creates a dilemma for principals: comply or educate."

A full copy of the study is here.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:07 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

Fordham grades school districts on their labor agreements

Remember that planning time dispute between the Baltimore Teachers Union and Andres Alonso? No, it hasn't gone away, and rumor has it that a decision from the arbitrator will be out sometime soon.

Meanwhile, the Fordham Foundation -- a conservative think tank -- releases a new report today in which researchers analyzed the union contracts in the nation's 50 largest school districts to see how much freedom the contracts give principals to run their schools with autonomy. The report finds that most of the nation's largest districts have ambiguous agreements, giving principals and school leaders more autonomy than they actually use.

In Baltimore, giving principals autonomy in exchange for accountability is at the heart of Dr. Alonso's plans for school reform. In a meeting with The Sun's editorial board yesterday, Alonso talked about the need to give principals training in how to use their autonomy once they get it. Next year, principals are expected to have considerably more authority in deciding how to spend their school budgets. The dispute with the BTU centers on whether principals should have the discretion to be able to require teachers to spend 45 minutes a week on collaborative planning.

Fordham's report includes analysis on Maryland's five biggest districts: Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, plus Baltimore City. Since this is a conservative foundation, it naturally views autonomy and flexibility as good things and rates the districts as such. Each district is given a "GPA" rating its labor agreement and its compensation package, rewarding such factors as pay for performance and increased pay for working in needy schools. Guilford County schools in Greensboro, N.C., ranked highest. Fresno Unified School District in California ranked last.

The results in Maryland are surprising. Read on to find out what they are ... and for a copy of the full report, "The Leadership Limbo," go to Fordham's homepage.

Continue reading "Fordham grades school districts on their labor agreements" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:01 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Study, study!

December 18, 2007

College makes students less religious, but more "spiritual"

A major new survey by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that after several years in college, students become less religiously observant, but more "spiritual."

Undergraduate life also contributes to more liberal political orientations and increased stress, according to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.

Among the findings:

  • After three years of college, more students rate as "essential" or "very important" statements such as "integrating spirituality into my life" and "becoming a more loving person."
  • There is a "steep decline" in religious attendance from freshman to junior year. Frequent attendance at religious services drops, while the percentage of surveyed students who didn't attend at all nearly doubled, from about 20 percent to about 38 percent.
  • The psychological well-being of students declined from the first to third years of college. The percent of students who described their lives as "filled with stress and anxiety" jumped from 26 percent in their freshman year, to about 42 percent by junior year.
  • College students also became more liberal during college. The percentage of students who indicated their political orientation as "liberal" or "far left" increased from 29 percent to 34 percent in three years, while those describing themselves as conservative and centrists declined slightly.

The longitudinal survey, titled "Spirituality in Higher Education: Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose," tracked data collected from about 14,500 students from 136 colleges. Students were surveyed as freshmen in 2004, and then again in 2007.


Continue reading "College makes students less religious, but more "spiritual"" »

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:14 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

December 17, 2007

All-nighters = lower grades

College students who regularly cram all-night for exams and papers get lower grades than students who don't, according to a new study out of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  

Psychology professor Pamela Thacher studied the sleep habits and academic transcripts of 111 students and found that two-thirds reported pulling at least one all-nighter a semester. Those that did it regularly also had lower grade-point averages, she found.

Thatcher's findings will be published in the January issue of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

The conventional wisdom is that all-nights are associated with procrastination -- another venerable college tradition -- but Thatcher did not find a correlation.

"The data indicate that procrastination is not associated with all-nighters, although both practices significantly correlated with lower GPAs," she said in a university news release.

Continue reading "All-nighters = lower grades" »

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:27 AM | | Comments (0)

December 4, 2007

U.S. students scores mediocre

There is more bad news about how our students stack up next to their peers in other nations today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results of its assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds in science, math and reading in the major industrialized nations. There were 57 nations that participated, 30 members of the OECD.

Our scores were flat since 2003 and continue to be below the average of of the 30 OECD countries and in the middle of all the countries where students were tested.

Here is what the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, had to say in a press release that arrived this morning.

"While disappointing, it speaks to what President Bush has long been advocating for: more rigor in our nation's high schools; additional resources for advanced courses to prepare students for college-level studies; and stronger math and science education. In fact, students are being assessed in science Under No Child Left Behind this school year. And, the President has proposed making science assessments an element of states' accountability calculations.

I wonder what teachers and principals out there believe? Do you think more testing in science would improve teaching and knowledge?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!, Testing

September 20, 2007

The cost of not doing more for Maryland's high schools

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, offers some interesting calculations on how much struggling high schools --- and students who can't graduate --- are costing Maryland. Read this statement that the organization issued today:




Federal Government Can Help by Expanding No Child Left Behind

to Include Resources and Support for High Schools


    Washington, D.C. – This is a watershed year for American education, with Congress currently working on a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.  In 2004, the last year for which data is available, only 75 percent of Maryland’s students graduated from high school on time.  And about 31 percent of the students in Maryland who started ninth grade earlier this month read so far below grade level that they are at serious risk of not graduating in four years. 

    “The poor graduation rate is a wake-up call that we can and must do more to help our high school students,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “All of us pay the price – not just the dropout, who is looking at a severely limited future, but also the rest of us, who need these new members of the workforce prepared to support the nation in a twenty-first century world that is becoming more and more competitive."

The Alliance for Excellent Education, to help illustrate the potential economic benefits of an improved high school system that better prepares all high school students to graduate prepared for college and work, calculates that: 

Maryland would save more than $307 million in health care costs for each class of dropouts, over their lifetimes, had these dropouts stayed in school and earned their diplomas.

Maryland households would have over $1.1 billion more in accumulated wealth if all heads of households had graduated from high school.

If Maryland’s high schools graduated all students ready for college, the state would save almost $80 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings.

Maryland’s economy would see a combination of savings and revenue of more than $211 million in reduced crime spending and increased earnings each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.

Wise said, “While well-intentioned, the current NCLB simply does not address the dropout problem and permits far too many students to leave high school without an adequate education.  Congress has the opportunity, right at this moment, to ensure that the law extends to all students.  Now is the time to build on the ideals of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and pass legislation that leads the nation toward ‘every child a graduate.’"

Posted by Gina Davis at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

September 5, 2007

Troubling mix: Alcohol and elementary school kids

The researcher's conclusions are startling --- and included in a recently published study ---

"... The percent of children who have used alcohol increases with age, and doubles between grades four and six. The largest jump in rates occurs between grades five and six," according to John E. Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Children are drinking, and our concern with underage drinking needs to start in elementary school, not in high school."

Donovan is the author of a study, "Really Underage Drinkers: The Epidemiology of Children's Alcohol Use in the United States," which was published this month in Prevention Science magazine. 

For his study, Donovan reviewed national and statewide surveys done during the past 15 years and concluded that "among typical 4th graders, 10% have already had more than a sip of alcohol and 7% have had a drink in the past year. While the numbers are small in the fourth grade, the survey shows that the percent of children who have used alcohol increases with age, and doubles between grades four and six," according to a press release recently issued by the Society of Prevention Research.

"... The numbers are still alarming because of the connection between early alcohol consumption and negative outcomes later during both adolescents and young adulthood," Donovan adds.

For more on the study, click here.



Posted by Gina Davis at 6:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Study, study!
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