Thursday, March 29, 2012

CDC estimates 1 in 88 children (11.3 per 1,000) has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)


Complete report

This marks a 23% increase since the last report in 2009 and a 78% increase since CDC's first report in 2007. Some of the increase is due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and served in their local communities, although exactly how much is due to these factors in unknown.

The number of children identified with ASDs varied widely across the 14 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network sites, from 1 in 47 (21.2 per 1,000) to 1 in 210 (4.8 per 1,000).

ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).

The largest increases over time were among Hispanic children (110%) and black children (91%). Some of this increase is probably due to greater awareness and better identification among these groups. However, this finding explains only part of the increase over time, as more children are being identified in all groups.

There were increases over time among children without intellectual disability (those having IQ scores above 70), although there were also increases in the estimated prevalence of ASDs at all levels of intellectual ability.

More children are being diagnosed at earlier ages—a growing number of them by age 3. Still, most children are not diagnosed until after they reach age 4, even though early identification and intervention can help a child access services and learn new skills.


The characteristics and experiences of beginning teachers


This report describes the characteristics and experiences of beginning public school teachers (teachers with fewer than five years of teaching experience) in the Northeast and Islands Region states and compares them with the characteristics and experiences of beginning teachers nationally using data from the 2007/08 Schools and Staffing Survey.

The study focuses on variables related to teachers’ preparation and workplace supports that research suggests might be associated with their perceptions of preparedness, effectiveness, and retention.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meditation Improves Emotional Behaviors in Teachers


Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed – and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.
The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.
“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”

Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.

Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama

The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?
From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:
* Concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience;
* Mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one’s body and feelings;
* Directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others.
In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.

“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Kemeny.

As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship. In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.
Some of the teachers’ key facial movements during the marital interaction task changed, particularly hostile looks which diminished. In addition, depressed mood levels dropped by more than half. In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.

“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” Kemeny said. “It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”


Characteristics of school districts identified for improvement


Like other states across the country, the seven REL Midwest Region states have been striving to meet the performance targets established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Under the act, districts are identified as “in improvement” and schools as “in need of improvement” after two successive years of not meeting adequate yearly progress performance targets.

This report, Characteristics of Midwest Region school districts identified for improvement, presents statistical profiles of school districts designated as in improvement in the Midwest Region states as of 2009/10. It compares the prevalence and characteristics of these districts and those of districts not in improvement. It also reports the prevalence of districts in improvement under three states’ own accountability systems.


Descriptive analysis of the principal workforce in Wisconsin,


National and state policymakers are concerned that the principal workforce is aging, that fewer new principals are joining the workforce, and that fewer female and racial/ethnic minority educators are entering and remaining in the principal workforce.

This study describes trends in demographic characteristics and retention rates in the Wisconsin principal workforce between 1999 and 2009. Over this period, the principal workforce remained predominantly White and male, but the share of female and racial/ethnic minority principals rose. Fewer than half of new principals remained as principals in Wisconsin after eight years.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Study Shows Promise of Grade Contracts for Improved Learning


Contracts are meant to hold people accountable, including college students who sign contracts for admission into school, financial aid and housing. How about also using contracts to hold college students accountable for their grades?

Two Western Illinois University psychology professors and researchers did just that in a behavioral research study.

Assistant Professor Dana Lindemann and Associate Professor Colin Harbke assigned 40 freshmen introductory psychology students to a traditional or an experimental contract grading system. The experimental group signed individual contracts at the beginning of the semester. Terms of the contract included choosing their coursework from a variety of assignments, grading their exams and assignments as pass or fail, requiring that each student master 85 percent of the material to receive a passing grade and allowing students to correct and resubmit their assignments one time in order to earn a passing grade.

The study, “Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades Among College Freshman in Introductory Psychology,” was published by SAGE Open

A Jan. 12, 2012 publisher’s news release was picked up by more than 250 national outlets, including Psych Central, the Internet’s largest independent mental health and psychology network. It also was featured as the “Study of the Day” in the Feb. 21 edition of The Atlantic.

Lindemann and Harbke support using contract grading in contemporary college classrooms, based on their results. Contract graded students were one-third as likely to fail or withdraw from the course, three times more likely to earn an “A” grade and were more likely to perceive a high degree of control over their grade. They also rated their effort, instructor and course more favorably.

"Students indicated higher ratings for working hard for their grade, enjoying the course format and for enhancing independent thinking," wrote Lindemann and Harbke. "Contract graded students may be more motivated to perform well."

Because the assignments are graded on a pass-fail basis, there is more emphasis on a full understanding of the material instead of just partial understanding. Minimal changes to the pre-existing material were required to implement contract grading, they added.


Middle school boys who are reluctant readers value reading more after using e-readers


Middle school boys rated reading more valuable as an activity after two months of using an e-reader, according to a new study.

The findings come from a study of 199 middle school students who struggle with reading and who participated in a reading improvement class that included Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, said one of the study’s authors, Dara Williams-Rossi, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The researchers found that boys consistently had a higher self-concept of their reading skill than girls both before and after using the e-readers. After use of the e-readers, boys’ attitudes about the value of reading improved, while girls’ attitudes declined, said Williams-Rossi, an assistant clinical professor in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU.

Technology motivated boys; girls appear to prefer actual books

“The technology appeared to motivate the boys to read, while many girls preferred thd actual books,” said Williams-Rossi, who is also director of undergraduate programs in Simmons. “The data showing the girls’ preference were statistically significant and particularly intriguing. This is part of a 3-year study and this data came midway through, so we are continuing our investigation and interviewing girls to understand their reaction to the e-readers. It may be that they prefer curling up with actual books and that they enjoy sharing their reading with their friends.”

Among the findings, students generally liked using e-readers and many felt that using it helped their reading improve. Sixth- and seventh-graders were more enthusiastic than eighth-graders about the e-readers, the researchers found.

Based on anecdotal comments from the children, the researchers found the e-readers sparked excitement among the students, resulting in positive attention for the students in the reading improvement classes. Over the course of the study, word about the e-readers spread around the school, and students who weren’t in reading improvement classes began asking how they could join “the Kindle classes.”

Access to Internet a challenge; boosts need for teacher monitoring

For the study, the researchers provided e-books on the Kindle e-readers to 199 students at an urban middle school in Fort Worth, Texas. The students had about 15 to 25 minutes during their silent reading improvement class period to read high-interest chapter books and stories on the Kindle. Books included 25 classics, including The Wizard of Oz and Black Beauty, as well as ghost stories and scary stories, which were the most popular. Students said they read between one and four e-books over the course of the two-month study.

Teachers generally thought the e-readers were better at getting their reluctant readers engaged, but they reported being frustrated by students’ easy Internet access through the district’s Wi-Fi, which required them to monitor the students more closely. Also, the teachers had to spend time keeping the e-readers charged, checked-out and locked up each night, but teachers told the researchers they plan to incorporate e-readers into their classes in coming years.

Overall, the students and their two teachers rated the experience as highly satisfying. In asking individual students what they liked about the e-readers, they said they liked not having to carry a lot of books; they liked other students not knowing their reading level or choice of book; they liked that the book they were reading was always available and hadn’t been removed from the classroom. The voice-to-text feature was popular with students for whom English is a second language.

In describing their reactions to the e-readers, students advised improvements to the Kindle and the books: a light, so it can be read in the dark; pictures; more books; and graphic novels.

Middle schoolers read less than younger students; “boring way to spend time”

Study findings were published in the International Journal of Applied Science and Technology as “Reluctant Readers in Middle School: Successful Engagement with Text Using the E-Reader,” authored by Williams-Rossi with three other researchers from Fort Worth, Texas: Twyla Miranda, Texas Wesleyan University; Kary A. Johnson, The Reading Connection; and Nancy McKenzie, Tarrant Community College.

“It’s inevitable that e-reader technology will enter school classrooms,” said the study’s authors. “Our study presents reasons e-readers may be beneficial, in particular, to reluctant readers in middle grades.”

Previous research in the field has shown that upper elementary and middle school students tend to read less than younger students because of time spent with their friends and in other activities. Also, these same students, particularly boys, may not value reading as much as they did when they were younger. One study found that most students indicated reading is a “boring way to spend time.”

Among those students, research has shown that low-skilled readers have trouble starting, continuing and finishing a book, and that they are stymied by vocabulary and reading comprehension challenges. Skilled readers, on the other hand, enjoy books.

Researchers have suggested that technological gadgets, enlarged text and a more favorable environment might encourage reluctant readers. For those reasons the authors pursued a study to see how reluctant readers would respond to e-readers. Rotary International purchased the e-readers for the research.

The findings also will be published in “E-Readers: The Next Big Thing for Reluctant Middle School Readers,” in Educational Leadership, which Williams-Rossi authored with Miranda and Johnson; and “Using E-Readers to Engage Middle School Students” in the “Proceeding of the 35th Annual Reading Association of Ireland Conference,” which Williams-Rossi authored with Miranda, Johnson and McKenzie.


Connected Mathematics 2: no greater results on Math Achievement in Grade 6


The 2006-11 Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic at Penn State University has concluded a rigorous experimental study of the effect of the Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) on the mathematics achievement and engagement of grade 6 students.

CMP2 is designed to encourage students to be responsible for their mathematics learning by exploring different solution pathways, sharing their ideas with other students, listening to the ideas of others, and questioning each other.

The study, Effects of the Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) on the Mathematics Achievement of Grade 6 Students in the Mid-Atlantic Region, found that students who experienced CMP2 did not have greater mathematics achievement or engagement than comparison students who experienced other curricula. The study was conducted in 70 schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.


Postsecondary Enrollment, Graduation Rates, and Student Financial Aid


For those attending public 4-year institutions, average price before aid was approximately $16,900 and net price was about $10,200; for those attending nonprofit 4-year institutions, average price before aid was roughly $32,700 and net price was about $16,700; and for those attending for-profit 4-year institutions, average price before aid was approximately $27,900 and net price was about $23,800, according to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2010; Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2010; and Graduation Rates, Selected Cohorts, 2002-2007 presents findings from the spring 2011 data collection of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences.

Other findings include:

• In fall 2010, Title IV institutions enrolled 19 million undergraduate and 3 million graduate students. Of the 19 million undergraduates, 56 percent were enrolled in 4-year institutions, 42 percent in 2-year institutions, and 2 percent in less-than-2-year institutions.

• Approximately 58 percent of full-time, first-time students attending 4-year institutions in 2004 who were seeking a bachelor’s or equivalent degree completed a bachelor’s or equivalent degree within 6 years at the institution where they began their studies.

• Overall, first-time undergraduate student 1-year retention rates were higher for full-time students (72 percent) than for part-time students (44 percent).


Monday, March 26, 2012

Heart healthy lessons plus better food offerings lower heart disease risk factors in sixth-graders


Portable program could help middle schools across the country keep kids heart healthy

Sixth-graders taking part in a 10-week program that included interactive lessons to get heart smart coupled with healthier food and beverage options in the cafeteria and vending machines had marked reductions across all cardiovascular risk factors, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.

"To see this kind of an impact in such a short period of time is pretty encouraging, and something that distinguishes it from other childhood obesity programr," said Taylor Eagle, pre-medical student, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Mich., and the study's lead investigator. "Teaching these kids heart-healthy lessons clearly makes a real difference, and it could affect their lives forever. It's also important for controlling health care costs down the road because children who are obese in childhood are much more likely to be obese in their adulthood."

In addition to favorable physiologic changes in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides and random glucose (p≤0.001), pre-/post- analyses showed the program also supported better dietary and exercise habits. Students reportedly consumed more fruits and vegetables and became more physically active, spent less time in front of the TV and/or computer and more time playing intramural sports.

The messages and activities promoted throughout the 10-week intervention centered around five goals: eat more fruits and vegetables; make better beverage choices; perform at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week; eat less fats and fatty food, and spend less mindless time in front of the TV and computer. Volunteers and program staff were trained to implement the program consistently in the 20-plus participating schools. The intervention included 10 interactive lessons that reinforced the five goals, related to changes to nutritional offerings and other activities to promote healthy eating and exercise.

"We are not just teaching lessons to the students, but we are also altering the environments to make it easier to make healthier food choices," Eagle said.

Researchers used standardized questionnaires to collect information about health behaviors from 2,048 sixth-graders in middle schools in four Southeast Michigan communities participating in Project Healthy Schools (PHS). Baseline physiological markers were also assessed; these and health behaviors were compared before and after students were exposed to the program. Participating schools also have the freedom to adopt other activities to boost healthy behaviors; for example, walking programs after school, buses to YMCAs to exercise in a safe environment, and starting farms to be grow their own vegetables.

"We are not going to solve childhood obesity epidemic without raising awareness and engaging communities," said Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich. "This program could be implemented in any middle school in the U.S. – at the very least it gives every child basic skills which can be used to make improvements in key health behaviors, and may result in long-term healthier lifestyles."

Researchers say further studies are needed to understand which aspects of middle-school based interventions are most successful in improving students' health. PHS is supported by a broad community partnership.


When targeting obesity in sixth-graders, gender matters


Behaviors and cardiovascular risk factors differ; For boys, getting exercise and playing sports predicts healthy weight and for girls, it's drinking milk

Intervention programs aimed at curbing obesity in adolescents may be more effective if they are gender-specific, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.

This study looked at the health behaviors and cardiovascular markers —including blood cholesterol, random blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting and recovery heart rate —of more than 2,000 sixth-graders to tease out factors that may protect against obesity in boys and girls. There are important differences between boys and girls in both behaviors and risk factors that are associated with obesity.

"As kids start approaching adolescence, we need to think about what motivates them to be active and stay healthy," said Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich. "The best way to target healthier behaviors may be to have a different message geared toward boys and girls." Based on the analysis, vigorous physical activity (exercising ≥5 times/week) and involvement in team sports appear to be especially protective against obesity in boys, but not girls. Surprisingly, when it comes to obesity in girls, drinking milk emerged as an independent predictor of healthier weight.

"We were expecting to see exercise as important for both genders but, in general, girls tend to exercise less than boys," said Morgen Govinden, medical student, University of Michigan and the study's lead investigator. "Interestingly, both the obese and non-obese girls were exercising at about the level of the obese boys. This underscores the need to devise tailored approaches that will appeal to girls and encourage regular physical activity."

Govinden speculates that girls may not classify certain activities like cheerleading or dancing as exercise, and said that if the definition for "vigorous physical activity" was lowered from five to three times a week, it might include more girls. Previous studies have shown that as girls move into adolescence, they are less likely to get involved with team sports. While the role of milk in controlling obesity remains unknown, there is other research showing increased calcium consumption correlates with healthier weight.

Further reinforcing previous study findings by the same research group, data showed that regularly eating school lunches and watching more than two hours of television per day can independently predict obesity in both girls and boys. Therefore, any intervention to help curb obesity should focus on improving the nutritional value of school lunches and reducing time in front of the TV or computer. While the nutritional content of school lunches was not evaluated, eating school lunches correlates with poorer lifestyle behaviors and socioeconomic status.

Researchers at the University of Michigan collected and analyzed data from 2,048 sixth-grade students enrolled in more than 20 participating Project Healthy Schools (PHS) from 2004-2011. They compared health behaviors and physiologic markers, including lipids, random glucose, blood pressure, and resting and recovery heart rate. Students were stratified by gender and obesity (defined as a body mass index (BMI) > 95th percentile for age and gender).

Not surprisingly, students who were not obese had significantly healthier physiologic markers compared to obese students. But some physiological markers differed by gender. For example, there was not a significant difference between total cholesterol or LDL between the obese and non-obese girls. Also, the obese boys had much higher cholesterol than both obese and non-obese girls.

Obesity and its related health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol, which typically do not manifest until adulthood, are a growing public health concern and have become a top priority for many communities and schools. PHS is designed to teach sixth grade students about heart-healthy lifestyles, with hopes of reducing their future risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and is supported by a broad community partnership.


'Coaching Boys into Men' an effective tool for stopping teen dating violence


Male high school athletes' ability to recognize and intervene to stop dating violence -- the physical, sexual and emotional aggression prevalent in adolescent romantic relationships -- is improved with the intervention of some of the most important role models in young men's lives: their coaches.

A new study conducted in Sacramento, Calif., led by UC Davis researchers has found that a structured program delivered by coaches, called "Coaching Boys into Men," is effective for discouraging adolescent dating violence. The research is published online today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"The high school male athletes whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning that these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors towards girls which they witnessed among their male peers," said Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

"Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes," said Miller, who is now chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "With the right training and support, coaches can encourage their athletes to be positive leaders in their communities and to be part of the solution."

In the United States, one in three adolescent girls experiences physical, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner. Promoting non-violent attitudes among teen boys toward girls is recognized as a critical step to reduce the incidence of violence in these relationships.

"Coaching Boys into Men" (CBIM) is a high school athletics-based program that seeks to reduce dating violence by engaging athletic coaches as positive role models to deliver violence-prevention messages to young male athletes. It is a national program created by Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund, in 2000. For the program, the coaches are trained in the use of the "Coaches Kit," a series of training cards that offers strategies for opening conversations about dating violence and appropriate attitudes toward women with young athletes.

The study was conducted among over 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, Calif., between winter 2009 and fall 2010. Eight of the schools were randomly selected to receive the program, while the other eight schools served as comparisons. Of the coaches approached, 87 percent agreed to participate in the study. The ninth- through twelfth-grade student athletes who agreed to participate were administered a 15-minute baseline survey at the beginning of their sports season, which assessed their attitudes about dating violence and behaviors toward adolescent girls. A similar survey was administered at the end of the sports season (the study included fall, winter and spring sports).

For example, questions sought to assess teens' perceptions of abusive behaviors such as "telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to" and "telling them they're ugly or stupid." Responses were assessed using a five-point scale that ranked answers from "not abusive" to "extremely abusive." Additional survey items assessed the athletes' level of agreement with statements such as "If a girl is raped it is often because she did not say no clearly enough" or "A boy/man will lose respect if he talks about his problems." Youth were also asked about how likely they would be to intervene when witnessing various abusive behaviors, such as hearing a peer make derogatory comments about a girl's appearance.

The surveys also asked whether the athletes had witnessed any abusive behavior and actually intervened. The young men who had ever dated were asked whether they themselves had participated in any of 10 abusive behaviors including physical, sexual and emotional abuse toward a female partner in the past three months. Eighteen percent of the male athletes who had ever dated reported perpetrating any abusive behavior toward a female partner in the past three months, with verbal and emotional abuse being most common.

The study found that the young males who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men program said that they were more likely to intervene when observing abusive behavior toward a peer when compared with the control group of teens, while the likelihood that control athletes would intervene diminished overall during the course of the sports season. And the youth who were exposed to Coaching Boys into Men were significantly more likely to report actually doing something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors among their male peers, when compared with controls.

"There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design. This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts," said Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study.

"This study reminds us that in order to prevent violence before it happens, we need to take advantage of the positive influence that coaches have in shaping young athletes' attitudes towards women and girls." said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence. "We hope these findings will spotlight the importance of dating violence and sexual assault prevention and encourage other schools to implement similar programs."

The Coaching Boys into Men program is available for free download through Futures Without Violence. In Sacramento, WEAVE (a partner in this research study) is continuing to provide training and support to coaches in area high schools. The study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools at 18 Months


Can chronically low-performing schools dramatically improve in a short period of time? That was the question that the Renaissance Schools Initiative – Philadelphia’s approach to the turnaround school reform model – sought to answer when it was implemented in 2009.

Eighteen months into the Initiative, as the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission deliberate its future against the backdrop of severe budget cuts, Research for Action (RFA) has released results of its evaluation of the Renaissance Schools.

RFA’s research represents an exhaustive study of school turnarounds– a key element in federal and state education reforms. The study focused on determining whether the first group of 13 schools – both District-run Promise Academies and Charter-managed schools – made early progress toward the longer-term goal of dramatically improving student outcomes.

The Institute of Education Sciences/ What Works Clearinghouse released the following Quick Review:

What is the study about?
The study examined the effectiveness of Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative after one year of implementation. The Renaissance Schools Initiative, which began in the 2010–11 school year, aimed at improving low-performing schools by providing new management, additional resources, and new educational strategies.

What did the study report?

The study reported that students in grade K–8 Renaissance Schools had higher math achievement, reading achievement, and attendance rates than students in comparison schools.

How does the WWC rate this study?

This study does not meet WWC evidence standards because the Renaissance schools and comparison schools did not have similar achievement levels in the year before the Renaissance Schools Initiative began. Therefore, any changes in student achievement or attendance cannot be attributed solely to the implementation of the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

Gold, E., Norton, M. H., Good, D., & Levin, S. (2012). Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative: 18 Month Interim Report. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Action.

In response RFA released the following:

Statement on the Institute of Education Sciences/What Works Clearinghouse Rating of Renaissance Schools Initiative: 18 Month Interim Report

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) yesterday released a rating of Research for Action’s most recent evaluation of Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative. The rating – does not meet WWC’s evidence standards – was assigned with the explanation that “the Renaissance schools and comparison schools did not have similar achievement levels in the year before the Renaissance Schools Initiative began. Therefore, any changes in student achievement or attendance cannot be attributed solely to the implementation of the Renaissance Schools Initiative.”

However, further explanation is required to clarify the WWC’s rating. It was not possible to create a comparison school group with equivalent achievement levels prior to the Renaissance Initiative because the District selected the lowest performing schools in the District to participate in the reform effort, thereby removing the possibility of identifying a fully equivalent comparison school group. In identifying schools to participate in the Initiative, the School District of Philadelphia included all of the lowest-performing schools in the District, based on the District’s School Performance Index (SPI). As a result, researchers identified a set of comparison schools that most clearly mirrored the Renaissance Schools.

RFA utilized two sets of controls to rule out alternative explanations of the performance of the Renaissance Schools. First, the Renaissance Schools were compared to 72 schools in the District that were as similar as possible to the Renaissance Schools: They had very low School Performance Indices, and very similar demographic characteristics. Second, RFA utilized an interrupted time series design that compared the performance of both the Renaissance Schools and the comparison schools five years prior to the Renaissance Schools Initiative, and then one year after, to determine whether school performance differed prior to the Initiative. RFA’s analyses revealed that the rate of student growth in the five years prior to the start of the Renaissance Initiative was statistically equivalent to the comparison group of schools. Given the implementation of the Initiative, this research design provides the most rigorous examination possible of its impact. As such, RFA’s study provides strong evidence of an early, positive effect of the Renaissance Schools reform model.

Kate Shaw, RFA’s executive director, said in response to the WWC’s rating: “The District’s goal with the Renaissance Schools Initiative was to significantly improve student performance in the lowest performing schools in the district—not to conduct a scientific experimental study by randomly assigning schools to the Initiative. RFA constructed the most rigorous study available given the lack of random assignment. Our analyses detected initial, encouraging gains in student achievement and attendance in all K-8 Renaissance schools, and it is highly likely that these gains are due to participation in the Renaissance Schools Initiative. However, we continue to feel strongly that more research is needed to determine whether these gains will be sustained over time. RFA remains committed to its goal of contributing the rigorous research needed to make responsible decisions to the field of education, and we stand behind the integrity and accuracy of our evaluation on the Renaissance Schools.”


The Human Side of Portfolio School District Reform


This study examines the politics of portfolio school district reform, with a primary focus on the issues surrounding high school closures. The authors take an in-depth look at how school closure policies have played out in four urban districts—New York City, Chicago, Denver, and Oakland—and offer a political assessment of what worked or failed and why. The political analyses, case studies, cross-district comparisons, and analysis frameworks may help education leaders anticipate and better address the challenges of closing schools within their own communities.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Middle School Teacher Support Lowers Risk for Early Alcohol Use


Anxiety, depression, stress and social support can predict early alcohol and illicit drug use in youth, according to a study from Carolyn McCarty, PhD, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle University.

Middle school students from the sixth to the eighth grade who felt more emotional support from teachers reported a delay in alcohol and other illicit substance initiation. Those who reported higher levels of separation anxiety from their parents were also at decreased risk for early alcohol use. The study, “Emotional Health Predictors of Substance Use Initiation During Middle School,” was published in advance online in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Relatively few studies have examined support for youth from nonfamily members of the adolescent’s social support network, including teachers. “Our results were surprising,” said Dr. McCarty, who is also a University of Washington research associate professor. “We have known that middle school teachers are important in the lives of young people, but this is the first data-driven study which shows that teacher support is associated with lower levels of early alcohol use.” Middle school students defined teacher support as feeling close to a teacher or being able to talk with a teacher about problems they are experiencing.

Youth that are close to or even cling to parents can have separation anxiety and may be less susceptible to negative influences from peers, including experimentation with risky behaviors like alcohol use. “Teens in general seek new sensations or experiences and they take more risks when they are with peers,” said Dr. McCarty. “Youth with separation anxiety symptoms may be protected by virtue of their intense connection to their parents, making them less likely to be in settings where substance use initiation is possible,” she said.

The study also found that youth who initiated alcohol and other illicit drug use prior to sixth grade had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms. This suggests that depression may be a consequence of very early use or a risk factor for initiation of use prior to the middle school years. Depression was defined by asking youth about their mood and feelings, and asking them if statements such as “I felt awful or unhappy” and “I felt grumpy or upset with my parents” were true, false or sometimes true during a two-week timeframe.

“Based on the study and our findings, substance use prevention needs to be addressed on a multidimensional level,” said Dr. McCarty. “We need to be aware of and monitor early adolescent stress levels, and parents, teachers and adults need to tune into kids’ mental health. We know that youth who initiate substance abuse before age 14 are at a high risk of long-term substance abuse problems and myriad health complications.”

Getting in rhythm helps children grasp fractions


Tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings due to be published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics. An innovative curriculum uses rhythm to teach fractions at a California school where students in a music-based program scored significantly higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.

"Academic Music" is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions. The program, co-designed by San Francisco State University researchers, addresses one of the most difficult -- and important -- topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum.

"If students don't understand fractjavascript:void(0)ions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling," said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University. "We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math."

The program has shown tangible results at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Courey's study included 67 students. Half the group participated in a six-week Academic Music curriculum and the rest received the school's regular math instruction.

Students in the music-based program scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test, taken at the end of the study, compared to students in the regular math class.

Significant gains were made by students who struggle with academics. The researchers compared the test scores of lower-performing students in both groups and found that those who were taught the experimental music curriculum scored 40 percent higher on the final fractions test compared to their lower performing peers in the regular math class.

"Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers," Courey said. "Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them."

Courey devised Academic Music with music teacher Endre Balogh. They borrowed aspects from the Kodaly method, a Hungarian approach to music education that incudes movement, songs and nicknames for musical notes, such as "ta-ah" for a half note.

The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note's Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.

The program has also proven itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school -- not included in the study -- that has been using the Academic Music program since 2007.

"Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that's symbolic and not dependent on language," said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School, who introduced the program to help the schools' diverse student body learn math in ways that are not language-based. The school serves many students from low-income families, and 60 percent of students don't speak English as their first language.

"In every lesson I've observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions," Cosgriff said. "It's a picture of what you would like every class to look like."

Cosgriff believes the school's recent jump in standardized test scores reflects the impact of Academic Music. Since implementing the program for all third-grade math classes, the percentage of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test for math increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. On the California Achievement Test (CAT/6) for mathematics, the percentage of third graders who scored at or above the national average increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008.

Academic Music is a 12-lesson program that is designed to be taught by regular classroom teachers without the help of a music teacher. Courey's next step is to publish curriculum materials for teachers.

"We're suggesting that teachers put music in their arsenal of tools for teaching math." Courey said.

"It's fun, it doesn't cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom."

"Academic Music: Music Instruction to Engage Third Grade Students in Learning Basic Fraction Concepts" has been accepted for press in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics and will be published online next week.


High school math teachers show gender bias


Do some high school teachers think math is harder for girls than boys? The authors of a new study say yes.

Researchers looked at student grades, test scores and how teachers rated their students' abilities. They found that while on average teachers rate minority students lower than their white male counterparts, these differences disappear once grades are taken into account. (Those findings are consistent with decades of research on the minority gap in math achievement.) The new research, however, found bias against white girls that can't be explained by their academic performance.

"This speaks to the presence of a subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: That math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study "Exploring Bias in Math Teachers' Perception of Students' Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity." The paper will appear in the April issue of Gender & Society.

Riegle-Crumb and her co-author Melissa Humphries say they aren't dismissing the possibility that bias against minority students exists in high school math classrooms, but the patterns they found indicate a consistent bias in teacher ratings for white girls versus white boys. "Even with the same grades and the same test scores, the teachers are still ranking the girls as less good at math than the boys," says Riegle-Crumb.

One reason for this may be that gender bias is so socially ingrained teachers may find it "hard to grasp and, therefore, hard to reshst." Riegle-Crumb says the misconception that white girls can't handle math persists "because the idea that men and women are different in this regard is considered natural, and not discriminatory." At the same time, teachers may be more aware of race and ethnicity – and the problems of racial discrimination – than they are when it comes to gender.

"It is very likely that teachers are unaware of holding any kind of gender bias, and they are not consciously thinking about gender when assigning student ratings," says Riegle-Crumb, who is working on a multi-year National Science Foundation grant studying how academic preparation in high school predicts students' entry into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). "Yet the implicit nature of this bias suggests that it may be insidious and difficult to confront."

The research was drawn from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (National Center of Education Statistics), which followed 15,000 U.S. students from their sophomore year of high school, into college and the work force. Earlier research on math bias has been very limited, with only a few elementary schools studied; it left virtually untouched the question of bias at the high school level – a time when students often make decisions about their future fields of study.

Bias against girls likely has ripple effects well beyond high school. "If we continue to send young women the message that they aren't as good at math it's unlikely we'll be able to increase the number of women working in STEM fields," says Riegle-Crumb.


Sleeping after processing new info most effective, new study shows


Nodding off in class may not be such a bad idea after all. New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that going to sleep shortly after learning new material is most beneficial for recall,

Titled "Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake," the study was published March 22 in PLOS One.

Notre Dame Psychologist Jessica Payne and colleagues studied 207 students who habitually slept for at least six hours per night. Participants were randomly assigned to study declarative, semantically related or unrelated word pairs at 9:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m., and returned for testing 30 minutes, 12 hours or 24 hours later. Declarative memory refers to the ability to consciously remember facts and events, and can be broken down into episodic memory (memory for events) and semantic memory (memory for facts about the world). People routinely use both types of memory every day – recalling where we parked today or learning how a colleague prefers to be addressed.

At the 12-hour retest, memory overall was superior following a night of sleep compared to a day of wakefulness. However, this performance difference was a result of a pronounced deterioration in memory for unrelated word pairs; there was no sleep-wake difference for related word pairs. At the 24-hour retest, with all subjects having received both a full night of sleep and a full day of wakefulness, subjects' memories were superior when sleep occurred shortly after learning, rather than following a full day of wakefulness.

"Our study confirms that sleeping directly after learning something new is beneficial for memory. What's novel about this study is that we tried to shine light on sleep's influence on both types of declarative memory by studying semantically unrelated and related word pairs," Payne says.

"Since we found that sleeping soon after learning benefited both types of memory, this means that it would be a good thing to rehearse any information you need to remember just prior to going to bed. In some sense, you may be 'telling' the sleeping brain what to consolidate."


Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching


Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching is the final report from The National Study of CMO Effectiveness, a four-year study designed to assess the impact of CMOs on student achievement and identify CMO structures and practices that are most effective in raising achievement. This report provides an in-depth look at two promising practices that exhibit a strong association with impacts: high expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching.

Researchers from CRPE and Mathematica identified CMOs that have above-average impacts and tend to emphasize teacher coaching or schoolwide behavior programs (or both) more than other CMOs. Five CMOs meet these criteria: Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools. This report delves into how these CMOs put their approaches into practice. The descriptions and examples in the report are based on interviews with CMO central office and school staff, along with data from surveys of CMO staff, principals, and teachers.

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