Author Archive

David Snyder

Evaluating Teachers of Non-Tested Subjects in the Age of Value-Add

With many U.S. states overhauling their teacher evaluation systems and introducing student test scores as a factor, how can schools ensure fair evaluation of teachers of non-tested subjects, like art and physical education? One of the first states to begin implementing evaluation reform was Tennessee, and back in February, Education Week's Teaching Now blog noted the efforts of arts teachers in Memphis to devise alternative evaluation criteria based on portfolios, work that went on to be lauded by Arne Duncan. Absent alternative criteria, such teachers would be evaluated in part on a schoolwide value-added score unrelated to their subject specifically.

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David Snyder

A Year in the Life

In 1954, Elizabeth Johnson, 6th grade supervisor in a Kalamazoo, Mich., school, sought to empower her students and encourage critical thinking, reflection, and cooperation. To this end, she had her students write a group letter to their parents to provide a "good appraisal of their thoughts and work during their sixth grade year."

Read the article: Reflections of a Sixth Grade

This time capsule reveals that the students were heavily focused on multicultural understanding and the ideals of democracy. The students described lessons learned from holding mock meetings of the Inter-American Conference and the Council of the Organization of American States, saying "we could learn to put ourselves in the other person's place and find out about other countries' problems. We tried to remember that if 'one nation is oppressed, then we all are oppressed.'"

A good portion of the letter recaps community connections: a visit from Kalamazoo Mayor Allen, who spoke on democratic practices in the city; talks with a local social worker and dentist; and a lesson with a state committee member who was working on the issues affecting migrant workers.

David Snyder

Research Continues to Find Early Learning Critical, But Funding Slows

The news earlier this month from the National Institute for Early Education Research's annual survey of state preschool spending was as predictable as it was disappointing: programs across the United States are having trouble serving all the students who qualify for pre-K programs, and budgets are being slashed. Although overall spending and enrollment is still rising, the pace of growth has slowed considerably, and demand is increasing as cash-strapped families rely more on publicly funded schools.

This news takes on more urgency as new research continues to prove the importance of kids' pre-K social and cognitive experiences on their achievement and behavior in school. The Education Week blog Inside School Research details the new results of a federally funded study that has tracked more than 1,300 kids since 1991:

It finds that children who were in poor-quality child-care settings at age 4-and-a-half, regardless of whether that care was being provided in a relative's home, a formal day-care center, or by a live-in nanny, had a slightly higher-than-average incidence of behavior problems that persisted until age 15. On the other hand, the children who had been in a high-quality child-care setting at the same age were more likely to excel in their academic studies well into their teenage years.

As demand goes up, funding slows in the states, and a steady drumbeat of research continues to show the importance of pre-K experiences, will the federal government step in to assist? Education Week reports that even though early learning funds failed to find their way into either the student loan overhaul or the health care bill, there is a chance that incentives for states to expand pre-K will make it into the coming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind.

David Snyder

Harlem Children's Zone Research "Works" for Dept. of Education

When the media reports on research studies, the headlines are often flashy but the details are usually murkier. The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse "Quick Review" series is designed to take a closer look at such studies and determine if they actually live up to their claims—or those of the press.

In the latest Quick Review, there's promising news about a recent study from researchers at Harvard that shows achievement gains among Promise Academy middle school students in both English and math. The reviewers dryly state that the study is "consistent with evidence standards," which, according to Debra Viadero at Education Week's Inside School Research blog, "is as good as it gets in these sorts of clearinghouse reviews." The Promise Academy is part of the much-discussed Harlem Children's Zone, a combination of charter schools and wraparound services.

As we receive more evidence of the Zone's success, new efforts to replicate the project in other cities continue to sprout up. On March 31, the same day as Viadero's post, the Providence (RI) Journal reported on a plan to create a similar zone in Rhode Island's capital city, with hope for assistance from funding President Obama has set aside for replication of the Harlem initiative.

The thumbs-up from the What Works Clearinghouse—and the continued new efforts in need of funding—makes this a good time to revisit an insightful post from Alyson Klein last November on Education Week's Politics K–12 blog. In the post, titled "For Harlem Children's Zone, Love But Not Money", Klein points out:

I think it's pretty interesting that while the administration clearly supports programs like the Harlem Children's Zone, that's not where it's investing the big bucks. Obama slated the Promise Neighborhood Program for just $10 million in his fiscal year 2010 budget proposal.

By contrast, the Teacher Incentive Fund, which allocates grants to districts to create or bolster performance-pay programs, was slated for $517 million, a whopping $420 million increase over fiscal 2009. And that was on top of $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It will be interesting to see if the Department of Education's own approval of research showing such promising achievement gains is met with additional funding for other programs, such as the fledgling one in Providence.

David Snyder

Dialogues to Help Reduce Dropouts

A new report from Civic Enterprises on dropouts provides snapshots of discussions among three groups—students, teachers, and parents—and reports on how the discussions were productive in fostering dialogue, discovering common ground, and leading toward positive solutions.

Civic Enterprises published the much-discussed "The Silent Epidemic" in 2006, which demonstrated through student voices the motivations of dropouts. Subsequent reports provided similar feedback from the perspectives of teachers and parents, and the fourth report in the series, "Raising Their Voices: Engaging Students, Teachers, and Parents to Help End the High School Dropout Epidemic," documents focus groups held in Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Kingston, Tenn. Members of each focus group remarked at the novelty of these different constituencies being brought together to discuss any topic, let alone the causes of dropouts.

Researchers discovered that there were serious disconnects between the views of the three groups; for instance, students cited boredom as the central reason for dropping out, while many teachers did not see this as a major cause. The report concludes that the discussions "demonstrated that the disconnects that we identified in previous research, including why students chose to drop out of school and what can be done about it, can be effectively bridged through structured dialogue and a spirit of mutual respect."

Take a look at the full report for detailed analysis and quotes from the groups, as well as a template and a guide to conducting a similar discussion in your community.

David Snyder

New resources on school health: Dealing with diabetes and obesity

Two new resources just added to the Whole Child Research Clearinghouse help educators address two pressing issues in children's health.

Childhood Obesity & Schools, a comprehensive new site from the National School Boards Association, shares information on childhood obesity, why it matters for schools, and the role school leaders play in addressing the issue. You'll Find relevant data and research, resources for developing sound policies and practices related to childhood obesity, and examples of school successes in addressing childhood obesity. 

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David Snyder

New study on the lasting value of early childhood education

It's a tradition on Saturday Night Live's fake-news segment "Weekend Update" to poke fun at studies that produce really obvious results; e.g., "A person who suffers two sharp, powerful blows to the head within a short period of time can suffer brain damage or even die. This according to a new study in the medical journal Duh."

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David Snyder

What Works in Dropout Prevention

The U.S. Department of Education's Doing What Works site has just debuted a robust new section focused on dropout prevention. It features information on recommended research-based practices educators can use to prevent dropouts, such as Adult Advocates, Data Systems, and academic supports.

Each practice is described with multimedia content and school success stories, and implementation is made easier with plenty of tools and templates, making the site a fun and valuable destination.

This is just the latest of many great resources you can find the the Whole Child Resource Clearinghouse.

David Snyder

New resources on family involvement

What better way to spend the preholiday hours than checking out some of the new resources in the Whole Child Resource Clearinghouse on school-family connections? The very latest includes:

David Snyder

Research Synthesis: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) not kids' BFF

More kids are drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and the impact on health isn't good. Not news, for sure, but the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just issued a concise research synthesis detailing the grim story and offering some ideas for next steps in addressing the problem.

"The Negative Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Children's Health" tells the story of steadily rising SSB consumption by children and adolescents over the last 30 years—consistent across age, gender, and socioeconomic status. More kids are drinking ever-larger quantities of SSBs more often, from teenagers guzzling soda to toddlers downing sugary fruit drinks. This, in turn, is contributing to obesity and reducing intake of key nutrients by replacing more healthful beverages. Caffeine intake also brings a host of problems, such as anxiety and poor sleep.

What's the solution? The paper urges research focusing on "evaluating broadly applicable interventions and policy approaches to reducing SSB consumption among children and adolescents. Increased attention also should be paid to shifting norms and preferences related to SSBs and other beverages among children, adolescents, and parents."

We've seen recent efforts to reduce availability of sugary beverages in schools and even moves by companies like Coke to make calorie labeling more prominent, but it remains to be seen if any of these efforts will be effective in bending the troubling curve.

What do you think will be most effective in creating a healthier, happier medium when it comes to kids and sugary drinks?

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