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David Snyder

New research traces roots of achievement gap

Research continues to show the importance of early childhood education in reducing achievement gaps. In June, new results from a study of New Jersey's Abbott Preschool Program reported gains in literacy, language, and math skills and less grade retention among students who participated. But another study suggests high-quality preK may only be part of the early childhood equation.

Ed Week's Inside Education Research blog points out Child Trends's new findings, which identified cognitive, social-emotional, and health outcome gaps among children as young as nine months, with low income and low maternal education being the factors most strongly associated with the gaps.

If these gaps begin long before even preK programs begin, how can schools and communities work most effectively to support children and families in narrowing them?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Challenging High School Seniors

Over at his Edutopia blog, Bob Lenz, founder and CEO of Envision Schools, writes the first in a promised series of posts on how his schools challenge high school students. While he alludes to "standards that are clear, selective, challenging, and attainable—and that kids have four years to achieve," the bulk of the post is dedicated to the College Success Portfolio, a collection of work that students must publicly defend in order to graduate.

Lenz describes a rigorous process of late nights and weekends spent in preparation for this high-stakes defense and presents it as a positive experience that challenges students in a way that properly prepares them for the demands of higher education. This process is intended to counter common cases of senioritis and keep kids focused right until graduation and beyond.

Models of challenging high schoolers abound; just this week, the Alliance for Excellent Education released the fascinating IssueBrief "Preparing Students for College and Career: California Multiple Pathways," documenting efforts to blend traditional and CTE-focused curricula. We'll be following Lenz' blog posts on Envision's model as he goes into more detail on the four years before the big defense.

In the meantime, we're curious: what's your take on high school culminating projects?

David Snyder

Better lunch leads to better focus

A new study out of Britain looked at seven secondary schools that introduced improvements in the school lunch experience, according to the Guardian. Not only was healthier food introduced, but lunchrooms were redecorated and filled with new furniture, and "tasting sessions" were held. Unsurprisingly, researchers discovered that students were more on task than before the changes. Four control schools showed no change.

The sample size is small, and the number of changes leave one wondering if particular aspects of the overhaul had more or less influence. But perhaps the results will spur Britain's School Food Trust, who conducted the study, to examine this at a larger scale.

Has your school made changes to your lunch "experience"? What have you found to have the most effect?


David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Summer Bummer?

Today's New York Times story on cutbacks to summer school programs across the country has provoked a broad range of reactions in the blogosphere. This news comes amid a growing drumbeat of support for summer learning, including recent research and statements by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The snarky blog Gawker, which usually traffics in political, media, and entertainment commentary, takes this opportunity to delve into education news:

The Way We Live Now: Playin' hooky. Schoooooool's outttt forrrrrrrr summer! Yea! School's out forever! Really. They can't afford summer school any more. Too bad that happened right when unemployment hit double digits. No job. No school. Nada. 

Wyoming blogger and education reporter Jasa Santos writes on her blog, The Last Bell:

My school district didn't offer a set summer school when I was younger, but I do remember my mom taking me to my elementary's Writing to Read lab a few times a week. I would pull up a chair at a computer desk and type long-winded stories...It was the start of my writing career.

Suzanne Morse, president of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, notes on her blog that "these changes have left many kids home alone with little to do. Experts say that this particular cut affects low-income children more because their parents do not have the wherewithal to find alternatives."

Are budget cuts affecting your school's summer programs? How can schools and communities best support kids in the summer months, even when traditional programs fall victim to tight budgets?

David Snyder

Parental Involvement: What Makes the Most Impact?

The May issue of the journal Developmental Psychology features a fascinating meta-analysis of the research on parental involvement with early adolescent students. It's no surprise that students supported by parents involved in their education tend to exhibit higher achievement; this study breaks down parental involvement into subtypes to see what actions make the most difference across 50 studies.

The authors of "Parental Involvement in Middle School: A Meta-Analytic Assessment of the Strategies That Promote Achievement" find that involvement described as "academic socialization" has the strongest positive correlation to achievement. They describe this as involvement that "creates an understanding about the purposes, goals, and meaning of academic performance; communicates expectations about involvement; and provides strategies that students can effectively use." 

Other types such as school visits and volunteering were positively correlated with achievement, but less so. Interestingly, helping with homework was the only type not positively related to achievement.

How can schools best work to support parent involvement?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Are arts holding steady?

Public School Insights, the blog of the Learning First Alliance, continues to be an excellent source of analysis when it comes to looking at news through a whole child lens. Recently, an Education Week headline read, "NAEP Finds Schools' Offerings in Arts Hold Steady," and the story noted that while there are limitations to the data, the NAEP findings seemed to push back against fears that schools were scaling back arts in the NCLB era.

Claus von Zastrow fills in some additional context

Do recent NAEP results showing arts education holding steady in eighth grade suggest that No Child Left Behind has not narrowed the curriculum? Not really.

Most evidence points to a decline in arts education at the elementary level, which the NAEP results don't directly address. (See, for example, the Center on Education Policy's 2008 study on the matter.)

Von Zastrow also points to studies showing the curriculum narrowing in other areas such as foreign language and civics. He views the concerns over curricular narrowing not as a "zero-sum game" pitting some subjects against others, but as an opportunity to explore how best to integrate content across the curriculum.

Is your school narrowing or broadening the content of the curriculum? 

David Snyder

How community policy affects kids' health

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement in its journal, Pediatrics, "The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children" (hat tip: The Atlantic's Richard Florida). The statement reviews the research base on the impact various community aspects—such as the ability to walk to school, the decisions of where to build schools, and the prevalence of parks—have on students' physical activity. It then makes policy recommendations for pediatricians and policymakers.

One conclusion in the statement is that "changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school." For educators and parents, it's important to consider the impact you can make in areas like this, even if fundamental changes such as the location of a school or the infrastructure of a neighborhood are too large for you to tackle immediately.

For example, Leadership for Healthy Communities profiled the work of school board member Cynthia Matus Morriss, of Patagonia, Ariz.:

Morriss worked with her board colleagues and the Patagonia Elementary School teachers to implement a walking school bus program.

As a very small, rural school district, many students ride the bus to school. In an innovative approach, the buses now drop the participating children off at Patagonia Town Hall, which is near the center of town. Accompanied by teachers and some community members, students have the opportunity to walk approximately a half mile to school. For students who live near the school, designated meeting points have been set up so they may join the walking school bus at various points along the route. In 2007, the program began with "Walking Wednesdays" and averaged 18 students. Because the program has been so successful during the 2008 school year, it will expand to two days a week.

Through the walking school bus program, students have learned basic safety rules, both for walking and bicycling. Not only do they get exercise, but they also have the opportunity to socialize with each other and the adults along the way. Additionally, more bicycle racks were installed at the school to increase biking to school.

Is your community designed for healthy students? What could be done to improve it?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Is civics "the most boring word in America"?

As part of an initiative to promote civics in K-12 schools, actor Richard Dreyfuss is ... eschewing the word civics? "Call it what it is: political power," says Dreyfuss, according to the Core Knowledge Blog. Dreyfuss developed the idea as part of his recent studies at Oxford University and is clearly passionate about the subject. The blog asks, "Could a little Hollywood star power help further the cause of teaching history and civics?"

We believe civics—er, "political power"—is a vital part of a curriculum that challenges students and prepares them to be engaged citizens. Despite promising signs—according to a recent Pew report, voter participation among young people 18–29 was higher in 2008 than in 2004, 51.1% versus 49.0%—it can be difficult to keep young people engaged, especially in years without historic national elections dominating the news. We're curious to hear what is working in your schools and communities to engage students in this critical topic.

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Harlem Shuffle

The education blogosphere lit up this week with debate over results of a new study on the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). The HCZ contains a school—The Promise Academy—but also provides extensive social services and community programs. (ASCD's Educational Leadership magazine recently reviewed a book on the HCZ, Whatever It Takes).

The Harvard study, Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap?, looked at the impact the Promise Academy had on test scores, both against students within the HCZ who did not attend the Promise Academy, and against students taking the state test overall. Promise Academy students did significantly better than their peers who did not attend and also made large strides in closing the persistent racial achievement gap.

The flashpoint for all the discussion was a New York Times column by David Brooks. Brooks interpreted the study to be a victory for the "schools-alone" approach of school reform. Many observers vociferously objected to this take; in a post titled "David Brooks in Opposite Land," Learning First Alliance's Claus Von Zastrow wrote:

Did Brooks really just argue that the Harlem Children's Zone's success supports the schools alone approach championed by "reformers"? That's like arguing that the Surgeon General's reports discredit the link between smoking and cancer.

As just about everyone knows, the Harlem Children's Zone combines education, social services and community programs to improve the odds for children and youth in Harlem--It's an odd poster child for Brooks's argument.

Over at The Quick and the Ed, Chad Aldeman chimed in with some in-depth analysis of the numbers:

The siblings of Promise Academy students do achieve slightly higher than their peers and miss fewer days of school, but these effects are nowhere near the ones observed in the Promise Academy students. There must be something about the combination of services and schooling to account for such differences. 

David Brooks has a political agenda and only 750 words to write about it, so he takes these findings and runs with them. He sees the school as the one extra element and takes that to mean that the school is what made the difference. He might be right, but in the process he ignores the possibility that the combination of intense services and intense schooling made the difference. 

It makes sense that kids who are given such holistic support—in and out of school—show higher achievement. What conclusions do you draw from this new data, and how should it inform educators and policymakers going forward?

David Snyder

The science of sleep: how much are our high schoolers really getting?

It's been repeated so often it's become axiomatic: our high schoolers aren't getting enough sleep, which has negative consequences when they get to school in the morning. But how much sleep are they really getting?

A new study in the April issue of the Journal of School Health surveyed a random sample of 384 high school students from three schools in the Midwest, asking how much sleep they were getting and what influence they felt on days following less-than-adequate sleep. A whopping 91.9 percent responded that they got less than or equal to nine hours of sleep, which the study defined as inadequate. The most common effects of this, according to the students, were feeling tired during the day, lower grades, and an increase in stress.

The study points to the implementation of later start times in Minneapolis Public School District as one response to the issue, an acknowledgement that teenagers aren't prone to early bedtimes. But this step is difficult and controversial in many communities due in part to its affect on after-school activities, such as intramural sports.

What can be done to address the needs of sleepy teens?

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