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David Snyder

Study finds correlation between high achievement and physical fitness

On Monday, the Texas Education Agency announced the results of a new study that demonstrates the correlation between physical fitness and academic achievement, reports the Dallas Morning News. The report, which draws on data from new statewide physical fitness assessments, also finds that physical fitness in students is correlated to reduced discipline programs and higher attendance. Some commenters to the article make the point that correlation is not causation; one states, "In no way can you use that study to assume the program itself drove test scores up better than if the students spend time learning skills that can start them off in a career."

The press release issued by the Texas Education Agency goes into a bit more detail on the connection between health and academics. According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, whose Cooper Institute designs the physical fitness assessments used in Texas schools, "increased exercise improves cardiovascular health, and that helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances its ability to learn."

Beyond the correlations noted above, the results that didn't make the headlines are perhaps more troubling.  "About 78 percent of fourth-grade students were in the healthy fitness zone for cardiovascular fitness, whereas only 20 percent of high school seniors reached the healthy fitness zone . . . cardiovascular fitness levels declined with each passing grade".

Does this mean that Texas kids are becoming less fit as they grow older? Or will additional years of data that follow individuals over time—the assessments are new—show a different, generational shift in fitness?

We look forward to seeing the data in the years ahead. Apart from matters of causation and correlation, we strongly believe that all kids need to be healthy and that schools and communities must support this goal. 

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Let's Do Lunch

Education Sector blog The Quick and the Ed recently advocated for healthier foods to be made available through the National School Lunch Program. Post author Erin Dillon expresses dismay at the longstanding practice of agribusiness cast-off food winding up in the program, a process detailed in a recent Alice Waters op-ed in the New York Times. Dillon calls on schools and policymakers to work for healthier school lunches—and healthier kids.

Those interested in efforts to improve the program, and the efforts of educators in the field to support healthier kids, can watch Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee, "Improving Nutrition for America's Children in Difficult Economic Times," at the committee's Web site. The hearing includes testimony from Knoxville Community School District Food Director Connie Boldt, whose district, according to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), goes "the extra mile for their kids by creating an overall nutrition environment that teaches kids the importance of eating healthy, provides more healthful meals for them to eat, and encourages healthy living by requiring regular physical education and activity".

Are you satisfied with the offerings at your school cafeteria?


David Snyder

Music and Student Achievement: Making the Connection

Music and other arts courses are important parts of a curriculum that challenges and engages the whole child. But is there evidence of a connection between music and student achievement? A few recent news items look into this question.

Science Daily reported on a new study in the journal Social Science Quarterly that looked at data from two national sources and concluded that there was a positive correlation between music participation and student achievement in math and reading, particularly in the high school years. But is music participation a cause of higher achievement or merely a symptom?

A school in Pennsylvania is seeking to answer that question. They're beginning a violin program and are embarking on a four-year study to examine its effect on test scores, in collaboration with a professor at Penn State Berks. 

The educators initiating the study "see a correlation between music education and academic performance. What they don't know is which comes first: Do students who play musical instruments tend to do better in school, or do some high-achieving students tend to gravitate toward music?"

Although we believe that arts education is instrinsically valuable, we're interested in seeing the results of studies like this one, and further exploration of how the arts can best be integrated into the curriculum. 

How do you see music education affecting students in your school?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Slow food, healthy kids?

The urgent work of getting kids to eat healthier foods has been a major issue in schools, newsrooms, and legislatures for some time. But the New York Times' Well blog asks if we need to be paying more attention to their "whole dining experience"—the climate of the lunchroom and the importance of taking time to eat and enjoy your food.

The blog hosts a Q&A on this topic with Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist and creator of the South Beach Diet. Agatston cites research that the last student in the lunch line may have as few as seven minutes to eat. He points out that taking time to eat leads to happier, more relaxed kids and can set an example that kids may bring home with them. He also promotes making lunchtime a fun learning opportunity—cartoon broccoli and fiber, anyone?

Should we be devoting more time for a relaxed and educational lunch? And if so, how can lunchtime be modified to afford more time and learning?

David Snyder

New research analysis shows effectiveness of School Breakfast Program

A new review of research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the federal School Breakfast Program effectively helps students eat more nutritiously; attain stronger physical and emotional health; and stay alert, focused, and learning in school.

The review, which looked at more than 100 published research articles, has a promising finding for our troubled economic times: getting more kids into the breakfast program can save us money by helping prevent poor social and educational outcomes. What's more, the program is fully funded by Congress; the main problem is that many schools simply don't implement it. An estimated 10 million eligible low-income children don't take part in the program.

Does your school have a breakfast program? If not, what's keeping your school from buying in?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Are parent conferences obsolete?

We know that the whole child needs support from teachers and parents—but has the traditional parent-teacher conference become more trouble than it's worth?

The Core Knowledge Blog noted that Frederick County, Md., schools are considering ending the conferences, citing the time they take away from instruction, the scheduling problems they create for families, and the rise of regular electronic communication between school and home.

Are they onto something? Most commenters are strongly against the idea, with one chiming in: "I imagine there are a lot of conversations that are easier to have in person then through e-mail or a phone." Many cite the need for schools to keep as many avenues open as possible for parents to connect with schools.

What do you think? How can schools innovate to meet the goals of parent-teacher conferences while minimizing disruptions and stress?

David Snyder

New study shows poverty may impact brain development

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that socioeconomic background may impact brain development in children. Education Week reports that the study, to be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, looked at 26 9-to-10 year olds, half from poor families and half from high-income households, and found lower activity in the area of the brain associated with problem-solving. reasoning, and creativity among the poor children. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums," says Robert Knight, director of the university's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

The sample size is small, so educators should be wary of drawing large conclusions from this study. However, the findings clearly reinforce the importance of educating the whole child. What practices do you feel are most relevant in addressing the issues raised in this study?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Soda, for example?

Educating the whole child means supporting student health, and in many schools, this has meant reducing or eliminating access to sugary sodas that are high in empty calories. But what about the soda machines in teachers' lounges?
Blogger Joanne Jacobs notes that the San Francisco School Board is considering removing soda machines from teacher break rooms, on the principle that staff should set an example. Jacobs' take: "I think they should tell the board to buzz off. Teachers are adults. If they want to drink soda (possibly sugar-free and uncaffeinated) on their breaks—or lunch on coffee and chocolate-chip cookies—it’s their own damn business."
The post has sparked a lively discussion, with most crying overreach. What's your opinion: should a no-soda mandate extend to staff to set an example? Is the School Board going to far? Or is the answer somewhere in between?


David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Do Kids Need Recess?

We know students who are healthy are more likely to succeed in school—but does recess help or hinder? Inside Pre-K blogger Jennifer Rosenbaum is a stong proponent of recess, with some caveats.

Rosenbaum's praise for recess is a response to Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, whose recent column "Is Recess Necessary" questioned the efficacy of "the typical half-hour, go-out-and-play-but-don't-kill-anybody recess." Mathews writes that traditional recess has many downsides, and considers the choices of several schools who have eliminated recess in favor of more frequent PE and after-school sports. Rosenbaum acknowledges that recess can introduce problems and advocates for a structured session where students have a choice of activities and guidance to settle disputes. According to Rosenbaum, recess is key to "reinforce social skills, extend academic learning, and build gross motor muscles."

As with most issues, it's not black and white, and different approaches may work for different schools as they work to keep kids physically and emotionally healthy. What is working—and not working—in your school?

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