Can schools teach social skills?

Kindergarten teachers’ assessment of children’s “social competence” — cooperation, helpfulness, “understanding feelings” — predicted their future education, employment and arrest records, according to a long-term study.

The researchers had statistically controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress and neighborhood crime, and for the children’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten, writes David Bornstein in a New York Times blog.

Madison Reid, a student in Mrs. Neal's 2nd and 3rd grade combined class, leads a discussion on what is good listening during a morning session at Wade Park Elementary in Cleveland, Ohio on May 20, 2015. —Dustin Franz for Education Week

A Cleveland elementary student leads a discussion on good listening. Photo: Dustin Franz, Education Week

Helping children develop “core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness” would have big payoffs, he argues.

But how much can schools do to improve children’s social competence? If parents aren’t doing their job, can schools make a difference?

The Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (Casel) is working with school districts across the country, writes Bornstein. A 2011 meta-analysis of studies on school-based social and emotional learning programs found significant gains in students’ social skills, attitudes, behavior and academics.

Cleveland uses Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies to teach children “how to recognize, communicate and manage their emotions, read others’ emotions, solve problems and change patterns of negative thinking.”

School suspension rooms have been replaced with “planning centers,” where students work through problems or practice how to better handle conflicts. Schools have staff teams to lead social and emotional learning efforts and work with families.

Three years ago, graduating seniors said safety was the number one problem in high school, says CEO Eric Gordon. Two years ago, safety fell to second place. Last year, it dropped to number three.

I have mixed feelings about social and emotional programs. Schools should teach students how to behave in school, which includes self-control, cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully. But emotional strength comes from being raised by good or good-enough parents. I don’t schools can do much there. For good or ill, it’s the parents.

U.S. team wins gold at Math Olympiad


Math Olympiad winners: (back row) Michael Kural, Yang Liu, Ryan Alweiss, Shyam Narayanan, (front row) Allen Liu and David Stoner.

A six-man U.S. team won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time since 1994, edging out China. There will not be a parade.

Over three decades, China has won the math Olympiad 19 times, notes the Los Angeles Times.

Team members must solve six problems that require algebra, geometry, number theory and combinators in 4 1/1-hour sessions over two days.

Here’s an example from last year:

Let n ? 2 be an integer. Consider an n x n chessboard consisting of n2 unit squares. A configuration of n rooks on this board is peaceful if every row and every column contains exactly one rook. Find the greatest positive integer k such that, for each peaceful configuration of n rooks, there is a k x k square which does not contain a rook on any of its k2 unit squares.

Although there were no girls on the U.S. squad, two girls ranked among the top 12 competitors in the United States, said Po-Shen Loh, the Carnegie Mellon professor who coached the team. (Nine of the 12 U.S. finalists were Asian-American.)
libresco-datalab-genderimo-2

Ukraine, with three girls on the team, was the only gender-balanced squad in the Olympiad.

Few girls compete in the international competition, notes the FiveThirtyEight blog. In recent years,  the average number of girls per team has risen from 0.2 in the 1970s to 0.5 in the 2010s (so far).

When teachers teach math, kids learn more

Hold on to your hats! When teachers teach math directly — with time for practice and drill — students learn more math. That’s especially true for those with math difficulties.

Teaching math through dance is popular -- but ineffective.

Teaching math through dance is popular — but ineffective.

However, first-grade teachers with lots of students with math difficulties use more ineffective teaching practices, such as movement, music, manipulatives and calculators, concludes a new study.

“Only teacher-directed instruction was significantly associated” with math achievement, researchers concluded.

What worked best for struggling students was “routine practice and drills (that’s right, drill and kill!),” writes Fordham’s Amber Northern. “Similarly, lots of chalkboard instruction, traditional textbook practice problems, and worksheets that went over math skills and concepts were also effective with them.”

Youngsters who struggle with math simply need their teachers to show them how to do the math and then practice themselves how to do it—a lot! Why is such instruction so hard for them to come by?

Teacher-directed instruction helped students who weren’t struggling, but they also benefited from “working on problems with several solutions, peer tutoring, and activities involving ‘real-life’ math problems,” writes Northern.

“Drill and kill” has persuaded a lot of teachers to cut down on practice time, writes Robert Pondiscio He suggests “train and gain” or possibly “try and fly.” There’s always “practice makes perfect,” but that doesn’t rhyme.

Profs: Few high school grads are ready for college

collegereadiness-1

Most high school graduates aren’t prepared for college or work, according to a survey of professors and employers by Achieve. Three-quarters of  graduates say their high school did not set high academic expectations.

Among faculty members who teach at four-year colleges, 88 percent reported at least some gaps in their students’ preparation, including 34 percent who reported large gaps in preparation. At two-year colleges, instructors felt 96 percent of students had some gaps (including 34 percent with large gaps), according to the Achieve poll results released July 22.

Employers, too, believe students leave high school without the skills needed for typical jobs at their companies (82 percent believe there are some gaps and 48 percent report large gaps in readiness), the Achieve survey showed.

More than three-quarters of college instructors were dissatisfied with students’ abilities in critical thinking, comprehension of complicated materials, work and study habits, writing, written communication, and problem-solving.

Sixty-one percent of employers “request or require new hires to get more training in math, reading or writing — nearly a 20 percentage point increase from what employers surveyed said 10 years ago,” reports Caralee Adams for Ed Week.

Employers used to do more on-the-job training. Now they require more years of schooling, expect workers to be ready to be productive, get disappointed and blame colleges.

Students need early counseling about the need to take challenging courses in high school, said survey respondents.

College reading focuses on diversity, equality 

When colleges suggest a “common reading” book for new students, it’s usually a non-fiction book on diversity or racial equality, according to an Inside Higher Education survey of 121 colleges and universities.

The top pick, used by 10 colleges and universities,  was Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a law professor at New York University, he writes about trying to overturn death and prison sentences for criminals — most are black men — he believes to be wrongly convicted.

(I see the jacket blurb compares Stevenson to Atticus Finch.)

Other titles on the freshman reading list this year range from The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities at Ohio State University to Bad Feminist at the University of California at Los Angeles and Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash at Rowan and Lock Haven Universities. Texts on economics, sustainability and food remained popular, but were second to books dealing with topics such as diversity and race relations.

At least six schools will ask new students to read The Other Wes Moore, a popular choice for the past three years.

Author Wes Moore was an Army officer, Johns Hopkins graduate and newly chosen Rhodes Scholar when he saw that another Wes Moore, born a few blocks away in Baltimore, had been arrested for murdering a police officer.

Both were raised by black single mothers, but one Wes Moore was born to married, educated parents (his father died when he was 3).  His mother worked long hours to send her children to private school, then sent Wes to a military boarding school when she thought he was being influenced by street culture.

The other Wes was the son of a never-married woman and an absent father.

Also popular is Enrique’s Journey, which tells the story of a Honduran boy searching for his mother, who’s gone to the U.S. to find work.

Few colleges assign literature, but the University of Kansas will ask freshmen to read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

Sir Ken’s well-meant twaddle

http://sirkenrobinson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/skr_creative_schools_3d-cover.jpgSir Ken Robinson, known for a 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?,  has a new book out called Creative Schools about “transforming” education.

“Think of it as a jukebox cranking out all of the anti-reform hits,” advises Robert Pondiscio on Education Gadfly. “Nod your head like, yeah, as Sir Ken critiques not just standards, but competition, corporatization, back-to-basics, ‘industrial model education,’ and, inevitably, the school-to-prison pipeline.” Or, perhaps, it’s a “greatest hits album.”

Naturally, there’s praise for a certain country:

a)      Finland.

b)      Obviously Finland.

c)      Of course it’s Finland! It’s a freakin’ Sir Ken Robinson book!

d)     All of the above.

“In terms of knowledge, the standards movement favors direct instruction of factual information and skills and whole class teaching rather than group activities,” Robinson writes.

No, it doesn’t, responds Pondiscio.  “Teachers are expected to ‘differentiate instruction’ at all times, and students sit in pods … because group work.”

Sir Ken’s oeuvre is well-intentioned, but it is almost entirely nonsense—a warmed-over Rousseauian fantasy suggesting all children are “natural born learners,” defying what cognitive science tells us about how knowledge and practice drive skill and competence.

It is also much easier to divine what Sir Ken dislikes about schools than what he proposes we should do about it.  At several points, he compares education to organic farming. “Plants grow themselves,” he writes. “The job of the gardener is to create the best conditions for that to happen. Good gardeners create those conditions, and poor ones don’t.”

Standards and curricula aren’t the problem with education, writes Pondiscio. “They are the point.”

From time immemorial, schools have existed to transmit—consciously and unconsciously—the language, knowledge, and values of their societies at any given time and place.

It worked for Sir Ken, freeing him to think creatively, he concludes. “For those on the outside looking in—whose very existence seems lost upon Sir Ken—it’s not quite the same.”

“Robinson rightly makes the case for the rigour of creative learning – ‘creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill’ – but we always need to guard against the soft bigotry of low expectations,” writes Tristram Hunt in a more positive Guardian review.  Hunt fears “the worrying trend of play and expression being adequate for working-class pupils, while leaving the tough stuff, the physics and history, for their better-off peers.”

Instead of the Core, ‘competitive federalism’

Common Core standards violate three laws barring federal direction, supervision or control over curricula or instruction, concludes Bill Evers in Federal Overreach and Common Core, a new Pioneer Institute research paper.

“Competitive federalism, under which states learn from and seek to improve on each others’ standards and tests, is both legal and would produce better results,” says Evers. “Monopolies are hardly the best way to produce either academic quality or value for taxpayers.”

Does money matter?

“Increased school spending is linked to improved outcomes for students, and for low-income students in particular, argue Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson and Claudia Persico in Boosting Educational Attainment and Adult Earnings

Previous research has shown no link between school spending and learning.

This study correlated spending increases with “large improvements in educational attainment, wages, and family income, and reductions in the annual incidence of adult poverty for children from low-income families.”  However, “how the money is spent matters,” the authors write in Education Next.

Ric Hanushek questions the analysis. School spending has increased significantly, he writes.

If a ten percent increase yields the results calculated by Jackson, Johnson, and Persico, shouldn’t we have found all gaps gone (and even reversed) by now due to the actual funding increases?  And, even with small effects on the non-poor, shouldn’t we have seen fairly dramatic improvements in overall educational and labor market outcomes? In reality, in the face of dramatic past increases in school funding, the gaps in attainment, high school graduation, and family poverty have remained significant, largely resisting any major improvement.

How money is spent matters a great deal more than the number of dollars available, Hanushek concludes.

The authors responded to the critique and Hanushek responded to the response.

College grad rate mirrors high school completion rise 

The rise in college completion rates mirrors the rise in high school completion in the 20th century, writes Chad Aldeman.

A U.S. adult today is as likely to be a college graduate (32 percent) as an adult in the 1940s was to be a high school graduate (34.5 percent), he notes.

But will the trend continue?

chad college-hs completion

A new Seuss on the loose

Dr Seuss’ new book, What Pet Should I Get? will be out next week. Yes, he’s dead. The text and illustrations were found in a box by the author’s widow.

Is The Cat in the Hat revealed as a pedophile? Does Sam I Am go into factory farming? No. It’s about making a choice.

The book apparently was written between 1958 and 1962. The brother and sister are the same as those in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, published in 1960.

Theodore Geisel, who wrote as Dr. Seuss, was a perfectionist, said his widow, Audrey Geisel. “He often worked on something and tucked it away to return to later,” she said. “I imagine he was doing just that, and then discovered new stories to tell that took his attention away from it.”
A set of never-published alphabet flash cards also was in the box.

Geisel died in 1991.