Let boys be boys

“Rather than being appreciated for the future explorers, warriors and leaders they were designed to be, boys are viewed as defective little girls,” writes Rhonda Robinson on PJ Media. “What is the real trouble with boys? Well, simply put, they are not girls.” 

Robinson homeschooled five girls — and then two boys. She discovered there’s a difference. “In my house ADD is considered a personality type, not a mental disorder,” she writes.

As a homeschooler, she could spend her boys outside to play when they couldn’t concentrate. Schools can’t do that. Robinson also blames feminist ideology. “Boys with uniquely masculine strengths, once prized, are no longer valued. In fact, these traits of boyhood are considered dangerous, even pathological.”

An ‘F’ school faces teacher turnover

Inside an F school, by a team of Tulsa World reporters, analyzed the struggles of a chronically low-performing Tulsa school. A year later, Andrea Eger returned to find teacher turnover remains a huge problem at Hawthorne Elementary.

Principal Estella Bitson has trouble finding teachers willing to work at a high-poverty, all-minority school with an “F” rating. Some who try don’t make it through the year.

Stephanie Fadness, hired to replace a teacher who quit in the middle of the school year, works with fifth grader J'Shone Williams.  Photo: John Clanton/Tulsa World

Stephanie Fadness, hired to replace a teacher who quit in the fall semester, works with fifth grader J’Shone Williams at Hawthorne Elementary. Photo: John Clanton/Tulsa World

Hawthorne started the school year short a third-grade teacher. The two third-grade teachers have larger classes.

A new sixth-grade teacher recruited by Teach for America “couldn’t handle the kids,” says Bitson. She found the teacher another job in the district.

Last spring, both fifth-grade teachers quit. Some high-achieving students decided not to come back to Hawthorne, says Bitson.

“Some parents took their students to KIPP (a college preparatory charter school) or south-side schools because I couldn’t ‘assure’ them of who my fifth-grade teachers were going to be,” Bitson said. “These were the leaders of our school. They balance out our student body. But, if it was my kid, I would be asking the same questions — and here we go, I didn’t have that consistency.”

By October, the first of the two newly hired fifth-grade teachers quit. The second one followed suit at the end of the first semester.

Bitson pounded the pavement over winter break, tracking down December graduates from teacher colleges. A Northeastern State University grad began in late January, and another recent grad, from a small college in Iowa, arrived in early February.

But that meant weeks on end of substitute teachers for Hawthorne’s fifth-graders.

Students are used to it. “In third grade, I had like eight teachers,” said fifth-grader Cameron Steed. “Other kids have one teacher, and they get to learn and they get used to that one teacher.”

“Some people just can’t deal with the kids,” said Karesha Solomon, the lead third-grade teacher. “The people who take the biggest hit are the students who are on grade level.”

Solomon attended Hawthorne as a child. She was raised by two hard-working parents who expected all their children to go to college. They all did.

CREDO: Urban charter students learn more


All students receive two hours of tutoring a day at Boston’s high-performing MATCH school.

In 41 cities, charter students learn significantly more than similar students in traditional public schools, according to a new report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO. The average gain was the equivalent of 40 more days of learning in math, and 28 more in reading.

Disadvantaged students — blacks, Latinos, English Learners, low-income and special-education students — gained the most. Whites did worse in urban charters than in traditional schools.

Performance varied, notes Sara Mead in U.S. News. Charter schools in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, the District of Columbia, Detroit and Newark produced very strong results for students. “Charter students in Boston ended up with over 200 days more learning” in math compared to similar students at district schools.

In 26 of the cities, charter students learned more than their traditional school peers in math, and in 23 they learned more than their peers in reading. But in 11 of the urban areas, charter school students learned less than their peers in math while in 10 of them charter school students learned less in reading.

Urban charters appear to be improving over time, researchers concluded.

Students do much better in their second year at a charter, and even better in the third and fourth year, CREDO found.

“In several cities where traditional districts perform below state averages – Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville – charters appear to be producing strong enough learning growth to close the gap for children who remain in them for several years,” writes Mead.

Finland: Girls read well, but not boys


Finnish boys don’t read significantly better than U.S. boys, according to the international PISA exam.

For all those sick of hearing about how great Finnish schools are, here’s a fun fact from the new Brown Center Report: Finnish girls do well in reading, but boys do not. The gender gap is “an astonishing 62 points,” writes Tom Loveless. That’s twice the U.S. gap.

Finnish girls scored 556, and boys scored 494.  To put this gap in perspective, consider that Finland’s renowned superiority on PISA tests is completely dependent on Finnish girls.  Finland’s boys’ score of 494 is about the same as the international average of 496, and not much above the OECD average for males (478).  The reading performance of Finnish boys is not statistically significantly different from boys in the U.S. (482) or from the average U.S. student, both boys and girls (498).

. . . Consider that the 62 point gender gap in Finland is only 14 points smaller than the U.S. black-white gap (76 points) and 21 points larger than the white-Hispanic gap (41 points) on the same test.

Finland’s PISA success has been cited by advocates of various policies such as “teacher recruitment, amount of homework, curriculum standards, the role of play in children’s learning, school accountability, or high stakes assessments,” writes Loveless.

Advocates pound the table while arguing that these policies are obviously beneficial.  “Just look at Finland,” they say.  Have you ever read a warning that even if those policies contribute to Finland’s high PISA scores—which the advocates assume but serious policy scholars know to be unproven—the policies also may be having a negative effect on the 50 percent of Finland’s school population that happens to be male?

Usually, critics care whether a policy hurts some social groups, even it benefits others, he writes.

Where is the reading gender gap relatively small? Japan and South Korea.

Boys are catching up in reading

Girls do better than boys at reading, especially as they get older, but the gap is narrowing, writes Tom Loveless in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education.

It’s not just the U.S. “Across the globe, in countries with different educational systems, different popular cultures, different child rearing practices, and different conceptions of gender roles,” girls read better than boys, writes Loveless. 

However, gender gaps are closing, he writes. “On an international assessment of adults conducted in 2012, reading scores for men and women were statistically indistinguishable up to age 35.” After that age, men had higher scores in reading.

Still, women are much more likely than men to be avid readers.  Of those who said they read a book a week, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men. By age 55, the ratio was 63 percent to 37 percent. “Two-thirds of respondents who said they never read books were men,” notes Loveless.

The report also found that fourth grade reading scores improved more in states with strong implementation of Common Core standards than in non-Core states. Last year’s report found an edge in eighth-grade math for strong Core states. However, the differences are quite small and may be due to other factors.

Is your child ready for first grade — in 1979?

A generation ago, children weren’t escorted everywhere by a parent.

A 1979 guide for parents — Is Your Child Ready for First Grade — shows how much things have changed, writes ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.

In addition to the child’s age and teeth, the list asks:

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?
4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?
5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
7. Can he tell left hand from right?
8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?
10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?
11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?
12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

These days, most children learn to write letters and numbers and count pennies in preschool. Long before first grade, they’re used to being away from Mom. But they’ve never walked to a friend’s house or talked to a crossing guard.

Whitley has no idea if her six-year-old could walk four to eight blocks, she writes. “I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!”

Slate’s KJ Antonia considers herself a “free-range” parent for letting a seven-year-old walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and leaving a nine-year-old in charge of younger siblings. But she can’t imagine letting a pre-first grader walk “four to eight blocks” alone, even though Antonia thinks she did it herself at that age.

When did it become bizarre for kids to walk in their own neighborhoods? My daughter walked or bicycled to elementary school, the library and to friend’s houses in the late ’80s. Once she got lost for awhile. Another time, she was chased by an older, larger girl, the Catholic school’s official bully. She dealt with it.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

Opting out gets press — or is it hype?

Grassroots resistance to Common Core tests — the  “opt out” movement — is getting more press than it deserves, argues Alexander Russo in Columbia Journalism Review.

. . . much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

He hits John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on resistance to Core-aligned exams in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Merrow responds here.

A look at Eureka’s Core math exercises

In Old math vs. Common Core math: See how it’s done, the Times-Picayune shows how Louisiana teachers are using Eureka math to teach to Common Core standards.

Eureka includes problem-solving “sprints” (students solve as many math problems as possible within a certain time) and fluency-building activities where they clap their hands and stomp their feet to count by fives, 10s, etc.