Just say ‘not yet’ on marijuana

Persuading teens to say no to marijuana is harder these days, now that it’s legal for adults in Colorado and Washington, reports Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times.

Forty-four percent of teens have tried marijuana at least once and 7 percent use it frequently, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

In a survey, young people were asked what influences them not to use drugs.

Getting into trouble with the law and disappointing their parents were cited as the two most common reason young people did not use marijuana. The concern now is that legalization will remove an important mental barrier that keeps adolescents from trying marijuana at a young age.

The brain is still developing during adolescence, and marijuana can interfere with the wiring, say drug-prevention experts. They want young people to delay drug use till their brains have matured, some time in the early 20s.

Studies in New Zealand and Canada have found that marijuana use in the teenage years can result in lost I.Q. points. (Partnership CEO Steve) Pasierb says the current generation of young people are high achievers and are interested in the scientific evidence about how substance use can affect intelligence.

. . . “Talk to a junior or senior about whether marijuana use shaves a couple points off their SATs, and they will listen to you.”

The achievers may listen, but they’re the least likely to fry their brains with weed — or other drugs. It’s the kids with fewer IQ points to spare — and less mature brains — who are at risk of abusing drugs and alcohol.

Poll: No unsupervised play for pre-teens

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think it should be illegal to let kids 9 and under play unsupervised at a park, according to the new Reason/Rupe poll.

Recently, a South Carolina mother was thrown in jail for dropping off her 9-year-old at a popular playground.

Forty-three percent of those polled said 12-year-olds shouldn’t be outside without a caregiver, writes Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids on Reason. “They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).”

Sixty-two percent of Americans agreed that “kids today face more threats to their physical safety,” the poll reported.

In reality, the U.S. crime rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, Skenazy writes. Some neighborhoods may be unsafe, but most are just fine.

“I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, anytime, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today,” says Boston College psychology professor emeritus Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn.

Consumer Reports for textbooks

EdReports.org wants to be the Consumer Reports for textbooks and other instructional materials. The nonprofit will review materials for alignment to the Common Core, usability, teacher support and differentiation.

The first reviews, due out in a few months, will deal with Pearson’s enVision Math, McGraw-Hill’s Everyday Math, Houghton Mifflin’s Go Math and other widely used K-8 math curricula.

Classroom teachers will be the evaluators, reports Politico.

The non-profit is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Textbook quality matters, writes USC Education Professor Morgan Polikoff on Common Core Watch. And improving textbook quality is a lot easier than improving teacher quality.

First, textbooks aren’t people. There is no union seeking to protect the interests of textbooks.

. . . Second, textbooks and online curricular materials can be improved over time through research and tinkering in ways that teacher effectiveness cannot. Especially if we collect better data, we potentially could learn about effectiveness at a granular level—for instance, which of these X lessons is the best at getting Y type of kids to learn division of fractions?

. . . Third, textbooks are incredibly cheap relative to other educational inputs. While U.S. schools spend billions on textbooks annually, the per-student cost of curriculum materials is, at most, 1 or 2 percent. …choosing a high-quality textbook over a low-quality one may be as effective as moving kids from a fiftieth-percentile teacher to a seventy-fifth-percentile teacher.

Common Core creates a nearly-national market for learning materials, Polikoff points out. There’s a very strong incentive for publishers to get this right.

Polikoff also hopes EdReports.org will “call out” the “dreadful assignments” that pop up in social media as “Common Core curriculum.”

One very big kindergarten

Brenda Scott Academy kindergartners come together in May to work on a Mother’s Day project. The three teachers, Sarah Hay, Michaela McArthur and Sara Ordaz, regroup the children for different lessons. Credit: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press


Three teachers and a part-time aide are teaching nearly 100 kindergarteners in the “hub” (formerly the library) of a low-performing Detroit school, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Each teacher has a homeroom, math and reading class. For reading and math, kids are put in a high-, middle- or low-level group and move to the corresponding teacher’s section. There, activities can include whole-group lessons, small-group lessons and instructional games on laptops. Writing is taught in homeroom.

The entire group spends time together, too, such as on a day in May when about 70 students (a number were absent) sat on a rug to watch a teacher demonstrate how to cut out a paper watering can from an outline. A paraprofessional helps out two hours a day.

Grouping students by performance lets advanced students “really push each other, and just excel that much more and that much faster,” teacher Sara Ordaz said. “The same thing with our lowest kids.”

Many are skeptical.

“I would never put my child in that kind of experience,” said Joan Firestone, director of early childhood education for Oakland Schools.  “I think it’s too chaotic. There’s too many kids and too few adults.”

MOOKs (Massive Outrageous One-room Kindergarten) are a very bad idea, writes Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land.

Open classrooms were a fad in the ’70s. It didn’t work then.

But it’s possible to group students by performance without putting 90+ five-year-olds in the same large room. Elementary teachers did it in the ’50s. I believe I was a Robin. Or possibly a Bluebird.

Special ed kids sort trash, parents complain

Special ed students won’t be assigned to sort trash as part of a “life skills” class at a Southern California high school. Patriot High special-ed students were told to go through campus bins to find recyclables that had been thrown away.

Jurupa Unified Superintendent Elliot Duchon apologized to angry parents for the assignment.

“It is disgusting,” said Carmen Wells, who complained after learning her autistic son was digging through trash on his first day as a high school freshman.

Algebra or statistics?

Poorly prepared college students were more likely to pass college-level statistics than remedial algebra, in a controlled experiment at three New York City community colleges. Statistics is more useful to students in non-STEM majors, some believe.

School cops want semi-automatic weapons

A man holds a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle- similiar to what police will be armed with in Compton  Photo: Getty

A man holds a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Photo: Getty

School police will be armed with semi-automatic weapons in the gang-ridden Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

Officers say they need AR-15 assault weapons to prevent a massacre. Some recent school shooters have used rifles with high capacity magazines and worn body armor.

William Wu, Compton police chief, told the school board that rifles are more accurate than handguns and could “save lives.”

Some students and parents “expressed concern” over the militarization of the campus police force, reports the Telegraph.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Janice Campbell is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

16-year-old arrested for ‘killing’ dinosaur

Assigned to write a Facebook-style “status” update about himself, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy wrote that he’d “killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur.” In a second “status,” Alex Stone used the word “gun” and the phrase “take care of the business.”

He was arrested for disorderly conduct and led away in handcuffs. Stone also was suspended from Summerville High School.

“Summerville police officials say Stone’s bookbag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found,” reports NBC.

But did they search for the dead dinosaur?

Who wants schools run like businesses?

“Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy,” wrote David Kirp in a New York Times op-ed.

Don’t beat up the strawman, responds Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. The only people who think schools should run like businesses are business people. It would be more accurate to say that “reformers believe there are lessons to be learned from other sectors, including business, the non-profit sector, the military, medicine, and other professions.”

Kirp also writes, “High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.”

Who says this? asks Eduwonk. It’s not reformers.

To varying degrees reformers believe that accountability systems can’t capture everything that matters about schools and the best way to capture those other elements is by giving parents choice.

. . . the only people essentially arguing that test scores or similar metrics alone are the only way to judge schools are those (who) . . . believe that more centralized systems, like those often found in Europe, provide more coherence and that choice is a distraction.

You won’t find those people in the reform world, he writes.

“Structural reform” is “a way to increase the quality of relationships that educators have with each other – and with their students,” writes Neerav Kingland, who also urges mercy for strawmen.