Rise in autism tied to ‘diagnostic substitution’

As autism diagnoses rose, intellectual disability diagnoses fell, reports a Penn State study on  “diagnostic substitution.” Many of the “new” autism cases reflect changes in how children are labeled rather than a rise in kids with learning or communications problems, researchers concluded.

Autism prevalence rates rose from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 children in 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control report, reports Ed Week‘s Christina Samuels.autism_intellectual_disability_rates.jpg

The fastest-growing group of children with autism spectrum disorder are those with normal to above-average intelligence, said the CDC’s Jon Baio. It’s not likely these children would have been identified as having an intellectual disability, he said. “What has changed to put children today at an increased risk of having autism? We really don’t know.”

The CDC’s figures, which aren’t based on examination of children, may be unreliable, says David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Evaluation isn’t about firing bad teachers

Nearly all teachers receive high ratings in most districts. Teachers are in short supply in some parts of the country, writes Paul Bruno for the Brookings Institution.“The extent to which a principal is willing to dismiss (or give a poor evaluation to) a teacher will likely depend in part upon her beliefs about the probability of finding a superior replacement in a reasonable period of time.”

Teacher evaluation systems should be seen as a way to help teachers improve, not as a system to “dismiss teachers,” responds Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington.

New evaluation systems were meant to be a tool to reward excellent instruction, provide opportunities for targeted professional development, and create systems of support in schools in districts. Unfortunately, new teacher evaluation systems in many places were sold as ways to “get rid of bad teachers,” which greatly hurt implementation efforts.

Effective evaluation systems let a principal who’s hiring know “what effective teaching looks like and how it is measured,” writes Pennington.

Teacher evaluation isn’t included in either version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Pennington points out. “States will not have the political cover from federal policy to move forward with teacher evaluation.” And if it’s seen as just a way to fire teachers, it will not survive.

Care for kids or flip a burger?

New York state will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers at chains with 30+ restaurants. That means the state’s burger flippers will earn more than child-care workers and preschool teachers in most parts of the country, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Child care workers average $8.63 in West Virginia to $12.47 in Massachusetts, according to a 2014 Berkeley study. Wages have fallen slightly since 1989.

“Preschool workers, who are more likely to work with older children in licensed centers and in publicly funded, school-based programs, earn more — from $11.57 an hour in Delaware to $20.99 in New York City, writes Kamenetz.

“We desperately need educated young people to be working with young children, but they look at this job and say, ‘It’s a pathway to poverty. I can’t pay my student loans if I do this’, ” says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown professor who’s studied the issue. When wages are low, turnover is high, affecting the quality of care.

If the New York law stands, restaurant owners will be able to replace low-skilled workers with automated order taking and cooking. It’s a lot harder to automate child care.

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 1/2-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.”