‘Mindfulness’ may help students learn

Mindfulness training may improve achievement, reports Emily Deruy in The Atlantic. A Chicago study is looking for evidence of effectiveness of breathing and relaxation exercises or asking students to focus on a feeling or emotion.

Children learn to focus, handle transitions and recover quickly from upsets, said Amanda Moreno, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a child-development-focused graduate school in Chicago. That frees up time for learning.

Moreno said she’s heard from teachers with students who have gone from five or six tantrums a day to none because they know they can go to their classroom’s “calm spot” whenever they feel like they’re spiraling out of control.

The program seems to be helping good schools get better, she said. It doesn’t do much for schools that lack a sense of community or a commitment to learning.

Mindfulness aims to “create compliant students who can manage their own behavior, focus on their assignments, and calm themselves when angry or frustrated with school,” wrote David Forbes in Salon.

That’s a bad thing, he argues. “Such students can then turn into passive, unquestioning consumers and cooperative workers who will help their corporate employers better compete in the global economy.”

People who can manage their own behavior also are a lot less likely to end up in prison.

Chicago teachers worry their students will be killed, writesMarilyn Rhames, who’s now an alumni counselor for a K-8 charter school.

Lee McCullum Jr., 22, — featured as the troubled kid turned honors student and prom king in the 2014 CNN series, Chicagoland — was shot and killed a few weeks ago. His girlfriend, Tiara Parks, 23, was killed a week earlier.

Teaching courtesy, etiquette

Alphonso Hawes, 10, “learned how to be a gentleman to a woman” in the after-school etiquette club at Baltimore’s Shady Springs Elementary. “I learned how to speak properly,” he told Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie. “I learned how to write thank you letters. I learned how not to bully.”

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in "Guys with Ties, Girls in Pearls," an after-school etiquette club: Photo Baltimore Sun

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls,” an after-school etiquette club. Photo: Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun

Wendy Carver, a guidance counselor, started “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls” four years ago. “It has been my hope that by teaching the students manners and etiquette they will become more respectful of others and themselves,” she said.

Thursday is an optional dress-up day for fourth- and fifth-graders. Boys are encouraged to wear jackets and ties, the girls to wear dresses and skirts.

Once a month, students stay after school to learn “how to correctly pull out a chair for a lady, how to write a thank you note, and what they should or shouldn’t say on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat,” writes Bowie. About half the fourth- and fifth-graders choose to participate.

Teacher Julie Taylorson was teaching Internet etiquette to a group of children one afternoon.

Before posting anything on social media, she told them, ask yourself three questions: Is it nice? Is it honest? Is it necessary?

She warned them that what they put on social media can’t be erased, so it will be there for their parents, future teachers and future employers to see.

. . . In the next room, another teacher was helping students think about how and when to write a thank you letter.

The etiquette club “has changed the whole atmosphere of the school,” said Taylorson, a second grade teacher.

At Randallstown Elementary, a program called Boys in the Good encourages boys to work on projects that help their school and community, simultaneously fostering good behavior and good deeds.

Kids need ‘serve-and-return’ parents, teachers

Skills such as self-control, resilience and grit are products of a child’s home and school environment, writes Paul Tough in his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.

What’s most important is “the way the adults in their lives interact with them, especially in times of stress.”

That sums up nearly all we need to know about parenting and teaching, writes Annie Murphy Paul on Brilliant Blog.

Warm, “serve-and-return parenting,” which can be done in many ways, “conveys to [children] some deep, even transcendent messages about belonging, security, stability, and their place in the world.”

Effective teachers “convey to their students deep messages—often implicitly or even subliminally—about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity . . . In the same way that responsive parenting in early childhood creates a kind of mental space where a child’s first tentative steps toward intellectual learning can take place, so do the right kind of messages from teachers in school create a mental space that allows a student to engage in more advanced and demanding academic learning.”

In addition, writes Paul, students must be exposed to deep, meaningful, sensibly sequenced knowledge.”

Gatsby meets Dale Carnegie

At the Business & Tourism Academy in Los Angeles, 10th graders read To Kill a Mockingbird — and Dale Carnegie, writes Gail Robinson on the Educated Reporter blog. Eleventh graders read The Great Gatsby and Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. 

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Combining college-prep academics with an industry-themed career “pathway” is the key to California’s Linked Learning initiative, writes Robinson.

Linked Learning students are 3.7 percentage points more likely to graduate and just as likely to complete a college-prep sequence as students in traditional high school programs, according to a 2015 SRI study.

More than 90 percent of students at Business & Tourism Academy, part of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, come from lower-income Latino families.

Much of the school’s focus is on professionalism. Throughout their four years, students work on business projects and interact with outside professionals. They “dress for success” — wearing business attire —  every Wednesday. Business people critique videos of mock job interviews with the students and provide other feedback. Many students have internships.

Along with a complement of traditional academic classes aligned with the Common Core State Standards, every year students take a course geared to the school’s theme, such as cultural geography in their freshman year and ecotourism as sophomores. Juniors study entrepreneurship, working on computers to plot a firm’s fixed and variable costs and develop risk analyses for companies. The final project is to create a business plan for a tour company. Seniors run a virtual company and participate in the Virtual Enterprises International competition.

The school’s 80 percent graduation rate is higher than the district’s 74 percent rate, reports Robinson.

Los Angeles Unified will have 44 Linked Learning schools by fall, including programs geared to health and medicine, engineering, design, manufacturing and media studies.

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy

Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

Short of teachers, SF says ‘no’ to TFA

Kamaria Carnes (right) of Teach for America high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam during her eighth-grade English language arts class at Everett Middle School in the Mission District. Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle
Teach for America corps member Kamaria Carnes, who teaches eighth-grade English at a San Francisco middle school, high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

Under pressure from the teachers’ union, the San Francisco School Board voted to suspend Teach for America’s contract for the coming school year, writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Education Post.

Who will teach instead?

The 15 San Francisco classrooms that would have been staffed by TFA corps members — yep, only 15 — are now going to be filled by either long-term subs or untrained college grads with emergency certification,”

San Francisco has a dire teaching shortage—district administrators predicted the district will not be able to fill its 500 vacancies by August and many of these will be in areas that TFA specializes in recruiting—special education, bilingual classrooms and STEM.

Superintendent Richard Carranza wanted to renew the TFA contract, but couldn’t get board support.

“Some board members didn’t even try to pretend their pushback was in the best interest of children,” writes Dell’Angela. “Board member Jill Wynns’ opposition was based on Teach For America’s ‘financial connections to supporters of charter schools and market-based education reform’.”

Only 17 percent of TFA corps members are teaching in district schools after 17 years, say opponents. But turnover is high for all new teachers: San Francisco is a very expensive city.

TFA teachers are more likely to stay on the job than other new teachers in San Francisco, Beatrice Viramontes, the organization’s senior managing director in San Francisco, told the Chronicle. “Overall, 90 percent of the group’s teachers come back after their first year of teaching, compared with 56 percent of those who are new to the teaching profession in general. In addition, most of the program’s teachers stay for a third year after their two-year commitment ends, said both the organization and the district.”

Two girls, different futures

As a 12th grader, Guadalupe Acevedo started thinking about college, but learned she qualifies only for community college. Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Lizbeth Ledesma and Guadalupe Acevedo grew up in low-income, immigrant families in Los Angeles, but their college futures are very different, write Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times.

A straight-A student in public school, Lizbeth earned a scholarship to Chadwick, a private school, in ninth grade. She pushed herself to meet higher academic standards. By 10th grade, expert counselors were helping her plan for college. A counselor helped her get a full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston, her first-choice school.

Lizbeth Ledesma meets with her colleague counselor, Beth Akers, at her private school.

Lizbeth Ledesma discusses college plans with counselor Alicia Valencia at Chadwick, a private school.

At Roosevelt High, a Los Angeles Unified campus in a low-income neighborhood, Guadalupe didn’t think seriously about college till her senior year. Even then, “I was so lost. I didn’t know how college worked.”

California students must complete a college-prep sequence of courses with C’s or better — and an overall B average — to qualify for a state university. Guadalupe realized too late she qualified only for community college.

She’ll start at East Los Angeles College and “hopes to transfer to USC, where she wants to take dance and Chicano studies and be a cheerleader,” reports the Times. (And ride a purple unicorn.)

Someone who earned mediocre (or worse) grades in low-level classes at a not-very-demanding high school is almost certain to be placed in remedial classes in community college. Most remedial students drop out in their first year, sometimes in their first few weeks.

Guadalupe could work hard and beat the odds. But her USC dreams show she’s still not getting useful advice.

Let teachers focus on teaching

Nearly every teacher finds or develops her own teaching materials, according to a new RAND study. Elementary school teachers often turn to Google (94 percent), followed by Pinterest (87 percent). Nearly half of teachers spend more than four hours a week on this.

“Expecting teachers to be expert pedagogues and instructional designers is one of the ways in which we push the job far beyond the abilities of mere mortals,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

Do you want your child’s teacher to have the time to analyze student work and develop a keen eye for diagnosing mistakes and misunderstandings? Do you want her to give your child rich and meaningful feedback on assignments and homework? How about developing warm and productive relationships with your child and your family?

Teachers should focus on how to teach, rather than what to teach, Pondiscio argues. Give them high-quality instructional materials.

A 2012 Brookings study by Russ Whitehurst and Matt Chingos demonstrated that the “effect size” of choosing a better second-grade math curriculum was larger than replacing a fiftieth-percentile teacher with a seventy-fifth-percentile teacher. This is a powerful result, especially considering that it’s relatively easy to give all children a better curriculum but extremely difficult to dramatically increase the effectiveness of their teachers. It’s cost-neutral too: A Center for American Progress report by Ulrich Boser and Chingos showed virtually no difference in price between effective and ineffective curricula.

“We want our best teachers to play a significant role in instructional design so that more children and teachers can benefit from their expertise,” he concludes. However, “twelve-plus years of a well-designed and sequenced curriculum would lead to better outcomes for children than the occasional year with a great yet isolated teacher.”

Don’t drug those kids: ADHD can be a gift

Stop drugging ADHD kids — and start teaching them to use their gifts, writes Peter Shankman, founder of FasterThanNormal, in the New York Post.

Parents and teachers may be “drugging the creativity out of our next generation of leaders,” writes Shankman.

As a New York City public-school kid, Shankman had trouble paying attention, but wasn’t medicated.

Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he became “a best-selling author, an entrepreneur who’s started and successfully sold three companies and a corporate keynote speaker,” he writes. “It’s because of my ADHD, not in spite of it, that I’m as successful as I am today.”

It’s time to stop looking at ADHD as a negative, and start understanding the positives and incredible benefits of being gifted with a brain that runs a thousand times faster than normal. Teachers need to understand that a student with a faster brain doesn’t automatically equate to “difficult to teach,” but rather, that much more interested and able to learn, if the information is presented in a way that reaches that student.“

Instead of giving them a pill, let’s give them an hour to run around outside.

Tell then “their differences are their greatest gifts,” Shankman concludes.

Is ADHD the same as having a “faster brain?”