When pre-k is too late

New York City is adding prekindergarten seats to public schools, but pre-k may come too late to change the trajectory of disadvantaged children,writes Ginia Bellafante in a New York Times blog.

Last year, when I was visiting a public school in Sunset Park in Brooklyn for teenagers with boundless difficulties, my host, a poet who teaches at various city schools, mentioned a student who had become pregnant. Hoping to start a library for the child soon to arrive, the poet told the young woman embarking on motherhood that she would like to give her some books — books of the kind her own grandchildren growing up in a very different Brooklyn had by the dozens. The offer was met skeptically. “I already have one,” the girl said.

A young, single mother “who thinks one book is enough” isn’t likely to expand her child’s vocabulary or knowledge of the world through talking, reading or exposition, writes Bellafante. “We should concentrate our energies on helping the most vulnerable parents and children beginning at, or before, birth,” she concludes.

The left is squeamish about telling poor people how to behave, Bellafante concedes. “No one wants to live in a world in which social workers are marching through apartments mandating the use of colorful, laminated place mats emblazoned with pictures of tiny kangaroos and the periodic table.”

But perhaps paternalism can be sold as “compassion,” she concludes.

The Harlem Children’s Zone includes a Baby College, a parenting workshop for expectant parents and those raising a child up to three years old. There’s an intensive preschool program to prepare three- and four-year-olds for kindergarten. It’s not clear the “pipeline” concept is effective enough to justify the costs.

Choosing death at 15

At a suburban Virginia high school six students have committed suicide in the last three years, reports the Washington Post.

“There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends and expectations from my family,” wrote Jack Chen, 15. He’d earned a 4.3 grade point average, captained the junior varsity football team and competed in crew and track. He stepped in front of a train.

The six boys who killed themselves were good students and athletes with supportive parents, according to the Post. They did not appear to be “troubled.”

Drugged ‘for being boys’

Most boys on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder meds are “being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys,” charges Ryan D’Agostino in Esquire.

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong . . .

“We are pathologizing boyhood,” says Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who has been diagnosed with ADHD himself. The co-author of two books on ADHD,  Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, Hallowell “there’s been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful.”

Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that’s good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they’re told—these robots—and that’s just not who boys are.”

Boys aren’t given time to outgrow immature behavior, writes D’Agostino. A huge Canadian study found that “boys who were born in December”—typically the youngest students in their class—”were 30 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD than boys born in January,” who were nearly a full year older. And “boys were 41 percent more likely to be given a prescription for a medication to treat ADHD if they were born in December than if they were born in January.” 

“Sluggish cognitive tempo” — day dreaming — is the latest candidate for diagnosis and medication, reports the New York Times.

“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

Fargo 6th-graders out-invest college students

Sixth-grade stock-pickers in North Dakota outperformed college business students, reports AP.

Dave Carlson’s regular and advanced math classes at Fargo’s Oak Grove Lutheran School picked baskets of stocks through two online investment companies. The regular math students’ picks “yielded a nearly 22 percent gain and trounced all the university clubs on a return-since-creation basis.”

The students chose companies with good track records that they knew something about.

Eloise Baker said she decided to buy Under Armour, which makes sportswear and athletic gear, based mainly on the fact that Christmas and the Olympics were around the corner. Sure enough, the stock shot up. The company just last week approved a 2-for-1 split.

“That’s what I wanted for Christmas. I thought that’s what a lot of other kids wanted,” she said of Under Armour clothing. “I also found it to be a little bit cheaper than Nike, so I thought it was a good buy.”

Carlson’s Math Minions did better than business students at Berkeley, Cornell, Columbia, NYU and USC.

Today’s students, tomorrow’s jobs

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.
Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be able to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

Career-tech for all

At a high school in southern Georgia, career-tech ed is for everyone, writes James Fallows in The Atlantic. Camden County High School, located near a huge naval base, sends about 60 percent of graduates to postsecondary education or training.

In 2001, the graduation rate was only 50.5 percent. Now that is up to 85 percent. What happened?


CCHS was divided into six “academies.” After a year in Freshman Academy, all students choose one of the five career-tech academies. While they take the normal academic subjects, they also get an introduction to the world of work. Some will go from high school to the workforce or the military, but many will go to community college or to four-year colleges and universities. 

In the “law and justice” curriculum, which is part of the Government and Public Service Academy, a former Navy-Kings Bay NCIS official named Rich Gamble trains students in conducting mock crime investigations, and preparation for testimony in court.

On the day we were there, he had staged a mock robbery, in which the perp grabbed a cashbox from an office, ran through the hallways, and dumped the box as he was escaping. . . . Gamble divided his students into three teams to investigate the crime — making plaster casts of footprints (below), taking evidence, filing reports, preparing a case. “We emphasize a lot of writing,” he said. “I give them issues where they have to defend themselves, in very few words, because courts don’t like you to waste words.”

In the Engineering and Industrial Technology Academy, students design, build and sell small houses, do welding and electrical work and run an auto-repair shop that handles county vehicles.

In the Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, students were preparing for certification tests by administering care to dummies representing nursing-home patients.

Students also can choose Business and Marketing and Fine Arts.

Success relies on grit, Rachel Baldwin, the school’s career instructional specialist, tells Fallows. “I think you are more likely to learn grit in one of these technical classes. The plumber who has grit may turn out to be more entrepreneurial and successful than someone with an advanced degree.”

A school of bullies

special ed student who recorded classmates bullying him in math class was threatened with wiretapping charges, then convicted of disorderly conduct, reports Ben Swann. The student, a sophomore at a Pennsylvania high school, has been diagnosed with a comprehension delay disorder, ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

The student and his mother, Shea Love, testified before the magistrate that the boy has been repeatedly shoved and tripped at school, and that a fellow student had even attempted to burn him with a cigarette lighter. . . . He says the bullying treatment is especially harsh and academically disruptive during his special education math class, in which students with behavioral problems are also placed.

The boy has been moved from the special ed math class. No action was taken against the bullies.

Last Chance High‘s second episode introduces ”Spanky” Almond, a pudgy boy with a speech impediment, who’s mocked and bullied by classmates at Chicago’s school for emotionally and behaviorally disordered students. Oh, and dad is a murderer who’s out of prison and might resume his abuse of the family.

Why is a kid this vulnerable in a school packed with abusers?

We see an ineffectual science teacher and a compassionate coach.

Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far. They fear many students will be placed in college-level courses they can’t handle, while the least-prepared will be shut out of college programs and sent to adult ed.

A Pennsylvania community college has persuaded a local high school to teach the college’s remedial math and English courses to 12th graders. Ninety-two percent  of the high school’s community college-bound graduates place into remedial reading and 100 percent place into remedial math, often at the lowest levels.

The opt-out outrage

The opt-out craze is an “outrage,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Education isn’t just a private good, he writes.

. . . when they expect the state to educate their children at public expense, the public has a right to know whether those children are learning anything (no, not whether Johnny and Mary are learning, but whether the children of Waco—or Scarsdale—are learning); whether taxpayers are getting a decent ROI from the schools they’re paying for; and whether their community, their state, their society will be economically competitive and civically whole in the future as a result of an adequately educated populace.

Testing isn’t perfect, we can’t judge learning by seat time, graduations or “teacher-conferred grades,” Finn writes. Other assessment options are “subjective, expensive, impractical, or all of the above.”

Better tests are coming, but that doesn’t excuse “opting out” now. It’s not a legitimate form of civil disobedience. And it’s probably not legal, either. If you really find state tests odious, put your money and time where your mouth is—and stop asking taxpayers to educate your children.

Requiring students to take state exams is like requiring vaccinations, Finn argues. “Maybe your kid is healthy today but the classroom needs everybody’s kid to be inoculated lest an epidemic start.”

Of course, there’s an opt-out movement for vaccinations too.

Study: Achievement doesn’t rise with spending

There’s no connection between education spending and student outcomes, according to State Education Trends over the past 40 years, an analysis by Cato’s Andrew Coulson.

cato institute study on school spending1

Spending has nearly tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars and the number of school employees has almost doubled since 1970. However, reading, math and science scores have been “stagnant” for 17-year-olds, writes Coulson. “In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances — advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning.”