As schools gentrify, PTA politics get tricky

When schools gentrify, educated, affluent, white parents often take over parent groups, writes Casey Quinlan in The Atlantic. Less-educated, lower-income parents feel their voices aren’t heard and their children’s needs aren’t the top priority.

Lower-income parents may want more access to computers, while affluent parents worry their kids get too much screen time.

Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Powell Bilingual Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Double-immersion bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents, which creates more integrated schools.

Advantaged parents are great at fund-raising, which gives them clout with the principal, said Alexandra Freidus, a New York University graduate student who analyzed a changing Brooklyn school. As the school population became whiter and more affluent, resources shifted to improving the playground “rather than efforts to get classroom computers and support for the student prom.”

Think Progress looks at a bilingual Spanish-English school in Washington, D.C. that’s drawing more students with educated, English-speaking “high-powered” parents.

The parent community used to feel like a “family,” said Percia Williams, an active parent for eight years. Now, some Spanish-speaking parents feel excluded.

Learning music develops the brain

Youth Orchestra Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Photo: Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Studying music may improve young children’s auditory and language-processing abilities, according to early findings of a study published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. That could help kids learn to read.

University of Southern California researchers began following 45 children from lower-income bilingual families (most are Latino, one is Korean)  when the children were 6 and 7, reports Jackie Zubrzycki in Education Week.

Yashelyn, 9, plays violin in the Youth Orchestra LA at the Heart of Los Angeles music program class in Los Angeles. Photo: Eric Grigorian/ Education Week

Yashelyn, 9, plays violin in the Youth Orchestra LA. Photo: Eric Grigorian/ Education Week

The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles is teaching 13 of the children to play musical instruments using the El Sistema approach developed in Venezuela. Another group plays soccer and the third has no after-school activity.

After two years, brain scans showed the music students “had more-developed auditory pathways than their peers,” writes Zubrzycki. “The authors write that this development in auditory processing also affects students’ ability to process speech and language — which means it could have an impact on students’ academic progress as well as their musical abilities.”

The virtues of virtual nagging

“Nagging is love,” I used to tell my daughter.

“I am a much-loved child,” she’d reply.

Some parents can't help with homework because they don't understand it.

Some parents can’t help with homework because they don’t understand it.

Parents who “positively nag” their children to complete homework and do their best raise more successful students than parents who lack time or academic skills, writes Jacob Murray, faculty director of professional education at Boston University’s School of Education. It also helps if parents supplement schoolwork and communicate with their kids’ teachers.

He proposes using technology — and all those retired baby boomers — to nag other people’s children about school work, engage them in learning activities and communicate with their teachers.

He envisions a corps of “virtual homework parents” using technology to connect with needy kids.

. . .  let’s say a retired school teacher from Newton completes a 10 to 15 minute Skype “check-in” every school night with a Boston 5th grader to review her homework assignments, answer questions, and compete a five-minute vocabulary building exercise. . . . Prior to that week/ on Sunday night, the retired teacher receives a 5 minute online briefing through an academic coaching software platform from the 5th grader’s teacher that outlines all the homework and learning concepts for the upcoming week.

At the end of the week, the virtual homework parent sends a brief report to the teacher on how the sessions went, mentions any areas where the student needs more help and reviews next week’s assignments and learning goals.

I think it’s an interesting idea — and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

How to teach quiet kids


Credit: Dave Van Patten/NPR

At New York City’s Quiet Summer Institute, teacher are learning how to help “quiet kids” thrive, writes Elissa Nadworny on NPR.

The workshop is based on Susan Cain’s best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and her latest book written for middle-schoolers.

Classroom participation doesn’t have to mean talking, says trainer Heidi Kasevich.

Why not try drawing, writing or working in pairs?

Or, Kasevich suggests, have students walk around the room, writing ideas on tacked-up pieces of paper. They can respond to each other’s ideas — like a sort of silent dialogue.

Erica Corbin, who works at a private girls’ school in Manhattan, suggested quieting students who dominate the discussion. “W-A-I-T,” she says, also stands for: “Why Am I Talking?”

I was a talker — but I usually had something worth saying. If I was quiet, that meant I was reading to myself.

To save the Core, states dump Core tests

Most Common Core states are sticking with the controversial standards, but writing their own tests, report Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn in Education Next. Since 2010, 38 states have dropped out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), or both.

Fourteen states plan to administer SBAC in the 2016-17 academic year, and just six states plan to administer PARCC.

Political pushback is a major factor, they conclude.

“The new SBAC and PARCC assessments have Common Core written all over [them]—federally funded, part of a national effort,” said Mike Cohen, who directs the advocacy group Achieve. “In many states where opposition to the Common Core emerged, the compromise was to hold on to the standards and get rid of the aligned tests.”

Massachusetts and Louisiana have both moved forward with “hybrid” state tests that combine consortia- and state-designed assessment items. That may be the future of Common Core testing.

Charter schools don’t suspend more kids

Charter schools don’t suspend more students than nearby district schools, according to Nat Malkus, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow writing on RealClearEducation.

“Charters have come under increasing fire in the media for their alleged disproportionately harsh discipline practices,” he writes. “A widely cited report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA finding that charter schools have higher suspension rates than traditional public schools, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities.”

That’s not true, when charters are compared to the neighboring schools students might otherwise attend, Malkus’ research has found. Half of charters have similar suspension rates. The rest are more likely to be lower than nearby district schools than they are to be higher.

In response to Education Secretary John King’s call for charters to rethink tough discipline policies, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli worries about top-down dictates to remove the suspension tool.

“There’s a big risk that discouraging schools from suspending kids will result in more disorder in the classroom (though in-school suspensions could keep that from happening),” Petrilli writes. “More disorder is disastrous for all kids, but especially poor children of color (who) make up the vast majority of the nation’s charter school population.”

Parents often choose charters because they’re more likely to provide a safe, orderly environment, he writes.

There’s a reasonable case, then, for simply making suspension data transparent to the public and to parents, who can decide which schools to shun and which to patronize.

Flypaper is running more responses to King’s speech on charter school discipline.

2/3 oppose use of race in admissions

“When the U.S. Supreme Court last month affirmed the right of colleges to consider race and ethnicity in admissions, college leaders rushed to praise the decision and expressed confidence in the future of affirmative action,” writes Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed.

Yet the public opposes considering race and ethnicity in college admissions, according to a new Gallup poll with questions drafted by Inside Higher Ed. By a two-to-one margin, those surveyed said they disagreed with the decision.

Most in U.S. Oppose Colleges Considering Race in Admissions

Blacks (44 percent) and Hispanics (29 percent) were more likely than whites (22 percent) to favor taking race and ethnicity into account. But a majority of blacks and Hispanics opposed the policy.

Most respondents said high school grades (73 percent) and standardized test scores (55 percent) should be a major factor in college admissions; 50 percent listed courses taken in high school. Thirty-one percent said family economic circumstances and first-generation status should be a major factor. Only 9 percent wanted race and ethnicity to be a major factor in admissions.

College unreadiness

About one in three students in the class of 2007 was “college-ready” in reading and math by graduation, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, writes Mike Petrilli. Eight years later, about one in three had earned a bachelor’s degree. Not surprisingly, college readiness predicts college completion. But it’s not quite that simple.

Chart 1: College preparedness, college matriculation, and college completion

*2005 marked the beginning of a new NAEP assessment framework for math.

Many students think college is the only path to a decent job. In 2015, when 37 percent of 12th graders were college-prepared in reading and/or math, 69 percent enrolled in post-secondary education a few months after graduating from high school. A very high percentage — including those placed in remedial classes — said their goal was a four-year degree.

Students who are the first in their families to go to college, low-income students, Latinos and blacks are less likely to earn a degree. Academic readiness isn’t a complete explanation, writes Petrilli.

“Blacks and Asian-Americans are more likely to earn a degree than their 12th-grade readiness would predict, Latinos are less likely and whites are the same,” he observes.

As this NBER working paper from 2006 explains, “Blacks get more education than do whites of similar cognitive ability.” The authors, Kevin Lang and Michael Manove, posit that because of discrimination in the labor market, “Education is generally a more valuable signal of productivity for blacks than for whites. As a result, blacks invest more heavily in the signal and get more education for a given level of ability.” In other words, because some employers won’t hire blacks without a college degree, they are even more motivated to get a credential than others.

Asian-Americans’ high completion rates probably are due to their culture (and their parents), speculates Petrilli.

The “completion agenda,” which tries to get more disadvantaged students to a degree, could do useful work in getting Hispanics “across the finish line,” writes Petrilli. “As of the class of 2006, one in four Hispanic students who were ready for college didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Hispanics disproportionately enroll in community colleges, which have low graduation rates.

Failing remedial algebra, passing statistics

Michigan State will drop its algebra requirement in favor of “quantitative literacy,”  reports Inside Higher Ed.

“We’re trying to present mathematics in a way that makes it more accessible and understandable,” said Vince Melfi, associate professor of statistics and probability. For example, students will study how probability applies to health and risk, Melfi said.

. . . students could be informed that a hypothetical person’s test came back positive for breast cancer. Based on that information, they would be asked to determine the likelihood that the person had the disease.

After arriving at answers, students would be encouraged to discuss the value of screening for diseases such as breast cancer or prostate cancer — a topic that has fostered debate among medical professionals, Melfi said. “An important part of these courses is to go beyond just manipulating symbols on a page and coming up with the right answer, and to reflect on what those answers mean in a specific context,” he said.

Statistics probably is more useful to non-STEM students than the algebra. But, I wonder about college students who can’t figure out 2x + 4 = 14. It’s not rocket science.

Wayne State University in Detroit decided to drop its general-education math requirement, but plans to introduce “math experience” courses for students whose majors don’t require math.

Remedial math — basic algebra — is a huge stumbling block for many students, especially at the community college level, reports Science DailyPoorly prepared students are more likely to be able to pass statistics, City University of New York researchers have found.

New community college students assessed as needing remedial algebra were placed randomly in a remedial algebra course, remedial algebra with weekly workshops providing extra support or in a college-level statistics class with weekly workshops.

Fifty-six percent of statistics students passed compared to 39 percent in remedial algebra. By the middle of their second year in college, 57 percent of statistics students had met their college’s math requirement, compared to only 16 percent of remedial algebra students.

Writing in the Core era

Is the Five-Paragraph Essay History? asks Stephen Sawchuk on Education Week Teacher.

Critics say the five-paragraph essay — introduction with a thesis, three paragraphs each with a topic sentence and supporting details, and a conclusion — is too rigid, he writes. Defenders say it’s a first step.

The popular workshop model doesn’t provide enough support to weaker students, Mark Anderson, a New York City teacher, tells Sawchuk. “The (five-paragraph) structure guides them to organizing their ideas in a way that is very clear, and even if they’re very much at a literal level, they’re at least clearly stating what their ideas are,” he said.

Common Core standards stress argumentative and informative writing over personal narratives, writes Madeline Will. “David Coleman, the lead architect of the English/language arts portion of the common core, famously justified the switch in 2011 by telling a group of educators that ‘as you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think’.”

Core writing is all about citing evidence from a text to support a thesis.

In the Common Core era, a teacher will assign a text-citing essay on Beowulf, not a poster on the epic hero.

In the Common Core era, a teacher will assign a text-citing essay on Beowulf, not a poster on the epic hero.

James A. Dittas, who teaches in a Tennessee high school, writes about how he’s changed writing instruction to meet Core standards.

“I learned how to craft text-dependent questions and I began assigning longer essays and research papers that required evidence from the texts that we were already reading,” he writes.

He’s more likely to require “an essay analyzing the author’s use of heroic elements in Beowulf” than a poster about the epic hero. Debate and drama must meet a Core objective. The April poetry unit is out. Even “journaling” must address “text-based questions” rather than “personal or current-event-related prompts,” he writes.

The pendulum always swings too far in education.

When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing using a structure called the 3-3-3 paragraph. There were no introductions or conclusions, just a thesis sentence supported by topic sentences supported by three (or more) “concrete and specific details.” We hated it. But we learned how to support a thesis.