Smartphones, slow students

Do Smartphones Help or Hurt Students’ Academic Achievement?  asks Paul Barnwell, who teaches English at a Louisville high school, in The Atlantic.

“Most students bring a mini-supercomputer to school every day, a device with vast potential for learning,” he writes. However, “using phones for learning requires students to synthesize information and stay focused on a lesson or a discussion.” For some students, phones are a distraction, not a help.

Technology “has the potential to shrink achievement gaps,” writes Rob Redies, a Fern Creek High chemistry teacher, in an email. However, “I am actually seeing the opposite take place within my classroom.”

Barnwell has had success getting students to edit each other’s writing “using cloud-based word processing on their phones,” he writes. “I’ve also heard and read about other educators using phones for exciting applications: connecting students to content experts via social media, recording practice presentations, and creating ‘how-to’ videos for science experiments.”

However, his high school, which has many students reading below grade level, is struggling to use smartphones for learning. “I see students using cellphones and earbuds as a way to disengage with their peers,” said Fern Creek Principal Nathan Meyer. “The isolation squanders opportunities for students to learn to engage and communicate with empathy.”

“We find that mobile phone bans have very different effects on different types of students,” concludes a recent study on phone access and the achievement gap. “Banning mobile phones improves outcomes for the low-achieving students … the most, and has no significant impact on high achievers.”

Students are addicted to their phones, writes a Montana teacher in Ed Week.

Racial gaps are widest in liberal towns

ALI THANAWALLA - Matt Bremer helps freshmen at Community Partnerships Academy with their integrated math curriculum.
Matt Bremer helps freshmen at Community Partnerships Academy, one of five small schools within Berkeley High, study integrated math. Black students in the liberal college town scores 4.6 grade levels below white students. Photo: Ali Thanawalla, East Bay Express

Racial achievement gaps are widest in the most liberal towns writes Steve Sailer in Taki’s Magazine.

Ultra-liberal Berkeley has the largest black-white gap in the nation, according to the national database of school-district test scores created by Stanford and Harvard researchers. Black students in Berkeley are 4.6 grade levels behind their white classmates.

Yet, Berkeley is ferociously antiracist. It was the first to have a Black Studies Department at the high school level. In the 2012 election, Berkeley voted for Obama over Romney 90 to 5. Berkeley Unified school-district administrators obsess over any data showing that black students get punished more than other races.

White kids in Berkeley averaged 2.7 grade levels higher than the national average for all students, notes Sailer. Hispanics in the district’s public schools scored 1.1 grade levels below the national average and blacks scored 1.9 grade levels below.

. . . white students, who tend to be the children of professors, Pixar employees, or the idle rich, score well. But Berkeley’s blacks do poorly, even by the standards of blacks in general, averaging below African-Americans in Chicago and Philadelphia.

Berkeley High School was broken into five smaller schools in hopes of closing achievement gaps. However, the two academic schools are mostly white and Asian-American, while the other three schools have drawn most of the black and Hispanic students.

Out of 2121 school districts with enough blacks and whites to generate fairly reliable results, the largest black-white gaps are in liberal college towns and liberal big cities such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Oakland Seattle, Minneapolis and San Francisco, writes Sailer.

Some Atlanta suburbs, which have been attracting college-educated black families, have “small racial disparities with middle-of-the-road overall performance,” he writes.

The large town with the highest test scores in the country for both blacks (+0.7 grade levels above the national average) and Hispanics (+1.1 grade levels) is Frisco, Tex., a rapidly expanding exurb 28 miles north of Dallas. . . . The median income is in the low six figures. The Frisco school district “looks like America” more than just about any other: It’s 11% black, 14% Hispanic, 11% Asian, and 59% white. That’s diversity.

Frisco’s white-black gap is 0.57 standard deviations and its white-Hispanic gap is 0.43, both a little below national averages and well below most other high-scoring districts.

Frisco-area voters gave 65% of their vote to Romney, Sailer points out.

The white-Hispanic gap numbers are about 75 percent as large as the white-black gaps, the Stanford study found.

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Charters help close achievement gap

The achievement gap between students from low-income families and more advantaged students stagnated or grew between 2011-14, according to the Education Equality Index released by Education Cities.

urlOnly two in 10 low-income urban students attend a school with a small or nonexistent achievement gap, according to the study.

“Nearly 30 percent of the 610 achievement gap-closing schools recognized in this study are charter schools,” pointed out Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In Hialeah, Fla., which has the smallest achievement gap, “80 percent of the gap-closing schools are charter schools.”

About 6.5 percent of public schools are charters.

Disadvantaged big-city students did the best in Miami-Dade County, El Paso, San Francisco and New York City.

Gaps were the largest in Des Moines, Madison and Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul, St. Louis and Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina.


Preschool kids work more, learn less

Preschool won’t close the achievement gap as long as teachers focus on kindergarten prep and neglect conversation, writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic. “Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less,” she argues.

“A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool,” she writes.

Four-year-olds are asked to sit still and complete pencil-and-paper tasks that are beyond their motor skills and attention spans, writes Christakis. But it doesn’t work.

One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes,” Christakis points out.

A Vanderbilt study found low-income children who attended Tennessee’s publicly funded preschools started kindergarten with more “school readiness” skills than a control group. By first grade, teachers rated the preschool grads as “less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” the researchers write. They blame burn out.

The average preschool program “narrows the achievement gap by perhaps only 5 percent,” estimates Robert Pianta, a leading child policy expert. Research suggests higher-quality preschools could cut the gap by 30 to 50 percent, he writes.

Quality preschools “provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language,” writes Christakis.

. . . their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.

. . . In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.

Conversation is the golden key, she writes.

More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

The article comes from her book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

If the name sounds familiar, it is. As associate master of a Yale college, Christakis wrote an email saying that college students could pick their own Halloween costumes. Under heavy fire for racial insensitivity, she resigned her teaching job at Yale citing a “climate” on campus that is not “conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.”

Spartans may win bowl, but will they graduate?

LJ Scott runs past a block made by Donavon Clark to help Michigan State beat Oregon on Sept. 12. Credit:  Alice Kole/State News

Michigan State was a winner on the football field this year, qualifying for the national playoffs and the Cotton Bowl, writes Michael Dannenberg on Education Reform Now. But MSU is failing its neediest students.

Only three of 20 black males complete a bachelor’s degree in four years. Given six years, almost 82 percent of whites, 66 percent of Latinos and 57 percent of blacks will graduate.

Michigan State 2013 Race and Gender Gra-1duation Rates

“Florida State, which has a similar average SAT and higher percentage of low-income students and underrepresented minorities compared to Michigan State, has a close to a zero attainment gap between white and underrepresented minority students,” writes Dannenberg.

Michigan State doesn’t have the lowest graduation rate for football players. Among this season’s top-ranked teams, USC is a bit worse and University of North Carolina graduates only 31 percent of football players, according to Ed Central’s Ben Barrett.

Northwestern, Notre Dame and Stanford are at the top.

UNC’s graduation gap is huge: Football players are 57 percentage points less likely to complete a degree than other male students.

By contrast, “Clemson maintained an equally high graduation rate of 79 percent for both its football team and its overall student body.”

Graduation rate hits 82.3%

Nationwide, the four-year high school graduation rate rose to 82.3 percent for the class of 2014, the U.S. Education Department reports. That’s up 1 percent from the previous year.

Gains were largest for lower-achieving groups, but gaps remain wide. While 89.4 percent of Asian-American students and 87.2 percent of whites earned a diploma in four years, only 76.3 percent of Hispanics and 72.5 percent of blacks did so.


Four-year graduation rates topped 90 percent in Iowa and Nebraska with New Jersey and Wisconsin close behind.

In the District of Columbia, only 61 percent of students graduated on time. New Mexico and Nevada also were at the bottom of the list.

Graduation rates can be manipulated, as Anya Kamenetz writes on NPR. “The rising graduation rate reflects both genuine progress and some questionable strategies.” States are trying “early warning systems and increased support, to multiple diploma tracks, second chances, and in some cases apparent manipulation of statistics.

I’m very dubious about the use of credit-recovery programs to help students make up classes they’ve failed — often with little effort or learning.

ESSA passes: Will states step up?

No Child Left Behind is no more. The Every Student Succeeds Act has passed the Senate and House by wide margins. President Obama signed the new education bill today.

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

ESSA guts the “strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education,” writes Sandy Kress, who helped write NCLB, on Dropout Nation.

Under ESSA, “schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps” will face no federal consequences, he writes. States and districts will hold themselves accountable for serving all students. Or not.

As seen in TexasCalifornia, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students . . .

ESSA stands for Excusing States for Student Abandonment, writes Alan Singer on the Huffington Post.

The bill is “political posturing,” writes Conor Williams. “It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability.”

Conservatives should oppose the bill’s “bizarre, unclear federal accountability mandates,” he argues. Progressives should not trust states to hold schools accountable for serving underprivileged and underserved kids.

Universal pre-k may widen achievement gap

“Universal” pre-k could widen New York City’s achievement gap, writes Robert Pondiscio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $300 million program to provide free, full-time pre-K to all children is not reaching the neediest children, reports Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor of education and public policy.

Mayor de Blasio’s pre-K program added only 195 kids from the bottom 20 percent of ZIP codes this fall, according to Fuller’s data. “Middle-income neighborhoods are showing the greatest gains in registration, while enrollments have actually fallen in nineteen of the city’s thirty-four poorest zip codes,” notes Pondiscio.

“We just don’t have the evidence to back why we would heavily finance pre-K in middle class and upper class communities,” Fuller told ProPublica. Children from low-income families need early education the most, he wrote earlier, but the city’s program advantages well-off communities.

Longer year boosts learning, widens gaps

Extending the school year would improve learning significantly — and widen achievement gaps, writes Seth Gershenson on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

That’s because high achievers benefit more than low achievers from additional learning time. His research is discussed in this IZA paper.

For kindergarteners in the 10th percentile of achievement, the effect of a 250-day school year is  about 0.75 of a standard deviation in math, while the average effect is 1.75 SD for those in the 90th percentile, he writes. Results are similar for reading.

This raises an intriguing question. Is equality (or less inequality) more important than boosting the performance of low achievers?