‘Smart drugs’ may not be very smart

“Smart drugs” — stimulants prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — are popular college study aids, reports NBC News.

A Boston University student named Wyatt, said everyone he knows uses drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, Vyvanse. “You can go up to the second floor of the library and see, you know, a full wing of people just cracked out.”

Image result for study drugs college

In my day, we used caffeine: No Doz, now marketed as an “alertness aid,” was popular.

Nearly one-third of college students have misused stimulant prescription drugs at least once, according to the Center on Young Adult Health and Development. They tend to have lower grades and be more likely to skip classes.

Stimulants don’t  help children with ADHD complete homework or get better grades, according to a Florida study, reports Reuters’ Lisa Rapaport.

Children who received medication did no better than those who got a placebo.

Providing daily report cards for kids and coaching parents to help with homework did make a difference: Students improved enough to raise their average grade from an F to a C.

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.

Does homework help? We don’t know

Does homework help students learn? We don’t know, writes Dan Willingham.

Researchers have concluded that “homework has a modest effect on the academic achievement of older students, and no effect on younger students,” he writes. But that research is based on students reporting how much time they spend on homework. A new study found students’ self-reports are inaccurate.

Researchers asked engineering students to complete their statistics homework with Smartpens, which record time-stamped pen strokes.

Time spent on homework, as reported by students, didn’t correlate with the course grade. Homework time reported by the Smartpen did correlate with grades.

Eighty-eight percent of students reported more homework time than the Smartpen showed they’d spent, notes Willingham.

Let kids do ‘impossible’ assignment

Let your child tackle that “impossible” homework assignment, writes K.J. Dell’Antonia in the New York Times‘ Well blog.

Theodor Geisel

Theodor Geisel

Her two fourth graders were told to “prepare a five-minute speech from a biography, to be delivered, not read, from notes on index cards, in costume and in character and with at least one prop.”
Dell’Antonia assumed she’d have to drag them through it, but she and her husband were too busy to do more than “a little redirection to one child early on, a little last-minute glue-gun assistance to the other.”

Her son spoke about Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), while her daughter talked about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

“Had I helped, the report would have been more about Dr. Blackwell and less about Ginger and Blackie, the horses she had during her childhood,” writes Dell’Antonia.

“It didn’t seem to matter. Their teacher didn’t want the best oral book reports. She wanted their best oral book reports.”

Her kids didn’t get the top grade, but they had the satisfaction of doing it themselves.

I’m tired of doing my kids’ homework

I’m always stuck doing my kids’ homework, writes Karol Markowicz in the New York Post.

For her daughter’s “100th day of school project,” she cut out 100 pictures of American Girls from the catalog, so her daughter could glue them on a board.

“I have a smart, independent, motivated daughter, but it would take her three days to cut out 100 pictures of something for her project,” she writes. Her daughter is in kindergarten. Cutting is hard work.

Even for Mom, it took over an hour and her child spent another hour glueing them on. (Doesn’t this sound like a way to make kids — and moms — hate the number 100?)

Homework should be tailored for the child’s abilities, not the mother’s, Markowicz believes.

As kids get older, their parents face ever more complex science fair projects, writes Hana Schank in The Atlantic.

Last year my son, who was in third grade at the time, came home with a sheet of paper from his school that listed three categories for appropriate projects: developing a hypothesis and conducting an experiment to test that theory, inventing something new, or researching “something specific.” The guidelines listed “whales” as an example of something specific.

Given that my son was 8 years old, the idea that he could, on his own, do any single one of these things seemed ludicrous.

It’s not fair to kids who don’t have a parent who can help and it’s not very educational for those who do.

Mississippi teachers could grade parents

Credit: Steve Wilson

Credit: Steve Wilson

If a bill passed by the Mississippi House becomes law, teachers would grade parents’ involvement with their children’s education.

A section would be added to each child’s report card for the teacher to evaluate parents on “their responsiveness to communication with teachers, the students’ completion of homework and readiness for tests, and the frequency of absences and tardiness.”

Why I won’t write your essay for you

Never say young millenials are timid or lacking initiative, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. They have the chutzpah to ask random strangers, such as columnists and academics, to write their essays on carbon taxes, global warming the Affordable Care Act, the Federal Reserve, etc.

“Some petitioners helpfully include the structure and word count they are looking for,” she writes.

In a three-paragraph essay, with topic sentence, explanation and conclusion, McArdle explains why she’s not doing their work for them.

“The first reason that I am not going to do your homework for you is that I have already graduated from high school,” she writes. “Now I have plain old work, which actually takes up quite a bit of my time.”

Homework assignments teach valuable lessons, such as “how to a) find information and figure out what it means and b) do things you don’t particularly enjoy,” she adds.

Finally, it wouldn’t do any good to turn in an essay written by a professional, McArdle advises. “Your teacher is apt to notice the sudden improvement in your prose and research skills.”

Too much homework? Or too little?

Kids have three times too much homework,” reported CNN, citing a study in Providence, Rhode Island. In kindergarten through third grade, children spend more than the recommended 10-minutes per grade level.

The story was misleading, responds Tom Loveless at Brookings.

First, the sample — parents visiting pediatrician’s offices — was not random, he writes. It appears to be skewed toward large, Spanish-speaking families.

Beyond that, the report ignores the apparent fact that fourth through 12th graders do too little homework, writes Loveless.

“High school students (grades 9-12) spend only about half the recommended time on homework,” according to the study, he points out. Twelfth graders, most of whom will go to college in a year, spend less an hour of homework per night. That could explain why so many never earn a college degree.

Too much homework for kids, too little for teens

Kindergarten, first- and second-graders are doing too much homework, while high schools students are doing too little, concludes a study of Rhode Island students published  by the American Journal of Family Therapy.

Duke Professor Harris Cooper’s “10-minute rule” calls for a maximum of 10 minutes a night in first grade, plus an additional 10 for every subsequent grade, writes Laura Moser on Slate. “That means that a third-grader should be doing roughly 30 minutes a night and a twelfth-grader should be doing 120. And kindergartners shouldn’t be doing any.”

“Primary school children received about three times the recommended load of homework,” based on the 10-minute rule, writes Moser. Kindergartners were averaging almost 25 minutes a night, while first- and second-graders were up to 30 minutes a night.

However, high-schoolers were averaging less than an hour a night instead of the 90 to 120 minutes recommended.

In affluent, educated communities, students are assigned lots of homework. Some of them actually do it. I don’t think homework loads are high for disadvantaged students.

The study was featured on CNN, writes Alexander Russo, but got bad reviews from education analysts on Twitter. 

The man behind Common Core math

Hechinger’s Sarah Garland profiles Jason Zimba, The Man Behind Common Core Math for NPR.

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.

If she gets the answer “lickety-split,” as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn’t, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

“I would be sleeping in if I weren’t frustrated,” Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail’s public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.

And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter’s school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.

Zimba met David Coleman, who’d become the man behind Common Core English Language Arts, when they were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford.

Jason Zimba waits for his daughters (Photo: Julienne Schaer for The Hechinger Report)

Jason Zimba waits for his daughters (Photo: Julienne Schaer for The Hechinger Report)

In 1999, they started the Grow Network, which produced reports analyzing test results for districts, including New York City, and states, including California. McGraw-Hill eventually bought the business.

Zimba ended up teaching at Bennington, where Coleman’s mother was president. He started a “quirky math and parenting blog,” writes Garland.

In 2007, Coleman and Zimba wrote a paper for the Carnegie Foundation arguing for clarifying “vast and vague standards.” Two years later, they were picked to lead the standards-writing effort.

The backlash started in 2013, when states started using Core-aligned tests and gained force in 2014, writes Garland.

. . . a dad in North Carolina posted a convoluted “Common Core” question from his son’s second-grade math quiz on Facebook, along with a letter he’d written to the teacher. “I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other high-math applications,” he wrote. “Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct.”

Zimba and his colleagues agree it’s a bad problem. But they didn’t write it. Their standards “don’t include lesson plans, or teaching methods,” writes Garland.

They blame the implementation. Standards and tests aren’t enough, Zimba now believes. “I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough,” he says. “In the No Child Left Behind world, everything follows from the test.” Now, he says, “I think it’s curriculum.”