Wiggly boys aren’t disabled

Little boys who aren’t ready for reading need tutoring — not a disability label, writes Jane Goodwin (Mamacita). If they can’t sit still, that means they’re normal.
wiggly little boy reading, Harry Potter
Many of scientists, inventors and innovators were late bloomers, she writes. “Edison wasn’t even allowed to continue at his school; he was so slow, he held the others back!”

“Save the (disability) labeling for the children who genuinely need the help,” writes Mamcita. “Don’t fill up the room with little boys who just need a few more years to mature.”

As for the kids who can’t sit still, “that’s how little children are SUPPOSED to be.”

What would be genuinely worrisome would be a little child who CAN sit still for hours and hours without any desire to be wiggly and energetic. There is the occasional child who genuinely needs Ritalin or whatever in order to function at all, but there are an awful lot of children (usually little boys) whose energy and creativity and imagination and, yes, wiggles, are being seen as “disabilities” by frustrated adults and drugged into mediocrity.

Her “quick fix” for wiggly kids was to assign them two seats and let them shift from one to another when they needed to move.

There were conditions – no bothering other kids on the way, no touching other people’s things, no sidetracking or talking, etc, but when a person’s gotta get up and move, a person’s gotta get up and move.

She taught middle school, “but the students were still children even though they didn’t think they were.

D.C. faces middle-school slump

As Washington D.C. gentrifies, more educated parents are sending their children to neighborhood elementary schools. But choosy parents aren’t choosing district-run middle schools, reports the Washington Post.

Ross Elementary in Dupont Circle has a long wait list for pre-k, but few fifth graders. Many D.C. charters start in fifth grade. Those who finish at Ross typically go to charters, private schools or the suburbs, reports the Post. “In the past three years, just one Ross fifth-grader out of 47 went on to attend the assigned public middle school, which many parents consider substandard.”

Among parents who send their children to a D.C. public school, 31 percent say they’d send a child to a DCPS middle school, 30 percent would seek a charter middle school and the rest say “they would look to private schools or leave the city.”

‘Breaking Bad,’ the middle-school musical

The hit viral video, Breaking Bad: The Middle School Musical, was created by Rhett & Link (Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.)

‘Cool’ math

PBS Math Club, a new web series, hopes to persuade middle-school girls that math is “cool.”

Short videos try to connect math to students’ interests. The video on positive and negative integers uses YouTube’s rating system as an example, reports reports Education Week Teacher.

Each video ends with a brief quiz.

Maine likes laptops, but do kids learn more?

Ten years after Maine started giving a tax-funded laptop to every public school student in grades 7 and 8, teachers and students are enthusiastic, but it’s not clear students are learning more, writes Ricki Morell of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting on the Hechinger Report.

FREEPORT, Maine — At Freeport Middle School, students in algebra class play “Battleship” on their laptops as they learn to plot coordinates on a graph. At Massabesic Middle School, eighth-graders surf the web on their laptops to create their own National History Day websites. And at King Middle School, students carry their laptops into the field as they chronicle the civil rights movement through eyewitness interviews.

Laptops “revolutionized the classroom,” says Raymond Grogan, principal of Freeport Middle School, who was a teacher when the program started. Teachers stop lecturing and started individualizing lessons, Grogan says.

Middle school teachers said “the laptops have helped them teach more, in less time, and with greater depth, and to
individualize their curriculum and instruction more,” according to an August 2011 report. However, the program has been implemented unevenly.

“The benefits are difficult to quantify,” says David Silvernail, the report’s author and co-director of the nonpartisan Maine Education Policy Research Institute. “So many other things are going on in schools, it’s difficult to classify what makes the difference. The laptop is a tool, just like a pencil.”

Students can use the laptops at school and at home. There have been problems with “distraction from unrestricted access to the Internet,” educators say. Breakage problems have improved over time.

The free laptop idea spread to other states and school districts, but has faded because of funding pressures and mixed results, Morrell writes.

Beginning in 2004, the nonprofit Texas Center for Educational Research compared the test scores of students at 22 Texas middle schools where students and teachers received laptops with the scores of students at 22 middle schools where they did not. The study concluded that laptops had a positive effect on some math scores but generally not on reading scores.

In Maine, statewide evidence of how laptops affect achievement is scarce. Test scores for Maine from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, show that the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in eighth-grade mathematics rose from 30 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2011, but that was part of a national trend of rising math scores and can’t be linked directly to laptop use. Between 2002 and 2011, the percentage of Maine’s eighth-graders scoring at or above proficient on the national reading test barely changed, rising from 38 to 39 percent.

 Angus King, who pushed through the laptop program as governor, is now running for U.S. Senate. His opponent charges the free laptops have been a waste of money. The state pays Apple a discounted rate of $242 per laptop per year, which adds up to $10 million this year, less than half a percent of the state’s $2 billion education budget.

Can we make middle school less awful?

How Can We Make Middle School Less Awful? ask Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen on Slate. They call for giving  “as much attention to emotions and values” as to academics.

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets.

Students write a social contract for the school.  Here’s this year’s version:

1. Respect the environment, yourself, and the community.
2. Cooperate: Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Support each other even when the odds are against us.
4. Be yourself, do what you love, and try!
5. Be resilient: Fall 7 times, stand up 8.

When students behave badly, Principal Nancy Cresser asks which part of the contract they’ve broken.

“They know exactly which ones they’ve violated and they figure out how to fix it,” she says. Instead of storming off or pouting about the unfairness of the rules, Cresser says that Paul Cuffee students are OK with being held accountable. They’re the ones who created the rules, after all. So the students in question come up with a plan to fix what happened.

Creating a safe, supportive school pays off academically, write Glenn and Larsen. Although most students come from low-income families, Cuffee outscores a wealthier school across town in reading and math.

Start school later for more learning

Middle schoolers do better when school starts — and ends — later, according to a North Carolina study by economist Finley Edwards described in Education Next.

. . . delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.

Starting early has the most effect on older middle schoolers, supporting the theory that hormonal changes make it hard for adolescents to get to sleep in the early evening, Edwards writes. Students get more sleep and have fewer absences. But late starts have other advantages:  With less unsupervised time after school, latebirds spend more time on homework and watch less TV.

“The effect of a later start time in both math and reading is more than twice as large for students in the bottom third of the test-score distribution than for students in the top third,” Edwards found.

Start times had no effect on elementary students, the study found, but elementary schools start later than middle schools, so that could obscure the effect.

Districts could swap elementary and secondary school start times to improve achievement without spending more on busing, Edwards suggests. Or districts could invest in more buses to start all schools at 8:30 or later. The achievement gain would be similar to the effect of cutting class sizes at a fraction of the cost.

The middle school plunge

When students move from elementary to middle school, their scores drop significantly in the first year compared to students in K-8 schools, conclude Martin West and Guido Schwerdt in The Middle School Plunge in Education Next. Middle-school students don’t catch up with K-8 students in high school.

The transition to high school causes a small drop in student achievement, but the decline does not appear to persist beyond grade 9.

Middle schools were created to ease the transition to high school, but gathering large numbers of pubescent children in one place doesn’t seem to create a good learning environment.

A number of urban districts are creating K-8 schools. It’s a good idea,write West and Schwerdt.

 

‘Teetering on the ninth-grade cliff’

Washington D.C.’s middle schools are the real “dropout factories,” said HyeSook Chung of D.C. Action for Children, a non-profit advocacy group at a city council hearing. More than half of D.C. students who quit school leave in ninth grade. “If we want to improve graduation rates, we need to catch students before they are teetering on the ninth-grade cliff,” said Chung.

Chung, citing research by Johns Hopkins University, said a series of predictive markers, visible as early as sixth grade, can identify dropout candidates: a final grade of “F” in math or English, attendance below 80 percent for the year or a final “unsatisfactory” behavior mark in at least one class.

Sixth graders with one of the four markers had at least a 75 percent chance of dropping out,” Chung said. More than one drove the likelihood even higher.

She proposed an “early warning system” for students at high risk of dropping out.  I’d guess kindergarten teachers could predict who’s likely to succeed or fail.  Once warned, what next?

The District’s graduation rate is 43 percent.

 

 

What is this teacher stress study about?

I was a bit puzzled when I read the GothamSchools “remainder”: “Researchers in Houston are asking whether students can give teachers post-traumatic stress.” Post-traumatic stress? Is the study investigating whether teachers have bouts of depression, nightmares, etc. after they have stopped teaching?

I followed the link to the Edweek blog by Sarah Sparks, which bears the headline, “Can a Class of 7th Graders Give Teachers Post-traumatic Stress?” But the article itself made it seem as though this were a study of teacher stress, not post-traumatic stress. (Sometimes the headlines are written by someone other than the blog’s author.)

In diligent Internet-research style, I followed the Edweek link to the description of the study itself. There was no mention of post-traumatic stress at all, only stress.

So, what is this study about?

The study, to be conducted by researchers at the University of Houston, consists, at least in part, of a “prospective multi-method, multi-time scale investigation of the proposed mediational chain (i.e., stressors lead to teacher stress response which lead to teacher work and health stress outcomes which lead to teacher effectiveness which lead to student behavioral and academic outcomes).” It will follow 160 seventh- and eighth-grade math, science, or social studies teachers over three years.

The information gathered and analyzed during this project may be used “to guide future development of interventions to mitigate teacher stress and consequently improve teacher effectiveness and student behavior and learning.”

It’s pretty well known that teaching middle school is highly challenging, if not stressful from a medical perspective. (Granted, this depends a great deal on the school.) Moreover, it’s well known that certain kinds or levels of stress can affect the health. (A degree of stress can be a good thing.) So, what will the study uncover that is not well known or obvious? It seems that the researchers are most interested in the possible link between teacher stress and student outcomes (behavior and performance).

Because, you see, if teacher stress were bringing student performance down, then of course something would have to be done about that, and funds might appear. If teacher stress were not showing adverse effects on student performance, then it would be harder to convince funders and policymakers that any sort of intervention was needed.

My suspicion is that the findings will be mixed. Sometimes the teachers with the brightest outer face are the ones with the most stress. They may be delivering wonderful lessons and bringing their students to great heights–but they put intense pressure on themselves not to show their fatigue and bad moods in the classroom. Until they up and quit, they may seem to be doing fine.

Other teachers may let off a lot of steam in the classroom. They may seem to be under more stress than the others, but a medical test might show otherwise.

What if the study could not demonstrate a link between teacher stress and student outcomes? Or what if it correlated positively with student achievement? Or what if it were impossible to separate correlation from causation?

Stress (beyond a certain point) is a serious enough problem that it should be tackled for its own sake. A link between teacher stress and student outcomes may exist, but my guess is that it will be weak. We shall see.

I do hope that the study will consider curriculum, because it is much more stressful to teach without a curriculum (or with a bad one) than to teach with a good one. Some middle schools are curricular wastelands. I hope that it will also look at the schools’ discipline practices (not just policies). In other words, I hope it will look into the reasons for teacher stress in middle schools. Not all of this is inevitable, and not all of it is due to the kids’ ages.