Archive for the ‘Hot Topics’ Category

The Myth of Too Much Homework

Monday, April 14th, 2014

We’ve all heard the complaints about homework: “My 7-year-old has three hours of homework a night.” “Our 10-year-old is up until 11 pm every night doing homework.” “Billy had to quit after-school sports, because he couldn’t keep up with the homework demands.”

Listening to the cacophony, you’d surely conclude that U.S. students—and their parents—are crushed under the weight of a heavy homework burden.

But is that really the case? Actually, no.

According to the latest version of the annual Brown Center Report on American Education from the Brookings Institution, the reality is substantially different from the hyperbole. A recent article in Education Week summarized the key findings from the report:

The homework burden is not onerous. According to NAEP, only 5 percent of 9-year-olds, 7 percent of 13-year-olds, and 13 percent of 17-year-olds reported spending more than two hours on homework at night—”from which legitimate complaints of being overworked might arise,” Loveless writes—in 2012. Just a little more than a third of college freshmen—the nation’s best students—said they had spent six hours or more a week on homework when they were high school seniors.

The homework load is not growing. For most students, it hasn’t varied much since 1984. The one exception is 9-year-olds, who reported zero homework in 2003. Now they have a little, but less than an hour.

Parents are actually pretty happy with the amount and the quality of homework. Parents who want less homework are a relatively small group; the MetLife survey found that 25 percent of parents want their kids to have more homework, while only 15 percent of parents want them to have less.

Of course there are students that are overburdened and parents who are rightfully concerned, but as Tom Loveless, author of the report observed, “It doesn’t mean the horror stories are fiction, but they’re outliers.”


The Benefits of Later School Starts

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The evidence is mounting that later high school starts result in benefits for students. A recent study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that students who were allowed to sleep in performed better on several measures including automobile crash rates, mental health, school attendance and in some cases, grades and standardized test scores.

These findings were based on a University of Minnesota study that looked at eight schools in three states before and after they changed to later starting times. This study adds to a body of knowledge that’s been accumulating over the past several years. According to an article in The New York Times:

Researchers have found that during adolescence, as hormones surge and the brain develops, teenagers who regularly sleep eight to nine hours a night learn better and are less likely to be tardy, get in fights or sustain athletic injuries. Sleeping well can also help moderate their tendency toward impulsive or risky decision-making.

During puberty, teenagers have a later release of the “sleep” hormone melatonin, which means they tend not to feel drowsy until around 11 p.m. That inclination can be further delayed by the stimulating blue light from electronic devices, which tricks the brain into sensing wakeful daylight, slowing the release of melatonin and the onset of sleep. The Minnesota study noted that 88 percent of the students kept a cellphone in their bedroom.

Change is Slow

But just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean parents and schools will readily make a shift to later start times. After all, changing school hours could infringe on after-school activity times, school bus schedules, student jobs, homework time, and that’s just at the end of the day. It would also impact morning routines for working parents and younger siblings. After all, who doesn’t look forward to breakfast with a comatose teen?


Congress Pushes for Full Funding of Special Education

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. Congress is pushing for full funding for special education, despite President Obama’s budget proposal to leave funding at its current levels.

According to an article in Disability Scoop, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill calling “for increases in spending over the next decade in order to bring special education up to a level known as ‘full funding.’ A similar proposal is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks.”

A joint statement by the House members sponsoring the measure stated:

For too long, Congress has failed to meet its commitment to our students and teachers, straining local resources as school districts work to meet the needs of special education. This legislation will guarantee funding increases for IDEA to ensure that our schools have the resources to provide a first-class education for every child.

If the legislation passes, it will fulfill the promise that Congress made 40 years ago when the IDEA was first enacted to educate students with learning and other disabilities. At the time, the federal government promised to fund 40% of the bill. In actuality it has never covered more than 18%, forcing states and local districts to pick up the slack.


Khan Academy Disrupts SAT Test Prep Industry

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

In the flood of news about all the changes to the SAT, one important story you may have missed is that preparing for the college entrance exam will now be free to anyone who can get online.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, has partnered with the Khan Academy to provide free SAT test preparation. The Khan Academy is a highly regarded nonprofit website that offers free online educational courses.

For years, many parents and educators have bemoaned the inequity of costly SAT test prep courses. The entire industry of test preparation courses has thrived on families that would pay for SAT tutoring, in hopes that their child’s scores would improve, giving an edge in the high-stakes college admissions game to the “haves” over the “have-nots.”

This move from the College Board goes a long way toward leveling the playing field. The Khan Academy will offer high-quality online instruction, including custom practice problems, videos, and tailored feedback—all free to users.

According to an article in Education Week, College Board President David Coleman said, “The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way to secure their child’s success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching. It’s time to shake things up.”

The Education Week article went on to explain what the Khan Academy will offer:

Beginning immediately, students and other users will be able to access hundreds of previously unreleased questions from past SAT exams, as well as videos with step-by-step solutions, on the Khan Academy website.

To help students prepare for the new exam, set to debut in 2016, Khan Academy next spring will release materials and tools bearing the College Board brand, including adaptive and game-based online instructional offerings that can gauge where individual students are in their preparation for the SAT and provide customized feedback.

Given the “interactivity, quality, and richness” of the forthcoming materials, founder Sal Khan told reporters, “I can’t imagine anyone who’s going to take the SAT not wanting to log in, set up an account, and get that very personalized feedback through the exercises, and do the deep practice on our site.”





Changing School Environments to Reduce Bullying

Monday, March 10th, 2014

A synthesis of the findings from research done on bullying during the past 25 years suggests certain behaviors and characteristics that can reduce bullying in school environments.

According to an Inside School Research blog post, UCLA professors Jaana Juvonen and Sandra Graham found that students in racially diverse schools feel safer than students who attend schools largely dominated by a single race: “If you think about bullying, that involves an imbalance of power,” said Juvonen. “If there’s a big, dominant group, the minority will feel [less empowered].”

In an environment where the majority of students are the same, students who appear different are at greater risk for bullying. Differentiating factors include obesity, LBGTQ status, and disabilities. The blog goes on to explain the other characteristics that may increase bullying:

Bullying also thrives when students make transitions to middle school. Here, again, power is to blame as students establish a new pecking order in their new school, which is generally larger and less structured than an elementary school.

“And those who bully others rise to the top,” Juvonen said.

 Additionally, formal academic tracking, which often begins in middle school, may breed bullying in that disruptive behavior is more common in low-track classes.

Changes That Make a Difference

According to Juvonen, victims often blame themselves for the situation. She therefore suggests that adults address this issue straightforwardly and encourage victims to stop blaming themselves. Teachers can also improve the situation by reprimanding bullies for their behavior. Doing that may not change bullying behavior, but it suggests to victims that they will be supported. Finally, a classmate that befriends a victim can make all the difference. “It just takes one friend,” Juvonen said. “We don’t know what it is about that friend. It doesn’t seem like they use the friend to talk about their problem. It’s the idea that there’s somebody there for me.”

But Juvonen is quick to point out that there is only so much that parents, teachers, and peers can do. To address the problem there must be policy changes at the administrative level. Notes Juvonen: “The bare minimum that needs to be done at the district level and the school level is to have clear policies about bullying. These policies must be practiced. Far too often, we have grand policies but the follow-through of bullying incidents is not consistent.”

Other promising interventions including targeting children with behavior problems, and creating opportunities for students to become invested in devising ways to protect all students.





ADHD: Overdiagnosed and Inappropriately Treated?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

In a recent Huff Post Science blog post, ADHD researcher Dr. Keith Connors, psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University added his voice to a growing chorus of experts questioning the rapid rise in ADHD diagnoses in the past 15 years.

Dr. Connors first raised the red flag several weeks ago in The New York Times, in an article entitled “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” In that piece Connors made the case that the rise in ADHD diagnoses paralleled “a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents.” That phenomenon coincided with the results of a large study that suggested medications were the most effective treatment for ADHD.

The Huff Post revisits the controversial topic, clarifying Dr. Connors’ position, in which he suggests a middle ground between those who say ADHD is a manufactured disease, and those who say it’s at epidemic levels:

Both extremes are wrong. The high numbers do not reflect clinically meaningful ADHD. But the idea that ADHD should never be diagnosed and treated misses the clinical reality that some kids have an early onset of severely impairing symptoms that do require diagnosis and do respond well to treatment.

The ridiculous epidemic-like level is most surely a mistaken exaggeration caused by careless neglect of differential diagnosis. Doctors are prescribing stimulant drugs for a hodgepodge of childhood disorders and for basically normal kids who happen to be on the active and distractible side of the spectrum…

What therefore, should the public conclude about the “diagnosis” of ADHD?

First, there is no doubt that 2% or 3% of children and adolescents suffer from a serious and treatable disorder, for whom medication or CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] or both is required to avoid the serious lifetime impairments.

Second, no child should be diagnosed with ADHD without a thorough clinical assessment that includes self-report by the child or adolescent, a family psychiatric history, and developmental history of the child. Reports from teachers are essential and represent one of the most neglected sources of information in ordinary pediatric practice. Treatment almost always requires working together on school-related problems.

Third, it is apparent that the DSM’s are part of the diagnostic problem, providing definitions that are too loose and insufficient guidance to the practitioner on how to make a proper diagnosis.

Finally, the public should be skeptical both of the diagnostic enthusiasts who see ADHD everywhere and the diagnostic nihilists who see it nowhere.

Where Does This Leave You?

For those who suspect their child needs treatment for ADHD, Dr. Connors suggests seeking out a specialist with a record of extensive care for patients with ADHD. He reminds us that most prescriptions for ADHD medications come from pediatricians, many of whom do not “specialize in developmental behavior problems.”

He further recommends checking credentials, as well as asking about the evaluation process. “Do not accept cursory, brief examinations that do not involve a complete picture of family environment, school, and development from an early age.”

For those who have children taking ADHD medication, but still experiencing challenges in school, at home, or with peers, Dr. Connors suggests checking and adjusting medications and getting help in the areas your child is floundering in (e.g. academics or social skills).

The bottom line? Dr. Connors maintains that parents who are well informed about the condition are in the best position to evaluate if their child’s ADHD diagnosis is valid, and if so, to help manage the condition effectively.



Special Education Students Lag in Graduation Rates

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The latest information released by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) shows wide disparities in many states between the graduation rates of those in Special Education and those in regular education.

According to an article in Education Week, “The most recent U.S. Department of Education data, for 2011-12, shows a four-year graduation-rate gap that ranges from a high of 43 percentage points in Mississippi to a low of 3 percentage points in Montana.”

These figures add fuel to a firestorm brewing among advocates for students with learning disabilities–the largest proportion of students in special education—to ensure that these students achieve at grade-level. “We know there are students with disabilities who can be achieving much more,” said Melody Musgrove, the director of the federal office of special education programs.

Measuring Educational Outcomes

To that end, beginning next year, the DOE will put states under the microscope to examine the graduation-rate disparities as part of its evaluation of how states perform with regard to special education students. The results could eventually impact how states use their federal special education funds.

This is part of a systemic change to what officials term “results-driven accountability,” which moves away from focusing on compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Act to holding states responsible for actually educating students with disabilities, just as they do mainstream students. 

Referring to the wide graduation rate disparity, noted LD advocate and Director of The Advocacy Institute Candace Cortiella said, “This is what we get when we don’t have any accountability for outcomes and when we continue to just focus on if you get your IEPs done. I hold out great hope for the shift in emphasis, and we’ll see.”

Making Dyslexia a National Priority

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Jim Cassidy, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-LA.) has introduced a resolution that, if passed, could make dyslexia a national priority.

As stated in a blog post on The Hill Web Site:

Rep. Cassidy’s resolution represents a giant step forward for everyone and anyone who cares about dyslexia—parents, teachers, dyslexic children and adults. Science has progressed in bringing understanding and clarity to dyslexia. This resolution now calls for educators and testing agencies to catch up and put this powerful knowledge to work so that affected children and their families — and our entire nation—may benefit.

This latest move is a continuation of Cassidy’s commitment to raise awareness and educate others about language learning disabilities. Previously, he and Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) founded the bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus to shed light on the challenges facing those with learning disabilities—particularly in schools that create barriers to accessing appropriate services.

This resolution—H.Res.456—calls on schools and education agencies to recognize and address the implications of dyslexia in the school setting.


Take Action

Show your support for H.Res 456 by contacting your U.S. representative and letting him or her know that you support making dyslexia a national priority.




Digital Devices Aid Preschool Literacy Development

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Do you ever wonder if the increasing use of electronic devices by young children might negatively impact their developing literacy skills? If so, you can put that worry to rest. An article in SAGE Open reports that early use of digital tools such as iPads, iPods, and touchscreen computers actually supports early literacy learning.

According to the article, researchers at the Southwest Institute of Families and Children gathered data from 24 preschoolers living in several regions of the country. The children were observed while engaging with e-books in two settings: shared book reading during Circle Time and book browsing during Center Time. Based on the data, the researchers concluded the following:

Increasingly young children recognize and use electronic devices as sources of information and entertainment. In an information age, the trend is irreversible. We are just beginning to learn how children interact with these digital devices as meaning-making tools and the influence they have on how children develop and learn literacy skills. Results of this small-scale study illustrate the contributions of digital devices on several key multi-sensory behaviors that children use to engage with e-book content in the preschool setting…All three devices support listening relatively evenly, which has implications for instruction in oral language comprehension for literacy, suggesting that tried and true techniques may apply to e-book pedagogy.

The researchers note that the next phase for study is to examine if and how digital devices can motivate and support other aspects of early literacy development.

To learn more access Young Children’s Engagement with E-Books at School 

Eligibility for Special Education: Myth v. Fact

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

For a student to receive special education services, he must be found eligible under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, misconceptions abound. Below we separate myth from fact with regard to several common concerns:

A student receiving passing grades in general education does not require special education.

Myth. Grades alone are not definitive in deciding who needs special education. The school district needs to address not only academic needs, but also social, behavioral, emotional and other needs that impact the child’s ability to access his education. Because grades are subjective, a child can have straight A’s yet still have deficits that require special education. A child could also be getting straight A’s due to grading accommodations such as no penalty for spelling or incorrect grammar, or because all the text is being scanned for him so he doesn’t have to read it.

Anxiety disorders do not qualify a student for special education services.

It depends. A determination is based on whether the anxiety is impacting the student’s education and/or if that anxiety is associated with school or is coming from somewhere else.

If the school district promises services under a regular education model, parents can enforce the implementation of these services.

Myth. Although this happens all the time, the child is at risk. Under these circumstances he is not protected under IDEA and therefore implementation cannot be enforced. If you believe your child is eligible for special education services, stand your ground and make sure that he is found eligible under IDEA. There’s often the presumption that if the school is delivering services anyway your child might be considered eligible, but that is not the case.