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October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.

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As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.






October 19, 2017

Vouchers and the Douglas County school board election

The upcoming Douglas County School District school board election is gaining national attention.  Douglas County is the third largest district in Colorado serving 67,000 students.  This hits close to home for me since this is the school district that I grew up in and went to school from kindergarten through high school.  The election is gaining more recognition than most because it centers around the controversial issue of vouchers.

In 2011, the school board approved a voucher/scholarship legislation, in a 4 to 3 vote.  According to the non-profit journalism organization, The Colorado Independent, the legislation proposed giving approximately $6400 to students in the district to give them the option of attending a private school, religious or non-religious, that is either in or outside of the district.  After the school board approved the proposal, the legislation was sent to the Denver District Court where it was blocked.  Douglas County appealed and sent the legislation to the State Supreme Court where it was forwarded to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The past June, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case and sent it back down to the Colorado Supreme Court.  On July 31, the Colorado Supreme court sent the proposal back down to the district court where it waits for further review.  The terms of the four board members that voted for vouchers in 2011 are now coming to an end, leaving four very influential seats up for grabs in this election.  If even one seat is filled by a candidate that does not support vouchers, the legislation could die.  However, if four candidates that support the vouchers program win the open seats, the voucher proposal could go back through the courts.  Right now, these four candidates have grouped together and are termed Elevate Douglas County.  These individuals are united in the idea of expanding school choice opportunities in the district.

This past January, the Center for Public Education (CPE) released an updated report looking at the effects of school choice policies on students.  One conclusion that came about was “school choice works for some students sometimes, are worse for some students sometimes, and are usually no better or worse than traditional public schools” Basically, the evidence is unclear because school choice can look very different depending on the individual policy and the context. However, CPE’s report did highlight a study of the Louisiana voucher program.  In the study, the public-school students that participated in the voucher program and attended private schools lost academic ground in both math and Language Arts over a two-year period but began to recover by the third year.
LAVoucherGraph
CPE’s report concludes with two warnings to education policy makers.  First, “there is no reason to conclude that choice in itself will produce better outcomes.”  Choice does not translate into better student achievement 100% of the time, so it should not be treated as a guaranteed method to boost student learning.  Second, “policymakers who are considering supporting parents who wish to choose private schools or homeschooling should be aware that very little is known about the overall efficacy of schooling outside of public schools.”

Only 1% of students in the United States use vouchers, and only 10 states have approved voucher programs.  Clearly, this is not a widely adopted policy effecting a large number of students, so much is still unknown about the effects it can have in different contexts.  Some studies on vouchers have reported test score gains for low-income, African American students who have taken advantage of voucher programs, however, as someone who grew up in Douglas County, “low-income” is not a commonly used term to describe area.  The district is located in the fifth wealthiest county in the nation, with only 3.5% of the population in 2015 earning below the poverty level according to the Douglas County Demographic Summary.  This is a very different type of community than those that have reported success from vouchers in the past.

When I was a student in the district, vouchers had not yet become a hot button topic.  The issue around vouchers in the district has sparked a heated debate because there is a lack of agreement about the actual effectiveness of these programs.  Whatever happens in next month’s election, we’ll be watching to see how school choice in Douglas County plays out.

Filed under: CPE,School boards,School Choice — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 9:13 am





October 12, 2017

Survey says: How Americans feel about public schools and school choice

Between May and September, four organizations released the results from their surveys asking Americans about K-12 education policies.  The four surveys by NORC/AP, Education Next, PDK and the American Teachers Federation (AFT), polled different participants but all asked questions about people’s opinion of public education, charter schools and vouchers.  The NORC/AP and PDK poll gathered their data from a random sample of American households.  The AFT and Education Next surveys both gathered data from parents and the Education Next also included teachers.  The data from the surveys agreed on certain issues, like the quality of public schools, but the questions about vouchers and charter schools showed people’s difference of opinion and lack of information about these issues.  This is an attempt to point out areas where these surveys agreed and disagreed to shed light on the public’s broader opinion about public schools and education policies. However, one overarching theme emerges—Americans, overall, like the idea of choice but still look to their local neighborhood schools as their first choice.

Grading Public Schools

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All four polls indicate that Americans have conflicting opinions about public schools.  They report having a low opinion of public schools when asked about their overall quality from a national level, but then highly rate their local public schools.  These results have been consistent since the 1970s in the PDK poll.

PollChart2

 

Another consistent finding is the particularly high rating public school parents give for the public school where their child attends.  In 2017, 15% of public school parents gave their local public school an “A” in the PDK poll, which is the highest percentage in 20 years.  This year, at least 65% of parents in all four surveys praised their neighborhood public schools by giving them an “A” or “B” rating, or noting that they are of good or excellent quality.  The Education Next poll was the only one that collected responses specifically from teachers.  Teachers opinions mirrored the parents rating in the poll, showing a higher opinion for local public schools than public schools on a national level.  Overall, people are satisfied with their local public schools and the people who are most involved in public schools, parents and teachers, have the highest opinion of these institutions.

Charter Schools

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Public opinion about charter schools is less definitive between the three different polls, PDK, NORC/AP and AFT, but basically shows how support shifts when questions are asked differently.  According to the NORC/AP survey, more participants support opening more charter schools compared to those who are opposed.  The Education Next and AFT polls show a different side of the argument.  The Education Next poll doesn’t show a big difference between the number of people that are for and against setting up more charter schools.  But the gap between support and opposition widens slightly when parents and teachers are polled.  Forty percent of teachers support opening more charter schools, but 51% oppose the idea. Teachers represent the biggest gap on this question and the only group that reported more opposing than supporting charter schools.

The data from the AFT survey paint a much different picture, and is likely a result of the wording. Unlike EdNext and AP/NORC who both asked about support for charter schools generally, AFT asked about respondents in terms of spending. AFT found that only 32% of public school parents approve of reducing spending on regular public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools.

The questions in the Education Next and NORC/AP poll also include a brief definition of a charter school, whereas the AFT question does not. Education Next and NORC/AP indicate that many people still do not have a strong opinion one way or the other on charter schools, with over a quarter of respondents neither supporting nor opposing the formation of charter schools.  This suggests that policymakers need to do a better job of educating the public about charter schools and their policy implications.

Vouchers

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PollChart4.5

The polling data also show discrepancies on the issue of vouchers, which again is a likely result of different wording.  The Education Next poll showed a higher percentage of overall respondents supporting vouchers for all students, as well as, for low-income families specifically.  More parents in this survey also supported vouchers for all students and for low-income students.  Teachers were the only group with a majority opposing both types of vouchers.  The NORC/AP survey also showed greater support than opposition towards vouchers.  This was true for survey participants overall as well as for African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians.  However, the results from the AFT and PDK poll show the opposite when the question involves spending money on either public schools or vouchers. Eighty-six percent of public school parents in the AFT poll agreed that a higher priority should be paid towards investing in neighborhood public schools over vouchers. In PDK, 52% opposed using public dollars to help children attend private school. When given an option of using funds only on public schools or using some to help students attend any school “public, private or religious,” 61% of respondents wanted all the dollars to stay in the public domain.

Similar to the questions about charter schools, the wording of the questions about vouchers can have an effect on the responses.  In the surveys that had more support for vouchers, all of the questions mentioned the word “choice”, which suggests that people support the idea of choice for choice sake.  However, the questions in the polls that had a majority opposed clearly indicated the separation between spending money on public schools or vouchers.

It is clear that people like their public schools.  This is not new.  The majority of people have ranked their public schools highly for more than three decades.  The results around different types of school choice are less one-sided, but even those numbers may be misleading by the public’s lack of awareness about the implications of policies concerning choice.  For example, the NORC/AP survey data continued to show more people supporting charter schools and voucher programs, but that may not be the case.  The researchers report that the majority of parents want to keep their children in school in their own neighborhood with 67% of Americans saying “preference should be given to children living in a school’s catchment, with children living outside that area given a lower chance of admission.”  This shows that most people still rely on their neighborhood public schools and want them to be of high quality.

 

 

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,School Choice — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 2:33 pm





October 5, 2017

Chronic absenteeism: Missing class and missing learning

In a report out last week from FutureEd at Georgetown University, chronic absenteeism was highlighted as a key factor in the student achievement puzzle. The issue’s growing prominence may be due in part to its inclusion as a non-academic indicator in the majority of states’ ESSA plans. While there is wide agreement that missing school may have a negative impact on student achievement, there is less understanding of what causes chronic absenteeism and how to combat it.

Generally, the term “chronic absenteeism” refers to a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or approximately 18 school days. States including chronic absenteeism in their ESSA plans tend to utilize this standard definition, however, in its 2016 report on the issue , ED set the limit instead at 15 absences per school year.

Under this definition, ED found that approximately 13% of students in the country are chronically absent. Note that not all of these students were truant­–these absences may have been excused or unexcused. While truancy focuses solely on unexcused absences, measures of chronic absenteeism incorporate student absences for any reason to  emphasize the importance of all missed classroom time, no matter the reason.

Those attending elementary and middle schools have much lower rates of chronic absenteeism, while about one in four high schools has an extreme level of chronic absence, with over 30% of students absent more than 10% of the school year. At the middle school and high school level, chronic absenteeism may look different: a student may repeatedly skip a particular class or arrive to school late. While elementary students may be less likely to become chronically absent overall, they may be impacted by transportation, work, and lifestyle changes that effect the person that they depend on for transportation.  At any age, certain students may be more likely to become chronically absent: black students and those with disabilities are most likely to struggle with chronic absences. Asian students and English language learners are significantly less likely to be chronically absent.

No matter the personal characteristics of the student, determining a reason for chronic absenteeism and intervening is crucial to preserving a student’s learning. Chronic absenteeism has been found to be a strong predictor of later academic troubles. For example, experiencing chronic absenteeism as early as sixth-grade has been tied to an increased chance of dropping out of high school. In the early elementary years, being chronically absent can impede a child’s literacy development. This may have long-lasting effects, as a child who does not learn to read fluently by third-grade is more likely to continue to struggle academically throughout their schooling.

Given the serious long-term consequences of chronic absenteeism, school leaders are always looking for new approaches. When searching for and implementing solutions, however, it must be understood that chronic absenteeism may be only a symptom of a more complex issue. Students dealing with situations like poverty or chronic health conditions are not likely to respond to a punishment-based approach to chronic absenteeism. Instead, tackling the issue of chronic absenteeism will likely involve the identification and management of challenges personal to each student’s home and school environment.

A number of programs attempt to aid schools with this process, but few have yet developed a strong evidence base. Some programs, like the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System  and Check and Connect have shown promising results through systems that intervene early and pair attendance monitoring with support for students.  For all students, early identification is critical to implementing changes and recovering lost learning. Utilizing an attendance system that defines chronic absenteeism by the percent of school missed rather than number of days missed can help identify chronically absent students early on, allowing time to make changes and implement supports, rather than awaiting an end-of-year count of absences that may allow a student to miss a significant amount of learning in a school year.

Now that chronic absenteeism has been included in the majority of states’ ESSA plans, there is an increasing importance placed on understanding its complex causes and effects. Mitigating high rates of chronic absenteeism will be a complex task, requiring that school leaders examine the unique challenges facing every student. However difficult, reducing chronic absenteeism is ensures that students benefit from a full school year’s learning.

Filed under: CPE,ESSA — Tags: , , , , — Megan Lavalley @ 10:59 am





September 26, 2017

Diversity in the teacher workforce comes down to retention, not just recruitment

Across the United States, as the growth of the minority student population outpaces that of the white student population, classrooms are becoming more and more diverse. While nonwhite students are now the majority in today’s classroom, this is far from true of the teaching profession. As of the 2011-2012 school year (the most recent data available), minority teachers made up just 17% of all elementary and secondary teachers. New evidence from the Learning Policy Institute suggests that in order to meet increasing demands for minority teachers, school leaders will need to focus their efforts on retention in addition to recruitment.

Emphasizing a teacher workforce that is more representative of the increasingly nonwhite student population is more than diversity for diversity’s sake. Rather, current research shows that students benefit in a variety of ways from a minority teacher. When minority students and teachers share the same race, students report an environment of increased expectations and enhanced cultural understanding, and may benefit from interacting with a role model that is demographically similar to themselves. Evidence even suggests that there may be a positive academic effect for students, with a same-race teacher boosting test scores by up to the equivalent of one school year.

As the impacts of minority teachers have become more widely recognized, much emphasis has been placed on the recruitment of minority teachers to ensure that their population is more reflective of today’s student population. LPI has found that these recruitment efforts have been rather successful, with the number of minority teachers nationally more than doubling between the 1980s and 2012. However, today’s minority teacher population still lags significantly behind the minority student population, with the proportion of minority teachers in the national teacher workforce increasing from about 12% to just over 17% in the same time period. A report out this month from the Learning Policy Institute decodes this puzzle, and suggests that districts need to look beyond recruitment efforts and toward retention in order to erase the minority teacher gap.

The research finds that minority teachers— particularly male minority teachers— are significantly more likely to change schools or leave the profession entirely, and that the high rate at which these teachers leave is undoing any positive gains made in minority teacher recruitment each year. LPI points to a particularly significant example of this problem: during the 2003-2004 school year, 47,600 minority teachers entered the classroom for the first time. However, by the following school year, 56,000 minority teachers had left teaching entirely— a full 20 percent more than had entered the profession in the previous year. With attrition rates so high, it is critical to examine what may be causing such a pattern.

Though it is true, as commonly stated, that minority teachers are more likely to teach in the most underserved communities, the teachers themselves pointed to a very different set of problems driving their departure. LPI found that the topics least correlated with high minority teacher attrition included issues like salary level, quality of professional development, and availability of classroom resources. Instead, the evidence points most strongly to poor working conditions: minority teachers report issues like the level of influence they feel over decision making in the school and degree of autonomy in the classroom as the main drivers in their decision to leave.

Fostering a workplace environment that respects the professionalism and autonomy of minority teachers appears to be key to retaining them for the future. Evidence also shows that, particularly in schools where most staff is white, support from administrators may also play a strong role in retaining minority teachers. As we find ourselves already settling into the school year, consider: in what ways are issues like influence over decision making, classroom autonomy, and administrator support emphasized? How should the workplace look this year in order to ensure retention of minority teachers next year?






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