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January 13, 2011

Stopping the bully

A bullying story makes everyone wince. The minor stories bring up painful memories for most of us, while the most severe stories of bullying horrify us with their cruelty.

As a result, there are anti-bullying laws, and mandates, and schoolwide assemblies, and discussions, and presentations.

But does anything actually work? That’s what Massachusetts is trying to find out. They are under a state mandate to implement anti-bullying programs. The problem is that despite the plethora of programs, few have been shown by research to have a measureable impact. For instance, Washington state, which was under a similar mandate a few years ago, studied one well-regarded program that was implemented in seven middle schools and concluded that it had had no overall impact.

Other researchers (specifically, one Cambridge University study) have also found that few programs have a measureable impact. 

However, the article says: “Among the successful programs, the researchers noticed common elements. The programs focused on cultivating parental involvement, increased playground supervision, and firm disciplinary rules for bullies. Generally, the longer the duration of the program, the greater the improvement. Programs worked best with older youths — those over age 11 — probably because they had more advanced thinking abilities, enabling them to grasp the concept of bullying.”

I think that points out what we all grasp: bullying is a complex problem that is hard to even isolate, let alone address. But I’m glad that researchers are looking at what actually works. This is exactly the kind of high-profile, high-emotion topic that pushes everyone in schools to want to do something — anything — in order to say they’re addressing the problem.

But if we really care about these students, we won’t waste schools’ money on programs that make the adults feel good and leave the students as defenseless as before. Before another state passes a law, perhaps the legislators will look at the research before they start to mandate. –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: bullying,Public education,research,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 9:55 am

April 23, 2010

Virginia high school gives all students a chance

J.E.B Stuart High School math teacher, William Horkan says, “Don’t be afraid to give students a challenge,” and that’s exactly what he does. Horkan invites all students, advanced or not, to take his International Baccalaureat Math Studies (IBMS) class. And students are living up to that challenge by not only doing well in his class, but passing the IB exam.

Horkan believes that all students “develop math talents at different rates,” and that just because a student may be tracked at a lower academic level in ninth grade, he or she shouldn’t be exempt from taking higher level math later on. The class has become so popular with students that the school has had to add another teacher.

Read the Center’s newest success story, Challenging students with math at J.E.B. Stuart High School, to find out more about how this school challenges its students and the lessons they’ve learned. ~ Pamela Karwasinski

February 12, 2010

How good are your colleges?

Recently, we’ve been encouraging high schools to look at college-related data on their graduates for insights into how well their program prepares students for postsecondary success (see  “Chasing the college acceptance letter” ).  But preparing for college is just one side of the equation. Truth is, college grad rates vary a lot, even among institutions that admit academically similar students. And parents and students — not to mention educators and policymakers — should pay attention.

The Education Trust has an online search tool called College Results Online that makes it easy to identify colleges with higher grad rates, both overall and disaggregated by race/ethnicity, and compare them to similar institutions.  As a parent of a high school senior, I can testify how helpful this website was when my daughter was searching for colleges. The new interface is even easier to use. But this is a useful tool for policymakers, too, who want to know how effective their local colleges are. — Patte Barth

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,college — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 3:07 pm

January 29, 2010

Helping poor students pay for college is not enough

During the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed to increase funding for Pell Grants to help low-income students pay for college. With the cost of a college education out of reach for many families, this is at least a step in the right direction to help more low-incomes students earn a college degree. However, the proposal would only help those low-income students who actually got accepted into a college.

Of course, it is important to help those students, but first low-income students need to get into college. As the Center’s latest report Chasing the college acceptance letter found not only are low-income students less likely than their high-income peers to earn the high school credentials needed to get into a good college, lower-income students are less likely to get into a good college even if they earn the same high school credentials as their high-income peers.

That’s right — a college looking at two applicants who have the same grades, the same test scores, and who have completed the same courses, is more likely to send an acceptance letter to the higher-income student. The low-income student is more likely to receive one of those dreaded thin envelopes. Why? We don’t know. But the data is clear that it happens.

Yes, helping low-income students pay for college is incredibly important, but we need to make sure all low-income students have their fair shot at going onto college as their high-income peers by providing all students with rigorous courses, effective teachers, and sufficient time with guidance councilors.  Then we would likely see more students going on to earn a college degree. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,college,Course taking,High school — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 9:55 am

January 26, 2010

The silent achievement gap

I’m delighted to see our Chasing the college acceptance letter report making the rounds in the blogosphere and beyond. Some comments on those blog posts have made particular mention of the fact that it has gotten more difficult for qualified low-income students to get into a good college.

This got me wondering as well, but unfortunately the data didn’t provide any concrete answers as to why this would be the case. The report was based on a national sample of students, so it wasn’t possible to dig deep into the data to find out why it is more difficult for low-income students to get that acceptance letter. It is a disturbing trend that needs to change. State and local policy makers need to look into the admissions practices of their local colleges to determine if low-income students are getting a fair shake at getting into a good college.

However, as the report points out, this is not just a postsecondary education problem, it’s a K-12 problem as well. There is a silent achievement gap that hasn’t garnered much attention. As the report finds, low-income and minority students are three to four times less likely than their higher-income and white peers to earn the credentials they need to give them a decent chance of getting into a good college.

So high schools need to be more effective at providing all students, especially minority and low-income students, with the rigorous courses colleges look at when determining which students they will accept–courses like trigonometry and chemistry. In order to do this,  students will need the appropriate math and science skills when they enter high school to be on-track to complete such courses. Hence, middle schools also play an important role in giving students the best chance possible to get into a good college.

For more information about the importance of preparing all students for postsecondary education—even those students not planning on going to college—check out the Center’s report Defining a 21st Century Education.

 – Jim Hull

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