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School Choice: Policy Developments and National Participation

January 31, 2008
School Choice: Policy Developments and National Participation Estimates in 2007-2008

by Dan Lips, Backgrounder #2102


A growing number of American students are bene­fiting from school choice policies. Twenty years ago, few states and communities offered parents the opportunity to choose their children's school. Today, millions of American students are benefiting from policies that enable parental choice in education.


This year, 13 states and the District of Columbia are supporting private school choice. Approximately 150,000 children are using publicly funded scholar­ships to attend private school.[1] Millions more are benefiting from other choice options ranging from charter schools and public school choice to home­schooling and virtual education. Still, an estimated 74 percent of students remain in government-assigned public schools.[2]


If given the opportunity, many more children could benefit from school choice options. To improve education in America, Congress and state policy­makers should reform public education laws to allow greater parental choice.

School Choice in America As of November 2007:

Eight states--Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Ohio, Vermont, Utah, and Wisconsin--and the District of Columbia have policies that provide tax­payer-funded scholarships to help students attend private elementary or secondary schools of choice;

Seven states--Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Min­nesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island--offer incentives for contributions to scholarship pro­grams or allow tax credits or deductions for edu­cation expenses, including private school tuition;

* Forty states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws;[3]
* All but four states and District of Columbia have some form of public school choice policy;[4]
* Home schooling is legal in every state;[5] and
* Millions of children are utilizing new virtual edu­cation and distance learning options.

Private School Choice. The strongest form of school choice is private school choice, which enables parents to choose to enroll their children in either a public or private school. In 2007, 13 states and the District of Columbia provided public support for private school choice. The District of Columbia and eight of the 13 states have tuition scholarship or school voucher programs. Seven states offer tax credits or deductions for educa­tion costs (including private school tuition) or for donations to nonprofit organizations that provide tuition scholarships to children.


The following is a state-by-state overview of private school choice programs that are available.

Arizona. The Grand Canyon state has four pri­vate school choice programs. Since 1997, the state has offered taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to nonprofit organizations that fund tuition scholarships. Tax credit donations are cur­rently capped at $500 per individual and $1,000 for joint filers. In 2006, 24,678 students received scholarships totaling $40.6 million through the pro­gram, and Arizona taxpayers made 73,621 dona­tions totaling $51 million.[6] The funds raised in 2006 for scholarships represent a 21 percent increase over 2005 contributions, making it likely that thousands of additional students are receiving scholarships this year.


In 2006, Arizona enacted three new private school choice programs. The first was a corporate scholarship tax credit, which allows businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to fund tuition scholarships. The scholarships are for stu­dents who meet family income guidelines (below $68,450 for a family of four in 2006) and who were previously enrolled in public school or are entering kindergarten.[7] Corporate tax credits were capped at a total of $10 million for 2006. The cap will increase by 20 percent annually until 2012, when the pro­gram sunsets.[8] In 2006, 87 corporations donated $7.3 million for scholarships.[9] An estimated 1,200 students are receiving scholarships through this program during the 2007-2008 school year.[10]


Arizona also enacted two new school voucher programs in 2006: a private school scholarship pro­gram for children with disabilities and a first-in-the-nation tuition scholarship program for former foster children. The state allocated $2.5 million for private school scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis for qualifying special education students. In September 2007, 151 students were participating in the program.[11]


Through the Displaced Pupils Choice Grant Pro­gram, children who have been in foster care can receive tuition scholarships worth $5,000 apiece on a first-come, first-served basis. (Children who are currently in a foster care placement are not eligi­ble.)[12] The program has awarded scholarships to 131 students for the 2007-2008 school year.[13]


Florida. Florida has two private school choice programs. Since 2000-2001, Florida has offered private school tuition scholarships to children with disabilities through the McKay Scholarship Pro­gram. According to the Florida Department of Edu­cation, 18,919 students were participating in the program as of November 2007.[14] During the 2006- 2007 school year, the average scholarship amount was $7,206, and 811 private schools participated.[15]


Since 2001, Florida has also offered corporations a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to fund private school scholarships for disadvantaged children. The tax credits are currently capped at a total of $88 million per year. As of November 2007, 19,416 students in 906 different schools were receiving scholarships through the program.[16] In 2006-2007, the average scholarship was $3,750.[17]


In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the private school option in the state's Opportunity Scholarship program was unconstitutional under the Florida state constitution.[18] This program, launched in 1999, had allowed students to transfer out of low-performing public schools into private schools using state-funded vouchers.


Georgia. In 2007, Georgia Governor Sonny Per­due (R) signed into law a new special needs scholar­ship program.[19] Nearly 200,000 of the state's special education students are eligible for the program. After the legislation was signed, the families of 6,000 stu­dents inquired about the scholarship program. In September 2007, 904 students had received scholar­ships for the 2007-2008 school year.[20]


Iowa. Iowa has two private school choice pro­grams: a partial state income tax credit for educa­tion expenses and a scholarship tax credit program. The income tax credit allows parents to take a 25 percent tax credit for education expenses (including private school tuition) up to $1,000 per child on state income taxes. According to the Iowa Depart­ment of Education, Iowa taxpayers claimed $15.4 million in tax credits in 2005.[21]


The scholarship tax credit program offers indi­viduals a 65 percent tax credit for contributions to nonprofit organizations that award tuition scholar­ships to children from families with incomes below 300 percent of the poverty line.[22] The tax credits were originally capped at $2.5 million for 2006 and $5 million for future years,[23] but Governor Chet Culver (D) signed an appropriations bill that increased the cap to $7.5 million for 2008.[24]


Illinois. Since 2000, Illinois has offered taxpayers an annual tax credit for 25 percent of education-related expenses (including tuition, book fees, and lab fees) above $250, up to a maximum tax credit of $500 per family. The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation reports that nearly 195,000 families claimed $67 million in tax credits in 2003.[25]


Ohio. Ohio has three private school scholarship programs. Since 1996, the state has offered private school tuition scholarships to disadvantaged chil­dren in Cleveland.[26] Vouchers are awarded to eligi­ble students through a lottery, with children from lower-income families receiving priority.[27] As of October 2007, 6,293 students were participating in the program.[28]


Since 2004, Ohio has also offered tuition schol­arships to autistic children.[29] The program offers participating students up to $20,000 annually in state funding. School Choice Ohio reports that 734 students are participating in the program during the 2007-2008 school year.[30]


In 2006, Ohio enacted the EdChoice Scholar­ship Program, a statewide school voucher program for children who attend low-performing public schools. The program can provide up to 14,000 scholarships to qualifying students to attend private school. Eligibility is restricted to children attending schools that have been placed on "academic watch" or "academic emergency" for two of the past three years under the state's school rating system.[31] School Choice Ohio reports that 6,934 students are participating in the program during the 2007-2008 school year.[32]


Maine. Maine has a long history of providing limited school choice options. Since 1873, students from families in small towns that do not have local public schools have been awarded scholarships to attend public or private schools of choice. The Friedman Foundation reports that 13,959 students participated in the program in 2004-2005, with 7,907 attending public schools and 6,052 attending private schools.[33]


Minnesota. Minnesota offers families tuition tax credits and deductions for education expenses.[34] All families in the state can receive a tax deduction for private school tuition expenses. Lower-income families can receive a tax credit for certain education expenses, not including private school tuition. The state estimated that the credit will cost $15.3 mil­lion in lost tax revenue in 2008 and that the tax deduction will cost $16 million.[35]


Pennsylvania. Since 2001, corporations in Penn­sylvania have been able to receive partial income tax credits for donations to organizations that fund pri­vate school scholarships or school improvement projects. Through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, businesses can receive a 75 percent tax credit for a one-year donation or a 90 percent tax credit for contributions for two years.


In 2001, tax credits were capped at a total of $20 million for donations to fund private school schol­arships and $10 million for contributions to educa­tional improvement organizations for public schools. The caps were raised from 2003 through 2006, reaching $35.9 million for scholarships and $18 million for public school donations in 2006. According to the REACH Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Harrisburg, as many as 42,000 students will receive scholarships through the tax credit program during the 2007-2008 school year.[36]


In 2007, the state again expanded the program, raising the total cap on tax credits to $75 million, with $44.7 million dedicated for private school scholarships, $22.3 million for innovative educa­tional programs in public schools, and $8 million for pre-kindergarten scholarships.


Rhode Island. In 2006, Rhode Island created a new corporate scholarship tax credit program, which allows corporations to take a tax credit for contributions to nonprofit groups that fund scholar­ships to students from families that meet income eli­gibility requirements (below 250 percent of the poverty line). The tax credits are capped at a total of $1 million per year. The Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance reports that all of the available tax credit donations were taken for the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years.[37] More than 250 students have received scholarships through the program.[38]


Utah. In 2005, Utah enacted the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship program, which offers tuition scholarships to children with disabilities.[39] The program has 468 students for the 2007-2008 school year.[40]


In 2007, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) signed the Parent Choice in Education Act, which offered school vouchers to nearly all children in Utah.[41] Under the program, private school scholar­ships would have been offered to all current public school students, disadvantaged children currently attending private school, and children entering kin­dergarten. Scholarships would have varied between $500 and $3,000, with children from lower-income families receiving larger amounts.[42]


However, opponents of school choice managed to block the program's implementation with a peti­tion drive that forced a statewide November refer­endum in which Utah voters rejected the program by a vote of 62 percent to 38 percent.[43]


Vermont. Like Maine, Vermont has a tuitioning program for students who live in small towns that do not have local public schools. This program, which began in 1869, allows students in towns without local public schools to attend either public schools in other towns or non-religious private schools.[44] Some towns allow parents to choose their children's schools, while other towns send all of their children to the same school. The Friedman Foundation reports that 8,040 students partici­pated in the program in 2004-2005, with 3,595 attending public schools and 4,445 attending pri­vate schools.[45]


Washington, D.C. In 2004, President George W. Bush signed legislation to create the D.C. Opportu­nity Scholarship program, which provides scholar­ships worth up to $7,500 to students from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty line. According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit organization that administers the program, 1,903 students are currently receiving scholarships to attend private schools through the program.[46] Participating families have an average annual income of less than $23,000.[47]


Wisconsin. Since the 1990-1991 school year, disadvantaged children living in Milwaukee have been eligible to attend private school using publicly funded scholarships. In September 2007, 17,657 students were receiving scholarships through the program.[48] The program has grown dramatically since its first year, when only 337 students received scholarships,[49] and is the largest urban school voucher program in the nation.


Public School Choice. American families are also benefiting from more opportunities to choose the best public schools for their children. Accord­ing to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of American students attending assigned public schools decreased from 80 percent to 74 percent between 1993 and 2003. During this period, the percentage of students attend­ing chosen public schools grew from 11 percent to 15 percent.[50]


The Education Commission of the States reports that all but four states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of open enrollment policy to facilitate choice within the public education sys­tem.[51] These open enrollment policies vary in their strength in offering parents choice within the public education system.


In addition to these state polices, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires states to offer students in low-performing public schools the opportunity to transfer into a higher-performing public school. The U.S. Department of Education reports that millions of children are eligible for the public school transfer option, but only a small per­centage have benefited. The Department of Educa­tion reported that 3.9 million students were eligible to transfer schools under NCLB regulations in 2003-2004, but only 38,000 children (less than 1 percent) transferred.[52]


A more recent study found that only 0.5 per­cent of eligible students in nine large, urban school districts took advantage of the public school transfer option in 2004-2005. The study suggested that administrative problems, such as late notification, failure to inform parents, and lack of capacity in higher-performing public schools, contributed to the low participation in these parental choice options.[53]


Charter Schools. The proliferation of charter schools across the country is a primary reason for the increase in the percentage of children attend­ing chosen public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that agree to meet certain performance standards set by governing authorities but are otherwise free from the bureaucratic rules and regulations that encumber traditional public schools. In this sense, charter schools offer parents an alternative to traditional public schools.

The Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit organization that supports charter schools and school choice, reports that 40 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools.[54] An estimated 1.2 million children are attending 4,147 charter schools across the country.[55] In some communities, charter schools are becoming a central component of the public education system. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that 57 percent of students in New Orleans attend charter schools. In the District of Columbia and Dayton, Ohio, 27 percent of students attend charter schools.[56] Only 10 states--Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia-- do not have charter school laws.[57]


Homeschooling. Homeschooling is legal in every state, and a growing number of American families are choosing to educate their children at home. According to the U.S. Department of Educa­tion, approximately 1.1 million students were being educated at home in 2003, compared to an esti­mated 850,000 students in 1999. When home­schooling families were asked why they choose to homeschool their children, 31 percent cited the environment of other schools as their primary rea­son, and 30 percent expressed a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.[58]


Virtual Education and Distance Learning. Tech­nological advances have also created new opportu­nities for greater choice in education that would not have been possible a generation ago. Many commu­nities now offer virtual education and distance learning programs. According to the U.S. Depart­ment of Education, 36 percent of public school districts in 2002-2003 had students enrolled in distance education courses, 9 percent of all public schools nationwide offered some distance learning, and 15 percent of schools in rural communities offered distance education.[59]

Education Savings Accounts. Another public policy that fosters greater parental choice in educa­tion is education savings accounts (ESAs) and tax incentives for ESA contributions. Under federal law, families can save for their children's K-12 and post-secondary education through the Coverdell Educa­tion Savings Account program. After-tax dollars contributed to a child's account can earn interest tax free if the funds are withdrawn for allowed K-12 or higher education expenses, including private school tuition, supplementary education services such as tutoring, summer school, and public school enrich­ment programs.


Currently, no state offers a state-level tax deduction or credit for contributions to Coverdell ESAs. However, more than 30 states offer tax incentives for contributions to 529 college savings plans, which under federal law allow tax-free sav­ings for post-secondary education expenses.[60] In the future, states could offer the same tax benefit for K-12 savings that is available for post-second­ary education.

Private School Choice: Developments in 2007

Parental choice in education expanded in 2007. Yet these gains were limited compared to what would have been possible if private school choice options passed by the state legislatures in Utah, Louisiana, and Ohio had been allowed to be imple­mented.


Georgia became the 13th state to offer parents private school choice by enacting a special needs scholarship program. Participation rates in private school choice programs continue to grow across the country. Pennsylvania and Iowa responded to grow­ing demand for private school choice by increasing the caps on their respective scholarship tax credit programs. In all, measures to enact or expand K-12 private school choice were introduced in at least 40 state legislatures in 2007.[61]

However, private school choice initiatives that were passed by the Ohio, Louisiana, and Utah legis­latures were ultimately blocked. Utah's universal school voucher program was repealed by referen­dum. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) vetoed a school voucher program for children with disabili­ties.[62] Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (D) vetoed legislation to create a tax deduction for pri­vate school tuition.[63] These developments highlight the continuing political resistance to policies that give families greater school choice options.


The Benefits of School Choice

The proliferation of school choice programs across the country has enabled researchers to study the impact of school choice policies on students, families, and school systems. A growing body of research suggests that school choice policies benefit both participating students and the public educa­tion system as a whole.


Parental Satisfaction. A number of surveys and studies have reported that parents are more satisfied with their children's education when they can choose their children's schools. For example, the U.S. Department of Education reports that a survey of American parents found that "students enrolled in assigned public schools tended to have parents who were less satisfied with the schools than stu­dents enrolled in either a chosen public school or a private school."[64] The report also noted that a national survey of parents in 1993, 1999, and 2003 found that parents whose children attended chosen public schools or private schools were more satis­fied with the school, teachers, academic standards, and order and discipline than were parents whose children attended assigned public schools.[65]


Many surveys have shown that parents whose children are participating in school choice pro­grams are generally highly satisfied with their children's schools. For example, the Georgetown University School Choice Demonstration Project reported that, based on the responses of a focus group of families participating in the D.C. Oppor­tunity Scholarship program:


After nearly two years in the [Opportunity Scholarship Program], parents by and large remain very satisfied with their experi­ences. The parents also expressed satisfac­tion with the reduced class size, a rigorous academic curriculum, strict discipline and religious orientation they found in the inde­pendent schools.[66]


A survey of parents of children participating in Florida's McKay scholarship program for children with special needs in 2003 found that 93 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their children's schools, compared with only 33 percent who were satisfied with the public schools that their children had previously attended.[67]

Academic Achievement. Researchers studying the effect of private school choice options on stu­dents have reported positive benefits. In 2005, edu­cation researcher Jay Greene reviewed the evidence of eight random-assignment studies of five school voucher and tuition scholarship programs, which compared the performance of students who were awarded scholarships to attend private school through a lottery system to the performance of their peers who entered the lottery but did not receive scholarships and therefore remained in public school, and concluded:


Every one of the eight random-assignment studies finds at least some positive aca­demic effect for students using a voucher to attend a private school. In seven of the eight studies the benefits for voucher recipients are statistically significant, meaning that we can have high confidence that the academic gains observed are not merely the product of chance.[68]


Greene points out that these positive results were found even though the scholarships awarded to participating students cost less than the expenditure per student in public school.[69]


In June 2007, the U.S. Department of Education released the initial results of an academic evalua­tion comparing the test scores of students using vouchers through the D.C. Opportunity Scholar­ship program to attend private school with the test scores of a control group of students who remained in public school. The study found no statistically significant differences between the test scores of participating students and students who were not offered scholarships.[70]


However, this evaluation measured test score changes after only one year. The authors of the Department of Education report note that, in other academic evaluations of academic achievement in voucher programs, a consistent pattern of academic achievement has not been evident after only the first year.[71] Thus, forthcoming evaluations of test scores after the second and third years will likely be more revealing about the program's impact.

Positive Effect of Competition. Beyond helping participating children, school choice programs also introduce competition into public school systems, which forces public schools to become more effi­cient or lose students. Academic research studies have reported that school choice competition has led to improved performance in public school systems.


In 2001, economists Clive Belfield and Henry Levin reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of competition in education. They reported that "A size­able majority of these studies report beneficial effects of competition across all outcomes, with many report­ing statistically significant coefficients."[72]


Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby studied the effects of competition on education in Arizona, Michigan, and Milwaukee and reported positive effects. She found that Arizona and Michi­gan public schools that faced competition from charter schools made greater academic improve­ment than public schools that did not face compe­tition. She also reports that public schools that faced competition from private schools through the Milwaukee school voucher program similarly improved their performance compared to public schools that faced less competition.[73]


Positive Fiscal Impact. Private school choice policies are also having a positive fiscal impact in the communities that implement them. Susan Aud reviewed the fiscal impact of school choice pro­grams from 1990 through 2006 and found that "School choice programs have saved a total of about $444 million" during that period, including "a total of $22 million saved in state budgets and $422 mil­lion saved in local public school districts."[74] Because the amount provided to students in schol­arship or voucher programs is generally lower than the amount spent by state and local governments to educate a child in public school, states and localities save money when children use school choice pro­grams to transfer out of public schools.


The Need for School Choice

Millions of children in America's public schools are not receiving a quality education. According to the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress's Nation's Report Card, 33 percent of 4th graders and 26 percent of 8th graders scored "below basic" in reading,[75] and 18 percent of 4th graders and 29 percent of 8th graders scored "below basic" in mathematics.[76]


Students from lower socioeconomic back­grounds scored lower than their peers. In 2007, among students who were eligible for the free and reduced-price school lunch program, 50 percent of 4th graders and 42 percent of 8th graders scored below basic in reading.[77]


High school dropout rates also show that many children are not succeeding in the U.S. K-12 edu­cation system. According to various reports, the estimated average high school graduation rate is between 71 percent and 74 percent.[78] High school graduation rates are even lower among ethnic minority students: 56 percent of African-American and 52 percent of Hispanic students graduated in 2002, compared to 78 percent of white students.[79]


Students who fail to graduate high school are more likely to impose costs on society and taxpay­ers. Researcher Brian J. Gottlob has projected that the estimated 119,000 Texas students in the class of 2005 who dropped out of high school cost the state $377 million, or $3,168 per student, annually. Over the course of their lifetimes, one class year of high school dropouts will cost the state an esti­mated $19 billion.[80]


This is a very conservative estimate, since it includes only lost tax revenue and higher Medicaid and incarceration costs. High school dropouts likely impose a much higher cost on society.


The low educational attainment of so many chil­dren in America's public education system imposes personal costs on the students and societal costs on communities and the nation as a whole. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that a full-time worker with a bachelor's degree will earn nearly $1 million more than a full-time worker who is only a high school graduate.[81] Failing to succeed in America's elementary and secondary schools imposes a life­time financial burden.


Expanding parental choice in education will not solve all of the problems in American educa­tion, but giving families the power to choose the best schools for their children would provide an immediate benefit to children who are assigned to low-performing public schools. Expanding school choice would create a reform environment that encourages innovation and improvement. High-performing schools would become models that other schools would imitate. Low-performing schools would be forced to improve or risk losing students to higher-performing schools. Creating a reform environment of healthy competition is an important step toward improved public education in America.

What Congress and State Policymakers Should Do

Public education governance is primarily the responsibility of state and local government. Edu­cation is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution and should therefore not be the responsibility of the federal government. However, since the mid-20th century, the federal government has taken an increasing role in funding and regulating public education.


Congress and state policymakers should reform publiceducation laws to strengthen parental choice in education. Specifically, Con­gress should:


Expand parental choice in the District of Columbia, where Congress has oversight authority over the local public school system. Specifically, Congress should reauthorize the D.C. Choice Incentive Act of 2003[82] and create new school choice options for families living in the nation's capital.


Expand Coverdell Education Savings Accounts to give families greater ability to save for and pay for their children's K-12 education costs to ensure that they receive a quality education.


Reform No Child Left Behind to restore greater state and local control in education and to restore parental choice. Specifically, Congress should reform NCLB to allow states to enter into charter agreements with the U.S. Department of Education to give states greater authority to decide how federal funds for education are spent. At a minimum, the law's existing parental choice options should be strengthened.

For their part, state policymakers should:

* Enact education reforms that give families greater school choice options, including private school choice programs like tuition scholarships and education tax credits.
* Expand parental choice within the public edu­cation system by enacting strong public school options, enacting strong public charter school laws to promote more charter school options, and offering innovative learning options such as distance learning and virtual education.
* Expand education savings options for families by offering taxpayers the same incentives for K-12 education as are currently available for post-secondary education.



Across the United States, a growing number of families are benefiting from greater opportunities to choose the best schools for their children. Today, 13 states and Washington, D.C., have private school choice programs. Most states now offer at least some choice within the traditional public school system through charter schools or public school choice laws.

Still, millions of American children remain assigned to low-performing public schools. State and federal policymakers should implement educa­tion reforms to give all parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children.


Dan Lips is Education Analyst in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation.




Researching and Choosing the Right School

Submitted By: Parmalee

No matter what level, preschool to college, choosing a school for your child can be a daunting task. Parents have so many questions that often go unanswered.  Is it necessary to put your unborn child on a waiting list if you want to get them into a good preschool? Is it necessary to start prepping your child to get into a good college while they are still in elementary school? Which middle or high school is right for your child?


For every family, there are different expectations, different pressures and different answers, but the key to finding the answer that is right for your child and your family is to educate yourself, know what to look for and know what to ask. Below are some tips and questionnaires on how to go about finding the right school for your child and the questions to ask the directors.  If you don't yet live in Santa Cruz County but are looking to move here, visit our links to different school districts in the county.

Here are some tips....
1. Know Your Options. Public, charter, parochial, private or home school, emphasis on arts, music, sciences? Which suits your child's needs?

2. Know Your Child. Think about the learning environment that your child works best in as well as their learning style. Do they need more or less structure? Does your child need challenging academics, or extra help? Does your child have any special needs, academically, behaviorally or physically? If your child has a learning disability, is gifted, autistic, or has other special need there are schools that offer specific programs. Take into account your child's learning style as well. You can have your child tested if you wish to find out how your child learns best (auditory, tactile, or visual). Sometimes it can be a simple matter of self-reflection. Is your child a lot like you? How do you learn best? If your child is a lot like you, more than likely they will have a similar learning style. Knowing your child's strengths and weaknesses can also help in determining which school is best. You want to choose a school that will build upon your child's strengths and help overcome your child's weaknesses.

3. Research the Schools. Research the schools you're considering ahead of time. Here are a few highlights:
• Curriculum: You should take a look at the curriculum that the school offers to its students. Does it have an integrated program for those core subjects like literature, grammar, spelling, composition, geography, history, math, and science? What enrichment classes are offered in addition: art, music, chess, French, Spanish, Latin, theater.
• Philosophy: Schools have specific teaching philosophies. Learn more about the philosophies of the schools you're interested in. A school's philosophy is all about the approach used for teaching and learning. Does a school involve students in group projects? What about testing and homework policies? How does the school ensure that each child is learning? When you have information you can decide if your child will benefit from that approach. Children generally do well in a school when a family's expectations and beliefs correlate with those of a school. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions. Schools want a good fit too.
• Location: Obviously, geographical location and age of children are important factors. Figure out how far away or close you want the school to be to your home. You should also take into account the fact that your child's neighborhood friends will likely go to schools nearby. Attending the same schools as neighborhood friends is low on the totem pole of importance if you have other more pressing requirements.
• School & Class Size: A school's size should be appropriate for your child's personality. Larger campuses can be intimidating to some children or exhilarating to others. Class sizes should be small with low student-teacher ratios. We've seen studies that show 15 to be optimal. You'll find higher numbers in certain grades of public and private schools. The best choice of school will be one that allows your child to participate and connect with their teachers on a variety of levels.
• Academic Performance: Check out the school's test scores and compare them with other similar schools. Take a look at the school's report card if you're dealing with a public school or ask school personnel for that information when dealing with a private school. School report cards describe characteristics of the school, including the number of children, various test scores, teacher to student ratios, ethnic profiles, poverty levels, and more. Information and report cards on schools can be found from the Department of Education.
• Behavior Policies & Discipline: Ask how the schools handle student behavior and discipline. What happens when a student misbehaves? Does that answer jive with your personal philosophy with respect to discipline techniques? Other behavior related issues include attendance and dress code policies. Find out the school's general behavior policies and decide if they would work for your child. Ask how a school fosters good citizenship.
• Safety: Find out about the policies and procedures that the school utilizes to ensure student safety on campus. How does the school handle problems with substance abuse, abusive behavior, and emergency situations?
• Special Activities: Ask about extracurricular activities for their students, such as after-school sports, photography clubs, gymnastics, rock climbing. Which activities receive the most attention and resources? Are private lessons offered?
• School Facilities & Services: Visit to see a school's facilities (library, computer center, auditoriums, cafeteria, etc.) and the services provided by school personnel (nursing, counseling, after-school care, tutoring, etc.). Some schools will also have a gifted program for students who need a more challenging educational experience.
• Parental Involvement: Children benefit when parents are actively involved in their education. Find out if the schools work with parents. Can parents volunteer? Is there an active and parent organization? If not are you able/willing to volunteer? Schools that support and encourage parental involvement are often strong schools.
• Admissions: It is important that you begin the process of choosing a school as early as possible. Ask about any deadlines for applying to the prospective schools. Understand the admission requirements (test scores, interviews, recommendations, fees, etc.) for each of the schools you're investigating.

Stay involved. YOU are the most important influence in your child's life. Your attitude toward school affects your child's attitude. Whether your child attends a small, large, private or public school, parent interest and participation can make a big impact. Your child should know that you communicate with his teacher and that you will find out if she is responsible or misbehaves in class. Talk to your child's teacher and let him or her know that you are committed to raising a respectful child with a love of learning. It's a team effort: parents, teacher and child.

Keep in mind that choosing a school for your child is not a permanent decision. You may decide to start him at one school for all the right reasons only to find out that in reality, it falls short of your expectations and is not meeting your child's needs. If you are not confident that your child is attending in the best place for her, find out what other alternatives are available. No school is perfect, but you go in with your eyes wide open. When a school turns out to not be a good fit for your child, reassess your alternatives. The choice of school should be made with your child's best interests in mind.  One last suggestion: be considerate of the other parents for whom a school is working well.

Seven Ways to Use Art Therapy with Your Child

Submitted By: Charlotte Reznick PhD


Since the first cave paintings, we humans have found creative ways to express ourselves with art. We naturally draw, paint, and doodle to capture thoughts and feelings. Art has also been used throughout history for healing. Studies show that it creates brain wave patterns that enhance the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, and brain neurotransmitters. While doing artistic expressive art, the body's physiology shifts from stressed to serene.


It's often easier for a child to talk about pictures than about himself or his feelings (grief, anger, shame, etc.). Drawing will allow your child to express difficult feelings or to disclose what he might not share verbally. Your child's artistic expression will give you a clearer sense of his inner struggle, an insight that will help you guide him.


Drawing also increases your child's awareness of his inner world and creates a window onto that landscape. In addition, a child's artwork can be a launching point for conversations that reveal her thinking about the world around her.


You don't have to be a trained therapist to do art therapy with your child. Just stock up on a variety of supplies-giant rolls of paper, colored paper, crayons, and a variety of markers, including scented, metallic, fat, thin, even markers that change color as they write over another color. Then try the following art therapy techniques to explore new ways to communicate with your child.


Draw a self-portrait. On a large sheet of paper, trace your young child's body. Have her fill it in. Older children can design and complete their own. Drawing increases your child's awareness of her inner world, and it's easier to talk about a drawing than to express troubling feelings.


Picture the future. Artwork is also an effective starting point when you're working with clear end-goals, like getting a good night's sleep or reducing a fear. Have your child draw two drawings-how things are now and how he'd like them to be. Kids often hang these pictures in their bedrooms to remind them of their desired direction.


Show and tell. After an imaginary journey, such as a walk through a special place she imagines with her eyes shut and tells you about, have your child draw her experience. The picture gives you both something to look at and discuss. If the drawing illustrates a problem-say, a dangerous goblin or a fire at home-ask her what might solve the situation. She can even draw the solution right onto her picture.


Accept every drawing. Some kids have a tough time committing their mental pictures to paper; they fear they won't measure up. Reassure your child that anything he creates is fine. Sometimes all that comes are strokes of bold color evolving out of a wonderful or terrible feeling that is finally set free on paper. Praise each one. They are the artifacts of your child's inner world.

Talk to the image. Once your child has spilled his feelings on paper, he can converse with them. He might use his picture of Fear to ask what it needs to calm down, or to tell it to leave. It's much easier to speak to feelings when they're outside than when they're gnawing away at his tummy.


Take artistic action. It's a great release when a child can draw her angry, hurt, or upset feelings, but pictures don't have to be static. She can erase part of it, or draw over it in "healing" colors with a changeable marker-an immediate transformation that feels magical. She can even rip up or throw away the paper. These actions can offer a hurting child a sense of control and satisfaction.

Capture the memory. The special places your child visits on her imaginary journeys are personal healing sanctuaries. Hanging pictures of them somewhere private but visible will remind her that she can return whenever the need arises. Drawings of trusted animal friends and wizards can help her remember support is always near.


* * * * *
Charlotte Reznick is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and author of a new book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee, 2009, $14.95).


Parent-Teacher Conference Jitters?

Submitted By: Beth Kanne-Casselman, MEd, MFT

Here are a few tips to optimize this special one-on-one time you will soon have with your child's teacher!

What to expect:

The parent-teacher conferences are usually a packed 20-30 minutes intended to review how school has been for your child thus far this year. The teacher will be prepared to go over formal information, such as report cards, work samples, and assessments as well anecdotal information, all of which will be of great interest to you. This is your chance to get detailed feedback on your child, so grab it while you can.

Like homework, it is another opportunity to strengthen the home-school connection. The teacher will provide you with insight into your child's strengths and stretches and some suggestions for what you can do to further support your child at home, while also explaining what he/she will be doing at school to meet your child's needs. It is a chance to really deepen the collaborative potential that the adults in your child's life have to support him/her in becoming the best the that he/she can be!

Some things to consider as the conference approaches:

• Start looking more carefully at your child's schoolwork and generate questions that arise for you about it. Take notice and jot down examples of any patterns you are seeing in your child's work or attitudes about school this year to share with the teacher. (Consider carryover rough spots from previous years and new strengths, improvements, or struggles emerging.)
• Share with your child that you are going to be meeting with his/her teacher (if it is not a parent-student-teacher conference) and ask what he/she thinks are the most important points to cover.
• As the conference date draws near, start to prioritize the top three or four points that you would like to address. These can include social, emotional, and physical, as well as academic concerns or questions you have.
• If things have been generally negative for your child in school, try to find at least one positive aspect of school this year, be it the teacher, new friends, special activities, or newfound interests to share with the teacher.
At the conference:
• To get the most from the parent-teacher conference: Relax and enter with a friendly, open, and appreciative attitude.
• Allow the teacher to lead the conference and let him/her get through the information that he/she has prepared. Stay aware of the time and remember that you should have some opportunity to share your concerns too. It is okay to notice that the time is running short and to gently interrupt to let the teacher know that you would like a few minutes to share some things as well. What usually happens is that the conference is a give-and-take exchange and the conversation allows for you to participate within it.
• While we all want to hear only wonderful things about our children, try not to get defensive when not just special skills or achievements are addressed. Listen to the teacher carefully when he/she is speaking about the areas where your child has room to develop. (If you do start to feel upset, remind yourself that the teacher is on your side and the two of your have the same goal: To help your child be as successful and as happy as possible.)
• Should you have concerns about the teacher's choices or policies, or you don't agree with them, you will benefit most by learning why the teacher is doing what he/she is doing. It is best to address these kinds of issues with questions. Curiosity and the genuine desire to understand will keep the dialogue more open and clarify for you what the objective is behind the area of concern.

• A few good questions to ask about your child at school:
• Is my child working up to his/her ability?
• What are my child's academic (or social, emotional, physical) talents and weak areas?
• What can we do at home/What is being done at school to develop his/her weak areas/strengths?
• What is my child like in class?
• What is my child's learning style?
• How would you suggest we go about dealing with...?
Following the conference:
• Whether your child was present or not, discuss with your him/her the conversation you had with his/her teacher during the conference. You want your child to know that you are all on the same team, supporting him/her. Always end the discussion with your child on a positive note, stating a concrete strength that you and the teacher discussed.
• Take some time to reflect on the conference and feel free to arrange to communicate more with the teacher when there is a need. You should come away from the experience with new insights about your child and ways that you can continue to support him/her in school! The intention of the conference is to build a strong alliance between home and school on behalf of your child.

Beth Kanne-Casselman, MEd, LMFT has a private psychotherapy practice in the SB Area working with individuals, couples, and families. She has taught pre-school through high school and presently teaches second grade. She can be reached at 805-895-6960 or

What is an Independent School?

What is an Independent School?

Independent schools are private preschool, elementary and secondary schools which usually are directed by a board of trustees. Being free of outside control and funding, they are able to set their own standards and mission, and to serve particular families and children.


Some work with the academically or artistically gifted, others with average to above-average children, others with learning-disabled or those with unsatisfactory previous school experiences. Some offer boarding as well as day programs.

All focus on the needs of the individual child, within a range of curricula from traditional to progressive. One of the schools in our Group may be the right choice for your family.

What Can an Independent School Offer?

In independent schools your child will be known and known well by a variety of adults.

(Site Photos) School_HandsUp.jpgIndependent schools focus on strong academic programs and character development in a secure, attentive environment. Their teachers are outstanding; many have earned advanced degrees. Independent schools are generally smaller than other schools, allowing them to offer individual attention, a sense of community, and the chance for each student to excel. They place special emphasis on extracurricular programs, including visual and performing arts, athletics, student guidance, leadership programs, and community service.


Among independent schools, families can find everything from a classical curriculum including the study of Latin and Greek to innovative methods of team teaching, collaborative learning, and technology-based education. Today's independent schools seek a diverse student body, and most offer financial aid to enable families of all income levels to attend.


How and When Do We Apply?

Families apply to a school after receiving materials from its office of admission and visiting the campus. The application process may require testing, observation of younger children, transcripts and written statements from older children, letters of recommendation, and in the case of those seeking financial aid, a completed statement of need. The most important step in the process is to learn about the child, so that the right match can be made.


Most schools begin accepting applications for the next school year in the fall, and ask that families complete the application process by mid-January; candidates are notified in early March. Other schools may have later application opportunities, but in all cases, early application is advisable, particularly for those seeking financial aid.


We've seen articles that rank independent schools. Will these help us find the right school?

No. In fact, rankings misrepresent schools and mislead families. The best school for any given child is the one that can best meet the needs of that particular child. The task of choosing a school is to match a child's abilities, needs and interests with a school's mission, values, and resources. Rankings and "best at" designations take this complicated, highly individualized, task and make it seem as easy as running your thumb down a chart.


How do we get started finding the right school for the student in our family?

Go to the Independent School Fair where you can meet and talk with representatives from most of the independent schools in the Central Coast area. Go to School Open Houses. Open Houses and Visiting Days, sometimes called Shadow Days are opportunities for families and students to visit schools without having to make an appointment.


This is an edited version of an article by the Association of Independent Schools of New England.


Private versus Public

Submitted By:

Some differences between public and private schools are obvious. But deciding what's right for your child entails shedding light on the subtle distinctions many parents ignore.

by Great Schools Staff



Private versus public! It's a debate that rages across the playgrounds and living rooms of America. In fact, according to a 2009 GreatSchools and Harris Interactive poll, nearly one in four parents are currently considering switching their child's school either from private to public or public to private as a result of the economy.


What's better for your youngster? How can you compare private and public schools when they seem so disparate? Is it like comparing apples and oranges - two different things that can't be fairly held to the same standards?


As any parent who has toured both kinds of school knows, it's not always easy to answer these questions. Many people have a bias one way or another. Some assume that private schools offer superior everything, justifying their tuition costs. Others contend that public schools provide more real-life experiences or, in some cases, more-developed specialty programs in athletics or science.


While this primer won't dare takes sides, it will touch on the most fundamental differences between public and private schools - as well as a few subtle distinctions that might make all the difference for your child.

The bottom line

The most obvious discrepancy between public and private schools comes down to cold, hard cash. The good news for parents is that public schools cannot charge tuition. The bad news is that public schools are complicated, often underfunded operations influenced by political winds and shortfalls. Financed through federal, state, and local taxes, public schools are part of a larger school system, which functions as a part of the government and must follow the rules and regulations set by politicians.


In contrast, private schools must generate their own funding, which typically comes from a variety of sources: tuition; private grants; and fundraising from parents, alumni, and other community members. (Ever wonder why private schools celebrate Grandparent's Day and public schools don't?) If the school is associated with a religious group, the local branch may provide an important source of funding as well.


For parents this quickly translates into the bad news: high tuition costs and sometimes an exhausting work calendar of parent-sponsored fundraisers. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition for their member private day schools in 2008-2009 in the United States was $17,441. Tuition for boarding schools was close to $37,017. (Of the 28,384 private schools in the United States, about 1,050 are affiliated with the NAIS. Average tuition for nonmember schools is substantially less: Day schools charge $10,841 and boarding schools $23,448.)


Parochial schools are even more affordable. The National Catholic Educational Association reports that the mean tuition for parish elementary schools is $2,607 and $6,906 for the freshman year of secondary school. (Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI!)

The potential benefits of private schools accrue from their independence. Private schools do not receive tax revenues, so they do not have to follow the same sorts of regulations and bureaucratic processes that govern (and sometimes hinder) public schools. This allows many private schools to be highly specialized, offering differentiated learning, advanced curriculum, or programs geared toward specific religious beliefs. There are exceptions to such generalizations - charter and magnet schools are increasingly common public schools that often have a special educational focus or theme.

The admissions game

Another obvious distinction between public and private schools results from their respective admissions procedures. By law, public schools must accept all children. In many cases, enrolling your child involves little more than filling out a few forms and providing proof of your address to the local school district office. In practice, however, getting your child into the public school of his or her choice can be much more complicated.


Because not all public schools have resources for helping students with special needs, enrolling a child with a learning disability or other disorder may entail a more complex process. Similarly, in school districts with "school choice" policies, the procedure for finding a public school may require that parents enter a lottery to gain admission for their child into their top pick. Finally, at the high school level, many districts in larger metropolitan areas offer special schools with competitive enrollment based on students' GPAs or artistic portfolios.


Private schools, by their very definition, are selective. They are not obligated to accept every child, so getting admitted may involve in-depth applications with multiple interviews, essays, and testing. Because private schools define the identity of their communities, they often pick and choose between candidates based not only on their scholastic achievement but also their ethnicity and religious background - as well as the special attributes (or assets) of their parents.

Teachers, curriculum, and class size

While most people assume that teachers at private schools are as qualified as those at public ones, it's important to note that all teachers in a public school are usually state certified or, at a minimum, working toward certification. Certification ensures that a teacher has gone through the training required by the state, which includes student teaching and course work. Teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. Instead, they often have subject-area expertise and an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject they teach.


There's a similar discrepancy between curriculum development in private and public schools. Public schools must follow state guidelines that set out specific standards and assessment procedures. In theory, this creates a certain amount of quality control. Private schools, on the other hand, can choose whatever curriculum and assessment model they wish. This freedom to design their own curriculum or avoid standardized tests can result in higher standards for students - or lower.


Many states recognize the value of small classes and have provided funding to keep class sizes small in grades K-3. As students advance to higher grades, class size tends to get bigger in public schools, especially in large school districts and urban schools.

While many private schools provide small classes with low student-to-teacher ratios, there is no guarantee that such schools will keep their class size below a certain level. Some private schools - Catholic ones, in particular - traditionally have larger classes than public schools.

Special needs

Due to special education laws, public schools must educate all children and provide the necessary programs to meet their special needs. This means that all school districts have special education programs and teachers who are trained to work with special-needs students.


Private schools do not have to accept children with special needs, and many choose not to (although there are a small number of private schools designed for special-needs children). As a result, most private schools do not have special education programs or teachers trained to work with that student population. Some private schools will try to help all the students they admit, but extra resources may come at an additional cost. Other private schools practice something called "counseling out" - recommending that children with learning disabilities look elsewhere for a school.

How do you know what's right for your child?

Don't rely on hearsay and rumor when it comes to deciding between private and public. Visit the schools and ask the teachers lots of questions. Read school profiles on GreatSchools. At the end of the day, the best school for your child is a highly personal decision based on your family; your values; and, most important, the special needs, idiosyncrasies, and interests of your kid. Let the debate rage on, but don't forget about the one person for whom this decision is far more than sandbox banter.

Testing, testing!

Private school students typically score higher than public school students on standardized tests, but a 2006 study (pdf) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which took into account students' backgrounds, told a different story.

Public school students in fourth and eighth grade scored almost as well or better than their private school peers in reading and math, except that private school students excelled in eighth-grade reading.


A Harvard University study (pdf) challenged the results, using the same data but different methods. Researchers found that private schools came out ahead in 11 of 12 comparisons of students.


Earlier in 2006, an analysis of math scores by two University of Illinois researchers found similar results to the NCES study. "Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement" (pdf) states that "after accounting for the fact that private schools serve more advantaged populations, public schools perform remarkably well, often outscoring private and charter schools."


But as this dissenting view from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's Education Gadfly newsletter shows, the debate over which kind of school does a better job is far from settled.


Kinds of Schools in Santa Cruz County

Submitted By: Suki Wessling

Lots of parents go for the school in their neighborhood and have positive experiences. Neighborhood schools serve many children well, and we are lucky that in our area we have so many dedicated educators who are not letting our state's foibles discourage their teaching.


However, sometimes the local school doesn't work out. Perhaps your child has an unusual learning style. Perhaps your child needs a faster pace, less testing, a more natural environment, or a focus on a particular academic area. Perhaps your child doesn't have any special needs but your family does. If your neighborhood school is large and you are looking for a small community, that's probably a bad fit. If you are a no TV, no junkfood family, you might be uncomfortable with your local school's culture. Perhaps your child has done well in elementary school, but hates the social scene at her middle school. Perhaps your child's grades have slipped because he is bored. Maybe you just like uniforms!


There are more reasons for choosing an alternative to your neighborhood public school than there are neighborhood public schools. Each family makes choices based on their own children, their own family values, and their own experiences. Luckily, for each family, there is probably something out there that fits their needs.


What sorts of independent schools are there?

Private parochial schools are usually aligned with a religious group. Saint Frances Central Coast High School, for example, is a Catholic school. Some private schools that are affiliated with religious groups have secular instruction, such as Mount Madonna School. Some private schools are based on a teaching philosophy, like Santa Cruz Montessori or Santa Cruz Waldorf. Some are based on a goal such as college preparation.


There are public schools that have a degree of independence as well. Charter schools are formed under the state charter school law and can have any sort of educational focus that they'd like. The charters in this county are diverse, from homeschool charter Ocean Grove to Alianza, a two-way bilingual immersion charter. Although charter schools are allowed to determine their own curriculum and methods, they do have to participate in the yearly No Child Left Behind testing and their charters, which must be renewed every five years, can be denied if they don't show positive testing results.


Santa Cruz City Schools and Live Oak School District both have schools that are small school programs and thus exempt from testing requirements. Santa Cruz's Branciforte Small Schools Campus hosts four small schools, each with its own educational focus and with a large degree of autonomy. Live Oak offers Ocean Alternative Education Center, a public homeschool program.


A large group of private schools in the county are holding the Central Coast Independent School Fair on Wednesday evening to give parents of kids from preschool to high school an idea of what they can find if they step out of their neighborhood public schools. If you are considering a change, or if you just want to see what's out there, this is a good time to see the great variety of programs offered in our area.


If you are interested in finding a list of all the schools in our area, visit Santa Cruz Parent's Resources page. If the school you are interested in is not at this event, it probably has an open house coming up soon. Check out their website or call for information.



Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School



"Kirsten Luce for The New York Times SWITCHED


Children playing before lunch at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J. "Kids are calmer after they've had recess first," the school's principal said.


Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child's health and behavior?


Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess - sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.


Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

"Kids are calmer after they've had recess first," said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. "They feel like they have more time to eat and they don't have to rush."


One recent weekday at Sharon, I watched as gaggles of second graders chased one another around the playground and climbed on monkey bars. When the whistle blew, the bustling playground emptied almost instantly, and the children lined up to drop off their coats and mittens and file quietly into the cafeteria for lunch.


"All the wiggles are out," Ms. Sinkewicz said.


One of the earliest schools to adopt the idea was North Ranch Elementary in Scottsdale, Ariz. About nine years ago, the school nurse suggested the change, and the school conducted a pilot study, tracking food waste and visits to the nurse along with anecdotal reports on student behavior.

By the end of the year, nurse visits had dropped 40 percent, with fewer headaches and stomachaches. One child told school workers that he was happy he didn't throw up anymore at recess.

Other children had been rushing through lunch to get to the playground sooner, leaving much uneaten. After the switch, food waste declined and children were less likely to become hungry or feel sick later in the day. And to the surprise of school officials, moving recess before lunch ended up adding about 15 minutes of classroom instruction.

In the Arizona heat, "kids needed a cool-down period before they could start academic work," said the principal, Sarah Hartley.

"We saved 15 minutes every day," Dr. Hartley continued, "because kids could play, then go into the cafeteria and eat and cool down, and come back to the classroom and start academic work immediately."

Since that pilot program, 18 of the district's 31 schools have adopted "recess before lunch."

The switch did pose some challenges. Because children were coming straight from the playground, the school had to install hand sanitizers in the lunchroom. And until the lunch system was computerized, the school had to distribute children's lunch cards as they returned from recess.

In Montana, state school officials were looking for ways to improve children's eating habits and physical activity, and conducted a four-school pilot study of "recess before lunch" in 2002. According to a report from the Montana Team Nutrition program, children who played before lunch wasted less food, drank more milk and asked for more water. And as in Arizona, students were calmer when they returned to classrooms, resulting in about 10 minutes of extra teaching time.

One challenge of the program was teaching children to eat slower. In the past, children often finished lunch in five minutes so they could get to recess. With the scheduling change, cafeteria workers had to encourage them to slow down, chew their food and use all the available time to finish their lunch.

Today, about one-third of Montana schools have adopted "recess before lunch," and state officials say more schools are being encouraged. "The pilot projects that are going on have been demonstrating that students are wasting less food, they have a more relaxed eating environment and improved behavior because they're not rushing to get outside," said Denise Juneau, superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction. "It's something our office will promote to schools across the state as a best practice."

And for a seemingly simple scheduling change, it can create some daunting logistical problems. Children often have to return to hallways and classrooms after recess for bathroom breaks and hand washing and to pick up lunch bags. The North Ranch Elementary School regularly fields calls from schools in colder climates with questions on how to deal with coats, hats, galoshes and mittens. "In Arizona, we don't have to deal with that," said Dr. Hartley, the principal.

Many school districts say such problems make them reluctant to switch. A 2006 study in The Journal of Childhood Nutrition & Management reported that fewer than 5 percent of the nation's elementary schools were scheduling recess before lunch.

But at the Sharon Elementary School, the principal, Ms. Sinkewicz, says the challenges have been worth it. In the past, children took coats, hats and mittens with them to the lunchroom, then headed outside. Now they have time to return coats to lockers so they don't have to carry them to the lunchroom.

"For some reason, kids aren't losing things outside," Ms. Sinkewicz said. "The lost-and-found mound has gone down."


How music rewires the brain

Submitted By: Aalok Mehta, Dana Foundation Blog

Evidence continues to grow that musical training may not only serve as a powerful tool for treating mental illnesses but may also rewire the brain to be more nimble at learning math and other subjects.


This ability to alter brain connections was the focus of a recent "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Gottfried Schlaug, an associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, outlined three lines of neurological research into musical experience and explained why scientists are optimistic about its potential for education and rehabilitation.


"Music making engages quite a lot of real estate in the brain," he said. "We wanted to know if everyone has the potential to become an accomplished musician, or if [musicians] start off with an atypical brain."


In adults, for instance, he said, musicians with a long history of practice tend to have bigger corpus callosa-the bundles of fibers that connect the right and left halves of the brain-as well as enhanced motor and auditory processing areas than do non-musicians. Many of these changes were specific to the primary type of instrument used by a musician. But everyone seems able to benefit: Adult non-musicians who took a crash course in piano showed changes in their sequencing, musical and math abilities even after just two weeks.

Schlaug also outlined results from a four-year study of young children he is conducting with Ellen Winner, a psychology professor at Boston University. After 15 months, children who began practicing music showed, as expected, improvements in motor skills and melody and rhythm identification tasks. There were also suggestive, but not statistically significant, evidence that the children were beginning to excel in nonmusical tasks such as vocabulary and abstract reasoning. This type of extension into a nonrelated mental ability is known as "far transfer."


We have covered many of these findings in the context of neuroeducation, a new field that seeks to use neuroscience findings to improve teaching practices. Schlaug and Winner, for instance, were featured speakers at the "Learning, Arts and the Brain" summit in May, where they presented their 15-month data.

Since then, however, data from 30 months into the child study has been collected; although it is still in the process of being analyzed, far transfer trends seem to be continuing, Schlaug said, increasing interest in music's potential educational benefits. Since the May conference, Schlaug and his colleagues have also compiled videos demonstrating the extent and rate of improvement in musical ability in their study participants.


Schlaug also presented a video showing how extensive rhythm and singing therapy helped a four-year old boy with autism speak his very first words. "Music," Schlaug said, "may provide alternative entry into broken brain systems that may not be linking up properly." (The use of music for autism is just the tip of the iceberg; music is also being used as treatment for spinal cord injuries, stroke and other conditions. Look for more extensive coverage of these therapies in the coming weeks.)


Schlaug's presentation was the final "Music and the Brain" lecture of 2009. The series, presented by the Library of Congress and the Dana Foundation, will resume on Jan. 21 with "Music, Memories, and the Brain," in which Petr Janata of the University of California, Davis, will outlining brain imaging results from people who have experienced musical "trances." As an early Christmas present, the LOC has released free podcasts of earlier lectures in the series.


Constitution Day


Federal law requires all schools that receive federal funds to hold an educational program on the United States Constitution every year on or near September 17, the anniversary of the signing of our country’s founding document.


Following are some resources for educators.

How music rewires the brain

Submitted By: Aalok Mehta, December 11, 2009

Evidence continues to grow that musical training may not only serve as a powerful tool for treating mental illnesses but may also rewire the brain to be more nimble at learning math and other subjects.


This ability to alter brain connections was the focus of a recent "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Gottfried Schlaug, an associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, outlined three lines of neurological research into musical experience and explained why scientists are optimistic about its potential for education and rehabilitation.


"Music making engages quite a lot of real estate in the brain," he said. "We wanted to know if everyone has the potential to become an accomplished musician, or if [musicians] start off with an atypical brain."


In adults, for instance, he said, musicians with a long history of practice tend to have bigger corpus callosa-the bundles of fibers that connect the right and left halves of the brain-as well as enhanced motor and auditory processing areas than do non-musicians. Many of these changes were specific to the primary type of instrument used by a musician. But everyone seems able to benefit: Adult non-musicians who took a crash course in piano showed changes in their sequencing, musical and math abilities even after just two weeks.

Schlaug also outlined results from a four-year study of young children he is conducting with Ellen Winner, a psychology professor at Boston University. After 15 months, children who began practicing music showed, as expected, improvements in motor skills and melody and rhythm identification tasks. There were also suggestive, but not statistically significant, evidence that the children were beginning to excel in nonmusical tasks such as vocabulary and abstract reasoning. This type of extension into a nonrelated mental ability is known as "far transfer."


We have covered many of these findings in the context of neuroeducation, a new field that seeks to use neuroscience findings to improve teaching practices. Schlaug and Winner, for instance, were featured speakers at the "Learning, Arts and the Brain" summit in May, where they presented their 15-month data.


Since then, however, data from 30 months into the child study has been collected; although it is still in the process of being analyzed, far transfer trends seem to be continuing, Schlaug said, increasing interest in music's potential educational benefits. Since the May conference, Schlaug and his colleagues have also compiled videos demonstrating the extent and rate of improvement in musical ability in their study participants.


Schlaug also presented a video showing how extensive rhythm and singing therapy helped a four-year old boy with autism speak his very first words. "Music," Schlaug said, "may provide alternative entry into broken brain systems that may not be linking up properly." (The use of music for autism is just the tip of the iceberg; music is also being used as treatment for spinal cord injuries, stroke and other conditions. Look for more extensive coverage of these therapies in the coming weeks.)


Schlaug's presentation was the final "Music and the Brain" lecture of 2009. The series, presented by the Library of Congress and the Dana Foundation, will resume on Jan. 21 with "Music, Memories, and the Brain," in which Petr Janata of the University of California, Davis, will outlining brain imaging results from people who have experienced musical "trances." As an early Christmas present, the LOC has released free podcasts of earlier lectures in the series.

The Common Core Curriculum

Submitted By: Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Michael J. Petrilli

After votes yesterday in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, 28 states have now embraced the new "Common Core" standards for primary and secondary education.


Already, a majority - including red states such as South Carolina, Utah, and Oklahoma - have declared that they will use Common Core English and math standards in their public schools. Yet this profound, and we think positive, shift in American education is occurring with little outcry from the right, save for a half-dozen libertarians who don't much care for government to start with. How come?


It certainly helps that the new standards were created by a voluntary partnership of 48 states, not by the federal government. But it's also true that the Common Core standards are remarkably strong, vastly better than the standards most states have developed independently over the past 15 years. Yesterday, our institute released a 370-page study that finds the Common Core standards to be clearly superior to the existing English standards of 37 states and the existing math standards of 39.


One reason the Common Core fared so well is that its authors eschewed the vague and politically correct nonsense that infected so many state standards (and earlier attempts at national standards). They expect students to master arithmetic and memorize their times tables; they promote the teaching of phonics in the early grades; they even expect all students to read and understand the country's founding documents. The new standards aren't perfect. Our reviewers found three jurisdictions that did better in English (California, Indiana, and - believe it or not - the District of Columbia), mostly because they better distinguish among different "genres" of literature and other writing. Another dozen states (including Massachusetts) are "too close to call," meaning that their standards are about equal in content and rigor to the Common Core. But anybody worried that this national effort will dumb down what we expect young Americans to learn in school can relax, at least for now.


Anxiety will surely rise when school kids across the land begin (three or four years hence) to take tests linked to these standards, and even more when those test results start to determine promotion from fifth to sixth grade or graduation from high school. (The development of those tests will soon start, aided by $350 million of federal stimulus funds.) But without tests and results-based accountability, along with solid curricula, quality textbooks, and competent teaching, standards alone have no traction in real classrooms. Adopting good standards is like having a goal for your cholesterol; it doesn't mean you will actually eat a healthy diet or live longer.


When high expectations for schools and students are combined with smart implementation in thousands of classrooms, policymakers can move mountains. That's the lesson we take from Massachusetts, which has established high standards, well-designed assessments, a tough-minded (yet humane) accountability system, rigorous certification requirements for teachers, and a high bar that students must clear to earn their diplomas. The Bay State has been making steady achievement gains in reading and math in both fourth and eighth grades. That, of course, is why Massachusetts politicians and policymakers sparred over the proposal by state education commissioner Mitchell Chester to replace the state's standards and tests with the new national versions.


Until now, however, the vast majority of states have failed to adopt rigorous standards, much less to take actions geared to boosting pupil achievement. In 2007, we published a comparison of states' "proficiency" expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The results were dismaying: In some places, students could score below the tenth percentile nationally and still be considered "proficient." In other locales, they had to reach the 77th percentile to wear the same label. And it wasn't just that expectations varied, but that they varied almost randomly from place to place, grade to grade, and year to year.


Most Americans understand that this is not the way a big, modernized country on a competitive planet should operate its education system. Three years ago, an Education Next poll asked whether people favored "a single national standard and a single national test for all students in the United States? Or do you think that there should be different standards and tests in different states?"


It wasn't even close. A whopping 73 percent of respondents wanted a single test, and Republicans were likelier to support this idea than Democrats. Those self-identifying as "extremely conservative" were by far the most enthusiastic about national testing: 88 percent of them favored the single test approach, versus 64 percent of liberals.

Conservatives generally favor setting a "single standard" for everybody. Setting different standards for different people - think affirmative action, for instance - is an idea most associated with the Left.


Yes, there are risks inherent in a national anything, particularly if the federal government clumsily tries to intervene. This is already evident: A number of states signed on to the Common Core standards at least in part to boost their chances of getting federal education dollars from Secretary Duncan's "Race to the Top" competition.

But America faces larger risks in clinging to mediocre expectations for its schools and students. That's why we favor the move toward rigorous national standards and a system of tests that will hold all students to the same expectations. And most conservatives seem to be on board. Who knew that this would be change they could believe in?


- Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli are president and vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education-policy think tank, which just released " The State of State Standards - and the Common Core - in 2010." Both are also affiliated with Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Ed policies ignore science on how/when kids learn

Submitted By: Lisa Guernsey

Lisa Guernsey, Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

Our education system starts at age 5, pays little attention to children's development and achievement until third grade, and is strewn with remedial programs to get older children back on track.

Meanwhile, studies keep pouring forth that highlight the importance of children's earliest years - birth to age 8 - in developing the mental capacity that enables life-long learning.

In short, our education policies don't align with the latest science on how and when children learn. American public education is out of whack.

Two new books drive home this point: Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills All Children Need and Britain's War on Poverty. A third piece of reading -- a landmark study in the journal Child Development published this spring - also makes the argument for getting smarter about policies that affect young children and their later achievements in school.

Now, I don't mean to get too heavy. I know summer is for beach reading about the girl with the dragon tattoo, not education and child policy. So let me summarize as quickly as I can:

Mind in the Making is, in essence, a parenting book. But author Ellen Galinsky, the president and co-founder of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in New York City, doesn't talk about diapers and baby food.

She bases her arguments on dozens of experiments on how and when children form ideas about the way the world works and what they need to learn. The science makes clear that children need adults in their lives who recognize that abilities are not preordained by genetics. When parents and caregivers engage in one-on-one conversations with toddlers, for example, they help children develop the language skills needed to succeed at reading, writing and communicating in their later years.
Britain's War on Poverty, by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, is a book for policy wonks. It tells the story of a country getting it right.

In 1999, the United Kingdom pledged to halve the poverty rate among the nation's children. At the time, 26 percent of children lived in poverty - a number that was higher than any other European country and mortified many Brits. Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent, while the rate in the U.S. is on track to hit 22 percent, according to recent data from the nonprofit Foundation for Child Development.

How did Britain do it? Waldfogel goes into rich detail about the multitude of policies that were changed to help families with young children. These included generous paid maternity leave, better benefits for single parents on welfare, improvements in the quality of child care, universal access to preschool and improvements in elementary schools.

The Child Development article, led by Greg Duncan of the University of California at Irvine, showed that babies, toddlers and preschoolers who grow up in poverty are more harmed by its effects than older children.

Other studies have shown that the effects of poverty on brain development are linked to cognitive ability in later years. But Duncan demonstrates that the impact of being poor is still evident, 37 years later, in incomplete schooling and jobless rates.

The harm starts at birth, with poverty elevating the stress parents feel, which can cause an increased likelihood of harsh parenting practices. These have the greatest impact during the early childhood years when the mother-child relationship serves as the foundation for a child's ability to regulate his emotions.

That regulation, in turn, has an effect on children's achievement, behavior, and health.Meanwhile, with little money to spare, parents cannot afford to financially support emergent literacy with books and high-quality child care or preschool.

All three readings lead to one conclusion: It's beyond time to give all American children - especially those in poor circumstances -- exposure to language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments in their earliest years. This doesn't mean just increasing access to preschool, though that would help.

(More than 5 million children under age 6 live in poverty, according to Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor kids, is available to about a million children birth to age 5. State-funded pre-k, where it's available, covers another million. That means we're leaving more 3 million children out - and that's not including families with moderate incomes who still find preschool and child care unaffordable.)

An education system aligned with the latest science would help poor parents increase their incomes so they can provide for their children. It would create better parental leave and "extended time off" policies to help parents find time to care for their children and learn along with them.

And it would offer a comprehensive early childhood system with effective teachers who help children develop and learn, starting at birth and including preschool if parents wish, and extending all the way up through the early grades of elementary school.
Yes, the recession and the federal budget deficit make this difficult. But there's no better time to revamp public policies to match up with our new understandings.

Cognitive and social development starts in the womb and requires sustained, high-quality nurturing throughout childhood. We can keep waiting for more books that make us feel like we live in a backward country. Or we can start transforming policies to revise our education system with children's earliest years in mind.

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Submitted By: Benedict Carey

(Site Photos) StudentStudyingLibrary.jpgEvery September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms.


Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).


And check out the classroom. Does Junior's learning style match the new teacher's approach? Or the school's philosophy? Maybe the child isn't "a good fit" for the school.


Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn't offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.


Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.


The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.


For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.


"We have known these principles for some time, and it's intriguing that schools don't pick them up, or that people don't learn them by trial and error," said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken."


Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are "visual learners" and others are auditory; some are "left-brain" students, others "right-brain." In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. "The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing," the researchers concluded.


Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of (Site Photos) StudentStudyingOutside.jpgthe blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. "We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere," said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book "Why Don't Students Like School?"


But individual learning is another matter, and psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms - one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard - did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.


The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.


"What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting," said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.


Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting - alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language - seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.


The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, say, calculating the number of prism faces when given the number of sides at the base, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.


A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.


"When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem," said Dr. Rohrer. "That's like riding a bike with training wheels." With mixed practice, he added, "each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure - just like they had to do on the test."


These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.


The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study. "What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it's picking up what's similar and what's different about them," often subconsciously.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn - it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.


"With many students, it's not like they can't remember the material" when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "It's like they've never seen it before."


When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff - and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.


"The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning," said Dr. Kornell. "When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it."

That's one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself - or practice tests and quizzes - as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle alters that property: "Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it," he says - and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.


In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.


But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

"Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test," Dr. Roediger said. "Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have."


Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people's stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call "desirable difficulty," is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in "The Mod Squad"? Francie's brother in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.


None of which is to suggest that these techniques - alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above - will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters. So do impressing friends, making the hockey team and finding the nerve to text the cute student in social studies.

"In lab experiments, you're able to control for all factors except the one you're studying," said Dr. Willingham. "Not true in the classroom, in real life. All of these things are interacting at the same time."


But at the very least, the cognitive techniques give parents and students, young and old, something many did not have before: a study plan based on evidence, not schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing.

Benedict Carey, NY Times, Sept. 6, 2010

Destroying Schools to Achieve Racial Justice

Submitted By: Robert Weissberg

 I've long suspected that the federal government is consciously subverting American education. Deep inside the Department of Education, there must exist a top-secret Bureau of Educational Disasters (BED) whose mission is to concoct alluring but guaranteed-to-fail, academic achievement-killing policies whose sole benefits are more jobs and mindless paperwork. These would be the folks who recently bribed states to retain academically troublesome students whose behavior hindered decent students so as to make America "better educated," i.e., a nation of high school "graduates" barely able to read their diplomas.


Well, like all industrious Washington bureaucrats, BED, with Department of Justice support, soldiers onward. Their latest education-destroying innovation is eliminating the disproportionate suspension and expulsions of African-American students. This is not empty rhetoric; it is included in the Obama administration's $4.3-billion Race to the Top initiative, and schools that fail to mend their ways will lose federal funds and face expensive litigation at a time of shrinking education budgets. In fact, the future is already here, as schools are increasingly being targeted in resource-draining civil rights complains about disciplinary unevenness (see here).


Though one could argue that black youngsters cannot learn unless permitted to stay in the classroom, and whites and blacks should receive the same punishment for identical offenses, this initiative would win a Nobel Prize if such a prize were awarded for foolishness.


Let us concede that disciplinary infractions vary by race, just as in criminality, and that the gap has expanded since the 1970s (see here), but nobody yet demands whites and blacks be incarcerated according to their proportions in the population. The real quest should be colorblind justice. Needless to say, with millions of students attending schools with varied disciplinary rules and dissimilar administrative procedures and resources, ensuring colorblind justice would be a Herculean task, especially when educators already struggle with just educating youngsters.


How is this seemingly alluring "racial fairness" to be accomplished? The answer is not on a case-by-case basis by scrutinizing millions of outcomes to detect bias. Instead, bureaucrats will use the "disparate impact" approach -- i.e., it will be assumed that racially disproportional punishment inherently equals racial discrimination. Thus, if African-Americans constitute 30% of the student body but half of all expulsions, racial discrimination is demonstrated.


Happily for overworked champions of racial justice, this just-compare-the-proportions approach is a snap. In an instant, decisions regarding individual students made by teachers and principals familiar with detailed circumstances are swept aside by Washington bean counters.


Actually, racial disparities are just the beginning. Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has also called for proportionality for disabled students (see here), and while "disabled" might conjure up images of wheelchair-bound students, this category also includes those with below-average intelligence, often compounded with psychological problems inclining them to disruption, if not violence (see Tomsho and Golden, "Educating Eric: A Troubled Student was Put into Regular Classes. Then He Killed the Principal. Wall Street Journal, 2007, May 12-13).


Gender is also involved: black girls were suspended at a rate four times higher than white girls. Meanwhile, whites are more likely to be punished than Asian students.

With the burden of proof now put on school officials to justify racial imbalances, punishment by quotas is the only sensible response. Thus, in a wave of the bureaucratic wand, the threat of expensive litigation and interrupted federal largess vanishes. The only requirement is tracking penalties by race and soon-to-be other Washington-specified traits, perhaps monthly. If numbers drift out of line as the month draws to a close, just adjust discipline to make quota. Racial justice has never been so simple.

Alas, reality is more complicated, and this by-the-numbers policy invites catastrophe.


Begin with a seemingly minor detail -- cataloguing racial identities. Though the discussion is always put in black and white terms, not even the U.S. Bureau of the Census has successfully devised clear-cut, scientifically anchored racial categories, and these become murkier by the day thanks to immigration and intermarriage (see here). How, for example, do schools classify a dark-skinned Spanish-speaking Dominican immigrant students who reject the "African-American" label?


These classification tribulations must be resolved for every student in America, and Nazi-era procedures outlined in the infamous Nuremburg Laws seem inescapable. Will schools with large heterogeneous student bodies hire a "Racial Identity Officer" with a degree in physical anthropology who certifies each student's race according to explicit rules that would survive judicial scrutiny? Will appeals be permitted? Might those of mixed parentage be treated as a fractional human being (e.g., three-fifths)? This murkiness is potentially a golden opportunity to cheat -- unruly blacks might, for example, be reclassified as "mixed race" to make the end-of-month quotas. More likely, educators will copy dishonest police officers who "reduce" crime by misclassifying crimes or ignoring infractions.


The only scientific solution is DNA analysis according to federally set criteria, and each student might be required to wear a bar-coded racial identity card to be scanned prior to punishment: a twenty-first-century Yellow Star. Don't laugh -- my alma mater, Teaneck HS, Teaneck, NJ, now issues bar-coded identity cards, and hall monitors carry hand-held card readers to access student information and record infractions. Supermarket checkout lane justice. How efficient.


But this newly imposed administrative responsibility is minor compared to the awaiting disciplinary-related chaos. What if a school, perhaps under court order, is forced (or volunteers) to admit large numbers of black students prone to disruptive behavior? Or, equally likely, a shrinking black population means fewer schools in black neighborhoods, so these students must now enroll in more peaceful "white" schools. Under the Obama administration's definition of "racial fairness," this influx can only exacerbate already difficult situations.


Rest assured: even the dimmest students will figure out how to game the system. Savvy gang-bangers might rationally wait until the month's end to settle scores if their ethnic/racial group has already reached their quota of actionable offenses. Conversely, the well-behaved from a different racial/ethnic group might prudently stay home during this period since they know that if a gang-banger were expelled, they, too, might be sent home for minor infractions so as to sustain proportionality.


More generally, discipline by racial quota weakens administrative discretion, and this can only undermine the school's ability to maintain a safe atmosphere vital for learning. Moreover, the fewer the punishments, the easier it is to adjust the numbers to achieve racial fairness, so just relax standards altogether. Ironically, administrators will enjoy the most disciplinary freedom in racially homogeneous schools, and one might guess that racial segregation would increase as schools discipline students only by the numbers.


The big winners will be private schools exempt from Justice Department oversight.

There is more here, however, than just foolishness. This policy clearly panders to blacks, the sole demographic group not yet disenchanted with the president. Arne Duncan even announced it on the 45th anniversary of the famous Birmingham, AL "Blood Sunday" civil rights march.

But, rhetoric aside, the measure will undermine education for many education-hungry blacks in racially mixed schools by subverting school discipline. To be impolite, given a choice of helping blacks versus draping a destructive policy in feel-good historical rhetoric, Obama elects the anti-education option. This sin is inexcusable -- a sign of moral depravity, not just inept policy-making.


Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana. His latest book is Bad Students Not Bad Schools.


Page Printed from American Thinker

Spending Less for Better Education

Submitted By: Robert Weissberg

The GOP's victories on November 2 have once again raised the call for smaller government, and given soaring budgets and lack of improvement, reducing K-12 education spending is one obvious target. This will not be easy, but there is a sensible strategy.


Begin by recognizing that abolishing any specific program, even clear-cut ineffective boondoggles, is doomed to fail. All have constituencies -- education school professors, benefiting parents, program employees, foundation experts, bureaucratic administrators, plus erstwhile pro-education members of Congress who can readily mobilize to defeat axe-wielders. Scanning the budget line by line to cut waste is a cost-saving dead end. GOP skinflints will be overwhelmed and labeled mean-spirited enemies of "helping the children."


Successful cost-cutting requires satisfying three conditions. First, reductions must improve education, not just make mediocrity less expensive. Second, measures must defeat interests who sustain an expensive, personally lucrative status quo. Finally, cutbacks must create powerful counter-constituencies to resist the inevitable rear-guard action from teachers' unions and all profiting from government's largess.


The aim should be to reduce demand for conventional K-12 schooling: lower enrollments bring lower expenses, so cut enrollments. In practice, this requires ending the largely failed efforts to keep kids in school who are dying to leave. Here's how: award every currently enrolled student past the age of sixteen a lifetime GI Bill-like, no-expiration-date voucher cashable at any government-approved vocational school, internship, or union or business apprenticeship (and simultaneously remove all financial incentives for schools to prevent dropouts).


A "Get Out of Jail Free" card for millions, but we'll call it "Lifetime Learning." The exact amount is negotiable, but to prevent cries of cheapness, $10,000, yearly adjusted for inflation, would suffice, since this is about what the average U.S. schools spend per pupil.


This voucher would undoubtedly heighten an already large exodus from schools, but it is unambiguously pro-education! It acknowledges that learning occurs over a lifetime while conceding the uselessness of keeping a restless, bored sixteen-year-old cooped up in school. The pattern is a familiar one whereby an immature teenager drifts aimlessly and gets into trouble, then grows up and "gets religion," and then seeks -- but cannot always find -- a better job. Now, however, thanks to the Lifetime Learning voucher plus a little maturity, he or she is finally motivated and in a position to acquire market-relevant skills. This was the secret of the GI bill -- college for those hungry to learn with minimal bureaucratic overhead.


American schools would dramatically improve almost overnight and without any multi-billion-dollar Washington panaceas or massive bureaucratic directives. With few exceptions, refugees would be the most rambunctious, those who impede the learning of classmates. Many violent, low-performing "bad" schools would suddenly turn "good" almost by magic, and diligent students could now learn unimpeded. In addition, while there now would be fewer staff, those who remain would relish the improvement, and without all the miscreants, the teaching profession would attract better recruits. And by ending make-the-numbers pressures to bestow diplomas at all costs, this exodus would restore the value of the high school diploma, a substantial economic benefit for those who stay the course. A more effective, quicker, less expensive way to improve schools academically is hard to imagine.


The cash savings would be immense. If the Lifetime Learning voucher were equal to a single year of school expenditures, and if those who took it departed at the end of their sophomore year, the instant overall education budget savings would be huge. This savings would be especially large in school districts showering immense resources on kids struggling with basics, e.g., Washington, D.C. Relieved of uplifting the troublesome bottom, schools could cut back educationally unproductive school security, the armies of counselors ministering to disruptive students, paperwork to ensure racial fairness in school discipline, and countless resource-draining social welfare-type programs. Administrators would also no longer be pressured to fudge the numbers regarding "progress" for those disinclined to learn.


The voucher resembles a debit card and thus would be cheap to put into practice. Money for education would be finally almost entirely money for education.


But more important than saving a dime, allowing education consumers to shop the marketplace with their "own" money would undoubtedly promote enhanced learning and help the overall economy. So, for example, rather than sleep through English 3, our older, now more motivated student will seek out more attractive and income-producing learning opportunities. After all, he or she now has painfully experienced low-skill, dead-end jobs. Moreover, since for-profit schools must compete for customers, they have powerful incentives to reduce the non-educational administrative bloat paralyzing today's public education. Again: education means motivated students learning something useful.


Enrollees would also benefit from flexible hours of instruction and a curriculum that keeps pace with shifting job requirements. Voucher recipients also have inducements to place graduates in jobs. After all, not even a dim student would use his or her personal voucher if there is no payoff. This is totally unlike public schools, where the financial incentive is to entice the student just to show up so as to collect attendance money.


Now for the political part. Lyndon Johnson accurately said an enduring program requires a constituency to push and defend it. So what can counter the teachers' unions and all the rest of the soon-to-be-unemployed? First are the fans of reduced taxes, notably the Tea Partiers and other proponents of smaller, simpler government -- a formidable force, as the 2010 election demonstrated. Further add those currently working for educational choice, since the Lifetime Learning voucher extends the choice principle beyond high school.


Between 2002 and 2005, for example, there were some 1,200 organizations advocating school choice, and the record is one of great success. Now include the for-profit school industry, such as privately run "career" colleges that in 2010 numbered some 3,000 and are rapidly expanding (see here). Add the numerous technical schools offering more humdrum instruction (for example, see here). Significantly, large firms have entered this for-profit education industry and will be happy to defend Lifetime Learning. Businesses will also be enthusiastic supporters given lower training costs, while unions will gain from government-funded apprenticeship programs. This is hardly a powerless coalition against today's education establishment.


Going one step further, black and Hispanic advocacy groups will (or should) see the work/apprenticeship voucher as a straightforward solution to high levels of chronic teenage unemployment. For these youngsters, many of whom leave school empty-handed anyhow, subsidized internships and apprenticeships overcome the minimum wage barrier and thus provide that vital first step on the job ladder. The availability of no-cost, hands-on, flexible instruction may also be attractive to single mothers (many of whom never completed high school) and thus ultimately reduce welfare costs. The "stay in school for a degree" message offered by minority advocacy groups has gone nowhere for these teenagers; better to replace it with "leave school now, and when you see the folly of being unskilled, get some practical education of your own choosing."


Support may also come from foes of unrestricted immigration, especially the influx of those with low skills. It is well-known that many jobs in construction, food service, transportation, landscaping, and the like depend on imported labor, so if Americans acquired these skills, albeit at say age 25, the demand for non-U.S. workers would shrink. That is, a sixteen-year-old American high school student may have scant interest in learning to install drywall, so the job goes to a more highly motivated worker from Mexico or El Salvador. But what if our dropout ten years hence could enroll in a trade school or a union training program at no cost and learn that skill? Substituting Americans for imported workers would lower unemployment and reduce the pathologies associated with both unskilled domestic workers and those from abroad competing for these jobs.


Educational reforms are notable for undelivered promises, so there can be no guarantees. For-profit education is hardly a risk-free panacea (see here), nor do young adults always respond sensibly to opportunities. Nevertheless, the Lifetime Learning proposal is simple, relatively inexpensive, reflects hard-nosed human nature, and is politically feasible. By reducing demand and not directly killing off well-protected non-education waste, it will reduce bloat and bring better education for less -- a lot less money.


Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana. His latest book is Bad Students Not Bad Schools.

For-Profit Colleges Change Higher Education's Landscape

Submitted By: Robin Williams


Nimble companies gain a fast-growing share of enrollments

The U. of Phoenix's San Francisco Learning Center, in the financial district, offers information-technology, business, and other degrees. As of this month, the university's total enrollment is 455,600.

At a time when American public higher education is cutting budgets, laying off people, and turning away students, the rise of for-profit universities has been meteoric.


Enrollment in the country's nearly 3,000 career colleges has grown far faster than in the rest of higher education-by an average of 9 percent per year over the past 30 years, compared with only 1.5 percent per year for all institutions, according to an industry analyst. For-profit universities now educate about 7 percent of the nation's roughly 19 million students who enroll at degree-granting institutions each fall. And the proportion rises to 10 percent, or 2.6 million, if you count students who enroll year round. Just this academic year, the University of Phoenix eclipsed California State University as the second largest higher-education system in the country, with 455,600 students as of this month-behind only the State University of New York.


"It's been a tremendous growth story," says Jeffrey M. Silber, a stock analyst and managing director of BMO Capital Markets, which figures the for-profit sector brought in $26-billion in 2009. Most of that was earned by 13 large publicly traded companies that now dominate the market.


As those companies face shareholder pressure to expand, the for-profit sector is poised to capture students that public institutions can't accommodate and that small private colleges desperately need to maintain their enrollments. The sector is likely to be a key beneficiary of President Obama's $12-billion plan to produce five million more two-year-college graduates over the next decade.


That's partly because for-profit colleges, which first opened more than 150 years ago offering certificates and diplomas, are increasingly encroaching into the territory of traditional higher education by awarding degrees. "All of the conditions are there for them to capitalize on their advantages and continue to grow," says David S. Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Student Association of Community Colleges.


Big-bucks marketing savvy, plus high-pressure recruitment techniques, have helped the for-profit industry blossom.

Yet most professors and administrators on traditional campuses continue to dismiss for-profit colleges as inferior alternatives that cost too much, consume more than their fair share of federal student aid, and turn out unprepared graduates who default on their student loans.


"Traditional faculty members think of this as a little sideshow or as those matchbook places you see advertised on the bus," says Mark S. Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

But the for-profit sector is not only more robust than the rest of higher education, it is helping to force some changes in the way traditional colleges do business. Like for-profit institutions, traditional colleges are reaching out to adult students, starting online programs, and saving money by rejecting tenure in favor of hiring professors by the class.


Still, traditional higher education is not known for being nimble. It has been operating in roughly the same way for hundreds of years, so by its very nature it may not be well suited to respond to competition from the for-profit sector. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, likens the for-profit sector to "the blob," an alien life form that consumed everything in its path in the 1958 Steve McQueen movie of the same name.


"The blob would shimmer and then be half again as big as before," Mr. Nelson says. "You'd turn your attention away and look back and suddenly, it's blocking out most of the sun." At the end of the movie, Steve McQueen kills the blob. The difference here? For-profit colleges aren't going away.


Neon Lights
Just over 30 years ago, fewer than 100,000 students attended for-profit colleges and universities. The sector was populated primarily by small, privately owned businesses, "mom and pop" enterprises that looked little like their traditional, four-year counterparts. The colleges-the first of which had started primarily in port cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston-taught skills for front-line jobs in high-demand fields, including business and health care, and later, cosmetology and food and secretarial services. And they enrolled people that traditional higher education tended to ignore: working-class adults with children of their own who needed more skills to get better-paying jobs but couldn't take time out to attend a traditional campus.


For-profit colleges maintain much of the same mission today, but the market has seen sweeping changes. Of the roughly 3,000 for-profit institutions, 40 percent are now owned by one of 13 large, publicly traded companies. And whereas only 10 percent of the institutions offered associate, bachelor's, or professional degrees in 1990, half do so today.


Further, more than 90 percent of students at for-profit institutions are now enrolled in degree programs. Only about 30 percent attend part time. As the sector expands, it is attracting students who might otherwise have attended community colleges or even four-year institutions. "They are clearly a threat for both public and private schools," says Jim Scannell, president of the higher-education consulting group Scannell & Kurz, "especially for adult students returning to get a B.A. or going part time to get a master's."


Some small, private liberal-arts colleges, seeing enrollments decline because of the economic downturn, are looking to make up that lost tuition revenue by boosting their enrollment of adult students.


Such institutions are competing head to head with for-profit colleges. In addition, students who have been turned away by budget-strapped public colleges, or who simply find the bureaucracy there too difficult to deal with, are being welcomed by the for-profit sector. It's not clear whether this shift of students from public institutions to for-profit universities will be permanent, industry analysts say, but for now it adds to the size and legitimacy of the for-profit sector.


Corliss A. Ford attended a public junior college more than 25 years ago to earn her associate degree in nursing. But when she decided to go back to earn her bachelor of science in nursing two and a half years ago, she chose a for-profit, Kaplan University. Because she works two jobs, she says, she would never have had time to travel to a traditional campus. "Trying to make it to a place where you sit in a class was almost impossible," she says. At Kaplan, she started her program during the summer and took online classes in the evenings. "I could start anytime online," says Ms. Ford, who graduated from Kaplan last month and already has a new job as director of nursing for a home-health-aide company.


While Kaplan Higher Education is one of the country's largest for-profit companies, with approximately 103,800 students, it is owned by the Washington Post Company and so is not one of the 13 large publicly traded for-profit universities.


The biggest player among those is the Apollo Group. Its flagship University of Phoenix has morphed from an institution with 25,100 students in 1995 to one with 455,600 today. That means that 15 years ago Phoenix was about the same size as George Washington University. Now it is larger than the entire undergraduate enrollment of the Big Ten.


Phoenix, by far the biggest part of Apollo, has 200 campuses in 39 states, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. Still, much of the university's growth has been fueled by students who work primarily online (one of its key targets: working mothers, who can take classes from home in the evenings while their children are sleeping). Phoenix's enrollment dwarfs that of each of the other 12 publicly traded companies, including Education Management Corporation, with 136,000 students; Career Education Corporation, with about 113,900 students; and DeVry Inc., with 101,648 students.


Education Management is a case study in the trajectory of the for-profit sector. When John R. Mc¬Kernan Jr. took over as vice president in 1999, the company had 19 art institutes with 24,000 students. Since then, the company's student population has increased more than fivefold as Education Management has purchased a set of junior colleges in the Midwest, a small group of health-sciences colleges, a law school, and Argosy University-which began as a graduate institution. Whereas in 2006, 4,000 of the company's students worked fully online, says Mr. McKernan-who is now the company's chairman-that number has grown to more than 30,000 today.


At first glance, the corporation's flagship art school-the Art Institute of Pittsburgh-doesn't look like a traditional college. The "campus" is a 10-story building, just off the Monongahela River, that blares the institute's name at the top in red and white neon. Each floor is devoted to a different program, starting at the top with culinary arts and descending through industrial design, Web design, fashion and retail management, interior design, and photography. The walls of each floor contain glass cases that display posters, furniture, clothing, photographs, and even wrapping paper and greeting cards-all the work of the institute's students and some of its 55,000 alumni.


But on the fourth floor is a classroom labeled "Western Civ. I," a course the institute added in 2001 after it began offering bachelor's degrees. The institute also has a library and a writing center, where a teacher and a handful of students work quietly. And a few blocks away are three residence halls that the art institute opened in 2007 and 2008.

George L. Pry, the president, says that like other for-profit universities, the institute-which opened in 1921-has reinvented itself during the last decade, converting many of its associate-degree and diploma programs into bachelor's degrees.


"Employers were asking for more well-rounded employees coming out of here, with communications skills and the ability to comprehend more complex issues instead of just hands-on skills, " he says. "What I see happening is the maturation of our sector, moving more and more toward traditional higher education."


Student Focused
A big reason places like the Art Institute have been so successful is that they offer course schedules that suit students' lives. At traditional colleges, students might have a class at 9 a.m., another at 11 a.m. and a third at 3 p.m. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, however, runs three sessions each day: from 8 a.m. until noon, 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. By concentrating their courses in one block, it is easier for students to negotiate time for school and work, and 85 percent of the students at the institute have jobs.


The University of Phoenix has pioneered another model that allows students to concentrate on one or two classes at a time. Each class lasts from five to nine weeks, and students take courses year round. When students enroll at Phoenix, the university lays out their entire course plan all the way through graduation. "They know what that schedule will be, and they can plan their lives around it," says William J. Pepicello, the university's president.


Unlike traditional colleges, Phoenix never turns away students because classes are full. It simply adds more, depending on demand. And for-profit institutions move quickly, adding new programs to match careers that are on the rise and getting rid of others that are on the decline. Phoenix can be so agile because it is a business, with a 10-story, glass-and-copper corporate headquarters where most decisions are made. Traditional campuses, by contrast, are run not only by administrators but by powerful faculty committees that must approve most academic changes-a process that can take months, if not years.


Gregory M. St. L. O'Brien left a long administrative career in traditional higher education at the University of New Orleans and then at the University of South Florida before serving as president of Argosy University from 2004 until 2007. "I used to joke that if, at my public university, we were going to host the world's fair and try to develop a program to manage it, the world's fair would be over by the time our committee finished meeting on it," he says.


On traditional campuses, says Mr. O'Brien, the focus is on faculty members. At for-profit institutions, he says, students are the No. 1 concern. "One senior faculty member would say: 'I just don't teach on Tuesdays or Thursdays,' and we'd rewrite our schedule to accommodate that professor," says Mr. O'Brien, recalling his days in traditional higher education. At for-profit institutions, faculty members teach courses established by the university at times that work best for students.


"We have crafted our entire world around students," says Donna M. Loraine, vice president for academic affairs at DeVry University, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology, science, business, and management. "We are here to improve their futures, not make it more convenient for us." Ms. Loraine, who has worked for DeVry for 17 years and was a professor there herself, says the university offers early Saturday-morning classes because students have said that's a convenient time for them. And in major urban areas like Washington, DeVry waits until after 10 a.m. to start the day because students complained that crowded commutes made it difficult for them to get to class earlier.


The process of enrolling at a for-profit institution is often much quicker than at a traditional college. Prospective students who make an inquiry at a traditional campus might get something in the mail a week or two later, telling them how to apply. Then it takes months for the college to review their application and either admit or reject them for the following fall.

At for-profit institutions, the timetable is entirely different. "If you express an interest today at a for-profit, you will get a phone call from someone within 15 minutes, and that person will work with you to complete your application and figure out what program makes sense for enrollment starting the next month," says John Katzman, chief executive of 2tor-a company he founded that works with traditional universities to establish online degree programs.


For-profit universities spend a lot of money to get students in the door. For the three-month period ending November 30, 2009, the Apollo Group spent $275-million on "selling and promotional" expenses, or about 20 percent of its total net revenue of $1.3-billion for that quarter, according to a report the company submitted to the federal government. Turn on a television, and within a half-hour, you'll most likely see a slick commercial touting a for-profit university, complete with personal testimonies from graduates who say the experience changed their lives-and pushed them up the economic ladder. If you telephone the main number of a for-profit university, a recruiter is likely to call back to ask when you want to enroll (even if you are a newspaper reporter trying to reach the university's president). The big-bucks advertising campaigns and marketing savvy, plus the high-pressure recruitment techniques, have helped the for-profit industry blossom.


Once students are enrolled, for-profit institutions work hard to hold on to them. Phoenix has what it calls an "early alert" system. If a student is absent or struggling in class, the student's professor contacts one of three counselors who are part of the student's "graduation team": an enrollment counselor, who helps choose and plot out students' program of study; an academic counselor, who works with them on any classroom difficulties; and a financial counselor, who helps them complete student-aid applications and sort out financial concerns. Of course, it's in a for-profit university's financial interest to hang onto students through graduation, so that tuition money (and financial aid) keeps flowing.


Cost Questions
Proprietary schools charge a lot more than public colleges-an average of $14,174 this year, compared with $2,544 at public two-year institutions and $7,020 for in-state tuition at public four-year institutions, according to the College Board. But students frequently choose proprietary schools over public colleges because for-profits do so much to limit the hassle of enrolling and applying for aid, and because students can take the classes they need quickly and get on with their lives. Ms. Ford, the Kaplan student, said she chose it for her nursing degree "because I could get into the class without having to wait."


Still, there are plenty of horror stories about career-college students who never graduate, or those who leave with large student-loan bills and then fail to get jobs. Students from proprietary institutions borrow more than students in other sectors of higher education, and have the largest student-loan default rates. But they graduate from two-year programs at a much greater rate than do students at community colleges: 60 percent in 2007 compared with 26 percent, according to the U.S. Education Department. In addition, for-profit university leaders say their students are bound to have higher loan-default rates because they are more likely than students on traditional campuses to be low income, to live on their own-without their parents' support-and to be the first from their families to attend college.


When it comes to jobs, some for-profit institutions have become key suppliers of workers in certain markets. Keiser University, a privately owned institution with 15 campuses in Florida, has been the No. 1 producer of associate-degree graduates in health professions and related sciences in the state for three of the last five years. "Students like our culture," says Arthur Keiser, founder and chancellor of the university. "It's very personal."


And employers like his graduates. The Cleveland Clinic Florida has hired more than 50 Keiser graduates in the last five years. Keiser students, who become radiology or surgical technicians and medical assistants, for example, are more mature and focused than those from other institutions, clinic officials say.


Harris N. Miller, president of the Career College Association, acknowledges that for-profit institutions aren't for everyone. "You don't go to one of our schools to be a classics major," he says. But proprietary schools are often the top choice of students who want skills "related to a real job in the real world," he says. And not just in the United States. If the growth curve for proprietary schools continues, they could be educating more students than any other sector of higher education worldwide by 2020, says Mr. Miller.


The stocks of publicly held for-profit education companies have outperformed the Standard and Poor's 500 by about 40 percentage points in each of the past two years. And companies like Stifel Nicolaus that analyze the market predict that the sector will continue to enjoy a "significant tailwind." Indeed, BMO Capital Markets predicted in the fall that revenue from the for-profit sector would rise by 10 percent per year through 2014.


But a report issued last month by Stifel Nicolaus says there is evidence that the rate of growth may be slowing and that for-profit universities may have seen their largest enrollment gains this past summer and fall. "Although we believe the benefits of the economic cycle will eventually wane, and growth for these entities will slow to more normalized levels (and in some cases turn negative)," says the report, "we see favorable prospects for potential price appreciation."


That doesn't deter Mr. Miller. "When you ask where the capacity is," he says, "the short answer is primarily in our sector. We have the capital to invest the dollars to hire faculty, to make sure technology is up to date, and to make sure these are real skills people can contribute to the economy."

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Submitted By: Matt Richtel

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh's life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?


By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle," his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.


On YouTube, "you can get a whole story in six minutes," he explains. "A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification."


Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks - and less able to sustain attention.


"Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing," said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: "The worry is we're raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently."


But even as some parents and educators express unease about students' digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students' technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal's school, Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.


The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.


He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it.

"I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games," he says. "To a degree, I'm using technology to do it."


The same tension surfaces in Vishal, whose ability to be distracted by computers is rivaled by his proficiency with them. At the beginning of his junior year, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.


He acts as his family's tech-support expert, helping his father, Satendra, a lab manager, retrieve lost documents on the computer, and his mother, Indra, a security manager at the San Francisco airport, build her own Web site.


But he also plays video games 10 hours a week. He regularly sends Facebook status updates at 2 a.m., even on school nights, and has such a reputation for distributing links to videos that his best friend calls him a "YouTube bully."


Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.


"He's a kid caught between two worlds," said Mr. Reilly - one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.


Vishal, like his mother, says he lacks the self-control to favor schoolwork over the computer. She sat him down a few weeks before school started and told him that, while she respected his passion for film and his technical skills, he had to use them productively.


"This is the year," she says she told him. "This is your senior year and you can't afford not to focus."

It was not always this way. As a child, Vishal had a tendency to procrastinate, but nothing like this. Something changed him.


Growing Up With Gadgets

When he was 3, Vishal moved with his parents and older brother to their current home, a three-bedroom house in the working-class section of Redwood City, a suburb in Silicon Valley that is more diverse than some of its elite neighbors.


Thin and quiet with a shy smile, Vishal passed the admissions test for a prestigious public elementary and middle school. Until sixth grade, he focused on homework, regularly going to the house of a good friend to study with him.


But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.


"I realized there were choices," Vishal recalls. "Homework wasn't the only option."


Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children "are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn't to do homework but play around."


Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either "most" (31 percent) or "some" (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework.


At Woodside, as elsewhere, students' use of technology is not uniform. Mr. Reilly, the principal, says their choices tend to reflect their personalities. Social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users. Students who are less social might escape into games, while drifters or those prone to procrastination, like Vishal, might surf the Web or watch videos.


The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types - not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.


"The technology amplifies whoever you are," Mr. Reilly says.


For some, the amplification is intense. Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.


Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more

in-depth, like "if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone," Allison said. "I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else."


But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B's on her recent progress report.


"I'll be reading a book for homework and I'll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.' "


Some shyer students do not socialize through technology - they recede into it. Ramon Ochoa-Lopez, 14, an introvert, plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school.


Escaping into games can also salve teenagers' age-old desire for some control in their chaotic lives. "It's a way for me to separate myself," Ramon says. "If there's an argument between my mom and one of my brothers, I'll just go to my room and start playing video games and escape."


With powerful new cellphones, the interactive experience can go everywhere. Between classes at Woodside or at lunch, when use of personal devices is permitted, students gather in clusters, sometimes chatting face to face, sometimes half-involved in a conversation while texting someone across the teeming quad. Others sit alone, watching a video, listening to music or updating Facebook.


Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.


Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

"If you're not on top of technology, you're not going to be on top of the world," said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.


Sean's favorite medium is video games; he plays for four hours after school and twice that on weekends. He was playing more but found his habit pulling his grade point average below 3.2, the point at which he felt comfortable. He says he sometimes wishes that his parents would force him to quit playing and study, because he finds it hard to quit when given the choice. Still, he says, video games are not responsible for his lack of focus, asserting that in another era he would have been distracted by TV or something else.


"Video games don't make the hole; they fill it," says Sean, sitting at a picnic table in the quad, where he is surrounded by a multimillion-dollar view: on the nearby hills are the evergreens that tower above the affluent neighborhoods populated by Internet tycoons. Sean, a senior, concedes that video games take a physical toll: "I haven't done exercise since my sophomore year. But that doesn't seem like a big deal. I still look the same."


Sam Crocker, Vishal's closest friend, who has straight A's but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet's distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

"I know I can read a book, but then I'm up and checking Facebook," he says, adding: "Facebook is amazing because it feels like you're doing something and you're not doing anything. It's the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway."


He concludes: "My attention span is getting worse."


The Lure of Distraction

Some neuroscientists have been studying people like Sam and Vishal. They have begun to understand what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online and in touch.

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.


On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like "Harry Potter" or "Star Trek," rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.


The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys' brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a "significant decline" in the boys' ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.


Markus Dworak, a researcher who led the study and is now a neuroscientist at Harvard, said it was not clear whether the boys' learning suffered because sleep was disrupted or, as he speculates, also because the intensity of the game experience overrode the brain's recording of the vocabulary.


"When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store," he said. "Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary."


At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.


In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.


Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.


"Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body," said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. "But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation."


"The headline is: bring back boredom," added Dr. Rich, who last month gave a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled, "Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens."


Dr. Rich said in an interview that he was not suggesting young people should toss out their devices, but rather that they embrace a more balanced approach to what he said were powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.


The heavy use of devices also worries Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is known for research showing that children are not as harmed by TV viewing as some researchers have suggested.


Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.


Like Dr. Rich, he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus.


"If you've grown up processing multiple media, that's exactly the mode you're going to fall into when put in that environment - you develop a need for that stimulation," he said.

Vishal can attest to that.


"I'm doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I'm doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age," he says. "Sometimes I'll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can't."


"If it weren't for the Internet, I'd focus more on school and be doing better academically," he says. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, "I also wouldn't know what I want to do with my life."


Clicking Toward a Future

The woman sits in a cemetery at dusk, sobbing. Behind her, silhouetted and translucent, a man kneels, then fades away, a ghost.


This captivating image appears on Vishal's computer screen. On this Thursday afternoon in late September, he is engrossed in scenes he shot the previous weekend for a music video he is making with his cousin.


The video is based on a song performed by the band Guns N' Roses about a woman whose boyfriend dies. He wants it to be part of the package of work he submits to colleges that emphasize film study, along with a documentary he is making about home-schooled students.


Now comes the editing. Vishal taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours, sipping Pepsi, his face often inches from the screen, as he perfects the clip from the cemetery. The image of the crying woman was shot separately from the image of the kneeling man, and he is trying to fuse them.


"I'm spending two hours to get a few seconds just right," he says.


He occasionally sends a text message or checks Facebook, but he is focused in a way he rarely is when doing homework. He says the chief difference is that filmmaking feels applicable to his chosen future, and he hopes colleges, like the University of Southern California or the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, will be so impressed by his portfolio that they will overlook his school performance.


"This is going to compensate for the grades," he says. On this day, his homework includes a worksheet for Latin, some reading for English class and an economics essay, but they can wait.

For Vishal, there's another clear difference between filmmaking and homework: interactivity. As he edits, the windows on the screen come alive; every few seconds, he clicks the mouse to make tiny changes to the lighting and flow of the images, and the software gives him constant feedback.

"I click and something happens," he says, explaining that, by comparison, reading a book or doing homework is less exciting. "I guess it goes back to the immediate gratification thing."


The $2,000 computer Vishal is using is state of the art and only a week old. It represents a concession by his parents. They allowed him to buy it, despite their continuing concerns about his technology habits, because they wanted to support his filmmaking dream. "If we put roadblocks in his way, he's just going to get depressed," his mother says. Besides, she adds, "he's been making an effort to do his homework."


At this point in the semester, it seems she is right. The first schoolwide progress reports come out in late September, and Vishal has mostly A's and B's. He says he has been able to make headway by applying himself, but also by cutting back his workload. Unlike last year, he is not taking advanced placement classes, and he has chosen to retake Algebra II not in the classroom but in an online class that lets him work at his own pace.


His shift to easier classes might not please college admissions officers, according to Woodside's college adviser, Zorina Matavulj. She says they want seniors to intensify their efforts. As it is, she says, even if Vishal improves his performance significantly, someone with his grades faces long odds in applying to the kinds of colleges he aspires to.


Still, Vishal's passion for film reinforces for Mr. Reilly, the principal, that the way to reach these students is on their own terms.


Hands-On Technology

Big Macintosh monitors sit on every desk, and a man with hip glasses and an easygoing style stands at the front of the class. He is Geoff Diesel, 40, a favorite teacher here at Woodside who has taught English and film. Now he teaches one of Mr. Reilly's new classes, audio production. He has a rapt audience of more than 20 students as he shows a video of the band Nirvana mixing their music, then holds up a music keyboard.


"Who knows how to use Pro Tools? We've got it. It's the program used by the best music studios in the world," he says.


In the back of the room, Mr. Reilly watches, thrilled. He introduced the audio course last year and enough students signed up to fill four classes. (He could barely pull together one class when he introduced Mandarin, even though he had secured iPads to help teach the language.)


"Some of these students are our most at-risk kids," he says. He means that they are more likely to tune out school, skip class or not do their homework, and that they may not get healthful meals at home. They may also do their most enthusiastic writing not for class but in text messages and on Facebook. "They're here, they're in class, they're listening."


Despite Woodside High's affluent setting, about 40 percent of its 1,800 students come from low-income families and receive a reduced-cost or free lunch. The school is 56 percent Latino, 38 percent white and 5 percent African-American, and it sends 93 percent of its students to four-year or community colleges.


Mr. Reilly says that the audio class provides solid vocational training and can get students interested in other subjects.


"Today mixing music, tomorrow sound waves and physics," he says. And he thinks the key is that they love not just the music but getting their hands on the technology. "We're meeting them on their turf."


It does not mean he sees technology as a panacea. "I'll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards," he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.


Teachers at Woodside commonly blame technology for students' struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.


"It's a catastrophe," said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a "balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina," and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.


"When rock 'n' roll came about, we didn't start using it in classrooms like we're doing with technology," he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.


Vishal remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.


Mr. Diesel, by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates - in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. "It's in their DNA to look at screens," he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: "Frankenstein is in the room and I don't want him to tear me apart. If I'm not using technology, I lose them completely."


Mr. Diesel had Vishal as a student in cinema class and describes him as a "breath of fresh air" with a gift for filmmaking. Mr. Diesel says he wonders if Vishal is a bit like Woody Allen, talented but not interested in being part of the system.


But Mr. Diesel adds: "If Vishal's going to be an independent filmmaker, he's got to read Vonnegut. If you're going to write scripts, you've got to read."


Back to Reading Aloud

Vishal sits near the back of English IV. Marcia Blondel, a veteran teacher, asks the students to open the book they are studying, "The Things They Carried," which is about the Vietnam War.


"Who wants to read starting in the middle of Page 137?" she asks. One student begins to read aloud, and the rest follow along.


To Ms. Blondel, the exercise in group reading represents a regression in American education and an indictment of technology. The reason she has to do it, she says, is that students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.


"How can you have a discussion in class?" she complains, arguing that she has seen a considerable change in recent years. In some classes she can count on little more than one-third of the students to read a 30-page homework assignment.


She adds: "You can't become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations."


As the group-reading effort winds down, she says gently: "I hope this will motivate you to read on your own."


It is a reminder of the choices that have followed the students through the semester: computer or homework? Immediate gratification or investing in the future?


Mr. Reilly hopes that the two can meet - that computers can be combined with education to better engage students and can give them technical skills without compromising deep analytical thought.

But in Vishal's case, computers and schoolwork seem more and more to be mutually exclusive. Ms. Blondel says that Vishal, after a decent start to the school year, has fallen into bad habits. In October, he turned in weeks late, for example, a short essay based on the first few chapters of "The Things They Carried." His grade at that point, she says, tracks around a D.


For his part, Vishal says he is investing himself more in his filmmaking, accelerating work with his cousin on their music video project. But he is also using Facebook late at night and surfing for videos on YouTube. The evidence of the shift comes in a string of Facebook updates.


Saturday, 11:55 p.m.: "Editing, editing, editing"

Sunday, 3:55 p.m.: "8+ hours of shooting, 8+ hours of editing. All for just a three-minute scene. Mind = Dead."

Sunday, 11:00 p.m.: "Fun day, finally got to spend a day relaxing... now about that homework..."


Malia Wollan contributed reporting.

NY Times Nov 21, 2010

Challenges in Math Education

Submitted By: Kristen Atkins, M.S.

It is a sad fact that students in the United States are falling behind in the study of mathematics. "Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education" from The National Research Council found that only half of the nation's students take more than two years of high school level mathematics. Most leave high school without the mathematical skills needed to meet the expectations of college level mathematics and today's jobs. In December 2011, an international assessment indicated that fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries in math proficiency. Since many of our current jobs require expertise in the field of math, there is much debate about why U.S. students are lagging and what we can do. Here is a brief look at some topics that may be helpful for parents: math standards, what other countries are doing, what parents can do, and what schools can do.

Mathematical Standards
Standards are a way to define what should be mastered in a student's mathematical career. The United States has a de-centralized educational system so each state can develop its own standards. Recently, many states have modeled programs on the standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (see


One reason that teachers find math standards difficult to implement is that not all students can master each specific skill in the limited time allotted for teaching that skill. For example, if fifth graders must master the four operations with fractions (a developmentally appropriate skill), they may only have three weeks to master these skills. Yet many students need additional time to practice. Consequently, many students fall behind and never catch up. Teachers often lack time to assess each student for specific skill deficits and to remediate key issues. Math is cumulative, so if a student misses fundamental skills in the beginning, future new concepts get added to a rather unstable foundation.


It is important to make careful comparisons with countries whose students are outscoring U.S. children. Educators in the United States are often criticized for having a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep," meaning too much material is being covered without concepts being studied in depth. To make matters worse, poor performance in mathematics has almost become socially acceptable in this country. Many in the U.S. tend to falsely assume that differences in mathematics achievement are due to differences in innate ability. However, countries such as Singapore spend much more time on key subjects, giving students ample time to practice. Longer school years in other countries also contribute to higher math scores. U.S. and Californiastandards are strong, but we often don't have enough time in a school day to ensure that every child masters every concept.

The solution starts at home. Sixty percent of our students who enter community college require remedial math! This illustrates that the problem begins in elementary school. Fortunately, this is a time when parents can help their children see math as a normal part of everyday life, and also as a source of fun and play.


Here are some suggestions for helping your kids develop a love for math:

  • Encourage your child to see the beauty of mathematics by showing them that math is all around them in art, sports, nature, architecture, and technology.
  • Read children's books that focus on math.
  • Encourage your child to estimate answers that you pose, such as, "How many hamburgers do we need to make to feed our family?"
  • Teach your children how to purchase items and how to make sure they have the correct change. Allow them to practice this skill.
  • When driving in the car, practice math facts in a fun way: "I am thinking of a number that is even - what can it be?" Or, "I am thinking of a number that is one more than 89, what is it?"
  • Review your child's math work and look for potential errors. Check to see if their paper seems disorganized. Do they know their math facts? Are they adding instead of subtracting? These types of errors need to be addressed and fixed. You may need to begin a dialogue with your child's teacher. Do not just wait, hoping they will eventually figure it out.
  • Use the Internet to learn about topics in math yourself, and share this with your child. It's never too late to learn about the joys of math.

We can also be alert to areas where problems may arise for our children as they attempt to learn key math concepts.

Math Vocabulary & Symbols -


  • Mathematics has a vocabulary that is specific, and many teachers and students struggle with this aspect of the curriculum. For example, is subtraction "take-away," "minus," "less than," or "finding the difference"? Math textbooks will often use one term and teachers supplement with other materials that use different terms. This can cause confusion, so help your child understand which terms are preferred, as well as the meaning of less familiar terms, as they arise. Check with your child's teacher if you yourself are not sure.
  • Symbols, too, can be challenging and they change over the course of a student's mathematical career. When you are in elementary school, the sign for multiplication is an "x." When you get into high school, it becomes a dot or a set of parentheses. On computers, it is often an asterisk, and some exams use that symbol. Experienced teachers point out these challenges because they know they can cause frustration.
  • Curriculum Changes - Teachers in public schools must use state approved textbooks in their classrooms. Some districts change textbooks every 2-4 years, which means the teachers must learn to use a new curriculum that often focuses on different techniques. A new teacher who does not have the best confidence in his or her ability to do math, using a new textbook that illustrates techniques not previously used, trying to teach a class of 30 students with minimal support, might have the best intentions. Even so, over the course of a full academic year, some aspects of math concepts could be skipped or presented less fully.

What can we do?

If you suspect your child is falling behind in math, don't wait until the problem gets worse. Talk to your child's teacher immediately and discuss a strategy for support. Until we, as a state or a nation, decide that it is better to learn mathematical concepts in depth, as opposed to spending only one or two days on each key concept, the fear is that we will remain a nation that is not meeting the demands of this twenty-first century. Parents should discuss these issues at school board meetings and with their principals.


  • Math Specialists - When budgets permit, some schools have hired elementary math specialists who demonstrate a passion and expertise for teaching students in ways others cannot. This may seem unusual at first, but it is not much different from the practice of hiring specialists to teach music, art and physical education, as is done now at the elementary and middle school levels. An inspired, enthusiastic teacher who knows and loves a subject can often find even more ways to help students succeed and enjoy the subject, too.
  • If you suspect your child is falling behind in math, here are some things you can do:

    Find a tutor. Tutoring your own child, while convenient, often confuses the role of teacher versus parent. If you cannot afford a private tutor, contact your local library for information on their after school homework and tutoring programs.

  • Inquire about options for support at your child's school. Many schools provide remedial math instruction through after school programs or summer school.
  • Consider having your child repeat his/her math class. Research suggests that if your child earns a C in Algebra, he or she will most likely struggle with Geometry and Algebra II. Why? A "C" is, indeed, passing but it does not indicate that your child has mastered the material in enough depth to apply it in a higher-level math class.

Turning the Education Industry Upside Down

Submitted By: Parmalee Taff

You've seen it in the news. It's true. The cost of education is expanding faster than the demand for education. For parents of children qualified for college this can be intimidating!

Last week we introduced the opportunity to take an online  course on the US Constitution 101.   I'm excited about taking it.  It's part of a growing trend --courses online.  "Back then" I'm certain one of my history professors presented the marvel of the US Constitution but I pose that it's a rare teen or 20 something student who really gets the significance of citizens wresting power from individual kings.   A reader emailed me that she is going to take the course with the goal of transforming the information into language understandable to her younger children.  She wants them to understand fundamental concepts of freedom unique to the United States.

Some of us are continuously amazed with the power and influence of the internet and  its attendant technology. The younger among us grew up in the information age. This phenomenal communication and learning tool has changed and is changing the world. The internet has turned many business models upside down and is quietly, steadily doing this to the education industry!


Monday I listened to Mark Carbonaro interview Lewis Alvarado about the future of education vs a vs the internet.  It was so gripping I had to pull over to take notes.

(Photos General) StudentwithLaptop.jpgMIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is preparing to offer ALL its courses online, FREE, the very same courses that resident students take for $55,270 per year. When you complete an online course you will receive a Certificate of Completion from MIT (You cannot receive a degree --that is still reserved for resident students.).

Just think of the implications. This expands opportunities for all. Whether you are in it for the joy of learning or to increase skills so you can gain employment, the information will be there for you. 


If you cannot afford the tuition of an esteemed institution such as MIT or if the college you are attending does not offer a course you need/want, or if you need to work to support yourself, you will be able to access learning anywhere, anytime.   Armed with the same knowledge as someone with a degree, what are the possibilities? If you still want to experience the world of dorms and a four year institution you can. There is such an expanding demand for knowledge that it is predicted that institutions will suffer no financial loss from this revolution, although it might  be wise to pause new building construction.

In the tradition of Open Source Software (free and continuously contributed to by geeks) MIT is establishing free "Open Course Ware", a common software framework for presenting online courses.   This software is available to any institution that wishes to share its courses free to anyone..

Click here to link to the MIT release article.

Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade

August 7, 2011, 5:30 pm322 Comments



Virginia Heffernan on digital and pop culture.


If you have a child entering grade school this fall, file away just one number with all those back-to-school forms: 65 percent.


Chances are just that good that, in spite of anything you do, little Oliver or Abigail won't end up a doctor or lawyer - or, indeed, anything else you've ever heard of. According to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, fully 65 percent of today's grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet.

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century.


So Abigail won't be doing genetic counseling. Oliver won't be developing Android apps for currency traders or co-chairing Google's philanthropic division. Even those digital-age careers will be old hat. Maybe the grown-up Oliver and Abigail will program Web-enabled barrettes or quilt with scraps of Berber tents. Or maybe they'll be plying a trade none of us old-timers will even recognize as work.

For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it's high time we redesigned American education.


As Ms. Davidson puts it: "Pundits may be asking if the Internet is bad for our children's mental development, but the better question is whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future."


In her galvanic new book, "Now You See It," Ms. Davidson asks, and ingeniously answers, that question. One of the nation's great digital minds, she has written an immensely enjoyable omni-manifesto that's officially about the brain science of attention. But the book also challenges nearly every assumption about American education.


Don't worry: She doesn't conclude that students should study Photoshop instead of geometry, or Linux instead of Pax Romana. What she recommends, in fact, looks much more like a classical education than it does the industrial-era holdover system that still informs our unrenovated classrooms.


Simply put, we can't keep preparing students for a world that doesn't exist. We can't keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they're developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don't happen to possess it. An institutional grudge match with the young can sabotage an entire culture.


When we criticize students for making digital videos instead of reading "Gravity's Rainbow," or squabbling on instead of watching "The Candidate," we are blinding ourselves to the world as it is. And then we're punishing students for our blindness. Those hallowed artifacts - the Thomas Pynchon novel and the Michael Ritchie film - had a place in earlier social environments. While they may one day resurface as relevant, they are now chiefly of interest to cultural historians. But digital video and Web politics are intellectually robust and stimulating, profitable and even pleasurable.


The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.


When we criticize students for making digital videos instead of reading "Gravity's Rainbow," we are blinding ourselves to the world as it is.


That curriculum represented a dramatic departure from earlier approaches to education. In "Now You See It," Ms. Davidson cites the elite Socratic system of questions and answers, the agrarian method of problem-solving and the apprenticeship program of imitating a master. It's possible that any of these educational approaches would be more appropriate to the digital era than the one we have now.


To take an example of just one classroom convention that might be inhibiting today's students: Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, "papers" are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.


Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. "What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school - the term paper - and not necessarily intrinsic to a student's natural writing style or thought process?" She adds: "What if 'research paper' is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?"


What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, "Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers."


In response to this and other research and classroom discoveries, Ms. Davidson has proposed various ways to overhaul schoolwork, grading and testing. Her recommendations center on one of the most astounding revelations of the digital age: Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos - all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as "distraction."


A classroom suited to today's students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times - rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.

The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.


As scholarly as "Now You See It" is - as rooted in field experience, as well as rigorous history, philosophy and science - this book about education happens to double as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read. It supplies reasons for hope about the future. Take it to the beach. That much hope, plus that much scholarship, amounts to a distinctly unguilty pleasure.


Virginia Heffernan began writing for The Times in 2003 - first as a television critic in the Arts section, then as an Internet columnist at the Sunday Magazine. The co-author (with Mike Albo) of the comic novel "The Underminer," she has been an editor at Harper's and Talk magazines, and has written for The New Yorker, Mother Jones and Slate, where she was that magazine's first television critic. She has a Ph.D. in English from Harvard. Her book, "Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet," is forthcoming from Free Press.


Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race

For success in the long run, brain power helps, but what our kids really need to learn is grit


We are living through a particularly anxious moment in the history of American parenting. In the nation's big cities these days, the competition among affluent parents over slots in favored preschools verges on the gladiatorial. A pair of economists from the University of California recently dubbed this contest for early academic achievement the "Rug Rat Race," and each year, the race seems to be starting earlier and growing more intense.

At the root of this parental anxiety is an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive skill-the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests-and that the best way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.

American children, especially those who grow up in relative comfort, are being shielded from failure as never before.

There is something undeniably compelling about the cognitive hypothesis. The world it describes is so reassuringly linear, such a clear case of inputs here leading to outputs there. Fewer books in the home means less reading ability; fewer words spoken by your parents means a smaller vocabulary; more math work sheets for your 3-year-old means better math scores in elementary school. But in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate group of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis.

What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character.

If there is one person at the hub of this new interdisciplinary network, it is James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago who in 2000 won the Nobel Prize in economics. In recent years, Mr. Heckman has been convening regular invitation-only conferences of economists and psychologists, all engaged in one form or another with the same questions: Which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? And what kind of interventions might help children do better?

The transformation of Mr. Heckman's career has its roots in a study he undertook in the late 1990s on the General Educational Development program, better known as the GED, which was at the time becoming an increasingly popular way for high-school dropouts to earn the equivalent of high-school diplomas. The GED's growth was founded on a version of the cognitive hypothesis, on the belief that what schools develop, and what a high-school diploma certifies, is cognitive skill. If a teenager already has the knowledge and the smarts to graduate from high school, according to this logic, he doesn't need to waste his time actually finishing high school. He can just take a test that measures that knowledge and those skills, and the state will certify that he is, legally, a high-school graduate, as well-prepared as any other high-school graduate to go on to college or other postsecondary pursuits.

Mr. Heckman wanted to examine this idea more closely, so he analyzed a few large national databases of student performance. He found that in many important ways, the premise behind the GED was entirely valid. According to their scores on achievement tests, GED recipients were every bit as smart as high-school graduates. But when Mr. Heckman looked at their path through higher education, he found that GED recipients weren't anything like high-school graduates. At age 22, Mr. Heckman found, just 3% of GED recipients were either enrolled in a four-year university or had completed some kind of postsecondary degree, compared with 46% of high-school graduates. In fact, Heckman discovered that when you consider all kinds of important future outcomes-annual income, unemployment rate, divorce rate, use of illegal drugs-GED recipients look exactly like high-school dropouts, despite the fact that they have earned this supposedly valuable extra credential, and despite the fact that they are, on average, considerably more intelligent than high-school dropouts.

These results posed, for Mr. Heckman, a confounding intellectual puzzle. Like most economists, he had always believed that cognitive ability was the single most reliable determinant of how a person's life would turn out. Now he had discovered a group-GED holders-whose good test scores didn't seem to have any positive effect on their eventual outcomes. What was missing from the equation, Mr. Heckman concluded, were the psychological traits, or noncognitive skills, that had allowed the high-school graduates to make it through school.

So what can parents do to help their children develop skills like motivation and perseverance? The reality is that when it comes to noncognitive skills, the traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis-start earlier and work harder-falls apart. Children can't get better at overcoming disappointment just by working at it for more hours. And they don't lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn't start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough age.

Instead, it seems, the most valuable thing that parents can do to help their children develop noncognitive skills-which is to say, to develop their character-may be to do nothing. To back off a bit. To let our children face some adversity on their own, to fall down and not be helped back up. When you talk today to teachers and administrators at high-achieving high schools, this is their greatest concern: that their students are so overly protected from adversity, in their homes and at school, that they never develop the crucial ability to overcome real setbacks and in the process to develop strength of character.

American children, especially those who grow up in relative comfort, are, more than ever, shielded from failure as they grow up. They certainly work hard; they often experience a great deal of pressure and stress; but in reality, their path through the education system is easier and smoother than it was for any previous generation. Many of them are able to graduate from college without facing any significant challenges. But if this new research is right, their schools, their families, and their culture may all be doing them a disservice by not giving them more opportunities to struggle. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.

Wall Street Journal. September 7, 2012

-Adapted from "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character" by Paul Tough, which has just been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Evaluating Your Child's Progress

Submitted By: Submitted by Joe Bruzzese, Students Who Succeed

Now that the first academic quarter is coming to a close, take a moment to assess your child's achievement and plan for the future.

1. Find 20 minutes in your day when you can sit with your child to talk about their achievement. This time should be uninterrupted and preferably while you not in the car in the midst of rush hour traffic.

2. Take 10 minutes to plan ahead for the meeting. Make a list of positive achievements and places where your child has progressed over the past quarter. Make a second list of areas that you would like to see your child improve or where you would like to see their effort increase. Limit your list to no more than 3 main areas for improvement. Use specific statements like, ""Your test grades seem to give you the greatest challenge in biology. I would like to see you talk to your teacher about other ways you might study for tests and quizzes."" General statements such as, ""You need to study more instead of spending so much time talking on the phone,"" do not suggest a new action to take, and leave your child frustrated about where to go next.

3. To begin your meeting, ask your child tell you about some of the places he has made progress this past quarter."" Give your child a few moments to think; remember he didn't have an opportunity to think about the meeting like you have. After your child has finished sharing his area of progress or achievement then it is your turn to share the positive points from your list. Not to worry, you will have an opportunity to talk about places for improvement.

4. Again, give your child the first opportunity to share about places where he can improve in school. Most children have an easier time identifying areas of improvement than areas of progress. Make an effort to limit your child's list to 3 main areas where he might improve. A laundry list of ""to-do"" items will not result in building better habits. And finally, takea few moments to share your list of areas for improvement.

5. The final portion of your time should be spent having your child identify 3 goals for the coming academic quarter. Your child's goals should be structured as action statements. ""I plan to talk with my biology teacher about new ways to study for tests,"" states a specific action that can be achieved multiple times throughout the quarter. Ultimately, your child's grades will improve if he achieves this goal throughout the quarter. Guide your child away from goal statements like, ""I will get all A's on my next report card."" These outcome-based goals may be achievable yet in many cases they are dependent on a multitude of variables, many of which are under the teacher's control.

Brain Books for Budding Scientists and all children

by Carolyn Phelan, The Dana Foundation

How do children learn that they have a brain, and become aware of what it does for them? How do they learn about its complexities?

According to Eric Chudler, Ph.D., creator of the Neuroscience for Kids Web site, children learn about the five senses early in their education. By kindergarten or first grade, many know that the brain receives the incoming information from the senses. As they become older, they begin to recognize movement, thinking, emotions, language, and memory as functions of their brains-and of all human brains. "From parents, many children learn early on that they should protect their brains.


This includes things like wearing helmets and wearing seatbelts," says Chudler. "Parents might also tell their kids to eat properly so their brains get enough energy, or to go to sleep to get enough rest. In school, children will learn more specifics about the structure and function of the brain."


Just as literacy about the brain has spread among adults, it needs to grow among the young. How should parents and educators go about teaching children about the body's most complicated organ? Whether you are teaching a classroom unit about the brain or sharing your enthusiasm for the subject with a daughter, grandson, or young friend, start with a few good books.


Any library can supply you with children's books about the brain, but a dull, inaccurate, or outdated book can be worse than none at all. A well-written and illustrated children's book, though, can help spark the imagination of the next generation of scientists, doctors, and citizens. Children's books can help both to take the mystery out of science and to instill curiosity about the natural world. They can also remind adults how to simplify and explain complicated subjects for young, inquisitive minds.


Why I Sneeze, Shiver, Hiccup, and Yawn
By Melvin Berger. Illustrated by Paul Meisel. HarperCollins Publishers, 2000. $15.95. 32 pages. Ages 4-8.

The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses
By Joanna Cole. Illustrated by Bruce Degen. Scholastic Press, 1999. $15.95, paper $4.99. 48 pages. Ages 5-8.

Look Inside Your Brain
By Heather Alexander. Based on the Italian text by Paola Panizon. Illustrated by Nicoletta Costa. Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Putnam Young Reader, 1998. $9.99. 14 pages. Ages 5-8.

Why Do I Laugh or Cry? And Other Questions About the Nervous System
By Sharon Cromwell. Photographs by Richard Smolinski, Jr. Rigby Interactive Library/Reed Educational & Professional Publishing, 1998. $19.92. 24 pages. Ages 7-9.



The Brain
By Suzanne LeVert. Illustrated. Benchmark Books/Marshall Cavendish, 2002. $22.79. 48 pages. Ages 8-10

Brain and Nerves
By Steve Parker. Illustrated by Ian Thompson. Copper Beech, 1998. $22.90. 32 pages. Ages 8-11.

The Brain: Our Nervous System
By Seymour Simon. Illustrated. Morrow, 1997. $16.95, paper $6.95. 32 pages. Ages 8-12.

The Big Book of the Brain: All About the Body's Control Center
By John Farndon. Illustrated by Peter Bedrick Books, 2000. $17.95. 46 pages. Ages 8-12.

Big Head! A Book About Your Brain and Head
By Peter Rowan. Illustrated by John Temperton. Knopf/Random House, 1998. $20. 44 pages. Ages 9-13.

Hmmm? The Most Interesting Book You'll Ever Read About Memory
By Diane Swanson. Illustrated by Rose Cowles. Kids Can Press, 2001. $14.95, paper $6.95. 40 pages. Ages 10-14.

The Physical Brain
By Faith Hickman Brynie. Illustrated. Blackbirch, 2001. $29.94. 64 pages. Ages 11-14.


The Brain and Spinal Cord: Learning How We Think, Feel, and Move
By Chris Hayhurst. Illustrated. Rosen Publishing Group, 2002. $26.50. 48 pages. Ages 12-15.

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science
By John Fleischman. Illustrated. Houghton Mifflin, 2002. $16. 86 pages. Ages 11-16.

101 Questions Your Brain Has Asked About Itself But Couldn't Answer... Until Now
Head and Brain Injuries

By Elaine Landau. Illustrated. Enslow Publishers, 2002. $20.95. 112 pages. Ages 12-16.

When the Brain Dies First
By Margaret O. Hyde and John F. Setaro. Illustrated. Franklin Watts, 2000. $25. 144 pages. Ages 13-16.

Suki Talks About Her First Book

Submitted By: Parmalee Taff

Why do you write?
I write for a variety of reasons. Probably the main reason is that writing is how I process what's going on around me. I feel like I never really know what I think about something until I write it down. In fact, I often have conversations where later I wish I could go back and edit the conversation. The reason I started writing about homeschooling and giftedness was to share the things that I was learning with a larger audience. I felt like there was all this information available... once I knew where to find it. But I only found it because I was searching. A good number of parents and educators really don't understand giftedness (though they often think they do), and in the midst of a very difficult time in their lives, parents get a lot of really bad advice. I sometimes write an article imagining that it would be used by someone in a difficult situation, like a parent who needs to explain something to their child's teacher or a parent who need help to resist a misdiagnosis.

You write about homeschooling. What else is in the pipeline -now, couple of years, way ahead...

I have been writing a lot of magazine articles specifically for gifted and homeschooling markets. I'd love to do more with getting information to a general audience. I also have an agent who is trying to sell my children's fiction. It's not a great time in book publishing, but we'll see if she gets any bites. I'm always planning to get back to my poetry and adult fiction, but somehow I don't see that happening in the near future.


When did you start writing?
I can't remember a time when I didn't like to write, though I trace my actual writing career to third grade, when I wrote an post-apocalyptic novel on purple notebook paper! I pretty much knew I wanted to be a writer, so I made an early decision NOT to do too much literary analysis. I got degrees in Linguistics and Creative Writing while managing never to take a literary analysis class. That was during the time when Derrida and post-modernism was all the rage, and I took offense at being told that authors had no say in what their writing meant! Through my various changes in life circumstances-from being a student to working in the high tech industry to teaching English and writing to graphic design and publishing and then finally to being a mom and a homeschooler-my writing has reflected what I have been doing at the time. When I first started my blog, I wrote a lament about how poetry no longer seemed to fit my life. I couldn't even think about poetry when changing a dirty diaper! But the fun thing is that writing is a profession that can change with your life.

How do you find time to write with a family and homeschooling?
Ah, there's the question. I remember a day when I was sitting at my daughter's class at Santa Cruz Gymnastics working on my computer. I was writing intently, but then I sensed by the change in sounds that the class was ending so I looked up. Apparently it was like someone coming up out of a pool-the mom next to me said, "I have never seen anyone so focused!" I think I developed that focus out of necessity. Over the span of a week, I probably have more 10-20 minute chunks of time than any one solid hour. When I need longer periods of time, I have always made sure to set up some way of getting the time I needed. When my kids were smaller I sent them to my mom's house or hired a babysitter. As they got older I could set up play and homeschooling exchanges. These days they can be self-directed for longer periods of time. But the reality is that I get most of my work done during evenings and weekends, which makes it a bit hard to contact people who work 9 to 5.

What advice would you give to someone who feels an itch to write but doesn't know where to begin?
Modern technology has made such a difference. In the pre-Internet days, you had to develop as a writer without having an audience, which was very hard. Finding a writing group was of great importance at that point, and it can still be a really great way to get started. But a writing group in person can sometimes be hard to set up, and then you have personality stuff-I have to say I got sick of all the interpersonal politics long ago, though I still recommend that beginning writers join a group because that experience can be very important. On top of that, before the Internet if you wanted people you didn't know to read your work, you had to get a publisher to publish you. This was the heyday of cheap 'zines-it was so hard to get something published in a widely distributed magazine that there were tons of little publications. The Internet has changed everything: First of all, you can find endless amounts and types of writing groups, from intimate groups that work by e-mail or in chat rooms to huge forum groups where any passing stranger can comment on your work. Secondly, the 'zines have moved to a cheaper and more widely accessible venue-onto the Web. So there are more places to get published, though you don't get the satisfaction of seeing your name "in print." Finally, I think that every single beginning writer needs to start a blog. The cool thing is, even if you don't tell anyone you know about it, you have this place where your work is being displayed and anyone can see it. It's really very wonderful to be able to practice your craft this way. And if you start getting your friends and their friends to read and comment, you can start seeing how people react to your work, what's successful, what's not.

How do you write? Techincally... Did you picture the entire book or Did you just start?
Did you make an outline? Did you follow it? Or ?

I write differently depending on what it is. This book actually started as a workshop that I gave at the Homeschool Association of California conference in Sacramento. The workshop was called "Taking your gifted learner out of school" and was aimed at new homeschoolers of gifted learners. After I did the workshop, I realized that none of the books I'd read quite got at the subject as I'd like. So I queried James Webb, who is the publisher at Great Potential Press and whom I'd met a few times. I was actually just asking his advice, but his response cc'ed their acquisitions editor and said, "That sounds like a great idea-please send some chapters." Well, I didn't have any chapters! So I just started writing and feeding them chapters as I went. For this book, the writing went very quickly. Much of it was subject matter that I'd written about before, though never all in one place and connected together. Great Potential has a really excellent editorial process: first the acquisitions editor works with you on content, making sure you go over all the material that's needed and making suggestions. I was so gratified that she kept saying, "More, more!' I feared they'd want me to cut it down to the bone, though I'd written a really lean text. Then they have a professional copy editor who goes over the manuscript very carefully with the author. I actually enjoyed this, as well, as I really like the process of editing and have done it for my own press.


Did you lose sleep over it?
I didn't lose any sleep over the writing process-that was all pleasure. But there is a certain vulnerability you feel when your ideas go out into the wider world. I was concerned that when they sent out review copies to get blurbs, no one would want to have their name on it! (That turned out to be misplaced concern, luckily.) And once you put your name on a book that contains advice, it's like you're saying you're an "expert," and that also opens you up to feeling vulnerable and sensitive to criticism. But mostly, I've been trying to remind myself that no one likes everything-heck, I really hated Moby Dick and it's supposed to be one of the greatest novels ever written!

Where do you write? [home office, car, dentist, soccer games...]

Everywhere! I am very mobile-I haul my laptop with me anytime I think I'll have time to work. I do have an office in my house that is all mine (or at least the half of it that IS mine-the other half is my husband's).

Do you carry a notebook with you always for those times when an idea, phrase, sentence crystallizes?
I used to always carry a notebook. Then I got a smartphone and the notebook was history.

When is your best time for writing?

If I could choose, it would be right after my morning walk, which is the only time in the day when I am guaranteed solitude and time to think. I often come home with ideas and sometimes I get around to scribbling them down before someone needs something from me. The blessing and curse of the mother is always being needed!

You blog. Did you use your old blogs?
I actually did a blog about the workshop that I gave which became the backbone of the book. But mostly I use my blog as a place to generate ideas, and I don't necessarily copy directly off it for more polished pieces. I generate the ideas and then work them up in more detail when I find a place to use them.

What would you like to write about next?
I have tons of ideas-books, stories, articles-but the question is which one will catch me to the point that I really start to work on it.

Is there any fiction in mind?

I have three children's books in progress. The way I work, I pick away at a few things until one day, for no special reason, I get fired up about one of them and then I really work on it exclusively. We'll see which one gets my attention next!

One more... what do your family members say about your book!?

My kids haven't read it - it would probably bore them, anyway! No one else in my family is a homeschooler, so I wouldn't expect them to be too interested, except for the fact that I wrote it. But you never know. I think everyone is happy that I got it published and they've been very supportive.


Thanks Suki!

Bullying: help, my child is the bully!

Submitted By: Anna Dasbach, LFMC

How do we as parents respond when we are called to meet with our child's teacher or principle to find out that our child has been bullying other children at school?

Before reacting and defending our child or thinking of ways to discipline her/him it is best to first take a deep breath and stay centered and calm. Checking in with yourself: what is your own feeling and reaction in regards to bullying?

What were your own experiences as a child and how/if have you coped or how was it handled when you were a bully or bullied?

We are at our best in helping and supporting our children if we don't react from our past experiences but can stay in our adult self and look at the issues presented from a calm and centered place, because we have taken the time to process our own past experiences and feelings attached to them.

Before reacting it might also be helpful to know that bullying doesn't happen out of context and is oftentimes not a single occurrence:

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) nationwide, 20% of students in grades 9-12 have experienced bullying.

The 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) indicates that, nationwide, 28% of students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying.

When talking to the teacher or principle find out if there is a school policy in place in regards to bullying. It is often difficult for the teacher to be fully aware of the subtle forms of bullying or relational aggression, such as name calling, leaving someone out at games or conversations, girls' rolling their eyes etc, that can be very hurtful. So, if talking with the teacher about your child, keep in mind that teachers are not always able to prevent bullying from happening and might not know all the specifics of what occurred between the bully and the victim.

Instead of talking to the other parent or the children involved, in my experience and that of many experts in the field, it is best to implement a school wide curriculum around bullying and relational aggression, without targeting individual children. Therefore it is important for the parents to create an open and constructive dialogue with the school administration.

Now that you have checked in with your own reaction and talked with the school, how do you best respond to your child?

Ask yourself if there are some circumstances in your life that might have caused some upset for your child. Address if anything in your home has changed: has one of the parents taken on a new job or more obligations outside the home? Is there a new sibling? Has the relationship between the parents become more stressful? Has there been a move? Did one of your close relatives become ill?

Perhaps one of your pets has died? Have the relationships with her friends at school changed and if so: how? How does your child like being in school? How is his school performance?

Children don't often express grief, confusion or fears verbally but instead they act out their emotions.

Make some time with your child and talk to check in with what is going on for him/her.

Try to understand your child, play with him/her and take some extra time. If we spend at least 10 minutes every day to fully be present with our children, without focusing on other things, we can get to know them more deeply and understand their inner lives and reactions much better.

Listen to your child, their whole story by encouraging them to share details, and asking clarifying questions and by repeating back what you have heard. While listening, stay open to your child's experience by checking in with yourself about your own reaction. Help him/her to develop empathy for others by seeing the other child's perspective and how they have felt hurt.

We as parents are important influences on our children and how we react and relate teaches them on many levels how to relate to their peers. So, instead of getting angry at the car that cuts us off and swearing at the driver, we might want to take a breath and think about what we want to model to our child in the back seat? When we get annoyed at someone, how do we respond and what do we want our children to learn?

And when we get called into our child's school, how do we want to react and respond to the teacher or principal, and to our child, and how can we remember that we are modeling the behavior we want our children to have.  If there have been more severe issues with your child's acting out and your child has been hurting others severely, find support for you, the parent, and for your child. Join a parent group or seek family or child counseling.

Anna Dasbach, is a licensed Family and Marriage Counselor in Private Practice in Santa Cruz where she sees children, adolescents, couples and adults. She was first an educator, with extensive training in Waldorf and Montessori Education. She has held a class on relational aggression and bullying for fourth graders and is currently coaching her daughter's elementary school volleyball team.  She can be reached at


Submitted By: Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP

The weird thing about the diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is that, although most everyone agrees on the variety of symptoms, the actual testing of it can differ widely. Assessments, and therefore instructive strategies, can fluctuate by state, district, profession and resources, both public and private. The California Office of Administrative Hearings for [Public School] Special Education has over 500 notices of fair hearings with the term Auditory Processing Disorder, meaning that either a parent or a school district was attempting clarification or a decision regarding some aspect of this disorder. Further, the California Speech-language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board has published a notice- "It is incumbent upon the licensed audiologist and licensed speech-language pathologist to use only diagnostic assessments and therapies that are supported by rigorous empirical evidence.

While it is important to conduct research studies on new and emerging assessment tools, such studies should take place within the confines of an approved experimental protocol, and it should be clear to consumers that assessment with such tools is experimental only and provided at no cost. In keeping with B & P Code 51(b)(7), licensees are prohibited from making scientific claims that cannot be substantiated by reliable, peer-reviewed, published scientific studies." Even those websites designed to help navigate the issue can be confusing. This makes who really has it questionable and therefore what is done for it inconsistent. Just the term "auditory processing disorder" is one of those phrases that make parents and teachers ask,"What?"

The first step in understanding what auditory processing disorder (APD), or central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) means, is to look at the definition. This can be tricky because APD and CAPD are often used interchangeably making them seem like two different but related problems when actually they are the same problem. Essentially the disorder means the person can hear but the brain does not understand.

The symptoms are as follows:

Have trouble associating sounds with their meanings
Verbally indicate that they don't understand
Not respond consistently to the same sounds
Misunderstand a lot
Want things repeated a lot
Be easily distracted
Have trouble following oral directions
Not receive or express language well
Have a slow response to verbal instructions
Make mistakes repeating things that are said to them
Have trouble remembering things they hear

The second step in understanding APD is to see where the diagnosis is made, typically in the public schools. Unfortunately, this is also where things start getting get confused. The diagnosis of APD usually is made by the IEP team after a battery of tests administered by three professionals- the School Psychologist, the Speech-Language Pathologist and the Resource Specialist. Each of these professionals, within each school district, gives their battery of tests.

The School Psychologist gives cognitive and behavioral tests, assessments designed to evaluate various learning skills. The Speech-Language Pathologist gives speech and language tests to describe the student's abilities within that area. The Resource Specialist typically administers an academic test. Gathered together, these tests are designed to provide a valuable learning profile of the student. To qualify for Special Education- Resource Services, the student must usually be 2 grade levels below his/her current grade level and have a "processing disorder". In the IEP paperwork forms, under qualifying criteria, is where the boxes of different learning problems come in to play, because "auditory processing disorder" is one listed. And, it gets checked a lot.

However, this is also when the educational and medical diagnoses differ. In the public schools, auditory processing is an educational diagnosis, and is usually never tested by an audiologist. (This does not include the hearing screening done for students in the schools.) Further, if the original symptoms listed above are reviewed by the *asterisk, it is readily apparent that those symptoms are typical of students who have speech-language problems. In fact, research has repeatedly shown that well over 80% of all learning disabilities are language based.

So what is happening?

During the IEP meeting, most learning disabilities are classified or added- a speech-language disorder becomes auditory processing disorder, or auditory processing disorder is added to another problem in order to qualify a student for resource services.

So is it one or the other or both? "What?"

A history of "auditory processing disorder" might help begin to answer that question. Auditory Processing Disorder has been studied since 1954, when Helmer Myklebust, a researcher, emphasized its importance for those who had communication and learning problems. Then in 1977, a world-wide conference on the problem motivated considerable attention to the pediatric population. Since that time, Auditory Processing Disorder has been widely studied,symptoms have been delineated, tests have been developed and therapeutic strategies have been implemented.

But, this really only confused things more too, since all those researchers were from various disciplines latching on to the phrase "auditory processing disorder". It's enough to make anyone completely bewildered.

So, in 2005, the American Speech-language Hearing Association (ASHA), in an effort to clarify the term, published a technical report titled (Central) Auditory Processing Disorder. The group responsible for this report was a team of distinguished audiologists with expertise in the disorder. The report characterized (C) Auditory Processing Disorder as follows - "Broadly stated, (Central) Auditory Processing [(C)AP] refers to the efficiency and effectiveness by which the central nervous system (CNS) utilizes auditory information. Narrowly defined, (C)AP refers to the perceptual processing of auditory information in the CNS and theneuro-biologic activity that underlies that processing and gives rise to electro-physiologic auditory potentials. (C)AP includes the auditory mechanisms that underlie the following abilities or skills: sound localization and lateralization; auditory discrimination; auditory pattern recognition; temporal aspects of audition, including temporal integration, temporal discrimination (e.g., temporal gap detection), temporal ordering, and temporal masking; auditory performance in competing acoustic signals (including dichotic listening); and auditory performance with degraded acoustic signals (ASHA, 1996; Bellis, 2003; Chermak & Musiek,1997).

(Central) Auditory Processing Disorder [(C)APD] refers to difficulties in the perceptual processing of auditory information in the CNS as demonstrated by poor performance in one or more of the above skills. Although abilities such as phonological awareness, attention to and memory for auditory information, auditory synthesis, comprehension and interpretation of auditorily presented information, and similar skills may be reliant on or associated with intact central auditory function, they are considered higher order cognitive-communicative and/or language-related functions and, thus, are not included in the definition of (C)AP."

ASHA stipulates that (C) APD is an auditory neurological dysfunction, that is, physiological in nature, and that it must be diagnosed only after an auditory battery of tests performed by a certified audiologist, developmental history and speech-language evaluation by a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. In other words, the problem must be well documented, have a physical basis in auditory problems, and describe the communicative-cognitive behaviors of the client.

Let's face it - students spend 40 to 65% of their day listening, so it is not unreasonable to expect that school special education learning issues typically result in a conclusion of auditory processing disorder, especially since that is the way most state educational codes are written for the diagnosis of learning disability. (There must be a documented processing disorder.) However, research has estimated that only 2-4% of children have (C) APD and that it can exist with other disorders in the same patient, so a differential diagnosis is crucial and never should be done with only psychological testing, even though many of the actual names of tests given by school psychologists have the term "auditory processing".

No wonder everyone is confused. Even the test publishers use the term.

But a proper in-depth evaluation is crucial because the condition is uncommon and remediation strategies depend on an appropriate diagnosis. "To diagnose [true] APD, the audiologist will administer a series of tests in a sound-treated room. These tests require listeners to attend to a variety of signals and to respond to them via repetition, pushing a button, or in some other way. Other tests that measure the auditory system's physiologic responses to sound may also be administered. Most of the tests of APD require that a child be at least 7 or 8 years of age because the variability in brain function is so marked in younger children that test interpretation may not be possible." (Teri Bellis, Ph.D, CCC-A,, 2011)

To recap, it is important to know that there is distinction between the educational diagnosis of (C) APD and the medical diagnosis. The educational diagnosis is made in the public schools by a team for the purposes of qualifying a student for learning disability services. The medical diagnosis is made (usually) outside of the public schools by a certified audiologist who gives a battery of auditory tests in a sound proof room.

Why is this distinction so important?

Because in the public schools, the accommodations and strategies will be designed to help the student access the curriculum. They are educational in nature. Outside of the public schools, the interventions are therapeutic, meaning they are designed to help remediate the problem. This is not to say that educational strategies cannot be therapeutic or that therapeutic interventions cannot take place in the school setting, but it is saying that there can be a huge difference on emphasis and delivery, and therefore outcomes. Most times a student needs both educational interventions AND therapy, but only after it is clearly delineated WHAT the problem is.

Auditory processing disorder can look like many things and can be manifested alongside of many problems.


Okay, let's start over.

Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP, Director- Speech, Learning and Psychology Services, Santa Cruz, CA,


Kids, Communication, Creativity, Education in an Uncertain World

Submitted By: Chris Yonge, Makers Factory


We all know that kids love to communicate - it's their nature. You can argue the whole point of childhood is learning to do just that: with others' minds through language, with the real world through science, with one's body through exercise, and with imagination through art and music.

But something is missing from that list, an important part of our world: communicating with computers and robotic machines. Computing has become central to our lives very fast, in little over a generation. Look at a science fiction movie from the 1980s: you won't see computers being owned and used by ordinary people. From HAL in 2001 to the tellingly named "ship's computer" in Star Trek they show what computers were at that time and it was assumed would continue to be: large machines, operated by specialists. But a generation later almost every home has at least one - often many more, as even simple electromechanical devices like telephones and cameras have turned into computers. So as a result there has been another change: the physical data containers we grew up with, such as maps, movie tapes, photographs, books, and magazines, are becoming electronic files that need computer hardware and skills simply to see them.
No-one saw this coming thirty years ago. What will our kids be using thirty years from now?

More than we can imagine. Partly because two of the fastest growing creative professions just now are UI and UX design. These initials stand for User Interface and User Experience. Every manufacturer and software firm and web site owner wants to give their customers an easier, faster, more productive experience. This is hard to do as the increasing complexity of products and the web present real challenges if they are to be used properly.

But to those who understand them, and where UI and UX designers have worked their magic, many technologies have moved away from the expensive world of trained specialists to being affordable and accessible. Programming a processor was difficult a decade ago; now, with the appearance of versatile $30 printed circuit boards like the Arduino, anyone can build and program their own robot, display panel, automatic plant feeder, or alarm clock. The free computer languages these devices use such as Python, JavaScript, Processing, and Ruby are well designed, and learning them opens many doors in electronics and robotics. Kids take to this fast: they're wired for it. It's communication - and power.

Another reason our kids will have many more doors open to them is that professional grade creative programs are increasingly affordable and even free. Open source software like Blender (at for animation or Inkscape ( for vector drawing are rapidly growing in power and rival the capabilities of expensive programs like the Maya or Illustrator of five or ten years ago. Professional work can now be done with free software, and it is all around us.

2D to 3D
Our kids will experience other changes, particularly in the way things are designed and made. When I lecture on this subject I often use cave paintings of hunts as an example. These dramatic events took place in three dimensions of space and one of time but could only be recorded as flat and frozen diagrams. But when that recording surface of rock wall changed to a clay tablet and then to papyrus and paper, the two dimensional filter on how humans recorded 3D objects and events remained. For tens of thousands of years our society and its creative potential were limited to flat pictures of a solid world until the development of 3D computer software fifty years ago. Now that constraint has gone and everything has changed.

Like computers, computer controlled machines have been around for fifty years, but they were subtractive devices. In other words they removed material from a solid block of metal or plastic to make the final shape. Often most of the original volume ended up as shavings or dust. But now we are seeing the rise of additive technologies, where the material starts as a gypsum or metal dust, or a plastic filament, and is formed into its final shape through layers solidified with inkjet applied glue, or precisely melted with a laser, or built up with a heated extrusion head. Little to no material is wasted in additive processes and we can make shapes this way that were impossible to create with subtractive machines. At MakersFactory we 3D print working gears complete with axles and supports in one piece; in our exhibition cases we have a metal sculpture consisting of three concentric cubes spinning inside one another that was also made in one piece and would be impossible to make any other way. Soon many household products will be manufactured this way, custom sized and detailed for each purchaser. Or by the purchaser - in future the distinction between designer and client will blur.

the new creativity
Using and understanding the new technologies in a creative way, picking them up and setting them down like pencils in a drawing set, will be increasingly important. Our kids will not experience employment the same way that our generation has; they may change jobs and professions many times in their working lives, moving from full time employment to part-time and contract work, from self-employment to full-time education. Some of the professions they practice will not even exist today. They will need to learn and adapt, and those who are best at learning - those who enjoy it most - will be the most flexible and have most opportunities. Developing a profitable and flexible set of skills, experiences, and knowledge is a lifetime process that begins at birth. It is the most valuable thing that we can provide for our children.

In response to these changes in society the way that learning is taught is being reexamined, particularly in Europe. Internships and workplace simulations ease the transition for students from school to work, and subtly encourage them to carry their "learning mode" with them.
Traditionally, school-based learning has been organized in a formal curriculum, focused on a combination of testable knowledge but rather vague skills. There was a distinction made between theory and practice. By contrast training in the workplace was based on vague, often example based knowledge but very clear skills acquisition in specific contexts and with particular tools. Theory and practice were far apart. Over the last decade, however, those poles have moved closer. Schools have closer links to local industries and more project based learning, while workplace education has benefited from the ability of web based courses to provide more academic content.

All these enable students to know and do what exists, but not to create something new. It is the innovators and entrepreneurs who will be secure and succeed in the world as it will be, and a key component in their makeup will be creativity.

I am co-founder of MakersFactory in Santa Cruz. We teach classes in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) rather than STEM - blending technology with creativity. The arts are a natural way to explore creativity and problem solving, not least because there is often no right answer and equally no way in which a solution can be completely wrong. But making things in a traditional industrial arts course can be a recipe for loss of confidence.

High school woodshop classes could be - and certainly were, in my case - more lessons in frustration than creativity. This is because making an object in wood or metal by hand is subject to endless risk. A pen and ink engineering drawing can be ruine 500 Internal Server Error

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