Monthly Archives: July 2010

The $320,000 kindergarten teacher

The New York Times reports:

How much do your kindergarten teacher and classmates affect the rest of your life?

Economists have generally thought that the answer was not much. Great teachers and early childhood programs can have a big short-term effect. But the impact tends to fade…

Early this year, [Harvard economist Raj Chetty] and five other researchers… Examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chetty presented the findings — not yet peer-reviewed — at an academic conference in Cambridge, Mass. They’re fairly explosive.

Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.


Classic paper: Annette Lareau’s ‘Unequal Childhoods’ – a look at cultural capital and child development

Annette Lareau is the Stanley I. Sheerr Professor of Sociology at U. of Pennsylvania (her faculty Web site is here). Lareau’s research focuses on the ways in which one’s social class affects one’s socioeconomic development over the lifespan. She is best known for her 2003 book Unequal Childhoods (see this NY Times op-ed column about the book). During the course of my graduate studies, I’ve read thousands of scholarly articles and books and Unequal Childhoods is on my list of Top 5 Texts that have Influenced My Scholarly Thinking.

The publisher describes Lareau’s book as follows:

Class does make a difference in the lives and futures of American children. Drawing on in-depth observations of black and white middle-class, working-class, and poor families, Unequal Childhoods explores this fact, offering a picture of childhood today. Here are the frenetic families managing their children’s hectic schedules of “leisure” activities; and here are families with plenty of time but little economic security. Lareau shows how middle-class parents, whether black or white, engage in a process of “concerted cultivation” designed to draw out children’s talents and skills, while working-class and poor families rely on “the accomplishment of natural growth,” in which a child’s development unfolds spontaneously–as long as basic comfort, food, and shelter are provided. Each of these approaches to childrearing brings its own benefits and its own drawbacks. In identifying and analyzing differences between the two, Lareau demonstrates the power, and limits, of social class in shaping the lives of America’s children.

A free preview of Unequal Childhoods is available here from Google Books.

Although the book is well worth reading, an article-length introduction to the same major themes found in the book is available in this piece (PDF) Lareau published in 1987.

July 28 K-12 Round-up

  • The National Opportunity to Learn campaign, a coalition of seven major civil rights organizations, “[today] called on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today to dismantle core pieces of his education agenda, arguing that his emphases on expanding charter schools, closing low-performing schools, and using competitive rather than formula funding are detrimental to low-income and minority children.” [Education Week]
  • A state judge in Texas has upheld the state’s so-called “truth in grading” law. The law prohibits schools from adopting grading policies that incorporate minimum scores on classwork and, by extension, on report cards. Thus, if a student receives a grade of 30/100 on an assignment, schools cannot ’round up’ the failing score to a 50 or 60, which critics complain makes it nearly impossible for students to make up failing grades.  [Dallas Morning News]
  • Education Week has published this interesting op-ed piece by J. William Towne, a high school dropout who subsequently graduated magna cum laude from U. of Southern California. Towne argues that effective teachers can trump even the worst socio-economic challenges that K-12 students face.

Second-round “Race to the Top” finalists announced

CNN reports:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were selected as finalists to receive more than $3 billion in the second round of funding for the Race to the Top Program, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Tuesday…The finalists chosen were:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina

Will demographic shifts in the U. S. population change college admissions (and college students)?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The number of high-school graduates is expected to decline gradually until 2015, when the growing Hispanic and Asian populations will start pushing it to new highs, according to estimates from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Although this is not news to anyone in admissions, the implications of this shift continue to spark  discussion–and worry–among those who recruit and evaluate college applicants.

A new white paper, “The End of Higher Education Enrollment as We Know It,” offers a glimpse of future enrollment challenges. It was written by Greg Perfetto, vice president for research and development at Admissions Lab (formerly 422 Group), a higher-education consulting firm. Mr. Perfetto, a former associate provost for institutional research at Vanderbilt University, writes that the numbers of affluent, “second generation” high-school graduates will very likely decline in most parts of the country: “The well-prepared, affluent college student that has helped fuel the expansion of higher education over the past 20 years will not disappear but will not spur additional growth either.”

The Admissions Lab white paper is available here (PDF).

Classic book: “Endangered Minds” by Jane M. Healy

NOTE: This is cross-posted with my Cognitive Science Blog.

When I was a master’s student taking my first graduate-level educational psychology class, our professor assigned us several book reviews. We could choose the texts we would review from a long list he supplied. One of those books has had a strong influence on how I think about brain science, learning, and human development.

Endangered Minds by Jane M. Healy, Ph. D. was first published in 1990. The book’s dust jacket description reads as follows:

[Endangered Minds] examines how television, video games, and other components of popular culture compromise our children’s ability to concentrate and to absorb and analyze information. Drawing on neuropsychological research and an analysis of current educational practices, Healy presents in clear, understandable language:– How growing brains are physically shaped by experience
— Why television programs — even supposedly educational shows like Sesame Street — develop “habits of mind” that place children at a disadvantage in school
— Why increasing numbers of children are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder
— How parents and teachers can make a critical difference by making children good learners from the day they are born

I haven’t re-read this text in several years and I suspect that some contemporary research might refute some of Healy’s points – indeed, my own survey of educational neuroscience leads me to believe that some, if not many, individuals are able to leverage modern media and information technology to their advantage vis-a-vis brain development. Nonetheless, whether one agrees with her conclusions or not, Endangered Minds is an excellent introduction to the major issues surrounding our contemporary media culture and child development.

A fairly lengthy preview of Endangered Minds is available here from Google books. Dr. Healy’s personal Web site is here.

Social networking injures children’s brains, scientist claims

NOTE: This is cross-posted with my Cognitive Science Blog.

The Daily Mail reports:

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.

The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day.

But they will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens.

As someone who teaches older adolescents (undergraduate college students), I often worry that the so-called Millenial Generation, a cohort of young people who have grown up immersed in digital entertainment and information-communication technology, seem to crave multi-modal stimulation in a way that older generations seemingly do not. For instance, I have observed older teens and young twentysomthings who constantly listen to music players while walking around campus or riding a bus to or from school… Listening to music while commuting can, of course, help pass the time, but to what degree does such behavior reflect a deep-seated desire (whether conscious or unconscious) to constantly be stimulated by something – music, text messages, or other communication/media?