Education

  • Is the AFT Trying to Reform Its Image?

    Education reformers were pleasantly stunned when the American Federation of Teachers announced today that two of the winners of their new Innovation Fund grants planned to use the money to create teacher-evaluation systems that give weight to students' standardized test scores. The idea of considering gains (or the lack thereof) in student test scores when evaluating the effectiveness of teachers is an idea that reformers have pushed for years. But it's also an idea that the AFT, the country's second-largest union, as well as its rival, the National Education Association, has repeatedly dissed, insisting that research doesn't prove that teacher quality and test scores correlate. In fact, AFT President Randi Weingarten, while head of the New York City teachers' union, helped push through state legislation banning use of student test scores in teacher evaluations for tenure.  ...
  • Motivation and Flow: The Teenager Edition

    Over the past week, I've been writing about the importance of motivation in improving the rate at which kids learn. Typically, when we think about such examples, we tend to think in terms of a particular activity that a kid becomes emotionally invested in. (In my son's case, it was Pokémon, now it's sports.) However, motivation is also affected by structural factors—by how a subject, skill, or sport is taught. Certain ways of teaching enhance motivation, and other means of teaching weaken motivation. This becomes particularly clear in the research on the concept of "flow."  ...
  • Leading Psychologists Reveal Some of Their Own Inner Demons

    Today, I recommend checking out the British Psychological Society's Research Digest. BPS asked over 20 of the world's leading psychologists to confess (in 150 words or less) to one nagging thing they still don't understand about themselves.Witty, charming, and by definition insightful, the psychologists' answers are well-worth reading. Richard Wiseman's piece wondering where comedy comes from made me chuckle; Robert Plomin's thoughts on parenting and genetic influence reminded me how much Po and I want to delve into this work – and how many questions are still left unanswered. But, read the essays as a group, and I think the scholars' replies offer an even broader insight.For example, evolutionary psychologist David Buss has studied the way men frequently – and incorrectly –  believe that women's friendliness towards them is an indication of sexual interest. He knows that men get this wrong all the time; however, in the moment, Buss confesses...
  • Marshmallow Boy vs. The Pokemon Kid – The Neuroscience of Children’s Passions

    If I could use subtitles on this blog, this one would read: Why the most famous study of child-distraction is itself a huge distraction.But give me a minute to set this up.Over at The Daily Beast today, I have an essay about how Pokemon changed my son’s brain. Or at least that’s how The Daily Beast is packaging the story. The real point of the article is that my son’s passion changed his brain. Passion, or motivation, is experienced by the brain as the spritz of dopamine. Dopamine increases neural signaling speed – the brains performs better and learns better. Think of dopamine as the turbocharger for learning. You want dopamine on your child’s brain. You want your child motivated.In my son’s case, because he was in love with Pokemon, he used the cards to learn math and reading. And because he loved Pokemon, he did a lot of math and reading, which made him very good at both. Prior to his love of Pokemon, he was entirely unexceptional at either. Now I want to talk about how passion...
  • Playing the “Conditional Love” Card

    It’s interesting to see the term “conditional love” reenter the zeitgeist, as Ashley wrote about yesterday. Conditional love, everyone can well remember, is being hot and cold with a child – accepting them only when they are polite, honest, bring home good grades, get into name-brand colleges, and marry well. Generations went into therapy and realized this was the dominant loving-style of their parents; it traumatized them by making them feel that any natural exploration off the predetermined path was taboo. Individualism and curiosity were forbidden – children felt like showpieces, useful only to impress other parents at the country club.Since the dawn of the age of therapy, we’ve all understood that conditional love was the wrong message to send children. Unconditional love is what kids need. Ever since, we’ve heard the emphasis on unconditional love. Conditional love is almost unspeakable, unmentionable – something we were supposed to eradicate from children’s lives, like lead...
  • Abstinence-Only Education Is Back

    After weeks of railing against the price tag of health-care reform, Senate Republicans managed to bond over pumping up the budget for one aspect of health-care reform yesterday: abstinence-only education. Proposed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the amendment reinstates $50 million in funding for abstinence-only education that President Obama had previously removed in his budget proposal earlier this year. Committee Republicans were joined by Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad in voting up the measure, which passed 12-11....
  • Are Time-outs for Tots Conditional Love?

    Recently, in the New York Times' science section and Motherlode blog, education writer Alfie Kohn argued that both praise and punishment are equally bad for kids. Essentially his point was that praise and punishment both teach a child that our love for them is conditional – we only care for them when they succeed and stay out of trouble. Accordingly, Kohn thinks that parents should not praise or punish their kids. From no dessert to time-outs and groundings, "What a good job!" and trophies – it all should be thrown out the window. If parents do so any of those terrible things, Kohn warns, children are hostile, resentful, and likely end up in therapy.His pieces have left parents across the nation scratching their heads; they were left feeling incredibly helpless and unsure about how to parent. While Kohn's made some interesting points in the past, we think that Kohn went way too far in both pieces for two reasons. First, he overstated the science he had to support...
  • Clarifying the Science of Building Early Language Skills

    In today’s Science Times, Jane E. Brody conveys a dozen tips on how to develop infants’ and toddlers’ acquisition of language. She makes several very important points – the most vital one being don’t listen to an iPod while pushing your infant in a stroller, because you can’t hear the infant’s vocalizations and then respond accordingly. However, several other tips in the article contradict the scientific record and need clarification.1. Baby Talk. Brody’s article suggests that when parents use Baby Talk, it confuses toddlers. We’ve heard this concern often, but the science is remarkably clear on this point – Baby Talk clarifies language for kids, well into their second year. The scientific term for the speech pattern of Baby Talk is parentese – the emotional affect is giddily upbeat and the vowels are stretched, with highly-exaggerated pitch contours.** It’s not cultural – it’s almost universal. The phonetic qualities help infants and toddlers distinguish discrete sounds. Many...
  • What is Mature, Extended, Pretend Play – Exactly?

    On Sunday, Paul Tough published an article in the New York Times Magazine about how the Tools of the Mind curriculum for preschools and kindergartens enhance children’s self-control. He covered the some of same ground as we did in our chapter of NurtureShock, and it was nice to see the material covered thoughtfully by another journalist. (Full disclosure: Tough has been Po’s occasional editor, but we had no input or influence on his reporting.)So we thought we spend some more time addressing the 60 to 90 minute section at the core of Tools – mature pretend play. How does it unfold, and how can this be recreated at your preschool, or even in your home?In a typical Tools classroom, the majority of the room is split up into several different centers, each decorated to look like a different location. Before the kids ever play in any one center, they spend a week learning about the location it represents. If the new location is a fire station, they read storybooks about life in a fire...
  • Does Labeling Bias as "Bullying" Hide the Real Problem?

    Yesterday, we were struck by Tony Dokoupil's piece on Alex Merritt, a young man bullied by his teachers. As Dokoupil movingly reported, the taunts were cruel, and the remarks were almost entirely based on the teachers' allegations that Merritt was a homosexual. Of course, the fact the bullying was spearheaded by teachers – then spread to the student-body – makes the situation seem all the more unforgivable. But it reminded us of the work of University of Arizona professor, Stephen T. Russell. Russell went to public and private schools in California, surveying 235,000 kids in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades. Russell asked each student if he had been bullied within the past 12 months, and if they answer was yes, to describe the incident. 37.4% of the kids said that they had been bullied. Then Russell broke that data down by category. 14% of the kids had been bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. 9.1% of the kids said they'd been bullied because of...
  • High School Grades vs. The SAT vs. Family Income

    My posts over the last two days compared how the SAT predicts college success against Emotional Intelligence scores. I received a lot of emails in response, and the vast majority of them were readers telling me their individual story through the statistics that defined their life. People would list their SAT score, name the college they attended, and then state their college GPA. Often their stories continued into their adult years, as their GPA rose over time, or jumped dramatically when they hit graduate school and were finally studying a subject of genuine interest. Sometimes, in place of grad school GPAs, people told me their annual income. I wasn't sure what to do with these stories, because they were sent to me as evidence of how the SAT does, or does not, predict the near future. However, while each anecdote is true and has integrity, no single anecdote proves or disproves the point. The statistics are cumulative of everyone's story. So this brings up an interesting...
  • In Defense of the SAT

    One of the most popular ideas of our time is the notion that in judging a young person’s future success, we’ve become imbalanced, giving too much credence to whether a child has learned the stuff of textbooks, and too little value to whether that child has learned the stuff of real life. The latter is a whole constellation of behaviors and skills, from creativity to emotional-intelligence to self-discipline to practical judgment. In this modern paradigm, the elements of real life success are characterized as highly generalizable, useful everywhere from the urban street corner to the boardroom. Meanwhile, the elements that go into book learning are characterized as being narrowly applicable, useful only for getting into college, at which point the other factors take over. No matter who is making this argument–whether it’s Daniel Goleman, Dan Pink, Robert Sternberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Stanley, or some college president–it always stands on a few key bricks. One of those bricks is...
  • The Problem with Teaching Kids about Stranger Danger

    On Saturday, The New York Times ran a thoughtful piece by Jan Hoffman about whether kids can walk to school by themselves. In the US, just 13% of kids are walking or biking to school, down from 41% in 1969. (That drop, as steep as it is, is nothing compared to what's happened in the UK: Gill Valentine found that, in 1971, 80% of British children were responsible for getting themselves to school. By 1990, that figure was just 9%.)Hoffman took pains to show both sides of this agonizing issue – the tradeoff between absolute safety and the desire to encourage kids some small amount of responsibility and self-efficacy. I was very happy to see Hoffman’s story picked up by others such as the Today Show. But I'd like to go a bit further on a related issue – how we talk to kids about "stranger danger," and how much parents let their anxieties be felt by their children. It's one thing to tell a kid not to accept candy from a stranger, that a kid shouldn't go...
  • By Third Grade, Black Students Who Self Segregate Are More Popular

    We have this image that friendships in schools today are all High School Musical HSMThe odds of a white high-schooler having a best friend of another race are actually only about 8 percent. And the story isn't much better for minorities, either: for black kids, 85 percent of their best friends are black, too. The long-accepted solution to this problem has been school diversity. But the science is quite clear that this solution has failed to fix the problem: as schools get more diverse, kids just tend to self-segregate more, so kids in more diverse schools end up not having more friends of other races. Kids in diverse schools do not necessarily have better racial attitudes, and commonly have worse.Fifty-five years after Brown v. Board, why do kids choose to self-segregate? Why do they accept it?In NEWSWEEK magazine this week, we suggested that part of the problem stems from white parents' refusal to talk to their young children about race and ethnicity. This inadvertently...
  • Can Extracurricular Activities Solve the Self-segregation Problem?

    In American high schools today, it’s taken as a given that extracurricular activities bring students of different races together. What’s more, it’s on clubs and sports teams that the conditions of Allport’s Contact Theory are actually met – students are working together toward a single goal, rather than competing against each other. Duke University’s Dr. James Moody, who studies social networks, has written, “The strongest effect of school organization on racial friendship is through extracurricular mixing. Schools that succeed in mixing students by race in extracurricular activities have lower levels of racial friendship segregation.” Other research has shown that extracurricular activities are the #1 place that interracial friendships get started.In other words, if school districts can widely integrate their sports teams and clubs, then they might see less self-segregation in the hallways and lunchrooms.It fell to another Duke University scholar, Dr. Charles Clotfelter, to figure...
  • How Obama's Speech to Kids Became Political Theater

    In 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger launched, school teacher Christa McAuliffe was among the crew. Awed and inspired by McAuliffe, teachers and students across the country watched the launch live in their classrooms. Thousands of school children were glued to television screens when, horrifyingly, the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after takeoff, killing everyone on board. At the time, Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational think tank, worked for the Reagan administration in the Department of Education. When Reagan decided to address the nation about the Challenger disaster that evening, Finn recalls school children being encouraged to watch the president's speech to help them deal with the trauma. "That was one of his fine moments," Finn recalls of Reagan's speech. "Not one single solitary soul that I am aware of criticized him." But today, if the response to President Obama's address to school children...
  • The Four Conditions of Intergroup Contact

    You've probably never heard of Gordon Allport. But his research affects the lives of everyone in the U.S., on a daily basis, and it has done so for over 50 years. Back in 1954, Allport was one of 32 social scientists who had signed on to what was known as "the social science statement" – a document included in the NAACP's submissions to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board. In the social science statement, the scholars enumerated the damaging psychological effects of racial segregation.  One of Allport's theories – something he called "contact theory" – was one of the underpinnings for the scientists' work. The modern premise behind desegregation is that when people are exposed to people of different races and ethnicities, that will inherently reduce their racial bias – and that concept is often described as Allport's contact theory. However, that's a misnomer. Allport didn't postulate that merely throwing people together will...
  • Full Text of Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren

    The White House released the text of the president's speech to the nation's schoolchildren yesterday. As promised, the speech urges children to work hard and stay in school. Obama exhorts children to take responsibility for their own education, telling them it is OK to ask for help when it's needed. "We can...
  • The White-Nonwhite Gap in Racial Acceptance

    Dr. Walter Stephan, a professor emeritus at New Mexico State University,made it his life’s work to survey students’ racial attitudes after their first year of desegregation. He is one of the most respected scholars in the field,and he is fervently supportive of school integration. It’s important to note this in advance, because there’s two broad conclusions to be drawn from his data, both of which made me uncomfortable to confront. The first, tragic conclusion is that school integration just as often decreases racial acceptance as improves it.But right now, we want to focus on the second conclusion:white students come out looking worse when it comes to racial attitudes.Stephan found that in only 16 percent of the desegregated schools examined, the attitudes of whites toward African-Americans became more favorable. In 48 percent of the schools, white students’ attitudes toward blacks became worse. African-American attitudes were also mixed, but overall were significantly less dismal....

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