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IAP NEWS UPDATE May 1st –13th 2011 Publication: University of Chicago Press Title: Inconsistent math curricula hurting US students, study finds Author: Kevin Stacey Website: Survey: TIMSS

A new study finds important differences in math curricula across U.S. states and school districts. The findings, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Education, suggest that many students across the country are placed at a disadvantage by less demanding curricula.

Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Oklahoma used data from the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which included 13 school districts and nine states in the U.S., as well as nearly 40 other nations.

"Overall, U.S. students are exposed to a less difficult school mathematics curriculum that places them at a disadvantage when compared to the students in many other countries of the world," write the researchers, led by William Schmidt of Michigan State. "Even sadder, a student's mathematics learning opportunities related to content coverage are deeply affected by where the student lives and in which of the 13 local school districts or nine states he or she attends school."

For example, algebra and geometry are generally taught in eighth grade by international standards. But U.S. states and school districts that participated in the TIMSS varied widely in the number of eighth graders whose math classes focus on those two subjects. In one district, 95 percent of eighth graders focus on algebra and geometry, but in another district, only 14 percent do. A broader look at the data shows the content differences between districts are as large as one grade level. In other words, topics covered in sixth grade in one district are not covered until seventh grade in others.

The study found the variation in curriculum was correlated with students' overall eighth grade math achievement, with students in the less demanding states and districts performing much worse than those in more demanding schools. This was true even after controlling for student background, including a measure of students' seventh grade achievement.

The less demanding curricula tended to be in districts that had large numbers of poor students. The mathematics taught in districts where over 70 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was about one-half of a grade level behind that of districts in which virtually no students were eligible.

However, the variation in content covered was not just a problem for poor districts. Even after controlling for socio-economic status, significant variation remained, suggesting that the problem is partly "a function of the very structure of the U.S. education system," according to the researchers.

"If these results hold more generally, the U.S. is not a country of educational equality, providing equal learning opportunities to all students," said Leland Cogan, an author of the study. "This is true not only for poor, minority, or disadvantaged students; any student can be disadvantaged simply due to differences in the rigor of the mathematics taught in the district in which they happen to attend school."

Publication: CNN International Title: We need year-round school to compete globally Author: LZ Granderson Website: Survey: PISA

As a nation, either our kids are getting dumber or everyone else's are getting smarter. American 15-yearolds ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math in a study of students in 34 nations and nonnational regions. The Program for International Student Assessment study, coordinated every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, definitively shows U.S. students are no longer ready to compete against the world's brightest.

Which brings me to this: Why are we still giving them the summer off? As it stands, only eight of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries that took part in the study in 2009 have a lower high school graduation rate than we do. It's so bad in some schools, educators have a nickname for them: dropout factories. That's a national crisis with a potential for significant economic impact. The organization estimates that by boosting our scores for reading, math and science by 25 points over the next 20 years, the United States would gain $41 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. As cash-strapped as we are, can we really afford to leave that kind of money on the table? Instead of year-round school as curiosity, I think it's time it becomes a government-enforced standard. Remember recently when the nation got all in a tizzy after the International Monetary Fund reported China would pass us as the world's largest economy in 2016? Well, considering Shanghai ranked No. 1 in the education report, that shouldn't really surprise anyone. To make matters worse, our kids have no idea just how far behind they really are. When the results of the test were released in the winter, Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education secretary, pointed out that despite not being in the top of any of the subjects tested, "U.S. students express more self-confidence in their academic skills than students in virtually all OECD nations. This stunning finding may be explained because students here are being commended for work that would not be acceptable in high-performing education systems." It's as if the United States were cast in one of those clichĂŠ Hollywood movies as the 29-year-old dumb and balding jock who still wears his high school varsity jacket. Cutting into summer vacation won't solve all our education problems -- most research points toward the quality of the teacher as the biggest influencer -- but more class time could help. At 180 days, we have one of the shortest school years of the countries tested. South Korea, for example, has 220 school days, and a No. 2 ranking in math. Finland is first in math and science at 190 days. Then there's this: Harris Cooper, a summer-learning expert at Duke University, pored over a century's worth of data and found that each summer, our kids lose about a month of progress in math and that low-income students lose as much as three months' worth of reading comprehension. Again, that's each summer. More than a month of teaching time at the beginning of the school year is spent re-teaching the stuff our kids forgot over the break. This may be one of the reasons why the report suggests Finnish 15-year-olds are one to two years ahead of our kids in math and science. Now I hear the cry from some who say "Let our kids be kids," but what does that mean today? The reason for summer vacations in the first place was that little Johnny was needed in the fields to help the family during growing season. Today more people live in cities than they do in rural areas, and that

farming structure has been obsolete for some time. If our kids aren't working on the farm all summer long, what are they doing? Watching TV? Playing video games? Getting into trouble? Heck, a lot of our kids' summers and holiday breaks are already structured around Amateur Athletic Union practices and tournaments. Why is it so wrong to suggest structuring the summer around more education, especially when the amount students receive is no longer enough to keep them competitive on the world stage? In July 2008, then-Sen. Obama suggested American children should learn a second language. That was met with a great deal of criticism, as if being bilingual and more educated was somehow un-American. You want to know what's un-American? Not being innovative. Refusing to think outside the box. We used to be a nation of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, but now we're just dogmatic consumers. We want problems to be fixed but we don't want the solution to be an inconvenience. So we look for silver bullets, which in our culture usually means tossing more money at things. But guess what? We spend on average about $30,000 more per student than the other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, yet the best we can do is middle of the road. Since when did chanting "We're No. 25!" become acceptable? Today, if you want to keep your child in a learning environment during the summer, you most likely have to pony up hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to enroll them in a program or two. Families who can't afford to do that depend on scholarships or programs funded by government grants or corporations. If you grew up poor like me, and no extra income was available for transportation to those programs, you simply stayed home and watched TV every day for hours. In retrospect, I would have been better served being in school. I would imagine teachers wouldn't be thrilled to give up their long vacation. And the athletic apparel companies that enjoy the income Amateur Athletic Union summer leagues generate wouldn't like it much either. Nor would the colleges and universities that rake in extra cash brought in by hosting summer programs. But the biggest obstacle to re-evaluating summer vacations is probably our love of the familiar. As humans we are naturally averse to change and the end of summer vacations would greatly alter the way we've done things for more than 100 years.

But what terrible thing would happen if we made the entire year part of the education process, with minibreaks sprinkled throughout? Year-round schooling would not be repealing the child labor laws of 1938 and it won't force kids to lose their childhood. But it would give our young more of a fighting chance. The world is getting smaller, the world is getting smarter and if you look around you'll see when it comes to education, we're no longer basking in the glow of superiority. We're wallowing in mediocrity. And our kids don't even know it.

Publication: Education Week Title: The Relationship Between Respect and Test Scores Author: Maurice J. Elias Website: Survey: PISA

Among the top-performing countries on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, one common factor stood out: respect for education. In high-achieving nations, it is part of the culture and a tenet embraced by families, teachers, and government. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama cited respect for learning as a central value a week after Nicholas Kristof noted in The New York Times that the PISA leaders (Finland, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Japan, and South Korea) have a “legacy of reverence for education.” For the Asian cultures, this is a millennia-long tradition, while Finland and Canada more recently established education as a priority with the knowledge that treating educators and the education system with respect is the only way to actualize that priority. PISA data underscore that the climate of the school—with regard to disciplinary practices, teacherstudent relationships, and a positive atmosphere and tone set by teachers—contributes specifically to higher reading scores. In most countries and economies within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, where PISA is conducted, schools with better teacher-student relationships tend to perform better; respect is an essential ingredient in these relationships. Across OECD countries, when students report that they do not feel they can work well in class most of the time, that other students do not listen to them, and that their teacher has to wait a long time before students settle down to learn, achievement is likely to be compromised. Even small rates of these behaviors can create school climates that are not conducive to learning. When educators attempt to impose obedience, often in a sincere but misguided attempt to regain instructional time for math and reading (vs. respectful creation of a common community of learners with sound character), the difficulties are compounded and an accelerating spiral of coercive negative relationships ensues. Achievement does not.

Respect is not a panacea, but it is a necessary, even if not sufficient, condition for effective schooling and desired student outcomes. Our Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Research Lab has examined the relationship between the degree of bullying in school, the extent to which students felt they were being given useful strategies to handle bullying, and their perception of the school climate. Data from 115 schools and 48 districts, including 48,000 students across the state, over a two-year period, for disadvantaged schools vs. others, and for elementary, middle, and high schools, were remarkably consistent. Among the key findings were these: • Bullying was related to the climate of the school and was most strongly and significantly related to the respect that students felt in the school, especially among their peers; where there was a respectful environment, bullying was less likely to exist. • The extent to which students felt they were truly learning strategies to cope with bullying in their schools was most strongly related to the extent to which they perceived teachers as being caring and supportive to students and to one another, and secondarily to the extent to which students felt they were respected and included in shaping their school environment in positive ways. Students appear to find bullying-prevention and -intervention messages valuable when staff members are seen as genuinely caring and when students are engaged in the school. We also looked at 13,593 students in 21 high schools and found that the correlation between bullying and a climate of respect, caring, and student participation averaged approximately -.80. That is, to a powerful and significant degree, the presence of these positive climate elements in schools is inversely related to the degree of bullying. In essence, disrespect is the oxygen that fuels the fire of bullyingrelated behaviors to a significant degree, and when it is cut off and replaced by respect, bullying declines and learning is more likely to ensue. Whether learning in fact ensues will be determined by the presence of sound pedagogical strategies; challenging, developmentally appropriate, and well-sequenced curricula; the presence of problembased and cooperative learning; and effective, appropriate, timely, and adequate instructional and personal supports when needed by students. However, respect is what allows these to be delivered credibly, pervasively, and equitably. What Must We Do Next? In the United States, political leaders have seriously undermined respect for education and for teachers. It has been said many times and in many ways, but students will not respect what is taught until and unless they respect who is teaching and feel respected in turn. Many children enter the school building every day with a variety of social-emotional issues that they must put aside before they can adequately start learning. In many cases, little happens in school to help remove or assuage their emotional barriers to learning. Nowhere is this truer than in underperforming schools. These students need to enter buildings in which they feel genuinely welcomed and subsequently surrounded with confident expectations, caring, challenges, support, safety, and respect. Then, they can learn. There is extensive research, most efficiently summarized at the websites of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, the Character Education Partnership and its National Schools of Character Program, and the National School Climate Center, showing the inextricable connection between conditions that foster students’ social-emotional and character development in

schools and their academic success, defined in terms of scores, grades, and what they are able to accomplish in the world with what they have learned. Being part of a respectful community of learners, in which all students are included, is the cornerstone of success. We know how to do this; the pathways are clearly illustrated at the websites above. Upon reflection, it is not difficult to grasp the role of respect in contributing to PISA and other test results. The concept of respect is pervasive, applying to self, a diverse range of others, all of the relationships in and around schools, and the tasks and settings in which one is involved. However, implementing the tenets of respect deeply in our education system where it does not already exist is not simple or fast. Widespread expertise in both social-emotional and character development of students and the creation of respectful school climates must be cultivated, and skills and cultures take time to nurture and grow. We cannot rush developmental processes. But when the roots of change are deep, fads, whims, and unfortunate circumstances are not likely to topple the gains made. Respected students are very likely to respect the learning process and ultimately become respectful, and respected, citizens.

Publication: BBC News Title: Less educated 'will age faster' Author: Pallab Ghosh Website:

People with fewer qualifications are prone to age more quickly, a study which looked at 400 men and women says. DNA evidence suggests cellular ageing is more advanced in adults with no qualifications compared with those who have a university degree. Experts think education might help people lead more healthy lives. The British Heart Foundation said the London-based study, in journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, reinforced the need to tackle social inequalities. The connection between health and socioeconomic status is well established. Those from poor backgrounds are more likely to smoke more, take less exercise and have less access to good quality healthcare, compared with more wealthy people. But the new study suggests that education might be a more precise determinant of a person's long term health rather than their current income and social status. The researchers suggest that education may enable people to make better decisions that affect their long term health.

They also speculate that well qualified people might be under less long-term stress, or be better able to deal with stress. Professor Andrew Steptoe, from University College London, who led the study, said: "Education is a marker of social class that people acquire early in life, and our research suggests that it is long-term exposure to the conditions of lower status that promotes accelerated cellular ageing." Professor Steptoe's team took blood from more than 400 men and women aged between 53 and 75. They then measured the length of sections of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. These sections - called "telomeres" - cap chromosomes, protecting them from damage. Shorter telomeres are thought to be an indicator of faster ageing. The results showed that people with lower educational attainment had shorter telomeres, indicating that they may age faster. They also indicated that telomere length was not affected by a person's social and economic status later in life, as was previously thought. Social factors Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the Medical Research Council's Population and Systems Medicine Board, said the key implication of the study backs up the main message from long-term studies funded by the Medical Research Council for over half a century. "Your experiences early in life can have important influences on your health," he explained. "Whilst - as with all observational research - it is difficult to establish the root causes of the findings, this study does provide evidence that being educated to a higher level can benefit you more than in the job market alone." Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the research reinforces the need to tackle social inequalities to combat ill-health. He said: "It's not acceptable that where you live or how much you earn - or lesser academic attainment - should put you at greater risk of ill health." The researchers were based primarily at University College London, but also collaborated with experts at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and the University of California, San Francisco.

Country-Specific Education Articles Publication: YLE Uutiset (Finland) Title: School Pupils' Skills Worsen Worryingly

Website: Survey: PISA

The skills of comprehensive schools’ pupils have deteriorated over the last decade. A follow-up study in the city of Vantaa revealed that ninth graders’ knowledge has diminished dramatically— and the same findings show up elsewhere.

Alarming signals have lately emerged from comprehensive schools’ classrooms. The Finnish National Board of Education has found writing skills lacking for every third boy in ninth grade.

Finland has done well in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in 2010, but the results were a little worse than last time.

The Vantaa findings come as a veritable fly in the ointment. The study was a follow-up on one done in 2004, with both measuring general learning and reasoning skills among the entire ninth grade.

“The biggest and most worrying finding was the fact that the general level of competence shown by students declined by about a quarter in all the measured areas. The decline was significantly large,” said researcher Sirkku Kupiainen from the Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki.

Since 2004, there has been no change in the educational level of the parents. The greatest drop has been found among students with average grades whose home language is Finnish.

A look toward the future

Conclusions regarding the whole country cannot be drawn from the Vantaa study alone, but the Finnish National Board of Education has been following the spring’s developments with a concerned eye. The board’s senior researcher Jorma Kuusela believes that the primary reasons for weakened

results can be found in pupils’ homes and the surrounding society, rather than in the education offered at schools.

“Vantaa’s result was startling, especially in light of corresponding quiet signals coming from elsewhere. I would first go looking for reasons which have to do with the appreciation of school, finding school important, and the support that children get for going to school.”

However, Kuusela also says that school curricula could be revamped. Young people in this day and age live constantly bombarded by information—it would make sense to consider how much knowledge out to be crammed into their heads at school, Kuusela says.

“Perhaps at some stage we need to give up on the idea that all education is content-based and that content ever increases. We need to give schools an opportunity to leave their pupils with more space and time to think,” Kuusela suggests.

The Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki is negotiation with the Ministry of Education and Culture regarding a follow-up study which would cover comprehensive schools across the country.

Publication: OECD educationtoday Title: United Kingdom: CBI Education and Skills Survey 2011 Website:

The CBI / EDI annual Education & Skills survey 2011, reveals employers are concerned with the basic skills levels of school and college leavers.

The CBI /EDI survey of 566 employers shows 42% are not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers, while more than a third (35%) are concerned with the basic numeracy skills in this age group. To address the weaknesses in basic skills, almost half (44%) of employers have had to invest in remedial training for school and college leavers.

The survey shows that young people are not in a position to make informed choices about their future career because of inadequate advice in schools and colleges. Only 6% of businesses are confident that advice is good enough, while 64% think advice must improve. There is an appetite among employers to play a greater role in delivering careers advice, with 54% willing to do more, rising to 66% of large firms.

Companies also found school and college leavers lacking in important employability skills, with 69% saying they have inadequate business and customer awareness, and over half (55%) experiencing weaknesses in school leavers’ self-management skills. Two thirds (70%) want to see these made a top priority at school and college.

Publication: WalesOnline Title: Schools accused of failing to prepare students for university Author: Gareth Evans Website: Survey: PISA

Nearly all Welsh undergraduates believe their school or college has not prepared them well enough for university, according to a survey published today.

A study of more than 1,000 students found that 96% of current first-year university learners felt unprepared for the transition into higher education.

Less than half (43%) felt they lacked the necessary study skills required and a quarter (25%) said they would have benefited from more in-depth study of a subject earlier in their education.

The survey reflects badly on Wales’ creaking education system, which has been subject to heavy criticism in recent months.

The inquest began with the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which uncovered an alarming slide in school standards and found Wales propping up the UK class in basic skills.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study was followed by a report from schools inspectorate Estyn, which said many pupils’ literacy and numeracy levels were not being properly developed.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, said today’s findings were disturbing.

“We have replicated here the same sort of transition pains that we find in earlier years – the move from primary to secondary, and secondary to tertiary,” he said.

“We obviously need to get the sectors talking to each other more effectively so that they can understand the needs and restraints of each. But there is a more profound debate that now needs to start about the curriculum in our schools which is still over prescriptive and lacking in freedom and interest.”

Dr Dixon said the national curriculum is restrictive and “too much of a straitjacket” on pupils and teachers.

“It’s not surprising that the current regime does not produce the skills that university students need,” he said.

In England, the percentage of first-year undergraduates unprepared for university was lower than in Wales.

But half of students polled across the border said they lacked the basic study skills needed for higher education, according to the University of Cambridge International Examinations department.

Katie Dalton, president of NUS Wales, said the evidence was worrying and required a joint response.

“This step is a big one for any student to take, and it is expected to be challenging, but these figures suggest that more must be done before and after entry, by both further and higher education providers, to ensure that students feel supported and able to fulfil their potential,” she said.

“Further collaboration between schools, colleges and universities would definitely benefit students who wish to progress into higher education.”

With one in five students finding their university studies completely different to their experience in school, Cambridge wants to highlight the importance of creating good study habits during sixthform.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron was yesterday forced to pour water on suggestions wealthy students would be able to buy their way into university.

His intervention followed news that the UK Government is considering plans to create extra places by allowing institutions to charge some British students the same fees as those paid by overseas students.

Universities Minister David Willetts confirmed that the Westminster coalition is looking at proposals to allow English universities to charge some British applicants full fees of up to £28,000-a-year up front.

He suggested that the move could open the way for charities and other organisations to sponsor students who would otherwise not be able to get a place.

But the proposal risks exposing the Government to charges that it would simply enable the children of the wealthiest parents to buy their way in.

“That is not going to happen, that’s not our policy,” said Mr Cameron.

“University access is about being able to learn not about being able to pay. There is no question of people being able to buy their way into university,” he insisted.

Publication: The Copenhagen Post Title: The Danish language's irritable vowel syndrome Website:

An overabundance of vowel sounds makes Danish a difficult language to learn – even for Danish children, say linguists

A 15-month-old Croatian child understands approximately 150 words, while a Danish child of the same age understands just 84 on average.

It’s not because Danish kids are dumb, or because Croatian kids are geniuses. It’s because Danish has too many vowel sounds, says Dorthe Bleses, a linguist at the Center for Child Language at the University of Southern Denmark.

“The number of vowels has big significance for how difficult it is to learn a language. Many vowels makes a difficult language,” Bleses told Weekendavisen newspaper recently.

The official number of vowels in Danish is nine: a, e, i, o, u, æ, ø, å and y.

“‘Y’ isn’t a vowel,” you say? Well, in Danish it is. In Danish, even consonants are vowels.

But written Danish is not the issue. The problems start when Danes speak. In spoken speech, Danish actually has some 40 vowel sounds, says Bleses, depending upon where the vowels are placed in words and sentence strings.

To make matters worse, modern Danes ‘swallow’ lots of the remaining consonants that would create more audible definition, or annunciation, between words. Linguists call it ‘reduction’ or ‘ellision’. It is how ‘probably’ becomes ‘probly’ in American English. In Danish, it is how ‘spændende’ becomes ‘spen-nă’, and how a simple, little sentence like 'Det er det' becomes ‘dā-ădā’.

While marvelling at Danish pronunciation is an amusing pastime for tourists, immigrants and Swedes, the irony is that the pronunciation is terribly hard even for Danish children to learn.

Bleses researched how children in seven different cultures acquire their native languages. Of the seven – Danish, Swedish, Dutch, French, American English, Croatian and Galician – she found that Danish was the most difficult for children to learn.

She discovered that the number of vowel sounds in a language determine not only how many words a 15-month-old baby understands, but also the number of words a child is able to speak and use. Accordingly, the linguist contended, young Danish children have smaller vocabularies than children learning the other six languages.

The new education minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, is just one of many commentators who have recently said Danish kids are learning too little and too late in school.

News headlines in past months have bristled with stories about how Danish kids – especially ones with Danish as a second language – score too low on the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and graduate from compulsory school with insufficient reading skills.

Does the difficulty of the language have anything to do with how early children begin learning in school? Bleses thinks so.

“Of course it’s important that the teacher knows these things in the earliest school grades and can explain the difficult connection between the sounds and the letters. For that reason the learning ability can take a little longer to develop,” she told Weekendavisen.

“But the difference between the Croatian child and the Danish child doesn’t persist. Once the children have reached the third or fourth grade, the linguistic code has been cracked, and then other things have significance for whether the student learns well,” she added.

In other words, according to the linguist, it takes Danish children with Danish parents until they are nine or ten years old – in the third or fourth grade – to “crack the code” of the Danish language.

Meanwhile, the government and Danish People’s Party are pressing to make the language proficiency exam for foreigners – a prerequisite for residency permits under family reunification for non-EU citizens – even more difficult.

Last month the parties proposed giving foreigners applying for family reunification just three months to become conversant in Danish.

Three months for a foreign adult to learn Danish, versus nine or ten years for a Danish child.

IAP News_May13_2011  

A new study finds important differences in math curricula across U.S. states and school districts. The findings, published in the May issue...