ED100 Breakdown: Module 5

Hello! Glad to see you’ve made your way to our news tab. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been breaking down ED100’s ten modules for the past several blogs. ED100 is an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the problems California schools face and possible remedies to those problems. This week we’ll be taking a closer look at Module 5 which discusses types of schools as well as the choices and factors that go into choosing where to send your child.

Location, location, location. This factor can be the major determinant in where your child goes to school. Zip code essentially determines which schools you can and can’t choose from. While wealthy families can simply move to a different zip code, poorer families are usually stuck within poorer districts which, unsurprisingly, house the lowest performing schools. Consequently, one of the major recent school reforms is trying to get students allowed to choose where they go to school regardless of where they live. The Open Enrollment Act allows students a way out of this situation. It requires that students enrolled in the state’s 1000 lowest-scoring schools be permitted to transfer to a high-scoring one in another district, provided there are open desks.

On paper CA schools look incredibly diverse in terms of students’ socioeconomic background. However, schools themselves are separated heavily on the basis of school district. This is partly due to the problems addressed in the previous paragraph as well as the fact that families prefer to send their children to schools that have students of similar background. Since diversity is a common goal of most schools, the question has to be asked: should families have a choice of schools? In other words, should we be okay with this increase in segregation or should we limit the freedoms parents have over their child’s education? Not an easy question to answer. It’s also important to keep in mind that schools may have selective policies which usually benefit those who ask to be selected. However, selection requires small actions from parents (ie. filling out a form) which benefits only those families who demonstrate advocacy.


Other than public schools, parents have the option to send their children to charter, private, or community schools. Charter schools are tax funded public schools that have loosely defined attendance areas. They are run separately from the local school district but are forced to follow certain guidelines and achieve specific results. This promotes experimentation and innovation while allowing parents to pick and choose the schools that do it best, kind of like a business. The major downside of charter schools is a significant loss of public school funds (remember more attendance equals more funds). Interestingly enough, charter schools have about the same scores as their public school counterparts. Unlike enrollment in charter schools which has increased steadily, enrollment in private schools is slowly declining. It’s difficult to compare private schools to public schools because of the significant socioeconomic advantages that private school families usually have, the unique testing methods private schools use, and other accounting and tax related discrepancies. However, it’s good to know that private schools, which are usually religiously affiliated, are a good option for those who can afford them. Community schools are a newer movement that advocate for a broader role that schools play in students’ lives. The issue with these schools is that in order to go beyond the scope of teaching, they need coordinated help from various organizations to bring assets (ie. health services, after school support, etc.) to the partnership.


Now what about variables within a specific type of school? Principals, according to the Center For Teaching Quality, have the largest impact on student learning as the leaders of the school. I’ve discussed in previous blogs the importance of having a strong leader present in a school system. I’d like to add here that Project SCIFI works to increase mentor-mentee interactions through empirical learning, fostering a classroom environment with stronger leadership roles and more successful students. The bad news for CA is that it is difficult to recruit good principals due to non-competitive salaries, a lack of associate principals at most schools, and a huge number of teachers and students to preside over. Poaching, which is hiring good principals from other schools leaving that school with a job vacancy, contributes to the principal turnover rate being a short four years. Facilities are another important factor, as studies have shown that a lack of good facilities holds back students’ abilities. You may also want to consider the climate or culture of the school. Is bullying a persistent issue? Are uniforms required? Bullying has been shown to dramatically reduce student potential while uniforms usually correlate with an increase in academic performance. Although not the answer for everyone, perhaps homeschooling should be looked into more.


Finally, there’s the issue of what to do with problematic students in terms of discipline and safety. When kids get in trouble at school, teacher are the ones who have to decide how to respond. Some schools, especially in the south, still use corporal punishment, arguing that suspensions are even worse for the student. Other schools believe that rewards reinforce good behavior better than punishments discourage bad behavior. Regardless, educators and administrators all seem to agree that suspensions and expulsions do more harm than good, propelling delinquents on a track to dropping out of school. Alternatives to suspensions and expulsions keep the student in an active learning environment which is crucial. The good news is that school incidents and juvenile arrest rates have been on the decline for years now (Juvenile Arrests).


Thanks for reading to the end of this blog! Don’t forget to check out ED100 if you want more in depth information about the topics I’ve been covering. I’ll be back next week with a review of the sixth module which looks at schools’ curriculums.


ED100 Breakdown: Module 4

Hello! This week we’ll be picking up right where we left off with with Module 4 of ED100. This module picks out many logistical factors that go into running a school system. And when you really think about it, there’s a lot of components that school administrators need to optimize in order to maximize student learning! This includes class sizes, school hours, time management, absenteeism, etc. For example, a controversial bill that would allow later start times for middle and high school was recently vetoed by Governor Brown ("NY Times"). Let’s take a deeper look at some of these elements.


We’ve discussed the importance of the critical period in a child’s early development, so it's not surprising that a Stanford study found preschool to be a factor that determines student success. Specifically, they found that there was a significant gap between rich and poor families in terms of child enrollment in preschool. A child beginning their education in a quality preschool offers a huge advantage in terms of not falling behind in future grades. Unfortunately, the U.S. compared to other countries is failing to enroll kids in early education. The most common reason why is because preschools remain limited to those who have money to pay for it.


Another issue that schools have to tackle is class size. Class sizes in CA are particularly large. Research suggests that K-3 grade classes should keep the student to teacher ratio below 18:1. However, smaller class sizes often cost more for schools. Experts argue that the investment in small class sizes is worth it as studies have proven an inverse relationship between class size and student success. Bill Gates offers an interesting solution to this problem: reduce class sizes selectively. It’s evident that some experienced teachers can handle larger class sizes. If school systems allowed these teachers to have bigger classes, they could save thousands of dollars, help students reach their full potential, and not overwhelm less experienced teachers.


It’s unreasonable to expect all students to learn at the same pace. It’s important for schools to challenge not only the average student, but the advanced student and the struggling student as well. Years ago the government experimented with a publicly funded tutoring system to keep the slow learners up to par. However, as more and more schools qualified for tutoring, the program was quickly overwhelmed with students. On top of this, money began being poured into tutoring businesses rather than the schools themselves. One possible solution that is being experimented with now involves technology usage. Computer programs provide teachers with support and can properly engage both sides of the student learning spectrum with ease. “Rocketship schools” in CA have recently began to try these programs and have been attracting attention nationwide.

Absenteeism is another issue that plagues a large number of schools. Districts particularly want to address this problem because they do not receive funding for students who miss school. School districts receive money based off of attendance: each missed day by a single student costs the district $75 regardless of cause. Besides this, how important is attending class to students themselves? A study found that only 17% of kids who were chronically absent from kindergarten and 1st grade could read at grade level after the 3rd grade. Additionally, one in five low income students will miss a significant amount of grade school. Possible solutions to the absentee problem include engaging families, fixing transportation to school, addressing health needs, and tracking the right data.


A list of other factors that schools need to consider include school hours, time management, summer school, and after school programs. Schools hours matter substantially, as reports have shown that as “snow days” increase, student scores go down. Schools days that include significant hours of “actual instruction” matter as well, since a substantial amount of time is lost to birthdays, school assemblies, testing, field trips, etc. As mentioned in a previous article, preparation and efficiency in running the classroom is crucial when it comes to time management. In essence, every hour of instructional teaching should be treated as valuable. The effects of summer vacation vary with socioeconomic status. Students from poor families experience “summer learning loss”, most likely due to the fact that summer schools cost money. Children from affluent families are more likely to spend their summers reading, taking summer school, and continuing their education in some form. Finally, after school programs have been experiencing a shortage of funding, leading to federal and state governments encouraging other public entities and community organizations to step up and take action.  

Clearly, school administrators and teachers do not have it easy when it comes to determining the logistics of running a school. As discussed, there are a lot of moving parts that need to be considered and, unfortunately, many of the issues are large scale, institutional problems. These challenges may appear daunting and out of reach to the average person, but here at Project SCIFI we believe change can be instilled by local people at the community level. Becoming interested and active in the issues at hand is the first step! So be sure to check in next week for Module 5 which explores all the various types of schooling available for students.








ED100 Breakdown: Module 3

Hello everyone! This week we’ll be taking a closer look into Module 3 of the ED100 series on the California school system. This section focuses on the problems that teachers face and possible solutions that could be implemented. It was a fairly dense section so let’s jump right in.

Unsurprisingly, the teaching profession nowadays is particularly unattractive. What makes us say that you ask? First of all the pay is severely uncompetitive in many districts. A study published in the “Economic Policy Institute” found teachers’ wages to be 1.8% lower than comparable workers in 1994 and 17% lower in 2015. This gap continues to grow. To contrast what the average salary is in CA, countries in education-focused countries such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea pay their teachers salaries comparable to engineers and lawyers. Additionally, a study found that the teaching profession attracts the bottom third of all college graduates. Whatever solutions we try to implement in CA to improve education one idea remains clear, we need to make teaching a more sought after profession.

One way teachers can increase their pay and chance of being hired is by obtaining postgraduate credentials. There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to hiring teachers with varying degrees of credentials. The “less is more” theory believes higher credential standards will prevent good teachers from entering the profession. “Teach for America” recognizes this idea and has made it their mission to "enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders...”. The “more is more” theory believes only the more qualified teachers should be given a job. However, research hasn’t been able to prove that more credentials lead to better student outcomes.


Another issue that teachers in CA face is the high job turnover rates. The turnover rate in schools with high poverty and minorities is significantly greater than others. The rapid coming and going of teachers leaves students with inexperienced teachers which often dampens their learning potential. This cycle termed “the dance of the lemons” is often a result of bad teachers being given satisfactory scores by administrators so long as the union moves the teacher to another school. The solution? Schools that provide an “induction” program which provides support and mentorship to new teachers not only lowers the turnover rate, but also saves the school money. Unfortunately very few schools in CA have tried to implement these programs.


The final issues that I’m going to discuss have to do with what happens behind the scenes of the classroom, specifically collaboration and evaluation of teachers. Looking at global leaders in education trend, the top countries set aside significant and frequent time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and prepare for them. As you probably expected, CA schools allocate little time to teachers doing anything but teaching due to the tight budgets and a shortage of teachers that schools are forced to work with.

Secondly, teacher evaluations may be the biggest weapon we have when it comes to playing the poor hand we’re dealt (that is, lack of funds). Interestingly enough, it appears the only barrier standing in the way of a lack of evaluations of teachers is simply that it is against the norm to do so. When evaluations happen, it is usually because the administration feels the teacher is doing a poor job and may need replacement. Teachers realize this and consequently do not often respond positively to being observed or evaluated. This norm needs to change. It is incredibly inefficient to try to get better at something without meaningful feedback. Athletes have coaches. Salesmen have supervisors. Musicians have conductors. In order for students to reach their maximum potential, it is in everyone’s best interest that teachers are optimally advised and supported.

In conclusion, many of these issues can be attributed to one major cause: CA is persistently skimpy on funding education. If this issue isn’t sorted out, those looking to enter the educational field will continue to be disincentivized from doing so; and discouraged once they find themselves in the classroom. Creating positive change in the education system will require changing the norms rather than policies. As this module as shown us, teachers play a critical role in influencing students and the success of the educational system. Identifying and resolving the problems teachers face is the first step in introducing change.


ED100 Breakdown: Module 2

    The following blog will be a continuation of the previous one, summarizing and discussing the main points made by ED100 (ed100.org), a free online course that breaks down California’s education system through ten easy-to-read modules. Module 2 focused specifically on students, the problems they face, and possible solutions to those problems.

 

    Unsurprisingly, CA students reflect the diversity of the state population as a whole. Interestingly, half of CA’s students are hispanic and in the past 30 years, virtually all of the growth in CA enrollment is latino students. One issue that stems from this statistic is that school districts are becoming increasingly clustered. Families from the same race tend to send their kids to the same school. The problem with this, aside from the lack of integration, is that schools with predominantly hispanic, African American, and other minority enrollment tend to be lesser quality, have higher staff turnover, and be under-resourced

 

    Poverty correlates very strongly with educational results (ed100.org/Achievement-and-wealth). This clustering of families can results in a vicious cycle of poverty, amplifying educational disparity in California. Two-thirds of students from low income families did not meet grade level standards in english and reading. On the other hand, two-thirds of students from high income families did. And connecting this back to how race is involved, the following statistic may come as a shock: “Only 2% of African American students and 6% of Hispanic students attend a high performing school, compared with 59% of white and 73% of Asian students.” In essence, we can’t say bad decisions make poor people, but rather people make bad decisions because they are poor. Breaking out of this loop is crucial.

 

    Another overlooked  factor that goes into student education is parents. Poverty has a lot to do with how parents interact with their kids during the “critical period”, from birth to age five. California has attempted to address this challenge with its first five program (http://www.ccfc.ca.gov/). By age 3, for example, children from high income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. This statistic is largely due to low income parents being forced to spend less time with their child because of work and have less disposable income to spend on reading materials (psmag.com/social-justice). One solution that schools can help facilitate is being more welcoming to all families to break the cycle of poverty.

 

Another large topic of the module dealt with not only trying to focus students’ limited attention on academics, but also getting them excited and motivated to learn. The two main approaches to getting students motivated are either getting them interested or making them do it anyways. Making them do it anyways entails the use of extrinsic motivators such as letter grades, monetary bribes, etc. These have been shown to be useful at times, but the most long lasting positive effects comes from students being intrinsically motivated to learn. If you haven’t already read them, I wrote two articles that explore this issue: "The Disengaged Student Problem" and "A Classroom System Based Off Of Student Choice”.       

 

    Finally, the module discusses the problems that other disadvantaged students face. For example, those with learning disabilities such as autism or dyslexia, foster kids, and undocumented students all face unique challenges that prevent them from doing as well as their peers in school. Listing all of them as well as their proposed solutions would make this blog almost twice as long as it already is, but here are a few bullet points:

 

  • There is a large shortage of teachers trained to help students with special needs

  • Parents often do not not follow up on teacher’s recommendation to have their child evaluated for special needs

  • 1 in 68 students are diagnosed to be on the spectrum of autism

  • Foster care students are twice as likely to dropout of high school

  • About 1 in 30 CA students are undocumented immigrants

 

    As always, thanks for reading this far. I’ll be back soon with another breakdown of this course. If you haven’t already, be sure to like and follow us on social media so you don’t miss exciting updates about what our organization has been up to!

 

ED100 Breakdown: Module 1

       Hey everyone! I’ve recently been reading through a self-paced, online course regarding everything that has to do with California’s education system, ED100. I highly recommend taking the time to go through the ten-module, easy to read course yourself; but if you can’t, my next few blogs will be a series of ED100 breakdowns that highlight key points from each of the ten modules. So without further ado, here’s the breakdown of Lesson 1: “Education is…”.

       As expected, California has countless students, schools, teachers, and not to mention a giant economy. One in every five students live in poverty and a tenth have special learning needs. One clear theme of ED100 is that for the education system to work for all students, it must work for each student, including the disadvantaged. Many of these underprivileged kids get left behind before they even get into high school because the proper resources aren’t available to them. In fact, CA students living in poverty score significantly lower than the state average.

       A very interesting point is brought up, that CA doesn’t have an “independent watchdog” for spotting flaws in the public school system. In fact, problem recognition and changes are mainly brought about from local overseers (parents, community members, etc.) in order to keep the education system accountable.

       So how does CA match up against other states? This may come as a surprise, but CA students’ averages are very low when compared to states with students leading in reading and math scores. Year after year CA scores below the average on national tests administered to students in grade school. Some argue that the students will simply “catch up” by the time they enter high school, but research shows that if you can’t perform at a 3rd grade reading level by 3rd grade, you’re at a serious risk of not even graduating high school. Others argue that the low scores are due to students living in poverty or with special learning needs. However, even if demographics were the main culprit, would that make the situation any less important to amend?

       On a national scale, American students score about average on reading and below average for math. Some important key facts can be learned from the countries that consistently score in the top 25 percent (mostly in Asia). These include:

  1. Having a clear strategy to improve performance and equity

  2. Rigorous and consistent standards across all classrooms

  3. High quality teachers and school leaders

  4. Distribute funding to schools that need it most

In addition to the higher test scores, these countries are educating way more students than we are despite us having a few “prestigious” universities.

       So what about the costs of education failure? When a black male graduates rather than drops out of high school the taxpayer saves $350,000 according to a study by RAND. If the disconnected youth (ages 16-24), those neither in school or working, could be “reconnected” to society, then America’s economy would expand on the order of $5 trillion in taxes paid and costs avoided. This is supported by the study that estimated a $7 return for every $1 invested in early education. In addition, the cost of a year in prison to the taxpayer is seven times that of providing them an education.

       The last main point that I want to bring up is this sort of paradox that many parents and teachers inadvertently yield themselves to. Most parents believe the public school system is flawed, but they also believe the school there child goes to is just fine. A new survey showed that these expectation go unmet; across all racial groups the percentage of parents saying it is crucial for their child to get a college degree is significantly higher than the percentage of children actually getting the degree. What this basically boils down to is optimism bias, which is the tendency for people to believe they are at less of a risk than others. Clearly this is a roadblock to refurbishing the CA education system.

       Thanks for reading this far. I know a lot of this can seem to be on too large of a scale for us to even make a difference, but I believe that simply knowing the facts is the best way to start. Be sure to check back here for more ED100 breakdowns and information on what our team has been up to!

Neuromyths in the Classroom

Neuromyths in the Classroom

Do children really learn better when we cater to their preference in learning? Are there really students whose ability to learn varies when presented with visual versus auditory versus kinaesthetic means of teaching? The current educational system puts a disproportionate amount of emphasis on visual and auditory learning, but science suggests a more equal balance will be beneficial to students learning outcomes.