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Sunday, April 23, 2017

FDA Warns of Products Claiming to Cure Autism

From DisabilityScoop

By Shaun Heasley
April 13, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration is cautioning that many products claiming to cure or treat autism are bogus and may in fact be dangerous.

The agency said in a notice this week that unproven therapies marketed to those on the spectrum can “carry significant health risks.”

No cure for autism exists and many products claiming to address symptoms of the developmental disorder simply do not work, the FDA said.

Companies peddling treatments including chelation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and detoxifying clay baths as well as raw camel milk and essential oils have received warnings or been subject to action by the FDA for making improper claims related to autism.

At present, the FDA has approved the use of the antipsychotics risperidone, or Risperdal, and aripripazole, also known as Abilify, to treat some symptoms of autism. The agency indicated that individuals should check with their doctor before taking medication or participating in any type of behavior therapy to address the developmental disorder.

“Autism varies widely in severity and symptoms,” said Amy Taylor, a pediatrician at the FDA. “Existing autism therapies and interventions are designed to address specific symptoms and can bring about improvement.”

Consumers should be suspicious of treatments advertised as a “quick fix” or “miracle cure,” according to Jason Humbert, a regulatory operations officer in the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs.

What’s more, individuals should be wary of anything that claims to address a wide range of conditions and keep in mind that personal testimonials are no replacement for scientific evidence, Humbert said.

The Gap Within the Gap

From The Brookings Institution

By Susan M. Dynarski and Katherine Michelmore
April 13, 2017

Researchers and policymakers devote considerable effort to understanding gaps in academic achievement between low-income students and their better-off classmates. [1] And rightly so: the income-based achievement gap is a large and growing source of educational inequality in the United States.

The test-score gap between high- and low-income students is 40 percent wider today than it was 25 years ago. [2]

One widely-used marker for poverty in schools is a student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. But while nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for subsidized meals, only a quarter of US children live in poverty. These two statistics make clear that eligibility for subsidized meals is a blunt measure of economic disadvantage.

This rough measure may be perfectly appropriate for determining which children should receive school lunch subsidies, but it may be less useful for other purposes, such as measuring income gaps in achievement, determining the effectiveness of educational interventions targeted to low-income families, or steering resources toward the neediest children.

Yet it is, for now, the only measure available to the many researchers and practitioners who work with administrative data to evaluate the effects of educational programs, measure gaps in student achievement, and steer resources toward the neediest children.

We use administrative data from Michigan to develop a more detailed measure of economic disadvantage. Our data contain information on the entire population of students in the Michigan public schools. We leverage the longitudinal nature of these data to document systematic variation in outcomes within the population of children who are eligible for subsidized meals.

We do this by counting the number of years in which a given student qualified for subsidized meals, over multiple years of school enrollment.

In Michigan, roughly half of 8th graders are currently eligible for a subsidized meal; in math tests, they score about 0.69 standard deviations below those who are not eligible. By contrast, just 14 percent of 8th graders have been eligible for subsidized meals in every year since kindergarten. These persistently disadvantaged children score 0.94 standard deviations below those who were never eligible (and 0.23 standard deviations below those who were occasionally eligible).

This gap is 40 percent larger than that measured using the conventional approach, which considers only current disadvantage.

Demographics differ starkly by these measures of economic disadvantage. In Michigan, 90 percent of those who were never disadvantaged are white, compared to 60 percent of those who were ever disadvantaged and 46 percent of the persistently disadvantaged.

Students who had ever been disadvantaged by 8th grade were six times more likely to be black and four times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged.

Students who were persistently disadvantaged by 8th grade were eight times more likely to be black and six times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged.

The persistently disadvantaged are more concentrated in urban areas, while the transitorily disadvantaged are more concentrated in suburban areas.

The demographics available in state administrative data systems are limited. We turn to nationally-representative, survey data to shed further light on demographic differences between children who are persistently disadvantaged, transitorily disadvantaged and never disadvantaged. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K) includes information on household income and subsidized-meal eligibility.

In the ECLS-K, about half of 8th graders in 2006-2007 were ever eligible for subsidized meals (similar to Michigan) and about 10 percent of 8th graders were eligible in each survey wave of the ECLS-K (again, similar to Michigan). [3]

As in Michigan, persistently disadvantaged students in the ECLS-K are much more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority (73 percent compared to 46 percent among transitorily disadvantaged and 11 percent among the never disadvantaged).

They were also much less likely to live with both parents at the start of the survey (51 percent compared to 65 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 91 percent among the never disadvantaged) and much less likely to have a parent with any college experience (29 percent compared to 56 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 85 percent among the never disadvantaged).

An indicator for eligibility for subsidized meals is often included as a control in a regression that includes other student information, such as race, ethnicity, sex, and school characteristics. For quantitative researchers, a key question is therefore whether these other observables “explain” the larger achievement deficit among persistently disadvantaged students.

If other observable characteristics can explain the differences, then an analyst need only include these variables in the regression in order to eliminate biases that may otherwise be induced by unobserved heterogeneity within the population of currently disadvantaged students.

We find that other observable differences between the persistently disadvantaged and other students do not explain their larger test score deficit. When we control for race, ethnicity, and gender, as well as their interactions, the gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged (0.76) is still nearly 40 percent larger than the gap based on standard measures of contemporaneous eligibility (0.55).

Comparing children only within the same school (by controlling for school fixed effects) reduces gaps further, but the within-school gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged remains 40 percent larger than the gap based on the standard measure of contemporaneous eligibility. [4]

In Figure 1, we plot the relationship between scores and the number of years spent in economic disadvantage and 8th grade scores. There is a negative, nearly linear relationship (this pattern holds after controlling for student demographics and school fixed effects, as described above). A natural interpretation is that this is an exposure effect, with each additional year of disadvantage further reducing scores.

However, this linear relationship is nearly identical in 3rd grade, before children have been differentially exposed to five more years of economic disadvantage.

Figure 1. Each additional year of disadvantage is associated with a roughly constant increase in the achievement gap.

What explains this pattern? The number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals appears to be a reasonable proxy for her current level of income. When in kindergarten, the children in ECLS-K who will be persistently eligible have an average family income of $18,000. For the transitorily eligible it is $31,000 and for the never eligible $71,000.

That is, family income in a given year is negatively correlated with the number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals.

Our results imply that the number of years that a child spends eligible for subsidized meals can be used to proxy for household income. While still a crude proxy, this proposed measure captures greater variation in economic resources and educational outcomes than does the dichotomous variable currently used by researchers, which measures a child’s current eligibility for subsidized meals.

Our proposed measure can be used to estimate heterogeneous effects in program evaluations, to improve value-added calculations, and to better target resources. Two classrooms may have identical numbers of currently eligible children but different numbers of persistently eligible children. A value-added measure that does not account for these differences will be biased against teachers of the most disadvantaged children.

Our measure of persistence can also be used in program evaluation, in order to estimate heterogeneity in causal effects or as a control to reduce omitted variables bias.

Our proposed measure can also be used to better target resources toward the most disadvantaged children. Many federal, state, and local programs distribute money based on the share of a school’s or district’s students eligible for subsidized meals.

In Michigan, schools that have identical shares of students who are currently eligible for subsidized meals vary considerably in the share of students who are persistently eligible (Figure 2).

By taking these differences into account, practitioners and policymakers can better target resources intended to support the most disadvantaged children and their schools.

Figure 2. School-level share of eighth graders currently disadvantaged versus share persistently disadvantaged.

The authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this article. They are currently not officers, directors, or board members of any organization with an interest in this article.

  • 1 This post summarizes a longer research paper by the authors: The Gap Within the Gap: Using  Longitudinal Data to Understand Income Differences in Educational Outcomes,” AERA Open, Vol 3, Issue 1, First published date: February-01-2017. We thank our partners at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) for providing the data used in these analyses. The Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, provided support through Grants R305E100008 and R305B110001. This research uses data structured and maintained by the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research (MCER). MCER data are modified for analysis using rules governed by MCER and are not identical to data collected and maintained by MDE and CEPI. Results, information, and opinions are the authors’ and do not reflect the views or positions of MDE or CEPI.
  • 2 Reardon, S. F. 2011. The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations, in Greg J. Duncan and Richard J. Murnane (Eds.) Whither Opportunity?: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances (New York: Russell Sage Foundation).
  • 3 The ECLS-K does not collect annual information on subsidized meal eligibility; we can observe whether a student is eligible in each of the five waves of data collection. We define the persistently disadvantaged as those who were eligible in each of the five waves. The transitorily disadvantaged were eligible in at least one wave but not all five waves.
  • 4 Controlling for household income at the zip code level does very little to change the within-school results.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just Breathe: Mindfulness May Help Freshman Stress Less and Smile More

From Penn State University
via ScienceDaily

April 20, 2017

Mindfulness training may be one way to help students successfully transition to college life, according to Penn State researchers.

The first semester of college is a time of great transition for many students -- they often are living away from home for the first time, have a much more fluid schedule than in high school and are potentially surrounded by a new peer group. For all of these reasons and more, this can be an incredibly stressful time in a student's life.

To help ease this transition, researchers offered an eight-session mindfulness training program to first-year students at Penn State, according to Kamila Dvorakova, a doctoral Compassion and Caring fellow in the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and lead author of the study.

In mindfulness meditation, practitioners learn how to develop an accepting, nonjudgmental and kind attitude toward present moment thoughts and feelings, according to the researchers, who presented their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of American College Health.

At the end of the eight sessions, the intervention was associated with significant increases in the students' life satisfaction, as well as a significant decrease in depression and anxiety, when compared to students who did not participate in the training.

There was also an overall drop in alcohol use between the students who took part in the mindfulness program and the control group.

"We offered an experiential, practice-oriented training," said Dvorakova. "Rather than telling the students what to do, we had them explore and talk about how to be mindful in their daily lives and discover the benefits for themselves. We found that underneath the stress that students are experiencing is a deep desire to appreciate life and feel meaningful connections with other people. It is our responsibility as educators to create academic environments that nurture both students' minds and hearts."

Dvorakova and Mark Agrusti, mindfulness and meditation integration specialist, Prevention Research Center, adapted the existing Learning to BREATHE program -- originally developed for adolescents by Patricia C. Broderick, research associate, Prevention Research Center -- for college students and called it Just BREATHE.

The teachings in the eight sessions were themed around the BREATHE acronym: body, reflections, emotions (or awareness), attention, tenderness (or self-compassion), healthy habits and empowerment.

"The beginning of the college career presents such a unique opportunity -- all of these students are going through this same transition at the same time," said Agrusti. "These freshmen are beginning to acquire habits and perceptions that will shape their lives as students and adults, so it's a perfect time for them to discover practices, such as mindfulness, stress management, self-care and emotional literacy skills."

Fifty-two undergraduate students participated in the intervention, with another 53 serving as a control. The program included self-awareness practices, emotion-regulation skills and simple mindfulness techniques to help students manage stressful situations, the researchers said. The participants were also given cards and stickers for home practice to serve as reminders to use mindfulness techniques when they encounter stressful situations.

The students indicated that the three most effective in-class exercises were three mindful breaths, breath awareness and mindfulness of emotions. A total of 98 percent of the participants would recommend the program to friends and classmates.

According to the researchers, future studies might include adding more participants, scheduling long-term follow-ups and integrating mindfulness with academic lessons.

Journal Reference
  • Kamila Dvořáková, Moé Kishida, Jacinda Li, Steriani Elavsky, Patricia C. Broderick, Mark R. Agrusti, Mark T. Greenberg. Promoting healthy transition to college through mindfulness training with first-year college students: Pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of American College Health, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2017.1278605

Tax Credits, School Choice and ‘Neovouchers’: What You Need to Know

From The Conversation

By Kevin Welner
April 14, 2017

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tour Saint
Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill, there’s speculation on the import taxes, value-added taxes and tax cuts it may usher in. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers.

A decade ago I started researching this new kind of voucher – funded through a somewhat convoluted tax credit mechanism – that appears to have particular appeal to President Trump and other Republicans.

These new vouchers (or “neo-vouchers”) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences. It’s those differences that neo-voucher advocates most care about and that everyone should understand.

Conventional Vouchers

What exactly is a school voucher? Typically, a voucher is direct financial support that helps families pay for the cost of private K-12 schooling. Proponents see vouchers as a way to help children attend nonpublic schools. Detractors see vouchers as undermining funding and support needed by public education.

All vouchers subsidize tuition with tax dollars. This can be accomplished in many ways, and the nuances matter.

Conventional voucher policies use the relatively straightforward method of allocating state money to give vouchers directly to eligible parents. The parents, in turn, give the vouchers to a private school of their choice. These schools are sometimes secular, but are usually religious.

The private schools then redeem these vouchers to obtain money from the state. In the 16 states where conventional voucher policies exist, they produce about 175,000 vouchers annually. This amounts to 3.3 percent of the nation’s private school population.

Yet, these direct vouchering programs present four major problems for school choice advocates.

First, they’re typically available only to lower-income families; wealthier families are usually not eligible.

Second, when governments directly provide voucher money, participating schools are generally required to comply with a variety of guidelines, such as accreditation requirements, anti-discrimination regulation, minimum teacher qualifications, financial reporting and/or the administration of a standardized test to students receiving the voucher.

Third, vouchers are simply not politically popular – which is why the more palatable term “opportunity scholarships” (courtesy of messaging guru Frank Luntz) has become increasingly popular.

Finally – and importantly – state constitutions often prohibit the channeling of state money to religious institutions. In many states, this means that conventional voucher programs cannot exist if the program includes religious schools.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers don’t violate federal law, state constitutions can create legal obstacles that are more formidable than those under the U.S. Constitution.

St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic school in Cleveland, is one of the top three
schools to benefit from Ohio voucher dollars. Ohio’s conventional vouchers
can be applied to secular and nonsecular schools alike, but 97 percent go
to religious schools. 
Oarbogast / Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Vouchers on Steroids

To sidestep these issues, many state lawmakers have embraced a new kind of voucher policy that gets essentially the same result but changes the state’s role from paying for vouchers to issuing tax credits.

This approach was first adopted in Arizona, in 1997, where the legislature passed a law setting up a system in which any taxpayer could “donate” money to a special, private nonprofit corporation. That corporation then issues vouchers to parents, who use them to pay for private school tuition. The taxpayers then get the money back from the state in the form of a tax credit.

Arizona’s constitution – typical of language in state constitutions – requires that “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.” But Arizona’s elaborate mechanism keeps the specific dollars out of state coffers. Consequently, state funding only indirectly supports religious institutions.

The Arizona Supreme Court found this distinction sufficient, ruling that the tax credits did not violate the state’s constitutional prohibition against spending public money for religious support.

Beyond this legal advantage, advocates favor this sort of tax-credit-voucher method because it appears less likely to be regulated. It’s also likely to be open to a wider range of parents – not just lower-income or special needs families. And the complexity of the neo-voucher approach obscures the fact that it’s really a voucher program, making it less of a political lightning rod.

Some wealthy taxpayers can even receive tax benefits exceeding the value of their donations.

This baffling outcome is because of a loophole tied to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), an extra tax imposed on some wealthier taxpayers to ensure that they pay their fair share. The AMT limits certain tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct state tax payments from federal taxes.

However – and here’s the twist – these AMT taxpayers can deduct charitable contributions. And so, these wealthier taxpayers can shift their state tax payment into a “charitable” contribution and instantly transform the payment into a federal deduction.

In the six states that give a full tax credit for voucher donations, those taxpayers can get back the full value of their voucher plus a deduction for the donation.

A decade ago when I wrote a book explaining these tax credit policies and labeling them “neovouchers,” they existed in only six states and generated about 100,000 vouchers. Today, 17 states have tax-credit policies similar to Arizona’s on their books, generating a quarter-million vouchers and growing every year.

Students at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Florida is one of the states that issues tax-credit-style vouchers.
Randal Martin / WikipediaCC BY

These new vouchers aren’t likely to help kids.

Do these vouchers improve student achievement? The research suggests that we shouldn’t expect children’s learning to be affected.

An evaluation of Florida’s neovoucher law – which the Trump administration appears to be using as its model – found that students receiving these neo-vouchers had a non-significant (-0.7 percentile points) loss in math and non-significant (+0.1 percentile points) gain in standardized test scores.

Similarly, research focused on conventional vouchers has tended to reach this same conclusion, finding no significant change in student test scores. More recent studies, looking at conventional vouchers in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana actually find that test scores have declined – in some cases, by surprisingly large margins.

What to Expect

While, thus far, neo-voucher policies have existed only on the state level, proposals are now appearing at a federal level.

In February of 2017, Rep. Todd Rokita of Illinois and three Republican colleagues introduced a bill (H.B. 895) that sets forth the basic structure for a federal neo-voucher policy.

But the particulars of the neo-voucher policy that ultimately emerges in the Republicans’ tax reform bill are up for grabs. Based on the wide variety of existing state neo-voucher policies, it is possible that the federal proposal will provide a full 100 percent credit (as does H.B. 895) or a credit of only 50 or 65 percent. It might limit eligibility to children in families at the poverty level, or it might have expanded or even universal eligibility.

It also remains to be seen whether federal neo-vouchers would be allocated only in states with existing programs or might be distributed in all states, including those with no such laws.

Interestingly, some of the staunchest advocates of state-level neo-vouchers have expressed concern and even opposition to a federal initiative. Beyond general conservative resistance to federal overreach in education policy, they voice familiar concerns about the likelihood of regulations following money, particularly from future Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

And, of course, a federal neo-voucher program would face significant fiscal obstacles as well. Absent large cuts elsewhere, these policies would strain the federal budget, requiring some creative work on the part of lawmakers – particularly since the tax reform bill will have to be revenue neutral. The cost of vouchers for even a fraction of the nation’s 57 million K-12 students could easily cost tens of billions.

This daunting price tag, however, probably won’t deter President Trump or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who have stated their opposition to the “public” part of public schools, with Trump even denigrating them as socialistic “government schools” that are part of the “American carnage” that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

It seems unlikely that they will forego their chance to give tax dollars to private education.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forget Grit. Focus on Inequality.

From Education Week

By Christine Yeh
April 14, 2017

Why is grit at the center of the national education debate?

As we approach the final months of the school year, grit continues to be a national obsession. This so-called quality of grit refers to persistence toward a long-term future goal and has been received by many as a possible panacea for the racial and economic disparities in public schools.

Grit is an easy concept to fall in love with because it represents hope and perseverance, and conjures up images of working-class individuals living the “American dream.”

However, treating grit as an appealing and simple fix detracts attention from the larger structural inequities in schools, while simultaneously romanticizing notions of poverty.

This past year has been an eventful one for the notion of grit. Along with the high-profile release of two grit-centric books (Angela Ducksworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and Paul Tough’s Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why), one study cast doubt on the importance of grit.

“Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grit Literature” by Marcus Crede and colleagues analyzed 88 separate studies on grit and raised three main concerns: The effect sizes in Duckworth’s research were inaccurately presented to appear larger, the influence of grit has been overstated, and the characteristic grit is not much different from the concept of conscientiousness—a concept already well-known and well-researched by psychologists.

In a email exchange with NPR in which she responded to these criticisms, Angela Duckworth agreed that, although the statistics in her paper were factually accurate, the language was such that the effect of grit could be misconstrued as greater than it actually was.

Secondly, she also agreed that the impact of grit is actually in the “small to medium” range. And finally, when asked to comment on whether or not grit was unique from the notion of conscientiousness she acknowledged that grit was indeed in the same “family” as conscientiousness.

As I consider the future of grit in schools, I keep coming back to a visit I had at a local public school where a teacher lectured his students about the importance of following through on a goal, even if it wasn’t interesting. He bragged about students who memorized thousands of words and as a result won a local spelling bee. “These students showed grit, that’s why they won,” he told his students.

What that teacher failed to say is that not all things are worth sticking with. Do we really want to teach our children to focus on memorization and tedious tasks for the sake of developing grit? Or do we want to teach students to explore, question, and engage in meaningful experiences that pertain to their lives?

So why is grit at the center of the national education debate?

Perhaps this idea of grit resonates with so many people who believe in the popular American adage that if you work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, then you can achieve anything. This belief unfortunately, assumes that individuals have the power, privilege, and access to craft their own futures, regardless of circumstance and systemic barriers.

"Schools need to build their own type of grit—that is, a long-term investment and goal, a stick-with-it-ness—to serve all students."

Statistics on educational access consistently reveal vast differences in resources in affluent versus poor neighborhoods. Predominantly white, middle- and upper-income school districts tend to spend significantly more money per student than the districts with the highest percentages of marginalized students. Our poorest schools also tend to have large class sizes, unsafe school transportation, damaged and outdated facilities, and high staff turnover.

All of these conditions directly contribute to low educational outcomes and underscore the link between access to school resources and improvements in students’ success. Schools that focus on grit shouldn’t ignore structural inequities because they assume that regardless of your race, class, or social context you can still triumph.

To be sure, there have been many examples of poor students possibly using their grit to overcome the greatest of odds—such as unstable housing, our troubled foster care system, and community violence. And there are probably advantages for teaching students to persevere and stick with a goal while facing challenges and obstacles.

However, the responsibility of a great education should not be placed on the individual student to achieve through grit. Rather, schools need to build their own type of grit—that is, a long-term investment and goal, a stick-to-itiveness—to serve all students, but especially those in the margins.

Educators need to resist the temptation to hyper focus on singular qualities—such as grit, self-esteem, or IQ—as quick cure-alls for our nations’ education problems and identify meaningful changes that tackle discrepancies in student resources.

We don’t want to teach grit as a skill without making larger systemic and contextual changes in schools that promote equitable conditions for success.

Where should schools focus their attention for historically marginalized students?

Numerous educational research studies demonstrate that schools that provide culturally relevant curriculum—including books by authors of color, critical explorations of histories and social movements, and school-based programs that creatively foster positive identities and cultural empowerment—dramatically increase students’ engagement in school, bonding with teachers, and academic achievement.

These practices work because students feel connected and represented as a meaningful part of school, and subsequently they develop a focus on future goals.

These ideas may not conform to the recent movements on character education and, more specifically, on teaching grit, but they do embody the lives and stories of many targeted and vulnerable communities.

The notion of grit has certainly spurred important discussions about the nonacademic experiences and skills we want our students to have, but it has often obscured the very conditions that created educational inequities in the first place.

Christine Yeh is currently a professor of psychology and education and a co-director of the Center for Research, Artistic, and Scholarly Excellence at the University of San Francisco.

Brain Changes at Age 6 or 12 Months May Help Predict the Development of Autism Spectrum Disorder by Age 2 Years

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

February 15, 2017

NIH-funded researchers link brain changes at 6 and 12 months of age to autism.

Brain changes at age 6 or 12 months may help predict the development of autism spectrum disorder by age 2 years among infants with a high family risk, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Currently, autism can be diagnosed as early as age 2 years, based on certain behaviors and communication difficulties.

The study, funded by the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence Program, is published in the February 16, 2017, issue of Nature.

Approximately 1 out of every 68 children in the United States has autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Siblings of children diagnosed with autism have a higher risk of developing the disorder, compared to those in the general population. While there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis and intervention can ease symptoms and improve social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Previous studies have shown that people with autism have larger brains, which can be detected during early childhood. In the new study, a team led by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for differences in brain development among three groups: infants with a high family risk (i.e., older sibling with autism) who were later diagnosed with autism at age 2 years (15), infants with a high family risk who did not have autism at age 2 years (91), and infants with a low family risk who did not have autism at age 2 years (42).

The researchers evaluated the infants at 6, 12 and 24 months. Children with autism had a faster brain surface growth rate between 6 and 12 months, as well as a faster growth rate of overall brain size between 12 and 24 months, compared to children without autism. Next, the team analyzed the MRI data using a computer-based technology called machine learning to see if early brain differences at 6 and 12 months can predict autism at age 2 years.

Among children with a high family risk, the computer program identified approximately 8 out of 10 infants who later developed autism.

While the findings are promising, the researchers caution that more studies are needed before this tool can be used for predicting autism development.

NIH funding was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Additional funding was provided by Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation.

  • Hazlett HC, Gu H, Munsell BC, Kim SH, Styner M, Wolff JJ, Elison JT, Swanson MR, Zhu H, Botteron KN, Collins DL, Constantino JN, Dager SR, Estes AM, Evans AC, Fonov VS, Gerig G, Kostopoulos P, McKinstry RC, Pandey J, Paterson S, Pruett Jr. JR, Schultz RT, Shaw DW, Zwaigenbaum L, Piven J and the IBIS Network. Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature21369 (2017)

About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit NICHD’s website.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Choice Advocates Not Only Want More Money for Vouchers, They Want It with No Strings Attached

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
April 6, 2017

Ever since the Betsy DeVos was nominated as Secretary of Education, school choice advocates have been salivating over the possibility that the privatization of education would enter a new expansive era. Last week, the USA Today interviewed some of the nation's leading advocates of school choice and vouchers, who raised new concerns.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Richard Hess of the American Enterprise Institute warn there is a downside to this expansion: the federal government will begin to regulate private schools more. Hess remarked:

"... when you get a Democratic administration, an Elizabeth Warren administration, and they decide that eligible schools ... need to have anti-bullying programs and other accommodations? We will very quickly wind up and wonder, ‘What were we thinking?’” Petrilli said many private schools would forgo the funding if they have to abide by these types of regulations. “They just won’t participate,” he said. “And then what’s the point? You don’t have a program.”

Is this a sign of an evolving school voucher position that not only should the public fund private education, it should fund it with no strings attached?

That choice advocates could take such a position shows just how far the ground has shifted in a few short months. This position is incredible on any number of levels.

First, it assumes an entitlement to public funding for private choice. The problem is that there is no such entitlement. If the federal or state government is giving money to private schools or facilitating private choice, it goes without saying that it has the right to regulate that money.

In fact, conditioning federal money is the real reason for giving out federal money to begin with. The federal government knows that its ability to regulate state and private actors is relatively small. Thus, it achieves its policy objectives by exchanging money for conditions. We do this in everything from health care to education.

Second, state and federal government has funded public education for the past century and a half because it is public education. The state and federal interest in funding private education is extremely small at best.

The only interest in funding private education is to offset certain costs that might otherwise fall on public education. In other words, there is no independent reason to fund private education.

Third, federal funds for public schools come with a long list of conditions. Why we would condition funds in public schools but allow private schools to take them free of conditions?

The only obvious rationale I see is a normative preference for private schools over public schools. Few, however, are willing to publicly fess up to that rationale. If they did, it would be contrary to the second point. In effect, the justification for funding education at all would begin to collapse if we preferenced private education over public education.

Finally, public education is premised on a set of cultural and constitutional norms--non-discrimination, fair process, equal opportunity, social cohesion and freedom from religious coercion. As a general principle, private education is neither premised on nor committed to any of these norms.

Without regulation, they would not accept them. And if they did not accept them, the federal government could not in fairness give them public money. One might even seriously question whether a new set of constitutional concerns would arise if the federal government did so.

While the Supreme Court has upheld vouchers for private religious schools, the Court has also held that the federal government cannot achieve unconstitutional ends indirectly.

For instance, the federal government clearly cannot segregate schools itself. Could it indirectly achieve segregation through its spending power and have private or state entities do it for the federal government? The Court has said no.

Of course, just because private individuals might use public money to segregate or pursue religious ends does not meant that is the federal government's design--hence the prior decision upholding vouchers.

But if we converted into a system dominated by private choice and entirely free of constitutional and cultural norms, the question of whether the government was pursuing a new impermissible design could rise to the fore.

More here.