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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Higher Temperatures Equal Lower Test Scores — Study Confirms Students Learn Less in Overheated Classrooms

From Chalkbeat
Education News in Context

By Matt Barnum
May 28, 2018

A warm classroom is not conducive to learning, as any student trying to pay attention to a teacher’s lecture on a hot day can attest. That’s not lost on teachers.

“I really dread school based on the weather, especially in the spring and in the fall,” said one teacher in Baltimore in a school without air conditioning. “If it’s really hot … certainly [student] engagement goes down.”

Now, there’s research to back that up.

A new study, released through National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday, shows that after a particularly hot year of school, high schoolers performed worse on the PSAT, an exam taken to prepare for the SAT and determine winners of the National Merit Scholarship.

“Hotter school days in the year prior to the test reduce learning, with extreme heat being particularly damaging and larger effects for low income and minority students,” write the paper’s four researchers. “On average, a 1 degree Fahrenheit hotter school year prior to the exam lowers scores by … slightly less than 1 percent of a year’s worth of learning.”

The research highlights how external factors can impact students’ performance on high-stakes tests, while also suggesting that air conditioning, still missing in many schools, is a worthwhile investment.

The study, which has not been formally peer-reviewed, relies on extensive data: PSAT data of 10 million students from the high school classes of 2001 to 2014.

Paper authors Joshua Goodman of Harvard, Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, Jisung Park of UCLA, and Jonathan Smith of Georgia State focus on whether students learn less, as measured by the PSAT, in school years with more hot days. (The College Board administers the PSAT.)

To get at that, they look at students who took the test multiple times, and then, accounting for the fact that students generally perform better after taking the test again, they see if students tended to do worse when the exam was preceded by a warmer year.

Indeed that’s exactly what they find, with every degree increase in average temperature above 60 degrees during the school year, leading to slightly lower PSAT scores. More days with extreme heat — over 90 or 100 degrees — also caused score drops. Impacts were significantly larger for black and Hispanic students and those in lower-income areas.

Why might that be?

“Wealthier students may be able to compensate for lost learning time by getting additional instruction from their parents or private tutors,” the authors say.

“Such students may also be more likely to attend schools where teachers have better capacity to compensate for lost learning time by adjusting lesson plans or adding more instructional time.”

Heat during the summer, weekends, and holidays didn’t impact test scores, which is consistent with the idea that learning in school drove the findings.

The study then turns to the question of whether air conditioning prevented the negative effects of heat on learning. They find, that in fact, it generally did, with most of harmful consequences of heat disappearing in schools that appear to have air conditioning.

The paper doesn’t have perfect data on whether schools actually have and use air conditioning, but instead relies on surveys of counselors and students. A substantial number of students — about 42 percent — said that on hot days classrooms sometimes or frequently got too hot, though counselors were less likely to say this was an issue.

Paradoxically, in hotter areas of the country, hot classrooms were less of a problem, likely because air conditioning was move prevalent.

Share of students by school district who said hot days
led to hot classrooms. Source: “Heat and Learning”

Black and Hispanic students and those in low-income areas were a few percentage points less likely to have air-conditioned classroom than white or affluent students in similar climates. This may explain why those students saw steeper test score declines as the result of warm weather.

Because of this and the fact that black and Hispanic students tend to live in places with higher temperatures, the paper estimates that the impact of heat in schools explained somewhere from 1 percent to 13 percent of the racial test score gap on the PSAT.

The analysis is in line with other research on the topic, including a study of New York City showing that high school students do worse on end-of-year exams in years with higher temperature and on warmer testing days. (The latest paper doesn’t focus on the single testing-day effect because the PSAT was taken in October, when heat is less likely to be a concern.)

A recent analysis found that most of the country’s 50 largest school districts report having air conditioning in every classroom, but also that 11 districts have some or many classrooms without it.

Concerns about heat in school may have prompted some policymakers to promise action: New York City schools have vowed to install air conditioning in all classrooms by 2022.

It may well be a worthy investment, according to the latest study. “The benefits of school air conditioning likely outweigh the costs in most of the U.S., particularly given future predicted climate change,” the authors write.

Is Florida Where the Constitutional Right to Public Education Goes to Die?

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
May 29, 2018

Florida’s system of public school alternatives should serve as a warning, not a national model as Betsy DeVos argues. And that warning flashes brighter red by the day.

It all started with the state’s willingness to take money directly out of the general public education appropriation and spend it on vouchers. The Florida Supreme Court declared that practice unconstitutional in 2006.

Then, the state cooked up a complicated tax credit system to achieve the same result through a different means. That system has been alive, well, and growing dramatically for a decade. This is what DeVos calls the “awesome [Florida] example.”

The flashing red danger sign is that the state does not want any constitutional oversight of this system. State legislators recently packed a constitutional revision commission with people who support changes the state’s constitutional education obligations. Those changes would remove almost any limits on legislators when it comes to education.

More specifically, the proposed changes could drastically undermine the state’s obligation to its public schools by giving the state free reign to act as it wishes with charters.

A limitless charter school system is troubling based on what is already happening in the state. Take the news out of Flagler County.

According to the Palm Coast Observer,

"Several days before the Florida Standards Assessments began near the end of the school year, 13 third-grade students suddenly transferred from the Palm Harbor Academy charter school to a newly created private school on the same school campus, run by Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover.

With one exception, all of those 13 students had one thing in common: They were at least one full grade behind grade level. Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.

The students’ transfer to a private school meant that they didn’t take the state assessments required of public school students — and, therefore, didn’t drag down the school’s state scores and school grade. A failing school grade would have meant shuttering the school, School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, because the school got a D last year.

The school district has portrayed the moving of the students as an attempt by Palm Harbor to skirt the school grade process, at a cost to the students: Those with disabilities who were moved were not being provided state-mandated support, district officials said, at the newly created private school, the Academy of Excellence."

This is the system that the legislature voted to radically expand just a year ago. And this is why education clauses exist in state constitutions—why we need them.

Florida legislators, through their deeds and experiments, have shown they cannot be trusted to protect public education, to protect students, to put public education first. Florida legislators have shown that the only thing that limits them in playing with children’s educational futures is the state constitution. And that state constitution is in their crosshairs right now.

Currently, the state constitution obligates the state to provide for “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” Art. IX, § 1(a), Fla. Const. This is no passing fad or aspirational platitude.

Rather, the constitution indicates that “It is . . . a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” And as early at 1848, the state constitution sought to ensure that certain money would be set aside for public education.

Florida, like most other states, has what is called a “common school fund.” Those funds are to be used for public schools and public schools only. So it was no surprise in 2006 in Bush v. Holmes that the Florida Supreme Court held that the state constitution prevents the state from raiding the public school piggy bank to fund vouchers.

Unhappy with that result, the state devised a tax credit system work around. As far as students are concerned, it is no different than the prior voucher system, except that the tax credit system ironically covers a much larger percentage of their tuition now. But like any great tax scheme, it includes technicalities that violate the spirit of the law without violating the letter.

All Bush v. Holmes technically prohibited was taking money out of the common school fund. The tax credit system fixed that barrier by making sure tax revenues never gets to the common school fund to begin with. That way, no one can claim the state took the money out and spent it on something else.

Under Florida’s new system, corporations and individuals donate money into a scholarship fund. That scholarship fund then pays for the vouchers. Now, why would anyone put their hard earned profits into this fund? Because they get a great tax credit. For every dollar they donate, they can get one dollar back from the state.

Some actually get more than that because they can also write off the donation to the voucher fund just like they would any other donation. That means that they not only get a state tax credit, they get a deduction on their federal taxes. So for every dollar they donate, they can get more than a dollar back.

Voila! Florida has a publicly funded voucher program without taking any money out of the common school fund.

This new charter school story in Flagler shows, however, that vouchers may be the least of the worries. Overall school “grade fixing” presumably not a common practice among charters, but nothing would seem to prevent it.

Charters like those in Flagler can create shell-private schools (or some other machination) and move weak students into them so as to game the accountability and rating system.

The state might very well shut these charters down, but what they did was probably not technically illegal. A privatized education system, you see, has few boundaries.

Public schools certainly engage in their own shenanigans at times, but this type of grade fixing is not one of them. All public schools have an obligation to their students. None can escape scrutiny. So playing musical chairs with students among public schools does not make sense. This is not the case with private-shell schools. They do not have that type of accountability. Constitutions simply do not bind them.

So riddle me this. What is the end to be achieved by undermining the constitutional guardrails that support public education in Florida?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Helicopter Parenting May Negatively Affect Children's Emotional Well-Being, Behavior

From the American Psychological Association
via ScienceDaily

June 18, 2018

It's natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that over-controlling parenting can negatively affect a child's ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.

"Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment," said Nicole B. Perry, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study.

"Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school."

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging.

This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success.

Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and over-controlling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

"Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding," said Perry. "The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration."

Over-controlling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child's emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10.

Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

"Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments," said Perry. "Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children's autonomy with handling emotional challenges."

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

"Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset," said Perry.

Journal Reference
  • Nicole B. Perry et al. Childhood Self-Regulation as a Mechanism Through Which Early Overcontrolling Parenting Is Associated With Adjustment in Preadolescence. Developmental Psychology, 2018

S’More Misrepresentation of Research

From Education Week

By Alfie Kohn
September 10, 2014

What waiting for a second marshmallow doesn’t prove.

Traditional schooling isn’t working for an awful lot of students. We can respond to that fact either by trying to fix the system (so it meets kids’ needs better) or by trying to fix the kids (so they’re more compliant and successful at whatever they’re told to do). The current enthusiasm for teaching self-discipline and persistence represents a vote for the second option.

The more effort we devote to getting students to “[pay] attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming” and persist “on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration” (in the words of “grit” proponent Angela Duckworth), the less likely we are to ask whether those assignments are actually worth doing or to rethink an arrangement where teachers mostly talk and students mostly listen.

Underlying self-discipline and grit is the idea of deferring gratification — for example, by putting off doing what you enjoy until you finish your “work.” The appeal to many educators of transforming kids from lazy grasshoppers to hard-working ants explains the fresh wave of interest in a series of experiments conducted back in the 1960s known as the marshmallow studies.

By now you’ve probably heard the summary: At the Stanford University laboratory of a psychologist named Walter Mischel, preschool-age children were left alone in a room after having been told they could get a small treat (a marshmallow or pretzel) by ringing a bell at any time to summon the experimenter. But if they held out until he returned on his own, they could have a bigger treat (two marshmallows or pretzels).

The outcome, as it’s usually represented, is that the children who were able to wait for an extra treat scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills many years later and had higher SAT scores. Thus, if we teach kids to put off the payoff as long as possible, they’ll be more successful.

But in several ways that simplistic conclusion misrepresents what the research actually found.

1.) What mostly interested Mischel wasn’t whether children could wait for a bigger treat – which, by the way, most of them could. It wasn’t even whether waiters fared better in life than non-waiters. Rather, the central question was how children go about trying to wait and which strategies help. It turned out that kids waited longer when they were distracted by a toy.

What worked best wasn’t (in his words) “self-denial and grim determination” but doing something enjoyable while waiting, so that self-control wasn’t needed at all.

Mischel and his colleagues systematically varied the details of the situation to see if this affected children’s willingness to wait. These changes included telling them about (vs. showing them) the marshmallow, encouraging them to think about its shape (vs. its taste), and suggesting a distraction strategy (vs. having kids come up with their own).

Sure enough, such factors were more important for predicting the outcome than any trait the child possessed. This, of course, is precisely the opposite of the usual message that (a) self-control is a matter of individual character, which (b) we ought to help children develop.

2.) Even to the extent that Mischel looked at characteristics of individual children in addition to situational details, when those children were tracked down ten years later, those who had been more likely to wait didn’t have any more self-control or willpower than the others.

This makes sense because Mischel’s primary focus was on strategies for how to think about (or stop thinking about) something attractive – and how those strategies may be related to other skills down the line. Those later outcomes weren’t associated with the ability to defer gratification, per se, but only with the ability to distract oneself when distractions weren’t provided by the experimenters.

What’s more, the ability to invent a distraction turned out to be correlated with plain old intelligence — a very interesting finding because other writers (like Duckworth) have argued that intelligence and self-discipline are totally different things and that we should train children to acquire the latter.

It shouldn’t be surprising that kids’ capacity to figure out a way to think about something other than the food was associated with their SAT scores. It’s not that willpower makes kids successful; it’s that the same loose cluster of mental proficiencies that helped them with distraction when they were young also helped them score well on a test of reasoning when they were older.

In fact, when the researchers held those scores constant, most of the other long-term benefits associated with their marshmallow-related behavior disappeared. (ADDENDUM 2018: A replication study found that children’s wait time at age 4 predicted next to nothing at age 15.)

3.) Almost everyone who cites these experiments assumes that it’s better to wait for two marshmallows — that is, to defer gratification. But is that always true? Mischel, for one, didn’t think so. “In a given situation,” he and his colleagues wrote, “postponing gratification may or may not be a wise or adaptive choice.” Sometimes a marshmallow in the hand is better than two in the bush.

It’s true, for example, that if you spend too much of your money when you’re young, you may regret it when you’re old. But how much should you deprive yourself — and perhaps your children — in order to accumulate savings for retirement?

Moreover, while some tasks favor waiting, others favor taking what you can right now. In one experiment, researchers fiddled with the algorithm that determined how points were earned in a simulation game and then tracked the interaction between that change and the players’ personalities.

“Impulsivity,” they concluded, “is not a purely maladaptive trait but one whose consequences hinge on the structure of the decision-making environment.”

And here’s another twist: The inclination to wait depends on one’s experiences. “For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” remarked a group of social scientists at the University of Rochester.

Last year they conducted an experiment in which children were encouraged to wait for “a brand-new set of exciting art supplies” rather than using the well-worn crayons and dinky little stickers that were already available. After a few minutes, the adult returned.

Half the kids received the promised, far superior materials. But the other half got only an apology: “I’m sorry, but I made a mistake. We don’t have any other art supplies after all.”

Then it was time for the marshmallow challenge. And how long did the children wait for two to appear before they gave up and ate the one sitting in front of them? Well, it depended on what had happened earlier.

Those for whom the adult had proved unreliable (by failing to deliver the promised art supplies) waited only about three minutes. But those who had learned that good things do come to those who wait were willing to hold off, on average, for a remarkable twelve minutes.

Thus, the decision about whether to defer gratification may tell us what the child has already learned about whether waiting is likely to be worth it. If her experience is that it isn’t, then taking whatever is available at the moment is a perfectly reasonable choice.

Notice that this finding also challenges the conclusion that the capacity to defer gratification produces various later-life benefits. Self-restraint can be seen as a result of earlier experiences, not an explanation for how well one fares later.

The Rochester study clarifies what may have been going on in Mischel’s original experiments, where there was no effort to learn about the children’s lives before they walked into his lab. But even on its own Mischel’s work doesn’t support the case for will-power and self-denial that traditionalists have tried to make.

Waiting for a bigger treat doesn’t always make sense. And even when it does, the question is What changes in the environment can facilitate that choice such that self-discipline becomes less important?

Perhaps the broader message for educators is this: Focus less on “fixing the kids” and more on improving what and how they’re taught.

This article, which was published in Education Week under the title “The Deferred Gratification Myth,” is adapted from The Myth of the Spoiled Child, which contains references to the relevant research.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What’s the Right Amount of Homework?

From Edutopia

By Youki Terada
February 23, 2018

Decades of research show that homework has some benefits, especially for students in middle and high school—but there are risks to assigning too much.

Many teachers and parents believe that homework helps students build study skills and review concepts learned in class. Others see homework as disruptive and unnecessary, leading to burnout and turning kids off to school.

Decades of research show that the issue is more nuanced and complex than most people think: Homework is beneficial, but only to a degree. Students in high school gain the most, while younger kids benefit much less.

The National PTA and the National Education Association support the “10-minute homework guideline”—a nightly 10 minutes of homework per grade level. But many teachers and parents are quick to point out that what matters is the quality of the work assigned and how well it meets students’ needs, not the amount of time spent on it.

The guideline doesn’t account for students who may need to spend more—or less—time on assignments. In class, teachers can make adjustments to support struggling students, but at home, an assignment that takes one student 30 minutes to complete may take another twice as much time—often for reasons beyond their control.

And, homework can widen the achievement gap, putting students from low-income households and students with learning disabilities at a disadvantage.

However, the 10-minute guideline is useful in setting a limit: When kids spend too much time on homework, there are real consequences to consider.

Small Benefits for Elementary Students

As young children begin school, the focus should be on cultivating a love of learning, and assigning too much homework can undermine that goal. And young students often don’t have the study skills to benefit fully from homework, so it may be a poor use of time (Cooper, 1989; Cooper et al., 2006; Marzano & Pickering, 2007).

A more effective activity may be nightly reading, especially if parents are involved. The benefits of reading are clear: If students aren’t proficient readers by the end of third grade, they’re less likely to succeed academically and graduate from high school (Fiester, 2013).

For second-grade teacher Jacqueline Fiorentino, the minor benefits of homework did not outweigh the potential drawback of turning young children against school at an early age, so she experimented with dropping mandatory homework. “Something surprising happened: They started doing more work at home,” Fiorentino writes.

“This inspiring group of 8-year-olds used their newfound free time to explore subjects and topics of interest to them.” She encouraged her students to read at home and offered optional homework to extend classroom lessons and help them review material.

Moderate Benefits for Middle School Students

As students mature and develop the study skills necessary to delve deeply into a topic—and to retain what they learn—they also benefit more from homework. Nightly assignments can help prepare them for scholarly work, and research shows that homework can have moderate benefits for middle school students (Cooper et al., 2006).

Recent research also shows that online math homework, which can be designed to adapt to students’ levels of understanding, can significantly boost test scores (Roschelle et al., 2016).

There are risks to assigning too much, however: A 2015 study found that when middle school students were assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework, their math and science test scores began to decline (Fernández-Alonso, Suárez-Álvarez, & Muñiz, 2015). Crossing that upper limit can drain student motivation and focus.

The researchers recommend that “homework should present a certain level of challenge or difficulty, without being so challenging that it discourages effort.” Teachers should avoid low-effort, repetitive assignments, and assign homework “with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-directed learning.”

In other words, it’s the quality of homework that matters, not the quantity. Brian Sztabnik, a veteran middle and high school English teacher, suggests that teachers take a step back and ask themselves these five questions:

  • How long will it take to complete?
  • Have all learners been considered?
  • Will an assignment encourage future success?
  • Will an assignment place material in a context the classroom cannot?
  • Does an assignment offer support when a teacher is not there?

More Benefits for High School Students, But Risks As Well

By the time they reach high school, students should be well on their way to becoming independent learners, so homework does provide a boost to learning at this age, as long as it isn’t overwhelming (Cooper et al., 2006; Marzano & Pickering, 2007). When students spend too much time on homework—more than two hours each night—it takes up valuable time to rest and spend time with family and friends.

A 2013 study found that high school students can experience serious mental and physical health problems, from higher stress levels to sleep deprivation, when assigned too much homework (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013).

Homework in high school should always relate to the lesson and be doable without any assistance, and feedback should be clear and explicit.

Teachers should also keep in mind that not all students have equal opportunities to finish their homework at home, so incomplete homework may not be a true reflection of their learning—it may be more a result of issues they face outside of school.

They may be hindered by issues such as lack of a quiet space at home, resources such as a computer or broadband connectivity, or parental support (OECD, 2014). In such cases, giving low homework scores may be unfair.

Since the quantities of time discussed here are totals, teachers in middle and high school should be aware of how much homework other teachers are assigning. It may seem reasonable to assign 30 minutes of daily homework, but across six subjects, that’s three hours—far above a reasonable amount even for a high school senior.

Psychologist Maurice Elias sees this as a common mistake: Individual teachers create homework policies that in aggregate can overwhelm students. He suggests that teachers work together to develop a school-wide homework policy and make it a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year.

Parents Play a Key Role

Homework can be a powerful tool to help parents become more involved in their child’s learning (Walker et al., 2004). It can provide insights into a child’s strengths and interests, and can also encourage conversations about a child’s life at school.

If a parent has positive attitudes toward homework, their children are more likely to share those same values, promoting academic success.

But it’s also possible for parents to be overbearing, putting too much emphasis on test scores or grades, which can be disruptive for children (Madjar, Shklar, & Moshe, 2015). Parents should avoid being overly intrusive or controlling—students report feeling less motivated to learn when they don’t have enough space and autonomy to do their homework (Orkin, May, & Wolf, 2017; Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008; Silinskas & Kikas, 2017).

So, while homework can encourage parents to be more involved with their kids, it’s important to not make it a source of conflict.

House Lawmakers Agree on Need for Accountability at Occasionally Tense Charter School Hearing

From The 74 Million

By Carolyn Phenicie
June 13, 2018

Washington, D.C. -- In a hearing that occasionally turned testy as lawmakers discussed some of the biggest problems in the charter sector, Republicans and Democrats did agree on one thing: more accountability and better authorizing of charter schools should be a top priority.

“Much of this conversation, I think, boils down to accountability,” House Education and the Workforce Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said at the end of the two-hour hearing that was called to examine the “value of charter schools.”

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who started two charter schools in his home state and is now running for governor, emphasized that accountability and equity are vital as charter schools expand.

“The quality of the authorizer in writing the contract and enforcing the contract to ensure equity is absolutely critical,” Polis said.

Though the parties agreed on the need for tighter accountability, improved authorizing, and the swift shuttering of underperforming schools, Democrats, most of whom said they cautiously support charters, also highlighted some of the sector’s worst problems and actors, including negative impacts on district schools, poor student outcomes at for-profit charters and online schools, and concerns about segregation.

“I’m in general skeptical about charter schools because they are not addressing the underlying issue of equity and opportunity for all,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Democrat of Oregon.


Republicans and charter advocates pointed to strong student outcomes from charters, which primarily serve low-income students of color. Several witnesses referenced the much-cited research by Stanford’s CREDO Center showing that students in urban charter schools get the equivalent of 40 days of additional learning.

Foxx pointed to The 74’s own project, “The Alumni,” which found that graduates of high-performing charter networks are as much as three to five times as likely to graduate from college as their low-income peers.

Despite that success and continued demand and waitlists in many places, the pace of approval of new charter schools has fallen in recent years, pointing to gaps in funding at the state level and problems getting access to facilities, said Martin West, an education professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Congress has poured money into the federal charter school program in recent years, at rates much higher than overall Education Department spending has increased.

Lawmakers gave the program, which helps fund startup costs and expansion for high-performing charter networks, $400 million for the current fiscal year. The House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Education Department spending is set to consider next year’s appropriations bill on Friday morning.

Republicans and witnesses from charter advocacy groups, while pointing to charters’ successes, also parried Democrats’ concerns.

Charter schools, by creating competition, should encourage improvements in the district schools that still educate the vast majority of children, and we should not accept poor schools whatever the type, said Rep. Lloyd Smucker, Republican of Pennsylvania.

“We should always expect that every student has the opportunity for a quality education,” he said.

Nina Rees, Greg Richmond

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for instance, pointed to a report her group and other charter advocates wrote two years ago calling for reforms to the online charter sector.

Online options are necessary to reach some students, she said, but “they are very different from our brick-and-mortar schools, and their achievement certainly hasn’t kept par with where we want to be as a community.”

Many charter founders are now creating their schools particularly with diversity in mind, and charter advocates also support better funding for traditional district schools, she said.

The issues Democrats raised can be addressed through better accountability and oversight from authorizers, 90 percent of which are local school districts accountable to parents, voters, and taxpayers, said Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

“Almost every issue that’s brought up here today on accountability, discrimination, financial transparency, goes back to how are these schools being approved in the first place and how are they being overseen … It goes back to those authorizing bodies,” he said.

Democrats, in particular, focused on Michigan, which has become shorthand for failures in the charter sector in recent years, particularly given now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s advocacy in her home state.

“When accompanied by oversight and accountability, public school choice with strong accountability can improve our education system as a whole. But, as we’ve seen in Michigan and other states with dismal charter school performance, expanding choice without strong standards is a recipe for disaster,” ranking Democrat Bobby Scott said in his opening remarks.

Democrats called as their witness Jonathon Clark, a parent and community activist in Detroit. His children have attended district, charter, and private schools and had good and bad experiences in each, he said.

“I’m not here to bash charter schools, but I’m here to push the fact that accountability is the key,” he said.

Failures of the scattershot authorizing and accountability system in Michigan left one of his daughters at a school where academics deteriorated, the board was unresponsive to parent concerns, and the school abruptly closed just before the start of a new school year, he told the committee.

The rapid closure of schools has affected more than just students, he said.

“Once the charters leave for whatever reason, the building is left there. For our neighborhood, for our part of town, that’s a serious safety issue. An abandoned building is a haven for crime and blight … As schools pop up and go away, there’s only one victim, and that’s the people in that neighborhood,” he said.

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provide funding to both the National Association of Charter School Authorizersand The 74. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, William E. Simon Foundation, and Gates and Walton foundations provide funding to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and The 74.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Autism’s Sex Ratio, Explained

From Spectrum News

By Nicholette Zeliadt
June 13, 2018

Autism is significantly more common in boys than in girls.

This skewed sex ratio has been recognized since the first cases of autism were described in the 1940s. The exact reasons for the ratio remain unclear. It could be rooted in biological differences between the sexes. Or, some experts say, it may be an artifact of the way autism is defined and diagnosed.

Here’s how researchers estimate and explain the sex ratio in autism.

What is the sex ratio for autism?

Researchers have consistently found more boys than girls with autism when estimating the condition’s prevalence. This has been true regardless of whether the data came from parent-reported diagnoses, reviews of school and medical records, or diagnostic evaluations of children.

The most comprehensive analysis of autism’s sex ratio, published in 2017, drew on data from 54 prevalence studies worldwide. That analysis estimated about 4.2 boys with autism for every girl.

What factors might alter this sex ratio?

One potentially important factor is diagnostic bias: Several studies suggest that girls receive autism diagnoses later in life than boys, indicating that the condition is harder to spot in girls.

In line with this idea, the 2017 study revealed that the sex ratio falls to 3.25 boys per girl when the analysis includes only the 20 studies in which researchers evaluated the participants for autism, rather than relying on previous diagnoses.

This drop in the ratio provides the most compelling evidence yet for a diagnostic bias, says the study’s lead investigator William Mandy, senior lecturer in clinical psychology at University College London.

“It implies that there’s a group of females out there who, if you assess them, will meet criteria, but for whatever reason they’re not getting assessed.”

Why are girls and women with autism being overlooked?

Girls and women with autism may go undiagnosed because doctors, teachers, parents and others often think of the condition as primarily affecting boys.

Autism may also look different in girls than it does in boys. Girls may have fewer restricted interests and repetitive behaviors than boys, and may have more socially acceptable types of interests.

They are also more likely than boys to mask their autism features by copying their neurotypical peers. As a result, autism may be more difficult to detect in girls even when doctors are looking for it.

Would the sex ratio disappear if these diagnostic biases could be overcome?

Probably not. Researchers have found a 3-to-1 ratio even when they have followed children from infancy and repeatedly screened them for autism, minimizing the possibility for biases in diagnosis and referral.

The children in these studies have a family history of autism, however, so they may be fundamentally different from other children with the condition, says Daniel Messinger, professor of psychology at the University of Miami.

Has the sex ratio changed over time?

Yes. A large Danish study found an 8-to-1 sex ratio for autism in 1995, but that had dropped to 3-to-1 by 2010. The drop may reflect better detection of girls with autism, but is likely to level off. “I would put my money on 3-to-1,” says Meng-Chuan Lai, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

What else could explain the sex ratio?

Biology. For example, the brains of people with autism show patterns of gene expression that look more like those of typical males than typical females. Some of these genes are specific to microglia, immune cells in the brain that clear away debris and sculpt neuronal connections.

It is also possible that girls are somehow shielded from the condition. Girls with autism tend to have more mutations than boys with the condition. And boys with autism seem to inherit their mutations from unaffected mothers more often than from unaffected fathers.

Together, these results suggest that girls need a bigger genetic hit than boys to have autism.