Turn It Off

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

Even having a TV on in the background may be bad for kids, a new study in Child Development shows.  Having a TV on in the room cut by half the amount of time very young children played and focused on a given toy.

When the TV was on, kids of all ages played with a given toy — a jack-in-the-box, a baby doll, blocks, a toy telephone, a school bus with toy passengers — for about 30 seconds, on average. Without TV, it was 60 seconds,” writes USA Today ed reporter Greg Toppo.  “Researchers say solitary play, especially with toys, offers many benefits. It allows children to practice planning ahead and develop cognitive skills.”

Circle Time On the Rug at 08:00 Hours!

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

West Virginia wants more veterans in the classroom. Not veteran teachers, just veterans. State education officials are looking to expand their involvement in the federal “Troops to Teachers” program, which was created over a decade ago to encourage more National Guard, reserve and former active-duty military veterans to become teachers.

“Veterans possess a wealth of knowledge, talent, skills and experience that they can share with West Virginia students,” the state’s Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine said in a news release. “Many of them have science, math and engineering backgrounds that we desperately need. They also bring a world view to the classroom that works well with our 21st Century Learning initiative to help our children succeed in a global economy.”

I have to admit that I utterly was unaware of this program, which sounds like a rock-solid idea. It’s surprising to hear it’s been in existence since 1994. A study cited on the TTT web site gives the program high marks for bringing more men, more minorities to education, as well as more teachers in inner cities, especially in special education, math and science.

I’d invite anyone involved in the program to post more about it.

Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

Researchers have looked at just about every possible determinant of teaching success, and it seems there’s nothing on a prospective teacher’s résumé that indicates how he or she will do in the classroom. While some qualifications boost performance a little bit—National Board certification seems to help, though a master’s degree in education does not—they just don’t improve it very much.

Ray Fisman in Slate on “Why are public schools so bad at hiring good instructors?”

One Man Truth Squad

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

New York’s DOE “truth squad” could learn a thing or two from Reid Lyon.  Find an article about the imminent demise of Reading First, scroll down to the reader comments, and there he is.  And here.  Over here too.  More?  Try this.

I have, however, found at least one stone that Reid and his brother-in-arms, Patrick Riccards (aka Eduflack) seem to have left unturned.  On Edweek’s Curriculum Matters blog, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo writes, “I’m no researcher, and I admit that I could use a bit of tutoring, or more coffee, to absorb the findings of many of the research studies I read, but I haven’t really seen any rigorous evidence that Reading First is working overall.”

Get busy, gentlemen. 

You Say “Achievement Gap” Like It’s a Bad Thing

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

We all have our pet causes and issues in education that get us carbonated.  At the top of my list is the fate of potentially high-achieving kids, low-income kids who are left to languish in lowest common denominator schools.  Thus I’m happy to see the estimable Jay Mathews devote his Wash Post column to the recent Fordham report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind.  I’ll think twice, however, about casually tossing around the phrase “achievement gap” in the future, thanks to Uncle Jay.

Why don’t I like talking about the achievement gap? Because we use the term in a way that suggests narrowing the gap is always a good thing, when that is not so. Here are some ways the gap could narrow: Low-income scores improve but high-incomes scores don’t; low-income scores don’t change but high-income scores drop; low-income scores drop but high-income scores drop even more. In each of those cases of gap-narrowing, something bad is happening.

Mathews posits that concerns about the income gap have crept into the way we talk about academic achievement.  “I can understand distaste for people who build 50-room mansions with gold bathroom fixtures. But can anyone learn too much?” he asks.  “Wisdom tends to help everyone who comes in contact with it. Ski chalets in Aspen are less useful to those of us who can’t afford them.”

Labels, of course, tend to stick once they’ve taken root, and it’s unlikely “achievement gap” will disappear.  Low-income underachievement, perhaps?