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NCLB and the Closing of Achievement Gaps

We wrote a few weeks back about the passing of one of public education’s greatest supporters, Gerald Bracey. One of Bracey’s key attributes was to point out the statistical discrepancies that could occur when data is broken out by various subgroups.

Many times Bracey demonstrated how one had to look behind as well as beyond the numbers, that whole group progress might contrast with individual sub-group performances and vice-versa. In simplest terms, statistical analysis is very challenging and determining valid conclusions more difficult still.

iStock_000003160705XSmallWith that in mind, we turn to some recent research that examines sub-group scores on the national and state achievement tests. While proponents of NCLB continue to insist that law has helped close the achievement gap, that is to say, to reduce the difference in scoring on standardized tests between whites and various subgroups, the law has not done so for one of the most important subgroups, the highest achieving students.

Researchers Jonathan A. Plucker, Ph.D., Nathan Burroughs, Ph.D. and Ruiting Song recently released a new report called Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education (pdf). The writers note:

One of the major objectives of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is to narrow the achievement gap among demographic subgroups of K-12 students. In NCLB’s implementation, the principal focus has been on minimum competency—of bringing a larger proportion of students to a basic level of educational achievement and closing achievement gaps.

While there has been progress on that specific front, the researchers also noted:

…. some observers believe the focus on minimum competency has come at a price. Although there has been a general improvement in academic performance, are achievement gaps also shrinking at the highest levels of student achievement?

The answer, the researchers found, was no. In fact, they emphasize a new phrase called excellence gaps which is used to describe the differences between subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement. The researchers concluded:

iStock_000005009947XSmallThe existence of such gaps raises doubts about the success of federal and state governments in providing greater and more equitable educational opportunities, particularly as the proportion of minority and low-income students continues to rise. The goal of guaranteeing that all children will have the opportunity to reach their academic potential is called into question if educational policies only assist some students while others are left behind. Furthermore, the comparatively small percentage of students scoring at the highest level on achievement tests suggests that children with advanced academic potential are being under-served, with potentially serious consequences for the long-term economic competitiveness of the U.S.

Key Findings

The researchers concluded that the achievement gaps between students of different genders as well as different racial, economic, and linguistic profiles were extensive for the nation’s top-performing students. This of course is in direct contrast to what is happening for K-12 students as a whole.

Analyzing more than ten years worth of 4th and 8th grade state and national reading and math assessment tests, the researchers cast a spotlight on the data for the highest performing students. When looking at that one subgroup, they found that the achievement gaps between girls and boys, whites and minority students, disadvantaged and affluent students and their better-off peers, and those with English as their first language versus English-language learners either remained the same, or if the gaps were reduced, they declined only by the tiniest of fractions.

Two examples:

In 4th grade math, from 1996 to 2007 , the percentage of white students scoring at the advanced level on NAEP rose from 2.9 percent to 7.6 percent. In contrast, the percentages of black and Hispanic students rose from near zero to just about 1 percent.

For those 4th graders qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, advanced-level math scorers raised their totals from 3.1 to 8.7 percent. In Grade 8 mathematics, the percentage of students scoring at the advanced level not eligible for the National School Lunch Program increased by 5.7 percentage points: for the students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch the increase was .8 percentage points.

Citing a number of other such comparisons, the researchers concluded that excellence gaps on most NAEP tests were growing at both Grade 4 and Grade 8.

NCLB Impacts

While NCLB may not be totally to blame for this development (the achievement gap amongst the highest performing students was growing prior to enactment of the legislation), many predicted such results shortly after the law was enacted. The basic premise was that a focus on bringing all children to fundamental standards would lead to the brightest students, already under-served in most schools, to be shortchanged even further.

iStock_000007166099XSmallIn addition, the punishment structures associated with NCLB led many states to set some very low proficiency standards. With NCLB focusing on getting all subgroups to pass that respective basic proficiency level, there is no incentive for schools to see to it that the best students climb further up the performance ladder.

And again, in a clear indication that data must be thoroughly scrubbed, there was one area where there seemed to be some positive developments. If one looked at the 90th percentile as a cutoff, there was some statistical progress in closing gaps for this high-performing subset.

Sadly though, in many cases the closing of the gap was due to one of two results: declining or stagnating scores for white students or modest improvements for disadvantaged groups. The incremental closing of the gap led the researchers to create a rate-based formula with the following predictions:

“it would take 38 years for free-lunch-eligible children to match more affluent children in math at grade 4 and 92 years for English-language learners to equal non-ELL students.”

Concern for our Highest Performers

In simplest terms, a state that narrowed gaps at the “proficient” level did not necessarily reduce those gaps at the “advanced” level. The researchers further note that this excellence gap is seldom discussed by any policy experts when school reform measures are reviewed.

For that very reason, one can attack NCLB and attack it hard. One could never contend that the law is ensuring that No Child is Left Behind, not when the achievement gap among the best and brightest is increasing with each passing year.

March 10, 2010   1 Comment

Media Use by Teens and Adolescents Continues to Explode

Has the time come for parents to pull the plug on mobile media?

A recent study completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation brought little in the way of surprises for those who work with children. But just to set the record straight, the foundation found that daily media use among children and teens is up dramatically even when compared to just five years ago.

With mobile devices providing nonstop internet availability, it is easy to see that entertainment media has never been more accessible than it is right now. The results of the Kaiser survey reveals that children, particularly minority youth, are taking advantage of that access.

But for parents and educators, the key question should not be simply how much time is actually spent with media. Instead, the issue should center upon what effect such consumption has on the mental, emotional and academic development of our youngsters.

The Findings
iStock_000008329951XSmallAccording to the Kaiser Foundation, “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).” Again not too surprisingly, a good portion of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time.

The Kaiser folks estimate that if we were to add in the time spent “multi-tasking” as separate exposure time, the daily average increases to 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) of media exposure for 7½ hour usage time frame.

Back in 2004, the data indicated that 8-18 year-olds averaged 6 hours and 21 minutes of consumption time and 8 hours and 33 minutes of exposure time (again when multi-tasking was taken in to account). The 1 hour and 17 minute increase in consumption equates to a 20% increase over the five-year period and the 2 hours and 12 minutes of exposure time represents a 26% increase over the same time frame.

Most of the increase is due to the availability of mobile devices. According to the Kaiser study, increase in cell phone ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds has gone from 39% to 66% over the five-year period. For ownership of iPods and other MP3 players, the increase is even more substantial: from 18% in 2004 to 76% in 2009.

What will not come as a surprise to parents of teens or teachers, the study revealed that young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones than they spend talking on them (49 to 33 minutes daily).

The impact even affects the one time major concern, time spent in front of the television. For the first time, Kaiser found that the amount of time spent watching regularly scheduled TV actually declined, by 25 minutes a day.

But those mobile devices are, of course, providing new ways to watch television. The result was an overall increase in total TV consumption of 38 minutes a day, from 3 hours and 51 minutes to 4 hours and 29 minutes (2:39 consisting of live TV on a TV set and 1:50 on DVDs, online, or on a mobile device).

For those wondering, the Kaiser study did not count texting as media use. If they had done so, 7th-12th graders would have spent an average of another 1:35 a day consuming media.

And the study focused only on recreational use of media. Any time spent using the computer or using mobile devices for school purposes was not included in the Kaiser media use calculations.

Household Expectations

The amount of time spent on entertainment media is clearly a function of the expectations and the example set by the parents. First, only about three in ten young people reported having rules regarding how much time they can spend watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer. But in those households where rules were set, children spent significantly less time with media: 2 hours and 52 minutes less.

Almost two-thirds of young people indicated that their TV was usually on during meals. Nearly one half (45%) stated that the TV was left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one was watching.
iStock_000006653250XSmallPerhaps most disappointingly, more than 70% of the children reported having a TV in their own bedroom. A full 50% indicated they had a console video game player in their room as well.

Children in those homes where the TV was on during meals or when no one was watching reported spending 1 hour and 30 minutes more per day on the television. For those with a television in their room, the average reported television consumption increased by an hour.

Ramifications for Parents

Ultimately, the important item for parents is the impact of media consumption that now amounts to 13 hours more than the typical work week for adults.

According to the Kaiser study, the heaviest media users, those who consume more than 16 hours of media a day, reported getting lower grades. About one-half of heavy media users said they usually get fair or poor grades, defined as mostly Cs or lower. Only one-fourth of light users, those who consume less than 3 hours of media a day, reported getting such grades.

While cause and effect is not made clear by such revelations, other experts have noted significant ramifications of a child’s hypermediated environment. Tufts professor and researcher Maryanne Wolf believes that parents need to limit the time their children spend on electronic devices.

The director of the Tufts University Center for Reading and Language Research has spent time researching the impact of digital media on the brain. While technology has some pluses, Wolf expresses strong concerns about the instant gratification that today’s media provides. She also believes that technology is slowly eroding our ability to think deeply.

iStock_000000112598XSmallOf today’s media immersion, Wolf offers:

“A child is learning to be distracted,” she explains. “They aren’t learning in too many places to concentrate and think deeply for themselves. The volume of information, the immediacy of information . . . these are characteristics that can be good, but they can also lead to a less active, [less superficial] learning style.”

The antidote to all the media exposure is simple and yet oh so challenging. Wolf insists that we must take that all important step, to limit usage by turning the “darn things off.”

Wolf is not a parent of a current teen – but if she were, she clearly indicates what she would do:

“If I were a parent today, I would limit the time that my children were online or hooked up to something. What you really want is to help each child learn to use their time well.”

As an example from her own busy life, Wolf states that she expressly
begins and ends each day with an hour that is completely free of anything that is professionally demanding, whether it be e-mail or Internet or anything. Instead, she focuses on hitting the proverbial pause button, books or activities that require her to slow down.

Parents Need to Be Aware

There is no hiding one fact – media use by our youngsters is exploding. In light of that development, parents need to be aware that concerns are growing regarding the time our “wired” youngsters are spending with that media.

Given what we are learning about brain development, such exposure is no doubt having an effect on the intellectual capacities of those youngsters. With cognitive development still forming throughout that 8-18 year-old time frame, it would seem to be a no-brainer that parents would want to insist on a little more balance in their children’s lives.

March 4, 2010   2 Comments

Charlie Weis and Randy Edsall Shed Some Tears on the Football Field

What is right about college athletics about to fall victim to what is wrong.

As a sports fan, and sadly a Notre Dame football fan, I have been closely following the situation involving head coach Charlie Weis. For those who have not, the storied athletic program that was once led by the famed Knute Rockne is simply not winning enough football games.

iStock_000000571962XSmallOn Saturday, the Irish fell victim to Connecticut, by college football winning standards, an average team. By other standards, those that involve athletics in its purest sense, UConn is anything but average; certainly not when you have to play through a season in which one of your key players was murdered on campus. In fact, for those who love college football, the win by UConn and the emotional reaction of head coach Randy Edsall demonstrated precisely what amateur athletics is all about.

But the loss left Notre Dame with a six-win, five-loss record. It is the same record that the last Notre Dame team coached by someone other than Charlie Weis had. And sportscasters have been quick to point out that Weis, upon being hired, noted that a 6-5 record simply was not good enough at Notre Dame.

Having Some Academic Standards

That record has most insisting it is time for Charlie Weis to be dismissed with some using the turkey day analogy to make their point. Amidst the great debate as to whether Weis should be fired, it is interesting to note a couple of elements not often talked about by the national media: the idea that amateur athletics should be about developing character and the spirit of competition; that the second most important emotion involves losing; that in the amateur setting, dusting oneself off when goals are not initially reached, to reset them and then try and try again is to teach one of life’s greatest attributes, resiliency.

The national media has also fallen victim to the charade that is college athletics, that today Division I programs are about two things, winning and money. Actually, in the media, it seems to be only about the winning; it is the schools that seem to place the emphasis on the money. Then again, that money is now greatly needed to win.

Notre Dame has actually gone so far as to implement admission standards, meaning you truly have to be a student-athlete to compete at Notre Dame. In fact, it is interesting to note that the Irish have begun having trouble beating Boston College and Navy in recent years, coincidentally as the Irish continue implementing similar admission standards that these two other schools utilize.

And Notre Dame does what it is supposed to do, graduate students, particularly football players. In fact, taking data from college freshman from 1999 to 2002 and using the traditional six year graduation rate, the school matched academic powerhouse Duke for the nation’s highest player graduation rate. According to the numbers released by the NCAA, Notre Dame and Duke graduated football players at a 96 percent rate. Those rates were followed by Navy (93), Northwestern (92), Boston College (91) and Vanderbilt (91).

The average graduation rate for Division I football programs is apparently at an all time high according to the NCAA, now at 67% for Division I football teams. Of course, there is another discussion to be had since federal statistics have the number far lower, at 55%. Still readers of this site will note that these numbers actually are above those of college students as a whole.

But in contrast to Notre Dame, if one looks at the Bowl Championship Series standings where schools are rated according to their football prowess, only one in the top ten, Cincinnati can boast a graduation rate of 70 percent by both NCAA and federal measures. Among the very top teams, one in line for the national championship game, Texas, had a 49 percent NCAA measure and 41 percent federal measure, while another, Florida, had a 42 percent federal graduation measure.

Arrogant or Respected by Players

iStock_000002120808XSmallThere are those sportscasters who call Weis arrogant, who point to that initial press conference and his comments about his predecessor going 6-5. Still others point to his off-field behavior even as others note the amazing contract Weis received, i.e. the millions he is getting despite his inability to win more football games.

But we noticed on Saturday, for senior day at South Bend, the Irish did not race out onto the field in traditional fashion. Instead, before the game, Irish captains Eric Olsen and Jimmy Clausen asked Weis to walk arm-and-arm with the captains onto the field.

It was an amazing sight, the captains and the seniors arm-in-arm, with Weis in the middle. It was powerful and the move by the very players Weis is tasked with coaching, the young boys he is asked to turn into men, had the head coach in tears as he entered in the stadium.

Someone with a little different eye, one with a bit more perspective, might have noted that it is rare to see two opposing football coaches tear up at the same athletic event. But such was the case on Saturday.

It was first and foremost, the day Randy Edsall’s UConn team had arguably its biggest win. It was also, at least according to sportswriters, the same day that Irish football coach Charlie Weis sealed his fate in regards to his Notre Dame coaching future.

The contrast could not have been more noticeable, especially since it was simply one more day where the world of amateur athletics took another step backwards.

There are those who are listening to the sportswriters ready to stick a fork into Charlie. Me, I will defer to the men who go to battle with him each Saturday, the same men that sought him out to walk arm-in-arm with him.

And that of course explains the tears – because if I were Charlie, it would be the assessment of those individuals that would matter most to me.

November 23, 2009   6 Comments

Tweeting for Dollars – New 140 Scholarship

Are you still new to the Twitter process? Ever wondered if that Tweet-texting your son or daughter was doing would ever amount to anything useful?

Well, now you just may see some possible value in what that college-age son or daughter has been up to. Given our love for all good things free, we could not help but point folks in the direction of CollegeScholarships where the site supporters are offering $14,014.00 in scholarships for the best in Tweeting.

It is a contest that would make any English teacher proud, as in how can one say something extremely profound in just a few words. Given that “Twitter is Connecting the World,” the assignment is simple, “in 140 characters or less, write a Tweet highlighting how we can use Twitter to improve the world.”

OK, so it’s not so easy.

But it is a helluva an idea backed by some serious generosity.

And yes, it looks like there just might be a theme here: the total prize money, $14,014.00, seems to highlight a certain three-digit number.

The details on the 140 Scholarship can be found here.

October 14, 2009   No Comments

College Rankings – New Site Offers Different College Ratings Format

Imagine heading to a college ratings/ranking site and viewing the following:

Yale – F
Cornell – F
Johns Hopkins – F
Bowdoin – F

Phelps HallGot your attention? How about:

Penn – D
Harvard – D
Dartmouth – C
Princeton – C

And in contrast:

University of Texas-Austin – A
Baylor University – A
City University of New York – Brooklyn College – A
City University of New York – Hunter College – A

Such are the ratings offered at a new web site,, a new guide that seeks to provide interested students a different lens with which to view America’s top colleges. Focusing in on specific curriculum expectations, the site aims to identify the schools that “are making sure their students learn what they need to know” to be successful upon graduation.

To determine which universities are making sure their students are learning just that, institutions are rated on seven key subjects: English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and science. In addition, the rating examines the specific curriculum within each course as well as who has been assigned to teach that course.

Utilizing that very specific criteria in relation to these seven study areas, schools are then assigned a grade based on how many core subjects students must complete while completing their bachelor degree program. In the case of those schools mentioned above receiving an F, the rating comes from requiring only 0-1 core subjects. For those receiving an A, the rating is equated to the school requiring the completion of 6-7 core subjects.

While the site does also examine college costs, the ratings focus in on what is deemed to be a troubling development in higher education, the fact that these curriculum elements have become “mere options on far too many campuses.”

Liberal Arts School Ratings

Bowdoin is sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an independent, non-profit organization that is a strong supporter of a liberal arts education model. But while focusing on a liberal arts program that features specific general education requirements, it is interesting to see that the site actually provides very poor ratings for many schools deemed the best small liberal arts colleges in America (Amherst, Bowdoin and Middlebury for example).

The reasons for the poor ratings stem from a philosophy that excellent general education programming is about the unity of knowledge and making connections between different ideas and not the combining of random ingredients that marks the curricula offered at these elite colleges today.

Of course, given how poor some of our perceived best schools score on the specific criteria, we can expect some of these colleges and universities to offer their view in the very near future. We can also expect them to find fault with the criteria being used to create the ratings.

But while the specific course expectations seemingly could receive further debate, the concept of the site is a very good one. Given the move towards standards in K-12 education, it stands to reason that higher education would sooner or later become part of such a movement.

Given that development, we would think it was time that college ranking systems measure something other than an institution’s prestige, endowment and reputation. That is where seeks to go and why it is a site that prospective college students should look at when examining specific schools.

And it seems like an extremely viable endeavor. Taking a look at what students are actually required to learn while earning that diploma certainly ought to figure somewhere into the ratings that have been created.

Flickr photos courtesy of wallyg and Flannery626.

August 27, 2009   1 Comment

Drop Outs – A Sign of the Entitlement Times?

We have written a good many times regarding the growing concerns related to America’s poor school completion rates. In addition to all the students who disappear from our school systems prior to ever reaching high school, current data also reveals that one of every four high school students fails to graduate within the standard four-year secondary-school span.

Accompanying this sad trend is an enormous debate as to why drop out rates are so high. We noted that within the school setting there tends to be one ongoing tension between the various schooling levels:

While many elementary folks insist that schools at the upper grade levels tend to put curriculum ahead of students, folks at the secondary level insist that students all too often arrive at high school without the requisite skills needed to handle more challenging academic materials.

Those wanting to point a finger at the high school folks may be surprised to learn that Lynne Strathman, director of Lydia Urban Academy in Rockford, Ill., noted that for many students the final year of school where a significant majority of students felt successful was in fourth grade.

That led us to the conclusion that for a good many American kids, school is not an answer. It is in fact the problem, the biggest issue or obstacle they face in life.

Problem Across the Pond

As the concerns mount in America, it is interesting to note that in England drop out rates are also becoming an enormous issue. The BBC recently discussed this troubling trend, pointing out that record numbers of “young people are not in school, college or work.”

What makes the numbers from England worth examining is the fact that an additional category is used to assess those not in school: working students. In fact, the term NEET is used to describe the most troubling of groups in the UK: those not in education, employment or training.

According to the BBC, the total number of NEETS in the 18-24 age group “has risen by more than 100,000 in the past year.” In addition, the data reveals a significant “surge in the numbers of 16 to 18-year-olds considered NEETS,” the total increasing by 13,000 this year when measured against the first quarter of last year and 24,000 when the second quarter time frame is examined.

What is interesting to focus in on is that England differentiates between those who have dropped out of school but are gainfully employed. While we continue to insist that our young people remain in school, England notes that training and employment are viable alternatives to attending school.

It is a position we should examine more thoroughly in America.

At the same time, two other elements emerge. First, the drop out trend is not unique to America. Second, when jobs become scarce, this data further reveals the least educated are generally the most vulnerable.

In fact, many experts from across the pond insist that the growing numbers are more a sign of the employment times than a greater disinterest with school. We tend to think that it is probably a bit of both.

But the summation is unequivocal – there is a growing concern that England may see a lost generation, a group of youngsters who can never shake the government welfare ranks.

It is a concern we must have as well. But the similarities that our countries face reveal a message.

Sense of Entitlement?

While many want to point fingers at out-of-date and impersonal school systems, the fact that England is experiencing a similar problem just might speak to a different issue. Here in America, a good number of folks tend to think our young people carry with them such a strong sense of entitlement that the idea of working towards a goal is simply deemed as asking too much.

Indeed, the outstanding performance collectively of Asian-American students provides strong evidence that we need to look at our culture as well as our schools. Because when a sense of entitlement is removed from the mix and hard work emphasized, this group of students represents living proof that teens can and will actually focus on their education and their future in the right circumstances.

Drop outs are an important issue and schools must be part of the solution process. But to continue to insist that the problem is one that can be solved solely by schools demonstrates a dramatic failure to understand the true scope of the issue.

August 19, 2009   3 Comments

Texas Tech Professor Alberto Gonzales? College Students Fail to Take a Stand

It has been nearly two years since Alberto Gonzales resigned as Attorney General. At the time of his departure, he left Washington with his tail between his legs and a Justice Department mired in scandal.

Whether it be the controversy over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, his post-Sept. 11 policies on presidential power, torture and domestic spying, his failure to properly see that critical evidence in the Valerie Plame leak case was preserved, his misleading if not downright false testimony before Congress, etc., etc., Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General will forever leave a stain on the Justice Department.

Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.comOne would have to think that given his performance his career might be difficult to resurrect. Apparently, not so.

It seems that on August 1st, Mr. Gonzales began a career in academia. That is correct; the former AG accepted a visiting professor post within the political science department of Texas Tech University.

University Loves their Man

According to a written university statement, Gonzales will be teaching a junior-level special topics course: “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch.” In addition, he is expected to provide guest lectures in classes across the campus.

A Latino who was once held in high regard, Gonzales will also reportedly assist Texas Tech University and Angelo State University “with recruiting and retaining first generation and underrepresented students.”

Of the latter aspect of the Gonzales appointment, Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance had this to say:

“His own upbringing in Houston as part of a migrant family with eight children makes him qualified to tell underrepresented Texas students that college is possible.”

In the same prepared university statement, Lawrence Schovanec, interim dean of Texas Tech’s College of Arts and Sciences, offered:

“Judge Gonzales brings a unique experience to our classroom. His career in law, government and public service will provide our political science students a rich perspective of the executive branch and issues and challenges facing our nation.”

Minimal Uproar

Much to the chagrin of this writer and perhaps to the majority of the citizens of the U.S., the appointment has seen only minimal resistance. There have reportedly been a few critical editorials in various newspapers, a faculty petition, and two Facebook groups (Alberto Gonzales Doesn’t Belong At Texas Tech and Citizens Against Employing Alberto Gonzales at Texas Tech). But the protests seem rather minimal overall.

MMMMichelleHowever, faculty petition creator Walter Schaller, a Tech philosophy professor since 1986, was unequivocal in explaining his opposition to the hiring of Gonzales. Stated Schaller, “With the emphasis on ethics the university has adopted, a guy that misled Congress is not the kind of person we want to represent Texas Tech.”

However, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently contrasted the Texas response with that of two other high powered institutions and their faculty appointments:

Objections to Gonzales pale “in comparison to the resistance that Condoleezza Rice has encountered in going back to Stanford University, where she was provost before joining the Bush administration, in 2001, or the debate surrounding the University of California at Berkeley’s continued employment of John C. Yoo, a law professor who, while on leave to work in the Justice Department, wrote the Bush administration’s memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques.”

One would think that Gonzales would face the same kind of fight Henry Kissinger faced when he tried to teach at Columbia. Student protesters accused the former Secretary of State of breaking the law and essentially ran him off the campus.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times or the location. A negative Facebook campaign could jump start the student body but without an uproar from this important constituency it seems that Gonzales will be able to ride out the storm.

We do have an amazing country. And Texas Tech has a new visiting professor.

He does begin with a one year contract.

The question is, will students see to it that it is his last?

Flickr photos courtesy of Mike Licht and MMMMichelle.

August 7, 2009   2 Comments

Frank McCourt – Great Teachers Find Classroom Lessons Everywhere

With the passing of Frank McCourt, remembrances are understandable. His brilliant Angela Ashes, of course, marks him as a literary giant, but to many kids he was far more important, he was their teacher.

WikipediaWhat a superb teacher he must have been. As with most of the great ones, he could create a lesson out of anything imaginable, including the art of forged notes and excuses for missing school or unfinished homework.

The true brilliance of course lay in his ability to first reach kids where they were at, then take them someplace they would never have gone on their own.

He doesn’t just get these kids to review the notes they forged, he takes them on a creative journey, having them write such notes for some of the world’s most famous historical figures.

A brilliant author.

An equally brilliant teacher.

July 23, 2009   No Comments

Preventing Dementia – Is It as Simple as Working Longer?

Once the magic word was plastics. Today, however, the magic advice might lie in a two word phrase:

Keep working.

According to recent research, it turns out that the solution to preventing dementia might well be the very same one proffered to help our underfunded social security system remain solvent.

Yes, it might be time to forget about retiring early. Heck, it might just be time to forget about retiring period.

Mental Activity Is Critical

It has long been suspected that those who remain mentally active later in life may be able to postpone and/or lessen the effects of Alzheimer’s. While that notion has spawned a whole industry devoted to brain fitness, it turns out that simply working later in life might be that ticket to warding off the effects of the debilitating disease.
That fact came as a result of the research of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. Experts took a look at more than 1,320 dementia patients, approximately 30% of them men.

Those who retired later in life developed Alzheimer’s at a later stage. As a simple association, for each additional year of employment there was about a six week later age of onset of the disease.

Use It or Lose It

There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the concept of cognitive reserve. For example, research shows that a quality education correlates to a reduced risk of dementia.

What is still unknown is whether we can continue to create cognitive reserve later in life or if by remaining mentally active we are able to preserve that brain status for a longer period. But the new philosophy of use it or lose it has moved from the world of physical fitness into the mental health field.

The study reveals that brain fitness may be maintained simply by the stimulation of the work environment.

Institut DouglasStill, there were no findings to suggest that working longer would end the risk of Alzheimer’s. And others, like Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, noted that the study’s small sample size minimizes the ability to draw firm conclusions.

“There could be a number of reasons why later retirement in men is linked with later onset of dementia,” Sorenson told the BBC. “Men who retire early often do so because of health conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, which increase your risk of dementia.”

Time to Keep Working?

Sorenson went on to add that working helps keep your body active as well, another key factor to reducing the risk of dementia.

One aspect that was mentioned but received little discussion is that it might well be time to put an end to the notion of working full time until that one magic day when a person draws the retirement line. Currently, for many the process is a precipice that marks the end of the world of work and the start of the retirement years.

It would stand to reason that for a vast array of reasons, financial, societal (social security and medical impact), as well as mental, the shift away from the work world should be more gradual. Instead of calling it quits one day, older workers should be able to reduce both their weekly and their yearly number of hours on the job in a more gradual manner.

Brain images courtesy of jj_judes and Institut Douglas.

May 21, 2009   No Comments

Social Media Heads to Graduate School

Back in September we noted the gradual recognition within higher education of the merits of social media. At that time, based on the potential for social networking to revolutionize teaching and learning, we suggested that the moment had arrived for teacher preparation programs to consider providing all teachers some fundamental training in social networking tools.

C4ChaosWhile social networking may be able to help transform education, the use of such media to enhance the business world is already in full swing. Whether it be to establish their online brand, market services, or communicate with clients and corporate partners, businesses are now utilizing the likes of Facebook and Twitter as part of their everyday operation.

Given that development, it has become clear that universities would have to further acknowledge the importance of social media as legitimate area of inquiry. One college in the UK appears to have done just that – this fall Birmingham City University will offer a graduate level program that focuses on social media as a business tool.

However, not too surprisingly, the idea of a graduate program that entails the study of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter has not been met with universal acceptance.

Flickr photo courtesy of C4Chaos.

March 31, 2009   5 Comments