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Fighting School Absences

by Lauren 30. August 2013 16:37

 With schools across the nation now back in session, teachers not only have to focus on curriculum and lesson plans, but they also have to keep track of day- to-day classroom happenings- like students’ tardiness and attendance. Although schools have long promoted class attendance, especially with the overly familiar Perfect Attendance Award (hardly the coolest or most prestigious award to win), class attendance has dropped dramatically over the last few years. In a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that up to 15% of American students are chronically absent from school, meaning they missed one day for every ten. 

Similar research has found that 90,000 elementary school students miss more than one month of school each year. Here’s the bottom line: when students miss class frequently, it makes teachers’ jobs much more difficult, and students lose out on the learning time they so desperately need.

To combat the growing problem of chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or 18 days of the school year), the Advertising Council and the U.S. Army have teamed up to form a new campaign to promote attendance. Ads show how frequent absences diminish students’ possibility of graduating. The campaign launched at a critical time. September is now Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide initiative designed to show students how attendance contributes to higher grades and performance. Plus, since in September students are just getting familiar with classroom policies, it will be easier for teachers to stress the necessity of attendance at this time.

The campaign also appeals to parents, challenging them to think about why their kids miss school. Are their reasons for absences valid? Often parents don’t think attendance is really important until high school, while others don’t keep track of how many days students really miss. Going on vacation for a week, 3 or 4 sick days, and family emergencies all add up. It’s easy to see that parents have the biggest deciding factor in student absences; when 90,000 elementary students miss over a month of school, it’s hard to shift the blame to the youngsters, who have no control over transportation or family vacations.

Unfortunately, only six states and several larger school districts, including those in New York City & Oakland, California, measure chronic absenteeism. This means most schools across the U.S. don’t have the capabilities to track and follow up on student attendance. At most, a letter might get sent home with the student, but who knows if it actually ends up in a parent’s hands. In order to change the lax attitude about absences, students and parents need to have a shift in values, where class attendance and knowledge are a priority.

How is absenteeism handled in your school? If you’re a teacher, have you noticed student absences increase in the last several years? If you’re a parent, what reasons do you have for letting your child miss school? What are your thoughts about the Ad Council’s new campaign? Will it be effective?

For more information on the initiative to end chronic absences, visit BoostAttendance.org.  This website also has a Text2Track, where parents can track student absences.

Kentucky Aims to Approve Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

by Lauren 12. August 2013 09:01

After much resistance to the Next Generation Science Standards, the science equivalent to the Common Core State Standards for reading and mathematics, Kentucky education officials are now on their way to implement the NGSS state-wide. While in other states, accepting the NGSS has been standard procedure, Kentuckians voiced strong opinions against the standards, due to their emphasis on evolution. Clearly, the fight between evolution and creationism in schools is still very much alive.          

In fact, public opposition became so fierce that major news outlets, like The Huffington Post, published articles focusing on the evolution debate occurring in Kentucky. While the standards were being evaluated, the state received thousands of responses from residents. E-mails poured in, many of which claimed it was unethical to teach evolution to students “because it is a theory and not a fact.” Others claimed teaching evolution would ostracize religious students. Even more said teaching evolution interfered with students’ freedom of religion.

Although creationists pushed back, Kentucky education officials confirmed that evolution teachings are already a part of science curriculum in the state. Officials also told criticizers that much scientific evidence exists to confirm evolution. Ina recent statement, they said, “[evolution is] the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences.” They also stated, “there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.” To confirm the validity of Kentucky educational officials, over 3,700 people signed a petition in support of the standards. Those who support the standards hope they will eliminate scientific ignorance and keep Kentucky on the right track for a competitive science education program.

As of now, it seems like evolution won out for Kentucky schools. Before the NGSS is accepted though, the standards have to be passed by the General Assembly, where they could reach further opposition.  As other states begin to focus on the NGSS, tensions between evolution and creationism are expected to rise. This is one of the most contentious debates in education curriculum. Many believe the two are in direct conflict with one another, an unbridgeable gap that defies any attempt at crossing.

What are your thoughts on the evolution vs. creationism debate? Can harmony ever exist between the two-where evolution is in science class and creationism in religion class? How does your school deal with teaching evolution and intelligent design? Is one promoted over the other?

School Supply Prices on the Rise

by Lauren 25. July 2013 15:47

Yes, it’s that time of year again! With July quickly coming to a close, teachers, parents, and maybe even students now have their thoughts turned to the back-to-school season. For most of you, this time of year is filled with preparation-new classrooms, new students and teachers, and yes, even new school supplies. When I was younger, this feeling of preparation was one of the best parts of the back-to-school season. School supply shopping involved purchasing crisp folders and pristine notebooks, heralding a fresh start for the year.

Although I’m sure school supply lists have changed quite a bit since I was in grade school, one thing has always remained constant: price increases.The Backpack Index, an annual report from Huntington National Bank that analyzes changing school supply costs, reported that school supply prices are up an average of 7.3% this year, which no doubt will have a profound effect on schools, teachers, and parents.

The report calculated the cost of basic school supply items, like paper, pencils, and erasers, but it also looked at the rising costs for instrument rentals and sports or other extra-curricular fees. No matter what your student is involved in this upcoming school year, it’s certain more money will be spent. If you’re the parent of an elementary school student, you can expect to see prices that are up approximately 5.3% from last year. In fact, elementary school parents will probably pay up to $577 per child on school supplies and extra-curricular fees this year! The numbers are even larger if your student is in middle school or high school. A middle school student will need an average of $763 in supplies. High school students had the highest increase, a shocking average of $1,223 per child for school and extra-curricular necessities.

While parents are clearly affected, teachers also bear the brunt of increased supply costs. In fact, teachers spent an average of $347 of their OWN money on classroom supplies for the 2012-2013 school year. That number is expected to rise for 2013-2014.

So, what can be done? There are certain organizations that help out teachers and parents with school supply costs. Wal-Mart has a program that donates funds spent on school supplies to registered school districts. Adopt a Classroom enables individuals or businesses to adopt and donate funds to a classroom in need. Some organizations, like Crayons to Classrooms, located in LEP’s native city of Dayton, Ohio, provide free school supplies for teachers in under-funded K-12 districts.

What school supplies are noticeably higher this year? What methods do you use to save money on back-to-school shopping? Have you used any of the programs listed above? Feel free to share your experiences and money-saving ideas with other readers!


You can read the original story here:
http://fool.com/investing/businesswire/2013/07/23/huntington-banks-annual-backpack-index-finds-costs.aspx

Reinventing Summer School

by Lauren 19. July 2013 11:34

 In the past, summer school has been  used solely as a  remediation tool, where  students who have  failed classes or  missed much class time come  to make up their work in order  to proceed to the following grade level. Not so today. 


Many large school districts, like New York City,Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Providence, Charlotte, and LEP’s nearby Cincinnati Public School System, have decided to use summer classes as a means of preventing summer slide, bolstering knowledge, and reaching students in a more fun and relaxed learning environment.

In these reinvented summer schools, students cover the basics, like reading, writing, and mathematics, but they also benefit from creative activities, like art and music classes, as well as trips to local museums or theaters. This gives teachers the opportunity to truly make learning “fun” and work without the constraints they have placed upon them during the school year. In Jacksonville, a large number of students attend summer school not to make up classes, but to continue their education and prevent falling behind their classmates.

To fund these programs, many schools, especially fiscally challenged districts in Baltimore, Chicago, or Pittsburgh, have looked to philanthropic organizations. In Jacksonville, schools used federal stimulus dollars and a Wallace Foundation Grant to fund summer school programs. They also partnered with several nonprofit organizations, which helped the school set up a variety of field trips. It’s clear that many of these schools have had to get creative with funding, but no matter the source, students will reap the benefits.

In fact, summer slide can be truly problematic for teachers and students. Research shows that summer break causes students to lose at least one month of instruction per year. Low-income students are often disproportionately affected by summer slide. While students from higher economic backgrounds are often able to travel, go to camp, or even enroll in educational classes over the summer, low-income students might be stuck at home or daycare, where they often experience little to no educational stimulation.

With these factors in mind, many educators have long been pushing for a year-round school year, where students have short breaks throughout the year. Having the summers off was logical when students were affected by harvest time, but honestly, it doesn’t make much sense any more. Now, many students live in large cities or suburbs and both parents hold a full-time job, so summer break means sleeping in and spending the day at the pool, watching cartoons, or playing video games. However, summer break seems to be so ingrained in our society, it might be hard for students or parents to give it up. In the meantime, it looks like summer school may be students’ and teachers’ best bet to level the playing field and increase knowledge and engagement.

What do you think about reinvented summer school programs? How will they help students? What are the downsides to summer school? Is year-round school something our government should consider?

Common Core: Testing the Test

by Julie 26. June 2013 16:47

As the school year wrapped up, students were busy taking tests and showing how much they learned. According to Education Week, some students dropped the paper and pencils and instead used new online assessments, which is how the Common Core assessments are expected to administered. Like most practice rounds, some things went well but some problems crept up.



First the problems. Not all computers were created equally. Those that have been in use by schools for a number of years might not be able to use the same programs as more recent computers. If the assessments that are distributed to students are developed using recent technology, either all schools need to upgrade their systems or test makers need to keep in mind that not every student will have access to the same things. Although the tests are able to incorporate more, such as videos, by being online, there are still limitations.

Online tests bring other unique problems. Instead of having a piece of paper in front of them, students have to log in to access the test. They also have to be able to stay logged in. That didn’t always happen. Some students got kicked out of the system. The problem could be anything from the connection with the internet (especially for laptops) to the massive numbers of students in the system at one time. This is what testing the tests is for: to find and fix the problems.

Not everything went wrong though. Students seemed to easily get the hang of testing on the computer. But with the amount of exposure to different kinds of technology, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Many students are growing up learning how to use computers, smart phones, and tablets.

The practice tests also gave teachers a preview of what the Common Core assessments will be asking. Though the standards have already been provided, examples have not, and as we all know, interpretation can vary from person to person. Without sample questions, teachers are struggling to come up with a common understanding of what the standards are asking and the types of questions that students will encounter. Having seen examples, they should hopefully be able to better prepare their students.

Are you concerned about online testing? Or do you think that the capabilities outweigh the possible issues that come with it? How will you prepare students for the new format?

You can learn more about the results of the test here: http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/06/12/03commoncore.h06.html

Ability Grouping is Back in the Classroom

by Julie 12. June 2013 15:51


Gifted programs, honors courses, and accelerated courses are common in schools as a way to challenge students who are easily able to learn material. They are one way to bring more individualized attention to the classroom. Although each student may not get one-on-one attention, they are given more challenging coursework tailored to the abilities of high-achieving students

In the past, another way teachers brought this idea into the classroom was to group students in their own classroom by ability. But in the 1980's and 1990's, the practice of ability grouping came under fire.

Many people believed it forced students onto a specific path that they couldn’t escape. They thought that ability grouping led teachers to believe they couldn’t expect much from students in the low-achieving groups, so they would instead focus on the high-achieving students and leave the students that had difficulty understanding the material to fend for themselves.


Ability grouping was therefore eliminated from the classroom. Educators aimed lesson plans and techniques at the average student in an attempt to focus on the entire class. In reality though, this leaves out both the low-achieving and high-achieving students. The students who have difficulty understanding the material become frustrated with school. At the same time, those who easily understand the material become bored with school.

Recently, ability grouping has made a comeback according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. Teachers are once again grouping students together based on their abilities, whether that is their reading level in English courses or how well they understand the material in math. Students in the advanced group for English may be in a less advanced group for math and vice versa. As the lesson continues and testing occurs, the groups change. Students who have shown progress move to a more advanced group. Students who need more help with new material than the material in the last unit are moved to a less advanced group.

Activities and assignments are created for each group instead of giving every student the same worksheet. For the less advanced groups, activities could be created to help explain the basic concepts. For the more advanced groups, activities might involve more in-depth problem solving. Other grouping may be based on how students learn. For example, some groups may be based on hands-on activities and others may be based on reading the textbook and completing word-problem worksheets. This does mean that teachers will need to create multiple lesson plans, but it will bring more attention to the abilities of students and the ways individual students learn.

What do you think? Is ability grouping helpful or does it alienate students and draw attention to only one group? How would you group students and tailor activities to their needs?


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New Ways to Prevent Bullying

by Lauren 7. June 2013 08:57


While it’s clear that bullying is a major problem in schools throughout the U.S., there hasn’t been a clear- cut solution to solving the problem. Many schools have their own inventive solutions to prevent bullying, and some of these can often be controversial. This week, the school district in Monona, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison, passed an ordinance that allows police to fine the parents of chronic bullies. Parents are first notified in writing about their child’s bullying; if the child continues to act out against other students, parents can be
fined $114 in municipal court.

Reactions about Monona’s decision have been mixed. Many agree with the school’s decision, but others do not think fining parents really solves the problem. While it’s true that parents do play a critical role in shaping their child’s attitudes towards others, their efforts can only go so far. The question at Monona really seems to get down to issues of parent responsibility-should parents be “punished” if their child is a bully? Are parents the ones to blame? Are some kids more likely to become bullies because of personality, temperament, etc,-things that have little to do with parenting style? Should punishment be handed down to the parent, student, or both?

Monona schools maintain that they will be reasonable about enforcing the new ordinance. For instance, if parents are trying to solve the issue, there will be more leniency. However, if the parent is in denial about his/her child’s problem, then it might be time to talk about fines. Monona is one of the first school districts to implement a policy like this; its effectiveness remains to be seen. If it works, this could easily become a common policy in many schools.

Those at the National Bullying Prevention Center seemed pleased with Monona’s new plan. The Center is actively involved in increasing cooperation between schools, parents, and even law enforcement in order to stop bullying. The Center previously focused their attention on schools alone, but they have come to discover that their message is most effective when all three groups are involved. If students are taught about the negative effects of bullying from teachers, parents, and even law officers, they will have a better chance of building others up, instead of tearing them down. Bully prevention needs to be integrated in all three areas to positively impact American schools.

What’s your take on Monona’s decision to fine parents of bullies? Are the parents ultimately at fault? If not, who is? How do you think bullying can be prevented?

Check out some of these links about bully prevention:

National Bully Prevention Center
http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

Review for the documentary Bully, a film that shines the spotlight on bullying problems in schools: http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/movies/bully-a-documentary-by-lee-hirsch.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Bully Project http://www.thebullyproject.com/

The Pros and Cons of “Redshirting” in Kindergarten

by Lauren 29. May 2013 16:11
Although “redshirting” is a term usually associated with sports, it has also been linked to academic concepts. In the world of education, redshirting is when a parent decides to postpone his/her child’s kindergarten entry. In recent years, redshirting has become a common occurrence in many families. Somewhere between 4 and 5.5 percent of pre-kindergarteners are redshirted. Parents make this important decision for a variety of reasons. Some make the decision on the grounds of their child’s emotional or social immaturity, or they might think that making their child one of oldest in class will increase academic success or decrease the possibility of peer pressure. Even though redshirting has received a lot of attention lately, one important question needs to be asked: Does it really help students succeed and improve their educational growth?

According to a recent article from ABC News, results of redshirting are somewhat mixed. The article points to a report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2011, which shows that children who are redshirted and children who enter kindergarten on time have higher test scores than kindergarteners who are forced to repeat the grade again. So, in other words, it might be better for students to spend an extra year at home rather than repeat kindergarten. On the other side of the spectrum, entering a child into kindergarten too early can also be harmful to educational development. Clearly, parents know their children best and can ultimately decide when their children are ready for school. It seems like kindergarten preparedness is truly about the maturity (mental, social, emotional) of an individual child and has less to do with age.

Additionally, the long term effectiveness of redshirting is also being analyzed. According to certain reports, redshirting can help prevent students from repeating the third grade and can increase math and reading scores by the tenth grade. Redshirting was seen to be more helpful for male students and students from low-income homes. (Interestingly, redshirting is most popular with white, high-income families, which shows these students might actually benefit less than those from other economic backgrounds).

While the results for students are somewhat mixed, many teachers are leery of redshirting. It can be particularly problematic for them when they have a variety of ages represented in one classroom. Teachers might have a hard time catering lessons to four and a half year olds and six year olds. Student development differs greatly at these ages, and one group might have material that is too challenging, while another might not be challenged enough. Likewise, older students might develop a complex that they are always bigger, better, or smarter than their younger classmates, which will be problematic for them later on.

What do you think about redshirting? Teachers: have you had redshirted students in your class? How did they interact with younger students? Parents: have you redshirted your child or known someone who was redshirted? Did it improve their academic performance? Why did you decide to redshirt?

Spatial Skills May Be the Key to Success in Math Class

by Lauren 22. May 2013 16:27
Want your students to succeed in math class? According to new research, preschool and kindergarten students with strong spatial and motor skills are more prepared for elementary math than their counterparts. Claire E. Cameron, a research scientist at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, discovered that developing spatial and motor skills early on will help students understand math concepts and abstract reasoning later in life.

This development occurs when teachers have their young students cut paper, color inside the lines, and draw and copy shapes and patterns. Tasks like these can be extremely challenging for youngsters. They require students to sit still, grip the paper and pencil, and even hold a specific image in their mind before putting it onto the paper. Accomplishing these things allows students to develop their spatial and motor skills.

Interestingly, other researchers have discovered that a student’s fine-motor skills and general knowledge in kindergarten are good predictors of a student’s performance in eighth grade math and reading. These children have higher test scores, and they also behave better in class. Clearly, early education can have a major impact on students.  It’s no wonder that our leaders in education (including President Obama) are emphasizing the importance of preschool!

Additionally, Cameron’s research also offers an explanation for achievement gaps. Many low income preschools and kindergartens do not allow time for students to use construction paper, clay, stencils, or other materials that would help them build their spatial and motor skills. This means these students enter elementary behind others in their age group who already have a foundation for these important skills.

In South Carolina, researchers added spatial and motor activities to several high-poverty elementary schools. For forty-five minutes a day, four times a week, kindergarteners and first graders copied shapes, traced handwriting, and copied patterns and pictures. Building blocks and art projects were also used. Before this program was initiated the students had tested at the 30th percentile. After the program, their scores soared to the 47th percentile.

What do you think about Cameron’s findings? Does your school integrate spatial and motor skills into early learning programs? What other factors would help a student succeed in math class?

Try out LEP's Cut and Create books to help develop your student's motor and spatial skills! http://www.lorenzeducationalpress.com/results.aspx?srch=quick&cid=cut+and+create&c=cut+and+create&pg=1&rpp=30

How Helpful is Advanced Placement?

by Lauren 14. May 2013 09:40
This week, high school students across the country are taking their AP (Advanced Placement) exams. AP classes are offered in most high schools, and they allow students to earn college credit before darkening the doors of a university. High-achieving students can choose between a wide variety of AP classes; English Composition and American History are the two most popular courses. Depending on the institution, colleges usually offer class credit if a student scores a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP exam. Oftentimes, the credits allow students to skip out on introductory English, mathematics, or history classes. Although the popularity of AP classes continues to grow, some professors are questioning the classes’ ability to provide students with the academic foundation they need to succeed in college.

In fact, Dartmouth recently decided to stop honoring AP test scores. In other words, a 5 on the English Composition exam will put you in the same Dartmouth freshman English class as everyone else. According to an article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post, “Dartmouth College faculty, without considering any research, … voted to deny college credit for AP, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses and tests, all taught by those high school teachers who can’t be as good as they are.” Since the Dartmouth professors are experts in their fields, they don’t believe any high school class can possibly match up to what they have to offer in an ivy-league college course. Of course, Dartmouth still recommends their students take AP courses to prepare for college, but it won’t get students out of taking any fewer classes.

Other prestigious universities like Georgetown still give credit for AP courses, but many professors there are also worried students are missing out on important skills taught in freshman classes. Many introductory college courses focus on critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing sources, and research. AP allows students to miss out on these skills, skills that will be necessary throughout their college careers. Professors are particularly worried about students’ research abilities, and many believe AP should further emphasize the importance of research. In many high schools, students are not required to compose extended research papers, which could put them at a disadvantage in college.

While some schools like Dartmouth can afford to be picky about AP exams, many state schools try to offer as much AP credit as they can. For these schools, AP credit can be a major draw for students. An incoming freshman might easily choose the less expensive state school that will offer them 6 credit hours verses a private university that will offer them none.

Additionally, when thinking about AP, money also comes to mind. If students aren’t given credit for AP courses, more courses have to be taken, and more money goes to the university. Some students (like those who would be accepted at Dartmouth) might enter freshman year with 15-30 credit hours to their name. Thus, it’s more advantageous to the university to be selective about the AP scores they honor. Today, it is more common to only honor higher scores, like a 4 or 5, and pass over scores of 3.

Do you think AP exams prepare students for college? Do you think colleges should continue to honor AP scores? Do you think money plays a big part into honoring test scores? Do exempt freshman miss out on important information in their introductory classes?
 

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