Roundup VI

A UC Irvine professor has found that math skills among kindergartners turn out to be a key predictor for future academic success. Professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues examined results from studies done on 20,000 kindergartners, following them through elementary school, testing them in reading and math. Even after factoring in differences in IQ and family income, Duncan found that those who learned the most math in kindergarten tended to have the highest math and reading scores years later. He has a book out titled, “Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.”

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The Obama administration has launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, designed to attract more students into STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.Keep your eyes out for a series of events and announcements designed to bring more students into the fields and address the key components of this (much needed) national priority. Education News points out that in the 1950s, GE printed millions of comic books to interest students in science and math. Word is, an initiative like that might be headed our way next. Not a bad idea.

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A new study found evidence that even a single year with a great teacher can have a lasting impact on your child’s future education and earnings. As the New York Times reported, “Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime – or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class – all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. … Great teachers not only raised test scores significantly – an effect that mostly faded within a few years – but also left their students with better life outcomes. A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students earning almost 1 percent more at age 28.” Harvard researcher Raj Chetty based the study on a huge database of 1 million students followed from fourth grade to adulthood. The report received widespread attention in the media on Jan. 11.

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A friend gave me “The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens” by Brooke Hauser, a journalist who spent months following the students at International High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a quick and very engaging read. I posted on Twitter how much I liked it and got an email from the author. The drama of the book, as she pointed out to me, was that that the students she met “were also learning America: Some had never left their villages before coming to the U.S., and suddenly found themselves having to navigate mass transit in New York City. Other students were dealing with cultural traditions from their native countries that made it harder to adapt to life here – pressure to get married, for instance.” She said, she “admired the staff at the International High School for working with such variable circumstances and trying to see each student in context. It’s important to remember that, while language is a crucial part of a student’s education, there are many social and cultural experiences that should be factored in as well.” I recommend the book highly for anyone interested in education and the challenges and opportunities of successfully integrating an immigrant population.

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A well-educated and successful 46-year-old mother of four felt so bad about the stress that her teenage son was under studying for the SATs that she took the SATs herself, seven times in 2011 trying to get to a perfect score.She was unable … but offers an amusing, insightful chronicle of her exploits on her blog, “The Perfect Score Project” (perfectscoreproject.com) and a recent issue of Psychology Today. She tried almost every major available kind of test prep resource and I’ll post her findings in a future column.

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“It’s painful to watch a child lose. But it’s no favor to the kid to postpone that experience,” writes Julia Steiny in a great piece on theeducationnews.org website, entitled, “We’re On the Verge of Protecting our Kids into Incompetence.” Ouch.

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Hercampus.com did a report on the highest paying jobs right out of college, as well as what kind of companies in those fields are hiring and found:
10. Information sciences $54,038 (Amazon, OkCupid, Merck, Vivismo)
9. Industrial engineer $57,734 (Sony, Toys R Us, Mayo Clinic)
8. Financial analyst $60,000 (Accountants Int’l, Bond St. Group, Vaco Resources)
7. Registered nurse $61,000 (hospitals and clinics)
6. Quality engineer $65,000 (Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Deloitte)
5. Network engineer $68,500 (Bloomberg, Hulu, Vivisimo)
4. Business analyst $69,500 (United Healthcare, Sovereign Bank, CapGemini)
3. Software engineer $72,500 (Sage Software, Yelp, IBM, Google)
2. Investment banking analyst $73,000 (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley)
1. Systems engineer $77,500 (Barclays, Facebook, Salesforce)

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January is when parents and students should be making summer plans if they include camps or summer academic enrichment programs. These sleep-away experiences, even if they are only a week long, are a great way for students to experience life on a campus or away from home. Camps can be expensive though, so I am going to try to pass along information about residential camps and summer programs that are less than $1,000 a week, with some as low as $350. One of my favorites is the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA), a prestigious four-week summer session for ninth-through-12th-graders at the CalArts campus near Hollywood. Students choose their area of concentration and receive intensive training from professionals in music, theatre, video and film, visual arts, dance, creative writing and animation. At $1,550 for four weeks, this is a bargain, as it covers room, board and tuition and further financial aid is available. Applications must be postmarked by Feb. 28 (www.csssa.ca.gov) and about half of all candidates are accepted. If you know of other great, relatively inexpensive programs, please let me know.

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Each fall, the U.S. Department of Education announces which K-12 schools have received “Blue Ribbon” designation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this program “is part of a larger effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices.” The other program you frequently hear about run by the Department of Education is the California Distinguished School Award, which honors California’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools. Schools selected for the Distinguished School Award demonstrate significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap.

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Family Circle magazine ran an interesting article in the most recent issue on whether students should get As for doing their homework, being on time and all-around good behavior, or should top marks only go to students who master the material. Amazingly, the article works off the assumption that most schools grade via the former basis, not the latter, but I’ve had trouble finding statistics on this. Author Peg Tyre recently wrote a book titled “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.”

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The book, “How to Be a High School Superstar,” by Cal Newport, suggests three tips for better grades: 1 – Disconnect. He suggests that each night students unplug the cable that connects their computer to the modem, wrap it around their cell phone and hand the bundle to a parent until the work is done. 2 – Follow the fortnight rule. He says a calendar should be hung in a central location and all deadlines, tests and due dates should be posted. Look ahead two weeks and plan accordingly. 3 – Never highlight. Newport believes that top students all study the same way … by explaining textbook concepts out loud in complete sentences. He says it leads to better comprehension than highlighting, in less time.

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Wondering what all the talk is about regarding common core standards? Up until recently, the standards for what students should know and be able to do has varied dramatically from state-to-state. In 2010, a national initiative was launched with the aim of developing “common core standards” for grades K-12. Calfornia has been very active in helping to develop these standards. Any changes in what the state’s schools teach is now being phased in gradually, but if you want to learn more about how this is playing out at your school in particular, you might ask your curriculum director or principal. The end goal is to be able to compare student performance across states (apples to apples rather than apples to oranges).

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Apple made a big announcement last week that is expected to “reinvent” the school textbook. It announced two new applications: iBooks 2 (a free download for iPads) and iBooks Author (a tool to create interactive iPad lessons. The new interactive books would cost $14.99, much less than today’s paper textbooks, and could be updated continually. Most amazing is that they have teamed up with the publishers responsible for 90 percent of the school textbooks used in the United States today. Apple also said it was expanding iTunes U beyond college content to include elementary and high schools, allowing teachers put their lectures online.

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In the meantime, students at universities or junior colleges, should consider www.campusbookrentals.com to rent their textbooks rather than buying them. On average, it costs about one third as much to rent a book as to buy a used copy. Round trip shipping is free. At the end of the semester, you have the option to buy the book for the used price if you want to own it. Locals have found that, among the various options, www.campusbookrentals is the cheapest and easiest company to work with.

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Research shows that what kids eat can affect their learning in significant ways. Food scientists have identified foods that detract from a child’s brain functions and those that can help build healthy brains today and long-term. The four brain foods they cite that you and your kids might actually enjoy are: oatmeal (has been associated with improved special and short-term memory tests, as well as auditory attention tests); frozen blueberries (contain antioxidants associated with increased memory and cognitive functioning); eggs (high in protein and choline, which is essential to our memory stem cells); and flaxseeds (great source of omega-3s which promote improved learning capacity and can be thrown into most recipes). So what are cited as the brain drain foods? Foods high in additives, food colorings and refined sugar. Read more about brain foods at www.greatschools.org.

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