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Monday, August 29, 2011

Survey finds that teens FaceBook users are more likely to use drugs

Teens who use social networking sites daily are up to five times more likely to smoke tobacco or marijuana or drink alcohol, according to a new study released Wednesday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The survey of 12-to-17-year-olds found that teens who visit Facebook or Myspace daily (70 percent of those surveyed) are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana compared to those who don't visit the sites on a typical day.
Joseph Califano, chairman of the organization that conducted the study, told The Chicago Tribune that the public nature of s may make teens think drug use is more common than it is. More than half of students surveyed said they had seen photos on social networking sites of their friends drinking alcohol or doing drugs. "I think there's no question there's a relation there," Califano told the Tribune.
Here are some other notable findings from the survey:
-- One in five teens reported being cyber bullied. Cyber bullied teens were more than twice as likely to use alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco than teens who weren't bullied online.
-- Teens who have dinner with their family five to seven times a week are much less likely to use drugs than teens who have dinner with their families three times a week or fewer.
-- Sixty eight percent of teens who have tried tobacco have also tried marijuana.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Americans Still Trust Teachers, but Question the Value of Unions

Governors and teachers' unions are going head-to-head in several states across the country, and the public feels caught in the middle, a new survey on the public’s perception of U.S. schools finds. When those polled were asked how teachers' unions have affected the quality of U.S. public education, 47 percent said unions hurt it. But even so, 52 percent said they side with unions in disputes with governors over collective bargaining. This year’s annual poll by Phi Delta Kappa International and the Washington-based Gallup Organization, released Wednesday, digs deep into the issues surrounding teachers, including unions, salaries, hiring/firing practices, and curriculum flexibility.
In a statement regarding the poll results, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten highlighted the public’s siding with unions over governors. But she, like others who weighed in on the survey, expressed concerns about the way questions regarding the unions were phrased. William J. Bushaw, the executive director of PDK, which is based in Bloomington, Ind., addressed those concerns in a conference call with reporters. “Whenever we want to use or show longitudinal change, we absolutely have to ask the question in the same way it was asked originally,” Mr. Bushaw said.
Job Review on Teachers
How important do you think each of the following factors should be in determining a public school teacher’s salary: level of academic degree earned, years of teaching experience, scores the teacher’s students receive on standardized tests, evaluations conducted by the principal? In 1976 and in 2011, the question was phrased: “Has unionization, in your opinion, helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of public school education in the United States?” Back in 1976, a smaller percent of those polled, 38 percent, felt that unions hurt education, compared to today. Teachers' unions were also far less influential then, and a much higher percentage of people polled said they were undecided on the issue of how teachers' unions affect education. In 1976, 13 percent didn’t have a strong opinion on teachers unions’ impact on education quality, whereas today only 2 percent didn’t know or refused to answer where they stood in regard to unions.
Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, based in Carrboro, N.C., said it was not surprising how the public feels about teachers' unions, given that both the unions and the policymakers are locked in a 20th century debate over education while the public is waiting for 21st century education reform. But the teachers' unions and their state and local affiliates, he said, are not all the same, and they can do bad as well as good. “The unions are not monolithic in this country, and there are a number of them, though not enough, that are the harbinger of reform,” Mr. Berry said. The poll was conducted June 4-13, using a nationally representative sample of 1,002 adults, ages 18 and older. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4 percent.

Recruitment and Investment

Looking past the unions to the individuals themselves, the survey shows the public has a generally positive view of teachers. Nearly three out of four of those surveyed said they had confidence and trust in teachers today, and two out of three said they would be in favor of their child becoming a public school teacher. It wasn’t just their own children they wanted to become teachers—they wanted the highest-achieving high school students to be recruited for the classroom. “It’s clear that Americans recognize the importance of getting quality students to become the next generation of teachers,” Mr. Bushaw said.
The poll, in this way, points out some of the areas where current policy and public opinion don’t match up, said Thomas Toch, the co-founder of the Education Sector think tank and the current executive director of Independent Education, a Washington-area private school consortium. The public wants to find and retain the highest-quality teachers, and it wants to compensate them based on a number of factors, with student test scores being the least important. Experience, academic degree, and principal evaluations all ranked higher than test scores in the survey. Merit-pay, an important element of the Obama administration’s education agenda, calls for great emphasis to be placed on student test scores when determining teachers’ salaries.  “This poll today shows a much more sophisticated public that is willing and ready to invest in teachers,” Mr. Berry said.

Politics of the Poll

Despite the discrepancy between the public and federal officials over merit-pay policies, the public’s rating of President Barack Obama’s performance in support of public schools shot up seven points from last year. ("Fewer Americans Back Obama’s Education Programs," August 25, 2010.) This year, 41 percent of the survey’s respondents gave the president an A or B, with most votes falling along party lines. Mr. Toch said this finding shows people are looking less at what the president has done and more at who he is. Only 2 percent of Republicans gave him an A, even though many of his initiatives, such as merit pay and charter schools, are reforms long embraced by their party, Mr. Toch said.
The administration has also taken strong stances on the issues of school choice and private school vouchers. While vouchers continue to lose popularity among those polled, approval of school choice, in general, and charters has steadily climbed. Survey results show that 70 percent of Americans approve of charters, part of a 10-year-long upward trend. “This poll suggests charter schools have established themselves as a significant and permanent fixture on the education landscape,” Mr. Toch said.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Should Schools Teach Evolution in the Classroom

The debate over teaching evolution in public schools is heating up again in Texas as the state school board opens public hearings today on what online science materials to recommend to teachers, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Because of a state budget crunch, the state is opting for online materials over expensive new textbooks. One sticky issue is whether online materials for science classes should include the teaching of "creationism" or "intelligent design" as the possible source of life on Earth.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott has recommended nine high school biology options, but none include intelligent design or creationism, The Dallas Morning News reports. "None of the mainstream publishers were going to go that far," says Josh Rosenau, policy director at the National Center for Science Education, the American-Statesman reports.

The 15-member school board now includes six members of a conservative bloc instead
of seven, following the defeat of one of the most outspoken advocates of intelligent design. After holding public hearings, the board will vote Friday on what materials to recommend. Barbara Cargill, the new board chairperson appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, recently told a group of conservative activists that she and her allies on the board would try to "rectify and correct" how evolution and natural selection is handled by some publishers, the American-Statesman reports. She wants to modify one submission that shows human and gorilla embryos side by side and indicates that the similarities reflect common descent, the newspaper says.

Although the board will make recommendations, a new law gives local schools greater latitude to buy what they want for required lessons if they don't like what the state board has approved. "It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education," says Dan Quinn, spokesman for Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that monitors the religious right, the American-Statesman reports.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bullying in Schools Lead to Lower Test Scores

Bullying in hallways and locker rooms is linked to lower test scores in the classroom for high school students, a new study finds. In schools where bullying is frequent, school-wide passing rates on standardized tests are as much as 6 percent lower than in schools without a lot of bullies, researchers reported on Aug. 7 at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.

It's not known whether the bullying directly causes lower test scores or whether a bad school climate incubates both bullying and bad test scores, according to University of Virginia psychologist Dewey Cornell and his co-researchers. Research shows that bullying can harm victims both mentally and physically. Bullies themselves are also at risk for mental health problems and substance abuse.

As part of an ongoing study of the safety of Virginia high schools, the researchers compiled surveys about bullying in 2007 from more than 7,300 ninth-graders and about 3,000 teachers at 284 Virginia high schools. The surveys defined bullying as "the use of one's strength or popularity to injure, threaten or embarrass another person on purpose. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It is not bullying when two students of about the same strength argue or fight."
In schools where students reported severe bullying, passing rates on standardized tests for algebra I, earth science and world history ranged from 3 percent to 6 percent lower than in relatively bully-free schools. "This difference is substantial because it affects that school's ability to meet federal requirements and the educational success of many students who don't pass the exams," Cornell said.

Cornell and his colleagues theorize that bullying could distract students who are more worried about surviving the day than passing a test. Alternatively, schools with more bullies might be more dysfunctional in general. Teachers might also be distracted from classroom time by having to discipline bullies.

"Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance," Cornell said. "This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a school-wide problem rather than just an individual problem."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Teachers in Missouri are not allowed to FB Students

Under a new law that takes effect Aug. 28, teachers in the Show-Me State will no longer be able to “friend” students on popular social networking sites like Facebook. Instructors can still set up public pages or groups to post homework assignments or share resources, but individual friendships or communication will be illegal.

Missouri is the first state in the nation to pass such a law, which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon last month. Dubbed the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act,” it was inspired by a Missouri student who was molested and assaulted by a junior high school teacher. The bulk of the bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jane Cunningham, deals with preventing sexual abuse of students, more thorough background checks of teachers and district employees and banning registered sex offenders from serving on local school boards. While agreeing that children need the best possible protections from sexual abuse, critics believe the law will hamstring teachers who want to communicate with students on their 21st century cyberturf.

“The problem is, there is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of these types of laws and guidelines that make it very hard for a teacher to know what they can or cannot do in the classroom,” said William Stites, director of technology for the Montclair Kimberly Academy in New Jersey and former third-grade teacher. Mr. Stites is also blogger in chief at, which advocates the use of Facebook, Twitter and other technological tools in education. “They’re going to spend all of this time letting people know what they can and can’t do, and the technology is going to go right past the law.”

The Missouri State Teachers Association vows to fight the social media provisions of the law in the next legislative session, said spokesman Todd Fuller. But the union may face an uphill battle — the bill passed unanimously in the Missouri Senate and was approved with strong bipartisan support in the House. Proponents sold the bill as being necessary to protect students from sexual predators, and the language dealing with social media and websites is confined to three lines near the end of the bill. The law comes at a time when an increasing number of teachers are relying on Facebook and other online tools to communicate with their students, said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, which represents more than 100,000 educators nationwide and supports the use of technology in the classroom.

Among other things, Mr. Knezek said many teachers hold “virtual office hours” on Facebook, providing students with homework help for a few hours in the evening or on weekends. Other instructors post news articles or other relevant material on students’ Facebook pages, he said. “It’s really bothersome to think that you’re taking modern communication and interaction and forbidding teachers from participating in that,” Mr. Knezek said. “You’re causing schools to be one-dimensional.”

Critics of the law admit that there are teachers with bad intentions who may abuse Facebook, Twitter or other sites in dealing with their students. But using those cases as the basis for such a far-reaching law, they argue, is short-sighted. Mr. Fuller said most Missouri school districts already have policies in place to deal with teacher-student interactions outside the classroom. Leaving those decisions in the hands of local leaders, he added, is the best way to address potential problems.
Proponents counter that teachers are still free to communicate with students via email, since the law only mentions “websites.” But for many of today’s students, email could soon join the abacus and typewriter on the technological scrap heap. “Students don’t answer email anymore. Email is not cool,” Mr. Fuller said, relaying comments he hears regularly from Missouri teachers. “We have trouble reaching our students through mediums that they feel are ancient.”

Getting a college degree pays off

Higher education leads to better paying jobs and by 2018 almost two thirds of all occupations in the United States will require a college degree, according to a new study.

Researchers at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that lifetime earnings for college graduates are higher than for non-graduates, and workers with degrees in science, technology or engineering earn the most.

'The most lucrative major is petroleum engineer, but any major that has a strong mathematical basis has very high earnings out of college and long-term earnings that are really stellar,' said Anthony Carnevale, a co-author of the study.

The lowest paying degrees are those in education, counseling and the arts and liberal arts come somewhere in the middle.

'You can do pretty well with a liberal arts degree, and many end up going to graduate school,' he said.

In 1973, only 28 percent of jobs required a college degree but by 2018 the number is expected to rise to 63 percent, according to the study.

Carnevale and his colleagues, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, who examined life-time earnings by education level and by occupation, age, race/ethnicity and gender, said the unemployment rate for people without college degrees is about twice that of people with degrees.

'The difference in earning between those who go to college and those who don't is growing—meaning that postsecondary education is more important than ever,' they said in the study.

They also uncovered a persistent gap between the wages of college-educated men and women and between different ethnic and racial groups.

'On average, to earn as much as men with a bachelor's degree, women must obtain a doctoral degree,' according to the study.

'Similar gaps also exist by race and ethnicity. African Americans and Latinos earn less than their white counterparts, even among the most highly-educated workers.'

Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the independent Lumina Foundation which sponsored the research, said that the United States now ranked below other countries in a global list of 25-34 year-olds with college degrees.

'It's not that the U.S. is doing any worse but other countries are doing a lot better ... because we are seeing other countries invested in that talent and skill development,' he said in an interview.

He added that enrolling more Americans in college was a key factor in keeping America competitive.

Merisotis suggested that rather than build new universities, American schools should find new ways to get the most out of colleges that already exist.