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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Today, in Tulsa and throughout the nation, we hear lots of talk about education reform.  At Camp Fire, we believe we need a parallel discussion of “informal education” reform.  We’re talking about ensuring that all children have the same opportunities for enriching experiences beyond the classroom.

Three items in the Sunday, August 2, 2009 New York Times relate to our concern that too many underprivileged youngsters fall behind their more affluent peers because they lack access to what most of us take for granted.

The first item, an article titled, “School is out for summer, but education doesn’t end for Obama children,” details all the enriching experiences Sasha and Malia Obama are enjoying during their summer vacation.  A trip with the President and First Lady where the girls not only enjoyed the beach in Ghana, but received a history lesson as they toured a former slave prison.  Visits to Camp David, giving service by helping stuff backpacks for children of service men and women, healthy eating, exercise and plenty of time for good, old-fashioned summer fun – activities similar to those enjoyed by millions of children across the country.

The second item, a Nicholas Kristof editiorial, “How to Lick a Slug,” recounts the writer’s backpacking trip along the Pacific Coast Trail with his 11 year old daughter.  He concludes by lamenting the lack of opportunities for youngsters to experience the out-of-doors and urges readers to “acknowledge that getting kids awed by nature is as important as getting them reading.”

The third item – an ad for Sea Island resort on the coast of Georgia – reads “In a few short weeks your kids will be in school.  How do you want them to remember summer?”  The ad features a happy family having fun at this pricey resort.  When I see this ad, my thoughts go straight to the kids whose families can’t even afford a trip to a nearby state park and their neighborhood park has been closed due to city budget cuts.

Anyway – all three of these items highlight what researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) and other education reformers call “Complementary Learning” – quality early childhood care, safe and constructive afterschool experiences, summer camp, family vacations, trips to museums, historical sites and libraries (if not libraries, more likely bookstores), performing arts and sporting events, amusement parks, plus homework help and tutoring if needed.  HFRP researchers and other education professionals (Edmund Gordon, James Comer) suggest that poor children’s lack of access to complementary learning opportunities fuels the achievement gap in education between more affluent/white and poor/minority children.  Concerted efforts in communities like Tulsa have the potential to level the playing field by ensuring that we provide a comprehensive system of affordable and accessible out-of-school time activities and opportunities for children from families that struggle to make ends meet.

To read more about complementary learning, go to http://www.hfrp.org/complementary-learning

Bobbie Henderson is Executive Director of the Green Country Council of Camp Fire USA. Camp Fire is a coeducational youth development program that provides youth of all types opportunities for leadership and self-reliance, environmental education and outdoors activities, and after school and child care programs. Read more about Camp Fire at www.tulsacampfire.org and www.campfireusa.org.

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“The most important ‘post-high school’ education and training reform is a strong early childhood and elementary and secondary education system.”

– From the Council of Economic Advisors report “Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow

By the way, you are owed a substantive post from me and you shall get it. Get excited!

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Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and author of several books on 21st century teaching, skills, and education, will deliver a public lecture tomorrow at Holland Hall at 7:30 pm. The event will be held in the Branch Theatre of the Walter Arts Center, 5666 E. 81st St.

Holland Hall is working with Tulsa Public Schools to consider more effective practices in TPS high schools, including a look at Holland’s interdisciplinary American Studies program.

(Via Tulsa World.)

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David Blatt at the Oklahoma Policy Institute details some odd alliances in the Oklahoma legislature over education reform:

But on SB 1111, a bill authored by Sen. Clark Jolley that moves various education reporting and accountability functions from the State Department of Education to the Office of Accountability based with the Regents for Higher Education, it was four mostly liberal Democrats (Anastasia Pittman, Rebecca Hamilton, Seneca Scott, and Jabar Shumate), representing some of the lowest-income urban districts in the state, who joined with 54 of 59 Republicans to pass the bill in the House and send it to Governor Brad Henry…

The vote on SB 1111 suggests that on educational issues, old assumptions and old alliances seem to be breaking down. The bill represents at least the third time in three years that Oklahoma Democrats representing low-income urban districts have opposed their party leadership and most of the organized educational interest organizations on education bills.

What gives?

At its essence, these battles represent a profound frustration and disappointment in the poor performance of public schools in low-income, disproportionately-minority urban neighborhoods and a belief that poor families deserve a wider array of choices for their children.

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A new study in the journal Science found that a confidence-building exercise in the seventh grade lifted the grade point averages of low-performing black students through the end of eighth grade. The New York Times reports

The researchers, led by Geoffrey L. Cohen, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado, had seventh graders in suburban Connecticut schools do the assignment three to five times through that school year. It asked them to choose from a list values that were most important to them — including athletic ability, sense of humor, creativity and being smart — and to write why those values were so important. The students were randomly assigned, within classes, to do the exercise or a control assignment that was not focused on their values.

In previous studies, researchers had found that such exercises reduced stress and the fear of failure in some students. By the end of eighth grade, among black students who were struggling, those who had expressed in writing their most important values had an average G.P.A. that was 0.4 points higher than those who had not. (emphasis mine)

The study found no impact on white students or black students that were already performing well.

The reduction of stress may be particularly crucial, since evidence increasingly points to the damaging effects of stress on the developing brain.

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Chad Aldeman writes for InsideHigherEd that selective colleges and universities ought to scrap their admissions systems and replace it with a lottery:

Each year, thousands of qualified applicants bombarded the admissions office, and, even after setting a relatively high standard, the admissions office had far too many qualified applicants to choose from, and very little time to do so. During admissions season, each officer was expected to sort through 50 distinct applications per day, five days a week. At eight hours a day, not counting breaks, meetings, visitors, and phone calls, the admissions officer had roughly 10 minutes to devote to each applicant (eight hours a day times 60 minutes per hour divided by 50 applicants). Ten minutes, unless, as my friend points out, they were athletes or legacies.

At many institutions, in other words, it is a far more random process than colleges would like students to believe. The myth of a meritocracy, on which the selective admissions system is built, is substantially a lie.

Selective colleges did not mean for this to happen; rather, they are victims of their own success, along with the emergence of a truly national higher education market and the rise of a rankings-driven consumer culture. But, there is no going back now, so colleges should embrace the unavoidable randomness and go from a lottery-like system to a true lottery.

A lottery would destigmatize admissions rejections (and dramatically reduce pressures on high school students), eliminate favoritism for children of alumni and donors, stop preferences for students that don’t need financial aid, provide equal opportunities to less socially connected students, and allow universities to transfer their spending on admissions departments into more productive areas like scholarships.

But because the lottery would rely on minimum eligibility standards such as GPA and SAT scores, the system would reinforce the biases found in testing. Aldeman would probably argue that the current system already does this and that this system is simply more transparent about it. It would also, I think, encourage an even greater flood of applications, thus even further lowering the odds of a student being admitted to her preferred institution. After all, how many students meeting minimum SAT requirements would choose NOT to apply to Harvard if it were simply a lottery?

What are some of the likely implications of this sort of thing on the least advantaged students? Would the benefits to low-income and under-represented populations (such as equalizing the playing field) be worth giving up the ability to explain one’s unique circumstances and demonstrate a likelihood for success? Or does that really not matter anyway in today’s admissions world?

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Pretty stark, eh?

Hat tip: Quck and the Ed.

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