Thursday, May 27, 2010

Books in the home and academic success

What this study probably shows is not remotely surprising: That high IQ people read more books -- and high IQ people do of course tend to have high IQ children. But you will find no mention of IQ below, of course. Right-thinking people reject any notion that academic ability is inherited, despite mountains of evidence to that effect. The fact that I have a Ph.D. and my son is working on one is mere coincidence

HOUSES full of books are clear indicators of the scholarly culture that grounds academic progress and can compensate for social disadvantage in some families according to a new study.

Children from households with 500 books were 33 per cent likelier to finish year 9 compared with those with none; they were 36 per cent likelier to graduate from high school; and 19 per cent likelier to complete university.

The findings were published this week in a paper titled Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Books and Schooling in 27 Nations, in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

Researchers at the University of Nevada, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Australian National University crunched the numbers from a variety of studies, some more than 20 years old, covering 70,000 cases across 27 nations, allowed for discrepancies and variables, and came up with an emphatically pro-book conclusion.

Australia rated well. Only 3 per cent of households had no books, 42 per cent had about 75 and 21 per cent had 500 or more.

Other strong performers included New Zealand, Canada, Norway, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Israel.

The researchers, led by Mariah Evans, now at the University of Nevada, but formerly of the University of Melbourne, are arguing the standard model of educational attainment should be extended to include scholarly culture, as measured by the number of books in the parents' home.

ANU's contributor to the study, Joanna Sikora, stressed the data was retrospective. So in the 1984 study, some of the respondents were already 65, while in the latter studies, in say 2003, some were quite young. "Every respondent was asked how many books they had in their house when they were 14 years of age," Dr Sikora said.

But the study doesn't allow for easy solutions to educational disadvantage. "The answer is not to get every household 200 books each and dump them on the doorstep and say 'problem fixed' - availability is not enough - we are talking about home library size as a base indicator. "Certainly, it's about reading but it's also about parents being around kids and enjoying and valuing books.

"Our study gives some insight into how upward social mobility occurs. Children from modest backgrounds with the advantage of a scholarly culture manage to move forward. Schools do their job too, of course."

While there is some cross-country variation in the study, results show there is no discrimination in terms of affluence, so scholarly culture confers as much, if not more, advantage in poor households in, say, China as it does in the US and western Europe.

The paper argues a book-oriented home endows children with the tools to succeed at school, from vocabulary to familiarity with good writing, from information to comprehension skills.

The study concludes children who grow up in a household with 500 books achieve, on average, 3.2 years more education than those who grow up with none.

"The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate and having university-educated parents," the study concludes.

What is more, a book-filled home turns out to be twice as important as the father's occupation. The largest gains were below university, at the years 9 and 12 levels.

Dr Sikora said the advent of the digital age, with electronic books, was no threat to the concept of scholarly culture.

"There will be an omnivore concept of literacy: all kids will be able to text and some will also have rich vocabularies and master various forms of expression," she said.


British coalition pledge on 'slimmed down' national curriculum

The national curriculum will be overhauled under a government plan to restore vital “bodies of knowledge” to lessons

A major review of the curriculum will be launched this year setting out the subject content children will be expected to master at each stage of education.

It is likely to emphasise rigorous content such as more geometry and algebra in primary maths, a focus on biology, chemistry and physics as separate sciences and the study of classical authors in English.

History lessons are likely to be based around a narrative of the past, covering key periods, the kings and queens and the Empire.

The review forms part of the new Education and Children’s Bill announced as part of the coalition government’s legislative programme on Tuesday.

Government sources said that the “slimmer” curriculum would prescribe subject content but give schools more freedom to decide how to teach lessons.

The Bill will also introduce a new reading test for 600,000 six-year-olds in England every year – identifying those struggling the most. This follows research showing that children who fail to master reading at a young age fall much further behind by the end of secondary school.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said an overhaul of the curriculum was vital to restore subject knowledge.

It follows controversy over Labour's last major review of the secondary curriculum which removed key figures such as Sir Winston Churchill and Hitler from history lessons and promoted a "skills-based" approach to education.

Speaking before the election, Mr Gove said that most parents supported a “traditional education” in which children learned the “kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11 [and] modern foreign languages”. He said: “Our aim will be to define the knowledge that each child should master at each stage in their development before they can move confidently onto the next stage of learning.

“We will give teachers, parents and students an appreciation of the core knowledge that is required in ever year and make clear what knowledge children in other countries are mastering at the same sage. “The curriculum review, however, will focus on what should be taught. We will not return to detailed prescriptions of how things are taught.”

Under the Bill, Ofsted will also be cut back, with a new remit focusing on “core educational goals” such as raising achievement and closing the gap between rich and poor pupils.

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Schools don’t need a tougher Ofsted, and a more prescriptive but narrower curriculum. “I urge the Government to initiate a fundamental review of the way in which schools are accountable to ensure that support follows any inspection, rather than punishment."

A separate Academies Bill – also announced as part of the Queen’s Speech – will pave the way for all state schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted to break free from local council control.

Under plans, as many as 2,000 schools will be able to convert into independent academies by this September, giving them power over budgets, buildings, staff, admissions and the length of the school day. For the first time, primary schools will be able to convert into academies, representing a radical departure from Labour.

Grammar schools will also be able to become academies – retaining their right to select by ability – although the new government insisted there would be no further expansion of the 11-plus.

The move has been branded “irresponsible” by teaching unions. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “These proposals to turn more schools into academies are just irresponsible. They have not been properly thought through and could end up making a mess of education provision through their unintended consequences.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “There is simply no evidence that academy schools perform better than traditional community schools. “It is staggering that a government which is committed to community empowerment is now seeking to disenfranchise democratically elected local councils who represent local people and deny them any say when proposals come forward to open new academy schools.”


'Not acceptable:' Nearly one-third of Oregon high school students drop out

But no sign that anybody in the system is acknowledging where the problems are -- only talk about "shining a light" on schools that do better than average

Only two of every three students in Oregon's class of 2009 graduated from high school in four years, while more than 14,000 dropped out along the way, the state education department reported Tuesday.

State Superintendent Susan Castillo said she hopes the startlingly low success rate galvanizes Oregonians to provide -- and demand that schools provide -- more student support. She said she plans to shine a light on districts including Hillsboro and Tigard-Tualatin that, without extra funding, use systematic approaches to get standout results.

"As a state, this is not acceptable, absolutely not, and we have got to have a coordinated effort on this," she said. "Whether you have kids or not, this matters to you. When students are not getting the education they need, we all pay the price."

This year represented only the second time, and the first time that will count toward school performance ratings, that Oregon measured high school graduation rates in a new, more accurate way.

Under the old method, which allowed thousands of teens who didn't earn diplomas to slip away without being counted, Oregon would have posted an 85 percent graduation rate for the class of 2009.

Federal rules will require all states to use the new method for the class of 2011. Oregon is ahead in making the switch, so state-by-state comparisons can't be made yet.

High school dropout rates in Oregon are high. Portland Public Schools, graduated 53 percent of its students on time, one of the worst rates in the state. Nearly 100 students apiece dropped out from the class of 2009 at Wilson, Cleveland, Franklin, Marshall and Roosevelt high schools, and hundreds more quit alternative schools.

Among low-income students, the on-time graduation rate was 50 percent or so at Lincoln, Wilson, Cleveland and Grant, generally considered among the city's best high schools.

Low graduation rates are a primary reason that Portland Superintendent Carole Smith has called for redesigning the district's high schools.

"This is a sobering confirmation," said Zeke Smith, her chief of staff. "There isn't any (school) you can point to where we've got raging success. Seeing that low-income students, even in our highest-income school, are not meeting graduation rates anywhere near the levels we would want them to is a stark reminder of the inequities."

Getting a high school diploma matters, said Alex Madsen, a student in Oregon's class of 2009 who nearly dropped out of Portland's Benson High his junior year. He's completing a fifth year of high school at Alliance High, a district-run alternative school, and will get that diploma next month.

In Tigard-Tualatin, Oregon's 10th largest school district, 81 percent of students graduated in four years. That included 56 percent of students with disabilities, a sharply higher rate than in most districts


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