Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where there are fewer of them, kids do better in schools

Although it is impolite to mention it, the USA does have a strong social class system.  And these results are a typical social class effect.  The lower the social class the higher the number of children.  So what the authors found was just a familiar social class effect:  Higher social class kids are more likely to do more schooling.  All the other explanations they mention below are unproven, a violation of Occam's razor

I had a look at the detailed results and note that they DID find a stronger effect in richer neighborhoods -- which is consistent with what I have just said.  They found no effect of education, however, which is INconsistent with what I have just said.  That may simply confirm a popular stereotype:  That in America, money is king. 

More likely, however, it shows that social class is complex with no one objective indicator being crucial.  Subjective class identification may be the best single indicator.  I have discussed these issues at some length long ago

One should also mention another taboo subject: IQ.  High IQ people have fewer children and tend to have high academic ability, which they pass on to their kids.  So just one component of social class -- IQ -- could explain the results all by itself.  While they are constrained by political correctness, American social researchers will continue to do inconclusive research that leads nowhere

For decades, communities across the USA have tried all manner of raising high school graduation rates: higher academic standards, better school funding, stricter testing and calls for arts, vocational, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

New research suggests there’s another way to raise graduation rates: simply increase the number of adults in a community.

Combining decennial U.S. Census and education data, a pair of researchers has found that improving the ratio of adults aged 25+ to school-aged children helps keep kids on a path to graduation. More adults in a neighborhood means a bigger “web of supports” that benefit all kids, said Jonathan Zaff, a developmental psychologist, executive director of the Center for Promise at Boston University School of Education and the lead researcher on the project.

It’s those relationships that young people need in order to be successful in school, he said.

The new research finds that for every seven adults a neighborhood adds, one fewer young person leaves school. The effect is even greater in upper-income neighborhoods, data suggest.

Researchers have long explored the adult-to-child ratio idea as it relates to crime policy, Zaff said, but the new findings are the first to apply it to schooling.

He said more research is needed to pinpoint exactly why a healthier youth-to-adult ratio aligns with better school outcomes. But it makes a certain kind of sense, since the primary role of adults has long been to teach, guide and provide social norms for young people.

When they’re not around to do that job, Zaff said, “then young people will turn to their peers — they’ll turn to their own devices, in a sense, in order to really figure things out. And what we see from the literature is that when that happens, when you don’t have the guidance of adults, the outcomes typically are not as positive.”

He noted, for instance, that international development researchers have long studied the “youth bulge” that results in developing nations when they experience civil wars or epidemics that kill a lot of adults.

“All of a sudden there are few adults, but there are a whole lot of young people without (their) guidance and support,” Zaff said. “That’s when you get things like child soldiers and people who don’t go to school — and a lot of other negative outcomes.”

The new research comes courtesy of America’s Promise Alliance, a centrist Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that closely tracks U.S. high school graduation rates — it has publicly pushed for a 90% graduation rate by the end of the decade. At last count, the USA’s graduation rate hovered around 82%, a record high, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The group on Monday posted an interactive tool that allows users to compare youth-to-adult ratios by Census tract and overlay the percentage of youth either not in school or unemployed.

Why do low-income neighborhoods tend to have fewer adults? Possible culprits: higher rates of incarceration, adult mortality and single parenthood, for instance.

On the flip side, in wealthier neighborhoods with higher birth rates, families’ higher incomes can make up for the lack of adults-per-child, Zaff said. He offered the example of two of the USA’s wealthiest communities, both in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., with “amazing” schools and other amenities that keep graduation rates high.

“If you go to a place like Bethesda or Potomac, there are so many resources around the young people that it can make up for the lack of adult capacity,” he said. Wealthy communities “can, in a sense, afford those kids.”

But he noted that one key indicator — adults’ education levels — actually had an interesting relationship to graduation rates: “It had no effect, actually.”

It’s not that education levels don’t matter, Zaff said. “Education matters, but even if you have adults who don’t have a college degree, they do play a really important role in the education of youth in their community. It’s not this elitist thing: ‘Only those communities that have a lot of college-educated people will be able to do this.’ It really is that all adults have a role to play.”


Canadian spending on public education grows $18 billion over a decade even as enrolment falls: Fraser Institute

Fat cat teachers

Teacher compensation is driving up education costs in Canada even as student enrolment falls across the country, a new Fraser Institute report finds.

Education spending increased by more than 41 per cent from 2004 to 2014, or from $44.3 billion to $62.6 billion — a spike of almost $18 billion. At the same time, overall enrolment declined by about 200,000 students.

Public education advocates say most dollars go to teachers because they are the heart of the classroom. That means overall per-student funding has risen, the report’s authors say, and the bulk of that increase is going to teachers’ salaries, benefits and pensions.

“We’re now spending a larger share of every dollar we spend on our public schools on teacher compensation,” said Deani Van Pelt, director of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for the Improvement of Education at the Fraser Institute.

She said that in 2004, 72 cents of every dollar spent on education went to compensation. It’s now 74 cents: “We have experienced a dramatic increase in what we spend on education in Canada and over 78 per cent of that increase has gone to teacher compensation.”

“Alberta stands out,” Van Pelt said, as that province has increased spending on compensation by 80 per cent. And Ontario has more than doubled how much it spends on teacher pensions in that decade, with spending in that area increasing by 106 per cent even as the province struggled to rein in public-sector compensation costs.


Steiner schools rising in popularity Australia-wide

They have some wacky ideas but they seem to be good for artistic kids.  I visited a Steiner school years ago with the aim of seeing whether it might suit my son.  I left in a rather stunned state.  I sent him to a Catholic school instead

Steiner schools are rising in popularity across Australia with three new schools built in as many years, lengthy waiting lists, and the introduction of a degree in Steiner education at a Queensland university.

Australia's first Steiner, also known as Waldorf, school opened in 1957 at Castlecrag in Sydney.

The 1970s saw most of the country's 43 Steiner schools built, but Steiner Education Australia CEO Tracey Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said the system was experiencing another rise in popularity.  "Over the years it's just grown and it's mushrooming," she said.

"Many of the schools are 30 or 40 years old now, and quite well established in their communities ... and three years ago we had three new schools start, and next year we have another school starting, so there's growing interest in what we're doing."
Steiner school principles

The most recent schools were built at Queensland's Moreton Bay, Victoria's Bairnsdale and Bowral in New South Wales.

Another is planned for Agnes Waters in Queensland next year, while several state schools in South Australia and Victoria have introduced Steiner-based streams to their classrooms.

Ms Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said she believed the system's rise in popularity was because of a combination of parents being drawn to the holistic approach of Steiner education, as well as being dismayed with many aspects of traditional, mainstream institutions.

"I think parents are really investigating what they want for their children," she said.

"Many years ago parents just sent their children to the school down the road ... because the world is changing at such a rapid rate, the old forms of schooling just aren't working.

    "We're seeing children with mental health problems, depression, obesity problems, and parents are seeing their children unhappy at school and not engaged in their learning and so they're seeking different ways."

The demand has also resulted in the introduction of a Graduate Certificate and Masters in Steiner education at the University of the Sunshine Coast next year.

"Our plan is to really engage with mainstream education and work alongside our peers in education to try and actually bring impulses from Steiner education into all aspects of education," Ms Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said.

"We want to have good dialogue so that all children benefit from an excellent education and are engaged in their learning and are lifelong learners.

"That will bring about a better country for Australia — not narrow standardised testing and data-driven policy that is just impacting on teachers at every level."

She said the demand for Steiner education was particularly high in the Byron Shire, in northern New South Wales.

There are currently two kindergarten to year 12 Steiner schools in the region and waiting lists that could justify the establishment of a third.

Cape Byron Steiner School principal Nerrida Johnson said there were 370 students at her school and a waiting list of more than 500.

    "It's hard to tell people that we don't have a place for them, particularly when they're trying to get into kindergarten and they've been on our list for a long time," she said.

"We do encourage people to stay on our lists, stay in touch with us and stay involved with the school."

Ms Johnson said expansion was not an option for her school because of land restrictions, but there may be a case for starting a new school.

"We love the fact we know each of our students, so it works well for us to be a single stream school and to have the lower number of students, but I also know there's a lot of pressure in this shire for more," she said.

"I don't know what the future is going to hold — maybe at some point there might be a possibility of opening a senior campus or something like that so we can provide more opportunities for students.'

Parent explains appeal

Tanja Nelson has two children at Cape Byron Steiner and a third who has graduated. She said she began investigating the system after being impressed by work experience students from a Steiner school who had volunteered at her graphic design business.

"Those kids were so much more capable of being independent in their roles in our business," she said.  "They had eye contact, self-initiated projects, they were just a world apart from the other kids from state and private schools."

"By that stage we only had a one-year-old child and we said 'that's a really interesting system, where are these kids coming from, why are they so different?'"

She said the best way to describe the Steiner approach was as "holistic". "It's very hard to realise with one little snapshot what actually goes on, but when you watch these children move from kindergarten all the way to year 12 and you see them grow holistically," Ms Nelson said.

"And I really mean holistically — the whole person is educated and supported."

"There's this backwards and forwards between the community and teachers, and this co-operative process to educating the child that makes these amazing people at the end of the journey.

"That constant communal approach to educating the child has very profound impacts for the children.

"This is something that I think parents from other schools or education systems will look at and they can see there's something different in our kids, but not understand what it is or why it is."


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