Education Week - December 3, 2014 - (Page 9)

Kindergartners Found to Benefit From 'Tools of the Mind' By Sarah D. Sparks A year makes a big difference in the life and learning of a child, and a new study suggests the earlychildhood curriculum Tools of the Mind may be significantly more effective for children in kindergarten than preschool. A new randomized, controlled evaluation published in the November issue of the journal PLOSOne suggests the early-childhood curriculum gave a significant boost for kindergartners in a slew of areas, including higher reasoning, attention control, and reading, vocabulary, and mathematics performance. The effects were strongest for students in high-poverty schools, who also showed lower physical signs of stress as a result of the program. "What I think we found surprising is, children who were higher on the developmental scale in kindergarten were able to do so much more that we ever thought possible-like a level of writing we never imagined in kindergarten- but also, for children on the other end of the developmental scale, we saw so much growth," said Giordana M. Cote, who taught one of three kindergarten classes that piloted the program during the study at Station Avenue Elementary School in South Yarmouth, Mass. Tools of the Mind is based on the premise-put forth in the 1920s and 1930s by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky-that children develop autonomy, social skills, and self-control much better through playing make-believe with each other than by being directed to it by an adult. The curriculum and activities based on that approach were developed at Metropolitan State University of Denver in the 1990s; the program now is run by the nonprofit Third Sector New England. Students in Tools classrooms plan and act out roles and scenes based on, in preschool, everyday experiences like dining out, and, in kindergarten, fairy-tale literature and chapter books aligned with common standards. Students first draw and later write out descriptions of what they plan to do during play, and then review what happened during the play session. During play sessions, they must work with other children and focus on their own roles. Growth Seen "One of the things I hope people take away is it's not an either-or: You can have really good, complex vocabulary, and really rigorous math in a play-based format," said Clancy B. Blair, a developmental psychologist and principal investigator in New York University's Neuroscience and Education Lab, who led the evaluation with C. CyBLOGS Calif. Superintendents' Pay, Perks Draw Ire of State Lawmakers | DISTRICT DOSSIER | Want to buy a house with a nointerest loan? Consider becoming a superintendent in California. Perks such as district-financed home loans have become increasingly common for superintendents across the state, and those extras-and base-pay levels-are coming under fire from some lawmakers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, both small and large districts are giving compensation packages that top and sometimes even double the $176,000 in salary and benefits that Gov. Jerry Brown earns. For example, when Max McGee was hired as Palo Alto Unified's next superintendent this year, he received a compensation package of $295,000 in base pay, $9,000 as an annual car allowance, $6,000 for life-insurance premiums, and an up-to-$1 million no-interest home loan, according to the Chronicle. Superintendents' hefty pay packages didn't vary too much between small and large districts. The newspaper found that Lane Weiss, the superintendent of the Saratoga Union Elementary district, which has 2,100 students, is making $317,000-on par with Richard Carranza's salary of $319,000 in the 58,000-student San Francisco Unified district. Among the highest-paid school employees in California last year? Three fired superintendents from Bay Area districts who received six-figure severance payouts. State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reacted harshly to the Chronicle's findings. Said Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco: "Last year, the legislature invested many billions of additional dollars into education with the intent that they benefit the classroom as much as possible, not top administrators' salaries and perks." And Assemblyman Brian Jones, a Republican from the San Diego area, said: "That's an egregious abuse of taxpayer funds. This is taxpayer money that is supposed to go to teach kids, not buy houses." White House Announces Efforts For Girls of Color, After Criticism | RULES FOR ENGAGEMENT | It appears the White House has heard the cries of some civil rights advocates who have argued that its My Brother's Keeper efforts focus too narrowly on boys of color, ignoring the often equally pressing challenges faced by black, Latina, and other minority girls. The White House released a report last month called "Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity," which highlights what the administration says it has done to reduce barriers for everyone, including minority women and girls. The report mentions efforts related to equal pay, stem education, teenage pregnancy, and sexual assault. The White House Council on Women and Girls also launched a working group to address those issues. The U.S. Department of Education, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Georgetown University also plan a January meeting to discuss women's and girls' access to opportunities in stem and career and technical education. What sparked the announcement, the White House didn't say, but it's reasonable to assume calls to broaden its focus to women and girls were a factor. The My Brother's Keeper initiative has attracted philanthropic investments, commitments from school districts around the country, and a renewed focus on equity issues for young black and Latino males. In June, a letter from more than 1,000 black and Latina women and girls asked why the effort targets only boys. That was followed by a September report by the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National -MADELINE WILL Women's Law Center, which called attention to issues black girls face, including pregnancy discrimination in schools, overlapping stereotypes related to race and gender, and sexual assault. HBO's John Oliver Takes On State Lotteries and Education | EDUCATION AND THE MEDIA | British comic John Oliver wrapped up the first season of his "Last Week Tonight" show on hbo recently with a look at state lotteries and whether they are fulfilling their promise of helping education. His verdict: They are not. For the unfamiliar, the 37-year-old Oliver was a contributor to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and a fill-in for that show's host, Jon Stewart, last year. On his own hit show, Oliver explores some serious policy issues with wit and hijinks. For example, to address the question of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to televise its arguments, the show assembled nine dogs of different breeds, dressed them in robes, and placed them on a courtroom set, then spliced the video with real audio from Supreme Court arguments. For the lottery segment, Oliver discussed the 44 states with lotteries, which collected $68 billion in revenue in 2013. "For all the claims that lotteries are a huge boost to education, the reality is a little different," he said, showing an unidentified news clip suggesting that in 24 states with lotteries dedicated to education, 21 had not increased education spending. He cited the North Carolina Education Lottery, started 10 years ago under then-Gov. Mike Easley, who said in a clip that it would lead to an increase of a half-billion dollars. "Half a billion extra-that sounds great," Oliver said. "You'd think that by now, all North Carolina preschoolers would be strutting around in fine bespoke suits quoting Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. But in fact, North Carolina currently spends less per capita on education than it did when the lottery even began." bele Raver, nyu's vice provost for research and faculty affairs. The researchers randomly assigned 29 schools with 79 kindergarten classrooms in Cape Cod and Lynn, Mass., and throughout the western Massachusetts, central Massachusetts, and greater Boston areas, to either implement the regular district curriculum or the Tools curriculum. Mr. Blair and Ms. Raver tracked 759 children in two cohorts from kindergarten into 1st grade, conducting multiple sets of both academic tests and assessments of students' working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Students in Tools classrooms saw more growth in early literacy, as measured on the Woodcock-Johnson vocabulary tests, letter-word recognition, and applied problems. They also showed faster reaction time, better ability to switch between different sets of rules, and stronger overall working memory than students who did not participate. Different Findings "The ability to shift and focus attention is a foundation for executive function," Mr. Blair said. "That's exactly what those classrooms seem like: Those kids are really focused on activities. What we're seeing is, the kids in the Tools of the Mind classrooms are more similar to the kids in the well-off schools [in executive functions] than to their peers in higherpoverty schools in the control group." The new findings run counter to previous research on the curriculum's effects in preschool classrooms. Three separate studies, of preschoolers in five states, including Massachusetts, also showed sig" [I]t's not an either-or: You can have really good, complex vocabulary, and really rigorous math in a play-based format." CLANCY B. BLAIR New York University nificant differences in how the Tools classrooms operated and how students in them played in comparison to control classrooms, but that didn't translate into better academic performance for the younger students. In fact, "we actually see some concerns that emerge in kindergarten and 1st grade for children who participated in preschool," said Dale C. Farran, an education and psychology professor and senior associate director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who conducted an earlier evaluation and is now doing follow-up studies. Ms. Farran was not surprised that the kindergarten curriculum is having better effects-both because it is geared to slightly older children and because it was tweaked based on those earlier negative reviews. "The enforced pretense in pre-K was too difficult for the children to comprehend," Ms. Farran said. "Even if they have been in a restaurant, that doesn't mean they are able to take the perspective of a waiter." Teachers more frequently had to demonstrate how children should act out roles of a waiter or customer, which could make it less likely that a student would become self-directed. By contrast, children were more familiar with fairy-tale scenarios, Ms. Farran said. "Who wouldn't rather be a princess than a waiter? There's no right or wrong pretending to be a princess or a knight or a dragon." Scan this tag with your smartphone for a link to "Closing the Achievement Gap Through Modification of Neurocognitive and Neuroendocrine Function." -EVIE BLAD -MARK WALSH EDUCATION WEEK | December 3, 2014 | | 9

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - December 3, 2014

Education Week - December 3, 2014
Rules Aim to Heighten Ed. School Monitoring
Parents Get Schooled On New Math Standards
Principals’ Central Role Gets New Attention at Ed. Dept.
Districts Press Publishers On Digital-Content Access
Consortium Sets High Bars For Its Common-Core Tests
Table of Contents
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Teacher-Licensing Exams In N.Y. Lead to Subpar Results
Obama Grants Deportation Relief To Immigrant Parents
Kindergartners Found to Benefit From ‘Tools of the Mind’
Blogs of the Week
Word Problems Should Be Given At the Start of Lesson, Studies Say
Tech. Vendors Cloudy On K-12 Buying Needs
New Guidance Offers States Roadmap to NCLB Waiver Renewal
Achievement, Dissension Marked Tennessee Chief’s Tenure
States Get Federal Running Room On Teacher-Equity Plans
Blogs of the Week
JOHN CESCHINI: STEM + Art: A Fruitful Combination
KIP ZEGERS: A Teacher, Students, and Poetry in Motion
JEAN HENDRICKSON: Why Not Art for Children’s Sake?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JEFF DEKAL: A Brief Portrait of a Young Artist

Education Week - December 3, 2014