Scottish Children to Read On, Get On

Children reading

A recent study shows a huge gap in the literacy skills of low income children in Scotland and those from higher income families.
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A recent study shows that one in five children growing up in Scotland is unable to read well by the time they finish primary school. The study attributes this dismal finding to Scotland’s “persistent education divide.”

The Read On, Get On campaign noted that by age five most children should be able to speak in full sentences and use most of the everyday words adults use. They should also be asking lots of “why?” questions as they try to understand the world around them.

However, in practice, “children from the most deprived areas are twice as likely to experience difficulties in language development before they start school. At age three, a third of children identified as having speech, language, or communication concerns are from the most deprived areas.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy found that reading standards in elementary schools have fallen since 2012.

The Read On, Get On campaign proposes to improve literacy amongst this group by focusing on four priorities leading to the ultimate goal of having all children reading well by age 11:

  1. Celebrating the importance and enjoyment of reading.
  2. Prioritizing the development of communication skills in the early years of a child’s life.
  3. Providing the right support to help every child learn to read well at school.
  4. Supporting families to help get their kids reading in the home.

It’s interesting to note that Scotland is actually one of the most “unfair” countries in the developed world, according to the report. Educational inequality and the randomness of the family into which a child is born tend to have a greater effect on what that child can do with their life and schooling, leading to even greater achievement gap issues that what’s seen elsewhere.

Still, the Read On, Get On campaign is hoping that, by promoting the four tenants of their program in schools and homes throughout the country, they can push for higher literacy levels and greater enjoyment of reading amongst Scottish children.

New Study Links Time Spent Playing Video Games to Kids’ Behavior

Two kids playing video games

According to one study, time spent playing video games affects children more than the actual games they play.
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A recent study from the University of Oxford has found that video games can have some impact on children’s behavior; however, it’s not the kind of games they’re playing, but how much they play that matters.

Since video games became popular in the early 1980s, parents, teachers, and legislators have worried about their impact on children. Puzzle games have often been touted as beneficial, helping children develop critical thinking skills, while violent video games have been accused of leading to real world violence on numerous occasions.

This study finds that neither of these things is really true, and what matters is how much time kids spend playing video games. Even then it’s not that big of an impact.

The study consisted of 200 children in England, between the ages of 12 and 13, who were asked how much time they spent playing video games each day. Their teachers were asked how those kids performed in school. What they found out was that kids who spent three or more hours a day playing video games tended to be more hyperactive, less focused on school, and more prone to causing trouble or getting into fights. On the other hand, kids who played for about an hour a day actually saw some academic improvement.

The types of games played were largely irrelevant, although there were some correlations. Kids who enjoyed cooperative or competitive games where they engaged with other people often had less emotional problems. Meanwhile children who played more solitary games often had stronger academic performance.

In any case, the researchers pointed out that video games are just another form of play, one native to the digital era. They stated that video games were a statistically significant but minor factor in children’s behavior. What the means is that the amount of time spent playing might have some minor impact on children’s behavior, but video games are neither saviors nor destroyers of children.

Texas Governor Elects Controversial Chair to Board of Education

Texas flag

The new Texan Chair of the Board of Education is a controversial choice.
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Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has sparked a new education-based controversy in his home state by appointing as the new chair of the Texas Board of Education Donna Bahorich. Bahorich, formerly the communications director for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, homeschooled her children before sending them to private school and therefore has no direct experience with public schools. She also voted for the recent changes to Texas textbooks, which include referring to slavery as the “Atlantic triangular trade,” as well as other inaccurate and biased language.

“My research and my work and my desire and interests have all been in education,” said Bahorich on Texas Public Radio. However, she is not receiving much support from her fellow Republicans. Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state Board of Education, noted that, though public school isn’t for everyone, it makes sense that the chair “have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.”

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan, grass roots organization including more than 100,000 religious and community leaders, has also spoken out against Bahorich’s appointment, expressing concern that it will further the state governor’s efforts to bring religion and right wing politics into Texas education. “If Governor Abbott wanted to demonstrate that he won’t continue his predecessor’s efforts to politicize and undermine our state’s public schools, this appointment falls far short,” wrote network president Kathy Miller in a statement. “This appointment almost guarantees that the board will continue to put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids.”

The network also noted that Bahorich voted against a board resolution urging the legislature to reject private school vouchers, which take money away from public schools.

The Bahorich appointment is only one element of Governor Abbott’s increasing tendency to be swayed by his more conservative homeschooling constituents. He recently vetoed Senate Bill 359, which would have allowed physicians to detain patients if they are considered a risk to themselves or others. The Texas Home School Coalition had expressed opposition, saying the bill was an attack on parental rights.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Formally Dismisses Program Director

UW-Madison Business School logo

The director of the UW-Madison Business School’s BBA Direct Admit program has been dismissed.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a highly competitive business program that is continuously ranked among the best in the country. Prominent Wisconsin School of Business alumni include John Oros, Kenneth Behring, and Carol Bartz, as well as many other successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, financiers, and business owners. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bachelor of Business Administration Direct Admit Program offers vital opportunities to young people pursuing a career in business and contributes to the overall prominence of the college’s exceptional business program.

Despite how competitive the BBA Direct Admit Program has become, internal issues with the former program director have recently posed challenges to the School of Business. According to Karen Herzog, a Wisconsin-based journalist who covers higher education issues, “The business school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison no longer has a director for a program that admits academically accomplished high school students directly to the highly competitive Bachelor of Business Administration program.”

Reportedly, former director Jeffrey Sawyer was fired amid allegations of a confidentiality breach, in which he shared student application materials. Additionally, Sawyer is accused of guaranteeing admission to prospective BBA program applicants before their applications were submitted. This allegation was outlined in a March 6 letter from the school, which also noted Sawyer’s denial of these accusations.

After being formally dismissed in March, Herzog detailed the less than amicable split between Sawyer and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has ultimately resulted in the school being without a program director.

Despite the controversy sparked by Sawyer and his professional misconduct, the BBA program still exists as a highly attractive option for high school students looking to get on the fast track to a career in business. One of the most appealing facets of the Wisconsin BBA program is that admitted students are immediately considered for business school scholarship funds, which will help tremendously in their higher education studies.

Learn more about the Wisconsin BBA Direct Admit Program by visiting the Wisconsin School of Business Admissions department.

Impact of Tweets and Texts on Classroom Retention

Boy texting in class

Could there be positive ways to use texts and tweets in the classroom?
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College students have mobile devices, a fact which frustrates many professors and teaching assistants. Such devices, and their ability to distract students, can be a real thorn in the side of educators. However, a recent study finds that it isn’t so much the existence of these devices–or even their use, which detracts from learning–but how they’re used. They can even benefit students.

The received wisdom states that students who use such devices in class retain less and take lower quality notes than those that do not. Even when those devices are used to take notes, such as on a computer, there is less retention. But it turns out that this isn’t exactly true.

Students who spend more time texting than listening do worse, of course, but students can benefit from sending or replying to messages that are relevant to the class discussion. A study found that students who sent or replied to several messages related to class content actually performed better on a multiple choice test than students who didn’t. They also did much better than students who texted about unrelated content. Even students who used their devices for conversations unrelated to class fell across a spectrum, with students who spent more time texting doing worse than those who texted less.

The hope is that this study could help guide campus policy on mobile devices. That policy could be more dynamic as a result. Getting students to give up their phones or to completely avoid Facebook while taking notes is probably impossible. However, if professors and teaching assistants use those devices as a way to engage their students, they might actually be beneficial. Having students compose tweets or status updates about content or sharing relevant pictures on Instagram and requiring or requesting comments on them could help students pay attention. These new modes of communication aren’t going away, so educators might as well find ways to use them.

Elizabeth Warren on Changing the Student Loan Game

Drawing of graduate with diploma chained to money bag

Elizabeth Warren’s latest speech on student debt could be the turning point in making college more affordable.
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It’s not news that college loans are crippling entire generations, but what is news is that some politicians are actively fighting to change that.

Take Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator who has been a vocal—if not always successful—advocate for attacking the student loan problem on both federal and state levels.

Back in 2013, when the Department of Education reported that federal student loan default rates for borrows in their first two years of repayment were as high as 9.1%, Warren brought forward a bill that addressed the issue by taking student loan interest rates out of Congress’s control. She argued this would keep student loan interest more in step with broader financial markets.

The bill didn’t pass, but that didn’t stop Warren. In 2014 she was back with the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would have let people with federal and private loans issued prior to 2010 refinance their loans at 3.86%–the rate Congress set the previous year. This bill was defeated by Senate Republicans.

But maybe the third time’s the charm? Warren’s latest suggestions came as part of a speech given on June 10 for a panel hosted by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers called, “The Affordability Crisis: Rescuing the Dream of College Education for the Working-Class and Poor.”

Building on her previous work, Warren described a new framework that takes into account ideas from both sides of the aisle:

“Democrats talk about resources, pointing out that we’re no longer investing in our kids the way we once did. Republicans talk about risk and incentives—arguing that students take on debt without fully understanding the consequences and that colleges get access to federal dollars pretty much no matter what the cost of the education that they provide. Here’s the truth—both sides are right….Our college crisis needs a one-two punch—more resources and better incentives to keep costs low.”

So what might that look like in practical terms? Warren suggests renewing investments in higher education and using incentives to encourage federal, state, and college organizations to work together. If colleges shared some of the financial risk with students, it might inspire them to keep costs manageable. Warren also promoted the idea of further support for public schools, fixing the Pell Grant system, simplifying financial aid, and changing the rules of student federal aid programs to focus more on what’s best for the student and less on profit. She also argued that the Department of Education should strengthen its accountability.

Will any of Warren’s ideas actually be implemented? Only time will tell. But as an influential politician with the determination to make college more affordable, Warren has a serious chance of changing the game when it comes to college finances.



Trevor Day School: A Profile

Kids in drama class

Schools like Trevor allow students to take more control of their own education.
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Trevor Day School, a private school located in Manhattan, New York, offers inquiry-based learning for students in pre-K through twelfth grade. Its two Manhattan campuses provide a variety of educational opportunities for students, from academics to athletics to summer and after-school programs that encourage students to collaborate and create their own projects. The school also hosts an annual MiniTerm, which allows students in grades 4-8 to focus intensely on nontraditional subjects for four weeks.

With a high-powered Board of Trustees including President Sally Rocker, Vice President MaryKay Coyle, Treasurer Andrew Gordon, and Secretary Raymond J. Iwanowski, Trevor uses inquiry-based learning to help students take part in shaping their own education. The more than 800 enrolled students experience both college preparatory curriculum and the opportunity to be involved with a variety of outside-the-classroom programming, including summer activities, music, theater, gaming clubs, service learning programs, and athletics.

One of these enriched programs is the winter break MiniTerm. The four-week intensive program helps students move beyond traditional classroom work and meet new teachers and peers while working on different subjects. Past themes have included mastering the Rubik’s Cube, musical composition, chess, public speaking, quilting, and improv and sketch comedy. The program concludes with a presentation in which students share what they’ve learned with the broader community.

In 2015, this presentation included a solo performance of “Romeo and Juliet, a staged sword fight, a musical anatomy video, an original opera, and a discussion of technological design and 3D printers.

The last two hours of every school day are devoted to the arts, allowing each student to be involved with a school-wide musical, whether as actors, set designers, costumes, lighting experts, or musicians.

Trevor students are lucky to have access to a wide range of learning opportunities, as well as the ability to have more of a hand in designing their own learning process. Creating self-motivated learners is a vital part of education that’s often left out of more traditional schools.