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Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Steve Berlin. Steve is Senior Communications Manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a Learning First Alliance member).

For anyone reading this post, it should come as no surprise that education professionals have long agreed on these two proactive ways to improve scholastic achievement, at least in principle: dropout prevention efforts must begin before students reach high school, and it is incumbent on education entities to seek partners from outside the field to help students succeed. Further, we must consider looking beyond the “usual suspect” when it comes to partnerships because as a nation, everyone has a vested interest in students’ success.

At the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), we have found a promising formula to help increase the high school graduation rate through our partnership with the U.S. Army. Together, we developed and launched in January 2011 the Partnership for All Students’ Success (Project PASS).  

Project PASS is designed to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs to increase high school graduation rates and college and career readiness with the new Junior Leadership Corps (JLC) in middle schools and ...

According to the National Endowment for the Arts and data from Chorus America, choral singing is the most popular form of participation in the performing arts; however, opportunities to participate in a school choir are declining. The arts are getting slashed from many schools as we become myopically focused on reading and math in this budget-crunched time.

To help schools avoid this fate for programs in their communities, earlier this week, Chorus America released a free advocacy guide schools can use in making a case for choral arts programs. From a pragmatic standpoint, as the American economy increasingly becomes more service-oriented, and creativity-driven, it makes sense to emphasize the arts in schools. From a motivating standpoint, courses and programs that actively engage students and offer some bonafide entertainment make school a lot more pleasurable for students, and provide them with something to look forward to. A Chorus Impact Study reported that 90% of educators believe choral singing can keep some students engaged in school who might otherwise lose interest and/or drop out.

Arts integration in schools is not a pie in the sky dream: arts used to be a much bigger focus in American schools. Dana Gioia, former Chairman of ...

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

On March 2, 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He would become an accomplished writer and illustrator, publishing articles in popular periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post, Life and Vanity Fair. He gained a national reputation in advertising. During the World War II era, he first drew political cartoons for a left-leaning publication and then posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. With his first wife, he wrote Design for Death, a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1947.

But Geisel is best known for his children’s books, penned under the pseudonym “Dr. Seuss.” His first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published in 1937. His last, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, was published in 1990, just a year before his death.

The most famous of his books is (arguably) The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957. I am sure you are familiar with the story. But you may not know just how it came about.

Back in 1954, Life magazine published an article entitled "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading." That article was quite critical of ...

I was intrigued by two stories in the December 13 issue of Newsweek on the subject of public school reform in the United States: the cover story, an essay authored by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools whose picture and quote “I’m not done fighting” graced the cover (as a former English Language Arts teacher, I would have hoped for a more elegant word choice, but then I suppose space was an issue); and a second story, buried in the middle of the magazine entitled “Give Peace a Chance”, featuring a full page photograph of the president of the Hillsborough County, FL teacher’s union and chronicling the successful school improvement efforts in that school district, the result of collaboration among all the professionals in the system, including the teachers’ union. As a career educator, I think the more provocative magazine cover would have featured photographs of both women juxtaposed with the question: What will it REALLY take to improve all our schools?? ...

"When we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But are we?"

In his best-selling book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, behavioral economist Dan Ariely challenges the basic assumptions of our economic system, exploring the powerful tricks that our minds play on us and showing that actually, we humans are far from rational.

Of course, irrationality is not always bad. His follow-up, The Upside of Irrationality, offers another look at the irrational decisions that influence our lives, as well as some of the positive effects that such irrationality can have.

Ariely recently spoke with us about his work and its implications for education reforms involving teacher compensation and school choice.

Public School Insights: You are a behavioral economist. What does that mean?

Ariely: My Ph.D.s are actually not in economics. I have a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and I have a Ph.D. in business administration. But what I do lies between psychology and economics.

I ask questions that economists would ask, but instead of assuming straightaway that people behave rationally, I just observe how people behave. So think of it as something that has no assumption; it's just observational in its nature. That's the basic story.

Public School Insights: You've written a couple of books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. Could you briefly describe them?

Ariely: Yes. In Predictably Irrational, I talk about how people think, mostly about financial decisions. The things that we buy. One chapter asks the question, "How do we decide how much something is worth?" Economic theory has a very simple assumption about this. But I ask the question, "How do we really do it?"

Or I ask the question, "What happens when the price of something drops to zero?" People get overly excited about it, usually. But is it just because ...

obriena's picture

Reading is Fundamental

Yesterday’s release of a major report on teacher pay dwarfed much else in the education news. I may write on that soon, if I feel I have anything to add to the conversation. But today I wanted to talk about my favorite book, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

It has been my favorite book since the 5th grade. I haven’t read it in years, in part because I am afraid of what would happen if I read it again and thought, “Well, it’s okay.” But up through college I read it multiple times each year. I read it so many times that the cover of my first copy fell off when I was in high school, and my parents bought me a replacement copy.

I’m not exactly sure why this book touched me so. Likely because I got the book as a very young adolescent, about to go through many of the things that Francie went through in the book. She was relatable.

This isn’t the only book to have touched me over the years. But it was the first. And it helped cement the love of reading, and of books themselves (I'm not sure I'll ever get a Kindle), that I have today.

I thought of this book after seeing Sarah D. Sparks’ EdWeek blog yesterday. She posted about a meta-analysis of book-distribution programs. The study, commissioned by the book distribution group Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), found that students from low-income homes who had access to print materials through book ownership or lending programs like theirs had improved reading performance. Such programs were correlated with children better knowing the ...

In an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post, Robert Samuelson claimed that school reform efforts have disappointed for two reasons. One, no one has discovered transformative changes that are scalable. And two, shrunken student motivation.

Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Samuelson may be on to something here. Student motivation is rarely mentioned in education reform discussions--except, of course, as part of carrot and stick conversations about how incentives can help students do better (an idea that research both within education and in other sectors has shed doubt on). Perhaps if reform discussions focused more on getting students invested in their learning, they would be more fruitful.

But then he takes it a bit far for me:

The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out, compared with ...

Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan made news when it beat out thousands of other schools for the honor of hosting President Obama as its commencement speaker. The President will speak before the school's 2010 graduates today.

His audience will include scores of students whose lives have been transformed by a stunning promise: free tuition at any public university in the state. At a time when many towns in Michigan are losing people, the "Kalamazoo Promise" has drawn a flood of new families into the city and the school system.

We recently spoke with Von Washington, the principal of the high school, about the President's visit and what it means for the school. Buoyed by the Promise, students have been streaming into AP classes and graduating in higher numbers.

Their passion, academic focus and hope for the future come through loud and clear in a video they created to make their case to the President. It clearly hit home.

Public School Insights: Kalamazoo Central High School recently received a big honor. You won the Race to the Commencement. As a result, President Obama is going to give your commencement address. What do you think set Kalamazoo Central apart from all of the other schools that tried to get the same honor?

Washington: It is really tough to tell. We are not entirely sure. But there are a couple of things that are distinct about us. One is that in the video presentation we really believe the students, through their words and their passion, gave a good idea to those viewing the video of what it means to go to school at Kalamazoo Central High School and what it means to be serious about your education.

Second, we are not a school that, by any means, has arrived. But we are a school, and a school district, definitely on an incline. We are reaching towards the sky, and we are moving towards our goals. And because it can appear that education is kind of in the doldrums financially and/or in achievement, I think that people recognize that if you are ...

Can the mere presence of books in a child's home make that child a better reader? If we're to believe recent research, that might just be the case. If so, a small investment in books for poor children might pay off.

That idea still meets with a great deal of resistance, even (or perhaps especially) among those who prize reading. Maybe we believe we cheapen books if we objectify them in that way.

But a trio of recent studies offers food for thought. First, there was the study Roland Fryer released a few months ago. He found that young children improved their reading ability when they were paid for every book they read. The children in his study even maintained their reading habits after the payments stopped. I'll admit that I recoiled a bit at this finding, because I hate to see reading become such a mercantile enterprise.

A more recent study out of the University of Nevada suggested that the number of books in a child's home has a greater bearing on that child's academic prospects than does the parents' education level. The study's author speculates that ...

[First published April 22, 2008]

LastChildinWoods.jpg In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’sLast Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.)

A quotation from our recent telephone interview with Louv elegantly captures the thrust of his argument: “[T]he message we’re sending kids is that nature is in the past and probably doesn’t count anymore, the future’s in electronics, the boogeyman lives in the woods, and playing outdoors is probably illicit and possibly illegal.”

Development is choking off access to nature, kids are succumbing to the attractions of televisionRichardLouv.jpg and computers, and—yes—time for school recess has dwindled dramatically in the past decade. To make matters worse, Louv argues, parents, educators, and even environmentalists have been complicit in erecting barriers to the natural world. We keep our children indoors to protect them from real or (very often) imagined dangers, we regulate and confine their play, and we tell them to not to disturb delicate flowers, quiet streams or pristine undergrowth.

Louv does find encouraging signs of change in the rapid growth of “Leave No Child Indoors” movements around the country. (Many movement leaders credit Louv’s book for greatly accelerating that growth.) Nature is far too elemental a human need, he argues, for Nature Deficit Disorder to grow unchecked. For an overview of "No Child Left Inside" initiatives around the country, see the Children and Nature Network.

Hear a recording of highlights from the interview (5 minutes):

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Or check out the transcript below:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What, in a nutshell, is the central argument of Last Child in the Woods?

LOUV: The central argument is that you have an increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature. And that this has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of ...

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