College Degree Attainment by State

By Deborah Williams

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A recent post on The Huffington Post website cites the recent release of “A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education” report from the Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education.  The Foundation advocates the attainment of college degrees and higher rates of degree attainment.  It recommends that the number of Americans with college degrees increase from its current 37.9 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

The following states are the ones with the highest percentage of degree holders:

The following states have the lowest percentage of adults with college degrees:

Looking for your state?  Click here for an interactive map to see how it ranked:

Topics: College Preparation and Advice, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Mandatory Summer School for Youngest Students in District

By Deborah Williams

Gary Stern, writer for Lohud the Journal News reports that the Middleton (New York) school district has issued an unusual mandatory requirement for some of its students.  It has identified 600 of its kindergarten through second grade students and is requiring that they attend summer school.  The students were chosen based on their scores on their most recent MAP tests.  Students who do not attend the classes or who attend but do not progress face possible retention or promoted with extra help.  Superintendent Kenneth Eastwood explained that the district is trying different approaches in an effort “to help students who are in danger of never reaching academic standards.”

This requirement is being met with resistance from some parents.  Some complain that this policy is unfair and shocking since it is based on results from one test, and many had been assured of adequate progress throughout the school year at parent-teacher conferences and report cards.  The district’s officials face greater challenges with the implementation of the Common Core and new state tests for grades 3 to 8.  Superintendents from nearby districts are divided on this policy.  They, too, have similar populations that they have offered summer school remediation, but those were not mandatory,

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Connection Between Play and Children’s Mental Health

By Deborah Williams

Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College psychologist and research professor, was featured in a recent TED Talk with a compelling revelation: a marked increase in mental disorders of children over the last 50 years is due to a marked decrease in their free play.

In his TED Talk, Dr. Gray explained that free play is a natural part of all young mammals’ development and that the more the animal has to know as an adult, the more free time those children need to have.  So, children, he asserts, should have lots of time for free play.

In young animals, the functions of free play have several benefits.  It helps them to do the following:

Dr. Gray’s research shows that young animals that are deprived of adequate free play grow up to be socially and emotionally crippled in adulthood.  “Play is nature’s means of assuring that young mammals—including young human beings—acquire the skills that they need to acquire to develop successfully into adulthood,” explains Gray.

Over the last 50 years, time for free play has been drastically reduced—with about with hours of free play during school day and hours after school and almost all day on weekends and during the summer.  Today’s children don’t really have free play because their play is not self-controlled or self-directed, the hallmarks of free play.  Now, the predominant view is that children learn best everything from adults and student directed play is a waste of time.

The reasons for reduced free play include the following reasons:

The fallout is a well-documented increase in mental disorders in children for a number of reasons:

The good news is that adults have a number of action steps to take that will provide children with more time for free play:

Click here to view Dr. Gray’s TED Talk:

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Unique Way to Deliver Summer Meals

By Deborah Williams

It’s the time of the year that students yearn for: summer.  Most kids look forward to carefree, enjoyable summer days, but summer is a dreaded time for kids who depend on two meals a day at school.   Hunger-filled days can seem endless for them.  Many communities around the country have established feeding centers for their children this summer, but they have to get there.  Officials in Hillsborough County, Florida have established a unique way to serve their children; Hillsborough is delivering food to migrant communities where children may have difficulty getting to the feeding centers, and they are using their school buses to deliver them.

In his article, “Free Kids’ Summer Meals Roll Into Hillsborough,” Tampa Tribune writer, Erin Kourkounis, reports, “…the school district serves more than 200,000 breakfasts and 300,000 lunches at its feeding sites, which include places with summer school programs and camps.”  Three summers ago, the bus program, Movin’ Meals, was added with four suites to help struggling families who are not able to provide nutritious meals for their children.

Children are given boxed lunches of bologna sandwiches, raisins, and mixed fruit to any child who comes to the bus.  They may eat on the air-conditioned bus or on nearby tent-covered picnic tables.  Parents of these children find this service very helpful.

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Keeping a Kid in High School

By Deborah Williams

America is celebrating the nearly 80 percent high school graduation rate (the highest rate ever), but parents will appreciate the insight gleaned from Edweek’s College Bound blog writer Caralee Adams.  Adams shared significant findings from the America’s Promise Alliance at Tufts University in Boston.  The report examines the reasons that students drop out of school.

Researchers found that there are multiple reasons that  students drop out, and, typically, it is not just one reason.  Contrary to some beliefs, it’s not that school is boring or that they are not motivated.  The “cluster of factors” includes the following:

Unless these students have “strong relationships with family members, teachers or peers, many give up.”  Even if they re-enter after dropping out, these students require a strong support network even more.

The report’s authors urge that the significant adults in a student’s life can turn things around or decrease the chances that a student will drop out of high school.  They specifically recommend the following actions:

  1. Listen to young people. Take time to understand their struggles and circumstances when figuring out how to respond.
  2. Surround the highest-need young people with extra supports. Early-warning systems can pinpoint problems based on attendance, grades, or behavior.
  3. Encourage leaders from faith-based organizations, schools, and the broader community to help students stay in school.
  4. Use proven and promising, evidence-based approaches to drop-out prevention, such as ones that look at the holistic needs of students. (The report contains a list of examples, such as Youth Opportunity Baltimore and Youth Build Providence.)
  5. Give young people a central role in designing programs and coming up with solutions to staying in school.

Hear from some of these students who left high school in this video from America’s Promise Alliance:

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Casualties of Not Writing by Hand

By Deborah Williams

If your state has adopted the Common Core standards, your kindergarten and first grade child is going to be taught how to print legibly, but after that, no handwriting instruction is required.  Students and teachers are emphasizing the use of electronic tools to take notes, compose, and draw instead of writing by hand, but Maria Konnikova, writer for The New York Times reports that not writing by hand may actually hinder learning.  She writes, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.  In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters—but how.”

Writing by hand stimulates us mentally.  Stanislas Dehaenem, a Collége de France psychologist, explains that we activate a specific circuit in the brain when we write because of the brain’s recognition of the words that we write.  Dehaenem says that writing by hand actually makes learning easier.

In a 2012 study, lead researcher Karin James and others reported several relevant outcomes for young children who had not yet learned to read and write.  Some of the children were asked to reproduce a letter or shape by tracing the dotted outline of an image, by drawing it on a blank sheet of paper, or by typing it on a computer.  The study revealed that the children who had to reproduce the image freehand showed “increased activity in the three areas of the brain—the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus, and the posterior parietal cortex—that are activated in adults when they read and write.  Conversely, the children who typed or traced the images showed “significantly weaker” brain activation in those three areas.  Even a child’s messy handwriting may help him or her to learn.  Dr. James asserts, “When a kid produces a messy letter, that might help him learn it.”

In a different study, Dr. James observed children who actually formed letters and those who merely watched others forming letters.  She reports that “it is only the actual effort that engages the brain’s motor pathways and delivers the learning benefits of handwriting.”

Still another study conducted by University of Washington psychologist, Virginia Berninger, found that older children—grades two through five—showed separate brain activation when they printed, wrote in cursive, or typed on a keyboard.  When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard but expressed more ideas.  They also found that children with better handwriting “exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory—and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.”

The importance of handwriting as a learning tool extends into adulthood.  Princeton psychologist, Pam A. Mueller, and University of California psychologist, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, report that whether in a laboratory or real-world classroom, “students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.”

Some schools are fighting to continue teaching students to write in cursive:

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Free Online STEM Tutorials

By Deborah Williams

The explosion of growth for Khan Academy continues.  According to the Science Daily website, it has teamed up with NASA to create a series of online tutorials designed to increase interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM subjects.  The lessons include things that NASA does routinely:  “…to measure our universe, to explore…the engineering challenges of launching and landing spacecraft on Mars, and to learn about other space exploration endeavors and destinations.”

These online tutorials are interactive lessons that use a number of ways to engage users in NASA’s scientific and mathematical protocols.  The lessons are “exciting and realistic simulations, challenges and games transport students deep into STEM subjects.”  The lessons are self-paced and free.

Access these lessons at the following link:

Learn more by viewing this video:

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Preventing the Summer Slide

By Deborah Williams

Now that the school year has ended, it is important to make sure that your child does not suffer the “Summer Slide” that occurs over a completely relaxed summer that excludes any kind of academic achievement.  We have documented that those students actually lose at least two months of the academic achievement of the previous school year, so they start the next school year a little behind their peers whose parents made sure to eliminate the Slide by continuing tutoring or by leading their children in some kind of structured academic maintenance.  At the very least, students should be required to read at least 30 minutes a day for at least six days a week, and there are some fun-filled activities that can help parents help their children this summer.  One summer program for parents of children ages 3 – 7 is the Summer Learning Adventures on the website.

The summer activities include ten weeks of themed activities:

Parents will need to set up an account, but that gives them access to the worksheets and activities for each week.

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College Completion Rises With Community Collaboration

By Deborah Williams

A recent post by Caralee Adams on the College Bound blog on the Edweek website reports on a promising effort to improve college completion rates.  Community groups—K-12 schools, community colleges, four-year universities, businesses, government, parents, and students—have formed partnerships to create innovations that will improve the rate of college completion within those communities.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Community Partnerships Learning in Partnership (CLIP) and Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) initiatives were evaluated and summarized in a report, Building Community Partnerships in Support of Postsecondary Completion Agenda, and, while no specific model emerged as best practices, it highlighted a few innovations:

The report suggests that collaborative problem solving that achieve the desired results early in this process spur the community groups into even more solutions to improving college completion rates.

Hear from participants in this process:

MDC and Building Community Partnerships from MDC on Vimeo.

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Do College Entrance Exams Really Matter?

By Deborah Williams

The importance of the college entrance exam—typically the ACT or the SAT—is a controversial topic in education circles, and the validity of both is being challenged by universities and educational researchers alike who question whether either is an accurate predictor of future success in college.  Unless something changes, navigating the tests is inevitable, but there’s another reason for potential college students to push for their best scores:  Some potential employers will ask for an applicant’s SAT or ACT test scores even if it’s been years since graduating college.

In an article on the PBS website, Zachary Treu reports that some hiring managers shared their experience with this practice.  Eric Eden of the Virginia software company, Cvent, explains, “When you’re hiring people and they don’t have a lot of work experience, you have to start with some set of data points….knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough for us.”  Actually, this is not a new practice. Over a decade ago, the vice president of a Colorado software company, Alan Sage, responded in a Wall Street Journal interview, “In my experience, people with high SAT scores tend to do better.”

This hiring trend is clear:  Your SAT or ACT score matters.  Even if your potential college downplays its importance in the application process, future hiring managers may not.

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