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Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework

It’s their project, let them figure it out.

One of the central tenets of raising kids in America is that parents should be actively involved in their children’s education: meeting with teachers, volunteering at school, helping with homework, and doing a hundred other things that few working parents have time for. These obligations are so baked into American values that few parents stop to ask whether they’re worth the effort.

Until this January, few researchers did, either. In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t. The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

Similarly, students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done. This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. “Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” he told me. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”

One of the reasons parental involvement in schools has become dogma is that the government actively incentivizes it. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that seek to engage parents—especially low-income parents—with their children’s schools. In 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to establish parent committees and communicate with parents in their native languages. The theory was that more active and invested mothers and fathers could help close the test-score gap between middle-class and poor students. Yet until the new study, nobody had used the available data to test the assumption that close relationships between parents and schools improve student achievement.

While Robinson and Harris largely disproved that assumption, they did find a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans. But these interventions don’t take place at school or in the presence of teachers, where policy makers exert the most influence—they take place at home.

What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true. Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college. Asian American kids may perform inordinately well on tests, for example, but their parents are not much more involved at school than Hispanic parents are—not surprising, given that both groups experience language barriers. 

There are actually quite a few studies that show that homework has no benefit to a child and often does harm.  For the first time ever, Mark has a teacher that does not believe in homework and I think it has gone a long way towards making this the most successful year Mark has ever had.

Poverty on a private university campus

What’s it like being poor while attending one of the United States most prestigious schools?

When was the first time I felt uncomfortable at Duke because of money? My second day of o-week. My FAC group wanted to meet at Mad Hatter’s Bakery; I went with them and said that I had already eaten on campus because I didn’t have cash to spend. Since then, I have continued to notice the presence of overt and subtle class issues and classism on campus. I couldn’t find a place for my “poor identity.” While writing my resume, I put McDonald’s under work experience. A friend leaned over and said, “Do you think it’s a good idea to put that on your resume?” In their eyes, it was better to list no work experience than to list this “lowly” position. I did not understand these mentalities and perceptions of my peers. Yet no one was talking about this discrepancy, this apparent class stratification that I was seeing all around me.

People associate many things with their identity: I’m a woman, I’m queer, I’m a poet. One of the most defining aspects of my identity is being poor. The amount of money (or lack thereof) in my bank account defines almost every decision I make, in a way that being a woman or being queer never has and never will. Not that these are not important as well, just that in my personal experience, they have been less defining. Money influenced the way I grew up and my family dynamics. It continues to influence the schools I choose to go to, the food I eat, the items I buy and the things I say and do.

I live in a reality where:

  • Sometimes I lie that I am busy when actually I just don’t have the money to eat out.
  • I don’t get to see my dad anymore because he moved several states away to try and find a better job to make ends meet.
  • I avoid going to Student Health because Duke insurance won’t do much if there is actually anything wrong with me.
  • Coming out as queer took a weekend and a few phone calls, but coming out as poor is still a daily challenge.
  • Getting my wisdom teeth removed at $400 per tooth is more of a funny joke than a possible reality.
  • I have been nearly 100 percent economically independent from my family since I left for college.
  • Textbook costs are impossible. Praise Perkins Library where all the books are free.
  • My mother has called me crying, telling me she doesn’t have the gas money to pick me up for Thanksgiving.
  • My humorously cynical, self-deprecating jokes about being homeless after graduation are mostly funny but also kind of a little bit true.
  • I am scared that the more I increase my “social mobility,” the further I will separate myself from my family.
  • Finances are always in the back (if not the forefront) of my mind, and I am always counting and re-counting to determine how I can manage my budget to pay for bills and living expenses.

More kids then ever return to live at home in the United States

What is to blame?

In the last 50 years, this country has done a great job— by maintaining Social Security benefits, expanding Medicare, underwriting home-ownership, securing pensions, and the like— of improving the economic circumstances of the generation that rode the postwar boom years to wealth and comfortable senior citizenship. This country has done an increasingly poor job— by letting the minimum wage stagnate, dis-investing in schools, public colleges, and infrastructure, undercutting workers’ leverage, and the like— of supporting the economic aspirations of that generation’s children and grandchildren.

Can Spain be saved?

Spain is done.  This is bad.

Spain is in a great depression, and it is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen.

Five years after its housing boom turned to bust, Spanish unemployment hit a record high of 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013. It’s almost too horrible to comprehend, but 19.5 percent of the total workforce has not had a job in the past six months; 15.3 percent have not in the past year; and 9.2 percent have not in the past two years.

Here is why it is so bad

Spain is in a great depression, and it is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen.

Five years after its housing boom turned to bust, Spanish unemployment hit a record high of 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013. It’s almost too horrible to comprehend, but 19.5 percent of the total workforce has not had a job in the past six months; 15.3 percent have not in the past year; and 9.2 percent have not in the past two years.

In other words, unemployment is a trap people fall into, but can’t fall out of. Indeed, the rate of new unemployment has stabilized at a terrible, but not quite-as-terrible, level, as you can see with the flat blue, red, and green lines. But the steadily rising purple line shows us that the rate of job-finding for the jobless has collapsed.

That is what a permanent underclass looks like.

What happened?

Why has Spain’s jobs depression been so great? After all, its GDP is “only” 4.1 percent below its 2007 level, compared to 5.8 percent below for Portugal, 7 percent below for Italy, and 20 percent below for Greece. But despite this better (negative) growth, unemployment is higher in Spain than the others. In other words, Spanish unemployment isn’t just about inadequate demand. Part of it is structural.

Spain’s labor market problems fall into two big buckets: too much regulation, and not enough education. It’s almost impossible for companies to get rid of older workers, which creates a horribly bifurcated labor market. There are permanent workers who can’t be fired, and temporary ones who can — and are. Indeed, as Clive Crook points out, about a third of Spain’s workforce are temporary workers who enjoy few protections and fewer opportunities. Companies go through these younger workers without bothering to invest much in their human capital, because why would they? These temporary workers will be let go at the first sign of economic trouble. Young people get stuck in a never-ending cycle of under-and-unemployment since firms are always hesitant to hire permanent workers who will always be on their books.

But it gets worse. The housing bust hasn’t just cast a shadow over household and bank balance sheets; it’s cast one over young people’s educations too. At its peak, building made up a whopping 19 percent of Spain’s economy, which, as Tobias Buck of the Financial Times points out, lured many young men into dropping out of school for well-paying construction gigs. But now that building has gone into hibernation, all of those young men are left with no work and no education to fall back on. And, again, even if they can find temporary jobs, it’s not as if the companies will spend money to develop their skills.

An urban school district that works

To listen to some school reformers, you’d think there are no urban traditional public schools that are successful. Here’s a different story.

Nowhere at George Washington Elementary School are the virtues of collegiality and collaboration more visible than in the third grade. The Dream Team—that’s how other teachers at the school refer to Alina Bossbaly, Marilyn Corral, Jen Schuck, Mary Ann Hart and Irene Stamatopolous. Although their personalities differ greatly, they mesh as smoothly as a 400-yard relay team, and this bond helps to explain why, year after year, their students have been the school’s top performers on the New Jersey ASK, the state’s high-stakes exam. On the May 2010 exam, 79% passed the reading and writing test and an off-the-charts 93% were rated proficient in math—the best results in the entire district.

Not one of these teachers would have been accepted by Teach for America. They all grew up within a half hour’s drive from Union City and never moved away. (Two of them thought about teaching in a ghetto school in New York City, but their friends talked them out of it, and only one has ever taught elsewhere.) Only a higher education expert or someone who hails from northern New Jersey would have heard of the commuter schools—William Paterson, Jersey City, Stockton State, and the like—that they attended. Their GPAs weren’t necessarily stellar, and while some are more naturally gifted teachers than others, they all had a hard time at the start of their teaching careers.

The best explanation for their effectiveness is what they have learned—and keep learning—from their colleagues. These teachers improve, the passable ones becoming solid practitioners and the good ones maturing into candidates for a demonstration video, in good measure because of the informal tutelage that the old hands give the newbies, the day-to-day collaboration, the modeling of good practice, and the swapping of ideas about what’s worth trying in their classrooms. “The most productive thinking,” as the research confirms, “is continuous and simultaneous with action—that is, with teaching—as practitioners collaboratively implement, assess, and adjust instruction as it happens.”

The culture of abrazos, of love and caring, that permeates Washington School is rooted in close relationships of long standing between Principal Les Hanna and the teachers, among the teachers, and between the school and the families. Their ties to the kids come naturally because they have an intimate understanding of their students’ lives. Many of them grew up and still live close by, so when they talk about the students as “our kids,” as they often do, they mean it almost literally.

“Our kids’ lives are truly, truly horrible,” Les tells me. “We have to be there now.” That’s no exaggeration. What’s astonishing is how many of these children thrive despite the jagged edges of their lives. For some of them, just making it to school represents a real accomplishment.

No Standardized Tests Left Behind

My mom was a teacher, I am related to a teacher.  I have teachers who are friends.  I respect people who choose to teach.  It’s not an easy job.  Of course not all of them are good.  My grade one teacher was an alcoholic which meant that each Monday morning (and several other mornings) the lights were turned off and the film strip was shown at a low level.  In grade 2 my teacher was a racist who introduced us to the offensive term, “spic“.  She was also emotionally abusive.  After that things got better and there was a lot of good teachers that taught me.  Some were also alcoholics and drug addicts but in the classroom, they taught me a lot. (Twelve years, two alcoholics, one racist, and one drug addict doesn’t seem that good in hindsight…)

Of all of the education topics that gets teachers riled up is the topic of standardized tests.  There is a reason for that.  Standardized testing has been used to fire teachers and in the case of Chicago, entire schools, including the janitors if test scores are too low.  Of course that doesn’t make any difference.  I visited a Chicago school that had “rebooted” it’s school twice and was on the third bunch of teachers and staff and the test scores were still awful and horrible.

I heard Senator Vern White speak of recruiting indigenous police officers.  He looked at one exam given to RCMP recruits from northern communities.  It had questions about traffic lights but none of those communities had traffic lights.  Of course they did poorly.  A more contextual test gave more accurate results.

There are just too many factors beyond the teachers control.  I have written about housing instability.  There are issues of instability in the family, disinterested parents, economic issues, drugs, and you have one year’s teacher being held accountable for what was being taught before them.

I do think there is a place for standardized tests in our education system.  They aren’t a tool for evaluating teachers but rather to identify problems before they get out of hand and see if our solutions are working.  

Let’s say we test students yearly and we start to see some trends starting that we know cause problems later on.  We know students in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods struggle more than others for many reasons.  Poor standardized tests would trigger resources designed to tackle the problem.  Those solutions could be a lot of things.  More computers in the classroom, an educational assistant, a breakfast or lunch program, or maybe a new educational method in an earlier grade.  Continued standardized testing becomes the tool to evaluate the changes to see if they are effective on a school by school basis.

Of course it was be a big deal to implement and take a lot of money but right now our standardized tests are kind of useless.  They don’t give individual feedback (so the data is useless to parents who want to see how their child is doing) and are not contexualized.  The advantage of doing this is a much better and bigger data set to tackle educational problems on a macro and micro level, information that most educators don’t have right now.  On a smaller level, it’s also information that parents need about their own children.

The bad part of this is that isn’t how standardized tests are used and I doubt anyone will ever do this but they do have potential, if we could only use it.

Why not Caroline Robins School?

Excellent article by The StarPhoenix’s Janet French

Why do so many parents spurn Caroline Robins for the stuffed halls of Dundonald?

One Hampton Village resident said some of her neighbours can’t get over the outdated “community school” label.

Justine McCaffrey, the president of the Hampton Village community association, has two sons, four and two years old. Although they had strongly considered Caroline Robins, her older child attends Dundonald preschool because it’s closer to their house and a teenage neighbour can walk him to and from school.

“Had we lived any further away from the schools, I would be taking my kids to Caroline Robins.”

She’s heard parents say they won’t consider sending their kids to Caroline Robins because it was a “community school.” That used to be a designation that gave schools extra provincial funding for nutrition programs and other extras to help lower-income students.

A third of Caroline Robins’ students are First Nations and Metis.

It’s up to the school division to dispel stereotypes about Caroline Robins and tell parents what the school has to offer, she said.

“People sit there and they look at the label ‘community school,’ and they think (Caroline Robins is an) inner-city school, where there’s less fortunate kids, that the teachers aren’t the same — which they are,” McCaffrey said. “It’s no different of a school than Dundonald is, or St. Peter, or any of the schools in the area.”

The answer is that Caroline Robins school is a community school because the public school system has decided that the kids that go there need additional supports.  Sadly they need the supports (like feeding programs and other supports) because they are not all getting them at home.  Often it means disengaged parents which lead to lower classroom performance.  So as a parent in Hampton Village, do you want to send your kid to an overcrowded school with more engaged parents and students or a community school with less engaged parents and lower performing students?  The numbers answer that question.

Texas honor student jailed for truancy

Diane Tran, an honor student in Texas, was thrown in jail by a Judge Moriarty after she missed too many classes at her high school.

Tran said she works both full-time and part-time jobs, in addition to taking advanced and college level courses. But the judge said Tran’s case was bigger than the individual situation of one student. "If you let one run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em?,"said Judge Lanny Moriarty. "Let them go too? A little stay in the jail for one night is not a death sentence."

But Tran’s classmates said she had a lot more to juggle than the average teen. "She goes from job to job from school. She stays up until 7 a.m. in the morning doing her homework," said Devin Hill, a classmate and co-worker.

On top of that, Tran said her parents spilt up and moved away, leaving her to support her younger sister. The judge admitted that he wanted to make an example of the teen. Tran had to spend 24 hours in jail and had to pay a $100 fine.

Nice to see that there is no more common sense in Texas.

The Research Education Framework

AKMA has a great post from his vantage point from the University of Glasgow on the hated Research Education Framework

In order to understand the *#$€!¥!#* REF, you should bear in mind that universities over here have for the past century or so been funded almost exclusively by the government. That’s a system that has cultivated one of the outstanding educational systems in the world, second (perhaps, though it depends on the sample one takes) or superior to the USA. Since the economic collapse (for which the universities and other public services must have been primarily responsible, since it’s our funding being cut and not financiers having to repay the losses their speculation caused), funding for teaching (as distinct from research) is being cut to the bone; for humanities disciplines, our main government contribution will come for research. And the way the government’s research funding is determined is the *#$€!¥!#* REF.

(Research funding was determined by the *#$€!¥!#* REF’s predecessor, the RAE, in the past; since other sources of funding are drying up, though, the research component takes on heightened importance.)

The *#$€!¥!#* REF works this way: at a given moment, every university in the UK will gather pieces of research that represent the work of their staff in various subject areas, and a committee of scholars will evaluate all the books, essays, research reports, whatever, and assign each institution’s staff a piece of the research pie. That moment, for this REF cycle, begins January 2014. All across the UK, academics are straining to make sure that they have four significant publications in print before that deadline — all at once, except for the elect who have already published four estimable works.

What a messed up way of determining funding.

Short term mobile phone storage for students

This is kind of crazy.

Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.

How Harvard University Spends Your Tuition

How Harvard University Spends Your Tuition

I wonder how this compares to the University of Saskatchewan.

Cornhuskers are good for something

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln has the only academic quilt-studies program in the world and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.  How can you read that and not say that the United States is not a world leader in post-secondary education. via

What are kids learning in college?

Not much according to Bob Hebert.

A provocative new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.

Intellectual effort and academic rigor, in the minds of many of the nation’s college students, is becoming increasingly less important. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: “Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.”

Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible.

What many of those students are not walking away with is something that has long been recognized as invaluable — higher order thinking and reasoning skills. They can get their degrees without putting in more of an effort because in far too many instances the colleges and universities are not demanding more of them.

The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s.

Rewired for the digital age (and that’s not necessarily a good thing)

From the New York Times

Sam Crocker, Vishal’s closest friend, who has straight A’s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet’s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

“I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

He concludes: “My attention span is getting worse.”

The entire article is a must read I am amazed at how passive families and parents are about their kids school work.  I was a noted slacker when I was a teenager about homework but my mother rode me to get it done.  While one student points out that there was distractions out there, there has always been distractions.

But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.

“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

This isn’t new.  I was grounded from early in grade seven (other than church and hockey) until sometime in grade 8 without a break.  Even over the summer months.  It wasn’t one big grounding but a series of smaller ones that kept being added on.  Eventually my mother took away television, then my radio in my room, my toys and I still found new ways not to do homework but eventually you realize that this world demands something of you and you have to focus.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

“If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world,” said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.

Well first of all, why does a kid need a smartphone.  One student sent 27,000 text messages last month.  That can be controlled by downgrading her phone, limiting her outgoing messages to a more manageable number, and then demanding that she has to have cell phone minutes and and available text messages if she wants to go out.  Since when is “unlimited texting” and unlimited web access a human right?  The Nokia 1100 is the world’s most popular phone and really does someone going to school needs more than that?  250,000,000 users have gotten by with it but in North America, Rogers, Bell, and AT&T have got us convinced that a $600 smartphone is our only option.

“I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

That is why kids need parents.  They can’t always draw boundaries themselves.  Sadly it seems like all of us are having a harder and harder time drawing those boundaries.

What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?

From the Washington Post

…a look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation.

First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, "We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?")

And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible. That’s why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.

With these signs in mind, here are four contenders for future moral condemnation.

I think of how the world ignored HIV/Aids in Africa and disparity in our educational systems.  Anything else?