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Ideas and Findings

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Students have different ideas about what it means for a teacher to be caring, and those perceptions may vary according to the students' ethnicity and gender.

So concludes a group of researchers who probed the thoughts of 208 6th graders on the subject. The students, who came from one urban and two suburban public schools, were asked to write an essay on two teachers who were memorable for their caring and to describe how those teachers had demonstrated caring behavior. The students' responses were broken down according to the behaviors they cited, and then those behaviors were clustered under 11 broader categories, such as "listened" or "avoided harshness."

The researchers found that black students and white students differed significantly in their rankings for half of those categories. For example, black students ranked "helped with academic work," "encouraged success and positive feelings," and "responded to the individual" as the surest signs that a teacher cared. By comparison, the highest-ranked behaviors listed by the white students, in order, were "responded to the individual," "provided fun and humor," and "provided good subject content."

Boys and girls of both races, on the other hand, tended to agree on the seven top-ranked categories. They differed--though not by much--on other less frequently mentioned characteristics. For example, a greater number of girls wrote that the caring teacher "didn't yell," "doesn't get mad," or "stayed calm." Boys, on the other hand, said that in the caring teacher's classroom, "we always know what we are to do," "work is organized," or "fights are stopped."

"Teachers need to be aware of the students' perceptions of their actions and inactions," write the researchers, Charles B. Hayes of New York University, Alice Ryan of Fordham University, and Elaine B. Zseller of St. Stephen Lutheran School in New York, in a November article in the American Journal of Education. "Adapting their behaviors to correspond with cultural differences will enable teachers to increase positive relationships and, we hope, more effective social development of their students."

A new University of Pennsylvania study suggests that success in high school does pay--even for students who don't go onto college.

Researchers at the Wharton School and the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce, a federally funded research center housed at the university, based their conclusions on data from the High School and Beyond study, a national longitudinal study that tracks students from their sophomore year in high school. They looked in particular at 2,000 students from the study sample who were not enrolled in college in 1985, which was three years after they left high school. Of that group, they found that:

  • Students who had graduated on time earned $2,000 more in 1985 than those who had not.
  • Each one-point increment in students'grade-point averages translated to about $800 in earnings for that year.
  • Students who had been enrolled in vocational programs earned $1,000 less in 1985 than those in academic programs.
  • Students who had attended schools that provided job listings earned about $1,000 more than their counterparts elsewhere.
  • Having a paid job in high school translated to about $1,300 more in 1985 earnings.

The study did not, however, find any correlations between students' earnings and the size of the schools they attended, class sizes, the amount of homework they received, teachers' years of experience, teachers' salaries, and whether the students had attended kindergarten.

"The major lesson of this study is that, clearly, school does matter," says David L. Crawford, a study author and an adjunct professor of economics at the Wharton School. "We're just not sure why." Crawford conducted the study with graduate student Amy Johnson and Anita A. Summers, a professor emeritus of public policy and management at Wharton.

Minority students stand a better chance of graduating from high school on time in Kentucky than they do in Wisconsin.

So suggests a new study by Research Associates of Washington. The firm used data from the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights to rank states according to the rates at which minority and white students graduate from high school, and enter and graduate from public colleges.

Kentucky, ranking first on the firm's "state education equity" index, graduates 55 percent of its black students on time, compared with 66 percent of its white students, the study says. In Wisconsin, the lowest ranked state, the on-time graduation rates for black and white students are 46 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

Nationwide, says Kent Halstead, the study's author, 58 percent of all black 18-year-olds graduate from public high school, compared with 71 percent of their white counterparts--rates somewhat lower than other high-school-graduation studies have found.

Halstead says the differences may be due, in part, to the fact that his study did not include students who earned high-school-equivalency diplomas.

--Debra Viadero



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