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Published in Print: May 5, 1999, as Research Notes

Research Notes

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Sports and School Success

Two new studies offer some quantitative evidence for something coaches have long known: Participating in high school sports is good for children.

The studies, both of which draw on data from a national sample of 25,000 high school students, were presented last month during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Montreal.

For their study, Jan Sokol-Katz and Jomills Henry Braddock II of the Center for Research on Sport in Society at the University of Miami in Florida looked at how often behavior problems cropped up among 12th graders who had taken part in athletics at some point in their high school careers. Even when the researchers controlled the numbers to account for students who already had behavior problems in 8th grade or those who were predisposed to have more prosocial attitudes toward school, sports participation had a positive impact. The effects were twice as strong for black males as they were for white females, with other groups of students falling somewhere in between.

"We are not arguing that varsity sports participation is a remedy for ending school delinquency," the researchers write, "but it may contribute to the social control of problem behavior."

In a separate study, Will J. Jordan, an associate director of the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that sports had a "small but consistent" impact on a variety of other positive school outcomes, too. The more involved that 10th graders were in athletics, for example, the more likely they were to feel confident of their academic abilities or to be engaged in their schools. And the more connections students feel to schools, Mr. Jordan hypothesizes, the better they may do.

Spending more time in sports activities also increased the likelihood of having a higher grade point average. But Mr. Jordan suggests taking that last finding with a grain of salt. With many schools across the country having "no pass, no play" rules, he says, teachers may also feel more pressure to give the student athletes in their classrooms passing grades.

Preschool Teachers Surveyed

Preschool teachers share strong common views on their educational beliefs and practices, results from a nationwide survey suggest.

Diane Early and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California, Los Angeles, also presented results of their study during last month's educational research conference.

They surveyed 1,902 day-care centers and preschool programs across the country last year and found few discrepancies in teachers' and directors' views on teaching 3- and 4-year-olds. More important, most said they practiced those beliefs.

The teachers did differ somewhat, however, in the degree to which they thought it important to make a daily science experience available to their young charges and on whether children should have time to be alone.

The researchers also noted that differences cropped up in teachers' beliefs about the extent to which preschoolers should be required to take part in group activities. Teachers in public school preschool programs, Head Start programs, and centers run by nonprofit agencies similarly played down the importance of requiring students to participate in and complete group activities. But teachers in for-profit programs and programs run by churches and synagogues tended to say it was more important to keep groups of students working together.

"In general, when we talk about quality, we talk about teachers following children's direction," said Ms. Early, an investigator at unc's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. "Those kind of group-centered beliefs would not be what we consider developmentally appropriate."

The study also found that 50 percent of the teachers surveyed held bachelor's degrees or better--a slight increase from the last time such a national survey was undertaken in 1990.

New Statistics Journal

Statistics on everything from the age of the nation's public school buildings to the academic qualifications of its teachers are available in the first edition of the Education Statistics Quarterly, a new publication from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

The sleek-looking journal is a product of NCES Commissioner Pascal D. Forgione Jr.'s campaign to make the center's work more predictable, useful, and timely. Each edition will carry summaries of center reports produced over the previous three months as well as two commentaries by outside authors.

Look for the journal online at: nces.ed.gov/pubs99/quarterlyapr/index.html. Or write the journal at: National Center for Education Statistics, 555 New Jersey Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20208-5574.

Recipe for Success

What makes an effective 1st grade reading and writing teacher? To answer that question, researchers from the State University of New York at Albany have spent the past three years studying outstanding--and not so outstanding--teachers in five states. The 30 teachers in the study were nominated by school administrators in California, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin. The administrators were asked to single out two teachers working with similar groups of students in the same district: one a superior literacy teacher, the other a more typical instructor.

Teams from the university's National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement interviewed the teachers, visited their classrooms, and tracked their students' progress.

Outstanding teachers, they found, tended to manage their classrooms efficiently and to make sure students were academically engaged at least 90 percent of the time.

Their rooms were positive places where students were given guidance in choosing the cues and strategies they could use to master difficult texts on their own.

Basic word-recognition skills, such as phonics or looking at pictures or word parts to decipher meaning, were taught both explicitly and in the context of real reading and writing--what experts would consider a balanced approach to reading instruction.

The most effective teachers also prodded individual students to read more challenging books, and they integrated reading and writing throughout the day, in science as well as social studies.

Those techniques evidently paid off. In the classrooms of the teachers identified as outstanding, students--especially those from poor families--outscored their peers in comparison classrooms.

Even so, the researchers cautioned against reading too much into the isolated features they distilled from the classrooms they visited.

"Based on the analysis presented here, excellent 1st grade teaching is more complicated than rocket science," conclude the authors, Michael Pressley, Ruth Wharton-McDonald, Richard Allington, Cathy Collings Block, and Lesley Morrow.

The full report, "The Nature of Effective First-Grade Literacy Instruction," is available online at: cela.albany.edu/1stgradelit/index.html.

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 18, Issue 34, Page 29

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