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Do You Care?

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 concluded a group of researchers who probed the thoughts of 208 6th graders from one urban and two suburban public schools. The students were asked to write an essay on two teachers who were memorable for their caring behavior and to describe how those teachers demonstrated it. The students' responses were broken down according to the behaviors they cited, and then those behaviors were clustered under 11 broader categories, such as the teacher "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. The highest-ranked behaviors listed by the white students, on the other hand, were "responded to the individual,'' "provided fun and humor,'' and "provided good subject content.'' Still, there was some overlap. Boys and girls of both races, for example, agreed 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.'' The researchers--Charles Hayes of New York University, Alice Ryan of Fordham University, and Elaine Zseller of St. Stephen Lutheran School--published their findings in the November issue of the American Journal of Education. "Teachers need to be aware of the students' perceptions of their actions and inactions,'' they write. "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.''

High School Pays Off

A new University of Pennsylvania study suggests that success in high school does pay--even for students who don't go on to college. Researchers at the university's Wharton School of Finance and the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce, a federally funded research center also housed at the university, based their conclusions on data from High School and Beyond, 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. Among other things, they found that students who graduated from high school on time were earning $2,000 more in 1985 than those who had not; students who had been enrolled in high school vocational programs were earning $1,000 less than those in academic programs; and students who had a paid job in high school were making about $1,300 more than those who did not. The study found no correlation between students' earnings and the size of the schools they attended, the size of the classes, 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 Crawford, an adjunct professor of economics at the Wharton School, who conducted the study with Wharton colleague Anita Summers and graduate student Amy Johnson. "We're just not sure why.''
--Debra Viadero

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