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June 05, 2012 5 min read
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| NEWS | SCHOOLED IN SPORTS

Active Friends Key to Combating Childhood Obesity, Study Suggests

A child’s group of friends holds the greatest influence on determining how physically active that child will be, suggests a study published online last week in the journal Pediatrics.

As such, the study authors suggest interventions in children’s friendship networks could be key to altering physical-activity behaviors among youths.

The study examined 81 children, from 5 to 12 years of age, from two public after-school programs. Researchers from Vanderbilt University collected data about each child’s physical activity and friendship networks three times, six weeks apart, throughout the course of one school semester.

They discovered that children weren’t likely to make or break friendship ties based on physical-activity level or obesity status. However, they found that “school-aged children assimilated to the activity level of their closest friends over the relatively brief period of 12 weeks.”

On average, children were over six times more likely to change their physical-activity level to match their friends’ instead of maintaining their own physical-activity level. While age and obesity affected a child’s likelihood to adjust activity levels, their friends’ activity levels most strongly influenced their own physical activity.

This holds both ways, according to the study’s findings. If a physically active child pairs off with a group of more sedentary friends, that child will be more likely to decrease his or her physical-activity level to match up with the friends’.

“There’s a pretty good chance that you could make some significant changes based on the social-influence factor alone,” said study co-author Eric Tesdahl, a graduate student in Vanderbilt’s department of human and organizational development, to HealthDay news service.

—Bryan Toporek

| NEWS | ON SPECIAL EDUCATION

Identifying Students With Learning Disabilities

Who are students with learning disabilities? It depends on what state or school district you live in.

A surge in the use of response to intervention and a lack of consensus about how much of a role cognitive assessment should play in an evaluation prompted the National Center for Learning Disabilities in May to issue a new set of guidelines on its view of how students with specific learning disabilities should be identified.

As the use of RTI has grown, so have concerns that it has been used inappropriately, delaying or preventing the identification of some students as having learning disabilities or other disabilities.

NCLD says comprehensive evaluations of students should include multiple assessment tools and strategies to gather functional, developmental, and academic information.

In addition, parents and a team of school staff must work together to determine if a child has a learning disability, NCLD says.

The RTI process can’t be used to deny or delay evaluations for special education services.

The new position from NCLD focuses heavily on RTI, noting that “when implemented with fidelity, RTI will expedite the [learning disability] evaluation process. ...” But RTI should not be a substitute for that evaluation.

—Nirvi Shah

| NEWS | INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

‘Academic Entitlement’ Leads to Reduced Effort in Students

Does this scenario sound familiar? After getting test results, a student tells the teacher, “I come to class every day; I deserve at least a B!”

Students’ sense of academic entitlement can reduce their effort in class and lead to confrontations with teachers, according to research by Tracey E. Zinn, a psychology associate professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Moreover, teachers may be unintentionally feeding that sense of entitlement, she said at the Association for Psychological Science conference in Chicago late last month.

Zinn and her James Madison colleagues found a few clear symptoms of a student developing a sense of entitlement, such as the belief that knowledge is a “right” that should be delivered with little effort or discomfort for students or a high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for nonacademic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class, or the student or her family paying tuition or taxes that go to the teacher’s salary.

The researchers also found that students that scored high on an assessment of academic entitlement were less able to regulate their own learning and had less sense of control. Moreover, students with a high sense of entitlement were found to have a history of “executive” help-seeking—for example, asking, “Can you tell me the right answer?"—while students with a low sense of entitlement were more likely to have sought “instrumental” help, asking, for instance, “Can you help me understand this concept?”

Zinn said the research suggests there are some potential ways teachers can cut down on the whine, such as providing clear expectations for students and assignments, in whichthe effort put in is clearly related to the grade a student will receive.

—Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | TEACHER BEAT

Common-Core Architect Helped Launch Rhee Group

One of the key architects of the Common Core State Standards, David Coleman, is listed as a director on the board of StudentsFirst, the advocacy group begun by former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Two other employees at Student Achievement Partners, the nonprofit group that Coleman began to help districts implement the common core, are also listed on StudentsFirst’s irs application.

StudentsFirst calls the trio “founding” board members. Spokeswoman Nancy Zuckerbrod said it was planned for them to step down this summer.

Why pick Coleman initially?, I asked.

“He’s a really impressive guy,” Zuckerbrod said. “Michelle is totally on board with the common core. She’s a big fan.”

Other groups also lent StudentsFirst support in its early days. The Broad Foundation gave the group about half a million in start-up funding, while Education Reform Now, another advocacy group affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, was at one point listed as its financial sponsor. Dfer President Joe Williams told me that was done in the haste before Rhee appeared on “Oprah” to formally announce its launch.

Coleman, who was recently tapped to lead the College Board, has not weighed in on StudentsFirst’s policy agenda, which includes revamped teacher-evaluation systems, more charter schools, and school vouchers.

—Stephen Sawchuk

A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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