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August 07, 2012 5 min read
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| NEWS | INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Duz Txting Hurt Kidz Gramr? Absolutely, a New Study Says

“Wud u lk 2 meet me 4 brgr 2nite?”

If you’ve ever looked at a teenager’s text message and thought it looked more like a kindergartner’s scrawl, you might not be far off.

Middle school students who frequently use “tech-speak”—shortening words and using homophone symbols, such as @ for “at” or 2nite for “tonight”—performed worse on a test of basic grammar, according to a new study in New Media & Society.

Drew P. Cingel, a doctoral candidate in media, technology, and society at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., conducted the experiment when he was an undergraduate with the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., under director S. Shyam Sundar. The researchers surveyed 228 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in central Pennsylvania on their daily habits, including the number of texts they sent and received, their attitudes about texting, and their other activities during the day, such as watching television or reading for pleasure. The researchers then assessed the students using 22 questions adapted from a 9th grade grammar test to include only topics taught by 6th grade, including verb-noun agreement, use of correct tense, homophones, possessives, apostrophes, comma usage, punctuation, and capitalization.

The authors found that the more students sent text messages using text-speak, the worse their grammar—a concern as 13- to 17-year-olds send more than twice the number of text messages each month than any other age group.

The more often a student received text messages using tech-speak, the more likely he or she was to send messages using that language. There was no gender difference, though teenage girls have been found in other studies to send and receive nearly twice as many messages per month as boys do: 4,050 texts on average, compared with 2,539.

-Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | CHARTERS & CHOICE

Catholic Education Can Draw Lessons From Charter Schools

Catholic schools, which have seen their enrollments decline, can help themselves financially and academically by borrowing strategies from an emergent competitor, charter schools, a new report argues.

The Lexington Institute, a think tank based in Arlington, Va., says that academic models such as “blended learning,” which combines technology and traditional instruction, can allow Catholic schools to customize learning to individual student needs and also save those schools money.

Charter schools have become major competitors to Catholic schools in recent years, notes the report, highlighting a trend identified by other researchers. Many charters are opening in urban neighborhoods where Catholic schools traditionally have had a strong presence. Charters, like Catholic schools, are attractive to families who want a demanding curriculum and a structured approach to academics and discipline, says the author of the report, Sean Kennedy. Today, charters “offer an education of comparable quality [to Catholic schools] for no cost,” he writes.

According to Kennedy, charter school enrollment will surpass that of Catholic schools for the first time during the 2012-13 academic year. The number of students in each sector is currently roughly the same—a little more than 2 million. In an interview, he said that projection assumes that the decline in Catholic school enrollment continues over the coming year, and that charter school enrollment continues to grow at its current pace.

Incorporating blended learning into instruction, Kennedy argues, will bring several advantages to Catholic schools. It will give them access to richer and more immediate data on student performance. It will allow them to make use of tests that can guide instruction and help teachers modify lessons to student needs—a strategy known as “formative assessment.” It will make it easier for them to engage parents, giving them faster access to information about their children’s performance and tips about how mothers and fathers can help with homework. And it will allow for a “rebranding” of Catholic schools as leaders in promoting cutting-edge instruction.

Adopting those kinds of practices would represent a serious philosophical shift for the Catholic school community, Kennedy acknowledges.

“Catholic educators, who put great stock in their success at avoiding most of the worst education fads of the past half-century, are reticent to embrace data and prefer to continue traditional instructional methods,” he writes. Catholic schools are also trying to build students’ understanding of Catholic identity, and strengthen their character through the church’s teachings. But his report concludes that Catholic schools are also under increasing pressure—from parents, funders, and others—to provide data showing why their instructional approaches are successful.

—Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | EARLY YEARS

Early-Childhood Education Not Marquee Campaign Issue

Of all the issues aired at a National Journal-hosted event on early-childhood education recently, one theme resounded more than any other: Politicians, and, by extension, the people who vote for them, don’t see early learning as a priority.

That’s the case despite broad agreement across the political spectrum that investing both public and private dollars in early-childhood programs—especially for poor kids—pays numerous dividends down the line, said panelists who participated in the event in Washington, titled “Early Education for Success: Early-Childhood Education’s Impact on the Economy.” And that’s the case despite overwhelming research that shows multiple, positive outcomes for children who participate in a quality early-childhood program, according to Arthur J. Rolnick, a senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, one of the panelists.

So why don’t more folks running for political office—including the White House—talk about early childhood in substantive, meaningful ways? Will we, just a little over three months from the election, finally hear Mitt Romney talk about the earliest years of learning and what policies he would support if he wins the White House? Will President Obama—who has a track record on early-childhood policies to highlight from the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge to the overhaul of how federal Head Start funds are doled out—talk about those things beyond sound bites?

Panelist Michael N. Castle, a former Republican governor of Delaware and nine-term congressman, put some of the blame on the media, saying that it “has just not done a good job” of covering the importance of early learning, and the direct connections to the long-term health of the economy. Reporters on the campaign trail ought to be asking about early childhood, but don’t, he said.

Rolnick offered what is the most likely reason: Kids who stand to benefit most from public investments in early-childhood programs are years away from voting and very often come from households where the adults are unlikely to trek to the polls on Election Day.

—Lesli A. Maxwell

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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