January 01, 1999 3 min read

Alternative Teaching: Do teachers who enter the classroom via alternative certification teach as well as those who have been traditionally trained? To answer that question, researchers from Florida State University and Georgia State University matched each of 41 graduates of an alternative-certification program with a traditionally trained teacher working in the same middle schools. All 82 had been on the job for three years. Evaluators for the study watched all the teachers at work and noted how frequently they used good teaching practices. The researchers also tested students from classrooms of both alternatively certified teachers and traditionally trained teachers. On each measure--both evaluator observations and student test scores--the teachers with alternative certification scored no differently from their counterparts. The researchers did find differences, though, in the teachers’ reflections about their first-year experiences. Although all the teachers said they felt unprepared at first, the traditionally trained teachers said that was natural for anyone starting a career. The alternatively trained teachers, by contrast, felt something was missing in their preparation. The findings appeared in the May/June Journal of Teacher Education.

Troubles In Dreamland: For some struggling students, there may be nothing more to poor grades than a lack of sleep, according to a study featured in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics. David Gozal, director of Tulane University’s Comprehensive Sleep Disorder Center, screened 300 Louisiana 1st graders for sleep disorders. Each of the students ranked in the bottom 10th of their classes. Gozal found that 54 of the children--about 18 percent--suffered from sleep apnea, a condition marked by irregular breathing during sleep. That rate, according to Gozal, is six to nine times higher than it is for the general population. In all the cases, the children’s apnea was caused by unusually large tonsils and adenoids. Just under half the children--24 in all--underwent surgery to have those organs removed. A year after the operations, Gozal checked the class rankings of the children who had been diagnosed with the sleep disorder. Though the grades of the pupils whose families had rejected surgery had not improved, those of their tonsil-free peers had jumped from an average C-plus to a B-minus. The improvement, though slight, was enough to move 22 of the 24 children who had the surgery out of the bottom 10 percent of their classes. “What it’s telling us is that there’s definitely a component of sleep apnea that affects learning,” Gozal says. He speculates that part of the problem is that the disorder reduces the flow of oxygen to the brain, possibly causing temporary or permanent dysfunction. But another reason may be that children with the disorder simply can’t get a good night’s sleep. “Everyone who has not slept well overnight,” Gozal says, “knows how he feels the next day.”

Uniform Findings: After administrators in Long Beach, California, began touting the benefits of student uniforms, education policymakers rushed to embrace the idea. Even President Clinton endorsed the concept. But do uniforms really decrease behavior problems and boost attendance and achievement? The answer, says a report in the September/October Journal of Educational Research, is probably not. Researchers David Brunsma and Kerry Rockquemore analyzed data on nearly 5,000 10th graders who took part in a federal study that began in 1988. They found that sophomores in schools requiring uniforms were no less likely than their more casually dressed peers to fight, smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs, or otherwise get in trouble at school. And they were no more likely to attend school regularly or score higher on standardized tests. In fact, the data showed that achievement scores were slightly lower for students made to wear uniforms. “Requiring school uniforms is like cleaning and painting a deteriorating building,” says Brunsma, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. “It will grab a community’s attention and grab students’ attention, but that will fade away if the excitement about education isn’t followed up by some real reform efforts.”

--Debra Viadero