January 01, 2000 5 min read

Winners And Losers: Michigan’s open-enrollment and charter-school policies are presenting new opportunities for many students but could wind up harming others, a new report concludes. The study, by a team of Michigan State University researchers, is the first to examine the combined impact of charters and a choice program that lets students attend public schools outside their home districts. It found that enrollment in most districts has changed little since the policies were put in place, but a “vital few” that were losing students before have seen further departures. This exodus of students from those districts, the authors assert, may accelerate the decline in school quality for students who remain behind. In other words, says education professor and author David Plank, “choice may impose costs on students who don’t choose.”

Expect More, Get More: Standards proponents argue that if you give students demanding work, they will rise to the challenge. A new study of reading and mathematics instruction at a handful of Chicago schools backs them up. Two years ago, scholars at the Consortium on Chicago School Research began analyzing classroom assignments and student work at 12 elementary schools that had won improvement grants from the Annenberg Foundation. At each school, the investigators asked two teachers in grades 3, 6, and 8 to provide examples of math and reading assignments that they considered challenging. The teachers also provided samples of student work from those assignments. By the end of the 1996-97 school year, the researchers had collected more than 1,400 pieces of work. The investigators then trained teachers from nonparticipating schools to evaluate the levels of intellectual rigor for each assignment. To be considered “challenging,” an assignment had to require students to “construct knowledge’’ by interpreting, analyzing, or synthesizing information and elaborating on their conclusions. First the bad news: Few of the assignments—less than 30 percent—offered students any degree of challenge. The good news? The assignments deemed challenging resulted in higher-quality work. The report, The Quality of Intellectual Work in Chicago Schools, is available at www.consortium-

Look-Alikes: A new study calls into question the conventional view that Roman Catholic schools are bastions of traditional pedagogy and public schools havens for progressivism. When University of Pittsburgh education professor Louis Chandler looked at what goes on inside public and parochial schools, he found very similar pedagogical approaches. Chandler, who carried out the study for the pro-voucher Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, based his analysis on surveys returned from 336 principals of Catholic, public, and independent schools in Ohio. Among other things, he asked the administrators to rate the extent to which their schools use progressive or traditional teaching methods. The results showed that Catholic school principals were slightly more likely than their public school counterparts to say that their teachers employ progressive methods, but the average difference between the two was not statistically significant. Independent schools, meanwhile, use traditional teaching methods at significantly higher rates than both parochial and public schools. Interestingly, the analysis found more variability among public schools than between the public and private school averages. Still, the researcher adds, most schools in both groups were somewhere in the middle. “We’re ending up,” he says, “with a more and more homogeneous education system at the same time when parents say they want more choices.”

Media Mania: Children spend 38 hours each week-roughly the equivalent of a full-time job-focused on some form of media, such as television, recorded music, computers, and magazines. And that’s not counting the time they spend using various media at school or for homework. For six months beginning November 1998, the Kaiser Family Foundation of Menlo Park, California, collected media- related data on a nationally representative sample of 3,155 children, ages 2 to 18. On a typical day, the study found, the children spent five hours and 29 minutes on some form of media. Children ages 8 to 18 spent almost seven hours; those younger spent just over three hours and 30 minutes. There was virtually no difference between boys and girls, but minority children spent nearly an hour more a day than their white peers. Television dominated the media mix, taking up an average of more than 19 hours of a child’s typical week. Next was music, at 10 hours; reading for pleasure, at five; using computers for fun, at two and a half; and playing video games, at two. A number of observers suggested that the findings bolster the argument for teaching media literacy in schools. “Media aren’t a peripheral aspect of childhood but a very central aspect of the world and the life that children grow up with,” says Ellen Wartella, dean of the communications program at the University of Texas in Austin. More information on the Kaiser report, Kids & Media @ the New Millennium, is available at

Boy Trouble: Are men becoming an endangered species on college campuses? Iowa researcher Thomas Mortenson is worried. He says women are now graduating from high school, enrolling in college, and earning bachelor’s degrees in greater numbers than men. The shift is especially troubling, he says, because U.S. Census data show that in the under-30 population, males outnumber females. “If the trend since 1970 continues,” he writes in the August issue of The College Board Review, “the last male to be awarded a bachelor’s degree will receive it in the spring of 2067.” Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Center for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and publisher of the Iowa City-based newsletter Postsecondary Education Opportunity, says he stumbled upon the shifting gender gap in higher education while tracking women’s progress in that world. But the trend, he notes, extends far beyond higher education. He points out, for example, that the participation of men in the labor force has been declining since World War II, mainly because the jobs in our service- and information-based economy increasingly require communications skills more than physical strength. “Men are no longer needed for their traditional roles of fighting off the saber-toothed tiger at the cave door,” he notes. “The question is: What does education need to do to prepare males for the way the world has evolved?’' Mortenson has posted information from his research at

--Lynn Schnaiberg, Debra Viadero, Jeff Archer, and Andrew Trotter