Report Roundup

November 20, 2002 10 min read
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Researchers Evaluate Hand-Held Computers

Teachers whose students use hand-held computers to collect data and take notes say the devices are effective instructional tools, according to the first large-scale study of the use of such devices in U.S. classrooms.

Read “Palm Educator Pioneers Program: Final Evaluation Report,” available through the Palm Educator Pioneers Program, a collaborative project between Palm, Inc. and SRI International. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Researchers from SRI International—an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif.-evaluated more than 100 elementary and secondary classrooms that received the devices and auxiliary equipment, such as scientific probes and keyboards, through grants from Palm Inc.

The study, which was released last week, found that 89 percent of the teachers said the hand-held computers were an effective instructional tool, and 93 percent said they believed hand-helds could have a positive impact on learning.

But the study also documented problems, such as students’ inappropriate use of the devices, issues of classroom integration and usability, equipment damage, and potential for loss or theft.

—Andrew Trotter

Charter Waiting Lists

The report —which provides a variety of other data on charter schools, such as student demographics, instructional approaches, and testing practices—is available from the Center for Education Reform.(Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Waiting lists at the nation’s charter schools rose sharply last year, even as the schools reported major problems with securing adequate facilities and financing, according to a recently released survey by the Center for Education Reform. The Washington-based research and advocacy group strongly supports the independent public schools.

The annual survey found that charter schools enrolled an average of 242 students in the 2001-02 school year, compared with 539 for traditional public schools, and had waiting lists averaging 166 students each, up from 112 students in 2000-01.

—Caroline Hendrie

Youth Violence

Students ages 12 to 18 were victims of about 128,000 serious violent crimes—rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault—in 2000, according to a federal report. But they were more than twice as likely to be victims of such crimes away from school than at school.

“Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” is available from the National Center for Education Statistics. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The 2002 edition of “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” a joint report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics, also found 47 school-related violent deaths reported from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999, the latest years for which such data were available. Of those deaths, 38 were homicides, six were suicides, two were of people killed by a law-enforcement officer in the line of duty, and one was reported as unintentional.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

What Teachers Teach

Federal and state efforts to implement rigorous academic standards and accountability measures may be undermined by teachers’ adherence to student-centered instructional strategies and their low expectations for students, concludes a recent study commissioned by the New York City-based Manhattan Institute.

“What Do Teachers Teach? A Survey of America’s Fourth and Eighth Grade Teachers,” is available from the Manhattan Institute. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“What Do Teachers Teach: A Survey of America’s Fourth and Eighth Grade Teachers” was conducted by the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

The report expresses concern that many teachers seem indifferent to standards-based reform efforts. For instance, it says, about one-third of the 1,200 4th and 8th grade teachers surveyed did not agree that their primary role was to help students meet state and local standards in various subjects.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Civic Disengagement

Read “The Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait,” posted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Nearly 60 percent of Americans ages 15 to 25 are “completely disengaged from public life,” failing to vote or take up other civic activities, according to a recent survey. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland College Park conducted the study.

“The Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait,” financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, asked a national sample of nearly 3,500 people from various age groups about their participation in 19 civic activities, from voting to volunteerism.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Textbook Shortages

Teachers in urban school districts and those who teach high proportions of minority or economically disadvantaged students are less likely to have an adequate supply of textbooks than their peers in rural or suburban schools. That finding comes from a survey by the Association of American Publishers and the National Education Association.

The “2002 Instructional Materials Survey: Report of Findings” is available from the Association of American Publishers. The survey was cosponsered by the AAP and the National Education Association.(Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

While 78 percent of the 1,000 teachers surveyed reported that they used textbooks regularly in their classrooms, one-sixth said they did not have enough books for each of their students. More than one-fourth of those in urban classrooms or with large numbers of students deemed at risk said they had an inadequate number of texts.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Teen Drug Use

A bipartisan group of leading physicians has released a report on adolescent substance abuse that urges policymakers and public-health officials to come up with better strategies for curbing and treating teenage drug abuse.

Read “Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Public Health Priority,” posted by Physicians’ Leadership on National Drug Policy. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The 70-page report, “Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Public Health Priority,” details the prevalence and causes of adolescent substance abuse and highlights the link between drug abuse and mental-health disorders. Among other recommendations, it says the health, legal, and education communities need to pool their resources more effectively to tackle the problem.

—Kevin Bushweller

Class Size

Students who are in classes with fewer students in the early grades tend to do better academically than their peers in larger classes, and that benefit becomes more noticeable the longer the students are in classes that have fewer than 20 children, according to a recent study.

Read “What Research Says About Small Classes and Their Effects,” from WestEd. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The study by WestEd, a nonprofit research group based in San Francisco, also found that the extra gains students got from smaller classes in early elementary school tended to be greater for poor and minority students.

—Rhea R. Borja

Smaller Schools

Building smaller schools is cost-effective and such schools serve students better than large schools, according to a report on the educational and social benefits of smaller schools.

Read “Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools,” from the Knowledge Works Foundation. The project was also sponsored by Concordia, a New Orleans-based architectural firm, and the Rural School and Community Trust. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.). Small schools, defined as having fewer than 300 students, tend to be safer than their larger counterparts. A higher percentage of small-school students also go on to college compared with their peers in larger schools, says “Dollars & Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools.” For example, 89 percent of large schools reported criminal incidents, as compared with 60 percent of schools of medium size and 38 percent of small schools.

—Rhea R. Borja

School Success

States that are crafting plans to improve struggling schools should focus on five critical elements common to high- performing schools, the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Boards of Education advises in a new report.

An executive summary of “From Sanctions to Solutions: Meeting the Needs of Low- Performing Schools,” is available from the National Association of School Boards of Education. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Those elements include effective school leadership, high-quality teachers, targeted professional development, good curriculum and instructional supports, and frequent and appropriate use of data to inform improvement. The report also concludes that targeted, intensive technical assistance is the intervention strategy that is most likely to bring about long-term improvement in school performance.

—Kevin Bushweller

Technology Tips

The growing availability of computers and other digital technologies in schools oblige educators and policymakers to strive to unleash the full power of those tools, argues a recent policy brief from a San Francisco-based research group WestEd.

Read “Getting the Most From Technology in School,” from WestEd. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The brief summarizes lessons from research, such as matching technology with school goals, making technology one piece of a larger strategy, providing enough professional development, offering sufficient equipment and support, making technology accessible, and integrating technology into the curriculum. A list of references directs readers to the research.

—Andrew Trotter

Math Education

Only about one of every four elementary and middle school pupils in the United States is proficient in mathematics, and just one-sixth of high school students have reached that level, a study by the Washington-based Education Trust has found.

Read “Add It Up: Mathematics Education in the U.S. Does Not Compute,” from Education Trust. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The report includes new data on the percent of secondary math classes taught in the United States by teachers lacking college majors or minors in the subject. It also has data on the education backgrounds of middle school math teachers.

—Kevin Bushweller

Higher Education

Many states have made strides in preparing students for college, but the opportunity to attend college remains unevenly and unfairly distributed in favor of pupils from more affluent families, according to a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, located in San Jose, Calif.

The report, which includes a statistical profile of each state, is available from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “Measuring Up 2002" grades states in five key areas of higher education performance: preparation, participation, affordability, completion, and benefits.

—Kevin Bushweller

Affluent Youths

Adolescents growing up in wealthy, suburban communities are at much greater risk for depression and substance abuse than most people might expect, concludes a recent study.

The study, which followed 302 students in the 6th and 7th grades in an affluent community, suggests that the potential causes of those problems are achievement pressures and feelings of isolation from parents.

“Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth” was published in the September/October 2002 issue of the journal Child Development.

—Kevin Bushweller

Religious Involvement

Participating regularly in organized religious activities is associated with lower adolescent drug and alcohol use and delays in sexual activity, according to a recent research brief by Child Trends, a Washington-based research center.

The research brief, “Religious Involvement and Children’s Well-Being: What the Research Tells Us (And What It Doesn’t),” is available from Child Trends. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“Religious Involvement and Children’s Well-Being: What the Research Tells Us (And What It Doesn’t)” also says there is a connection between teenagers’ religious participation and more altruistic behaviors and attitudes.

But the brief points out that most of the research on the topic is limited to Christian or Jewish adolescents.

—Kevin Bushweller

A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 2002 edition of Education Week as Report Roundup


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