Research Column

September 27, 1989 4 min read

The cost-effectiveness of recent education-reform proposals is the research topic of a panel of economists selected by the graduate school of education at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“Reform literature during the last decade has produced numerous recommendations intended to improve America’s public-education system, but discussion of the costs and economic benefits of the proposals are noticeably missing,” said Dean Jamison, a u.c.l.a. professor of education serving as co-chairman of the 12-member panel.

The panel, which includes experts in several areas of school finance, will spend two years studying several recent school and teaching reforms to determine their cost-effectiveness in improving the nation’s education system.

The study is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the Center for Policy Research in Education a two-year, $945,000 grant to study how the teaching of high-school mathematics and science has changed as a result of the education reforms of the 1980’s.

Researchers will examine math and science instruction in 72 classrooms in 18 high schools around the country. They will document the changes that have taken place and identify promising strategies for upgrading the instruction offered to lower- and middle-achieving students.

The center is based at Rutgers University and is sponsored by the U.S. Education Department’s office of educational research and improvement.

When people feel bored, their minds may actually be telling them they are being inattentive, two Clark University psychologists have concluded.

Writing in the August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, James Laird and Robin Damrad-Frye of the university’s Hiatt School of Psychology said feelings of boredom often result when minor distractions force listeners to struggle to pay attention.

The researchers asked 91 people to listen to a taped reading of a magazine article. At the same time, some were subjected to moderate or high levels of distraction, while others underwent no distraction at all.

Subjects who were exposed to moderate distraction--a barely audible television playing in the background--were twice as likely to say they were bored as were members of the two other groups. Few of them realized they were being distracted by an outside noise.

Subjects who were exposed to a loud distraction were more likely to blame their inattention on the distraction.

Mothers who push their preschoolers to excel academically may be stifling their youngsters’ creativity while failing to achieve any lasting results, according to a recent study of the effects of parental attitudes on child development.

Researchers from Temple University, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Delaware looked at 120 4-year-olds in 11 preschools in middle- and upper-middle-class suburban areas of Philadelphia and Delaware. They then did follow-up research with 65 of the children.

The researchers found that children who were pushed academically tended to be less creative and have more test anxiety. They had no academic advantages over peers whose mothers felt that “kids should be kids.”

“These children do not have the time or freedom to explore. Their lives are ordered to the point where they lose that wonderful originality which comes naturally to children,” said Kathryn A. Hirsch-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple and director of its Infant Language Center.

The academically pushed children were judged to be more sociable than their peers, however. This may have resulted, the researchers suggest, from their having been exposed to more children in classes outside school that their parents enrolled them in.

Children with high intelligence tend to be more resilient and less likely to respond to life stresses with disruptive behavior, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers have spent a decade monitoring 205 children and their families as part of Project Competence, a research program aimed at identifying the environmental and personality factors that give children and adolescents the capacity to overcome adverse life circumstances.

Their study has confirmed much previous research in finding that children who continue to thrive in stressful life situations, such as family breakup, the death of a loved one, or financial adversity, have good problem-solving skills and tend to be connected to at least one supportive, competent adult.

Such children tended in the study to be quiet and withdrawn in the face of stress and to recover to high levels of competence, said Ann S. Masten, director of Project Competence.

Children without these resources, on the other hand, were more likely to respond to stress by exhibiting aggressive, disruptive behavior that alienated teachers and peers and interfered with their present and future ability to learn, Ms. Masten said.

The project is part of the university’s Institute of Child Development.--ps

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1989 edition of Education Week as Research Column