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Rubella, or "German measles," reached an all-time low in the United States in 1980, and the dramatic drop in the incidence of the disease is continuing, according to the Centers for Disease Control (cdc) in Atlanta.

Although the disease is relatively mild in children, prenatal exposure can result in birth defects--something that concerns female teachers of child-bearing age who may be exposed through pupils.

During the first 35 weeks of 1981, 1,717 cases of rubella were reported--down 46.3 percent from the number of cases reported during the same period last year. Between 1979 and 1980, cdc officials report, the number of reported cases dropped 66.9 percent.

The decline is attributed to the Childhood Immunization Initiative, a campaign started by cdc in 1977 to immunize all children against preventable diseases.

Teachers of English may say that they prefer clear, concise writing from students, but a recent study by two researchers in Chicago suggests they want the opposite.

When offered pairs of essays that differed only in style of writing--one was verbose, the other concise--the teachers gave the wordy essays higher grades, and many graders found them to be better organized and "more mature."

In four experiments, researchers Rosemary L. Hake of Chicago State University and Joseph M. Williams of the University of Chicago asked both high-school and college teachers of English to rate the structurally identical but stylistically different pairs of essays.

The researchers characterize the two styles as "verbal" and "nominal."3The "nominal" style included verbs and adjectives that were transformed into abstract nouns. "Such nominalizations characterize the inflated, prolix, indirect prose that all English teachers claim to condemn but that seems to flourish far more rankly among us than the easy grace of those who write like E.B. White," the researchers note in the September issue of College English, where their results were published.

The high-school teachers who participated in the fourth experiment found more errors of all kinds--stylistic, organizational, and grammatical--in the concise papers than in the wordier ones, and graded the verbose essays higher. College teachers found different kinds of errors in the two types of essays, but they, too, gave higher grades to the wordier compositions.

"No one familiar with the history of English prose style or with the condition of our institutional prose ought to be astonished at these results," the researchers note. "Rueful, perhaps. Probably discouraged. But not surprised..."

As the debate over public support for private schools intensifies, so, predictably, does the debate on James S. Coleman's controversial study concluding that private schools do a better job.

Doug Willms, a graduate student at Stanford University, created quite a stir at a seminar last month on tuition tax credits with his new analysis of Mr. Coleman's work and of the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The type of program in which a student is enrolled--academic, general, or vocational--seems to have more bearing on achievement than does the type of school he attends, Mr. Willms concludes. Thus, he says, policies such as tuition tax credits that would promote transfers from public to private schools probably would not have much bearing on achievement.

Among his findings:

For students in the "academic stream," there is "no evidence that a child...would improve his or her performance by shifting from the public to the private sector."

For students in the "general stream," performance in reading and mathematics is slightly better in Catholic schools than in either public schools or non-Catholic private schools; the differences are one-eighth to one-quarter of a standard deviation.

"Minority and disadvantaged students in private schools do perform better than those in public schools," Mr. Willms writes. "However, the results suggest that a large part of these differences [is] due to differential selection....

"These results strongly suggest," he continues, "that most of the observed differences in public and private achievement are due to a covert selection process whereby youngsters with high ability, good behavior, and parental support are the chosen few."

Mr. Willms's analysis does, however, strongly support one of Mr. Coleman's major findings: Private schools make their students work harder.

"Time spent on homework differed considerably (29 percent) between the public and Catholic schools," Mr. Willms writes. "Most of this difference is a school difference, not a difference in the students' characteristics. Catholic-school teachers assign more homework."

Vol. 01, Issue 09

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