Findings

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Reform Pays: A new study offers some good news for education reformers: Students in restructured high schools are learning more than their counterparts in more traditional settings. The findings are based on an analysis, conducted by researchers Valerie Lee and Julia Smith, of data collected from 820 secondary schools that participated in the National Education Longitudinal Study. The researchers used the federally funded study to track the progress of 11,704 students from 1988 to 1990 as they moved from 8th to 10th grade. For the purposes of the study, Lee and Smith defined restructured schools as those that had engaged in one or more practices that departed significantly from conventional schooling. Such reforms included keeping students in the same homeroom throughout their high school years, using interdisciplinary teaching teams, and setting up smaller schools, or “houses,” within a larger school. After controlling for socioeconomic and other differences among schools and students, the researchers discovered that the students in the restructured schools had made greater gains than those in other schools in mathematics, science, history, and reading—at least according to survey data and standardized test scores. “Not only were student-achievement gains in the first two years of high school significantly higher in the restructuring schools than in the traditional schools, but those gains also were distributed more equitably,” the researchers write in a paper published by the University of Wisconsin's Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools. The study also found that students in smaller schools were more successful. Considered separately, Lee and Smith say, the reforms do not appear to have a particularly strong effect. They add, however, that all of the reforms were aimed at making schools less bureaucratic and more communal. And that, the researchers assert, may be the key. “Schools with this form,” they write, “have more meaning for their members.”

Music To Their Eyes: Music lessons—and even simply listening to music—can enhance spatial-reasoning skills. That conclusion comes from a set of small, ongoing studies at the University of California at Irvine. Researchers there observed 33 3-year-olds enrolled in two Los Angeles County preschools. They gave 19 of the children weekly 10- to 15-minute keyboard lessons and daily 30-minute singing sessions. The rest of the children didn't receive the special lessons. At the end of four months, the children who had music lessons were already outscoring their peers on tasks that required them to rearrange pieces of a puzzle to make a picture. And the gains continued over the course of the eight-month study. (The two groups of students performed similarly well on tasks that did not require spatial-reasoning skills.) In a previous study, the researchers—Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw—found that listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart piano sonata increased the spatial IQ scores of college students. Spatial-reasoning skills are critical for scientists and engineers, the researchers write in a paper presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting last summer. “We hope our research will help convince public school administrators of how crucial music instruction is to all children,” they said.

What's The Subject?: A report published in the September 1994 issue of Developmental Psychology offers some insights for educators trying to teach young children about sentence structure. Researchers Fernanda Ferreira of Michigan State University and Frederick Morrison of Loyola University at Chicago followed 48 5-year-olds for two years. At the start of the study, half of the children were just entering kindergarten, but the other half were a few weeks too young to start school. The researchers periodically asked the children to identify the subjects in as many as 96 sentences. In the beginning, most of the children—even those who hadn't yet started school—could name a simple subject in a sentence. They had trouble, though, when the subjects were pronouns or consisted of a string of words. By age 7, however, most of the children successfully picked out the pronoun subjects—regardless of whether they were in 1st grade or kindergarten. “Whatever factors are responsible for this specific difficulty with pronouns seem to exert less effect as children become older,” Ferreira and Morrison write, “not as they become more schooled.” By contrast, the children's ability to name two- and three-word subjects did improve with schooling.

Vol. 06, Issue 04, Page 17

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