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TV's Bright Side: In the early 1980s, researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst studied 650 preschoolers who watched educational TV programs at home. They found good news: Children really do learn lessons from shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. In particular, poorer children who watched such programs performed better on tests of vocabulary, math, and early reading skills than those who did not. What the researchers didn't know then was how long those educational gains would hold. To answer that question, they recently tracked down as many of the children as they could--a total of 570--from the original sample. This time the news was even better: The more educational programming that children had watched at age 5, the better their grades in high school. In fact, the researchers concluded that every hour of Sesame Street the children watched each day as a 5-year-old led to an increase of about a quarter of a point in their high school grade-point average. "I think it's very surprising that we're still seeing some of these relationships," says Aletha Huston, now a professor of child development at the University of Texas and a member of the research team. The researchers theorize that the long-lasting gains may directly result from the initial boost that watching educational television gave the children. "This early success creates a cascade of positive academic experiences which are traceable all the way through high school," they write. The links the researchers found are stronger for boys than for girls and more consistent for Sesame Street than for other educational shows.

A Step For Peace: A violence-prevention course that employs anger-management and empathy training can reduce aggressive and violent behavior in elementary school children in less than six months, according to a study reported this spring in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A team of researchers at the University of Washington evaluated 790 2nd and 3rd graders in 12 elementary schools across the state over a six-month period beginning in the fall of 1993. About half the children were taught using Second Step, an anti-violence curriculum focusing on social skills, anger management, impulse control, and empathy in 35-minute sessions offered once or twice a week. The other children received no special instruction. Two weeks after the program ended, classes of students who took the 12-week course exhibited on average 30 fewer acts of negative physical behavior--such as kicking, hitting, and fighting--each day, compared with the control-group classes. What's more, the Second Step students showed more socially desirable conduct on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in the classroom than the control group. And the positive effects persisted six months after the course had ended. Despite the growing popularity of school-based violence-prevention curricula in recent years, there has been little evidence that they head off violent behavior by youths. The new study shows that appropriate curricula, although not a panacea, can help suppress violence, says David Grossman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and the study's lead author. Second Step was created by the Seattle-based Committee for Children and is used in more than 10,000 schools in the United States and Canada.

A Matter Of Values: State policies that allow parents to send their children to any public school of their choice can lead to a decline in property values in districts noted for good schools. That is the conclusion of a professor of economics at the University of Kentucky who examined property values in 45 Minnesota districts in 1992--about six years after the state put in place an open-enrollment policy. "Under the traditional public school system, if you bought a house in a good school district, you sort of had exclusive consumption rights," says researcher William Hoyt. "The open-enrollment program changed all that. This means you could live in a neighborhood where housing is cheaper and possibly get to go to the good school." As a result, Hoyt found, property values declined in districts with desirable schools and rose in nearby districts where the homes were less expensive.

Reading Lesson: Though President Clinton wants to spend $2.75 billion to mobilize an army of volunteers to help all U.S. children read by the end of 3rd grade, there's no guarantee the ambitious plan will pay off, warns a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. After reviewing evaluations of 16 literacy programs that use volunteers, Barbara Wasik concluded there is not an adequate research base to determine which approaches work and which don't. The programs she looked at included all those listed in materials accompanying proposals for the president's America Reads Challenge. The problem, she writes, is that only two of the studies she found are true experiments in that they compared program students with others who were not receiving tutoring. What's more, those studies involved a total of just 50 experimental students and 50 control students. "Evidence from 100 children does not provide an adequate basis for public policy," writes Wasik, a research scientist at the Hopkins Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. The existing programs, she found, vary widely. Some use senior citizens, others AmeriCorps volunteers. Some use paid, certified teachers to supervise tutors; others provide little supervision. And the training requirements for tutors range from none to 150 hours. "To believe that anyone can teach reading," Wasik writes, "is as naive as saying that anyone can, with a little training, do brain surgery."

Vol. 09, Issue 01, Page 27

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