Keeping Kids in School
Who can play the biggest role in preventing dropouts? Hint: It's not the students. Schools with academic press—persistent and continuous efforts to keep all students engaged in high-level learning—have far fewer dropouts. Making courses easier to keep students in school doesn't work; instead, requiring all students to take rigorous courses tends to benefit at-risk students as well as high achievers. When students who fall behind receive remediation and extra help to succeed in their academic courses, they are less likely to drop out.
A Lens on Learning
Schools don't always include vision screening during prekindergarten and kindergarten registration. And when they do, VCA researchers have found that the tests often miss such problems as poor visual alignment and undeveloped color vision, which affect children's ability to read words in books, on chalkboards, and on computer screens. Equally troubling, the results of school vision screenings aren't always reported to teachers and parents—even when they reveal serious eye problems.
Getting Advisories Right
The traditional homeroom—once a scheduling staple in secondary schools—is fast becoming a thing of the past. Now, instead of sitting through 10 minutes of attendance and announcements, many middle school students are beginning their morning with a half-hour advisory period instead. What exactly is an advisory program?
Time for Learning
In my visits to schools, I invariably see teachers and students dashing pell-mell through the day. I hear teachers admonishing students to hurry and finish their work and scolding those who dawdle and waste time. And I see stressed-out students, rushing from class to class and subject to subject, worrying they've forgotten a book and fretting over unfinished assignments. Why do schools feel so frantic? What is it about time that schools should slow down and consider?
Up in Smoke
Why do children and adolescents smoke? How does nicotine affect them? And what can schools do to prevent kids from smoking—and help them stop once they've started? Schools often treat smoking as an act of rebellion and students who smoke as troublemakers. Kids might say they use tobacco to be cool, but the cloud of smoke hovering over them could be a cover for serious problems. Tobacco use might be declining among teens, but it's still a serious problem.
The Roots of Vandalism
A 1998 U.S. Department of Education study concluded that the most frequent crimes occurring on school property are fights without weapons, theft, and vandalism. Incidents of vandalism are widespread in both urban and rural schools, although rates tend to be higher in crime-ridden neighborhoods marked by poverty. Other factors also contribute to vandalism. Schools that are large and impersonal and those where teachers and administrators are hostile and authoritarian toward students are more likely to be vandalized, according to the Education Department study.
The Well-Rounded Student
Extracurricular activities and academic performance go hand in hand. Students who participate in structured extracurricular activities are likely to have higher academic achievement and higher levels of commitment and attachment to school. And extracurricular programs pay off in other ways as well: Schools that encourage students to participate in after-school programs show significant declines in discipline problems and dropout rates.
Not Just Helping Hands
Many states and school districts are granting teachers emergency licenses and alternative certificates to alleviate severe teacher shortages. But Beatriz Chu Clewell, senior researcher at the Urban Institute, says such stopgap measures run the risk of severely compromising teacher quality. A better approach, she says, is recruiting teachers from the ranks of paraprofessionals and nontraditional sources, such as retired military personnel and Peace Corps workers. Already a classroom mainstay, aides and assistants could become some of your best teachers.
Rethinking Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is a predictable factor during the transition from childhood to adolescence. But more often than not it's a misunderstood—and overestimated—part of preteens' and teenagers' psychosocial development. Many teachers and parents view peer pressure as the primary causal factor that shapes students' attitudes and behavior. But studies show that, almost always, peer influence is weaker than adults believe.
Starving in Silence
Those highly admired school superstars—the students who make the honor roll every semester and still find time to win sports trophies, play the lead in the school play, and volunteer at the local hospital—might be hiding something. Kids who strive for perfection and are compulsive to the point of obsession about their accomplishments are candidates for serious eating disorders that can cause brain damage and even death.
Reforming the Unions
Spurred on by their national unions, teachers in many districts are striving to win control over educational policies and practices through the collective bargaining process. But should teacher unions bring student achievement to the bargaining table? And what happens when they do?
Museum visits like these have long been a staple of education, joined in recent years by rich Web sites created by museum staff to extend and expand their offerings via the Internet. And now students are becoming curators themselves, constructing their own virtual museums online.