Improving Learning

A comprehensive look at the latest trends, expert advice and recent studies into improving student learning. Explore the latest studies into links between student performance, sleep and music. See why schools are opting for later start times and year round schedules.
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The educational outlook for black boys has long been bleak. In Oakland, nearly one-third of African-American males drop out of high school. In Chicago, black boys lag behind other students in nearly every single measure of academic success. In schools throughout the nation, in large cities and small rural communities, black boys rank near the bottom in most measures of academic achievement and near the top in terms of the number of discipline referrals and suspensions.
 
Some of these statistics must be taken with a grain of salt, however. The American public school system has historically been less than responsive to the needs of black students, but particularly so for black males. Boys of color face many obstacles in life that include absent or unresponsive fathers, violence in the home and in their neighborhood, pressure to join gangs, and substance abuse. Yet schools regularly overlook these factors as being outside their realm of responsibility. Racial profiling by school officials, biased discipline policies, and a culture that engenders fear of young black males compound the problems for an educational system that is unprepared to manage the social, emotional, cultural, and academic needs of black boys.
 
Further compounding the issue is that institutional failures of public school systems serve to label young black students as something they are not. Black males are more likely to be removed from regular education settings and are more often misclassified as mentally retarded. These incorrect actions are taken due to a black student’s poor performance in the classroom; however, the cause of that poor performance is frequently due to factors other than the student’s individual abilities. Rather, schools don’t have the resources to address home and community influences on academic ability, and oftentimes do not afford the same enriched learning opportunities to black students that white students enjoy. In fact, white males are more than twice as likely to be enrolled in gifted education programs, and only minimal numbers of black boys are enrolled in AP courses.
 
Combined with the fact that most teachers are . . . read more
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed by a cadre of experts from the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, Achieve, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other stakeholders, including K-12 science teachers and government officials from 26 states. The standards establish benchmarks that gauge student learning at each grade level from kindergarten through the twelfth grade in the areas of life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering, technology, and applications of science. The standards direct student learning along three dimensions:

  • Practices: Students master investigative behaviors that are key to scientific exploration and theory development about the natural world. These include, but are not limited to, the steps of the Scientific Method and their associated practices.
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Students learn concepts that are applicable to all disciplines of science, using common ideas such as patterns, cause and effect, stability, and change. Using this framework provides an organizational structure in which children can relate knowledge from one scientific field to another.
  • Core Ideas: Seminal concepts within science focus the curriculum on ideas that have broad applicability, provide key tools for understanding ideas and solving problems, relate to social or personal concerns, and are learnable over the course of multiple grades at increasingly deep levels of rigor.

These new-generation standards emphasize the importance of science in daily life, but also seek to prepare students for a rapidly evolving workforce that relies heavily on a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). STEM-related careers have grown at three times the rate of non-STEM careers over the last decade, and large gaps between the supply of trained workers and current STEM job openings is a primary reason why educators have pushed for more robust science instruction for K-12 students. Developers of the NGSS believe their in-depth and comprehensive framework will improve science education and lead to a more skilled workforce.

 
Additionally, while these standards are intended to bring cohesion to science education across the country, . . . read more
The American public school system has shown a steady rise in the number of enrolled students since the beginning of this century. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 47.7 million students attended public schools in 2001, a number that increased to 49.5 million by 2011. By 2023 the public school population is projected to be over 52 million students.

 
Not only is the overall student population growing, it’s ethnic makeup is shifting as well. As shown in the graph at right, as the number of white public school students has decreased, the number of minority students has rapidly increased, especially students who identify as Hispanic. In fact, by 2023, white students will comprise just 45 percent of public school students nationwide, while Hispanic students will represent 30 percent.
 
Educational Disparities Follow Racial and Ethnic Lines
 
As the student population in the United States continues to become more and more diverse, it becomes evident that students of color are often shortchanged because schools are inadequately prepared to educate children of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Particularly in the West and the South, where population growth has been explosive, public schools are struggling to provide services to children who have little or no English speaking abilities. Furthermore, since poverty disproportionately impacts children of color, districts additionally struggle to finance free and reduced lunch programs, before and after school academic support, additional classroom personnel and other services necessary to bring these kids up to grade-level performance.
 
Not Enough Minority Teachers
 
Compounding the issue is that the vast majority – 82 percent – of American public schoolteachers are white. As of 2012, just eight percent of teachers were Hispanic, seven percent were black, and 2 percent were Asian. The National Education Association (NEA) has labeled this situation a “diversity gap,” and points to this gap as one of many issues that negatively impacts the performance of minority students.

 
To address the situation, the Center for American Progress has proposed a multi-pronged approach to . . . read more
Like it or not, the SATs are a critical opportunity for students to prove themselves to college admissions committees across the country.

If you want to be at the top of your game, you need to develop an effective strategy to prepare. We spoke with some of the top experts in college admissions to find out more about the best ways to prepare for the SATs.

1. Start Reading

If you have a lot of time to prepare, the first step is get reading. Richard Bernstein, Executive Director of Huntington Learning Center (Cherry Hill, NJ and Turnersville, NJ), says this is crucial. “If you have a year to prepare, read, read, and read some more.” 

2. Create a Balanced Study Regimen

Build a study pattern that will get you ready for the test. Students can effectively study in group, one-on-one sessions, or by themselves. No matter what you do however, make sure you don’t overload and always keep a reasonable study/life balance.

Setting goals is only useful if they are realistic. The best way to be productive during crunch time is to “schedule play activities first into your calendar, then your work.” Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, says in a NerdScholar study piece. “It makes sure there is a payoff for being productive.”

A student who elects to devote an inordinate amount of time to studying for the SAT may run the risk of overloading and not retaining information. Colin Gruenwald, Director of SAT and ACT Programs at Kaplan Test Prep, recommends studying smart over the course of several months.

“Don't cram. Remember that preparing for the SAT is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes several months of comprehensive, serious study to do well on the exam, not just a couple of weeks or even days of intense studying. Familiarity builds confidence. But cramming will just stress you out.”

3. Take Practice Tests and Seek Pro Help

As part of your study process, take practice exams. Familiarity with SAT format and content is . . . read more
As students begin to face the realization that their days of sleeping in are nearly over, school districts continue to debate the benefits of later start times for older students. With plenty of research to back up the idea that teens sleep on a different cycle than many schools allow, districts must once again consider the theory that later start times could mean higher student performance. Would later start times really impact how well high school students learn?
 
Research Supports Later Start Times
 
As back-to-school logistics are put into place, research on the benefits of later start times come back into play. There is plenty to choose from in that category – most showing teens that head to class later tend to perform better overall. Unfortunately, coordination of school schedules doesn’t always support allowing teens the later start.
 
According to a recent report at Times-Union, 40 percent of high schools in the United States start prior to 8:00 a.m. A small minority, 15 percent, start after 8:30 a.m. That minority is often the result of coordination of bus schedules, which tends to favor younger students for the later start times.
 
Logistics aside, research certainly seems to favor allowing older students to hit the books later. Students in the teen years require just as much sleep as younger children, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That amount can range from 8 ½ to 9 ¼ hours of sleep every night. Decades of studies support this theory, including a Stanford study in the 1970s that showed boys and girls in the teen years, required just as much sleep as younger children.
 
Changes to sleep patterns and hormonal changes during puberty attribute to the sleepiness in adolescents. Unfortunately, most teens do not get sufficient shut-eye during those critical years, which can lead to performance impairment during the day. Much of their sleep deprivation can be attributed to daily schedules that directly conflict with the natural circadian rhythms of the growing teen.
 
Minneapolis Schools Demonstrate Benefits of Later School
 
The website for the University of Minnesota . . . read more
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