Is It Really ADHD or Just Immaturity?

The New York Times

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CreditGetty Images

New research shows that the youngest students in a classroom are more likely to be given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than the oldest. The findings raise questions about how we regard those wiggly children who just can’t seem to sit still – and who also happen to be the youngest in their class.

Researchers in Taiwan looked at data from 378,881 children ages 4 to 17 and found that students born in August, the cut-off month for school entry in that country, were more likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. than students born in September. The children born in September would have missed the previous year’s cut-off date for school entry, and thus had nearly a full extra year to mature before entering school. The findings were published Thursday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

While few dispute that A.D.H.D. is a legitimate disability that can impede a child’s personal and school success and that treatment can be effective, “our findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing A.D.H.D. and prescribing medication for treating A.D.H.D.,” the authors concluded. Dr. Mu-Hong Chen, a member of the department of psychiatry at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan and the lead author of the study, hopes that a better understanding of the data linking relative age at school entry to an A.D.H.D. diagnosis will encourage parents, teachers and clinicians to give the youngest children in a grade enough time and help to allow them to prove their ability.

Other research has shown similar results. An earlier study in the United States, for example, found that roughly 8.4 percent of children born in the month before their state’s cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility are given A.D.H.D. diagnoses, compared to 5.1 percent of children born in the month immediately afterward.

So how should we interpret data showing different rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis among populations of children who are similar in everything other than relative age at school entry? Cautiously, says Michael Manos, the head of Cleveland Clinic Children’sA.D.H.D. Center for Evaluation and Treatment.

“The kind of attention that you have to use in school is the kind of attention that’s difficult for a person with A.D.H.D.,” so attention deficits are more readily recognized in a classroom situation, he said. “If the diagnoses are performed accurately, then some kids are getting noticed sooner than other kids,” he said. If younger children with A.D.H.D. are starting treatment earlier because they’re starting school earlier, then that’s a good thing.

But that presumes the diagnosis is an accurate one. “When you take people who are in a 15-minute pediatric primary care physician’s office visit, and the mother describes hyperactivity and the physician automatically prescribes medication, that’s a problem,” Dr. Manos said. Many parents who describe concerns about children’s behavior “aren’t describing developmentally inappropriate behavior,” he said. “They’re describing behavior that does not meet certain expectations,” and that can be the issue in classroom settings as well, where some students are older than others.

“I think the link between age at school entry and A.D.H.D. diagnoses are not really about being young or ‘not ready,’” said Daphna Bassok, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education who has studied kindergarten readiness, by email. “Instead, I think they are about a child’srelative age. “

“In early childhood classrooms, where a month or two age difference can make a big difference,” she continued, “ teachers perceive the youngest children in the class as having more attention struggles, and behavioral struggles, than the older children, irrespective of the child’s actual age.” When those teachers flag those struggles, the path to a diagnosis is paved, but the diagnosis itself still depends on the expertise of the clinician.

Stephen Hinshaw, co-author of “A.D.H.D: What Everyone Needs to Know,” said that early recognition of attention deficits “could be an opportunity for early intervention for all kindergartners, as our society struggles to balance achievement gaps, ever earlier and stronger achievement expectations, and high student-teacher ratios in Transitional K programs, as well as for evidence-based intervention for 4-year-olds with bona fide A.D.H.D.”

“On the other hand, if this is the ticket for overzealous labeling of kids, mainly boys, who are simply needing more time to mature, that’s not what we need,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

How Parents And Teachers Can Nurture The ‘Quiet Power’ Of Introverts

NPR

Student hiding under a desk

LA Johnson/NPR

When Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in 2012, it was a big success. The book made the cover of Time magazine, spent weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list and was the subject of one of the most-watched TED Talks, with more than 13 million views.

From that grew The Quiet Revolution, a company Cain co-founded that continues to produce and share content about, and for, introverts. The site offers an online training course for parents and stories submitted by readers about being introverted. There’s even a podcast.

Kids, Cain says, “are at the heart and center of it.”

“Introverts often are really amazing, talented, gifted, loving children, and they feel like there’s something wrong with them,” she says. “And our mission is to make it so that the next generation of kids does not grow up feeling that way.”

In her latest book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, she’s taking her message about introverts to teenagers. Though the book is written for young adults, it’s also a tool for teachers and parents.

I talked with Cain about her mission of supporting introverts, and asked her advice on how to teach them.

So what does it mean to be an introverted child?

It’s really not different for a child than for an adult. It’s a person who feels at their best and at their most alive when they’re in quieter, more mellow environments. And it stems from a neurobiological difference between introverts and extroverts. Literally, different nervous systems. Introverts have nervous systems that simply react more to everything that’s going on around them, and that means they feel more in their sweet spot when there’s less stuff happening. And extroverts have nervous systems that react less, which means that they don’t get to their sweet spot until there’s more stuff happening. And so this is why you see these different behavioral preferences. An introverted kid would rather draw quietly or would rather play their favorite sport with one or two other kids. A more extroverted child would rather be part of a big gang and a big noisy birthday party, and not only not be fazed by it but seem to really relish all that stimulation.

And it’s different from being shy?

It is different. Shyness is much more about the fear of being judged. It’s a kind of self-consciousness and not wanting people to look at you and feeling easily embarrassed or easily shamed. These are all the feelings that a shy child would have. And in practice, many introverted children are also shy, but many are not, and you can also have children that are quite extroverted but who are shy, and as soon as they overcome their shyness, you see them being in the middle of the big gang. So it’s really important when you’re working with children to understand what is actually happening inside them so that you make sure that you’re responding to the right thing.

So let’s talk about schools. Where do they come in?

You know, lots of schools are really hungry for information on how they can do a better job of working with these kids.

They’re asking good questions: What indeed are the right ways to think about class participation? And are we over-evaluating as an educational culture? We overvalue the person who raises their hand all the time. Why is that important? Do we overvalue in quantity, as opposed to quality, of participation? Are there ways to think about class participation differently? Like we [at Quiet Revolution] have been encouraging schools to think in terms of classroom engagement rather than participation. Take a more holistic way of looking at how a child is engaging with this material or with their classmates.

Illustration from "Quiet Power"

Grant Snider/Dial Books for Young Readers

One of the anecdotes I loved in the book was when the teacher had her students think for a minute before answering. What other kind of good ideas or tips can teachers use like that?

Another idea is the think/pair/share technique, which I think many teachers are familiar with already, but may not realize the power of it within a population of students. This is a technique where the teacher asks the students a question; asks them to think about the answer. They pair up with another student to talk about their reflections. And then, once they’re paired, once they’ve articulated it with that partner, then you ask each pair to share their thoughts with the room as a whole. And this does a lot of great things for introverted kids. No. 1, it gives them the time to process. No. 2, it allows them to get the experience of articulating their thoughts out loud. But in front of only one other student, they don’t have to do it in front of the whole class. And then, often, once they have had that warmup period with one other student, they’re then much more likely to want to share with the whole class.

So this is a technique that works, it works equally well for introverts and extroverts. It’s great for the extroverts, too, but it just happens to work well with the more reticent kids.

What do you think about using social media or technology in the classroom? Helpful for introverts? Harmful?

Helpful. Well, of course social media is such a big thing, so for introverts, there are pros and cons. But my first impulse is to say helpful, and there are teachers now who are starting to incorporate social media into their classrooms and report that the more reticent children are much more likely to participate when their means of expression is through their screens. They can type their answer into a screen, the other students then see what they have written or typed or whatever, and then “real life” dialogue begins based on the initial ideas that were contributed through the screen.

So in general I’m a big fan of social media. I think incorporating it creatively into the class can work. If we’re talking about it as an educational technique, then I am all for it.

This brings me to another school-related trauma: the public speech. Should teachers kind of push introverts along, out of their comfort zone?

Yeah, so I think that it’s important, of course. The key, if we’re talking about public speaking or really anything that kids are fearful of, is to think of anxiety levels on a scale of 1 to 10, and to make sure you’re pushing kids within a zone of 4 to 6.

If you have a kid who is really freaking out, they’re really in that 7-to-10 zone, it’s just too dangerous to push them at that point. They might succeed, they might, you know, do well and feel this is great. But there’s too big a risk of it backfiring and the experience going poorly and the fear being further codified in their brain.

So you’re much better off meeting a fear in small steps. The answer is not: ‘OK, you never have to do … ‘ The Answer is: “OK. You’re afraid of public speaking. Why don’t you prepare your speech and work on it first with your best friend?”

Give the speech to your friend. And then, when you’ve done that, maybe you can give it to another, smaller group. From there, you work up in stages, to finally giving the all out speech. You look for ways to make the experience less anxiety producing.

In the book, you mention that loving the topic can help kids get into their speech.

Making sure that the child is speaking about a subject that they’re truly passionate about and excited to speak about is important. Because again, this is … biochemical. If you tap into your body’s behavioral activation system by speaking about something you’re excited about, then that overcomes the body’s behavioral inhibition system. Which is the system in your body telling you, stop. Slow down. Get the heck off the stage. So it does require extra work on the part of the teacher and an extra degree of thought and care, which I recognize is not always easy, you know, for overburdened teachers. But it goes a long way.

What about group work? Is that good for introverts?

In my experience, it depends a lot on how the group is structured. How carefully it’s structured. Because I’ve seen group work where it works really well, you’ve got kids who work well together, everybody knows their role. That can be a really positive experience. And then I’ve seen big free-for-all groups where it’s Lord of The Flies and you’ve got the most dominant kids taking over. Everyone else is checked out. So it can really go both ways.

What do Students Lose by Being Perfect? Valuable Failure

Mind Shift

By Holly Korbey

AUGUST 12, 2015

In the first pages of Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz writes, “In our collective imagination, error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, indolence, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy.” This cultural terror of messing up, combined with modern modes of parenting and schooling obsessed with narrow versions of academic and career “success,” are making students more than risk-averse.

Books like How to Raise an Adult and Teach Your Children Well say kids are coming to college “underconstructed,” at best unsure of who they are and where they fit, at worst anxious and depressed, because their parents have protected them from the uncomfortable and unacceptable state of being wrong. Focused on getting the grades or winning the game and excused from helping out around the house, these children have internalized the pressure, and it’s morphed into a monster that paralyzes kids in their ability to take risks, screw up, find out the consequences and learn from their mistakes.

Parent and educator Jessica Lahey, author of the new book The Gift of Failure, wants parents (and teachers) to back off. She said it’s time for adults to do the responsible thing and let the children fail. Trying something and failing, she writes, is how children learn and make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. This applies to unloading the dishwasher as well as the science fair. Becoming autonomous gives children pride in themselves and their abilities, and makes them independent thinkers and doers who can cope with the ups and downs of life.

Stop bringing forgotten homework to school, Lahey tells the parents of her students.

But it will be messy, and adults should expect as much. To Lahey’s credit, The Gift of Failure defiantly rejects the binary choices of either “triumphant or bumbling adulthood” as end goals, and sees growing up as a series of peaks and valleys with lots of time to figure things out in between. Instead, she offers practical advice, steeped in the latest research, on how to let kids find their own way as parents and teachers guide them, the key word being guide — not instruct, dictate, or enable. Giving kids autonomy may or may not make them a big “success,” but the research supports that it will make kids happier, less anxious and depressed, and more fulfilled to work towards agency in their own lives.

Lahey taught middle school for more than a dozen years, and said that in that period of time, she watched as kids went from cautious to take risks to too terrified to even make a move — write a sentence, for example — without considering what people might think or how it would affect their grade.

“The thing I began to notice was not the fear of an ‘F’, it was the fear of any mistake,” she said. “It’s not that students couldn’t get to a final draft, they couldn’t get even their ideas down. From a teacher’s point of view, that’s a nightmare! If they can’t take a risk, then certainly they aren’t raising their hand with an I-wanna-try-this-idea-out kind of thing.”

Many educators already know this, but what to do about it? Educators can play a crucial part in helping kids to get comfortable with failure, which Lahey calls “autonomy-supportive teaching” and goes hand-in-hand with “autonomy-supportive parenting.” She says there are ways educators can encourage parents to let go, and here are a few:

Encourage parents to think of raising a child as a long-haul job

Stop bringing forgotten homework to school, Lahey tells the parents of her students. And stop stressing over how your daughter will do on next week’s quiz: instead, focus on what your daughter can learn if she does it all herself, without nagging and pestering and pressure. If she does indeed fail the quiz, she may be forced to ask herself what went wrong, and what she could do better next time. Parenting is a long-haul job, Lahey says, and parents and teachers need to think more about what’s going to make kids happy in the long term. In the case of the quiz, the short-term goal is getting an ‘A,’ but the long-term goal of self-sufficiency eclipses that minor ‘A’ by a long shot.

“It’s so freeing!” she said. “You can stop worrying about the stupid details of the moment-to-moment junk, and start focusing on the big things. Just think about where your kid was one year ago today. They’re amazing!” Lahey said she’s not sure if adults just forget, or worry that’s not true. She suspects, though, that parents don’t see the amazing growth in kids because they aren’t given the opportunity to show it very often.

Focus on Process Instead of Product

Lahey confesses this is a tricky balance, especially since schools today are inherently — almost obsessively — focused on product (and may inadvertently be contributing to parents’ anxieties over academic success). But there are ways to get around that, she says.

Adjust expectations (and grades) to make room for real student work. In the book, Lahey asks a kindergarten teacher what her kids can do that their parents don’t think they can. She responds: “Everything!” In autonomy-supportive teaching, work that students plan and orchestrate themselves will look like — well, like a kid did it. That means no more science projects worthy of their own Nobel. “Teachers need to move their expectations as well. Our lines for where grades should be have creeped up anyway, based on our expectations for what the product should look like. Our expectations have been skewed by the work of the parents.”

Lahey knows that teachers love to hear that a parent has decided to make the child more responsible for his own learning: “If you tell your teacher you’re making the move to more autonomy-supportive parenting, and to please hold your child to consequences without letting the kid off the hook? If you ask the teacher to help you through this — that this is the only way your child is going to learn? Just knowing when a parent is interested in supporting a student’s voice and ability to speak up for themselves: a teacher will kiss you on the lips for that!”

Back Away From the Parent Portal

One of the biggest pitfalls to autonomy-supportive parenting, Lahey says, are the parent portal websites, with access to up-to-the-minute feedback about scores and grades. Lahey and her husband decided to forgo the parent portal for their older child. They handed the password over to their son, telling him he’d need to let them know if he was in academic trouble. Some of her friends were shocked, “as if we were defaulting on our parental duty,” she writes. “I disagree. Checking in on children’s grades is a type of surveillance, which is one of the forms of control and is often mentioned in the research as an enemy of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.”

For parents who decide to forego the parent portal (or only check it occasionally), Lahey recommends sending a note to teachers about the decision, explaining that your student is now responsible for her own communication information.

Consider the Fear of Failure May Affect More Kids Than You Think

Some educators have called out the rash of overparenting books as only written for a few upper-class parents; some have called The Overstressed American Child “a myth.” Many students are well-acquainted with failure, both their own personal shortcomings as well as the systemic failures of their schools and homes. While Lahey openly admits that The Gift of Failure doesn’t apply to everyone, she cautions that it’s not just the 1% who are terrified of their kids failing: “What I did find out by talking to teachers, is that it’s far more pervasive than we thought,” Lahey said. “We’re talking about a big chunk, a lot of middle class kids are getting the same kind of pressure,” as kids at the top. Many times, she said, the pressure’s even greater if a family doesn’t have the means to pay for college — especially when it comes to sports and scholarships.

Fear of failure destroys the love of learning

In chapter 2, Lahey relates the story of one of her students, capable and intelligent Marianna, who has “sacrificed her natural curiosity and and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault.”

We taught her that her potential is tied to her intellect, and her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfection.

Above all else, we have taught her to fear failure, and that fear has destroyed her love of learning.

And this is the real shame: fear of failure taints the waters of learning, keeping kids from taking risks. Making failure normal — even celebrated — Lahey contends, may be uncomfortable in the short-term, but in the long haul makes for happier, more confident kids.

The Family Roots of Math Anxiety

EdWeek

By Sarah D. Sparks on August 10, 2015 

In general, parents’ help with homework can be a major support for students. But if parents shudder at the thought of algebra or arithmetic, they can pass that math dread on to their children.

So finds the latest in a series of studies by University of Chicago psychologists including Erin MaloneySian Beilock, and Susan Levine, who study the causes and effects of performance anxiety. The new research, in the journal Psychological Science, finds that parents with math anxiety can hinder their students’ progress in math.

The researchers tracked more than 400 1st and 2nd grade students whose parents provided different levels of help with their homework. They also assessed both parents’ and kids’ attitudes toward math at the beginning and end of the school year.

Students whose parents reported high math anxiety made significantly less progress in math over the course of a year, and they were more likely to become anxious themselves—but only if their anxious parents sweated through helping them with homework.

By contrast, students with math-anxious parents who helped with homework showed no similar problems when it came to reading. While there may also be some genetic influence on math anxiety, that did not seem to be a factor here. Students whose anxious parents did not help with math homework did not show similar difficulties or fear when it came to math.  

Parent Attitudes Shape Children

Even if a parent understands how to do a problem, his or her underlying dread of math could hinder students’ enjoyment of solving problems, particularly if it plays into broader stereotypes about who should like or be good at math.

“Our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math,’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success,” Beilock said in a statement.

That’s in line with prior research that found girls whose female elementary teachers were anxious about their own math competence showed bigger gender gaps in math performance by the end of the year, even if they had started on par with boys. Maloney told me that because nearly 9 out of 10 parents who responded in this study were women, they were unable to look at parent gender differences, but they found no differences in the effects of parent anxiety on boys versus girls. 

Overcoming Dread of Numbers

Even if parents try to control how they talk about math, fear may hinder how they help their children, the researchers found. Anxious parents may have trouble explaining math concepts, Levine noted in a statement. They may react badly when their children make mistakes while solving a problem. 

“We can’t just tell parents—especially those who are anxious about math—’Get involved,'” Maloney said in a statement on the study. “We need to develop better tools to teach parents how to most effectively help their children with math.”

We already see this for teachers. One school in New York, for example, offers weekly training to help math-anxious teachers brush up on skills and gain confidence with numbers. Another works with teachers to understand the theory of growth mindset—that math performance is not a fixed innate skill, but one that can be improved through effort.

Why the movement to opt out of Common Core tests is a big deal

The Washington Post

By Valerie Strauss, May 3, 2015

The movement among parents to refuse to allow their children to take Common Core-aligned standardized tests has been growing in a number of states, as recent Answer Sheet posts have chronicled (here and here, for example). As opt-out numbers have grown, so too has reaction from officials who argue that frequent testing is valuable and that school districts could lose federal funds if too many students refuse to take the test (a threat that appears to be based on shaky ground.) Though testing supporters have attempted to minimize the importance and impact of the opt-out movement, it is having a big impact, as explained in the following post by award-winning New York Principal Carol Burris.

Burris, of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In 2010, she was selected as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She has written several books, numerous articles and many posts on this blog about the seriously botched implementation of school reform in her state — including the Common Core standards and the implementation of high-stakes Core-aligned exams — and about the misuse and abuse of high-stakes standardized tests. She recently announced that she had decided to retire early and to advocate for public education in new ways.

 

By Carol Burris

New York opt-out is reverberating around the nation. The pushback against the Common Core exams caught fans of high-stakes testing off guard, with estimates of New York test refusals now exceeding 200,000.

It was evident that the state would be far below the 95 percent federal participation rate as soon as the 3-8 English Language Arts tests began. When math testing started, the numbers climbed higher still. In the Brentwood School District, a 49 percent opt-out rate for ELA rose to 57 percent during math tests. These rates defy the stereotype that the movement is a rebellion of petulant “white suburban moms.” Ninety-one percent of Brentwood students are black or Latino, and 81 percent are economically disadvantaged. Brentwood is not unique–Amityville (90 percent black or Latino, 77 percent economically disadvantaged) had an opt-out rate of 36.4 percent; Greenport (49 percent black or Latino, 56 percent economically disadvantaged) had an opt-out rate that exceeded 61 percent; and South Country opt outs (50 percent black or Latino and 51 percent economically disadvantaged) exceeded 64 percent. New York’s rejection of the Common Core tests crosses geographical, socio-economic and racial lines.

There are also reports that student opt-outs were suppressed by administrators in some districts, who called in non-English speaking parents and pressured them to rescind their opt-out letters. Parent activist Jeanette Deutermann states that she “was contacted by dozens of NYC teachers who were horrified by the scare tactics being used on parents in their schools, to coerce them into participating in this year’s assessments. Language barriers and the absence of a social media presence resulted in a lack of knowledge about their rights to refuse the test. Teachers reported that administrators exploited this language and information barrier, telling parents that their children would not be promoted if they refused, or that they simply had no right to refuse. This is blatant discrimination at best.”

Despite attempts to suppress opt out, refusal rates were over three times last year’s 60,000, and activist parents are already planning to increase numbers next year. The opt-out movement is spreading across the nation. PARCC opt out is taking off in Colorado, New Jersey and California, especially among high-school students.

As the Refuse the Common Core Test movement grows, the three people who are the most responsible for causing New York’s rebellion—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Chancellor Merryl Tisch—are commenting on opting out, each with their own unique spin.

During a discussion with Motoko Rich of The New York Times, Arne Duncan threatened federal government intervention if states did not meet the 95 percent participation rate. Assuming that Duncan is not planning to call in the National Guard to haul off opt-outing 8 year olds, the only possible “sanction” would be withholding funds. That would surely lead to court challenges forcing the Education Department to justify penalizing schools when parents exercise their legitimate right to refuse the test.–an impossible position to defend.

During the same interview, Duncan said that his own children, who attend school in the non-Common Core state of Virginia, do not see the test as “a traumatic event.” He insinuated that “adults” are causing “the trauma,” thus furthering the stereotype of “the hysterical mom” that those who oppose opt-out often evoke.  Before jumping to the conclusion that New York parents are the problem, Mr. Duncan might want to compare the Virginia tests his children take, to the New York Common Core test.

Here is a sample from the Grade 6 Reading test that was given in Virginia last year to measure the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL):

“Julia raced down the hallway, sliding the last few feet to her next class. The bell had already rung, so she slipped through the door and quickly sat down, hoping the teacher would not notice.

 

Mr. Malone turned from the piano and said, “Julia, I’m happy you could join us.” He continued teaching, explaining the new music they were preparing to learn. Julia relaxed, thinking Mr. Malone would let another tardy slide by. Unfortunately, she realized at the end of class that she was incorrect.”

That is certainly a reasonable passage to expect sixth-graders to read. You can find the complete passage and other released items from the Virginia tests here.

Contrast the above with a paragraph from a passage on the sixth-grade New York Common Core test given this spring.

The artist focuses on the ephemerality of his subject. “It’s there for a brief moment             and the clouds fall apart,” he says. Since clouds are something that people tend to             have strong connections to, there are a lot of preconceived notions and emotions               tied to them. For him though, his work presents “a transitory moment of presence               in a distinct location.”

I will let readers draw their own conclusions.

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reaction brought to mind Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, whose slogan was, “What? Me worry?” Cuomo just didn’t see the big deal in opt out. After characterizing the scores as “meaningless” the governor continued by saying, “So they can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand, if the child takes the test as practice, then the score doesn’t count anyway.” Is Andrew Cuomo saying that New Yorkers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on testing and wasting nearly two weeks of instructional time for “practice”? Practice, exactly, for what?

And finally Chancellor Merryl Tisch expressed dismay and confusion. Tisch, who once confessed that “the opting out kind of breaks my heart,” reminded students that it’s a hard-knock life by threatening “a national test.” When the numbers continued to rise, she said that “we” have the right to use discretion and withhold funds to districts. When that didn’t stem opt outs, she decided that threats do not work and funding should not be withheld.

In an obvious attempt to duck accountability for test refusals, she threw the Governor and NYSUT under the bus by attributing opt out to parents and kids having “ got caught in the labor dispute between the governor and the teacher’s union.”

Her unwillingness to see her own role in the testing mess immediately caused a stir. The editorial board of the Lower Hudson Journal News accused Tisch of portraying opt-out parents as “confused patsies of a labor action.” Board members observed that “the stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership,” and they called for Tisch to step down.

The Journal News editorial board said what Duncan, Cuomo, Tisch and other so-called reformers don’t want to hear. Opt out is far bigger than a test refusal event. It is the repudiation of a host of corporate reforms that include the Common Core, high-stakes testing, school closings and the evaluation of teachers by test scores.   These reforms are being soundly rejected by parents and teachers.

I don’t often agree with Fordham’s Mike Petrilli, but he gets that opt out is a big deal. During his podcast discussion of opt out, he concluded (at 6.43):

“If this [opt-out] thing goes national, the whole education reform movement is in serious trouble.”

I agree with Mike with one slight revision—I would take out the word “if”.

Push, Don’t Crush Students

Photo

CreditKeith Negley

PALO ALTO, Calif. — PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL, one of the nation’s most prestigious public secondary schools, is sandwiched between two stark and illusory paths. Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal, a symbol of the road to Google, the White House, the mansion on the hill. To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.

Suicide clusters are relatively rare, accounting for about 5 percent of teenage suicides. Startlingly, this year’s is the second contagion to visit this city. Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.

Experts say such clusters typically occur when suicide takes hold as a viable coping mechanism — as a deadly, irrational fashion. But that hasn’t stopped this community from soul searching: Does a culture of hyperachievement deserve any blame for this cluster?

The answer is complex, bordering on the contradictory: No, the pressure to succeed is not unique, nor does it cause a suicide cluster in itself, but the intense reflection underway here has unearthed a sobering reality about how Silicon Valley’s culture of best in class is playing out in the schools.

In addition to whatever overt pressure students feel to succeed, that culture is intensified by something more insidious: a kind of doublespeak from parents and administrators. They often use all the right language about wanting students to be happy, healthy and resilient — a veritable “script,” said Madeline Levine, a Bay Area psychologist who treats depressed, anxious and suicidal tech-industry executives, workers and their children.

“They say, ‘All I care about is that you’re happy,’ and then the kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ” Ms. Levine said. “The giveaways are so unbelievably clear.”

Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford, calls this gulf between what people say and what they mean “the hidden message of parenting.”

But here, and in lots of other ultrahigh-achieving communities and schools, Ms. Pope said that children are picking through the static to hear the overriding message that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college. “In everything,” she said.

“I hear students tell me that if I don’t get into X, Y, Z college, I’ll wind up flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” said Ms. Pope, who is working with Ms. Levine to counsel at the high schools.

Ms. Pope said that wrongheaded idea becomes an emotional and physiological threat when multiplied by at least three other factors: technology that keeps teens working and socializing late at night, depriving them of essential rest; growing obligations from test-prep classes and extracurricular activities; and parents too busy to participate in activities with their families.

“We are not teenagers,” Carolyn Walworth, a junior at Palo Alto High School, wrote in an editorial in the local paper in response to the suicides. She described students as “lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition” and wrote of going to the emergency room to deal with stress, missed periods and having “a panic attack in the middle of a 30-person class and be forced to remain still.”

There has been lots of talk in the community about what to do, she wrote, but action has not followed. (The district is providing counseling services, offering a suicide-prevention kit and urging teachers to limit homework hours.)

“Please, no more endless discussions about what exactly it is that is wrong with our schools, and, above all, no more empty promises,” she wrote, and noted: “We are the product of a generation of Palo Altans that so desperately wants us to succeed but does not understand our needs.”

THIS curious idea of a rhetorical divide came up in a number of recent discussions with parents and their children. In one conversation about the suicides, a mother at a Bay Area school in a similarly high-achieving community told me how little pressure she puts on her teens and noted by way of an anecdote how she had succeeded: Her daughter, she proudly recounted, was so well balanced that she decided last year not to go to the best college she got into but, rather, the school that best fit her passions. The school was Vassar.

In this subtle linguistic slip, Vassar qualified as a second-rate school.

Esther Wojcicki, the teacher who oversees the Palo Alto High School newspaper, lamented the competitive environment but noted seconds later that the school paper had just won a “Gold Crown” award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and that the two dozen students sitting at computer terminals at 4 p.m. that day were thrilled to stay until 9 p.m. to put out the school magazine because they have so much fun doing it.

Alan Eagle, a sales director at Google whose 17-year-old son, William, is a junior at Gunn, was frank about the distance between what he tells his son and what he means.

“I can say all I want that it doesn’t matter where my son goes to college,” Mr. Eagle told me.  But “I’m sure that as much as I preach that, I’m not being 100 percent authentic and frank.”

He added: “I personally went to Dartmouth and it did help. I look at the economy, the difference between haves and have-nots, and I believe a college education is critical.”

And a rich high school experience, too. A few minutes later, while acknowledging that his son had given up playing on the basketball team to study more, Mr. Eagle noted that “at least he’s still got track.”

Glenn McGee, the district’s superintendent, also seemed to struggle to walk the line between celebrating the exceptional nature of this area while urging students to relax. Sitting in his office and looking across the street at the Stanford campus, he mourned the fact that some parents feel that such a school is the only acceptable outcome.

“In many cases, people have made a big sacrifice to live in this community,” Dr. McGee said, referring to exorbitant housing costs (the median housing price last year was $3.3 million, making it the fourth most-expensive ZIP code in the country, according to Richard Florida, an academic who studies demographic trends). Characterizing the attitude of many parents, Dr. McGee said, “To be blunt, what is my return on investment?”

“My job is not to get you into Stanford,” he said he tells parents and students. “It’s to teach them to learn how to learn, to think, to work together — learn how to explore, collaborate, learn to be curious and creative.”

Some parents hear it, he said, but “a lot of families and parents don’t hear the message and say: compete and compete.”

Dr. McGee said he had interviewed 300 students and found that half would be “really embarrassed” to tell their friends they got a B. But the truth is that it’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve: The SAT scores are so high on average that a student who finishes in the 75th percentile in the district has a 2,200, the 99th percentile in general for college-bound seniors.

Soon after lamenting the pressure, Dr. McGee raved about a student who was part of a math team that finished first in January in a national competition, and about the new performing arts center under construction, and about the coming $24 million athletic facility funded by a private family foundation.

And why wouldn’t he rave? Why not be thrilled by achievement?

Because the bar for academic success here has become so high that solid performance can feel mediocre.

It puts enormous pressure on a school, or a community, when such consistent, across-the-board greatness becomes a baseline of sorts — what Mr. Eagle described as a culture of “not just excellence but uber-excellence.”

Perhaps that explains some of the doublespeak: Parents are searching for language to encourage their children, even push them, but not crush them.

One solution, said Ms. Pope of Stanford, is “downtime, playtime, family time.” For parents, too. In other words: Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.

Dr. Morton Silverman, a psychiatrist and senior science adviser to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suggested that another answer is recognizing that the doublespeak also betrays a sense of terror about the future among both students and parents.

With the economy in flux and the income gap growing, parents don’t see a clear path anymore to financial stability — even here, maybe especially here, where things move fast and competition is fierce. In addition, many of the fortunes made here have been based on creating things that destabilize traditional businesses and their workers.

So confront the new realities, Dr. Silverman suggested, urging parents to say something like: “I can’t tell you which path to take or how to get there, but I will support you,” he said. “I’m here to back you up.”

It’s a hard message to hear in a can-do place like this.

Walking near the train tracks where the children laid themselves down, Dr. McGee said this community, if any, should have answers.

“Can we put sensors up there?” he mused quietly to me, maybe to alert the train operators that someone has climbed onto the tracks. “This is Silicon Valley. There ought to be something we can do.”

President Obama Reflects on his 5th Grade Teacher

My Fifth Grade Teacher

I credit my education to Ms. Mabel Hefty just as much as I would any institution of higher learning.

By President Barack Obama

When I entered Ms. Hefty’s fifth-grade class at Punahou School in the fall of 1971, I was just a kid with a funny name in a new school, feeling a little out of place, hoping to fit in like anyone else.

The first time she called on me, I wished she hadn’t. In fact, I wished I were just about anywhere else but at that desk, in that room of children staring at me.

But over the course of that year, Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say — not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every single student in that class feel special.

And she reinforced that essential value of empathy that my mother and my grandparents had taught me. That is something that I carry with me every day as President.

This is the simple and undeniable power of a good teacher. This is a story that every single kid in this country, regardless of background or station in life, should be able to tell. Sharing stories like these helps underline the vital importance of fighting for that reality.

This week, we’re starting that conversation, and I want you to add your voice to it.

Today, I’ll honor Shanna Peeples as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year — and I’d like you to share which teacher, like Ms. Hefty, helped shape your education. You can do that here, or by using the hashtag #ThankATeacheronline.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to a local library that serves as a hub of learning in the Anacostia community of Washington, D.C. America’s librarians, like our teachers, connect us to books and learning resources that help us dream big. They help ensure that we continue learning throughout our lifetime. And that’s something that more kids ought to be able to access.

So while I’m at the library, I’ll announce new efforts to provide popular books to millions of underprivileged children and young adults around the country and connect more students to their local libraries — because we know that reading just 20 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in a student’s success. Online, I want you to join the conversation by sharing which book was critical to making you who you are today using the hashtag#BooksForAll. (We all have one.)

And on Friday, as I work on the commencement address I’ll deliver at South Dakota’s Lake Area Technical Institute next Friday, I want you to share with me how far community college has taken you. For a number of folks on our staff here, it’s taken them all the way to the White House.

This week, we’re focusing on those fundamental people, places, and stories that made us who we are today. So whether it’s a teacher who inspired you, a book that changed you, or a college that shaped you — I want to hear from you. We’ll be responding to and sharing your responses all week long.

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

President Barack Obama

There’s a Correlation Between a Student’s Level of Happiness and GPA

Because I’m Happy

AN INTRIGUING STUDY NOTES A CORRELATION BETWEEN A STUDENT’S LEVEL OF HAPPINESS AND GPA

BY VICTORIA JONES, ON MARCH 26, 2015
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As policymakers, administrators, and teachers, we want the children in our classrooms to be happy, of course. But how much does their happiness really matter when it comes to learning? According to a new study by HGSE lecturer Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12, the answer is clear: It matters a lot.

Hinton examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success in a K–12 setting, and she also looked at the school factors that support student happiness.

Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, she found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. She also found that the culture of the school and the relationships that students form with their teachers and their peers play an influential role in their happiness.

In order to conduct the study, Hinton collaborated with the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School near Washington, D.C., which educates students in grades K–12. “We developed surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation,” Hinton says. “We also collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation to dig more deeply into the construct. In addition, we collected data on students’ grade point averages. We then analyzed this data to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.”

Her analysis found several key associations that open the door to further research on how schools can optimize students’ learning experiences. Among them:

  • Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.
  • Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.
  • Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.
  • Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.

The finding that happiness is positively correlated with GPA is significant, Hinton notes, because GPA provides a broader picture of academic achievement than standardized test scores, encompassing multiple types of abilities and the influence of social dynamics.

Moving past quantitative scores, the study examined the relationship between happiness and achievement from the students’ perspectives, as well as the source of the happiness that students report feeling in the classroom. “We asked the students what supports their learning, and then we coded the responses for themes,” says Hinton. “Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, promotes learning.” They cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.

These findings set the stage for important future research, Hinton says, as well as for exploring interventions that can successfully boost students’ overall happiness — and their performance in the classroom.

“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness,” Hinton says. “If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.”

Learning Through Tinkering

SAN FRANCISCO — My 9-year-old daughter is in the midst of a “pioneer” unit in her third grade class. It’s a great example of a project-based curriculum: The kids are developing math skills by determining what and how much they can pack without overloading wagons for a cross-country trek. They roll a “twist of fate” die that presents (virtual) obstacles they might have faced in the late 19th century — bad weather, loss of livestock, etc. — and then have to problem-solve to get their trek back on track. They’re reading a variety of historical perspectives, such as Louise Erdrich’s “The Birchbark House” and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. And perhaps most important, they’re learning about self-sufficiency and resilience — and how even the youngest kids needed it in spades.

Before the Industrial Revolution really kicked into high gear, people had to know how to do everything, from navigating routes to preserving food, building homes to sewing clothes. You couldn’t head to the nearest supermarket or mall, you had to figure out how to make it, catch it, build it or grow it. For contemporary kids used to streaming video, play dates and even drone delivery, it’s illuminating to learn about this. And it’s not something easily — or typically — conveyed through grade school homework.

I’m not nostalgic for pioneer days. I’m a huge fan of modern conveniences. But as we’ve become so disconnected from where things come from, from the knowledge, resources and effort required to fulfill even the most basic needs, I believe we’ve lost something essential (if intangible). That’s why I want to talk about two amazing endeavors geared toward cultivating that sort of resourcefulness and creativity.

If we want to raise kids to be independent thinkers and change-makers, one of the best things we can do is give them the tools to figure stuff out for themselves. And a terrific manual for that is “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” by Gever Tulley, a self-taught software engineer.

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A Tinkering School instructor and a student collaborate on a project. CreditTinkering School

“There are not enough opportunities in a child’s life to be taken seriously, to be given autonomy and to learn authentically,” says Tulley. “I think they need learning opportunities that respect and incorporate their ideas.”

Tulley’s book presents 50 challenges (with instructions), each utterly at odds with today’s rampant helicopter parenting, such as Stand on a Roof, Taste Electricity (by licking a 9-volt battery), Dam a Creek and (I’ll admit I’m not ready to allow this one yet) Cross Town on Public Transportation.

“50 Dangerous Things” emphasizes the importance of introducing risk, facilitating autonomy and letting kids know that with danger comes discovery. This book comes to life at The Tinkering School, a program Tulley started here in San Francisco in 2000. (There is also a K-12 school, Brightworks, and a sleepaway camp down the coast; the program has recently expanded to Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin and Buffalo.)

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My daughter works on a ticket booth as part of a project by Tinkering School students to build structures for a carnival. CreditTinkering School

At the start of the week, children are given a project: to design and build a Yellow Submarine, perhaps, or to construct a Monster City and a mechanical King Kong to destroy it. Starting as early as age 6, kids are taught how to use tools (hammers, orbital sanders, skilsaws) safely and responsibly (and to put everything back the way they found it at the end of the day). They form teams, determine tasks and timelines and, with guidance from an expert crew of instructors (the ratio is about one adult to four kids), are entrusted as project leaders designers and heads of a construction crew.

This isn’t just a bunch of kids messing around with stuff. Behind the chaos you can see the gears turning. There is no template, no set of instructions (and no screens). They need to be attentive, engaged and curious. As they begin a project, they’re learning how to collaborate, identify the skill sets of their group and deploy those talents accordingly, and problem-solve creatively. “The use of real tools dramatically increases agency,” says the Tinkering School’s manager, Joshua Rothhaas. “It’s like learning Spanish and suddenly realizing you can talk to about 400 million more people in the world than you could before you knew Spanish. It fundamentally changes the way your kid thinks about the world, how it works, and what they are capable of.”

All these children need are tools, materials and guidance. From there, their imaginations take over and creative problem-solving commences. They are still young enough not to have totally surrendered to that horrible adult trait of second-guessing. They’re given parameters and deadlines, which they take with the utmost seriousness. And at week’s end, the kids take the project apart; the materials can be reused and recycled, so they’re also learning about the life cycle of products and materials.

“When I started 10 years ago, I had the strong sense that kids were not being treated as competent people,” says Tulley. “It was as if no one expected them to be able to actually do anything until they graduated high school. I knew that they were capable of more, and wanted to create a place where they could show themselves and their parents that they could tackle a big problem.”

The Tinkering School ethos is echoed across the bay at Project H in Berkeley, Calif., where, says its founder, Emily Pilloton, “There’s no reason in the entire world to be bored.”

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Project H students with the frame of one of two houses they are building for the homeless. CreditProject H

After graduating from architecture school, Pilloton quickly became disenchanted with what she was being paid to design while working at a for-profit design company. So, in 2008, she established Project H, a nonprofit that merges design and hands-on building to inspire youth, transform communities and improve K-12 public education from within. She and her small team teach 200 students at the Realm Charter School in Berkeley (it’s part of the regular curriculum). She also runs a summer camp for girls, and recently added a weekend workshop program for adults. (I couldn’t let my daughter have all the fun — I took welding with Pilloton last year and can’t wait to do it again.)

Her young crew is currently building two tiny houses that they designed. In the process, they’re looking at housing through a social, economic and environmental lens: upon completion of work, the students will donate the homes to Opportunity Village, an organization that helps the homeless in Eugene, Ore. Pilloton had wanted to donate locally but this group is the only one she could find that uses houses of this size (175 – 200 square feet) to house the homeless legally. Her students learned another valuable lesson as aspiring designers/architects — you’ve got to learn to work with zoning restrictions.

Creating something as ubiquitous as a house, says Pilloton, makes these kids look at the things around them in a different way because now they understand how they’re put together. (By the way, this all happens on an annual budget of $200,000. I think the greater challenge is the inability to clone multiple Emily Pillotons.)

“Every student in our class has something to contribute,” says Pilloton. “When you put a tool in the hands of a young person there’s the instinct to use it in a really creative way. It’s super powerful for a kid to say I drew this thing and now I’m building it.”

As Pilloton describes what and how these kids, and the young girls in particular, are learning, her observations jibe with what I’ve seen with my own daughter. “It’s powerful and necessary to give girls the opportunity to do something unexpected,” she says. “There’s nothing you could say to them that they wouldn’t try.” In short, they’re true pioneers.

WHY SOME CHILDREN CAN THRIVE DESPITE ADVERSITY

Harvard University Graduate School of Education

The Science of Resilience

BY BARI WALSH, ON MARCH 23, 2015
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When confronted with the fallout of childhood trauma, why do some children adapt and overcome, while others bear lifelong scars that flatten their potential? A growing body of evidence points to one common answer: Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela­tionship with a supportive adult.

The power of that one strong adult relationship is a key ingredient in resilience — a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity — according to a new report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a multidisciplinary collaboration chaired by Harvard’s Jack Shonkoff. Understanding the centrality of that relationship, as well as other emerging findings about the science of resilience, gives policymakers a key lever to assess whether current programs designed to help disadvantaged kids are working.

“Resilience depends on supportive, responsive relationships and mastering a set of capabilities that can help us respond and adapt to adversity in healthy ways,” says Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard. “It’s those capacities and relationships that can turn toxic stress into tolerable stress.”

As a growing body of research is showing, the developing brain relies upon the consistent “serve and return” interactions that happen between a young child and a primary caregiver, the report says. When these interactions occur regularly, they provide the scaffolding that helps build “key capacities — such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate be­havior, and adapt to changing circumstances — that enable children to respond to adversity and to thrive,” the report continues. The developing brain is buffered by this feedback loop between biology and environment.

But in the absence of these responsive relationships, the brain’s architecture doesn’t develop optimally. The body perceives the absence as a threat and activates a stress response that — when prolonged — leads to physiological changes that affect the brain and overall systems of physical and mental health. The stress becomes toxic, making it more difficult for children to adapt or rebound.

The experiences of the subset of children who overcome adversity and end up with unexpectedly positive life outcomes are helping to fuel a new understanding of the nature of resilience — and what can be done to build it.

Here’s what the science of resilience is telling us, according to the council’s report:

  • Resilience is born from the interplay between internal disposition and external experience. It derives from supportive relationships, adaptive capacities, and positive experiences.
  • We can see and measure resilience in terms of how kids’ brains, immune systems, and genes all respond to stressful experiences.
  • There is a common set of characteristics that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of ad­versity:
    • The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
    • A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
    • Strong executive func­tion and self-regulation skills.
    • The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.
  • Learning to cope with manageable threats to our physical and social well-being is critical for the development of resilience.
  • Some children demonstrate greater sensitivity to both negative andpositive experiences.
  • Resilience can be situation-specific.
  • Positive and negative experiences over time continue to influence a child’s mental and physical development. Resilience can be built; it’s not an innate trait or a resource that can be used up.
  • People’s response to stressful experi­ences varies dramatically, but extreme adversity nearly always generates serious problems that require treatment.

Additional Resources:

  • Read Part II of our exploration of resilience, about the public policy implications of our new understanding of the science of resilience.
FACULTY IN THIS ARTICLE
Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

As director of the Center on the Developing Child, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., is using the science of early childhood development to drive innovation in policy and practice, with the goal of transforming life outcomes for disadvantaged children and reducing the consequences of early adversity.