• Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education
    In the beginning, your kids need you—a lot. They’re attached to your hip, all the time. It might be a month. It might be five years. Then suddenly you are expected to send them off to school for seven hours a day, where they’ll have to cope with life in ways they never had to before. You no longer control what they learn, or how, or with whom. Unless you decide, like an emerging population of parents in cities across the country, to forgo that age-old rite of passage entirely. We think of homeschoolers as evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside. And it’s true that most homeschooling parents do so for moral or religious reasons. But education observers believe that is changing.
  • A Visit to an Exceptional Charter School
    One of the criticisms of charter schools is that they cater to a specialized class of students who are not representative of the student body of a typical public school. Based on that notion, the argument is often heard that charter schools extract the best and the brightest from the public schools, while leaving at-risk students to fend for themselves and fail for themselves. A recent visit to North Park High School revealed how wrong that impression is.
  • New evidence in the field of cherry-picking
    The research is titled Selection in means-tested school voucher program and was conducted by University of California-Davis education professor Cassandra Hart with help from respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio. The short answer is this: In Florida, the students who choose these scholarships are struggling academically and come from school districts that don’t give them many other options. The students who choose the scholarship:
  • At Last, a Good Failing-Schools Voucher
    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is pushing a very ambitious education reform plan that includes a big failing-schools voucher. In general, I’m a skeptic of failing schools vouchers. This one, though, really has the potential to be transformative. I continue to think that only universal choice will really get education out of the rut it’s in. But this would be a huge step in that direction.
  • Germantown supports separate schools; some against letting nonresidents attend
    500 Germantown residents came to show their support for a separate municipal school district. But some made it clear that they’re reluctant to pay for the education of students outside the city limits. A recent feasibility study shows that a proposed Germantown school system would have 8,142 students under the existing Shelby County school boundaries, which encompass areas outside city limits. About 40 percent of the students attending schools in Germantown would live outside the city in Collierville and in unincorporated Cordova and Southeast Shelby County. Germantown officials say they could open a school system by August 2013. But legal challenges are expected on several fronts.
  • Teacher evaluation system proves popular subject for TN lawmakers
    Tennessee lawmakers from both parties and opposite ends of the state are eager to fix the state’s new teacher evaluation system. Nearly 20 bills by legislators rushing to make changes were filed by Wednesday’s deadline, and while Gov. Bill Haslam has urged the General Assembly not to tinker with the system yet, lawmakers say at least some of the bills probably will make it through.
  • What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?
    Recent studies in the neuroscientist B.J. Casey’s lab at Cornell University suggest that adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate risks, but because they overestimate rewards—or, rather, find rewards more rewarding than adults do. The reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults. Think about the incomparable intensity of first love, the never-to-be-recaptured glory of the high-school basketball championship. What teenagers want most of all are social rewards, especially the respect of their peers. In a recent study by the developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg at Temple University, teenagers did a simulated high-risk driving task while they were lying in an fMRI brain-imaging machine. The reward system of their brains lighted up much more when they thought another teenager was watching what they did—and they took more risks. The second crucial system in our brains has to do with control; it channels and harnesses all that seething energy. In particular, the prefrontal cortex reaches out to guide other parts of the brain, including the parts that govern motivation and emotion. This is the system that inhibits impulses and guides decision-making, that encourages long-term planning and delays gratification. This control system depends much more on learning. It becomes increasingly effective throughout childhood and continues to develop during adolescence and adulthood, as we gain more experience. You come to make better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then correcting them. In the distant (and even the not-so-distant) historical past, these systems of motivation and control were largely in sync. In contemporary life, the relationship between these two systems has changed dramatically. Puberty arrives earlier, and the motivational system kicks in earlier too. At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don’t do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared. The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences. Today’s adolescents develop an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.

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