Archive for November, 2010

The Model Student

Monday, November 15th, 2010

When you think of what the model student looks like, you probably imagine someone who gets good grades, participates in extracurricular activities, and maybe has a good attendance record. Although those are definitely positive attributes for a student to have, another powerful, but often overlooked, trait of the model student is civic responsibility. That was demonstrated by one Battlefield High School student a few months ago.

Christopher Berger, an 18-year-old senior at Battlefield High School in Gainesville, is responsible for saving a man’s life. Almost three months ago, Berger was on the scene of an accident where a flipped SUV was on fire with a man trapped inside. Berger ran to the vehicle and got the man out before things got too serious. Then Berger left. He didn’t expect or want any particular recognition for his actions.

Berger exhibited humility, bravery, and a civic respect for his fellow man—attributes not common in many people, much less high school students. On Tuesday, Nov. 9, Berger was honored in a surprise ceremony at Battlefield High School.

For many people, school is all about academic achievement. But in addition to teaching our children the intellectual skills needed for the outside world, schools should also be instilling civic pride and responsibility in our youth. What good is it for a student to go out in the world capable of great things but without the inner compass to guide his or her achievements towards the good of his society and fellow man?

We see that people often shirk their responsibility to participate in our election process. We see people disengaged from their communities, their governments, and their neighbors. We see people out mostly for themselves, with little thought given to those who cross their path.

Remedying this is, of course, not the main priority of the classroom. A person is shaped by multiple influences – parents, friends, role models – in addition to schools. But by honoring Berger, Battlefield is showing that the selfless actions of this senior are exemplary and something that other students should look up to. Aspire for greatness, the ceremony implies. And don’t worry about the credit. Those who do truly great things – with humility and care – will get the recognition they deserve.

So, in Christopher Berger, we get an example of what we should all be trying to do in one way or another: look out for our fellow man.

To read more about Berger, his actions and the Battlefield ceremony, go here.

For-Profit Colleges Under Scrutiny

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

It seems obvious to say that not all colleges are created equal. There is a big difference between Harvard and your local community college. But there is an even greater divide between the typical college system and for-profit educational institutions. Critics of these institutions claim that these colleges exist with the primary goal of making money, not educating.

In August,  a government probe of some for-profit colleges showed rampant fraud and deception.  In some cases, colleges misrepresented their credentials, graduation rates, job prospects for graduates,  and more. Other problems with for-profit colleges include the fact that they are sometimes not properly accredited, classes completed there are not always readily transferrable to a traditional college, and people rack up an awful lot of debt trying to pay for them. One Los Angeles Times Article pointed out that “Students enrolled in for-profit colleges account for 26% of all student loans and 43% of loan defaulters…”

To crack down on for-profit colleges, the federal government is planning on implementing some new regulations. There will be requirements that for-profit colleges provide students with accurate information about graduation and employment rates, give the U.S. Education Department statistics on student debt, and also let the department know when a school is planning a change in its program.

Read the L.A. Times article about the regulations here.

Some politicians are not convinced that for-profit colleges alone deserve all this scrutiny. An Aug. 4 USA Today article included this quote from Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.: “In focusing only on for-profits, we are not being objective, and we are ignoring the bigger picture of what is happening across all of higher education. … The for-profit sector should not be examined in a vacuum,” Enzi said.

Certainly our higher education as a whole deserves more scrutiny. Especially since students are getting less bang for their buck from even traditional college diplomas. In this economy, graduation does not mean definite employment or good employment, as many young people already know. However, for-profit colleges are a different animal, and they deserve their own level of scrutiny and oversight. This seems to be something the government is ready to provide.

As for you, if you or your children are thinking about a for-profit college, do the research. Make sure you know what graduation and employment rates are like. Find out what kinds of jobs people tend to get after graduation. And — good advice to any college bound student — be wary of how much debt you accrue in the process. Just be aware.

More Proof About Sleep Benefits

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

We have written before about the benefits of sleep for students. Now a new study further demonstrates how sleep can be helpful in learning.

An article in Business Week talks about a recent study in which volunteers were given words to memorize in the evening and then the night to sleep on them. The study showed that the next morning, the volunteers remembered more words than they had right after learning them the night before.

Another group that memorized words without intervening sleep did not do nearly as well as the sleep-assisted group.

Study of the volunteers’ brains activity during sleep showed that deep sleep and a brain activity called “Sleep Spindles” played a role in the retention of the memories. The “Sleep Spindles” refer to periods when there is short but strong brain activity. Scientists say that, during this brain activity, information is being transferred between two parts of the brain responsible for storing memory.

The study came out Nov. 2 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

It is already clear that sleep is an essential part of student achievement. Now, when it comes to memories, we know a little more about why that is. And the Journal of Neuroscience isn’t the only source talking about it. The National Institute of Mental Health says that short naps are better than caffeine for memory.

A study had volunteers do verbal memory, motor, and perceptual learning tasks in the morning. After lunch, some volunteers napped while two other groups listened to a book on tape and were given either caffeine or a placebo. The results showed that those who took a nap performed better than both other groups in tasks given to them by the researchers.

This is powerful evidence for the benefit of sleep, but also a strong indicator that caffeine isn’t as great as it’s made out to be. Turns out that caffeine can interfere with “explicit” tasks, like memorizing words. It does not have a negative effect on “implicit” tasks, like learning to ride a bike, however. Read the details about the caffeine study by clicking here.

Our fast-paced society and its emphasis on skipping sleep and stocking up on caffeine appears to be messing with our ability to learn. Increasingly, studies are showing that sleep is a powerful tool. One we neglect at our own peril.

Pay for Performance

Monday, November 8th, 2010

It’s not a novel idea – paying teachers for how well they teach – but it has taken a long time to catch on in the public school system. Prince William County is the latest to adopt the move.

Prince William Public Schools got a grant of $11.1 million from the Department of Education to do a pay-for-performance program in its 30 poorest schools. The idea is that teachers get bonuses for achieving good results with their students.

Teachers could get $1,000 to $4,500, and administrators could get $7,000.  The bonuses would start in the 2012-2013 school year.

Teacher performance won’t be measured individually. Instead, the school as a whole will be evaluated. It basically works like this: Participating schools that have 50 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced lunch will have to attain yearly progress goals. After that, the schools will be evaluated on some other criteria, such as student behavior, ranked, and then awarded bonuses, which the schools will hand out to teachers.

To read more about this, go here.

We have seen school systems around the country struggling to raise student performance in schools. Pay-for-performance programs have been tried elsewhere and have failed. And not all educators in Prince William think this program is a good idea.

One thing that everybody seems to agree upon, however, is that something must be done in schools nationwide to improve them. Washington, D.C., took the tact of firing many teachers who weren’t up to snuff. The recent movie, “Waiting for Superman,” highlighted some of the pressure students face to get into the best schools our country has to offer. More is expected of teachers and their salaries barely increase, if at all.

The good thing about the pay-for-performance program is that it’s based on bonuses, not salary. So teachers will not be penalized. Instead, those teachers who help a school achieve its goals will receive something extra, above and beyond their ordinary paycheck.

Because of the grant, Prince William isn’t having to throw any of its money into the pay-for-performance pot, so that makes this program an overall win, whether it ends up being effective or not. Now all that’s left is to wait and see if cash can lead to higher quality learning in the classroom.