Solving the Creativity Crisis

Creativity is typically defined as something like ‘the production of something original and useful’.  This recent EducationNews.org article, however, warns that the United States is, for the first time, experiencing a creativity crisis.  Worries about the crisis have prompted some to worry about the far-reaching consequences of a sustained decline:

If American creativity continues to decline, there will be a domino effect in the U.S.: innovation and entrepreneurship will decline, new jobs will not be created, unemployment will rise, the debt will spiral out of control, Gross Domestic Product will decline, and military capability will be weakened by a reduced budget. 

The U.S. has rapidly moved up the value chain transforming from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy to an innovation-based economy.  Consequently, many U.S. factory jobs and back-office jobs have moved overseas, and creativity is the last skill Americans have to offer the global marketplace. (more…)

Back to School

With three children in my family,  the weeks preceding  the return to school have always been a ‘big deal’.  This year it is even more momentous, now that my wife and I will be “empty-nesters” as our youngest heads off to college.  However, I never realized how impactful the back-to-school month of August is on a macro level.  Here are some numbers from the census department:

  • $7.2 billion – the amount of money spend at family clothing stores in August (the only month greater is December)
  • 76 million – the number of children and adults enrolled in school from nursery school to college (27% of the population)
  • 10.9 million – the number of school age children who spoke a language other than English at home (7.8 million of these speaking Spanish)
  • 19.1 million – projected number of students enrolled in the nation’s colleges and universities this fall (up from 13.8 million twenty years ago)

If you are interested, these statistics, as well as many additional data points, can be found on the Census Bureau‘s website.  Education is a big deal- a much bigger deal than most of our citizens realize.  Good luck to you as you go back to school as an educator or student.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Extending the School Year

Summer vacation – kids’ carefree days spent out of the classroom, sleeping late, enjoying friends and family vacations, right?  A tradition that provides ‘outside the box’ opportunities for learning, right?  Not so, according to this week’s Time magazine’s story – The Case Against Summer Vacation.  David Von Drehle argues that American students are competing in a global economy in which students around the world are spending, on average, four weeks longer per year in school.  Von Drehle contends that summer vacation may be a luxury we can no longer afford.  Most troubling is the negative toll summer vacation takes on student achievement.  The devastating effects of summer learning loss, or summer slide, disproportionately impacts low-income students.  High-income students often maintain their learning pace during the summer, whereas lower-income students typically stagnate or lose academic ground.  The problem compounds over time; by the end of fifth grade students from disadvantaged backgrounds have average reading comprehension levels almost two years behind their more affluent peers.  Here’s Von Drehle:

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old’s education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school.  A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer-while disadvantaged students fell back.  By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind.  By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.

We’ve written extensively on the effects of summer learning loss and the research that shows that reading targeted over the summer mitigates the effects of summer learning loss.  In fact, our own Lexile ‘Find a Book‘ site was developed around the idea of keeping students reading targeted text during their own Lexile reading level and their area of interest.

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see the issues of learning loss and increased instructional time finally get the national attention they deserve.

For more on how the achievement gap between income groups can be attributed to the effects of summer slide, be sure to check out this video, Two Steps Forward.

The Stacks: The New Library

Although almost certainly meant tongue-in-cheek, Linda Holmes argument that libraries and librarians may be the next big, pop culture fad, may just be onto something.  We’ve written before on the trends taking shape in libraries across the country.  Holmes’ argument that librarians ‘know stuff’ accords with the increasingly diverse skill set demanded of today’s librarians.  And Holmes’ observation that ‘libraries will give you stuff for free’ captures an essential characteristic of today’s library: today’s library is becoming the place to go to access free content – all content – in a variety of formats, even digital resources. 

Holmes’ prediction of a reality television program (she suggests it be called ‘The Stacks’) which follows the trials and tribulations of a library notwithstanding, she’s very likely right: libraries are in the middle of a process of transformation, a process that will change the way we think of libraries, but will make them that much more essential to the populace.

Math Education:Formulating the Problem

Math educator, Dan Meyer  (video) has argued that today’s math students have a profound impatience with irresolution.  That is, many math students employ a ‘plug and play’ approach to solving math problems, one where the formula is obvious, only the particulars have changed, and they can simply plug in the numbers for an obvious solution.  Meyer uses a number of textbook examples demonstrating that each word problem is essentially the same – a perfectly formulated problem that requires only the application of the formula for resolution. 

Building on Einstein’s observation that, “…the formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill,” Meyer has taken a much different approach with his math students.   Meyer’s approach is much more conversational  and focuses on the formulation of the problem, an approach, in Meyer’s words, in which ‘math serves the conversation’ – not the other way around.  (more…)

The Right Stuff: Recruiting Tomorrow’s Teachers

In today’s economy, landing a job immediately following graduation is becoming increasingly tough.  It appears that landing a position with Teach for America is no exception.  What may be surprising, however, is just how selective TFA’s hiring process has become.  As the New York Times reports,

 “…Getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with Teach for America.  [Many would] count themselves lucky to be among the 4,500 selected by the nonprofit to work at high-poverty public schools from a record 46,359 applicants (up 32 percent over 2009).”

 Here’s The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein commenting on Teach for America’s recruitment success:

 “Teach for America, as this article makes clear, is ferociously selective. They’re more like an Ivy League graduate program than a volunteer organization. And that’s a feature, not a bug. The difficulty of getting accepted makes acceptance an accomplishment. It’s a job you can brag about, and it’s managed to achieve that status without offering much in the way of money. Whatever else Teach for America is — or is not — it’s a good reminder that money isn’t everything, the only thing, or even the most important thing. Status matters too, and maybe even more.” (more…)

A Tipping Point: E-readers Gain Momentum

Amazon recently announced that sales of e-books surpassed hardcover books for the first time.  This major milestone  lends credence to the idea that consumers are willing to accept content in a variety of forms.  No one is seriously arguing that physical books will completely disappear anytime soon.  But whatever the shortcomings of e-books, they are apparently not significant enough to deter consumers from embracing  multiple formats.  As Clay Shirky has argued in another context, the appropriate question is not whether readers will accept new technologies  and formats, but why they are reading in the first place.  Depending on their purposes, e-readers may fulfill those desires as much as physical books (possibly in a cheaper and more efficient way to boot).  Here’s The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle: (more…)

Work and Wrestle: Targeting Students with the Quantile Framework for Mathematics

Hat tip to Marshall Memo for pointing to the latest edition of Better for James Hiebert and Douglas Grouws’ article, ‘Which Instructional Methods Are Most Effective For Math?’ (subscription required).  Hiebert and Grouws argue  that when it comes to teaching math skills and concepts, there are a number of essential elements in ensuring students gain conceptual understanding of the skills and concepts being taught.

First, teachers should continually draw relationships between what is being taught and past material covered.  Here’s the Marshall Memo summarizing what Hiebert and Grouws label the ‘Work and talk’ approach:

  • Examining relationships among facts, procedures and ideas within a lesson and across lessons.
  • Exploring reasons why procedures work as they do.
  • Solving problems using different procedures and then looking at similarities and differences between them. (more…)

Beat the Heat This Summer With ‘READ NC’

In the latest edition of The Fayetteville Observer , State Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson, does a great job of explaining why many students fail to read over the summer months:

Research has suggested that one reason that children do not read enough over the summer is that they have difficulty finding books at their reading level that really interest them. Studies also have shown that students’ reading abilities can actually grow over the summer when they read high-interest books that are also well-matched with their Lexile measure.

North Carolina joins a number of states, including Florida and Illinois , in using Lexile measures as an important element of their summer reading program. It’s inspiring to see how aggressive North Carolina has been in educating parents on the importance of maintaining academic focus year round. In fact, they have designed an entire campaign around encouraging parents to keep their children reading targeted, interesting materials during the academic break. Here’s Atkinson describing the campaign: (more…)

Essential Traits of Student Education

In ‘Focusing on the Essentials’, in the latest issue of American School Board Journal (subscription required) , Douglas Reeves details what he sees as the six practices that have the most impact on student education:feedback, educator efficacy, time, nonfiction writing, formative assessment, and expectations. 

Four of the practices Reeves mention stand out and align with much recent research, including our own.  Much has been written on the importance of feedback to a student’s educational development.  In Next-Generation Assessments , our own Dr. Malbert Smith explains the important elements of what it takes to move from novice to expert in any human endeavor, including “real-time corrective feedback that is based on one’s performance”. Or as Reeves writes: “When students receive feedback that is accurate, specific, and timely, the impact on achievement is so great that it is more significant than the socioeconomic status of children.” (more…)

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