Lack of Education: Just as Deadly as Smoking

Research conducted by the University of Colorado, New York University, and the University of Chapel Hill has concluded that 145,243 deaths a year could be prevented if every adult had a GED or regular high school diploma – a comparable mortality rate to that of smoking. Studies such as this one, on the association between education levels and health outcomes, is nothing new and has been extensively researched over the past decades, so what makes this recent study so intriguing?

The basic explanation for this connection between health and education, as explained by Victoria Chang, an associate professor at NYU and co-author of the study, is that people with more education usually have better jobs and higher incomes which translate into more opportunities such as higher quality foods, gym access, better health care, etc. But what sets this study apart is how it shows that there is more interconnectivity between education and health outcomes than just monetary means. Chang explains how there is a direct effect from education: improved cognitive skills. So even if your degree doesn’t increase your income, it still provides you with “more knowledge about health, more access to get that knowledge, more of a sense of agency, more self-efficacy, better peer connections.” These findings indicate something new – that there is sufficient evidence that a decent proportion of the relationship between education and health is causal, not just correlated.

But what do these findings mean? Well, they could set the stage for new debates in both education and health policy. The study concludes that “Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the US population, especially given widening educational disparities across birth cohorts.” This is good news for education policy! Chang points out how normally in health policy the focus has been on changing habits and behaviors such as diet, smoking, or drinking. But this study places emphasis on education, a more upstream, fundamental factor and indicates that it should also be included among the ranks of key elements in US health policy. This shift in thinking will hopefully put the spotlight on education and result in more educational attainment and positive health outcomes.

MetaMetrics and Departments of Education Team Up to Combat Summer Learning Loss!

This summer MetaMetrics has partnered with twenty two state departments of education to fight summer learning loss. Since 2012 MetaMetrics, in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), has offered the “Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge” to freely support departments of education in order to create and sustain state-led summer reading initiatives. A few years later, MetaMetrics launched a sister program, the “Summer Math Challenge” (SMC).

Summer learning is a beloved, annual project among MetaMetrics staffers. It’s the brainchild of Malbert Smith, Ph.D., the president and co-founder of MetaMetrics, who recognizes that providing free tools to prevent kids from going home to text and resource free environments is a vital endeavor to combating summer learning loss. Dr. Smith also serves on the National Summer Learning Association’s Board of Directors.

“Summer learning loss is not just a problem facing children of low-income families, it is an epidemic across America that affects all students,” stated Dr. Malbert Smith. “For example, all students on average lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation over the summer months each year. Such unfortunate statistics qualify a call to action. When we launched the Chief’s Challenge, it was thrilling to see state chiefs positively respond and take action in their states. Even more rewarding are my trips to states’ summer learning launch parties and promotional events. Seeing our young learners rallied and excited to kick off summer learning compels our passion to keep fighting learning loss and to continue our efforts year after year.”

One of the free tools offered for reading is the popular, Lexile-based book search tool, “Find a Book.” “Find a Book” allows readers to search for titles targeted to their reading ability and personal interests, and then to locate those titles at their local library. States can work with MetaMetrics to personalize a “Find a Book” landing page for their students to visit over the summer months. To incentivise the reading challenge, MetaMetrics posts a Summer Reading Pledge. When readers submit their reading pledge they are entered into a drawing to win a Barnes & Noble gift card.

On the math side of MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities is a free, Quantile-based resource that keeps kids practicing their math skills for six weeks over the summer. The SMC is a math skills maintenance program targeted to students who have just completed grade 2 through 6. Parents who enroll their child will receive daily emails with fun activities that are targeted to their child’s Quantile level (mathematical ability) and links to educational resources. For more information about MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities, visit www.lexile.com or www.Quantiles.com.

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Coding the Curriculum

Years ago, schools across the United States widely offered Latin classes as an important part of a student’s education. Beyond allowing students to read great classics in their original language, studying Latin gave students tools for learning they could for the rest of their lives. The process of learning Latin allowed students to become familiar with a specific informational system, while also teaching them systematic thinking. This type of thinking is incredibly valuable, as it can be applied to all other learning a person does during their lifetime.

Nowadays, however, Latin classes are rare, and are often seen as an elitist indulgence. But without Latin classes, how will students gain this important system of thought? In a growing number of schools across America, and even the world, the answer is coding.

In an increasingly technological world, coding seems the obvious replacement for an antiquated form of communication. Not only does coding prepare students to have some level of mastery over the technology that surrounds them, but it also teaches the type of systematic thinking that Latin had in the past, providing students with the tools they will need as they continue to learn. Although it may seem like a niche subject relegated to computer science classes, teachers are finding ways to incorporate coding into a multitude of subjects. Students can use it in art class to create complicated patterns, or in English class to reenact scenes from Macbeth. As Tony Wan from EdSurge says, the addition of coding to this wide array of subjects returns “creativity, tinkering, and exploration to the learning process.” Coding teaches students problem-solving skills and inventive thinking – abilities they can use in the rest of their academic endeavors, as well as their everyday lives.

By incorporating coding into almost any subject a student can take, schools allow their pupils to look at information in a different conceptual light, and build fluency with coding language. This fluency will continue to be important even as the students graduate and enters the workforce, especially as an increasing number of industries add technical elements to their companies. Businesses are constantly increasing their online presence with custom websites and creating their own apps, and are looking for people who know how to code to create and maintain these tools. Even industries such as fashion and music are looking for coders to employ. By teaching students coding from a young age, schools are giving them an advantage in today’s competitive job market.

Proponents of coding suggest starting off children as young as possible, and there has been an upsurge in the production of toys that involve coding, like Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop, that make the process fun and engaging. These toys allow children to become familiar with coding, even at a basic level, before they even enter school. The robots allow for open-ended play, giving children complete control over what the toys do, and beginning their experience with systematic thought. For those who don’t have access to these types of toys, many elementary schools across the country are beginning to incorporate coding into their curriculums. This act of teaching coding in school also plays an important role in demystifying the process, showing that it is not just for boys who are innately talented at it, but can be taught to anyone, including girls. This can help equalize the gender disparity in STEM fields, giving both genders the same chance to make their way in math and science fields.

Happy National Clerihew Day

Each year on July 10th we mark National Clerihew Day. What in the world is a Clerihew? It’s a light-hearted, four line biographical poem intended to poke a little fun at the subject. The Clerihew was created by novelist/humorist Edmund Clerihew Bentley, supposedly while as a student at St. Paul’s school in Hammersmith, England. The following is believed to be his first Clerihew:

“Sir Humphrey Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered Sodium.”

Clerihews are meant to be absurd and the rhymes intentionally forced. The poems follow four classic rules:

-Four lines in length

-The subject’s name in the first line

-Line 1 rhymes with line 2 and line 3 rhymes with line 4

-It should be silly!

The rules aren’t meant to be strict, just have fun with it! I wrote this one in honor of Mr. Bentley:

“Mr. Edmund C. Bentley

Made his name a bit differently

Schoolboy poems at Hammersmith

But that may all be myth”

What makes a “good” Clerihew is a relative term, many great writers have penned terrible Clerihews, including E.C. Bentley himself. Why not try writing your own today?

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic… and Grit?

For thousands of students across the country, the next step after graduating high school is attending college. They spend their time in high school building their resumes, making sure they’ve taken the required amount of credits, bolstering their GPAs with AP classes, and filling their free time with extracurriculars. But what if that wasn’t enough? A growing number of experts believe this is true. There is increasing evidence that, despite fulfilling all the requirements for admission, many students aren’t quite ready for college. This is because of a lack of development of a different set of skills, one that is separate from how well you take notes or perform on a test.

Nonacademic skills are becoming of increasing interest to educators across the country. Experts are finding that these types of skills, such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, have just as much impact on a student’s performance in college as their grades or reading ability. As the first time students are really on their own, college requires a lot of different skills and intelligence to navigate successfully. Although they are not part of a school’s regular curriculum, these skills can be taught, giving students giving students a chance to thrive in college and beyond.

Although many educational experts agree on the need to teach and foster nonacademic skills, there is debate on what to call them. Some simple terms such a “character” and “grit” have been suggested, but face criticism because of their connotations or over-simplicity. Other names can be misleading, such as “soft skills” or “21st century skills,” which may lead people to believe this skills are not important or only deal with technology. Others are just plain unwieldy, like “noncognitive traits and habits,” which, other than being a mouthful, is a bit of a misnomer, as all traits and habits are cognitive, in that each “involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains.”

Until this dispute can be settled, there will likely be a mish-mash of terms in publications about this subject, accompanied by a group of disgruntled researchers and policymakers. But make no mistake – although they may disagree on the jargon, all agree that these skills are worth developing.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.