Who Schooled the Senate?

By Malbert Smith III, Ph.D. and Andrew Ashley

As in all elections, we tend to divide candidates up with binaries, such as Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Establishment/Outsider. Yet, another binary we could use is Publicly/Privately educated. As we sit mired in an election cycle where the nation’s public schools, the Department of Education, and the cost of college tuition come under scrutiny, we decided to examine how members of the U.S. Senate were educated in high school. We also looked at the education of the candidates for U.S senate races this cycle who hope to unseat the sitting senators.

Despite many reports on the profession, ethnicity, gender, military service, and age of the 114th Congress, a neglected variable has been how many members attended public or private schools during their K–12 education. In order to shed light on this, we decided to research where senators graduated from high school. In the aggregate we found that 74 senators attended public school and 26 attended private school. The number of senators who attended private school is considerably higher than the national average. According to the 2010 census, approximately 1.3 million students went to private high school out of the 16.16 million students attending high school across the nation. This means that about 8% of the country is going to private high schools, considerably lower than the Senate. And thirty years ago it was similar a trend. According to the 1980 census, 9% of high school students were in private schools. Of the 44 Democratic senators, 29 graduated from public high schools while 15 graduated from private ones. Republican senators have a higher concentration of public school graduates, as 43 Republican senators graduated from public high schools. Eleven Republican senators graduated from private schools.

Some senators even attended the same high school. Senator, and Democratic primary presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders (VT-I) and Senator Chuck Schumer (NY-D) both attended the James Madison High School, a public high school in Brooklyn, New York. Senator Patrick Toomey (PA-R) and Senator Jack Reed (RI-D) both attended the private La Salle Academy in Providence Rhode Island. Though neither set were in high school at the same time.

Of the 16 members on the Senate subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education we found that 12 attended public schools. Four attended private schools.

Perhaps more striking than whether senators graduated from public or private high school, however, is how many senators choose to send their children to private schools. Members of Congress are considerably more likely to send their children to private schools than the national average. The Heritage Foundation has monitored congressional children’s education for many years. According to the 2009 report (Burke, 2009), 55% of U.S. senators sent all their children to public school. However, 45% sent at least one child to private school. This is relatively similar among Democrats and Republicans as, in the 2009 survey, 43% of Democratic senators sent at least one child to private school while 47% of Republican senators did so. As Catherine Cushinberry states, as quoted in a recent article in the Atlantic, not being a public-school parent still amounts to a detachment from the laws regarding education one hopes to make.

We expanded our search to examine where the candidates for U.S. Senate in 2016 went to school. While we could not find information on every candidate, as many are newer to the public limelight and their high school education has not yet been reported (and some primaries have not finished at the writing of this article), we were able to glean the education of 24 of the 31 candidates (for 26 senate seats). Overwhelmingly, the candidates have public education backgrounds. Of the 24 candidates, only five candidates graduated from private schools. Of these, Evan Bayh (IN-D) graduated from the prestigious St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. while his father served in the senate for Indiana; Chris van Hollen (MD-D) graduated from the Middlesex School, a preparatory school in Massachusetts where his grandfather taught, while his father served as U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives; and  Katie McGinty (PA-D), Jason Kander (MO-D), and John Caroll (HI-R) all graduated from catholic schools in their hometowns..

During this quest, we discovered finding information on senators schooling can be cumbersome. Finding information on all 100 sitting senators was difficult and for this reason we did not look into the 435 members of the House of Representatives. We believe it shouldn’t be so arduous to track down this information. As members of the 115th Congress convene in January of 2017 and begin to debate and craft educational legislation, we would encourage them to disclose their K-12  educational experience. The public’s confidence in our elected members would only be enhanced by such transparency.

Can Pigeons Read?

Reading as we know it comes from two important elements. One is the ability to decode, which is a trait known to humans and how we use language. While some studies have been used to see how well animals can learn this skill, like speaking (the most infamous maybe the work of the Communication Institute of St. Thomas founded by the illustrious anthropologist Gregory Bateson and neuroscientist John Lilly that attempted to teach dolphins to speak to humans), this is often considered a singularly human trait.

The other element is known as orthographic knowledge, or the ability to detect words. It turns out, this may be an ancient evolutionary trait, shared with species as distant as pigeons. A joint team of scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, determined that pigeons can be taught to recognize certain words. They also could learn to detect patterns to possibly identify words from non-words. Pigeons could learn to detect as many as 58 words. However, pigeons are far less adept at learning vocabulary as other primates, like baboons. Baboons could understand, on average, 139 words, to the average pigeons 43.

In short, to say that pigeons can read is a rather a truthful hyperbole. This amazing research, however, does demonstrate that pigeons and many other species quite separate from us have some of the essential building blocks that allowed our ancestors to create language. Hopefully, further research will illuminate what else such a connection may mean for the development of language.

Shakespeare in the Original Pronunciation

To all high school English teachers and Shakespeare fans, a wonderful—-albeit delightfully esoteric—-publication earlier this year may have slipped under your radar. David Crystal, the Anglo-Welsh linguist, has produced the first Oxford Dictionary on Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. While on the surface this may seem like Academic pedantry at best, and utter hogwash at worst, I couldn’t recommend exploring it more. Looking into the original pronunciation of Shakespeare allows us to feel closer to Shakespeare’s world; help us understand rhymes and puns that no longer seem to work (which reminds us of how rude and bawdy original Shakespeare really was); and have a lot of fun just examining how English has shifted. Forty dollars does seem like a frivolous investment just to be able to comprehend pronunciation of the Bard’s player. However, Crystal offers free material and information on how pronunciation works. You can also compare how the sonnets have shifted over time. For instance, you can compare one of my favorite sonnets, Sonnet 130, to the Original Pronunciation. Or see how A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream would have sounded to its first audience.

Here is a video of David Crystal and his son Ben explaining more OP and doing a demonstration of some of accent as they compare parts of the Henry V and Romeo and Juliet.

How Dogs Are Helping Kids Read Aloud

For many children, reading aloud in the classroom can be seen as a daunting task. Fortunately for those struggling to read in front of their peers, animals may be able to help. Across the country, programs such as Therapy Dogs International (TDI), and Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.), have been implementing the use of trained therapy dogs to help children gain confidence in their reading skills. The participants of these, and similar programs, enjoy reading to a calm pooch in a quiet environment, while they practice their reading skills with no fear of embarrassment or harassment. By associating the act of reading aloud with a pleasant experience with the animal, kids are learning to love reading in the process.

Encouraging children to spend time reading aloud to pets at home could similarly help strengthen the reader’s abilities. Utilizing resources like the Lexile® Framework for Reading and Lexile “Find a Book”, can help the reader choose a text at the appropriate level of difficulty to practice reading aloud with.

Sources:
http://www.tdi-dog.org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=Children+Reading+to+Dogs
http://www.therapyanimals.org/ITA_Afilliate_Organizations.html
http://thebark.com/content/reading-dogs-help-children-learn

Happy Holidays From MetaMetrics!

As the holidays and the end of the year approach we’d like to take a moment to reflect on 2015. It’s been an exciting year for us here at MetaMetrics and an exciting time in the world of education. We have been happy to watch as our two core products, The Lexile Framework for Reading and The Quantile Framework for Mathematics, continue to expand both domestically and globally.

While we we can boast of many achievements this year, some of our proudest moments include the debut of the Lexile Career Database and the Lexile by Chapter Guides; increased participation in the CCSSO Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge and the Summer Math Challenge; numerous research publications and many new product and publishing partnerships.

This holiday season, we invite you to join us in supporting First Book. First Book provides new books to children in need throughout the United States and Canada. With over 135 million books distributed so far, First Book is making huge strides towards solving ton of the biggest challenges faced in the development of literacy—access to books. Please join us as we help to spread some joy and holiday cheer with the gift of books. 

From our family to yours, we wish you a very happy holiday season! For a few laughs we invite you to view our company holiday video and learn about our newest “product”, The Giftile Framework for Giving.

The Foundation of Education

So often we get caught up in the negativity surrounding education. Whether that’s funding, adjusting the curriculum, or tragic events. In the midst of this media coverage it is far too easy to overlook the people whose work forms the foundation of our education system: our teachers.

Teachers help shape students, they help mold them, encourage them, spark their creativity, give them things to aspire to. They give students the means to reach goals they didn’t think they could meet, or to have dreams they never thought they could have. Teachers do all this despite long hours, low pay, student diversity, and more. In light of this, NPR has created a series called “50 Great Teachers” to recognize what often goes unrecognized — great teachers. Teachers who make an impact. Teachers who go above and beyond not for their own benefit, but because they genuinely care about the future and development of our students.

This series features everything from swim teachers who focus on earning student’s unwavering trust to a principal who dedicated years of his life to transforming the success rate of senior exams at his school from 12% to 100%. These stories give insight to what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of teachers. It exposes what often goes unnoticed to the public — persistent dedication. It spotlights teachers like Rodney Carey. Carey was a bail bondsman who couldn’t shake the fact that most of the students he was bailing out of jail, who had an upbringing much like his own, were underserved and had scarce opportunities available to them. He decided then to dedicate his life to improving this through teaching. Carey remarks,  “I know that you cannot save everybody,” he says. “But if one of them could just go along, complete his education, go to college, and I see him in the future doing something positive with his life, that makes me think that what I was doing is all worthwhile.”

This series will give you perspective on the uplifting aspects of our schools and hopefully encourage you to look past the negativity and appreciate the positive influence teachers are having on our students, despite numerous obstacles.

National Library Card Sign-up Month

September is Library Card Sign-up Month. The event serves as a reminder that our public libraries continue to celebrate and encourage the act of reading, particularly among young people.

Libraries regularly offer readings for toddlers and preschoolers. Reading aloud to children is an activity that groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have long recommended. Now, a recent study has offered biological evidence of the positive effects of early exposure to reading, including increased ability to form mental images.

Reading to the very young also correlates with increased reading later in life. However, reading for pleasure usually declines as children enter their teens, due to increased demands on their time. For those without the time to wander the stacks, peering at miniscule numbers taped to the spines of books (a ritual many of us still enjoy), library websites now allow digital texts to be downloaded directly to e-readers.

Modern libraries are more than inexpensive book delivery systems.  Patrons are often unaware of all that libraries have to offer, including Internet services and educational events. September is the time to find out.  And, should students need book recommendations before they sign up, the free, Lexile-based “Find a Book” search tool helps readers discover titles that match both their interests and reading abilities.

Sign up for a card at your local library. Tell them Snoopy sent you.

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.

Summer Learning Initiatives

It is no secret that our school systems face serious discrepancies in student achievement. But it is not just what goes on during the school year that contributes to this. In fact Dr. Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Vice President of Literary Services at Reading is Fundamental, reports that most of this achievement gap actually takes place in the summer months when a significant proportion of kids are “opportunity poor”. During the Summer Learning Story Ideas Webinar, Dr. Cheatham joined forces with Jessica Lahey, writer for The Atlantic and New York Times and Sarah Pitcock, CEO of National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), to explore summer learning opportunities and ways to combat what has been coined as “summer slide” for students. The webinar provided information and resources on the importance of summer learning, especially now that half of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. This level of poverty is a driving factor behind the lack of access to diverse, interesting, and informational texts during the summer months. The consequence is that students are regressing in literacy skills during the summer, losing up to three months worth of progress. According to Dr. Judy Cheatham the cumulative effect of this summer slide is that students without access to summer reading materials are on average two and a half to three years behind their peers by fifth grade, and four years behind by twelfth grade.

How do we work to address this issue at a time where many students are living in isolated, rural areas or do not have the monetary means to access resourceful books? Fortunately, according to Dr. Cheatham, it does not take extensive lessons and lecturing to overcome this problem. One of her studies found that just an hour of reading with a volunteer twice a week is enough to at least maintain literacy level, and oftentimes even progress. Sarah Pitcock also provided information on several growing summer learning programs. Specifically, school libraries and public housing authorities have recently taken initiative for summer learning, offering low-cost or free programs for kids. Public school libraries across the country are implementing volunteer based programs where, for just $7 a summer, students can access their school libraries twice a week. While public libraries are often a good resource, those in low income places are the first to close for the summer and even if they are open, can be miles away from the students who need it most. Alternatively, keeping school libraries open can help provide more options. Additionally, and even more surprising, is the summer learning initiatives taking place by public housing authorities. An excellent example of this is in Tacoma, WA where they have implemented cost-free learning programs for local students during the summer.

While the aforementioned programs mark progress, two-thirds of children in the United States still aren’t involved in any kind of summer learning. A major contributor to this, outside of cost, is the inability to get informative texts to students at their reading level that also interest them. Malbert Smith, NSLA board member and President of MetaMetrics® , explains in his paper Stop Summer Academic Loss that “The best predictor of summer reading is whether books are in the home. Unfortunately, many students go home to text-free or text-poor zones.” But it is not enough to merely provide children with books, as Dr. James Kim, Harvard University professor, found through more than a decade of research. His study shows that children’s reading abilities can actually grow over the summer when they read high-interest books in their Lexile® range. But, he remarks that we need to make sure students are “finding books at their reading level that really interest them. Young people have to want to read a book and they have to be able to read it.”

Dr. Kim’s findings inspired a tool that helps combat summer slide nationwide – The Lexile “Find a Book”. “Find a Book” actualizes Dr. Kim’s research in a fun, easy-to-use interface for educators, parents and children. With “Find a Book,” you can build targeted reading lists for students based on their Lexile measure. This enables students to find books that are at their reading level, but also lets them choose their own books based off of individual interests. Being able to choose their own books significantly increases the rate at which students finish them and can ultimately work to overcome summer academic loss.

MetaMetrics® also provides other free resources for educators, parents, and students to access year round and has their own initiative: Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge that works with state DOEs to promote reading and math over the summer.

High School Graduation Continues To Climb

During May and June, high school seniors across the United States gather to don a cap and gown in a crescendo of four years of hard work. For the students it is a momentous occasion in their lives. Yet, it could also be part of a momentous trend across the United States, depending on how many students actually receive their graduation certificates. In 2013, the high school graduation rate hit 81.4%, according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation Report put out by the organization GradNation. This is up slightly from 79% in 2011 and 80% in 2012, and is moving steadily towards a goal of 90% of high schoolers graduating in 2020. So why have graduation rates risen, and how can they continue to rise? Research has illustrated several factors that have counted to higher graduation rates. First, targeted efforts have helped retain minority students from dropping out. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, in 2000 13% of all African-American students dropped out and 27% of Latino/as. By 2012, these numbers had declined to 7.5% of African-American students and 12.7% of Latino/a students. Retention of minority students has had a substantial effect on the graduation rate.

Importantly, interventions at the district and school level have helped mold schools into places where students can thrive and graduate. Throughout the ’90s, organizations like the Center for Research on Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR), a joint venture between John Hopkins and Howard University, began to study how individual high schools could improve in instruction and administration to keep from losing minority students. This helped to target the 900 to 1,000 high schools in the U.S. where graduation was 50% at best, and the 2,000 high schools where a freshman class will shrink by 40% before senior year. Since then many states have launched sophisticated programs to target their lowest performing schools and reconstruct them into more successful institutions.

Also important to the rise of graduation is improvement in instruction much earlier than high school. In fact, one of the most important indicators of whether a student will graduate high school is how the student reads at third grade. Students living in poverty tend to enter school with a paucity of language, which can be exacerbated by the time they deal with high school courses if initiatives are not put in place by third grade. For this reason, states have made significant efforts, such as NC’s Read to Achieve, over the last decade and a half to target third grade reading. No doubt as further and further emphasis on third grade reading occurs, more and more students will continue to graduate high school almost a decade later.

Despite gains, however, there are some areas in the United States which have not seen the same growth. Often times in the United States, socioeconomic categories overlap. Areas with greater socioeconomic hardships–and minorities with a greater rate of poverty compared to the state average– tend to face difficult circumstances when helping those minority students succeed in schools. For instance, Arizona, whose overall population living in poverty is 9% White while 33% Latino/a, also has significantly lower graduation rates among Latino/a students compared to the national average. In fact, it is one of the places where high school graduation is declining in the nation. To continue to grow graduation rates will take an increased effort to help the gap close, not widen, between the privileged and less privileged members of our society.

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.