Supporting Military Children Through Communities and Schools

The children in our military families deserve our respect, care, and encouragement. These children persevere through multiple re-locations and separations from their military family member.  Very often the difficulties that many families face after their family member returns from deployment alters their family structure, an alteration involving much struggle and despair. The children in these families demonstrate a strong spirit, compassion for each other, and a patriotic heart that are integral parts of their lifestyles.

In “Take Time to Honor Military Kids’ Service”, Elaine Sanchez points out that the community and schools can support these children in a number of ways.

  • Schools need to be more diligent in identifying the military children in their classrooms and providing staff development on nurturing to the needs of the children and their families.
  • Child development centers, youth programs and parent support groups need to adopt programs that provide active cooperation and collaboration with the military families.
  • Churches have a role in supporting new military families who move into their area as well as recognizing their struggle with isolation and separation from the deployed military service person.

The Department of Defense (DOD) recommends that members of the community who want to learn more about supporting the families of our military personnel should visit the White House’s Joining Forces website to learn more. This site offers suggestions for how groups or individuals can make a difference to the children and families of our military personnel.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, we should all consider these families and gratitude we owe them.  This appreciation can be expressed by volunteering, sending thank-you notes, prepare care packages, or making ourselves available to their needs.  Small gestures can make a big difference for many of these children and families.

It Adds Up: Introducing Mathematics Early

As this recent article makes clear, parents are well-advised to introduce mathematics to their children as early as possible.  Research has found that students unable to read at grade level by the 3rd grade are likely to struggle throughout their academic careers.  But in a study of “School Readiness and Later Achievement,” Greg Duncan and colleagues found that in comparing math, literacy, and social-emotional skills, that the math concepts, e.g. knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning.  In fact, a student’s math skills upon school entry, was a better predictor of math and reading ability by 2nd and 3rd grade than their reading skills upon school entry.

This study provides an empirical basis for what many math educators have been saying for years: that preschool aged children should have a much greater degree of math exposure before they ever set foot in a school.    Sadly, a recent study out of Vanderbilt University reports that math in preschool classes is given short-shrift and is taught only 2.5 percent of the day. When math instruction was increased from 2 percent to 4 percent significant math gains were noted.    Fortunately, an introduction to mathematics need not mean strict adherence to a specific curriculum.  Exposure to mathematics may take a simpler form and there are many meaningful math activities that can be taught in the context of play, e.g. the strategy game Chutes and Ladders, tic-tac-toe, the geometric objects that have to be placed through the correct shape, puzzles, and many more.  So if you are looking for a way to help your preschooler have a better chance to succeed in the early grades continue to look for math activities, have math conversations, problem solve together, and teach them to have fun with math.

Kentucky Helps Support the Transition to Common Core

Laura Devaney’s recent article How Secondary School Principals Can Master the Common Core in eSchool News offers suggestions for implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and supporting each site’s classroom teachers.  By recognizing the transition to CCSS as a unique and momentous opportunity, principals can more effectively advance the transformation of classroom instruction and student attitudes toward learning.

Devaney references Kentucky’s efforts to equip school districts with skills and resources that will aid in their transition efforts. Measures suggested include:

  • identify engaging instructional resources
  • align instruction to the CCSS
  • revise curriculum maps and pacing guides
  • prepare samples of instructional units

In addition, principals can signal their support and help lead their school’s transition to the Common Core standards by taking a number of critical steps:

  1. Actively participate in all available trainings
  2. Use available tools offered by the state and district
  3. Build capacity within your school
  4. Assure vertical alignment from kindergarten to high school graduation
  5. Use free apps, such as the Common Core Standards app
  6. Provide professional learning opportunities and peer networking
  7. Build in quality time for teachers to use and implement the CCSS for instruction and assessment
  8. Monitor progress continuously
  9. Provide time for teachers to analyze data and make appropriate decisions
  10. Become thoroughly educated on the CCSS

Kentucky is also working hard to stay up-to-date on current research-based data.  For example, consider Kentucky’s alignment to the Lexile Framework® for Reading and The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. Their partnership with MetaMetrics in assuring their educational community has access to these developmental measures has been incomparable. Kentucky continues to encourage their staffs to understand the meanings of the measures and how they may be utilized to guide classroom instruction and track growth toward college and career readiness.

Kentucky is to be commended for their efforts to lead the way in transforming education in their state and to ensure that each student graduates college and career ready.

Math Education Made Interesting

As the new Common Core State Standards are being implemented in math classrooms around the U.S., middle school educators are facing two challenges:

1. Keeping middle school students interested in learning

2. Meeting the rigor of the new standards

Here’s a little hope for math teachers: A recent survey of middle school students by Raytheon Co., indicates 7 out of 10 students like math!  The survey also indicated that Math is the third most popular subject just behind gym and art.  That’s good news.    Another finding in the survey sheds light on how students prefer to learn new subjects.  48% of students prefer hands-on learning, while  37% of students report preferring to learn with computers.  Dead last in order of preference is lecture from a textbook. 

Fortunately, the Quantile Framework for Mathematics provides teachers easy access to hands-on, computer based, free resources to help spark student interest in learning mathematics.  These resources are aligned with Common Core State Standards, and all 50 state curriculums and are available in the Math Skill Database and Quantile Teacher Assistant.

Additionally, these easy to use tools offered at no cost to educators allow for differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students without the difficulty of navigating through endless math websites. Dr. Malbert Smith and Jason Turner, in a recent white paper wrote, “As the rigorous Common Core State Standards in Mathe­matics move from the adoption stage into the implemen­tation stage, it is imperative that classroom educators be given the tools and resources that will allow them to move beyond whole-class instruction and begin to differentiate for math students at every level.”  The Quantile website simplifies teacher efforts to locate and utilize relevant materials because these resources are attached to each Common Core standard.

As the implementation of the Common Core standards becomes a reality the Quantile website can be a vital tool in the classroom.  In addition to the tools mentioned for the teacher, the free tools offer a meaningful way to differentiate math instruction for all learners and to link students to resources in a way that can be engaging and fun.

The Bell Curve and the Virtue of Fidelity

Recently, I have been reflecting upon the work of Atul Gawande.  Gawande is a physician by training, but is also the well-known author of The Checklist Manifesto and Complications, both which deal primarily with topics and trends in medicine.   In 2004, Gawande published an important article, “The Bell Curve”, in the New Yorker.  While educators and researchers in the social sciences often use the term “bell curve” the term is used less frequently by physicians or those in the medical field.    Gawande’s observations and findings cut across disciplines, however, and are just as applicable to the world of education as they are to medicine.

In “The Bell Curve”, Gawande describes the medical community’s efforts to successfully treat cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease which thickens the body’s secretions and slowly fills the lung’s airways with hardened mucous, leaving those afflicted with severely reduced lung capacity – effectively smothering the ill from the inside out.  In 1966, the average life expectancy for a child with cystic fibrosis was 10 years.  Fortunately, we have made great strides over the last few decades; continuing research and enhanced treatment methods have increased life expectancy to 33 years.

Still, each year about 1,000 American children are diagnosed with the disease and there are now 117 treatment centers in our country.   To qualify as a treatment center, each center must undergo rigorous certification, follow the same standardized guidelines for treatment, and become ultra-specialized.  Each center must implement the same specialized treatment protocol.

Based on the fact that cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease and that all treatment centers are certified and follow same treatment protocols, one would surmise that most of the treatment centers have the same success rate in treating the disease.  Said differently, one would not expect average life expectancy to differ significantly across treatment centers.  That assumption is incorrect.  And I was stunned to learn that, in terms of average life expectancy, the success of the treatment centers is represented as a bell shaped curve.

How can that be?  How can a genetic disease that has a standardized treatment protocol have a health care outcome that looks like a bell shaped curve?    As the article makes clear, success is a product of aggressive implementation, or what I would label “treatment fidelity”.  The best performing centers did not passively implement the treatment protocols.  Instead, they were maniacally focused on implementing each and every component of the treatment, aiming at 100% fidelity in each and every visit with each patient.  Site visits revealed that success takes more than the knowledge and skills to succeed.  As Gawande makes distressingly clear, “even doctors with great knowledge and technical skills can have mediocre results”.

Now think of the profound implications the treatment of cystic fibrosis has for education.  If a genetic disease that has an agreed upon treatment protocol and is delivered by 117 certified treatment centers is subject to a bell shape distribution due to “fidelity of treatment”, then is it any wonder that we have uneven outcomes in reading and math achievement  across the 100,000+ schools around the US?   Like the treatment of cystic fibrosis, when it comes to the teaching of reading and math skills it is not a matter of how we do it, but how well we do it.  Passionate and unwavering fidelity of treatment would be a big step in ensuring that students continue to climb the ladder toward college and career readiness.  Lessons, like those found in ‘The Bell Curve’, resonate as we look toward education policy and should shape how we think about the educational outcomes across schools, districts, and states.

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