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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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August 19, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It’s OK to boldly split infinitives, says Harvard psychologist

English teachers take notice.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says in a recent article in The Guardian that it’s important to distinguish between legitimate grammar rules that “lubricate comprehension” and musty admonitions based on pet peeves, crackpot theories and superstitions that “impede clear and graceful prose.”

Some of the latter include:

Ending sentences with prepositions

The prohibition against clause-final prepositions is considered a superstition even by the language mavens, and it persists only among know-it-alls who have never opened a dictionary or style manual to check.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Grammar, Psychology

August 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Study: Dropout risk goes up with higher math/science hurdle

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

The decades-long push to boost the number of math and science classes high-school students must take to graduate has raised a question: Will students who already are struggling to meet the current requirements drop out if the bar is even higher?

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently suggested that the answer is yes.

Their study, published in the June/July issue of the journal Educational Researcher found that students were more likely to drop out of high school if they had to pass six math/science classes to graduate (11.4 percent dropout rate) than if they had to pass two (8.9 percent dropout rate).

“I think our findings highlight the need to anticipate there may be unintended consequences, especially when there are broad mandates that, in effect, make high school coursework harder,” said one of the study’s authors, Andrew D. Plunk in an article about the study published by the university.

African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected, he wrote.

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Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: dropouts, graduation requirements, math

August 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Districts protest: Our schools aren’t failing

Because most Washington school districts don’t have 100 percent of their students passing state math and reading tests, the federal No Child Left Behind law says they must send letters to families explaining why.

But the districts don’t have to like it and 28 school superintendents have jointly written a second letter they will send along with the first, which explains why they think their schools are doing much better than the No Child letters make it seem.

“Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials — as well as the U.S. Department of Education — acknowledge isn’t working,” the cover letter states.

The letter is signed by John Welch, Superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which represents the 28 districts.

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Comments | More in News, Seattle Public Schools | Topics: NCLB waiver, No Child Left Behind, Puget Sound Educational Service District

August 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Seattle special education chief placed on paid leave

The Seattle school district’s executive director of special education was placed on paid leave Friday afternoon while the district investigates whether proper procedures were followed when the district hired a national consultant last spring. The executive director, Zakiyyah McWilliams, will be out during the review, which is expected to take a few weeks, said district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers. “This is not…

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Comments | More in News, Seattle Public Schools | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, special education, T.I.E.R.S Group

August 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

National report praises Rainier Beach High for discipline fix

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

When students show up late for class at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, they aren’t marched off to the principal’s office for punishment, they’re greeted at the door by a “welcome team” of school staff that gets them talking about why they’re tardy and how to fix it.

Maybe they’re having problems at home, or they need help with transportation or even an automated wake-up phone call if that’s what it takes.

Those three-to-five minute conversations have reduced tardiness at Rainier Beach and are cited on page 48 of a massive report on discipline issued earlier this summer as an example of how stronger relationships between students and adults can nip misbehavior in the bud.

Far too often, middle schools and high schools are suspending and expelling students for minor misconduct, according to the report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

And students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are suspended or expelled at a higher rate than other students.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Council of State Governments, Rainier Beach High School, school discipline

August 7, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Should state sue Arne Duncan to get No Child waiver back?

Bill Keim

Bill Keim

The executive director of the association that represents Washington school superintendents says Washington state should challenge the revocation of the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind law in federal court.

In April, Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver when state lawmakers decided against mandating the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations.

In his group’s August newsletter, Executive Director Bill Keim tells the members of the Washington Association of School Administrators that he’s long been concerned about the “unfettered federal intervention into what used to be the states’ domain — operating our public schools.”

Which is why Keim likes the idea of challenging the waiver revocation in federal court, an idea floated last month by Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group based in Washington D.C.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Bill Keim, No Child Left Behind, teacher evaluation

August 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Myth that we use only 10 percent of brain is 100 percent bunk

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Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy” / (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Science journalists are throwing a wet blanket on the premise of the new movie, “Lucy” — that we humans only use 10 percent of our brains, leaving vast expanses of cortex untapped.

The movie features Scarlett Johansson in the title role as an American student abroad who develops extraordinary powers by unleashing the potential of all that unused neural territory.

The 10-percent notion is one of those zombie ideas about the brain that refuse to die.

The short answer is that we already use all of our brain, which makes sense because while it comprises about 2 percent of body mass, the brain gobbles up 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe and 20 percent of the energy we consume. That would be a big fuel bill for an organ that was 90 percent idle.

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Comments | Topics: Neuroscience and education, Science of learning

July 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Computer scientist hopes to customize teaching and learning

Educators have been struggling for decades to resolve a fundamental problem: Students who are in the same grade because of age often vary greatly in skills, abilities and experiences, even on the first day of kindergarten.

Teachers are told to differentiate their instruction so that each student gets what she needs ­ a good idea in theory, but hard to pull off in a real classroom because teachers also vary in skills and abilities.

That’s the big puzzle that University of Washington computer science professor Zoran Popović hopes to solve with insights gained over the last five years of developing computer learning games that adapt to the skills of individual players so they progress more efficiently toward mastery.

Popović directs the university’s Center for Game Science.

He also is the founder and chief scientist at Enlearn, a not-for-profit organization started with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partnered with the center in May. Enlearn is developing a commercial application for the interactive technology aimed at the global K-12 market.

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Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: math instruction, Seattle Public Schools, technology

June 19, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Leave no book behind: How to fight summer learning loss

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

Summer vacation begins this week for many Seattle-area children and with it, a drain on knowledge and skills that researchers have dubbed the “summer slide.”

“By the end of summer, students perform, on average, one month behind where they left off in the spring,” according to research summarized in a 2011 report by the Rand Corporation.

The summer learning loss accumulates over time and, while all kids lose some math skills over the long break, low-income kids lose more ground in reading than wealthier peers, who sometimes even make gains over the summer. The upshot is a widening of the achievement gap.

Research has shown that high quality summer reading programs can halt the slide and even boost achievement with effects that last for at least two years after the student participated, according to Rand.

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| More in News | Topics: achievement gap, reading, summer learning loss

December 4, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Ice cream doesn’t cause drowning and other warnings about interpreting data

Amid the national debate over how best to improve our nation’s public schools, data  from scientific studies often are used (and misused) to bolster one argument or discredit another – about the effectiveness of charter schools, say, or the value of standardized testing.

But how is an educator, policymaker or parent supposed to sort out credible evidence from the hype?

The science journal Nature recently published a list of 20 concepts that non-scientists should understand about scientific research.

Many of the concepts make good sense for evaluating education research, including this biggie that bears repeating often.

Correlation does not imply causation:  “It is tempting to assume that one pattern causes another,” according to the Nature article.  “However, the correlation might be coincidental, or it might be a result of both patterns being caused by a third factor — a ‘confounding’ or ‘lurking’ variable.”

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Comments | Topics: Research, U. S. Department of Education, Washington Post