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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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November 13, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Special education is ineffective and too expensive, report says

In 2013, 76 percent of Washington’s students graduated from high school within four years, but only about 54 percent of students with disabilities got their diplomas on time.

Graduates with disabilities move on to higher education at less than half the rate of their peers.

And in several large Washington school districts, special education students are between 2 and 3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their peers.

But the vast majority of children  in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.

Those are among the findings of a report to the state Legislature released Wednesday detailing the need for a statewide “blue ribbon” commission to improve the way the state’s schools educate children with special needs.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, Seattle Public Schools, special education

November 6, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Mr. Marshmallow Test to talk about willpower at UW

Credit: McClatchy Newspapers

Credit: McClatchy Newspapers

The researcher who explored the lifetime benefits of delayed gratification by tempting preschoolers with marshmallows will speak at the University of Washington on Nov. 17.

Walter Mischel, now at Columbia University, devised the now-famous marshmallow experiments in the late 1960s at Stanford University. He tested the willpower of preschoolers by giving them a simple choice: Get one tasty treat immediately, or get two about 15 minutes later.

Kids were left alone in the room with a bell. Ringing the bell brought back the adult and the child got the sweet. Holding out long enough without ringing the bell, and the child got two.

Children employed clever strategies to distract themselves from looking at the marshmallow, like turning their backs on the treat.

Mischel found that kids who were able to delay gratification at age 4 had greater success decades later in school and adult life.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, Science of learning, University of Washington

November 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Good writing takes practice, not grammar drills, studies say

Lots of practice and word processing software can make students better writers, but pounding grammar rules and diagramming sentences could actually make them worse

Those are the lessons from the Hechinger Report’s Education by the Numbers blog, based on an analysis of research on how to teach writing from Arizona State University. Here are three effective practices from the blog post that aren’t always evident in the classroom:

1. Better writing takes practice and studies show that when students are asked to write frequently, they improve both the quality of their writing and their reading comprehension.

However, surveys of U.S. teachers reveal that after third grade, very little time is spent writing in classrooms.


Comments | More in News | Topics: writing

October 31, 2014 at 5:00 AM

NYU research: Don’t punish students for their temperaments

It’s easy to overlook and underestimate shy children, and they can suffer academically because they aren’t the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

But you can’t just force them out of their shells anymore than you can turn an antsy kid who easily flips out into someone who handles stress calmly and quietly.

Sometimes parents and teachers believe a shy kid (or a typically jumpy kid prone to disruption) can just be forced to change. But core personality traits ­— a complex amalgam of genetics and early experience — can’t just be transformed on command to fit the requirements of school.

“To discipline or punish a child for their temperament is really cruel because that’s not going to change,” said Sandee McClowry, a professor of counseling psychology at New York University.

So rather than trying to change a child’s temperament to fit the school, McClowry is looking for ways that schools can work with different types of kids, easing them into more productive behaviors.


Comments | Topics: school discipline, Science of learning, Teacher-student relationships

October 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Does class size matter? Research reveals surprises

Mark Burbank's astronomy class at Mountlake Terrace High School (shown here Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014) has close to 40 kids enrolled, which is an example of the kind of overcrowded classroom that I-1351 on the November ballot would address, but at a cost of billions. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Mark Burbank’s astronomy class at Mountlake Terrace High School has close to 40 kids enrolled, which is an example of the kind of overcrowded classroom that I-1351 on the November ballot would address, but at a cost of billions. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Few education reforms make as much sense on a gut level as giving teachers fewer students to teach.

The idea is popular with parents and politicians alike — at least 40 states have carried out some kind of class-size reduction in the past 15 years — and the Legislature in Washington has pledged to reduce average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 17 students by the fall of 2017.

Initiative 1351 on the Nov. 4 ballot would go even further, lowering average class sizes to 25 for grades four through 12 in Washington’s schools (with smaller sizes for schools where the majority of students come from low-income families).

According to the latest federal data based on teacher surveys, the average class size is 24 in the state’s elementary schools and 30 in secondary schools.

But despite more than four decades of research in the U.S. and abroad, the effects of this simple idea about how to raise student achievement have been hard to isolate and measure, leading to academic squabbles over its value.

Read full story here.


Comments | More in News | Topics: class size

October 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Want later school start times for teens? Here’s how it’s done

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia — the 11th largest school district in the country — will delay the starting time for high schools next fall so teens can get more sleep.

The school board voted last Thursday to push back high school start times from 7:20 a.m. to between 8 and 8:10 a.m.

Fairfax middle schools will start at 7:30 a.m., but the district says it will try to get those times closer to 8 a.m.

The shift will cost the district almost $5 million.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in August  that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m., citing decades of research showing that later start times for adolescents improve health, safety and academic achievement.

Many parents and local sleep experts want later start times in Seattle, too, and the Seattle school board directed the staff this summer to begin a 15-month study of the issue.


Comments | More in News | Topics: school start times, Seattle Public Schools

October 17, 2014 at 5:00 AM

UW viral video: Toddler leaves toy alone to avoid an adult’s anger

Move over marshmallow test, there’s a new video showing the struggles of a toddler to control his impulses and it comes right out of the University of Washington.

The new UW video — which has tallied more than 750,000 hits since it was posted 10 days ago  re-enacts an experiment in a study from the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences that is published in the current issue of the journal, Cognitive Development.

The researchers wanted to find out if 15-month-old children could resist the natural urge to copy an adult playing with a toy by figuring out that doing so would make someone else mad at them.

Turns out they can.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, social and emotional learning, University of Washington

October 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Kids need a second chance to make a first impression

Kids’ reputations often precede them as they move from grade to grade, with teachers giving each other a heads up about who’s a troublemaker and who’s likely to ace every assignment.

But Brooke Perry, a sixth-grade teacher in the Kent School District, says she’s learned to keep an open mind about her students, regardless of what she’s heard about them, according to a recent post she wrote reflecting on her first month of the new school year for the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

Full disclosure: kids change. Here’s another hard hitting fact: not all student-teacher relationships are created equal. Because of these two things, I’m come to understand that I cannot rely solely on word of mouth, and that it is absolutely paramount to allow time to build your own unique relationship with your new students, before passing judgment.

Word of mouth is not the only way that teachers can form misleading snap judgments about students.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Teacher-student relationships

October 14, 2014 at 2:57 PM

State invalidates test scores at Seattle elementary school

Editor’s note: Read an updated version of this story here.

The state is throwing out some of the spring test scores for a Seattle elementary school after finding heavy erasure marks on the test booklets. The invalidated scores are for the reading and math exams taken by students in grades 3, 4 and 5.

Seattle Public Schools asked for the review of Beacon Hill International School’s test scores in August after results showed that passage rates in math and reading were dramatically higher than the year before.

No school or district employees have been placed on administrative leave as a result of the investigation’s findings, school district spokeswoman Stacy Howard said.

“Our independent investigator is continuing to investigate,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, we still don’t know who’s responsible.”

It’s the first time the state has  done a schoolwide review of test scores since testing began in 1997.


Comments | More in News | Topics: test scores

October 8, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Parents succeed: Gatewood Elementary gets to keep its staff

Update at 4:05 p.m.: A district spokeswoman says parents have not raised the full $90,000, which was based on the average cost of hiring a full time teacher, including salary and benefits. Details to come. Original post: Parents at Gatewood Elementary School in West Seattle who scrambled to raise $90,000 in less than a week to…


Comments | More in News | Topics: Seattle Public Schools

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