Student Question | Is Social Media Making Us More Narcissistic?








Are social media like Facebook turning us into narcissists? The Times online feature Room for Debate invites knowledgeable outside contributors to discuss questions like this one as well as news events and other timely issues.

Student Opinion – The Learning NetworkStudent Opinion – The Learning Network
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.

Do you spend too much time trying to be attractive and interesting to others? Are you just a little too in love with your own Instagram feed?

An essay addressing those questions was chosen by two of our Student Council members this week. Angie Shen explains why she thinks it’s important:
As the generation who grew up with social media, a reflection on narcissism is of critical importance to teenagers. What are the psychological and ethical implications of constant engagement with or obsession over social media? How does it change our relationship with others and how we see ourselves?

“Narcissism Is Increasing. So You’re Not So Special.” begins:

My teenage son recently informed me that there is an Internet quiz to test oneself for narcissism. His friend had just taken it. “How did it turn out?” I asked. “He says he did great!” my son responded. “He got the maximum score!”

When I was a child, no one outside the mental health profession talked about narcissism; people were more concerned with inadequate self-esteem, which at the time was believed to lurk behind nearly every difficulty. Like so many excesses of the 1970s, the self-love cult spun out of control and is now rampaging through our culture like Godzilla through Tokyo.

A 2010 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the percentage of college students exhibiting narcissistic personality traits, based on their scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a widely used diagnostic test, has increased by more than half since the early 1980s, to 30 percent. In their book “Narcissism Epidemic,” the psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity has since the 1980s. Even our egos are getting fat.

It has even infected our political debate. Donald Trump? “Remarkably narcissistic,” the developmental psychologist Howard Gardner told Vanity Fair magazine. I can’t say whether Mr. Trump is or isn’t a narcissist. But I do dispute the assertion that if he is, it is somehow remarkable.

This is a costly problem. While full-blown narcissists often report high levels of personal satisfaction, they create havoc and misery around them. There is overwhelming evidence linking narcissism with lower honesty and raised aggression. It’s notable for Valentine’s Day that narcissists struggle to stay committed to romantic partners, in no small part because they consider themselves superior.

The full-blown narcissist might reply, “So what?” But narcissism isn’t an either-or characteristic. It’s more of a set of progressive symptoms (like alcoholism) than an identifiable state (like diabetes). Millions of Americans exhibit symptoms, but still have a conscience and a hunger for moral improvement. At the very least, they really don’t want to be terrible people.

Students: Read the entire article, then tell us …

— Do you recognize yourself or your friends or family in any of the descriptions in this article? Are you sometimes too fixated on collecting “likes” and thinking about how others see you?

— What’s the line between “healthy self-love” that “requires being fully alive at this moment, as opposed to being virtually alive while wondering what others think,” and unhealthy narcissism? How can you stay on the healthy side of the line?

— Did you take the test? What did it tell you about yourself?

Henry Xu, another Student Council member who recommended this article, suggests these questions:

— What about Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media feeds makes them so hard to put down?

— Do you think this writer’s proposal of a “social media fast” is a viable way to combat narcissism?

— For those who aren’t as attached to social media, do challenges from an overinflated sense of self still arise? If so, from where?

— If everyone is becoming more narcissistic, does that make narcissism necessarily a bad thing?

Want to think more about these questions? The Room for Debate blog’s forum Facebook and Narcissism can help.

2015’s Best and Worst States for Teachers

Best and Worst States for Teachers
Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money. But that doesn’t justify paying teachers any less than they deserve, considering the profound difference they make in people’s lives. In reality, however, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year — their salaries consistently fail to keep up with inflation — while the law demands they produce better students.

It’s no surprise that the high turnover rate within the field has been likened to a revolving door. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a fifth of all newly minted public-school teachers leave their positions before the end of their first year. And nearly half of them never last more than five.

Besides inadequate compensation, other problems persist in the academic environment. Many teachers, especially novices, transfer to other schools or abandon the profession altogether “as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported,” according to ASCD. Without good teachers who are not only paid reasonably but also treated fairly, the quality of American education is bound to suffer.

In order to help ease the process of finding the best teaching opportunities in the U.S. — and draw attention to the states needing improvement — WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 13 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the median starting salary to the projected number of teachers per student by year 2022. The results of our study, as well as additional insight from experts and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

Overall Rank


‘Job Opportunity & Competition’ Rank

‘Academic & Work Environment’ Rank

1 Massachusetts 9 3
2 Virginia 2 14
3 Minnesota 3 10
4 Wyoming 4 13
5 New Jersey 20 2
6 Iowa 7 15
7 Wisconsin 13 8
8 Pennsylvania 1 22
9 Kansas 23 7
10 Maryland 12 17
11 Illinois 18 12
12 New York 5 26
13 Vermont 37 1
14 Utah 14 20
15 Kentucky 16 19
16 New Hampshire 34 6
17 North Dakota 35 5
18 Nebraska 31 11
19 Montana 29 16
20 Michigan 8 35
21 Delaware 15 30
22 Ohio 26 21
23 Indiana 11 33
24 Missouri 21 27
25 Texas 17 32
26 District of Columbia 10 46
27 Florida 25 31
28 Colorado 41 9
29 Arkansas 32 23
30 Alabama 18 40
31 Nevada 6 50
32 Idaho 24 36
33 Tennessee 33 28
34 Connecticut 48 4
35 Alaska 22 47
36 California 28 44
37 Georgia 29 45
38 Washington 39 29
39 Maine 49 18
40 Louisiana 27 49
41 Oklahoma 35 42
42 South Dakota 43 25
43 New Mexico 40 41
44 Rhode Island 46 24
45 South Carolina 38 48
46 Hawaii 44 38
47 Oregon 45 37
48 Mississippi 47 43
49 Arizona 42 51
50 North Carolina 50 34
51 West Virginia 51 39

Best States for Teachers Artwork





Readers Respond to Redesigned, and Wordier, SAT











A math class at Match Charter School in Boston, which is doing a lot of test prep for the SAT. Reading passages will be harder and math problems wordier in the new test. Credit Shiho Fukada for The New York Times


Is it unfair to some students that the redesigned SAT, being rolled out next month, will include longer and harder reading passages and wordier math problems than before? Anemona Hartocollis’s article on the topic drew more than 900 responses from readers.

Some stressed that college admissions tests, by their very nature, should winnow out weaker readers.

“Why would you want to accept students who can’t read and write at a college level regardless of their background?” asked Ed H. of Irvine, Calif. “Instead of complaining about the idea that it is unfair to certain students, why not make sure those students are better prepared? If the poor can’t read as well as the rich, then that’s the problem that needs to be addressed.” His comment was the most recommended by other readers.
Some readers zeroed in on a sentence in the article that noted educators “fear that the revised test will penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading, or who speak a different language at home — like immigrants and the poor.”

Ed Bloom, from Columbia, S.C., wrote: “I’m a reading specialist. I went nuts. Let’s not penalize people who haven’t been exposed to a lot of driving by flunking them on the driving test. Let’s not penalize the pilot of our jet liner by keeping him out of the cockpit just because he hasn’t been exposed to a lot of flying. The correct way of thinking about all of the above is not to think of it as penalizing but, instead, a need to get that person the experience. … There are lots of ways to get children ‘exposed’ to reading.”

Adam from New York wrote: “You could call it ‘penalizing students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading.’ Or you could call it ‘evaluating students’ reading skills.’”

LindaP in Boston countered with a personal story. Her son is dyslexic, and he found the SAT tough. “The comments here make my blood boil,” she wrote. “‘Who wants a kid in college who can’t read proficiently?’ ‘Prepare them better.’ ‘Perhaps these kids aren’t college material.’ Life and learning is not a straight line, and these tests take many different kinds of learners and pigeonhole each and every one of them.” Her son, she noted, is now an M.D., Ph.D. with a specialty in hematology.

A commenter under the handle R-son from Glen Allen, Va., said his stepson, who is better in math than reading, would soon be taking the test. “The new SAT will be hard for him, but he has an advantage over other students — an $800 Kaplan prep course. So it boils down to this — he’ll score better on the SAT than a lower-income student with the same abilities whose family can’t afford to fork out close to 1K to prep for and take this test. So how is this test, in any form, fair?”

A few commenters critiqued the sample of five math SAT questions that accompanied the article. Ninety-three percent of readers answered the first question in the quiz correctly; 57 percent answered the fourth question correctly. Of an algebra problem about a phone repair technician, a reader using the name Kathy, WastingTime in DC wondered, “Who gets a phone fixed these days?”

One reader, who admitted she answered only one of the five problems correctly, pointed to a question about a pear tree. Gabrielle from Los Angeles wrote: “I am a horticultural therapist who designed and built a therapeutic garden. Here’s the answer to figure out which pear tree to buy: use your relationships. Ask your friends what they’ve had success with. Call me crazy but after I left high school, I never took another math class, and it’s never held me back.”

New York Schools Wonder: How White Is Too White?


Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School is one of seven New York City public schools taking part in an Education Department initiative aimed at maintaining a racial and socio-economic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

How white is too white? At the Academy of Arts and Letters, a small K-8 school in Brooklyn founded in 2006 to educate a community of “diverse individuals,” that question is being put to the test.

The school — along with six others in New York City — is part of a new Education Department initiative aimed at maintaining a racial and socioeconomic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. For the first time the department is allowing a group of principals to set aside a percentage of seats for low-income families, English-language learners or students engaged with the child welfare system as a means of creating greater diversity within their schools.

The continuing segregation of American schools — and the accompanying achievement gap between white, middle-class students and poorer minority children — has become an urgent matter of debate among educators and at all levels of government. Last week, President Obama lent his weight to the issue when he included in his budget a $120 million grant program for school integration aimed at de-concentrating poverty.

Sandra Soto, the principal of Brooklyn Arts and Science, is allowed to set aside 20 percent of her seats for English-language learners and children in the child welfare system. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, have disappointed school diversity advocates by failing to make integration a priority. The set-asides plan, approved by Ms. Fariña in November, was the first attempt at addressing the issue across multiple schools.

All of the schools involved enroll children by lottery, rather than having a school zone.

In its early years, Arts and Letters was more than 90 percent black and Hispanic, reflecting the Brooklyn neighborhoods around it, including Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. More than 80 percent of its students qualified for free or reduced lunch.


But the school gained a reputation for its humanities curriculum, its science lab and its focus on the arts. And newcomers changed the demographic mix of its surrounding blocks. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, the white population rose 120 percent from 2000 to 2010 and the black population fell by 30 percent, according to the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Now, Arts and Letters has become one of Brooklyn’s hottest schools. Half of the school’s kindergartners are white; a mere 12 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. That has its principal, John O’Reilly, worried.

“I love the fact that so many white affluent families would want to send their children to my school,” he said recently, before rushing off to give another tour. “But I know the impact it has on the diversity of my school.”

Mr. O’Reilly is one of a group of principals — including Julie Zuckerman at the four-year-old Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, where 21 percent of the students are white, and Arthur Mattia, who recently retired from the Children’s School in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, where the student population is now 59 percent white — who said they had hoped to create schools where no one race or socioeconomic group was dominant.

Instead, their schools are becoming magnets for middle-class families moving into gentrifying neighborhoods who prefer them to their local zoned schools. The principals are concerned that their schools will “tip” over into majority white, middle-class schools.

They hope the new program will help them maintain more balanced populations.

Ms. Soto, second from right, at a conference with parents. Ms. Soto says the level of integration at Brooklyn Arts and Science so far is encouraging, giving all her students a broader understanding of the world around them. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“This is a very important step,” said David Tipson, the executive director of New York Appleseed, which works to create more integration in city schools. “This is the first time that this D.O.E. — under de Blasio — has begun truly addressing the effect gentrification has on our schools.”

In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles released a study showing that New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. That and discomfort among educators and activists about the high number of racially and economically isolated schools in the city has generated intense discussions about integration.


But educators in New York and across the country are not in agreement about what integration should look like. In 2007, a United States Supreme Court ruling declared school sorting by race unconstitutional in two school districts, Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

Around that time, under Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, the department discontinued a “controlled choice” plan in District 1, in Lower Manhattan, designed to create diversity in schools. Racial set-asides were done away with at the Brooklyn New School in the 1990s, when race-based admissions were coming under fire nationally.

In 2013, the city approved a plan that allowed Public School 133 in fast-gentrifying Gowanus to set aside seats for English-language learners and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Those criteria are generally used as proxies for race in trying to achieve integration. Many advocates believed this would lead to more set-aside plans.

That did not happen.

A strong body of research, beginning in the 1960s with the now-famous Coleman Report, suggests that low-income students do better academically when exposed to middle-class ones. Numerous other studies suggest that middle-class students do not see a decrease in achievement when they go to school with poorer students, and may in fact benefit in nonacademic ways.

But how best to integrate remains up for debate.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a noted voice in the school-integration movement and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, posits that low-income students do best when they are in schools that are majority middle class.

Julie Zuckerman, the principal of the Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights, challenges the notion that her school needs a large percentage of middle-class families to turn it into a successful place of learning. Credit Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times

Mr. O’Reilly, the Arts and Letters principal, has accepted that as a benchmark. He will give priority to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch for 40 percent of his seats.

But Ms. Zuckerman, the Castle Bridge School principal, challenges the notion that her school needs a large percentage of middle-class families to be a successful place of learning. “I’m good with 20 to 25 percent,” she said.

At Castle Bridge, students from households in which a family member is incarcerated get priority for 10 percent of the seats, and low-income students get priority for 60 percent.

The principals say the set-asides are needed, because once a school is viewed as desirable by middle-class families, their networking capabilities and social capital are far more powerful than any outreach the schools can do to attract lower-income families. All it takes, they say, is a few posts on Facebook, some word of mouth at cocktail parties, preschool fund-raisers and neighborhood playgrounds for a school to be inundated with applications from high-earning families. Those can far outnumber the ones coming from lower-income minority families, so even though seats are given out by lottery, the population can quickly shift.

“There is a number of families,” said Sandra Soto, the principal of Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “I don’t know what that number is exactly. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But then you become the next place.” In 2012, Ms. Soto took over a failing school that had been more than 95 percent black and Latino, renamed it and overhauled the curriculum.

This school year, around 15 percent of the population is white and more than 5 percent is Asian. Last year, it had a Parent Teacher Association president who was white.

Principals at these schools say they know that middle-class families often bring with them higher test scores, making the schools look better on paper. But several added that chasing test scores was not what had drawn them into education.

Sean F. Reardon, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education who specializes in poverty and inequality, said it was a mistake to blame middle-class white parents for wanting the best schools for their children, even if the cumulative effect tipped the racial balance. The answer, he said, needs to be systemic, with the city’s creating scores of schools designed to be diverse in much the same way the Bloomberg administration developed small schools.

“We know it can be done,” Mr. Reardon said.

Administrators at the seven pilot schools say they are all motivated by their belief that classrooms that are racially and economically diverse are good for students, according to recent research, maybe even making them brighter.

Takiesha Robinson, the mother of a third grader and a pre-kindergartner at Ms. Soto’s school, said she appreciated the access her third grader had gotten to white and Asian families since the school reopened. Ms. Robinson, who is black, says her daughter now knows about Hanukkah, understands what a menorah is and knows the difference between being Pakistani and Chinese.

“I can really, really see the difference,” she said.

Still, Ms. Robinson and other parents said they did not want to see the school “turn all white.”


For some white parents at the school, that is understandable.

Emily Cowan, a freelance artist and social worker, said she was willing to even sacrifice her own kindergartner’s slot next year to “preserve that diversity,” though it would mean sending her son to a different school next year.

For others, it is a bitter pill.

The idea of keeping the school diverse “totally jibes with my politics,” said Mark Schwartz, the owner of a liquor store in Prospect-Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn, who also has a kindergartner at the school. “But what if it means we lose out on this opportunity?”

Correction: February 19, 2016

An article on Wednesday about an initiative by New York City’s Education Department aimed at maintaining a racial and socioeconomic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying areas included outdated information about Arthur Mattia’s connection to the Children’s School in Brooklyn, one of the seven schools taking part. Mr. Mattia is a former principal, not the current one. (He retired in January.)

Acting Ed. Secretary John B. King Jr.’s Confirmation: Four Things to Watch For

Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., should start researching the lunch options in House and Senate cafeterias—he’s going to be on Capitol Hill quite a bit this week. He’ll kick things off with a House education committee hearing on the budget Wednesday, plus another on the president’s latest budget request for fiscal year 2017 on Thursday morning.

But the highlight may come Thursday afternoon, with his confirmation hearing. King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, sailed through his confirmation hearing in early 2009, with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., now the committee chairman, calling him Obama’s best cabinet pick.

Alexander promised President Barack Obama that if he nominated King, the former New York state schools chief would get a fair hearing. But that doesn’t mean his confirmation hearing will be quite the love feast that Duncan’s was, in part because relations between Capitol Hill Republicans (and some Democrats) and the Education Department have become strained over the past seven years.

King, who arrived at the department early last year, wasn’t around to help make many of the decisions that GOP lawmakers have criticized as federal overreach (like pushing teacher evaluation through test scores, and Common Core State Standards adoption through waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act).  But he could still take questions on those issues Thursday.

Here are four things that will almost surely come up in the confirmation hearing and, possibly, King’s other appearances this week:

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act: Alexander has said it’s particularly important to have an honest-to-goodness, confirmed secretary since the next person to head up the Education Department will get the ball rolling on implementation of ESSA, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Alexander (and many other Republicans) thought Duncan overstepped his bounds in offering states waivers from the NCLB law. So there are huge sections of ESSA seeking to rein in federal power when it comes to testing, standards, teacher evaluations, and more. King, who has made it clear in recent speeches that he sees the law as including a clear role for the federal government in ensuring equity for all students, will almost certainly be asked about how he sees those prohibitions playing out.

King’s personal and professional background: King, who is African-American and Puerto Rican, has used his personal story—growing up in New York City as the orphaned son of educators—to prod states to keep the needs of disadvantaged front and center in policymaking. King may also play up his background as a teacher and principal. If confirmed, he’d be the first former principal to serve in the job, and only the third former K-12 teacher. (Secretaries Rod Paige and Terrel Bell were classroom teachers. So was another acting secretary, Ted Sanders.) What’s more, King is a former state chief—so he can talk about the federal-state relationship from both perspectives.

Common Core: The standards are highly likely to come up at some point in the hearing. As New York state chief, King was a common core fan, but for the most part, he won’t be able to use his power as secretary to bolster common core—thanks to ESSA, he can’t tie adoption of the standards to flexibility or new money. (He can use the bully pulpit to tout the benefits of the standards, though.) But congressional Republicans aren’t happy with the Education Department’s recent messaging on ESSA standards. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., head of the House education committee, said at a recent hearing that the department has been making it sound like the new law continues to embrace common core. (In fact, ESSA calls for states to set standards that will prepare students to take credit-bearing coursework in college, but prohibits the department—or the post-secondary schools—from directing states to set specific standards. The department has said the law calls for “college- and career-ready” standards.)

Teacher’s Take: During his tenure as New York state chief, teachers’ unions and other advocates criticized King for, in their view, pushing too far, too fast on tying evaluations to new tests aligned to the common core. (More here.) And when King was selected to replace Duncan, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed serious concerns about the choice. (She feels a lot better about King now that she’s seen him in action. More here). But not everyone is going to be assuaged—the Badass Teachers’ Association has been circulating a petition calling on lawmakers not to confirm King.

BONUS: King could be asked about Danny Harris, the department’s chief information officer, whose had some tax and conflict-of-interest issues detailed in a report by the department’s Inspector General—but that seems less likely now that Harris has announced his retirement.

Earlier this month, King testified when the House Government Reform and Oversight committee held a hearing on how the department has dealt with Harris’ behavior. King explained that—back in 2013—the Justice Department and the Inspector General concluded Harris didn’t violate law or policy. Plus, King, who has only been acting secretary for a couple months, counseled Harris about his behavior. But Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, still expressed concerns about King’s management, saying the new secretary was “failing.” Harris collapsed at the hearing and had to be taken to the hospital.

Last week, though, Harris announced his retirement, effective Feb. 29. (Hat tip: Politico). Harris, who has been a career employee at the department for more than 30 years, could have retired already, but decided to stick around to help the department improve cybersecurity, said Dorie Nolt, an education department spokeswoman in a statement. It’s unclear if Senate Republicans shared their House colleagues’ concerns about Harris—but his actions may not matter as much now that he’s on his way out the door.

Accountability Grabs the Spotlight at Senate ESSA Oversight Hearing

But there was less agreement about the extent to which that new latitude could be challenging for schools—or even detrimental to students, particularly historically disadvantaged ones.

Senators quizzed those testifying about how they were rethinking school accountability under ESSA, whether they felt like they will have enough time to create and finalize their plans in order to receive federal funds, and whether the U.S. Department of Education should use a light touch or be aggressive when regulating under the new law.

And it’s a safe bet that many of these same questions will come up in the Senate education committee on Thursday, when its members hold a confirmation hearing for acting Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee, said in his opening remarks that ESSA represents a major and appropriate shift in control over education policy to the states, and an example of Washington actually working well. But those two things alone, he stressed, won’t necessarily mean the law would be carried out as he and other champions of ESSA intend: “A law that is not properly implemented is not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking Democrat, stressed that ESSA contains important “guardrails” that are important for the Education Department to keep in mind as it develops regulations for the law. She also said civil rights groups and other like-minded stakeholders should be included in discussions and considerations about the law’s impact.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the current version of which is ESSA—”is at its heart a civil rights law,” Murray noted in her opening statement.

Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee on K-12 held its own oversight hearing on ESSA. On Thursday, the full House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold another oversight hearing on the new law.

Readiness of States and Schools

In prepared testimony, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers (who might have received the most attention and questions from lawmakers) stressed the importance for balance under ESSA. He said that while he did not want “top-down mandates” and over-regulation from Washington, guidance provided by the Education Department on key issues has proven helpful to his state.

“In states like Wisconsin, we welcome oversight of the progress we are making, but it is important that states and local districts have the flexibility to identify how we achieve the goals we have set for students, the measures we include in our accountability system, the weight we give these measures, and how we design interventions that reflect the realities facing unique student populations across the state,” said Evers, who is also the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

And Gov. Gary Herbert, R-Utah, chairman of the National Governors Association (which heartily endorsed ESSA before it was signed), made a similar point, saying that “state solutions” would work best in order to leverage education as a tool for lifting children out of poverty. “Governors see ESSA as an opportunity to set high, but realistic, expectations for schools,” he said.

(Remember, under ESSA, the old adequate yearly progress requirement is out, and states have more leeway to set academic goals for students, even though the former No Child Left Behind Act’s annual testing mandates for grades 3-8 and high school remain.)

Those remarks probably were music to Alexander’s ears. Just last weekend, in fact, Alexander made a pitch to the nation’s governors at an NGA meeting to use their extensive power under ESSA to reconsider or remake education policy as they see fit, and to build in state coalitions to help implement the law.

Teachers’ union leaders also praised new breathing room under ESSA, but put a different spin on it.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for example, made a pitch to lawmakers to give teachers, in particular, and other school leaders time and latitude to help redesign accountability systems that measure what students need to know and what supports and resources teachers would need to help students realize those learning objectives. To help that process, Weingarten told lawmakers, there should be a pause on high-stakes accountability pegged to testing.

“We have gone through many, many reforms, where there is a rush to publish and a rush to create, and no attention paid to the implementation,” she said.

On teacher evaluations in particular, it’s an open question to what extent states will alter or toss out their current systems, since ESSA now gives the federal government no say over those evaluations. That’s a big change from the Race to the Top competitive-grant program and NCLB waivers, which included specific requirements regarding evaluations and their use of student performance.

However, to dismiss the important role the Education Department has under ESSA, and to minimize the progress minority students have made during the last 15 years under the NCLB law, would be a major mistake, Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, told senators. Haycock stated that the track record of states and districts in protecting vulnerable students was “not a good one.”

“Recognizing the need for state and local decisionmaking does not mean, as some have suggested, that the only real role for the department of education is to cut checks,” Haycock said.

How Much Time is Enough Time?

Alexander asked Evers to what extent he thought states should be realistically expected to complete new plans to comply with ESSA by the summer of 2017 and put them into effect for the 2017-18 school year. Evers said he thought that deadline, roughly 18 months away, was a fair one. Evers said he planned to convene groups of stakeholders to discuss ESSA starting in the spring, for example. (Click here for more about the timeline for ESSA, including the development of regulations.)

And Haycock said that states’ initial approaches to accountability ESSA could evolve based on evidence. “As people learn more about what indicators are helpful in working on improvement, those can be added later on,” she told lawmakers.

Weingarten and National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle, however, expressed concerns that without enough time, states wouldn’t take full advantage of the flexibility and options presented by ESSA to consider non-academic indicators and other factors in accountability. New and helpful indicators of students’ social-emotional status, which could have a significant impact on accountability under ESSA, could be productively examined, Weingarten noted.

By contrast, if states feel rushed, Pringle argued, “They will tinker around the edges” of accountability systems, losing the opportunity they have under ESSA, and failing students.

Alexander also asked Pringle and Weingarten the right way to approach teacher evaluations in states, given the newfound stability in federal policy and flexibility for states. Pringle responded that instead of evaluations that,  in the past, used a “test and punish” approach, new evaluations might consider new factors like teacher contributions outside the classrooms and in broader communities.

“We’ve got to root it in the idea that the evaluation is about improving professional practice, so that all students can learn. That’s a very different paradigm,” Pringle told Alexander.

In a similar vein, responding to a question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about the place of testing under ESSA, Evers said that a lot of the overtesting was largely at the local level and not related to the volume of state exams: “The issue is more likely how the test results are used, rather than the amount of testing.”

Data and Services

Both Evers and David R. Schuler, president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, stressed the value of good data, which was the subject of questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who said that data is critical to ensuring that federal money is being spent appropriately. (Warren also made a pitch for federal officials “to strengthen accountability regulations, not weaken them.”)

And Schuler said the ability of states under ESSA to use college admissions tests instead of traditional state exams would help students, in particular.

However, Schuler also said that the Education Department, as part of what should be its not-overly-aggressive approach to ESSA regulation, should not place too much of a burden on districts, especially rural ones, when it comes to compliance with regulations and data-reporting. Federal officials, he said, should first see whether states have a lot of the data the Education Department might already be seeking as it provides guidance and regulations concerning ESSA, for example.

“Please do not duplicate your efforts,” Schuler said.

Pringle and Weingarten also discussed resource equity with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Weingarten made a pitch for connecting how more-equitable resources for schools, like additional incentives for teachers, could improve school turnaround efforts.

L.A. Schools Promote Free Tutoring for Some Students

Los Angeles school officials on Monday urged parents whose children attend chronically underperforming schools to apply for free tutoring in math and English, which begins in November.
The Los Angeles Unified School District mailed applications earlier this month to 186,000 students, from 104 schools, who are eligible for the extra assistance.

The federal No Child Left Behind education law requires school districts to pay for supplemental tutoring for low-income students whose schools repeatedly fail to meet testing improvement targets. To qualify, students must attend one of the targeted campuses and receive free or reduced-priced lunches because of low family income. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, Sept. 26.

“We want youngsters who participate in this program to get something that will improve their reading, math or language test scores,” said John Liechty, associate superintendent in charge of extended-day programs for the school district.

L.A. Unified parents can choose from 26 public and private providers of tutoring services, including Sylvan Education Solutions, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Huntington Learning Centers. The school district also is providing free tutoring, on Saturdays, through its Beyond the Bell Learning Centers.

Students can get as much as 100 hours of free tutoring through next August, depending on the provider, officials said.

The school district has budgeted $47 million of federal Title I money for the initiative, enough to pay for about 47,000 students, at roughly $1,000 apiece, administrators said.

Last year, the first time the free service was offered, just 10,000 of 164,000 eligible students took advantage of it.

Families who miss Friday’s deadline can apply again. Applications for a second round of tutoring are due by Dec. 5. Students in that stage will get free tutoring from February through next August.

For more information, parents should call their child’s school or visit the district’s Web site at

The secrets to why students need recess

Posted by Jeff Hersh

Think back to your school days as a child. What part of your day gave you the most joy? Long division? World History Pre-1800?

Just Kidding.

There are plenty of math lovers out there, who most certainly did look forward to arithmetic and plenty of history buffs who got a twinkle in their eye just before entering the time-traveler’s classroom.

WITS Coach Rob Sanders leading students in a fun and interactive game on the recess yard

U.S. Department of Agriculture. CC Attribution 2.0. Some rights reserved.

Maybe it’s hard to remember, because in adult life and the working world we typically don’t have a set time to play.


Even just the word should create an electricity within, as you remember the glorious freedom that was given to you as a student. Recess is an essential part of a student’s school experience, even today.


Here are the 5 reasons students need recess.

1 – Socialization

While students interact with each other in the classroom, recess allows them to  discuss more than just the assignments and work at hand. This is an opportunity for children to create friendships and learn how to interact with others. Some shyer students may keep to themselves, but at least the opportunity is there for them.


2 – Explore Interests

This is a time in the school day where students have something they aren’t usually given:  autonomy. Maybe it’s controlled by teachers and assistant aides, but it’s still autonomy. It’s important for children to explore their personal interests. Recess gives students the time to make choices about how they want to use their free time. Whether it’s sports, reading, computers, or chatting with friends, the power to choose is a huge confidence builder and helps students begin to understand themselves better.


3 – Exercise

While Physical Education teaches students how to how to live healthy and stay active, recess is a chance to get some much needed exercise during the day. Chances are, students spend most of the day at their desk, so even a little bit of time to engage in sports or run around will do wonders for that pent up energy. This will also teach them lifelong habits to always find time be active in their day.


4 – Recharge

Children, like adults, need breaks. Expecting them to achieve in the classroom takes a lot of mental energy, and a break in the day will help them recharge.  It kind of makes you want to suggest adding a recess time for teachers too, right? Everyone needs a short break to rest and recharge to be able to focus sharply again.


5 – Makes School Fun

Finally, recess is fun. While other parts of the day may contain a fun component, recess is theepitome of fun. This is a time to play; to not be cooped up at one’s desk; to not feel the pressures of achievement. Children of all ages are looking for some joy, and recesscan feel like a reward for a hard day’s work, or just a personal gift of some free time. This is something even teachers and administrators could use in their day.


Kickball anyone?    🙂

It’s Time For Personalized Learning In Education

by Michael Horn, Executive Director of Education at Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting ClassIn March, Tom Loveless, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, took an outdated swipe at the logic behind moving toward a student-centered learning system. He in essence suggested that because the curriculum wars have been decided more or less empirically, that people bent on disrupting the classroom and the factory-model education system were doing so under faulty assumptions about how students learn.

In his piece, he attacked the logic of teaching around multiple intelligences and pointed to some of the research that shows that tailoring learning opportunities to common assumptions around visual, auditory, and other such supposed learning styles are not good ways of teaching different students.

A problem with Loveless’s argument is that many of my fellow “disruptors” and I who think that it is important to disrupt the education system think this way not under the mindset that it will—or should—help with multiple intelligences or learning styles, but instead because of a simpler and more rigorously tested notion that is far less ideological than Loveless assumes.

Today’s factory-model education system, which was built to standardize the way we teach, falls short in educating successfully each child for the simple reason that just because two children are the same age, it does not mean they learn at the same pace or should follow the same pathway. Each child has different learning needs at different times.

Although academics, including cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and education researchers, have waged fierce debates about what these different needs are—some talk about multiple intelligences and learning styles whereas others point to research that undermines these notions—what no one disputes is that each student learns at a different pace. Some students learn quickly. Others learn more slowly. And each student’s pace tends to vary based on the subject or even concept one is learning. The reason for these differences, in short, is twofold.

First, everyone has a different aptitude—or what cognitive scientists refer to as “working memory” capacity, meaning the ability to absorb and work actively with a given amount of information from a variety of sources, including visual and auditory. Second, everyone has different levels of background knowledge—or what cognitive scientists refer to as “long-term memory.” What this means is that people bring different experiences or prior knowledge into any learning experience, which impacts how they will learn a concept. If a teacher assumes that everyone in a class is familiar with an example from history that is only ancillary to the point of a particular lesson, for example, but uses that example to illustrate a particular point, then the students who are unfamiliar with the example or who have misconceptions about that example, may just miss the point of the lesson or develop misconceptions about the point of the lesson itself. This isn’t under dispute.

There is also widespread agreement that, as a result, targeting learning just above a student’s level such that it is not too easy or hard is critical to helping students be successful (Daniel Willingham, who Loveless cites in his discussion debunking the learning-style theory, writes extensively about this in his book Why Don’t Students Like School—in the first chapter). If Loveless had kept up with our writing (not that I blame him for not) or read Disrupting Class with a bit more of a nuanced eye, he would have seen that we didn’t pin our argument on multiple intelligences or learning styles per se—we were quite up front that we are not experts in the learning sciences by any means. Instead, we asserted broadly that students had varying learning needs and used learning styles as a device to illustrate the point. Mea culpa on using that example, as I’ve written more extensively here, but at the same time, it doesn’t refute the fundamental point of our argument that customization—or personalization—is needed if we are to help every child reach his or her fullest potential.

Understanding this helps us understand the logic of personalizing learning and moving away from the current system that mandates the amount of time students spend in class, but does not expect each child to master learning. Because our education system is built to standardize, not personalize, transforming it through disruptive innovation is critical.

This seems to play into one of Loveless’s core worries though, as he seems to have a love for some of the assumptions embedded in the factory model of education. As he wrote, “Moreover, individualized instructional programs, whether delivered exclusively online or through ‘blended’ regimes, are antithetical to the goal that all students learn a common body of knowledge and skills at approximately the same time.” The challenge, of course, with his argument is that today students do not in fact learn or master a common body of knowledge and skills at approximately the same time; they are merely taught them—which is far different from truly learning them.

Why is Loveless concerned about students learning the same thing at the same time? First, because learning some things in common, he says, are important. I agree. Learning some things in common—of course not all things, but a strong foundation—is important. Again, although I am no expert, the research suggests that a strong foundation of knowledge is critical for future learning and meaningful participation in and contribution to society (but it’s also not sufficient, which is why developing deeper skills and dispositions are so important—a false either-or from which we need to move away). This isn’t antithetical to blended or student-centered learning; if Loveless thinks it is, I recommend he visit one of the KIPP LA elementary schools. What he sees might surprise.

Second, Loveless assumes that because students may learn these things at different times in a blended-learning world, that it will exacerbate the achievement gap—a legitimate worry. We need more research here, but the evidence seems to suggest that the achievement gap is exacerbated in the factory-model system when a student does not master a concept, develops holes in her learning, and the teacher just moves on to the next concept the next day. Instead, what we’ve seen in Chugach, Alaska and elsewhere, is that when we move to a competency-based learning system concerned with rigor—in which students move on to new concepts only upon mastery (and there exists the notion of a minimum pace so students who are falling behind get more attention and gaps don’t grow too big)—that students who would typically be left behind and see their gaps grow bigger and bigger, instead experience a sea change when misconceptions are corrected, they master foundational knowledge and skills, and they can then accelerate much faster than anyone would have expected.

Different students also struggle at different points. Who struggles and where is often unpredictable ahead of time—in other words, “the smart kids” group and “the slow kids” group aren’t fixed. Will competency-based learning exacerbate some gaps? Certainly. The most talented students—who we under-serve and hold back today—will be able to accelerate even faster. The hope though is that these gaps will have less to do with race and wealth than they do today, but we don’t know for sure. We do know though that the status quo factory-model system—in my mind the opposite of a student-centered one—is failing along this dimension.

I’ve also heard Loveless attack personalized learning, one of the two components of what I think of as making up a student-centered education system (the other being competency-based education). Loveless looked up studies that purported to be implementing “personalized” learning and found that the approaches weren’t necessarily effective.

The challenge though is in assuming once again that everyone means the same thing by the term or did the same sorts of interventions; simply looking up personalized learning in the peer-reviewed research is too simplistic.

There are lots of notions and differing definitions of what personalized learning is, but when I, and many other disruptors use the phrase, we mean learning that is tailored to an individual student’s particular needs—in other words, it is customized or individualized to help each individual succeed. The power of personalized learning, understood in this way, is intuitive. When students receive one-on-one help from a tutor instead of mass-group instruction, the results are generally far superior. This makes sense, given that tutors can do everything from adjusting if they are going too fast or too slow to rephrasing something a different way or providing a different example or approach to make a topic come to life for a student.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Studies show the power of this kind of personalized learning for maximizing student success. Benjamin Bloom’s classic “2 Sigma Problem” study, published in 1984, measured the effects of students learning with a tutor to deliver personal, just-in-time, customized help. The striking finding was that by the end of three weeks, the average student under tutoring was about two standard deviations above the average of the control class. That means that the average tutored student scored higher than 98 percent of the students in the control class.

Furthermore, 90 percent of the tutored students attained the level of summative achievement reached by only the highest 20 percent of the students under conventional instructional conditions. A more recent meta-analysis by Kurt VanLehn that revisits Bloom’s conclusion suggests that the effect size of human tutoring seems to be more around 0.79 standard deviations than the widely publicized 2 standard deviation figure. But even with this revision, the impact is hugely significant. The problem is that having a human tutor for each student is prohibitively expensive; so to educate large numbers of students in the early 1900s, we adopted the factory model of education we have today. The logic behind blended learning is that we can gain the benefits of mass customization—many of the effects of a personal tutor in other words—without the costs.

Now, of course, as we implement blended learning, we may learn new things about how learning works. The opportunity to collect empirical data in near real time will be far greater, so we can test out different approaches for different students and see what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. And as we do so, perhaps we’ll learn that learning styles—not the simplistic notion we have today, but, as Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton wrote, “that different ways of learning certain concepts are more or less productive for certain students”—do indeed exist.

But we don’t have to believe that will happen for us to believe in personalized, competency-based, blended, or student-centered learning. Of course, perhaps we do need a better vocabulary to express what we mean.

Michael Horn is Executive Director of Education at The Clayton Christensen Institute, the co-author of “Disrupting Class.” He’s a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School. This post first appeared on and Wired AcademicImage attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

Disabled children ‘shut out of playgrounds’

Disabled boy
Image copyrightThinkstock
Image captionChildren with disabilities are often excluded from playgrounds

Disabled children are prevented from making friends and enjoying playtime because playgrounds and playgroups are not accessible, a charity report warns.

The Sense report says most parents of disabled children also find negative attitudes from other parents a key barrier to accessing mainstream play.

Disabled children and their parents end up being excluded from communities in England and Wales as a result, it adds.

The government says disabled children must not be discriminated against.

‘Vitally important’

The three-month Case for Play inquiry into the issue, chaired by former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett, found disabled children were missing out on play opportunities vital to their emotional, social and physical development.

It says insufficient funding at a local level, and negative attitudes to disabled children and their families are significant barriers.

Lord Blunkett said: “We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits.

“However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play.

“It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring.

“Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities.”

‘Turned away’

The inquiry heard from the families of 175 disabled children, with multiple needs, and received a further 175 pieces of evidence.

A snapshot survey of the families revealed nine out of 10 felt their child did not have the same chances to play as other children.

Two-thirds said they did not have enough information on accessible play opportunities in their area, while just over half had been turned away from play settings that had failed to meet their duties under the Equality Act.

The report also highlighted a lack of a strategic approach to funding play for children with multiple needs at a local or a national level across England.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring disabled children can access early years education and that play opportunities are accessible to disabled children.

“We don’t want to see any children discriminated against and to help this we have introduced the biggest reforms to the Special Educational Needs and Disability system in a generation, focusing support on individual needs and aspirations.”