Thursday, February 15, 2018

Discipline report “plagued by logical fallacies, overly simplified interpretations of findings, and inflammatory language


The Academic and Behavioral Consequences of Discipline Policy Reform: Evidence from Philadelphia, published by the Fordham Institute, investigated the impact of a reform in the School District of Philadelphia that eliminated suspensions for certain low-level misbehaviors.

Yolanda Anyon of the University of Denver and Kathryn E. Wiley of the University of California San Diego reviewed the report and found it “plagued by logical fallacies, overly simplified interpretations of findings, and inflammatory language.”
Find the review by Yolanda Anyon and Kathryn Wiley at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-discipline-reform

The report considered whether the change in discipline policy was associated with any of the following: (a) district-wide out-of-school suspension rates, (b) academic and behavioral outcomes for students (looking separately at students who had a record of prior suspensions and those with no prior suspensions), and (c) racial disparities in suspensions.
While the report concluded that the reform was a failure, the actual results were mixed, with the positive trends for students who were earlier suspended being much stronger in magnitude than evidence of negative outcomes for students who were not. A strength of the report is the use of advanced statistical methods and a longitudinal dataset to answer the questions of interest.
However, Anyon and Wiley explain, the report uses misleading causal (“consequences”) language in the title and to describe study results, even though the study design is limited by unmeasured confounding factors and inappropriate comparison groups. Thus, while the analyses upon which the report is based have some technical merits, the narrative seems more of an attempt to advance a political agenda opposed to the reform studied than to improve understanding of complex policy issues.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Too much TV at age 2 makes for poorer performance in school by adolescents


Watching too much television at age 2 can translate into poorer eating habits in adolescence and poorer performance in school, researchers at Université de Montréal's School of Psychoeducation have found.

In a new longitudinal study published in Preventive Medicine, graduate student Isabelle Simonato and her supervisor, Professor Linda Pagani, looked at a birth cohort of nearly 2,000 Quebec boys and girls born between spring 1997 and 1998.

The children were followed since they were 5 months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. When they reached 2 years of age, their parents reported on their daily television habits. Then, at age 13, the youths themselves reported on their dietary habits and behaviour in school.

"Not much is known about how excessive screen exposure in early childhood relates to lifestyle choices in adolescence," said Pagani. "This birth cohort is ideal, because the children were born before smartphones and tablets, and before any pediatric viewing guidelines were publicized for parents to follow. They were raising their children with TV and seeing it as harmless. This makes our study very naturalistic, with no outside guidelines or interference - a huge advantage."

Added Simonato: "Watching TV is mentally and physically sedentary behavior because it does not require sustained effort. We hypothesized that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won't think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they're older."

In their study, the researchers found that every hourly increase in toddlers' TV viewing forecasted bad eating habits down the road - an increase of 8 per cent at age 13 for every hourly increase at age 2. In questionnaires, those early-TV adolescents reported consuming more French fries, prepared meats and cold cuts, white bread, regular and diet soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, salty or sweet snacks, and desserts.

Early TV viewing also translated into less eating of breakfast on school days (by 10 per cent) and led to more overall screen time at age 13. Every hour increase of TV also predicted a higher body mass index (a 10-per-cent increase) and less effortful behavior at school in the first year of secondary school, ultimately affecting performance and ambition.

"This study tells us that overindulgent lifestyle habits begin in early childhood and seem to persist throughout the life course," pagani noted. "An effortless existence creates health risks. For our society that means a bigger health care burden associated with obesity and lack of cardiovascular fitness."

The researchers also measured their results against revised screen time guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reduced the amount of daily viewing from two hours a day to one a day for children between ages 2 and 5. Compared to children who viewed less than one hour a day at age 2, those who viewed between one and four a day later reported (at age 13) having less healthy dietary habits, skipping breakfast on weekdays, having a higher BMI, engaging in more intense screen time, and being less engaged as students.

"Because we had a lot of information on each child and family we were able to eliminate other psychological and socio-demographic factors that could have explained the results, which is a really ideal situation," said Simonato. "We even removed any influence of screen time habits at age 13 to really isolate long-term associations with toddler viewing."

Added Pagani: "In preschool, parents use screen time as a reward and as a distraction. They establish quiet 'idling' at a teachable moment when children could actually be learning self-control. Using distraction as a reward to help children behave in situations where they should be learning self-control sets them on a trajectory where they will seek out distraction when faced with demands for cognitive effort.

"Rewarding distraction and low mental effort via entertainment will later influence a young person's commitment to school and perseverance in their studies. So we believe the AAP guidelines of not more than one hour of TV viewing for young children is correct, to ensure healthy developmental trajectories in adolescence."

Back-and-forth exchanges boost children's brain response to language


A landmark 1995 study found that children from higher-income families hear about 30 million more words during their first three years of life than children from lower-income families. This "30-million-word gap" correlates with significant differences in tests of vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension.

MIT cognitive scientists have now found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child's brain, and that this back-and-forth conversation is actually more critical to language development than the word gap.

In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, they found that differences in the number of "conversational turns" accounted for a large portion of the differences in brain physiology and language skills that they found among the children. This finding applied to children regardless of parental income or education.

The findings suggest that parents can have considerable influence over their children's language and brain development by simply engaging them in conversation, the researchers say.

"The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It's not just about dumping language into your child's brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them," says Rachel Romeo, a graduate student at Harvard and MIT and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Feb. 14 online edition of Psychological Science.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers identified differences in the brain's response to language that correlated with the number of conversational turns. In children who experienced more conversation, Broca's area, a part of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, was much more active while they listened to stories. This brain activation then predicted children's scores on language assessments, fully explaining the income-related differences in children's language skills.

"The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It's almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain," says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, a member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

Beyond the word gap
Before this study, little was known about how the "word gap" might translate into differences in the brain. The MIT team set out to find these differences by comparing the brain scans of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

As part of the study, the researchers used a system called Language Environment Analysis (LENA) to record every word spoken or heard by each child. Parents who agreed to have their children participate in the study were told to have their children wear the recorder for two days, from the time they woke up until they went to bed.

The recordings were then analyzed by a computer program that yielded three measurements: the number of words spoken by the child, the number of words spoken to the child, and the number of times that the child and an adult took a "conversational turn" -- a back-and-forth exchange initiated by either one.

The researchers found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children's scores on standardized tests of language skill, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. The number of conversational turns also correlated with more activity in Broca's area, when the children listened to stories while inside an fMRI scanner.

These correlations were much stronger than those between the number of words heard and language scores, and between the number of words heard and activity in Broca's area.

This result aligns with other recent findings, Romeo says, "but there's still a popular notion that there's this 30-million-word gap, and we need to dump words into these kids -- just talk to them all day long, or maybe sit them in front of a TV that will talk to them. However, the brain data show that it really seems to be this interactive dialogue that is more strongly related to neural processing."

The researchers believe interactive conversation gives children more of an opportunity to practice their communication skills, including the ability to understand what another person is trying to say and to respond in an appropriate way.

While children from higher-income families were exposed to more language on average, children from lower-income families who experienced a high number of conversational turns had language skills and Broca's area brain activity similar to those of children who came from higher-income families.

"In our analysis, the conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status. Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking," Gabrieli says.

Taking action
The researchers hope their findings will encourage parents to engage their young children in more conversation. Although this study was done in children age 4 to 6, this type of turn-taking can also be done with much younger children, by making sounds back and forth or making faces, the researchers say.

"One of the things we're excited about is that it feels like a relatively actionable thing because it's specific. That doesn't mean it's easy for less educated families, under greater economic stress, to have more conversation with their child. But at the same time, it's a targeted, specific action, and there may be ways to promote or encourage that," Gabrieli says.

The MIT researchers now hope to study the effects of possible interventions that incorporate more conversation into young children's lives. These could include technological assistance, such as computer programs that can converse or electronic reminders to parents to engage their children in conversation.



Why does child care cost so much?





See the estimated cost of high-quality child care in your state »
Across the United States, it is not unusual for child care tuition to be the first- or second-largest household expense for families, costing more than mortgage or rent. Meanwhile, early childhood teachers are some of the lowest-paid professionals; nearly 40 percent of child care teachers rely on public assistance at some point in their careers. Early childhood programs themselves also operate on tight budgets.

But if child care teachers are paid so little and early childhood programs are struggling to make ends meet, many parents are justifiably left asking the question: Why does child care cost so much?

In addition to answering this question, Center for American Progress's new report and interactive explain the inadequacies of the current revenue streams available to early childhood education programs. To fully address the issues of affordability, accessibility, and quality, a significant new public investment is needed. This investment must go far beyond the current subsidy system, provide support to all low- and middle-income families, and ensure that early childhood teachers are compensated fairly. Helping parents and policymakers understand the true cost of high-quality child care is an important step in building support for this public investment.

Find out the true cost of quality child care in your state »

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development


The National Institutes of Health Tuesday released to the scientific community an unparalleled dataset from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. To date, more than 7,500 youth and their families have been recruited for the study, well over half the participant goal.  Approximately 30 terabytes of data (about three times the size of the Library of Congress collection), obtained from the first 4,500 participants, will be available to scientists worldwide to conduct research on the many factors that influence brain, cognitive, social, and emotional development. The ABCD study (link is external) is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

This interim release provides high-quality baseline data on a large sample of 9-and-10-year-old children, including basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, tabulated structural and functional neuroimaging data, and minimally processed brain images, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses. The data will be made available through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Data Archive, which can be accessed by researchers who obtain a free NIMH Data Archive account. All personally identifiable information is removed from the data to ensure participant confidentiality and anonymity.

“By sharing this interim baseline dataset with researchers now, the ABCD study is enabling scientists to begin analyzing and publishing novel research on the developing adolescent brain,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “As expected, drug use is minimal among this young cohort, which is critical because it will allow us to compare brain images before and after substance use begins within individuals who start using, providing needed insight into how experimentation with drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect developing brains.”

“Sharing ABCD data and other related datasets with the research community, in an infrastructure that allows easy query, data access, and cloud computation, will help us understand many aspects of health and human development.” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. “These datasets provide extraordinary opportunities for computational neuroscientists to address problems with direct public health relevance.”

This comprehensive dataset, which will be disaggregated by sex, racial/ethnic group, and socioeconomic status, will allow researchers to address numerous questions related to adolescent brain development to help inform future prevention and treatment efforts, public health strategies and policy decisions, including, but not limited to:
  • How do sports injuries impact developmental outcomes?
  • What is the relationship between screen time and brain and social development?
  • How does the occasional versus regular use of substances (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, marijuana) affect learning and the developing brain?
  • What are some of the factors that contribute to achievement gaps?
  • How do sleep, nutrition, and physical activity affect learning, brain development and other health outcomes across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups?
  • What brain pathways are associated with the onset and progression of mental health disorders and do these pathways differ by sex?
  • What is the relationship between substance use and mental illness? 
  • How do genetic and environmental factors contribute to brain development?
“The collection and release of this baseline data is a crucial step in ongoing efforts to sharpen our understanding of the link between adolescent alcohol use and long-term harmful effects on brain development and function,” said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Recruitment of participants began in September 2016 through outreach to public, charter, and private schools, as well as twin registries in Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia. The ABCD Study is designed to include a diverse population that reflects the demographics of the U.S., however these interim data may not fully capture that diversity as enrollment is not yet complete. So far, 7,637 youth have been enrolled, including 6,399 single participants and 1,238 twins/multiples, reaching a 66 percent recruitment milestone. The study aims to enroll a total of 11,500 children by the end of 2018. The next annual data release will include the full participant cohort.

Participants will be followed for 10 years, during which data are collected on a semi-annual and annual basis through interviews and behavioral testing. Neuroimaging data, including high resolution MRI, are collected every two years to measure changes in brain structure and function.

The ABCD Coordinating Center (link is external) and Data Analysis and Informatics Center are housed at the University of California, San Diego and recruitment is being conducted at 21 study sites (link is external) across the country. For more information, please visit the ABCD website at www.ABCDStudy.org (link is external).

Teacher certification patterns and academic growth among English learner student


Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest examined the relationships between teacher certification and growth in academic achievement and English proficiency among English learner students in grades 4 and 5 in the Houston Independent School District.

The study assessed whether a teacher’s certification type (bilingual or English as a second language [ESL]) and certification route (traditional, postbaccalaureate, alternative, or additional certification by exam) were correlated with growth in math achievement, reading achievement, and English proficiency among Spanish-speaking English learner students.

Results yield interesting yet inconsistent results across assessments, subjects, and grade levels. Key findings include:

• For math, having a teacher with bilingual certification was associated with higher student growth in achievement in grade 4 but lower growth in achievement in grade 5 compared with having a teacher without bilingual or ESL certification. Having a teacher with bilingual certification through the alternative route was associated with the highest growth in achievement in grade 4.

• For reading, having a teacher with bilingual certification was associated with higher student growth in achievement in grade 4 compared with having a teacher without bilingual or ESL certification. Having a teacher with bilingual certification through the traditional route was associated with the highest growth in achievement in grade 4.

• For English proficiency, having a teacher with bilingual certification through the postbaccalaureate route was associated with the highest student growth in grade 4. Having a teacher with bilingual certification through the alternative route was associated with the highest growth in English proficiency in grade 5.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certificationof little value



The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) recently reviewed the research on two programs for teachers, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification and MyTeachingPartnerTM Pre-K. The results are summarized in two intervention reports released today, February 13, by the Institute of Education Sciences.

The NBPTS awards a highly selective professional certification to accomplished teachers who have completed three full years of regular teaching service and can demonstrate that their teaching practices meet the NBPTS standards. After reviewing the research, the WWC found that NBPTS-certified teachers had mixed effects on mathematics achievement and no discernible effects on English language arts achievement for students in grades 3 through 8. Read the full report and learn more about the studies that contributed to this rating.

MyTeachingPartnerTM Pre-K is a professional development program for early education teachers that incorporates a video library, interactive training, a college course, and trained coaches to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to engage in more effective student interactions. There are no studies of MyTeachingPartnerTM Pre-K that meet WWC group design standards at this time. Therefore, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the program. More research is needed to determine the program’s impacts.