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Education in Crisis; The High Cost of High School Dropouts, Part 1

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Does anyone see the relationships between?

  • Poor parenting skills and high school dropouts?
  • Dysfunctional schools, teaching skills, and high school dropouts?
  • Teacher unions, their teachers, and a deteriorating educational system?
  • Budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels, and the increasing dropout rates?
  • High school dropouts and their endless cycle of poverty?
  • Every American’s stake in ensuring that every child becomes a high school graduate, prepared for success, the modern workplace, and life?

These questions are directly related to the high cost to society when parents fail to parent, teachers fail to teach, unions protect non performing teachers who drive students out of our schools, and Americans fail to see their stake in every child receiving an education that enables them to succeed and contribute.

First, let me begin with a definition of the high cost of school dropouts as Part One of the next series of posts and how they negatively impact local, state, and federal governments, the financial security of our country, and our society in general.

For decades Americans have been warned that U.S. dominance in the world’s economy is fading because of the country’s poor educational performance. Among the largest educational shifts is that educational requirements of the jobs that supported our previous economy are changing. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 90% of new high-growth, high-wage jobs will require some post secondary education, in comparison to decades past, when even a high school dropout could find a position in the manufacturing or agricultural sectors that would have supported a family in a middle class lifestyle. Today the many jobs that were held by dropouts or people with high school diplomas are being automated or are going overseas. The minimally educated American will have increasingly diminished options to support themselves or their families.

As I said in an earlier post, more than seven thousand students become dropouts every school day. That adds up to 1.2 million students annually who will not graduate from high school with their peers. This is equal to the entire population of Dallas and San Diego. These individuals are more likely than graduates to spend their lives periodically unemployed, on government assistance, or cycling through our prisons. “Over the next twenty-five years the challenges are unlikely to diminish. The world will continue to change, and good jobs will require even higher levels of education. The retirement of the baby boom generation will create even more demand for new well-educated candidates to replace them in the workforce.” (Alliance for Excellence in Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

The nation’s secondary schools graduate only 60% of their students (National Education Association). If they graduated all of their students the payoff would be significant. For example, if the students who dropped out of the Class of 2009 had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefitted from nearly $355 billion in additional income over the course of their lifetimes.

In contrast to those students who drop out, high school graduates live longer, are less likely to be teen parents, and more likely to raise healthier, better educated children. Children from parents without high school degrees are less likely to graduate from high school than children whose parents are graduates. High school graduates are more likely to engage in community activity like voting and volunteering in their communities and at higher levels.

Cecilia Rouse, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University, conducted research in 2005 which shows that each dropout over their lifetime costs the country approximately $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. Unless high schools are able to graduate their students at higher rates, nearly 13 million students will drop out over the next decade. The result will be a loss to the country of $3 trillion.

Think of the impact of high dropout rates on all of us:

High school dropouts influence a community’s economic, social, and civic standing.

  • There are significantly lower local, state, and federal tax revenues.
  • States find it hard to attract new businesses with a less educated population.
  • Crime and incarceration increases.
  • A strain on community services and social programs becomes a burden to society.
  • The country’s economy and competitive standing suffer in the world.
  • Medical facilities and Medicaid are strained beyond capacity.
  • Dropouts represent a tremendous loss of human potential and productivity.
  • They decrease the country’s ability to compete in an increasing global economy.

Bill Gates has called them “obsolete.” Oprah Winfrey has said that the nation is in a “state of emergency” because of them. Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Ron Paige, has called them an “unrecognized educational crisis.”

These distinguished Americans are discussing America’s high schools.

Part Two of my next Post.

Deferred Gratification – OR- The Marshmellow Test

February 14, 2010 3 comments

DEFINITION:

Deferred gratification or delayed gratification is the ability to wait in order to obtain something that one wants. In formal terms, an individual should be able to calculate the net present value of future rewards and defer near-term rewards of lesser value. Animals don’t do this. This challenge is fundamental to human nature.

EXPERIMENT:

In the late nineteen-sixties, Carolyn, a four-year-old with long brown hair, was invited into a “game room” at the Bing Nursery School, on the campus of Stanford University. The room was little more than a large closet, containing a desk and a chair. Carolyn was asked to sit down in the chair and pick a treat from a tray of marshmallows, cookies, and pretzel sticks. Carolyn chose the marshmallow. A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room.

OBSERVATIONS:

Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification for just a little bit longer. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. Most struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than three minutes. “A few kids ate the marshmallow right away,” Walter Mischel, the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the experiment, remembers. “They didn’t even bother ringing the bell. Other kids would stare directly at the marshmallow and then ring the bell thirty seconds later.” About thirty per cent of the children successfully delayed gratification until the researcher returned, some fifteen minutes later. These kids wrestled with temptation but found a way to resist.

GOAL OF EXPERIMENT:

The initial goal of the experiment was to identify the mental processes that allowed some people to delay gratification while others simply surrendered and how this influenced behavior. What they discovered is that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

QUESTION:

Psychologists assumed from their observations that the children’s ability to wait depended on how badly they wanted the marshmallow. But it soon became obvious that every child craved the extra treat. What, then, determined self-control? Mischel’s conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the “strategic allocation of attention.” Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

CONCLUSIONS:

In adults, this skill is often referred to as metacognition, or thinking about thinking, and it’s what allows people to outsmart their shortcomings. For example, when Odysseus had himself tied to the ship’s mast, he was using some of the skills of metacognition: knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the Sirens’ song, he made it impossible to give in.

Mischel’s large data set from various studies allowed him to see that children with a more accurate understanding of the workings of self-control were better able to delay gratification. “What’s interesting about four-year-olds is that they’re just figuring out the rules of thinking,” Mischel says. “The kids who couldn’t delay would often have the rules backwards. They would think that the best way to resist the marshmallow is to stare right at it, to keep a close eye on the goal. But that’s a terrible idea. If you do that, you’re going to ring the bell before I leave the room.”

According to Mischel, this view of will power also helps explain why the marshmallow task is such a powerfully predictive test. “If you can deal with hot emotions, then you can study for the S.A.T. instead of watching television,” Mischel says. “And you can save more money for retirement. It’s not just about marshmallows.”

Mischel found a shortcut. When he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is give them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

This information was taken from the following site where you can read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/18/090518fa_fact_lehrer?printable=true&currentPage=6#ixzz0fXCrbwh9

MY CONCLUSIONS:
Teaching Deferred Gratification to infants and toddlers gives them a promotion into their future. It prepares them for a lifetime of choices that determines their success. We cannot always have what we want when we want it. As Parents we have the advantage of teaching our sons and daughters character, focus, and self determination. If you want to see what happens to our children when we do not parent responsibly, go to your local mall any day after school. Sit down on a bench and observe the “wandering herd”, who all look alike because they lack character and have failed to delay their choices.

Infant Brain Development – OR – Pay Attention to My Synapses

February 10, 2010 1 comment

We are buried in 4’ of snow here in the DC area. Fortunately our household has power so we are warm and I now have the time to write this post about infant brain development. The streets are deserted, the government is closed, and all is quiet. So in this silence let us go together into the infant brain.

The peak of infant brain development occurs between the ages of 0 and 2. Human growth and development, through observation and neurological research, confirms our understanding that the early years of life are of critical importance for laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning and loving.

The brain is the most immature of all organs at birth. It continues to grow and develop after birth. This growth was thought to be determined primarily by genetics. Scientists now believe it is also highly dependent upon the infant’s experiences. Research shows that interactions with other people and objects are vital nutrients for the growing and developing brain. Different experiences can cause the brain to develop in different ways. It is this “plasticity” of the brain and its ability to develop and change in response to the demands of the environment, that enable children to learn how to use computers as successfully as their ancestors learned how to hunt animals in the wild. Along with genetics there is mounting evidence that experiences affect the way genes are expressed in the developing brain. While good early experiences help the brain to develop well, experiences of neglect and abuse can literally cause some genetically normal children to become mentally retarded or to develop serious emotional difficulties.

To understand how this happens, we need to understand a bit about how the brain works. The brain is comprised of many regions that perform specific functions, such as identifying what we see, processing spoken language, or assessing danger. Within each of these brain areas are millions of neurons, or nerve cells, which send messages to each other across synapses. These trillions of nerves and synapses and the pathways they form make up the wiring of the brain.

[Synaptic Brain Density – These are the neural connections that enable the brain to do its work. They increase more rapidly in the first year of life than at any other period of human development. Dendriatic Connections – These are less ingrained by experience and repetition. They are pruned away by our bodies during the second and third years of life.]

In most regions of the brain, no new neurons are formed after birth. Instead, brain development consists of an ongoing process of wiring and re-wiring the connections among neurons. New synapses between cells are constantly being formed, while others are broken or pruned away. In early childhood the brain is genetically programmed to produce more synapses than it will ultimately use. By 8 months of age a baby may have an astounding 1,000 trillion synapses in his brain! This blooming of synapses happens at different times in different areas of the brain. Development then proceeds by keeping the synapses that are used and pruning away those that aren’t. The pruning of synapses happens over the childhood years as the different areas of the brain develop. (Huttenlocher & Dabholkar, 1997).

Pruning allows the brain to keep the connections that have a purpose, while eliminating those that aren’t doing anything. Pruning increases the efficiency with which the brain can do what it needs to do. But, because the brain operates on the “use it or lose it” rule, an “over-pruning” of these connections can occur when a child is deprived of normally expected experiences in the early years. This leaves the child struggling to do what would have come more naturally otherwise. Some areas of the brain become less “plastic” or changeable when the pruning is over. This has led to tremendous concern about providing what the brain needs to prune and organize itself correctly before the “windows of opportunity” close.

A fundamental task undertaken by infants is determining how they get their needs met in the world in which they live. They are constantly assessing whether their cries for food and comfort are ignored or lovingly answered, whether they are powerless or can influence adults. If the adults in their lives respond predictably to their cries and provide for their needs, infants will be more likely to use these adults as sources of safety and security. With safety taken care of, they can focus attention on exploring, allowing their brain to take in all the wonders of the world around them. If their needs are met only sporadically and pleas for comfort are usually ignored or met with harsh words and rough handling, infants will focus their energies on ensuring that their needs are met. They will have more difficulty interacting with people and objects in their environment, and their brain will shut out the stimulation it needs to develop healthy cognitive and social skills (Lieberman & Zeanah, 1995).

Children who receive sensitive, responsive care from their parents in the first years of life enjoy an important head start toward success. The secure relationships they develop with the important adults in their lives lay the foundation for emotional development and help protect them from the many stresses they may face as they grow. Researchers who have examined the life histories of children who have succeeded despite many challenges in their lives consistently found that these people had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult beginning early in life (Werner & Smith, 1992).

Increasing numbers of U.S. infants and toddlers spend hours each day in various child care arrangements because their parents work or attend school. It is critical that the care these children receive promotes their healthy growth and development. Too often child care providers are poorly trained and do not provide children with appropriate stimulation. Research has shown that in the majority of infant care arrangements in the U.S., children are not talked to and played with enough, and they do not have the opportunity to form the kind of comfortable, secure relationships with a caregiver who will promote their healthy emotional development (The Cost, Quality and Child Care Outcomes Study Team, 1995; National Center for Early Development and Learning, 1999).

As our society becomes more technically and socially complex, we cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive experiences they need in infancy and early childhood. The costs in terms of lost intellectual potential and increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems are too high. The new developments in brain research show us what children need; our challenge is to ensure that every child receives it.

When you really think this over, it is just common sense!

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