Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Little Goes a Long Way

I have had a long day an alternative school that is a K-8 located in a desirable area that is quickly gentrifying and this school is over 20 years old so it is not a radical experiment by any stretch. But like many schools it is on its 3rd Principal in as many years, the current one is an "interim" and the changing dynamics of an elder teaching population means this is a school that is just what it is and that is a hot mess.

A recent article in the Seattle Times proclaimed that the achievement gap is very much equity based with the kids in the south end of Seattle performing worse on academic achievement than their north of ship canal counterparts.

Of course while we could easily test this theory by taking the kids an the better performing largely middle to upper class middle school in the north end (Eckstein) move them to the worst performing school in the south end (Aki Kurose)  and then in one year test them and see if the kids got worse, stayed the same or got better?  I suspect that despite the one hour commute one way the kids would arrive at Aki fully fed and functional and the Aki kids well they would if they arrived would do so. I subbed there until a child accused me of assaulting him which was unfounded, the same day a child arrived stabbed and another teacher just up and walked out.  A student last year there was murdered by her grandfather when she Facebooked about his repeatedly sexually molesting her for years, he killed her, her mother, himself and left her brother for dead.  I live in the neighborhood and even I don't sub at the south end schools.

And yet I do question the data and the point as this is the group who commissioned the study and remember data is as good as the check who paid for it.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education , which says it is affiliated with the UW, is really a charter school astroturf “think tank,” dedicated to privatizing public schools. From their home page, and a search of Gates Foundation grants:
“We focus on:  Re-missioning States and School Districts | For performance oversight and support
CRPE leads the field in thinking about governance and envisioning a new system of public education for the future. We work closely with city and state leaders across the country who are trying to transform schools in their communities.

Innovative Schools of Choice | For new ways to personalize student learning and leverage teacher talent
Our rigorous research and balanced analysis helps policymakers and community leaders understand how new school models, such as charter schools and technology-based schools, are performing and how they can be replicated.

Realigning Finances | For equity, productivity, and flexibility
We have pioneered research on how funds are used within districts, and how different uses of money could permit innovation and increase children’s learning opportunities. We help leaders at all levels—federal, state, local, and the school—to understand costs and tradeoffs and to direct money where it is most needed.”

Yes just like southern cities that are divided by an eponymous bridge so is Seattle. And it has the extra of a lake to divide and further segregate the city by income and in turn race.  The southern part of the city is largely Mexican/Latin American, Black, African and some Asian but especially an overlooked group, Samoan Americans.  The neighborhoods that run adjacent are those with upscale wealthy lakefront homes that are filled with many wealthy families, known and less so. Their children go to private schools, such as Lakeside famous for a graduate named Bill Gates and other less but no less academic schools.

Public schools in the south end are populated with poor kids, period.  The north end are slightly better off but those who can do send their children to private schools. They do so based on reputation and as the district has never really gotten enrollment counts right  often telling families they are on wait lists and waiting until last minute to update the records.  Final enrollment count is not due to October 1 and the gerrymandering and rigging of student counts affects budget and staffing needs.  And once again we are facing a miscount that is causing many schools, at this point over 2 dozen, to lose staff. Irony that the issue of funding, caps and class size were all a part of the recent strike, but not the issue of this annual shuffling of the cards.  It happens every year and yet the Union seemed to forget this immense problem that ruins kids, confuses them, and leads to overall frustration for parents and teachers alike.

But hey Bill Gates you have this evaluation on quality on your radar keep at it!

So when I read the below article I thought here is where he might be able to help. But that would be too easy. Sort of like building a school that could be his prototype experiment that he could implement all his ideas and plans and see using a same cohort of kids for 12 years or include even pre-K to prove how he was right all along. Is 13 years for such an experiment too long of a time?

Here is an experiment that found out a little goes a long way.

The remarkable thing that happens to poor kids when you give their parents a little money

 By Roberto A. Ferdman
The Washington Post
Wonkblog October 8 2015

Twenty years ago, a group of researchers began tracking the personalities of 1,420 low income children in North Carolina. At the time, the goal was simple: to observe the mental conditions of kids living in rural America.

 But then a serendipitous thing happened. Four years into The Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth, the families of roughly a quarter of the children saw a dramatic and unexpected increase in annual income.

 They were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and a casino has just been built on the reservation. From that point on every tribal citizen earned a share of the profits, meaning about an extra $4,000 a year per capita.

 For these families, the extra padding was a blessing, enough to boost household incomes by almost 20 percent on average. But for the fields of psychology, sociology and economics, it has been a gold mine, too. The sudden change in fortunes has offered a rare glimpse into the subtle but important ways in which money can alter a child’s life.

The dataset is so rich that researchers continue to study it to this day. "It would be almost impossible to replicate this kind of longitudinal study,” said Randall Akee, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the impact of changes in household income. “Especially for a sample this large.

This is the sort of circumstance you dream of as a researcher." Seizing the opportunity, Akee, along with a team of other researchers, recently revisited the data to analyze each child’s personality both in the years before the casino was built and in those after. As part of the original study, the children and parents were asked a series of questions, designed to measure, among other things, a number of personality traits.

 The same questions were posed every other year, for a decade. Akee's goal was to observe any changes—positive or negative—resulting from the extra household income. Their findings, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research last month, are nothing short of remarkable.

"This was hugely important to the development of the children, to their wellbeing” said Akee. "And the effect wasn’t small either—it was actually fairly large." Not only did the extra income appear to lower the instance of behavioral and emotional disorders among the children, but, perhaps even more important, it also boosted two key personality traits that tend to go hand in hand with long-term positive life outcomes.

The first is conscientiousness. People who lack it tend to lie, break rules and have trouble paying attention. The second is agreeableness, which leads to a comfort around people and aptness for teamwork. And both are strongly correlated with various forms of later life success and happiness. The researchers also observed a slight uptick in neuroticism, which, they explained, is a good sign. Neuroticism is generally considered to be a positive trait so long as one does not have too much of it.

  "We're talking about all sorts of good, positive, long-term things," said Emilia Simeonova, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the economics of health, and one of the paper's co-authors. "There are very powerful correlations between conscientiousness and agreeableness and the ability to hold a job, to maintain a steady relationship.

 The two allow for people to succeed socially and professionally." Remarkably, the change was the most pronounced in the children who were the most deficient. "This actually reduces inequality with respect to personality traits," said Akee. "On average, everyone is benefiting, but in particular it's helping the people who need it the most." Why exactly this happened with the children neither Akee nor any of his co-researchers can say with absolute certainty.

Not even Jane Costello, a professor at Duke University who was part of the team that initiated the original study and co-authored the recent paper can say. But they have a few ideas, based on observable changes in the families after the casino was built and the extra money started to flow in.

They know, based on the interviews with parents, that the relationship between spouses tended to improve as a result. They also know that the relationship between the parents and their children tended to improve. And they know that parents tended to drink less alcohol. "There is a lot of literature that shows in order to change outcomes among children you are best off treating the parents first," said Simeonova.

 "And these are really clear changes in the parents." There's also the question of stress, which the extra money helps relieve—even if only a little. While the added income wasn't enough to allow parents to quit their jobs, it's a base level that helped with rent and food and other basic expenses.

 That, Akee said, is powerful enough itself. "We know that the thing poor couples fight about the most is money," he said.

"Off the bat, this means a more harmonious family environment." And some of the families, given the boost, even moved to areas with slightly better census tracts in terms of both income and education.

They were, in other words, able to expose their children to a different group of peers. For the most part, scientists agree that the window for improvement in a child's cognitive abilities is short-lived. By the age of about 8, children have set themselves on a path, Akee said. What comes next happens, more or less, within the confines of the limits that were created in their early years. One's personality, on the other hand, is malleable well into adolescence. What's more, the changes tend to be fairly permanent.

 "All of the evidence points to the idea if they change in the teenage years, they will stay changed forever," said Akee. "In this case, the kids will likely maintain a different level of conscientiousness and agreeableness for life." Experts have known about the power of intervention for some time.

 A lot of previous research has shown that educational interventions can have sizable impacts on personality traits and, in turn, life outcomes. But rarely, if ever before, have researchers been able to observe the impact of a change in income across such a large group. The takeaway isn't that casinos are inherently benevolent institutions. But rather that money—even modest sums—can be a pretty powerful thing. And for reasons most would likely overlook.

 "We know that low income kids are worse off in a number of ways, in terms of cognitive abilities and behavioral disorders, than their counterparts in much more affluent areas," said Simeonova. "Now we have a sense of what even just a little money can do change these things, to change their lives."

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