Our schools will get rid of AP courses. Here’s why.


A student takes notes in an Advanced Placement class at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington in 2014. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
June 18, 2018

In an era when the quality and nature of American secondary school education are subjects of vigorous debate, it is time to rethink our curricula. Together, we lead eight Washington-area independent schools, and we have been meeting regularly over the past several years to discuss research and compare experiences.

While each of us offers a unique academic program grounded in our historical missions and educational philosophies, we have jointly come to recognize the diminished utility of Advanced Placement courses. Consequently, collectively we agree that we will better equip our students for further study and for life beyond the classroom by eliminating AP courses from our curriculums entirely by 2022.

When introduced in the early 1950s, the rationale for the AP program was to offer particularly ambitious students an opportunity to pursue and receive credit for college-level work, allowing them to graduate from college early. Yet today, few college students graduate in less than four years. At the same time, almost 40 percent of high school students enroll in AP courses, meaning it is no longer true that only a few, exceptional students take them.

As a result, AP courses on high school transcripts are of diminished significance to college admissions officers. Further, we’ve conducted our own survey of almost 150 college and university admissions officers and have been assured that the absence of the AP designation will have no adverse impact on our students. The real question for colleges is whether an applicant has taken a high school’s most demanding courses; the AP designation itself is irrelevant.

Naturally, colleges and universities want the most capable and hard-working students. Therefore, in the belief that failing to take an AP course may hurt their college prospects, students reluctantly pass up more interesting, more engaging and potentially more intellectually transformative and rewarding courses. Because these tests loom so large for students, faculty often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiries to cover all of the material likely to be included on the test.

But the truth is that college courses, which demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis, look nothing like AP courses, which stress breadth over depth. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer courses that are foundational, allow for authentic engagement with the world and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.

Theories of education have changed a lot over the past 50 years, and the ways we teach and test must reflect these changes. Rote memorization is giving way to learning that is more collaborative, experiential and interdisciplinary — with an increased focus on problem-solving. We also integrate and connect coursework to real-world issues and provide students with more opportunities to engage in original research and deep analysis.

Collectively, we believe a curriculum oriented more in these directions will not only better prepare our students for their futures but also will result in programs that are more engaging both for students and faculty. Moreover, this approach will encourage student motivation driven by their innate curiosity and love of learning.

This change does not signify any effort to diminish the academic rigor for which our schools are known. To the contrary, we believe that by capitalizing on the talents of our superb teachers and resources, students will be offered more stimulating courses that explore subjects in greater depth, enhancing the strength of our programs.

We are far from the first independent schools to eliminate the AP designation. Many excellent boarding and day schools around the country have embraced this change and seen students thrive and teachers flourish without any negative impact on college placement. What is unusual about our decision is that we came to this conclusion together and are announcing it jointly. We hope that by adding our collective voice to the conversation, we will make it easier for other schools considering a similar change to follow the same path.

As schools devoted to nurturing students’ potential, fostering their talents and preparing them to lead productive lives, we believe the flexibility we will gain from developing our own courses will better prepare our students for college and their professional futures. In this time of unprecedented challenges, we owe our students and the world they will enter nothing less.

Russell Shaw, head of Georgetown Day School

Susanna Jones, head of Holton-Arms School

Jim Neill, headmaster of Landon School

Marjo Talbott, head of Maret School

Kathleen Jamieson, head of National Cathedral School

John Kowalik, head of Potomac School

Vance Wilson, headmaster of St. Albans School

Bryan Garman, head of Sidwell Friends School

Advertisements

The Perils Of Pushing Kids Too Hard, And How Parents Can Learn To Back Off

NPR

Kids in elite high schools face increasing pressures from peers, teachers and parents.

Francesco Zorzi for NPR

On New Year’s Eve, back in 2012, Savannah Eason retreated into her bedroom and picked up a pair of scissors.

“I was holding them up to my palm as if to cut myself,” she says. “Clearly what was happening was I needed someone to do something.”

Her dad managed to wrestle the scissors from her hands, but that night it had become clear she needed help.

“It was really scary,” she recalls. “I was sobbing the whole time.”

Savannah was in high school at the time. She says the pressure she felt to succeed — to aim high — had left her anxious and depressed.

“The thoughts that would go through my head were ‘this would be so much easier if I wasn’t alive, and I just didn’t have to do anything anymore.’ ”

Looking back Savannah, now 23, says the pressure started early.

She told us her story as we sat at the kitchen table of her childhood home in Wilton, Conn., a wealthy community near New York. Her dad commutes to the city where he works in finance.

From the outside, Savannah’s life may have appeared picture-perfect: two well-educated, loving parents; a beautiful home; siblings and lots of friends.

From an early age, Savannah says, she was considered one of the smart kids, and when she arrived at Wilton High School, she was surrounded by many other high achievers. Lots of kids take a heavy load of Advanced Placement and honors courses. They play varsity or club sports and are involved in lots of extracurricular activities.

But by sophomore year, the high expectations began to feel like a trap. Like many kids at her school – and at elite high schools across the country – she felt compelled to push herself to get good grades and get into a top college.

“Even though I was getting A’s and B’s, mostly A’s, in all my classes — all my honors classes — I still felt it wasn’t good enough,” Savannah says.

No matter how well she did, someone else was doing better. “The pressure I put on myself was out of control,” she says. She says she felt the pressure all around her — from peers, teachers and her parents.

Newfound awareness of these kinds of struggles, has started a conversation — and new initiatives — in her community. A group of parents is trying to shift the culture to balance the focus on achievement with an emphasis on well-being. Part of the equation is freeing up kids to find their own motivation and life path. There is a growing body of evidence pointing to elevated risks of anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol use among kids raised in privileged communities.

A wake-up call

Savannah’s mother, Genevieve Eason, feels she was partly to blame for the pressure Savannah felt.

“I know I was talking to her by eighth grade,” Genevieve recalls, “about how she needed to find out what her passions were, so she could get involved in the right activities … so that would look good on her college applications.”

But after Savannah’s problems began, Genevieve says, she backed off. She helped Savannah drop some of her tougher courses. And the family started to focus on well-being.

“Up to that point, I totally bought into the idea we’re supposed to push our kids to achieve. When they encounter obstacles, we push [them] to overcome those,” Genevieve says. But pushing too hard can backfire.

Given the pressure-cooker environment in her community, Genevieve wondered how many other teens may also be struggling.

In order to find out, she got together with some other parents and counselors — and worked with Wilton High School to do something very unusual. They hired a psychologist to come in and assess the student body.

On the day we visited, the seniors were preparing for graduation. In the main hallway, there was a bulletin board on which students have each pinned the logo of the college they plan to attend. We saw Dartmouth, Yale, Vanderbilt, Harvard — and many other highly selective universities.

Clearly, many kids here excel. But the results of the mental health assessment showed that a lot of kids struggle, too.

“The survey results definitely suggested that Wilton High School’s rates of anxiety and depression with students was higher than national averages — significantly higher,” says school principal Robert O’Donnell. He says he was surprised and concerned.

About 1,200 students — almost the entire student body — took the survey, known as the Youth Self-Report. The survey found that compared with a national norm of 7 percent, about 30 percent of Wilton High School students had above average levels of internalizing symptoms. These include feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression. It also includes physical problems that can be linked to emotional distress such as headaches or stomachaches. Often, kids may hide these feelings.

The survey also found that rates of alcohol and drug use among Wilton students were higher than average, too. We asked the psychologist who did the assessment whether she was surprised by what she found.

“This is by no means unique to Wilton. It’s a common phenomenon across high-achieving schools,” says Suniya Luthar, professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College and founder of Authentic Connections, a nonprofit that aims to build resilience in communities and schools.

Luthar has been studying adolescents for more than 20 years. She has published several studies that document the elevated rates of drug and alcohol use by kids who grow up in privileged communities — where incomes and expectations are high. Surprisingly, she says, the rates rival what she has documented in low-income, urban schools.

“What we’ve found is that kids in high-achieving, relatively affluent communities are reporting higher levels of substance use than inner-city kids and levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms are also commensurate — if not greater,” Luthar says.

Her most recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that rates of substance abuse remain high among upper-middle-class kids, as they enter early adulthood. The alcohol or drugs are a form of self-medication.

Savannah’s mother, Genevieve Eason, says she is not surprised by Luthar’s findings.

“People choose communities like this to give their children opportunities, but it comes at a cost,” Eason says.

The survey findings have been a wake-up call for the community of Wilton. “A lot of people were in denial,” says Vanessa Elias. The mother of three children is the president of the Wilton Youth Council, which aims to promote the emotional well-being of the community.

“People don’t talk about these things,” Elias says. Families often struggle silently, not realizing that their friends’ or neighbors’ kids are experiencing the same struggles. “So having an opportunity to create a conversation about this was really important,” she says.

Dialing back the pressure

The community has lots of ideas about how to tackle these issues.

The high school is focused on continuing to train counselors, and student-directed initiatives are aimed at raising awareness about anxiety and depression.

Wilton is also offering a resilience training program — GoZen! — to elementary school students. It’s a research-based program that teaches coping and happiness skills. There’s a body of evidence to show that resilience training can help reduce symptoms of depressive or negative thinking among children.

At home, Elias says, she has tried to create a low-stress environment for her children. For instance, she limits the number of after-school activities her kids participate in so they don’t spend every afternoon being driven around, overscheduled. She also limits homework time in the evening for her youngest daughter — a third-grader. As a result, “there’s a lot less friction in the household,” she says.

And when she realized that the focus on standardized testing was making one of her daughters anxious in first grade — and giving her stomachaches — she opted her two youngest children out of standardized testing.

Elias says she has been influenced by the book How To Raise An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, which aims to help parents break free of what the author dubs the “over-parenting trap.”

But to really change things — to dial back the focus on academic achievement at all costs — will require a culture shift, says Eason.

“We have to broaden our definitions of success and celebrate more kinds of success,” she says.

For Eason’s daughter, Savannah, this means forging a new path.

“I don’t want to work on Wall Street; that sounds miserable to me,” Savannah says.

She enrolled in culinary school, and she is training to be a pastry chef.

“I’m never going to live the same lifestyle I did growing up,” Savannah says, “I’m not going to make that much money, but that’s OK.”

She has her own set of priorities. “It’s not about how big your house is and what kind of car you drive. It’s about happiness and peace.”

This is a different kind of success, one that her parents are now celebrating with her.

“I spend hours making a cake, and my favorite part is when you cut it up and people eat it,” Savannah says. “That’s the part when you bring joy to people, and that’s what’s important to me now.”

Tips To Dial Back The Pressure

Start a conversation — and keep it going

“Ask your kids the question ‘Am I pushing you too hard?’ ” says Colleen Fawcett, Wilton Youth Services coordinator. Don’t just ask once, she says, ask it periodically and keep the line of communication open.

Don’t supervise everything

“It’s OK to let them out of your sight,” says Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow, an organization that promotes childhood resilience. Let kids choose activities to do by themselves, like going to the store or walking to the park. Try this exercise from Let Grow for giving kids more control, which can buffer anxiety and foster self-confidence.

Let them play

Unlike supervised activities, Skenazy says, free play teaches kids how to negotiate, compromise, make friends and communicate. “When we deprive children of unstructured playtime, they don’t learn how to mature or deal with frustration or fear,” she says.

Underschedule

“Try to counterbalance the highly competitive culture,” says parent Vanessa Elias. Resist the temptation to overschedule your kids. Encourage them to limit their organized activities, and emphasize family time and downtime.

Millions of kids on ADHD meds decide their treatment as adults

CNN

Brain training to help with anxiety and ADHD_00014117

Treatment for kids

ADHD is a disorder that deals with the inability to focus, and it comes in three types: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive and combined. A person with the inattentive type of ADHD — also called attention-deficit disorder, or ADD — has trouble following directions or paying attention to details and is easily distracted.
A person with the hyperactive type of ADHD is restless, has trouble sitting still and is impulsive. A person with the combined type has equal amounts of inattentiveness and hyperactiveness. The CDC says these children are impulsive and restless, whereas children with ADD do not have the hyperactivity characteristic.
Pediatricians and child psychiatrists typically give parents a few treatment options: medication, behavior modification or both. Nearly 43% of children with ADHD in America are treated with medication alone. Some commonly prescribed medications are amphetamine/dextroamphetamine, known as Adderall; methylphenidate, known as Concerta or Ritalin; and lisdexamfetamine, known as Vyvanse.

Safety first

Dr. Angela Hutchins-Howard, a pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics fellow in Snellville, Georgia, recommends getting a doctor’s input before practicing self-regulation of medication.
“It’s safe, and I leave a lot of [the decision to self-regulate] up the parents,” Hutchins-Howard said.
Sometimes, people who take ADHD/ADD medication regularly will build a tolerance to the side effects. But if a person practices self-regulation, Hutchins-Howard says, it can be harder to build that tolerance. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young children are more prone to side effects than older kids.
Common side effects of ADHD/ADD medication include decreased appetite, nausea, trouble sleeping and moodiness.
Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, emphasized the possible problems with self-regulation of ADD/ADHD medication without the supervision of a doctor.
“There can be poor understanding of the side effects profile of the meds, poor dosing, failure to understand any contraindications and dependency from excess usage,” Barkley said.
Barkley recommends working with someone who has a thorough knowledge of the drug, its mechanisms of action and dosing before attempting to self-regulate alone.

Treatment for adults

Studies show that medication eases the symptoms of ADD and ADHD about 80% of the time. But despite its effectiveness, as children age, they tend to want to use the medication less and less and cope with their symptoms by other means.
Barkley has written more than 200 articles about ADHD research, assessment, treatment and development. After studying ADHD-diagnosed children into adulthood, he divides them into three groups based on self-regulation of medication and awareness of the disorder.
Group one, as he defines it, is children who became adults and were able to outgrow the disorder, which happens to 10% to 15%, according to one study Barkley cites in his book “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD.”
The second group is children who don’t outgrow the disorder and are still symptomatic but lose enough characteristics that they can’t be officially diagnosed. Typically, these children are still able to receive medication and make up about 25% of childhood ADHD/ADD diagnoses. They are also the population that is most likely to self-regulate medication.
The third group remains fully diagnosed and makes up about 65% of the population.
For those in the second group, “the majority of them coming off of meds are simply defiant,” Barkley said. “They’re not compliant. They didn’t ask for help. They don’t think they have a problem. But they were dragged into a clinic by Mom and Dad.”
According to the study, once children in the second group hit adulthood and move farther from home, they are less likely to continue taking medication.
“Of all the kids we follow with ADHD to age 21, by 21, only 5% acknowledge that they have a disorder. They don’t think they have it,” Barkley said. “So part of our job with young adults is getting them to buy into it. It may take 10 to 20 years before they hit rock bottom or something severe happens before they realize they have a problem. My brother was in his third marriage, kicked out of the house and was court ordered into treatment for abusing drugs before he realized.”
For some, acknowledging the disorder and taking medication have never been a problem. Edward Hallowell, a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane School of Medicine and a child and adult psychiatrist specializing in managing ADD and ADHD, has a daughter who’s been taking medication for ADHD every day for years.
“My daughter was diagnosed in the third grade. She’s now 28 and … takes it and loves it,” Hallowell said. “So, meds when they’re used properly, are a godsend.”
Barkley agrees that medication, used properly, is the best way to treat ADD/ADHD. “You’re not going to find anything as good as the medication. But there are supplements to your medication that help.”

Behavioral therapy and other options

Behavioral therapy is another option doctors and psychiatrists often recommend or children diagnosed with ADHD, though only about 10% of US children with the diagnosis use behavioral therapy alone. It can come in various forms but ultimately has one goal: implementing tools to change behavior.
March’s mother, Kathy, started using behavioral therapy with her after going to a doctor’s appointment and realizing how her daughter’s brain worked.
“We were at one of her psychiatrist appointments, and they gave her a three-step command,” Kathy said. “They’d tell her ‘Go get me that coloring book, then bring me a pencil, and go get a glass of water.’ [Erin] would only do one of those things.”
Kathy learned that it’s important for caregivers to understand how their child’s brain works in order to properly modify their behavior. She began to build Erin up with small commands and slowly progress to longer commands until she “blossomed beyond anything.”
Hutchins-Howard has worked with many ADD and ADHD patients and recommends a few options for parents before deciding to try medication.
“Parents can try making lists with children, establishing routines, talking with the teacher and changing seating arrangements in the classroom,” Hutchins-Howard said. “I tell people that medication helps, but therapy and making changes is important, too.”
Hutchins-Howard self-diagnosed herself with ADD/ADHD once she was in practice and realized the similarities between her patients and herself. However, she has never has taken medication for the condition. Instead, she practices routines and emphasizes the importance of learning organizational skills.
Hollis Cuffie was diagnosed when he was 19. After three years of trying medications to ease his symptoms, he now uses supplemental ways of managing his ADHD.
Hollis Cuffie spent three years trying different medications to ease his ADHD symptoms.

In addition to medication, he recommends getting enough sleep, eating lots of protein and doing physical exercise. “It’s so important for people with ADHD to be able to release some of the frantic, distracting energy going on upstairs into consistent forms of activity,” he said. “And although it’s not talked about enough, diet plays a huge role in deploying adequate resources for your cognitive function.”
Hiring a coach is another technique. They might help a person with ADD/ADHD manage time and money, keep track of goals and provide structure to their lives. A coach can also create accountability.
According to the book “Getting Ahead of Adult ADHD” by Joel T. Nigg, the commonly used behavioral modification techniques are:
  • Exercise, especially when children are young
  • Eating healthy, including getting enough water, cutting out sugary foods and piling up protein
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Using a planner for events
  • Establishing routines
  • Caffeine to help with focus
  • Meditation
  • Coaching
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
Although behavior modification is a popular treatment option for people with ADHD/ADD, a recent review of 50 studies conducted from 2009 to 2016 suggests that “there are significant gaps in knowledge regarding the effectiveness of ADHD non-pharmacologic treatments.” This includes behavioral therapy and complementary medicines as well as natural and herbal remedies such as omega fatty acid supplements.

How self-regulation works

As children go into adolescence and then adulthood, they might make ADD/ADHD work for them. For some, this means using the medication only when needed. Amber Timility, who was 8 when she was diagnosed, now self-regulates her medication just like March.
“I don’t take the medicine every day, because it makes me feel like a zombie,” said Timilty, 25. “But when I have to work or go to school, I take it. Or if there’s something that I need to get done.”
Shakiara Gilliam, 25, was in the second grade when she was diagnosed. She began self-regulating when she was in high school and college. Today, she doesn’t take the medication all.
“I will honestly say I hated the way I felt,” Gilliam said. “I would go into this robotic personality, and I only wanted to do work and had zero emotion. I felt like I couldn’t laugh or make jokes. I only wanted to focus.”
Khaliah Shaw doesn't let an ADHD diagnosis stop her from mission trips to help children in the Dominican Republic.

Khaliah Shaw takes her medication relatively regularly. She was diagnosed later in life, at 18. Now 27, she takes her medication during the week but not on the weekends. She also goes to cognitive behavioral therapy. “I knew it was a lifelong disorder that would need medication indefinitely,” Shaw said.
Most regulate their medication by what tasks need more concentration, such as school or work. But for more leisurely activities such as hanging with friends, people go without. Hallowell recommends whatever works for the specific individual and properly managing the diagnosis instead of stopping medication.
“The part that people don’t know is that [ADD/ADHD] is an asset if you manage it right,” Hallowell said. “If you don’t manage it, it’s horrible.” Picking a career path that utilizes ADD/ADHD as a benefit is one way of using it as an asset.

Adulthood

As children become adults, they find professions they like, and some are more conducive to those with ADD/ADHD.
“Medicine is great for people with ADD/ADHD. Sales is great. Trial lawyers. They’re all great,” Hutchins-Howard said. “I tell people all the time that I get paid to have ADD. I get paid to run from room to room and multitask. … Find what works for you, and don’t be discouraged.”
Barkley has seen ADD and ADHD patients do well in the military, performing arts, athletics, law enforcement and firefighting. When proper self-regulation of medication, practice of behavior modification and choosing a career that works with ADD/ADHD come together, he said, the outcomes are beneficial to the patient and everyone around them.
The benefits of ADD/ADHD don’t stop there: Hutchins-Howard sees positive outcomes in herself and her patients in various aspects of life.

See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m able to have multiple balls in the air at once. I’m much better at multitasking,” she said. “And with having a family, I can balance a lot more on my plate between being a parent, having a job and being married.”
For recent college grad March, ADHD allows her to be more social. “I am more comfortable speaking in crowds and just going up to people I don’t know,” she said.
“I’m more open than most, more willing to talk to anyone, and I can basically hold a conversation with a brick wall,” Hutchins-Howard said. “So, it’s not all bad. It really depends on how you look at it. God made me this way, and I use [ADHD] to my advantage.”

Calculus Is the Peak of High School Math. Maybe It’s Time to Change That

EdWeek

May 22, 2018
Article Tools
For more than 30 years, calculus has been seen as the pinnacle of high school math—essential for careers in the hard sciences, and an explicit or unspoken prerequisite for top-tier colleges.

But now, math and science professionals are beginning to question how helpful current high school calculus courses really are for advanced science fields. The ubiquitous use of data in everything from physics and finance to politics and education is helping to build momentum for a new path in high school math—one emphasizing statistics and data literacy over calculus.

“We increasingly understand the world around us through data: gene expression, identifying new planets in distant solar systems, and everything in between,” said Randy Kochevar, a senior research scientist at the Education Development Center, an international nonprofit that works with education officials. Statistics and data analysis, he said, “is fundamental to many of the things we do routinely, not just as scientists but as professionals.”

He and other experts are still debating the best way to integrate a new approach in an already crowded high school curriculum. One of the most difficult philosophical challenges: how to prevent a statistics path from replicating the severe tracking and equity problems that have long existed in classical mathematics.

“There’s a sense that calculus is up here and statistics is a step below,” said Dan Chase, a secondary mathematics teacher at Carolina Day School in North Carolina, adding that he often struggles to suggest to students that, “if you are interested in engineering, that might be a good reason to go to calculus, but if you are interested in business or the humanities or social sciences, there are different paths you might go, even if you are a top-achieving math student.”

On face value, new expectations for students already seem to be moving toward statistics. Both the Common Core State Standards, on which many states’ math requirements are based, and the Next Generation Science Standards call for teaching data analysis and statistics, both on their own and in the process of learning other concepts.

But Kochevar warned: “There’s a huge disconnect; if you look closely at the science standards, they are expecting students to have tremendous faculty with using data by middle school, but if you look at the courses, it’s really not clear where those skills are supposed to be filled.”

Both sets of standards need more integration of data and statistics, he and others argue, because they were developed in the early years of the big data boom. Studies tracking data worldwide through the years have found people produced 1.5 exabytes of new data in 1999—or roughly 250 megabytes of data for every person alive—but by 2011, when states were adopting and implementing the math standards, people produced more than 14 exabytes a year. Today, people worldwide produce 2.5 exabytes of data every day, and the total data have doubled every two years.

Ironically, the rapid expansion of big data and statistics use in the broader society and economy comes at the same time American students seem to be struggling with those concepts. From 2007 to 2017, 4th and 8th students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics fell significantly on problems related to data analysis, statistics, and probability—a decline that helped drive overall dips on the math test in 2017.

In part, experts say, that’s because statistics and data analysis have traditionally taken a back seat to calculus in high school math, and most students already have difficulty completing the classical path.

“The idea that statistics is hard is grounded in that fact that if you took statistics 10 years ago, you had to take calculus first, and the statistics used formal probability … with theorems that built on calculus,” said Uri Treisman, a mathematics professor and the executive director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He’s been working with K-12 and university systems to develop a statistics pathway as an alternative to classical calculus.

It’s an idea that others have pushed back on, by situating a high school statistics pathway as either advanced material only suitable for students who have already passed calculus—or a less-rigorous path for students who can’t hack it in classical math.

“Any time you have multiple pathways, the advantaged will capitalize on one and that will become the ‘real’ one,” Treisman said. “If we are going to create data science pathways, they had better be anchored in things that lead to upward social mobility and have a rigor to them. We have to make sure new pathways have at least equal status as the traditional one—and ensure everyone has access to them. If we allow [statistics and data] to be the easy or weaker path, we relinquish the commitment to equity we started with.”

Mixed Signals in Calculus

For a picture of how severe that inequity can get, one only has to look at calculus.

Until about 1980, calculus was seen as a higher education course, primarily for those interested in mathematics, physics, or other hard sciences, and only about 30,000 high school students took the course. That began to change when school reformers glommed onto calculus as an early example of a rigorous, college-preparatory course, said David Bressoud, a mathematics professor at Macalester College and a former president of the Mathematical Association of America, who has examined the evolution of calculus studies.

“The more schools did this, the greater the expectation that they would do it” from parents, and district leaders—and in particular from colleges and universities, Bressoud said. “It’s not just math majors or engineering majors; this has become an accepted requirement for admission to top universities. You are not going to get into Duke if you haven’t taken calculus, even if you plan to major in French literature.”

Today, some 800,000 students nationwide take calculus in high school, about 15 percent of all high schoolers, and nearly 150,000 take the course before 11th grade. Calculus classes have been and remain disproportionately white and Asian, with other student groups less likely to attend schools that offer calculus or the early prerequisites (like middle school algebra) needed to gain access to the course.

For example, in 2015-16, black students were 9 percentage points less likely than their white peers to attend a high school that offered calculus and half as likely to take the class if they attended a school that offered it. And if black students did get into a class, their teachers were also less likely to be certified to teach calculus than those of white students, according to an Education Week Research Center analysis of federal civil rights data.

And despite the rapid growth of calculus as a gold standard, university calculus experts argue it is a much weaker sign that a student is actually prepared for postsecondary math in the science fields than it appears.

In fact, a new report by the Mathematics Association of America and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics found many students who took Advanced Placement Calculus AB still ended up retaking calculus in college—and 250,000 students end up needing to take even lower-level courses, like precalculus or algebra.

In the end, the report found taking calculus in high school was associated with only a 5 percentage point increase on average in calculus scores in college—from 75 percent to 80 percent. Rather, the best predictor of earning a B or better in college calculus was a student earning no less than As in high school Algebra 1 and 2 and geometry.

So if high school calculus isn’t the best indicator of a student prepared for college-level math, what does it signify in college admissions? In a word: Money.

More than half of students who take calculus in high school come from families with a household income above $100,000 a year, according to a study this month in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. By contrast, only 15 percent of middle-income students and 7 percent of those in the poorest 25 percent of families take the course.

“Math is even more important to upward mobility now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, because … it’s seen as related to your general ability to solve problems quickly,” Treisman said, adding that as a result, “there’s general anxiety and panic about equity issues for anything new, even though the current [calculus] pathway is a burial ground for students of color.”

Forging a New Path

Statistics and data literacy advocates hope diversifying the field of interesting and rigorous math courses could broaden students’ path to STEM and other careers. As of 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimations showed that jobs that require data literacy and statistics are among the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the country.

“We have two paths forward,” said William Finzer, a senior scientist at the Concord Consortium, which works with school districts to improve their math curricula. “The easier one—like the path computer science took—is to develop a course or a subject area and get schools to give it time. … The problem of that is, it doesn’t spread the opportunity very widely. It becomes concentrated in the small group of kids who elect to take the course—and it’s just one more subject to take.”

Progression for Statistics and Data

EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute is building learning progressions for statistics and data literacy at different grades. Randy Kochevar, who directs the institute, said they are based on the acronym CLIP, meaning students learn how to use:

Complex, multi-variable data (“We’re not just looking at hours of sunlight and heights of bean plants,” he said);

Larger data sets than students need to answer any one question, so they are forced to sort and understand relevance;

Interactively accessed data, rather than sample graphs just written out on paper; and

Professionally collected data that forces students to think about how and why it was collected—and what biases may exist in the samples.

Finzer instead envisions a more holistic approach in which at least one class a year—be it math, biology, or even civics or history—asks students to grapple with making sense of large data sets. Such an approach, he said, “would make a huge difference, because it would mean when you came out of high school, data would not be foreign to you.”

EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute is building learning progressions for statistics and data literacy at different grades. The progression would include concepts in statistics and data literacy, but also computer science—to be able to use common programming and tools used by data professionals—and more philosophical concepts, such as the ethical use of statistics and privacy protections.

The Impact of Smartphones on Concentration and Cognitive Abilities

ISM

Vol. 17 No. 9 5/31/18

PSN eletter vol15 no12 smartphone

Smartphones have become an integral part of most people’s everyday routines. Researchers say that Americans check their phones every 12 minutes on average, totaling 80 times each day.

With smartphones infiltrating every aspect of our lives—how does even the presence of a smartphone impact one’s ability to concentrate and use cognitive abilities?

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at San Diego, and Carnegie Mellon joined forces to find out. They conducted a study with 548 participants, split into three groups. All were asked to complete computerized tests.

The first group was asked to leave their belongings outside the testing room. The second group left most of their belongings outside the room, but were asked to bring their phones in and place them face down on their desks. The third group brought all of their belongings into the room and were told to keep their phones “wherever they ‘naturally’ would.” Most either kept their phones in their pockets or in their bags.

Once the tests were complete, participants were asked if they believed their phones impacted their performance. The majority, 80%, said they did not think their phones impacted them at all.

However, the results showed something different. Participants who left their phones outside the room drastically outperformed those with their phones on their desks, and slightly outperformed those who had their phones in their pockets or bags. The results suggest that “the mere presence of one’s smartphone may reduce available cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning, even when consumers are successful at remaining focused on the task at hand.”

As more students own and use smartphones at younger ages, school leaders wonder what policies they should implement regarding use during the school day. The findings from this research present an extremely interesting viewpoint.

Phones appear to have a significant impact on one’s ability to concentrate and use cognitive abilities—even when they aren’t in use. Review your school’s policies for student smartphone usage. Consider whether you’re doing everything you can to promote learning—and remove distractions—during this vital time in your students’ lives.

A History in Which We Can All See Ourselves

Edutopia

Educators are finding ways to tell a richer history of America—responding to the demands of an increasingly diverse student body.

After a recent assignment on Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World, a student approached eighth-grade teacher Vanee Matsalia after class. The girl, whose family is from the Caribbean, told Matsalia that the lesson was the first time she had heard her people mentioned in school.

“‘I can’t wait to go home and tell my dad—he’s going to be so excited, but so angry when he finds out what happened,’” Matsalia remembers her saying, referring to Columbus and his fellow colonizers enslaving and killing many of the indigenous people they encountered when they landed.

Neta Snook adjusts the propellers of a plane.

©The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

An archival image of Neta Snook, Amelia Earhart’s flight instructor, adjusting a plane’s propeller in 1920.

Matsalia teaches English language arts (ELA)—not history—but for the past seven years, she has been working hand-in-hand with a history teacher at her largely black and Latino Title I middle school in San Bernardino, California. Together, they co-teach units in which students probe into a complicated U.S. historical narrative, one that highlights stories of populations and events often left out of history books. Students then research, write, and build projects about these “other” perspectives in ELA.

“I hear from students all the time, ‘Why have I never seen this before?’ They are often in shock,” said Matsalia of the course. “The lessons resonate when connected to something students can belong and respond to.”

Matsalia is part of a growing group of educators working to expand K–12 history curricula to include the narratives of people from a wider range of racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds at a time when schools, and the country, are becoming rapidly more diverse. These changes in coursework are happening in synchrony with others—like a shift away from punitive discipline and a focus on social and emotional learning—aimed at making schools more culturally responsive and attuned to the whole child.

FOCUSING ON RESEARCH

Proponents of greater inclusivity in history say that when young people see themselves in the story of our shared past, they not only develop a deeper appreciation of the subject but become more civically active, citing research indicating that students who feel a sense of belonging and identity in school are more likely to be engaged in society more broadly.

Research also shows that the self-image of students can suffer when they regularly encounter negative depictions of people who look like them. And a 2010 study of ninth- and 10th-grade students extends that insight to omissions, finding that girls performed significantly better on a chemistry quiz when the textbook lessons featured images of only female scientists, while the performance of boys declined under the same conditions—leading the researchers to conclude that the simple act of representation can level the playing field.

Unfortunately, progress in social studies curricula has been slow moving. A Rutgers University study found that while social studies courses are “pivotal sites” for promoting civic engagement in young people, schools with high percentages of students of color and low-income students tend to have “the least innovative and most ineffective” social studies courses. As a result, students frequently find the study of history and government “alienating and irrelevant,” or they see a disconnect between “civic ideals and the reality of their lives.”

CHANGING REQUIREMENTS

There may be changes ahead. The Philadelphia district made it a requirement for students to take at least one African American history class to graduate. Montana, Washington, and Wisconsin now mandate that Native American history be taught to students, while New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois have put laws on the books requiring all students to study the Holocaust and other genocides. And in 2011, California passed legislation requiring districts to include the roles and contributions of people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in state social studies curricula.

Photograph of Pilot LeRoi S. Williams in Tuskegee, Alabama, during WWII.

©The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

An archival image of LeRoi S. Williams, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II who was killed in the line of duty.

These requirements have not involved the removal of key historical figures like Thomas Jefferson, as skeptics have warned or fretted.

In California, the history curriculum guidelines and materials weave in the contributions and sexual orientation of LGBTQ historical figures like Walt Whitman, and significant events in LGBTQ history like the Stonewall Riots, which have often been missing from schools’ history curricula. And the 11th-grade standards, for example, address familiar themes like the rise of America as a superpower and the contributions of key leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, but also discuss the roles of African American soldiers during World War II and the Lavender Scare that targeted LGBTQ government officials during the 1950s.

“The more people understand other perspectives and the more we include underrepresented people in history, the more they are legitimized as American history,” says Shana Brown, a middle school teacher in Seattle Public Schools who helped write the Native American history curriculum for Washington state.

A telegram from Boyd Coab to Cordelia Williams notifies her of the death her son Leroi S. Willliams, killed in duty.

©The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

A telegram informs LeRoi S. Williams’s mother of his passing in 1943.

As a teacher in the 1990s, Brown, who grew up on the Yakama Indian Reservation, began weaving Native American history into her coursework because it was absent from textbooks. Hoping to take this work one step further, Brown traveled to the capital and got involved in efforts to change Washington’s history curriculum. In 2005, legislation passed recommending that schools include tribal history; by 2015, it had become a requirement.

“I went through all of school and college thinking my history wasn’t relevant or I didn’t have one. When I became a teacher, I realized that our history does matter and my history is American history,” said Brown, who still teaches and was recently recognized as a Great Educator by the U.S. Department of Education.

UPSTANDERS

But for teachers and districts that want to refresh their history materials, there can be a difficult trade-off, according to Tim Bailey, education director at The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a nearly 25-year-old nonprofit dedicated to K–12 American history education.

Bailey said teachers often have to perform a balancing act between meeting state history standards that are politicized and slow to change, and trying to teach history lessons that a diverse range of students will find meaningful—placing the onus on the teacher to seek out additional teaching materials. “Do you teach a mile wide and an inch deep? Or do you go for depth and understanding?” Bailey said. “Those are hard decisions for teachers to grapple with.”

Due to states’ evolving requirements and interest from teachers, schools and communities are thinking creatively about how to work together.

A session at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois.

©Illinois Holocaust Museum

Two high school students at Overton High School work with Dr. Marilyn Taylor to discover the story of lynching in local Shelby County.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie now collaborates with schools, for example, welcoming 62,000 schoolchildren and educators annually to learn about the history of genocides around the world. A recent study found that 66 percent of millennials did not know what Auschwitz was. The museum has also hosted sold-out professional development sessions on topics like “Difficult Conversations,” which helps teachers discuss events that may make both students and educators uncomfortable.

“The purpose of learning about what led up to the Holocaust is not just to remember the past, but to transform the future,” said Shoshana Buchholz-Miller, vice president of education and exhibitions at the museum. “Students can then look at what’s happening in their society, or even on their playground, and they are equipped and empowered to be what we call an upstander, not a bystander.”

HITTING REFRESH

But according to experts, teachers should also look around them for easily accessible resources and materials to make history more inclusive—and sometimes, those are found in their own communities or classrooms.

A reward poster from 1852 offers a $2500 reward for runaway slaves in Missouri.

©The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

An image from Gilder Lehrman’s digital archives shows an 1852 poster offering $2,500 for runaway slaves in Missouri.

Using Gilder Lehrman’s massive, free online collection of primary source materials, teachers can help students connect to the experiences and emotions of the people in the stories—especially ones who look like them. This may mean reading a poster written by women in the early 20th century discussing the importance of having the right to vote, a flyer for a slave auction, or a letter urging people to vote for an African American vice presidential candidate in the late 1800s.

It can also mean hitting refresh on old materials. In her winter unit on the book A Wrinkle in Time, Matsalia used the main character, Meg, to walk her students in San Bernardino through issues of gender representation and traditional gender roles at the time the book was published in 1962. She asked students to consider whether one character referred to is a trans person—and then they discussed how history has viewed trans people and how society views them today.

Finding new course materials may also involve looking around locally. With support from the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, Dr. Marilyn Taylor taught her students at Overton High School a lesson on how Reconstruction led to racial violence like lynchings, which motivated students to see if any lynchings had occurred in Shelby County, Tennessee, where their school is located. After finding that one had happened less than 20 minutes from their school, students banded together to mark all the local lynchings and held memorials at each site for the victims.

Dr. Taylor teaches a Facing History lesson to students.

©Memphis Flyer

Two high school students at Overton High School work with Dr. Marilyn Taylor to discover the story of lynching in local Shelby County.

Now a freshman at the University of Memphis majoring in psychology and criminal justice, Overton alum Khamilla Johnson said that she often reflects on lessons learned during the memorial project, which helped influence her future choices.

“I think about [Dr. Taylor’s class] all the time, because it really helped to shape my character and gave me a position to use my voice,” said Johnson, who hopes to one day join the FBI. “Dr. Taylor reminded me that I do have a voice, that I can speak out about things that matter and make a difference.”

How to Fix the Most Soul-Crushing Meetings

Meetings are notoriously one of organizational life’s most insufferable realities. U.S. companies spend more than $37 billion dollars a year on them. Employees in American companies spend more than one-third of their time in them. And 71% of senior managers view them as unproductive. In one global consumer products company that I work with, my firm’s organizational assessment revealed an unusually intense degree of frustration over how much time was consumed by meetings, leaving “only evenings to do our day jobs,” according to one interviewee. In a meticulous inventory, we calculated the hours spent in meetings by directors and above across the enterprise (a population of about 500). They collectively spent more than 57,000 hours per year in recurring meetings. That’s the equivalent of six and a half years!

Better meeting techniques, like distributing agendas, holding stand-up meetings, or enforcing a no-device policy, are all well-intentioned practices. But none of them will salvage a meeting that shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

Meetings are productive and meaningful when the people in them have a clear reason to be there, have a definitive contribution to make, and advance strategic priorities together. Any standing meeting, whether it’s of a departmental leadership team, a cross-functional group owning a process like innovation or talent management, or a task force managing a six-month transition to a new technology, should be designed and linked to a broader governance plan. Together, standing meetings should synchronize the entire organization in a meeting cadence that executes strategy and delivers results. But too often, meetings are disconnected from the intentional distribution of decision rights, resources, and priorities across the organization, making them unnecessary.

Meetings that aren’t part of effective governance design take on two destructive pathologies: they become meetings as source of power or meetings as bottleneck.

When meetings become a source of power, being in charge or included affords you disproportionate degrees of influence and status. They justify their existence with lengthy presentations that most attendees find boring and irrelevant while nodding eagerly in a feigned sense of importance. In the consumer products company I mentioned above, one interviewee told us, “People would get to meetings 30 minutes early to make sure they sat near the executive they wanted to be seen with.” This kind of politicization leaves most leaders in meetings disempowered, employees disengaged, and meetings dysfunctional. Meetings should serve to distribute power, not concentrate it at the top. When they do, leaders are more inclined to use power responsibly.

YOU AND YOUR TEAM SERIES

Meetings

When a meeting becomes a bottleneck, decisions or resources are passing through people who likely have little or nothing to contribute, usually because “they’ve always been involved.” Standing meetings like these are often like layers of old wallpaper pasted over one another; they’ve far outlived their usefulness. At the consumer products company, many of the standing meetings were of groups that had been formed years prior and had never been dissolved as the organization evolved and shifted strategies. In fact, there were six different groups managing two different processes governing product development. Many of those groups had been formed decades earlier, each one gripping tightly to their claim over determining which projects in the pipeline moved forward with what investments. The wars between departments doubled the time required to bring a new product to market because teams were often given conflicting directions.

These are just symptoms, however. The underlying problem is bad governance. To fix these issues in your organization, establish the following three elements.

1. A clearly articulated mandate with defined decision rights. Regardless of the type of meeting, the scope must be clearly defined, and narrowed to a few key areas. In another multinational company I work with, the executive team, the business unit teams, the regional teams, and the country teams were painfully duplicating work — everything from P&L management to key hiring decisions to customer relationship management. Meetings became war zones, as each group complained about how one of the other groups was undermining what they believed was theirs to do. In a holistic redesign, we created charters for each level so that they were focused on the work they could uniquely execute. Strategy and priorities were set at the executive team level. The business unit teams focused on talent, customer segmentation, and marketing. The regional and country level teams were responsible for P&Ls, customer relationship management, and geography-specific priorities. With these responsibilities set, they could create meeting agendas focused on what they needed to be doing (and publish them weeks in advance), and all of the requisite decision rights and resources were allocated accordingly.

2. A synchronized cadence. It may seem obvious, but a meeting’s frequency and allotted time must be commensurate with its charter and decision rights. Teams and task forces governing near-term priorities will need to meet more frequently for shorter durations of time, while those focused on longer-term priorities should meet less often for longer durations of time. In the multinational example above, the cadence of meetings was choreographed to keep each level appropriately linked and informed. Each group met monthly for two hours: the executive team on the first Monday of the month, the business units on the second Monday, the regions on the third Monday, and the countries on the fourth. Any inputs or outputs from one to the other were immediately sent on to the next group. This also allowed each team to keep their respective organizations up to speed on progress, shifts in priorities, and their counterparts’ work.

3. The right composition and metrics. Too often leaders let hierarchy define who comes to a meeting; if you are a direct report to the leader calling the meeting, you attend. Which makes everyone feel compelled to bring something to say. This is how meetings devolve into useless status updates. Worse, under the guise of making people feel “included,” meetings balloon into U.N.-like summits with dozens sitting in a room wondering why they are there. The composition of a meeting should be defined by its charter, and only those who have something specific to contribute — expertise, authority over resources, responsibility to execute — should be included. Anyone else who has a stake in the meeting outcome should be informed. For example, if a meeting charter has significant implications for finance, one person from finance can attend and keep their colleagues informed.

There should also be metrics assessing how well a meeting is executing its charter. For example, if a customer success team composed of sales, customer support, on-site technical assistance, and engineering is tasked with effectively implementing new technology for customers, then customer complaints, speed of adoption, open ticket time, and overall product satisfaction should be tracked so that the team — and its stakeholders — know if it’s contributing as intended.

In my experience, meetings being ineffective is often an indicator that they shouldn’t be occurring. To test this, I ask groups, “If you stopped meeting, who besides you would care?” If they struggle to respond, I have my answer. If you want to give your organization a great gift, immediately shut down recurring meetings that don’t meet these criteria. The cheers will be deafening.


Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.


Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.