A recent front page New York Times story highlighted President Elect Obama’s campaign commitment to early childhood education and his pledge of $10 billion to this important cause. As the article correctly notes, the push for comprehensive early childhood education has had a tremendous boost from the research of Nobel-Prize winning economist, James J. Heckman, who showed in dollars what educators, psychologists and child advocates have been saying for years — that each dollar spent on quality early education can reduce and even eliminate the need for much higher government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy, and prisons. “Obama Pledge Stirs Hope in Early Education.”
The Boston Globe reported on Friday, December 5, 2008 that men are being hit by the current recession in much larger numbers than women. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the industries where men dominate – manufacturing, construction, and investment services – are the ones losing jobs the fastest. According to the Globe, there are 1.1 million fewer men working in the U.S. than a year ago at this time, but there are 12,000 more women working. “Losing Jobs in Unequal Numbers,” page A1.
The cover story of this week’s Time Magazine “How to Fix America’s Schools,” features Michelle Rhee, the relatively new and sometimes polarizing chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district. Rhee has declared that the key to reform is good teachers, and her methods for stacking the school system with good teachers are controversial: shutting schools, firing principals, trimming school administration bureaucracy, and, most significantly, dismissing teachers she deems unacceptable and replacing them with new and improved models. One of her most contentious proposals is to pay teachers who elect to give up tenure higher pay – salaries could reach $130,000 – based on effectiveness as measured by test scores and class room evaluation.
While this proposal has divided teachers and raised the ire of the union (which rejected Rhee’s proposal), research does support Rhee’s basic contention that good teachers equal good schools. According to a recent Future of Children volume, Excellence in the Classroom, that addresses improving teacher quality, what happens inside the classroom may be the most important factor in closing racial and social class gaps in learning. “Indeed, teachers are so important, that, according to one estimate, a child in poverty who has a good teacher for five years in a row would have learning gains large enough, on average, to close completely the achievement gap with higher-income students.”
- Rethink entry requirements for teaching. Teachers should meet initial certification but then required to follow rigorous procedures and requirements for tenure or promotion.
- Implement a strategy to identify effective teachers. Use test scores as one, but not the only measure of efficacy. In addition to student gains on tests, principal and parent evaluations and possibly other tools developed by all stakeholders should be used.
- Promote only effective teachers. Target professional development to nurture skills and make up for deficiencies, particularly in the early stages of a teacher’s career. If the extra help doesn’t help a deficient teacher improve, dismiss the teacher.
- Give bonuses to teachers who teach disadvantaged students or in fields that are difficult to staff.
- Promote professional development linked directly to teachers’ work. Not the current model of professional development, but a new and improved model that is several days long; subject specific; and aligned with school goals and curriculum.
— Based on “A Plan to Improve the Quality of Teaching in American Schools,” by Ron Haskins and Susanna Loeb. For more information, go to Excellence in the Classroom, eds. Cecilia Rouse and Susanna Loeb, Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2007.
A recent incident involving an eight year old murder suspect has reignited the debate over the age at which children should be charged as adults. “Experts Doubt That 8-Year-Old’s Taped Confession in Double Killing Is Admissible,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 2008 True, this was a highly unusual case (As Dr. Tom Grisso, one of the authors who contributed to The Future of Children volume on Juvenile Justice, noted to the New York Times, trying an eight year old as an adult would be “more than extraordinary. It would be totally unique.” And predictably, the jurisdiction issue has since been resolved (it is now in juvenile court with a plea agreement being offered). But the case did raise the more common issue of when it is appropriate to treat juveniles as adults and move them from the juvenile justice system to the criminal justice system.
According to a recent Future of Children policy brief both widely accepted legal principles and research on adolescent immaturity argue that juveniles are less responsible for their criminal behavior than adults and should therefore receive less severe punishment. Research shows that harsh punishment in adult facilities increases the probability of future violent crimes and that most youngsters who commit criminal offenses will abandon illegal behavior as they enter adulthood. Scientific evaluations of prevention and treatment programs for youth that provide systematic treatment in community and family settings show that these programs significantly reduce future criminal behavior without the need for harsh sanctions. States should adapt their laws on juvenile crime to emphasize evidence-based treatment and to avoid harsh punishment for all but repeat violent offenders. (From “Keeping Adolescents out of Prison,” by Laurence Steinberg and Ron Haskins). This issue was discussed in depth at recent Future of Children conference on this topic.
Welcome to The Future of Children blog. In these blog posts, we highlight findings from our various volumes – making an effort to tie the research and policy recommendations to current affairs.
Please contribute your thoughts. We look forward to an interesting dialogue about the future of children and the various ways we can make that future promising and worthwhile.
Jonathan Wallace, Managing Editor