Education studies offer a wealth of information

The Education Beat

Research: All manner of data on learning is out there for the finding.

January 02, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

SLIDING INTO 2002, the century's only palindromic year, I searched my files for bits and pieces that I had accumulated in 2001, hoping they would form the basis of a column or news story.

Perhaps no enterprise produces more information than education. Thousands of researchers, many supported by the federal government, have nothing to do but gather and manipulate data.

The U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics becomes ever more sophisticated and prolific. State education departments gather and release reliable information about testing and student demographics. Computers and the Internet make such information as available as sunshine. And hundreds more organizations and interest groups gather and spin their own data as they try to influence policy-makers and opinion-makers, or simply try to inform.

Here are some findings that never made Education Beat in 2001:

The Education Trust, a trustworthy Washington-based group, issued a report titled Dispelling the Myth. It identified 4,500 high-poverty and high-minority schools in the United States that in 2000 scored in the top third in their states' testing programs, in some cases outperforming schools in wealthy communities.

Using computer analysis similar to that used by Sun reporter Howard Libit in his spring 2000 series "Schools That Work," the Education Trust found 10 high-poverty schools in Maryland with stellar test scores in 2000, the most recent year for which data were available from every state.

Two of them, Thomas S. Stone Elementary and Parkway Elementary, are in Prince George's County. A third, East Salisbury Elementary, is in Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore. The other seven are in Baltimore: Pimlico Elementary, Franklin Square Elementary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Rognel Heights Elementary/Middle, Arlington Elementary, Moravia Park Primary and Alexander Hamilton Elementary.

Pimlico, perhaps Baltimore's shiniest example that a high-poverty-area public school can succeed, was featured in Libit's series. The report is available online at www.edtrust.org

A report from the American Educational Research Association, which represents more than 23,000 researchers, shot down the popular belief (repeated by me numerous times) that schools' summer vacation stems from the labor practices of 19th-century agrarian America. The theory is that children had to be out of school to do work on the farm.

Wrong, according to Kenneth M. Gold, an education historian at City University of New York. "Rural areas held very tentative winter and summer sessions throughout most of the 19th century," said Gold. "Cities opened schools nearly year-round in the antebellum era, and neither setting had a well-established summer vacation until after the Civil War.

"If parents, educators and policymakers know that summer vacations were conscious creations, not natural byproducts of an agrarian economy, then they can reconstruct summers that balance academic goals with other activities that may have more lasting importance."

Amen. One of the reasons American students stack up so poorly against their peers in other industrialized nations is that they don't spend enough time in school.

According to the Web site gauche! (www.indiana.edu/~primate/lspeak.html) most experts say teachers no longer try to force left-handed children to switch to right-handedness. But research shows that many schools lack desks with the writing table attached to the left side, which can lead to a variety of problems that can impede learning.

About 15 percent of U.S. children are left-handed. There's a higher incidence of left-handedness among children with learning disorders and among those gifted in math and science.

St. John's College in Annapolis, the "Great Books" school, polled alumni on which books and authors in the curriculum (which changes hardly at all) had "permeated their consciousness."

The top five responses were Plato (The Republic was mentioned most often), Homer (equal numbers named The Iliad and The Odyssey), Euclid, the Bible and, in a tie, Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Aristotle. Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who missed permeating my consciousness by a country mile, was tied for eighth with Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

The National Coalition of Girls' Schools held focus groups last year examining parental attitudes toward their daughters' education. Worries about sex and drugs took a back seat to parents' concern that their daughters be economically self-sufficient. Women earn 75 cents for every dollar made by men, and one in three women earns less than $20,000 a year, according to the coalition.

Half of the Maryland companies participating in a survey of work force needs last year said a lack of qualified workers was affecting their ability to do business. The Maryland Business Round- table for Education conducted the survey.

Morehouse College in Atlanta was named the 2001 college with the best social and educational environment for African-Americans by Black Enterprise magazine and DayStar, a college guide for black students. Morgan State University was ranked 26th. The Johns Hopkins University was 29th. No other Maryland school made the top 50.

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