Monthly Archives: April 2017

Raising Kind Children

Families foster kindness and respect at home by setting expectations for manners, sharing, and helping with chores. And families hope, often with a tinge of worry, that children will continue those behaviors when parents and caregivers aren’t nearby: in the school cafeteria, at a friend’s house, or on Instagram and Snapchat.

But guiding children to be empathetic and ethical in their independent lives — even when no one is looking — can be more intentional than that. Here, a set of parenting strategies for teaching children to think ethically, care about the people around them, and create positive change in the world. These resources were developed by Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

To guide ethical thinking:

  • Discuss ethical dilemmas you have encountered at work, with friends, or running errands. Ask your children what they would have done in that situation.
  • Talk about ethical dilemmas your children might face in the classroom, at lunch, or during recess. Brainstorm (and role-play) possible solutions.
  • Encourage your children to see conflicts from another person’s perspective. Discuss ways they can compromise between their needs and those of others.

To foster concern for others:

  • Encourage your children to really listen to siblings or peers when they are upset, especially if they don’t initially understand that person’s views.
  • Ask children to consider the perspectives of people they don’t usually talk to: a new student at school, a student who is often teased, a student experiencing family trouble, or a student of a different race or religion.
  • Discuss hardships you see on the news, and talk about the experiences, challenges, and feelings of people who live in different places around the world.
  • Complete this circle of concern activity.

To teach children to be change-makers:

  • Inspire children to take action around issues that affect them and their peers, such as school uniform policies, transgender students’ rights, or the healthfulness of school lunches.
  • Distinguish the importance of “doing with” others from “doing for” others. Encourage children to respond to community problems by working with and listening to a diverse group, rather than spearheading new initiatives without any guidance. This is particularly relevant for high school students seeking “community service” opportunities as part of their college-application process; parents can guide children to take a richer, more meaningful approach to volunteer work.
  • Model that communal approach — and the importance of service. Volunteer together at a food drive, or set aside a day as a family to donate unwanted clothes and toys.

Bullying Prevention as a Citywide Goal

Following the 2012 enactment of a landmark bullying prevention law, Washington, D.C., has taken a more comprehensive approach to youth bullying than many other cities — an approach that sees prevention as not solely the responsibility of teachers or parents, but as a citywide mandate with shared responsibilities. In fact, every city agency in D.C. that provides services to children is required to implement a bullying prevention policy. We spoke to Suzanne Greenfield, the director of the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program, about what’s made D.C.’s program effective.

  • The city has a single, shared definition of bullying. One impediment to addressing bullying is that teachers, parents, and students often have different perceptions of what it means. “What we hear from kids all the time is that adults don’t believe them, or ignore them, because everybody’s talking about bullying in a different way,” says Greenfield, “and that can make the problem worse.” Her team created a singular definition of bullying for every city school and program to use, which has helped everyone approach prevention and response in the same way.
  • At the same time, each school has the autonomy to implement a custom anti-bullying strategy. There’s no “one size fits all” answer to bullying, Greenfield notes, because it looks different in every school, based on its students’ ages, home neighborhoods, and racial and religious makeups. While Greenfield’s team created a model bullying prevention policy, which exemplifies what each school’s policy should include, she encourages schools to use those guidelines to design policies based on individual needs. “We don’t proscribe,” she says. “We just say, ‘You need to be doing this work, and you need to be doing it in a comprehensive way, and we will help you think about what makes sense for your school.’”
  • Anti-bullying policies focus on prevention. The model policy uses a public health framework to focus on three levels of prevention strategies: primary prevention, which addresses all youth and staff in all settings; secondary prevention, which targets youth who are at risk of bullying or being bullied and places in which bullying is more likely to occur; and tertiary intervention, which responds to bullying incidents after they happen. Each D.C. school’s policy is expected to similarly explain how it creates an inclusive community and how it plans on supporting its most vulnerable students. As the model policy explains, “While sanctions are an important part of a bullying prevention plan, certainty of detection has been shown to be a much more important component of a successful prevention policy than severity of response.”
  • Anti-bullying efforts reach kids throughout the day. While initiatives in schools are vital, bullying also happens before and after the school day ends. With a citywide approach to prevention, consistent messaging can reach students everywhere that they interact with city agencies — at afterschool programs, on buses, at the library, and at recreation centers. When kids hear the same ideas throughout the day about why bullying is wrong, they are more likely to understand that this behavior is never acceptable and that all adults are noticing and caring about how they act.
  • Anti-bullying efforts involve parents. The consistent messaging from D.C. agencies about prevention and the importance of inclusivity extends into children’s homes, too. Greenfield says her team has tried to clearly communicate with families about why the city has taken this approach to handling bullying. Without an explanation from schools and educators, families may mistakenly believe that a focus on prevention, rather than punishment, isn’t an effective way to stop bullying. Their children may grow confused if they receive conflicting forms of discipline and social-emotional learning at school and at home.

Learning Summer Happens at Home

As the achievement gap has widened over the past quarter century, educators have increasingly focused on summer pastimes as both a key factor and a solution. Higher-income children are more likely to fill their days with outdoorsy camps, music and coding classes, and travel. Making those experiences more accessible to and commonplace for all children, the theory goes, can help ensure that low-income kids keep learning at the same rate.

But time spent at home, reading independently or talking about books and stories with parents, seems to have a greater influence on children’s academic growth than summer camps or vacations, new research suggests. It’s a reminder that despite the social-emotional benefits (and the fun) of camp, quiet days with family can offer valuable learning moments too.

THE RESEARCH

The study, conducted by education policy researcher Kathleen Lynch, parses out how various summer activities, such as attending camp, reading and talking about math at home, vacations and daytrips, and summer school, have distinct academic effects. It suggests that families of all socioeconomic backgrounds have made strides in creating an enriching summer for their children.

Lynch looked at two cohorts of kindergarten-age children, one from 1999 and the other from 2011. Both cohorts were nationally representative and included more than 4,000 students. The study examined the relationship between summer activities and socioeconomic status (SES); the relationship between summer activities and literacy and math scores; and whether SES-related gaps in summer activities changed between 1999 and 2011.

It found that the gap between the number of high- and low-income children who attend camp (here, defined as non-school-based summer programs) and visit new places has increased over time:

  • The proportion of high-SES children attending camp increased from about 40 to 53 percent, whereas the proportion of low-SES children decreased from about 9 to 6 percent.
  • High-SES children were increasingly more likely to visit to museums, zoos and aquariums, new cities, amusements parks, and beaches and lakes. Low-SES children were increasingly more likely to spend more time at home watching television or playing computer games.

But across the board, the amount of time parents spent reading, writing, and doing math-related activities with their kids also increased over time. While the SES-related gaps remained roughly the same, all parents were found to be more likely to use free time with their children in enriching ways.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Home-based activities were found to be more indicative of academic learning than any other activity.

  • In both cohorts, reading independently, as well as reading and writing with parents, were stronger predictors of summer reading learning than attending summer camp or visiting novel places.
  • While attending camp had a small impact on math learning in 1999, it had no significant effect on math learning in 2011.
  • Tutoring and attending summer school was associated with lower scores in the fall.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FAMILIES AND EDUCATORS

We know from prior studies that all children tend to learn at the same rate over the school year, but that over the summer, lower-income children learn far less than higher-income children — and that loss accumulates over time.

But increasing the number of academic learning opportunities available to lower-income students won’t necessarily bridge the achievement gap. At the very least, for academically focused opportunities to be effective, they need to be voluntary, rather than compulsory activities such as summer school or tutoring.

And while it’s no surprise that high-income kids tend to spend their summers in costlier ways — attending camp, traveling, and visiting attractions — less-expensive endeavors may have a stronger academic impact. Parents can make the most of summer simply by visiting a library on the weekend, talking about baseball statistics or gas mileage in the car, and reading together for half an hour before bed. Policymakers and schools can promote these activities in relatively inexpensive ways, too, by sending mailings, posting fliers throughout the community, or talking with parents at conferences and end-of-year celebrations.

But this isn’t a call to withdraw from summer camp. It’s a “promising trend” that parents across socioeconomic backgrounds are increasing their time doing literacy and math activities with their children, says Lynch, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. But camps can have other valuable benefits as well, and more work needs to be done to increase access to those experiences.

“This large ‘summer-camp gap’ may be important because summer camps are hypothesized to provide kids with social-emotional benefits, such as building friendships and engaging kids’ extracurricular interests, and growing self-confidence and independence,” says Lynch. “Providing more opportunities for children from low-SES backgrounds to participate in summer camps could expand access to these benefits,” and help all children arrive back at school in the fall with the comprehensive skillset needed for success.

English as Language of Global Education

When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

“We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately was not re-elected to his post in December.

In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading business schools that is based in McLean, Va.

“We are shifting to English. Why?” said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief executives.

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students — the French ones — to go everywhere.”

This year the university is celebrating its 100th anniversary in its adopted tongue. Its new publicity film debuted in English and French. Along one of the main roads leading into Paris loomed a giant blue billboard boasting of the anniversary in French and, in smaller letters, in English.

Essec has also taken advantage of the increased revenue that foreign students — English-speaking ones — can bring in. Its population of foreign students has leapt by 38 percent in four years, to 909 today out of a student body of 3,700.

The tuition for a two-year master’s degree in business administration is 19,800 euros for European Union citizens, and 34,000 euros for non-EU citizens.

“The French market for local students is not unlimited,” said Christophe N. Bredillet, the associate dean for the Lille School of Management’s M.B.A. and postgraduate programs. “Revenue is very important, and in order to provide good services, we need to cover our expenses for the library and research journals. We need to cover all these things with a bigger number of students so it’s quite important to attract international students.”

With the jump in foreign students, Essec now offers 25 percent of its 200 courses in English. Its ambition is to accelerate the English offerings to 50 percent in the next three years.

Santiago Iñiguez de Ozoño, dean of the Instituto de Empresa, argues that the trend is a natural consequence of globalization, with English functioning as Latin did in the 13th century as the lingua franca most used by universities.

“English is being adapted as a working language, but it’s not Oxford English,” he said. “It’s a language that most stakeholders speak.” He carries out conversation on a blog, deanstalk.net, in English.

But getting students to feel comfortable speaking English in the classroom is easier said than done. When younger French students at Essec start a required course in organizational analysis, the atmosphere is marked by long, uncomfortable silences, said Alan Jenkins, a management professor and academic director of the executive M.B.A. program.

“They are very good on written tasks, but there’s a lot of reticence on oral communication and talking with the teacher,” Dr. Jenkins said, adding that he used role-playing to encourage students to speak. He also refuses to speak in French. “I have to force myself to say, ‘Can you give me that in English?’ ”

Officials at Ewha Womans University in Seoul are also aware that they face a difficult task at the first stage of their Global 2010 project, which will require new students to take four classes in English, two under the tutelage of native English-speaking professors. The 120-year-old university has embarked on a hiring spree to attract 50 foreign professors.

At the beginning, “teaching courses in English may have less efficiency or effectiveness in terms of knowledge transfer than those courses taught in Korean,” said Anna Suh, program manager for the university’s office of global affairs, who said that students eventually see the benefits. “Our aim for this kind of program is to prepare and equip our students to be global leaders in this new era of internationalization.”

The Lille management school is planning to open a satellite business school program next fall in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where the working language will also be in English.

“Internationally, the competition is everywhere,” Dr. Bredillet said. “For a master’s in management, I’m competing with George Washington University. I’m competing with some programs in Germany, Norway and the U.K. That’s why we’re delivering the curriculum in English.”