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Virginia Journal of Education


Achievement gaps begin early

PRINCETON, NJ-Much of what later shows up as achievement gaps begins before children even enter school, including such factors as single-parent families, parents reading to children, television watching and exposure to language, according to a report by the Educational Testing Service. Some findings from the report, entitled The Family: America's Smallest School:

. 32 percent of America's children live in single-parent homes, compared to 23 percent in 1980.

. By the time they're four years old, children in families where at least one parent is a professional hear 35 million more words than children of parents on welfare.

. 11 percent of American households are "food insecure." The rate for female-headed households is three times the rate for married families.

. 44 percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.

"It's understandable that education reform efforts would focus on improving schools," says Richard J. Coley of ETS, the reports co-author. "In the broader arena of public policy, however, we will have to go far beyond this focus if we hope to significantly improve student learning and reduce the achievement gap."

Urban Students Matching
Private School Test Scores

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Contrary to what many have come to think, and contradicting some research, low-income students at public urban high schools generally perform as well on achievement tests as students who attend private high schools, once family factors are taken into account. That's the finding of a report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), which also noted that the students at public high schools are as likely to attend college as their private school peers.

According to the report, called Are Private High Schools Better Than Public High Schools?, students who attend independent private high schools, most parochial high schools and public high schools of choice didn't do any better on math, reading, science and history tests than students at traditional public high schools. Also, the students at the public high schools were just as likely to attend college as the students at the private schools.

"We can find no evidence that private schools actually increase student performance," says Jack Jennings, CEP's president. "Instead, it appears that private schools simply have higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment based on their previous performance and background."

Schools Have Become
Targets for Marketing

TEMPE, AZ-Advertising and other forms of commercialism are so common in schools that learning institutions are becoming part of corporations' "total marketing environment," according to an annual report by the Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU) at Arizona State University. The 2007 report, entitled Adrift: Schools in a Total Marketing Environment, identifies three broad trends in the advertising and marketing world:

. Advertising is becoming more pervasive.
. The boundary between advertising and editorial content is becoming less distinct.
. The relationship between marketers and consumers is becoming more interactive.

These trends are being demonstrated in marketing campaigns designed for young people. Two examples of school commercialism cited in the report are the adoption by one state of a reading and writing curriculum that uses comics sponsored by the Disney Corporation, and a shoe manufacturer that gave 50 students free products in exchange for promoting the products in their high schools.

These kinds of activities point to "greater cultural acceptance of marketing as an everyday fact of life," argues Alex Molnar, author of the CERU report and of the books Giving Kids the Business and School Commercialism.

"Sometimes a promotion appears as a traditional advertisement, and sometimes it's masked as a product review, a cute video or a gymnasium," writes Molnar, who goes on to make the case that pervasive commercialism undermines the role of education in a democracy.

Low-Income Students
Now Majority in South

ATLANTA-For the first time in over 40 years, the majority of students in public schools in the South come from low-income families. According to the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), the South is the only region in the U.S. with more than half of its students from low-income families.

The percentage of low-income students (defined by SEF as those eligible for free and reduced lunch programs) has increased steadily since at least 1989, when low-income children made up 37 percent of the region's public school students. Among 15 Southern states, Louisiana has the highest percentage of low-income students (84 percent) and Virginia and Maryland have the lowest (33 and 31 percent, respectively).

Elsewhere in the U.S., only three states had a majority of low-income students in 2006: New Mexico, California and Oregon.


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