What's the difference between Otolaryngology and Education?

Otolaryngology is easily my favorite medical discipline. Or at least my favorite one to say. You non-medical geeks out there might know otolaryngology by its more common name, the "ear, nose and throat" field.

So what's the difference between this esteemed medical discipline -- or any medical discipline for that matter -- and education? One thing that jumps out is the speed with which research and evidence can swiftly and effectively change practice.

Let me elaborate. In the medical world, research translates very quickly into changes in practice. If a pioneering otolarnygologist develops a new technique that shows great effectiveness in correcting the scourge of pollen allergies, that study would be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, read by other otolarnygologists around the country, and (if truly effective) would be adopted over a 2-3 year period into mainstream medicine.

Let's contrast that with education. There is plenty of significant research (and more coming every day) clearly documenting "what works" in moving the needle on student achievement and improving school performance. Yet the rate at which these insights translate into mainstream education practice is much slower than in other professional fields such as medicine, law, or accounting.

I recently spent the day with a former principal of a comprehensive urban high school in the northeast U.S., and her story illustrates this point. Over a 10 year period, this principal and her staff fundamentally changed the performance of this school, moving it from one of the worst in the state to one of the best. This has led to national recognition for the school, and extensive research from major universities describing in great detail what the staff did to transform student achievement. All of this documentation makes two really important points very clear. First, this was no "flash in the pan" -- achievement has continued a steady upward progression for over 10 years. And second, the strategies -- a school wide focus on literacy achievement and a rigorous focus on implementation- are easily repeatable in other schools and were implemented at extremely low cost.

Yet, despite the national profile of this school and the ease with which these strategies could be repeated, very few other schools across the country have adopted this blueprint. Most notably, not even other schools within the district have adopted these strategies. In fact, the performance of the elementary schools in the district has continued to decline even as the high school continues to have excellent performance.

So why hasn't the heavily documented example of this school caught on like wildfire and translated to mainstream practice? There are numerous reasons for this, but I think some of them include:

  • A pervasive belief that research results are district-specific and aren't able to be easily replicated in "my" school.
  • A lack of "user-friendliness" of educational data findings, and a need for more teachers and leaders to have the data analysis skills necessary to draw insights from research and efficacy studies.
  • A culture in our national education system in which, for many teachers and leaders, a commitment to traditional teaching methods (e.g. "how we've always done it") trumps the power of evidence and research.

None of these issues have quick fixes, but for the quality of education to continue to advance we need to have a national conversation about how we address these issues and speed up the rate at which research and evidence translates into practice.

Quote: "Any fool can get into an ocean..."

It is fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot in New York City. If you and the children in your life are sitting by the ocean, or beneath an air conditioner or a tree, you could do worse than dip your toes into a poem.

Here is "Any fool can get into an ocean..." by Jack Spicer. What poem rouses you from the torpor of a July afternoon?

How To: Motivate kids to read during the summer!

What makes long summer days (that somehow seem too short!) so special?

Beach. Parks. Barbeques. Community and City Festivals. Road Trips. Adventures. Campfires. Block Parties. Day Camp. Movies. Books. Sharing old and new stories with family and friends.

For educators and parents out there, it’s important to remember: All of these activities and moments are inherently connected in one way or another to Literacy. Research shows that reading during the summer is critical. It is estimated that the "Summer Slide" accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower income students and their middle- and upper-income peers.

So, let’s get to it! 

How to motivate kids to read during the summer:

  1. Make it fun--because it is fun: Summer brings out a child-like curiosity in all of us. And it offers relaxed settings for connecting learning and reading to fun, enjoyable moments. Encourage and help your child find the answers to their questions in books. Get lost in a story together. Allow your child to choose their books on topics that are interesting to them. Play word games. Sign your child up for the Scholastic Summer Challenge. Sing and make up songs together. Don’t make it “homework”, make it “funwork”.
  1. Literacy is all around us: Whether you’re using print or technology, summer adventure requires us to gather information. Take the time to enjoy these moments with your child. Find the best route for that family road trip, look up bus or train schedules together, read magazines and brochures to look for free summer activities. What a great time to celebrate reading in our everyday lives—we would literally be lost without it.
  1. Read aloud and share aloud: Whether it’s in our home, down the block or at a park—summer activities bring family and friends together. This makes it a perfect time to enjoy the magic of sharing stories and reading aloud. So, bring a story or poetry book to that next family gathering. Those young and old are sure to bond as they hear their voices lift the words from the page.
  1. Be well-read and they’ll want to read too: Hopefully, summer means some extra down time for you. And they’ll model what you do with that time. So, whether it’s a novel, the newspaper or a magazine, let them see you enjoy reading! And, remember to share the new things you learn, too.
  1. Write: An important way to develop good reading skills is to write.  Encourage your child to start a summer journal so they have a fun record of their adventures and new memories made. Take the time to sit with them and write to family and loved ones. Turn everyday chores into writing activities—like the grocery list or what you have to pack for the picnic or family vacation. The list goes on and on because summer gives us so many things worth documenting!

These are just a few “how-to’s.”  Here are some additional resources and ideas.

And, encourage your child to sign up for the Scholastic Summer Challenge, where they can log the minutes they read, play games and earn prizes!  What else do you do encourage summer reading?

Scientific American issue focusing on digital learning

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘I'm good at it because I like it.’

Here's a gem of a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson earlier today -- a great lesson for kids to work hard at what you love, and that passion is usually a precursor to expertise.

Cursive or cursed?

If I owe you a thank-you note, I apologize. My Catholic school upbringing has led me to believe that I can only express my gratitude in one way: legible script.

Computer use and its attendant impatience have led to the near demise of my handwriting. Were you to see my scribbled signature on any given credit card receipt, you might conclude that I have a medical degree rather than a diploma from Holy Cross Grammar School, once a nerve center of the Palmer Method of penmanship.

Should today's kids learn cursive as I did? Is it essential for developing hand-eye coordination, knowing how to read the past and express one's creativity? Or is script obsolete, like vinyl records and paying for content?

After noting the absence of cursive writing instruction in the Common Core State Standards, Brian Lehrer, a talk show host on public radio in New York City, took up the matter. You can listen to his conversation with teachers here. The listener comments posted beneath the audio link are also interesting.

If cursive hadn't faded in recent decades, the great American novel I wrote 15 years ago might not be sealed on a Zip disk that my MacBook Pro has zero interest in reading.

But if you really want to feel sorry for someone, tour the National Archives. You'll see what record keepers have had to do in the computer age to preserve American history, much of which now resides in a nameless cloud.

What do you think? Should we—can we—keep cursive alive? Let me know, preferably in script.

Fostering a ‘works in progress’ mindset for teachers

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A belief that every child can learn to read

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Q & A: Jodi Grant of the Afterschool Alliance

A longtime partner of Scholastic and one of our Literacy Champions, the Afterschool Alliance works to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. It's also the only organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of afterschool programs and advocating for more afterschool investments.

Greg Worrell, President of the Scholastic Classroom & Community Group, sent a handful of questions to the Alliance's executive director, Jodi Grant. Here's what she has to say about the state of afterschool and expanded learning programs in the U.S.


Greg Worrell: Tell us about the goals and mission of the Afterschool Alliance and has there been any shifts given the changing federal landscape?

Jodi Grant: The Afterschool Alliance is working to ensure that all children and youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs.  These programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.  An overwhelming body of research now clearly shows that kids who participate in afterschool programs do better in school, attend school more often, and are more likely to graduate.  

The good news is that 8.4 million kids are benefitting from these expanded learning opportunities. The bad news is that most  are missing out: 15 million children across America are on their own after school.  The parents of 18.5 million children would sign up for a program today—if one were available

On the policy front, we also see challenges and opportunities.  The good news is that the idea that learning can, and should, happen anywhere, anytime, and that our students need more relevant, hands-on learning opportunities, seems to be gaining traction.  Afterschool programs are a natural place for this kind of learning, and have been incubators for some incredibly innovative programming. 

The bad news is that policy currently under debate does not reflect this notion, and budget constraints are making matters worse.  Budget cuts at every level are eating away at funding for afterschool and summer programs.  So while education reform continues to be hotly debated, our children are actually losing the very learning supports they need to succeed.


GW: There are always discussions around what’s needed and what doesn’t work.  Please share some success stories.  What’s working?

JG: One of the best indicators of a quality expanded learning effort is how it leverages community resources—colleges, museums, arts groups, volunteers, community-based organizations, sports leagues, health care providers, businesses and others—to offer students hands-on activities that engage them in learning and nurture traits like curiosity, empathy and perseverance.  Afterschool programs have developed an expertise in this arena.

We’ve also learned that the flexible, informal afterschool space is well-suited for exploring the practical applications of academic lessons, like learning the physics of skateboard design, or building literacy skills by writing and producing a play.  These kinds of activities excite and inspire students to learn more.

On the other hand, a program that replicates what is happening in the school day tends to falter and lose participants.

So the key is to bring in community resources - artists, engineers, scientists and others – to partner with schools and give kids activities that engage them in multiple ways, on multiple levels, and complements the school day.


GW: With the heightened emphasis on CCSS and increased academic expectations, what role can out of school time programs play in supports school transition plans?

JG: Afterschool programs value their partnership with schools, and want to support the goals of their school partners.  To that end, we are seeing many examples of afterschool providers and trainers aligning their programming with Common Core Standards.

For example, in Wisconsin, expanded learning programs are connecting with school curriculum online and directly with teachers.  Programs include current and retired teachers on their staff to facilitate effective engagement with schools and the academic content students are learning.  In New Jersey, the state afterschool network (NJSACC), in cooperation with the State Department of Education, is training program leaders on how to align activities and curriculum with the Common Core.

Given the strong relationship that afterschool providers have with parents and families, programs are also well positioned to help schools educate parents about the Common Core.


GW: Scholastic and the Alliance just partnered to compose an issue brief on the benefits of reading during out-of-school time.  How can out of school time programs help to encourage students to read more?

JG: There are so many ways afterschool programs can incorporate reading into activities and start kids on the path toward a lifelong love of reading—whether an academic, recreational or arts program.  The flexibility of afterschool programs really comes into play here.  For example, in afterschool a student might read magazines and blogs that are relevant to their interests,  an article by a role model, how-to manuals or non-fiction related to a hobby.  They can go even further and engage students more deeply in their reading by discussing what they’ve read, or constructively critiquing each other’s own created works, whether poetry, spoken word or plays.

When kids are engaged and habitual readers, they become better at reading, are more enthusiastic about school, are more focused in school, improve their critical thinking skills and build their self-confidence.  Afterschool programs play an integral part in connecting students to the enjoyment that comes from reading, as well as the many benefits of it.

70 percent—a new stat to raise alarm in education

I have had the privilege—and crazy schedule—of attending several education conferences over the past few weeks where heard a lot about the Common Core. The standards are top of mind for so many people, so I've come to expect that. What I had not expected was to hear about a new angle that raises another alarm as to why we must so urgently work to serve our nation's young students. At separate conferences, from separate speakers, including Sec. of Education Arne Duncan and Bill Daggett, I was informed that we are at risk of 70% or more of our students not being eligible to join the U.S. Military. 

Through my research, I see this statistic isn't necessarily new, but there is a new focus. Past conversations about this have focused on health and obesity being key roadblocks to opportunities within the military.  At the recent talks I attended, health and incarceration were cited as reasons many youth cannot enlist (which, by the way, could be curbed by education, as some studies show) but this time around, the key factor they focused on was education. The first 30 or so percent we lose are the high school dropouts in our country. The military has also increasingly been requiring a diploma, not just the GED. Plus, literacy levels are more crucial than ever because, as technology advances, so do the reading requirements to operate machinery. I thought that point was especially interesting.

Condoleezza Rice has been part of this conversation and I found this past PBS interview which may interest you.

In many ways, I don't want to hear yet another reason why we need to urgently help our schools—because there are already so many out there! But, if this opens a new dialogue that increases attention from new audiences it might be helpful.


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