Media Mentions

WCER launches $1.5 million study of 6 Historically Black Colleges and Universities

September 20, 2019   |   By NBC15 staff

From: WMTV (NBC) Channel 15 

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A new partnership with the United Negro College Fund and UW-Madison's Counseling Psychology Department will be studying internship programs at six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) that have a high number of STEM graduates.

The $1.5 million study was announced on Thursday. It will examine students’ experiences with their internships and how these experiences may impact their future wages, employment status and vocational self-efficacy.

The three-year study will be part of a larger College Internship Study by The Center for Research on College-to-Workforce Transitions (CCWT).

“At too many institutions, we simply don’t know enough about the quality of internships, and if colleges are prepared to support what are effectively complex college-employer partnerships," said CCWT Director Matt Hora. "The field especially lacks insights into how internship programs are structured and experienced in the unique socio-cultural and historical contexts of HBCUs.”

LaToya Owens, director of Learning and Evaluation for the United Negro College Fund said there is a real need in higher education for a study that zeroes in on the actual internship experiences of underrepresented students.

“We really don’t know what types of experiences African American students are having during their internships and how that translates to their ability to transition into the workforce," said Owens. "I believe this study will give us those answers.”

The study will include surveys and focus groups with students, and interviews with employers and career services staff at six HBCUs. Those include Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, Morgan State University in Maryland and Clark Atlanta University in Georgia.


UW professor says teaching is most important part of professor’s job

September 17, 2019   |   By Molly DeVore

From: The Badger Herald

University of Wisconsin philosophy professor Harry Brighouse spoke on strengthening education outcomes as a part of the Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present lecture series on Tuesday night.  

The lecture began with an introduction from sociologist and emeritus professor Cora Marrett who said part of the Wisconsin Idea is linking the state and the university and that UW should contribute to the state of Wisconsin.

Brighouse began by saying that the most important part of professor’s jobs should be teaching — that while research is important, the professors contribute to the state through teaching.

UW students go on to contribute to society, Brighouse said, who said UW educates members of the most valuable professions. 

Brighouse said because UW is a top college, many of the students it educates will go on to be leaders of those valuable professions, making their education even more important. 

“We educate them and they go on to serve the population of the state and beyond, and if they are better educated … then they serve the population better,” Brighouse said.

Despite the importance of educating UW students, their learning is often not valued enough, according to Brighouse. He said professors are not trained to teach and are not promoted for their teaching skills.

Brighouse said classes need to be structured around allowing students to practice what they learn and to discuss it with others. One barrier to student learning is a lack of good learning conditions, according to Brighouse.

Additionally, lecture halls with rows that don’t allow discussion are hard to learn in. These types of lecture halls cause students to get distracted, according to Brighouse, who also said the large nature of many UW lectures hurt student learning.

“I’m sure we can achieve more … than we do in the large lecture, but when I hear defeated students say, ‘well I’m not the kind of person who learns well in 300 person lectures,’ I find myself wondering who is that kind of person and whether there are 300 of them,” Brighouse said.

Brighouse ended his lecture by proposing some changes to the way college students are taught. He began by suggesting UW invest in financial incentives for professors to be better teachers as well as investing in pre-tenure teacher training.

Brighouse also said professors should not just wait for administrative changes but asked that they take it upon themselves to improve their teaching for the sake of the students.

He suggested they read the literature available on higher education teaching, film themselves and critique their own teaching, or even hire students to coach them in their teaching.

“I think the Wisconsin Idea requires systemic reform, but the Wisconsin Idea, first of all, doesn’t stop at systemic reform and secondly, continues — and should continue — to inform our practice even in the absence of systemic reform,” Brighouse said.


Making the first day of kindergarten a success

August 29, 2019

Channel 3, WISC-TV News at 4 p.m. August 29, 2019

Ways to make the first day of kindergarten a success (4 minutes)

Featuring Beth Graue, UW-Madison professor and director of WCER's CRECE, the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education.


Five ways parents can help their kids transition smoothly to middle school

August 27, 2019   |   By Phyllis Fagell

From: The Washington Post and New Hampshire Union Leader

Beth Houf, the principal of Fulton Middle School in Missouri, spent several days this summer visiting her 200 rising sixth-grade students at their homes. She would sing about her plans on social media, throw on school spirit gear, then hit the road with her assistant principal and her counselor. Houf knows that kids find the move to middle school difficult, and she hopes that the visits ease their anxiety.

Once students recover from the shock of seeing their principal at the front door, they spill their fears: How will I know where to go? What if I can’t get my locker open? Will I still see my old friends if they’re not in any of my classes? What if I have no one to sit with at lunch?

[How to talk to your middle-schooler (so they might actually listen to you)]

Parents can find the transition equally unsettling, whether they have painful memories of the phase, feel unsure of their role in the new setting or worry their child will struggle to make the developmental leap.

Mere months separate elementary from middle school, but the shift can seem seismic. Suddenly, kids must navigate a more complex world with multiple teachers, new routines and an influx of new peers. “My daughter is in fifth grade, and until she makes the transition, she only has to focus on relationships with one primary teacher and 25 classmates,” explains Shawn DeRose, the principal of Glasgow Middle School in Northern Virginia and a consultant with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). “But in middle school, she’ll have to interact with seven different teachers and more than 100 kids a day.”

Adding to the upheaval, many sixth-graders are already in the throes of puberty and feeling more self-conscious and less self-assured. Rather than subscribe to the conventional wisdom that this is a phase to dread, however, parents can use the following five strategies to help their child transition smoothly to middle school.

Create an action plan

Find out your child’s biggest concerns and extinguish their anxiety with small exposures. If they’re afraid they’ll get lost, visit the school at a quiet time, walk the halls and peek into classrooms. Sign them up for any orientation programs or mock school days. If they’re overwhelmed, set up a meeting with their school counselor.

Help them prepare for different scenarios. If they get lost, for example, explain that they can stop an adult, establish eye contact, then firmly say, “I’m new and don’t know where to go.” If they’re worried about lunch, you might suggest they meet a friend outside the entrance of the cafeteria.

“At the core of resilience is self-efficacy,” says psychologist Mary Alvord, the author of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens.” She created the Resilience Builder Program, a curriculum that hones students’ sense of agency. “You can’t control your schedule, where the classes are or what teachers you get, but you can control being prepared, listening and finding academic buddies you can call if you miss something.”

Normalize feeling out of place

“In middle school, you start to think about how everyone else views you,” says social psychologist Chris Rozek, a research associate at Stanford University. “Kids’ friendships become more unstable and they’re more sensitive to social rejection.”

If a new sixth-grader has no one to sit with in the lunchroom one day or bombs a test, “they may start to question whether they fit in socially or can succeed academically,” notes Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Borman and Rozek conducted research to see whether it was possible to bolster kids’ sense of belonging by underscoring that all students have difficulty at the start of middle school but eventually feel better.

The students read and reflected on comments purportedly made by seventh-graders, who said things such as, “I felt like I had a knot in my stomach in my first few months and was afraid to talk to my teachers. I worried that they thought I was dumb, but they believe in you even when you get bad grades and want to help you get better.” The results of their study, published in the journal PNAS, show that students who got the intervention liked school and trusted their teachers more and were more invested in doing well.

Parents may get similar results by sharing times they experienced self-doubt in middle school. You also can give your child books that normalize feeling out of sorts. Lori Steel, a librarian at National Cathedral School, recommends “How to Survive Middle School” by Donna Gephart and “Awkward” by Svetlana Chmakova, two stories that “use much-needed humor to reassure struggling students that they’re not alone during this challenging rite of passage.”

Preview potential challenges

You can prepare your child to resist future persuasion “much the same way vaccines prepare our bodies to resist future viruses,” says Joshua Compton, an associate professor of speech at Dartmouth College who researches inoculation theory.

If you preemptively talk to your child about behaviors such as cheating, bullying or peer pressure, they’ll be less likely to be caught off guard, he explains. Discuss what their friends might argue to persuade them to engage in risky, unkind or unethical behavior, then provide a compelling counterargument. To discourage gossiping, for example, Compton recommends saying, “After we hear a rumor, our first thought might be to tell our friends as soon as possible. It feels good when others think we have interesting things to say. But spreading rumors hurts people, and it’s a much better feeling to know that we are someone people can trust.”

Give them a runway to share daily experiences

Sixth-graders are flooded with highs and lows and need time to process them, says Katie Powell, a sixth-grade reading and English teacher at Southmont Junior High in Crawfordsville, Ind., and the author of “Boredom Busters.” “One moment they’re excitedly talking about their favorite cartoon, then crying because the girl they liked now likes someone else, then doing Fortnite dances in the hallway.”

She once abruptly stopped a lesson because she overheard a girl say she sees better with glasses but worried people would think she was ugly if she wore them. “I said, ‘All right, y’all, it’s time for Life Lessons with Mrs. Powell,’ then shared my own experiences being reluctant to wear my glasses when I was a young teen.”

Open a conversation if your child expresses vulnerability, and mine school newsletters and social media feeds for clues about their daily life. Houf, a NASSP Digital Principal of the Year, told me she posts more than 100 pictures a day. “Our staff is relentless,” she says. “We want families to have talking points, to know, ‘Hey, my kid was dissecting frogs today.’ ”

Get involved, but mindfully

DeRose recommends that parents join the parent association, get to know school staff and “join the conversation,” but he knows parents can get mixed messages. When his oldest daughter went to middle school, he remembers feeling as though he should back off. “I had this sense that she was becoming a teenager, and that I shouldn’t get as involved because she didn’t seem to want that,” he recalls. “But when I put on my principal hat, I know the exact opposite is true. The most successful parents are right there alongside their child — but they’re supporting them, not fighting their battles.”


Experts share how to make transition back to school as smooth as possible

August 27, 2019   |   By Isabel Lawrence

From: WMTV (NBC) Channel 15 

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Whether students are hopping from school to school, or grade to grade, getting back into the new school year can be a challenge. However, an expert says there are ways families can work ahead of time to make sure the transition is smooth.

Beth Graue, Director at the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education at UW-Madison, said it's important for parents to realize that it's not only students who go through a transition.

"It's important for parents to understand it's a transition both for the child, and for the parent, because what the parent is doing will change, because the child has changed," Graue said, especially of students leaving daycare and 4-K and going into kindergarten. "Helping parents realize there's a lot that you can do to ease the transition is really important."

Graue said parents can ask their students what they're excited for, and if they're nervous for anything, that way they can help talk through any concerns. She also said that parents should be careful not to put any worries or anxieties they're feeling themselves, on their kids.

Graue said one of the things you can do ahead of the school year is get students familiar with a routine, and make sure your student knows where they're supposed to be both getting to school, and when they arrive.

"Doing things like, have the child go to school the way they will be going to school when school starts," she said. "If they're going to be walking, practice walking. If they're going to be getting off the school bus, take the car and drive the route the school bus is going to ride. It puts sign posts for them so they know what to expect."

One family that will be going through a change in routine will be the Zellmers, whose oldest son, Tyler, will be heading into kindergarten in the Madison Metropolitan School District this year.

"A little nervous, going into the next step is a little uncharted, he's our oldest so we're just going with it," said Jeff Zellmer, Tyler's dad. "He's not nervous about it, so that helps us too."

The Zellmers said they're excited for Tyler to go to school and learn things he can take home and show his little brother and sister, in addition to all the new students he'll be meeting in his class.

"Lots of opportunities to meet new kids and form new relationships, to practice social skills," said Jenny Zellmer, Tyler's mom.

That social growth is an important part of the transition into kindergarten and new years, said Graue.

"The kind of social network that the child has, shifting in a huge way, is an important thing to pay attention to," Graue said.

Graue also said that it is normal for students to come home from school exhausted at first, due to the new schedule and all the new students they'll be meeting.

While the Zellmers, like many parents, are a bit nervous about the big day, they said it's more about seeing the growth of their child.

"He's getting so big so fast, he's going to be driving soon," Jenny Zellmer said.


Why mentoring is important for biotech careers

August 22, 2019   |   By Don Potochny

From BioSpace:

You have heard about the benefits of mentoring in the business world. Do the same benefits apply to professionals that work in biotech positions?

The answer might surprise you.

Mentoring Benefits for Biotech Professionals

The most important mentoring benefit for biotech professionals is being able to ask questions and in turn, receive advice on how to handle career decisions. Your mentor in the biotech industry can help you resolve difficult career decisions, such as determining the path of your education.

Here are some other reasons why mentoring is important for biotech careers.

Improve Technical Skills

Yes, your education has given you a vast arsenal of technical skills to embark of a productive career. However, you educational journey has just started. A mentor is a strong resource for improving your technical skills in a field where technical skills are a vital component of career growth.

Someone to Confide in

Biotech jobs are typically stressful occupations that leave us gasping for air as we move towards the end of a project. Having a mentor available to confide in is an important part of navigating a biotech career.

A Different Point of View

After a couple of years in a biotech position, you might fall into a routine that closes off your mind to other points of view. Having a mentor around ensures you keep your mind open to new and innovative biotech concepts.

Grow Your Professional Network

Networking is an important part of any career, but it is especially for biotech professionals that have limited exposure to other professionals in the field. A mentor can be a conduit to other biotech professionals that can offer you several different research perspectives.

Enhanced Confidence

You know biotech is not a field for the timid. You have to make bold decisions on how to conduct research, as well as where to go for new ideas. Your mentor will gently move you along the right research path, which should help you gain more confidence in your decision making ability.

Mentoring Proteges in the Biotechnology Field

Mentoring in the biotechnology field is not an activity that benefits just one person. Mentors also receive benefits by giving proteges help in advancing their careers. Like for other professional fields, mentoring is a team-focused approach that enhances the careers of both mentors and mentees.

Why a Mentoring Program is Important for Lab Work

Christine Pfund, who is an associate scientist in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, commented on the importance of mentoring biotech professionals that are in the early stages of their careers. “In short, good mentorship impacts who does science, how productive they are, and how satisfied they are on a science career path,” she said.

Although early-career biotech professionals bring technical skills and scientific theory into the lab, it is the presence of mentors that help them learn how to behave with the proper professional decorum. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Delaware, Joshua Morgan summarized the importance of mentoring in a biotech lab. “Research is uniquely frustrating, and without positive mentoring, it can drive good scientists away from the lab, or worse, to ethically questionable choices.”

Establishing a Powerful Mentoring Relationship

Not everyone is cut out to be a biotech mentor. It requires a dedicated spirit to teach, as well as an infinite amount of patience to tolerate inevitable failures in performing biotech research. The first thing an effective biotech mentors does involves creating an achievable set of expectations from the beginning of a mentoring relationship. Morgan stated during an interview that honesty is vital for developing a mentoring relationship in the biotechnology field. He said mentors must be honest in the type of support they can offer, as well as determine the areas where mentees need the most professional development.

Where to Turn for Becoming an Effective Biotech Mentor

As a National Institute of Health (NIH) funded program, the National Research Mentoring Network operates to increase diversity in biomedical sciences, as well as provide a large number of online resources that are devoted to helping mentors develop their mentoring skills. In addition, the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) offers a vast collection of curriculum that trains aspiring mentors in the biotech field.

Morgan explained the importance of mentors receiving the training required to help early career biotech professionals advance their careers. “Everything is theory until you put it into practice: work with students, get feedback from them about what helps and what doesn’t, and be self-critical! If you’ve had a tough conversation with a student, ask yourself what you could have done differently. If a student isn’t learning, don’t throw up your hands and say they are unreachable, but figure out a different strategy to reach them. I think the best training is doing it and questioning yourself as you do.”


How grad schools became the hidden culprit behind America’s student-debt crisis

August 22, 2019   |   By Allana Akhtar and Hillary Hoffower

From Business Insider:

At $1.5 trillion, the nation's student-loan debt is at an all-time high.

The climbing cost of undergraduate school often bares the brunt of the blame, but graduate school is also a key player in the student-debt crisis.

More students are attending graduate school than they did a decade ago. This has led the amount of government debt shouldered by grad students to increase from 32% in 2002 to 40% today, according to NPR.

What's more, households with at least one advanced degree carried over half (51%) of overall student debt in 2016, according to"Inequality and Opportunity in a Perfect Storm of Graduate Student Debt," a paper by the Wisconsin Center for Education and Research.

"We already know that the economic returns to graduate and professional degrees have been rising at a faster rate than returns to undergraduate degrees," wrote Jaymes Pyne, co-author of the paper. "Combine increasing returns and increasing enrollments with a policy environment that views advanced degrees as a private rather than a public good, and you get more debt."

Here's how the nation's ongoing student loan crisis has affected graduate students.

More people enroll to get a master's degree now than they did a decade ago, according to data from the Council of Graduate Schools. Since 2006, total graduate school enrollment increased by about 1.1% each year.

Some of the growth can be attributed to more underrepresented minority students going to grad school, though international student enrollment flattened. Degrees awarded in earth sciences, engineer, and computer science increased the most over the last five years, CGS found.

As more people get a master's degree, the cost to attend graduate school rose faster than for undergraduates.

The net price students pay for a master's degree — meaning the tuition and fees minus any grants they receive — increased 79% since 1996. The net price for a bachelor's degree increased by just 47% within the same time period, according to the think tank Urban Institute. The average net price of a master's degree was about $16,000 a year in 2016, compared to $8,000 for a bachelor's degree.

In 1992, 45% of advanced-degree households comprised the national $41.5 billion student-loan-debt total (in real 2016 dollars); in 2016, 51% of advanced-degree households comprised the $1.3 trillion in debt, according to "Inequality and Opportunity in a Perfect Storm of Graduate Student Debt," a working paper by Jaymes Pyne and Eric Grodsky.

More graduate students are enrolling in master's programs, borrowing more when they do, and completing them, according to Pyne and Grodsky.

Graduate student loans work differently than for undergrads.

For one, graduate students receive less financial aid, particularly from federal, need-based Pell Grants. Many low-income students who relied on this type of funding to pay for undergrad will have to take out debt for grad school, according to US News & World Report.

Plus, graduate-student loans have higher interest rates, as well as a higher borrowing limit than undergrad aid. Loan limits can even reach over $200,000 for students in certain health fields, US News found.

Since graduate students attend school later in life, many have higher rent to pay and families to provide for — factors that make paying for school more difficult, according to NPR.

"If graduate students aren't paying off all their interest on time, then their debt can really add up," NPR's Cardiff Garcia said.

While graduate students may shoulder more of the loan burden, they tend to pay off their loans after getting jobs.

People with graduate degrees are less likely to default on their loans than those who never graduated undergrad. Drop-outs with low debt levels tend to default due to their inability to find a high-paying job without a degree, writes MarketWatch's Jillian Berman.

As of 2018, 37-year-old orthodontist Mike Meru owed $1,060,945 in student loans, the Wall Street Journal reported— a small sum compared with the $2 million loan balance he's expected to face in two decades.

Meru pays about $1,590 a month — 10% of his monthly income, but not enough to cover the interest. At this rate, his debt grows by $130 a day, according to the Journal.

As the graph above shows, dental school is the most expensive professional-degree program in the US. During the 2015-16 school year, private nonprofit dental schools charged on average more than $71,000, while public in-state dental schools charged about $38,000,according to the Urban Institute.

Average tuition for private medical schools charged $53,240, and public in-state medical schools charged $28,720. Law-school tuition isn't far behind. Private law school cost $47,450 on average in 2016, and public in-state tuition was nearly $19,000 less.

While dentists, doctors, and lawyers make six-figure salaries, many have student debt that outweighs their income. Though dental school has the highest price tag on average for a professional degree, dentists aren't the highest-paid professionals. The median-earning dentist in the US makes $151,440 a year, and the median-earningphysician makes at least $208,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Wisconsin should rethink its entire teacher certification process

August 20, 2019   |   By Mark Schug and Scott Niederjohn

Milton Courier

In an attempt to address perceived teacher shortages, a bipartisan group of state legislators have introduced a bill that would make it easier for qualified teachers from other states to become licensed in Wisconsin. While there may be as many surpluses in the wide array of teaching disciplines as there are shortages, this bill advances a worthwhile reform.

Much more, however, can and should be done to overhaul Wisconsin’s deficient teacher certification process.

We have written reports critical of Wisconsin’s approach to teacher certification. One of us (Schug) worked for decades at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, administering aspects of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) certification rules. The other (Niederjohn) is a higher education administrator who understands firsthand how the fossilized DPI teacher certification rules affect students.

In a 2017 Badger Institute report titled Government’s Love for Licensure, we recommended that “The Legislature should allow teachers who have been certified in other states to be granted an appropriate Wisconsin teaching license with a minimum of hassle.” AB 195 is a good start.

The bill requires DPI to issue a teaching license based on reciprocity to an individual who holds a license from another state if the person taught in Wisconsin under a temporary license issued by DPI for at least two semesters and the school employer confirms that the applicant’s teaching experience was successful. It also changes a reciprocal teaching license from an initial license to a provisional license.

What is the national picture on teacher license reciprocity?

Thirteen states have full reciprocity (or something very close and with minimal burdens) by statute for out-of-state teachers.

Twenty-nine states have additional coursework requirements in place for out-of-state teachers.

Ten states have a test-out exemption for additional coursework for out-of-state teachers.

Fourteen states require out-of-state teachers with experience to provide evidence of effectiveness.

Some states have several of these requirements.

AB 195, based on the assumption that Wisconsin faces a severe teacher shortage, would move the Badger State from the category that requires out-of-state teachers to complete additional coursework to the full reciprocity category. We have had chronic teacher shortages in some fields for decades. Ever try to hire a talented math teacher to teach in inner city Milwaukee? It’s almost impossible.

But, for all of the media hype regarding today’s teacher shortages, recall that we also have a long history of chronic teacher surpluses. The surpluses in some fields were staggering. Dozens of new teachers would apply for one elementary school teaching position or a middle school social studies vacancy.

Why was there such a mismatch between supply and demand? For decades, K-12 teaching was treated as one labor market — the market for a generic teacher. The old step-and-lane salary schedule long favored by teachers unions compensated all teachers in the same way (years of teaching experience and level of education) as if they all had the same skill set and classroom ability and faced the same opportunity cost (the next best job choice).

For example, the next best job choice for an early childhood teacher might be working in a day-care center. The next best choice for a high school chemistry teacher might be working at a chemical company. Clearly these are different labor markets.

The step-and-lane salary schedule was insensitive to the real labor market conditions for teachers and, over the years, did enormous damage. Prospective teachers spent years completing certification programs only to discover there were no jobs. Schools of education had high enrollments and became “cash cows” for universities. In the meantime, potential math and science teachers just walked away. Hardly anyone had an incentive to rock the boat.

Only recently has the labor market for teachers begun to function somewhat normally. Wisconsin’s Act 10, enacted in 2011, created a labor market for teachers that was much freer than what existed before. Younger teachers and those with skill sets that are in high demand are receiving improved compensation, benefits and respect. Valued teachers are being “re-recruited.”

Supply and demand

Let’s examine the supply and demand situation today. In January 2018, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in the School of Education at UW-Madison released a rigorous working paper titled Supply and Demand for Public School Teachers in Wisconsin. The report is nuanced, but some generalizations stand out.

The authors state that there is no statewide teacher shortage. They conclude: “The supply data show a net excess of applicants across nearly all positions.” That said, teacher preferences are important, and some districts receive more applications than others. Districts with trouble attracting sufficient applicants have increased the use of emergency credentialing. While teachers tend to relocate in the same region of the state, there has been an increase in inter-district teacher mobility. Finally, the labor market is complex (but not unexpected). For example, there is:

A shortage in areas such as bilingual education, special education (visual, emotional), world languages and tech ed.

A more consistent supply in areas such as science, special education (speech, deaf) reading, math, English and health.

A surplus in areas including childhood, music, special education (general), elementary and middle school education, physical education and social studies.

AB 195 may help to alleviate some of the supply concerns. Now would be a good time to rethink Wisconsin’s entire teacher certification process. To become a teacher here, an individual has to comply with what many Wisconsin school leaders describe as the onerous provisions of licensure rules called PI 34.

Fifteen years after DPI approved PI 34, the regulations have yet to earn national respect. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), Wisconsin has flat-lined in its teacher preparation policies. In its 2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, Wisconsin received an overall grade of D+. Wisconsin earned a D in 2009, a D in 2011, a D+ in 2013 and a D in 2015.

Many of our neighboring states are ranked somewhat better. Minnesota gets an overall grade of C, Illinois a C+, Iowa a D+ and Michigan a C. Thus, making it easier for teachers from other states to become licensed in Wisconsin is a good thing, but it is unlikely to substantially improve the quality of Wisconsin’s teacher corps without additional reform .

Our recommendations in Government’s Love for Licensure included:
fine-tuning salary scales to reflect the reality of multiple teacher labor markets
the repeal and replacement of PI 34
allowing districts to develop their own teacher licensure programs, and
authorizing existing charter schools to hire teachers based solely on candidates’ experience and their ability to teach.

AB 195 suggests that there is bipartisan interest in common-sense teacher licensure reforms that make it easier to attract high-quality teachers to Wisconsin’s traditional public and charter schools. Now would be a good time to finally take action and reform PI 34.

Mark Schug, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Scott Niederjohn, Ph.D., is dean of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Lakeland University in Sheboygan.


Study links positive messages about middle school to better grades, behavior

August 12, 2019   |   By Linda Jacobson

From Education Dive:

Dive Brief:

  • Sixth-grade writing and reflecting exercises that communicate how it’s normal for new middle schoolers to be anxious and worry they don’t fit in — and that these feelings are temporary — can contribute to better attendance, behavior and academic performance, according to a new study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Led by Geoffrey Borman from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and conducted in all middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, the intervention involved students reading messages that communicated how every new 6th-grader experiences uncertainty about academics and social acceptance, and that adults and other students are available to help. The students also wrote responses to what they read.
  • Compared to those students in the control group — whose assignments focused on more general topics — the children in the treatment group had 545 fewer absences (increasing attendance by 12%), 507 fewer behavioral referrals (reducing disciplinary incidents by 34%), and 67 fewer D or F grades (reducing failing grades by 18%) by the end of the school year.

Dive Insight:

The transition into middle school is often marked by a decline in academic achievement that is further complicated by the physical and social-emotional changes children experience in early adolescence. That’s one reason why the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, for example, has launched an initiativeto revamp a pilot group of nine middle schools with features meant to support student engagement and mental health. The district has seen a trend of families choosing K-8 schools over middle schools. 

Efforts are also increasing to reframe the middle grades as a time of opportunity for youth rather than one of increased risk. And earlier this month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report that includes recommendations for the education, health, child welfare and juvenile justice systems related to reducing inequities during the adolescent years that can lead to poor outcomes.

Increasing students’ sense of belonging in school at this critical time can reduce the chances that they experience academic and discipline problems, Borman and his coauthors write. Another recent study by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that the more students report feeling a part of the school community, the less likely they are to report that they have bullied someone. The authors recommend school clubs for students with particular interests and emphasize the role parents play in fostering family belongingness as well.

Borman and coauthors write that their theory on “targeted reappraisal messages” was drawn from similar research conducted at the college level. But they conclude that for middle schools, the intervention is a “highly cost-effective and scalable approach.” 


Easing the middle school transition

August 11, 2019   |   By Tribune News Service

From Guam Daily Post:

A new study from education researchers has come up with a deceptively simple, yet surprisingly effective way of helping students cope with the infamously stressful transition from elementary to middle school:

Let them hear from other kids that, sure, middle school is tough. But it gets better, help is out there, and they can do this.

What could that possibly accomplish? Apparently a lot.

The intervention devised by education researchers with the University of Wisconsin at Madison and administered to over 1,300 sixth graders in all 11 of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s middle schools correlated with better grades, higher attention and fewer behavioral problems compared to students who didn’t get the intervention.

And it was cheap. The average cost was $1.35 per student.

“We were attempting what psychologists would call normalizing the adversity that students experience in the beginning of middle school,” explained lead study author Geoffrey D. Borman, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

For those who don’t remember, middle school for many youngsters can be a scary place. Students go from having one teacher to several. Often they are going to a new school further from home than their elementary school. The tests can seem harder, with higher stakes. They may have to make new friends. And on top of all that, they are going through the profound developmental, psychological and physical changes that go with approaching adolescence.

The Wisconsin researchers set out to create an intervention, in the form of reading and writing exercises, that would seek to address and allay some of the stress of the middle school experience.

In a randomized trial, about half of the students were given two reading and writing exercises at the start of their first year of middle school on a relatively neutral topic.

The other half got the intervention exercises – one in the first couple weeks of school, the second about a month later. Written as if they were from students who had already completed their first year of middle school with the help of student focus groups, the intervention materials convey that the angst students may be feeling is normal and temporary, that there are teachers and others willing to help in their new school, and that in time they will fit in and find friends. The students were also given writing assignments to help reinforce the reassuring messages in the reading materials they were given.

The intervention exercises were personalized to each school; the messages were attributed to theoretical students from the study participant’s school.

At the end of the school year, the researchers surveyed the students on their attitudes and their experience of their first year. They also collected data from schools about the student. The intervention students reported a greater sense of belonging, less test anxiety, and more trust in their teachers.

There were also more tangible results. The students in the treatment group had 34% fewer behavioral referrals, 12% fewer absences, and 18% fewer D and F grades than the students who got the neutral assignments.

“One reason I believe these exercises are so effective is that the messaging is not coming from an adult,” said Borman. “And it’s not advice – telling students you should do this, you should do that. Instead it’s providing an example of what other kids went through, how they navigated this transition and what turned out to be successful for them. Kids tend to take advice and ideas from their peers more readily than from an adult.”

The findings from the study were published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the journal of the National Academy of Science. Borman said they had similar results with students in an Arizona school district. He said his team is looking for other districts willing to test out their approach.

The results of the study could send a message to education administrators and leaders, said Borman.

“Middle school has a rather notorious reputation as a difficult place for these emerging adolescents,” Borman said. “I think we have to be more sensitive and more caring for these transitioning middle school students and understand what they’re going through.”


What I learned when I studied six Chicago schools transforming to personalized learning environments

August 11, 2019   |   By Rich Halverson

From: Getting Smart 

Steve McWade is a believer in personalized learning. For years, McWade has worked to design compelling learning experiences to meet the needs of all students in his Chicago Public School classrooms. “The thing I struggled with the most, before personalized learning, was that you teach to the middle. […] With personalized learning, if you have 34 kids, you have 34 different ways to reach kids.” Personalized learning has completely changed McWade’s teaching, as well as the teaching and learning of thousands of teachers and students across the world. What is personalized learning, and how does it differ from traditional schooling?

In 2014, McWade’s school became involved with the LEAP Innovations, a Chicago-based reform partner committed to developing personalized learning in schools. Over the past several years, LEAP has created a thriving network of 140 schools committed to personalizing learning for over 40,000 students. In 2016, LEAP invited my colleagues and I at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to conduct an in-depth study on how personalized learning was actually being implemented in six urban LEAP schools. We heard many stories, like that of McWade, that confirmed the power of personalized learning to redefine the everyday practices of teaching and learning.

In previous work, we documented how personalized learning is experienced by educators and students in public schools. We found that personalized learning transforms teaching and learning in schools to address the needs and interests of each learner. It is a whole-school reform strategy that redefines the role of students, educators, and the learning environment. Students learn to take ownership of their own learning. They set ambitious goals, participate in group activities that matter for their peers, and learn to design activities that can provide evidence of their achievements. Instead of passively enduring teaching, personalized learning students work with teachers to co-design their own schooling. Once students successfully make the switch to personalized learning, it is difficult for them to settle once again into the recipient role expected in traditional learning environments.

The role of the educator is also transformed in personalized learning. Teachers continue to deliver content, but the focus of instruction shifts toward addressing individual learners’ needs and interests. Personalized learning educators use customized data to diagnose where students need more help. They work with students to create individualized learning plans that guide day-to-day activities, and they adopt competency-based assessment models that invite students to demonstrate what they know. They create bridges to meaningful partnerships and resources outside the school. At the heart is the learning relationship that teachers need to build with every student. Personalized learning educators make the time to learn student interests, skills, and aspirations. Regular meetings with each student help teachers to personalize learning plans and learners to demonstrate what they have accomplished. These meetings evolve into long-term relationships, forming the core of a partnership where teachers care about the success of every student.

New technologies also play a central role in personalized learning. Coordinating the work of 34 separate learning plans would overwhelm any teacher. Fortunately, many teachers have ready access to tools such as the Google Classroom Suite to simplify managing student collaboration, project-based learning, record-keeping, and homework. Schools also use technologies for behavior management, special education, course building, gaming, and data analysis. Personalized learning educators typically assemble their own tool ecologies based on the needs and interests of students and teachers. These kinds of technologies help to shift the potentially overwhelming information and management load for instruction that comes with personalizing learning for all students.

Personalized learning can look different in every school. Successful personalized learning schools start with the pedagogical shift toward learner agency and teacher facilitation, then provide the 1:1 technologies and learning environments to support the new practices. Leading for personalized learning requires coordinating planning and professional development to put student needs and interests at the heart of the schooling process.

We found that LEAP acted as the catalyst for sparking personalized learning across its network. Each of the six Chicago schools studied were actively engaged in changing pedagogies to support personalized learning. Each school was building learning plans with students, and was moving toward competency-based assessments. Each school had adopted a variety of technologies for teaching and for learning, and had changed the classroom layout to support collaborative learning stations. We found that the schools were experimenting with new approaches to interest-based learning as well. Innovations such as “Genius Hours” and “Flex Fridays” made time for student-led project-based learning. The excitement around personalized learning has created vibrant school communities where educators and students are enthusiastic to try new ideas.

We also found promising patterns in student outcomes in that achievement scores were improving in LEAP schools in math and reading. These early findings invite further research to determine which factors of personalized learning practice are responsible for improving learning and engaging learners. Tara Shaun Cain, the principal at McWade’s school, echoed his excitement about the effects of personalized learning. “We use personalized learning to really promote student ownership. […] You’ll have kids who are pushing each other’s thinking, requiring each other to justify their answers.” The promise of personalizing learning is to shift the role of learners from passive recipients of information to agents of their own learning. Defining schooling in terms of learners has powerful implications for equity in education. As McWade notes, “All kids can do this. Kids from any school, from any community can do this. Personalized learning is the way all education needs to be.”

Rich Halverson is the Co-Director of the Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network and a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education. Follow him on Twitter @aporiatwo


Positive messaging early in the school year can help sixth graders transition to middle school

July 31, 2019   |   By Negassi Tesfamichael

From the Capital Times:

Though middle school is often regarded as an awful, cringe-worthy experience for adolescents, it doesn't have to always be difficult, according to researchers. 

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that sixth-grade students who received clear, positive messaging early in the school year performed better and could better manage fears and anxieties created by the transition to middle school. 

"There's usually a perfect storm, or a constellation of events all happening at once in a young adolescent's life when they get to middle school," Geoffrey Borman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher and the lead author of the paper, said in an interview. "We usually notice a very pronounced decline in student performance when they hit middle school, and it usually has something to do with the transition to a new school that is much more complicated."

Borman's research team conducted a double-blind field experiment that involved just over 1,300 sixth-grade students from all 11 middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Students who participated in two 15-minute reading and writing activities in the classroom that focused on the normal and temporary fears of fitting in at a new school experienced several positive effects, including:

  • a 34% decrease in disciplinary incidents
  • a 12% increase in attendance
  • a 18% decrease in the number of failing grades

Though other, more extensive interventions such as peer mentoring programs can be used to achieve similar goals, Borman said the classroom activities could be a powerful tool that schools across the country can use, particularly given how cost-effective the intervention is.

"We've found that if we're able to give students these positive messages toward the beginning of the school year before a potentially downward spiral of bad events like getting a bad grade or feeling left out of the lunchroom, we can help kids more effectively deal with the social and academic adversities that just about everyone is going to experience," Borman said. 

Borman, who works in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison's School of Education, is working on replicating the studies in two other school districts. He said proactive approaches like those in the field experiment haven't previously been developed thoroughly by researchers. The ease of bringing simple activities like this to scale should make for an appealing intervention tool for districts, he said.

"If we really focus on how this is a normal experience that all kids go through, with enough time and support from classmates and other teachers, students will find their place ultimately and feel like they belong and fit in," Borman said. "In fact, a very important part of this intervention is that in a way, it's like an inoculation against the psychological adversity that kids are going to be experiencing in the first weeks and months of school."


These Academics Spent $1.35 To Make Middle School Less Awful. Here’s How.

July 31, 2019   |   By Belinda Luscombe

From Time magazine

Middle school, as documented in such educational opuses as Eighth Grade and School of Rock, is legendarily awful. Students who have done well in elementary school often stumble, become isolated and fall behind. But Geoffrey Borman, a professor at University of Wisconsin Madison who specializes in education policy and analysis, and his team, think they may have found an answer.

In a study, the results of which came out on July 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they gave more than 1,000 Wisconsin students two 15-minute writing exercises, one at the start of school and one a month later. They were asked to reflect on a survey, with quotes lifted loosely from former students, about struggling in the early months of school, feeling as though they didn’t belong, and reaching out for help from teachers and other students. The first assignment focused on the management of academic tasks and the second on navigating new social groups.

Their findings were encouraging, and thanks to the long term nature of academic publishing have already been replicated in Arizona. Education Week reports of the follow up: “As in a prior study of Wisconsin 6th graders, the 7th graders who participated in the writing exercise had fewer failing grades and better overall GPAs at the end of the school year than their peers who had not participated. The researchers found no changes in attendance or discipline, but did find that students who had participated in the writing test valued “doing well in school” more at the end of the year than their peers.”

We asked Borman to explain his research:

What makes middle school so difficult? 
The transition to middle school is the perfect storm! As children enter adolescence, the developmental changes that they experience are more profound than at any other time of life—outside of the dramatic changes from birth to two years old. Piled on top of this significant developmental transition, we require about 90% of our students in the U.S. to make a physical move from the familiar neighborhood elementary school to a larger, distant, and more complex place called middle school or junior high school. Research has shown that students who remain in a K-8 school fare significantly better academically than their counterparts who transition to a middle school at grade 6 or 7. The physical transition to the more complicated and unfamiliar middle school is stressful and difficult and most students suffer socially, psychologically and academically.

Middle schools are not usually well-equipped to help students make this transition. In fact, many things about middle school actually make things worse. For instance, during each year of grade school, most students are under the care of one caring teacher, but middle schools demand that students must now develop new relationships with several teachers who have different personalities and who assign grades that suddenly seem to mean much more. Middle-school students must also negotiate new relationships with larger networks of students, many of whom they have never met, and many of whom appear quite a bit older and imposing. Early adolescents become increasingly aware of how others, especially their classmates, see them and they are desperately trying to fit in. A bad day in the lunchroom or a bad grade on an assignment can cause them to question whether they are going to turn out to be popular or successful students who fit in both socially and academically.

Typically most parents and educators start to worry about alienation in high school. Why did you choose to focus on middle school? 
The process of alienation and disengagement from school often takes root at the beginning of middle school. In fact, many school districts now have “early warning” systems that help predict which students may be at risk for dropping out of high school. Those kids who begin to receive bad grades, have higher rates of absences, and who get into trouble during the early years of middle school are typically those who will eventually drop out of high school. We wanted to take a more proactive stance to help prevent this process of disengagement from happening in the first place.

Your study suggests that what middle schoolers really need is a sense of belonging. How did your intervention foster that? 
Our intervention teaches students two important lessons. First, the exercises convey that all students experience some difficulty, both socially and academically, at the beginning of middle school. After a little while, though, things get better. When students read our exercises, they learn that there is not something wrong with them. Instead, they learn that the transition is a shared experience that is initially difficult for just about everyone. Like jumping into a cool swimming pool on a hot day, the experience is initially shocking and uncomfortable, but after a little while we get used to it and the cool water actually feels pretty good.

Second, the exercises tell students that help is available from teachers and other adults at the school. Usually, relationships between teachers and students become more distant during middle school. However, the students who received the intervention reported trust in their teachers, that they liked school, were not as nervous about big tests, and that, ultimately, felt like they fit in. These more positive attitudes about school help students worry less, which helps them devote more cognitive and psychological resources to doing well in school. Their increased sense of fitting in also led to fewer absences from school and fewer instances of acting out. Over time, these shifts in student beliefs and behaviors improve academic performance, which then reinforce students’ positive beliefs. Rather than the all-too-often downward spiral students experience at the onset of middle school, the intervention sets in motion some positive momentum that helps kids feel like they do belong.

What differences did your intervention make?
The students who received our intervention missed fewer days of school, got sent to the principal’s office less often, and got better grades. In addition, our student surveys showed that students had better relationships with their teachers and classmates, were less anxious about big tests, and were more motivated to do well in their classes. These more positive attitudes helped students attend school more regularly, get in trouble at school less often, and ultimately get better grades.

What can schools learn from your study?
Many good teachers already do many of the things that our intervention is designed to convey to kids. For example, a good teacher can provide messages of reassurance and offer help to those students who are struggling socially or academically. However, teenagers are often more attentive to the advice of a peer and, therefore, we believe that the messages that are delivered by our intervention are powerful because they come from the stories of other students.

Schools might also arrange peer mentoring programs. These programs, delivered by student peers who successfully navigated the middle-school transition, might deliver messages that are similar to those found in our intervention materials.

How much would it cost for schools to implement your practices?
Researchers from Columbia University recently estimated the costs of six popular programs targeting students’ social-emotional learning (SEL). On average, these interventions cost $581 per student. One of these six interventions was being used in the school district we studied. The students who received our intervention, in addition to the SEL program, outperformed the control group students, who received only the SEL program. The value-added of our intervention on students’ outcomes was achieved at a cost of about $1.35 per student. This cost factors in the printing costs for the materials and for the time that it takes teachers to administer the two 15-minute activities.

Anything parents can learn from your study?
First, if the option is available, parents may enroll their students in K-8 schools and avoid the difficult middle-school transition altogether! Second, parents should encourage their middle-schoolers to develop positive relationships with their teachers and to ask them for help when needed. One very significant impact of our intervention was that students felt more comfortable with, and trusting of, their teachers. Third, parents can help their children understand that teachers are caring adults who will help if needed. Finally, though middle-schoolers are beginning to become more independent, parents should reassure their children that they are there for them when things get difficult.


Study Shows Power of Refocusing Student Stress in Middle School Transition

July 30, 2019

From Phys.org:

A new study by education researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that proactively addressing students' anxieties with clear and cost-effective messaging early in the school year can lead to a lasting record of higher grades, better attendance, and fewer behavioral problems for sixth graders embarking on their stressful first year of middle school.

Published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, the featured six-page paper by lead author Geoffrey D. Borman traces those benefits to a difference-making change in attitude and positive well-being reported by students after two brief, reassuring classroom activities, known as interventions.

Seasoned with peer success stories and designed to boost students' sense of belonging, the interventions, in the form of reading and writing exercises, are targeted to ease sixth graders' fears about "fitting in" at their new schools with a message that the angst they're feeling is "both temporary and normal," the paper says, and that help is available from school staff.

"It's saying, 'There's not something unusual or different about you, but this is just an issue that is difficult for a lot of kids when they make the transition to middle school,'" Borman says. "And that there's support available, both academically and socially. You'll make new friends, you'll discover that you fit in, and teachers and other adults in the building are there to help you."

Borman, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW?Madison and scientist in the School of Education's Wisconsin Center for Education Research, tested his hypothesis in a double-blind, randomized field trial involving 1,304 sixth graders at all 11 middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, a diverse, K-12 system in the state's second biggest city.

Borman's research team found that, compared to a control group of sixth graders that received a neutral reading and writing activity, those in the treatment group experienced post-intervention effects that:

  • reduced disciplinary incidents by 34 percent.
  • increased attendance by 12 percent.
  • reduced the number of failing grades by 18 percent.

The paper spells out the pathway that led to these impacts, as borne out in school records and students' completion of surveys measuring their attitudes pre- and post-intervention.

"The kids internalized this message, they worried about tests less, they trusted their teachers more and sought help from adults," Borman says. "They also felt like they belonged in the school more, and because they felt more comfortable, they didn't act out as often and they showed up more. All of those things explain how this intervention (finally) affects kids' grades."

Borman and his team developed the intervention for the study based on prior work by social psychologists and brainstorming internally about what sixth graders need to know to feel better about fitting in socially and measuring up academically in middle school. They also tested the wording and presentation of their proposed messaging with student focus groups.

Existing literature makes clear that the transition to middle school is a high stakes one, Borman notes, with a marked and lasting decline in teens' academic performance often beginning with a rocky start in middle school. Educators know that the upheavals of moving to a new school are a bad fit with the increased self-awareness, heightened sensitivity to social acceptance and other physical and psychological changes that young teens already are experiencing.

Surprisingly, though, few interventions have been developed to address it, Borman says.

"This is a near-universal experience of young adolescents," he notes. "They're forced to make this transition from the more comfortable and familiar neighborhood elementary school, where they were under the care of mainly one teacher, to this much larger school with a larger number of teachers with whom they have to interact and new classmates from around the city."

That makes his team's proposed intervention all the more potentially valuable, especially given its low price tag—mainly just printing costs—and its ability to be scaled up districtwide easily.

"Rather than wholesale changes, or closing down all the middle schools, this intervention is a productive, targeted way to help kids more effectively and productively negotiate this transition, and for only a couple of dollars per kid," says Borman, who now is working on replication studies in two other districts. "Schools could easily replicate this kind of intervention across the country."


Power of Refocusing Student Stress in Middle School Transition

July 30, 2019

From ScienceDaily:

A new study by education researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that proactively addressing students' anxieties with clear and cost-effective messaging early in the school year can lead to a lasting record of higher grades, better attendance, and fewer behavioral problems for sixth graders embarking on their stressful first year of middle school.

Published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, the featured six-page paper by lead author Geoffrey D. Borman traces those benefits to a difference-making change in attitude and positive well-being reported by students after two brief, reassuring classroom activities, known as interventions.

Seasoned with peer success stories and designed to boost students' sense of belonging, the interventions, in the form of reading and writing exercises, are targeted to ease sixth graders' fears about "fitting in" at their new schools with a message that the angst they're feeling is "both temporary and normal," the paper says, and that help is available from school staff.

"It's saying, 'There's not something unusual or different about you, but this is just an issue that is difficult for a lot of kids when they make the transition to middle school,'" Borman says. "And that there's support available, both academically and socially. You'll make new friends, you'll discover that you fit in, and teachers and other adults in the building are there to help you."

Borman, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW?Madison and scientist in the School of Education's Wisconsin Center for Education Research, tested his hypothesis in a double-blind, randomized field trial involving 1,304 sixth graders at all 11 middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, a diverse, K-12 system in the state's second biggest city.

Borman's research team found that, compared to a control group of sixth graders that received a neutral reading and writing activity, those in the treatment group experienced post-intervention effects that:

  • reduced disciplinary incidents by 34 percent.
  • increased attendance by 12 percent.
  • reduced the number of failing grades by 18 percent.

The paper spells out the pathway that led to these impacts, as borne out in school records and students' completion of surveys measuring their attitudes pre- and post-intervention.

"The kids internalized this message, they worried about tests less, they trusted their teachers more and sought help from adults," Borman says. "They also felt like they belonged in the school more, and because they felt more comfortable, they didn't act out as often and they showed up more. All of those things explain how this intervention (finally) affects kids' grades."

Borman and his team developed the intervention for the study based on prior work by social psychologists and brainstorming internally about what sixth graders need to know to feel better about fitting in socially and measuring up academically in middle school. They also tested the wording and presentation of their proposed messaging with student focus groups.

Existing literature makes clear that the transition to middle school is a high stakes one, Borman notes, with a marked and lasting decline in teens' academic performance often beginning with a rocky start in middle school. Educators know that the upheavals of moving to a new school are a bad fit with the increased self-awareness, heightened sensitivity to social acceptance and other physical and psychological changes that young teens already are experiencing.

Surprisingly, though, few interventions have been developed to address it, Borman says.

"This is a near-universal experience of young adolescents," he notes. "They're forced to make this transition from the more comfortable and familiar neighborhood elementary school, where they were under the care of mainly one teacher, to this much larger school with a larger number of teachers with whom they have to interact and new classmates from around the city."

That makes his team's proposed intervention all the more potentially valuable, especially given its low price tag -- mainly just printing costs -- and its ability to be scaled up districtwide easily.

"Rather than wholesale changes, or closing down all the middle schools, this intervention is a productive, targeted way to help kids more effectively and productively negotiate this transition, and for only a couple of dollars per kid," says Borman, who now is working on replication studies in two other districts. "Schools could easily replicate this kind of intervention across the country."

Borman's paper is titled "Reappraising Academic and Social Adversity Improves Middle-School Students' Academic Achievement, Behavior, and Well-Being." Paper co-authors are Christopher Rozek, Jaymes Pyne and Paul Hanselman.