Archive for April, 2009
I applaud the spirit of a new piece of legislation making its way through the halls of Congress for its focus on preventative care.
H.R. 215, The Personal Health Investment Today Act of 2009, introduced today by Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI), would ”amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to treat certain amounts paid for physical activity, fitness, and exercise as amounts paid for medical care.”
The PHIT Act would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Americans could invest up to $2,000 annually to pay for physical activities by investing money in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) and/or medical reimbursement arrangements. PHIT would only expand the expenses eligible for reimbursement to include physical activity costs as a form of prevention; PHIT would not increase contribution limits to these accounts. Once an individual or family spends 7.5% of their income on qualified medical expenses, they could deduct physical activity expenses directly.
To read the full text of the bill and to track it through the legislative process, click here.
J. R. Atwood
If Borat wrote college rejection letters. Also, Bates College to applicants: “It’s not us; it’s you.”
The WSJ highlights the good, the bad, and the just plain mean ways that colleges reject applicants.
The “toughest” rejection letter comes from Bates College with the following explanation: “The deans were obliged to select from amonf candidates who clearly could do sound work at Bates.” [Translation: You can't.]
The “most confusing” letter came from University of California, San Diego: “Within the last two hours you received an email addressed to students who had been admitted to UC San Diego… As you have quickly realized, this communication was sent to you in error.” [It's like Borat wrote this letter: Congratulations... NOT!]
Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick gets the nod for “best coaching.” Admissions officers sent a handwritten letter to every one of its 600 rejected applicants explaining areas of deficiency in their application.
To see the letters that Stanford and Harvard send to rejected applicants, click here.
J. R. Atwood
Onwards: A wonderful animated featurette from British illustrator James Jarvis for Nike’s “Running” campaign. It made me smile and inspired me to go for an afternoon run when I was feeling sluggish.
“From assets to school outcomes: How finances shape children’s perceived possiblities and intentions”
Yesterday I published a blog entry about the economic effects of the racial achievement gap, which may include a “permanent national recession.”
Today I stumbled across an important new study that may, in part, help explain the achievement gap.
Mesmin Destin and Daphna Oyserman, researchers at the University of Michigan, conducted an experiment to investigate the associations among socioeconomic status, assumptions about the cost of college, and achievement motivation.
Seventh grade students from low-income families were divided into two groups: one group received information that left the impression of college as an ‘expensive’ venture; the other group was reassured that need-based financial aid opportunities existed to support their higher education ambitions.
In a subsequent survey of motivation and time spent on school work, students that received information about need-based financial aid (i.e., those with an ‘open-path mindset’) scored significantly higher than students who assumed the path to college was closed (i.e., those with a ‘closed-path mindet’) as a result of their family’s wanting financial situation.
The authors said based on the study results, parents and children from low-income families “should learn about the financial accessibility of college early, before gaps in student achievement levels emerge and some fall behind.” [Source: UPI]
Here is the bibliographic information and abstract of Destin and Oyserman’s article:
Destin, M. & Oyserman, D. (2009). From assets to school outcomes: How finances shape children’s perceived possibilities and intentions. Psychology Science, 20(4), 414-418.
ABSTRACT—People do not always take action to attain their desired possible selves—after all, whether consciously or nonconsciously, taking current action makes sense if there is an open path toward attaining the desired self, but not if paths are closed. Following this logic, children from families with fewer assets may lower their expectations for school success and plan to engage in less effort in school. To test this hypothesis, we examined the impact of experimentally manipulating mind-set about college as either ‘‘closed’’ (expensive) or ‘‘open’’ (can be paid for with needbased financial aid) among low-income early adolescents. Adolescents assigned to an open-path condition expected higher grades than those assigned to a closed-path condition (Study 1, n 5 48, predominantly Hispanic and Latino seventh graders) and planned to spend more time on homework than those assigned to a no-prime control condition (Study 2, n 5 48, predominantly African American seventh graders).
Our education system may be responsible for sewing the seeds of a “permanent national recession.”
Or so it is implied in a report on “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” recently released by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. As it is summarized in the ASCD SmartBrief:
The negative economic effects of poor performance by U.S. students — especially those with economic, racial or geographic disadvantages — has exceeded those of the recession. Closing such achievement gaps would increase the nation’s gross domestic product by some $3 billion to $5 billion per day, the report says.
Publicschoolinsights highlights the main takeaways from the report:
- “Race and poverty are not destiny.”
- “Investments in equity do pay off.”
- “You should worry about other people’s children, because your well-being depends on their well-being.”
See also the NYT article about the report and its implications.
In other news related to education, economics, and responsibility… The Chicago Public Schools are adding financial literacy to its high school curriculum, meaning that in addition to learning traditional math and economics (e.g., algebra, geometry, statistics), the system’s 113,000+ secondary students will also learn “to pay bills, balance a checkbook, [and] make car and mortgage payments.”
Nike’s back to basics high altitude training camp: “It’s about natural running. Or as we call it, supernatural.”
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my primary research interests is the way movement, physical activity, and aerobic exercise can be incorporated into the traditional school environment to facilitate learning among students. Thus after recently re-reading the NYT article, “I Put In 5 Miles at the Office,” I have begun to wonder if schools might benefit from outfitting some of their classrooms with Walkstations.
The health benefits of engaging in constant and regular movement are obvious: Some employees at organizations that have installed treadmill desks report significant fitness improvement — “more than 50 pounds of weight loss, if I were to keep my diet the same.” Researchers have also found an increase in worker productivity and efficiency among employees who use the Walkstation. But I’m equally fascinated about the cognitive benefits of elevating one’s heartrate, and the promise of improving academic achievement by literally moving while learning.
Near the top of my research agenda is doing an experimental study with the treadmill desks designed by Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, in which the motivation, health, and academic achievement of students who use a custom designed (i.e., student-sized and school-appropriate) treadmill-like personal workspace are compared to students in a control group who work while sitting down at regular desks.
In the meantime, the takeaway is to stand-up and get moving, even when we work!
- NPR audio story, “Treadmill desk heats up office jobs“
- Telegraph: “I’ve seen the future: It’s a hamster wheel“
- NYT: “The lean and the restless“
- “Putting the ‘work’ in ‘work out’“
- Ning’s social networking site for treadmill desk jockeys
The Three Rivers school board in northwest Hamilton County recently voted to let high school athletes, cheerleaders and band members who have been involved in those activities for at least two years forgo gym class. This opens their schedules to take other courses while their peers sweat out state-mandated physical education classes.
“If our kids are involved in an activity over a long period of time, whatever sport they’re in, they’ve already learned or shown a commitment to fitness over a lifetime,” said Chris Brown, Southwest’s superintendent.
But some educators say this isn’t good for teenagers.
Nationwide, health and education groups are pushing for stronger phys ed classes and requirements at a time when school districts need to cut costs and pay attention to student test scores on academic subjects.
A solid PE class – more than sports, cheerleading or band – can teach students about remaining active beyond high school, said Steve Mitchell, a Kent State physical education professor who also coaches high school soccer.
“Consider the high school football player,” he said. “The offensive or defensive linemen have very specific roles in a football team. And football is not a lifetime activity. The majority of those kids will stop playing after high school.
“Unless we educate students in other activities they can pursue across their lifespan, this (waiver) does increase the likelihood that they’ll become sedentary adults.”
Until phys ed classes are radically transformed, however, I say yes, let student-athletes meet their fitness requirements through after school sports programs. Too often, PE classes are filled with only 5-10 minutes of moderate physical activity (once students get changed into their uniforms, line-up for attendance, have the rules of the game explained and taught, pick teams for an activity, get a turn to bat/throw/shoot/hit/etc., and then return to the locker-room to shower and change into their regular clothes for academic classes).
And the argument about football not being a lifelong activity?! Neither is playing whiffle ball or knockout, two of the more popular games played in my high school’s PE classes. Before someone is going to advance an argument like one made by Professor Mitchell made in the article, there needs to be evidence linking participation in high school physical education programs to lifelong physical activity. I am not aware of any such link. [Though there are some interesting results about the relationship between quality physical education and later-life health being conducted by PE4Life, which is linked to in the next paragraph.]
I am in favor for mandatory PE — maybe even (just maybe) for the most elite prep athletes. But it has to be quality physical education… like the kind of programs designed by PE4Life and being utilized in the Naperville School District outside Chicago. The key to true fitness (and academic achievement) is vigorous, cardiovascular activity for sustained periods of time, i.e. 20-40 minutes of activity with regular heart rates at 60-80% of the maximum rate.
In the meantime, let’s exempt the varsity athletes on high school softball, cross-country, soccer, water polo, and other sports programs from having to waste their time playing 5-10 minutes worth of dodgeball in PE class, especially when they could use that class period to take an arts elective or advanced academic course in school.
After reading her article about the empowering possibilities of sport, check out the Ashoka/Nike Gamechangers Competition, where you can vote for three of your favorite projects designed to “identify, inspire and bring together the next wave of innovators eager to change the game for women in sport.”
Here’s the welcome letter that explains the Gamechangers initiative:
Dear Changemakers Community,
Building on the success of the first “Sport for a Better World Competition”, Nike and Ashoka’s Changemakers join forces once again to launch “GameChangers: Change the Game for Women in Sport”.
Nike has long been an advocate for empowerment and change in the world of women in sport – whether it was pushing for the inclusion of long distance women’s running events in the Olympics or advancing the power of sport and the transformational role it plays in the lives of girls and women through its Let me Play campaign. We are excited to continue our collaboration with Ashoka to focus attention on the challenges facing women in sport today and identify the most innovative solutions to them.
Ashoka is a non-profit support system for social entrepreneurs – people around the world who develop innovative solutions to the social problems that most urgently demand them. To further this goal, Ashoka’s Changemakers.net website provides an online, interactive forum that encourages collaboration and discussion, along with competition, to draw out the most effective ideas.
Ashoka’s Changemakers and Nike continue their partnership to identify, inspire and bring together the next wave of innovators eager to change the game for women in sport. We hope you will join us. Between November 12, 2008 and February 25, 2009, we invite you to propose a way to leverage sport for positive social change in the lives of girls and women.
Even if you do not offer a proposal of your own, we invite you to join the dialogue. Your experience and insights are invaluable to the emerging field of sport for social change.
Join the online Changemakers community to make suggestions and recommend resources that will help refine and strengthen the strategies presented by competition entrants. Tell us what you’re thinking, how you see the field, where its challenges and opportunities lie.
We’ll need your help again from April 1 to April 15, 2009, to vote for three winners from the approximately 12 finalists who will be selected by our panel of judges – a group of influential leaders in the field of sport for social change.
With your help, we have the potential to catalyze change for women through sport and bring real solutions to our most troubling gender specific social problems. You may already be engaged in activities that use sport to change women’s lives in your corner of the world. Now bring this knowledge to a global community. We encourage you to invite others to the competition as well, so together we may uncover the creativity – and natural drive to innovate – within each of us.
Vice President, Corporate Responsibility
One of my primary research interests is the effect of fitness and cardiovascular activity on learning. There are a couple of fantastic news items to share on this topic…
Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a positive link between physical activity and attention and physical activity and academic achievement in children. Children in this study were better able to pay attention and performed better on academic tests after bouts of physical exercise. Particularly in reading comprehension, students tested performed a full grade level better after exercise. The study has prompted some curricular recommendations: integrating physical activity into lessons, daily outdoor recess, and 150 minutes of physical education per week at the elementary level and 225 minutes at the secondary level.
** This Chicago Tribune story briefly reports on some of the potential pedagogical practices teachers can use to integrate movement into their teaching practices to stimulate learning, a theory that is perhaps being studied most extensively in the Naperville school district outside Chicago and with a program called PE4life:
Emerging research suggests that incorporating physical movement in the classroom improves student focus and attention. As a result, teachers are trying everything from standing desks to exercise stability balls instead of chairs. Those who keep chairs often encourage two- or three-minute bursts of fitness in the classroom during the day.
I first learned about these news stories via the ASCD SmartBrief, a daily compilation of some of the top stories in K-12 education. The service is free and I highly recommend that anyone interested in education policy sign-up to get the daily briefing.
One of my budding curiosities in international education is the potential of online schools to deliver quality education experiences and programs to students who otherwise are not able to attend brick-and-mortar school. But I had not given much thought to domestic online schools. Until now.
The Chicago Tribune recently published an interesting article about parents and students singing the praises of one online charter school, Chicago Virtual School, which offers individualized instruction and content — at a student-directed pace — to meet the unique needs of children.
In Chicago, online schools are the “Web-based wave of the future.” The Chicago Virtual Charter School is managed by K12, an online education company based in Herndon, Va., that offers programs in the District of Columbia and 21 states..
Parents of students at Chicago Virtual School turned to it when other options were not feasible: Private schools were not affordable, and moving to the suburbs, where schools are considered better, was unlikely. Many tried home-schooling but liked the structure of the charter school.
Students get a desktop computer and printer on loan. They also get 60- to 70-pound boxes filled with textbooks, supplies for art and science projects, math tools and more.
Keep reading “Online charter school rings bell with parents, students” by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah.
Soda pop is the single largest provider of calories in the American diet. Wow. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report, “Liquid Candy“:
Carbonated soft drinks provide about 7 percent of calories in the American adult diet; adding in noncarbonated drinks brings the figure to 9 percent. Teenagers get 13 percent of their calories from carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks.
Brooks claims that advances in cognitive science are bringing about “The End of Philosophy“:
Moral thinking is … like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.
Similar to how we recognize if food tastes good or bad, immediately and without any kind of reflection, so too does moral reasoning operate. It’s, in a way, irrational… emotional. Quoting from Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”
The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change … [that should] challenge the very scientists who study morality. They’re good at explaining how people make judgments about harm and fairness, but they still struggle to explain the feelings of awe, transcendence, patriotism, joy and self-sacrifice, which are not ancillary to most people’s moral experiences, but central. The evolutionary approach also leads many scientists to neglect the concept of individual responsibility and makes it hard for them to appreciate that most people struggle toward goodness, not as a means, but as an end in itself.