MONEY Education

12 Big Back-to-School Trends Every Parent Should Know

Essential reading for the start of the school year.

The 2015-2016 school year is upon us. Are you ready? To get up to speed, take note of a dozen trends around the country that are having an impact on what students are wearing to school, when your child has to get up in the morning for the start of the school day, how much families must chip in for class supplies and school activities, which kids are most likely to be left behind inside and outside the classroom, and more.

  • Later School Starting Times

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    The CDC and pediatricians are among the many who recommend later start times for schools in order to assure that kids get enough sleep. And slowly, schools seem to be getting the message. Three-quarters of high schools in the northern-latitude states of North Dakota and Alaska begin the day at 8:30 a.m. or later, and a trickling of schools in places like Yakima, Wash., and Denver, Colo., are joining their ranks this fall. States such as New Jersey have agreed to study the impact of later school start times as well. On the other hand, nationwide, more than 80% of public high schools still start the day before 8:30 a.m.

  • Growing Extracurricular Activity Gap

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    Over the past few decades, researchers have traced a trend they describe as “alarming”: The percentage of upper- and middle-class kids participating in the drama program, hobby clubs, and other non-athletic afterschool activities has steadily increased, while poor students have followed the opposite trajectory. In the early 1980s, participation in such activities was measured at 65% for low-income high school seniors and 73% for their wealthier counterparts. A decade later, the numbers shifted to 61% and 75%, respectively. By 2004, extracurricular participation rates for low-income seniors were down to 56%.

  • BYO Band-Aids

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    It’s not your imagination. Schools really are asking parents to buy more supplies to keep their kids’ classrooms stocked with the basics—everything from tissues to copy paper to Band-Aids. According to the annual Backpack Index from Huntington Bank, a family with three kids (one apiece in elementary, middle, and high school) can expect to pay more than $3,000 this year for school supplies and extracurricular activities. So much for the idea of a free education.

  • More and More Student Fees

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    It’s not just increasing school supply lists that are pinching parents. Families are also facing new or significantly higher fees for things like riding the bus or parking a car at school, and participating in sports and other programs. Some schools simply asked students to arrive on the first day with a $50 check to serve as payment for vague “activity fees.” School districts usually cite budget cuts as the reason fees must be instituted.

  • The Lunch Lady Goes Gourmet

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    Forget about Sloppy Joes. Increasingly, parents and school cafeterias are catering to the dietary restrictions and preferences of young people today, with more gluten-free, organic, and vegetarian options. The cuisine at some school cafeterias is growing increasingly sophisticated as well, serving everything from butternut squash ravioli to made-to-order smoothies, and featuring bistro-style breakfasts and carving stations.

  • Free Lunch for More Students

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    As of the 2012-2013 school year, 21.5 million kids in American schools received free or reduced-price lunch, as part of the federally funded National Lunch Program. In most cases, free or reduced-price lunches are provided based on the student’s household income levels falling within a certain limit. And the number of students eligible for free lunch is on the rise thanks to an increased income threshold, as well as the expansion of communities that can simply forget about the paperwork and provide free lunches to all students. When 40% of the local students qualify for free lunch, the entire school system becomes eligible, allowing vast student populations in parts of Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, Idaho, and beyond to get free lunch at school without any stigma, and regardless of their household income.

  • Back-to-School Spending Shrinks

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    Over the past decade, back-to-school spending has increased 42%, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). So the anticipated decrease in spending this season—estimated at an average of $630 per household, down from $669 last year—is perhaps more than anything else an indication that parents are realizing they’ve gone overboard in the past.

  • More School Uniforms

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    One of the more interesting trends cited by the NRF for the 2015-2016 school year is that 28% of surveyed parents say their kids wear uniforms in school. That’s the highest rate ever in the poll’s history.

  • First-Day-of-School Fashion Stress

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    According to a survey conduced for Ebates.com, a coupon and cash-back shopping site, parents and teenagers are in agreement that the most stressful category of back-to-school shopping is clothing. In the comment section of the survey, parents lamented, “My son is so picky,” and explained that “Having to negotiate what [my daughter] can and cannot wear to school” is what makes shopping for school clothing so stressful. As for what stresses out teens about clothes shopping, the two top factors cited were “My parents can’t afford what I want” and “My parents don’t agree with what I want.” No wonder more schools are resorting to uniforms.

  • Common Core Backlash

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    The Common Core initiative seeks consistent educational standards throughout the country. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. But the Common Core and the standardized tests that come along with it have come under enormous criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Many teachers and parents aren’t fans either, largely because the one-size-fits-all approach and the narrow focus on test preparation undermines the teacher’s ability to cater lessons to individual students, potentially leaving some kids in the lurch. Movements to opt out of Common Core tests have gained traction in New York, New Jersey, California, and Colorado, among other states, and according to a recent poll, the majority (54%) of public school parents say they oppose teachers using Common Core standards to set the agenda for what they teach.

  • Bye-Bye Lockers

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    As more traditional books disappear from schools thanks to e-books and web-based learning, schools are finding that there is less need for the lockers that have lined school hallways for decades. The disappearing locker trend began several years ago and has picked up steam around the country since. And what are schools doing with the extra space once occupied by lockers? Some are installing laptop charging stations.

  • Nobody Knows How to Pay for College

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    It’s a good thing that many colleges offer heavily discounted tuition via grants, scholarships, and such. After all, the vast majority of Americans say they could not afford the full “sticker price” college tuition. According to a new poll conducted for the financial services firm Edward Jones, a whopping 83% said they couldn’t afford the full cost of college for themselves or a loved one. Even among well-off respondents earning $100,000 or more annually, only 37% said they could cover the entire cost of a college education.

TIME Crime

St. Paul’s School Leaders Respond to Rape Verdict

The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H., Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, Owen Labrie, a former student, goes on trial Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, for taking part in a practice at the school known as “Senior Salute” where graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before the school year ends. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Jim Cole—AP The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., is seen on Aug. 14, 2015.

They note the perils of 21st-century dating

The leaders of St. Paul’s School wrote a letter to the school community Friday, denouncing the culture of sexual competition described in the trial of Owen Labrie, who was accused of raping a 15-year-old girl while they were both students at the school.

The letter from Rector Michael G. Hirschfeld and President of the Board of Trustees James M. Waterbury was sent just after a jury issued a mixed verdict in Labrie’s case Friday afternoon. The jury determined Labrie was not guilty of felony sexual assault but found him guilty of three related misdemeanor charges, and a felony charge of luring a minor through a computer. He will have to register as a sex offender and could face up to 11 years in prison.

The girl alleged Labrie raped her in a remote area of the school after sending her an invitation to participate in the “senior salute” ritual, a tradition in which upperclass boys are said to compete to “score” with as many girls as possible before graduation. Labrie said he and the girl never had sex. From the jury’s mixed verdict, it seems that they believe the pair had sex, but were divided on whether it was consensual.

In the letter to the St. Paul’s community, Hirschfeld and Waterbury said the sexual “traditions” discussed during the trial were not actually part of the school’s history. “Many terms, including ‘senior salute’ and ‘score’ that are part of the student vernacular, have been discussed as part of the trial,” the letter said. “There is no place for inappropriate and hurtful behavior that disrespects any member of our School. Conduct that is damaging to the fabric of our community and inconsistent with our values has never been—and will not be—tolerated.

“The Rector first heard about the ‘senior salute’ in the spring of 2013,” the letter continued. “It is not a decades-old ‘tradition’ as some have alleged.”

The St. Paul’s leaders also noted that the incident and subsequent trial could be considered a wake-up-call about the role of social media in romantic relationships, and how teenage sexual activity has changed in the 21st century.

“We have been painfully reminded of the fact that social media can provide an adult-free space for negative student culture to form and perpetuate itself,” Hirschfeld and Waterbury wrote. “We have learned that what was once termed ‘dating’ or ‘courting’ behavior has been inverted in some instances from our traditional sensibilities—sexual contact is now seen as the point of origin of many relationships, not a part of an emotionally developed relationship.”

TIME viral

Watch This Reporter Break a Kid’s Heart On His First Day of School

Andrew Macias was excited about pre-k, until he realized his mom wouldn't be there

First days of school can be hard: What to wear. Where to sit. Who to be friends with.

Poor little Andrew Macias couldn’t even navigate all his feelings on camera when a reporter from KTLA 5 News asked the 4-year-old if he was excited for pre-kindergarten. Macias’ excitement took a devastating turn, though, when Courtney Friel asked him if he’d miss his mom. When he said no, her giggles spurred his giggles. But only until his face crumpled into devastation and heartbreak and tears.

Macias got a hug from his mom off camera, so we can all breathe easy. But we can’t help but wonder how great it would have been if someone in the background screamed, “He doesn’t even go here!”

Just your friendly reminder to call your mom today, people.

Read next: Amazon’s Top-selling Book Will Put Your Kid to Sleep in Minutes

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME Pakistan

Six Militants Linked to Peshawar School Massacre Have Been Sentenced to Death

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A MAJEED—AFP/Getty Images A Pakistani army soldier stands guard at the site of the militants' attack on the army-run school in Peshawar on December 18, 2014.

More than 140 people, mostly schoolchildren, were killed in the savage attack

Six Taliban militants linked to last year’s attack on a school in Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar were sentenced to death on Thursday, for their role in the December 2014 massacre that claimed the lives of more than 140 people, most of them children.

The accused were tried in military courts, where the army said they “were given a fair trial”, the BBC reported. A seventh militant was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School, where a majority of the victims were under the age of 16, prompted a wave of anger across the country against the Taliban and resulted in Pakistan lifting a seven-year moratorium on executions.

These are the first death sentences to be handed down for the horrific attack, according to the BBC. None of the six sentenced to death this week were among the attackers, all of whom were killed by Pakistani security forces during the attack itself.

Read next: The Fear That Haunts Peshawar

TIME Education

Happier Students Get Higher Grades in School, Research Says

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“I only do good work when I think happy thoughts.”

What leads to success in school?

Recent research suggests success is partly driven by character skills. “Grit,” for example, or perseverance and passion for long-term goals, seems to be a better predictor of success than IQ in school and beyond.

Researchers have also demonstrated that having a “growth mindset,” meaning that a person recognizes that abilities are not fixed, but developed through practice, is associated with academic success.

Researchers at Research Schools International are exploring other character skills that might contribute to success. In a recent study, we explored the relationship between happiness and student achievement.

Are happy students more successful in school? What makes students happy?

Happiness and academic success

First, what exactly is happiness?

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert defines happiness as frequent positive feelings accompanied by an overall sense that one’s life has meaning.

Psychology research has shown a strong link between happiness and success in the workplace. For example, Gilbert and colleagues have shown that happier employees tend to perform better, earn more money and be more helpful to their coworkers.

Education researchers are only beginning to explore the relationship between happiness and school achievement.

Researchers at Research Schools International partnered with administrators, teachers, and students at St Andrew’s Episcopal School and The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning to study happiness and academic achievement.

Results revealed a significant correlation between happiness and academic success. Moreover, we found that relationships are fundamental to students’ happiness.

The impact of happy thoughts

We collected data on happiness and grades from 94% of the student body (435 students) at St Andrew’s, including elementary, middle and upper school students. We developed developmentally appropriate surveys to measure students’ happiness with feedback from teachers and students at the school.

We also worked with administrators and teachers at the school to collect data on students’ GPAs.

Our results revealed that, on average, students who reported being happier had higher grades. Specifically, we found a statistically significant correlation between happiness and students’ GPA from elementary school through high school.

Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, supported their schoolwork. One student shared, “In school I feel happy and accepted, which allows for a fun and free learning experience.” Yet another explained, “I always feel pushed to do my best when I have a project that I find to be really interesting and fun.”

One student summed it up, “I only do good work when I think happy thoughts.”

Relationships are fundamental to happiness

Our next question was, what supports students to be happy?

We found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness. Results showed that the quality of students’ relationships with teachers and peers predicted their happiness. Across all ages, students with positive relationships were more likely to be happy.

Although voiced in different ways, time and again students of all ages emphasized that their relationships are fundamental to their happiness. As one student shared, “In school I feel happy. I think I feel this way because I’m surrounded by my friends, and around teachers that are very nice and caring.”

Another student echoed this sentiment, “I feel happy because I feel like I am surrounded by a great group of friends and teachers.” Yet another expressed, “I feel happy while I am in school. I feel this way because I have my friends.” Another explained, “I am only happy in school when I feel that I have a group of good friends. Friends are what makes me very happy, energetic, and enjoy school.”

These results suggest that there is an important relationship between happiness and academic achievement.

While more research is needed to explore the relationships among happiness, social networks, and achievement in a school setting, the findings of this study are consistent with earlier ones in positive psychology.

As positive psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth explain:

“If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network – about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them.”

We couldn’t agree more.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

How Classroom Curriculum Can Impact Children’s Friendships

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Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships

Friendship is often described as a major outcome of early childhood inclusive classrooms that support all children, irrespective of their abilities.

Friendships provide children with joy, laughter and comfort. They may also prevent later bullying and support smoother transitions into kindergarten for children with a range of disabilities. Friendships are considered a vital developmental milestone for all children.

Yet, developing close relationships may be difficult for some children. This is especially true for children who enter school without well-developed social-emotional skills. About 40% of children with disabilities, for example, enter kindergarten without developing age-appropriate skills in this area.

So, what impact does curriculum have on the development of friendships for children with disabilities? And how can teachers help nurture these friendships?

Investigating the impact of curriculum

To answer these questions, we conducted a study that included 110 kindergarteners, 26 of whom had disabilities, within six classrooms across a Midwest and a New England state.

This study took place as part of another longer-term research project in which teachers were randomly assigned to use either a “disability-awareness curriculum” or a modified science curriculum.

In our study, curricula included similar components of class-wide book readings and teacher-led discussions, “cooperative learning groups” (a teaching strategy that brings together groups of students with different abilities), and a classroom lending library to promote shared reading at home.

These curricula were chosen because they were alike in some ways. Both allowed teachers to focus discussions on similarities between the book content and kindergarteners. And both could include the three core components (ie, book reading, cooperative groups, and home literacy).

What we found surprised us. The number of close friendships among children with disabilities significantly increased in classrooms where the science curriculum was implemented.

Examining the results more closely

Implementation of the two curricula was designed to create similar opportunities for interactions between children with and without disabilities.

In their classrooms, children participated in similar activities: they were read books and encouraged to participate in discussions either about disability or science-related topics. Each week, children were able to take one of the books home that was read to them at school.

However, the cooperative learning groups were designed differently. In the cooperative learning groups for the science curriculum, children focused on science activities that were more outcome-orientated (eg, making bird nests, measuring worms).

In the cooperative learning groups for the disability-awareness curriculum, children participated in play-based activities with open-ended materials and toys (eg, farm animals and a barn, pretend kitchen set and food).

Our observations of children’s play during the cooperative learning groups suggest that participating children with disabilities may not have had the skills needed to fully engage in the group’s play.

For example, some children struggled to enter into ongoing play. During one such activity, a child was playing with a “pretend cash register” and another child with a disability wanted a turn with it. The child asked his peer if he could play with it. However, the peer said no.

In response, the child repeated his same question again and again, receiving the same response from his peer. The child with a disability did not have a broad repertoire of social or play skills to try other strategies such as asking if he might have a turn when the peer was done, or if he could trade roles with the peer (eg, become the cashier and suggest the peer become a shopper).

It seems that cooperative play is an area in which advanced or higher-level skills are needed to be successful. These skills include sharing materials, assisting peers, entering into ongoing play or offering a storyline for imaginative play.

The results from this study on friendships suggest that without these skills, children’s contributions to play may have been less successful, and peers may have viewed children with disabilities as less than ideal play partners.

In comparison, the science experiences such as making bird nests together, painting group posters with each child’s handprints on them and measuring the length of worms may have provided children with outcome-oriented tasks and the support needed to participate in ways similar to peers.

A shared activity with a common goal may have provided the structure that some children with disabilities needed to successfully participate alongside peers. In this arrangement, peers may have viewed classmates with disabilities as competent contributors to the group task.

Taken together, this could have been the reason for the increase in close classroom friendships for children with disabilities who participated in the science curriculum.

What can we learn from this?

First, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how play is no longer a valued part of kindergarten education in the United States. Also, kindergarten schedules leave very little room for play or for supporting the development of social-emotional skills.

Our results provide support for creating opportunities for children to learn through playful interactions. These findings also acknowledge that some children may enter school with limited social-emotional and play skills that are needed to form friendships. These children need teacher support and repeated classroom opportunities to master those skills.

Second, the debate of whether kindergarten classes should have either an academic or social focus must stop.

We believe that the structure of the science-based cooperative learning groups in our study may have served an important role in supporting the development of close friendships, especially for children with disabilities.

We also believe that social-emotional skill development, and the development of friendships, can occur across the school day depending on how teachers structure their classroom environment and schedule, and support learning outcomes.

What can teachers do?

Early childhood teachers can support the development of friendships by the way they structure activities in their classroom.

For example, teachers can purposefully place more social children next to quieter children during group activities. They can pair children who already have a budding relationship to do an activity together, or they can create activities in which small groups of children can interact while completing a project together.

Teachers can support the development of social skills through large and small group instruction. Also, teachers can provide individualized social skill instruction based on student needs, and on an individual basis as necessary.

Inclusive classrooms are a trend increasing in the United States. Teaching children how to share, how to handle anger and conflict, how to express their emotions and how to enter into ongoing play situations are all important skills for young children to learn. Some children might need more support than others to develop these skills.

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

What Common Core Teaches Us About the Future of Testing

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Shifting emphasis to understanding over rote

Whether you love it or loathe it, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has officially arrived in American classrooms. The origin of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, or the Common Core for short, is a widely recognized need for uniformity in United States education. In other words, a diploma from a suburban California school should mean that a student is as well prepared for college and the workforce as a student from rural Iowa or urban New York. The debate around the Common Core has been fierce, but this article will not revisit it. Instead, it will shed light on three things the Common Core assessments teach us about the future of testing:

1. Contextual learning

One feature of the Common Core that resonates with students, parents, and schools alike is the increased importance of understanding concepts in their natural contexts. Students no longer learn simple word definitions; they learn to decode the nuances of a word as it is used in a specific passage. Similarly, knowing how to construct an equation based on a given scenario is just as important as being able to solve that equation for x.

In a sense, this is no different from what many great teachers have always done. However, some teachers were forced to emphasize rote memorization of basic facts in order to prepare their students for standardized tests. These instructors can now begin to re-emphasize understanding.

2. New testing directions

As one might expect, a new set of standards calls for a new set of assessments to evaluate how well these objectives are being met. The Common Core does not include any standardized tests, so the exams that debuted widely this year are developed and administered by several different groups, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. While each state can choose which test to give, they are alike in emphasizing context and fluency of knowledge.

Both groups are also attempting to make their exams more interactive by incorporating computer-based assessments. The interactive elements of Common Core-affiliated testing are still in their infancy, but it is clear that the future lies with computers. Students might one day be asked to highlight the sentence in a passage that best supports a thesis, or that defines a term, or that disproves another statement. Math problems could be constructed to involve drawing geometric figures, or, for younger children, grouping objects by type using a mouse.

3. Critical thinking and fluency

A traditional test question might provide a student with a vocabulary word, and then ask him or her to choose the single best synonym from a list of five possible choices. A slightly more sophisticated question might use the form of an analogy where definitions for three individual terms would have to be parsed in order to secure a correct answer for the fourth word. On a Common Core assessment, a student might be asked to define an underlined word in a passage, and he or she may then have to choose from a set of phrases that are all possible definitions of the term. “State,” for example, is not a challenging word on its own, but it has several distinct meanings.

One benefit of this approach is that adept students can puzzle out the meaning of an unfamiliar word using clues from the surrounding text. If the rest of the paragraph discussed politics, for example, any unrelated answer phrases could likely be ruled out. The new format, then, emphasizes critical thinking and reading comprehension over simple memorization.

Fluency is also critical in the Common Core era. Fluency refers to understanding information thoroughly – inside and out, backward and forward, etc. In math, for example, it is not sufficient to simply memorize the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2 for right triangles). You would also need to know when it is an applicable technique. For example, you might be told that movers trying to load a truck want to roll a heavy piece of equipment aboard (rather than lifting it). If the truck bed is three feet high, and if they have a ramp that is 12 feet long, how much room will they need to leave such that the ramp can be laid out straight behind the truck?

The great news is that the ACT and the SAT are moving to similar formats, so the time spent preparing for Common Core exams during the K-12 years can be applied to college entrance tests too. In short, almost all of our pre-college education is currently attempting to shift its emphasis to understanding over rote. The success of that shift remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it is well worth considering the bigger picture and knowing all possible applications of material when testing. Good luck!

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

More from Varsity Tutors:

TIME Family

How Parents’ Expectations Mess With Kids’ Grades

Bad news? Blame your folks
JEFF PACHOUD; AFP/Getty Images Bad news? Blame your folks

When Mom and Dad expect one child to perform better than the other, that's often exactly what happens

Never mind how long you think it’s been since you got your last report card, if you’re a parent, you get them all the time. Your son’s D in history despite the many times you told him to sit down and study already? That’s your D too. And as for all those As your no-nonsense, hardworking daughter keeps getting? Well, don’t get too full of yourself, but you own a piece of those as well.

That, at least, is one implication of a new—and faintly unsettling—study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. The report’s takeaway: your kids get the grades you expect them to get.

Parental expectations have long been an under-appreciated factor in the childrearing game. Kids are smart, the research suggests, especially when it comes to divining what mom and dad think of them. A child who is expected to underachieve will often live down to that prediction. A child expected to thrive will not necessarily become an academic, athletic or social superstar, but will have a much better shot at it.

To test how this dynamic plays out in the case of scholastic performance, Alexander Jensen of Brigham Young University and Susan McHale of Penn State assembled a sample group of 388 two-parent families with at least two children, and focused on the first- and second-borns of the brood. The sibling dyads—or pairs—were selected to represent all four possible age and gender combinations: two brothers, two sisters, an older brother and younger sister and an older sister and younger brother.

The parents were asked a handful of questions about how their children are similar or different when it comes to school work, which of the two is a better student, and how great, on a five-point scale, that difference in performance is. Simple stuff, but it produced surprising results.

On the whole, parents tended to believe that their older child was the better student, though the previous year’s report cards and grade point average often showed that that wasn’t the case. Parents exhibited a gender bias too, typically believing that a daughter was a better student than a son—which on average was true—even when the daughter was the younger child.

All those beliefs, founded in fact or not, had their effect on kids. When the researchers controlled for all of the reasons one child might have performed even a little bit better than the other in the previous school year, they found that the biggest factor determining how the kids would perform the following year was the parents’ belief in who the better student was. On average, the sibling the parents expected to outperform the other one did, by an average GPA bump of 0.21 points. That’s hardly an inconsequential margin, especially when it makes the kind of symbolic difference bringing home a 2.79 versus a 3.0 does.

But while parental expectations had a powerful impact on the kids performance, the reverse was not often true. Even when the child who was thought to be the lesser student did better than the other one, parents’ beliefs remained fixed; the golden child will always be seen as the golden child, never mind any academic tarnish that may accumulate over time.

The study was by no means a perfect one. Some parents surely do a worse job of hiding their expectations than others; some may even make it a point not to hide them, in the why-can’t-you-study-like-your-sister-does way. A sample group of 388 families might have 388 different ways of managing that dynamic.

Then too there is the chicken-egg problem. A question and answer survey of parents and a statistical core sample of just a year or two of grades does not remotely capture an entire childhood’s worth of experiences in which kids’ academic performance may be changing all the time and parents are forever having to tack into those winds.

“At younger ages, differences between siblings may shape parents’ beliefs,” the authors conceded, “and a direction for research is to determine how parents’ ideas about similarities and differences between their children emerge and develop over time.”

Still, if there’s one thing kids have always had it’s an uncannily good radar for what their parents think of them. And if there’s one thing parents often lack, it’s a good defense against that. Mom and Dad may never be able to hide their expectations about their kids completely, but they could, at least, do a better job of adjusting them as circumstances warrant. The kids themselves—to say nothing of their GPAs—will thank them for it.

TIME Education

Why We Need to Keep iPads Out of the Classroom

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

People think tech will magically solve education's problems—they're wrong

It’s still mystifying that in this time of limited educational funding, the people running the Los Angeles Unified School District were such an easy sell when it came to technology.

After LAUSD made an enormous investment in iPads and Pearson educational products developed for those iPads, teachers quickly discovered the iPad program didn’t work as guaranteed and the Pearson applications were useless. Superintendent John Deasy resigned in disgrace, elections changed the school board, and the FBI began an investigation into allegations of bid-rigging.

I’m inclined to believe that those in charge saw the iPad as a magic talisman that could just about transplant knowledge into students’ brains directly, bypassing teachers. LAUSD technophiles saw teachers as low-tech and low-value conduits between students and cutting-edge software and hardware; teachers weren’t consulted on the purchase or given a chance to give the machines a trial. I suspect the LAUSD powers hoped to construct a system that would be efficient as technology can make other aspects of life, like Ubering up an education.

But teaching isn’t always efficient. Often it’s messy, and because it’s messy, the process can produce epiphanies, and sparks of creative thinking.

I taught English for five years at Locke High School in South Los Angeles. One of the highlights of my career was when a student, a kid who dressed like a Crip, asked where I had gotten a short story that I photocopied for the class, Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants.”

He said, “It ain’t a real story.”

“Why isn’t it a real story?” I asked.

“’Cause it’s interesting,“ he replied.

I was confused but flattered, and later, as I mulled over exchange, it became clear to me that a kid who was unaccustomed to reading had been engaged at a high level because I had found the appropriate material for him, something that wasn’t complex in language, but sophisticated in action, character, and meaning. I suspect my student had responded to Issues that are raised from the point of view of a woman desperately appealing for her lover not to compel her to have an abortion. This isn’t common in a world where teenagers often get their cues of sexual conduct from sources in hip-hop who don’t share the powers of empathy of a Kendrick Lamar that he demonstrates in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”

An iPad is an amazing device for transmitting information, but what makes a difference in a student’s life is the information, not its mode of transmission. Appropriate content, provided at the right time in the student’s life, and in the right pedagogical context, is everything. Technology doesn’t guarantee any part of that. An iPad loaded with inane apps is just another boring textbook.

The technology that made this connection with my student possible was the photocopy machine, technology that — when I taught — was rationed, only accessible to administrators, not to teachers, who were condemned to use that ancient but cheap technology of the mimeograph machine. So I paid out of pocket to make sure my students had the material that I thought would engage them. An iPad would have made this process only marginally better than what was available 20 years ago. Tech wasn’t going to magically transform this student, or students like him onto devoted readers.

My magic talisman, in conveying Hemingway to this student, was another teacher, Professor Alan Stephens at UC Santa Barbara. I was lucky enough to have taken a great Hemingway course that he taught that made it possible for me to understand how to teach Hemingway and stress what was valuable — the clarity, the powers of observation, the brilliant dialogue, and also the flaws of racism and anti-Semitism. I learned it well enough to develop curriculum for it, to sell it to these students who often treated their textbooks as if they were written in another language.

Tech isn’t a panacea. On an orderly campus with sufficient funding for workable restrooms and other niceties that enable students to be comfortable enough to flourish academically, it can be a useful tool for well-trained teachers. What tech can’t do is change the culture of campuses where academic achievement is rare.

Locke High School is in an area of Los Angeles suffering from high unemployment and high crime, just as it did 24 years ago when I was there, though. Some students did well and achieved academically, but the majority of these students graduated in the lower percentiles in reading and math. The majority of students did want to graduate and some wanted to go to college, but many of them were rudderless, hoping at best to blunder into a community college or the military. Their choices were informed by brutal reality and existential struggle, then as today. Doing well in school mattered but personal safety and money mattered more.

Under these difficult circumstances, schools that create a sense of order but also respect these young men and women can accomplish miracles. It is not an easy thing to do, and when it is done these schools and programs deserve great praise. USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative headed by Kim Barrios is such a program. It’s a seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed for low-income neighborhood students. If they complete the program and meet USC’s admission requirements and decide to attend USC, they are rewarded with a full financial package.

It also supports the USC Family Schools, such as Foshay Learning Center. The students are lively but prepared, and instruction is the highest priority. Students understand that attending Foshay is a privilege that can be revoked. They are expected to buy into the code of conduct of the school and if they don’t consequences follow.

When I attended Foshay in the ’70s, it was one of my worst experiences of growing up. I feared for my life and saw riots, beatings, girls sexually assaulted, and teachers slugged. Now, it’s an entirely different world: kids and their families have bought into the culture of achievement to such a degree that many of their students attend the Saturday Academy at USC and are there by 7:50 a.m. Groggy, but ready to attend S.A.T. preparation classes. As a consequence of all this hard work and support, the black and Latino Students in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative all graduate from high school, and more than 98 percent attend four-year colleges and universities.

Verbum Dei in Los Angeles is another school that that overwhelmingly serves low-income black and Latino students in a community that suffers from high unemployment and high crime. Students at Verbum Dei all graduate and are admitted to multiple colleges and universities. Here, too, students buy into the demanding culture of the school, with tons of homework and school-required work (yes, they work, at law firms and other high-income businesses).

The commonalty of these very different success stories is not the emphasis on tech gadgetry but making the investment in creating a culture for achievement and getting the kids and their families to buy into it.

Seemingly, Deasy and the technophiles didn’t see what should have been obvious: an iPad is an amazing device but it isn’t so amazing without content or the right pedagogical context. School reform isn’t expensive tech and high-stakes testing; it’s the incredibly difficult task of creating highly functioning, transformative educational communities. Tech isn’t a shortcut. We are asking teachers and schools to fight the war on poverty when we won’t even admit that we are doing exactly that.

The hundreds of millions already spent and wasted by LAUSD on this misadventure serve as a very expensive cautionary tale.

Jervey Tervalon founded and directs the Literature for Life/Locovore-Lit Los Angeles project. This article was written for Zocalo Public Square and is supported by a grant from the California Wellness Foundation.

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TIME Amazon

This Kindle Deal Is Perfect For Keeping Your Kids Reading This Summer

And you get to save some cash

As school nears summer recess, Amazon has jumped on a commercial opportunity involving students: Summer reading lists.

The tech giant is offering an e-reader package targeted toward children that includes a Kindle device, a protective cover, and a two-year warranty. Whereas normally those three items would run a person about $140, the new deal prices them together at $99.

Parents need not worry about their kids slacking off and using the device to play games either: The Kindle e-reader, unlike a Kindle tablet, supports only books—not apps. It also comes with “Kindle FreeTime,” a progress tracker parents can use to prevent their children from accessing recreational content on other Amazon devices until they’ve met certain goals. For example: finishing a chapter in a book before popping open, say, Angry Birds.

FreeTime puts social media, websites and the Kindle store off limits, too. Parents can instead choose what books to make available on the e-reader, which comes with four gigabytes of storage, five different colored covers—dark blue, green, purple, red, and black—and can stay charged for up to four weeks, assuming that the user only reads for a half hour per day and doesn’t use wireless.

The company has assembled its own recommended summer reading lists as well, including selections for the categories “Baby-Age 2,” “Ages 3-5,” “Ages 6-8,” and “Ages 9-12.” There are nearly 3,500 books total in the company’s “summer reading for kids” collection.

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