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Learning Matters

News tips about education from Indiana University

Nov. 6, 2006

In the wake of school violence across the United States, it's best for schools to re-examine violence policies and not overreact. "It makes sense to be very concerned and to use these tragic events as a stimulus to evaluate a local school's programs for preventing school violence," said Russell J. Skiba, a professor in counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. Skiba said that we have learned a great deal about school violence since the first of the school shooting events in the mid-1990s. At that time, Skiba said officials did not know how to respond, and often many school districts turned to metal detectors, video cameras and strict discipline policies such as zero tolerance. "There was a strong panic reaction and a bit of an overreaction," Skiba said. While metal detectors and zero tolerance sound like a good solution, Skiba said there is no evidence that increased use of security measures can prevent violent acts at school. In addition, Skiba said, suspensions and expulsions appear to be negatively correlated with school achievement and may lead to less satisfactory and less disciplined school environments. Rather, the most effective way to prevent school violence is to be prepared by creating a comprehensive plan for school safety and discipline. School violence researchers have identified a three-tiered model to prevent school violence that has gained a wide consensus in the field:

  • First, teach all students about alternatives to violence and how to solve problems without violence.
  • Second, provide programs such as mentoring or anger management to students who are alienated from school and at risk for violence or disruption, and increase communication among teachers, students, administrators and parents to ensure that threats of violence are taken seriously, but without overreaction.
  • Third, put in place pre-planned strategies to work with kids who are already engaging in disruptive or violent behavior to ensure a safe learning climate for all children.

There are alternatives that can keep schools safe without taking away students' learning opportunities. This past spring, Skiba was a member and lead author of the American Psychological Association's report on zero tolerance (view the report at In the wake of recent school violence episodes, he also joined with other violence prevention researchers in the National Consortium of School Violence Prevention Researchers and Practitioners in outlining a balanced approach to handling school violence. Their statement, signed by numerous violence prevention experts at national organizations, can be viewed at

Skiba can be reached at or 812-855-5549.

Full-day kindergarten will be one of the hottest issues in the next legislative session. Jonathan Plucker, director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University Bloomington, said the center's annual public opinion survey indicates that most Hoosier citizens are in favor of full-day kindergarten. "However, there is a concern that there is insufficient evidence substantiating the long-term effects of full-day kindergarten," Plucker said. "We think that's a red herring, but that is where I think a lot of the focus is going to be as the topic is discussed by the legislature during its 2007 session. Yes, there are a few studies that suggest maybe there is not a long-term effect, but there are also a handful of recent, well designed studies that show there is a long-term effect. We don't have a good consensus on what the answer to that research question is, but I think the people who are against full-day kindergarten have really oversold the claim that the effect of full-day kindergarten will fade over time." A longitudinal study, now underway at CEEP, will help answer whether the positive effects -- higher test scores and more pro social behavior, to name a few -- of full-day kindergarten disappear or stay with children. The study -- which is expected to conclude in about two years -- follows school children from the time they begin full-day kindergarten plus another three to four years into elementary school. "Some people say the effects disappear by second grade," Plucker said. "If full-day kindergarten would show a disappearing effect it would be the only program that doesn't have a long-term benefit." Most of the full-day kindergarten proposals to be discussed in January by the Indiana General Assembly will call for an implementation phase-in over the next four years.

Plucker can be reached at or 812-856-8315.

Teachers must adapt to instructing students who are living in poverty and those who are not. "We must develop more tolerance and appreciation for those who live with poverty's limitations; we must provide the knowledge, skills and a feeling of empowerment to enable these youngsters to lift themselves from poverty's grasp," said Claudia Crump, professor emeritus of social studies education at Indiana University Southeast. Crump said it is important for teachers to teach all students about poverty, including those with moderate and ample resources. To raise awareness of the density of poverty in the local community and its severity in select world areas, Crump and other staff from the Center for Cultural Resources at IUS are sponsoring a program for local teachers and students who will soon become teachers. The workshop, "Understanding Poverty: Locally and Globally," will provide strategy sessions and resources led by outstanding teachers and a "PaddleWheel" of poverty-related community organizations. Participants in the day-long workshop will use a poverty-resource grid of descriptors developed in a local survey to identify characteristics that often freeze individuals within a poverty level. "What we want to do is to build the emotional support in the classroom for replacing negative characteristics with positive assets; awareness of these is the first step," Crump said. "If we do not, then these youngsters are frozen in a lifestyle and led to believe that they can't escape poverty, and when they believe that, there is little reason to try." Workshop participants will examine world population and census information for annual income figures, but they will look more closely at contributing factors such as group and language patterns, accessibility to education, infant mortality rates and length of lifespan. One goal is to expand the explanations of poverty beyond those connected with the dollar. Tom Slone, president and chief executive officer of Touchstone Communications, will work with the group of teachers as a key interactor. Slone grew up in Jeffersonville, Ind., with limited family resources, but became a successful businessman who retired early only to start a second successful business based in Texas and Pakistan. The workshop will take place on Nov. 17 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at IUS as a culmination to International Education Week and to earmark poverty as a global problem. The workshop costs $25 and includes a boxed lunch and resource notebook.

Crump can be reached at or 812-948-8123.

Many Indiana students are insular and aren't aware of the global market and that Indiana is a major player in that market. Indiana University Kokomo Professor of Education Margo Sorgman and Professor of Economics Kathy Parkison have been conducting research in Eastern Europe for the past several years. Their analysis of more than 1,000 economics teachers in Eastern Europe shed light on those teachers' knowledge of economics basics and their attitudes toward teaching economics. Parkison and Sorgman compared this data with information gathered from 200 north central Indiana teachers involved in economics education. "We have found that Indiana students, in general, can be somewhat insular because they don't travel as much and don't understand the interconnectedness of the world," Parkison said. "In Georgia, the students are not just taking two years of French. These kids are learning three alphabets, and they have had a lot more exposure to world events." Sorgman and Parkison found that Indiana teachers, especially those who began teaching after 2001, enter the workplace better prepared than their European counterparts. Indiana teachers are much better prepared to teach economics in the classroom because those teachers grew up in a free market economy, while teachers in Eastern Europe have been adjusting to changing from a Marxist economy to a free market economy. Not only do the teachers in Eastern Europe have to understand the changes in their economy, but "they have to rethink the way they deliver education," Sorgman said. In the United States, economics was typically thought of as a high school curriculum, but after 2001 state and national mandates -- including No Child Left Behind -- stipulated that children also learn economics concepts in grades K-8. Sorgman and Parkison published research on the mechanisms that enhance teachers' efficacy in economics education. Workshops and classes offered through the IUK Center for Economic Education, a joint partnership between the Division of Education and the School of Business, help teachers become more knowledgeable about economics, more skilled in selecting methods to teach state and national, and more comfortable dealing with economic concepts and issues. "When this happens, K-12 students' economic literacy is enhanced," Sorgman said.

Parkison can be reached at or 765-455-9462. Sorgman can be reached at or 765-455-9448.