Music Ed. Accelerates Development of Auditory, Speech, and Language Skills

The study of music seems to have helped accelerate cognitive development, and particularly the auditory and speech and language-processing abilities, of a group of young children in Los Angeles.  The students are taught using an approach based on El Sistema, developed in Venezuela. They receive free instruments and intensive, regular training from adult musicians. To gauge their brain development the students are occasionally monitored with MRIs, EEGs, and other activities.

Research two years into the study revealed the students in the music group were more able to identify differences in musical pitch than other students. The brain scans also showed that these students had more-developed auditory pathways than their peers. Development in auditory processing also affects students’ ability to process speech and language, which means it could have an impact on students’ academic progress as well as musical abilities.

Most schools have experienced cuts in arts and music programs in recent decades. Advocates have been highlighting the inequitable distribution of arts programs in schools. (Many schools serving the most disadvantaged students don’t have robust arts programs.) Studies like this bolster claims that music education, especially where many students are living in poverty, could benefit children’s cognitive development.

Why so many Marginalized Students are left out of Gifted Education

A preliminary giftedness test given to all second-graders at a Broward County, Florida school has proved incredibly beneficial for the improving the academics of all students. The traditional system relied on nominations from teachers and parents, giving students who come from families with more resource an unfair advantage over their just as intelligent, but marginalized peers.

“The screening program led to a 180 percent increase in the gifted rate among all disadvantaged students, with a 130% increase for Hispanic students and an 80% increase for black students.”

These students were also more likely to have parents that spoke a primary language other than English. Under the new system, the new gifted students (who were predominantly black, latino, immigrant children and kids from lower income families) benefited academically. Because researchers noted poor and immigrant children tend to have lower test scores and grades on average, some may have been led to assume that few of them had the intellectual potential of more-privileged kids, but they excelled just as well as their peers already in the program.

In relation to the study, National Association for Gifted Children board chair George Betts said the standard educator and parent referrals are not enough to identify all gifted students. It’s time to change the way we approach gifted classes and make sure that students in those classes reflect the larger demographic of their schools’ as a whole to be sure students of all backgrounds have a chance for advancement.

Congrats! CICS West Belden Featured in EdSurge

Using technology in the classroom is now the standard, but teachers and schools must decide which tools to use and how to implement them. Distinctive SchoolsCICS West Belden is among the schools interviewed about technology in the classroom for a recent EdSurge article. In conjunction with LEAP Innovation, West Belden has been narrowing down tools for learning to find those that are most beneficial for instruction. Teachers are after tech that helps analyze data “at the speed of teaching” by immediately crunching data.

“Digital tools like the ones West Belden has put into place give students the ability to work at their own pace and progress as they learn key concepts, without teachers losing the ability to track their performance.”

Relationships between developers like those at LEAP Innovation, and teachers like those at CICS West Belden are being formed to select and craft software that works for teachers are students with a teacher’s first hand input driving decisions and development.

Keep up the good work West Belden!!!


Do Military Recruiters Belong in Public Schools?

The United States Armed Forces can offer an incomparable
opportunity for our country’s youth: paid college tuitions, specialised training, marketable skills, discipline and integrity. A course through the Armed Forces can turn into a lifelong career. This much acknowledged, do recruiters belong in the Public School System? Out of all of the developed countries in the world, the United States is the only one that permits this.

What began as presentations with an open invitation for students to visit recruiting offices, has evolved to a level that goes very much unadvertised by the Recruitment Departments. Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools give the military as much access to campuses and student contact info, as given to any other recruiter. Brian Lagotte, University of Kansas anthropologist has expressed concerns that school officials do not fully understand the policy and have granted unrestricted access of the campus to recruiting officers. He has found that a multitude of schools go so far as to allow military recruiters to coach sports, serve as substitute teachers and engage in extra circular activities.

Unsurprisingly, data released by the Army indicates that their recruitment activities in the State of Connecticut last year disproportionately targeted schools with high levels of low-income students. With all respect and admiration due for the armed forces, this does come across as predatory. And while it’s very much true that the military can offer a viable opportunity to escape the low-income generational cycle; should it be presented so overwhelmingly that it appears the only option? Should we be allowing recruiters to serve as substitute teachers? Or does this cross a line? I welcome you to share your opinions or experiences with this in the comment section below.

7 Solutions to the 7 Threats to High School Graduation

In the United States, we have indeed seen a tremendous improvement in high school graduation rates. Yet the numbers of high school dropouts still hover around half a million annually. In this brief article, the seven greatest threats to high school completion are explored, along with proposed solutions to each.

Now that our work in Acceleration Academies is entering its 4th year, these same threats are more real than ever before. We must progress on this front much. I’m proud of the school districts we partner with as they work to prevent the problem and we work to recover those kids who fell through the cracks.

The Crisis Facing Young African Americans in Chicago

Nationwide, the dropout and unemployment rates of African American youth are significantly higher than white/Caucasian counterparts. These numbers are rooted in systemic issues widely acknowledged and agreed upon by educational and civic professionals. Looking forward as a society, we attempt to bridge that gap; ideally, there would be genuinely equal economic and educational opportunity, regardless of race. Some localities have wider gaps to solve than others:

Chicago may lead with the percentage of unemployed African American youth for big, American cities: according to this Chicago Tribune article. An estimated 41 percent (aged 20-24 years old) are jobless. These statistics indicate that there is nothing short of a crisis facing Chicago’s black community


Formative assessments are an invaluable tool utilized by educators to indicate educational growth and progress in students. Gust Elementary School in Denver has begun to utilize student self-assessment, with some indicators of success.

Students are given a rubric, or key indicator of what their work ‘should’ look like. With the guidance of their teacher, they make corrections as needed. The advocates behind self-assessment claim that students learn more by being given the opportunity to analyze their own work and make the necessary corrections. By involving students in the process, they are able to track their own educational growth. Ultimately, it has students becoming more invested in their education.

The faculty and students at Gust stand by their model. Students have embraced it and educators claim real progress. Self-assessment is popping up in schools and districts around the country. If you have had experience utilizing this model, please share your experiences in the comment section!

How Tech Start Ups May Change Education As We Know It

This enlightening article explores in detail how tech start ups hold the potential to revolutionize education. The traditional classroom environment comes with limitations; educators are usually stuck with a set curriculum that needs to be covered within a specific time-frame. Furthermore, the student-to-teacher ratio makes individualized learning nearly impossible. While teachers undoubtedly do their best to make sure every child understands the content, they cannot dedicate excess time while the rest of the class suffers. Similarly, students ahead of the curriculum cannot be given special time to cover more advanced concepts.

By utilizing digital mentoring, we can overcome these obstacles of traditional ed; and therefore offer a truly tailored experience for each child. Imagine if you will, a learning environment where curriculum was developed based upon each child’s current progress, strengths and weaknesses. And attention was given to them upon a one-to-one basis. While this does currently exist, it’s primarily in a testing stage. The results so far are promising: dramatically increased testing scores from the student participants.

The Controversy Around AP Courses

Throughout the country there has been a gradual shift towards pushing for more AP (Advanced Placement) Courses; specifically, a push for higher enrollment within them.  AP Courses are typically offered to high school students with no upfront cost to them (the school district pays about $90 per AP exam taken). Successful completion of an AP exam (usually a score of 3 out of 5, marking a passing rate) entitles a student to use that course towards college credit in most colleges and universities. One inherent benefit to the student who passes the exam is the reduced cost in college credit attainment. It has also been argued that students who don’t pass the exams still benefit from the exposure to the rigorous curriculum of these courses.  From my experience in leading the push to greater access of more academic rigor for America’s students, I strongly support this notion.

There has been a call to question the motives of The College Board (the non-profit organization that offers AP exams); as we have seen this increase in course enrollment and availability correlated with decreased passing rates. Opponents often say that students are being pushed into taking courses that may be too advanced for them. They question if there is a profit-motive behind the increased enrollment, and assume that The College Board is to blame. The linked Chicago Tribune article here, explores this controversy.

If we are to return America to top-status academically, we must tap all ways to increase rigor, relevance, and results with our school kids. This reigns especially true for our under-served, under-exposed, and under-performing students.

I am deeply saddened to report that Dr. Phillip C. Schlechty, founder of Schlechty Center, passed away early yesterday morning. Like the thousands of educators he has influenced, I am left deeply saddened by this news. Phil was a leader in providing insightful education models for young minds.

Phil has done a masterful job of ensuring the continuity of leadership needed for this transition. Although our mentor and friend passed away yesterday; work at the Schlechty Center will continue to honor Phil’s legacy of creating engaging school’s for today’s students.

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