Use Research, Not Guesses, In Education Reform

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Gotta compete.

Gotta get those scores up.

Gotta make them little malingerers put in more seat time. Drill them puppies in the basics. More lectures, more class time, more homework.

Seems obvious.

But one thing we’ve learned about dealing with kids: Beware of the “obvious” and the law of unintended consequences.

So we were fascinated by the presentation of retired physical education teacher Paul Zientarski, who linked student achievement with student movement — the value of simply getting up out of the seat and moving around.

The Payson School District brought Zientarski in last week to talk about the striking gains in student test scores some districts have seen when they gave students frequent “brain breaks.”

Zientarski participated in a study that compared two groups of kids having trouble reading. The researchers divided the kids in into two groups. One group had P.E. in the morning before heading off to the reading class. The other group went straight to the class.

Turns out, the group that went straight to their seats gained just shy of a year’s worth of progress by the end of the year. But the group that had P.E. gained 1.4 years worth of reading in the year. The research revealed similar gains for math when kids interrupted all that seat time with physical activity.

As it happens, elsewhere in this edition we report on the gains made by Payson students thanks to a $1.4 million, federal physical education grant. The innovative program managed to lower obesity levels and increase cardiovascular function.

We applaud the district for bringing Zientarski to campus to broaden the discussion of student achievement. We fear heedless state lawmakers have started to warp the curriculum by piling on penalties for schools whose students don’t make gains on standardized testing in a few core subjects. But the decision to put Zientarski in front of teachers suggests an emphasis on the kind of creative, research-based, results-oriented approach the district needs to thrive.

Hopefully, the training session will convince many teachers to develop quick, in-class activities to keep students alert and focused. Down the road, we hope that this sort of research-based approach will suffuse the district’s attempt to boost student learning. Maybe the board will even consider these findings when it comes time to adequately support vital programs like sports, physical education and extracurricular activities.

Moreover, we can’t help but notice that when it comes to kids — you have to look deeper and base reforms on research — not knee jerk assumptions.

No doubt, we must improve our schools so that our children can compete and our nation can continue to thrive.

Sometimes, that might mean seat time.

But sometimes it might require a nice little game of dodge ball.

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