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Author Archives: Ethan Demme

About Ethan Demme

Ethan Demme is the President and CEO of Demme Learning and is passionate about finding the best ways to build lifelong learners. Ethan is an elected member of the board of supervisors in East Lampeter Township and is an active member of his local community. Ethan is a homeschool graduate and holds a B.A. in Communication Arts from Bryan College. Ethan has been married to his lovely wife Anna for over 7 years and they live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where they enjoy running, hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing and exploring new places.

Read to Kids and Talk to Adolescents


Reading aloud to young children and having open and thought-provoking conversations with your teens are a form of involvement.

In her keynote at the National Summit 2014, Amanda Ripley shares a story about receiving an automated call from the school principal:

“Wednesday is Chipotle night. Go to Chipotle and if you buy a burrito, ten percent will go to the school.”

Amanda gets the call and says, “Oh alright. I’ll put it in my calendar because education is important so I got to do this.” So Amanda goes to Chipotle and there’s a line of 500 people stretching around the corner which means a 45 minute wait in the sweltering humidity. And when she gets home, Amanda collapses on the couch.

“Do you think I read to my kid that night?” Amanda asks.

Amanda goes on to report on a 2008 study of thirteen countries that found that the more time parents spent on PTA meetings and extra-curricular activities, the worse the kids did on a test of critical thinking and reading even after controlling for socio-economic differences.

That same study found that the more time parents spent reading to their kids and asking them questions about their day, talking to them about movies, books, TV, the better the kids did on a test of critical thinking and reading, even after controlling for socio-economic differences.

Read to Your Children

Research such as the study presented by Ripley clearly demonstrates that reading to children leads to high academic achievement. Parents, when you read to your kids, ask them questions like, “Why do you think Little Boy Blue is sad?” and “What do you think will happen next?” This guided conversation about what you are reading helps children learn to think through what is being read.

Parental involvement in education need not (and should not) end at the onset of adolescence.

In her book The Smartest Kids In The World, Ripley shares how talking with adolescents about current events, the movies they are watching, the books they are listening, etc., also leads to great gains in the areas of critical thinking and reading.

American parents often function as cheerleaders, chanting “you can do it” and “great job” and “you’re a winner.” While encouragement is important, the research shared here suggests that parents should operate more as coaches, praising hard work and achievement, facilitating growth, and providing stimulating challenges to encourage development.

3 Types of Parenting Styles

Ultimately though, the message to be proclaimed here is that parents need to be hands-on. There are three generally recognized parenting styles:

1) Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is hands-off, everything goes. Parenting experts say that this style does not provide children with needed structure.

2) Authoritarian Parenting

The second parenting style is authoritarian: completely hands-on, controlling, rigid and harsh. Experts say this style can be detrimental to a child’s social and academic development.

3) Authoritative Parenting

The third style, authoritative parenting, is the sweet-spot: hands-on, but leaving room for autonomy; structured but flexible rather than rigid; involved but not controlling.

When it comes to child development, authoritative parenting can serve as the catalyst for dramatic, positive growth. Amanda Ripley’s encouragement to parents is that you don’t have to be a genius to have a tremendously positive influence on your child’s development. Reading aloud to young children and having open and thought-provoking conversations with your teens are a form of involvement that is attainable and immensely beneficial. Remember, that attachment bond between you and your child will serve as the scaffolding that lets your child successfully develop through the stages of life and achieve their full potential.


How Education in Poland Transformed with 4 Changes


Education in Poland was the one of the worst in the world in the year 2000. By 2012, Poland was near the top of the list. How did this happen?

In the year 2000, Poland had one of the worst education systems in the world. By the year 2012, Poland was near the top of the list. Today, Poland is considered to be an education powerhouse and its 12 year transformation provides us with hope that the United States can also transform its education system.

In her New York Times bestseller The Smartest Kids In The World, journalist Amanda Ripley explores the four key changes that Poland implemented that led to such dramatic improvements. These four changes were: a new (rigorous) curriculum, three standardized tests, more teacher autonomy, and delayed tracking of students.

1. A New Curriculum

A new curriculum was built to inject rigor into the system, something the previous curriculum had lacked. The new program included fundamental goals – intensive enough that the government required 25% of teachers to go back to school to improve their own education. While these goals were clearly defined, the details regarding how to meet those goals were left to the schools.

2. Three Standardized Tests

To ensure that these goals would be met and to provide accountability to schools and teachers, Poland instituted three standardized tests: one at the end of elementary, junior high, and high school. While Poland tested its students less often than America, the stakes were higher for older Poland students whose results determined which universities they could attend. Significantly, Poland also decided that these exams would not be graded by local teachers so as to ensure honesty.

3. Teacher Autonomy

Poland gave teachers great autonomy, allowing them to choose their own textbooks and their own specific curriculum from a list of over one hundred approved options. In addition, principals were given full control over hiring teachers and local authorities had full control over budgeting. In her book, Amanda Ripley points out that this system of great accountability and great autonomy is also found in high-performing organizations like Apple Inc.

4. Delayed Tracking

Tracking refers to the practice of placing students in different courses based on the perceived ability of that student. In the United States, we track students early and aggressively. Amanda Ripley talks about the contrast between an AP honors English class, a normal English class, and then a “English in the Workplace” class (offered at one point by a school in Gettysburg, PA) For Tom, a student profiled in Amanda Ripley’s book, tracking began in third grade when, after performing well on a standardized test, he was placed in an accelerated track. By age 15, all of Tom’s core classes were “advanced” and he only saw the other students at “nonessential” classes like gym and art.

Poland raised the expectations for what kids could accomplish by delaying tracking of students till age 16. This delay resulted in dramatic academic gains in students who otherwise would have been shuffled off to vocational training. As it turns out, that delay provided motivation for students to apply themselves in ways that a different track may not have required them to.

Conclusion

Poland faced a lot of opposition in the early days of their ambitious reform efforts. Nevertheless, Poland’s leaders, unified with a common vision, worked together to implement these reforms and as a result of their thick skin and diligence, Poland now has one of the best education systems in the world.

America has been trying for years to fix our broken education system. Poland’s example provides us with some practical solutions and gives us hope that we can indeed fix what must be fixed so that our students receive the education they need and deserve.


What Do Exchange Students Think About Education? [Survey]


202 exchange students completed a survey about their experiences with education in their home country versus abroad.

In May 2012, journalist Amanda Ripley and researcher Marie Lawrence worked together with AFS Intercultural Programs to conduct a survey of exchange students. 202 students completed the survey. It should be noted (as a limitation of the study), that of the respondents, “a significant number (19%) had studied in Italy. Of international respondents, a large group (37%) had come to the United States from Germany. These ratios mirrored the distribution of AFS students generally.” Of the participating countries in the survey, the high-achieving nations included Denmark, Finland, and Hong Kong.

This survey was designed to ask the experts – students – about their experiences with education in their home country versus abroad. The goal was to shed light on why America underperforms in education compared with many other countries in the world.

There are five topics highlighted in this survey: technology, difficulty (of subject matter), parental freedom, importance of sports, and praise. Here are some key highlights within each of these topics.

Technology

“International and U.S. students agreed that there was more technology in U.S. schools in U.S. schools: 70% of international students and 73% of U.S. students. This is significant because the U.S. also spends more more per student than most other countries. Evidently, increasing the amount of technology in our schools won’t solve the education crisis in our country.

Difficulty

“International and U.S. students agreed that school in the United States was easier than school abroad.” In all, 92% of international students and 70% of U.S. students agreed on this point. When compared to education powerhouses like Finland, Poland, and South Korea, the United States lacks rigor in our education system.

Parental Freedom

International and U.S. students agreed that U.S. parents gave their children less freedom than parents abroad: 63% of international students and 68% of U.S. students agreed on this point.

Importance of Sports

“91% of international students and 62% percent of U.S. students said U.S. students placed more importance on doing well in sports than did students abroad.”

Praise

“Roughly half of international and U.S. students said their U.S. math teachers were more likely to praise student work” than teachers abroad.

Conclusion

While this survey was limited in size and scope, it helps to collaborate insights regarding why America’s education system is so broken. Imagine, for example, what academic gains could be achieved if this country saw a systematic shift in focus from sports to academics in high school. More controversially, what if our country spent less on technological bells and whistles and instead paid teachers more?

The results of this survey provide us with a great starting place for discussing the problems with our education system. Asking students about their experiences in school helps reveal patterns and suggest counter-intuitive paths of inquiry leading to practical solutions to the problems we face.


The Smartest Kids in the World [Book Review]


The Smartest Kids in The World is filled with powerful insights as well as counter-intuitive truths.

Amanda Ripley, an accomplished journalist, stumbled upon a mystery: America spends more money on education than almost any other country in the world and makes use of more technology in the classroom than most other countries and yet it continues to underperform. Why are American kids not doing as well as their peers around the globe and what makes certain countries stand out as educational powerhouses? To answer these questions, Ripley wrote a book.

Within the pages of The Smartest Kids In The World, Amanda Ripley follows three American teenagers as they become foreign exchange students who live for a year in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Her book mixes anecdotal insight from each of the students’ experiences with current research.

In 2012, a representative selection of 15 year olds from countries all over the world took the PISA, an exam that tested them in math, science, and reading. The United States ranked below average in mathematics, ranking 27th in the world. Our rank in science (20) and reading (17) were only slightly less dismal than our ranking in math. Even our most privileged teenagers who attended high-tech schools and came from affluent families underperformed when compared to affluent (and some poor) children all over the world.

Not surprisingly, Finland, South Korea, and Singapore all had excellent scores and ranking. More surprising though is Poland, a country that went from being at the bottom in 2000 to being near the top in 2012.

There are many diverse factors related to the success of Finland, South Korea, and Poland but for the sake of brevity and simplicity, let’s look at one notable factor from each country.

Education in Finland

For the country of Finland, teaching is a prestigious occupation. In fact, Finland’s teachers have the same prestige and similar pay as its lawyers and doctors. These teachers are at the top of their game: only the best even qualify to be teachers.

Education in South Korea

Amanda Ripley aptly summarizes South Korea’s education system in one word: drive. South Korean parents have high expectations for their children, teachers demand great work from their students, and students orient their whole lives around their studies. While this drive has placed South Korea at the top, many parents, students, educators, and policy-makers in South Korea feel that the price that is paid by these students is too high. In this country, students spend all day (early in the morning through 5pm) in school and then spend another five hours after supper in after-school tutoring sessions meaning they end their day at midnight or later, only to start again the next day. Many believe that South Korea needs to ease up on the gas pedal.

Education in Poland

Poland transformed its education system through a series of strategic (and controversial) reforms. These reforms included a new core curriculum, three new (and rigorous) standardized tests, more teacher autonomy, and delayed tracking of students for an extra year.

The Smartest Kids in The World is filled with powerful insights as well as counter-intuitive truths. For example, America spends more on education than almost every other country in the world, there is more technology to be found in American schools than in Korean schools, and 91% of international exchange students surveyed say that American kids put more emphasis on doing well in sports than do students abroad. Still, at the heart of her book is a simple, encouraging message: transformation is possible and highly attainable.

In her keynote speech at the 2014 National Summit On Education Reform, Amanda Ripley said:

Once you visit these places…you see that these aren’t perfect places. These aren’t mystical lands with brilliant teachers and wonderful patient parents and high-achieving children of all kinds.

No, these are countries that have found solutions that work well and have courageously implemented them despite strong opposition. Amanda Ripley’s research provides a foundation for thinking through reform in America and it’s worth paying attention to what she has to say.


Cultivate A Healthy Parent-Child Attachment [4 Tips]


Cultivating a healthy attachment bond empowers to be parents.

A child is an eager observer and is particularly attracted by the actions of the adults and wants to imitate them. In this regard, an adult can have a kind of mission. He can be an inspiration for the child’s actions, a kind of open book, wherein a child can learn how to direct his own movements. – Maria Montessori

Parenting is hard work. Raising a child to be a productive citizen requires a lot of time and effort. Thankfully, the natural bond between a parent and a child can serve as a conduit of nurturing love. This natural bond is susceptible to erosion; as the second law of thermodynamics dictates, it requires ongoing energy to sustain the natural bond. Here are some tips for nurturing parent-child attachment.

In the book Hold On To Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld identifies six primary methods of attachment. In order to understand how to nurture attachment, it’s important to first understand how attachment works.

6 Primary Methods of Attachment

1) Senses: Based on physical proximity.
2) Sameness: Rooted in identification.
3) Belonging and Loyalty: Acting on an internalized identity.
4) Significance: Feeling that we matter to someone.
5) Feeling: Warm affection and expressed love.
6) Being Known: Rooted in intimate relationship.

Much of the above is fairly intuitive. The good news is that parenting is not rocket science and a family filled with love will naturally strengthen the familial bonds.

4 Tips for Healthy Parent-Child Attachments

1) Get in Your Child’s Face in a Friendly Way

Spending time together, enjoying each other’s company is foundational in establishing, maintaining, and cultivating an attachment bond. As kids grow older, a natural tendency is for them to want to spend time with peers. This is okay provided that peer-time doesn’t replace family time.

2) Provide Something for the Child to Hold On To

The young infant who seeks his mother’s hand and who grabs hold of her fingers serves as a metaphor for parenting in general. Children need to be able to “hold on” to their parents. Dr. Neufeld points out that attention and interest are powerful primers for connection. He also reminds us of the power of expressing affection (such as through hugs.) Providing children with ways to connect leads to strong attachment.

3) Invite Dependence

While children need room to grow and to exercise the amount of autonomy appropriate for their age and maturity, it is equally important that children be able to fall back on their parents as a safety net and to look to their parents for help, advice, and support. Independence is the ultimate goal when a parent raises a child but the journey to independence (like maturity) is one of slow, meaningful transformation. Parents provide the scaffolding that helps their children climb through the stages of development to reach adulthood.

4) Act as the Child’s Compass Point

Parents need to embrace the role of:

Introducing them [children] to those around them, of familiarizing them with their world, of informing them of what is going to happen, and of interpreting what things mean. (Hold On to Your Kids)

Cultivating a healthy attachment bond empowers to be parents. In its natural design, the family becomes a safe place for children to develop while mom and dad function as coach, sage, cheerleader, mentor, and teacher. Parents, make loving relationship a priority in your home, provide structure, and be encouraged that your love is the water and sunlight that will foster growth in your children.


Hold On To Your Kids: Parents Before Peers


The home, as a safe refuge, becomes a protective space allowing each child to find their identity and grow as an individual.

A ship is sailing at night, navigating treacherous waters in the darkness. Suddenly the captain sees a beam of light from a lighthouse a mile away. This light from this lighthouse allows the captain to get his bearing and his navigation is oriented around the lighthouse.

We have a natural internal drive to orient ourselves with our surrounding. We need to know where we come from and have an idea of where we are headed. We need others to provide us with direction. This need for orientation is acutely felt by children and the natural design is for children to get a sense of direction from their parents. Increasingly in our society, this natural design is being supplanted and children are orienting around themselves. Youth culture has become the driving influence for many children.

International child development authority Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains:

Children cannot be oriented to both adults and other children simultaneously. One cannot follow two sets of conflicting directions at the same time. The child’s brain must automatically choose between parental values and peer values, parental guidance and peer guidance, parental culture and peer culture whenever the two would appear to be in conflict. (Hold On To Your Kids)

What Happens When Peers Replace Parents

In 1990, a group of international scholars chaired by Professor Sir Michael Rutter began studying psychosocial disorders among 12-26 year olds. These disorders included crime, suicide, suicidal behavior, depression, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and abuse of alcohol and psychoactive drugs. The study found that the development of a separate youth culture could be responsible for the rapid post-World War II rise in anti-social behaviour.

Since that study was published, sociologists continue to warn about the dangers of peer-orientation and how it can result in severe bullying and violence, increased rates of suicide, a hyper-sexualization of youth culture including both over-exposure and exposure at too young of an age, and other dysfunctional trends.

It’s not just headline-catching issues that are created by peer orientation. In his book, Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Neufeld outlines three negative effects of peer orientation:

3 Negative Effects of Peer Orientation

1) Peer-oriented kids are more vulnerable.
2) Peer-oriented kids lose their natural shield against stress.
3) Peer-oriented kids become sensitized to insensitive interactions of children.

In addition, Dr. Neufeld also warns that peer-orientation can stunt a child’s development. Youth culture is often painfully immature and youth who are peer-oriented are often trapped in that immaturity.

Is Dr. Neufeld saying that children having friends is bad? Far from it. Instead, the problem that he identifies is that:

Peer bonds have come to replace relationships with adults as children’s primary sources of orientation. What is unnatural is not peer contact, but that children should have become the dominant influence on one another’s development.Hold On to Your Kids)

In the end, parents are uniquely positioned to provide guidance for their children. Older generations impart wisdom to younger generations. Parents, who have a lifetime of experience, help shape their children’s values. The home, as a safe refuge, becomes a protective space allowing each child to find their identity and grow as an individual.


The Strength of an Attachment Relationship


A modern danger is found when the primary attachment between parent and child/teen is replaced with an attachment to peers.

“My daddy can beat up your daddy.”

When they’re young, children think their parents are superheroes.

Young children enjoy spending large amounts of time with their parents; tagging along to the grocery store can be seen as a great big adventure.

Usually, near the onset of adolescence, things change dramatically. Suddenly, parents are seen as a source of embarrassment; children would rather spend time with their friends. Going along to the grocery store is perceived as drudgery. This shift, while expected, often leaves parents wondering, “what happened?”

What is Attachment Theory?

At the heart of parenting is the attachment bond between parent and child.

In the 1930s, John Bowlby worked with children as a psychiatrist in London. He began to notice a pattern with some of the emotionally disturbed children he was treating: many of these children had been separated from their mother as infants. This observation led Bowlby to study the bond between mother and infant, leading him to develop what is now known as attachment theory. Since Bowlby pioneered this field of study, experts have continued to write about the importance of a strong natural bond between parents and their children.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a recognized international authority on child development, writes in Hold On to Your Kids:

The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child. When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher, or a coach. For a child well attached to us, we are her home home base from which to venture into the world, her retreat to fall back to, her fountainhead of inspiration. All the parenting skills in the world cannot compensate for a lack of attachment relationship. All the love in the world cannot get through without the psychological umbilical cord created by the child’s attachment.

As infants, attachment is intensely physical. Close physical proximity like cuddling and breastfeeding help infants feel safe and secure and allow them to bond naturally.

As infants grow into toddlers, the need for physical proximity is not felt as acutely and many toddlers will explore new settings provided that they feel safe. Toddlers become children who become preteens who become adolescents who become adults. As this process of growth and development occurs, it is natural for the attachment bond to take on different shapes. Early on, physical nearness is key but as parents of adolescents know, teens need personal space and room to grow on their own.

A modern danger is found, however, when the primary attachment between parent and child/teen is replaced with an attachment to peers.

When a child/teen’s peers are more influential in shaping their attitudes, speech patterns, behaviors and in providing direction for values and identity than parents, family cohesion is undermined leaving children susceptible to nefarious influences. Being influenced by friends is normal and natural: being more influenced by peers than parents is not.

Our children will grow to see us as normal human beings – imperfect as we all are – and if we cultivate authentic, loving relationship with our children, they will naturally look to us for wisdom and advice even as young adults. Everyday life can put a strain on this attachment bond from time to time and different seasons of life will see the strength of the bond ebb and flow but if that bond is preserved from infancy through adulthood, healthy development will occur preparing our children for the day when they themselves will be parents, thus continuing the cycle of attachment.


Engaged Parents Are the Future of Education


We should allow parents to make choices regarding their child’s education; we should encourage them to be involved in their child’s learning.

Condoleezza Rice trusts parents.

In a dinner keynote at the 2014 National Summit for Education Reform, the former Secretary of State addressed the misconception that somehow parents – particularly poor parents – are not capable of making good education choices for their children. Rice mentioned the normal system of a zip-code determining the quality of education of a child; “I know what that movie looks like” she said, adding that instead, she would “trust the parent or an advocate for that child.”

The narrative surrounding education reform in America often focuses on race and poverty. Minorities living in impoverished communities and attending poorly funded schools continue to perform below average, dragging down the international benchmark scores of the United States…or so the story goes. While it is true that minorities living in poverty due tend to do worse on standardized tests, research from the 2012 PISA global test shows that the United States also has a below-average share of top performers in mathematics and that those top-performers are under-performing compared to top achievers in other nations.

As it turns out, placing a child in an elite American private school may provide that child with a better education than what might be offered in an inner-city school but it provides no guarantee that the child will receive an education anywhere near the education powerhouses of the world. Race and poverty are indicators but they’re only half of the story.

The bad news: America ranks 27th (below-average) in the world in the PISA rankings for mathematics. The good news: Parents in the U.S. are better educated than in most other countries…the US ranks 6th highest among OECD countries in the percentage of 35-44 year olds who have attained tertiary education (post high-school.)

America’s 15-year-olds are unlearned compared to a great many of the kids in the world, but their parents are smarter than most other parents in the world. In America, we tend to relegate parents to the role of supporting actor while teachers take center stage. Parental involvement means showing up at PTA meetings. But if our parents are smart. and our students are underachieving, doesn’t it make sense to encourage parents to take on an active role in their child’s learning?

Engaged Parents Are the Key

We should allow parents to make choices regarding their child’s education; we should equip parents with tools and tips for engaging in their child’s academic development; we should encourage them to be involved in their child’s learning.

Imagine a country where every parent reads to their young child regularly. This simple activity has been shown to have incredible results in creating strong readers.

Imagine a country where every parent talks to their adolescent about politics, current events, and the latest movie that the adolescent watched. This kind of parental engagement results in students who are excellent readers and who value and enjoy reading.

This is the vision of what could be, a vision of what should be the reality in the United States of America.


CTE Education is a Viable Option for Today’s Students


Mike Rowe and a recent study make the case for CTE education.

Mike Rowe is widely known for hosting the TV show Dirty Jobs, which explores the often dangerous but always vital labor jobs that our nation depends on. Rowe recently testified before the U.S. Senate on CTE (Career Technical Education):

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled ‘alternative.’ Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of ‘shovel ready’ jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.” This is troubling, says Rowe, especially given that “a few years from now, an hour with a good plumber, if you can find one, is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

A recent study from the Fordham Institute demonstrates that career and technical education can be an excellent education choice, and one worth considering by students and their parents. The study acknowledges that so-called “vocational training” has gotten a bad rap for being a way of tracking students, that is identifying students deemed to be lacking in aptitude for college and shuffling them toward a dead-end job. In recent years, however, CTE has become a developed and sensible option that enables today’s students to find well-paying jobs in industries like plumbing, welding, etc.

The goal of today’s CTE is simple: to connect students with growing industries in the American economy and to give them the skills and training required for long-term success.

The study examined Arkansas, which requires students to take CTE courses in order to graduate. The goal is to help expose students to different options that they might not have otherwise considered. The highlights from the study are noteworthy:

• “Students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.”

• “CTE is not a path away from college: Students taking more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers.”

• “Students who focus their CTE coursework are more likely to graduate high school by twenty-one percentage points compared to otherwise similar students (and they see a positive impact on other outcomes as well).”

• “CTE provides the greatest boost to the kids who need it most—boys, and students from low-income families.”

Parents, it is worth considering seeking out opportunities for your student to explore CTE opportunities. All work, whether installing wiring in a house or creating the architectural plans for a skyscraper, is meaningful and full of dignity.