Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Barnes & Noble Losing Money, Casts Off Color Nooks

by Grant Bradley, Intern Summer 2013

This past June, Barnes & Noble released its financial report for the fiscal year, and things are not looking particularly bright and sunny for the national book chain. The bookseller reported a net loss of $154.8 million, more than double last year’s net loss. Total sales fell 4.1 percent to $6.84 billion.

Although Barnes & Noble’s mainstays such as print books, toys and games have remained essentially flat, and digital content sales have even gone up, its floundering Nook segment, which makes up the bulk of the year’s losses, has become such a dead weight that the company has decided to discontinue its production of color Nook tablets altogether.

In the wake of the implosion of Borders, whose collapse many blamed in part on its lack of a comprehensive digital content strategy, Barnes & Noble’s decision to create a line of e-readers to compete with the likes of the Kindle seemed like a good business strategy. Barnes & Noble manufactures and sells these devices to consumers, who in turn buy digital content from BN.com to read on their devices, all while avoiding profit-snagging third parties like Amazon’s Kindle Store or Apple’s iBookstore.

To a certain extent, this business model has worked with black-and-white, e-ink devices. But as full-color, high-definition tablets surged in popularity, Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD and Nook HD+ began to face some serious competition from the Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad with Retina display. Barnes & Noble tried to climb its way out of a slippery slope of flagging profits, only to see Nook sales decline 16.8 percent from last year’s figures, losing $475.4 million this year compared to $261.7 million last year. Eventually, the Nook-sized hole in Barnes & Noble’s pocket grew too big to sustain it any longer, and the bookstore chain decided to cut back by halting its production of color tablets.

CEO William Lynch admits that Nook losses were “much higher than expected” and, following the decision to cease tablet production, resigned his position of nearly three years. Before he left the company Lynch made it clear that Barnes & Noble’s “aim is to sell great tablets connected to our best content catalog and high-quality bookstore services we’ve done, but [to] do so without the sizable upfront risk.”

Barnes & Noble says in the future it will work with third parties to make color tablets in exchange for co-branding opportunities, but will continue to make its own black-and-white, e-ink devices. In the meantime, savvy consumers can buy existing tablets from Barnes & Noble’s retail locations and web store at a sizeable discount through the 2013 holiday season.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beat Summer Brain Drain with Educational Websites

by Jessie Miller, Intern Summer 2013

Summer: time to kick back, put those textbooks away, and push school out of mind. But research has shown that this education avoidance contributes to the loss of previously learned knowledge in students, essentially leaving them unprepared for the upcoming school year. How to combat this brain drain malady? Get online—American Library Association’s (ALA) Great Websites for Kids has one such solution.

Since its establishment by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) in 1997,
Great Websites for Kids has compiled carefully reviewed websites that are appropriate and educational for users up to fourteen years old. Websites are evaluated on several criteria, including content, purpose, subject matter and design. Their list covers a wide array of topics from history to animals to literature, providing both specific and more general information.

Scrolling through their approved history list, you can find everything from Abraham Lincoln to women’s suffrage. Great Websites for Kids is an excellent tool for homework help during the school year or for curious minds, but as the Chicago Tribune notes, it can also help ensure that students don’t experience learning loss over the summer. Educational websites give children a fun and interactive way to continue their learning.

Some of the many “Most Popular” sites listed on Great Websites are Eric Carle (author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar), Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Thomas the Tank Engine, National Gallery for Kids and NASA. Another site, Generation On, focuses on spreading the youth service movement and helping teens find more ways to volunteer and give back. There truly is something for everyone among the expansive database, even websites for parents and teachers.

However, sticking children in front of a computer screen for the entire summer does have negative effects, including higher rates of obesity. The solution comes in the healthy balance between indoor and active time. As long as it is not a constant stationary activity, access to educational websites not only supplements school, but can also teach kids initiative and spark further interest in different subjects. Additionally, because it can be challenging for some students to learn in a typical classroom setting, access to interactive learning sources provides an alternative for those who struggle.

The Internet can be a dangerous place for kids when unmonitored, but it also opens up endless possibilities that enhance limited learning experiences. Furthermore, longstanding print and television broadcast media have established an online presence: National Geographic, Highlights, PBS and Sesame Street, to name a few. All are on Great Websites’ approved list.

This summer, instead of mindless video games or television show repeats, consider the interactive learning available through Great Websites and other kid-friendly websites, each designed to enrich children’s education and prevent learning loss.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Establishing Financial Intelligence

by Chelsea Cooper, Intern Summer 2013

One of the most anticipated moments in a young adult’s life is getting his or her driver’s license. Most teenagers equate having a license with becoming an adult, making it a rite of passage. So if taking drivers’ education classes and tests to get one’s license already seem like a hassle, what if there were also questions on the test to assess financial life skills? Would young adults be able to pass? In his op-ed article “How the DMV Could Make Teens Learn About Money,” Adam Levin discusses how learning basic financial life skills is equally as important as learning how to drive. He proposes that if you “don’t understand the difference between a credit card and a debit card? Can’t name the five top factors that determine your credit score (which governs whether you can even get a loan)? Call me the Soup Nazi of the DMV: No license for you! Next!” Levin believes that a credit card and a car loan can look harmless but can turn into a financial danger for some teens. However, he thinks that students with financial literacy are more likely to put more money into savings and pay their credit card balances, and are less likely to max out their credit card.

Even though he does not say teens should be taught this in driver’s education classes, Levin does say that high schools should be involved in teaching these skills. New York Times reporter Tara Siegel Bernard also wrote an article concerning this topic. In her 2010 article “Working Financial Literacy in With the Three R’s,” Bernard agrees that these lessons should be taught in school. However, it’s not a new concept. Currently, there are only 13 states that require students to take a personal finance course before they can graduate from high school. And although there are 34 states that make personal finance a part of their curricula, Bernard states she does not believe that the course will always be taught. She writes: “It’s no secret that state budgets are tight, and courses not seen as core are more likely to be cut than added."

Yet another place where students should be learning about personal finance is from their parents. In a recent Huffington Post Canada article, “Generation Y and Personal Finance: Understanding the World of Money More Important Than Ever,” Stephanie Chan quotes Investor Education Fund President Tom Hamza as saying, “I’d like to be able to say (it’s) 100 percent of a parent’s [responsibility to teach their children], but without parents modeling this behavior, we have to rely on schools more often than not.” Chan agrees with Hamza and writes that relatives may not have all the answers to teach the youth everything they need to know.

Based on these articles, there is a definite need for the youth to learn financial skills. Whether it’s implemented through DMV testing, enforced throughout high schools, or even parents finding and sharing more information, teenagers need to learn how to protect themselves not only from car accidents but from financial crises as well.

Further Reading

Susan B. Garland, “Personal Business; Reading, Writing and Now Checkbook Balancing,” The New York Times, June 22, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/22/business/personal-business-reading-writing-and-now-checkbook-balancing.html.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Improving High School Graduation Rates Helps the Economy, Too

by Grant Bradley, Intern Summer 2013

In a twenty-first-century economic landscape dependent upon consumer spending yet still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, people, businesses and the government have been drumming up ways to get the nation back on track. While Congress debates deficit spending, the costs of immigration reform, more taxes and tax cuts, one way to encourage consumer spending and thereby spur the economy is simply to create more consumers. By focusing attention on the plight of slipping high school graduation rates, Americans can not only better the lives of their younger fellow citizens but also create a bigger consumer pool and boost the economy.

A November 2012 study from the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), “Inseparable Imperatives: Equity in Education and the Future of the American Economy,” holds that increasing the number of high school graduates is key to the economic future of the United States.

Right now, Americans face a very real connection between their level of education and their income potential. At the peak of their careers, those with bachelor’s degrees and beyond earned a median salary of $52,000; high school graduates earned a median salary of $28,000; and high school dropouts earned a median salary of $19,000. This translates to a median hourly wage of $25 for college graduates and beyond, $13 for high school graduates and $9 for high school dropouts.

Income is not the only factor that disadvantages those without a high school diploma. The chances of being employed in the first place are slimmer than those who continue their education—high school dropouts are 1.5 times more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates, and 3 times more likely than college graduates.

If more people graduate high school, the AEE suggests, more people will have bigger paychecks, which they will spend on consumer goods. These purchases, in turn, will contribute to the economy. As the AEE succinctly observes, “any successful economic strategy must eliminate the gaps in education attainment and achievement and enable the fastest-growing populations to reach their full potential as wage earners, consumers, and citizens.”

In the meantime, high school graduation rates and their effect on the American job market are only getting worse. A June 2013 report conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Remedial Education: Federal Education Policy,” points to a unique phenomenon among developed countries: young people entering the US workforce today are, on the whole, less educated than their more senior colleagues and bosses. American Baby Boomers aged 55 to 64 stand out as one of the most academically educated demographics in the world, ranked first in the number of high school graduates and third in the number of college graduates. In contrast, Millennials aged 25 to 34 rank only tenth in the number of high school graduates and thirteenth in the number of college graduates.
If 90 percent of the high school class of 2011 graduated, the AEE study found, the United States would have over 750,000 more graduates—750,000 potential consumers just waiting to score a better job with better pay that would allow them to buy more goods and services. Investing in education, then, means not just a more skilled and educated nation—it means a more vibrant, healthier economy.

Further Reading:

Bob Wise, “Providing All Students With a Quality Education is a Moral—and Economic—Necessity,” The Huffington Post, April 29, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-wise/providing-all-students-wi_b_3147321.html.

Lauren Alix Brown, “Generation Dropout: Millenials Joining the Workforce Are Less Educated Than Retiring Boomers,” The Atlantic, June 18, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/06/generation-dropout-millennials-joining-the-workforce-are-less-educated-than-retiring-boomers/276974/.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Fate of Foreign Language

by Hayley Gundlach, Intern Summer 2013

If you have fond memories of your middle or high school foreign language classes, be sure to pass them onto your kids—and quickly—because the number of opportunities for them to gain the same memories through enriching language classes is steadily decreasing.

Traditionally included in most core curricula starting in middle school and continuing through high school, foreign language programs are being reduced and removed across the United States. Chicago’s Central Middle School is the most recent in a long line of cutting sprees. Officials at Central are choosing to drop their Spanish requirement for seventh and eighth graders, and are instead implementing an elective curriculum where students can take home economics, art, technology or other similar classes.

Central Middle School is not the first school to choose courses that favor the trades over foreign languages. The sad truth is, many schools no longer have the time or the resources to teach all of the material they think their students should learn. Budget restraints are causing schools all over the country to engage in fierce debates that often end in the elimination of entire programs. Foreign language programs are all too often victims of the cuts. By cutting foreign languages like Latin, German, French and Spanish, we send the message that foreign languages are no longer an important part of a middle or high school education.

It is, however, quite the contrary. Although the trades taught at schools like Central Middle School are useful, it is more important than ever to be affluent with the study of languages other than our native ones. The construct of our global society forces every country to interact with one another in some capacity. Because foreign language classes focus on culture in addition to language components, students gain important perspectives and appreciation for relevant cultural differences, diminishing xenophobia and other intolerances that hinder such interactions. In a world of international exchange, the ability to learn and utilize a foreign language is truly vital. International companies are growing, and they seek globally competent employees. By cutting off the resources with which our young students can learn languages, we not only run the risk of reducing our kids’ long-term career opportunities, but we also risk cutting off the entire country from the growing global market, which could hurt us all economically, intellectually and culturally.

Further Reading:

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, “Is Learning a Language Other than English Worthwhile? The World Has Changed,” Room for Debate in The Opinion Pages of The New York Times, January 30, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/29/is-learning-a-language-other-than-english-worthwhile/being-monolingual-is-no-longer-an-option.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

NGSS Seeks Necessary Science Benchmarks Despite Challenges

by Jessie Miller, Intern Summer 2013

For the first time since 1966, national recommendations for science curricula have been released and, if adopted, will bring widespread changes to science education in the United States. A group of 26 states and various foundations and organizations including the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the Carnegie Corporation, and DuPont created the standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new standards are reminiscent of the math and English language arts Common Core State Standards that Achieve, a nonprofit education group, also helped write.

NGSS deals with a range of topics including climate change and evolution—subjects some educators have deemed controversial—which has drawn criticism from conservative groups, including Citizens for Objective Public Education, Inc. (COPE). However, climate change advocacy groups are pleased that the new standards will introduce the crucial arguments for climate change to students at a young age and increase public awareness. As of now, climate change is only sometimes included while studying environmental science, but this is just one example of how the authors of NGSS hope to tie in key topics to multiple science disciplines.

Regardless of individual topics, NGSS calls for a complete overhaul of the current system and emphasizes a stronger, more hands-on approach to learning, which will hopefully spur a genuine interest in the sciences through applicable real-life experiments. To quote from the NGSS executive summary: “Every NGSS standard has three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas (content), scientific and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts.… The integration of rigorous content and application reflects how science and engineering is practiced in the real world.”

Each individual state must go through its own legal process to adopt the standards, since the national government cannot make the guidelines mandatory for all states; however, a driving force behind NGSS was to create a national benchmark. Many teachers and school boards strongly support the guidelines and are likely to push their states to adopt them over the next few years, though it would not be without challenges. States would need to create entirely new curriculum materials and standardized tests, as well as retrain teachers who are unprepared to teach at such a higher caliber, all while under enormous financial strain.

As of now, the Kansas State Board of Education has approved the standards, mostly because moderate Republicans and Democrats control the vote. On the other hand, Barbara Cargill, Republican chairwoman of Texas’s Board of Education, said the state is unlikely to approve the measure because they recently adopted their own standards. California also maintains a similar view on the situation. Massachusetts, however, is said to have already started the approval process.

New York, which serves as a lead state partner on the NGSS, has also committed to giving serious consideration to approving the standards. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, during an evaluation of the NGSS, urges states “to exercise caution and patience” because states are already tasked with the challenges of the Common Core State Standards, as well as other content-related issues with NGSS.

Regardless of whether states choose to adopt the standards, the release of NGSS highlights a pressing issue the United States faces on an international level—we have fallen far behind other countries in math and science testing scores. While other countries, most notably Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, have seen enormous growth in students’ math and science skills, the United States has not kept up. This issue is of growing concern for the United States in terms of the global economy and remaining on the forefront of scientific and technological innovation. NGSS aims to give American students a greater edge on standardized testing, hopefully resulting in higher test scores and spurring greater interest in continuing science education beyond high school.

Further Reading

Kelsey Sheehy, “Next Generation Science Standards Released,” U.S. News & World Report, April 15, 2013, http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2013/04/15/next-generation-science-standards-released.

Justin Gillis,  “New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education,” The New York Times, April 9, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/science/panel-calls-for-broad-changes-in-science-education.html.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is Social Media Becoming the Online Bookstore for Teens?

by Chelsea Cooper, Intern Summer 2013

Reading books as a teenager can feel more like a chore than leisure, especially when distracted by Facebook and Instagram. However, what happens when you combine social media and reading, then cater it toward young adult (YA) readers? Rachel Fershleiser, a representative from Tumblr, said some sites that successfully combine both are “replicating what your local bookstore used to do.” She observed this at a forum held by the Children’s Book Council (CBC), where they led a discussion entitled Engaging Relationships: How Kids & Teens Discover, Connect With, and Share Their Passions. The sites involved in the discussion were Teenreads, Wattpad, Tumblr, the Reading Teen blog, The Book Report Network, DogoBooks and DogoNews.

The discussion centered on how social media is providing a chance for teens to become avid readers by creating a community for them to express themselves as readers and writers. Sites such as Teenreads, DogoBooks and the Reading Teen blog help give teens the opportunity to share, review and find books they might like. Other sites like DogoNews make current events accessible to teenagers. On the Reading Teen blog, not only can users write books or book reviews for other teenagers; they can also share their thoughts in video blogs and provide the links for these vlogs posted on YouTube.

These sites are creating a separate world for teens to become better readers and join a society with like-minded peers to discuss any book of their choosing. One of the Reading Teen bloggers on the panel at the CBC forum, eighteen-year-old Kit, believes that she can be a literary matchmaker on the blogs and in person. She wants to help her peers find books that interest them and use social media as a tool. She and her social media peers are forming these interactions without high censorship (except in extreme cases) and without the permission of parents or guardians, which may cause a bit of hesitancy. However, despite the lack of high security, the space can be similar to book clubs held at local bookstores.

Instead of driving to the local bookstore or café, teenagers can just look at their phones or computers for the same sharing experience. These sites can be found on the go, making it easier for any reader to access them while en route to either school or work, and even at home. These online resources are also great for teachers to use for school projects. In addition to encouraging the use of these sites for homework, teachers are also promoting these online resources to prompt teens into reading more. Other beneficial methods beyond the world of social media for encouraging reading were suggested at the forum. One such instance was the suggestion that male teen readers take the more feminine-looking covers off of books if the readers were turned off merely by the design and not the content.

Surely any technique or attempt, be it small or large, to encourage reading among people of any age, is beneficial. Now, online outlets that provide a pseudo-book club environment can be added to this list of productive methods. Many of these online resources help students feel united with their peers through literature, demonstrating that social media may be advantageous for the future.

Further Reading

Karen Springen, “Teenage Tweetland: YA Authors and Publishers Reach Out to Young Readers Where They Live: Online and on Their Smartphones,” Publisher’s Weekly, May 11, 2013, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/57212-teenage-tweetland.html

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Motivation the Key To Math Success

by Ashley Alongi, Spring 2013 Intern

I was never a fan of math. I can vividly remember one day in kindergarten when I was handed an extra-long sheet of paper with addition and subtraction problems on them, and I felt like my world was going to end right there. But the world didn’t, and throughout the rest of my school life. I managed to do all right in math. Mostly I would stumble around equations, trying to remember which operation came first, until I came up with some sort of answer. I felt like I was stuck at some hurdle that my brain couldn’t get around, that I would never get math. However, recent research suggests that it may not have been my intelligence that kept math and me at a stalemate, but rather my lack of interest.

Researchers in Germany studied 3,500 Bavarian children from fifth to tenth grade and assessed them on IQ and algebraic knowledge. Researchers also gave students short surveys to answer, having them rate from 1 to 5 how much they agreed with statements such as "I invest a lot of effort in math, because I am interested in the subject.” They were also asked if they relied on memorization when doing math problems, or if they connected the problems to their daily life, so the researchers could see how the students’ motivation would correlate with how they learned.

When first tested, students with higher IQs scored best on the math assessment test. But five years later when tested again, the kids who scored in the top 10% in the motivation and learning strategies exam made the biggest improvements, with scores increasing by 13%. However, kids who had high IQs but scored low in motivation showed no change at all.

The study also showed that, unfortunately, telling your child to hit the books unfortunately won’t help. Children whose parents forced them to study showed no significant improvement either. "It is not a good idea to force students to learn mathematics," Kou Murayama, the lead author of the study, says. Instead, Murayama suggests showing kids how math relates to everyday life to keep them interested. Instead of just memorizing times tables, he says, having students understand that two $3.00 candy bars cost $6.00 would keep them more engaged. Showing kids math can be fun will make them want to keep learning their whole life!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Redefining Creativity’s Place in STEM Education

by Hayley Gundlach, Summer 2013 Intern
This year looks to be a benchmark year in education reform. In 2013, not only do the new Common Core State Standards start to become integrated into curricula, but one of the country’s most impactful pieces of educational legislature is up for reauthorization. The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (America COMPETES) was first signed back in 2007 under President Bush and dedicates itself to increasing the number of teachers qualified to teach in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, increasing the number of master’s degrees amongst teachers, and turning the academic focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. When the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act was signed in 2010, a more intense concentration was turned to STEM programs, particularly financially. Now, in 2013, the act is up for a second reauthorization, and people have begun to question such a hard focus in these areas of education.

Campaigns for certain revisions to the upcoming reauthorization suggest a considerable push toward incorporating programs that foster creativity. Having the arts, or programs like them, become a more significant part of an American education—thus transforming STEM education into STEAM education—seems to be the most popular way to bring out the creativity in our nation’s youth. The recent emergence of a new economy seems to demand a more creative worker who best develops in the presence of a creativity-infused education. A generation of workers whose creativity was nurtured rather than ignored, and who were taught how best to apply that ingenuity, better suits our changing economy’s needs. Students who are taught in a creative setting will better reinvent business strategies, negotiate in new ways, and produce new products and marketing techniques that have the potential to transform our business economy.

The question is not, nor will it ever be, which aspect is more important: creativity or STEM? We should not choose one over the other. Instead, the best course of action would be to meld the two together, making a generation of “creative scientists.” The creativity taught in school will in turn foster the innovation that the twenty-first century demands. The two work hand in hand.

Further Reading
John Eger, “The Creativity and Commerce Conundrum,” The Huffington Post, May 13, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-m-eger/the-creativity-and-commer_b_3267408.html.Erik W.
Robelen, “STEAM: Experts Make Case for Adding Arts to STEM,” Education Week, December 1, 2011, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/12/01/13steam_ep.h31.html.