Education: States’ standardized tests have a negative impact on parents’ civic engagement

New research from a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found that parents of public school students in states with more extensive and stringent student assessment systems express lower trust in government, less confidence in government efficacy, and more negative views of their children’s schools, thereby threatening civic engagement and the potential for future education reform.In a study published by the journal Political Behavior, associate professor Jesse Rhodes merged data from an original survey of public school parents with quantitative measures of the scope and alignment of state standards, testing, and accountability policies, to determine whether and how education reforms influence the parents’ political attitudes and behaviors.He found that highly developed assessment policies alienate parents from government and discourage parental involvement in education, an effect he terms “demobilization.” Parental trust in government was 11 percent lower in states with the most extensive assessment policies, and parental assessments of government effectiveness were 15 percent lower, compared to states with less developed testing polices.Over the past decade, federal education policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have led states to develop and adopt education reforms, including content standards specifying what children should know and be able to do, assessments measuring student progress toward those standards and systems of policies holding schools accountable for performance. As years have passed these policies have extended to a greater number of subjects and a wider range of education levels, but there is considerable state-by-state variation in the policies.While previous studies have examined how these policies affect student achievement, Rhodes’ research is the first to assess how they affect the citizenship practices of public school parents — a key education stakeholder.”Today, with trust in government near an all-time low, government’s authority to accomplish collective objectives is arguably at low ebb,” Rhodes writes in the study. “My findings indicate that standards-based reform policies may be further threatening the foundation of public support that government needs to function effectively.”In addition to their negative views of government, Rhodes also found that parents in states with more developed assessment systems were less likely to become engaged in some parental involvement behaviors, especially contacting teachers and participating in school fundraisers. The likelihood that parents would contact their children’s teachers was 17 percent lower in states with the most stringent testing policies, and the chance they would participate in school fundraisers was 28 percent lower. Parents residing in states with more developed assessment systems were more likely to attend their local school board meetings, but Rhodes argues that this involvement is stimulated by anger and dissatisfaction with the perceived negative consequences of state assessments.He argues that these policies tend to depress civic engagement among parents because they provide few opportunities for parental input and can introduce undesirable changes into schools.”My findings suggest that a major reassessment of standards, testing, and accountability policies is necessary,” Rhodes concludes. “At a minimum, standards-based reforms must be redesigned so that they engage parents more directly in the process of policy design and administration and allay parental concerns about counter-productive consequences. However, given the seriousness of the problems identified here, it is possible that an even more searching reevaluation of the standards-based agenda is necessary. Today, the question for policymakers and citizens is how to design education policies that advance the objective of high achievement for all students while strengthening the practice of citizenship for all adults.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Are you political on Facebook?

Social media and networks are ripe for politicization, for movement publicity, advocacy group awareness, not-for-profit fund-raising campaigns and perhaps even e-government. However, the majority of users perhaps see these tools as being useful for entertainment, interpersonal connections and sharing rather than politics. A research paper to be published in the Electronic Government, An International Journal reinforces this notion. The results suggest that the potential for political activism must overcome the intrinsic user perception that online social networks are for enjoyment rather than utility, political or otherwise.Tobias Kollmann and Christoph Stckmann of the E-Business and E-Entrepreneurship Research Group, at the University of Duisburg-Essen, and Ina Kayser of VDI — The Association of German Engineers, in Dsseldorf, Germany, explain that while social networks have become increasingly important as discussion forums, users are not at present motivated to accept political decisions that emerge from such discussions. As such, Facebook is yet to properly break through as the innovative means of political participation that it might become.The team roots this disjuncture in the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance where two opposing concepts cannot be rationalized simultaneously and an individual discards one as invalid in favour of the other to avoid the feeling of psychological discomfort. For example, users enjoy logging on to a social network, such as Facebook, so that they can share photos, play games and chat online with friends. This is inherently at odds, it does not resonate, with the idea of Facebook being useful as a tool for discussing and implementing the perhaps more important realm of human endeavour we know as politics.However, the team says, the advent of politically oriented Facebook games, such as “Campaigns” and “America 2049” blur the lines between the area of enjoyment and political discussion. Moreover, they point out that the boundaries were already blurred in terms of interpersonal discussions among some users where political discussion is facilitated by the network and also perceived as an enjoyable part of participation despite it falling in the “useful” camp. Indeed, the team’s data from several hundred randomly selected Facebook users would support the notion that the perception of mutual benefit arising from political participation on Facebook positively adds to the perception of usefulness as well as being enjoyable. They allude to the fact that the findings might apply equally well to other so-called “Web 2.0” tools on the Internet.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Inderscience. …

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Cellphone use may not cause more car crashes

Aug. 8, 2013 — For almost 20 years, it has been a wide-held belief that talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous and leads to more accidents. However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that talking on a cellphone while driving does not increase crash risk.Published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the study uses data from a major cellphone provider and accident reports to contradict previous findings that connected cellphone use to increased crash risk. Such findings include the influential 1997 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that cellphone use by drivers increased crash risk by a factor of 4.3 — effectively equating its danger to that of illicit levels of alcohol. The findings also raise doubts about the traditional cost-benefit analyses used by states that have, or are, implementing cellphone-driving bans as a way to promote safety.”Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined,” said Saurabh Bhargava, assistant professor of social and decision sciences in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature. Our study differs from most prior work in that it leverages a naturally occurring experiment in a real-world context.”For the study, Bhargava and the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Vikram S. Pathania examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005, a period when most cellphone carriers offered pricing plans with free calls on weekdays after 9 p.m. Identifying drivers as those whose cellphone calls were routed through multiple cellular towers, they first showed that drivers increased call volume by more than 7 percent at 9 p.m. They then compared the relative crash rate before and after 9 p.m. …

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Intent to harm: Willful acts seem more damaging

July 29, 2013 — How harmful we perceive an act to be depends on whether we see the act as intentional, reveals new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.The new research shows that people significantly overestimate the monetary cost of intentional harm, even when they are given a financial incentive to be accurate.”The law already recognizes intentional harm as more wrong than unintentional harm,” explain researchers Daniel Ames and Susan Fiske of Princeton University. “But it assumes that people can assess compensatory damages — what it would cost to make a person ‘whole’ again — independently of punitive damages.”According to Ames and Fiske, the new research suggests that this separation may not be psychologically plausible:”These studies suggest that people might not only penalize intentional harm more, but actually perceive it as intrinsically more damaging.”In their first experiment, Ames and Fiske asked participants to read a vignette about a profit-sharing company in which the CEO made a poor financial investment and cost his employees part of their paycheck.Participants who were informed that the CEO made a poor investment intentionally — so that employees would work harder for profits in the future — perceived the paycheck cut as more damaging to employees and their families than participants who were told the CEO simply made an investment mistake, despite the fact that the employees suffered the same exact financial loss in each scenario.Participants were motivated to “build a case” against the CEO who caused intentional harm, so they exaggerated how much harm had been done, Ames and Fiske explain.In two additional studies, participants read about a town that was faced with a crippling water shortage, and were asked the estimate the sum of monetary damages caused by the drought as they appeared in quick succession on a computer screen (e.g. $80 to replace lost medical supplies, $600 worth of crop loss).Participants who thought that a drought caused the shortage estimated the amount of damages accurately — within about $100. But those who were told that a man intentionally diverted the water estimated way over the mark — about $2,200 dollars more. This bias persisted even when people were given a financial incentive to be accurate.The finding may have legal implications, indicating that the notions of compensatory and punitive damages are inextricably intertwined for most people. Even when participants were explicitly required to simply add up the sum of the numbers they just saw (compensatory damages) in one space, and give a separate estimate for punitive damages in another space, they still over-estimated the sum of the compensatory damages — the amount of harm that actually occurred — when they believed that the harm was intentional.The researchers believe that the findings also have implications for policy-related judgments, given that preventing harms almost always involves a tradeoff among limited resources:”Every wrong that is righted leaves another wrong left unchecked,” Ames and Fiske note. “Policymakers sometimes over-allocate resources to harms that feel highly intentional — like preventing murders and terrorist attacks — even when data suggest that humanitarian interests might be better served by dedicating some of those resources to other causes, like global warming and malnutrition.”According to Ames and Fiske, the new findings suggest a potential psychological mechanism for this phenomenon: “Intentional harms might receive more funding and attention, not just because of political imperatives and moral reactionism, but also because intent magnifies the perceived harms themselves,” they explain.This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship.

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Smoking, sugar, spirits and ‘sin’ taxes: Higher price would help health

June 3, 2013 — Go ye and sin no more — or pay for it, when it comes to junk food, smoking and consuming alcohol. That’s the message from two Mayo Clinic physicians who say raising “sin” taxes on tobacco and alcoholic beverages and imposing them on sugary drinks and fatty foods would lead many people to cut back, improving public health. The article by Michael Joyner, M.D., and David Warner, M.D., appears in the June issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.Share This:The physicians contend that much of overall health depends on behavior and is relatively independent of the health care system. Risk factors for many common and chronic diseases are directly linked to tobacco smoking, drinking alcohol, eating too much low-quality food and physical inactivity, they say.”Sin taxes could address three of these four major behavioral determinants of overall health,” says Dr. Joyner, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and physiologist. “Sin taxes have also been highly effective in improving public health in the past and in the current environment could be structured to raise substantial revenue and prevent both medical overuse and chronic diseases.”Key points from the article:Sin taxes have the potential to generate substantial revenue. Nearly $80 billion could be generated over the next 10 years by increasing the tobacco tax by 50 cents per pack. The alcohol tax as a percentage of the total cost of various forms of alcoholic beverages is much lower than it was in 1980. If the alcohol tax were increased to 30 percent of the pretax value of the beverage (it is currently about 10 percent), federal revenues would increase by $25 billion per year ($250 billion over 10 years). The effects of a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages would raise approximately $15 billion to $20 billion per year ($150 billion to $200 billion over 10 years). …

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