Escaping Endless Adolescence. Why are teens growing up so slowly?

I just found an interesting Newsweek article written by Po Bronson reviewing the book Escaping Endless Adolesence. The book’s authors, Dr. Joe Allen and Dr. Claudia Worrell Allen, asks the question, “Why are teens growing up so slowly?” In other words, why does it take teens today so long to mature and be ready for the world? Their answer to this question is reflected in the current education reform discussion.

Structural changes in our school system is part of the national conscious when it comes to education reform, whether it’s extending the school day, extending the school year, block scheduling, starting the school day later, or any of the other ideas that have been tossed around, it’s been part of the mainstream conversation. What these authors have concluded is structural change is needed and should provide real-life, hands on experience that better prepare our children and offer them options to explore their talents, creativity and maturity.

“We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality… We don’t give teens enough ways to take risks that are productive.”

At Urban School Foundation we’re trying to provide this opportunity through entrepreneurship education. We’re creating a program in which students actually start a business and run it. All proceeds from this business are then donated to the school program of their choice.

Read more about our program here.


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Parents spell out detailed school reform blueprint

I found this article on The Washington Post. It’s an interesting new twist to the public education reform debate. In it, a national grassroots organization called Parents Across America outlines its own blueprint for the rewriting of No Child Left Behind.

Congress has been considering how to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act. For those who’ve heard of it, but may not know what it is, a little history. NCLB was originally proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office. The bill, shepherded through the Senate by co-author Senator Ted Kennedy, received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.

NCLB supports standards-based education reform, which is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. The general consensus today is the NCLB is broken and must be revisited.

Parents Across America believe, “[NCLB] has dramatically harmed our local schools with its overemphasis on high-stakes testing, narrowing of the curriculum, and punitive unfunded mandates that have been especially harmful to schools with high-needs student populations. What it has not done is improve achievement.” They’re against:

· Policies that use standardized test scores as the most important accountability measure for schools, teachers or students, and/or expand the use of standardized testing in our schools.

· Competition for federal funds; a quality education is not a race but a right.

· “Parent trigger” laws, vouchers, charter takeovers or other forms of school privatization that take resources from the schools attended by most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.

· Limiting federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including charter schools and privatization, which are favored by corporate reformers but which have had little verified success.

Find this article here:

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The Creativity Crisis

Here’s an interesting article that follows a study done by E. Paul Torrance. The study started in 1958 with group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who took part in a creativity study. The question you might be asking yourself is, how does one measure creativity? Well according to this study you can show the amount of creative potential and thought by judging whether the subjects of the study had “unusual visual perspecitve” and “an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, Ted Schwarzrock, a participant in the study, can still remember the task given to him when he was 8.  He was given a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He was able to find 25 ways, like adding a removable ladder, which impressed his evaluators.

Torrance’s creativity tasks have since become the gold standard, and “what’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers…the correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.” Though they differ in content, both the creativity test (CQ) and the IQ tests are very similar in the ways they are administered, the results are very different. “With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect-each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making skids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.”

The researchers speculate on the reasons behind the decline – too many hours in front of the television or video games rather than engaging activities. In 2009 a controversial documentary came out that has another explanation. This review comes from Variety online:

“The War on Kids” contradicts popular wisdom. Studded with news reports of extreme “zero tolerance” incidents (children expelled for possessing Ibuprofen or for pointing a chicken tender and saying “bang”), Cevin Soling’s documentary posits that, far from being ridiculous exceptions to the rule as media coverage implies, such examples are endemic to a highly repressive, authoritarian [education] institution whose sole purpose is to control and contain.  …[The] docu then takes a giant if seamless step forward to suggest that the entire system of compulsory learning is designed, in the words of an award-winning teacher, “to infantilize the mass mind and condition it to take orders in a docile fashion.”

Check out the trailer below.

“A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.” What are your thoughts on the creativity crisis? Does it relate to the education crisis, as War on Kids implies? Respond on our discussion board. You can read more about the creativity test at Newsweek and a full review of the documentary at Variety or the New York Times.

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Why does the US need education reform? A nation in crisis.

Throughout history there have been defining periods of human ingenuity and creative thought that have transformed society. Inventions in the 1700’s were precursors to the industrial revolution in the 1800’s. The 1900’s saw the advent of the mass-produced automobile, the telephone, television, radio, computers, internet and more. In the past 20 years we’ve seen just how the internet and communications technology can change the world. It still amazes this blog writer that just just a few years ago Facebook burst onto the scene, a site that assisted in an Egyptian revolution and most of us generally can’t live without. We’re all living in a time when the world that’s changing at the speed of technology.

This ever-changing world has put our nation in crisis. Today’s HS graduate will have on average 8-15 careers in his/her lifetime, even if they stay with the same company. This is paradime-shifting in it’s implications for educating our children. Our competitive advantages of the past (natural resources, capital, technology and human captial) have been eroded by globalization. Brain power is now the competitive advantage in the 21st century, making ed the center of  global competition.

If brain power is the new global capital, how is the US measuring up? Let’s take a look. ABC’s 20/20 host, John Stossel, made a persuasive feature he titled “Stupid in America” arguing that a lack of choice cheats our kids out of a good education. This is clearly a pro-charter feature, which is a topic we’ve explored in previous blog posts and not why we’re referencing it. (See previous posts Join the Conversation: Charter Schools The Myth of Charter Schools) What was interesting about this report was a comparison between students at an above average Jersey high school and to students at an equivalent level at a school in Belgium. ABC gave parts of an international test to each class. After taking the test each class felt they had done well on the test. How did they fare?

“Belgian kids cleaned the American kids’ clocks, and called them ‘stupid.’ We didn’t pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey’s kids have test scores that are above average for America. Lov Patel, the boy who got the highest score among the American students, told me, ‘I’m shocked, because it just shows how advanced they are compared to us.’ …When students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.”

Today, more than 220 of the world’s biggest companies have their IT operations in India. Many of these jobs are skilled, high-paying technology jobs. Why are major corporations moving overseas? America is facing the challenge of an increasingly global and constantly changing world with an education system that’s entrenched in educating for a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and the market is holding this hard fact up to our face.  Intel’s Sr. Vice president fears four our competitive future as a nation. Lester Thorough of MIT expressed, “if we do not get a handle on this problem of non-functionals entering the labor market, the US will become a third world labor market by the year 2030.”

I was planning on throwing some more statistics at you demonstrating rising dropout rates and talk about how they’ll affect our economy and our ability as a nation to govern, but instead I think I’ll just show you these clips from Jay Leno’s late night comedy show:

  1. Jay Walking: Geographically Challenged. Jay quizzes high school students on geography because he couldn’t believe that 11% of American students between the ages of 18 and 24 couldn’t locate the United States on a map  (that’s 1 in 10 students)

Note: one of the comments below this video reads, “Man americans are stupid! I thought war was the only way for them to learn geography, but they don’t even know where they’re fighting.”

  1. Jay Walking: Citizenship Test. Jay asks passersby to answer questions from the American citizenship test and deports those who fail.

So, the question remains, how do we prepare our children to live in an ever-changing world? We need to find a better way to instill in our students the agility to learn and relearn, to think and re-think creatively and connect ideas, solve problems and think for themselves.  It’s clear we’re not doing that now, so what are we going to do about it?

Learn how entrepreneurship education can help.


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Chicago Teachers are Strapped for Supplies

Urban School Foundation  blogger here, again. Hello blogee! I’ve got some local news for you today. In the past few blog posts we’ve been launching our discussions on education reform, touching on the hot button issues and ideas of how to shape our educational system for the needs of the future.  It’s a problem at a national level, and all seems a bit daunting. But don’t be discouraged! There are small things you can do on the local level to help out our students and teachers in need.

A recent article by Lisa Pevtzow highlights an issue that schools and teachers face every day: there’s not enough money for supplies.

“If you have $400 to spend and it’s either books for the classroom or a recess cart, you get the books,” said Joseph Hailpern, principal of Edison School in north suburban Morton Grove. A photograph of a red shopping cart overflowing with balls and hula hoops figures prominently on a DonorsChoose page for the school. The caption reads: “Recess Cart in Need of TLC, No More Shopping Carts!”

Did you know in 2010, 92 percent of United States teachers spent a collective sum of $1.3 billion out of pocket for school supplies. How much is one billion? To put it into perspective, one billion seconds ago was the Cuban Missile Crisis and prior to our moon landing. A billion minutes ago the Roman Empire was in full swing. If these analogies aren’t helping, suffice it to know that some teachers spend over $1000 of their own earnings in order to do their job and teach our kids. Take Teresa Jazo as an example.

“When Teresa Jazo, a music teacher at Bateman Elementary School in Chicago, ran out of her school-allotted supply of paper in October, she bought more with her own money. Then, she went online to, an Internet-based educational charity outfitting many of the nation’s classrooms, and asked the worldwide Internet community to buy her enough for the rest of the year. ‘Can we learn new music?” Jazo posted. “Sorry we have no paper!’ Within a week, she had her paper.” is a great way to get involved, or check out the great stuff we’re up to! Urban School foundation is working closely with Chicago schools to supply the homeless and low income students in our city and suburban schools. Learn more about what we’re doing, and consider donating a backpack full of supplies to a student in need. Click here for more information.


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Entrepreneur in Focus: Geoffrey Canada

In the spirit of expanding our blog to spotlight a successful entrepreneur, it’s fitting that our first Entrepreneur in Focus be one who has been the subject of our previous blog posts on education reform. His name is Geoffry Canada. As the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone he’s helped to revolutionize the way a nonprofit enterprise can “change the trajectory of a poor child’s future in an inner-city neighborhood.”


Geoffry Canada was raised by his mother, Mary,  in Harlem, New York.  Finances were tight. In the early years Mary struggled to support her four sons, and as a result Canada’s early life was marked by poverty. She loved and cared for her boys, working hard to raise them with values.  Limiting their television intake, tutoring them herself and taking them to civil rights rallies, she instilled in them the importance of education and concepts of social equality.  Living in a poor, unsafe neighborhood Canada had to learn street smarts to stay safe.

In his teens he went to live with his grandparents in Freeport, Long Island where he excelled in school and won a scholarship. He continued his education at Bowdoin College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and sociology in 1974.  He also holds a Master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


After graduation Canada joined the faculty of Robert White School, an alternative school for troubled youth in Boston, Massachusettes. His ability reaching these students, especially the most violent ones, was a reason for his quick rise to the director position of Robert White.

In 1983 he returned to Harlem determined to make a difference in his old neighborhood. He wanted to help others succeed as he had. He got a job working for the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families as a program director in the Truancy Prevention Program, and by 1990 had risen to President of the organization. Canada was unsatisfied with the scope of Rheedlen, and he began to make changes. The Rheedlen Center was renamed the Harlem Children’s Zone and Canada shifted the entire makeup of the organization.


In an interview for the documentary film, Waiting for Superman, Geoffry Canada explains that he decided to go study what was wrong with the public education system so he “could fix it.” After earning a master’s degree from Harvard, he figured this would take “two, maybe three years.” That was over  35 years ago. NPR’s This American Life did a segment on him for their “Going Big” show. Going big was what Canada realized needed to be done to reform education.

The idea came to him when he and his wife had a son. As the narrator on Going Big” explains, Canada was in his 40’s and things had changed for him. “He was no longer trying to make ends meet. He was now a well-educated, upper middle class guy living in a big home in the suburbs surrounded by trees and lawns and golf courses.”  As a dad he found out there was a ton of new research on the benefits of stimulating your child’s brain at a young age, and it surprised him that everyone in the suburbs seemed to know about it. “They were obsessed with preparing their children,” he explains. People in the suburbs were buying up every Baby Einstein product  or other brain building toys for kids in sight. Canada said he felt “overwhelmed” by all this new information and wondered how the parents they were working with in his organization were fairing in the “parenting revolution.” He asked his staff to canvass the neighborhood and what they found was there was nothing. Abolutely no one was teaching anything – no best practices, no parental education, nothing – for moms and dads of 0-3 year olds. It dawned on him that places like Harlem “are often left out of the science of developmental education.”

At the same time Canada began rethinking his approach to social work. After so many years of frustration saving one child and having 10 more slip through the cracks he wondered if there was a tipping point, a point at which the the entire culture, the cycle of teen pregnancy and dropping out of high school could be altered. Could he reach 40 or 50% of these kids? He went to his board with these thoughts and the conclusion: we’ve been going about this the wrong way.

It was this revelation that led to the complete re-thinking of how they were approaching urban poverty and education reform. The two were intertwined. Middle class and upper middle class families had access to this information and talked about it openly. It completely passed over lower-income families. Kids in middle to upper middle class families have opportunities to continue to grow and develop after school with programs, clubs, sports and more. Kids from lower-income families are too often left unsupervised, because their parents, or parent, are working. Single parents in the neighborhood had little access, or knowledge, of support systems. What Harlem Children’s zone aimed to do was provide a quality education for the children of Harlem as well as design a support network that is “designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle class and upper middle class kids through their childhood” until they graduate college.


Quoting from the HCZ Project web page: “The HCZ Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s, then following a 10-year business plan, it expanded to 24 blocks and then 60 blocks. The goal is to serve 15,000 children and 7,000 adults by 2011. The budget for the HCZ Project for fiscal year 2009 is over $40 million, costing an average of $3,500 per child.”

The ambitious Harlem Children’s Zone Project has expanded the comprehensive system of programs to nearly 100 blocks of Central Harlem and aims to keep children on track through and beyond college, as former students enter the job market. So, what programs and services are included in HCZ?

  • Baby College, a series of workshops for parents of children ages 0-3
  • Gems, an all-day pre-kindergarten program
  • Harlem Peacemakers, reducing violence through negotiation skills and self defense classes
  • Promise Academy, extended-day charter schools from kinder to 12th grade
  • TRUCE Arts & Media, fostering career readiness through media literacy and artistic ability
  • Employment & Technology, teaching computer and job-related skills to teens and adults
  • College Success, an office that supports HCZ graduates throughout the college admission experience and during their college education
  • Community Pride, organizes tenant and block associations
  • Family Support, provides crisis intervention services, advocacy, groups on parenting and anger management training
  • Asthma & Obesity Initiatives, educating families and providing management counciling

And there are many more. Read more about these programs and their success. This is significant because HCZ is now helping $1,200 students, 90% of which go on to attend college. The odds are in favor of college grads for breaking that cycle of poverty.


Geoffry Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone has been extraordinarily inspirational. president Obama launching promise neighborhoods program, 20 cities across US to mimic HCZ. Read more about promis neighborhoods here.

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The United States’ Shocking Education Statistics

While it’s debatable whether or not Davis Guggenheim’s documentary film, Waiting for Superman, offers the right solution to the problems affecting the US public education system, it definitely has raised awareness of the statistics presented throughout the movie:

The tables and graphs above shed light on our broken education system. Though we’ve increased spending per student, math and reading scores are abysmal. According to the PISA test, a international test that measures proficiency in core subject matter every three years, only 23% of United States high schoolers graduate at their expected level in math. That’s less than 1 in 4 students. Reading proficiency is better but not by much at 35%, or a little over 1 in 3 students.

How do these figures measure up on a global scale? In comparison with 30 other developed countries, the US is nowhere close to the top:

If we’re not serving our students and they’re not prepared for college or the workforce, how will this affect poverty in America? In turn, how will it affect government-supported social services? Our nation’s future in general? Let us know your thoughts on our discussion forum.

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