Teachers have observed a rising tide of students with poor social skills. A national survey of 3,500 kindergarten teachers reported that 46 percent said at least half of their students had difficulty following directions.
There is relatively little rigorous research on the effectiveness of Tools. The U.S. Education Department’s What Works Clearinghouse said only one 2008 study met its evidence standards. The research, the department said, showed “no discernible effects in oral language, print knowledge, cognition or math.”
But Weiss and D.C. officials said the department’s analysis of that study is misleading because it doesn’t include social and emotional growth in the evaluation criteria. The study, which was conducted by W. Steven Barnett of Rutgers University and looked at poor 3- and 4-year-olds in New Jersey, showed Tools reduced negative behavior, which should help the children become better learners. Leong said other independent studies are in the pipeline.
D.C. officials said they also are guided by what they have observed.
“Tools classrooms hum,” said Miriam Calderon, former director of early-childhood education for the D.C. public schools and now a senior official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Children are really acting on their own, engaging with the materials and engaging with the routine.”
Calderon took teachers and principals to visit New Jersey schools that use Tools. That led to the pilot last school year at Powell and Garfield Elementary.
Educators said they were struck by the results: more students reading at grade level, calmer classrooms, less teacher frustration.
“The academic growth of our Tools of the Mind students has been phenomenal,” Garfield Principal Angela Tilghman wrote in an e-mail. “Students’ vocabulary, [language] awareness and readiness for reading has skyrocketed. Watching students so intense, focused and self-directed is surely due to their self-regulation of behavior.” Officials also hope Tools will help prevent the misdiagnosis of learning disorders.
Otero and Powell Principal Janeece Docal beam as they watch 5-year-old David Salvador leave his “turn and talk” session, walk calmly to his desk with a small yellow bin of paper and pens and, along with other students, quietly begin to write.
“They’re owning the classroom,” Docal said.