Author ArchiveDr. Marshall

ByDr. Marshall

Deciphering Our Teenager’s Declarations


Earlier this morning I was looking for an article about ADHD when I ran across a column with the title, “Aiming to Decipher My Teen’s Transgender Declaration.” I decided to read the article, because we are experiencing a sudden and significant increase in teenagers declaring that they are gay, or bi, or trans. And this comes as a shock to most parents who assume that their children are going to follow the typical life path of college or career, marriage, and children. Read More

ByDr. Marshall

A Tale of Two Decisions


So as I sit here in the early morning hours, I am struck by two very different news stories. One announces that Macy’s, the large and venerated department store at the center of the Miracle on 34th Street, has just announce that it will no longer fund Planned Parenthood “because of complaints from conservative and pro-life customers.” While we have no desire here to enter the pro-choice/pro-life debate, Read More

ByDr. Marshall

More About Our Two Tiered School Systems

In yesterday’s Paedeia Podcast #8 (now on iTunes), Dr. Berney and I discussed what we consider one of the most troublesome trends in education today, the emergence of a two-tiered school system. In the podcast, we explained that until the 1990’s most public school students attended neighborhood schools. Certain schools served students in well-defined geographic areas. A student’s race, ethnicity, income, and level of academic achievement didn’t matter; if you lived in that area, your child could attend that pubic school.

Beginning in the 1990’s, however, this arrangement came under assault as states began to build charter and magnet schools. The impetus for magnets and charters was simple and appealing. Rather than bussing students to achieve racial integration, districts proposed that they would transform under-performing, low-income schools into specialized academies and high performing schools that parents would choose to have their children attend. In short order, we saw the rise of arts academies, science academies, technology academies, and elite academic academies that began to woo students away from neighborhood schools.

At the same time, states began to grant permission to individuals as well as private companies to build charter schools. Initially, charter schools were intended to provide services to students who were unserved or underserved because public schools simply lacked the resources to meet their needs.

While these two options seemed sensible, there are three unintended consequences. First, there are not enough places in the magnet and charter schools for all who want to enroll. To solve this problem, school districts use lotteries to select some but not all applicants.  In other words, in the wealthiest country on earth, the promise of a high quality education depends on having your name drawn from a hat. That is to say, we are going to build attractive, high quality schools, but not all students will be able to attend them. Where do these demoralized students go?  To their neighborhood school.

Second, because most charter and magnet schools have waiting lists, they do not have to keep students who cannot manage the curriculum or who are unable to follow the rules.  Rather than a selective admissions policy, magnet and charter schools have a selective retention policy. They keep the students who succeed and they weed out those who don’t. Where to these students go? To their neighborhood school.

Third, because magnet and charters have the luxury of removing underachieving students, the students who remain produce higher tests scores. Higher test scores result in higher school grades, which, in turn, lead to more money from the state. And where do the underachievers go? To their neighborhood school.

So, what is happening is that the high achieving, motived students are filling up ever-increasing numbers of magnet and charter schools that get to retain the highest achievers and “counsel out” the underachievers.  Students who cannot attend these schools return to their neighborhood schools. This is what we mean by a two-tiered school system.

You might ask how did this happen? Whose idea was it to create two school systems? Well, I received a post yesterday from our wonderful colleague, Diane Ravitch, in which she cites a column published in the February 13 edition of the Tampa Bay Times. The column, written by John Romano, provides an excellent explanation of how the two-tiered system started and what is keeping it going.  I encourage you to read his column,

After reading it, tell us what you think and then tune in to our next Paedeia podcast on Sunday, February 21 where we once again discuss this critically important issue. And remember, it is budget time in Tallahassee.



ByDr. Marshall

The Stress Our Children Feel

In our recent podcasts, Dr. Berney and I have been discussing three factors–stress, diet, and sleep, that influence our children’s physical and emotional well-being.  In the podcast we recorded yesterday, we discussed the important role that stress, diet, and sleep contribute to our children’s physical and mental well-being. As child specialists we are especially concerned about the amount  and types of stress children experience today. As I was looking through today’s email posts, I discovered a wonderful series of articles devoted to kids and stress from webmd. If you click on this address you will see the link to the article.  Also, take a few minutes to listen to our last two or three podcasts as they focus on the same topics.


ByDr. Marshall

Texting, Teens, and Driving

There is an interesting summary of a study that reveals that while the number of teens who are texting while driving is decreasing, they are still doing everything else while they are supposed to be driving.  Reading this reminded me of three factoids about teens that I encountered over and over again while researching and writing The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains.

1. They don’t believe what adults tell them about focusing only on driving when they are behind the wheel.  They are convinced that they are good enough to do something else while driving.

2. They are convinced they are immortal and nothing bad is going to happen to them.

3. They are convinced that they can multi-task–which they can’t, of course.  There is a mountain of neuroscience research demonstrating that our brains do not multi-task.  It seems like they do because they are so fast. But they don’t.  More on multi-tasking later.

ByDr. Marshall

Heavy Marijuana Use in Teens–NBC News Report

There are more articles out today about the effects of marijuana on teen brains.  One that caught my attention reported on a study out of Northwestern University co-led by Dr. John Csernansky. Using the latest MRI technology, Csernansky and his research team found that three years of daily marijuana use could affect the shape of the hippocampus . The hippocampus is the part of the brain that we use to make and store new memories. Interestingly, it is same brain region that is destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

I won’t go into all the details of the study. And I don’t wish to start an argument about pot. What struck me about this article is the issue of heavy marijuana use.  As every parent knows, it is impossible to convince teens that smoking marijuana is probably not a good idea.  There are dozens of reasons why, but none will be heard.  What should be heard, however, is that daily use over months or years may due serious harm.

But the issue is not weed. The issue is use, or more accurately, heavy use.  It doesn’t matter what substance we are talking about.  Smoking large amounts of weed every day is a problem.  But so is drinking large amounts of alcohol, or large amounts of coffee, or soda. The problem is that heavy use of anything can be dangerous. Even drinking too much water is dangerous, because you can trigger a fatal condition called hyponatremia (water intoxication).  And it is possible to exercise too much.

So let’s stop arguing about whether weed is harmful.  It is for all kinds of reasons, but the real problems begin when a person uses too much and uses it too often.  This study shows us the consequences of daily marijuana use.  Not if it changes the teen brain, but where the changes are occurring.  The message is pretty simple.  Use too much, use too often and this is going to happen.

Legalized or not, using too much too often is a problem, especially in an adolescent brain.  We welcome your comments and questions.

Check out the original article here:

ByDr. Marshall


I am slowly working my way through a book titled, The Big Disconnect, written by Catherine Steiner-Adair and published in 2013.  On the front cover is a short phrase summarizing the author’s purpose:  Protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age.  The book is an eloquent and persuasive account of how electronic devices are changing our relationships.  The “big disconnect,” as you might have guessed, is that our digital devices are “disconnecting” us from each other.  Our devices are so compelling, so demanding of our attention, that we are sacrificing the real people in our real spaces to attend to our digital lives.

How ironic; the same devices that allow us to communicate with anyone in the world in real time, interfere with and interrupt what should be our most personal and important relationships.  Parents who should be giving undivided attention to their three year old child “disconnect” from the child to check a facebook® notification.  Husbands who should be giving wives their undivided attention “disconnect” to respond to a text from work.  Teens who should be giving their full attention to their parents “disconnect” to answer a text from a BFF.    And so on and so on.

I am finding that people fall into two groups when it comes to “the big disconnect.” There are those who see nothing wrong with turning our attention away from real people to attend to digital people. On the other hand are those who are offended, hurt, or feel slighted when people we are talking to suddenly stop attending to us and turn their attention to their device.

The digital genie is out of the bottle and there is no point in trying to put it back.  Two years ago, students would have their cell phones confiscated if they were caught using them at school.  In today’s classrooms, students are encouraged to use their smart phone as a learning tool. The good news is we are learning to use our devices in new and helpful ways.  The bad news is that the devices are used for purposes we do not intend.

We need to accept the inevitable fact that digital devices are going to become faster, smarter, more powerful, and easier to use.  They are going to become more common and we are going to use them for more of our daily activities.  So, the question is how do we take advantage of all that our digital devices can do and not let “screen time” interfere with and destroy our personal relationships?

There are two answers to this question.  First, we must find ways to limit the amount of time that we devote exclusively to screen time. Though applicable to everyone, it is especially important for students, because they should be engaged in a range of activities every day.  In a typical school day, students have from after school until bedtime to do homework, to participate in extra-curricular activities, to complete service hours, to do their chores, and to interact with family members.  Each of these things takes time, and if students are devoting too many hours to digital devices, they are stealing hours from other activities. If my teenage daughter spends three hours on her cell phone while “watching” episodes of “Pretty Little Liars,” she is giving up time that she should be devoting to her other activities.  The problem here is all that she is NOT DOING.

The second issue is etiquette, just plain consideration of others. If you go to the Emily Post website, you will find etiquette defined as “treating people with consideration, respect, and honesty. It means being aware of how our actions affect those around us.”  If my 91 year old mother feels slighted when her sixteen year old granddaughter stops attending to her to answer a text, then her granddaughter needs to consider how her phone use is affecting her grandmother.  And if her granddaughter doesn’t “get it,” then her parents (her mother and me) need to teach her about the etiquette of relationships.  We needn’t punish her for being rude, we need to teach her to be considerate.  Of course, you can apply this to parent/child, husband/wife, or friend/friend relationships. It’s about being considerate.

We will be writing more about the great digital debate and we invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to share your thoughts on this issue and, as always, let us know if there are other aspects of “the big disconnect” that you would like for us to talk discuss.

ByDr. Marshall

Standardized Testing

There was an article in the NY Times today that discusses the “opt out” option. In case you hadn’t heard, the groundswell of opposition to high stakes tests has galvanized in what is called the “opt out.”  This “opt out” option allows students to opt in which parents exercise the option of having their children not take the exam.  Whether they can or not is an issue that will no doubt be settled in future court cases.  In the meantime, some students will be sitting out this latest round of testing.  In case you want to read about “opt out,” you can find it at:

Today marks the start of this year’s round of high stakes testing in Florida public schools.  While we no longer have the FCAT, Florida has a new test, the Florida Standards Assessment, that evaluates whether a student is mastering a new curriculum called Common Core.  No doubt, there will be all sorts of comments, debates, and discussions about this year’s assessment.  Amidst the chatter and the clutter, a few important questions remain unanswered.

As the Times article points out, Common Core was developed and implemented “to better prepare students for college.” It seems, therefore, that we will judge ALL students based on their performance on a test that assesses their preparation for college.  Do we have a curriculum and a test for the 40% to 60% of students who drop out of high school?  And what is the curriculum for the 35% who complete their high school education, but who choose not to go to college?

Second, a number of Florida school districts are asking that this new test not be used to evaluate teachers or to grade schools until we know that it is providing accurate results. So far, their requests have been denied. Insisting that they must hold teachers and schools accountable, state legislatures are determined to make important, life-changing decisions for principals, teachers, and students based on tests whose quality and reliability have not yet been established.  It will be a great day when policy makers consult with educators before making decisions that could have a negative effect on thousands of teachers and students.  In the meantime, let’s make sure that current policies hurt as few as possible.

I am interesting in knowing your experiences with high stakes testing.