Friday, July 27, 2012

Spatial skills may be improved through training

Spatial skills--those involved with reading maps and assembling furniture--can be improved if you work at it, that's according to a new look at the studies on this topic by researchers at Northwestern University and Temple.

The research published this month in Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association, is the first comprehensive analysis of credible studies on such interventions.

Improving spatial skills is important because children who do well at spatial tasks such as putting together puzzles are likely to achieve highly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

David Uttal and fellow researchers at Northwestern University with Nora Newcombe, professor of psychology at Temple and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation's Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, reviewed 217 research studies on educational interventions to improve spatial thinking.

"There are limitations involved with looking at individual studies one by one. What we found when we brought together this large body of literature on training effects and analyzed it was a very powerful message, said Newcombe. "People of all ages can improve at all types of spatial skills through training, period."

Although recent research confirms that spatial abilities uniquely predict STEM achievement, there has been some debate about whether spatial skills can be improved — and whether such improvement lasts or transfers to new tasks. The new meta-analysis answers all those questions in the affirmative.

The researchers found that spatial skills are indeed malleable and that spatial training transfers to other fields.

"Our findings have significant real world implications by showing that training can have an impact on a technological workforce. With the right training more high school students will be able to consider engineering and other scientific fields as a career option," said Newcombe.

One example of the type of training that can increase spatial abilities is having physics students use three-dimensional representations. Video game playing also increases spatial skills. "Perhaps the most important finding from this meta-analysis is that several different forms of training can be highly successful," the authors say.

"Our hope is that our findings on how to train spatial skills will ultimately lead to highly effective ways to improve STEM performance," said Uttal, the lead author on the study.

The study looked at gender and age differences in relation to spatial thinking and found that in males and females, adults and children, even a small amount of training can improve spatial reasoning and have long-lasting impact.

Tween texting may lead to poor grammar skills

Text messaging may offer tweens a quick way to send notes to friends and family, but it could lead to declining language and grammar skills, according to researchers.

Tweens who frequently use language adaptations -- techspeak -- when they text performed poorly on a grammar test, said Drew Cingel, a former undergraduate student in communications, Penn State, and currently a doctoral candidate in media, technology and society, Northwestern University.

When tweens write in techspeak, they often use shortcuts, such as homophones, omissions of non-essential letters and initials, to quickly and efficiently compose a text message.

"They may use a homophone, such as gr8 for great, or an initial, like, LOL for laugh out loud," said Cingel. "An example of an omission that tweens use when texting is spelling the word would, w-u-d."

Cingel, who worked with S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Penn State's Media Effects Research Laboratory, said the use of these shortcuts may hinder a tween's ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar.

Cingel gave middle school students in a central Pennsylvania school district a grammar assessment test. The researchers reviewed the test, which was based on a ninth-grade grammar review, to ensure that all the students in the study had been taught the concepts.

The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of New Media & Society, then passed out a survey that asked students to detail their texting habits, such as how many texts they send and receive, as well as their opinion on the importance of texting. The researchers also asked participants to note the number of adaptations in their last three sent and received text messages. Of the 542 surveys distributed, students completed and returned 228, or 42.1 percent.

"Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages, controlling for age and grade," Cingel said.

Not only did frequent texting negatively predict the test results, but both sending and receiving text adaptations were associated with how poorly they performed on the test, according to Sundar.

"In other words, if you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it," Sundar said. "These adaptations could affect their off-line language skills that are important to language development and grammar skills, as well."

Typical punctuation and sentence structure shortcuts that tweens use during texting, such as avoiding capital letters and not using periods at the end of sentences, did not seem to affect their ability to use correct capitalization and punctuation on the tests, according to Sundar.

The researchers suggested that the tweens' natural desire to imitate friends and family, as well as their inability to switch back to proper grammar, may combine to influence the poor grammar choices they make in more formal writing.

Sundar said that the technology itself influences the use of language short cuts. Tweens typically compose their messages on mobile devices, like phones, that have small screens and keyboards.

"There is no question that technology is allowing more self-expression, as well as different forms of expression," said Sundar. "Cultures built around new technology can also lead to compromises of expression and these restrictions can become the norm."

Cingel, who started the study as a student in the Shreyer Honors College at Penn State, said the idea to investigate the effect of texting on grammar skills began after receiving texts from his young nieces.

"I received text messages from my two younger nieces that, for me, were incomprehensible," Cingel said. "I had to call them and ask them, 'what are you trying to tell me.' "

Boys’ Impulsiveness May Result in Better Math Ability

In a University of Missouri study, girls and boys started grade school with different approaches to solving arithmetic problems, with girls favoring a slow and accurate approach and boys a faster but more error prone approach. Girls’ approach gave them an early advantage, but by the end of sixth grade boys had surpassed the girls. The MU study found that boys showed more preference for solving arithmetic problems by reciting an answer from memory, whereas girls were more likely to compute the answer by counting. Understanding these results may help teachers and parents guide students better.

“The observed difference in arithmetic accuracy between the sexes may arise from a the willingness to risk being wrong by answering from memory before one is sure of the correct answer,” said Drew Bailey, a recent recipient of a Ph.D. in psychological science from MU. “In our study, we found that boys were more likely to call out answers than girls, even though they were less accurate early in school. Over time, though, this practice at remembering answers may have allowed boys to surpass girls in accuracy.”

The MU study followed approximately 300 children as they progressed from first to sixth grade. In the first and second grades, the boys’ tendency to give an answer quickly led to more answers in total, but also more wrong answers. Girls, on the other hand, were right more often, but responded more slowly and to fewer questions. By sixth grade, the boys were answering more problems and getting more correct.

“Developing mathematical skill may be part ‘practice makes perfect’ and part ‘perfect makes practice,’” Bailey said. “Attempting more answers from memory gives risk-takers more practice, which may eventually lead to improvements in accuracy. It also is possible that children who are skilled at certain strategies are more likely to use them and therefore acquire more practice.”

“Parents can give their children an advantage by making them comfortable with numbers and basic math before they start grade school, so that the children will have fewer trepidations about calling out answers,” said David Geary, MU professor of psychological science and co-author of the study. “As an adult, it seems easy to remember basic math facts, but in children’s brains the networks are still forming. It could be that trying to answer a problem from memory engages those networks and improves them, even if the answers aren’t correct at first. In time, the brain develops improved memories and more correct answers result.”

The study, “The codevelopment of skill at and preference for use of retrieval-based processes for solving addition problems: Individual and sex differences from first to sixth grades,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. David Geary is Curators’ Professor and a Thomas Jefferson Fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science. Drew Bailey will be starting as a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University this fall.

The Role of Master's Degrees in Teacher Compensation

A new report released by the Center for American Progress argues that states across the nation spent nearly $15 billion a year in bad investments because of the so-called master's degree bump. Teachers with advanced degrees are generally compensated with additional salary or stipends, known as the master’s degree bump, but some states are paying far more into this inefficient and unwise policy than others. In New York, for instance, the state spends more than $460 per student each year on its master’s degree bump. In others states, such as Utah, that number is $39 per student each year, illustrating the tremendous range in values.

Most of the nation’s school districts remain shackled to what the report calls traditional, simplistic salary schedule in which just two measures matter: years on the job and the advanced degree. Although teachers with master’s degrees generally earn additional salary or stipends research suggests that they are no more effective, on average, than their counterparts without master’s degrees. The analysis, entitled "The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement," dissects the nation’s sizeable investment in master’s bumps as a means of highlighting policy obstacles to a more smartly differentiated compensated approach.

Using the most recent data available, the report’s authors Raegen Miller and Marguerite Roza found that in the 2007-08 school year, $14.8 billion was spent nationwide on this form of teacher compensation. A similar analysis released by CAP in 2009 found that during the 2003-2004 school year, nearly $8.6 billion was spent on so called master’s bumps. The findings of today’s report reveal that the nation’s annual outlay for this form of compensation has surged by 72 percent. This increase is plausibly related to steep increases in school budgets during the period and to the growth of online providers of master's degrees.

Key findings from the state-by-state analysis include:

• Spending on master's bumps exceeds $400 per pupil in Ohio, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, and Illinois.
• The average master's bump exceeds $10,000 in Washington, D.C., Illinois, and Minnesota.
• The estimated percentage of teachers holding a master's degree ranges from 28 percent in Louisiana to 88 percent in New York.
Based on these findings, the report’s authors propose the following recommendations:
• State policymakers should dispose of policies that mandate differential pay for teachers with advanced degrees or that make advanced degrees a requirement for remaining in the profession.
• In districts where the master’s bump takes the form of an annual stipend sitting on top of a teacher’s salary, rather than increasing stipends in conjunction with cost of living increases, districts should avoid directing new resources towards them.
• In districts where the master’s bump has penetrated the salary schedule, districts should create different salary schedules for new teaching hires that are neutral with respect to master’s degrees while grandfathering the master’s bump of existing teachers.

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance

While 24 countries trail the U.S. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate.

In a 2010 report, only 6 percent of U.S. students were found to be performing at the advanced level in mathematics, a percentage lower than those attained by 30 other countries. Nor is the problem limited to top-performing students. Only 32 percent of 8th-graders in the United States are proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd when ranked among the participating international jurisdictions.

Although these facts are discouraging, the United States has made substantial additional financial commitments to K–12 education and introduced a variety of school reforms. Have these policies begun to help the United States close the international gap?

International Assessment Data

To find out the extent of U.S. progress toward closure of the international education gap, the authors of this report provide estimates of learning gains over the period between 1995 and 2009 for the United States and 48 other countries from much of the developed and some of the newly developing parts of the world. The authors also examine changes in student performance in 41 states within the United States between 1992 and 2011, allowing us to compare these states with each other.

Their findings come from assessments of performance in math, science, and reading of representative samples in particular political jurisdictions of students who at the time of testing were in 4th or 8th grade or were roughly ages 9–10 or 14–15.

The data come from one U.S. series of tests and three series of tests administered by international organizations. Using the equating method described in Appendix A, it is possible to link states’ performance on the U.S. tests to countries’ performance on the international tests, because representative samples of U.S. students have taken all four series of tests.

Overall Results

The gains within the United States have been middling, not stellar. While 24 countries trail the U.R. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate. Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.

In the United States, test-score performance has improved annually at a rate of about 1.6 percent of a standard deviation (std. dev.). Over the 14 years, gains are estimated to be about 22 percent of a std. dev. or the equivalent of about a year’s worth of learning. By comparison, students in three countries—Latvia, Chile, and Brazil—improved at an annual rate of 4 percent of a std. dev., and students in another eight countries—Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania—were making gains at twice the rate of students in the United States. Gains made by students in these 11 countries are estimated to be at least two years’ worth of learning. Another 13 countries also appeared to be doing better than the U.S.

Student performance in nine countries declined over the same 14-year time period. Test-score declines were registered in Sweden, Bulgaria, Thailand, the Slovak and Czech Republics, Romania, Norway, Ireland, and France. The remaining 15 countries were showing rates of improvement that were somewhat lower than those of the United States.

iv. The four ongoing series are as follows: 1) National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by the U.S. Department of Education; 2) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); 3) Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA); and 4) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), also administered by IEA.


Progress was far from uniform across the United States, however. Indeed, the variation across states was about as large as the variation among the countries of the world. Maryland won the gold medal by having the steepest overall growth trend. Coming close behind, Florida won the silver medal and Delaware the bronze. The other seven states that rank among the top-10 improvers, all of which outpaced the United States as a whole, are Massachusetts, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia.

Iowa shows the slowest rate of improvement. The other four states whose gains were clearly less than those of the United States as a whole, ranked from the bottom, are Maine, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Note, however, that because of nonparticipation in the early NAEP assessments, the authors cannot estimate an improvement trend for the 1992–2011 time period for nine states—Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.

The states making the largest gains are improving at a rate two to three times the rate in states with the smallest gains. States that were further behind in 1992 tend to make larger gains than initially higher-performing states. However, their initial level of performance explains only about a quarter of the variation among the states. Also, variation in state increases in per-pupil expenditure is not significantly correlated with the variation in learning gains.

States with the largest gains in average student performance also tend to see the greatest reduction in the percentage of students performing below the basic level. They also are the ones that experience the largest percent shift of nonproficient students to the level of proficiency set by NAEP. However, there are some exceptions to this overall pattern. At the 8th-grade level, the gains by educationally disadvantaged students in Texas were larger relative to other states, given the percentage of nonproficient students who attained NAEP proficiency. Conversely, nonproficient students in Utah, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Maine, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were more likely (relative to other states) to cross the proficiency bar, given the gains being made by the most educationally disadvantaged students. Otherwise, an educational tide within a state that lifted an average boat lifted all boats fairly uniformly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First-Time Kindergartners in 2010-11

First-Time Kindergartners in 2010-11: First Findings From the Kindergarten Rounds of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011), provides a snapshot of the 3.5 million kindergartners who were attending kindergarten in the United States for the first time in the 2010-11 school year. The ECLS-K:2011 is a longitudinal study that will follow students from their kindergarten year to the spring of 2016, when most of them are expected to be in fifth grade.

Key findings from First-Time Kindergartners in 2010-11 include:

• Most of the first-time kindergarten students in the cohort were born prior to September 2005 (7 percent of the cohort was born in September 2005 or later), meaning that most of these kindergartners were 5 years of age or older at the start of the school year.
• In the fall of kindergarten, reading and math assessment scores were lowest for first-time kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
• In the fall of kindergarten, first-time kindergartners with a primary home language of English scored higher in reading and math than those coming from homes with a primary home language other than English.
• Kindergartners with parents whose highest level of education is a Bachelor’s degree or higher had a lower BMI (body mass index) than those whose parents’ highest level of education is a high school diploma/equivalent or lower.

New Report Shows Progress in Child Education and Health Despite Economic Declines

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT® Data Book shows both promising progress and discouraging setbacks for the nation’s children: While their academic achievement and health improved in most states, their economic well-being continued to decline.

Over the period of roughly 2005 to 2011, the improvements in children’s health and education include a 20 percent decrease in the number of kids without health insurance; a 16 percent drop in the child and teen death rate; an 11 percent reduction in the rate of high school students not graduating in four years; and an 8 percent reduction in the proportion of eighth-graders scoring less than proficient in math.

The 2012 Data Book indicates kids and families nationwide are still struggling economically in the wake of the recession. In 2010, one-third of youths had parents without secure employment — an increase of 22 percent, or about 4 million children, in just two years. From 2005 to 2010, the number of children living in poverty rose by 2.4 million.

“This year’s findings reveal signs of hope in the midst of tough economic times for millions of families across the country,” said Patrick McCarthy, the Casey Foundation’s president and CEO. “While we’ve made progress in some important areas, we must work together to make sure every child, not just a select few, has the opportunity to succeed. We can help children reach their full potential by ensuring they stay on track in school and grow up healthy in strong financially stable families surrounded by supportive communities.”

The Casey Foundation updated the Data Book this year with a broader index of 16 indicators of child well-being, organized into four categories: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. Previous annual rankings were based on just 10 indicators; the new index reflects the tremendous advances in child development research since the first KIDS COUNT Data Book in 1990. The report also ranks states in each of the four categories.

“The data reveal that there is still much to be done to improve the prospects for the next generation,” said Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for policy reform and data. “They also show that a child’s success depends not only on individual, family and community resources, but also on the state where he or she grows up.”

Among the findings, the three most populous states ranked in the bottom half in terms of overall child well-being: California, the most populous state, is ranked at No. 41, Texas at No. 44 and New York at No. 29.

New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont rank highest in overall child well-being, while Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi rank lowest in this year’s Data Book. A few other noteworthy state developments:

• Eight of the 10 most populous states are in the bottom half of the overall rankings.
• In 36 states and the District of Columbia, at least one in three children lived in households that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
• The number of fourth-graders scoring less than proficient in reading dropped in 35 states and the District of Columbia, with Maryland and Alabama seeing the greatest improvement.
• Child poverty rates rose in 43 states, ranging from New Hampshire’s 10 percent rise to Mississippi’s 33 percent. • Vermont and Virginia led among 47 states that saw their child and teen death rates decline, with decreases of 46 and 30 percent, respectively. The District of Columbia saw a 36 percent drop.

The Data Book also highlights major disparities among U.S. children along racial and ethnic lines. Even as children of color grow in numbers, representing the majority of U.S. births, they continue to lag behind their white counterparts by almost every measure:

• In 2010, American Indian (49 percent) and black (49 percent) children were nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts (25 percent) to have no parent with secure employment.
• While 58 percent of white fourth-graders had yet to achieve reading proficiency in 2011, more than 80 percent of their Latino, African-American and American Indian classmates lagged in this area.
• While only 6 percent of white children had no health insurance in 2010, more than twice as many American Indian and Latinos shared the same plight, at 18 and 14 percent, respectively.
• In 2010, 66 percent of black youths lived in single-parent families, exceeding their American Indian (52 percent), Latino (41 percent), white (24 percent) and Asian (16 percent) peers.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book includes the latest data on child well-being for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. This information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of other measures of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

Public Schools have more $, employees per pupil than they did in 2000, but are now feeling a financial squeeze

After four years of economic slowdown, the United States appears – for the first time in decades – to be headed toward fewer per-pupil resources and significant labor-force reductions. Although both the number of school employees and expenditures per pupil have risen steadily for many decades, that trend has come to an end. There have been nine recessions in the United States since 1955, but before the current period of recession followed by slow growth, public education employees were significantly impacted by layoffs in only one economic downturn, in 1982-83. However, from June 2008 to March 2012, public schools shed more than 250,000 jobs, or roughly 3 percent of their total workforce.

The need for contraction in public education is bound to continue, write James W. Guthrie and Elizabeth A. Ettema in “Public Schools and Money: Strategies for improving productivity in times of austerity.” Fiscal austerity stemming from state budget shortfalls is becoming a “new normal,” they state, and “if not thoughtfully considered, budget-balancing decisions could damage learning opportunities for schoolchildren.”

The U.S. now spends nearly $700 billion annually on K-12 schooling, more money in the aggregate than any other nation in the world, including China and India. U.S. per-pupil spending is higher than in every country except Switzerland. Job expansion has dominated school spending increases. Thirty years ago there was one professional educator employed for every 18.6 public school students; today the figure is one for every 15.4 students. In spite of increased expenditures, U.S. high school achievement levels have improved only marginally and still trail many other nations in math and science.

School districts have scant experience taking cost-saving actions such as layoffs or benefit reductions, which are “legally cumbersome and politically treacherous,” note the authors. As a result, “bad budget cutting has already begun” in California and Washington. These states’ governors have taken cost-cutting approaches that harm students: reducing the length of the school year in order to forestall layoffs. Compensating for lost school time is difficult for students, particularly those who are the most disadvantaged.

Guthrie and Ettema suggest practices that place a premium on teachers’ classroom effectiveness and principals’ managerial authority. These include: link achievement gains to performance evaluations, which will incentivize teachers to leverage their impact via technology; use “activity-based cost” (ABC) accounting; empower principals as school-level CEOs; adopt performance-based dollar distribution formulas and school-level financial budgeting; and outsource operational services where proven to save money.

At the same time, the authors call for states and districts to discontinue costly practices that do not enhance student achievement, such as paying educators for out-of-field master’s degrees and following “last in, first out” personnel provisions. Widespread “regulations that mandate inefficiency,” should end, such as legislatively precluding outsourcing, requiring intergovernmental grants to “supplement not supplant” existing spending, and prohibiting end-of-budget year surplus carryover.

Governors must choose to focus on students’ needs in taking difficult cost-cutting actions. Absent the will to do so, students will suffer the most and, the authors caution, the past quarter century’s momentum to render America’s schools more effective “is in serious jeopardy.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Student Motivation: School Reform’s Missing Ingredient

CEP Report Summarizes Research on Understanding, Spurring Motivation

A series of papers by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) underscores the need for teachers, schools, parents and communities to pay more attention to the role of student motivation in school reform. While there is no single strategy that works to motivate all students, or even the same student in all contexts, the many different sources reviewed by CEP suggest various approaches that can help improve student motivation, the report finds.

For example, programs that tailor support to individual students who are at risk of losing motivation, that foster “college-going” cultures in middle and high schools, or that partner with low-income parents to create more stimulating home learning environments can increase motivation, the report notes, but only if they incorporate factors that research has shown to be effective.

The CEP report, Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform, pulls together findings about student motivation from decades of major research conducted by scholars, organizations, and practitioners. The six accompanying background papers examine a range of themes and approaches, from the motivational power of video games and social media to the promise and pitfalls of paying students for good grades.

“Student motivation isn’t a fixed quality but can be influenced in positive or negative ways by students’ experiences and by important people in their lives,” said Alexandra Usher, CEP senior research assistant and lead author of the summary report and background papers. “How teachers teach, how schools are organized, and other key elements of school reform can be designed in ways that may either encourage or discourage motivation.” The summary report and accompanying papers highlight actions that teachers, school leaders, parents, and communities can take to foster student motivation. The following are just a few of the many ideas included in the report:

*Programs that reward academic accomplishments are most effective when they reward students for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than rewarding them for reaching a performance target or outperforming others.

* Tests are more motivating when students have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through low-stakes tests, performance tasks, or frequent assessments that gradually increase in difficulty before they take a high-stakes test.

* Professional development can help teachers encourage student motivation by sharing ideas for increasing student autonomy, emphasizing mastery over performance, and creating classroom environments where students can take risks without fear of failure

*Parents can foster their children’s motivation by emphasizing effort over ability and praising children when they’ve mastered new skills or knowledge instead of praising their innate intelligence.

Many aspects of motivation are not fully understood, the report and background papers caution, and most programs or studies that have shown some positive results have been small or geographically concentrated. “Because much about motivation is not known, this series of papers should be viewed as a springboard for discussion by policymakers, educators, and parents rather than a conclusive research review. This series can also give an important context to media stories about student achievement, school improvement, or other key education reform issues.

The background reports:
What Is Motivation and Why Does It Matter?
Can Money and Other Rewards Motivate Students?
Can Goals Motivate Students?
What Roles Do Parents, Family Background, and Culture Play in Student Motivation?
What Can Schools Do To Better Motivate Students?
What Nontraditional Approaches to Learning Can Motivate Unenthusiastic Students?

School Improvement Grants Schools Face Challenges: 3 Reports

For many low-performing schools in Idaho, Maryland, and Michigan that were awarded federal school improvement grants (SIGs), replacing teachers and principals has proven to be the greatest challenge to implementation. Some SIG schools have also struggled to increase learning time for students, although others report fewer problems with this strategy. But one bright spot for several SIG schools in these states is that school climates appear to be getting better.

These are among the findings in a series of special reports by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) at The George Washington University. The reports focus on how SIG schools are addressing three major issues: staffing challenges that result from principal and teacher replacement requirements, extended learning time requirements, and school climate issues.

Each report explores one of these issues in depth and comes amid a flurry of speculation about the effectiveness of the SIG program. Data was collected in the fall and winter of 2011-12, a critical midpoint for implementing three-year SIG awards funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The CEP reports offer important findings for policymakers and the public to consider as schools continue to do this work,” said Maria Ferguson, Executive Director of the CEP. “The findings are especially relevant as policymakers debate a possible fifth school improvement model under SIG, an idea recently passed as part of the Senate Appropriations Committee spending bill.”

The reports’ findings draw on survey data from 46 responding states (including D.C.) and case study research in Idaho, Maryland, and Michigan. As part of these studies, which were summarized in two earlier CEP reports, state and local education leaders provided feedback about challenges of implementing SIGs and their influence on the direction of school reform.

The first of the three special reports, Schools with Federal School Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, looks at SIG-related staffing requirements. The two most popular school improvement models, transformation and turnaround, require major staffing changes, and finding and retaining effective principals and teachers was often the greatest challenge to SIG implementation in Idaho, Maryland, and Michigan and in some of the states surveyed. Officials in rural, suburban and urban areas in case study states cited various reasons why restaffing presented major challenges in all types of low-performing schools.

“Recruiting the right principals and teachers was challenging across all of the case study schools but was especially difficult in Idaho’s rural schools, where staffing is already a huge obstacle,” said Jennifer McMurrer, senior research associate and author of the CEP studies. Still, the majority of the 46 state survey respondents said that replacing teachers and principals was an important element of improving student achievement in SIG schools.

Legal and union requirements and a short funding timeline made it difficult for some of the schools studied to find and hire the best teachers and principals and remove ineffective staff. Despite this, only a minority of the states surveyed reported that they were providing assistance or resources to schools and districts to help ease the challenges of staff replacement.

The second report in the CEP series, Increased Learning Time Under Stimulus-Funded School Improvement Grants: High Hopes, Varied Implementation, highlights another challenge to implementation. All 46 states surveyed reported that at least some of their SIG schools are implementing an improvement model that requires increased learning time. A majority of state respondents agreed this strategy is a key element in improving student achievement, although some said its importance varied from school to school. But it may be too early to judge the overall effectiveness of this policy, according to survey and interview responses. Increased learning time is being implemented differently across schools and states, the CEP researchers found. For example, case study schools in Maryland really target their extra time on students with the greatest need, while those in Michigan for the most part extend the school day for all students.

Despite these challenges, the SIG program has already had a positive impact in many schools, as evidenced by the third report, Changing the School Climate Is the First Step to Reform in Many Schools with Federal Improvement Grants. All of the SIG-funded case study schools in Maryland, Michigan, and Idaho are taking steps to improve school climate among students, staff, or both—often as a first priority for reform. Examples of strategies include:

*Improving safety and discipline;
*Building a sense of community among students and staff; and
*Establishing a shared vision among teachers, parents, and students centered on student achievement.

As a result, the success most frequently cited by SIG-funded case study schools during the first year of implementation was an improved school climate, as demonstrated by a safer and more orderly environment, increased student motivation to learn, and greater staff collaboration and morale. Some schools also reported gains in student achievement, but several said it is too soon to tell. “Although Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced some positive achievement findings for SIG-funded schools, at this point the unseen impact may be the improved environments for learning that SIG funds have helped create,” commented McMurrer.

Federal Stimulus Funds Saved Education Jobs

Education stimulus funds largely met the goal of saving or creating jobs for K-12 teachers and other education personnel, according to a summary of three years of survey research by the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University (CEP). However, ongoing state budget shortfalls have slowed state implementation of education reforms tied to the receipt of stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“Federal stimulus funds appear to have blunted the effects of the economic downturn on the K-12 education sector,” said Maria Ferguson, CEP’s executive director. “Although many districts still had to eliminate teaching and other key staff positions, our research indicates that the situation would have been worse without the stimulus funds.”

The CEP report, What Impact Did Education Stimulus Funds Have on States and Schools?, summarizes the effects of the ARRA on K-12 education after three years of implementation. Findings are drawn from surveys, conducted between December 2009 and February 2012, of state and local officials charged with implementing the ARRA and Education Jobs programs and were previously described in six previous CEP reports on ARRA.

In 2010, about 70 percent of the nation’s school districts used State Fiscal Stabilization funding, the largest pot of ARRA education money, to save or create jobs for teachers and other school personnel, CEP found. In 2011, a vast majority of the states surveyed by CEP also reported that ARRA and Education Jobs funds had saved teaching jobs and other district and school-level positions in their state. In addition, the majority of districts receiving ARRA supplemental funds for the federal Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs reported using at least some of those funds to save or create jobs.

“Given that nearly 84 percent of nation’s school districts reported funding cuts for the school year that just ended, parents and students may not see the full benefits of these reforms until local economic conditions improve,” said Alexandra Usher, CEP’s senior research assistant and co-author of the report. The report also finds that the state education agencies (SEAs) charged with guiding the implementation of ARRA reforms face funding and staffing challenges. Most SEAs report that they have enough expertise to carry out the ARRA reforms, but fewer report having enough staff to fully implement the reforms, and even fewer reported having enough financial resources. Further, while SEAs have not been immune to staff cuts, it appears that most have done so strategically, often cutting positions not related to the four reforms.

“These underfunded and understaffed agencies are charged with many duties under federal K-12 education programs,” said Diane Stark Rentner, CEP’s deputy director and co-author of the report. “If federal policymakers continue to rely on states as their agents of change, attention must also be paid to the capacity of these agencies to guide school improvement efforts.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Technology in Early Education

Touch-screen technologies, on-demand multimedia, and mobile devices are prompting a rethinking of education. In a world of increasing fiscal constraints, state leaders are under pressure to capitalize on these new technologies to improve productivity and help students excel. The task is daunting across the education spectrum, but for those in early education (birth through 3rd grade), it is harder still. Until recently, most educators envisioned early learning as story time and hands-on activities with no technology in sight. Yet electronic media use among young children is growing, as are new digital divides between rich and poor, rural, and urban. Tech-savvy educators are incorporating technology in early learning lessons and experimenting with new channels of communication between parents and colleagues.

A red-hot ed-tech marketplace is also creating a feeling of urgency among decisionmakers in state agencies and local school districts who are at risk of spending public dollars on products that sit unused, lock districts into specific brands or platforms, or get in the way of promoting the positive, face-to-face interactions with adults that young children need.

How to ensure thoughtful adoption? State leaders will need to encourage collaboration across many sectors that typically sit in silos, including school districts, early learning programs, libraries, museums, afterschool programs, adult education, and health services. Research centers and post-secondary institutions will need to provide insights and expertise to support this collaboration while also preparing a next-generation workforce to execute it. This report looks at technology and how it has an essential role to play as a connector and content disseminator in the service of these collaborations—and ultimately in service of the families who are setting the foundation for their children’s success in school and life.

Starting Early With English Language Learners

English Language Learners are a large and growing population in America’s public school system, but schools often fall short in preparing these students for success in college and the workforce. One state, Illinois, has tried to reverse that trend by starting services for young English Language Learners before they arrive in kindergarten.

Illinois is in the process of expanding its services for English Language Learners into state-funded pre-K, so that students begin receiving ELL support when they first arrive in school, whether that is at age 3, 4, or 5.

A new paper, Starting Early with English Language Learners: First Lessons From Illinois, takes a deep look at how Illinois came to see a need for new policies for its burgeoning population of English Language Learners, and why focusing on its youngest English Language Learners was the state’s next step.

As in most states, achievement gaps in Illinois’s schools are large, with only five percent of English Language Learners reading on grade level in fourth grade compared to 33 percent of all fourth graders in the state. To build important language skills early on and reduce remediation in the later grades, Illinois changed state law to include state-funded pre-K children in public school efforts to help English Language Learners.

That change has led to a series of new regulations for teacher preparation and classroom instruction that are reverberating throughout the state’s pre-K system. Mant pre-K providers, for example, now need to hire teachers with bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) credentials to instruct English Language Learners—but since pre-K teacher never needed these credentials before, there are very few of them around. Teacher training programs, too, are adjusting their curricula to include coursework for teaching young English Language Learners.

Students Attending K12 Inc. Cyber Schools Fall Behind

A new report released today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado shows that students at K12 Inc., the nation’s largest virtual school company, are falling further behind in reading and math scores than students in brick-and-mortar schools.

These virtual schools students are also less likely to remain at their schools for the full year, and the schools have low graduation rates. “Our in-depth look into K12 Inc. raises enormous red flags,” said NEPC Director Kevin Welner.

The report’s findings will be presented in Washington today to a national meeting of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), where the report’s lead author, Dr. Gary Miron, is scheduled to debate Dr. Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning. The report is titled, Understanding and Improving Full- Time Virtual Schools.

“Our findings are clear,” said Miron, an NEPC fellow, “Children who enroll in a K12 Inc. cyberschool, who receive full-time instruction in front of a computer instead of in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, are more likely to fall behind in reading and math. These children are also more likely to move between schools or leave school altogether – and the cyberschool is less likely to meet federal education standards.”

K12 Inc. schools generally operate on less public revenue, but they have considerable cost savings, says Miron. They devote minimal or no resources to facilities, operations, and transportation. These schools also have more students per teacher and pay less for teacher salaries and benefits than brick-and-mortar schools.

“Computer-assisted learning has tremendous potential,” said Miron. “But at present, our research shows that virtual schools such as those operated by K12 Inc. are not working effectively. States should not grow full-time virtual schools until they have evidence of success. Most immediately, we need to better understand why the performance of these schools suffers and how it can be improved.”

Student performance results from the current study are clearly in line with the existing body of evidence, which includes state evaluations and audits of virtual schools in five states as well as a more rigorous study of student learning in Pennsylvania virtual charter schools conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO’s study found virtual-school students ended up with learning gains that were “significantly worse” than students in traditional charters and public schools.

Miron and co-author Jessica L. Urschel, a doctoral student at Western Michigan University, analyzed federal and state data sets for revenue, expenditures, and student performance. In terms of student demographics and school performance data, the researchers studied all of K12’s 48 full-time virtual schools. In terms of revenues and expenditures, they used a federal data set that includes seven K12 Inc. schools from five different states (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Ohio and Pennsylvania), although these seven schools accounted for almost 60 percent of all of K12 Inc.’s enrollment from 2008-09, which is the most recent year of available finance data.

Key findings include:

• Math scores for K12 Inc.’s students are 14 to 36 percent lower than scores for other students in the states in which the company operates schools.

• Only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc.’s schools reported meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards in 2010-11, compared to 52% for brick-and-mortar schools in the nation as a whole.

• Student attrition is exceptionally high in K12 Inc. and other virtual schools. Many families appear to approach the virtual schools as a temporary service: Data in K12 Inc.’s own school performance report indicate that 31% of parents intend to keep their students enrolled for a year or less, and more than half intend to keep their students enrolled for two years or less.

• K12 Inc.’s schools spend more on overall instructional costs than comparison schools – including the cost of computer hardware and software, but noticeably less on teachers’ salaries and benefits.

• K12 Inc. spends little or nothing on facilities and maintenance, transportation, and food service.

• K12 Inc. enrolls students with disabilities at rates moderately below public school averages, although this enrollment has been increasing, but the company spends half as much per pupil as charter schools overall spend on special education instruction and a third of what districts spend on special education instruction.

“Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said the NEPC’s Welner, who is a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado.

Also, students enrolled at K12 Inc. cyberschools are much less likely to remain – raising inter-connected issues of mobility, attrition and graduation rates.

“Our research highlights a number of significant issues at K12, Inc. schools, and we recognize that these issues are also of concern at other full-time virtual schools,” said Miron. “We need a better understanding of how this new teaching and learning model can be most effective, so that full-time virtual schools can better serve students and the public school system as a whole.”

Students From Improving Schools Score Lower on ACT

For more than half a century concerns about the ability of American students to compete in a global workplace focused policymakers' attention on improving school performance generally, and student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) specifically. In its most recent form—No Child Left Behind—there is evidence this focus led to a repurposing of instructional time to dedicate more attention to tested subjects. While this meant a narrowing of the curriculum to focus on English and mathematics at the elementary level, the effects on high school curricula have been less clear and generally absent from the research literature.

A study published this week in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching covering thousands of Indiana high school seniors from three graduating classes finds that students at schools showing consistent improvement on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam performed no better on the ACT science and math college entrance exams than classmates from declining schools.

"The Consequences of 'School Improvement': Examining the Association Between Two Standardized Assessments Measuring School Improvement and Student Science Achievement" is the work of Adam Maltese, assistant professor of science education in the Indiana University School of Education, and Craig Hochbein, assistant professor of leadership, foundations and human resource education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville.

Maltese and Hochbein studied between 3,000 and 5,000 Indiana 12th-graders for each of the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 from 87 to 114 schools in each year. They examined how the students from schools classified as improving on ISTEP English and math scores (scoring higher continuously through the three years) performed on the science section of the ACT.

"We see that students from those schools that are improving based on Indiana tests have generally lower scores than students from those declining schools on the science and math portions of the ACT," Maltese said. While in most years the data indicated improving school students performed at least no better on the ACT, the study found that in 2010, students from schools identified as improving in English scored nearly half a point lower than peers from declining schools on both the ACT science and math exams.

"When we saw these declines in math and science, we sat back and said, 'well, you'd think if a school has improved over a couple years in English, those kids' ACT scores in English would be better than the kids from the declining schools," Maltese said. "We don't see that. We don't see it in math, either."

"We don't want to take anything away from teachers working to improve student literacy and numeracy," Hochbein said. "The idea is deciphering what these test scores actually mean for students, parents, teachers and principals. With a heightened sense of accountability, we want to be able to address what these results actually mean in the grand scheme of learning, knowledge and global competitiveness."

Last week, the state of Indiana reported across the board gains in ISTEP scores for 2012. Among all students, 71 percent passed the English and math portions, an increase above last year and the highest mark yet for Indiana students.

The Maltese and Hochbein study sought to determine whether science education, a subject that is tested but usually not part of school accountability metrics, might suffer from a school's emphasis on English and math.

"If the school is performing poorly on these tests by which they're evaluated, then they're going to want to move assets around to best position themselves to do well," Maltese said. "If they're shifting those resources to English and math, they're probably pulling them away from something else. We can't definitively say that's what these results indicate, but it gives us a hint at the high school level that there may be some 'narrowing' of the curriculum."

Further analysis of the data found that not only were the students not performing better on science, but those from improving ISTEP schools aren't outperforming in the other subjects either.

"Not that the ISTEP and the ACT line up perfectly, but there is a decent amount of overlap in the material, especially in math and English," Maltese said. "That is one of our concerns, that these gains on state exams aren't playing out in these other standardized tests that are widely used, at least for this group of students who are likely college-bound."

The authors conclude that the discrepancy between ISTEP improvement and ACT improvement may be an indication that more should be done to make sure all students are making gains in skills to be ready for college and the workforce.

"I think we need to have more honest conversations about what the numbers say, what they mean," Hochbein said. "Because just improving your test scores doesn't necessarily mean that the school is doing all it should or all it could to excel at the highest level."

One of the recommendations they make is exposing students to a more integrated curriculum. "Science teachers care about critical reading of content," Maltese said. "Why can't those teachers work together?"

While Maltese said such collaboration certainly does happen in some schools, the Indiana ISTEP and ACT results indicates a need for a more formal effort. "This should be a goal for districts, to allow teachers time across disciplines to do this integration so that a student's not just hearing about constructing an argument in English class, but they're hearing about how that argument's constructed in the science literature and history literature," he said. "The same can be done with numeracy skills."

They also recommend that state policymakers begin to more seriously consider the potential negative consequences of emphasizing certain subjects in standardized tests.

While this research focused on Indiana, the authors said the situation is likely similar across the country.

"There's no reason to think that Indiana is dramatically different than other states," Hochbein said. "There will be some differences because Indiana students elect to take these tests, whereas in Kentucky, all juniors must take the ACT. But there's no reason to think that these results don't have some association with some other states."

Instructional intervention on middle school english learners' science and english reading achievement

This study examined the effect of a quasi-experimental project on fifth grade English learners' achievement in state-mandated standards-based science and English reading assessment. A total of 166 treatment students and 80 comparison students from four randomized intermediate schools participated in the current project.

The intervention consisted of on-going professional development and specific instructional science lessons with inquiry-based learning, direct and explicit vocabulary instruction, integration of reading and writing, and enrichment components including integration of technology, take-home science activities, and university scientists mentoring.

Results suggested a significant and positive intervention effect in favor of the treatment students as reflected in higher performance in district-wide curriculum-based tests of science and reading and standardized tests of oral reading fluency.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Americans support local control of schools

Despite criticism that local school boards are “dinosaurs” that need to be replaced, Americans support local control of their schools, Michigan State University education scholars argue in a new paper.

The public believes that all three levels of government – local, state and federal – should be involved in education policy and that local officials should be in charge of day-to-day operations of the schools, said Rebecca Jacobsen, lead researcher on the project.

Jacobsen, assistant professor of education, and doctoral student Andrew Saultz analyzed some 40 years of public surveys involving education. Their analysis, in Public Opinion Quarterly, comes as federal education initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have led many policy advocates to focus on federal control of schools.

But Jacobsen said it’s a mistake to discount the popularity of local school boards. There are more than 90,000 locally elected school board members serving on nearly 15,000 school boards in the United States.

“A lot of policymakers today think they can just go around the local boards; that the federal government can create a policy that goes directly to the schools or works around the existing institutions,” Jacobsen said. “But that’s not going to work in the long run, because local control is not dead. People still feel it plays an important role.”

When it comes to policy decisions related to equitable funding and standards across all schools, the public favors state and federal government control, Jacobsen said.

“At the national level we want schools to be relatively equitably funded, and we want schools to teach relatively the same topics and make sure kids have access to the same types of curriculum,” she said.

But the public also believes local officials should be in charge of “running schools” or “improving schools,” the paper found. These findings are particularly powerful, Jacobsen said, given that national policy discussions have criticized local control and steps have been taken to diminish local decision-making ability through policy changes.

“Some argue that local school governance is a ‘dinosaur’ that needs to be replaced, but local leaders are going to be the ones implementing these federal policies,” Jacobsen said. “So if they’re going to have a major hand in how these policies get shaped at the local level, then we better pay attention to their resources, their capabilities, and not just dismiss them.”

Drug shown to improve memory in those with Down syndrome

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have found a drug that boosts memory function in those with Down syndrome, a major milestone in the treatment of this genetic disorder that could significantly improve quality of life.

"Before now there had never been any positive results in attempts to improve cognitive abilities in persons with Down syndrome through medication," said Alberto Costa, MD, Ph.D., who led the four- year study at the CU School of Medicine. "This is the first time we have been able to move the needle at all and that means improvement is possible."

The study was published today in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Costa, an associate professor of medicine, and his colleagues studied 38 adolescents and young adults with Down syndrome. Half took the drug memantine, used to treat Alzheimer's disease, and the others took a placebo.

Costa's research team hypothesized that memantine, which improved memory in mice with Down syndrome, could increase test scores of young adults with the disorder in the area of spatial and episodic memory, functions associated with the hippocampus region of the brain.

Participants underwent a 16-week course of either memantine or a placebo while scientists compared the adaptive and cognitive function of the two groups.

While they found no major difference between the groups in adaptive and most measures of cognitive ability, researchers discovered that those taking memantine showed significant improvement in verbal episodic memory. One of the lowest functioning individuals in the study saw a ten-fold increase in memory skills.

"People who took the medicine and memorized long lists of words did significantly better than those who took the placebo," said Costa, a neuroscientist specializing in Down syndrome research. "This is a first step in a longer quest to see how we can improve the quality of life for those with Down syndrome."

Currently, there are drugs that treat the symptoms of medical conditions associated with Down syndrome but nothing to improve brain function.

But in 2007 Costa demonstrated that memantine could improve memory in mice with Down syndrome. He then set out to replicate those findings in a human trial of the drug.

"This is an excellent example of translational science," he said. "We took a drug that worked well in mice and we tested it in humans with positive results."

Although the trial was small, the results could have far-reaching implications. Costa said a follow-up study was needed using a larger group of people with Down syndrome. Another important step will be to pursue studies with younger, school-age participants with Down syndrome. They would have more rapidly developing brains and, since they are in school, would be routinely tested so the effects of the drug could be closely monitored. That could take as little as five years.

Researchers also want to know if memantine can ward off the onset of Alzheimer's disease in those with Down syndrome. The two conditions show striking similarities and researchers are actively exploring how they may be linked. Babies born with Down syndrome, for example, often carry the biological markers for Alzheimer's disease.

"Everyone with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer's disease pathology by their mid-30s," Costa said. "We would like to know if this drug can slow down or even halt the development of that disease in adults with Down syndrome."

Memantine works by normalizing the function of a glutamate receptor in the brain known as the N-methyl-D-aspartate or the NMDA receptor.

"This receptor plays a central role in memory and learning," Costa said.

Given the small size of the study and the need for more research, Costa stressed that people should not start taking memantine for Down syndrome. Although it has proven safe and well-tolerated by the study participants, researchers urge caution, saying more work needs to be done to determine if this is a viable treatment option.

"Our study is a significant and hopeful sign that certain drugs can enhance the intellectual capacity of those with Down syndrome," he said. "For more than 30 years we have been unable to impact cognition in Down syndrome. Now it appears that we may be able to."

Costa has a major stake in improving the lives of those with Down syndrome, the most common cause of intellectual disability. He has a 17-year-old daughter with the condition.

"For me this research is not merely academic," he said. "It's personal."

The CU School of Medicine's work on Down syndrome has resulted in it being chosen as one of nine national testing centers for a new drug manufactured by F. Hoffmann-La Roche LTD aimed at improving memory in adults with Down syndrome. Costa is the principal investigator of the Colorado center.

He will give a lecture about his latest research July 20 in Washington D.C. at the 2012 Annual Meeting & Clinical Symposium of the Down Syndrome Medical Interest Group - USA. The conference is being held from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Marriott Wardman Park, 2660 Woodley Rd. NW.

The other researchers in the study included Richard Boada, Ph.D., Christa Hutaff-Lee, Ph.D., David Weitzenkamp, Ph.D., Timothy A. Benke, MD, Ph.D. and Edward J. Goldson, MD.

The trial was funded by Forest Research Institute Investigator Initiated Grant NAM-58. During the course of this study, Costa was also supported in part by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

"I also am grateful to the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, the Linda Crnic Institute and the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities for believing in my research all these years. This work would not have been possible without their support in these harsh economic times," Costa said.

WWC Looks at Reading Mastery for Special Needs Students

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviewed research to find what works in the classroom, including programs and methods for students with special needs. The newest report from the WWC focuses on Reading Mastery, a direct instruction curriculum designed to provide explicit reading instruction to students in grades pre-K–5.

The WWC reviewed 17 studies that investigated the effects of Reading Mastery on students with learning disabilities. Two studies are randomized controlled trials that meet WWC evidence standards without reservations. The studies included 113 students with learning disabilities in grades 2–5 from schools in the southeastern United States. Based on these two studies, the WWC found Reading Mastery to have no discernible effects on reading comprehension and potentially negative effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and writing for students with learning disabilities.

Read the full report

Trends Among Young Adults Over Three Decades, 1974-2006

This report describes patterns of continuity and change over time in four areas of the transition to adulthood among young adults as measured 2 years after their senior year of high school. The four areas are postsecondary enrollment, labor force roles, family formation, and civic engagement. The analysis population is spring-term high school seniors in 1972, 1980, 1992, and 2004. The data come from four separate NCES-sponsored studies: the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS:72), High School and Beyond (HS&B), the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002).

Findings include:

• Overall, the percentage of young adults enrolled in postsecondary courses 2 years after their senior year of high school was higher in 2006 (62 percent) than it was in 1974 (40 percent).

• When comparing the postsecondary experiences of high school seniors in spring 1972 with those in spring 2004, the percentage of those who had ever enrolled in a postsecondary institution within 2 years of their scheduled high school graduation was 63 percent in 1974 and 78 percent in 2006.

• Among young adults who ever attended a postsecondary institution, the percentage who worked for pay while enrolled was higher in 2006 (78 percent) than in 1974 (63 percent).

• Across the four cohorts, the most common living arrangement for young adults approximately 2 years out of high school was to live with their parents. The percentage of young adults living with their parents was 39 percent in 1974, 50 percent in 1982, 51 percent in 1994, and 46 percent in 2006.

• At all four time points studied (1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006), a higher percentage of females reported being married than males did. For females, the percentages were 34 percent, 16 percent, 10 percent, and 6 percent, respectively, while the comparable percentages for males were 18 percent, 7 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent, respectively.

• Within each of the four cohorts, there was a positive association between expected levels of educational attainment and reported rates of voting. In each cohort, the percentages of those who had ever voted were higher among those who expected to attain a bachelor’s degree or some higher level of education than among those who only expected to graduate from high school or less. For example, in 1974, 50 percent of those who expected to attain a high school diploma or less voted, compared with 72 percent of those who expected to be college graduates and 77 percent who expected to complete a graduate or professional degree. In 2006, the comparable figures were 35 percent, 61 percent, and 66 percent, respectively.

New Americans in Postsecondary Education

In 2007–08, about 23 percent of all undergraduates were first-generation immigrants (10 percent) or second-generation Americans (with an immigrant parent) (13 percent).

New Americans in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Immigrant and Second-Generation American Undergraduates, a Statistics in Brief, presents the demographic and enrollment characteristics of undergraduates who are immigrants or the children of immigrants and compares them with undergraduates whose parents were born in the United States.

The results are based on nationally representative data collected through the 2007–08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:08). Findings include:

• Asian and Hispanic students constituted the majority of immigrant and second-generation American undergraduates. Asians made up the plurality (30 percent) of immigrant undergraduates, while Hispanics made up the plurality (41 percent) of second-generation American undergraduates.

• Immigrant Asian and Hispanic students enrolled in community colleges at higher rates (54 and 51 percent, respectively) than did all undergraduates (44 percent). Among immigrant and second-generation American undergraduates, larger percentages of Hispanic students (12 percent of each group) enrolled in for-profit institutions than did their Asian counterparts (7 percent among immigrants and 5 percent among second-generation Americans).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Student Achievement Gains in U.S. Fail to Close International Achievement Gap

U.S. ranks 25th out of 49 countries in student test-score gains over 14-year period, report 3 scholars at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Munich

CA new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

The report, “Is the United States Catching Up? International and state trends in student achievement,” has been released by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG).

Compared to gains made by students in other countries, “progress within the United States is middling, not stellar,” notes Peterson, Harvard professor and PEPG director, with 24 countries trailing the U.S. rate of improvement and another 24 that appear to be improving at a faster rate. While U.S. students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests improved in absolute terms between 1995 and 2011, U.S. progress was not sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.

Rates of improvement varied among states. Maryland had the steepest achievement growth trend, followed by Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts. Between 1992 and 2011, these states posted growth rates of 3.1 to 3.3 percent of a standard deviation annually, well over a full year’s worth of learning during the time period. The U.S. average of 1.6 standard deviations was about half that of the top states.

The other six states among the top ten improvers were Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia. States with the largest gains are improving at two to three times the rate of states with the smallest gains – such as Iowa, Maine, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

The study raises questions about education goal setting in the United States, which “has often been utopian rather than realistic,” according to Eric Hanushek, who cites the 1990 Governors’ goal calling for the U.S. to be “first in the world in math and science by 2000” as an example. More realistic expectations would call for states to move closer to annual growth rates of the most-improving states. These gains would, over a 15-20 year period, “bring the United States within the range of the world’s leaders.”

Other findings include:

States in which students improved the most overall were also the states that had the largest percent reduction in students with very low achievement. •
Southern states, which began to adopt education reform measures in the 1990s, outpaced Midwestern states, where school reform made little headway until very recently. Five of the top 10 states were in the South and no southern states were in the bottom 18. •
No significant correlation was found between increased spending on education and test score gains. For example, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey posted large gains in student performance after boosting spending, but New York, Wyoming, and West Virginia had only marginal test-score gains to show from increased expenditures.

International results are based on 28 administrations of comparable math, science, and reading tests over the period 1995-2009. The authors adjusted both the mean and the standard deviation of each international test, allowing them to estimate trends on the international tests on a common scale normed to the 2000 NAEP tests. Student performance on 36 administrations of math, reading, and science tests in 41 U.S. states was examined over a 19-year period (1992-2011), allowing for a comparison of these states with each other. For more information on the study and its methodology, please see an unabridged version of the report, which are available at and at

Friday, July 13, 2012

Counseling program reduces youth violence, improves school engagement

Study estimates program's benefits to society at 3 to 31 times its cost

A new study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools and local nonprofits Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago, provides rigorous scientific evidence that a violence reduction program succeeded in creating a sizable decline in violent crime arrests among youth who participated in group counseling and mentoring.

The Crime Lab study—by far the largest of its kind ever conducted—is unique in that it was structured like a randomized clinical trial of the sort regularly used to generate "gold standard" evidence in the medical area. Such controlled studies remain rare in the area of crime prevention, and in social policy more broadly. Detailed findings were released Friday.

The program, Becoming A Man—Sports Edition, was developed and delivered by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago to more than 800 boys in 18 CPS schools during the 2009-10 school year. Youth who participated in the program showed a 44 percent decrease in violent crime arrests during the intervention. Participating youth also became more engaged with school — an impact that grew even larger in the year after the program ended.

Based on the success of the study, the Crime Lab is working with the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab, Youth Guidance, World Sport Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropic partners to develop a follow-up study that will provide BAM-Sports Edition along with intensive small group academic tutoring to more than 2,000 CPS students over the next three years.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer noted that the research fits into the University's larger dedication to engaging with urban challenges. "From its very beginnings, the University of Chicago has used evidence-based research to improve social conditions in Chicago and all over the world," Zimmer said. "The Crime Lab's work is an important part of the University's commitment in this regard, addressing some of the city's most pressing social issues."

In addition to its impacts on school engagement and violence involvement, the BAM-Sports Edition program also proved to be cost-effective. "The program cost around $1,100 per participant, while its impacts on criminal behavior generated benefits to society that are valued on the order of $3,600 to $34,000 per participant, depending on how we measure the costs of crime," said Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab and the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at UChicago.

"We have data from the most rigorous possible scientific study suggesting that it is not only possible to prevent youth violence involvement through pro-social programming, but that the returns on investment are extremely high," Ludwig continued. "The benefit-cost ratios are on the order of 3:1 to 31:1." Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement at UChicago said, "The Crime Lab is a critical part of the University's broader civic engagement. We are eager to develop partnerships that use the University's academic insights to help address the challenges that people in Chicago face. This is an example of how we can have an impact both locally and nationally, by showing how a research university can be involved in a meaningful way in the life of its community."

"The results of the Crime Lab study make it clear: We simply can't give up on our youth," said Michelle Adler Morrison, Youth Guidance CEO. "This study proves that even with so much stacked against them, when given access to an innovative program that really provides the support and guidance they need, these young men can and will succeed."

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy praised the focus on youth violence prevention, saying, "The findings from this study are vitally important for Chicago and every other city seeking to reduce crime and violence. The best strategy is to deal with crime and violence before they happen and this study has proven that prevention is possible." Gun violence is the leading cause of death for young people in Chicago and other cities across the country. For youth of color, gun violence is responsible for more deaths than the next nine leading causes of death combined.

Police Department data show that by far the most common homicide motive in Chicago is an "altercation" that escalates into a tragedy, usually involving guns. The key idea behind BAM-Sports Edition is that correcting certain "thinking errors" can help protect young people from becoming involved in impulsive behaviors, including violence.

The program model uses group counseling and nontraditional sports activities to strengthen adolescents' social-cognitive skills – including self-regulation and impulse control, social-information processing (the ability to accurately infer the intentions of others), future orientation, personal responsibility, and conflict resolution.

The BAM-Sports Edition program was delivered in 18 CPS elementary and high schools, mainly on the city's low-income south and west sides. In the program schools, 2,740 male seventh- to tenth-graders were assigned via a fair lottery either to a program group that received BAM counseling and sports programming or to a control group that received no extra services beyond those that CPS typically offers. More than 800 boys took part in the program group.

Compared with other students attending the same schools, study participants were identified as being at elevated risk for violence involvement or school dropout on the basis of grade point average, attendance, and other factors. More than one-third of the study youth had been arrested at some point prior to the start of the program. The average study participant had a D-plus average (a GPA of 1.73), and had missed more than six weeks of school in the year prior to the study.

Using data from CPS and the Illinois State Police, researchers tracked students' school engagement, school performance and arrests over the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Crime Lab researchers Sara Heller, Harold Pollack, Roseanna Ander and Ludwig compared outcomes among students invited to participate in BAM-Sports Edition with their control-group counterparts. While the researchers are continuing to collect data that will help to refine and extend the findings, the analysis revealed that BAM-Sports Edition participation:

• Reduced violent arrests by 8.1 arrests per 100 youth during the program year, a reduction of 44 percent. •
Reduced arrests for crimes categorized as "other," including vandalism, trespassing, and weapons possession, by 11.5 arrests per 100 youth during the program year, or 36 percent. •
Reduced the likelihood of attending a school inside a juvenile justice setting in the year after the program by 53 percent.

Equally important, the intervention improved school performance and engagement, measured by days present in school, grade-point average and school persistence. Importantly, these impacts on schooling outcomes lasted even after the program ended.

Although students were too young to have graduated by the end of the study period, the size of the schooling impacts imply that graduation rates might increase in the future by an additional 10 to 23 percent of the control group's graduation rate. An increase in graduation of this magnitude would be very large and important, given that high school graduation rates in the U.S. have barely changed over the past 40 years, despite the ever-increasing importance of a high school diploma for success in the job market.

"What's remarkable about the BAM-Sports Edition program is the relatively limited number of contact hours, its scalability, and the relatively low cost," said Pollack, Crime Lab co-director and the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at UChicago. On average, each program participant had about 13 contact hours with the program. Because it was developed as a manualized intervention, the program can be replicated and brought to scale fairly easily.

The BAM curriculum was originated in 2001 by Youth Guidance staff member Anthony Di Vittorio. World Sport Chicago's sports component enhances Youth Guidance's BAM program by reinforcing the positive behavioral lessons with a series of non-traditional after-school sports programs. World Sport Chicago's coaches are trained to apply the BAM principles in a context outside of mentoring sessions.

"This has been a very powerful program and one that has demonstrated that sport can play a positive role in strengthening the social and emotional skills of young men in some of our most under-resourced communities," said Scott Myers, executive director of World Sport Chicago. "We are looking forward to continuing to work with Youth Guidance and the Crime Lab to expand and further prove the value of this program."

The study team stresses that the implications of its findings extend beyond the specific BAM-Sports Edition program. Social-cognitive skill development, mentoring, and school engagement programs may each be effective violence prevention strategies in their own right.

The United States currently spends more than $500 billion per year on K-12 public schooling — with very little attention after the first few grades to strengthening non-academic or social-cognitive skills that appear to be extremely important for students' long-term life chances.

"These findings emphasize the potential of helping youth to develop their non-academic skills as a strategy to decrease violence," said Heller, a doctoral student at UChicago's Harris School of Public Policy Studies and lead author of the study.

The goal of the follow-up study is to explore ways of ensuring that intervention impacts persist, and to expand the focus to include academic remediation alongside development of social-cognitive skills. This expanded intervention will retain the mentoring and sports programs, and will include high-dosage daily tutoring for students in a two-to-one tutoring setting.

Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary Schools

The authors of this study, School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary Schools use North Carolina data to explore the extent to which teachers in the lower grades (K-2) of elementary school are lower quality than in the upper grades (3-5) and to examine the hypothesis that accountability contributes to a shortfall in teacher quality in the lower grades.

Their concern with early elementary grades arises from recent studies that have highlighted that children’s experiences in the early school years have long lasting effects on their outcomes, including college going and earnings.

Using licensure test scores as the primary measure of teacher quality, they find that concern about teacher quality in the lower elementary grades is warranted. Teachers in those grades are of lower quality than teachers in the upper grades. Moreover, they find that accountability, especially the form required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, increases the relative shortfalls of teacher quality in the lower grades and increases the tendency of schools to move teachers of higher quality from lower to upper grades and teachers of lower quality from upper to lower grades.

These findings support the conclusion that accountability pressure induces schools to pursue actions that work to the disadvantage of the children in the lower grades.

New Standards Could Impact Adult Education

State education departments throughout the country are, for the first time, in the process of agreeing on and establishing new and more demanding educational standards for kindergarten through high school. The nationwide trends and factors prompting this coordinated rise in education standards and accountability affect adult education as much as they will K-12, according to a recently published McGraw-Hill Research Foundation report, "Common Core State Standards: What Effect Could They Have on Adult Education and High School Equivalency Programs in the U.S.?"

To date, 46 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted what's called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and they have committed to schedules for full implementation of CCSS over the next few years.

The new standards are essential to help students compete in an increasingly interconnected and digital world but they will demand more from teachers, as well as from students.

The new guidelines, the reasons for them, and their potential impact are outlined in The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation policy paper, "Common Core State Standards: What Effect Could They Have on Adult Education and High School Equivalency Programs in the U.S.?"

"If the standards for earning a high school diploma become more demanding, and the economic benefits of having a high school diploma increase as a result, won't the standards for and difficulty of earning a high school 'equivalency' degree have to increase as well?" ask study authors Jeff Fantine, MA, Adult Education Consultant, and Mitch Rosin, MA, MS, Director of Adult Learning and Workforce Initiatives, McGraw-Hill Education.

In addition, if what a high school graduate is expected to know and be able to do to compete effectively in a 21st century economy rise to a higher level, vital federal Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs and/or state and local High School Equivalency (HSE) training will be impacted.

Fantine and Rosin raise many crucial questions with regard to adult education and HSE, including:

  • How can the adult education community adapt to the CCSS to raise educational achievement and reduce the marginalization and stigmatization that adult education carries with it today?
  • How can the instructional guidelines now being established for the CCSS in English Language Arts and Literacy and mathematics in K-12 be adapted so as to be relevant (and realistic) for adult education students?
  • How can adult learners – especially those who did not finish high school – be supported to meet higher academic standards? Can learners be motivated to pursue an education with enhanced rigor? What services can be implemented to support transition into postsecondary education, advanced job training, and lifelong careers?
  • What can be done to support instructors and administrators in all areas of adult education to ensure that adequate professional development is provided to enable them to meet the challenges that might result from the implementation of the CCSS?
  • Are there sufficient resources in a time of fiscal austerity to adapt and adequately implement the CCSS, and, if not, what can be done to implement the CCSS in some meaningful form without a substantial increase in funding?

The policy paper includes opinions from several adult education professionals who offer their views on how the coming K-12 standards might impact the adult education community of administrators, teachers, and students. While these experts offer a variety of ideas, the authors summarize a general consensus:

  • Whatever the impact of CCSS is, they will raise the bar for teaching and administering adult education and high school equivalency by increasing the rigor and quality of services;
  • There will be pain at the beginning as the field adjusts to the CCSS. The lack of funding for better instructor professional development will be a particular issue, but, if adult education authorities want to implement CCSS effectively, a fundamental change to how they perform in the classroom will be required;
  • In the long run, the higher standards and greater rigor resulting from the CCSS will benefit adult basic and secondary education, giving them a higher profile, spotlighting their need for more funding, and giving the entire field an elevated level of respect and cachet that comes from implementing higher standards.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Study on media violence and kids could have applications on school bullying

The April suicide of 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. -- a South O'Brien High School (Paulina, Iowa) student who was reportedly teased and bullied by classmates -- had Iowa lawmakers questioning the effectiveness of the state's five-year-old anti-bullying law. School officials can't always identify the bullies until it's too late.

But a new study led by Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State University associate professor of psychology, may provide schools with a new tool to help them profile students who are more likely to commit aggressive acts against other students. Published in the July issue of the Psychology of Popular Media Culture -- a journal by the American Psychological Association -- the study identifies media violence exposure as one of six risk factors for predicting later aggression in 430 children (ages 7-11, grades 3-5) from five Minnesota schools. In addition to media violence exposure, the remaining risk factors are bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, gender, physical victimization and prior physical fights.

Knowing students' risks for aggression can help school officials to determine which students might be more likely to get in fights -- or possibly bully other students -- later in the school year.

"As you gain risk factors, the risk of aggression goes up disproportionally," said Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State. "Having one or two risk factors is no big deal. Kids are resilient -- they can handle it. You get to three and there's a big jump. When you get out past four risk factors, risk is increasing at a much higher rate than you would expect.

"If we are concerned about bullying in schools, then this approach has real world implications for helping to target the kids who are at higher risk for bullying behavior so we could use our limited resources more effectively to reduce bullying in schools," he continued. "We could profile kids by measuring their risk factors. In fact, I can get over 80 percent accuracy knowing only three things -- are they a boy, have they gotten in a fight within the past year, and do they consume a lot of media violence? When you get out to having six risk factors, then we can predict with 94 percent accuracy which kids will get into fights in the coming year. We just can't predict which day."

Effects of media violence may be previously underestimated

Gentile and co-author Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor who now is on The Ohio State University faculty, conclude that when considered with other risk factors, the effects of media violence exposure may actually be underestimated by previous scientific measures. They contend the study is one of the first to put several of the pieces together to show how the risk factors work together to predict future aggression.

"This new statistical approach [relative weight analysis] actually allows us to get probably the most accurate assessment of how much each variable [risk factor] contributes to likely aggression, in combination with the others," Gentile said. "It becomes clear that media violence is very similar to other known risk factors."

For the study, children and their teachers were surveyed twice in a school year -- most being six months apart. Physical aggression was measured using self-reports, peer-nominations and teacher reports of actual violence.

In the self-reports, participants listed their three favorite TV shows, video games and movies. For each, participants rated how frequently they watched or played it, and how violent it was. An overall violence exposure score was computed for each participant by multiplying the violence rating by the frequency of viewing/playing, and then averaging across the nine responses. That approach has been used successfully in other studies that study children and media violence.

Media violence consumption easiest for parents to control

Gentile emphasizes that high exposure to media violence is just one risk factor for increased aggression, neither deserving special concern nor dismissal among other risk factors. What makes it different from the others is that it's the one that is most easy for parents to control.

"Most of the risk factors for aggression are really hard to change. You can't easily change whether your child has previously been in a fight or bullied," Gentile said. "That's what makes this [media violence] different is that it's actually fairly easy to control compared to most of the other risk factors. But how it acts as a risk factor is exactly the same as all others. It's not the biggest, it's not the smallest, it's actually right there in the middle of the pack."

While the researchers found that the effect of media violence exposure on a child's later aggression may be underestimated, Gentile points out that it's the combination of risk factors that ultimately proves to be the most dangerous when predicting future aggression in kids.