Monday, April 21, 2014

Promise Scholarship Programs as Place-Making Policy: Evidence from School Enrollment and Housing Price

 Following the example of the Kalamazoo Promise initiated in 2005, place-based "Promise'' scholarship programs have proliferated over the past 8 years.  These programs guarantee money towards the costs of attendance at selected colleges and universities provided that a student has resided and attended school within a particular public school district continuously for at least the four years prior to graduation.   

While some early programs have been studied in isolation, the impact of such programs in general is not well understood.  In addition, although there is substantial and controversial variation from the original program's design, there is no direct evidence on how outcomes vary along with these design choices.   

This study uses a difference-in-difference approach to compare the evolution of both school enrollments and residential real estate prices around the announcement of these programs within the affected Promise zone and in the surrounding area.  Taken together, these estimates suggest that these scholarships have important distributional effects that bear further examination.  In particular, while estimates indicate that public school enrollments increase in Promise zones relative to their surrounding areas following Promise announcements, schools associated with merit-based programs experience increases in white enrollment and decreases in non-white enrollment.  

Furthermore, housing price effects are larger in neighborhoods with high quality schools and in the upper half of the housing price distribution, suggesting higher valuation by high-income households.  These patterns lead to the conclusion that such scholarships are primarily affecting the behavior of households living above the median income for whom they present the greatest value and that merit-based versions disproportionately impact white households.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Latest trends show decrease in school-aged bullying and fighting

New research from the American Journal of Public Health finds a decrease in bullying and physical fighting among middle and high school students. However, the prevalence of carrying weapons increased among white students.

Using survey data from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children study, researchers analyzed trends in bullying, physical fighting and carrying of weapons among sixth- through 10th-grade students between 1998 and 2010. 

Results indicated that bullying declined significantly along with physical fighting, which had a less dramatic decrease. While collectively there was no decline in weapon carrying, there was an increase in carrying weapons among white students.

“This trend is surprising when one considers that white students had the largest declines in bullying and physical fighting over the same time period,” the authors expound.

“The overall decrease in bullying and victimization may be attributed to two related factors, an increasing recognition of the need for bullying prevention programs, and the increased number of evidence-based bullying prevention programs,” the researchers suggest.

Moderators of Middle School Transition Effects on Academic Achievement

The academic impact of the transition from elementary to middle school has significant consequences for many early adolescents. This study examines academic growth across the transition, as well as sociodemographic moderators. 

Rather than defining the transition effect as a decline in student achievement between fifth and sixth grade, these data demonstrate the transition effect as an interruption in students’ growth in achievement during this interval. Results confirm larger interruptions for vulnerable students (e.g., low income, special education) despite closing the gap effect over the third- to eighth-grade interval.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banning Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias Decreases Sales and Increases Waste

mindless eating, cornell, slim by design, cornell food and brand lab, brian wansink, consequences of banning chocolate milk, andrew hanks, david just, plos one, ban chocolate milk, A Pilot Study Evaluating the Cafeteria Consequences of Eliminating Flavored MilK
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For many children eating school lunch, chocolate milk is a favorite choice.  What would happen if chocolate milk were banned from school cafeterias? “Students take 10% less milk, waste 29% more and may even stop eating school meals,” says Andrew Hanks, PhD.

In a recent article published in PLOS ONE, researchers for the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (B.E.N. Center), reported results from data collected at 11 Oregon elementary schools where chocolate milk had been banned from the cafeterias and replaced with skim milk.  While this policy eliminated the added sugar in chocolate milk, there were unexpected nutritional and economic backlashes.

The new Cornell Food and Brand Lab study by Andrew Hanks, David Just, and Brian Wansink, found that eliminating chocolate milk from the elementary schools decreased total milk sales by 10%, indicating that many students substituted white for chocolate milk. Even though more students were taking white milk, they wasted 29% more than before. Nutritionally, after the milk substitution, students on average consumed less sugar and fewer calories, but also consumed less protein and calcium. Additionally, the ban may have been a factor in a 7% decrease in District’s Lunch Program participation.

Removing flavored milk from cafeterias decreases added sugar, yet the economic and nutritional costs warrant reconsidering a less restrictive policy. Nicole Zammit, former Assistance Director of Nutrition Services at Eugene School District, was not surprised that banning chocolate milk had negative consequences. She had this to say, “Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods– I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether.”

In conclusion, co-author and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink recommends, "There are other ways to encourage kids to select white milk without banning the chocolate. Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select. Two quick and easy solutions are:  Put the white milk in the front of the cooler and make sure that at least 1/3 to 1/2 of all the milk is white."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Federal School Improvement Grants at High-ELL Schools

Federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) support turnaround efforts in the nation’s lowest-performing schools, including many that serve a large number of English Language Learner Students (ELLs). This evaluation brief examines 11 high-ELL SIG schools’ capacity and efforts to address the unique needs of ELLs.

Key findings include:

- Although all 11 schools provided specialized supports for ELL students, the schools’ approaches during the initial phase of SIG included only moderate or limited attention to the unique needs of ELLs.

- District and school administrators perceived challenges with teachers' skills in meeting the unique needs of ELLs. However, teachers’ perceptions of their own capacity were more mixed. The capacity of the schools’ district offices also varied, with two districts having no ELL staff and seven having an ELL department.

- Schools that appeared to provide stronger attention to the unique needs of ELLs were more likely to have school staff dedicated to ELL needs. Such schools also were more likely to be located in districts that provided expertise and an explicit focus on ELLs within the context of SIG.

Findings are based on fall 2011 site visits and teacher survey responses in 11 SIG schools that have high percentages of ELLs located in 9 districts and 4 states. These case study schools were part of a cohort that received SIG over a three-year period (school years 2010-11 to 2012-13).

The true extent of poor pupil behavior in schools in England is seriously underestimated,

 Research by Prof Haydn of  the University of East Anglia questions the positive picture of behaviour presented by the government. He says recent Department for Education and Ofsted reports suggesting it is at least satisfactory in 99.7% of English schools and good or outstanding in 92% of schools are misleading. He warns that even the acknowledgement last year by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that disruptive behaviour is impeding the learning of 700,000 pupils may seriously underestimate the extent to which poor classroom climate limits pupil achievement.

Published today in the journal Review of Education, Prof Haydn’s findings are from four studies conducted over 10 years. The research aimed to gain a more accurate insight into the extent to which deficits in the working atmosphere limit educational achievement and equality of educational opportunity in English schools. It also explored the difficulties schools and teachers face in reconciling the tensions between educational inclusion - that is, not removing difficult pupils from classrooms and schools - and the right to learn of all pupils in an environment which is most beneficial to learning.

Three of the studies focused on teacher perspectives on classroom atmosphere. They involved surveying 243 trainee teachers, who were also asked about their experiences as former pupils. Interviews were conducted with another 118 teachers, including 13 headteachers, across 80 schools. The fourth study surveyed the views of 708 secondary school pupils aged 11-15, from five schools.

The research used a 10 point scale, developed by Prof Haydn, which attempts to provide an indication of the extent to which deficits in classroom climate may hamper learning, with level 10 being where the working atmosphere is completely conducive to learning and level one being classrooms where learning is severely limited by pupil disruption. Many of the teachers interviewed felt that learning started to be affected as soon as the atmosphere fell below level eight on the scale, and this was a not uncommon occurrence. The research also indicates that the problem of behaviour is not limited to ‘low level’ disruption. Teacher and headteacher testimony suggested that schools and teachers often have to make difficult decisions about how to deal with ‘pupils with problems’, without simply excluding them, passing them on to other schools, or avoiding the challenge of admitting difficult pupils.

Prof Haydn, from the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at UEA, questions the view that any deficit in classroom climate can be attributed to inadequate teachers or poor headteachers. “This is not an aspect of education that is straightforward or susceptible to simple solutions or quick fixes. The suggestion that there are easy answers to the problems posed by challenging pupils underestimates the complexities of the issue, and the fact that cultural and ‘out of school’ factors are part of the problem, for example, unsupportive parents,” he said. “The idea that level 10 is a natural or default state of affairs in terms of classroom climate, or that it is easy to create a classroom climate where all pupils behave and are keen to learn and do well, with any group of pupils, is simplistic and unhelpful.”

The research raises the question of the extent to which there is a right to learn in classrooms in England, for pupils who are keen to learn and do well. Prof Haydn argues that behaviour cannot be interpreted as satisfactory if some pupils are impeding the learning of others and if teachers are not able to teach the class in a way that focuses primarily on optimising pupil learning rather than on control issues.

“There is a real danger that underestimating the complexity of these issues might lead to a failure to work constructively to address them, or a tendency for politicians of all parties to simply blame schools and teachers for anything that falls below level 10,” said Prof Haydn. “The reality is that schools and teachers will always have to work hard, and with considerable initiative and ingenuity, to minimise the problem of disruptive behaviour. In England, as elsewhere in the developed world, there are many pupils who are not perfectly socialised and are not wholeheartedly committed to learning.”

Prof Haydn points out that international surveys of classroom climate show that teachers in England are often working in more challenging contexts than their counterparts in many other countries, where cultural and out of school factors, such as parental support for schools and teachers, are much more positive.

The research also suggests that classroom climate emerges as an important factor in teacher retention and job satisfaction, with one newly qualified teacher who was interviewed saying: “In terms of how much you enjoy your teaching, there's a massive difference between operating at levels seven and eight…which are OK…and level 10, when it's just a fantastic job, pure pleasure…you can get a real buzz out of the interaction with pupils. It's like the adverts for teaching on the TV but in real life.”

Prof Haydn calls for stronger support for teachers from parents, governors and policymakers, to help instil a culture among parents and young people that no pupil has the right to spoil the learning of others. Acknowledgement of the difficulties teachers face in working with difficult pupils, and higher levels of respect for teachers and schools from politicians and the media are also needed.

Funding to support alternative ‘within school’ provision for difficult pupils would be a practical way of supporting schools, given the sometimes dire outcomes for pupils who are permanently excluded. While many schools have come up with a range of creative and effective ways of keeping difficult pupils in school, and re-engaging them with learning, many of these courses and support systems need funding. Early intervention, in the form of universal, free and high quality nursery education would also be a helpful and cost effective investment.

‘To what extent is behaviour a problem in English schools? Exploring the scale and prevalence of deficits in classroom climate’, Terry Haydn, is published in Review of Education on April 14.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Students enrolled in NC Pre-K show significant gains across all areas of learning

Scientists from UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute have released their new study of NC Pre-K, the state’s program to prepare four-year-olds for success in kindergarten. According to FPG’s report, students enrolled in NC Pre-K show significant gains across all areas of learning.  

“Children are progressing at an even greater rate during their participation in NC Pre-K than expected for normal developmental growth,” said senior scientist Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, who leads the FPG team that has evaluated the program and provided it with recommendations for more than a dozen years. “Our research found growth in language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge, and social skills.”

NC Pre-K was designed to be a high-quality program to serve at-risk children. Since the program’s inception as “More at Four” in 2001, it has served over 255,000 four-year-olds.

Throughout this time, FPG researchers have provided annual updates on NC Pre-K’s outcomes. The NC Department of Health and Human Services funds these evaluations and reports the results to the state legislature each year.

“The pattern of developmental growth we found during the 2012-2013 school year is consistent with earlier findings,” said Peisner-Feinberg. “In general, the quality of NC Pre-K has remained relatively stable over time across many measures.”

She said that NC Pre-K also has seen steady improvement in teacher education and credentials, with a higher proportion of teachers now holding BA degrees and the appropriate licenses than in past years. “The average class size was 16 children, and most classrooms were at the highest licensing levels—four-star and five-star,” she added.

The new findings on NC Pre-K add to a growing body of evidence about the benefits of quality pre-kindergarten programs, including Peisner-Feinberg’s recent evaluation of Georgia’s pre-k program, which revealed positive effects for all children, regardless of gender and income level.

Peisner-Feinberg said the new findings from 99 randomly chosen NC Pre-K classrooms suggest that while participation in North Carolina’s program is beneficial for all groups of children, it may be especially valuable for some students.

“Children with lower levels of English proficiency made even greater gains than their peers in some skills,” she said, adding that students who are “dual-language learners” showed significant growth for all skills measured in English and for most skills measured in Spanish.

Peisner-Feinberg’s earlier research in North Carolina revealed that children enrolled in the state’s pre-k program continued to make gains even after leaving it. At the end of third grade, children from low-income families who had attended pre-k had higher reading and math scores on the North Carolina end-of-grade (EOG) tests than similar children who had not attended the state’s program.

“FPG’s 13-year history of bringing researched-based recommendations to North Carolina’s pre-k program has helped the program maintain its quality as it has grown,” Peisner-Feinberg said.

“The state has examined the evaluation findings to ensure that all children are benefitting from NC Pre-K and to consider areas where they might improve practices,” she added. “It’s been very positive from our perspective to see the program make such good use of our research.”