Thursday, June 30, 2016

Reports Lack Compelling Evidence of Voucher Benefits

The degree to which students benefit from voucher programs, which allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools, has been debated for years. Most studies have found only modest benefits, at best. Two new reports claim to offer empirical support for the effectiveness of vouchers.

University of Illinois professor Christopher Lubienski reviewed A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice and The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

One report (A Win-Win Solution) is the latest in a series from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Friedman report reviews studies purporting to show positive impacts from voucher programs in the U.S. The other report (The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe) is from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. The authors of the Arkansas report conducted a limited meta-analysis of US and international studies of voucher programs.

The Friedman report is a rudimentary “vote-counting “analysis of an extremely narrow set of 18 studies using a biased counting system. The Arkansas meta-analysis aspires to be “global,” but, despite identifying over 9,000 potential studies for the analysis, ultimately uses only 19, almost half of which were conducted by the Arkansas authors or their associates. Moreover, the “global” meta-analysis only encompasses three countries.

The two reports focus on randomized studies of the effects of vouchers on education outcomes and both conclude that vouchers have positive impacts. However, both reports are marred by a number of serious problems and errors, including not addressing the shortcomings of the theoretical underpinnings of vouchers, methods that bias the selections of studies to review, misrepresentations of the body of evidence represented in the research literature, and failure to acknowledge the limitations of their approaches.

Professor Lubienski concludes that the manifold serious flaws of each report undercut the trustworthiness of their conclusions and negate any utility for policymakers.

Find Christopher Lubienski’s review at:

Find A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, by Greg Forster, published by the Friedman Foundation, at:

Find The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review, by M. Danish Shakeel, Kaitlin P. Anderson, and Patrick J. Wolf, published by the University of Arkansas, at:

Early Care Arrangements and Achievement at Kindergarten Entry

Children who primarily attended center-based care the year before kindergarten demonstrated higher academic and behavior skills upon entering kindergarten than children who had no early care arrangements, according to a new report. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), released Primary Early Care and Education Arrangements and Achievement at Kindergarten Entry, today (June 30, 2016). The report explores the relationship between children’s primary early care and education (ECE) arrangements the year before kindergarten and their academic skills and learning behaviors at kindergarten entry, after accounting for child and family background characteristics. Information for this report comes from the nationally representative National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) data collections.

Among the findings in the report::

•    The percentage of children ages 4 and 5 years old who attended center-based care as their primary ECE arrangement before kindergarten entry was higher in 2012 (58 percent) than in 1995 (55 percent), while the percentage who primarily received home-based nonrelative care was lower in 2012 (7 percent) than in 1995 ( 11 percent). The overall percentages of children receiving home-based relative care as their primary ECE arrangement (13 percent) and those with no ECE arrangement on a regular basis (19 percent) in 2012 were not measurably different from the percentages in 1995.

•    The percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners who received center-based care as their primary ECE arrangement the year before kindergarten was lower for children who were Hispanic (48 percent) and Pacific Islander (28 percent) than for those who were White (58 percent), Black (56 percent), Asian (62 percent), American Indians/Alaska Native (57 percent), and Two or more races (61 percent).

•    Fall 2010 kindergarten reading, mathematics, and cognitive flexibility scores were lower, on average, for children who had no regular ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten and for those whose primary arrangements were home-based relative care than for children who primarily attended center-based care arrangements.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons from the States

Early education has emerged as a critical issue for state policymakers, who during the 2015–16 fiscal year alone invested nearly $7 billion in programs for our country’s youngest learners. Support for preschool is broad and diverse, present in large and small states, in those densely and sparsely populated, and in states led by both Republicans and Democrats. Although there is considerable research on the elements of high-quality preschool and its many benefits, there is little information available to policymakers about how to convert their visions of good early education into on-the-ground reality. 

This report fills that gap by describing and analyzing how four states—Michigan, West Virginia, Washington, and North Carolina—have built high-quality early education systems. It is based on reviews of policy documents, studies, and data in each state, as well as observations of programs and interviews with 159 individuals, including policymakers, program administrators, providers, teachers, parents, advocates, and researchers. These states exemplify an array of promising practices that are designed to meet a state’s needs and to satisfy its priorities. 

Despite their differences, these states share a common commitment to advancing foundational elements of a quality preschool education. To make engaging, age-appropriate programs a reality, each of the states relies on common overarching strategies: establishing standards for quality and systems that incentivize improvement; investing in knowledgeable and skilled educators; coordinating and aligning early education programs; seeking sufficient funding sources and mechanisms; and building broad-based support. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Physical activity boosts kids' brain power and academic prowess

Exercise boosts kids' and young people's brain power and academic prowess, says a consensus statement on physical activity in schools and during leisure time, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Time taken away from lessons for physical activity is time well spent and does not come at the cost of getting good grades, say the 24 signatories to the statement.
The Statement, which distils the best available evidence on the impact of physical activity on children and young people, was drawn up by a panel of international experts with a wide range of specialisms, from the UK, Scandinavia, and North America, in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April of this year.
It includes 21 separate statements on the four themes of fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation and wellbeing; and social inclusion, and spans structured and unstructured forms of physical activity for 6 to 18 year olds in school and during leisure time.
It says that:
  • Physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are good for children's and young people's brain development and function as well as their intellect
  • A session of physical activity before, during, and after school boosts academic prowess
  • A single session of moderately energetic physical activity has immediate positive effects on brain function, intellect, and academic performance
  • Mastery of basic movement boosts brain power and academic performance
  • Time taken away from lessons in favour of physical activity does not come at the cost of getting good grades
In terms of the physiological benefits of exercise, the Statement says that cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness "are strong predictors" of the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes in later life, and that vigorous exercise in childhood helps to keep these risk factors in check.
But frequent moderate intensity and, to a lesser extent, low intensity exercise will still help improve kids' heart health and their metabolism, while physical activity is a key component of the treatment of many long term conditions in 6-18 year olds.
But the positive effects of exercise are not restricted to physical health, says the Statement. Regular physical activity can help develop important life skills, and boost self esteem, motivation, confidence and wellbeing. And it can strengthen/foster relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.
And just as importantly, activities that take account of culture and context can promote social inclusion for those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientation, skill levels and physical capacity.
Incorporating physical activity into every aspect of school life and providing protected public spaces, such as bike lanes, parks and playgrounds "are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth," says the Statement.

Stress contagion possible amongst students and teachers: UBC study


Teacher burnout and student stress may be linked, according to a University of British Columbia study.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the connection between teacher burnout and students' cortisol levels, which are a biological indicator of stress.
Researchers collected saliva samples from over 400 elementary school children and tested their cortisol levels. They found that in classrooms in which teachers experienced more burnout, or feelings of emotional exhaustion, students' cortisol levels were elevated. Higher cortisol levels in elementary school children have been linked to learning difficulties as well as mental health problems.
"This suggests that stress contagion might be taking place in the classroom among students and their teachers," said Eva Oberle, the study's lead author and newly appointed assistant professor with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at UBC's school of population and public health. "It is unknown what came first - elevated cortisol or teacher burnout. We consider the connection between student and teacher stress a cyclical problem in the classroom."
Oberle said a stressful classroom climate could be a result of inadequate support for teachers, which may impact teachers' ability to effectively manage their students. A poorly managed classroom can contribute to students' needs not being met and increasing stress. This could be reflected in elevated cortisol levels in students.
Alternatively, stress could originate from students, who may be more challenging to teach because of increases in anxiety, behavioural problems, or special needs. In this scenario, teachers could feel overwhelmed and report higher levels of burnout.
"Our study is a reminder of the systemic issues facing teachers and educators as classroom sizes increase and supports for teachers are cut," said Oberle.
"It is clear from a number of recent research studies that teaching is one of the most stressful professions, and that teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom," said UBC education professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, the study's co-author and director of HELP. "If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students."

The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, was carried out in Grade 4 to 7 classrooms at 17 public schools in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Teacher burnout was determined through survey results.

Mixed Reviews of High School Mathematics Materials, the nonprofit whose educator teams review instructional materials to determine alignment to Common Core standards, announced the results of its first round of reviews of high school mathematics textbooks. Five reports examining both three-course traditional (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) and integrated (I, II, III) sequences were published today, along with the review tool and evidence guides educators used in the process.

Of the five reports, one series – Core Connections (CPM) – met criteria for alignment in all three review gateways.

“When we launched EdReports a year ago with our first round of reviews, we were overwhelmed by the response,” said Eric Hirsch, executive director of EdReports. “It was clear the community was hungry for our freely available, evidence-based reports, and educators were clamoring for information on what materials can best serve their classrooms. We see this need not only in the elementary and middle school grades but in high school, as well. I am delighted we have been able to respond to the demand with more evidence and more reviews.”

Reviewers noted positive evidence that can benefit teachers and students across all of the series.

Highlights from the first round of high school reviews include:
• Core Connections (CPM) (traditional): Met Expectations for Gateway 1, Gateway 2 and Gateway 3
• Carnegie Learning (traditional): Partially Met Expectations for Gateway 1 and Gateway 2
• Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (traditional): Did Not Meet Expectations for Gateway 1
• Pearson (integrated): Did Not Meet Expectations for Gateway 1
• Springboard College Board (traditional): Did Not Meet Expectations for Gateway 1

EdReports educators review materials based on criteria that measure alignment to the Common Core State Standards. The review tool for high school math, developed by the educators, shares characteristics with the K-8 math tool. One key similarity is that the tool supports a sequential review process, or review by gateways. Reviewers consider: Gateway 1) focus and coherence; Gateway 2) rigor and mathematical practices; and Gateway 3) instructional supports and other usability indicators.

Reviewers first ensure all of the high school standards are addressed in the series and that the materials make strong connections between the mathematical content, as opposed to teaching skills and concepts in isolation (focus and coherence). Only if materials meet or partially meet these criteria do reviewers then consider the rigor of the materials and evaluate connections to the mathematical practices. Finally, if the criteria for these first two gateways are at least partially met, the materials are reviewed for usability.

Although the high school math standards specify the content and skills students should learn to be college and career ready, they do not mandate the sequence of those courses or grade-level focus. As a result, the educator teams reviewed both traditional course sequences (Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II) as well as integrated course sequences with a single report available online for each series.

State policies for intervening in chronically low-performing schools: A 50-state scan

Recent federal initiatives such as School Improvement Grants and Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility emphasize the role of state education agencies (SEAs) in improving our nation’s lowest performing schools. However, the actions that SEAs can take are limited by the policies in place in their states. 
This report provides a summary of current policies in all 50 states related to state interventions with chronically underperforming schools. Laws and regulations were classified into six broad categories of interventions related to: school improvement plans, staffing, closing a school, financial incentives or interventions, the day-to-day operation of the school, and the entity that governs or operates a school. 
State policies show a great deal of consistency in approaches to supporting the lowest-performing schools, perhaps because many of the interventions align closely with federal guidance for improving chronically low-performing schools. Despite strong alignment of state policies with federal guidance, state policies vary in terms of the breadth of interventions they allow states to implement. About a third of states have policies related to all six categories of interventions. Seven states have policies allowing interventions falling into only two or three of the six categories. State policies also vary in the specific interventions allowed within each category. 
This report can help state education leaders and policymakers learn how other states are approaching the challenge of turning around their lowest-performing schools, which can facilitate communication among states considering similar approaches.