Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers: Most Fail

From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers, ranks states on 65 indicators in seven policy areas. The report found that most states are not taking a comprehensive approach when it comes to developing children’s literacy skills. Accompanying the research are interactive maps of state progress displayed via New America’s data visualization and policy analysis tool, Atlas.

Along the marathon course towards life success are several checkpoints for all children: kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, and of course high school graduation. States can help or hinder students in reaching these points. Right now, 11 states are crawling toward making sure children are able to read well by third grade. The majority of states, 34 and Washington, DC, are toddling. Only five states are walking: New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. No state is running.

“Even New York, the highest scoring state, only earned the equivalent of a ‘C’ in letter grades,” says Laura Bornfreund, director of New America’s Early & Elementary Education team and lead author of the report.

Some of the highest scoring states might come as a surprise, such as West Virginia, which doesn’t always rise to the top on most state rankings. The report explains that West Virginia stands out because of its robust state pre-K program that includes basic quality indicators; it also requires districts to offer full-day kindergarten under state statute.

From Crawling to Walking measures states on a broad set of policy indicators that can help ensure children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade. For instance, states that prioritize the preparation and development of teachers of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and the early elementary grades, as well as leaders of elementary schools and child care centers, are in a better position to meet this goal. But while a focus on educators is salient, it’s not enough on its own. States must also have in place:
  • Strong standards, assessments, and data systems; 
  • Equitable funding; 
  • High-quality pre-K; 
  • Full-Day Kindergarten; 
  • Supports for dual language learners; 
  • And when they exist, third grade reading laws that focus on identification and intervention over holding children back. 
The majority of states fall into the Toddling category, meaning they are meeting some indicators but clearly lacking on others. Finally, the report identifies the 11 states that have the most work to do--Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Montana-- as Crawling. The majority of states in this category do not have public pre-K programs and do not require districts to provide full-day kindergarten.

This scan of state policies finds that most states are far from the kind of unified alignment that fosters a strong early learning continuum for children. According to the report, “Several states are tackling pieces fairly well, but real progress will occur when states begin to knit those discrete policies together.”

Reducing inequalities and financing education remain key international challenges

 Governments need to tackle persistent inequalities in education and focus on improving efficiencies in their education systems in order to ensure that every child, whatever their background, can realise their full potential and benefit from a good education, according to a new OECD report.

Education at a Glance 2015 reveals the rapid progress made in expanding education over the past 25 years, with around 41% of 25-34 year-olds now having a tertiary qualification. But inequalities still persist in education, with serious consequences for labour markets and economies. In 2014, less than 60% of adults without an upper secondary education were in work, compared to over 80% of tertiary-educated adults.

Educational inequalities also affect earnings, with adults who have attained tertiary education 23 percentage points more likely to be among the 25% highest paid adults than adults with an upper secondary education.

“The dream of ‘quality education for all’ is not yet a reality,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría at the launch of the report in Paris. “Lack of a quality education is the most powerful form of social exclusion and prevents people from benefiting from economic growth and social progress.” Read the speech.

Inequalities in initial education continue to unfold  throughout people’s lives, notably in access to lifelong learning: about 60% of workers in the most skilled occupations participate in employer-sponsored education, while only 26% of workers in elementary occupations do.

This year’s edition of Education at a Glance also reveals the difficulties that governments face in financing education. Between 2010 and 2012, GDP began to rise again in most countries, and public spending on primary to tertiary educational institutions fell in more than one in three OECD countries, including Australia, Canada, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United States.

Amid budget cuts at primary and secondary levels, most governments have chosen to reduce teacher salaries rather than increase class sizes. But evidence from the OECD’s PISA program reveals that high-performing countries, such as Finland, Japan or Korea, prioritize teaching and teachers over infrastructure and class sizes.

The number of countries showing an increase in salaries, in real terms, shrank to about one in two OECD countries between 2008 and 2013. On average across the OECD, pre-primary and primary teachers earn 78% of the salary of a similarly-educated,  full-time worker; lower secondary teachers are paid 80% and upper secondary teachers 82% of that benchmark salary.

These uncompetitive salaries will make it harder to attract the best candidates to the teaching profession, especially as the teaching workforce is ageing, with 35% of secondary school teachers at least 50 years old in 2013. That proportion rose by 3 percentage points between 2005 and 2013. The increase was 10 percentage points or more in Greece, Korea, Portugal and Slovenia and 19 points in Austria.

Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. The report analyses the education systems of the 34 OECD member countries, as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Key findings

Educational attainment

  • Around 85% of today’s young people will complete upper secondary education over their lifetimes. In all countries, young women are now more likely to do so than men. The largest gender gap is in Slovenia, where 95% of young women are expected to graduate from upper secondary, compared to only 76% of young men. (Indicator A2)
  • Around 41% of 25-34 year olds in OECD countries now have a university-level education. That proportion is 16 percentage points larger than of 55-64 year-olds who have attained a similar level of education. In many countries, this difference exceeds 20 percentage points. (Indictor A1)
  • The number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship has risen dramatically, from 1.7 million worldwide in 1995 to more than 4.5 million (Indicator C4). Some 27% of students in OECD countries who graduated for the first time from a doctoral programme in 2013 were international students, compared to only 7% for students who were awarded a bachelor’s degree. (Indicator A3)
  • On average, 83% of tertiary-educated people are employed, compared with 74% of people with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and 56% of people with below upper-secondary education. (Indicator A5)

Education spending
  • OECD countries spend on average USD 10,220 per student per year from primary through tertiary education: USD 8,247 per primary student, USD 9,518 per secondary student, and USD 15,028 per tertiary student. (Indicator B1)
  • The share of private funding in tertiary education has increased over the past decade. About two thirds of private funding at tertiary level comes from households through tuition fees. Tuition fees are higher than USD 2000 in more than half of the countries with available data, exceed USD 4000 in Australia, Canada, Korea and New Zealand, USD 5000 in Japan and USD 8000 in the United Kingdom and United States. (Indicator B5)
  • OECD countries spent an average of 5.3% of GDP on primary to tertiary education in 2012 (including undistributed programmes by level of education). Public funding accounts for 83.5% of all spending on primary to tertiary educational institutions. Public spending on education fell in more than one out of three OECD countries between 2010 and 2012, including Australia, Canada, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United States. (Indicators B2 and B3)

Early childhood education
  • In most OECD countries, education now begins for most children well before they are 5 years old. Some 74% of 3-year-olds are enrolled in education across the OECD and 80% of European Union member OECD countries. (Indicator C2)
  • Enrolments in pre-primary rose from 52% of 3-year-olds in 2005 to 72% in 2013, and from 69% of 4-year-olds to 85% in 2013. The enrolment rates of 4-year olds increased by 20 percentage points or more in Australia, Chile, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Russian Federation and Turkey between 2005 and 2013. (Indicator C2)
  • More than half of children enrolled in early childhood development programmes attend private institutions. This can result in heavy financial burdens for parents, even when government subsidies are provided. (Indicator C2)

In the classroom
  • Students receive an average of 7570 hours of compulsory education at primary and lower secondary level. Students in Denmark have the most, at over 10,000 hours, and in Hungary the least, at less than 6,000 hours.(Indicator D1)
  • The average primary class in OECD countries has 21 students and 24 at lower secondary level. The larger the class size, the less time teachers spend teaching and the more time they spend on keeping order in the classroom: one additional student added to an average-size class is associated with 0.5 percentage point decrease in time spent on teaching and learning. Indicator D2)
  • The statutory salaries of teachers with 15 years’ experience average USD 41,245 at primary level, USD 42,825 at lower secondary and USD 44,600 at upper secondary level. (Indicator D3)
United States statistics

Online Teacher Training Experiences and Perceived Professional Challenges

Online teaching requires unique skills compared with traditional face-to-face instruction. These skills include using multiple technologies effectively, facilitating student engagement in an online environment, and developing or customizing online courses. However, little is known about the training in which online teachers participate or the kinds of challenges they perceive in their professional practice.

To learn more, REL Midwest and the Wisconsin Virtual School collaborated to conduct a study of online teachers' professional experiences. Key findings from the 48 teachers who taught an online course during the 2013/14 or 2014/15 school year and responded to the survey include the following:

  • More teachers reported that they participated in training or professional development while teaching online than before teaching online or during preservice education.
  • The most frequently reported types of training included a multiday workshop or conference and ongoing training sessions.
  • Teachers most frequently reported challenges related to student perseverance and engagement; their least frequently reported challenges related to working conditions, such as feeling isolated from colleagues, and professional practices, such as setting course expectations.
  • Teachers indicated that they preferred unstructured professional development to structured professional development for addressing challenges related to student perseverance and engagement.

The report includes a copy of the survey that states, districts, or other online learning programs can use to collect data about the professional experiences of their online teachers.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Impact of social-emotional learning on academic achievement

Those promoting a "whole-child" approach to education contend that we need a holistic perspective that aims to nurture the full range of skills and capacities that will help children of today become healthy and competent future adults. But increasing scrutiny of academic achievement gaps among children in the United States, as well as between children in our country and other developed countries, has created an urgency to promotion of academic achievement that has left little time for the development of non-academic skills. However, research recently reported in School Psychology Quarterly suggests there's no real conflict: a randomized, controlled trial of an evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum (PATHS: Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies) in grades 3-6 showed that students in schools randomized to receive an enhanced SEL program were more likely than those in the control group to achieve basic proficiency in reading, writing and math on independently administered state mastery tests in later grades (Schonfeld et al., 2015).

The project involved all students enrolled in regular or bilingual education in an inner-city school system where 2 out of 3 students qualify for a free or reduced price lunch and 9 out of 10 students are African American or Hispanic/Latino American. The project focused on the impact of advancing academic proficiency at the lowest level (i.e., below basic proficiency) given that the curriculum has demonstrated positive impact on behavior and emotion for students most at-risk, as well as the belief that these students might be most vulnerable to the negative impacts of suboptimal social and emotional skills, classroom and school climate, and school engagement. Furthermore, this group of students contributes most to the achievement gap that has challenged our country's educational system.

Those children randomized to schools where the enhanced SEL curriculum was taught were more likely to achieve basic proficiency in the three academic areas evaluated by the mastery test. Furthermore, within the schools where the enhanced SEL curriculum was implemented, researchers saw a "dosage effect;" students whose teachers reported teaching more of the lessons were more likely to achieve basic proficiency. Positive intervention effects of the curriculum were found in at least some grade levels for all three academic content areas. Specifically, the intervention group showed greater basic proficiency in 4th grade reading and math, as well as 5th and 6th grade writing, compared to the control group, with the analyses for the dosage effects providing additional support for the intervention effects for reading and math. Although the effect sizes were relatively small, considering that the curriculum aims to teach social-emotional skills and was implemented to reduce the onset of high-risk behaviors (a prior paper by the team showed that the program helped reduce early sexual behavior), the fact that there was also impact on academic test scores is noteworthy. This is one of the first studies to examine the impact of a multiyear SEL program on academic achievement among young students.

Many schools are actively restricting classroom time devoted to any subjects or activities that do not appear to directly prepare children for high-stakes testing in reading, writing, and math. Teachers and school administrators are increasingly finding their job performance linked to the degree to which their students demonstrate achievement in these subject areas. As a result, many important components of children's education, including SEL, are being seriously compromised or eliminated entirely. This research provides support that SEL may be a promising approach to promote basic academic proficiency, especially for those students most at risk.


Schonfeld, D. J., Adams, R. E., Fredstrom, B. K., Weissberg, R. P., Gilman, R., Voyce, C., . . . Speese-Linehan, D. (2015). Cluster-randomized trial demonstrating impact on academic achievement of elementary social-emotional learning. School Psychology Quarterly, 30(3), 406-420. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000099

Teaching problem-solving, leadership to young African-American girls lowers relational aggression

A new study from the Violence Prevention Initiative at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) suggests that educators, particularly in urban schools, should teach elementary school-aged girls problem-solving skills and provide them leadership opportunities as a way to reduce their relational aggression. Relational aggression includes using gossip and social exclusion to harm others, which is the most common form of aggression among girls.

Published in the journal Psychology of Violence, the study was a randomized control trial with third- to fifth-grade urban African-American girls to evaluate the effectiveness of the Friend to Friend (F2F) aggression prevention program.

F2F is the first and only relational aggression intervention to demonstrate a decrease in relationally aggressive behaviors among urban minority girls that continued at least a year after the conclusion of the program. Specifically, it improved the girls' social problem-solving knowledge and decreased their levels of relational aggression.

"Including this type of positive skill development in urban school curricula is important because children attending inner-city, under-resourced schools are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems," says psychologist Stephen Leff, PhD, the study's lead author, and co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI). "There is evidence that having these skills and positive leadership opportunities increases the students' resilience and leads to better future social interactions. This positive approach is infused into the school-based prevention programs that are part of our Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP."

The study team developed and refined the program through more than a decade of committed research at CHOP, in partnership with key community stakeholders. "This partnership approach was used to develop F2F curricula, as well as the innovative teaching modalities utilized in the program, such as cartoons, videos, and role-plays," says Brooke Paskewich, PsyD, a psychologist and VPI program manager. "Involving students, teachers, and parents in the design of the program helped to ensure its cultural sensitivity, developmental appropriateness, and engagement of urban minority youth."

F2F is a 20 session pull-out small group program that is conducted for 40 minutes over the lunch-recess period. It teaches social problem-solving strategies and provides opportunities for the girls to co-lead classroom sessions of F2F for their peers. A pilot study published in 2009 established the promise of F2F in decreasing relational aggression among elementary school-aged girls in two urban elementary schools.

The current study involved 144 relationally aggressive girls from 44 different classrooms across six elementary schools in the School District of Philadelphia. The researchers used peer report measures to determine eligibility for the intervention. Participants were randomly assigned to either F2F or to a control group that used a homework and study-skills development program.

"Teachers were vital implementation partners for us, particularly in reinforcing newly learned pro-social skills and strategies outside of the structured sessions," says Leff. "Having their buy-in and support was essential."

The study group found significant improvements on self-report and teacher-report measures completed before and after implementing the program. In a one year follow-up, the participants' new teachers completed the same measures about the students' social behaviors as their previous teachers the year before. Notably, the new teachers were unaware of the girls' aggressive and intervention status, a fact that helped to strengthen the validity of the findings.

"This study demonstrates not only the effect of a specific aggression prevention program, but also the promise of curricula that emphasize social problem-solving and leadership skills to reduce relational aggression in urban schools," says Leff.

Amblyopia, not strabismus, identified as key contributor to slow reading in school-age children


Children with amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye," may have impaired ocular motor function. This can result in difficulties in activities for which sequential eye movements are important, such as reading. A new study conducted at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest determined that children with amblyopia read more slowly than children with normal vision or with strabismus alone. Their findings are published in the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS).

"This study marks the first time that amblyopia, not strabismus, has been identified as the key factor in poorer reading in school-age children with amblyopia," explained lead investigator Krista R. Kelly, PhD, of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest. "Previous studies had not emulated natural reading conditions that the child would normally encounter in school, that is, binocular silent reading of grade-appropriate paragraphs at habitual reading distance. Lastly, these studies had evaluated subjects who had both amblyopia and strabismus and therefore were unable to evaluate the effect of strabismus alone on reading."

Three groups of children were studied: 29 children with amblyopia with or without strabismus, 23 children being treated for strabismus but without amblyopia, and 21 children with normal vision. The children with amblyopia and/or strabismus had been referred to the Retina Foundation of the Southwest by 18 pediatric ophthalmologists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The children silently read a grade-level paragraph of text during binocular viewing while fitted with the ReadAlyzer, an eye movement recording system. The researchers measured reading rate, the number of forward and regressive eye movements (saccades) per 100 words, and the length of eye pauses (fixations). Comprehension was evaluated with a 10-item quiz. Only data from children with at least 80% correct responses were included so that it was unlikely that impaired reading in amblyopic children was due to comprehension difficulties.

Amblyopic children read significantly more slowly than strabismic children without amblyopia and normal control children. Statistically, there was not a significant difference in the reading rate between strabismic children without amblyopia and normal control children. Similarly, amblyopic children had about 35% more forward eye movements during reading than either strabismic children without amblyopia or normal children.

Conventional value-added models may be misleading, but are likely to generate substantial achievement gains

Conventional value-added models (VAMs) compare average test scores across schools after adjusting for students’ demographic characteristics and previous scores. The resulting VAM estimates are biased if the available control variables fail to capture all cross-school differences in student ability. 

This paper introduces a new test for VAM bias that asks whether VAM estimates accurately predict the achievement consequences of random assignment to specific schools. 

Test results from admissions lotteries in Boston suggest conventional VAM estimates may be misleading. This finding motivates the development of a hierarchical model describing the joint distribution of school value-added, VAM bias, and lottery compliance. The researchers used this model to assess the substantive importance of bias in conventional VAM estimates and to construct hybrid value-added estimates that optimally combine ordinary least squares and instrumental variables estimates of VAM parameters. 

Simulations calibrated to the Boston data show that, bias notwithstanding, policy decisions based on conventional VAMs are likely to generate substantial achievement gains. Estimates incorporating lotteries are less biased, however, and yield further gains.