Thursday, December 8, 2016

Digest of Education Statistics, 2015

The latest edition of the Digest of Education Statistics is a compilation of a wide array of data about education, including new information about important issues in public education. The Digest, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is a comprehensive statistical reference for all levels of education, from prekindergarten through graduate school.

The new and updated statistical tables that are included in the Digest are released on a rolling basis. A complete volume that includes text and graphics is released annually, and the most recent edition was published today (December 8). Data in the Digest cover a variety of topics, including the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to educational attainment, finances, and federal funds for education, libraries, and international comparisons.

Among the new data in the Digest are findings regarding the language spoken at home by English Language Learner (ELL) students who were enrolled in public elementary and secondary school in 2013-14. The data show that Spanish was spoken at home by 76 percent of ELL students. Other common non-English home languages included Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese (each spoken by about 2 percent of ELL students). About 84 percent of ELL students were enrolled in elementary and secondary grades (K-8), while 16 percent were enrolled in grades 9 through 12.

The latest edition of the Digest also includes key findings on the core topics of enrollment and educational attainment, including:

•    In fall 2015, public schools enrolled 35.3 million elementary students and 15.0 million secondary students, according to projections. Public elementary enrollment is expected to increase 2 percent between 2015 and 2025, and public secondary enrollment is expected to increase 3 percent over the same period;

•    Between 1990 and 2014, the status dropout rate declined from 12.1 percent to 6.5 percent. (The status dropout rate is the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who have not completed high school and are not enrolled in school.) Although the status dropout rate declined for both Blacks and Hispanics during this period, their rates (7.4 and 10.6 percent, respectively) remained higher than the rate for Whites (5.2 percent) in 2014;

•    Between fall 2000 and fall 2010, enrollment in 2-year and 4-year colleges rose 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million. However, from fall 2010 to fall 2014, enrollment decreased 4 percent to 20.2 million;

•    From 1976 to 2014, the percentage of college students who are Hispanic rose from 4 percent to 17 percent, the percentage who are Asian/Pacific Islander rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, the percentage who are Black rose from 10 percent to 14 percent, and the percentage who are American Indian/Alaska Native rose from 0.7 to 0.8 percent; and

•    Americans are completing more years of education. The percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed high school rose from 86 percent in 2005 to 91 percent in 2015. During the same period, the percentage of young adults with a bachelor’s or higher degree increased from 29 percent to 36 percent.

Preparation for Teaching Mathematics in Dire Need of Attention

Today, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released new ratings for 875 undergraduate elementary teacher preparation programs. The latest Teacher Prep Review found evidence that the nation's top programs--those that graduate teachers well versed in both evidence-based content and methods of teaching--are not all the nation’s best known elite universities, but include Purdue University, Louisiana Tech University, Texas A&M University, Taylor University (IN), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Having last released ratings in 2014, NCTQ is able to report strong progress in some areas:
  • Programs are doing a better job teaching reading instruction. Since 2006, NCTQ has focused on early reading instruction more than any other issue. Now we found the number of programs teaching research-based reading instruction is up to 39 percent, a sharp rise from 29 percent in 2014.
  • Half of all selective programs also report diverse enrollments, showing that diversity and selectivity can go hand in hand. These 113 programs are recruiting new cohorts of teacher candidates who are more racially diverse than the institution at large or the state’s teacher workforce.
Despite these gains, undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs still have far to go, particularly in preparing elementary teachers in mathematics. The weak preparation of teachers may help to explain the low performance of the US in the latest round of PISA testing announced this Tuesday, with 36 nations ranking higher in math. Only 13 percent of the teacher prep programs have coursework covering the essential math topics every elementary teacher is expected to teach.

The new findings do little to quell the notion that teaching is an “easy major,” open to anyone who applies in many institutions. Only one quarter of the programs (26 percent) are sufficiently selective, generally admitting only the top half of college goers. However, a number of programs are taking it upon themselves to adopt tougher standards. At institutions lacking strong admissions requirements, the number of undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs which independently require at least a 3.0 GPA for admission has increased from 44 in 2014 to 71 today.

Other areas where programs can improve include:

  • Elementary Content - Only a tiny percent of programs (5 percent) require aspiring teachers to be exposed to the full breadth of content needed to teach the elementary curriculum, including literature, history, geography, and science. For the most part, programs either fail to require any courses in the content or allow candidates to select courses from a long list of electives, many bearing no connection to the content taught in elementary grades.
  • Student Teaching - Student teaching serves as a capstone experience, offering teacher candidates a chance to learn and practice under the guidance of a veteran teacher. However, only 5 percent of programs incorporate the elements of a quality student teaching experience. The vast majority of programs (around 93 percent) accept cooperating teachers suggested by a school district, without knowing much about that teacher’s effectiveness or mentoring ability.
  • Classroom Management - New teachers, in particular, find classroom management consistently challenging. But still less than half of all programs (42 percent) give candidates sufficient feedback on their classroom performance.

  • This Review only analyzed undergraduate programs preparing elementary school teachers. Over the next two years, NCTQ will release updated ratings for undergraduate secondary, graduate and nontraditional elementary, graduate and nontraditional secondary, and undergraduate and graduate special education programs.

    Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Learning strategies are key to academic achievement a

    Not all children do well in school, despite being intellectually capable. Whilst parental relationships, motivation and self-concept all have a role to play, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows that children's learning strategy is key for academic success.

    The study showed that students with normal scores on intellectual tests but that have poor grades in secondary school are also not as good at acquiring and retaining information, or later applying it.

    Lead researcher of the study and professor at the University of Alicante in Spain, Juan Castejón, concludes that underachieving students appear to employ all of the learning strategies considered, but to a lesser extent than normal and overachieving students, and this seems to be the key for academic success.

    "The underachievers group of students also has poorer attitudes to learning goals, poorer relationships with their parents, and lower emotional stability than their peers," says Castejón, "but learning strategies showed the strongest relationship with achievement."

    By comparing underachievers with normal- or over-achievers, the work brings new insight on how educational interventions may help those in academic difficulty.

    "At the moment, Spain has a school drop-out rate of more than twice the EU average," says Castejón. "We believe that underachieving students could be contributing to this, so it is really important to guide teachers, counsellors and parents on how they can help."

    Learning strategies can respond well to behavioural interventions, so there is hope that with the right help from teachers and carers, underachievement is reversible. Castejón believes that teachers should focus on reinforcing these learning strategies and goals, and promote autonomy and responsibility in their students.

    "Self-regulating models in which goals, strategies and self-concept are integrated would help improve academic achievement," concludes the researcher.

    "It is also important that teachers and parents are positive towards, and encourage, their children," Castejón explains, "as better self-esteem in our kids leads to better efforts and achievements."

    To define underachievement, the researchers looked at the mismatch between expected achievement and actual achievement. For this, they took standardized measures of each child's intellectual abilities to define academic expectation, and of their school grades, to define academic achievement. The researchers also looked at a range of behaviours including learning strategies and goals, and relationships with their parents and peers.

    But it was when they explored various aspects of learning strategies that they had insights. Learning strategies involve selection, organization and information processing, creative and critic thinking, information recovery and transference, in addition to planning, evaluation, and information control and monitoring.

    "The discovery of the importance of learning strategies is vital in developing new ways to help our children fulfil their academic potential," says Castejón.

    "Our work shows the need to understand not only the causes of underachievement, but also how they differ with overachievement," says Castejón, "so we can target interventions inspired by how overachievers use their behaviours to excel," he explains.

    What this study also highlights is how research can help professional development and training of teachers, in Spain, and probably in other countries.

    "At the moment, there is a tendency for educational research and teacher-training to be completely separate, with little crossover of ideas," says Castejón. "What we need are more professionals who can cross the science-policy boundary, and use research to guide how we teach."

    Castejón and his research group are continuing their studies to examine new possibilities. "We believe that there may be sub-groups of students with particular characteristics within the underachievers," says Castejón. "We want to look at them more thoroughly, which will help us to really individualise our recommendations for these children."

    Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Kids with lower vocabularies using e-books learn more with adult than pre-recorded voice

    A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto shows that four-year-olds with average and lower vocabulary skills learn more effectively with an adult reading an eBook to them versus relying solely on the eBook's voiceover.

    Adult reader versus e-book voiceover

    In the study, four-year-olds either interacted with a digital book on their own using the book's voiceover, or an adult read them the same book. The book was teaching children about biological camouflage.

    Overall, preschoolers learned about camouflage from both books. But, when researchers divided the four-year-olds into two groups - one group with children of higher than average vocabulary level, and one group of children with average and lower English vocabularies - they found that the children with average and lower English vocabularies showed poorer comprehension when the book read itself.

    Interaction is key

    Dr. Patricia Ganea, Associate Professor of early cognitive development at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study at OISE, says the results highlight that young children are best supported in their learning when they are in interaction with others, especially parents or other caregivers.

    "These findings are important since they show that children at risk for low comprehension benefit from having an adult read with them, rather than being left to learn from the digital device on their own," said Ganea. "Choosing high quality apps is only part of the equation. Reading along with the child can also increase learning."

    Dr. Gabrielle Strouse, a postdoctoral fellow who worked with Ganea on the study, and who is now at the University of South Dakota, agreed.

    "Children may learn from digital media on their own, but parents still play an important role in children's learning. Parents can enhance what children take away from digital media by asking questions, directing their attention to relevant information and participating with them in the media interaction," Strouse added.

    Children's comprehension tested

    The study was conducted by giving children a pre-test about biological camouflage using pictures of animals. Children were then read an e-book about camouflage by the e-book voiceover or by an adult. Afterward, children were asked questions about camouflage using replica lizard and turtles in tanks. They were asked to identify which animals would be seen by a predator, which tank they would put an animal in so it would not be seen, and to explain their choices.

    Overall, researchers found the e-book to be an effective tool for teaching children the new biological concept:

    • Overall, 74% of children explained their answers in terms of camouflage at the post-test, compared to 2% at pre-test
    • Children with above-average vocabularies did well on the camouflage post-test regardless of whether the adult or the book read to them.
    • However, children with average and lower vocabularies did particularly poorly when read to by the book's voiceover

    Increase in e-book usage

    The findings are particularly important to note given the popularity of e-books. For example, Overdrive, a popular e-book provider for libraries in the United States and Canada, reported that between the first quarters of 2015 and 2016, there has been a 30% increase in children's e-book borrowing at 50 top-circulating libraries. This suggests that many more parents are adopting e-reader technology for their children.

    Also noteworthy, the findings are consistent with the emphasis on parent co-use of media in the American Academy of Pediatrics' newly updated guidelines on children's media exposure.

    The study, "Are Prompts Provided by Electronic Books as Effective for Teaching Preschoolers a Biological Concept as Those Provided by Adults?" was published in the November/December edition of Early Education and Development.

    Preschool programs found to benefit low-income Latino children

    Enrollment of Latino children in early care and education programs is relatively low, with six in 10 not attending preschool before kindergarten. In addition, few long-term evaluations of early care and education programs have included Latino children. Now a new study has found that low-income Latino children who attended either public school prekindergarten or center-based care with child care subsidies at age 4 did well through the end of third grade, but those in public school prekindergarten did better academically than those in center-based care, especially English language learners.

    The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Abt Associates, the University of Missouri, Florida International University, and George Mason University. It appears in the journal Child Development. Using a longitudinal research design that followed children attending different early childhood programs (specifically subsidized center based child care and public school pre-kindergarten), the study shows that public school prekindergarten appears to improve academic outcomes for third grade Latino children.

    Researchers used data from 11,902 low-income Latino children who were part of the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) between 2002 and 2006. About 75 percent of the children received free or reduced-price lunches (an indicator of poverty) and 80 percent were English language learners.

    Children attended either public school prekindergarten programs or center-based programs that accepted child care subsidies. In Miami at the time, prekindergarten programs were housed in public schools, ran for 3 to 4 hours a day, and had an average student-teacher ratio of 20:2. By contrast, the average center-based child care program was either for profit or faith based, ran for 7 to 8 hours a day, and was largely unaccredited, with an average student-teacher ratio of 16:1.

    The study looked at children's performance on state standardized tests of math and reading in third grade as well as children's grade point average (GPA) in third grade. Researchers tested children's school readiness at the end of preschool and the beginning of kindergarten. They also assessed the children's English proficiency each year in school.

    "Although all Latino children in our sample performed reasonably well through the end of third grade as compared to other public school children in the region, those who attended public school prekindergarten at age 4 outperformed their classmates previously in center-based care on math and reading, and they had higher GPAs in third grade," notes Arya Ansari, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia (who was at the University of Texas at Austin at the time of the study). The findings held even when taking into account baseline characteristics (e.g., receipt of free and reduced-price lunch, gender, age, language at home, and country of origin) and children's skills when they entered preschool (e.g., cognitive, language, and fine-motor skills, as well as social-behavioral skills).

    "We found that those children who took part in public school prekindergarten programs started kindergarten with stronger academic skills, more optimal social-behavior skills, and English-language proficiency," Ansari says. "This appeared to contribute to their success in third grade." The findings were also true for English language learners.

    Because the study looked at the experiences of Latino children in Miami, the findings are not generalizable to all Latinos (who may have different immigration backgrounds) in other parts of the United States. In addition, the study's authors caution, the research can't speak to whether these children's experiences are typical or unique compared to children from other backgrounds (for example, Latino children who attended Head Start or who were cared for at home were not included in the MSRP sample).

    Adds Adam Winsler, professor of psychology at George Mason University, who was a principal investigator for the original Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) and coauthor of the study: "While our results are not causal, they provide much-needed insight into the experiences of Latino children in publicly funded early care and education programs in Miami. Our work reveals that policymakers should consider that such programs can help put Latino children on a path toward more positive school achievement."

    Arts programming may help lower stress in economically disadvantaged preschoolers

    Previous research has determined that poverty can harm children's educational, social-emotional, and physical health, in part by damaging the bodily systems that respond to the chronically high levels of stress that children in poverty are more likely to experience. A new study has found that intensive arts programs--music, dance, and visual arts--may address this phenomenon by lowering the stress levels of economically disadvantaged preschoolers, as measured through cortisol.

    The study, by scientists at West Chester University and the University of Delaware, appears in the journal Child Development.

    "Our study is the first we know of that demonstrates that the arts may help alleviate the impact of poverty on children's physiological functioning," notes Eleanor Brown, professor of psychology and director of the Early Childhood Cognition and Emotions Lab (ECCEL) at West Chester University, who was the study's primary investigator.

    Researchers looked at 310 economically disadvantaged 3- to 5-year-olds attending a Head Start preschool program in Philadelphia that serves children from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. While all Head Start programs have some arts programming, this program--Settlement Music School's Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program--is unique in that it fully incorporates arts into the curriculum. Children have multiple arts classes each day and these are taught in fully equipped studios by credentialed artteachers. The arts classes are used not only to develop children's artistic skills but also to promote learning in core early childhood domains like language, literacy, and math.

    The study randomly assigned preschoolers by classroom to different types and numbers of arts classes. Researchers measured cortisol levels by analyzing 7,000 samples of children's saliva; samples were collected at morning baseline, and after arts and homeroom classes on two different days at the start, middle, and end of the school year.

    The researchers found that cortisol levels were lower after arts classes than after homeroom, suggesting that taking part in arts programming helped reduce the stress levels of these children.

    "The study has important implications," says Brown. "In an ideal world, no child would grow up in poverty. Working toward this ideal requires attention to not only economic inequities but also to the many related inequities that harm children who grow up poor and to the opportunities for disrupting the strong predictive relationship between poverty and negative outcomes. This study demonstrates that a nonmonetary intervention can reduce cortisol levels. In this case, the intervention is the arts."

    Researchers saw these positive effects at the middle and end of the year, but not at the start of the school year. "The physiological benefits of arts programming may not be seen when children are first exposed," explains Mallory Garnett, research coordinator at ECCEL, who also worked on the study. "The benefits may depend on children adjusting to the classes and accumulating skills from the programming."

    Adds Dr. Brown: "Our study is notable in rigorously demonstrating that arts programs of high intensity can reduce cortisol levels. This study sets the stage for further investigation regarding the arts as a vehicle for promoting well-being among children from disadvantaged families."

    Children's early math knowledge related to later achievement

    Educators, policymakers, and parents have begun to focus more on children's math learning in the earliest years. Yet parents and teachers still find it challenging to know which kinds of early math skills merit attention in the classroom. Determining how to help children achieve in math is important, particularly for children from low-income families who often enter school with weaker math knowledge than their peers. A new longitudinal study conducted in Tennessee has found that low-income children's math knowledge in preschool was related to their later achievement--but not all types of math knowledge were related equally. The findings suggest that educators and school administrators may want to consider carefully which areas of math study they shift attention to as they develop curricula for the early years.

    Conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the study appears in the journal Child Development.

    The study followed 517 low-income children from ages 4 to 11; the children were primarily Black and all qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty. When the children were in the last year of preschool and near the end of first grade, researchers tested general skills (including self-regulated behavior, work-related skills, and reading) and six math skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating, and understanding shapes). When the children were at the end of fifth grade, researchers tested a range of math knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry. The aim of the study was to determine whether children's math skills at ages 4 and 5 predicted their math achievement at age 11.

    Preschool math skills supported first-grade math skills, which in turn supported fifth-grade math knowledge, according to the study. In preschool, children's skills in patterning, comparing quantities, and counting objects were stronger predictors of their math achievement in fifth grade than other skills, the study found. By first grade, patterning remained important, and understanding written numbers and calculating emerged as important predictors of later achievement.

    Because not all types of math knowledge were equally important, the study's authors suggest that certain early math topics should get more attention than they currently do. "Counting, calculating, and understanding written numbers already get a lot of attention from teachers and parents, for good reasons," notes Bethany Rittle-Johnson, professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, who led the study. "However, comparing quantities may merit more attention in preschool, and patterning knowledge may merit more attention in both preschool and the early elementary grades."

    For example, the study's authors note, Common Core content standards for school math include shape but not patterning knowledge, and they focus little on comparing quantities. Since patterning skills in the early years predicted math achievement in fifth grade in this study, the authors suggest that teachers and parents engage young children in activities that help them find, extend, and discuss predictable sequences in objects (patterns) and compare quantities, without needing to count, such as estimating who has more pennies or more Halloween candy. A next important step will be to systematically vary how much of this content young children receive and look at their math achievement over time.

    "Our findings extend those of other studies that have focused on fewer math skills over shorter periods of time and that looked at children from more advantaged homes," explains Emily R. Fyfe, assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University, who was part of the study when she was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. "This suggests that children from low-income homes develop math knowledge in ways similar to children from more-advantaged homes, and it supports a more comprehensive understanding of the trajectory of math development from the early years to the later years."