Friday, March 27, 2015

College Tenure Interruption and Graduating Student Outcomes

Using data from a longitudinal survey of college students from over 400 institutions, this paper examines the impacts of occupational internship programs and voluntary academic leave on returning academic achievement, post-college ambitions, and general facets of the college experience. 

Previous literature on college internships has focused on labor market effects and the literature on academic leave has emphasized its causes. Much less has been done to analyze effects of these occurrences on collegiate outcomes.

College internships are found to have a positive effect on grades, increase desires to work full-time or attend graduate school immediately following graduation, and slightly increase ambitions to have administrative responsibilities and be financially well off. 

Voluntary academic leave is found to have only negative effects on collegiate outcomes, including study habits and academic achievement upon return. Implied policy implications are that colleges and universities should champion internship programs but discourage college tenure interruption for other reasons.

Litteracy intervention generates strong negative impacts for black students

Strong literacy skills are crucial to ensuring an individual's future educational and economic success. Existing evidence suggests the transition from elementary to middle school is a decisive period for literacy development

This paper investigates the impact of extended learning time in literacy instruction on subsequent cognitive outcomes, capitalizing on the existence of a natural experiment born out of a district's use of an exogenously- determined cutoff in Iowa Test scores in fifth grade to assign students to an additional literacy course in middle school.

The findings suggest that exposure to this intervention generates strong negative impacts for black students, and noisy positive impacts for white, Latino, and Asian students.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stereotypes lower math performance in women, but effects go unrecognized

A new study from Indiana University suggests that gender stereotypes about women's ability in mathematics negatively impact their performance. And in a significant twist, both men and women wrongly believe those stereotypes will not undermine women's math performance -- but instead motivate them to perform better.

The research, led by IU social psychologist Kathryn L. Boucher, appears early online in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"This study's implications go beyond the classroom into the many other social environments where negative stereotypes about women play a role," said Boucher, a postdoctoral research associate in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "They force us to ask whether people not affected by similar stereotypes can effectively recognize and find ways to reduce their impact. It also puts into perspective the enormous challenge of eliminating the effects of stereotypes despite growing awareness about their harm to women and society."

A recent example of "stereotype threats" Boucher and collaborators point to is the current lawsuit in California brought by venture capitalist Ellen Pao alleging years of discriminatory practices and attitudes based on gender that she says prevented her advancement at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

"This study has major implications for women in technology and business environments, where women's abilities are regularly impugned by negative stereotypes," said Mary C. Murphy, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington, who oversaw the study. "These are the places where women are most likely to experience stereotype threat -- and if their supervisors and co-workers cannot anticipate how these threats interfere with performance, that's a serious problem. It's one of the ways women end up underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math."

The study's main goal was to find out whether observers could recognize the anxiety and underperformance experienced by women when judged under negative stereotypes. In the IU study, over 150 study participants, split nearly evenly between men and women, were given 10 minutes to solve seven difficult math problems on a computer with no scrap paper.

Before completing the test, a negative stereotype about women was introduced by telling participants that the researchers were trying to find out why women are generally worse at math than men.

Half the participants were then told they would be asked to solve math problems and they responded to a survey about their expected performance; the other half were told they would simply be asked to predict how they thought women might feel in this test-taking situation and how they would perform on the test.

The work confirmed earlier studies by finding that female test-takers performed worse and reported greater anxiety and lower expectations about their performance compared to men when negative stereotypes about gender were introduced at the start of the experiment. But the study went beyond previous research by also measuring men's and women's insights into the experience of the people actually performing under these conditions.

Boucher found that expectations did not match reality: While both sexes expected female test-takers to experience greater anxiety and pressure to perform under the influence of negative gender stereotypes, both male and female observers expected women to successfully overcome these roadblocks. Observers expected stereotypes to increase women's anxiety, but they did not anticipate that the anxiety would undermine performance.

Moreover, this misperception occurred in both men and women. Being a woman did not confer any special insight into women's experiences of stereotype threat; female observers were almost equally likely to overestimate the performance of other women under stereotype threat. Study participants reported they thought the negative stereotypes would function as a "motivating challenge," even though women who actually performed the math problems didn't report this level of motivation when asked about their performance.

The results remained true controlling for how strongly participants felt negative attitudes could affect a person's performance or how concerned they were personally about how others would judge their responses.

The consequences of these misperceptions are significant, Boucher said. The disconnect between reality and perception in these scenarios could translate to reduced support for programs and policies that mitigate the impact of negative gender stereotypes since people do not think they affect real-world performance.

"While many factors can impact performance outside a controlled environment -- be it the classroom or the boardroom -- it's unlikely that performance evaluators currently consider negative stereotypes about women as a serious cause for impaired performance, and so it is unlikely that they will take steps to reduce them," Boucher said.

"Thoughtful applications of this study's findings, however, could help address women's achievement gaps, and increase their representation, in the fields where they're most negatively stereotyped. Recognizing the problem is the first step to addressing it."

Conversations with Counselors Prompt Students to Plan for College

Students who speak with a counselor about life after high school are more likely to say they will attend college and that they plan to apply for federal financial aid, according to a new study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

Conversations with counselors also increase the likelihood that students will search for college options and visit college campuses by the spring of their junior year, data show.

The study —“A National Look at the High School Counseling Office: What Is It Doing and What Role Can It Play in Facilitating Students’ Paths to College?” — draws on recently released, nationally representative data.

Its findings underscore the critical role counselors play in helping high school students plan for the transition to college, noted Jeff Fuller, NACAC president and director of student recruitment at the University of Houston (TX). Overall, 63 percent of students in the study reported speaking to a school counselor about postsecondary plans.  

“NACAC continues to invest a great deal — including research, training and advocacy — into the development and support of college-readiness counseling,” Fuller said. “Our objectives are to ensure that counselors receive the recognition they deserve, and that policymakers and administrators understand the scope of work that is needed to adequately support students for equitable access to postsecondary education.”

Other key study findings show:

•  School leaders consider counseling crucial: More than half (55 percent) of principals identified “helping students prepare for postsecondary schooling” as their top priority.

• Counselors are stretched: Fifty-four percent of counselors reported that their counseling department spent less than 20 percent of its time on college readiness, selection and applications.

• Some services are underused: While 90 percent of counselors indicated that their schools offered college application assistance, the percentage of students who benefited from this assistance was far lower.

• Schools could do more to track graduates: Despite the fact that most states possess longitudinal databases and that data from the National Student Clearinghouse are available, more schools relied on student surveys (49 percent) than a state or national database (22 percent) to track student outcomes after high school.

The study is the second in a series of reports examining factors that influence college enrollment. The first segment analyzed the effects of early college counseling. NACAC will begin work in 2016 on the third installment, which will explore data on students who have gone through the college application process.

Price of College from the 2011–12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study

Although total price of attendance is a commonly cited measure of the price of college, most undergraduates and their families actually pay less because students receive financial aid.

This report presents the average total price of attendance (tuition and living expenses), the average net price after grants (total price of attendance minus all grants), and the average out-of-pocket net price (total price of attendance minus all financial aid) by type of institution in the 2011-12 academic year.

Findings include:
  • Among undergraduates enrolled full-time in 2011–12, students at public 2-year institutions had the lowest average total price of attendance, $15,000. The average total price of attendance was $23,200 at public 4-year institutions and $29,300 at for-profit institutions. Undergraduates at private nonprofit 4-year institutions had the highest average total price of attendance ($43,500).
  • Most undergraduates enrolled full-time in 2011–12 received grant aid from federal, state, institutional, or private sources. After grants were taken into account, undergraduates' net price averaged $11,700 at public 2-year institutions, $18,000 at public 4-year institutions, $25,200 at for-profit institutions, and $27,900 at private nonprofit 4-year institutions.
  • Many undergraduates also took out loans, participated in work-study, or received Veterans' benefits or other forms of aid to help pay the immediate expenses of postsecondary education. After accounting for all financial aid, the average out-of-pocket net price for full-time undergraduates was $9,900 at public 2-year institutions, $11,800 at public 4-year institutions, $15,000 at for-profit institutions, and $18,100 at private nonprofit 4-year institutions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pre-K children outpace normal expectations through kindergarten

Students who were enrolled in the NC Pre-K Program are making significant gains across all areas of learning through the end of kindergarten, according to a new report from scientists at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG).

"Students made progress on most skills through kindergarten at an even greater rate than would be expected for normal developmental growth," said Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, director of FPG's National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center. Peisner-Feinberg pointed to significant gains throughout this period in students' language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge, and behavior.

"Although children made gains over the entire period from the beginning of pre-k through the end of kindergarten, there were differences in the amount of gains each year," she said. "In pre-k, for instance, there was a relatively greater rate of growth on some measures of language and literacy skills, as well as on basic self-knowledge and social skills."

Peisner-Feinberg leads the FPG team that has studied the NC Pre-K Program and provided it with recommendations for more than a dozen years. Since the statewide program's inception as "More at Four" in 2001, it has served over 292,000 at-risk 4-year-olds, helping to prepare them for kindergarten.

Throughout this time, FPG researchers have provided annual evaluation studies of NC Pre-K's outcomes. Peisner-Feinberg's new end-of-kindergarten findings dovetail with her prior research in North Carolina, which also suggests that children enrolled in the state's pre-k program continue to make gains even after leaving it.

"Earlier studies have shown that 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 tests than similar children who had not attended the state's program," she said. The vast majority of the program's students are from low-income families.

Prior evaluations of NC Pre-K also revealed that children with lower levels of English proficiency made greater gains than their peers while in the program. Peisner-Feinberg's new findings show that this continues to hold true through their first year of elementary school.

"In most areas of language and literacy skills, math skills, and general knowledge, children with lower levels of English proficiency make the greatest gains through kindergarten," she said.

In 2013-2014, the NC Pre-K Program served almost 30,000 children in nearly 2,000 classrooms, yet still maintained an average class size of only 16 children. According to Peisner-Feinberg, the majority of the NC Pre-K sites achieved the highest five-star licensing level.

She also explained that an important and continuing trend in the NC Pre-K Program has been a steady improvement in the levels of teacher education and credentials. More teachers in the program than ever before hold B-K (birth-kindergarten) licenses, bachelors degrees, or higher degrees.

"Classroom practices were of higher quality when teachers had B-K licenses," she added.

Peisner-Feinberg said FPG's history of bringing researched-based recommendations to NC Pre-K has helped the program maintain its quality as it has grown.

"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 said. "It's been very positive from our perspective to see the program make such good use of our research."

The NC Department of Health and Human Services houses the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) and reports the results of FPG's evaluations to the state legislature each year.

"It is certainly affirming that this research validates that our investments in NC Pre-K continue to result in significant positive educational outcomes and are making a difference for North Carolina's young children," said DCDEE director Rob Kindsvatter.


Read the full report:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More schools, more challenging assignments add up to higher IQ scores

More schooling -- and the more mentally challenging problems tackled in those schools -- may be the best explanation for the dramatic rise in IQ scores during the past century, often referred to as the Flynn Effect, according to a team of researchers. These findings also suggest that environment may have a stronger influence on intelligence than many genetic determinists once thought.

Researchers have struggled to explain why IQ scores for developed nations -- and, now, developing nations -- have increased so rapidly during the 20th century, said David Baker, professor of sociology and education, Penn State. Mean IQ test scores of American adults, for instance, have increased by about 25 points over the last 90 years.

"There've been a lot of hypotheses put forward for the cause of the Flynn Effect, such as genetics and nutrition, but they generally fall flat," said Baker. "It really begged the question of whether an environmental factor, or factors, could cause these gains in IQ scores."

School enrollment in the United States reached almost 90 percent by 1960. However, the researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Intelligence, suggest that it is not just increasing attendance, but also the more challenging learning environment that are reasons behind the IQ score rise.

"If you look at a chart of the Flynn Effect over the 20th century in the United States, for example, you notice that the proportion of children and youth attending school and how long they attend lines up nicely with the gains in IQ scores," said Baker. "As people went to school, what they did there likely had a profound influence on brain development and thinking skills, beyond just learning the three R's. This is what our neurological and cognitive research shows."

He added that over the century, as as a higher percentage of children from each new generation went to school and attended for more years, this produced rising IQ scores.

"Even after full enrollments were achieved in the U.S. by about the 1960s, school continued to intensify its influence on thinking," said Baker.

While even basic schooling activities can shape brain development, over the past century, schools have moved from learning focused on memorization to lessons that require problem solving and abstract thinking skills, which are often considered functions of fluid intelligence, Baker said.

"Many like to think that schooling has become 'dumbed down,' but this is not true," said Baker. "This misperception has tended to lead cognitive scientists away from considering the impact of schooling and its spread over time as a main social environment in neurological development."

Just as more physical exercise can improve sports performance for athletes, these more challenging mental workouts in schools may be building up students' mental muscles, he added, allowing them to perform better on certain types of problems that require flexible thinking and abstract problem solving, such as IQ tests.

"Certain kinds of activities -- like solving problems, or reading -- stimulate the parts of the brain that we know are responsible for fluid intelligence," said Baker. "And these types of activities are done over and over in today's schools, so that you would expect these students to have higher development than populations of people who had no access to schooling."

Students must not only solve more challenging problems, they must use multiple strategies to find solutions, which adds to the mental workout in today's schools, according to Baker.

The researchers conducted three studies, from neurological, cognitive and demographic perspectives, according to Baker.

He said that genetics alone could not explain the Flynn Effect. Natural selection happens too slowly to be the sole reason for rising IQ scores. This suggests that intelligence is a combination of both genetics and environment.

"The best neuroscience is now arguing that brains of mammals, including, of course, humans, develop in this heavy genetic-environmental dependent way, so it's not an either-or situation," said Baker. "There's a high genetic component, just like there is for athletic ability, but the environment can enhance people's abilities up to unknown genetic limits."

In the first study, the researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to measure brain activity in children solving certain math problems. They found that problems typical of today's schooling activated areas of the brain known as centers of fluid intelligence, for instance, mathematical problem solving.

A field study was also conducted in farming communities in Peru where education has only recently become fully accessible. The survey showed that schooling was a significant influence on improved cognitive functioning.

To measure the challenge level of lessons, the researchers analyzed more than 28,000 pages of content in textbooks published from 1930 to 2000. They measured, for example, whether students were required to learn multiple strategies to find solutions or needed other mental skills to solve problems.