Monday, January 26, 2015

Increased School Spending Produces Positive Educational and Economic Outcomes

This study analyzed the effect of changes in school spending on long-run adult outcomes, we link school spending and school finance reform data to detailed, nationally-representative data on children born between 1955 and 1985 and followed through 2011. 

 A 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all twelve years of public school leads to 0.27 more completed years of education, 7.25 percent higher wages, and a 3.67 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families. 

Spending increases were associated with sizable improvements in measured school quality, including reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years. 

Turnaround Arts programs in high-poverty, low-performing schools produce positve results

The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has published an interim report on its signature initiative, Turnaround Arts.
Turnaround Arts works with local program partners to provide arts education resources to clusters of high-poverty, low-performing schools in their region. Local partners include state arts agencies, schools districts, foundation and educational organizations. This shared leadership structure provides powerful tools to a critical mass of our highest-needs schools, while building local, sustainable structures and expertise for a lasting impact on students.

Authored by an evaluation team from Booz Allen Hamilton and the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, the report examines progress indicators for Turnaround Arts schools in their first year. It includes a summary of the evaluation, a preliminary description of how different schools are implementing arts education as part of their larger turnaround efforts, and a summary of school reform indicators and student achievement data in Turnaround Arts schools.

Although the data is still preliminary, the report notes that there were “many ways in which the Turnaround Arts schools saw positive change as a result of being part of this initiative.” The researchers point to shifts in school culture and climate, positive perceptions by teachers and students and increased school morale. In evaluating school reform indicators, the Progress Report notes that more than half of Turnaround Arts schools increased daily attendance, a chronic problem in low-performing schools. Similarly, disciplinary incidents were substantially decreased in a majority of Turnaround Arts schools, some by as much as 69-79 percent.

Looking at baseline data in academic achievement, the report indicates that all but one of Turnaround Arts schools improved their overall scores in math, and all but one improved their overall scores in reading. All Turnaround Arts schools improved their scores in either reading or math. When compared to low-performing schools in their state or district which are part of a larger School Improvement Grant program, five out of seven Turnaround Arts schools (70%) had higher growth in reading, while a little less than half of them had higher growth in math.

Overall, the Report notes “many hopeful signs about the potential of this work to positively influence student experience, student engagement, school culture, and school outcomes.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Parents' belief that a child will attend college plays big role in early academic success

Numerous studies have shown that socioeconomic factors play a major role in students' success in kindergarten. Children whose parents are more educated and have better jobs and higher incomes tend to have stronger math and reading skills than their peers.

Now, a study by researchers from UCLA and the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that the factors influencing children's readiness for kindergarten include not only whether they attend preschool, but also their families' behaviors, attitudes and values -- and that parents' expectations go a long way toward predicting children's success throughout their schooling.

"The big surprise was what a strong role parents' long-term goals for their children played in predicting their math and reading abilities," said Dr. Neal Halfon, the study's senior author and director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.

The research appears in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Halfon, who is also a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy, said the study is the first to examine how socioeconomic status is associated with a wide variety of factors that impact a young child's math and reading abilities by kindergarten.

"Parents who saw college in their child's future seemed to manage their child toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets," he said.

UCLA researchers analyzed data on 6,600 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Birth Cohort Study, a national study of children born in 2001. Parents who took part in the longitudinal study were interviewed four times between their child's birth and entry into kindergarten. Researchers asked questions about family routines, preschool attendance and family behaviors and challenges, and assessed children using standardized psychological and educational tests.

The researchers divided the children into five socioeconomic groups based on their parents' jobs, educational level and income. The authors found that children from poorer families did worse on the tests even if their families' income did not fall below the poverty line.

Among the findings:
  • Whether or not parents expected their children to attend college was a key factor in the children's success. Of the children with the lowest test scores, 57 percent were expected by their parents to attend college; of those who scored the highest, 96 percent were expected to attend college.
  • Both reading and math skills were closely correlated with the socioeconomic status of the child's family: The higher the family's status, the better the child's scores in both areas.
  • Children in lower socioeconomic groups had younger mothers, were read to less frequently by their parents, used computers at home less frequently and had fewer books in the home than those from the higher socioeconomic classes.
  • Parents' supportive interactions, expectations for their child to earn a college degree and child's preschool attendance were higher among families in the higher socioeconomic groups.
The study also found that factors including family background, health, home learning, parenting and early care and education explained over half the gaps in reading and math ability between children in the lowest versus highest socioeconomic strata.

"Our findings suggests there are a range of behaviors that parents can adopt and services they can provide to help their young children get better prepared for their educational journey," said Kandyce Larson, the study's lead author and a senior researcher with the AAP.

"In addition to fostering educational activities such as reading to their children on a daily basis, parents can also adopt a mindset that focuses on a pathway that will lead their child to college," said Larson, a former assistant research scientist at UCLA.

Early English exposure prepares Spanish-speaking children for academic success

By 2030, 40 percent of U.S. students will be learning English as a second language, according to the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence. These students face distinct academic challenges in the classroom, such as being unable to understand their teachers' instructions or participate in classroom discussions. Previous research has shown that if these students do not learn sufficient English early, their academic trajectories may suffer, and many drop out once they reach high school. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that family members, teachers and peers can play different roles in shaping Spanish-speaking children's school readiness and English skills that are all vital to children's academic success.

"It is important to study ways to increase Spanish-speaking children's English vocabulary while in early childhood before literacy gaps between them and English-only speaking children widen and the Spanish-speaking children fall behind," said Francisco Palermo, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences. "Identifying the best ways to support Spanish-speaking children's learning of English at home and at preschool can diminish language barriers in the classroom early and can help start these students on the pathway to academic success."

For the study, Palermo observed more than 100 Spanish-speaking, English-language-learning (ELL) preschoolers' interactions in their classrooms and administered standardized assessments and parental questionnaires. He found that combined English exposure at home and in the classroom improved children's English vocabulary skills. Specifically, Palermo found Spanish-speaking preschoolers' exposure to English at home from parents allowed students to learn and express new English words, while exposure to English from classmates in preschool allowed students to practice using the new words.

Palermo found the amount of English teachers used in the classroom did not significantly contribute to ELL students' English vocabularies. The quality and diversity of teachers' English use may play a more important role than teachers' quantity of English use, Palermo said.

"Preschool is an ideal setting to study how ELL children learn language because learning in preschool occurs mainly through social interactions, and languages are learned naturally by engaging in social interactions," Palermo said. "Teachers should support children's native languages and encourage activities in the classroom that allow children to interact using English."

Palermo says the research also highlights the importance of children's English exposure through parents' interactions.

"It is important for parents with limited English proficiency to continue speaking their native languages with children and to look for situations where they, other relatives, neighbors and children's playmates can expose children to English so that they can have some familiarity with English before entering preschool," Palermo said.
In future research, Palermo hopes to examine how peer experiences, relationship quality and interactions can enhance children's English language learning and how the quality and diversity of words used by teachers in the classroom can contribute to students' English vocabulary. Although Palermo studied native Spanish speakers, he says his research could apply to all children learning English as a second language.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Evaluations should consider school resources to fairly assess teacher performance

The evaluation of public school teachers is a topic addressed regularly by voters and policymakers around the country. Researchers at the University of Missouri have identified a plan to evaluate teachers fairly using a "proportional" system. Cory Koedel, an associate professor of economics and public policy in the MU College of Arts and Science and the Truman School of Public Affairs, says that proportionality would level the playing field among teachers who work with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

"One of the biggest criticisms of proposed teacher evaluations is that teachers in less wealthy districts with fewer resources will be unfairly evaluated in relation to teachers with access to more resources," Koedel said. "By leveling the playing field among all teachers, we can mitigate this issue."

In a study that has been accepted for publication in Educational Policy, Koedel, along with University of Missouri co-authors Mark Ehlert, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, examined three types of evaluation plans and concluded that a "proportional" plan is the most effective and equitable solution. Koedel also says that a proportional system would encourage all teachers to reach their full potential when teaching their students.

"Based on evidence from past research in economics, we know that if teachers who teach in disadvantaged districts know that they have little chance of being recognized for their good work, they will be less motivated," Koedel said. "Also, teachers at wealthier schools may also be less motivated if they know that they have a good chance of receiving positive reviews based only on where they work. Giving all teachers an equal opportunity to be recognized as effective or ineffective would increase effort throughout the workforce, which would be a win for students in K-12 schools."

Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools

An influential literature in criminology has identified indirect “collateral consequences” of  mass imprisonment. This study extends this criminological perspective to the context of the U.S.  education system, conceptualizing exclusionary discipline practices (i.e., out-of-school  suspension) as a manifestation of intensified social control in schools. 

Similar to patterns  of family and community decline associated with mass incarceration,  exclusionary discipline policies have indirect adverse effects on non-suspended students in  punitive schools. Using a large hierarchical and longitudinal dataset consisting of student  and school records, the researchers examined the effect of suspension on reading and math achievement.  

The findings suggest that higher levels of exclusionary discipline within schools over  time generate collateral damage, negatively affecting the academic achievement of non- suspended students in punitive contexts. This effect is strongest in schools with high levels  of exclusionary discipline and schools with low levels of violence, although the adverse  effect of exclusionary discipline is evident in even the most disorganized and hostile school  environments. 

These results lmake a strong argument against excessively punitive school policies  and suggest the need for alternative means of establishing a disciplined environment through social integration.

A a good night’s sleep is linked to better performance in math and language

A study by researchers at McGill and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute published recently in the journal Sleep Medicine found that a good night’s sleep is linked to better performance in math and languages – subjects that are powerful predictors of later learning and academic success.

The researchers reported that “sleep efficiency” is associated with higher academic performance in those key subjects. Sleep efficiency is a gauge of sleep quality that compares the amount of actual sleep time with the total time spent in bed.

While other studies have pointed to links between sleep and general academic performance, the Montreal scientists examined the impact of sleep quality on report-card grades in specific subjects. The upshot: with greater sleep efficiency, the children did better in math and languages – but grades in science and art weren’t affected.

“We believe that executive functions (the mental skills involved in planning, paying attention, and multitasking, for example) underlie the impact of sleep on academic performance, and these skills are more critical in math and languages than in other subjects,” says Reut Gruber, a clinical child psychologist who led the study.

Low academic achievement in children is a common and serious problem that affects 10-20 per cent of the population. “Short or poor sleep is a significant risk factor for poor academic performance that is frequently ignored,” says Gruber, who is a researcher at the Douglas Institute and professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry."