Monday, October 16, 2017

Attending a middle vs. a K-8 school matters for student outcomes

Students who attend a middle school compared to a K-8 school are likely to have a lower perception of their reading skills, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The study, published online in the Journal of Early Adolescence, evaluates the effect of attending a public middle or junior high school versus a K-8 school on 8th graders' academic and psychosocial outcomes.

"Early adolescence is an important time for youth, who are undergoing a variety of biological, psychological, and social changes," said study author Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU's Institute of Human Development and Social Change. "Students' self-perceptions of academic competence are critical in early adolescence, as they contribute to the development of their identity and their engagement with school."

In the 19th century, most early adolescents attended elementary schools (grades 1 to 8) before moving on to high schools (grades 9 to 12). It wasn't until the early- to mid-20th century that middle schools (grades 6 to 8) and junior high schools (grades 7 to 9) emerged to meet the unique academic and social needs of early adolescents.

Today, 90 percent of U.S. public school students attend a middle school or junior high school. Although these schools were developed to suit the needs of early adolescents and prepare them for high school, evidence suggests that they may not, in fact, do so.

Studies show that the social and academic contexts of middle grade schools may not be well-aligned with early adolescents' developmental needs for autonomy, feeling connected to others, and feeling competent. In fact, compared with elementary schools, middle grade schools often have more students per grade, lower levels of student autonomy, less positive teacher-student relationships, and more competition and less cooperation among students. Research also shows mixed results on the academic impact of middle grade schools versus K-8 schools, with some studies showing a benefit for K-8 schools.

Teachers in middle and junior high schools may differ as well, both in their knowledge of whole child development and their experience of professional support and satisfaction. Taken together, these differences may lead teachers to be less responsive to student needs, which can have consequences when compounded with other characteristics of middle school. For instance, a decrease in teacher-student closeness or school safety, or an increase in academic competition among peers, may lead to lower self-esteem and higher anxiety and loneliness among students.

The current study sought to understand the impact of school type - middle school, junior high school, or K-8 school - on the range of early adolescent outcomes that matter for success in high school and beyond. The researchers used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class 1998-99 (ECLS-K), which followed a nationally representative sample of kindergarteners from the 1998-1999 school year through 2006-2007, at which time the majority of participants were enrolled in 8th grade. The current study tracked 5,754 students from 1,712 U.S. schools.

The dataset included measures of students' academic competence, specifically test scores in math and reading, as well as psychosocial outcomes. They measured students' beliefs about themselves, both broadly and about their academic abilities, as well as their social adjustment in school, including their feeling of belonging and attachment, academic values, and peer support. The researchers also collected information reported by teachers and parents.

Cappella and her colleagues found that attending a middle or junior high school negatively impacted certain measures of beliefs about students' academic abilities. The most dramatic effect was measured in students attending middle schools; they were more likely to have a negative view of their reading skills and interest levels. The researchers also saw negative effects of middle and junior high schools on teachers' views of student reading and writing competence. No difference was detected in students' test scores.

The researchers said their study indicates that middle grade schools are neither the problem nor the solution but instead that schools serving early adolescents could be strengthened.

"This may involve paying attention to the instructional and social environment, teachers' expectations of student achievement, and students' self-perceptions as they progress to and through middle and junior high school," Cappella said. "Strengthening middle schools may also involve increasing our understanding of what kinds of schools enhance growth as well as how school can be leveraged to support students' development and enhance the odds that youth will approach high school with the competence to succeed."

When Texas cut education funding, low-income students and those in need of additional support lost the most.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut $5.3 billion from the
two-year public education budget—about $500 per
student each year of the biennium—leaving local school
districts and campuses scrambling to make decisions
on how to operate with less revenue despite a growing
student body. 
These massive cuts created a funding hole,
around five years long and over five billion dollars deep.
For half a decade, public school spending dropped billions
of dollars per year below the level schools previously
Texas finally returned to investing the same amount in
2015 as it had a before the 2011 cuts – at least in terms of
inflation adjusted dollars. However, because the number
of students continues to increase, the state has not yet
returned to its pre-recession per-student funding levels
of 2008. Furthermore, as funding levels began to recover,
the increases were not distributed evenly. Educational
investment essentially shifted from high school to
elementary and from special programs for students in
need of support to overall basic instruction.

School districts were forced to reduce spending on all
educational programs at all grade levels in 2011 due to
the loss of the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act funding and then again after the Legislature cut $5.3
billion from public education funding.
Though spending on educational programs is beginning
to rebound, the recovery has not been complete or even
between grade spans. To bring 2016 funding levels up to
2008 pre-recession levels would require an investment
of $3.2 billion dollars into public education. When
comparing 2016 spending to 2008 pre-recession levels:
  • Elementary schools spent $65 less on instructional programs per student.
  • Middle schools spent $268 less per student.
  • High schools spent $428 less per student.
As the findings from this analysis show, when the
Legislature cuts public education funding schools are
forced to make hard choices. While expenditures on all
instructional programs decreased over the past five years,
low-income students and those in need of additional
supports bore a greater share of the cuts. 
The consequences of the state’s decision to cut public
education funding will become evident in the coming
decades as students advance from elementary school
toward college and careers. Right now, we know that
Texas dug itself a hole in education funding. Every year
that the Legislature fails to invest in public education,
that amount grows. This is how spending gaps of the past
become achievement gaps in the future.

Students in Military Families at Higher Risk for Drug Use, Being Bullied and Bringing Weapons to School

Growing up in a military family during times of war puts a sizable proportion of children at a greater risk for a wide range of negative outcomes — drug use, being bullied or carrying a weapon to school — compared to their non-military peers, according to a new study appearing this month in JAMA Pediatrics.
More military-connected students reported using alcohol (45 percent vs. 39 percent), being hit, kicked, slapped or pushed (36 percent vs. 27 percent) or bringing a gun to school (10 percent vs. 5 percent) than other students, researchers from USC and Bar Ilan University in Israel reported.
Across 21 risk categories, military-connected children reported significantly higher negative outcomes as part of a 2013 survey of approximately 688,000 California middle and high school students, which included 54,679 military-connected children.
Children with parents or a caregiver in the armed forces were much more likely to have used prescription medications (36 percent vs. 27 percent), brought a knife to school (15 percent vs. 9 percent), been in a fight (27 percent vs. 17 percent) or feared being beaten up (24 percent vs. 18 percent).
It is estimated that 4 million students nationwide have had parents serve since the start of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and most are currently are enrolled in U.S. public schools.
Previously, military-connected children had been a largely invisible population in public civilian schools and rarely studied, said co-author Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the USC School of Social Work and the USC Rossier School of Education.
“These results suggest that a sizable subset of military-connected students are struggling to cope with the ramifications of two long wars,” said Kathrine Sullivan, a Ph.D. student in social work at USC and the lead author of the paper. “While a lot of military kids are still doing well despite these stressors, many are in need of more support.”
This is the latest, largest and most comprehensive study on military-connected children using the California Department of Education’s California Healthy Kids Survey to identify military-connected children as a separate group alongside ethnic, racial and homeless categories.  The findings follows four smaller surveys conducted since 2011 by the same researchers who found military-connected children had higher suicidal thoughts, experienced more stress because of deployments and had difficulty transitioning to new schools.
“There is something very concerning that military-connected students may be more vulnerable due to their families’ involvement in protecting the U.S. during war,” said Rami Benbenishty, professor of social work at Bar Ilan University.
While the number of non-military children who reported non-physical bullying — being the target of sexual jokes, rumors or cyber victimization — was alarmingly high at 59 percent, non-physical victimization was still higher (66 percent) for military-connected students.
“The findings suggest that health risk and behavior issues among military-connected students should not be viewed in isolation,” said Tamika Gilreath, co-author and assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work. “It is likely that youth who experience difficulty with substance use are the same youth who might have problems with victimization.”
Compared to the 2011 data, the 2013 statewide results related to substance use, victimization and carrying a weapon were noticeably higher for military connected students. “War-related stressors” may accumulate over time, leading to higher rates of those behaviors two years later, the study stated. A recently published study by the same group also found that statewide military students exhibited higher suicidal behaviors and thoughts than their civilian counterparts.
“It is important for schools to know who their veteran- and military-connected students are, and to be able to assess their needs and provide support,” said Gordon Capp, co-author and Ph.D. student at the School of Social Work.
“Our country needs to invest in providing civilian and community support to the estimated 4 million children who had parents serve during wartime — given the broad picture of risks facing this sizable group of military children, this is the least we can do as a nation to show our gratitude and care after the longest war in our country’s history,” Astor said.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

College Completion

ipeds logo
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released new data today (Oct. 12) that provide a more comprehensive look at the percentage of degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who are successfully completing postsecondary education. Unlike the previously reported graduation rates, the new Outcome Measures (OM) account for non-traditional students, such as those who attend part time or have transferred schools.

For 2016-17, the report shows that, eight years after entering a postsecondary institution, the percentage of students who had completed their degree was 53.6 percent at 4-year schools and 31.6 percent at 2-year schools. (Learn more about Outcome Measures in a new NCES blog post)

The new OM data were released by NCES in a new publication, Graduation Rates for Selected Cohorts, 2008-13; Outcome Measures for Cohort Year 2008; Student Financial Aid, Academic Year 2015-16; and Admissions in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2016: First Look (Preliminary Data).
The findings are from the winter data collection of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and include:
  • About 19 percent of first-time full-time students who enrolled in 2-year institutions in 2012 graduated within two years (100 percent of normal time). However, that rate jumped to 36 percent when the time for graduation was extended to four years (200 percent of normal time);
  • Approximately 60 percent of full-time, first-time students enrolled in 2010 at 4-year institutions who were seeking a bachelor's or equivalent degree completed a bachelor's or equivalent degree within 6 years at the institution where they began their studies;
  • Among full-time, first-time students who enrolled in 2012 at less-than 2-year institutions, 45 percent graduated within 100 percent of the normal time. When that time span was extended to within 200 percent, the graduation rate rose to 70 percent;
  • Among full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students awarded any grant aid, differences in average cost of attendance and net price of attendance for the 2015-16 academic year varied by institutional sector. For those attending public 4-year institutions, average cost was approximately $19,600 and net price was about $12,400; for those attending nonprofit 4-year institutions, average cost was roughly $39,500 and net price was about $22,200; and for those attending for-profit 4-year institutions, average cost was approximately $27,900 and net price was about $21,900;
  • Title IV institutions that do not have an open admission policy received approximately 10.4 million applications for fall 2016 admission. About 5.8 million of these applications resulted in admission, and around 1.6 million students enrolled.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Head Start may protect against foster care placement

Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Kids up to age 5 in the federal government's preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education, said Sacha Klein, MSU assistant professor of social work.

Klein and colleagues examined multiple forms of early care and education - from daycare with a family member to more structured programs - and found Head Start was the only one to guard against foster care placement.

"The findings seem to add to what we already know about the benefits of Head Start," Klein said. "This new evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system."

Klein and colleagues studied the national survey data of nearly 2,000 families in which a child had entered the child welfare system for suspicion of abuse or neglect. Those children were either pulled from the home or were being overseen by a caseworker.

Klein said Head Start may protect against foster care because of its focus on the entire family. Services go beyond providing preschool education to include supporting parental goals such as housing stability, continued education and financial security.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, about a third of them under the age of 5, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All children in foster care automatically qualify for free Head Start services, regardless of income level.

Klein said the findings suggest policymakers should consider making all children in the child welfare system, including those living at home, automatically eligible for Head Start. That could help prevent more kids from ending up in foster care.

While foster care can be a vital resource for protecting children from abusive and neglectful parents, it is rarely a panacea for young kids, the study notes.

"Indeed, young children who are placed in foster care often have compromised socio-emotional, language and cognitive development and poor early academic and health outcomes," the authors write. "Trauma and deprivation experienced before removal may largely drive these developmental deficits, but foster care often fails to alleviate them and sometimes can worsen them."

Klein's co-authors are Lauren Fries of MSU and Mary Emmons of Children's Institute Inc. in Los Angeles.

The study is published online in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

Lower incomes: fewer autism diagnoses i

Children living in neighborhoods where incomes are low and fewer adults have bachelor's degrees are less likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder compared to kids from more affluent neighborhoods.
The finding is part of a new multi-institution study of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), led by Maureen Durkin of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center, and published recently in the American Journal of Public Health.

Durkin and her team found that the incidence of the disorder increased during the study period. In fact, during the eight years of the study, the overall prevalence of ASD in children more than doubled, increasing from 6.6 to 14.7 cases per thousand children.

"We wanted to see if part of this increase in ASD prevalence was because advances in screening techniques and medical training meant more children from disadvantaged backgrounds were gaining access to ASD diagnoses and services," says Durkin, a professor of population health sciences and pediatrics at UW-Madison. "It doesn't seem that's the case."

Her team analyzed education and health care data for 1.3 million 8-year-old children from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention population-based surveillance program, with sites in 11 states across the U.S.: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

The study merged this autism surveillance data with U.S. Census measures of socioeconomic status, such as number of adults who have bachelor's degrees, poverty and median household incomes in the census tracts studied.

It found that regardless of which indicator of socioeconomic status the researchers used, children living in census tracts with lower socioeconomic development were less likely to be diagnosed with ASD than children living in areas with higher socioeconomic indicators.

While not the first study to highlight socioeconomic differences in rates of autism diagnosis, "the continued increase in prevalence of ASD makes understanding its epidemiology critical to ensure services are reaching the children who need them the most," says Durkin. The study does not prove children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are not getting the diagnoses and support they need, Durkin says, but it does indicate that's the most likely scenario.

In support of this hypothesis, the study found that children who had intellectual disabilities were equally likely to be diagnosed with ASD irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds.
That could be because "children with intellectual disabilities usually have developmental delays that get noticed earlier in life," says Durkin. "They may get referred for comprehensive medical follow-ups, which could then lead to a diagnosis of their ASD as well."

In addition, studies in Sweden and France -- which have universal health care and fewer barriers for citizens to access medical care -- found no association between socioeconomic status and rates of autism diagnoses.

These findings collectively support the idea that children living in poorer or less well-educated areas are being diagnosed with ASD at lower rates because they have less access to health care providers who could make the diagnosis and provide needed support.

Durkin and her colleagues are now analyzing data from 2010 to 2016.

"In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended all children be screened for ASD," says Durkin. Future research will focus on assessing if more universal screening can lower the socioeconomic gap in ASD prevalence.

That's important to know, Durkin says, because "if we are under-identifying ASD in certain socioeconomic groups -- as seems likely -- we need to be prepared to provide services at a higher level to more people. We need to find cost-effective interventions and supports and make sure they are distributed equitably and in a way that reaches everybody who needs them."

Durkin is working with researchers and clinicians at the Waisman Center to improve access to ASD screening, diagnosis, and care for underserved communities through a federally-funded program called the Wisconsin Care Integration Initiative.

"This program is focused on 'moving the needle' to improve access to a coordinated, comprehensive state system of services that leads to early diagnosis and entry into services for children with ASD, particularly for medically underserved populations," says Durkin.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Investing in Colleges Boosts Attainment More than Tuition Cuts

Despite rapid growth in federal spending to support postsecondary education, the proportion of the U.S. population completing two- or four-year colleges has grown slowly in recent decades. In The Impact of Price Caps and Spending Cuts on U.S. Postsecondary Attainment (NBER Working Paper No. 23736), David J. Deming and Christopher R. Walters note that nearly all federal programs are designed to lower the price individual students pay for a college education, and they ask whether lowering prices or increasing spending has a bigger impact on college enrollment and completion. 

Based on data from 1990 through 2013, they conclude that tuition changes have only modest effects on enrollment and degree completion in U.S. public postsecondary institutions. They conclude that direct financial subsidies for these institutions might be more effective than tuition reductions if the goal is to increase degree completion. The researchers note that their results are mostly driven by variations in tuition and spending at non-selective public institutions, where per capita spending is relatively low and student amenities are limited. 

The researchers find that reducing the price of higher education through tuition cuts has no discernable effect on enrollment, while a 10 percent increase in institutional spending increases enrollment by 3 percent. They analyze data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and a newly constructed data source on state tuition caps and freezes imposed by state legislatures. 

There are important differences across states, and within states over time, in financial support for postsecondary education. In California, inflation-adjusted per capita state government appropriations for higher education rose from about $5,000 in 1990 to $6,000 in the early 2000s, then fell to less than $4,000 in 2013. In Texas, inflation-adjusted per capita spending was steady at about $4,000. Standard data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census are used to control for state and county economic and demographic differences. The estimates imply that the marginal cost of producing an additional bachelor's degree ranges from $102,532 to $155,451.

States can support postsecondary education by lowering the price students face, with tuition support or scholarships, or by funding colleges directly and allowing the institutions to spend the money as they see fit. The researchers find that increased institutional spending leads to higher persistence of students — those who enroll are more likely to stay — and to greater degree completion among enrolled students. 

In recent years, informal capacity constraints have been reported in many public institutions. The researchers note that "reduced course offerings, long waitlists, little or no student guidance, and larger class sizes" all make it harder to complete a degree. They report that schools spend about 40 cents of every additional dollar of funding on instructional spending and academic support, and argue that this increased spending may enable schools to reduce informal capacity constraints. 

There is some evidence that increased spending by public postsecondary schools crowds out enrollment in private institutions providing associate degrees, but no evidence that it has any effect on four-year degrees. The researchers conclude that "government programs aimed at reducing college costs will not increase degree attainment if cost reduction is achieved by reducing per-student spending" because "spending cuts affect core instruction and academic support, generating large downstream impacts on educational attainment."
Linda Gorman