Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Smart teens rub off on teammates

A new study of high school activities bears this message for incoming high school students: Play what the smart kids play.

Joining an extra-curricular team or club with members that get good grades can double a high school student’s odds of going to college. 

And Brigham Young University sociologist and study co-author Lance Erickson knows how to sell the study to teens.

“Tell your parents, whatever they ground you from, it shouldn’t be from practice or a club activity,” said Erickson. “If they ground you from a school club, you are more likely to end up living at their house because you won’t be going to college.”

Erickson spent four years constructing a dataset and statistical model that could answer critics’ arguments. The sample includes 90,000 high school students and up to 10 of their friends. Since friends often join a team or club together, the model subtracts out the positive influence of friends who are also teammates. That isolates the impact of teammates who aren’t otherwise in a student’s social circle.

To the surprise of the researchers, the type of team or club didn’t really matter. It simply came down to being around high-achieving peers (as measured by GPA). So in one school that might be the swim team or the orchestra, while at another school it’s the computer science club or cross country.

“Typically you think the benefits of participating come from the type of club or the intensity of the skills you learned there,” said Ben Gibbs, the lead study author. “I think we’re the first to show that who you are hanging out with in those activities really matters.”

The study is forthcoming in Social Science Research, which posted an accepted version of the report. As noted in the study, simply participating in any extracurricular activity increased a student’s chances of college enrollment regardless of that team’s average GPA. In addition, the odds of college enrollment double for a student if they join a group with an average GPA that is 1 point higher – i.e. one with a 3.6 GPA rather than a team with a 2.6 GPA.

The role of teammates is an added piece of a puzzle that co-author Mikaela Dufur started in 2007. That’s when she published research showing that playing high school sports increased women’s chances ofgetting a college degree.

She notes that providing extra-curricular activities can be especially critical in schools that serve low-income students. And the earlier the start, the better.

“I would encourage middle schools and junior high schools to devote resources to those kinds of things so that as they transition to high school, they are prepared to join a team,” Dufur said. 

The Roles of School-Based Law Enforcement Officers and How These Roles Are Established

  1. Recently, considerable attention has been directed to violence and misbehavior in U.S. schools. In turn, schools have looked for solutions to address such concerns, one of which is the use of law enforcement officers. 

  2. The aim of this research (Full Text (PDF)
  3.  is to explore how law enforcement officers define their actual roles, as well as their perceived roles in an educational setting. Also, this study examines the process for establishing these roles within the school environment. 

  4. A total of 26 law enforcement officers were contacted by phone and participated in an in-depth interview. Each interview was transcribed into NVivo, and subsequently coded to identify general themes and common phrases. 

  5. The findings suggest that officers working in the school environment are taking on many roles, some of which they do not consider appropriate. In addition, who establishes these roles varies considerably. The findings are discussed in terms of their deviation from prior literature as well as needed future research endeavors

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teacher Incentive Fund grants and early impacts of the pay-for-performance component

The Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) provides grants to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

This study measures the impact of pay-for-performance bonuses as part of a comprehensive compensation system within a large, multisite random assignment study design. The treatment schools were to fully implement their performance-based compensation system that included four required components. The control schools were to implement the same performance-based compensation system with one exception—the pay-for-performance bonus component was replaced with a one percent bonus paid to all educators regardless of performance.

This first of four planned reports provides implementation information prior to educators receiving annual performance measure information or payouts.

Fewer than half of all 2010 TIF districts reported implementing all four required program components, although 85 percent reported implementing at least three of the four. In a subset of 10 districts who participated in the random assignment study, educators' reporting of the program indicated most misunderstood the performance measures and the amount of pay-for-performance bonus that they were eligible for. Most educators were satisfied with their professional opportunities, school environment, and the TIF program. Educators in those schools that offered the pay-for-performance aspect of TIF tended to be less satisfied than those in schools that did not offer such bonuses. However, educators in schools offering pay-for-performance bonuses were more satisfied with the opportunity to earn additional pay, and a greater percentage indicated feeling increased pressure to perform due to the TIF program.

In summary:
• Fewer than half of the 153 TIF districts reported implementing all four required components of the TIF program, although most implemented three of the four components.

• Districts expected to award a pay-for-performance bonus to more than 90 percent of eligible educators, with the average payout about 4 percent of the average U.S. educators’ salary. The districts expected a maximum pay-for-performance bonus for teachers that was twice as large as the average bonus, and a maximum bonus for principals that was 50 percent larger than the average bonus.

For the subset of 10 districts that agreed to participate in a random assignment design, key findings on implementation and the effect of pay-for-performance bonuses on educators include the following:

• Many educators misunderstood the performance measures and the pay-for-performance bonuses used for TIF.

• Most teachers and principals reported being satisfied with their professional opportunities, school environment, and the TIF program.

• Educators in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses tended to be less satisfied than those in schools that did not offer such bonuses. 

The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes

  1. Given the increasing costs associated with commercial textbooks and decreasing financial support of public schools, it is important to better understand the impacts of open educational resources on student outcomes. 

The purpose of this quantitative study is to analyze whether the adoption of open science textbooks significantly affects science learning outcomes for secondary students in earth systems, chemistry, and physics.

This study uses a quantitative quasi-experimental design with propensity score matched groups and multiple regression to examine whether student learning was influenced by the adoption of open textbooks instead of traditional publisher-produced textbooks. 

Students who used open textbooks scored .65 points higher on end-of-year state standardized science tests than students using traditional textbooks when controlling for the effects of 10 student and teacher covariates. 

Further analysis revealed statistically significant positive gains for students using the open chemistry textbooks, with no significant difference in student scores for earth systems of physics courses. 

Although the effect size of the gains were relatively small, and not consistent across all textbooks, the finding that open textbooks can be as effective or even slightly more effective than their traditional counterparts has important considerations in terms of school district policy in a climate of finite educational funding.

Gender Effects on Student Attitude Toward Science

This study examined gender and attitude toward science in fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States and also assessed to what extent the relationship between science attitude and science achievement differed by gender. 

Results showed that both fourth- and eighth-grade boys demonstrated more confidence in science than girls, while eighth-grade boys also showed greater liking for science than girls. Additionally, gender moderated the relationship between science achievement and (a) liking science (for fourth-grade students) and (b) confidence in science (eighth-grade students). 

Results are discussed in terms of addressing gender inequities in science education and career opportunities.

Report’s recommendation of AppleTree charter preschool as a national model is premature without rigorous study

A recent report argues that a Washington, D.C., charter pre-school is particularly successful. The report then seeks to leverage that contention as strong support for a recommendation to open many more charter pre-schools nationwide, as an optional way to expand access to early education.

But a review of the report, written by experts on early childhood education, cautions that it fails to make the case that the D.C. charter under study is unusually effective – or that its charter status is the driving force for any success it may be having.

W. Steven Barnett and Cynthia E. Lamy, both of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, reviewed Seeds of Achievement: AppleTree’s Early Childhood D.C. Charter Schools, by Cara Stillings Candal and published by the Pioneer Institute.

The review was undertaken for the Think Twice think tank review project, of the National Education Policy Center, which has published the review today. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Barnett, an economist and Rutgers professor, is director of NIEER. Lamy is a developmental and educational psychologist and research fellow with NIEER, where her research focuses especially on children at risk of academic failure due to the many influences of poverty.

“While the AppleTree model may well be as effective as the Pioneer authors suggest, this report lacks rigorous evidence regarding the model’s development, implementation, cost and effectiveness,” write Barnett and Lamy in their review.

The report bases its argument for the program’s effectiveness on pre-tests and post-tests, but its lacks a comparison group as a control and is silent on whether the children enrolled in the program are representative of the larger local population or comparable to children enrolled in other preschool programs, the reviewers write.

“Sample sizes, attrition, and statistical methods are unreported, and no statistical tests of significance appear to have been conducted,” write Barnett and Lamy. Additionally, they observe, the report fails to demonstrate that any success at Appletree is attributable to its charter status.

By contrast, they point out, there already exist public-school-based preschool models shown through rigorous evidence to be highly effective.

“We will not know whether AppleTree can add to the preschool policy debates without more rigorous evaluation of the program and its effects,” they conclude.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Working with aggressive children prevents some from becoming violent, criminal adults

Aggressive children are less likely to become violent criminals or psychiatrically troubled adults if they receive early intervention, says a new study based on more than two decades of research.
These findings from researchers at Duke, Pennsylvania State and Vanderbilt universities and the University of Washington are based on the Fast Track Project, a multi-faceted program that is one of the largest violence-prevention trials ever funded by the federal government.
Beginning in 1991, the researchers screened nearly 10,000 5-year-old children in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and rural Pennsylvania for aggressive behavior problems, identifying those who were at highest risk of growing up to become violent, antisocial adults. Nearly 900 children were deemed at high risk, and of those, half were randomly assigned to receive the Fast Track intervention, while the other half were assigned to a control group. Participating children and their families received an array of interventions at school and at home.
Nineteen years later, the authors found that Fast Track participants at age 25 had fewer convictions for violent and drug-related crimes, lower rates of serious substance abuse, lower rates of risky sexual behavior and fewer psychiatric problems than the control group.
"We can prevent serious violence and psychopathology among the group of children who are highest-risk," said Duke's Kenneth Dodge. "That's the essential finding from this study. It provides the strongest evidence yet that, far from being doomed from an early age, at-risk children can be helped to live productive lives."
Dodge directs the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy and is the William McDougall Professor of Public Policy at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy.
The program's positive effects held true across four different sites around the country, among both males and females and among both white and African-American children.
The study appears online Sept. 15 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
From first through 10th grade, the Fast Track children received reading tutoring and specialized intervention aimed at improving self-control and social-cognitive skills. Parents learned problem-solving skills through home visits and parent training groups.
When program participants turned 25, researchers reviewed court records and conducted interviews with participants and control group members, as well as individuals who knew the participants well.
Along with fewer criminal convictions, Fast Track participants had lower rates of antisocial personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder, lower rates of risky sexual behavior and lower rates of harsh parenting. The latter finding suggests that the intervention may interrupt the inter-generational cycle of problem behavior.
Fast Track is among very few studies to test the long-term effect of environment on children's development through a clinical trial. It provides strong evidence for the critical role environment plays in shaping a child's development.
"This study adds to the experimental evidence for the important role that environment plays," Dodge said. "Genes do not write an inalterable script for a child's life. And not only does the environment matter greatly in a child's development, we've shown that you can intervene and help that child succeed in life."
Fast Track's positive effects do not come cheap. The 10-year intervention costs $58,000 per child. However, that cost should be weighed against the millions of dollars that each chronic criminal costs society in imprisonment and harm to others, Dodge said.
"Prevention takes a considerable investment, but that investment is worth it," Dodge said. "Our policies and practices should reflect the fact that these children can have productive lives."
In future studies, Dodge and his colleagues plan to examine the cost-benefit question more closely.