Raising the academic achievement of minority students represents an important educational goal for state policymakers, particularly in majority-minority states like California or Texas. In recent years, there has been increasing attention towards language variety as a potential explanation for lagging achievement observed among minority students and students of low socioeconomic status (SES). [Note: Language variety is often referred to as differences in dialect. In the study discussed here, the authors use the more neutral term language variety]. However, there is very little published literature to guide policymakers and administrators in formulating an appropriate educational response to language variety in schools.
The PACE Directors extend our thanks and best wishes to Bruce Fuller, who resigned as a Director of PACE at the end of 2014. Bruce joined PACE in 1996, and guided us through a pivotal decade. Under his leadership PACE’s work on school choice, pre-K education, and other topics had a profound impact on education policy debates in California and beyond. Bruce will continue as Professor of Education and Public Policy at UC-Berkeley, and as a vital contributor to the public conversation on education and other policy issues.
As a new Congress attempts to sustain momentum towards reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the question of just what impacts NCLB has had on schools is an important part of current policy debates. Researchers have documented a number of effects of the law, including increases in school spending, a focusing of instructional time towards core subjects, and an uptick in student achievement in math and reading, particularly in lower grades and among students from traditionally disadvantaged demographic groups. Missing from this research, however, has been a close look at how NCLB has impacted teachers or, more specifically, how it has affected teachers’ perceptions of and attitudes towards their jobs.
Mounting evidence suggests that the school context in which teaching and learning occurs can have important consequences for teachers’ career decisions, teacher effectiveness, and student achievement. We build on this work by investigating how the school context influences the degree to which teachers become more effective over time. We find that teachers who work in more supportive environments improve at much greater rates than their peers in less supportive schools.
The issue of high school dropout is a serious concern for educators, policy makers, and the public. The economic and social consequences for those who do not complete high school have continued to climb as the demands for a more educated workforce have increased. Young adults who do not complete high school are more likely to be unemployed, welfare recipients, and when employed, make less money on average than their peers who did complete high school. High school dropouts are also more likely to suffer from depression or other mental health issues, join gangs or be involved in other criminal activities, and serve time in jail. These outcomes are a serious concern at the individual level and carry a large “social cost”.
Who They Are and How They May, or May Not, Change Teaching
William H. Marinell
For the past two decades, mid-career entrants—teachers who enter the classroom after working in another field—have been at the center of proposals to avert national shortages of teachers and raise student achievement by bringing individuals with specialized content knowledge into schools. Further, policymakers have asserted that mid-career entrants might help fill hard-to-staff vacancies in urban schools and reduce racial and gender imbalances between U.S. teachers and students. Given mid-career entrants’ perceived potential to address these concerns, in the mid-1980s, state departments of education, school districts, foundations, and universities began launching numerous initiatives aimed at recruiting mid-career entrants to teaching. These initiatives were largely created without information about mid-career entrants that could inform their design and implementation. Without this data, policymakers, practitioners and researchers had little information to help form reasonable expectations about what mid-career entrants might contribute and what supports they might need.
Attending college is increasingly both costly and time consuming, and represents one of the largest investments people make in their lives, so one would expect students to engage in a thoughtful and deliberate college choice process. However, there is an increasingly large literature that shows students are not behaving optimally in the college application and enrollment processes.
In California, English learner (EL) students are assessed every year in both English language proficiency and in English language arts (ELA) achievement. Once EL students have met criteria on both these measures, they are eligible to be “reclassified” from EL status to “reclassified fluent English proficient” (RFEP) status. Reclassification is a key educational milestone for students learning English. Legally and practically, reclassification results in a change in the educational services student receive.
An Economic Analysis Comparing School-based Programs
Susan H. Babey
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that youth engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity as an integral and routine part of daily life. Regular physical activity in childhood influences health outcomes in adulthood, reducing risk for various chronic illnesses and poor health status. Research also suggests that school-based physical activity is positively associated with academic benefits including better academic achievement, better performance in math, reading and English, and improved attention and concentration. Despite these benefits, few youth meet physical activity recommendations.
College graduation rates in the United States are low both in real and relative terms. This has left policymakers and leaders of these institutions looking for novel solutions, while perhaps ignoring extant but underused programs. Our research examines the effect on degree completion of “summer bridge” programs, which have students enroll in coursework prior to beginning their first full academic year.
Head Start is the oldest and largest federally-funded preschool program in the United States, currently serving more than 1 million children with almost $8 billion dollars appropriated annually. From its inception, Head Start not only provided early childhood education, care, and services for children, but also sought to promote parents’ engagement in their children’s schooling, their childrearing skills, and their own educational progress. Yet, much of the research on Head Start focuses solely on children’s cognitive and social outcomes rather than on parent outcomes.
Today’s educators are inundated with different forms of data, with the expectation that they will use them routinely and systematically to support instruction in schools. Driving this “educational data movement” are new data management systems, consultants, coaches, data teams, protocols to facilitate data-driven conversations, and advocacy-oriented, “how-to” books. But, despite the press from advocates to incorporate data into decision-making, the research base lags behind. Specifically, what are the important organizational conditions that shape educators’ use of data and their ability to mobilize resources to support this organizational goal?
While there is widespread concern nationwide about low rates of college readiness among our high school graduates—approximately 50 percent of all entering college students take at least one remedial class—little attention is paid to how “college readiness” is actually determined. Remediating students is expensive: colleges spend $7 billion annually on developmental education, and this estimate does not include opportunity costs for students. Yet at community colleges, where almost half of all students begin college, readiness is almost always determined by scores on relatively short standardized math and English placement tests. Often, these scores alone determine whether students can enroll in college-level courses, or must first go through remediation.
Children’s Early Grade Retention After Paternal Incarceration
Approximately 2.6 million children have a parent currently incarcerated in prison or jail in the United States. This number, combined with the number of children who have formerly incarcerated parents, constitutes nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population under age 18. The large number of children exposed to parental incarceration, especially paternal incarceration, has spawned a rapidly growing literature on its deleterious intergenerational consequences. However, despite growing attention to incarceration’s unintended and collateral consequences, relatively little research explores the consequences of paternal incarceration for children’s educational outcomes or for the elementary school-aged children who comprise the majority of children affected by the penal system.
Education policy and program evaluation has largely focused on estimating the effectiveness of educational alternatives to inform policymakers about reforms that produce student gains in learning. Despite the fact that almost one trillion dollars of public funding is spent each year on education in the United States, little attention has been focused on evaluating the costs of interventions. Cost studies are needed in conjunction with effectiveness studies to allow policymakers to examine effectiveness relative to costs.
Low school attendance rates and school dropout in many urban high schools present serious hurdles for policy efforts to close the academic achievement gap that exists along socio-economic and racial lines. At the same time, policymakers and researchers are paying increased attention to how students’ experiences when school is out of session, especially during the summer, influence educational success. Recent work by Jacob Leos-Urbel provides new evidence regarding the impact of large-scale summer youth employment programs on high school students’ school attendance and academic achievement in the following school year.
Despite the striking reversal of the gender gap in educational attainment and the near gender parity in math performance, women still pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees at much lower rates than those of their male peers. Existing explanations of this persisting pattern of gender differences focus on mathematical abilities, beliefs related to gendered expectations about appropriate jobs, considerations about work-family balance, and self-assessment of career-relevant tasks.
Accelerated learning options such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses are represented as exemplars of challenging curricula that prepare students for collegiate coursework. Although gaps exist in the participation rates of ethnic minority students in accelerated learning options, few researchers have compared the performance of underrepresented student groups in these programs from one state to another.
Does segregation still matter for educational inequality? Nearly fifty years after the civil rights movement, American neighborhoods and schools remain highly segregated by race and income. A longstanding concern is that segregation has negative effects on the education of racial minorities and low-income students by concentrating them in the worst schools and neighborhoods. Correspondingly, a concern of many white or affluent parents when considering residence in racially or economically diverse neighborhood environment is that their child’s education might not be as good as in a more homogenous, advantaged environment.
As one critical turning point in recent years, many state policies, including Proposition 227 in California, have mandated or induced districts and schools to educate English Language Learner (ELL) students with their non-ELL peers to the maximum extent possible in English-speaking general education classrooms. The proportion of ELL students continues to grow, as does the proportion of ELL students receiving most (if not all) of their instruction in English from within the general education classroom. Therefore, an increasing number of students, both with and without ELL needs, may be affected by the ever-changing context of the general education classroom.
Evidence for Innovating Teacher Observation Systems
Teacher evaluation has become a national education phenomenon. It is promoted by philanthropists, mandated by federal policies, and debated by educators. Classroom observations are a crucial part of most evaluation systems—only six states do not use them, alone or in combination, to evaluate teachers. Because of their prominence, the stakes associated with observations are often high.
In 1981, the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) examined the relationship between college admission requirements and student achievement in high school, reporting serious concerns with the preparation of high school graduates for college. Within a year twenty-six states had raised graduation requirements in response to the NCEE report. Mathematics and science were areas of particular concern and by 1989 forty-two states increased high school course graduation requirements (CGRs) in mathematics, science, or both.
The failure of many U.S. schools to close achievement gaps along various socioeconomic dimensions continues to concern educators and policymakers. The educational needs of new immigrants who are English learners (ELs) are often overlooked, particularly in subjects that appear to involve less reliance on fluency in English, such as science and mathematics. Cummins asserts that regardless of subject area, academic fluency in one’s native language is a prerequisite for acquiring academic fluency in a second language. This theory may help explain why some studies have found bilingual education to be more effective than English immersion strategies.
When school districts’ financial resources are strained and they are cornered into dismissing staff, school counselors are among the first personnel to lose their jobs. Recent budget cuts have led to mass layoffs of counselors across many districts and states, particularly in California where, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the student-to-counselor ratio is now the highest in the country; more than 1,000 students per school counselor.
Populating Classrooms in the Age of Performance-based Accountability
Performance-based accountability (PBA) has provided educational leaders with incentives to use achievement data to plan for school improvement. In fact, there is evidence that they are using test score data for decisions about everything from the curriculum to what is served for lunch. In the article, “Staffing to the Test,” we previously documented that staffing too is data-driven, with administrators moving to tested grades and subjects teachers whose students make substantive learning gains. But, what are the implications of PBA for the assignment of students?