Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance?

Evidence from the Four-Day School Week
Commentary author
Mary Beth Walker
Summary

School districts across the United States have employed a variety of policies and programs to help close budget gaps.  In particular, the four-day school week has been used to reduce overhead and transportation costs.  The four-day week requires substantial schedule changes as schools must increase the length of their school day to meet minimum instructional hour requirements.  This policy has been in place for many years in rural school districts in western states such as Colorado and Wyoming, and it appears to be gaining popularity nationwide.

Missed Signals

The Effect of ACT College-Readiness Measures on Post-Secondary Decisions
Commentary authors
Andrew Foote
Lisa Schulkind
Teny M. Shapiro
Summary

In the face of shrinking government budgets and a growing need to train a high-skilled labor force, policymakers have become increasingly interested in cost-effective measures that induce more students to pursue post-secondary education. A great deal of research has been done to understand the barriers of college entry, especially for low-income students.

Fostering Academic Skills Early On Shows Most Promise for Preventing Grade Retention

Commentary author
Pega Davoudzadeh
Summary

School performance of children in the United States is a topic of great concern. Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act, there has been immense pressure on schools to show improvements in their test scores at earlier grades. Numerous factors can influence a child’s academic success, many starting before the child begins formal schooling. However, some children continue to fall behind expected levels of academic performance. One popular, yet controversial, policy implemented to improve children’s academic achievement is to retain students who appear to be falling behind in order to give them the chance to meet the requirements of their current grade level. Determining the factors that lead to grade retention help identify students who are at risk for grade retention.

News Media Feeds the Public a Meager Diet of Education Research

Commentary author
Holly Yettick
Summary

A parent choosing a school needs information about schools, but she probably won’t consult a peer-reviewed education journal. Neither will a citizen voting in an election, a policymaker crafting legislation or myriad other Americans who make important decisions about schools. Instead, these audiences are more likely to use news media outlets to form impressions or seek information.

Determinants of Graduation Rate of Public Alternative Schools

Commentary authors
Masashi Izumi
Jianping Shen
Jiangang Xia
Summary

The United States has been struggling with the phenomenon of high school dropout, and public alternative schools are one of the strategies to solve the issue, specifically for at-risk high school students. Such schools play an important role in educating students who are expelled or suspended from regular schools due to their at-risk behaviors and placed in such schools to continue their learning. However, each alternative high school has its own school structure and process, which could be important factors for the effects on at-risk students.

School Health Centers

A Resource for Addressing School Bullying
Commentary author
Catherine Lewis
Summary

California anti-bullying laws prohibit discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying at school.  Despite this mandate, schools struggle with preventing the problem and helping affected students. We examined whether bullied and victimized students were accessing school health center (SHC) services, and found they were more likely to have accessed SHC services than students who were not bullied or victimized.  Our findings suggest SHCs are an important place for identifying and supporting bullied and victimized youth.

Charting the Course to Postsecondary Success

Commentary authors
Matthew Gaertner
Katie McClarty
Summary

High school graduation rates in California recently topped 80 percent – the highest they’ve ever been. It’s an accomplishment that has earned California educators some well-deserved praise. Unfortunately, in California and across the U.S., high school graduation is not yet a reliable indicator of postsecondary readiness. For example, 68 percent of students who successfully graduate high school and enter the California State University system still require remediation before they’re ready for entry-level, credit-bearing college coursework.

Suicidality Amongst Military-connected Youth in California

A Call for Increased Awareness and Support
Commentary author
Tamika Gilreath
Summary

In the United States, recent national estimates show that more than 15% of adolescents reported serious consideration of suicide, 12.8% reported making a plan, and 7.8% reported making an attempt in the preceding 12 months. Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts during adolescence have been linked to completed suicides and greater psychosocial difficulties in adulthood. Presently, a growing body of research demonstrates that mental health problems, including suicidal ideation in addition to depression and other internalizing and externalizing symptoms, arise more frequently among military-connected youth in the United States as compared to their non-military connected peers.

The Unintended Consequences of a Middle School Literacy Support Intervention

Commentary author
Shaun M. Dougherty
Summary

Increased learning time is a strategy that has proliferated in the era of No Child Left Behind, as a way to bolster the literacy and numeracy outcomes of K-12 students, particularly for students whose initial performance was below average. Research evidence has documented that double dose strategies have been effective at improving math outcomes, especially for lower-performing students, but the evidence is less numerous and less conclusive for literacy. Furthermore, there is little evidence on whether and how such strategies can improve outcomes for average or above-average students as a way to improve their college readiness.

Can Center-based Childcare Reduce the Odds of Early Chronic Absenteeism?

Commentary author
Summary

In elementary school, chronic absenteeism is highest in kindergarten. Consequently, a growing body of research has sought to identify factors driving such high rates of early absences. Most research has focused on student- and family-level drivers. At the student level, significant factors have been identified as educational disengagement and alienation from school. At the family level, significant factors have been identified as family structure, maternal employment, household size, parental involvement, parental mental health, and socioeconomic status.

Time to Pay Up

Analyzing the Motivational Potential of Financial Awards in a TIF Program
Commentary authors
Kathleen Mulvaney Hoyer
Cara Jackson
Betty Malen
Jennifer King Rice
Summary

Fueled in part by the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a federal grant program that promotes the implementation of incentive pay in local contexts, compensation reforms have become prominent strategies for improving human capital in schools. The theory of action undergirding these programs assumes that financial incentives will motivate individuals to behave in certain ways (e.g. make certain career decisions, expend greater effort, engage in capacity-building professional development) that will increase human capital and, ultimately, improve performance.

Gap Years and College Internships

Good or Bad Ideas?
Commentary author
Wesley Routon
Summary

Many students choose not to attend college continuously from matriculation to graduation. Reasons for breaks in collegiate tenure abound. One such reason is to participate in a professional internship program, either one found and offered to the student by their academic institution or one the student has discovered and applied to on their own. These programs are methods of on-the-job training which often take place in white collar or professional settings where students work in a field that they are considering as a career. Prior research on such programs has focused on labor market effects, generally finding positive outcomes such as an increased employment probability, higher wages, and a shortened unemployment period immediately following graduation.

How Do Principals Use Teacher Value-Added and Classroom Observation Data to Make Human Capital Decisions?

Commentary author
Ellen Goldring
Summary

Across the country, states and districts are adopting new policies to evaluate teachers based in part on objective measures of student performance and on teacher classroom observations. LAUSD’s recent overhaul of its teacher evaluation system, including the implementation of an observational framework for teaching and the use of student growth trajectories, exemplifies these changes to teacher evaluation.

How Does the Language Mix of Students Affect Student Achievement?

Commentary authors
Christopher Jepsen
Thomas Ahn
Summary

Immigration has increased sizably in the United States and worldwide over the last decade. In addition to moving to traditional immigrant destinations such as California and Texas, recent waves of immigrants are arriving in states that have had only modest amounts of immigration for the last 50 years if not more. One potential consequence of this increased immigration is that sizable numbers of Limited English Proficient (LEP) children attend public schools.  LEP students speak a language other than English at home and have sufficiently low levels of English proficiency to make them eligible for additional services to improve their English skills.

The Effect of School Starting Age Policy on Crime

Commentary author
John M. McAdams
Summary

On September 30th, 2010, then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that would move the birthday cutoff for enrolling children in kindergarten from December 2 to September 1, making the minimum kindergarten starting age five years rather than four and three quarters.  The law brought California in line with many other states that had adopted a September cutoff decades earlier.  In order to mitigate the impact of raising the entry age on pupils born between the old and new cutoffs, who would otherwise have to delay entering kindergarten by a year, the legislation established a “transitional kindergarten” to take the place of regular kindergarten for those affected children. 

High School Math and Science Faculty and Growing the Roots of Female STEM Majors

Commentary author
Martha Bottia
Summary

The increasing demand for a STEM workforce and the insufficient supply produced by American educational institutions has led many researchers and policy analysts to focus on the shortage of women in these important fields.  Although women are the majority of college students they represent a distinct minority of STEM degree holders. Too few female students appear interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, and even if they have a strong interest, too few remain in STEM majors once they arrive in college.  

Arts Integration as Key to Student Academic Achievement

Commentary author
Kylie Peppler
Summary

Enrichment programs in K-12 schools, such as the arts, are frequently cut to drive student performance in language arts and mathematics—the focal points of most standardized exams. However, a mounting body of evidence suggests that the arts have positive long-term impacts on college access, academic success, and civic involvement. One way to keep the arts in schools is to integrate them into curricula, but there are few studies on the impact of arts integration and models that could be implemented on a large scale.

Saving Money by Making it Safer to Walk and Bicycle to School

Commentary authors
Ruth L. Steiner
Noreen C. McDonald
Summary

In recent years, federal, state, and local government initiatives have focused on ways to increase walking and cycling by making routes to school safer, offering encouragement to walkers and bikers, and providing safety education. The rationale behind these initiatives, such as the Safe Routes to School program, is to improve public health by reducing injuries and increasing physical activity. While numerous studies have shown that the SRTS program has been effective at meeting these goals, few analyses have looked at how increasing walking and cycling can reduce student transportation costs for school districts and families.

Arts Education and Dropping Out of High School

Commentary author
M. Kathleen Thomas
Summary

Despite declining in recent decades, dropping out of high school continues to be a vexing problem in public education because the personal and societal costs associated with leaving high school without a diploma are high and disproportionately borne by low-income and minority students. This is of particular concern in states such as California, where declining dropout rates have recently stagnated. Evidence indicates that the most promising dropout prevention programs target ways to increase student engagement.

An Educational Response for Students Learning Standard English

Commentary author
Summary

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.

Tribute to Bruce Fuller

Commentary author
Summary

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.

The Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers

Commentary author
Summary

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.

Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development?

Commentary authors
Matthew A. Kraft
John P. Papay
Summary

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.

Examining the Evidence Behind High School Dropout Interventions

A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature
Commentary author
Jennifer Freeman
Summary

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”.

Mid-career Entrants to Teaching

Who They Are and How They May, or May Not, Change Teaching
Commentary author
William H. Marinell
Summary

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.