Head Start at Ages 3 and 4 Versus Head Start Followed by State Pre-K

Which is More Effective?
Commentary author
Summary

In light of evidence that high quality early learning experiences can improve low-income children’s school readiness and future academic success, a number of recent proposals at the federal and state levels would expand public early childhood education (ECE) programs.

What is the Economic Value of Community College Degrees and Certificates?

Commentary author
Mina Dadgar
Summary

Enrolling a third of undergraduate students nationally and the majority of students with family incomes below $32,000, community colleges hold the promise of supplying the nation with the needed skilled workforce and economic mobility for the next generation. They offer credentials in different fields of study and of varying lengths: some short-term certificates require a semester or two to complete, while Associate Degrees generally require two years to complete and long term certificates take between a year and two years.  In the last few years, the availability of administrative data has allowed researchers a more nuanced understanding of community college credentials in several states.

Is Online Learning the Silver Bullet for Men of Color?

An Institutional-level Analysis of the California Community College System
Commentary authors
Angelica M.G. Palacios
Nexi Delgado
J. Luke Wood
Summary

Community Colleges across the nation have taken the lead in offering online courses to hundreds of thousands of students.  Online courses offer students freedom and flexibility to take courses at their own leisure.  Faculty are better able to track their students’ progress, and community colleges can offer more courses to more students without having to pay for added classroom infrastructure.  Administrators may see this as a way to offer affordable courses to working students, students in remote areas, and students with families.  Previous research has indicated that students who learn content online are just as likely to retain knowledge as students who have taken courses face to face.  Thus, with the advent of online learning has also brought into question by what measures do we define success and what are the best modalities of instruction for students.

Effectiveness of Four Instructional Programs Designed to Serve English Learners

Variation by Ethnicity and Initial English Proficiency
Commentary authors
Summary

On average, English learners (ELs) perform far worse than non-ELs on academic tests. More specifically, the math and reading gap between ELs and non-ELs is roughly one standard deviation. There has been a long-running debate over whether bilingual education is more beneficial than English-only instruction for ELs’ academic development. While there is slightly more empirical support suggesting that bilingual education is superior to English-only instruction for ELs, little of the research had come from randomized experiments or rigorous quasi-experiments, most had looked at short-term rather than long-term outcomes, and few had rigorously compared different types of bilingual instruction.

Becoming Unionized in a Charter School

Teacher Experiences and the Promise of Choice
Commentary author
Elizabeth Montaño
Summary

In over 20 years since the first charter law was signed in Minnesota, states and districts, particularly in large urban centers, have restructured public schools. School choice proponents argue that parents deserve to have a choice in their children’s education. Several studies have documented that out of the different restructured spaces, charter schools have been the least supportive in providing teachers with sustainable working conditions and employee rights.  Even though charter schools were founded as places where autonomy and innovation would flourish, the flexibility granted to charter school operators has not automatically been extended to its teaching force.

Policies on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Pay Off for Schools

Commentary author
Stephen Russell
Summary

It is now well-known that LGBTQ students often have a hard time in school, including feeling unsafe and being bullied, and those experiences are strongly linked to academic, mental health, and other problems for LGBTQ youth. For over a decade now, schools have been trying strategies to create safer schools for LGBTQ and all students.

The Training Needs and Interests of School Counseling Intern Site Supervisors

Commentary authors
Gail E. Uellendahl
Maya N. Tenenbaum
Summary

School counseling site supervisors play a critical role in the clinical training of school counselor interns and are an important link between counselor education and professional practice. While it is a state requirement in California that school counselor site supervisors must be qualified, credentialed school counselors, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) along with both state and national school counselor organizations have not yet created specific standards or guidelines for the preparation and practice of this supervisor role.

The Potential for School-Based Interventions that Target Executive Function to Improve Academic Achievement

A Review
Commentary author
Robin Jacob
Summary

Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a growing interest in the potential for school-based interventions that target executive function to improve academic achievement.  Executive function can be thought of as the set of cognitive skills required to direct behavior toward the attainment of a goal, including the ability to prioritize and sequence behavior, inhibit dominant responses, maintain task-relevant information in mind, resist distractions, switch between tasks, use information to make decisions and create abstract rules and handle novel situations.

Using Math Diagnostics to Inform Course Placement in Community Colleges

Commentary authors
Tatiana Melguizo
Federick Ngo
Summary

Given that community colleges are open-access institutions that serve a diversity of students with a range of skills, they need some means of identifying students’ readiness for college-level work. This typically happens via placement testing during college matriculation. Subsequently, we estimate that about 80 percent of all incoming California community college students are placed in developmental/remedial courses during the assessment and placement process (based on our calculations from the CCCCO Data Mart and data from a large urban community college district).

Can Rigorous, Observation-based Teacher Evaluations Move the Needle on Student Achievement?

Commentary author
Matthew Steinberg
Summary

In the wake of the federal government’s 2010 Race to the Top initiative, states and local school districts have dramatically revised their teacher evaluation systems. These new systems incorporate more rigorous performance evaluation through the use of multiple measures of teacher performance and multiple ratings categories aimed at differentiating teacher effectiveness. By the start of the 2014-15 school year, 78% of states and 85% of the largest 25 districts and DC revised and implemented new systems. California is among the few states that have not instituted statewide teacher evaluation reforms.

The Racial School Climate Gap

Within-School Disparities in Students’ Experiences of Safety, Support, and Connectedness
Commentary author
Adam Voight
Summary

Racial and ethnic disparities in academic achievement pose challenges to educational equity in the United States. One feature of schools that may be related to these gaps and that has garnered increased attention of late is school climate, which refers to feelings of safety and connectedness, opportunities for meaningful participation, and the quality of relationships between students and staff. While climate is typically understood as a characteristic of schools, there is some evidence that students within the same school may experience safety, support, and relationships differently based on their race and ethnicity.

Physical Activity Breaks Improve Student Attention in the Classroom

Commentary author
Jordan Carlson
Summary

Leading public health organizations recommend that children receive 60 minutes of daily physical activity and that elementary schools provide at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity during school hours. California mandates 200 minutes of Physical Education per every 10 school days (20 minutes per day) in elementary schools, though there is currently not a mandated number of minutes of physical activity during school. To provide children with the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity during school, some schools are providing opportunities for physical activity in the classroom in addition to Physical Education and recess.

Do Charter Schools Spend Revenue Differently than Traditional Public Schools?

Commentary authors
Summary

While nearly 6,500 charter schools operated across the nation in 2013-2014, over 1,200 charter schools have closed since 1992. The most prominent reason⁠—contributing to 42% of charter school closures⁠—is financial deficiencies. If quality charter schools are closing merely due to financial problems, it is critical to understand the funding and spending patterns that may contribute to the financial viability of schools.

How Racial Segregation and Tracking Cumulatively Disadvantage Middle School Achievement

Commentary author
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson
Summary

Middle schools are a critical stage in the educational sequence that starts in preschool and culminates for many youth in higher education. High quality and equitable middle schools are essential if all adolescents are to achieve their highest educational potentials. Blacks, Latinos/as, and other disadvantaged minority youth are more likely than Whites or Asians to earn lower grades and standardized test scores in middle school. Such persistent racial differences in achievement suggest too many youth are failing to reach their potential while in middle school. 

English Learners’ Time to Reclassification

An Analysis
Commentary author
Summary

Approximately one in five children in the United States speak a language other than English at home, and approximately half of this group are in the process of acquiring English. Current accountability systems require that states establish targets for students’ English proficiency development. However, these targets are not always empirically grounded.

Science Test Score Gaps by Gender and Race/Ethnicity in Elementary and Middle School

Trends and Predictors
Commentary authors
North Cooc
Summary

Since the 1950s, leaders in education, science, politics, and business have stressed the need for “scientific literacy” among the U.S. general public. Today, concern over scientific literacy is growing due to the increasing demand for graduates entering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In the coming decades, science occupations are predicted to grow faster than the average rate for all fields, and a significant amount of science and math training will be required for 9 of the 10 fastest growing occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Aiming High and Falling Short

California’s Eighth-Grade Algebra-for-All Effort
Commentary author
Summary

The U.S. is in the midst of an effort to intensify middle school mathematics curricula by enrolling more eighth-graders in Algebra. California is at the forefront of this effort, and in 2008 the state moved to make Algebra the accountability benchmark test for 8th-grade mathematics. As a result, between 2004 and 2013, the proportion of California eighth-graders enrolled in Algebra or more advanced math classes nearly doubled, to approximately 65 percent. This effort was predicated on the notion that students learn more in academically challenging educational environments and supported by findings showing that exposing a student to more rigorous curricula and instruction increased achievement.

Does Head Start Differentially Benefit Children with Risks Targeted by the Program’s Service Model?

Commentary author
Elizabeth Miller
Summary

Since Head Start’s creation in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, its mission has been to improve the school readiness of low-income children. To encourage this goal, the Head Start program uses a “whole child” model, which aims to promote children’s transition to school by enhancing their development through the provision of educational, health, and nutritional services to children and families. Head Start also engages parents in their children’s learning and helps parents with their own educational, literacy, and employment goals with the belief that these too are important in promoting children’s preparedness for school.

Monetary vs. Non-Monetary Incentives for Program Participation

An Experiment with Free Middle School Tutoring
Commentary authors
Matthew G. Springer
Brooks Rosenquist
Walker A. Swain
Summary

One of the less prominent provisions of No Child Left Behind was one that set aside funds to allow low-income students in low-performing schools free access to tutoring, termed Supplemental Education Services (SEdS).  While estimates of SEdS benefits for students have varied by location and provider one finding has been consistent—low attendance. In a recent randomized experiment, researchers at the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development set out to test whether eligible students would attend more regularly for money or praise.

School Suspensions’ Positive Link to Drop-Out and Negative Link to Achievement

Commentary authors
Caven S. Mcloughlin
Rose Marie Ward
Amity L. Noltemeyer
Summary

3.45 million U.S. students and 279,383 California students received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 school years, respectively.. These figures create concern, considering studies that have linked school suspension to undesirable student outcomes including poorer academic achievement and increased school dropout. Although individual studies have made an important contribution to the field, ideally policy should be informed by trends emerging across studies. Meta-analysis is a research approach that has the potential to provide such evidence by aggregating results across studies in order to make overarching conclusions about the findings.

At Risk for School Failure

Students with Special Health Care Needs
Commentary authors
Dian Baker
Samantha Blackburn
Kathleen Hebbeler
Summary

Schools’ primary mission is the education of children. However, for over one million children in California with special health care needs (e.g., asthma, diabetes, food allergies), schools also must provide health services to ensure their safety and access to the curriculum. Students with special health care needs (SHCN) are at higher risk than their peers for missing school, repeating a grade, and dropping out. Yet in many cases, schools are not aware of students’ health conditions and do not monitor them as a group at risk for school failure.

The Effects of Grade Retention on Student Misbehavior

Commentary author
Umut Özek
Summary

Test-based accountability has become the new norm in public education over the last decade. All states have established test-based performance benchmarks for students and meeting these standards is a prerequisite for grade promotion in many states. As of 2014, 16 states (including California) plus the District of Columbia require the retention of third-grade students who do not meet grade-level expectations in reading.

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance?

Evidence from the Four-Day School Week
Commentary authors
D. Mark Anderson
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.