Commentary author
John M. McAdams
Summary

The change in California's kindergarten entry age, moving the cutoff date from December 2 to September 1, brought about transitional kindergarten for affected children born in the transitional period. This impacted both those who delayed entry and those who didn't. Older entrants might show better readiness and learning skills compared to younger peers, a reason why parents often choose to delay their child's entry ("redshirting"). However, the benefits of this additional year might vary based on available activities. The shift also influences non-delayed children due to grade age averages affecting peer dynamics and learning. In a study assessing this change's impact on crime, incarceration rates dropped by 10-13% among those directly and indirectly affected by the entry age policy. While both groups benefitted, the reduction in crime was smaller for those delaying entry, hinting at potential harms from late entry, perhaps due to less learning during the "redshirt" year or lower educational attainment. This emphasizes early education's long-term benefits, supporting transitional kindergarten's role. Yet, caution is needed in generalizing these findings, considering the availability of alternative pre-kindergarten programs today, absent in earlier decades, possibly lessening the negative impacts of delayed entry.

Commentary author
Martha Bottia
Summary

The shortage of women in STEM fields has sparked considerable attention due to its impact on the STEM workforce. Despite being the majority in colleges, women remain a minority among STEM degree holders, leading researchers to focus on their underrepresentation in these critical fields. The prevailing literature primarily examines the influence of college faculty gender on STEM outcomes, neglecting the crucial pre-college setting's role in shaping students' STEM choices. This NSF-funded study, using data from North Carolina public schools and universities, delves into the impact of the gender composition of high school math and science teachers on students' decisions to pursue STEM majors in college. Findings indicate a notable positive effect of a higher proportion of female math and science teachers on the likelihood of female students declaring and graduating with STEM degrees, particularly among those with strong math skills. This influence doesn't extend to male students, suggesting that schools with more female STEM teachers positively disrupt stereotypes, making STEM fields more appealing specifically to high-skilled young women without significantly affecting their male counterparts. The research highlights the significance of early educational opportunities challenging gender stereotypes in math and science, potentially cultivating a larger cohort of women pursuing STEM careers and challenging outdated perceptions about STEM being unsuitable for women.

Commentary author
Kylie Peppler
Summary

Enrichment programs, such as arts education, often face cuts in K–12 schools where language arts and math take precedence due to standardized testing. Despite this, evidence supports the long-term benefits of the arts on college access, academics, and civic engagement. Integrating arts into school curricula is seen as a solution, yet there is limited research on its widespread implementation. Inner-City Arts collaborates with LAUSD through Learning and Achieving Through the Arts (LATA), where teachers learn various art forms alongside students, supported by professional development linking arts experiences with literacy. LATA aims to enhance English language skills, especially for marginalized groups like English Language Learners (ELLs), by promoting arts-based learning, teacher training, and teacher-artist collaborations for innovative lesson plans. A study comparing LATA-integrated schools with standalone arts instruction revealed significant gains in standardized English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency, particularly among ELL students, emphasizing the vital role of arts integration in academic achievement. Policymakers and investors interested in educational reform should prioritize integrated arts models and teacher development, as demonstrated by the LATA approach, which offers a holistic pathway to improve academics applicable in diverse urban districts.

Commentary authors
Ruth L. Steiner
Noreen C. McDonald
Summary

Government initiatives aim to enhance walking and cycling to school, prioritizing safety through programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS). While SRTS effectively improves public health by encouraging physical activity and reducing injuries, few studies address the potential savings in student transportation costs for districts and families. Schools spend billions on student transportation, and hazardous walking conditions often necessitate busing short distances, known as hazard busing, adding costs without resolving safety issues. Our study highlights that investing in engineering improvements to enhance safety near schools could reduce long-term busing expenses. Real-world examples, like Austin's pedestrian bridge, demonstrate substantial savings after eliminating the need for busing. The collaboration between cities, schools, and parents is crucial to prioritize safety improvements. However, this shift requires alignment among different agencies, revisions in reimbursement formulas, and community involvement to ensure successful transition and utilization of safer infrastructure by families, preventing the burden of transportation costs from simply shifting to them.

Commentary author
M. Kathleen Thomas
Summary

The persistence of high school dropout rates, especially among low-income and minority students, remains a concern despite recent declines. Targeting student engagement as a key prevention method, studies examine whether in-school arts participation can reduce dropouts. Research based on Texas high school data suggests that students engaged in arts courses face a lower dropout risk. However, caution is necessary as this correlation doesn't confirm causation. Factors like student background and unobserved characteristics may influence both arts participation and dropout behavior. While controlling for various student and school factors reduces dropout risk associated with arts participation, it doe not eliminate it entirely, suggesting a potential causal link. Presently, evidence doesn't explicitly advocate for investing solely in arts education to tackle dropout rates. Yet, it warns against abrupt cuts in arts budgets, stressing the need for a deeper understanding of how robust arts programs engage at-risk students. Despite fiscal pressures leading to cuts in arts education, mounting evidence, including controlled trials, underscores the value of arts in public school curricula, urging policymakers to consider these findings when making decisions.

Commentary author
Summary

Addressing the academic achievement gap among minority and low socioeconomic status students, especially in majority-minority states like California and Texas, has gained attention regarding language variety as a potential factor. A study reviewed by Educational Policy presents recommendations for state policymakers based on a Texas Legislature-commissioned study. This study urges recognizing students who speak language varieties other than standard English as Standard English Learners (SELs), highlighting their unique educational needs. The expert panel offers five key recommendations: enhancing educators’ understanding of language diversity, teaching strategies for students to acquire standard English, integrating language variety into curricula, and fostering a tolerant environment among stakeholders. The study emphasizes the necessity of increasing teacher capacity to identify and support SELs in classrooms, proposing considerations and strategies for states or local education agencies (LEAs) to design effective programs and policies. The report advocates for legislative and administrative actions to equip teachers for specialized instruction to meet the needs of SELs and ensure policy success.

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.

Commentary author
Summary

A recent study delved into the impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on teachers' job satisfaction and commitment by examining teacher survey data spanning from 1994 to 2008. Contrary to common assumptions, the research revealed that post-NCLB, teachers actually reported higher satisfaction and dedication to their profession. Despite working longer hours, teachers felt more autonomy within their classrooms and noted improved support from principals, parents, and colleagues. Different analytical approaches failed to uncover significant negative effects of NCLB on teacher attitudes. While some signs pointed to reduced teacher cooperation after NCLB, teachers also felt a stronger sense of control in their classrooms and better support from administrators due to the law. Overall, the study suggests a mixed impact—minor negative outcomes balanced by minor positive ones—resulting in no significant change in overall job satisfaction or the desire to remain in teaching. These findings challenge the assumption that NCLB substantially diminished teacher morale and commitment, urging a more comprehensive examination of both its drawbacks and potential benefits when reevaluating educational policies

Commentary authors
Matthew A. Kraft
John P. Papay
Summary

Research suggests that the school environment significantly influences teachers' career choices, effectiveness, and student outcomes. A study, using data from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools over ten years, explores how the school context impacts teachers' improvement over time. It finds that teachers in more supportive environments exhibit greater growth in effectiveness compared to those in less supportive schools, revealing considerable variation among teachers' improvement rates. The research identifies differences between schools in the average rate of teacher enhancement over a decade. By examining the impact of the professional environment, as indicated by teacher survey responses on dimensions like order, collaboration, leadership, development, trust, and evaluation, the study concludes that teachers in schools rated higher in these aspects display a 38% higher improvement after ten years compared to those in lower-rated schools, a substantial portion of the typical ten-year growth. These findings challenge conventional beliefs about teacher effectiveness and highlight the pivotal role of the organizational context in fostering or limiting teacher development, advocating for nurturing supportive school cultures and ongoing teacher learning to elevate the overall quality of the U.S. teaching force.

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

The high school dropout issue carries significant societal and personal costs, impacting unemployment, lower income, mental health, and crime rates among dropouts. Despite its gravity, there's a lack of comprehensive data on effective interventions or policies addressing this problem. Existing research primarily identifies risk factors and describes interventions, but lacks strong experimental evidence. A systematic review examined characteristics of dropout interventions and effective policy/practice components. It highlighted a mismatch between known risk factors and intervention focus, often centered on individual student-level efforts. The review suggested that many dropouts disengage from school over time, urging interventions tailored to diverse subgroups. However, current studies lack subgroup-specific intervention analyses. Researchers propose a tiered prevention approach, yet empirical evidence supporting this method remains scarce. While experts advocate school-level interventions, empirical research doesn't offer clear guidance on matching interventions to specific risk factors or subgroups. This gap challenges the integration of dropout interventions into comprehensive frameworks, hindering effective and efficient solutions.

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

The influx of mid-career entrants into teaching has drawn attention due to its potential to address teacher shortages and diversify the workforce. However, recent research reveals that while mid-career entrants constitute a significant portion of new teachers, their impact on filling vacancies in subjects like secondary math and science remains limited. These entrants tend to join elementary rather than secondary classrooms, challenging assumptions about their subject preferences. Although they increase gender and racial diversity, they have not significantly altered the overall demographic makeup of the teacher workforce. Recruiting more mid-career entrants alone won't substantially diversify teaching; specific efforts targeting men and minority groups are necessary. Schools must adapt induction programs to support these entrants effectively, acknowledging their prior expertise but possibly requiring additional assistance with teaching practicalities, especially if they've entered through fast-track programs with limited classroom experience. Leveraging the professional skills of mid-career entrants, such as technological expertise or community networking, could benefit schools and encourage these entrants to remain in teaching longer-term.

Commentary authors
Jonathan Smith
Michael Hurwitz
Jessica S. Howell
Summary

The process of applying and enrolling in college is increasingly expensive and time-consuming, yet students often make less-than-ideal decisions during this crucial phase. Recent studies have shown that students tend to apply to too few colleges, and high-achieving, low-income students often miss out on better-suited options. A new research paper, "Screening Mechanisms and Student Responses in the College Market," explores how seemingly minor factors—such as college application essays and fees—impact student behavior. Analyzing data from 885 four-year colleges between 2003 and 2011, a new study reveals that the requirement of application essays increased to around 57%, while approximately half of colleges raised their application fees by an average of 30% (around $10). The research shows that colleges introducing essays experienced a 6.5% decrease in applications, while a 10% fee increase correlated with a 1% reduction in applications. This highlights that even small changes significantly influence student decisions in the college application process, emphasizing the importance of these procedures for students, colleges, and policymakers.

Commentary authors
Summary

Researchers explore the journey of Latino English learner (EL) students toward reclassification, a significant milestone shifting them from specialized language services to mainstream classes. Data from a 12-year period in a major urban district examined progress toward reclassification among different language programs. A new study finds that Latino EL students in bilingual programs take longer to be reclassified but show higher reclassification and proficiency rates by high school. While it takes longer, a greater proportion of students in bilingual programs eventually become proficient in English and are reclassified compared to those in English immersion programs. These findings suggest the need for districts to assess the effectiveness of bilingual instruction over time and consider different benchmarks for instructional models based on language of instruction. Additionally, the study emphasizes the importance of EL programs ensuring full access to rigorous content and interaction with English-speaking peers, suggesting that English language development should not limit enrollment in other classes and should be integrated into content area classes.

An Economic Analysis Comparing School-based Programs
Commentary authors
Susan H. Babey
Shinyi Wu
Deborah Cohen
Summary

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises 60 minutes of daily physical activity for youth, but few meet these guidelines, especially during school hours. To address this, a study evaluated various school-based strategies, highlighting extending the school day with mandatory PE and introducing short, 10-minute physical activity breaks during classes as the most cost-effective options at $264 and less than $5 per child annually, respectively. Despite the higher cost of after-school programs at $2867 per child yearly, they offer additional benefits like childcare. Program costs were primarily influenced by duration and teacher-to-student ratio, yet all approaches showed similar effectiveness. The study emphasized the cost-effective integration of short, in-class activity breaks as an affordable and feasible means to combat youth sedentary behavior, promoting better physical activity levels during the school day.

Summer Bridge Programs and Degree Completion
Commentary authors
Daniel Douglas
Paul Attewell
Summary

College graduation rates in the U.S. are low, prompting interest in solutions like "summer bridge" programs, where students take pre-academic year courses. Some attribute low graduation rates to poor academic readiness and slow academic progress. Research shows higher course-taking rates improve graduation chances. Summer bridge programs address these concerns. Analyzing nationally representative college data and a large university system, a new study uses propensity score matching to assess these programs' effects. Nationally, bridge program attendees at community colleges and less-selective four-year colleges were 10% more likely to graduate within six years. Effects were more pronounced among black/Hispanic, first-gen, and lower GPA students. University data revealed immediate benefits—better retention, course performance, and credit completion. While bridge programs aid graduation, institutions should evaluate existing programs before expanding, considering mixed findings elsewhere. Addressing specific academic barriers, like remedial sequences, enhances immediate benefits, showcasing bridge programs as part of a larger strategy to boost graduation rates.

Commentary author
Terri Sabol
Summary

Head Start, the primary federally-funded preschool program in the U.S., serving over 1 million children yearly, emphasizes not just child education but also parental engagement and growth. However, research traditionally prioritizes children’s outcomes over parents’. Leveraging the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS)—the comprehensive evaluation and reporting program initiated in 1998—a new study explores if children’s participation in Head Start affects parents' education and employment. HSIS found short-term benefits for kids, fading by third grade, stirring doubts about long-term effectiveness. Research analysis, considering the family as a unit, discovered that parents of 3-year-olds in Head Start showed greater educational advancements by kindergarten compared to the control group. This effect was particularly pronounced for parents with some college but no degree and African American parents. These findings highlight Head Start's potential to support parents' educational pursuits, offering quality childcare, support networks, and pathways to higher education. This underscores how early education programs like Head Start can bolster parental growth alongside children's development, potentially influencing other similar programs.

Commentary author
Caitlin Farrell
Summary

Educators face growing pressure to utilize data for informed decision-making, yet the research supporting this movement remains underdeveloped. A recent Educational Administration Quarterly article delves into organizational factors influencing data use, drawing from four California school systems. Across traditional districts and charter management organizations (CMOs), state and federal accountability systems heavily shape data use. These systems prioritize data from state assessments and benchmark exams, crucial for program improvement and attracting families in charter schools. Organizational conditions, like decision-making structures, financial resources, and regulatory environments, impact resource allocation for data use. While financial constraints universally limit efforts, CMOs’ decentralized structures enable investments in human capital and technology. These findings highlight tensions arising from diverse accountability demands and propose revisiting metrics underpinning success. They also suggest avenues for sharing best practices, such as districts aiding teacher support while CMOs demonstrate advanced data management systems. Policymakers can leverage these insights to navigate accountability complexities and foster cross-system learning.

Evidence From College Remediation
Commentary author
Judith Scott-Clayton
Summary

Current approaches to determining college readiness often rely on standardized placement tests in math and English, leading to nearly half of community college students being placed into remedial classes. However, research suggests that a significant portion of students placed in remediation based on these tests could succeed in college-level courses. By examining high school performance alongside placement test scores, studies have shown that using high school achievement data could significantly reduce placement errors and improve success rates in college-level courses. Integrating high school grades in placement decisions has demonstrated remarkable success, with programs like Long Beach City College’s Promise Pathways quadrupling placement rates in college English courses and significantly increasing completion rates in both English and math. These findings have influenced California’s community college system, prompting a shift toward multiple measures for placement, offering a more equitable and effective approach to remedial education. The adoption of a nuanced placement system utilizing various academic measures shows promise for improving outcomes and fairness in remediation.

Children’s Early Grade Retention After Paternal Incarceration
Commentary author
Kristin Turney
Summary

Around 2.6 million American children have a parent currently or formerly incarcerated, constituting nearly 10% of those under 18. While the impact of parental incarceration on generations has gained attention, little research explores its effects on elementary-aged children’s education. Using Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study data, our research unveils a link between paternal incarceration during ages one to five and increased likelihood of grade retention in kindergarten to third grade. Notably, this isn’t tied to test scores or behavior issues; rather, teachers’ perceptions of academic ability seem pivotal. This highlights teachers’ role in children's lives post-paternal incarceration. It also underscores the interconnectedness of family, education, and the penal system. Educators could benefit from training to support kids of incarcerated fathers, while the penal system should recognize its impact on children’s education. Holistic policies acknowledging these links are crucial to break the cycle of inequality across generations.

Commentary author
Fiona Hollands
Summary

Education policies often focus on evaluating the effectiveness of interventions without considering their costs. This oversight limits policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions about resource allocation. Understanding intervention costs in relation to their effectiveness is crucial for efficient policymaking. For instance, reducing high school dropout rates, a national priority, could alleviate substantial economic burdens, yet education budgets are limited. Researchers conducted cost-effectiveness analyses on five dropout prevention programs, finding considerable variations in costs and effectiveness. Remedial programs aimed at dropouts were notably more expensive per additional graduate compared to preventative programs, which targeted at-risk students still in school. These findings emphasize the need for cost-effectiveness assessments in educational program evaluations to guide policymaking effectively. Without such analyses, research evidence alone may not provide policymakers with a comprehensive view for decision-making, potentially leading to inefficient resource allocation.

The Impact of Summer Youth Employment on Academic Outcomes
Commentary author
Summary

Urban high schools often struggle with low attendance and high dropout rates, contributing to socio-economic and racial academic disparities. Attention has turned to students' experiences during summer breaks and the impact of large-scale summer employment programs on educational success. Recent research delves into the influence of such programs on high school students' attendance and academic achievements in the subsequent school year. Many cities, including those in California, offer publicly-funded summer employment programs not explicitly aimed at improving educational outcomes. Yet, these programs may enhance attendance and other educational factors. Employment can foster non-cognitive skills and positive habits while keeping students engaged during breaks. A new study, utilizing New York City's Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) data, employs a lottery system for program allocation, creating a control group for causal analysis. Examining 36,550 applicants, the research reveals a 1 to 2 percent attendance increase on average, particularly beneficial for students at higher educational risk. SYEP also enhances the likelihood of attempting and passing statewide exams, indicating its positive influence despite not affecting test scores. Amid fluctuating public funding for such programs, this study highlights the potential impact of summer employment on academic outcomes. It provides crucial insights, suggesting that while not explicitly education-focused, summer youth employment programs may significantly contribute to addressing low school attendance issues.

Commentary authors
Joscha Legewie
Thomas A. DiPrete
Summary

Research into the gender gap in STEM fields indicates persistent disparities despite women's similar math abilities and educational achievements. While prior explanations focused on societal perceptions and work-life balance, recent studies, including "Pathways to Science and Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees for Men and Women" and "The High School Environment and the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering," delve into the crucial role of high school experiences in shaping STEM aspirations. Analyzing data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, these studies reveal that if female high school seniors held comparable STEM interests as males, the STEM degree gap could diminish by as much as 82 percent. Notably, disparities among high schools in attracting students to STEM fields based on pre-high school inclinations highlight the impact of factors like robust STEM curricula and reduced gender-segregated activities. Policy implications emphasize the potential effectiveness of high school interventions, signaling the need for further research and targeted strategies, as the lasting influence of the high school environment on STEM orientations presents a promising avenue for narrowing the gender gap in STEM.

Cause for Concern
Commentary authors
Bevan Koch
John R. Slate
George W. Moore
Summary

A new study compares Hispanic students' performance on Advanced Placement (AP) English exams across California, Texas, and Arizona from 1997 to 2012. Significant differences were found among the states, with Arizona having the highest passing rates, California following, and Texas consistently showing the lowest passing rates. Despite increased Hispanic participation in AP English exams, most students didn't achieve scores for college credit or advanced placement. The College Board urged equity in AP classrooms, advocating for demographic parity in successful AP students. However, none of the states met this criterion for Hispanic students. Placing unprepared students in AP courses was highlighted as an issue, emphasizing the importance of aligning prerequisite curriculum for college readiness. While AP programs aim for wider access, reducing funding without addressing readiness and support risks being wasteful, missing opportunities to prepare students effectively for college. Efforts focusing on prerequisite skills and additional support for students are crucial to ensure AP participation truly aids in college preparation and success.

Residential Segregation and Inequality in Educational Attainment
Commentary author
Summary

Research published in the journal Social Problems investigates the impact of residential segregation on educational outcomes among over 2500 youths aged 14 to 26. Findings reveal that higher segregation significantly reduces high school graduation rates for poor and black students, contrasting with no discernible impact on white or affluent youths. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds in less segregated areas showed improved graduation rates. Conversely, segregation didn't affect educational success for privileged students. The study suggests that desegregation could enhance outcomes for disadvantaged groups without impeding the privileged, emphasizing how integrated areas generally achieve higher educational attainment overall. This research highlights the potential of residential integration to uplift disadvantaged students without hampering the success of their more advantaged counterparts.

English Language Learner Classmates and Socio-Emotional Skills in Early Elementary School
Commentary author
Summary

Recent state policies, such as Proposition 227 in California, advocate integrating English Language Learner (ELL) students into general education classrooms alongside non-ELL peers. While existing research has mainly focused on ELL student outcomes, a new study explores how the presence of ELL students impacts the social development of their non-ELL classmates, an area less explored in prior studies. Utilizing data from kindergarten and first grade students, the study examines the relationship between the number of ELL classmates and the social development of non-ELL students. Findings suggest a positive correlation: higher numbers of ELL classmates relate to reduced problem behaviors and enhanced social skills among non-ELL students. Additionally, teacher training in English as a Second Language (ESL) appears to amplify these positive effects. This understanding holds significance for California's educational landscape, witnessing an increase in ELL students in general education settings. Identifying influential classroom factors can shape more effective practices, particularly in fostering social development, crucial for lifelong educational success.