May ERR #11

Findings From The Condition of Education 2009: Student Educational Progress Shows Modest Gains

Enrollment in America's elementary and secondary schools continues to rise to all-time highs, and younger learners continue to show gains in educational achievement over time. The overall achievement levels of secondary school students have not risen over time, but there are some increases in the percentages of students entering college after high school and earning a postsecondary credential, according to "The Condition of Education 2009" report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

"This report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education," said NCES Acting Commissioner Stuart Kerachsky. "What we see are some improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders, but persistent challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population."

"The Condition of Education" is a congressionally mandated report that provides an annual portrait of education in the United States. The 46 indicators included in this year's report cover all aspects of education, from early childhood through postsecondary education and from student achievement to school environment and resources.

Among the report's other findings:

* Public elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to increase to 54 million in 2018. Over the period of 2006 to 2018, the South is projected to experience the largest increase (18 percent) in the number of students enrolled.

* Between 1972 and 2007, the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 78 to 56 percent. This decrease largely reflects the growth in the number of students who were Hispanic, particularly in the West.

* The average reading and mathematics scores on the long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were higher in 2008 than in the early 1970s for 9- and 13-year-olds; scores for 17-year-olds were not measurably different over the same period.

* In 2005-06, about three-quarters of the 2002-03 freshman class graduated from high school with a regular diploma.

* The rate of college enrollment immediately after high school completion increased from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent by 1997, but has since fluctuated between 62 and 69 percent.

* About 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2000-01 completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years.

* The percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds completing a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 17 to 29 percent between 1971 and 2000 and was 31 percent in 2008.

* Women accounted for 57 percent of the bachelor's degrees and 62 percent of all associate’s degrees awarded in the 2006-07 academic year.

NCES is the statistical center of the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. The full text of "The Condition of Education 2009" (in HTML format), along with related data tables and indicators from previous years, can be viewed at

Enrollment in America's elementary and secondary schools continues to rise to all-time highs, and younger learners continue to show gains in educational achievement over time. The overall achievement levels of secondary school students have not risen over time, but there are some increases in the percentages of students entering college after high school and earning a postsecondary credential, according to "The Condition of Education 2009" report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

"This report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education," said NCES Acting Commissioner Stuart Kerachsky. "What we see are some improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders, but persistent challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population."

"The Condition of Education" is a congressionally mandated report that provides an annual portrait of education in the United States. The 46 indicators included in this year's report cover all aspects of education, from early childhood through postsecondary education and from student achievement to school environment and resources.

Among the report's other findings:

* Public elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to increase to 54 million in 2018. Over the period of 2006 to 2018, the South is projected to experience the largest increase (18 percent) in the number of students enrolled.

* Between 1972 and 2007, the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 78 to 56 percent. This decrease largely reflects the growth in the number of students who were Hispanic, particularly in the West.

* The average reading and mathematics scores on the long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were higher in 2008 than in the early 1970s for 9- and 13-year-olds; scores for 17-year-olds were not measurably different over the same period.

* In 2005-06, about three-quarters of the 2002-03 freshman class graduated from high school with a regular diploma.

* The rate of college enrollment immediately after high school completion increased from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent by 1997, but has since fluctuated between 62 and 69 percent.

* About 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2000-01 completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years.

* The percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds completing a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 17 to 29 percent between 1971 and 2000 and was 31 percent in 2008.

* Women accounted for 57 percent of the bachelor's degrees and 62 percent of all associate’s degrees awarded in the 2006-07 academic year.

NCES is the statistical center of the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. The full text of "The Condition of Education 2009" (in HTML format), along with related data tables and indicators from previous years, can be viewed at:

Study: Teachers Choose Schools According to Student Race

A study forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics suggests that high-quality teachers tend to leave schools that experience inflows of black students. According to the study’s author, C. Kirabo Jackson (Cornell University), this is the first study to show that a school’s racial makeup may have a direct impact on the quality of its teachers.

“It’s well established that schools with large minority populations tend to have lower quality teachers,” Dr. Jackson said. “But it is unclear whether these schools are merely located in areas with a paucity of quality teachers, whether quality teachers avoid these schools because of the neighborhood or economic factors surrounding a school, or whether there is a direct relationship between student characteristics and teacher quality.”

Dr. Jackson’s findings suggest that it’s not neighborhoods keeping high-quality teachers away; it’s the students—and it’s directly related to their race.

“This is particularly sobering because it implies that, all else equal, black students will systematically receive lower quality instruction,” Jackson said. “This relationship may be a substantial contributor to the black-white achievement gap in American schools.”

The study focused on the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district in North Carolina. In 2002, the district ended its race-based busing program, which distributed the district’s minority population across its schools. When the policy ended, some schools had a large and sudden inflow of black students. Since the racial makeup of the schools changed suddenly but the neighborhood and economic factors surrounding them stayed the same, Jackson could test the impact the student body itself had on teacher quality.

Using data supplied by the North Carolina Education Research Data Center, Jackson found that schools that had an increase in black enrollment suffered a decrease in their share of high-quality teachers, as measured by years of experience and certification test scores. Teacher effectiveness, as measured by teachers’ previous ability to improve student test scores, decreased in the black inflow schools as well. The change in quality for each school generally occurred in the same year that the busing program ended, indicating that teachers moved in anticipation of more black students.

“This study implies teachers may prefer a student body that is more white and less black,” Jackson says.

Black teachers were slightly more likely than white teachers to stay in the schools that experienced a black inflow, the study found. However, those black teachers who did leave black schools tended to be the highest qualified black teachers. So the decline in quality was somewhat more pronounced among black teachers than white teachers.

Just what it is about black students that pushes high-quality teachers away is hard to pin down, Dr. Jackson says. It could be that teachers are reacting to notions about black students’ achievement or income levels.

Full study:
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May ERR #10

Poor attention in kindergarten predicts lower high school test scores, UC Davis researchers find

Addressing early attention problems could boost high school graduation rates

As thousands of students nationwide prepare to leave high school, a UC Davis study appearing online today in the June issue of the medical journal Pediatrics shows a clear link between attention problems early in school — as early as kindergarten — and lower high school test scores.

"In our study, a child's inability to pay attention when they start school had the strongest negative effect on how they performed at the end of high school — regardless of their IQ (intelligence quotient)," said lead study author Joshua Breslau, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine and a researcher with the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

He said that addressing attention problems early in life could keep some children from entering "a downward spiral of failure."

The study, "The Impact of Childhood Behavior Problems on Academic Achievement in High School," analyzes data on approximately 700 children who were followed from kindergarten (ages 5 through 6) through the end of high school (ages 17 through 18). It examines the relationship between aggressive, inattentive and depressive behaviors and children's later performance on standardized high school achievement tests.

The researchers found that inattentiveness in kindergarten was the only behavior that consistently predicted lower scores on reading and math achievement tests administered more than a decade later.

"Our study shows that early attention problems predict poor performance later in math and reading," Breslau said.

The study was possible because of the availability of data collected more than 20 years ago in Detroit by the lead study author's mother, Naomi Breslau, who was then researching the long-term effects of low birth weight .

For her 1983 research, Naomi Breslau conducted a random sample of 1,095 diverse children, with 823 participating in an initial assessment of IQ and classroom behavior as they passed their sixth birthdays. Follow-up assessments were conducted at ages 11 and 17.

The UC Davis researchers used data gathered on 693 of these children from ages 6 through 17. They focused on three categories of behavior as scored by their teachers: "internalizing" behaviors that included anxiety and depression; "externalizing" behaviors that included acting out and breaking rules; and attention problems that included restlessness and inability to focus on a single activity.

The analysis controlled for a variety of potentially confounding factors, including IQ and the fact that children who may have one psychiatric disorder often have other ones, as well. The current study's findings are rare in the field of pediatric mental health research and were made possible because of the availability of long-term data, Breslau noted.

"Many children have behavioral problems of the types we examined in this study, but we don't know which types of problems have the most serious long-term consequences," Joshua Breslau said. "By identifying attention problems as the most consequential for academic achievement over the long term, this study helps us decide where to put our clinical resources."

The message for parents and teachers is to not ignore signs of inattentiveness in young children, said study co-author Julie Schweitzer, a UC Davis associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) researcher at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.

"These data really suggest that, if there are attention problems at age 6, parents should not wait to see if the problems go away, but should seek an evaluation from a trained professional," Schweitzer said.

Such evaluations would look for signs of learning disorders, as well as for clinical disorders like ADHD. In addition to ADHD, inattentiveness can also be caused by poor nutrition, anxiety or lack of sleep, she said.

"Parents should start by talking with their child's pediatrician and determine the need to seek an evaluation by a psychologist," Schweitzer said.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that attention problems can inhibit learning and that early onset psychiatric disorders are in part to blame for later failure in high school.

"Our study, along with others, shows that if children are going to harness their potential, they need to be able to focus and organize their thoughts," Schweitzer said.

The results of the study are a call to arms for policy makers in education and health care, said study co-author Elizabeth Miller, a UC Davis assistant professor of pediatrics and a clinician at UC Davis Children's Hospital. One-third of all American children do not finish high school on time, Miller said.

"What that means is that you have people transitioning into adulthood without the advantages of the knowledge and skills usually acquired during high school, which impacts their future earning potential and well-being," Miller said.

Providing school-based mental health professionals should be a priority for education policy makers, because classroom interventions, counseling and — in some cases — treatment for psychiatric disorders could mitigate these attention problems, Miller said.

"We really shouldn't be sweeping behavior problems in early elementary school under the rug, because there is a lot we can do," she said.

The researchers said that early intervention to prevent teens from dropping out of high school and the serious long-term consequences of poor high school achievement should be a major focus for both education and public-health policy makers.

More research is needed, however, to identify successful models of providing mental health services in school settings, Breslau said, and more long-term research is needed to find out what other factors come into play between kindergarten and the end of high school that affect scholastic performance.

"If we are going to make a difference in children's lives we need a whole lifespan perspective," Breslau said.

Adolescents Let Physical Activity Slide After Seventh Grade

By the time they reach ninth grade, most adolescents abandon the physical activities they enjoyed in seventh grade; and the more vigorous the activity, the more likely they are to drop it.

Although some older adolescents rekindle their interest, it still does not return to seventh-grade levels, according to a study in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Secondary school students in Montreal reported their participation in 29 physical activities over five years. Although participation in team-based activities started high at 94 percent in seventh grade, 50 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys had dropped out by the end of high school. Conversely, only 10 percent of adolescents abandoned their individual activities during the same period.

According to Mathieu Bélanger, the lead study and research director at the New Brunswick Medical Training Centre, a large majority of adolescents in Canada do not achieve the recommended 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. Since habits formed during adolescence tend to continue into adulthood, he is concerned that this inactivity could lead to substantial health concerns, such as diabetes and obesity, later in life.

Bélanger’s numbers also reflect a return to certain activities or an interest in new ones. The most popular activities in seventh grade — such as walking, running and physical conditioning — had the highest levels of reuptake five years later (around 50 percent). In fact, walking was the only activity that girls continued to participate in at the same level over time.

Elissa Jelalian, an associate professor in psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School, agreed that the decrease in vigorous physical activity among adolescent girls, which has significant health implications, particularly is noteworthy. “Given that adolescents are more likely to maintain individual physical activity,” she said, “efforts should focus on identifying strategies that enhance the intensity of this type of activity.”

Bélanger said that the results provide insight on the most effective time to introduce programs aimed at encouraging healthy activity levels. For most activities, the best time seems to be early adolescence, although schools should not ignore older age groups, even though fewer of these individuals continue to be active.

Both Bélanger and Jelalian say that the knowledge will help school boards and public health authorities plan sports programs that remain high on this age-group’s to-do list, when interest traditionally wanes.
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May ERR #9

Bioscience Education Study Finds Some States Lagging

First-ever report by Battelle, BIO and Biotechnology Institute find wide disparities in achievement and uneven program efforts

States across America are failing to prepare students for pursuing biosciences in higher education—a key pipeline for developing the bioscience workforce of the future. A new report funded and researched by BIO, Battelle, and the Biotechnology Institute provides the first ever comprehensive study of middle and high school bioscience education in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The report also finds a wide disparity across measures of student achievement in overall science and biosciences, an uneven record across states in incorporating the biosciences in state science standards, supporting focused bioscience education programs and higher level bioscience courses, and ensuring science and bioscience teachers are well qualified.

The findings, which came to light at BIO’s annual convention, indicate a clear need for improved science education that incorporates the biosciences at the middle and high school levels if the United States bioscience industry sector is to remain globally competitive.

“The biosciences are a dynamic economic driver with a sizable footprint in nearly every state,” explains James Greenwood, President of BIO and member of the Board of the Biotechnology Institute. “The bioscience industry is a knowledge-based sector dependent upon the skills of its workers. Bioscience workers are needed to conduct research, translate innovation into product development and improved health care techniques, and ultimately to manufacture biomedical and other bioscience-related products. The prospect of the United States losing its competitive edge in student achievement and the subsequent skills of our future workforce is a matter of significant concern.”

This is not to say that bioscience education is non-existent in the United States because there are many examples of programs that work. However, the report does say that these programs should be replicated across the country and that states need to commit resources to them.

“The biosciences are the great adventure of our time, and states that aspire to play a part, either as supporters or leaders, must nurture their life science education programs," says Paul A. Hanle, president of the Biotechnology Institute. "This report rates the states' performance in life science education according to certain indicators of achievement. It also identifies best practices and programs throughout the nation. Both will be vital tools to help states wanting to strengthen their life-science education efforts."

This review of state activities in bioscience education suggests a number of actions that should be taken. For example, individual states:

• Should incorporate biotechnology as they revise their science standards and should involve research scientists with expertise in the biosciences in their development.

• Must commit to improving student achievement in biology and the life sciences and ensuring that their high school graduates are ready to pursue college-level bioscience courses.

• Should improve the collection and dissemination of data, tracking student participation and performance in the biosciences and the broader sciences and if they do not participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science exam should be encouraged to do so.

• Should take a more systematic approach to teacher professional development, experiential learning, and career awareness.

“The study recognizes the important link that high schools and middle schools have as the primary feeders to post-secondary institutions and in shaping career preparation,” explains Mitch Horowitz, Vice President and Managing Director of the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. “The vast majority of bioscience jobs require some level of post-secondary education to ensure quality control and good manufacturing practices, conduct clinical research, design and engineer new products, or conduct research and development.”

The report provides the following evidence that states are not measuring up:

• On average, only 28% of the high school students taking the ACT , which is a national standardized test for college admission, reached a score indicating college readiness for biology and no state reached even 50%.

• Only 52% of 12th graders are at or above a basic level of achievement in the sciences, and for 8th graders only 57% are at a basic level of achievement.

• Average scores for 12th graders in the sciences have actually declined from 1996 to 2005 and shown no improvement for 8th graders both overall and on the life science component.

• A significant gap exists in science achievement for low-income middle-school students, although the gap is slowly narrowing.

Some states fared much better than others with respect to student achievement in the biosciences. While it is difficult to give a single grade across states because of the limited quality and comparability of the student achievement data, the patterns of student performance suggest the states fall into several broad categories.

Leaders of the Pack: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Wisconsin

Second Tier: Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington

Middling Performance: Alabama, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, South Carolina, Wyoming

Lagging Performance: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia

Not Rated: States that do not participate in the NAEP science assessment were not rated.

The report also finds an uneven record across states in incorporating the biosciences in state science standards, supporting focused bioscience education programs and advanced bioscience courses, and ensuring well-qualified science and bioscience teachers.

Only thirty-one states reported that their science standards explicitly mention or define standards or applied laboratory or other instruction tools specifically for biotechnology or the biosciences.

At least half the states have at least one school with a bioscience focus, and all of the states have schools with a focus on broader STEM education. But states do not seem to be succeeding in encouraging high school students to take upper-level science courses. Although data on this subject are very limited, the share of students taking the AP biology exam averages 4.6% of high school graduates.

The report also notes that nearly one in eight U.S. high-school biology teachers was not certified to teach biology. The average share of biology teachers who are certified in a given state ranged from 50% to 100% in data collected by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), although 88% of biology teachers are certified nationally on average.

The study and individual state profiles are available at:

University success rates: How do graduates of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools compare with their counterparts in other North Carolina school districts?

High school graduation ceremonies are just around the corner, and this year, more than 6,700 seniors will receive their diplomas from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Getting a degree should mean that those young men and women are prepared to successfully enter post-secondary education or the job market. But are they?__

If past trends continue, nearly 2,350 of those seniors will enroll in one of the schools within the University of North Carolina system. However, only about 1,300 will actually graduate by the spring of 2014._

_The Public Education Research Institute - a component of the Wayland H. Cato, Jr. School of Education at Queens University of Charlotte - just completed a two-part study looking at the performance of freshmen enrolled in the UNC system in the 2006-07 academic year. Researchers sought to answer questions like:

• Are our students adequately prepared for the rigors of higher education, or do they have to enroll in remedial classes before they can take college-level courses?

• How does the CMS student success rate in the universities compare to that of students from other urban districts in North Carolina and to that of students throughout the UNC system?

• Do these college students graduate within five years?

Their conclusions:

• A lower percentage of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) high school seniors,

when compared to other NC urban districts, indicated intention of enrolling in one of

NC’s public 4-year institutions.

It appears, as a whole, the expectation for students in Wake County to pursue a 4-

year degree is higher than it is for CMS students.

In fact, the percentage of CMS students indicating they intended to pursue a degree at any

4-year institution was lower than that of all urban districts except Guilford County. Of the

urban districts, Wake County had the highest percentage of seniors indicating their intention

to attend a 4-year institution of higher education.

• A higher percentage of Wake County students actually enrolled in one of the UNC

schools than did students from CMS, Durham, Guilford, and Forsyth Counties.

Out of those who applied, the percentage of those accepted is approximately equal among

these urban districts (between 80% and 85%). The percentage of those accepted who

enrolled was quite high for all districts (between 70% and 80%). However, because a larger

percentage of students from Wake County applied for admissions, the number of all their

high school graduates who enrolled was considerably higher than that of the other urban


• In addition to the differences among the urban districts, there were wide variations

among CMS high schools in the percentage of students enrolling in one of the UNC

schools. It appears this variation was more related to the lack of students in some of

our high schools applying to the schools rather than in their failure to be accepted or

their just not enrolling once accepted. The CMS high school where the students

attended appears to be a factor in whether they apply to one of the 15 UNC schools.

• Once enrolled, many CMS students entering the UNC system appear not to be as prepared for the rigors of college level work as they should be. CMS students tend to lag behind their peers from some of the other NC urban districts in many indicators of college readiness. There are also wide variations among CMS high schools in how prepared their graduates are when they enter a UNC school.

]These indicators include SAT scores, remediation, advanced classes, freshmen grade point averages, and persistence to graduation. While the percentages of students being recommended for remedial math classes and actually enrolling in remedial classes have decreased over the past years, too many students still need remediation before they can begin college level courses. In addition, too few are recommended for calculus or higher math and too few enroll in Honor Programs.

• Even though the gap may be closing somewhat, CMS students continue to lag behind Wake County students in performance in the UNC system.

• Too few students graduate in five years or fewer.

For the complete study, “To a Culture of No Excuses,” :

Online educational empowerment

The sage on the stage makes way for the guide on the side

Binshan Lin and John Vassar at the College of Business Administration, Louisiana State University in Shreveport, suggest that online learning communities have many benefits because they offer learners social networks to effectively and easily acquire and share knowledge among themselves. However, key to success, they have found is individual self-governance.

Self-governance, or personal empowerment, can be measured in terms of self-efficacy, perceived behavioral control and personal outcome expectations regarding the interactions between learners and the online technology.

Online communities, and the internet more broadly speaking, extend the notion of personal empowerment that has emerged in health, welfare and now education. "The internet enables everyone to communicate with others and have immediate access to information," the researchers explain.

This paradigm shift in access to information means that today learners can, for example, educate themselves with minimal interaction from a higher power or traditional teacher. "In accepting this philosophy, an instructor may become the 'guide on the side' rather than the 'sage on the stage'," the researchers say.

However, in designing courses, educators must recognize that although self-governance is an individual, internal factor, not all learners will respond well to the online or community-led approach to education. Factors, such as personal goals, communication skills, information technology skills, and study environment, will also affect success.

The team offers ideas for testing the various approaches possible that should reveal any significant differences that will be invaluable in determining how well individuals will respond to education when they become a member of a dynamic learning community. The research will answer two crucial questions. First, in the learning process, is it better to design courses that are learner centered or community centered? Second, how can the development of critical thinking skills be most effectively developed in an online learning community?
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May ERR #8

Stimulating Excellence

Unleashing the Power of Innovation in Education

In this report, the authors gather creative solutions and ideas from a collection of leading education entrepreneurs about federal and state policy changes that can support the emergence, success, and growth of entrepreneurial problem-solvers while encouraging a determined focus on quality and results. The authors primarily address the specific local, state and federal policy barriers that have thus far precluded thriving entrepreneurial activity in public education. The authors then outline several policy approaches for district and state superintendents, governors, and the new federal administration.

The authors concentrate on those policy changes that enable high-quality entrepreneurs to better succeed at scale because it will allow them to better serve students, teachers and schools. The authors recommend initiatives that prompt local action, rather than issuing broad mandates; focus on state and local changes that require limited federal involvement to have an immediate impact; and, particularly mindful of our current economic climate, offer reforms that remove anachronistic barriers and problematic practices, rather than those that require additional resources.


Use dramatically better information to create a performance culture

The interviewed entrepreneurs identified the lack of a performance culture in K-12 public education as the greatest constraint on their ability to scale and succeed. A critical ingredient of this performance culture—clear metrics that indicate how good a product is or how the authorsll a service is working—is largely missing in public education. Insufficient data means that teachers rarely have the capacity or tools to adjust their instruction based on results. Fifty systems of standards and assessments make it difficult to compare and aggregate performance across states, and the information generated by these systems typically does not make it possible to tie internal systems to results. Proposed federal and state approaches to address these challenges include updating student achievement data systems to maximize their utility for educators; encouraging the formation of consortia of states that adopt common standards; supporting collection and reporting of management data; and a commitment to track a set of high-priority “power metrics” that can be used to assess the quality of entrepreneurial providers as the well as the status quo systems with which they aim to compete.

Open the public K-12 system to a diverse set of providers

In American schools today, local, county, and intermediate school districts largely hold exclusive rights over the provision of education, and a small number of large providers monopolize the marketplace for services and tools. Practical constraints such as budgetary rules and processes and collective bargaining agreements combine with a widespread bias against outsourcing to prohibit or discourage districts and schools from opting for entrepreneurial provision of key services, even when they are superior to current providers. Policy reforms—such as eliminating unnecessary statutory and regulatory constraints upon the location or delivery of schooling, opening the market for licensed providers of principal and teacher training, and devolving purchasing power for some services to school leaders—would help open the supply markets to more new, high-quality providers.

Make districts and other buyers into real “customers”

A public education sector open to entrepreneurship also requires true demand—a set of real “customers” among districts and other potential buyers of education services. Even when an exclusive franchise does not fully block entrepreneurs’ access to markets, spending restrictions, rigid procurement regulations, slow buying cycles, a fragmented set of buyers, and a dearth of investment vehicles make it very difficult for entrepreneurs to have an impact. Granting existing resources in more flexible ways, facilitating investments to free up future savings, and allowing greater collaboration between buyers and sellers would empower districts and schools with real buying power and enable entrepreneurs to better articulate their value.

Use public policy to encourage financing for entrepreneurial ventures

Finally, entrepreneurship can thrive only when there are various types of financing available for new ventures. Few dollars are currently available in the education sector for startups, new tools, or delivery systems, and the capital market lacks many of the elements that make these markets work for entrepreneurs in other industries. Policymakers can use existing public funding streams in ways that better foster innovation by reallocating current funds to encourage recipients to tap entrepreneurial providers, leveraging more private investment, and developing models of performance-based funding to reward and sustain those entrepreneurs that are most successful.

In addition to the recommendations outlined above, several overarching themes also arose from our conversations with leading education entrepreneurs:

* Using the “bully pulpit.” Federal and state leaders have a critical opportunity to communicate a commitment to supporting promising innovations, educate philanthropists and private investors about the success and potential of educational entrepreneurs, and provide a forum for addressing the barriers that hinder even effective ventures.

* Inventorying national and state agencies. This process can be used to assess agencies’ openness to entrepreneurship, evaluate their performance metrics, and eliminate outdated rules and practices that today impose a burden relative to the benefits they convey.

* Engaging foundations and private investors. In this report, the authors focus primarily on the role of state and federal policymakers, but private funders can help jumpstart many of our proposals by providing seed funding for new initiatives and co-funding alongside publicly financed ventures.

* Re-examining the traditional structures of public schooling. Many of our recommendations are designed to make the traditional structures in public education more conducive to entrepreneurship. But by carefully revisiting these institutional assumptions—such as providing almost all instruction via teachers who work on-site with students—policymakers could begin to open up even more opportunities for entrepreneurship.

We should be encouraged and inspired by the current generation of educational entrepreneurs who have challenged our assumptions about what is possible in public K-12 education and provided a higher-quality education to thousands of students. But the current and potential new entrepreneurs are stifled by several unnecessary and outdated state and district policies, and an education system that remains as a whole insensitive to performance and quality. The recommendations here suggest several steps that state superintendents, governors, and the new federal administration can take to make public K-12 education a more enticing and hospitable sector for social entrepreneurship. By removing barriers to innovation and reform and providing greater support for entrepreneurship, the authors can spur the critical and necessary new solutions to many of public education’s greatest challenges.

Full report:

Free to Teach: What America´s Teachers Say about Teaching in Public and Private Schools

Results from a new Rhode Island public opinion survey indicate strong support for a range of school choice options as a desired alternative to traditional public schools.

The survey results show that, given the choice, three out of every four Rhode Islanders would select a private school, a public charter school, a home school or virtual school environment for their children.

When asked if it were your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child, here's how likely voters in the state responded:

• 56 percent selected private schools

• 17 percent selected regular public schools

• 13 percent selected charter schools

• 12 percent selected home schooling

• 3 percent selected virtual schools

While fifty-six percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a private school, only 11 percent of Rhode Island's students currently attend private schools.

Thirteen percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a charter school, yet charter schools enroll only about 2 percent of the state's students.

While seventeen percent of Rhode Island parents would choose a regular public school for their child, nearly nine of ten – 87 percent -- attend regular public schools.

These statistics highlight the significant disconnect between schooling preferences and actual school enrollments.

While school choice opportunities are currently available for families in Rhode Island, the demand far exceeds current capacity.

The RI Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program allows any family with a household income of 250% or less of the federal poverty level the opportunity to apply for tuition assistance at nearly 60 participating K-12 private and parochial schools throughout the state. This program, approved by the General Assembly in 2006, allows eligible Rhode Island businesses to receive a tax credit in return for scholarship contributions. The program is limited to one million dollars in approved tax credits annually.

While close to 90,000 families in the state qualify for scholarship assistance, the program has only been able to provide partial tuition assistance to approximately 300 eligible families due to the current tax credit cap. Advocates of the program hope to see the cap raised in order to allow more eligible families the ability to choose the educational environment for their children, regardless of economic or geographic limitations.

Similarly, the state's public charter schools, another option of choice for families, face an unmet demand. Due to the schools' popularity and limited number of openings, admission applications have greatly exceeded capacity for several years requiring a random lottery system to determine student admissions. This year, Rhode Island charter public schools received 3,454 applications for only 559 openings, leaving more than 2800 students on waiting lists. About 3,100 students currently attend the state's 11 charter schools.

In addition, the survey findings show that school choice is not a partisan issue among Rhode Island residents. The survey results indicate general agreement among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The scientifically representative poll of 1,200 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted on January 23 and 25 by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based public affairs agency whose polls have been used by Newsweek, Time Magazine, BBC, ABC News, and USA Today among others. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The full Rhode Island survey results can be found at

New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains

Despite the fact that American students enjoy higher average family incomes and per-pupil funding, they consistently rank near the bottom in international examinations of high school achievement. Many researchers point to the United States’ poor practices of recruiting, training, compensating, and retaining teachers. The highest-achieving countries tend to recruit their teachers from the top 5 percent of university graduates; however, on average, American K-12 schools recruit from the bottom third.

A growing body of research in the United States demonstrates that teacher quality makes a profound difference in student learning. Judging schools on a value-added basis, by measuring academic growth over time, reveals a profound need to attract high-quality teachers into American classrooms in large numbers. Students learning from three highly effective instructors in three successive grades learn 50 percent more than students who have three consecutive ineffective instructors. These results are consistent across subjects and occur after controlling for student factors. Teacher quality is 10 to 20 times more important than variation in average class sizes, within the observable range. Unfortunately, though, poor human resource practices lead high-quality teachers to cluster in leafy suburbs, far from the children most in need.

In this paper, the authors propose a charter school model based on providing value-added merit pay, identifying “master teachers” through value-added assessment, and adding more students to classes taught by master teachers. By giving these high-performing teachers two-thirds of the revenue for additional students, we find that a six-figure salary may well be within reach for master teachers with average class sizes in the low 30s (based on the current and recent historical practice in the United States). With high salaries as incentive, administrators can access new pools of talent and recruit more high-ability graduates into the classroom.

Full report:

Misperceptions of Cost, Complexity of Aid System, Keep Low-Income Students Out of College

Many low-income students miss out on college because they don’t know how much it actually costs or how to get access to billions of dollars in financial aid, according to a report released today by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project.

This matters, say the report's authors, because postsecondary education is among the most important factors in determining whether a person achieves the American Dream of upward economic mobility. The report, Promoting Economic Mobility by Increasing Postsecondary Education, emphasizes that America is no longer a country where a high school diploma is the reliable gateway to getting a decent job and building a good life. It has become increasingly difficult to advance in society without some level of higher education.

“Although in many respects the American Dream is alive and well,” said John E. Morton, managing director of Economic Policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, “the body of evidence tells us two important things: first, that the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in America are hardest to climb up from, and second, that a college education is the most effective asset people can possess to move ahead.”

The report, co-authored by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, and Harry Holzer and Bob Lerman of the Urban Institute, finds that the extensive paperwork involved in applying for financial aid deters the lowest-income students from applying to college, and therefore from working their way out of their economic circumstances.

“The fact is that there just isn’t good information out there for poor and minority families about their options for paying for college,” said Ron Haskins. He noted that students rarely pay the full published price of tuition, citing studies showing that on average a two-year public institution actually costs around $100 per semester when all aid is taken into account. At four-year public and private schools, students spend thousands less on average than the schools’ published tuition.

However, Haskins said, “Without knowledge about available aid, or how to access it, the sticker shock of rising published prices can scare many students off before they even apply.”

While college enrollment has increased exponentially in the last several decades, the enrollment and graduation rates of poor and low-income students remain significantly behind those of their middle- and upper-income peers. Eight in 10 children of parents in the top income quintile enroll in college, and 53 percent eventually graduate. By contrast, barely one-third of children in the bottom quintile attend college, with a mere 11 percent graduating. But when they do get a college degree, children of parents in the bottom quintile are four times more likely to move to the top of the income ladder as adults than those who do not complete college.

The report highlights the complex, cumbersome process of applying for federal financial aid, where students do not know whether they even qualify, much less how much they’re going to get, until very late in the college decision-making process. This lack of timely information imposes a special burden on low-income families who may not have alternative means of paying for college, potentially leading to missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Government and the private sector together distributed a total of $162.5 billion in aid to students in the 2007-2008 academic year, but the evidence shows that it may not have been targeted at the students who needed it most.

To enable all students to pursue the American Dream through a college education, the report presents a set of nonpartisan policy recommendations that includes:
• providing effective guidance for students on choosing and paying for college;
• improving students’ K-12 academic achievement and preparation so that there is a greater likelihood of success for those who do attend college;
• helping students stay in college until they earn a degree; and
• clarifying the goals of federal post-secondary education policy and research to make college enrollment and graduation for students from low-income families a top priority.

The report is one of a series produced by the project on ways to enhance economic mobility in America. “Clearly this paper’s findings demonstrate that the ability to craft policies that make college broadly accessible are at the same time politically realistic and critical to our national civic well-being,” said Ianna Kachoris, manager of the Economic Mobility Project. “Our society is built on the promise that hard work and playing by the rules pay off. Leveling the playing field for people of all income levels to get a postsecondary education is one of the most important things we can do as a nation to help keep that promise.”

To download the report, please visit:

An Evaluation of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in Chicago: Year One Impact Report

Teacher Advancement Program Improves Teacher Retention in Chicago

But No Measurable Impact on Test Scores Found in the First Six Months

The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) is a whole-school intervention that aims to improve schools by raising teacher quality. It provides teachers with opportunities for professional growth, promotion to school leadership roles without leaving the classroom, structured feedback, and performance-based compensation. More than 200 schools around the country have implemented TAP, and its most recent expansion came via the federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF). A new report from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., focuses on one TIF grantee, the Chicago Public Schools, which began implementing TAP in 2007 and plans to continue adding 10 new TAP schools each year of the grant’s four-year period.

TAP enables teachers to earn extra pay and responsibilities through promotion to mentor or master teacher; they can also earn annual performance bonuses based on the value they add to student achievement and their performance in the classroom.

Early findings from Mathematica’s study of Chicago TAP, which focused on the district’s K-8 schools, include:

* Teachers in TAP schools reported significantly more mentoring and support than their peers in similar schools.

* Teachers in TAP schools had compensation expectations in line with program policies.

* Although TAP led to changes inside schools, these changes did not produce measurable impacts on student test scores through March of the start-up year. Student achievement growth as measured by average math and reading scores on the Illinois Standards Assessment Test did not differ significantly between TAP and non-TAP schools.

The program had a significant impact on teacher retention. TAP teachers were five percentage points more likely to return to their schools than were non-TAP teachers.

“For a popular program that’s being replicated all over the country, we don’t have much independent, rigorous research on its impacts, so this Chicago experience with TAP is going to get a lot of well deserved scrutiny,” said Steven Glazerman, lead author of the study and a senior researcher at Mathematica. “While policymakers will be encouraged by the positive impact on teacher retention, this first-year analysis shows that it’s not a quick fix for schools looking to boost test scores in six months. We’ll have to see what happens in the coming years.”

The study, funded by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, gathered data from student test score files, a teacher survey, a set of principal interviews, and teacher administrative records for the treatment schools and the control schools. The pool of schools to randomize was small, so to complement the experimental analysis the research team created a comparison sample of 18 additional schools by matching them according to size, average teacher experience, and student demographics to the TAP schools.

The report, “An Evaluation of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in Chicago: Year One Impact Report,” by Glazerman, Allison McKie, and Nancy Carey, is available at

Reading Comprehension Curricula Show No Positive Impacts on Achievement, First-Year Findings of New Federal Evaluation Reveal

To become successful learners, students need to comprehend what they read. Reading comprehension becomes increasingly important as students move into upper elementary grades, when they transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, may have difficulty comprehending text because they often lack general vocabulary and strategies for organizing information and gleaning knowledge from text.

A new federal study of four reading comprehension programs sheds light on the effectiveness of these curricula in helping disadvantaged students improve their reading comprehension. Findings released today reveal that, overall, these curricula had no positive impact on student test scores, and in some cases, had a negative impact. The study, a large-scale randomized control trial conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, examined the effects of these curricula on 5th grade students. It involved 268 teachers and 6,350 students in 89 schools in 10 mostly large disadvantaged urban districts in 8 states.

Mathematica evaluated four curricula that supplement schools’ core reading curriculum— Project CRISS, ReadAbout, Read for Real, and Reading for Knowledge (see last page for a description of the curricula). These curricula are designed to be used by schools and teachers to improve students’ comprehension skills.

As part of the study, one of the largest and most rigorous of its kind, schools were randomly assigned to one of four intervention groups or the control group. Researchers compared students in each intervention group with the control group. They also compared the combined group of all students receiving any of the curricula with the control group. Comparisons were based on a general reading comprehension test called the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE), tests of comprehension of science and social studies passages, and a composite score based on all the tests.

Main findings from the study include:

* Overall, average test scores in schools randomly assigned to use the four curricula were not statistically significantly higher than scores in control schools. There were no positive effects on the GRADE or on the science or social studies reading comprehension assessments. Furthermore, reading comprehension in schools assigned to use one of three commercially-available curricula (Project CRISS, ReadAbout, and Read for Real) was not significantly different from that of schools in the control group. Students in schools using the Reading for Knowledge curriculum scored statistically significantly lower than control group students on the science reading comprehension assessment and the composite score.

* For certain subgroups, test scores in schools using the selected curricula were significantly lower than scores in control schools, although there was no clear pattern to these findings. These negative effects were found for students in high-poverty schools and students with the lowest initial reading comprehension skills (bottom third). Negative results were also found for students with above-average initial reading fluency skills and students taught by educators with more than five years of experience.

* Over 80 percent of teachers reported using the intervention programs they were assigned to use, and, on average, teachers were observed to be adhering to between 61 and 78 percent of the specific components of the programs.

“While these programs were designed based on research about reading comprehension, until now they had not been rigorously evaluated on a large scale to determine whether they are effective,” said Susanne James-Burdumy, lead author and associate director of research at Mathematica’s New Jersey office. “This report is an important step in efforts to identify curricula that improve reading comprehension. Future reports will assess the extent to which positive impacts on students might develop over time, as well as whether these curricula are more effective after schools and teachers have had one year of experience using them.”

The report, “Effectiveness of Selected Supplemental Reading Comprehension Interventions: Impacts on a First Cohort of Fifth-Grade Students,” by James-Burdumy, Wendy Mansfield, John Deke, Nancy Carey, Julieta Lugo-Gil, Alan Hershey, Aaron Douglas, Russell Gersten, Rebecca Newman-Gonchar, Joseph Dimino, and Bonnie Faddis, presents the background and design of the evaluation and impact results from the 2006-2007 school year—the first year of intervention implementation and data collection. Baseline student assessment data were collected using the GRADE and the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency (TOSCRF). A teacher survey was also administered at baseline. Follow-up data collection included the GRADE, science and social studies reading comprehension assessments developed by Educational Testing Service, and the collection of school and student records. Classroom observations assessed teacher instructional practices.

About the Curricula

The following text briefly describes the key elements of each curriculum examined in the study:

Project CRISS (developed by Creating Independence Through Student-Owned Strategies) focuses on five keys to learning—background knowledge, purpose setting, author’s craft (which involves using text structure to improve comprehension), active learning, and metacognition. The program is designed to be used each day during language arts, science, or social studies periods.

ReadAbout (developed by Scholastic Inc.) teaches students reading comprehension skills, such as author’s purpose, main idea, cause and effect, compare and contrast, summarizing, and inferences, primarily through a computer program. Students apply what they have learned to a selection of science and social studies trade books.

Read for Real (developed by Chapman University and Zaner-Bloser) supplies teachers with a six-volume set of books to teach reading strategies to students (for example, previewing, activating prior knowledge, setting a purpose, main idea, graphic organizers, and text structures). The books can be used before, during, and after reading. Each unit includes vocabulary, fluency, and writing activities.

Reading for Knowledge (created by the Success for All Foundation for inclusion in the study) makes extensive use of cooperative learning strategies and a process called SQRRRL (Survey, Question, Read, Restate, Review, Learn).

Mathematica, a nonpartisan research firm, conducts high-quality, objective policy research and surveys to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Ann Arbor, Mich., Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

Complete report:
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May ERR #7

Report Highlights Test Prep Paradox: Paying for Test Prep Doesn't Yield Big Returns, But Returns May Still Matter in Light of Admission Practice

Students and families may not be getting as much help as they think from commercial admission test preparation, according to a report ( commissioned by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Existing academic research suggests average gains as a result of commercial test preparation are in the neighborhood of 30 points on the SAT and less than one point on the ACT, substantially lower than gains marketed by test preparation companies. However, the research report also indicates that some colleges and universities may make inappropriate distinctions among applications based on small differences in admission test scores, making even minimal test score gains potentially important in those decisions. The report suggests more comprehensive research is needed to further understand the impact of specific types of test preparation, as distinct from other factors that may improve test scores.

"We believe it is important for educators, students and families to be familiar with independent evaluations of the effects of test preparation," stated Joyce Smith, NACAC CEO. "Test scores play a prominent role in admission decisions at many colleges. As NACAC's Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission suggested, understanding the effects of test preparation is an important factor in balancing institutional admission decision-making with student considerations."

A survey of NACAC-member colleges included in the study revealed that in a small number of cases, colleges report either that they use a cut-off test score in the admission process or that a small increase in test score could have a significant impact on an applicant's chances of being admitted. Such practices run counter to guidance from NACAC and testing agencies as to the appropriate use of admission test scores. These realities are likely to complicate the decisions of students and families trying to determine how best to allocate resources (both time and money) related to test preparation.

"It is important for colleges and universities to understand and practice appropriate test use in the admission process," noted Smith. "On the heels of this research, NACAC will initiate a new round of communications and training with our member colleges and universities to ensure an understanding of and adherence to appropriate test practice, as well as the standards for admission practice contained in NACAC's Statement of Principles of Good Practice." (

The paper, "Preparation for College Admission Exams" ( was written for NACAC by Derek Briggs, chair of the Research and Evaluation Methodology Program and associate professor of quantitative methods and policy analysis at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Briggs' research points to the need for continued research on the effects of test preparation, particularly as it becomes more widely accessible through a variety of formats and delivery systems. Although the existing academic research base suggests a consensus on the magnitude of test preparation effects, some important practical questions remain unanswered:

- Is the newest version of the SAT more or less "coachable" than previous versions, which have been the subject of academic studies? Since research on ACT test prep is limited, what is the effect of the full range of test preparation for the ACT?

- Are there certain characteristics of particular test prep programs (quality, setting, duration) that may result in higher than average test score increases?

- Is the magnitude of test preparation effects influenced by any student characteristics that have yet to be identified?

- Are commercial forms of test preparation any more effective than student-driven test preparation?

As recommended by the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission (, NACAC will continue to play a role in developing the research base in order to provide the best information to students and families about how to allocate test preparation resources and to provide guidance and training to admission offices about appropriate use of test scores in admission decisions.

Direct link to report:

Using Assessments to Improve Learning and Student Progress

This issue paper is designed to help policymakers, educators, and administrators evaluate how assessment can support teaching and learning. Through the paper, Pearson examines the role of assessment in the teaching and learning process, and explores how to help teachers and students utilize both "assessments for learning" and "assessments of learning" to gauge and improve student progress.

Pearson's issue paper discusses how assessments provide objective information to support evidence-based or data-driven decision making. While there are many contributing factors that support successful teaching and learning, assessment continues to be an important piece in the learning puzzle. The paper explores the growing body of evidence that shows when teachers use well-constructed, professionally developed assessments students can see larger gains in their performance.

"President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have made it clear that high standards, assessments that are aligned with college and career expectations, and international benchmarks are essential to reversing the 'race to the bottom,'" said Will Ethridge, CEO of Pearson's North American education businesses. "Pearson's paper on assessments offers policymakers, educators, and administrators additional support for the work they do to improve the quality of education in this new environment of reform."

According to research cited in Using Assessments to Improve Learning and Student Progress, curriculum-embedded instructional assessments and assessments of accountability can improve student achievement by targeting instruction to the skills and needs of the individual learner. Additionally, the paper discusses the importance of a balanced approach to assessment that uses both summative (used after instruction to collect information regarding mastery of content) and formative (process to determine how students are learning) assessments. This balanced approach ultimately benefits not only the administrators, teachers and parents, but, most importantly, the students.

Despite the evidence supporting assessments, the general understanding of how they work and are applied to enhance learning is lagging. Pearson's paper suggests that states and districts need to embrace a balanced assessment system and recommends ways in which leaders can foster teacher and student success. A sampling of these recommendations includes:

• Development and growth of formal teacher education on assessment for learning

• Development of tools and reports that enable teachers to manage and use "just in time" results to improve individual student instruction

• Implementation of student-friendly learning systems, reports, and tools that provide clear information to students for managing their own learning

• Establishment of longitudinal data-management systems so student progress can be measured over time, and so educators and parents can project whether a student is on a path to proficiency and to reach important benchmarks, such as college readiness.

Pearson's issue paper encourages assessment literacy training for all teachers, explaining the value of using reliable, professionally developed assessments for learning. This strategy, combined with targeted professional development, will empower teachers to bring new relevance to the teach-and-learn cycle and result in improved learning.

In addition, students can benefit from playing an active role in their own assessment. The paper points out a variety of ways, including:

• Training and implementation of student self-evaluation

• More student peer review and collaboration

• Involvement of students in their own parent/teacher meetings, allowing them a key role in presenting their own goals and progress to their parents

The paper closes by addressing what's next for assessment, providing concrete solutions for improving assessment, such as increased assessment literacy for teachers, students, and parents; funding and support for securing well-constructed, reliable, professional formative assessments; ongoing professional development for educators and districts; and funding and support for building longitudinal data systems.

For a downloadable copy of the Using Assessments to Improve Learning and Student Progress issue paper including an Assessment Glossary of Terms, go to:

Report: To Close Achievement Gaps, Close Gaps in Life Experiences and Conditions

Five years after a landmark Educational Testing Service (ETS) study identified racial/ethnic and income gaps in 14 life conditions and experiences that are associated with academic success, a new analysis acknowledges little progress in closing the gaps.

Parsing the Achievement Gap II updates ETS’s 2003 Policy Information Center study, Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress. The updated report identifies 16 factors ranging from birth weight and hunger to lead poisoning, parental involvement, and teacher quality that are related to academic performance. The report then looks at whether these important factors were distributed evenly across different racial/ethnic and income groups.

The new report concludes that while a few of the gaps in the achievement correlates have narrowed and a few have widened, overall, the gaps identified in the previous study remain unaltered and disturbing.

“The undeniable fact is that disparities in life experiences and conditions directly affect, for better or worse, cognitive development and academic achievement,” Paul E. Barton, co-author of the report says. “These 16 correlates span from birth to adolescence and include life experiences in the home before school, during school, after school and in the summer.”

Barton and co-author Richard J. Coley, however, make it clear that these 16 factors include school experiences as well as before-school and out-of-school experiences, and emphasize that the results should in no way diminish the profound importance of schools and their quality as keys to raising achievement and closing gaps.

Coley, Director of the ETS Policy Information Center explains, “Analyzing these correlates will help to further our understanding of what causes achievement gaps and how we can successfully address them. The correlates are best viewed as three clusters of factors—school factors, factors related to the home and school connection, and factors that are present both before and beyond school.”

A few of the report findings include:

School Factors

• Teacher preparation – Minority and low-income students are less likely to be taught by certified teachers and more likely to have math teachers with neither a major nor a minor in mathematics. The gap in students having teachers prepared in the subjects they teach widened between White and Hispanic students and remained about the same for the other populations.

• Fear and safety at school – Minority students are more likely to report issues of fear and safety at school. The gaps widened for students reporting the presence of street gangs and fights in school, and remained unchanged for students reporting feeling fearful in school.

Home and School Connection

• Parent participation – White students’ parents are more likely to attend a school event or to volunteer at school. The gap in parents volunteering in schools remained unchanged; the gap in parents attending school events narrowed.

Before and Beyond School

• Hunger and nutrition – Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure. The White-Black gap was unchanged; the White-Hispanic gap narrowed.

• Excessive television watching – Minority and lower socioeconomic status children watch more television. The gap was unchanged between White and Black students; the gap widened among students whose parents have different education levels.

Barton and Coley conclude, “…the finding that these critical gaps in the life and school experiences of minority and low-income children still mirror gaps in school achievement as they did five years ago is very troubling and shows how much work there is to do and how early we need to start. And we have to start with a clear recognition of the depth of the causes of achievement gaps, and expand the scope of our efforts to eliminate them both inside and outside the schools.”

In addition to closing gaps in “beyond school” conditions, Coley emphasizes that we still need to improve the quality of children’s teachers and schools. Only by improving conditions both inside and outside of schools will we successfully close achievement gaps.

Download Parsing the Achievement Gap II for free

Tying education to future goals may boost grades more than helping with homework

Helping middle school students with their homework may not be the best way to get them on the honor roll. But telling them how important academic performance is to their future job prospects and providing specific strategies to study and learn might clinch the grades, according to a research review.

"Instilling the value of education and linking school work to future goals is what this age group needs to excel in school, more than parents' helping with homework or showing up at school," said lead researcher Nancy E. Hill, PhD, of Harvard University. She examined 50 studies with more than 50,000 students over a 26-year period looking at what kinds of parent involvement helped children's academic achievement.

These findings are reported in the May issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

"Middle school is the time when grades and interest in school decline," said Hill. "Entering puberty, hanging out with friends, wanting distance from parents and longing to make one's own decisions win over listening to parents and studying."

But adolescence is also a time when analytic thinking, problem-solving, planning and decision-making skills start to increase, Hill said. At this age, "teens are starting to internalize goals, beliefs and motivations and use these to make decisions. Although they may want to make their own decisions, they need guidance from parents to help provide the link between school and their aspirations for future work."

This type of parental involvement works for middle school students because it is not dependent on teacher relationships, like in elementary school. Middle school students have different teachers for each subject so it is much more difficult for parents to develop relationships with teachers and to influence their teenagers through their teachers, Hill said.

Parents' involvement in school events still had a positive effect on adolescents' achievement, Hill said, but not as much as parents' conveying the importance of academic performance, relating educational goals to occupational aspirations and discussing learning strategies.

Helping with homework had mixed results. Some students felt that parents were interfering with their independence or putting too much pressure on them. Some found that their parents' help was confusing because they didn't use the same strategies as their teachers. Still others felt that parents helped them complete or understand their homework, said Hill and co-author Diana F. Tyson, PhD, of Duke University.

Another possible explanation for the negative return on homework, said Hill, "was that those students who needed help with their homework were already doing poorly in school and this showed up as being associated with lower levels of achievement."

The review did not rule out ethnic and socioeconomic influences. Findings showed no difference between whites and blacks in which types of parental involvements influenced achievement but the same interventions did not necessarily produce the same results for Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Some of the studies showed that parental involvement had different meanings across different ethnic groups, which could be the result of differences in economic resources.

"Lack of guidance is the chief reason that academically able students do not go to college," said Hill. "So communicating the value of education and offering curriculum advice about what to focus on helps these students plan their long-term goals."

Full text of the article
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New study reveals significant downsides of reward-punishment systems based on quantitative outcomes, whether in public or private sector

Some school policymakers are promoting a new idea for improving the schools: merit pay plans that would tie teachers’ pay to the scores their students earn on standardized math and reading tests. Advocates of this approach base their support on two assumptions: first, that merit pay is long-established and widespread in the private sector, and second, that students’ test scores are a reliable way to gauge how well teachers are doing their jobs. Both assumptions, according to a new research report issued today by the Economic Policy Institute, are faulty.

In Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability: What Education Should Learn from Other Sectors Scott J. Adams, John S. Heywood and Richard Rothstein examine the evidence that underlies these assumptions, concluding that the use of merit pay systems based on quantitative measures is fraught with perverse consequences that often thwart the larger goal of improving the quality of services and outcomes and that such systems are not widespread among private sector professionals.

As Daniel Koretz writes in his preface to this volume, “In large part because available numerical measures are necessarily incomplete, holding workers accountable for them – without countervailing measures of other kinds – often leads to serious distortions.” He notes that the limitations of numerical measures of success are especially acute among professionals with complex roles, since “the available objective measures are seriously incomplete indicators of value to firms, and therefore, other measures, including subjective evaluations, have to be added to the mix.”

In Part One of the study, entitled “Performance Pay in the U.S. Private Sector,” Adams and Heywood offer a detailed description of performance pay systems utilized by businesses and track the trends in their use. They find that, contrary to the claims of advocates of teacher merit pay, “relatively few private sector workers have pay that varies in a direct formulaic way with their productivity, and that the share of such workers is probably declining.” Haywood added, "Formulaic reward structures often reward only a few dimensions of productivity and run the risk of causing workers to abandon effort in the dimensions not rewarded."

Their research shows that even though many workplaces pay “bonuses,” these are generally not regular performance-related pay of the kind that is being promoted for teachers. And even though the use of bonus pay has grown, that expansion has not been widespread but rather has been focused in certain occupations and industries. The authors describe this growth as “largely a non-union, male phenomenon concentrated among managers and professionals and in finance, insurance, and real estate.” Performance pay now covers only about one in seven workers and represents only a small portion of their compensation.

EPI economist Joydeep Roy, co-editor with NYU’s Sean Corcoran of this series, noted that “Policymakers should probably think twice before they transfer to education the pay system that has helped generate the global financial crisis.” In addition, Corcoran said, “Rewarding workers for good performance is the mark of any successful organization. But, as this book shows, private and public sector organizations have long been aware of the perils of narrowly focused incentive schemes."

Adams and Heywood observe that private-sector performance pay tends to be concentrated in areas whose activities and goals bear little, if any, resemblance to those of schools or other public sector institutions – in sales, for example, where a clear individual-output measure correlates with the firm’s goal of maximizing profits. Adams noted, "Use of performance pay in the private sector, which aligns workers’ interests in greater wages and secure long-term employment with employers’ interests in maximizing profits, need not alone justify the suitability of such schemes for the public sector, where employment is more secure and there are typically no profits to maximize.”

They note, further, that many government functions involve substantial team production and multi-dimensional measures of success, ranging, for example, from disease research teams to police and firefighters. Attempts to establish measures of individual success in these circumstances often lead to unintended outcomes – such as “quotas” for arrests that can produce an overemphasis on less serious crimes, and many other distortions that are detailed in the report.

In Part Two, Richard Rothstein explores “The Perils of Quantitative Performance Accountability” in the field of education, as well as a broad range of other areas extensively studied and documented by social scientists and management theorists. Rothstein’s work shows how even the best-intentioned attempts to create systems for measuring performance often subvert the goals and values of the firm or organization being measured.

Rothstein paints a vivid picture of the perverse consequences created when numbers-based accountability measures encounter the human talent for gaming the system. He draws upon familiar examples such as body counts employed by the military during the Vietnam War, ticket quotas and crime clearance rates used by law enforcement agencies, TV sweeps week, best-seller lists, and college rankings, as well as examining the impact of health care report cards on health care delivery.

He also cites less familiar cases, such as a system devised in Santiago, Chile, to prevent buses from “clumping” together by paying drivers per-passenger. The system was meant to encourage drivers to increase their trailing distance behind the bus in front in order to allow more passengers to gather at each bus stop; instead, it inspired drivers to speed up in order to overtake and pass the lead bus to reach the passengers further along the route first. As a consequence, drivers paid under this system are involved in 67% more accidents per mile than fixed-wage drivers.

One of the chief shortcomings of test-based accountability in education, Rothstein notes, is that it doesn’t take into account the wide variations in student characteristics. He writes, “A school with large numbers of low-income children, high residential mobility, great family stress, little literacy support at home, and serious health problems may be a better school even if its test scores are lower than another whose pupils do not have such challenges; similarly for teachers.” Rothstein does not conclude schools and teachers cannot or should not be held accountable; rather, he urges that any accountability system must be built on the extensive experience and research inside and outside of education and on an informed assessment of the gains and losses inherent in any system. As he writes in his conclusion: “In education, most policy makers who now promote performance incentives and accountability, and scholars who analyze them, seem mostly oblivious to the extensive literature in economics and management theory documenting the inevitable corruption of quantitative indicators and the perverse consequences of performance incentives that rely on such indicators. Of course, ignorant of this literature, many proponents of performance incentives are unable to engage in careful deliberation about whether, in particular cases, the benefits are worth the price.”
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May ERR #6

Preschoolers' language development is partly tied to their classmates' language skills

Young children learn how to speak and understand language from the words parents speak at home and teachers speak in preschool. A new longitudinal study has found that their preschool classmates also play a part.

The study, by researchers at the University of Virginia and Ohio State University, is published in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers took a look at more than 1,800 preschoolers in over 450 pre-kindergarten classrooms in 11 U.S. states. They tested children's skills in "receptive language" (including their understanding of vocabulary and grammar) and "expressive language" (including their speaking skills, which also involve vocabulary and grammar) in English at the start and end of pre-kindergarten.

Children's abilities to both speak and understand words developed faster when they were with classmates with better language skills. Going to school with children who had better language skills was even more beneficial for children who began preschool with higher language skills, and for those who were in classrooms that were well-managed.

"Classmates are an important resource for all children, especially for children who begin preschool with higher language skills," suggests Andrew J. Mashburn, a senior research scientist at the University of Virginia and the study's lead author. "This is likely because these children are better able to capitalize on their peers' skills for learning language. These results also indicate that teachers can promote children's language development by effectively managing children's behavior, which creates an environment in which children feel comfortable to converse with and learn language from one another."

Given the growing recognition that young children's language abilities affect their readiness for school and later school success, this study offers ideas for designing and structuring preschool classrooms.

Children who are depressed, anxious or aggressive in first grade risk being victimized later on

Children entering first grade with signs of depression and anxiety or excessive aggression are at risk of being chronically victimized by their classmates by third grade. That's the finding of a new longitudinal study that appears in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Victoria, looked at more than 400 Canadian children beginning in the autumn of first grade. The children were asked about their experiences being bullied (such as being hit, pushed, and shoved, or being teased and excluded from play). Their teachers were asked to report on the children's symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as on their displays of physical aggression. The researchers returned at the end of first, second, and third grades, at which time they asked the children and their teachers to report on the same issues.

Most children (73 percent) showed few symptoms of depression and anxiety over the three years. But 7 percent of the children showed continuously high levels. The remaining 20 percent showed moderate symptoms at first, but these increased over time. Victimization by depressed and anxious children wasn't evident until third grade.

Children with more depressed and anxious symptoms in first and second grade were more likely to be victimized by third grade. Surprisingly, children who were more aggressive at the start of first grade also were prone to depression and anxiety by third grade. These children also were more likely to be victimized by their peers, perhaps in retaliation for their own acts of aggression.

"Children's early mental health problems can set the stage for abuse by their peers," according to Bonnie J. Leadbeater, professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, who led the study. "Just as some children learn to read with greater difficulty than others and require extra assistance when they begin to lag behind their peers, young children with mental health problems show signs that they cannot manage the complex social world of elementary school. Treating children's mental health problems may go a long way toward reducing bullying."

How State Education Agencies in the Northeast and Islands Region Support Data-Driven Decision Making in Districts and Schools

The report examines the initiatives of state education agencies in the Northeast and Islands Region to support data-driven decision making in districts and schools and describes the service providers hired to support this work. The report identifies four components of data-driven decision making initiatives and finds that not all initiatives include all four.

Full report:

When Provided with Accurate Information, Public Support for Increased Spending on Schools and Teacher Salaries Declines, Researchers Find

Education researchers William G. Howell of the University of Chicago and Martin R. West of Brown University have released newly compiled evidence from the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey which shows that if the public is given accurate information about what is currently being spent on public schools, their support for increased spending and confidence that more spending will improve student learning both decline. And they find that knowing how much the average teacher earns lowers support among the general public for salary increases.

According to the 2008 national survey by Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University, most of the public has an inaccurate picture of how much is spent on public schools and how high teacher salaries are. Most are also inclined to support increases in both.

To understand how public opinions shift, Howell and West embedded a series of experiments within the Education Next/PEPG survey by dividing respondents into randomly chosen groups: some were simply asked their opinion about school spending and teacher salaries, while others were first provided with accurate information about each of these issues.

The average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, and the median response was just $2,000; but for these respondents, local average spending per pupil at the time exceeded $10,000. When told how much the local schools were spending, support for increased spending dropped by 10 percentage points, from 61 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent.

Howell and West find that these differences in opinion based on exposure to key information are consistent across a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, views about the local public schools, and political ideologies.

“It’s clear that the American public is quite willing to update its views in light of new information about public schools,” Howell and West said.

Interestingly, note Howell and West, differences also appear among teachers, whom one might think already have deeply entrenched and well- informed views about public education. Whereas 35 percent of teachers not specifically informed of spending levels claimed that spending should “greatly increase,” only 22 percent of those who were told the amount of money spent to educate a child in their district thought so. Additionally, 29 percent of uninformed teachers expressed strong confidence that increased spending would boost student learning. When exposed to the current spending in their district, however, that confidence dropped by 9 percent.

As with per-pupil expenditures, the public significantly underestimates how much their states pay public school teachers. On average, Education Next/PEPG survey respondents underestimated average teacher salaries in their state by more than $14,000, nearly one-third of the actual average salaries of $47,000.

When asked directly, 69 percent of the public supported increasing teacher salaries. African Americans and teachers appeared most enthusiastic about increasing teacher salaries, with roughly 9 out of 10 endorsing the idea. When provided with the facts, support among the general public decreased by 14 percent. The two most enthusiastic groups of supporters of increasing teacher salaries, however, responded very differently from one another to the experiment. Support for increasing salaries dropped by 20 percentage points (from 91 to 71 percent) among African Americans who were told about actual teacher salaries. Support among teachers, meanwhile, dropped by just 8 percentage points.

The fact that information had especially large and negative effects on support for increased teacher salaries among African Americans and those least satisfied with their local public schools may hold important implications for the politics of education in the large urban districts where these groups are most concentrated.

“An urban superintendent seeking to reform teacher compensation might well increase support among the district’s constituents by ensuring that they have accurate information about what teachers currently earn,” Howell and West suggest.

Attitudes on Charter Schools

Howell and West also studied the affects on public attitudes toward charter schools when accurate information is made available.

The 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey revealed widespread confusion about charter schools. For example, less than 1 in 10 respondents knew that charter schools may neither charge tuition nor provide religious instruction. Howell and West found that providing additional information scarcely affected responses of the public as a whole. However, public attitudes are dramatically different when grouped according to self identified political ideology. Forty-nine percent of conservatives and 36 percent of liberals who were not provided information supported charter schools. But when they were told that charter schools are tuition-free and secular, support dropped among conservatives by 6 percentage points and increased among liberals by 11 percentage points. Indeed, when provided information, liberals were 4 percent more likely to support charter schools than were conservatives.

These last findings suggest that information may actually polarize the debate over charter schools – and could also portend a major shift in the political landscape of school choice, note Howell and West. Charter schools have been traditionally been seen as an education reform effort championed by conservatives. Yet Howell’s and West’s findings show that basic facts about the design of charter schools appeal more to liberals.

“If the public becomes more informed about charter schools, it’s possible that support may shift from the right to the left of the political spectrum,” Howell and West point out.

Full report:
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