Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Condition of Education in the United States

The National Center for Education Statistics released The Condition of Education 2017 today (May 25), a congressionally mandated report that summarizes important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. This year’s report provides new analyses on a wide range of issues, including homelessness in public schools and student persistence in postsecondary education. Findings from the new analyses include:

•    In 2014–15, about 2.5 percent of students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools were reported as homeless children or youth (1.3 million students). The percentage of homeless students varied based on the location of the school: 2.0 percent in suburban school districts, 2.4 percent in rural districts, 2.6 percent in town districts, and 3.7 percent in city districts;

•    57 percent of first-time postsecondary students who began at 2-year institutions in 2011–12 were still enrolled or had attained a certificate or degree by spring 2014, compared to 80 percent for students who began at 4-year institutions;

•    In 2015, about 16 percent of 25- to 64-year-olds who had not completed high school had one or more disabilities, compared to 4 percent of those who had completed a bachelor’s degree and 3 percent of those who had completed a master’s or higher degree; and

•    The percentage of students who use the Internet at home varied by parental education level in 2015, ranging from 42 percent for children whose parents had not completed high school to 71 percent for those whose parents had completed a bachelor’s or higher degree.

The 2017 report also includes other key findings on topics ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Financial Literacy of 15-year-olds in the U.S. and Abroad

U.S. students scored, on average, about the same as their international peers on a financial literacy assessment in 2015, according to a new report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Results for U.S. students were not significantly different from their performance on the same assessment in 2012.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessed the financial literacy of 15-year-old students in the United States and 14 other education systems around the world. Two U.S. state education systems – Massachusetts and North Carolina – also participated in the assessment.

The PISA assessment of financial literacy measures students’ knowledge and understanding of fundamental elements of the financial world, including financial concepts, products, and risks. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and conducted in the United States by NCES.

Among the findings in the new report:

•    In 2015, U.S. students scored 487 (on a scale of 0 to 1,000), which was not statistically different than the OECD average (489). Of the 15 national education systems taking the assessment, students from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong (B-S-J-G), China scored highest (566), followed by Belgium (Flemish Community) (541), and the seven participating Canadian provinces (533);

•    The U.S. scored significantly higher than six other education systems that took the assessment; significantly lower than six education systems; and about the same as two other systems;

•    Massachusetts students outperformed their U.S. peers with an average score of 523. The average score of students in North Carolina (496) was not statistically different than the U.S. average; and

•    The average score of U.S. students on the assessment (487) was not significantly different than in 2012 (492). Of the eight national education systems that took the assessment in 2012 and 2015, two (Italy and the Russian Federation) saw significant increases in their average scores, and four (Australia, Poland, Spain, and the Slovak Republic) saw significant decreases.

Children in Head Start who miss more preschool show fewer academic gains

A new study has found that children in Head Start who miss 10% or more of the school year have fewer gains in academics than their peers who attend preschool more regularly. Many researchers see high-quality preschool programs as a way to reduce long-term disparities in education. Placing an emphasis on attendance in preschool programs may be important to maximizing benefits.
The study, from researchers at the University of Virginia and The Ohio State University, appears in the journal Child Development.

"Preschool absences may undermine the benefits of high-quality preschool education," explains Arya Ansari, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia, the study's lead author. Ansari cautioned that while the findings of the study are not causal, they highlight the scope and consequences of preschool absences. "Given the large investments in early childhood programs, we need to consider the ramifications of more frequent absences for children's early learning, especially in programs such as Head Start, the largest federally funded preschool program in the United States."

Little is known about absences in preschool, in part because, unlike in K-12 schooling, attendance is not mandated by law for preschoolers and programs like Head Start do not always track it. In this study, researchers looked at nationally representative data from the Family and Child Experiences Survey 2009 Cohort, which included 2,842 children ages 3 and 4 years who attended Head Start in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Most children in the study were from ethnic-minority households (e.g., Latino, Black, Asian), and most came from single-parent families and had a mother who was not employed. Most families had incomes at or below the federal poverty level.
At the end of the school year, parents reported on their children's school absences, and direct assessments provided information on children's academic performance in language, literacy, and math.

On average, children missed eight days of the school year. In addition, 12% of children were chronically absent -- defined as missing 10% of the school year or more -- and missed an average of 22 days of school. Children who missed more days of school, especially those who were chronically absent, demonstrated fewer gains in math and literacy during the preschool year, the study found. 

Moreover, excessive absenteeism was especially problematic for the early academic learning of children who entered Head Start with a less developed skill set, meaning that they started school with the lowest language and literacy skills. The study also found that minority children were less likely to be absent than White children. In addition, children were less likely to be absent when they were enrolled in classrooms that operated for more hours per week, and in larger and bilingual classrooms. 

The quality of interactions between teachers and children facilitated children's development of literacy skills, but the benefits were roughly twice as large for children who were absent less often.

The findings of this study have implications for both practice and policy, the authors suggest. "Preschool teachers and administrators, as well as researchers and policymakers, should make efforts to reduce preschool absences," says Kelly M. Purtell, assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, who coauthored the study. "One way to do this is to discuss the challenges to attendance that parents face and work with them to reduce these barriers." Early childhood educators may also want to develop ways to ensure that parents understand the importance of preschool to their children's learning, and see it as education as well as care.

The authors recommend that researchers pay closer attention to the implications of these absences in evaluating the quality and effects of preschool programs.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

School choice policies may impact segregation and diversity of public schools

Despite decades of educational reform and legal efforts, many U.S. schools are experiencing increasing segregation, with 16 percent of public schools serving both minority and high poverty students. A Supreme Court decision a decade ago eliminated the use of certain types of district policies that had been voluntarily adopted by some school districts to address rising segregation. Now, a Penn State researcher is looking at how student assignment policies may be impacting the diversity of public schools.

According to Erica Frankenberg, associate professor of education and demography and co-director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Penn State, the new generation of school choice policies adopted in response to legal decisions may actually be increasing school inequalities, despite their goals of maintaining integrated schools.

"The current student choice policies do not take race into consideration, but it is unclear whether or not they are creating diverse schools," Frankenberg explained. "In order to avoid many of the perceived legal risks in adopting policies based on race, many school districts now use socioeconomic status in assigning students, which may not be as effective for racial integration."

Historically, student assignment policies were meant to reduce segregation and enhance diversity; however, current student choice policies and how they affect diversity in an era of increasing segregation haven't been analyzed.

"Maintaining and improving school integration is important, as previous research has shown that students of all races who attend diverse schools demonstrate higher academic achievement in reading, language, mathematics and science," reported Frankenberg.

In order to assist some districts in pursuing integration, in 2009 the federal government funded 11 school districts to restructure their student assignment policies, including Jefferson County, Kentucky. In her study, Frankenberg analyzed the use of a new race-conscious, student-assignment policy being used in Jefferson County.

The 100,000-student school district was previously comprised of mostly black and white students, but in the last decade, Jefferson County doubled in Latino student enrollments. The district also includes students from both low-income and wealthy households and also is one of the nation's most desegregated systems, a product of a 1970s court-order merging of city and suburban districts to further desegregation.

At the same time, analysis of Census data demonstrates relatively high segregation of black, white and Latino populations in the district. "Because of their racial and socio-economic composition and strong policy design, the school district is the best-case scenario for this type of analysis. If we found that Jefferson County was failing to create racially and economically diverse schools, chances are these types of policies wouldn't be able to achieve diversity goals in any school in the country," Frankenberg said.

Frankenberg evaluated data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data from 2006 to 2013, which provides annual school-level information about student's race and ethnicity, as well as free- and reduced-lunch data. Frankenberg supplemented this information with data from the school district for the years 2013 to 2015, along with information provided by the students' kindergarten applications.

She found that Jefferson County's newer approach to school assignment has resulted in steady enrollment growth with no evidence of flight by white or affluent students to private schools or neighboring school districts. The schools in the district remain considerably diverse, and while there is evidence of a slight growth in racial segregation, Jefferson County's policy is more effective than most, with segregation levels remaining considerably lower than most large school districts.

"I found that white and Latino student integration in the district was increasing, while black student integration fell. Integration of low-income and middle-class students remained stable as well," Frankenberg explained.

Frankenberg suggested that along with Jefferson County's student assignment policies, the history of the school district may have also played a role in her findings. "Jefferson County has a long history of integration. It is part of the Supreme Court's legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education and the implementation of school desegregation. Although Jefferson County fiercely fought school desegregation in the 1970s, they voluntarily continued their integration plan once court oversight ended in 2000."

Using student application data from 2014, Frankenberg also compared the segregation of students under the existing policy, along with several other common methods of assigning students that are not necessarily focused on diversity. She found that students were less segregated in the district's managed-choice policy than under alternative assignment scenarios such as neighborhood schools or granting every child's first choice of school.

"Such a simulation provides real-time evidence about how district policy design relates to student composition, and was especially valuable this past school year when the state of Kentucky was threatening to pass a neighborhood schools bill that would have required the district to go back to neighborhood schools," noted Frankenberg.

According to current population projections, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the U.S. in a few decades, so it is important to that the new student assignment policies lead to improved student outcomes in the midst of this diversity. "Educators will need to understand how to attend to the development of children and youth in a multiracial setting," Frankenberg said. "If schools cannot facilitate such development, young people are likely to have increased prejudice and higher dropout rates, with significant implications for the United States' social and economic health."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Boys benefit relatively more from high-quality center childcare program

This paper estimates gender differences in life-cycle impacts across multiple domains of an influential enriched early childhood program targeted toward disadvantaged children that was evaluated by the method of random assignment.

For many outcomes, boys benefit relatively more from high-quality center childcare programs compared to low-quality programs. For them, home care, even in disadvantaged environments, is more beneficial than lower-quality center childcare for many outcomes. This phenomenon is not found for girls.

The paper goes on to investigate the sources of the gender differentials in impacts.

Management training for principals significantly increases student achievement

This study examines the impact on student achievement of implementing management training for principals in traditional public schools in Houston, Texas, using a school-level randomized field experiment. Across two years, principals were provided 300 hours of training on lesson planning, data-driven instruction, and teacher observation and coaching.

The findings show that offering management training to principals significantly increases student achievement in all subjects in year one and has an insignificant effect in year two.

The authors believe that the results in year two are driven by principal turnover, coupled with the cumulative nature of the training. Schools with principals who are predicted to remain in their positions for both years of the experiment demonstrate large treatment effects in both years – particularly those with principals who are also predicted to implement the training with high fidelity – while those with principals that are predicted to leave have statistically insignificant effects in each year of treatment.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Young people troubled by romantic relationships, sexual harassment

A new report released today suggests that many young people struggle with developing healthy romantic relationships and that rates of misogyny and sexual harassment among teens and young adults are alarmingly high. The report also suggests that, while many adults are focused on the youth "hook-up culture," they commonly ignore or fail to address these two more pervasive problems. Titled The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People's Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment, the report was published by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"We hope that this report is a real wake-up call," said Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Faculty Director of the Making Caring Common project, and lead author of the study. "While adults, and parents in particular, wring their hands about the 'hook-up culture,' research indicates that far fewer young people are hooking up than is commonly believed. This focus on the hook-up culture also obscures two much bigger issues that our research suggests many young people are struggling with: forming and maintaining healthy and fulfilling romantic relationships and dealing with widespread misogyny and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, we also found that most adults appear to be doing very little to address these serious problems."

The report is based on several years of research by Weissbourd and his research team, including surveys of over 3,000 young adults and high school students nationwide and scores of formal interviews and informal conversations. Weissbourd and his team also spoke with many adults who are key to young people, including parents, teachers, sport coaches, and counselors.

Key findings from the report include the following:

1. Teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the "hook-up culture" and these misconceptions can be detrimental to young people. Research indicates that a large majority of young people are not hooking up frequently, and our research suggests that teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the percentage of young people who are hooking up or having casual sex. This overestimation can make many teens and young adults feel embarrassed or ashamed, and can also pressure them to engage in sex when they are not interested or ready.

2. Large numbers of teens and young adults are unprepared for caring, lasting romantic relationships and are anxious about developing them. Yet it appears that parents, educators and other adults often provide young people with little or no guidance in developing these relationships. The good news is that a high percentage of young people want this guidance. Seventy percent of survey respondents (18 to 25-year-olds) reported wishing they had received more information from their parents about some emotional aspect of romantic relationships, and 65% indicated that they wanted guidance on some emotional aspect of romantic relationships in a health or sex education class at school.

3. Misogyny and sexual harassment appear to be pervasive among young people and certain forms of gender-based degradation may be increasing, yet a significant majority of parents do not appear to be talking to young people about it. In our national survey of 18 to 25-year-olds, 87% percent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime, yet 76% of respondents to this survey had never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others. Majorities of respondents also had never had conversations with their parents about various forms of misogyny.

4. Many young people don't see certain types of gender-based degradation and subordination as problems in our society. Forty-eight percent of our survey respondents either agreed or were neutral about the idea that "society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women." Thirty-nine percent of respondents either agreed or were neutral that it's "rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television." About 1 in 3 male respondents thought that men should be dominant in romantic relationships.

5. Research shows that rates of sexual assault among young people are high. But our research suggests that a majority of parents and educators aren't discussing with young people basic issues related to consent. While the report did not focus on consent and sexual assault, our survey data suggests that many adults are also not talking to young people about these important issues. Most of the respondents to our survey of 18 to 25-year-olds had never spoken with their parents about "being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex"(61%), assuring your "own comfort before engaging in sex" (49%), the "importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you"(56%), the "importance of not continuing to ask someone to have sex after they have said no" (62%), or the "importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to make a decision about sex" (57%). A large majority of respondents who had had these conversations with parents described them as at least somewhat influential.


In light of the report findings, Making Caring Common developed the following tips for parents and other adults to help guide these important conversations with young people.

1. Talk about love and help teens understand the differences between mature love and other forms of intense attraction. Regardless of their own relationships successes and failures, all adults can distill their wisdom and share it in age-appropriate ways with teens and young adults. They can also explore with teens and young adults questions at the core of learning how to love and develop healthy relationships. For example, what is the difference between infatuation, intoxication and love?
2. Guide young people in identifying healthy and unhealthy relationships. Adults can ask questions that help teens identify the markers of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and can explore with them examples of each in their own lives and in the media. One important marker is whether a romantic relationship makes both partners more respectful, compassionate, generative, hopeful.

3. Go beyond platitudes. Important as it is to tell young people to "be respectful," many teens don't know what this actually means in different romantic and sexual situations. Adults need to identify for teens common forms of misogyny and harassment, such as catcalling or using gender-based slurs, and they need to talk to teens specifically about what respect and care concretely mean in any type of romantic relationship.

4. Step in. When parents and other adults witness degrading, sexualized words or behavior, it's imperative that they intervene. Silence can be understood as permission. Adults need to talk much more with each other and with school counselors and other experts about what types of interventions are likely to be effective and try out various approaches. It's often important in school and community settings to enlist teens and young people themselves in preventing these behaviors.

5. Talk about what it means to be an ethical person. Helping young people develop the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and treat those of different genders with dignity and respect can also help strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members, and citizens. It's important for adults to connect discussion with teens and young adults about romantic and sexual relationships and misogyny and harassment to ethical questions about their obligation to treat others with dignity and respect, intervene when others are at risk of being harmed, and advocate for those who are vulnerable.