Thursday, August 25, 2016

For teens, feeling safe at school means increased academic success

Parents across North America are prepping their teens to head back to high school, hoping they will study hard to get straight A's. But new research shows that good grades aren't just based on smarts -- high marks also depend on a student's feelings of safety.

The recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Carolyn Côté-Lussier of the University of Ottawa's Department of Criminology and Caroline Fitzpatrick, a researcher affiliated with Concordia's PERFORM Centre for preventive health, suggests that high schoolers who feel less safe at school have decreased learning potential and more emotional problems.

The researchers used data from the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development -- an ongoing study that began in 1998 with a cohort of 2,120 five-month-old infants -- to investigate whether feeling unsafe at school interferes with classroom engagement.

They also considered whether this association is expressed through reduced student well-being, including symptoms of depression and aggressive behaviour.

The outcome? Confirmation that being a victim of school violence and feeling unsafe both contribute to symptoms of depression, which are detrimental to students' learning potential.

"We found that students who felt safer were more attentive and efficient in the classroom. These students also reported fewer symptoms of depression, such as feeling unhappy and having difficulty enjoying themselves. Making sure that students are engaged and attentive in the classroom can contribute to long-term success above and beyond intellectual capacities such as reading or math skills," says Fitzpatrick who is also a professor of psychology at Sainte-Anne's University.

However, factors typically linked to feeling unsafe, such as bullying or school violence, only partly explain why students feel less secure.

"We know from some of our previous research that youth who experience chronic poverty and those living in 'bad' neighbourhoods also tend to feel less safe at school," says Côté-Lussier.

"We think that this might be the case because teenagers who live in disorderly, disadvantaged neighbourhoods 'carry' their fears to school every day. The features of the physical environments in which schools are located are also really important. For example, green spaces and well-maintained buildings are likely to make youth feel more at ease," she says.

While dropout rates in the United States and Canada have declined since the early 1990s, the countries' current graduation rates of 76 per cent and 79 per cent respectively suggest that more complex solutions are needed.

Fitzpatrick and Côté-Lussier recommend that in order to increase feelings of safety and to promote classroom engagement, concrete steps must be taken.

"We need increased monitoring of students' reactions and responses to incidences of bullying and violence. Through continued professional education, we can also increase teachers' awareness of the importance of feelings of safety -- as well as their understanding of how the wider school climate can improve engagement, says Fitzpatrick.

"Finally, parents, schools and communities can become advocates for wider environmental interventions that aim to improve the physical features of school and student neighbourhoods."

Head Start positive effects continiue into adulthood

A growing body of rigorous evidence suggests that policy interventions aimed at early childhood bear fruit for decades. For example, reductions in air pollution in the first year of life and more experienced kindergarten teachers are associated with increases in later earnings, while childhood access to food stamps and Medicaid causes better health in adulthood.

Across many studies of several programs, preschool attendance among disadvantaged children has been found to positively impact participants. Research has demonstrated strong long-term impacts of random assignment to high-quality preschool programs from the 1960s and 1970s, including Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian program. Head Start, the large-scale federal preschool program, has also been shown to improve post-preschool outcomes, including high school completion and health outcomes.

This Economic Analysis from the Hamilton Project investigates the impact of Head Start on a new set of long-term outcomes, extending landmark analyses further into adulthood and considering the effect of Head Start on participants’ children.i Among the key takeaways of the analysis are:
  • Consistent with the prior literature, Head Start improves educational outcomes— increasing the probability that participants graduate from high school, attend college, and receive a post-secondary degree, license, or certification.
  • Overall and particularly among African American participants, Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development that becomes evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem, and positive parenting practices.
  • Head Start participation increased positive parenting practices for each ethnic group and for participants whose mothers did not have a high school degree when compared with the outcomes of children who went to a preschool other than Head Start.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pay-for-Performance had small, positive impacts on students’ reading and math achievement

Changes implemented by school districts through federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants had small, positive impacts on students’ reading and math achievement, according to a new evaluation report. The report also finds that implementation was similar across the three years, but districts reported fewer implementation challenges in the third year of the grant.

The Institute of Education Sciences released the third of four planned evaluation reports on the TIF grants, which were awarded in 2010 to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools. The report, conducted by IES’ National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), provides basic implementation information for all 2010 TIF grantees. It also provides more in-depth implementation and impact information for 10 evaluation districts that agreed to participate in a random assignment study.

In the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), TIF was renamed the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program.

The report’s main findings among all 2010 TIF districts are:

•    In the third year of the grant, most districts (88 percent) implemented at least 3 of the 4 required components for teachers. This was similar to findings of the previous two years; and

•    By the third year, districts reported fewer challenges with implementation, with no more than one-fifth of TIF districts reporting any major challenges.

The main findings among the 10 evaluation districts participating in the impact study are:

•    After three years of TIF implementation, average student achievement remained 1 to 2 percentile points higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. This difference was equivalent to a gain of about four additional weeks of learning;

•    Teachers’ understanding of performance measures continued to improve, but only about 60 percent of teachers correctly reported that they were eligible for a performance bonus; and

•    Teachers believed that the maximum bonus they could earn was smaller than the actual maximum bonus that the districts awarded, a finding similar to previous years.


The chasms between our school districts are growing wider. Today, half of America’s children live in high-poverty school districts, where they are more likely to experience poor health, be exposed to violence, and attend schools in decaying buildings. This is not always due to a lack of resources in the area, however; often, these high-poverty districts border affluent areas where better-off students benefit from greater funding.

In 1974, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Milliken v. Bradley that actually strengthened the hand of segregationists: the justices held that integration plans may not be enforced across school district borders. This outcome cleared the way for district borders to be used as lawful tools of segregation.

Because property taxes play such an important role in school funding, well-off communities have an interest in school district borders that fence off their own neighborhoods from lower-wealth areas and needier students—and most states’ laws allow this kind of self-segregation.

But to what extent is each district in the US economically segregated? This report presents EdBuild’s answer to that question with an analysis of the degree of income segregation created by every school district boundary in America—over 33,500 individual borders. It highlights the country’s most segregating borders and considers how this situation has come to pass.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Head Start produced significant positive effects on achievement test scores in math, grade retention,chronic absenteeism

This study presents evidence pertinent to current debates about the lasting impacts of early childhood educational interventions and, specifically, Head Start. A group of students who were first studied to examine the immediate impacts of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Community Action Project (CAP) Head Start program were followed-up in middle school, primarily as 8th graders.

Using ordinary least squares and logistic regressions with a rich set of controls and propensity score weighting models to account for differential selection into Head Start, we compared students who had attended the CAP Head Start program and enrolled in the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) as kindergarteners with children who also attended TPS kindergarten but had attended neither CAP Head Start nor the TPS pre-K program as 4-year-olds.

CAP Head Start produced significant positive effects on achievement test scores in math and on both grade retention and chronic absenteeism for middle-school students as a whole; positive effects for girls on grade retention and chronic absenteeism; for white students on math test scores; for Hispanic students on math test scores and chronic absenteeism, and for students eligible for free lunches on math test scores, grade retention, and chronic absenteeism. We conclude that the Tulsa CAP Head Start program produced significant and consequential effects into the middle school year.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Former friends, ex-dates more likely to turn into teen cybertormentors

Youth cyberbullying is dramatically more likely to occur between current or former friends and dating partners than between students who were never friends or in a romantic relationship, according to researchers.

"A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections," said Diane Felmlee, professor of sociology, Penn State. "The large magnitude of the effects of close relationships on the likelihood of cyberbullying, even after controlling for many other factors, was particularly surprising."

The researchers, who presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association today (Aug. 20), found that the likelihood of cyberbullying -- which the researchers also refer to as cyber aggression, defined as electronic or online behavior intended to harm another person psychologically or damage his or her reputation -- was approximately seven times greater between current or former friends and dating partners than between young people who had neither been friends nor had dated.

"We believe that competition for status and esteem represents one reason behind peer cyberbullying," Felmlee said. "Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club, and/or sport positions and social connections. In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression. They might also believe they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from breaking up with them or dating someone else, by embarrassing or harassing him or her."

The study, which will appear in the September issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, analyzed survey results from nearly 800 eighth- to twelfth-grade students in 2011 at a public school in a suburb of New York City. The survey collected data about participants' social networks, dating history, and cyberbullying experiences.

Felmlee and co-author Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology, University of California-Davis, found that approximately 17.2 percent of students had been involved with cyberbullying within a week of their having been surveyed -- 5.8 percent were purely victims, 9.1 percent were solely aggressors, and 2.3 percent were both. In most cases, the cyber aggression occurred over Facebook or text message.

The researchers also found that certain types of students were much more likely than others to be victimized. For example, girls were twice as likely as boys to fall victim to cyber aggression.

"In spite of societal progress regarding gender inequality, there remains a tendency to attribute lower levels of esteem and respect to females in our society, including within schools," Felmlee said. "Males tend to dominate powerful positions within schools, and traditional, male sports often gain greater attention than those in which females participate. Cyber aggression towards girls may be in part an attempt to keep girls 'in their places.' "

The survey results also showed that LGBTQ youth were four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to be victims of cyberbullying.

"We were not surprised that non-heterosexuals were more likely to be victims than heterosexuals," Felmlee said. "However, the size of the effect was alarmingly high. The finding reflects the social norms in our society that continue to stigmatize non-heterosexuality, norms that are likely to be reinforced within the walls of middle and high schools."

In a section of the survey that allowed students to describe the nature of their cyber aggressive interactions, LGBTQ students reported being called homophobic slurs and, in at least one case, unwillingly having their sexual identities revealed to others. Overall, incidents of cyber aggression ranged from threats and the posting of embarrassing photos and nasty rumors to criminal activities such as identity theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker posted about online.

"Our study calls attention to the role of cyber aggression within close relationships, and we hope that bullying prevention programs will incorporate these findings into their curricula, particularly through the development of interventions to help heal or resolve toxic, abusive relationships among teens," Felmlee said.

In addition to potential efforts in schools to stop cyberbullying, Felmlee said parents can also take steps to mitigate cyber aggression in their children's lives.

"Many people may be unaware that current or former friends and romantic partners are the most likely perpetrators of cyberbullying, at least among school-aged teens," Felmlee said. "We hope parents turn a watchful eye to their teenager's closest associates, and pay attention to his or her online activities for signs of abuse."

Greater academic achievement in high school increases likelihood of moving away

High school students who completed higher levels of math, performed better academically, and had a greater sense of control of their future were more likely to migrate and work in labor markets with larger shares of college-educated workers, according to a new study by sociologists at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

The United States has one of the highest internal migration rates in the world, with nearly one in four adults moving from one U.S. city to another in the past five years, as reported in a Gallup survey. Migration shapes the national landscape -- sometimes at the expense of equality of opportunity across labor markets. "Innovative" labor-markets with higher shares of college-educated workers expand due to economic growth and technological innovation and attract even more highly skilled workers, leaving other labor-markets behind, the researchers said.

"The uneven expansion of high-skilled jobs creates geographic inequalities in the workforce opportunities and differential opportunities for upward social mobility across generations," said lead-author Chandra Muller, a UT Austin sociology professor and research associate in the university's Population Research Center.

In their paper, which they will present at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), Muller and her team of researchers analyzed the evolution of spatial inequality by examining the role of high school curriculum and performance in an individual's decision to move by midlife.

The researchers used data from the High School and Beyond sophomore cohort -- a nationally representative sample of 14,825 sophomores in 1,015 U.S. high schools initially surveyed in 1980 and surveyed again in 1984, 1986, 1992, and 2014, when the respondents were around 50 years old -- to weigh the influence of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, college preparatory courses, and academic degrees attained on migration between adolescence and midlife, over a time period that saw a rise in technology that drastically changed occupational demands.

In the sample, 36 percent of people moved across labor markets between high school and midlife, and they migrated an average distance of 676 miles. A person's level of internal locus of control, or the extent to which people believe they control their own destiny, was one predictor of who moved, with those ranked in the 68th percentile of locus of control being 3 percent more likely to move than those with average (50th percentile) levels of locus of control.

The researchers also found that people who had achieved more academically in high school -- as indicated by their test scores, their GPAs, and taking advanced math coursework -- were all more likely to move. For example, people who performed in the 68th percentile of the math achievement test were 2.3 percent more likely to move than those at the 50th percentile. Having a GPA in the 68th percentile increased the probability of moving by 2.5 percentage points over having an average GPA. And students who completed advanced mathematics were 6.2 percent more likely to move than students who only completed algebra 2, who were 4.2 percent more likely to move than students who had completed neither algebra 2 nor advanced mathematics.

"Data showed that some of the effects of academic preparation on moving were due to students attending college -- some likely first moved to attend college," Muller said.

The researchers also found that by midlife, individuals who had earned at least a bachelor's degree lived in areas with larger shares of college-educated workers than their high school classmates who had not graduated from college. Having college-educated parents also predicted who lived in areas with a larger share of educated workers by midlife.

"Indeed, the educational gradients in employment, health, and many indicators of well-being have become steeper and opportunities for intergenerational social mobility have declined," Muller said. "Although the data do not allow us to establish whether early skills and education cause migration and living in a labor market with a better economy, the evidence is consistent with the possibility."