Jury still out on Teach for America

Jury still out on Teach for America

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review has been published, which looks at the impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes.

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationwide teacher preparation program designed to address the shortage of effective teachers, specifically in high-poverty rural and urban schools across the United States. The systematic review by Herbert Turner and colleagues considered the impact of TFA-prepared teachers relative to novice teachers, and alumni relative to veteran teachers. The impacts studied were for K-12 student outcomes in math, English language arts, and science.

A total of 24 studies were eligible for the review. However, once the research design, study quality, and comparison groups were considered, this was reduced to four qualifying studies.

The review found no significant effect on reading by TFA teachers in their first or second year teaching elementary grades when compared with non-TFA novice teachers. There was a small positive impact for pre-K through 2nd grade teachers on reading, but not on math. However, given the small evidence base, the review counsels that these results should be treated with caution.

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How much does education improve intelligence?

How much does education improve intelligence?

A meta-analysis published in Psychological Science looks at how much education improves intelligence, and suggests that a year of school improves students’ IQ scores by between one and five points.

Stuart J. Ritchie and colleagues looked at three particular types of quasi-experimental studies of educational effects on intelligence:

  1. Those estimating education-intelligence associations after controlling for earlier intelligence.
  2. Those using policy changes that result in individuals staying in schools for different lengths of time.
  3. Those using school-entry age cutoffs to compare children who are similar in age but who have different levels of schooling as a result of their specific birth dates.

Their meta-analysis comprised 142 effect sizes from 42 data sets involving over 600,000 participants. All three study designs showed consistent evidence that the length of time spent in school is associated with increased intelligence test scores (an average effect of +3.4 IQ points for one additional year of education). The third study design, age cutoff, had the largest effect size (+5.2 IQ points). The first study design showed the lowest effect (+1.2 IQ points). For policy change, the effect size was 2.1 IQ points.

Reviewing the evidence on Congressionally-authorized federal programs

Reviewing the evidence on Congressionally-authorized federal programs

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation has released a new report titled, “When Congressionally-authorized federal programs are evaluated in randomized controlled trials, most fall short. Reform is needed.” The report reviews research from 13 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of Congressionally-authorized federal programs, such as Head Start, Job Corps, Abstinence Education, and Washington, D.C. school vouchers.

According to the report:

  • Eleven of the 13 RCTs found that the programs produced either no significant positive effects on the key targeted outcomes or small positive effects that dissipated shortly after participants completed the program. One RCT found sizable program effects (the Defense Department’s National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program) and another found modest effects (the Department of Labor’s Job Training Partnership Act).
  • However, among the 11 disappointing findings, evidence suggests that a subset of activities funded by these programs were indeed effective. Thus, reforming the programs to incorporate evidence-based funding criteria could lead to much better results.

The report says, “In a world where most attempts to make progress fail and a few succeed, spending as usual without a clear focus on evidence about what works is unlikely to solve the nation’s problems.”

The report provides a link to the final report from each RCT.

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on program quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten, and center-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data, and addressed children 0-7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programs evaluating quality ratings, and 9 studies of 10 programs evaluating both quality ratings and student outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales, and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (ES=+0.68), with programs providing 45-60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programs offering less or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programs that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programs. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programs was correlated with improvements in child development (ES=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, math scores, social-behavioral ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge, and school readiness.

Urban violence and student performance

Urban violence and student performance

A new study published in Sociology of Education finds that children who attend school with many students from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas. The lead author of the study was sociologist Julia Burdick-Will from our own Johns Hopkins University.

Burdick-Will studied students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010, analyzing administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department, and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. She looked at five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years. Results indicated that in schools where more students have a high exposure to violence, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests.

According to the report, the study shows that when students experience higher levels of neighborhood violence, the whole school reports feeling less safe, having more disciplinary problems, and feeling less trust in their teachers.

The impact of wearing glasses on early literacy

The impact of wearing glasses on early literacy

In the previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on our Johns Hopkins study that showed how wearing glasses improved children’s reading. A similar study  by Alison Bruce and colleagues looks at the impact of wearing glasses on children’s eyesight and early literacy in the UK.

Born in Bradford is a longitudinal study looking at the progress of a multi-ethnic birth cohort in the city of Bradford, England. From this cohort, 2,930 children underwent a vision screening test in their Reception year (pre-K). The 432 children who failed the test were referred for follow-up (usually being prescribed glasses) and comprised the treatment group. A further 512 children who passed the sight test were chosen at random to make up the control group. All the children completed tests of literacy (Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised) and vocabulary (British Vocabulary Picture Scale) at school entry (Kindergarten) and after 12 months and 24 months. At the same time, researchers checked that the children were wearing their glasses.

The visual acuity of all children improved during the study, but those children who wore their glasses improved most and almost closed the gap on the control children. Letter identification scores declined by 1.5% for every one line reduction (on the LogMar sight chart) in visual acuity. The effect size of wearing glasses was +0.11. The results suggest that failure to wear glasses has implications for young children’s vision and education. Wearing glasses improves both visual acuity and has the potential to improve literacy.

New guidance on preparing for literacy

New guidance on preparing for literacy

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in the UK has published its latest guidance report, Preparing for Literacy, which reviews the best available research to offer early childhood educators practical “do’s and don’ts” to make sure all children start school with the foundations they need to read and write well.

The report considers how a wide range of different activities – like singing, storytelling, and nursery rhymes – can help to develop children’s early reading. It offers seven recommendations designed to support early childhood educators to improve the communication, language, and early literacy skills of all their students – particularly those from disadvantaged homes. Previous analysis by the EEF found there was already a 4.3 month gap between poorer students and their classmates before school starts.

One of the recommendations focuses on parental engagement and the importance of supporting parents to understand how they can help in their child’s learning. It suggests that shared reading should be a central component for helping children to learn new words. The report also highlights the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, early childhood educators should make sure they talk with children – not just to them.