Do higher teacher qualifications mean better early childhood education and care?

This Campbell systematic review examines the evidence on the correlation between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood learning environments, as measured by the Environment Rating Scale (ERS). The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. The studies had to be comparative or correlational and report either an overall quality scale or an environment rating scale.

Overall, the review suggests that higher teacher qualifications are positively associated with classroom quality in early childhood education and care (effect size = +0.20). The review also suggests a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and classroom quality on a number of subscales, including:

  • Programme structure – focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities (ES = +0.22).
  • Activities – this relates to fine motor, art, music/movement, blocks, sand/water, dramatic play, nature/science, maths/number, use of digital technologies, and promoting acceptance of diversity (ES = +0.20).
  • Language and reasoning – encouraging children to communicate, use language to develop reasoning skills, and the informal use of language (ES = +0.20).

The researchers conclude that while there is evidence for the relationship between teacher qualification and classroom quality as measured by the ERS, further research is also needed into the specific knowledge and skills that are learned by teachers with higher qualifications that enable them to complete their roles effectively. It is important to note also, that while higher quality in early childhood education and care may lead to improved outcomes for children, we cannot assume that this is the case.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 1.

Results of an early literacy intervention to improve reading outcomes

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation report of a randomised controlled trial of MiniLit, a small group, phonics-based programme for struggling Year 1 readers. The intervention is targeted at the bottom 25% of pupils struggling to read, and focuses on improving pupils’ literacy in five areas: phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The programme involved struggling readers from Year 1 classes in nine Australian primary schools located in New South Wales, and consisted of 80 one-hour lessons delivered four to five days per week over 20 weeks. The lessons were delivered in school outside of regular lessons by teachers to small groups of up to four pupils. A total of 237 pupils participated, of which 119 were allocated to the MiniLit intervention group and 118 to the control group. Pupils in the control group received the school’s usual learning support for struggling readers, which could include whole-class approaches and/or support programmes for struggling readers.

Overall, there was no evidence that MiniLit had any additional impact on pupils’ reading at 12 months, measured using the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension – Passage Reading (YARC-PR) tests compared to pupils receiving usual reading support (ES = -0.04). However, there were some positive effects for reading accuracy (ES = +0.13) and reading rate (ES = +0.06). There was also evidence of improvement in foundational reading skills at six months, particularly letter sound knowledge, which was also sustained at 12 months.

The researchers point out, however, that the findings were dependent on the quality of the MiniLit lessons which were provided to pupils. Schools were limited to 20 weeks’ duration, and in many cases, teachers reported that this length was not sufficient to complete the programme for all groups. They suggest that improving how MiniLit is implemented may lead to more positive outcomes; however, this requires further evaluation to determine.

Source: MiniLit: Learning impact fund: Evaluation report (2019). Independent report prepared by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne for Evidence for Learning

Long-term effects of social-emotional learning

A study published in AERA Open looks at the long-term effects of the INSIGHTS programme – a social-emotional learning intervention that supports children’s ability to self-regulate by enhancing their attention and behaviour management.

Between 2008 and 2012, a total of 22 elementary (primary) schools from three New York City school districts were randomly assigned to participate in the INSIGHTS programme or to an attention-control condition (an after-school reading programme). A previous study found that the INSIGHTS programme reduced children’s disruptive behaviour and increased behavioural engagement by the end of first grade (Year 2). This study uses administrative data for those pupils to examine whether receiving the intervention in kindergarten and first grade (Years 1 and 2) had any impact on provision of special education services or grade retention (whether pupils had to repeat a year) by the end of fifth grade (Year 6). The study also considers whether impacts varied for low- versus high-income pupils.

The findings suggest that pupils in the INSIGHTS programme were less likely to receive special education services between kindergarten and fifth grade (p < .05). In addition, low-income pupils enrolled in the INSIGHTS programme were also less likely to receive special education services between kindergarten and fifth grade compared with low-income children enrolled in the attention-control condition (p < .05).

There were no effects of INSIGHTS on grade retention up to the end of fifth grade and this did not vary according to income.

Source: Long-term effects of social–emotional learning on receipt of special education and grade retention: Evidence from a randomized trial of INSIGHTS (August 2019), AERA Open, DOI. 10.1177/2332858419867290

DLL por favor!

Projections estimate that by 2030, children with English as an Additional Language will comprise 25% of US students, 77% of whom will speak Spanish. Yet there is little evidence-based research addressing what works in literacy for the Spanish-speaking population. Trisha Borman and colleagues recently reported the first-year results of a randomised study of Descubriendo La Lectura (DLL), an individually administered Spanish literacy programme for first graders (Year 2) struggling with literacy in their native Spanish, examining its effects on both Spanish and English literacy.

DLL incorporates the research-proven practices of 1:1 tutoring, using a student’s native language to improve their second language, intervening early (in first grade), using data to track and guide progress, professional development, research-proven practices, and teacher collaboration.

Subjects were first-grade students in 22 schools in 3 states, statistically matched at baseline and randomly assigned to receive DLL either in the 2016 school year (experimental group, n=78), or the 2017 school year (delayed treatment control group, n=74). Students qualified for DLL if they spoke Spanish at home and scored below 25% on the IdO (a test that assesses literacy). Students were also pretested and post-tested using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Logramos (the Spanish equivalent of the ITBS). The experimental group received 30-minute lessons daily with students and teachers meeting 1:1, progressing at their own pace until they qualified to leave the programme and were post-tested. This process took 12-20 weeks, depending on the student.

Results favoured the DLL group, with statistically significant effect sizes on the Spanish Logramos averaging +0.55 (p<.001). On the English ITBS, the mean effect size was +0.17, which was not significant.  There were larger positive outcomes on measures made by the developers. The programme will continue to be studied in two subsequent cohorts.

Source: Addressing Literacy Needs of Struggling Spanish-Speaking First Graders: First-Year Results From a National Randomized Controlled Trial of Descubriendo la Lectura (July 2019) AERA Open

Nudging proves difficult to scale up

Small-scale trials of “nudge” approaches, where, for example, students are encouraged via a series of text messages to apply for financial support for college, have shown positive results. These trials have involved a few thousand students, but could the approach be scaled up to state or national level?

A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports the results of two large randomised controlled trials that collectively reached over 800,000 students in the US. Kelli A. Bird and colleagues tested the impact of a national and state-level campaign to encourage students (average age 18.6 years) to apply for financial aid for college, with multiple treatment arms to investigate different potential mechanisms and approaches.

The trials found no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. There was no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or offers of one-on-one advice, affected the efficacy of any of the campaigns.

The researchers suggest three reasons why the scaled-up approach may not have been effective:

  • Most previous studies involved a local partner with closer connections to and knowledge of the students. Local partners may know something important about their students and students may react differently to messages from organisations in their communities.
  • A global scale-up results in messaging content that is more generic and less personalised to students.
  • The students in this study may have had better information about the financial support available to them than previous cohorts, so the intervention made less impact.

Source: Nudging at Scale: Experimental Evidence from FAFSA Completion Campaigns (August 2019) NBER Working Paper No. 26158

The impact of refugees on local children

Following an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, more than 4,000 refugee children entered Florida’s school system, most of them in four school districts. What impact did their arrival have on existing students in those schools?

In an article in the Journal of Labor Economics, David Figlio and Umut Özek draw on student-level administrative data from Florida that provides detailed information on all students enrolled in a public school between 2002–3 and 2011–12. These include reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and maths scores for students between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4-11), as well as a wealth of student characteristics.

Using data from the year before the earthquake, and the two years after, they found that there was a neutral to positive impact on the children already in the schools. In particular, in the spring of 2010, each percentage point increase in refugee concentration was associated with 0.6%–0.7% of a standard deviation increase in reading test scores, 0.3%–0.4% of a standard deviation increase in maths test scores, and 0.2–0.6 percentage points fewer disciplinary incidents. They found that these results — neutral or slightly positive impacts — were consistent across sub-groups of students (by age, place of birth, race/ethnicity, spoken language, and socio-economic status). The researchers caution that these results are not necessarily generalisable, since, for example, Florida has one of the most equitable school funding distributions in the US and, with a substantial existing population of Haitian immigrants, may have systems and approaches in place that helped to mitigate any potential impact on local students.

Source: Unwelcome Guests? The Effects of Refugees on the Educational Outcomes of Incumbent Students (July 2019) Journal of Labor Economics