… so let them have a lie-in

This report from the University of Minnesota presents findings from a three-year study on high school (age 14-18) start times. It examined whether or not a delay in start times had an impact on students’ overall health and academic performance.

The study consisted of three parts:

  • Collecting survey data from over 9,000 students across eight high schools in five school districts. Students were individually surveyed about their daily activities, substance use, and sleep habits.
  • Collecting data on students’ academic performance, such as grades earned, attendance, timekeeping, and performance on state and national tests. The researchers also examined car crash data for the communities involved in the project.
  • An examination of the processes by which local school districts made the decision to change to a later start time.

Key findings included:

  • High schools that start at 8:30am or later allow for more than 60% of students to obtain at least eight hours of sleep per school night;
  • Teens getting less than eight hours of sleep reported significantly higher depression symptoms, greater use of caffeine, and are at greater risk for making poor choices for substance use;
  • Academic performance outcomes, including grades earned in core subject areas of mathematics, English, science, and social studies, plus performance on state and national achievement tests, attendance rates, and reduced tardiness, show significantly positive improvement with the start times of 8:35am or later; and
  • The number of car crashes for teen drivers from 16 to 18 years of age was significantly reduced (by 70%) when a school shifted start times from 7:35am to 8:55am.

Source: Examining the Impact of Later High School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study (2014), University of Minnesota.

Is instructional leadership the key to being an effective head?

A new article in Educational Researcher examines the associations between leadership behaviours and pupil achievement gains. The authors conducted in-person, full-day observations of approximately 100 head teachers (principals) in urban schools in the US over three school years. They say that although scholars have long argued that heads should be instructional leaders, their findings show that the time the heads spent broadly on instructional functions does not predict pupil achievement growth. Nor did time spent on informal classroom walkthroughs predict pupil growth, particularly in high schools. In contrast, they found that time spent on teacher coaching, evaluation, and developing the school’s educational programme predicted positive achievement gains.

Daniel Willingham provides further analysis of this research in his blog.

Source: Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders: Longitudinal Evidence From Observations of Principals (2013), Educational Researcher, 42(8).

The gene genie

Researchers at King’s College, the University of Warwick, and the University of New Mexico have published a new paper exploring the role of genes in educational achievement. They wanted to test the hypothesis that genetic differences (heritability) in educational achievement persist throughout compulsory education, as assessed by GCSEs at age 16.

The authors used data on 11,117 twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 recruited into the Twins Early Development Study and considered genetics, shared or common factors, and non-shared or unique environmental components. They found that heritability was substantial (58% of the variation) for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects. In contrast, the overall effects of the shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by twins growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounted for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores.

They suggest that the significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement can be attributed much more to genetics than to school or family environment, and conclude that this supports personalised learning.

Source: Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16 (2013), PLoS ONE.

RAND Corporation: focus on K-12 education

A new report from the RAND Corporation in the US describes recent RAND work related to K–12 education (primary to sixth form), including teacher pay for performance, measuring teacher effectiveness, school leadership, school systems and reform, and out-of-school time. Headlines include:

  • No evidence that incentive pay for teacher teams improves pupil outcomes
  • Incorporating pupil performance measures into teacher evaluation systems (Recommendations include: (1) promote consistency in the pupil performance measures that teachers are allowed to choose, and (2) use multiple years of pupil achievement data in value-added estimation, and, where possible, use average teachers’ value-added estimates across multiple years.)
  • First-year principals in urban school districts: how actions and working conditions relate to outcomes (A key finding of this study was that teacher capacity and cohesiveness were the school and district conditions most strongly related to pupil outcomes.)

When viewing the report online, each headline links to the corresponding RAND report on the topic.

Source: Focus on K-12 education (2012), RAND

Pupil motivation and school reform

The Center on Education Policy in the US offers a series of papers that examines topics related to pupils’ academic motivation. The summary paper, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform, summarises findings from a wide array of studies by academics in a range of disciplines, as well as lessons from programmes intended to increase motivation.

Topics include: why motivation is important and how it might be defined and measured; whether rewarding pupils can result in higher motivation; whether pupils can be motivated by goal-setting; the role of parental involvement, family background, and culture; strategies schools might use to motivate pupils; and non-traditional approaches to motivating otherwise unenthusiastic pupils.

A few of the many suggestions that the authors offer for schools to consider are:

  • Programmes that reward academic accomplishments are most effective when they reward pupils for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than rewarding them for reaching a performance target or outperforming others.
  • Tests are more motivating when pupils have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through low-stakes tests, performance tasks, or frequent assessments that gradually increase in difficulty before they take a high-stakes test.

Source:S tudent Motivation: An overlooked piece of school reform (2012), Center on Education Policy