Helping youth transition to adulthood

A new report by Cynthia Miller and colleagues at MDRC examines four-year results from a national evaluation of YouthBuild. The report describes YouthBuild as a programme that attempts to improve prospects for less-educated young people, serving over 10,000 individuals each year at over 250 organisations nationwide. Each organisation provides hands-on, construction-related or other vocational training, educational services, case management, counselling, service to the community, and leadership-development opportunities, to low-income young people ages 16 to 24 who did not complete secondary school.

MDRC evaluated the YouthBuild programme using a randomised controlled trial. Study participants were either invited to enrol in YouthBuild (the intervention group) or referred to other services in the community (the control group). A total of 75 programmes across the country were included, with a sample of nearly 4,000 young people who enrolled in the study between 2011 and 2013. Data included in-person observations, survey data, and administrative records.

Key findings of the evaluation included:

  • YouthBuild increased the receipt of high school equivalency credentials.
  • YouthBuild increased enrolment in college, largely during the first two years. Very few young people had earned a degree after four years, and the programme had a very small effect on degree receipt.
  • YouthBuild increased survey-reported employment rates, wages, and earnings, but did not increase employment as measured with employer-provided administrative records, which might not include certain kinds of employment and other types of informal work.
  • YouthBuild increased civic engagement, largely via participation in YouthBuild services. It had no effects on other measures of positive youth development.

Overall, the authors say the effects observed through four years indicate that the programme provides a starting point for redirecting otherwise disconnected young people.

Source: Laying a foundation: Four-year results from the national YouthBuild evaluation (May 2018), MDRC

Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4

$575 million programme has no impact on pupil outcomes

Findings from an evaluation of a $575 million programme to improve teacher performance found that, while sites implemented new measures of teaching effectiveness and modified personnel policies accordingly, the programme had no impact on pupil outcomes.

The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, designed and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed to dramatically improve pupil outcomes by improving pupils’ access to effective teaching. Three US school districts and four charter management organisations participated in the programme, which ran between 2009 and 2016.

The final evaluation report, published by the RAND Corporation, found that by the end of 2014-15, outcomes for pupils in the settings that took part in the initiative were not better than outcomes for pupils in similar settings that did not take part. There was no evidence that low-income minority (LIM) pupils had greater access than non-LIM pupils to effective teaching. In addition, it found very few instances of improvement in the effectiveness of teaching overall, and no improvement in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers compared to experienced teachers. The evaluation also found no increase in the retention of effective teachers, although there was some decline in the retention of ineffective teachers in most settings that took part in the initiative.

The report states several possible reasons that the initiative failed to achieve its goals for improving pupil outcome:

  • incomplete implementation of the key policies and practices
  • the influence of external factors, such as state-level policy changes during the initiative
  • insufficient time for effects to appear
  • a flawed theory of action
  • a combination of all these factors.

 

Source:  Improving teaching effectiveness: Final report: The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2015–2016 (2018), RAND Corporation.

Disadvantaged pupils hit hardest by maths teacher shortages

In England there is currently a shortage of maths teachers; among the factors that might be influencing this shortage are that departments lose 40% of teachers during their first six years in the profession, and there are higher private sector wages for maths graduates. At the same time, demand for maths teachers has increased due to policy measures to increase participation in maths for 16 to 18 year olds. To examine what impact this has had, the Nuffield Foundation commissioned researchers from FFT Education Datalab to look at how secondary schools have responded to the shortage.

Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims used data from England’s School Workforce Census and found that schools are using their most experienced and well-qualified maths teachers for year groups taking high-stakes exams (GCSEs, A-levels, and GCSE retakes), and using inexperienced maths teachers and  teachers who trained in other subjects to fill staffing gaps elsewhere.

In the most disadvantaged schools (those with more pupils eligible for free school meals), pupils across all year groups are more likely to be taught by an inexperienced teacher. At Key Stage 5 (age 16-18) pupils in the most disadvantaged schools are almost twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher as in the least disadvantaged schools (9.5% versus 5.3%).

Source: How do shortages of maths teachers affect the within-school allocation of maths teachers to pupils? (June 2018), Nuffield Foundation

Free glasses improve reading achievement

In the first US school-based study to link reading achievement with the provision of free glasses, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education and colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, examined the effects on reading performance of providing free glasses to disadvantaged pupils.

A total of 317 second and third grade pupils (Years 3 and 4) in 12 disadvantaged Baltimore City schools had their vision tested in the autumn and winter of 2014-2015. They also completed reading pre- and post-tests from the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery at those times. Sixty-nine percent (n=182) of the pupils’ vision tests showed they needed glasses. Pupils who needed glasses were given two pairs, one for home and one for school. Lost or broken glasses were replaced, and school staff were enlisted to help children remember to wear their glasses. Results showed that the reading scores for the children provided with glasses improved more than those for pupils who did not need glasses (effect size=+0.16).

The study points to a new strategy for improving reading performance in high-poverty schools.

Source: In plain sight: reading outcomes of providing eyeglasses to disadvantaged children (May 2018) Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) DOI: 10.1080/10824669.2018.1477602

Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6