$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

Why do so few low- and middle-income children attend a grammar school?

A new study led by John Jerrim at UCL Institute of Education suggests that private tutoring may be one reason that children from high-income families are more likely to get into grammar schools than children from low-income families.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study for more than 1,800 children from grammar school areas in England and Northern Ireland. It considers how factors such as family income, prior academic achievement, private tutoring and parental attitudes and aspirations are linked with children’s chances of attending a grammar school.

The study finds that children from families in the bottom quarter of household incomes in England have less than a 10% chance of attending a grammar school. This compares to around a 40% chance for children in the top quarter of household incomes. Results also show that children who receive tutoring to prepare for grammar school entrance exams are more likely to get in. Overall, around 70% of those who receive tutoring get into a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who do not. However, less than 10% of children from families with below average income receive tutoring for the grammar school entrance test, compared with around 30% of children from households in the top quarter of family incomes.

Source: Why do so few low and middle-income children attend a grammar school?  New evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (March 2018), UCL Institute of Education

Examining the evidence on out-of-school-time programmes

Out-of-school-time (OST) programmes typically provide children with additional academic lessons outside of school hours and/or recreational and enrichment activities. To examine the evidence base on OST programmes, Jennifer McCombs and colleagues from the RAND Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programmes. Their review included specialty programmes (eg, sports or arts programmes); multipurpose programmes (eg, Boys and Girls clubs); and academic programmes (eg, summer learning programmes).

After reviewing the research, the authors compiled the following conclusions:

  • OST programmes provide measurable benefits to children and families on outcomes directly related to programme content.
  • Academic OST programmes with sufficient “dosage” (measured by the hours of content provided) can demonstrably improve pupil achievement.
  • Programme quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
  • Children need to attend regularly to measurably benefit from programming.

The authors provide a complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings.

A previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief included a study by the Nuffield Foundation, which examines the effect of OST study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Source: The value of out-of-school-time programmes (2017), PE-267-WF, RAND Corporation