The academic benefits of pupil–teacher familiarity

A study published in the journal Economics of Education Review suggests that assigning pupils to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance because teachers get to know their pupils and are able to adjust and target their teaching styles accordingly.

Andrew J Hill and Daniel B Jones used administrative data from North Carolina to observe the importance of pupil–teacher familiarity on academic performance in elementary (primary) school. They found that “looping”, in which an entire class moves to the next year with the same teacher, results in a small but statistically significant increase in pupil achievement. Pupils who spent a second year with the same teacher scored higher on end-of-year tests (on average 0.123 of a standard deviation) than those who weren’t matched. These benefits were greatest for minority pupils and lower-performing teachers (as measured by value-added).

Source: A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches (June 2018) Economics of Education Review volume 64

Single-sex schools make little difference in Korea

Students in Korea who attended single-sex, as opposed to co-educational, secondary schools showed little difference in their achievement scores.

The Office of Education in Korea allocates placements in general high school randomly. In the capital, Seoul, there is a mix of co-educational and single-sex schools. Similarly, teachers are not allowed to choose which school they work at. If they live in a particular school district (there are 10 in Seoul) they will be allocated to one of the schools in that district.

Using this information, a paper in the Economics of Education Review examines the impact of single-sex schools on student achievement. Over seven years, the author found that any positive effects of single-sex schooling were small. The effect was relatively greater for students in the middle of the distribution of test scores. For students at the very top and very bottom, the impact was trivial. There were also no differences in the students’ choices for further study or in their test-taking behaviour.

Source: Mean and distributional impact of single-sex high schools on students’ cognitive achievement, major choice, and test-taking behavior: Evidence from a random assignment policy in Seoul, Korea, Economics of Education Review (2016).

Teacher/parent communication an effective tool to help pupils succeed

A recent study published in the Economics of Education Review shows that struggling pupils did better in school when their teachers communicated with their parents regularly, and suggested specific actions pupils could do to improve their grades.

Researchers studied the effects of teacher/parent communication on the academic achievement of 435 struggling US high school pupils enrolled in a summer school to recover lost credits in English, history, maths, or science two hours a day during a five-week programme. Pupils were mostly Hispanic and African-American, and all were from low-income backgrounds. All pupils had to have been absent less than 30 days and to have received an “F+” in up to two courses. Pupils’ parents were randomly divided into three groups: the first group received a short weekly message from the teacher by phone, text, or email about what their child was doing well (positive); the second received a weekly teacher’s message about areas where their child needed improvement (improvement); and the third received no teacher message at all (control).

At the end of the term, pupils whose parents had received messages from their teachers were 41% more likely to pass their classes than the control group who received no messages. Researchers noted that this was due to larger dropout rates in the control group. In addition, pupils whose parents received messages about areas for improvement passed their classes at a higher score than the group who received messages about pupils doing well. A participant survey at the end of the study showed that the parent–pupil teams in the “improvement” and “positive” groups communicated about schoolwork with the same frequency, but the conversational content differed in that the improvement-group teams discussed areas where the pupils needed to do better, something the positive teams were less likely to do and a factor the researchers cite as a possible reason for the improvement pupils’ higher scores.

The study was performed as part of a series of low-cost school-improvement strategies.

Source: The Underutilized Potential of Teacher-to-Parent Communication: Evidence from a Field Experiment (2015), Economics of Education Review, 47.

Trial to extend school day finds no significant impact on achievement

Policies that aim to improve pupil achievement often involve increasing teaching time. A new article, published in the Economics of Education Review, describes a randomised controlled trial designed to estimate the effect of an extended school day on maths and language achievement.

During the three-month trial, which involved seven Dutch primary schools, children in the treatment group had a longer school day. The authors found that the longer day had no significant effect on maths or language achievement. The programme was only offered for 11 weeks, and this may have been too little time to produce improvements in achievement. However, the authors note that their findings reflect those of the limited previous research in this area.

Source: The Effectiveness of Extended Day Programs: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment in the Netherlands (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.

Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.