Bookworms benefit

New research published in the British Educational Research Journal has found that reading for pleasure is more strongly linked to cognitive progress in adolescence than parents’ education.

Data on 3,583 16-year-olds was taken from the 1970 British Cohort Study. This study follows the lives of people born in England, Scotland, and Wales in a single week of 1970, collecting information on health, physical, educational, and social development, and economic circumstances among other factors.

The authors set out to explore the relative importance of economic and cultural resources in determining class differentials in educational outcomes. They found that the home reading culture (including reading to the child and parents reading books and newspapers) was linked to children’s test scores, and this had a role in mediating the influence of parents’ education and also to some extent in mediating parents’ social class.

Childhood reading was linked to substantial cognitive progress between the ages of 10 and 16. Reading was most strongly linked to progress in vocabulary, with a weaker, but still substantial link to progress in mathematics.

The research also found that parental education was much more strongly linked than parental social class to both vocabulary and mathematics scores, broadly supporting the idea that cultural resources matter more to cognitive outcomes than economic resources.

Source: Reading for Pleasure and Progress in Vocabulary and Mathematics (2015), British Educational Research Journal, 41(6).

How parents respond to increased class size

A new working paper from the Swedish Ministry of Employment explores the responses of parents to variations in class size caused by a maximum class size rule in Swedish schools. This includes analysis by parental income.

The authors found that in response to an increase in class size: (1) only high-income parents helped their children more with homework; (2) all parents were more likely to move their child to another school; and (3) only low-income children found their teachers harder to follow when taught in a larger class.

Data for the study was taken from the Evaluation Through Follow-up (ETF) project, run by Göteborg University. This contains measures of pupil performance in the final year of upper primary school for roughly a 10% sample of the cohorts born in 1967, 1972, and 1982, and a 5% sample for the cohort born in 1977. The project included questionnaires distributed when pupils were 13 with information about the behaviour of parents, children, and teachers. In addition, data on parental income and education was taken from the Income Tax Register and the Educational Register.

The authors suggest that their findings help explain why the negative effect of class size on achievement is greater among low-income pupils.

Source: Parental Responses to Public Investments in Children: Evidence from a Maximum Class Size Rule (2015), Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.

Disadvantaged children let down by school voucher scheme

New research from the US National Bureau of Economic Research evaluates a prominent and rapidly expanding school voucher plan, the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), and found that participation in the scheme substantially reduced academic achievement, probably because of the quality of the schools involved.

LSP provides public funds for disadvantaged pupils at low-performing Louisiana public (state) schools, enabling them to attend a private school of their choice. Pupils can apply, and then vouchers are allocated by random lottery.

The authors found that after one year, pupils attending an LSP-eligible private school through the voucher scheme saw their maths scores reduced by 0.4 standard deviations, and the effects for reading, science, and social studies were also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers were consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and were larger for younger children.

Private schools must apply for eligibility to take part in the LSP scheme, and the authors found that these schools had often experienced rapid declines in enrolment before applying. They suggest that LSP may therefore attract a set of private schools that are struggling to maintain enrolment. They also found that tuition at LSP-eligible private schools was typically well below public per-pupil spending.

The authors conclude that the private schools involved in the scheme are providing lower educational quality, and suggest caution in the design of voucher systems aimed at expanding school choice for disadvantaged pupils.

Source: School Vouchers and Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program (2015), NBER.

Sketchy findings for arts research

A new systematic review from researchers at Durham University explores the impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children aged 3-16, especially disadvantaged children.

The authors found 199 studies that met their inclusion criteria. They considered arts education to include a broad range of subjects, from traditional fine arts to modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing. The majority of studies were about music education or a combination of art forms.

The review found no convincing evidence that demonstrated a causal relationship between arts education and young people’s academic and other wider outcomes, although music (instrumental, music education and music integration) showed promise across all age groups.

The authors rated almost all the studies in the review as providing weak evidence because of serious design flaws, meaning it was difficult to state conclusively what the impact of arts activities in education might be. However, they point out that as a large number of the studies suggest positive effects more rigorous and robust evaluations would be justified.

The Education Endowment Foundation, who commissioned the research, argue that whether or not there is a causal link to attainment, schools should still find space in their day to ensure all children benefit from a stimulating arts education.

Source: Impact of Arts Education on the Cognitive and Non-cognitive Outcomes of School-aged Children: A Review of Evidence (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.

Mind the gap

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores success and good practice in supporting the achievement of disadvantaged pupils, and concludes that schools have meaningful scope to make a difference.

In England, the performance gap between pupils from more- and less-advantaged backgrounds is one of the largest among OECD countries. This research used school-level data, surveys, and interviews to identify schools that have successfully narrowed the gap, common features across these schools, and what lessons can be learned from success stories.

The authors found that between one- and two-thirds of the variance between schools in terms of disadvantaged pupils’ achievement can be explained by school-level characteristics, suggesting that intake and circumstance are influential but do not totally determine outcomes.

  • Promote an ethos of achievement for all pupils, rather than stereotyping disadvantaged pupils as a group with less potential to succeed.
  • Have an individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support at an early stage, rather than providing access to generic support and focusing on pupils nearing the end of key stages.
  • Focus on high-quality teaching first rather than add-on strategies and activities outside school hours.
  • Focus on outcomes for individual pupils rather than on providing strategies.
  • Deploy the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils; develop skills and roles of teachers and Teaching Assistants rather than using additional staff who do not know the pupils well.
  • Make decisions based on data and respond to evidence using frequent, rather than one-off, assessment and decision points.
  • Have clear, responsive leadership: setting ever-higher aspirations and devolving responsibility for raising achievement to all staff, rather than accepting low aspirations and variable performance.

The report also has an accompanying briefing for school leaders which summarises the findings, identifies school risk factors and how schools can address them, and provides a list of suggested next steps.

Source: Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research Report (2015), Department for Education.

What works for struggling readers?

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance summarises evidence from 17 studies conducted under Striving Readers, a federal grant programme that aimed to raise middle and high school pupils’ literacy levels in deprived areas. As part of the programme, each Striving Readers grantee partnered with an independent evaluator to conduct a randomised controlled trial of the reading intervention being implemented.

For the current report, all of the Striving Reader evaluations were reviewed under What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. Twelve studies met the standards without reservations, three studies met with reservations, and two studies did not meet the WWC evidence standards.

Based on findings from studies that met the standards with or without reservations, four of ten interventions had positive, potentially positive, or mixed effects on reading achievement. Specifically:

  • For READ 180, there was evidence of positive effects on reading achievement. Three studies found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Xtreme Reading, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and one study found no effects.
  • For Learning Strategies Curriculum, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. There was a single study of the intervention, and it found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Voyager Passport Reading Journeys, there were mixed effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and two studies found no effects.

Source: Summary of Research Generated by Striving Readers on the Effectiveness of Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.