Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC

Reading partners

A new policy brief from MDRC summarises the early results of an evaluation of the Reading Partners one-to-one volunteer reading programme, and finds positive impacts.

The programme serves more than 7,000 struggling readers in primary schools in deprived areas of several US states. Tutors do not need to have any experience, but are given training and ongoing support. Reading Partners received $7 million in investments and grants to expand to more schools throughout the US, and for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme.

This evaluation took place during the 2012-2013 school year in 19 schools in three states, and involved 1,265 pupils. Positive impacts were found on three different assessments of reading proficiency which measured reading comprehension, fluency, and the ability to read sight-words efficiently. The authors say that these encouraging results demonstrate that Reading Partners, when delivered on a large scale and implemented with fidelity, can be an effective tool for improving reading proficiency.

Source: Reading Partners: The Implementation and Effectiveness of a One-on-One Tutoring Program Delivered by Community Volunteers (2014), MDRC.

High hopes for good behaviour

A new review, published in the Review of Educational Research, analyses the evidence on The Good Behavior Game (GBG), a classroom management programme that has been used (and studied) for 40 years. Strategies in the programme include acknowledging appropriate behaviour, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behaviour, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement.

A total of 22 studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria. In these, the programme was mainly being used in mainstream primary schools with externalising, challenging behaviours (eg, disruptive behaviour, off-task behaviour, aggression, talking out, and out-of-seat behaviours).

The review aimed to describe and quantify the effect of the GBG on various challenging behaviours in school and classroom settings. The findings suggested that the GBG had moderate to large effects on a range of challenging behaviours, and that these effects were immediate. The correct use of rewards was found to be important for intervention effectiveness. Few studies considered the long-term impact of the GBG, but the authors conclude that the effects were largely stable, with only a very slight decrease over time.

The authors note that the GBG has been implemented by individuals in a variety of school roles (such as classroom teachers, student teachers, librarians, and lunchtime staff), and that this highlights the ease with which the GBG can be implemented under a variety of conditions. Additionally, the relatively brief training for practitioners in the studies suggests that the GBG can be used successfully without extensive training.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is currently funding a randomised controlled trial of the GBG in 74 schools in England.

Source: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings (2014), Review of Educational Research, online first June 2014.

Teaching reading to children with below average IQs

A new article in Exceptional Children describes a randomised controlled trial which aimed to investigate the effectiveness of a scientifically based reading programme for pupils with below average IQs, including children with a disability.

The schools selected for the US study had a relatively large number of pupils with IQ scores between 40 and 80. Children began their involvement when they were in early elementary school, and participated for up to four years. They were randomly assigned within their school and their IQ range (moderate=40–55, mild=56–69, and borderline=70–80) to either an intervention group (n=76), or control group (n=65).

Pupils in the intervention group received the programme daily for approximately 40 to 50 minutes in small groups of between one and four, provided by highly trained intervention teachers. The programme was based on Early Interventions in Reading, a systematic and explicit comprehensive reading intervention previously validated with struggling readers. However, as many children did not have the prerequisite skills to benefit, additional lessons were also developed. The control pupils received normal teaching.

The children were tested when they entered the study and then at the end of each academic year. On average, pupils in the treatment group made significantly greater progress on nearly all language and literacy measures than those in the control group. The authors conclude that the results demonstrate the ability of children with low IQs, including those with mild to moderate disabilities, to learn basic reading skills when provided with appropriate, comprehensive teaching for an extended period of time.

Source: Is Scientifically Based Reading Instruction Effective for Students With Below-Average IQs? (2014), Exceptional Children, (80)3.

My Baby & Me programme shows promise

A new article published in Developmental Psychology examined the efficacy of a parenting intervention called My Baby & Me. The intervention runs from the third trimester of pregnancy until children are 2½, and focuses on changing specific aspects of mothers’ responsive behaviours with their children. It is delivered through 55 personal coaching sessions, 22 of which are based on the Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) curriculum.

A total of 361 high-risk mothers (with low income and educational achievement) from four states were enrolled in the study. Half were randomly assigned to the full 55 session high-intensity (HI) coaching programme (in the mother’s home or a place of her choice), and half to a low-intensity (LI) condition that included monthly phone calls from a coach, printed information, and community resource referrals. Videotaped observations of mother–child play were coded at five time points for a variety of maternal and child behaviours and skills.

The study found that, compared to mothers in the LI group, mothers in the HI group showed higher levels of contingent responsiveness, higher-quality verbal stimulation, and more verbal scaffolding by 30 months, with higher levels of warmth and greater decreases in physical intrusiveness and negativity when their children were 24 months. By 30 months, children in the HI group showed more rapid increases and higher levels of engagement with the environment, expressive language skills, and social engagement, as well as more complex toy play and fewer behaviour problems than those in the LI group.

The authors conclude that the positive outcomes for the programme can be explained by a strong theoretical framework, a consistent focus on maternal responsiveness, high dosage, and trusting relationships with coaches beginning before the child was born. However, they also note that it can be very challenging to keep participants engaged in such a lengthy intervention.

Source: “My Baby & Me”: Effects of an Early, Comprehensive Parenting Intervention on At-risk Mothers and Their Children (2014), Developmental Psychology, 50(5).

Spectacular results using self-regulation to improve writing

A new study has used memorable visits and self-regulation to improve the writing of children in Year 6 and 7.

The Education Endowment Foundation project involved 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in West Yorkshire. 11 schools were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach. Twelve schools were allocated to the comparison. SRSD provides a clear structure to help pupils plan, monitor, and evaluate their writing. It aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

The project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of pupils in the project to similar pupils who did not participate, was +0.74. This was statistically significant, and equivalent to approximately nine months’ additional progress. The approach was even more effective for pupils eligible for free school meals, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Improving Writing Quality Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.