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.

Content-focused coaching shows positive effects

This article from Learning and Instruction presents findings from a group-randomised trial investigating the effect of Content-Focused Coaching (CFC).

A key element of CFC is “Questioning the Author (QtA)”, a discussion-based approach to reading comprehension. According to the article, QtA encourages teachers and pupils to work together to construct the meaning of a text during the reading process. Teachers strategically pose questions to pupils at key places in a text that promote understanding, interpretation, and elaborated response, and encourage pupils to share and challenge each other’s ideas to grapple with these questions.

Schools assigned to the treatment condition received a CFC-trained coach, and schools in the comparison condition continued with the literacy coaching that was standard practice in their school. The final sample included 29 US schools serving a high proportion of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and pupils from low-income families.

Findings showed a positive effect of the CFC programme on observed classroom text discussion quality. Findings also showed a positive effect on pupil reading achievement, as measured on a state assessment test, with stronger effects for EAL pupils compared to their English-proficient peers.

The authors note that additional research is needed to examine the effectiveness and feasibility of adopting CFC on a wider scale.

Source: Literacy Coaching to Improve Student Reading Achievement: A Multi-level Mediation Model (2013), Learning and Instruction, 25.

A computer is not enough

Researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research have published a new working paper that explores how important access to a home computer is to the educational achievement of children. They found no effects, either positive or negative, on a range of outcomes.

The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial with 1,123 pupils aged 11–16 without home computers from 15 schools across California. In the largest ever experiment involving the provision of free home computers, half of the pupils were randomly selected to receive free computers, while the other half served as the control group. The goal of the study was to evaluate the effects of home computers alone, so no training or other assistance was provided to the pupils who received the free computers.

At the end of the school year, data from the schools was used to measure the impact of the home computers on numerous educational outcomes. Findings showed that, although computer ownership and use increased substantially, there were no effects on grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance, or disciplinary actions in the experimental group.

Robert Slavin, Professor at the IEE, discussed a similar topic in a March blog post about Sugata Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment, in which he made a computer freely available to children in a Delhi slum. In his post, Slavin says, “If access to computers were decisive, middle-class children, at least, would be gaining rapidly. Admittedly, the technology itself keeps getting better and faster and easier to use, but from thirty years of experience in the developed world, it seems unlikely that access alone will lead children to become wise and capable.”

Source: Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren (2013), NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research).

Countering the damage of growing up in a fractured community

Children and young people living in communities fractured by social, religious, and cultural intolerance and sectarianism are at risk of failing to develop the social-emotional competencies necessary for good emotional health, positive relationships, and personal and academic achievement. A new research paper outlines positive findings for a social-emotional learning (SEL) programme in Northern Ireland. PATHS NI was designed to foster pro-social behaviour and mutual respect and understanding among children of different cultural backgrounds. The authors conducted a randomised control evaluation of the programme between 2008 and 2011, involving 1,430 children.

Findings are reported in the Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences from data obtained through individual student assessments of social-emotional skills and from interviews with school principals, teachers, and students. The authors suggest the findings demonstrate the potential of SEL as a vehicle for children from fractured communities to achieve personal and academic success.

Source: Social-Emotional Learning Championing Freedom, Education and Development: A Vehicle for At-risk Students to Succeed (2013), Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences, 8(1).

Pay-for-performance programmes that don’t perform

New research, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, has analysed the results of three randomised studies of pay-for-performance incentive programmes for teachers. The three programmes considered were: Project on Incentives in Teaching, Project on Team Incentives, and School-Wide Performance Bonus. Findings showed that the programmes did not motivate teachers to make the behavioural changes that lead to pupil achievement gains.

Similarly, the What Works Clearinghouse has released a review of a study into the Chicago Public Schools’ Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP). Chicago TAP provides mentoring, leadership opportunities, and financial incentives to teachers. The study used a randomised controlled trial to examine academic achievement, and a quasi-experiment to examine teacher retention rates. After one year, pupils attending the Chicago TAP schools did not score significantly differently in maths, reading, or science, nor were there statistically significant differences in teacher retention rates between these schools and comparison schools after either one year or two years of implementation.

Sources: Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies (2013), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(1).
WWC Review of the Report “An Evaluation of the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP) After Four Years” (2013), What Works Clearinghouse.

Moving to a “better” postcode isn’t the answer

A randomised experiment has explored whether or not where you live has an effect on life chances. Between 1994 and 1998, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing programme recruited more than 4,600 families with children living in severely distressed public housing projects in five cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City). Some MTO families were offered the opportunity to use a housing voucher to move into private-market housing in wealthier neighbourhoods, while the others were not.

New research, led by researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research, outlines the long-term (10-15 years) impact of the MTO programme on children who were approximately 11 years old or younger at baseline. They discovered few detectable effects on achievement, education, employment, and a range of other health and risky behaviour outcomes. However, there were some encouraging effects on mental health, primarily for girls and young women.

Source: The long-term effects of moving to opportunity on youth outcomes (2013), US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 14(2)