Do pupils benefit from longer school days?

A study published in Economics of Education Review looks at the evidence from the extended school day (ESD) programme in Florida to determine whether pupils benefit from longer school days.

In 2012, Florida introduced the ESD programme, increasing the length of the school day by an hour in the lowest-performing elementary (primary) schools in order to provide additional reading lessons. The lessons had to be based on research, adapted for pupil ability, and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Schools were selected using school-level reading accountability measures. For this study, David Figlio and colleagues looked at reading scores for all pupils in Florida between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4 and 11) using school administrative data from 2005–06 and 2012–13, and employed a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of lengthening the school day, looking at the different performance of schools either side of the cut-off point.

Results indicated that the additional one hour of reading lessons had a positive effect on pupils’ reading achievement. ESD schools showed an improvement of +0.05 standard deviations on reading test scores in the first year. The annual cost of the ESD programme was $300,000-$400,000 per school, or $800 per pupil.

Source: Do students benefit from longer school days? Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida’s additional hour of literacy instruction (December 2018), Economics of Education Review, Volume 67

Planning ahead for summer

Heather L Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts in the US. The summer programmes in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programmes that featured both academic teaching and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income pupils.

The overall study combined a randomised controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programmes can improve academic, behavioural, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban children in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 pupils from third to seventh grade (Years 4 to 8). Data included surveys, observations and test data.

Findings showed that pupils who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics teaching in a summer performed better on the subsequent state maths test, and those receiving 34 hours of English lessons performed better on the subsequent state English language assessment.

These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as pupils who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.

Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:

  • Commit in the autumn to a summer programme, and start active planning by January with a programme director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
  • Prior to the start of the summer programme, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimising loss of teaching time, and on checking for pupil understanding.
  • Operate the programme for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academic lessons per day.

A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.

Source: Getting to work on summer learning. Recommended practices for success, 2nd edition (2018), RAND Corporation

The effects of cooperative learning in middle school on reducing bullying

While many studies show positive effects of cooperative learning on pupil achievement, a recent study examined the effects of cooperative learning on reducing bullying in middle school.

A total of 15 rural schools (n=1,460 seventh graders) in the Pacific Northwest were matched based on size and free-lunch percentage, and then seventh graders (Year 8) were randomly assigned to either receive a cooperative learning programme (n=792) or to continue business as usual (n=668). The cooperative learning programme used techniques by Johnson & Johnson, incorporating peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and methods where classmates rely on each other to learn new information while being held individually accountable for what they have learned. The theory behind this study was that in cooperative groups, bullies would not be reinforced by their peers to continue bullying, and socially isolated pupils would have opportunities to interact with others more and make new friends. All participating teachers received a copy of Cooperation in the Classroom and received three training days in person, and check-ins by video conference during the course of the 2016–17 school year. Pre-tests and post-tests (online surveys completed by pupils) evaluated pupils’ bullying and victimisation, stress levels, emotional problems, relatedness and engagement.

After five-and-a-half months of the cooperative learning programme, results showed significant reductions in bullying (effect size = +0.37), victimisation (+0.69), and stress levels (>+0.99) for pupils who had been shown to be marginalised at pre-test, and reduced emotional problems (+0.30) and greater relatedness (+0.43) for all pupils, regardless of their feelings of victimisation/isolation at pre-test.

Source: Cooperative learning in middle school: A means to improve peer relations and reduce victimization, bullying, and related outcomes (November 2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(8)

The impact of web-based coaching on mathematics instruction

A new working paper, published by Brown University, reports on an online coaching programme that aimed to support maths teachers.

Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) is an observational instrument that helps structure teachers’ and coaches’ reflections about maths teaching. There are four “dimensions” of the instrument – richness of the mathematics, Common Core-aligned pupil practices, working with pupils and mathematics, and teacher errors. In several studies, teachers’ scores on MQI have predicted pupils’ academic achievement gains.

In MQI coaching, teachers selected an element of their practice to work on and filmed one of their lessons. A coach then selected a couple of extracts and chose a comparison stock film clip. The teacher watched the clips and then the two discussed them and developed a plan for improvement.

In the current trial, 142 upper elementary and middle school teachers (Years 4-9) from 51 schools in a mid-western state in the US were assigned to MQI coaching or a control condition. Teachers assigned to MQI coaching took part in a two-day summer school, followed by a bi-weekly coaching cycle for the following academic year.

At the end of that year, the coached teachers showed substantial improvements in their scores on the MQI instrument. They also had improved scores in pupil perceptions of classroom practices. However, there was no measurable impact on state achievement tests (the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC)). In the follow-up year, there were still large impacts on the four MQI dimensions, but none were found on pupils’ assessment of teachers or pupil achievement.

Source: Developing ambitious mathematics instruction through web-based coaching: A randomized field trial. (November 2018). Brown University Working Paper

Helping youth transition to adulthood

A new report by Cynthia Miller and colleagues at MDRC examines four-year results from a national evaluation of YouthBuild. The report describes YouthBuild as a programme that attempts to improve prospects for less-educated young people, serving over 10,000 individuals each year at over 250 organisations nationwide. Each organisation provides hands-on, construction-related or other vocational training, educational services, case management, counselling, service to the community, and leadership-development opportunities, to low-income young people ages 16 to 24 who did not complete secondary school.

MDRC evaluated the YouthBuild programme using a randomised controlled trial. Study participants were either invited to enrol in YouthBuild (the intervention group) or referred to other services in the community (the control group). A total of 75 programmes across the country were included, with a sample of nearly 4,000 young people who enrolled in the study between 2011 and 2013. Data included in-person observations, survey data, and administrative records.

Key findings of the evaluation included:

  • YouthBuild increased the receipt of high school equivalency credentials.
  • YouthBuild increased enrolment in college, largely during the first two years. Very few young people had earned a degree after four years, and the programme had a very small effect on degree receipt.
  • YouthBuild increased survey-reported employment rates, wages, and earnings, but did not increase employment as measured with employer-provided administrative records, which might not include certain kinds of employment and other types of informal work.
  • YouthBuild increased civic engagement, largely via participation in YouthBuild services. It had no effects on other measures of positive youth development.

Overall, the authors say the effects observed through four years indicate that the programme provides a starting point for redirecting otherwise disconnected young people.

Source: Laying a foundation: Four-year results from the national YouthBuild evaluation (May 2018), MDRC

Reviewing the evidence on career and technical education

A new report by Rachel Rosen and colleagues at MDRC reviews the available research evidence supporting various types of career and technical education (CTE) programmes, examining both the amount of evidence available in each area and its level of rigour. The report details several CTE programme types (eg, instruction and training, apprenticeships and readiness skills training) and provides a literature review of the available evidence to support each programme type.

Key findings were as follows:

  • The most evidence exists for CTE course work and training. In that area, there are multiple studies suggesting that participation in CTE can improve pupils’ outcomes. In addition, multiple studies found that career-related certificates and associate’s degrees are linked to increased wages.
  • Several career pathway models, particularly career academies and early college high schools, are also supported by strong, rigorous studies that provide evidence of positive benefits for pupils.
  • The evidence for other models and for individual programme components is weaker. The authors suggest that these models and components probably need to be evaluated further.

Source: Career and technical education current policy, prominent programs, and evidence (September 2018), MDRC