Decades of evidence supports early childhood education

A recent meta-analysis of almost 60 years’ worth of high-quality early childhood education (ECE) studies in the US found that participating in ECE programmes significantly reduced special education placement and grade retention (pupils having to repeat a year), and lead to increased graduation rates from secondary school.

Dana Charles McCoy and colleagues examined data from studies spanning 1960-2016. All had to meet strict inclusion criteria and address ECE’s effects on special education placement, grade retention, or dropout rates, yielding 22 studies. Seven were randomised controlled studies, four were quasi-experimental, and eleven used non-randomised assignment and compared groups who were equivalent at baseline.

Results showed statistically significant effects of ECE. Compared to pupils who did not attend ECE, participants were 8.1% less likely to be placed in special education, 8.3% less likely to be held back a year and 11.4% more likely to graduate from secondary school.

Source: Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes (November 2017), Educational Researcher Volume 46, issue 8

Examining the evidence on out-of-school-time programmes

Out-of-school-time (OST) programmes typically provide children with additional academic lessons outside of school hours and/or recreational and enrichment activities. To examine the evidence base on OST programmes, Jennifer McCombs and colleagues from the RAND Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programmes. Their review included specialty programmes (eg, sports or arts programmes); multipurpose programmes (eg, Boys and Girls clubs); and academic programmes (eg, summer learning programmes).

After reviewing the research, the authors compiled the following conclusions:

  • OST programmes provide measurable benefits to children and families on outcomes directly related to programme content.
  • Academic OST programmes with sufficient “dosage” (measured by the hours of content provided) can demonstrably improve pupil achievement.
  • Programme quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
  • Children need to attend regularly to measurably benefit from programming.

The authors provide a complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings.

A previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief included a study by the Nuffield Foundation, which examines the effect of OST study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Source: The value of out-of-school-time programmes (2017), PE-267-WF, RAND Corporation

Evidence on the long-term effects of home visiting programmes

Children from low-income families are more likely than those from higher-income families to have poor social, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes. One approach that has helped parents and their young children is home visiting, which provides information, resources and support to expectant parents and families with young children.

This MDRC brief summarises prior evidence on the effects of four evidence-based models of home visiting using information from seven studies of families with children aged 5- to 21-years-old. Specifically, the brief looks at what the effects of home visiting are for families as children get older, and how the monetary benefits of home visiting compare with their costs.

  • The key findings of the report include:
    Evidence-based home visiting has improved outcomes for parents and children across a wide range of child ages, outcome areas, and national models.
  • Evidence-based home visiting appears to be cost-effective in the long term.
  • The largest benefits from evidence-based home visiting come through reduced spending on government programmes and increased individual earnings.

The information in this brief will inform the design of a study to assess the long-term effects of home visiting. It will suggest where this long-term follow-up study can seek to replicate prior results, where it can try to fill gaps in current knowledge, and which outcomes are important to measure in order to assess the benefits and costs of home visiting.

Source: Evidence on the long-term effects of home visiting programs: Laying the groundwork for long- term follow-up in the mother and infant home visiting program evaluation (MIHOPE). (September 2017), OPRE Report 2017-73, MDRC

An evaluation of a Learner Response System

An evaluation published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) tested a trial of a Learner Response System (LRS) using Promethean handsets to assess whether it could improve pupil outcomes by increasing the speed and quality of teacher and pupil feedback. An LRS is a classroom feedback tool. Teachers and pupils used electronic handheld devices to provide immediate feedback during lessons.

A team from Edge Hill University developed the intervention and trained teachers to deliver it to pupils in Years 5 and 6. The trial involved 6,572 pupils in 97 primary schools from the north west of England and West Yorkshire with higher-than-average proportions of children eligible for free school meals (35% compared to the national average of 18%). A cluster randomised controlled trial was used to evaluate the impact of the intervention on Year 6 maths and reading outcomes. Randomisation was at the school level, with 49 schools allocated to the intervention group (3,062 pupils), and 48 schools to the control group (3,510 pupils). The intervention was delivered over two school years (cohort B), or for only one school year (cohort A). The devices were used in at least three lessons a week for between 25 and 32 weeks each year.

The main finding was that the LRS intervention did little to improve pupils’ Key Stage 2 test scores (maths and reading standardised assessment tests at the end of Year 6), regardless of whether it was delivered over one or two years (effect sizes ranged from -0.09 to 0.00). However, teachers and pupils were generally positive about the LRS. Teachers welcomed the ability to quickly assess pupil responses and give instant feedback, and felt that the LRS helped to engage pupils and allowed different pupils to work at their own pace.

Source: Learner Response System: Evaluation report and executive summary (November 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

The effects of financial incentives on standardised testing

Can financial incentives improve outcomes on standardised tests? In an unpublished paper, John List, Jeffrey Livingston and Susanne Neckermann examined whether motivating pupils to gain the knowledge needed to succeed on the International Student Admissions Test (ISAT) would result in higher test scores.

Subjects were 3rd–8th grade (Year 4–Year 9) pupils (n=226E, 226C) who were judged to be at risk of not passing the ISAT and were receiving tutoring to improve their scores in nine elementary and middle schools in a suburb outside of Chicago. Using a system designed by the ISAT’s developers, authors created short benchmark tests designed to measure the knowledge needed to be successful on the ISAT. Pupils, their parents and their tutors were informed that they would receive up to $90 if pupils’ performance improved on these benchmark tests and if they met other academic and behavioural goals.

Results showed that pupils demonstrated significant gains on the incentivised benchmark testing compared to control pupils (effect size =+0.29), indicating they had the knowledge to pass the ISAT. However, they did not demonstrate significant gains compared to controls for the ISAT itself (effect size=+0.05), for which they did not receive any financial incentive. This was true regardless of whether incentives were provided immediately or were delayed. The authors conclude that pupils may not be motivated to show what they know on standardised testing that holds no personal stake for them.

Similar results were found in a review of international experiments evaluating financial incentives in education by Robert Slavin, posted on The Best Evidence Encyclopedia. The emerging consensus is that financial incentives can have an impact on easily counted outcomes for which the incentives were directly given (such as attendance), but not on more general outcomes that should flow from the incentivised outcomes (such as achievement).

Source:  Do students show what they know on standardized tests? working papers (2016),  from the selected works of Jeffrey A Livingston, Bentley University

Do teacher observations make any difference to pupil performance?

An evaluation published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found that introducing more frequent and structured lesson observations – where teachers observe their colleagues and give them feedback – made no difference to pupils’ GCSE maths and English results.

A randomised controlled trial of the whole-school intervention Teacher Observation was conducted in 82 secondary schools in England, which had high proportions of pupils who had ever been eligible for free school meals. In total, the study involved 14,163 pupils – 7,507 pupils (41 schools) in the intervention, and 6,656 pupils (41 schools) in the control.

Maths and English teachers in the intervention schools were asked to take part in at least six structured 20-minute peer observations over a two-year period (with a suggested number of between 12 and 24). Teachers rated each other on specific elements of a lesson, such as how well they managed behaviour, engaged pupils in learning, or used discussion techniques.

The evaluation, which was conducted by a team from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), found that Teacher Observation had no impact on pupils’ GCSE English and maths scores compared to those of pupils in control schools (effect size = -0.01).

Source: Teacher Observation: Evaluation report and executive summary (November 2017), Education Endowment Foundation