Does school entrance age matter?

Researchers in Croatia explored the relationship between the age that pupils begin school and school achievement. They found only a weak relationship in the lower grades of primary school, and at the end of primary schooling the effects are no longer evident.

The study looked at the achievement of fourth- (ages 10 and 11) and eighth-grade pupils (ages 14 and 15) in 844 primary schools in Croatia. Pupils were divided into groups of younger and older school entrants based on the difference between their year of birth and the year of school entry.

In the fourth grade, older entrants performed slightly better in all subjects than those who were younger when they entered school, but these differences in achievement were very small (effect sizes ranged from 0.02 to 0.07). By the eighth grade, there was no difference in achievement between younger and older entrants in the majority of subjects. However, contrary to the fourth grade sample, in the subjects where differences in achievement were found, the younger school entrants outperformed the older school entrants, but the effect sizes were again very small (effect sizes ranged from 0 to 0.12). In both samples, school entrance age explains less than one per cent of the variance in school achievement in different subjects.

Source: The relation between school entrance age and school achievement during primary schooling: Evidence from Croatian primary schools (2012), British Journal of Educational Psychology , 83(4)

Study shows capital at home matters more than capital at school

A study published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility finds that family social capital, described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication, and active engagement in a child’s academic life, is a more significant factor than the qualities of the school itself with regard to a child’s academic achievement.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Education study and structural equation modelling, researchers examined whether the social capital of the home and school social capital (such as extracurricular activities and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual pupils), have differing effects on children’s academic achievement. Results show that capital from each context promotes achievement, but that pupils with high levels of family social capital but low levels of school social capital performed better in school than pupils with high levels of school social capital and low family social capital. Family social capital continues to have a stronger influence on children’s academic achievement, even after controlling for socioeconomic status and other demographic characteristics.

Source: Does capital at home matter more than capital at school? Social capital effects on academic achievement (2012), Research in Social Stratification and Mobility,31.

Can cash incentives lead to positive outcomes for teens?

Using a randomised control trial research design, MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the Opportunity NYC–Family Rewards programme. Implemented in New York City in 2007, this programme offered monetary incentives to families living in poverty for education, health, and workforce participation and job-training activities, with the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.

In MDRC’s most recent report, researchers examine how parents and their teenage children were affected by Family Rewards two years into the programme. Their analyses focus on the differences between a treatment group and control group in areas such as time use, mental health, and risky behaviours, as measured by surveys.

Findings of their study show that Family Rewards:

  • Changed how teenagers spent their time. For a subgroup of academically proficient teenagers, it increased the proportion of those who engaged primarily in academic activities and reduced the proportion who engaged primarily in social activities;
  • Increased parents’ spending on school-related and leisure expenses and increased the proportion of parents who saved for their children’s future education;
  • Had no effects on parents’ monitoring of their teenage children’s activities or behaviour and did not increase parent-teenager conflict or teenagers’ depression or anxiety;
  • Had no effects on teenagers’ sense of academic competence or their engagement in school, but substantially reduced their self-reported problem behaviour, such as aggression and substance use;
  • Did not reduce teenagers’ intrinsic motivation by paying them rewards for school attendance and academic achievement.

MDRC’s next report on Family Rewards will examine the results after three years of the programme; a final report will include two years of post-programme follow-up.

Source: Using incentives to change how teenagers spend their time (2012), MDRC

Text messaging does not affect children’s grammatical development

Researchers from Coventry University carried out a longitudinal study to investigate whether “text speak” had any detrimental impact on grammatical development and other related literacy and language skills over the course of a year. They assessed the spelling, grammar, understanding of English, and IQ of three groups of children and young people (83 primary school children, 78 secondary school children, and 49 undergraduates), and compared those skills with a sample of their text messages.

There was no evidence of any significant relationships between poor grammar in text messages and their understanding of written or spoken grammar. For the primary school children, there was an association between punctuation errors in text messages and spelling ability. Children who made fewer punctuation errors when texting tended to be better at spelling and quicker to process writing than those who made more errors in their text messages.

For the undergraduate group, there was some evidence of a link between punctuation errors in text messages and the spelling ability and grammatical understanding of participants. However, this link was weak, and researchers concluded that it was probably related to children’s IQ score.

Source: Text messaging and grammatical development (2012), Nuffield Foundation

Controversy about New York scholarship study

In issue 21 of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on a longitudinal, randomised evaluation of a voucher programme in New York by Chingos and Peterson. Dylan Wiliam informed us about a criticism of this study by Sara Goldrick-Rab. The original study reported a positive effect of receiving vouchers to attend private schools on college attendance for African-American pupils but not for Hispanic pupils, and there were no effects of vouchers overall. Goldrick-Rab notes that the African-American/Hispanic differences in treatment effects were not significant, and there was a serious problem among the African-American subsample: pupils in the voucher group, despite random assignment, had parents who were significantly more likely to have gone to college themselves.

Goldrick-Rab’s conclusion is that the study should be reported as “Vouchers Don’t Work”, while Chingos and Peterson conclude “Yes they do, if only for African Americans.” There is support for both positions, but clearly, replication is needed.

More on this can be found in  this article on Inside Higher Ed.

Sources: The effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), Brookings

Review of the effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), National Education Policy Center

Higher ed Scholars’ voucher war (2012), Inside Higher Education

Randomised controlled trial of the Fostering Changes programme

This randomised controlled trial was conducted in order to investigate the effectiveness of the Fostering Changes programme, which provides practical support and training for foster carers in the UK. The evaluation was carried out on 63 carers across four Greater London local authorities; 34 were randomly allocated to the Fostering Changes training group and 29 to the control group.

Results of the trial showed that there was a significant improvement in the behaviour of children of carers in the Fostering Changes group, compared to children of carers in the control group. There was a large effect on carer-defined problems and a small-to-moderate effect on emotional and behavioural difficulties. The quality of attachment between looked-after child and carer was significantly improved and there were significant positive changes in carer confidence and parenting practices that were related to the skills obtained as a result of the Fostering Changes training course.

Source: Randomised Controlled Trial of the fostering changes programme (2012), Department for Education