The evidence on state-funded preschool

The evidence of the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten (preschool) programmes in the US was recently reviewed by a task force of scientists from the Brookings Institute and Duke University. These findings were released in a report called “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects”. Following the evidence review, the task force released a consensus statement outlining conclusions and recommendations about the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten. According to the report:

  1. Greatest improvements at the end of the pre-kindergarten year are more often found for pupils from low-SES backgrounds or who are dual language learners than for their higher-SES and English-proficient peers.
  2. Not all pre-k programmes are equally effective, and this may be influenced by several factors. Positive influences include using evidence-based programmes that are well-implemented; utilising ongoing professional development and coaching for teachers; and promoting classrooms with predictable routines and positive, supportive pupil-teacher relationships.
  3. Pre-k environments are most effective when pupils’ individual abilities, knowledge and backgrounds are considered, and teaching strategies and content accordingly adjusted.
  4. Children who attend pre-k demonstrate more school readiness at the end of the year than those who do not, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
  5. Long-term effects of pre-k in the later elementary (primary)years are inconclusive.
  6. More complete and reliable evidence is needed, during and after pre-k programmes, to create and sustain pre-kindergartners’ long-term gains.

The full report goes into more detail about the consensus statements, and discusses the results of the evidence with regards to funding, policy and other considerations.

Source: Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects: A consensus statement (April 2017), Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, The Brookings Institution

What are the effects of a four-day school week?

A Brookings report by Paul T Hill and Georgia Heyward examines the four-day school week in rural Idaho in the US. According to the report, four-day weeks have been implemented in approximately 42 of Idaho’s 115 school districts, with a primary goal of cost savings (eg, savings on transportation, heating, cleaning and clerical costs). The revised schedule adds roughly 30 to 90 minutes to each day that pupils are in school, and then on the fifth day (usually Friday), the goal is to assign projects and encourage parent and community groups to organise study halls and enrichment activities.

The authors collected data by interviewing district and school leaders in Idaho communities that had moved to the four-day week. Key findings included:

  • Though cost cutting was the original motivation for the four-day week, savings have been elusive in most localities. This is because so many costs are fixed (eg, teacher and administrator salaries).
  • Teachers reported difficulty restarting instruction and focusing children’s attention after a three-day weekend.
  • Teachers in many places now consider the fifth day a benefit, and some superintendents reported that the four-day week made the locality more attractive to teacher candidates.
  • Working parents found the longer hours in school more convenient as it meant that children’s days more nearly matched their own workdays. However, the fifth day presented new problems of child care and planning for positive uses of children’s time.
  • No district that had adopted the four-day week had rigorously assessed the effects on pupil achievement. Several district leaders said pupil and teacher attendance had improved in the first year of the four-day week, but they had not assessed whether these results persisted over time.

The authors discuss the limitations of their evidence, and note that the long-term effects for rural pupils’ education are unknown.

Source: The four-day school week in rural Idaho schools (July 2015), Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho

The effects of engaging teachers

Brookings’ Evidence Speaks series recently featured an article by Susanna Loeb and Jing Liu describing the effects of teacher engagement on students’ later life outcomes. The article explains that teachers who keep their students engaged are more likely to have students attend their classes, which leads to higher graduation rates. Research shows that absence rates double between middle and secondary school, due to multiple factors including difficulty getting to school, students’ preferring to work to bring in money, and the unpleasantness of being in certain classes.  Many students only miss partial days of school, skipping classes that are either too difficult or too easy.

In order to isolate the effects of individual teachers on student attendance, Loeb and Liu examined teachers’ abilities to engage with students as measured by class-period absence rates versus whole-day absence rates. They found that teachers who improved their students’ class-period attendance rates, and therefore were deemed engaging teachers, were a positive influence on these students’ graduation rates.

Source: Going to school is optional: Schools need to engage students to increase their lifetime opportunities (2016), The Brookings Institution

For richer or poorer

A new blogpost on the Brookings website in the US explores why children raised by married parents typically do better in life on almost every available economic and social measure. Is it an effect of marriage itself, or is it simply because married parents have, on average, higher family incomes?

The authors argue that there is a growing marriage gap along class lines in the US, with fewer poorer couples choosing to marry while the institution flourishes among the affluent and well-educated. They also say that married parents tend to have, on average, higher family incomes anyway.

The researchers used benchmarks developed as part of the Brookings Social Genome Model to explore patterns in attainment, cognitive and non-cognitive skills, higher education, and later earnings.

Children who grow up with continuously married mothers rank on average 14 percentiles higher as adults on the income distribution than those who do not. Controlling for family income throughout childhood shrinks this gap from 14 percentiles to 9 percentiles. And accounting for other factors – parenting behaviour, maternal education, race, and maternal age – shrinks it further to around a 4.5 percentile difference.

Similarly, parenting behaviour appears to help explain the different outcomes. After controlling for parenting, the gap between children of continuously married mothers and others shrinks from 14 percentiles to 7.5 percentiles.

The analysis suggests that both the higher incomes and the more engaged parenting of married parents count for a good deal, and, if anything, parenting may matter a little more.

Source: The Marriage Effect: Money or Parenting? (2014), Brookings.

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

Do scholarships to private primary schools increase college enrolment?

This randomised study examines the post-secondary education (college) enrolment of pupils in New York who participated in a voucher experiment at elementary (primary) school. In the spring of 1997, the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program offered scholarships to low-income families to support their elementary-age children to attend private schools.

For the current study, researchers from the Brown Center on Eduation Policy at the Brookings Institute and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance obtained pupil information that allowed them to identify over 99 per cent of the pupils who participated in the original experiment and follow up on their college enrolment. Findings showed no overall impacts of the scholarships on college enrolment, but did find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the enrolment rate of African-American pupils in the study. Specifically, the researchers report significant increases in full-time college attendance, enrolment in private four-year colleges, and enrolment in selective four-year colleges for this group of pupils.

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