Curriculum reform cheap way to boost attainment

A new report from the Center for American Progress analyses how schools could increase pupil achievement through curriculum reform, that is the teaching materials used by teachers such as textbooks, workbooks, and software.

The authors focused on the curricula used in primary maths classes in 19 US states. They were able to analyse the relationship between price and quality by comparing the price of materials with the findings of a randomised controlled trial conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences which looked at the effectiveness of teaching materials.

The report focused on six pairs of curricula, where each pair included a lower-quality and higher-quality version. The authors’ findings included that:

  • Switching curricula is a productive way for schools to experience substantial pupil achievement gains for a small cost;
  • Higher-quality curricula in primary school maths can come at a relatively low cost, so choosing the best product is more important than finding a better price;
  • When it comes to primary maths curricula, cost does not always equal quality; and
  • More rigorous primary maths curricula can deliver a higher return on investment than other reforms.

The authors note that the research was limited by its reliance on a single study for analysis and the exclusion of digital or other online curricula, and that better product research and improved dissemination of evidence of effectiveness is required.

Source: The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform: Do states and Districts Receive the Most Bang for their Curriculum Buck? (2015), Center for American Progress.

Weak links between teacher perception surveys and student outcomes

This report from the Institute of Education Sciences provides information on how perception data from a teacher survey in Idaho correlated with student outcomes that school improvement efforts seek to affect. The survey was the Educational Effectiveness Survey (EES), an annual teacher survey developed and administered by the Center on Educational Effectiveness to gather data on school qualities believed to be the goals, processes, and supports essential for school success.

A total of 75 low-achieving schools received the survey, and 1,745 teachers (91%) responded. The teachers rated their perceptions of their school on topics such as effective school leadership; curriculum, instruction, and assessment aligned with standards; and focused professional development.

Analyses of the survey data and publicly available data from the Idaho State Department of Education revealed that teachers’ perceptions of the presence of essential goals, processes, and supports were generally not related to students’ reading proficiency, math proficiency, or attendance. According to the report, these findings suggest that educators should proceed cautiously when using perceptual survey data to make school improvement decisions.

Source: Connections Between Teacher Perceptions of School Effectiveness and Student Outcomes in Idaho’s Low-Achieving Schools (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.

Studying core subjects linked to social mobility

A new article in the British Journal of Sociology of Education looks at how school curriculum content shapes individuals’ chances of social mobility. Using data from the National Child Development Study (NCDS), an ongoing longitudinal study of all those born in England, Scotland, and Wales in one week in 1958, the article finds that curriculum differences reproduce social inequalities and affect individuals’ chances of social mobility.

The people followed by the NCDS study attended secondary school at a time when selective and comprehensive schools co-existed in the British school system. The author found that all or most of the advantage associated with attendance at selective schools was accounted for by the curriculum studied there, even taking into account the socio-economic status of the individual when they were born and individual ability.

The article concludes that core subjects such as languages, English, mathematics, and science were important for individuals’ long-term occupational opportunities, although it noted that it was not possible to say whether this was due to their “higher status” or to the skills that pupils studying those subjects developed. The author says that the findings support the need to focus current discussion about effective teaching on curricular content and inclusive methods of teaching this content.

Source: The Role of the School Curriculum in Social Mobility (2013), British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(5).

What are the effects of a technology-based algebra curriculum?

This working paper from the RAND Corporation examines the effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I (CTAI), a technology-based algebra course designed for pupils at a variety of ability and year levels. The curriculum includes traditional textbook and workbook materials along with automated tutoring software that provides self-paced individualised tuition and attempts to bring pupils to mastery of a topic before they progress further.

Schools participating in the study were matched into similar pairs and randomly assigned to either continue with their current algebra curriculum for two years or to adopt CTAI. The sample included 73 high schools and 74 middle schools in seven US states.

Analysis of post-test outcomes on an algebra proficiency exam found no effects in the first year of implementation, but strong evidence in support of a positive effect in the second year. The estimated effect is statistically significant for high schools but not for middle schools. The authors report that in both cases, the magnitude is sufficient to improve the average pupil’s performance by approximately eight percentile points.

Source: Effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I at Scale (2013), RAND Education.

Is face-to-face or online professional development better?

A new article in the Journal of Teacher Education compares the impact of delivering professional development face-to-face and online. The authors conducted a cluster randomised experiment on a CPD programme designed to prepare US high school teachers to implement a year-long environmental science curriculum. A total of 49 teachers were randomly assigned to either the face-to-face condition (a week-long workshop totalling 48 hours) or the online condition (to be completed by teachers at their own pace).

Comparison of classroom practice and pupil learning outcomes is normally difficult to establish in CPD research, but using a common set of curriculum materials enabled the authors to do so in this case. Their analysis found that both teachers and pupils (n=1,132) exhibited significant gains in both conditions, face-to-face and online, but that there was no significant difference between the conditions.

Source: Comparing the Impact of Online and Face-to-Face Professional Development in the Context of Curriculum Implementation (2013), Journal of Teacher Education

Citizenship education in Europe

This report from the Eurydice network summarises how policies and measures relating to citizenship education have evolved in recent years. Citizenship education has gained prominence in teaching across Europe, with 20 of the 31 countries (EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, and Turkey) dedicating a separate compulsory subject to its teaching.

The report focusses in particular on curriculum aims and organisation; student and parent participation in schools; school culture and student participation in society; assessment and evaluation; and support for teachers and school heads.

Citizenship features on the curriculum in all countries, but the authors say that more needs to be done to improve teachers’ knowledge and skills for teaching it. In general, citizenship education is integrated into initial teacher training courses for secondary education in subjects such as history and geography, but only England and Slovakia offer training as a specialist teacher in citizenship education.

Source: Citizenship education in Europe (2012), Eurydice