Early results in for teacher leadership programme

A US programme intended to boost pupil achievement by providing teachers with two years of professional development, including formal training sessions and meetings with a leadership coach, is showing signs of potential, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

The Leading Educators (LE) Fellowship programme, selects mid-career teachers through a competitive application process. To examine the impact of LE, researchers are comparing pupil achievement gains for teachers who participated in the programme as fellows or mentees with the pupil achievement gains of other teachers.According to RAND, early findings of the programme are mixed, but suggest that it shows promise in improving pupil achievement. Specifically, they report:

  • Among fellows, there are both some statistically significant positive and negative programme effects on pupil achievement, with results that vary across states, subject areas, and model specifications.
  • Among mentee teachers, for whom sample sizes are larger, there is some suggestive evidence of impacts on pupil achievement — in particular, marginally significant and significant positive programme effects among mentees who teach maths and social studies, respectively, in Louisiana.
  • The impact of the programme on teacher retention is unclear, with no consistent pattern of retention impacts across cohorts or states.

The authors note that the current results are based on few years of data and on a small sample of teachers, and results may change when there are more fellows and mentored teachers included in future studies.

Source: Examining the Early Impacts of the Leading Educators Fellowship on Student Achievement and Teacher Retention (2015), RAND Corporation.

Tech for tots

This report from the RAND Corporation identifies goals for technology use in early education. The information is based on findings from a literature review and a May forum that RAND hosted on the topic. The authors say that trends in US education suggest that young children may need to achieve basic digital literacy before starting kindergarten (Year 1), and the presence of a digital divide suggests that children from low-income families may need the most support to ensure readiness in digital literacy (see the previous story for research on technology for at-risk pupils). Based on their research, the authors present the following recommendations:

  • Technology is one of many tools: When technology is used as one tool in a larger toolbox, it can provide the greatest benefits while continuing to allow for the use of other learning tools and activities when they are likely to be most effective in supporting skill growth.
  • Support school readiness in digital literacy: With increasing standards for technology use in US elementary schools, forum experts agreed that all children, particularly those from deprived families, could benefit from acquiring basic technology literacy skills in early childhood education (ECE) settings to ensure readiness for technology use in the classroom.
  • Help narrow the digital divide: Technology use in ECE settings has the potential to address both aspects of the digital divide: access and use. In ECE settings, children from low-income families can access technology that is not available in the home, and they can be taught to use technology in ways that are more likely to result in skill growth and learning, thereby addressing disparities in use.
  • Expand resources for providers and families: Goals for technology use in ECE settings need not focus exclusively on use among children, as there are many ways that technology can be used to support providers and families as they, in turn, support the education of young children.

Source: Getting on the Same Page: Identifying Goals for Technology Use in Early Childhood Education (2014), RAND Corporation.

What works for reducing risky behaviour?

This report from the RAND Corporation examines whether being assigned to attend a high-performing public charter school in the US reduces the rates of risky health behaviour among deprived ethnic minority teenagers, and whether this is due to better academic performance, peer influence, or other factors. Risky behaviour included alcohol use, drug use, and unprotected sex, while very risky health behaviour included binge drinking, substance abuse at school, and gang participation. The researchers surveyed 521 pupils aged 14 to 18 who were offered admission into a high-performing public charter school through a random lottery (intervention group) and 409 pupils who were not offered admission (control group). The researchers also obtained the pupils’ state standardised test scores.

Results of the study showed that being assigned to attend a high-performing school led to improved maths and English standard test scores, greater school retention, and lower rates of engaging in very risky behaviour, but no difference in risky behaviour. The authors list several factors that may have contributed to these improvements. For example, the school environment may play a role by reducing exposure to “risky” peers but also by improving persistence, resilience, and other non-cognitive skills, and simply being in a demanding school may leave less time and opportunity to engage in very risky behaviour.

Source: Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents (2014), Pediatrics 134(2).

Breaking the cycle of disadvantage

This policy brief from the RAND Corporation examines the impact of child-targeted interventions in early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as initiatives to widen access to higher education in Europe, and their impact on social mobility in later years. It provides an overview of research on the topic, discusses various policies, and describes a number of case studies on different programmes and practices.

One example presented is the UK Aim Higher initiative, which focused on children from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in areas characterised by low participation in higher education. The aim of the initiative was two-fold: first, to raise the aspirations of potential candidates, and second, to develop the abilities of under-represented groups so they could apply to college. According to the brief, research suggests that the programme appears to have delivered some improvements in exam results, retention, and progression to higher education. However, there appears to be little evidence that it was successful in influencing participants’ attitudes towards higher education.

Overall, key conclusions of the brief include:

  • In the context of economic uncertainty, investing in high-quality ECEC appears to be an effective evidence-based social policy tool, although it should not be considered a panacea.
  • The level of ECEC provision is very unequal across the EU: to be effective, it needs to be of high quality.
  • One way to break the cycle of disadvantage would be to develop ambitious indicators and policy goals that link ECEC provision for under-represented groups to access to higher education.

Source: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage: Early Childhood Interventions and Progression to Higher Education in Europe (2014), RAND Corporation.

School leader programme shows positive effects

This report from the RAND Corporation presents findings from a formative and summative evaluation of New Leaders, a programme that recruits and trains head teachers to serve in urban schools in the US. The study took place from 2006 to 2013 and examined the programme’s implementation and effects in ten districts.

The study used an approach that isolated the effect of New Leaders head teachers themselves from other conditions in the districts that might also influence student performance. Data sources included analysis of student-achievement data for students led by New Leaders head teachers and comparable students in other schools, head teacher surveys, analysis of survey data linked to student-achievement data, analysis of head teacher tenure data, and nested case studies of first-year head teachers.

Researchers found that at the primary school level, spending at least three years in a school with a New Leaders-trained head teacher resulted in achievement gains of 0.7 to 1.3 percentile points. At the secondary school level, students in schools where the New Leaders head teachers had three or more years of experience saw gains in reading achievement of about 3 percentile points.

The authors note that the magnitudes of achievement effects varied substantially across districts, and they also varied across head teachers. Possible explanations for this included, for example, district-wide changes that give advantages to all head teachers, not just New Leaders head teachers.

Source: Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in Ten Districts (2014), RAND Corportation.

Examining the effects of assessment

Researchers at the RAND Corporation have conducted a series of literature reviews that focus on topics such as high-stakes testing, performance assessment, and formative evaluation.

Their findings, published in a new report, suggest that there are a wide variety of effects that testing might have on teachers’ activities in the classroom, including changes in curriculum content and emphasis (eg, changes in the sequence of topics, reallocation of emphasis across and within topics); changes in how teachers allocate time and resources across different pedagogical activities (eg, focusing on test preparation); and changes in how teachers interact with individual pupils (eg, using test results to personalise teaching). The report, “New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement”, also identifies a number of factors (eg, pupil characteristics and regional policies) that mediate the relationship between assessment and teaching practices.

The authors suggest that the role of tests would be enhanced by policies that ensure tests mirror high-quality teaching, are part of a larger, systemic change effort, and are accompanied by specific supports for teachers.

Source: New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement (2013), RAND Corporation.