Better schools for all?

The Better Schools for All? report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the role that schools play in pupils’ education and suggests that the school reforms in the UK in the past two decades have failed to bridge the gap in pupil achievement.

Researchers from University College London and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at data from around 3,000 secondary schools in England between 2003 and 2016 and compared pupil outcomes and teachers’ experiences with those of employees elsewhere.

They found that:

  1. Attending a “good” secondary school adds only a small amount more value than attending a “bad” secondary school. Overall, schools were found to contribute around 10% of variance in pupil achievement.
  2. State schools are better at managing staff than private schools. Using Workplace Employment Relations Survey data, the study shows that state schools were more likely to have rigorous hiring practices and employee participation programmes than private schools, and the link between human resource management and effective and high-performing schools was only apparent in the state sector.
  3. Performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which were found to improve workplace performance elsewhere, were ineffective for teachers.
  4. Schools with more middle leaders tended to be rated more highly by Ofsted in terms of leadership and management. However, in schools which formed part of a multi-academy trust, no significant relationship was apparent.

Source: Better schools for all? (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Are US school districts spending wisely?

The Center for American Progress has released a new report that examines the productivity of US school districts, and the conclusion is that productivity could be improved.

The authors used the results of 2010-11 state reading and maths assessments in elementary, middle, and high schools. They also used three productivity ratings that looked at the academic achievement of districts for each dollar spent, taking into account factors such as cost-of-living differences and concentrations of pupils with English as an Additional Language or with special educational needs.

The report argues that low educational productivity remains a pressing issue, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts. Problems include inconsistent spending priorities (eg, some districts in Texas spend more than 10% of their unadjusted per-pupil operating expenditures on athletics); only a few states taking a weighted approach and distributing money to schools based on pupil need; funding disparity between different school districts within states; and inconsistent budget practices between different states.

The authors conclude that school productivity has not become part of the reform conversation, despite education leaders facing increasingly challenging budget choices. They recommend that:

  • States should build capacity for productivity gains through targeted grants, assistance teams, and performance metrics;
  • Education leaders should improve accounting procedures to make them more transparent and actionable, and create a multi-state initiative that will focus on building more robust education budgets;
  • Educators should come together to improve the quality of fiscal data across states; and
  • States and districts should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding, such as pupil-based funding policies.

Source: Return on Educational Investment: 2014. A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity (2014) Center of American Progress.

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.