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April 05, 2010

March Madness: Research Round Up

We’re instituting our first regular feature: a roundup of the most interesting, most discussed education studies published each month. In the future we’ll try to publish the list on the last Friday of each month. Let us know if we forgot anything – or if you have any researchers that you’d like us to add to our list!

Study: Constrained Job Matching: Does Teacher Job Search Harm Disadvantaged Urban Schools?

Results: Teachers in an anonymous Texas school district who remain in their “disadvantaged urban school” tend to outperform those who leave, particularly those who exit the Texas public schools entirely.
What’s Interesting: Implies that less productive teachers tend to leave lower-achieving districts and/or exit the profession entirely and that attempting to limit teacher mobility – i.e. to prevent teachers from transferring out of low-income schools – would not necessarily lead to increases in achievement. Further implies that the high level of teacher turnover observed in lower income urban schools is not necessarily negative.

Caveats: Authors recognize that assessing teacher productivity is difficult and is hampered by other factors such as student background, classroom sorting, and testing variability and have attempted to correct for many, but not all, of these factors.

Study: Identifying Effective Classroom Practices Using Student Achievement Data

Results: Using ten years of data from the Cincinnati Teacher Evaluation System, researchers found that classroom based measures of teaching effectiveness are related in substantial ways to student achievement growth. In particular, they found that improving classroom management skills and adding “question and discussion” practices to lessons had a marked effect on improving student achievement.

What’s Interesting: Shows that there are particular classroom practices that are more effective at increasing student achievement and offers recommendations for teacher evaluation systems that can integrate both student achievement data and helpful classroom observation feedback.

Caveats: There could be factors outside of the eight classroom practices that researchers identified that could contribute significantly to student achievement.  Researchers also acknowledge that “a district may value outcomes for its teachers and students beyond growth in standardized test scores.”

Study: How Many Schools Have Not Made Adequate Yearly Progress Under the No Child Left Behind Act?

Results: One third of U.S. public schools did not make adequate yearly progress, as mandated under the Bush-era No Child Left Behind act.

What’s interesting: Researchers found that finding public data on AYP was extremely difficult, and that comparing pass rates across states was hampered by different methodologies and targets, making it difficult to asses the nation as a whole.

Caveats: The study only looked at publicly available data, which, for some states such as New York, was not available for 2008-2009. Furthermore, researchers didn’t go into any great amount of detail about how standards varied across states and which states’ pass numbers might be the most reliable.

Study: Who Benefits Most from College? Evidence for Negative Selection in Heterogeneous Economic Returns to Higher Education

Results: Students who are least likely to get a college education benefit most from college in terms of economics benefits later in life.  

What’s Interesting: Researchers followed a group of over 2,000 people who were between the ages of 14 and 17 in 1979 for 30 years to see the impact of a college education on future earning potential. They found that respondents who were not minorities, were economically advantaged, and who had college educated parents did not benefit as much from a college education as their less advantaged peers.

Caveats: It may be that there is a selection bias in terms of individuals from disadvantaged social backgrounds. Researchers acknowledge that if “educational expansion results in a larger number of college goers who are otherwise unlikely to attend college” this selection bias might be mitigated and/or lead to flat results.

Study: Beating the Odds: Analysis of Student Performance on State Assessments and NAEP

Results: Low income minority students in urban environments have made significant improvements in math and reading and have narrowed the achievement gap. However, on the whole, disadvantaged urban youth still score lower than their more well-off white peers.

What’s Interesting: Black fourth graders and lower income fourth graders in New York City performed well above average than other fourth graders in mathematics. Students in Charlotte and Austin outperform students in other urban school districts.

Caveats: The data is limited and cannot be used to compare state to state, although the city to city data seems more reliable. Also, they did not differentiate based on the rigor of the state assessments.

Research Notes:

WWC Quick Review of the Article “Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Social Experiment in Harlem”

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer’s controversial study of the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academies that found that the schools closed the so-called Scarsdale achievement gap was deemed methodically sound by the What Works Clearinghouse. Dobbie and Fryer found that the Promise Academy public charter schools in the Harlem Children's Zone will increase a student's probability of scoring at grade level by 11.6 percent in sixth grade, 17.9 percent in seventh grade, and 27.5 percent by eighth grade.

Close the Hidden Funding Gaps in Our Schools

Researchers looked at data on the DOE’s website and found that while overall Title 1 schools in New York City receive more per pupil than non-Title 1 schools, there were over 250 Title 1 schools actually received significantly less in 2007-2008. In particularly, two schools in the Bronx received noticeably less money for teachers than other public schools in New York City.


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Can't seem to figure out an email to reach you (Kim, Ken) at. I read audits and evals. daily, heavily. Unfortunately, what they show consistently, including re NYC DOE and NYSED (and NYS pub. ed. system in general) is that an awful lot of the data - financial; student-related (including scores)they make public is total GIGO and thus research based on any of this is very iffy, at best. When I share particular audits or papers w/scholars who've done this kind of research, they get the "do NOT want egg on my face" syndrome and the more prestigious the scholar or entity publishing their work, the more likely they will blow off really serious audit material raising significant questions. Not sure what to do with this, overall, but I'll be happy to share some of the audits, etc. I've collected w/you. I admire your work, and your approach, very much and would like to see lots more of it, and more w/this approach ... but we all need to get very serious about demanding audited, verified data from the gitgo.

Dee Alpert, Publisher

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