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May 04, 2010

April Research Round-Up

This is the second in our series examining the most interesting, most discussed academic research on education published each month. We’re publishing it a little early since May 1st was a Saturday this month. As always, let us know if we forgot anything – or if you have any researchers that you’d like us to add to our list!

Study: Evaluation of the Comprehensive School Reform Program Implementation and Outcomes: Fifth-Year Report Source: Daniel K. Aladjem, Beatrice F. Birman, Martin Orland, Jennifer J. Harr-Robins, Alberto Heredia, Thomas B. Parrish, Stephen J. Ruffini, WestEd Research Report

Results: The Comprehensive School Reform program was designed to improve high poverty, low-achieving schools by instituting scientifically-proven comprehensive reforms. A new report by WestEd researchers finds that of the 7,000 schools that received funding, only a third "selected reform models identified as having a scientific research basis". Overall, the program was "not associated with widespread achievement gains". Indeed, out of the 1,037 CSR elementary schools that were low performing, there were only 47 that showed “dramatic and sustained” achievement gains.

What’s Interesting: Of the schools that did make achievement gains, there was no one strategy that all of the schools had in common that seemed to lead to achievement gains.

Caveat: There was very little cohort data available before 2004-2005, so it was impossible to track cohorts of students. Differences in state standards for testing made it difficult to compare students nationally.

Study: Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials Source: Roland G. Fryer, National Bureau of Economics Research Working Paper

Results: Roland Fryer’s experiment to incentive students via monetary rewards did not lead to measurable increase in student achievement in New York City or Chicago, where students were paid for good test scores or grades in core courses. More effective were two smaller experiments that rewarded students for so-called "inputs" (as opposed to "outcomes" like test scores). These "input" experiments, which compensated students for the number of books read and for attendance and homework, had statistically significant effects on student achievement.

What’s Interesting: The Dallas program—which paid second graders $3 for each book read—had the strongest effect on increasing reading comprehension and vocabulary and was the least expensive program. The effect of this intervention did not lead to negative results once the incentive was taken away—rather, there were continued, albeit smaller, gains in achievement after the program ended.

Caveat: White and Asian students did not experience gains, although the sample size was small, and students not eligible for free lunch improved more than students who were eligible. The gains measured once the program ended only looked at one year of data.

Study: Teacher Quality in Educational Production: Tracking, Decay, and Student Achievement Source: Jesse Rothsein, The Quarterly Journal of Economics

Results: This paper looks at some of the assumptions behind so-called “Value-Added” models of teacher quality ("VAMs") and finds that "the assumptions underlying common VAMs are substantially incorrect, at least in North Carolina". Classroom assignments are not sufficiently random to allow for a causal conclusion in common models.

What’s Interesting: Rothstein makes two main points: (1)Accountability policies that rely on measures of short-term value added would do a poor job of rewarding the teachers who are best for students’ longer-run outcomes; and (2) Models that rely on incorrect assumptions are likely to yield misleading estimates, and policies that use these estimates may reward and punish teachers for the students they are assigned as much as for their actual effectiveness in the classroom.

Caveat: Only looked at data from students in North Carolina.

Study: A Closer Look at Charter Schools and Segregation Source: Gary Ritter, Nathan Jensen, Brian Kisida, Joshua McGee, EducationNext

Results: A report issued by Education Next takes issue with the January 2010 report by the Civil Rights Project which found high levels of racial segregation in charter schools as compared to traditional public schools. The Education Next report argues that by comparing the demographic composition of all charter schools to that of all traditional public schools, the CRP’s report ignored significant differences in neighborhood demographics within school districts. In order to correct for this, Education Next compares the levels of segregation for students in charter schools to that of their TPS counterparts in the central city districts of the 8 largest metropolitan areas in the CRP report. The authors found that the segregation gap narrows from the 20% reported in the CRP report to 10%.

What’s Interesting: Authors demonstrate that the majority of students in central cities, in both charters and TPS, attend highly segregated minority schools.

Caveats: Authors caution that their methodology could be improved one step further, by comparing the demographics of charter schools with the traditional public schools that charter students would have attended had they gone to their local zoned school.

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There is a critique of the Rothstein paper that finds looking at value added over time virtually eliminates the sorting bias. http://economics.missouri.edu/working-papers/2009/wp0902_koedel.pdf

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