Readings & Reports

From aging teachers to volunteer tutors

Aging teachers

The U.S. stands to lose up to half of its current teachers to retirement over the next decade, forcing schools to rethink their staffing strategies, according to a report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. The report, Learning Teams: Creating What’s Next, finds that more than 50 percent of the nation’s teachers and principals are baby boomers. The problem is particularly prominent in 18 states, where more than half of public school teachers are age 50 or older.

Births, newcomers, poverty

Child Trends has released three reports on the well-being of children in poverty. One, Teen Births: Examining the Recent Increase, explores whether the data reflect a short-term blip or a true reversal in the decline of the U.S. teen birth rate. The second, Children in America’s Newcomer Families, says the poverty rate for immigrant children is much higher than official estimates suggest, and many of those children live in states where the gap between the poor and the middle class is especially wide. The third, Children in Poverty: Trends, Consequences, and Policy Options, notes that the rate of children living in poverty has risen steadily since 2000. The report also highlights research on the consequences of poverty for children and suggests program and policy approaches that hold promise for decreasing poverty among low-income children and their families.

Community organizing

Small schools in low-income communities of color are finding success because students receive more individualized academic supports, according to a six-year study by the Annenberg Institute. The case study, Building a Districtwide Movement for Small Schools Reform, describes the success of California’s Oakland Community Organizations in building a districtwide movement that’s created 48 small schools dedicated to student achievement. Both teachers and parents say school climate and safety have improved, as have parent-teacher relationships and shared faculty decision-making.

Early childhood

Expansion of state-financed pre-k programs has been on the decline in recent months due to the economic downturn, according to a new study from Rutgers University. At least nine states—Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina—have made cutbacks and more may follow suit. According to the report, even though the Obama administration and Congress have appropriated more than $4 billion for the Head Start and Early Head Start programs that support childcare for low-income families, the overall reduction may have significant ramifications for many who are middle-class.

English-only instruction

A 2003 voter-approved change requiring Boston’s students to receive English-only instruction has nearly doubled the dropout rate among the district’s English language learners, according to a study from the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts. In many cases, the report says, the district fails to evaluate properly and subsequently identify hundreds of students for special language instruction, and doesn’t give parents information on program options.

Family budgeting

The National Center for Children in Poverty has developed Basic Needs Budgets that outline the costs of basic daily expenses for families with children, in an effort to examine what they need to make ends meet.

Graduation rates

The Alliance for Excellent Education says a national accounting of graduation rates is needed to prevent students from continuing “to disappear from schools without anyone noticing,” a policy brief says. Recommendations include making graduation rates available to students, parents, and other groups and having graduation data affect Adequate Yearly Progress results.
Meanwhile, another Alliance policy brief decries the “tunnel vision” the U.S. displays in the “global schoolhouse.” The report accuses the U.S. of ignoring opportunities to learn from its international peers in education, noting steep declines in high school completion rates.

Immigration and children

Growing numbers of children of illegal immigrants are born in this country, and are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as those with American-born parents, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center. The report says these children struggle academically and face uncertainty alongside parents who fear deportation, toil in low-wage jobs, and suffer layoffs in our flagging economy. In 2003, 2.7 million children of illegal immigrants were born in the U.S.; those children will be first-graders this year.

Impact of charters

The RAND Corp. has studied charter schools in Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas, and Florida, using longitudinal, student-level data across multiple communities and varied charter laws. The RAND study finds scant evidence that charters produce achievement substantially different from that of traditional public schools. It cautions, however, that the evidence is incomplete: Elementary schools—a substantial proportion of all charters—aren’t easily assessed.

International toolkit

The Education Commission of the States has released the International Benchmarking Toolkit, a resource for state policymakers, school district officials, principals, and teachers looking to raise the bar in America’s classrooms. The toolkit responds to growing concerns that U.S. students may lack work force competitiveness and are lagging behind those from high-performing countries.

Kindergarten testing

Standardized testing and test preparation have become daily activities in many public kindergartens as teachers feel more pressure to get students ready for third-grade exams, according to a study by the Alliance for Childhood. The researchers say kindergarten testing is “out of control” because districts are forced to make decisions on promotion, retention, and placement in gifted programs or special education courses based on test scores. The report is titled Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

Math comprehension

Students better internalize math when taught concepts over procedures, according to a report by Vanderbilt University researchers. The findings give new insight as to effective math instruction, and add to the growing body of research that indicates students are better taught through conceptual instruction versus simple procedural direction.

Music instruction and reading

Children exposed to a multi-year program of music involving increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers, according to a study published in the Psychology of Music journal. The study’s authors say data will help to clarify the role of music study on cognition and shed light on the question of the potential of music to enhance school performance in language and literacy.

Philadelphia privatization

Students at district-run schools in Philadelphia outpaced privatized peers on state exams, according to a Johns Hopkins University study. The report, published in the May issue of The American Journal of Education, examined test scores of students in grades six through eight at 88 city schools from 1997 through 2006. The study’s author, Vaughn Byrnes, says the achievement gap between the privatized group and the rest of the district was greater than it was before the intervention. Philadelphia’s privatization experiment is the largest of its kind in the country, with 12 of its 18 privatized schools managed by the for-profit EdisonLearning.

Poverty’s long-term effect

A Great Lakes Center policy brief, written by researchers from Arizona State University, details the poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological effects on students that limit what schools alone can accomplish. The brief lists six negative out-of-school factors that inhibit achievement: low birth-weight and nongenetic prenatal influences; inadequate medical, dental, and vision care; food insecurity; environmental pollutants; family relations and family stress; and neighborhood characteristics.

Pre-k obesity

Almost one in five American 4-year-olds is obese, and the rate is alarmingly higher among American Indian children. More than 500,000 children is obese at this age; among American Indian children, where one third is severely overweight, the rate is almost double that of whites.

Reading is elementary

Students who are strong readers by the end of third grade still need more advanced reading skills to succeed in middle and high school, and progress in reading achievement appears to stall in the upper grades, according to research by the The Center for Public Education. In 2004, average reading scores for 9-year-olds on the Long Term National Assessment of Education Progress rose to their highest level in the 33-year history of the assessment (11 points). For 13-year-olds, scores rose only four points between 1971 and 2004, and average scores for 17-year-olds stayed virtually the same. At each grade level, white students outperformed their black and Hispanic classmates by more than two grades.

Volunteer tutors

Using older volunteers as tutors can significantly improve the reading skills of students in the early grades, according to a study by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis. The study examined more than 800 students in three cities in an effort to gauge the effectiveness of Experience Corps, a 14-year-old nationwide tutoring program that trains adults 55 and older to help elementary school children with their reading. The report found that the program had “statistically significant and substantively important” effects on the youngsters’ reading skills, as measured by standardized tests and teacher evaluations.