January 2011 Reports

Achievement gap and black boys
Black boys on average fall behind starting from their very earliest years in school, according to A Call for Change, a new report from The Council of Great City Schools. Twelve percent of fourth-grade black boys read proficiently, while 38 percent of their white cohorts do, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared to 44 percent of white boys of the same age. Poor white boys perform just as well in school as black boys who are not economically disadvantaged, and black boys drop out of school at nearly twice the rate of white boys. Black boys’ SAT scores average 104 points lower than those of white boys -- and in college in 2008, black men made up just 5 percent of the students enrolled.

America’s largest school districts
America’s 100 largest school districts educated 22 percent of all public school children in 2008-09. Twenty-two percent of all public school teachers were employed by the 100 largest districts. Almost 50 percent of these very large districts are in just three states -- California, Florida, and Texas. Annual per-pupil expenditures ranged from $6,363 in Utah’s Granite District to $23,298 in Boston. Read Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2008-09 for more information.

College marriage gap reverses
In a reversal of a century-long marital pattern in the U.S., college-educated young adults (62 percent) are now more likely to have married by the age of 30 than young adults without a college degree (60 percent). A new report, The Reversal of the College Marriage Gap, hypothesizes that this shift results from declining economic fortunes among non-college-educated young men. Median annual earnings for this group declined 12 percent from 1990 to 2008. The median age at first marriage is now 28.

Counting credits toward college completion
Many students enter college with learning and credits earned at community colleges while still in high school, or earned on the job or in military training -- but more often than not, institutions only recognize these credits as electives, and view learning outside of college as a “fringe activity” that does not translate into credits. A new report, Degree Completion Beyond Institutional Borders, recommends the creation of a national commission to improve articulation agreements between institutions and postsecondary systems, equitable funding for nontraditional learners and programs, the improvement of data collection on student transfers, and the creation of a national database for information about the transferability of credits.

Early childhood policy
A new report details enrollment in and federal spending on three early childhood programs: Early Head Start, Head Start, and home visiting programs. Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy finds that, with an enrollment of 900,000, Head Start serves less than half of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty, and that Head Start serves many children who are not poor; 18 percent of the children served are not in the bottom 40 percent of families by income. The report also says that Head Start and Early Head Start have not been found to have a lasting effect on child development or school readiness, and that while home visiting programs have shown consistent impact on child development in some trials, they have not yet been evaluated as a full-scale public program.

Economic integration
A study of 858 public-housing students enrolled in Maryland’s affluent Montgomery County public schools says that, seven years after enrolling, these students scored 8 percent higher on standardized math tests than their cohorts in higher-poverty schools -- who had received additional services. According to Housing Policy Is School Policy, by the time the public-housing students had left elementary school, they had reduced -- by 50 percent in math, and 33 percent in reading -- the achievement gap with their more affluent classmates.

Fixing schools
A new brief from the Economic Policy Institute says that it will take a lot more than giving bad teachers the boot to turn around public schools. How to Fix Our Schools says that social science research shows that the quality of schools accounts for only one-third of differences in student achievement, that the other two-thirds is due to out-of-school factors beyond the schools’ control, and that good teachers cannot compensate for the kinds of disadvantages many students bring to school. The brief also talks about the roles teacher collaboration and school leadership play in student achievement, and suggests that an inspired school principal may be able to get better student achievement with mediocre, or even bad, teachers, than a poor principal could produce with even the best of teachers.

Graduate employment gap
Prior to the recession, Latino and Asian American high school graduates enjoyed lower unemployment rates than did their white cohorts, but the recent increase in unemployment across all races has erased their advantage. A new briefing paper, Graduate Employment Gap: Students of Color Losing Ground, says that, over the recession, all nonwhite groups of college graduates have experienced a much greater increase in unemployment rates than have white college graduates, but black high school graduates and black college graduates face the greatest increase in rate of all, with black college graduates facing a “double whammy”: the highest rate of unemployment and the highest level of student loan debt.

Making degree attainment easier
Residents in multistate metropolitan areas travel freely across states and between cities, but students attending schools in those areas do not enjoy the same fluidity when it comes to tuition payments and credit transfers, and may be charged out-of-state fees for attending a nearby university -- in another state. Easy Come, EZ-GO suggests Congressionally authorized Educational Zone Governance Organizations (EZ-GOs) as a solution. These organizations would ratify the boundaries of these areas, advise federal policymakers on ways to increase enrollment, and review federal policies to help improve coordination among public, private, and for-profit institutions in their areas.

Modern families
What does it mean to be a family today? Marriage and children are frequently delayed; the average man now marries at 28, the average woman at 26. The recession has led to a recurrence of the kind of multigenerational household so common in the last century. Living in a traditional, nuclear family in a traditional, suburban environment is no longer the norm. The current issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine focuses on the Modern Family: In an Age of Upheaval, Reinventing the Ties that Bind.

Principals and school leadership
Principals are the second biggest factor influencing student achievement. Principals determine school culture and are responsible for the selection, development, and retention of their school’s teachers -- the biggest factor influencing student achievement. A report released by the Rainwater Leadership Alliance, A New Approach to Principal Preparation, highlights innovative programs that develop principals who are effective, and shares their best practices and lessons learned. The report recommends that effective principal development programs should define a competency framework; rely on strategic, proactive, and targeted recruiting practices; become highly selective and use clear criteria and rigorous processes to evaluate applicants; include training and development that is experiential; establish ongoing support for its graduates; and commit to continuous improvement and using data to assess the effectiveness of their principals and the programs.

Risks for re-entry youth
A new study of Los Angeles County youth finds that the kind of neighborhood a youth settles into upon returning from incarceration influences recidivism. Re-entry was higher in communities that experienced higher rates of violence and vacant housing, lower rates of education, lower availability of mental health services, and higher densities of alcohol outlets. A Spatial Analysis of Risks and Resources for Reentry Youth in Los Angeles County recommends altering neighborhood structure as the best means to reduce recidivism.

Teacher performance assessment
A study shows that, for every additional point a teacher scored on a California teachers’ preservice performance assessment, the teacher’s students scored one percentile point higher (on average) per year on the California Standards Tests English Language Arts than did their cohorts. Preservice Performance Assessment and Teacher Early Career Effectiveness found that students taught by teachers at the top of the assessment’s scale (44) performed best: 20 percentile points higher than students taught by teachers receiving the lowest passing score (24).

Teacher professional development
As a new report from Education Week aptly points out, “as a term for describing ongoing training investments in the teaching force, ‘professional development’ has become both ubiquitous and all but meaningless.” Nevertheless, Professional Development: Sorting Through the Jumble to Achieve Success provides a thorough overview of professional development for teachers -- covering its costs, format, and research base, and suggesting ways to best implement it in districts. 

Compiled by Margaret Suslick, ASBJ’s Editorial Assistant