Tag Archives: Research

ICYMI: 2020-21 Notable Field Research Roundup

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Aside from the requisite holiday gatherings and family time (be it virtual or in person), the end of any year is often a time to tie up loose ends and, if you’re lucky, to catch up on things you might have missed. As we close the books on 2021 — yet another year marred by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — Bellwether did some of that work for you. 

If, like many of us, you could barely keep up with your own inbox, you might have missed some thought-provoking research in the education sector. Bellwether assembled five of the most insightful, interesting, and notable third-party research reports of 2020-21. (Think of it as an “envy list” from folks on the Bellwether team. This is work we really thought was important and kind of wish we’d done!) 

Tag this email, bookmark the page, and save it for a (snowy) day this holiday season: Here, in no particular order, are five notable research reports from 2020-21 authored by external researchers and organizations, covering everything from the impact of COVID-19 on Black students to voter trends and more. 

Black Education in the Wake of COVID-19 & Systemic Racism: Toward a Theory of Change & Action

Black Education Research Collective (BERC) | July 2021
Guided by two key questions — 1) what is the impact of COVID-19 on the education of Black children and youth in the U.S.?, and 2) how should educators and community leaders respond to calls for change and action? — BERC researchers synthesized nationwide qualitative and quantitative data collected from January to May 2021. Key findings of the mixed-method study amplify the impact of the pandemic and systemic racism on Black education, including increased racial trauma and mental health issues. Click here to learn more.

The College Payoff: More Education Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) | October 2021
Is college ‘worth it’? Georgetown’s CEW conducted an analysis exploring how career earnings vary by education attained, degrees pursued, occupation, industry, gender, race and ethnicity, and location. A key finding: more education doesn’t always equate to higher earnings. Click here to find out why.

Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology

Pew Research Center (Pew) | November 2021
Nonpartisan Pew examined the current political landscape and where voters are at. Although partisanship is a dominant factor in politics, Pew created a political typology — classifying the public into nine groups based on ideological and political values and attitudes — to do a deeper-dive analysis within partisan coalitions. The results carry interesting implications for our current political environment as well as the upcoming fall 2022 midterm elections. Click here to examine Pew’s political typology.

When “Tried and True” Advocacy Strategies Backfire: Narrative Messages Can Undermine State Legislator Support for Early Child Care Policies

Evidence for Action | July 2021
Researchers engaged more than 600 state legislators across the country to read different advocacy messages that were in favor of increasing investments in early child care and education. One message simply asked legislators to support these investments, while another message included a personal narrative about a young couple struggling to secure child care in their community. The findings demonstrate that legislators were more likely to support early child care policies when accompanied by a simple pro-policy message, over a personal narrative. Legislators who identified as conservative were less likely to support either type of message, especially messages that included a personal narrative. Findings point to the efficacy of message-testing among a broad audience in advocacy efforts. Click here to read the analysis.

Connecting Social-Emotional Development, Academic Achievement, and On-Track Outcomes 

City Year and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education | May 2020
Researchers examined the mounting statistically significant evidence that an integrated approach to social, emotional, and academic development provides the best pathway for students to accelerate learning and graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary and adult success. As the pandemic continues, this research amplifies important, ongoing issues facing U.S. students. Click here to unpack the findings.

Are there other 2020-21 third-party studies and analyses we missed? Engage with us on Twitter @bellwethered to share your selections!

Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Five)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and have been featured over a two-week span on our blog. This final installment includes reflections from Bellwarians and our social media followers. 

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Lynne Graziano
Senior Analyst in the Policy and Evaluation practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

I would wave a magic wand and put a teacher in every elementary level classroom who understands the science of reading and learning, and is trained to teach young children the methods and magic of reading. Some of my earliest education sector work was researching proficiency rates and I still get depressed every time I pull numbers. With all the things we as a society get riled up about, why aren’t we angrier about how few students are prepared to read to learn by the fourth grade?”

Christine Wade
Associate Partner in the Strategic Advising practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

“I’d ensure every school has a strong school leader who can effectively support and inspire students and staff.”

Paul Beach
Senior Analyst in the Policy and Evaluation practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

“I would dramatically reframe the professional incentives for educational researchers, particularly those in academic settings. Researchers in academic settings are promoted through the ranks by publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Other criteria have to be met, to be sure, but rarely do professors achieve tenure without a strong publication record.

This ‘publish or perish’ culture creates very little incentive for researchers to a) translate key research findings into concrete steps for practitioners and policymakers or b) devote significant time to support quality implementation. This has led to a massive disconnect between researchers and the broader field. Countless wonderful programs and important research findings live in peer-reviewed journals that few people have actually read and even fewer people have done anything with.

We need more creative partnerships between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. As just one example, researchers should be rewarded for not only designing and demonstrating the efficacy of a program, but also for supporting implementation and working with practitioners to continuously improve and sustain that program. The number of papers published on said program should not be the only marker of success. Rather, success should be measured primarily by the impact the program has on students. Universities need more complex, adaptable promotion systems that incentivize researchers to demonstrate impact to tenure committees rather than peer reviewers. In reality, the entire research enterprise must be transformed to reframe the professional incentives for academic researchers.”

Click here for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)

Deep into the new school year, we’re still missing a lot of students

An empty elementary school classroom

Source: Wikimedia

Educators, parents, and policymakers have been concerned about the effects of the pandemic on student learning ever since it forced the abrupt end of in-person instruction in March. In October, my colleagues and I estimated that 3 million students were at high risk of having had little to no education since then. NWEA, the organization that runs the popular MAP Growth exam, estimated in April 2020 that learning loss due to spring school closures and the “summer slide” would set students back, on average, by 30% of a year in reading and more than half a year in math.

The new school year has brought about new data on student performance, and the early returns seem less dire than those original projections — with a major caveat. In a new brief with fall data, NWEA found that students in their test sample started the 2020-21 school year in roughly the same place in reading compared with similar students at the start of 2019-20, and about 5-10 percentile points lower in math. This was a huge sample of 4.4 million students spanning grades 3 through 8, so relatively minor slowdowns in math progress seems worth celebrating.

But these findings are not all good news. The authors note that many of the observable declines were concentrated disproportionately among Black and Hispanic student populations. Biggest of all, fully 25% of students who took the MAP last year didn’t take it this year. In a “normal” year, that rate of dropoff is more like 15%, which suggests that there are many students missing from this year’s data. These could be new homeschoolers or private school enrollees, or they could be disconnected from the school system altogether.

This aligns with other early state-level estimates of enrollment declines. Connecticut’s fall 2020 enrollment is down roughly 3%; so is that of Washington and Missouri. Georgia’s state enrollment numbers are down 2.2%. Most of those declines are concentrated in kindergarten and pre-K, often in double digits. Each of these newly available data points seem to provide evidence of a big picture that is potentially devastating: as many as three million students missing from school.

It’s important to consider here that these missing students — missing from school, and missing from the NWEA MAP data — include those most likely to be deeply affected by the pandemic. In an addendum to the NWEA brief, authors Angela Johnson and Megan Kuhfeld warn that these new learning loss estimates must be considered with this in mind: that the students being tested now are on average less racially diverse (and whiter) and attending socioeconomically more advantaged schools. This is emblematic of what we have seen playing out across the country all year. Generally speaking, more well-off students and their families have the resources to withstand the pressure of the pandemic to an extent that their lower-income peers do not, resulting in two increasingly divergent education systems: one where frequent testing, hybrid learning, and private tutoring are available — and one where they are not.

While this challenge is immense and likely to be with us for some time to come, there are action steps policymakers can take immediately that will better position states and districts for the long haul. The new enrollment figures underscore an urgent need for improved attendance and enrollment data and faster reporting that will enable schools to be responsive and flexible in tracking down “missing” students. There is also a need for attendance intervention strategies that start with an informed understanding of students’ unmet needs, and for collaboration with social service organizations and other community-based organizations that can work to meet those needs. And states can start by providing the funding that can make these interventions possible.

For more on the 3 million students missing in the margins, you can read Bellwether’s report here.

Seriously, Stop Asking If Head Start “Works”

Last month, yet another study came out examining the effects of Head Start on children’s long-term outcomes. The findings were lackluster: Depending on the cohort of children and outcomes you’re looking at, the effect of Head Start was either negative or non-existent. 

This study is noteworthy for a few reasons. It uses the same analytical approach as a high-profile 2009 study on Head Start, conducted by Harvard economist David Deming, which found Head Start had unquestionably positive results. And in a twist I’m definitely reading too much into, a former Deming student is one of the lead co-authors on this new study. People are also paying attention to this study because the findings go against a truly massive body of evidence on Head Start, which largely shows that Head Start has positive effects on children and families. 

But what snagged my attention is the fact that the research question at the heart of this study is irritatingly useless. It asks, essentially, “Does Head Start work?” That’s a question we answered a long time ago. And the answer is: It depends.

Again, the existing research on Head Start overall is positive. But we also know that there is wide variation in quality between individual Head Start providers. It’s a valuable federal program that can get better.  Continue reading

Learning from a Missed Opportunity in Massachusetts

If current predictions hold, several states will either set new or stand by current limits on charter school growth and expansion. These limits, called charter school caps, place a ceiling on the number of charter schools or students those schools can enroll. In 2016, Massachusetts did the same thing: Voters rejected Ballot Question 2, which would have raised the cap on charter schools in the state. But research released just last week suggests that Massachusetts’ voters made a mistake. The states currently considering similar legislation should pay attention.

In the study I’m referencing, authors Sarah Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, and Christopher R. Walters examined the effect of a policy that allowed effective charter schools in Boston to replicate their school models at new locations. They found that these new schools produced large achievement gains that were on par with those of their parent campuses. What’s more, the average effectiveness of charter middle schools in the city increased after the policy reform.

This evidence could, perhaps, be dismissed if the sector saw only a marginal increase in the number of schools; that is, if there were only a few additional charter schools that pulled this off. But that’s not the case: Boston’s charter sector produced these results despite a doubling of the charter market share in the city.

This analysis would be a big deal for any charter sector, but it is particularly meaningful for Boston. As Bellwether found in a recent analysis of the charter sector, Boston has the highest performing urban charter sector in the country. The average child who attended Boston charter schools benefited from basically a full year of additional learning compared to students in traditional public schools: 170 additional days of learning in reading and 233 days of learning in math. And the research suggests that Boston charter schools have strong, positive effects on the learning outcomes of students with disabilities and English-language learners, as well. The implication here is that not only did Boston’s charter schools replicate their impact, they replicated some of the most effective charter schools we’ve ever seen, to the benefit of the thousands of students in Boston who are on charter school waitlists.

The states that are poised to double down on charter caps — such as New York, Maine, and California — shouldn’t make the same mistake as Massachusetts did in 2016. New York, in particular, is at risk here: In our analysis earlier this year, we examined the existing evidence on New York and New York City and found that there, too, charters are more effective than traditional public schools. By committing to the cap, the state is refusing thousands of students the opportunity to attend high-quality schools.

To be sure, there are reasons to question the growth of a charter sector other than whether charters can replicate effectiveness across schools. Charter critics cite, for example, concerns about the effect of charter sector growth on traditional public school enrollment. But, particularly during National Charter Schools Week, states should be skeptical of arguments used to support charter school caps that claim charter schools cannot be replicated effectively.