Tag Archives: research

The recession’s terrible impact on California schools

A group of researchers at UCLA have completed a sobering study of the effect of the economic downturn on California schools and their students, based on extensive interviews with 87 principals across the state.  The key findings in the study include:

–The recession has created acute new social needs for students attending a broad cross section of California public schools;
–California’s weak educational and fiscal infrastructure has limited the ability of schools to respond to these new needs, despite the extraordinary efforts of local educators;
–Conditions supporting teaching and learning have eroded;
–Many school programs and services previously viewed as essential (such as summer school) have been eliminated or cut back;
–Budget cuts have undermined efforts of schools to sustain improvement and reform;
–As school-by-school fundraising supplements inadequate budgets, opportunities for children in poor communities can fall further behind opportunities for children in wealthier communities. This has serious implications for attempts to close achievement gaps.

The study likens current conditions to what the state’s schools experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the characterization is more apt than they know: California schools have not experienced funding cuts of this magnitude since–wait for it–the Great Depression.

Massive study finds scripted school reform models are marginally better

Education Week reports on a massive 13-year study that evaluated the implementation of three popular comprehensive school reform models that vary in their design and implementation: Accelerated Schools, America’s Choice and Success For All (which has been used in SFUSD in the past). 

After looking at the implementation of these programs at 115 schools, implemented by 300 teachers working with 7500 students, researchers found that America’s Choice and Success For All (approaches that tend to be more scripted than the Accelerated Schools model) were marginally more successful in increasing students’ proficiency:

The Success for All students excelled from kindergarten to the end of 2nd grade. The learning gains at that level, in fact, were strong enough to move the average student from the 40th percentile at the start of the study to the 50th percentile 2½ years later.

The America’s Choice students outperformed all the other groups from 3rd grade to 5th grade.

“I think we know in general how to get kids to read really simple, decontextualized passages well, and that is the strong point of Success for All,” Mr. Rowan [one of the study authors] said. “This isn’t sustained as you go out. It doesn’t inoculate you or teach you to read more-complex material.”

For both programs, the study also found, the gains were greatest when teachers adhered closely to the prescribed teaching practices. “The general principles,” Mr. Rowan said, “are a high degree of specificity for what you want to do and high degrees of support for teachers to do it with fidelity.”

To me, these results are depressing, because they’re so underwhelming — particularly in the case of Success for All (as one commenter says on the Education Week site, “I think it’s more important where a kid ends up in 5th grade than in 2nd.”)  I continue to think that the answer lies less in highly scripted approaches and more in differentiation and continuous evaluation of student progress by the teacher. The best teachers I know are highly collaborative, creative people who use our own curriculum as a starting point, adapting (and improving upon) district resources to better serve their individual students. And at the same time, they continually evaluate the performance of their students, making adjustments when they need to in order to be sure everyone is progressing at an optimum pace.

The state of learning disabilities in the U.S.

The National Council on Learning Disabilities has compiled an extensive trove of data on the state of learning disabilities in the United States — I wasn’t surprised by much in the downloadable published report (PDF), which is a mixed bag of encouraging and discouraging trends, but it is a great source of easily-digestible information for those who like to pore over this kind of thing.  Some key facts:

  • About 2.7 million public school students–almost 6 percent of public school students nationwide–have been identified as having learning disabilities (in San Francisco we have about 2,400 students identified as learning disabled, about 4 percent of the district’s total enrollment). Nationwide, two-thirds of students identified as learning disabled are male;
  • The number of school-age children identified as having learning disabilities escalated rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s but dropped by seven percent between 1998 and 2007. No one is quite sure what is behind this decline but most think it is some combination of stricter standards for identifying learning disabilities and better instructional strategies that have led to earlier identification and better outcomes for younger children;
  • Students with learning disabilities are far more likely to be held back in school or involved in disciplinary actions than their non-disabled peers;
  • The high school dropout rate among students with learning disabilities was 25 percent in 2007 — down from 41% in 1997 but still unacceptably high. Of all the different disability classifications, only students identified as emotionally disturbed drop out at a higher rate than students identified as learning disabled;
  • Despite a renewed focus in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) on preparing students for postsecondary education, only one in three students with learning disabilities reported enrolling in any kind of postsecondary educational program since 2000. And while students with learning disabilities enrolled in two-year community college programs at roughly the same rate as their non-disabled peers, they were far less likely to seek out and enroll in four-year college programs;
  • A shortage of qualified teachers and inadequate teacher training continues to severely impact students with extra needs. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, at least 11 percent of special education teachers are not “highly qualified” as defined by IDEA.  Another study found that just 57 percent of special education teachers said they were very prepared to teach their state’s academic standards; in a third study, fewer than half of principals surveyed said their general education teachers were well-prepared to improve the performance of their students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) — this is particularly worrisome, since the general trend over the past decade (though not in San Francisco!) has been to educate students with learning disabilities in the general education classroom, offering supports and individual “pull-out” sessions where needed and maximizing students’ exposure to the general curriculum.