Research Nuggets on Closing Learning Gaps

Statistical research studies make for dull reading. But they can provide useful info nuggets for policy makers.

Dr. Roland Fryer is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory. In March he published a working paper through the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “The Production of Human Capital in Developed Countries: Evidence from 196 Randomized Field Experiments.”

For anyone interested in closing learning gaps for low-income and minority children – that should include all in leadership positions, this review of statistically valid studies provides 78 pages of dull but intriguing reading (plus 142 pages of footnotes, charts, and appendices).

Here are some notable nuggets:

  • Interventions that attempt to lower poverty, change neighborhoods, or otherwise alter the home environment in which children are reared have produced surprisingly consistent and precisely estimated “zero” results.
  • Charter schools can be effective avenues of achievement-increasing reform, though the evidence on other market-based approaches such as vouchers or school choice have less demonstrated success.
  • Early childhood investments, on average, significantly increase achievement.
  • The critical period for language development occurs early in life, while the critical period for developing higher cognitive functions extends into adolescence.
  • Early in life, many reforms increase reading performance. Later in life, very few treatments have any effect on reading, save “high dosage” tutoring.
  • One-on-one high dosage tutoring with research-proven instruction can increase the growth rates of low-ability students.
  • (For low dose tutoring) the differences between control and treatment groups on achievement scores, school grades, educational attainment, and school behavior are all statistically indistinguishable.
  • In math, the treatment effect is not strongly related to the age of the student at the time of intervention.
  • Students in Ypsilanti, Michigan, who attended the Perry Preschool (landmark disadvantaged early childhood) program… had higher test scores between the ages of 5 and 27, 21 percent less grade retention or special services required, 21 percent higher graduation rates, and half the number of lifetime arrests in comparison to children in the control group.
  • Head Start is a preschool program funded by federal matching grants that is designed to serve 3- to 5-year-old children living at or below the federal poverty level…. By the time the children who received Head Start services had completed first grade, almost all of the positive impact on initial school readiness had faded.
  • In a long-term evaluation of the (Nurse-Family Partnership) program, Olds et al. (1998) found that children born to women who received (registered) nurse home visits between 1978 and 1980 had fewer juvenile arrests, convictions, and violations of probation by age fifteen than those whose mothers had not received treatment.
  • Evidence from … studies suggest that it may be difficult to increase students’ academic outcomes using parental interventions.

If any of these nuggets catch your attention, you should go read them in context at http://www.nber.org/papers/w22130. The paper is free to journalists but $5 for most others.

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