It will be a slow news week in Amherst (with schools on vacation), so I thought I'd post two interesting articles on strategies for closing the achievement gap.
The first, from Newsweek, focuses on the effectiveness of reducing the achievement gap as a function of income of having low income students attend schools with higher income students, instead of clustering low income students at a single school (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/31/maryland-s-test-case-to-close-the-achievement-gap.html). This is precisely the research that led to the decision 2 years ago to redistrict our elementary schools, and I hope we see similar gains in terms of achievement in low income kids.
The second, from The New York Times, describes the work of Harvard professor Dr. Ronald Ferguson, who has been a leading expert in examining ways of decreasing the achievement gap as a function of race (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/education/14winerip.html). I had the opportunity to have dinner (at an event sponsored by Amherst College) a couple years ago with Dr. Ferguson, and I was extremely impressed by his rational, research-based perspective on how to address this very challenging (and seemingly pervasive) problem.
UPDATE: Here is an example of a recent paper presented at a conference on reducing the achievement gap which examines data on the effectiveness of particular strategies for reducing the gap (I've pasted the abstract below - and have bolded the points I found most profound). The gist is that this research showed smaller class sizes K to 3 (below 18) were very effective in leading to long-term improvements in achievement, and these effects were particularly beneficially for African-American students (I've pasted the paper's abstract below). So, we could use the results of this research to make decisions about how to allocate resources in our district, and presumably that would help reduce our own achievement gap. Last year, kindergarten classes at FR and CF were 20 and 21, and 2nd grade classes were 23 at WW. In contrast, 6th grade classes in all three schools were 16 to 18. The research reported here suggests that for the same money, we could have increased class sizes in 6th grade at all three schools and reduced class sizes in kindergarten (FR and CF) and 2nd grade (WW) and led to higher level of achievement for all students, and especially for African-American students. This is research that Steve Rivkin (and others) has conducted, and in fact, Steve was asked by the Brookline SC to present his research on the benefits of small class sizes in particular grades earlier this spring. Brookline seems to be a district that is interested in making research-based decisions; Amherst is a district that has not shown this same interest (Steve's points during SC meetings on the benefits of particular educational approaches are typically ignored, although he is considered an expert on economics and education).
"Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap?"Alan Krueger and Diane Whitmore, Princeton University
This paper examines the effect of reducing class-size on student achievement, with particular attention to differential effects by race. A review of the literature suggests that low-income and black students tend to benefit more from attending a smaller class than white students. We extend the literature by providing new results from a long-term follow-up of students who participated in Tennessee's Project STAR. Project STAR was an experiment that randomly assigned 11,600 elementary school students and their teachers to a small class (target of 13-17 students), regular-size class (22-25 students) or regular-size class with a teacher-aide. The experiment began with the wave of students who entered kindergarten in 1985, and lasted for four years. After third grade, all students returned to regular-size classes. We analyze the effect of past attendance in a small class on standardized test scores through the eighth grade, on whether students took the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, on performance on the ACT or SAT exam, on criminal conviction rates, and on teen birth rates. The results indicate that, while students are in small classes, average test scores increase by 7-10 percentile points for black students and by 3-4 percentile points for white students. After all students are returned to regular-size classes in 4th grade, the gains from having attended a small class fall to about 5 points for black students and 1.5 points for white students, and persist at around that level. If all students were in a small class in grades K-3, we estimate that the black-white test-score gap would fall by 38 percent in grades K-3, and by 15 percent thereafter. Combining estimates of the effect of small classes on 3rd grade test scores from the STAR experiment with national trends in the pupil-teacher ratio for black and white students since 1971, we find that historical movements in the pupil-teacher ratio can account for almost all of the narrowing of the black-white test score gap as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. We also find that having attended a small class compared to regular-size class raises the likelihood that black students take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam from 31.8 to 41.3 percent, and raises the likelihood that white students take one of the exams from 44.7 to 46.4 percent. As a consequence, if all students were assigned to a small class, the black-white gap in taking a college entrance exam would fall by an estimated 60 percent. In addition, we find that past attendance in a small class raises the average score on the ACT or SAT exam by 0.15-0.20 standard deviation for black students, and by 0.04 standard deviation for white students.
Lastly, we find evidence that criminal conviction rates are 20 percent lower for black males who were assigned to a small class than for black males assigned to a regular-size class, and maximum sentence rates were 25 percent lower, although both of these effects are not statistically significant. The teen birth rate was one third less for white females who were assigned to a small class compared to those assigned to a regular-size class, and the fatherhood rate was 40 percent lower for black teenage males assigned to a small class than for those assigned to a regular-size class. The effect of class size on teenage births for other groups was not statistically significant.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.