Education Policy Seminar Series - Fall 2016

For the current Education Policy Seminar Series, please visit our website.


Fall 2016

Mathematics Instruction in Kindergarten: Understanding the Evidence

Mimi Engel, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education, Vanderbilt University
Tuesday September 20th 2016, 11:00-12:30 PM
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Bio: Through her work, Mimi Engel aims to contribute to research, policy, and practice related to understanding how policies and programs affect children’s developmental outcomes and opportunities to learn. Her interest in studying how schools and other contexts influence students is informed by her training in human development and social policy and social work. Spanning several areas including teacher labor markets (focus on teacher hiring), early skill formation (focus on mathematics teaching and learning for young children), and contextual influences on children more generally, the central aim of her research is to provide new information about policies, programs, and administrative factors that have the potential to improve students’ school-related outcomes, particularly among children from traditionally under-served populations.

Professor Engel uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate issues in education policy and has worked on a number of studies in the Chicago Public Schools. She also utilizes large-scale national databases. She is currently fielding a longitudinal study, funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation, of instruction in kindergarten and first grade classrooms in a large urban district.

Her publications include peer-reviewed articles in Educational Researcher, American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the Journal of Education Finance and Policy, Developmental Psychology, and Educational Administration Quarterly, among others. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and a master’s degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, she worked as a research associate at the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Abstract: Kindergarten mathematics skills are important for subsequent achievement, yet mathematics is underemphasized in kindergarten classrooms. Using nationally representative data, Engel, Claessens, & Finch (2013) explored the relationship between students’ school-entry math skills, classroom content coverage, and end-of-kindergarten math achievement. Although the vast majority of children entered kindergarten having mastered basic counting and able to recognize simple geometric shapes, their teachers reported spending the most mathematics time—typically about 12 or 13 days per month—on this content. Although teachers reported increased coverage of advanced content between the 1998–1999 and 2010–2011 school years, they continued to place more emphasis on basic content (Engel, Claessens, Watts, & Farkas, 2016). Both studies find that time on advanced content is positively associated with student learning, whereas time on basic content has a negative association. These results suggest that increased exposure to more advanced mathematics content could benefit the vast majority of kindergartners.

Building on the studies described above, we are currently conducting observations of kindergarten mathematics instruction in a large urban district. In addition to sharing results from the studies described above, Engel will present early results from this study. Preliminary results will include information on how much time kindergarten teachers in this district spend teaching mathematics, what content they cover, how content is delivered, and the extent to which teachers scaffold their instruction, ask students open-ended questions, as well as other aspects of mathematics teaching and learning in kindergarten. 



200 Million Test Scores and What Do We Know? Studying Educational Opportunity with Big Data

Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education, Stanford University
Friday October 7th 2016, 11:00-12:30 PM
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Bio: Sean Reardon is the endowed Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education and is Professor (by courtesy) of Sociology at Stanford University. His research focuses on the causes, patterns, trends, and consequences of social and educational inequality, the effects of educational policy on educational and social inequality, and in applied statistical methods for educational research. In addition, he develops methods of measuring social and educational inequality (including the measurement of segregation and achievement gaps) and methods of causal inference in educational and social science research. He teaches graduate courses in applied statistical methods, with a particular emphasis on the application of experimental and quasi-experimental methods to the investigation of issues of educational policy and practice. Sean received his doctorate in education in 1997 from Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Education, and has been a recipient of a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award, a Carnegie Scholar Award, and a National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Abstract: We test students a great deal in the United States. In grades three through eight alone, U.S. students take roughly 50 million standardized state accountability tests each year. Their scores on these tests, aggregated within geographic school districts and student subgroups, provide a useful proxy measure of the sum total of educational opportunities available to children in different communities and groups. In this talk, I will describe the construction and use of a population-level data set (the Stanford Education Data Archive) based on over 200 million test scores from 2009-2013. Using these data, I will describe the patterns and correlates of academic performance and racial/ethnic achievement gaps at an unprecedented level of detail. These patterns reveal a great deal about patterns of educational opportunity in the United States.

Please also refer to this New York Times Op-Ed entitled 'The Good News About Educational Inequality' for more information about this work.



Impacts of Charter Schools Teaching the Core Knowledge Curriculum on 3rd Grade Reading, Writing, English and Math Achievement

Dave Grissmer, Research Professor at CASTL, University of Virginia
Monday October 17th 2016, 11:00-12:30 PM

Bio: Dave Grissmer is a Research Professor at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. One of my current research interests is directed toward understanding the origin of the gaps in achievement between black, Hispanic and white students and between advantaged and disadvantaged students. I am studying the developmental origins of these cognitive gaps prior to school entry using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey of entering kindergarten students (ECLS-K) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey of a birth cohort (ECLS-B). The research involves understanding the strong relationships between cognitive skills and earlier forming motor and attentional skills, their relationship to “executive function” and tracing these relationships and links using evidence from developmental neuroscience.

A second research interest of mine is improving research and development (R&D) policy in funding educational research. This research involves assessing the contributions of various research methods to the development of theories that can predict the effects of large scale programs in education including random controlled experimentation, quasi-experimentation, random controlled trials with multiple methods, natural experiments and research with non-experimental data. This research is directed toward outlining a viable long run R&D policy that integrates the contributions from different research methods, and supports the development of a branch of research directed toward theoretical integration of education research with developmental neuroscience and other contributing fields.

Abstract: This presentation provides the preliminary results on 3rd grade student achievement outcomes from a kindergarten-based lottery evaluation of the effectiveness of Core Knowledge Charter Schools (CK-Charter). Core Knowledge is an elementary school curriculum that emphasizes teaching a broad curriculum and building general knowledge systematically from K-8th grade. Almost all interventions directed toward improving achievement in math and reading involves improving direct instruction in reading and math. The theory underlying the Core Knowledge curriculum is that higher later achievement in math and reading results from teaching a more rigorous curriculum outside of math and reading that focuses on building student’s general knowledge. This general knowledge may enable improved later comprehension of what is read and increased motivation from relating subject matter to their lives. There are over 1400 U.S. schools using the Core Knowledge curriculum, and about 37% of these are charter schools. The CK-Charter schools in our study were attended by children from low to very high income parents in the school districts around Denver, Colorado. The study prospectively tracked approximately 1500 lottery applicant from 14 school lotteries in two kindergarten entry cohorts (2009-2010 and 2010-2011). Preliminary results show significant ITT effects for reading (p < .01) and English (p < .05), marginally significant for writing (p < .10) and positive, but insignificant for math. ITT effects are approximately .2 for reading and English, while estimated TOT effects for children actually attending CK-Charter schools are approximately .5. Results suggest that effects are stronger for middle to low income students and females. In addition, the results suggest stronger effects for cohort 2 that may stem from differences between the more rigorous PARRC Common Core test given to cohort 2 and the older, Colorado based TCAP test given in cohort 1.   



Early Results from a Randomized Evaluation of Post-Secondary Aid

Sally Hudson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education, and Economics, University of Virginia
Monday October 24h 2016, 11:00-12:30 PM

Bio: Sally Hudson is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education, and Economics at the University of Virginia.  She studies recruiting, retention, and performance in public sector labor markets.  Her recent work analyzes Teach for America's impact on staffing in high turnover school districts and the effects of salary schedules on mid-career recruiting. Sally also conducts randomized evaluations of programs that aim to improve post-secondary education outcomes for low-income students. 

Abstract: This paper reports updated findings from a randomized evaluation of a large, privately-funded scholarship program for applicants to Nebraska’s public colleges and universities. Randomly- assigned scholarship offers — which boosted average grants received by $6,300 per year — dramatically improved enrollment and retention for groups with historically-low college attendance. Four years after award receipt, nonwhite students and first-generation college goers were nearly 20 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in college. Awards generated similarly large gains for students with the weakest high school GPAs in the eligible applicant pool. Over time, scholarships shifted many students from two- to four-year colleges, reducing associate’s degree completion in the process. Despite their substantial gains in four-year college enrollment, award winners from the first study cohort were no more likely to graduate on time: less than 30 percent of both treated and control applicants completed bachelor’s degrees within four years. The economic returns to scholarship support will therefore likely hinge on whether award winners eventually convert their extended enrollment into bachelor’s degrees.


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