5 Things We’re Reading

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This month’s issue of 5 Things We’re Reading is a selection of recent studies, news, and commentary on topics that affect educators in our community. Next time you read something that resonates with you, share it with us on Twitter by mentioning @unboundedu. You can also add your comments by posting this reading list on Facebook.

1. Education inequalities at the school starting gate
New research by the Economic Policy Institute finds it hasn’t gotten easier for disadvantaged students to catch up. Using data from 1998 and 2010 kindergarten classes, researchers found that significant performance gaps exist between children in the lowest and highest socioeconomic-status (SES) quintiles and that these gaps persisted over time (from the 1998 cohort to the 2010 cohort). The study also highlights strategies district leaders have pioneered to counter the inequitable conditions that hinder effective teaching and learning. “Large and growing disparities in the economic well-being of children in America and extensive evidence linking those disparities to widely diverging educational outcomes have prompted action among a growing number of communities and school districts,” the report says.

2. Study: Blending curriculum and PD can help novice teachers improve
A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) suggests a curriculum model combined with ongoing professional development helps less experienced teachers teach to the standards and support student learning just as well as more experienced teachers. Researchers write,“The importance of providing professional learning in conjunction with model curriculum and classroom materials should not be underestimated.” The study also recommends job-embedded professional development but acknowledges that school leaders do not always know how to implement this type of training well.

3. Small ‘Nudges’ Can Push Students in the Right Direction
University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and other education researchers are examining how nudges—low-cost interventions that influence behavior by changing how or when choices are offered—can have a positive impact on students. This project echoes much of what Carol Dweck says in her research on growth mindset. The article provides five examples of nudges, including sending high school students personalized text messages that automatically remind them of upcoming college deadlines. At the cost of $7 per student, high school students who received reminder texts were seven percentage points more likely to enroll in college than those who didn’t (70 percent versus 63 percent).

4. Baby’s Got Mail: Free Books Boost Early Literacy
NPREd highlights Books From Birth, a program launched by D.C. Public Library that mails one book every month to enrolled children from birth to age 5. The program emphasizes the need to promote early literacy at home especially in places where access to quality books is not an option for low-income communities. The article also looks back at the pivotal 1990s study that identified the 30 million word gap, which asserts that by age 3, children from low-income families have learned 30 million fewer words than peers from affluent homes.

5. The ‘A’ Word: Accountability — The Dirty Word of Today’s Education Reform
Last week, The 74 released its final six conversations on accountability written by education reformers including former U.S. education secretaries Dr. John King and Margaret Spellings. The series, produced in partnership with the Bush Institute, takes us back to the origins of accountability in schools and examines the congressional acts that emerged to hold educators responsible for all students’ achievement. The six conversations leverage the voices and experiences of those who have been in such policy discussions and shed light on why accountability practices are essential for the benefit of all students in this country.