Going Back to School on Mathematica’s Education Research

Aug 30, 2017

Children going back to schoolBack to school. Three words that conjure up images of tax-free shopping days, endless checklists of necessary school supplies, long-forgotten morning traffic, and ubiquitous social media posts of children with larger-than-life backpacks on front stoops, headed off to tackle their first day of [fill in the blank] grade.

For many, that’s the personal version—but for Mathematica, back to school is also the perfect time to reflect on what we know about how, where, and why children learn best and what we can do to improve education at scale. So let’s go back to school on some of the top downloads and most popular education resources from 2017.

Understanding Types of Evidence: A Guide for Educators 
This easy-to-use resource for teachers and administrators to evaluate education technology describes four different types of evidence they are likely to see in marketing materials, blog posts, news articles, and research literature—and breaks down the strengths and limitations of each. The types of evidence are ordered from weakest to strongest. It is a great resource for evaluating which and how educational technologies can be used in schools, but the lessons can easily be adapted to other education interventions. Learn More.

How Are Youth in Special Education Faring? 
This multiyear study provides a national look at secondary school students in special education and examines how they compare with their peers. The research looks at their backgrounds, school experiences, academic support, and preparation for life after high school, shedding light on the particular challenges these students face. The study found that students with an Individualized Education Program experience bullying and suspension at higher rates, are more likely to struggle academically but less likely to receive some forms of school-based support, and lag behind their peers in planning and taking steps to obtain postsecondary education and jobs. Learn more.

Educational Technology: Does It Improve Academic Achievement? 
First published in 2009, this work continues to be one of the most visited pages on Mathematica’s site related to education. The study, mandated by Congress as part of the No Child Left Behind legislation, explored the conditions and practices under which educational technology is effective in increasing student academic achievement. It found that on average, the use of technology products did not have a statistically significant impact on test scores after one year, and there were mixed results for the hypothesis that an additional year of experience using the software products improves their effects on test scores. Learn more.

Blog Series: Research Agenda on School Choice for the New Administration 
This four-part series of blogs posts outlined a potential education research agenda for the Trump administration given the emphasis on evidence required under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The series explored—in text and with video—key unanswered research questions surrounding
school choice, charter schools, voucher programs and education savings accounts, and online schooling. Learn more.

Charter Schools: Are they Effective? 
An oldie but a goodie, this report was first published in 2011 and has been referenced in subsequent journal articles. The study looked at the impact of charter schools on such things as student achievement and parent satisfaction and explored the ways that charter and conventional public schools are different. It also examined how the autonomy or policy environment under which charter schools operate influences their effectiveness. The study found that on average, charter schools had no significant impacts on student achievement in math and reading, but both students’ and parents’ satisfaction were positively impacted. Charter school impacts varied widely across schools, with the most positive impacts among schools in large, urban areas and among those serving the most disadvantaged students. Learn more.

These resources—pulled from our most viewed pages and downloaded products in 2017—amount to a pretty good syllabus for a contemporary discussion about evidence-based education policy (and are certainly a good case study in the value of short, accessible research titles). But the beauty of this discussion is that the evidence base is constantly growing and evolving.

How will the launch of the Regional Educational Laboratories change what research educators are using most? What role can researchers play in the ongoing debates around teacher accountability? And can these top performers hold off a charge from more recent studies that looked specifically at KIPP and Kaufmann School charter models? 

Check back next semester. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not represent those of Mathematica Policy Research.

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