As part of a national war against school choice, the California teachers union is pouring more than a million dollars a month into anti-charter legislative efforts. Unfortunately, a new “compromise” bill crafted by Governor Gavin Newsom whose language was released this week indicates the union is about to get a big return on its investment. Caprice Young, a Fordham Institute trustee and a leading figure in the state’s charter sector, explains how this painful moment came about—and what it means for California charter schools going forward.
As part of a national war against school choice, the California teachers union is pouring more than a million dollars a month into legislative efforts to stop parents from having the right to pick the best schools for their children to attend. Unfortunately, a new “compromise” bill crafted by Governor Gavin Newsom indicates that they are about to get a big return on that investment. Here’s how we California charter advocates reached this painful moment—and what it means for us going forward.
The last few governors supported growing public charter schools, and former Governor Jerry Brown had even founded two specialized charters as mayor of Oakland. Newsom had not been particularly anti-choice before he got elected last November, but the California charter school advocates ran an aggressive, harshly negative campaign in favor of his top primary opponent, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was a strong champion of charters as the speaker of the State Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles. At the same time, the anti-Trump backlash led to the election of a Democratic super-majority in the legislature and an anti-charter Superintendent of Public Instruction. All of a sudden, a movement used to leading education reform efforts found itself not just pushed out, but under attack.
The state’s charter leadership had hoped to have a year of kumbaya focusing on improving opportunities and funding for special education and African American students in all public schools—charter and traditional—but soon found itself on its heels. Union-sponsored legislation went forward that, in its original form, would effectively phase out all charter schools over five years as authorizers voted against the renewal of charters as they came forward and no new charters could be opened due to a moratorium. “Don’t worry,” the union backed assembly members said facetiously, “You’ll be fine. This won’t harm existing schools.” Meanwhile, the state superintendent created a committee to look into the financial impact of charter school growth on school districts. In the midst of this, the high-profile criminal case of a virtual charter school leader accused of committing fraud to the tune of $80 million hit the news.
So, to recap, at the beginning of the legislative season: 1) charter school leaders had annoyed the new governor; 2) the teachers union took control of the legislature in the anti-Trump sweeps; 3) school districts blamed their financial crises on charters instead of declining enrollment and rising special education and pension costs; and 4) anti-charter bashers had successfully generalized from a few bad actors to taint the entire movement.
The one saving grace was that more than 600,000 families send their children to charters and they were not about to see their options narrowed. This was particularly true of Latinx, African American, and working-poor parents who came out by the thousands to rally against the attacks. They poured into the streets of Los Angeles and Sacramento to protest and sent delegations to visit legislators. At first, they were having some success. The most egregiously hostile bills died off early in the process. Then school was out for the summer and the legislature kept working on two others.
Last week, the governor announced that he had brokered a “compromise” between the union and the charter school advocates on the other outstanding bills; the Senate Appropriations Committee voted in favor of them without actually seeing the new language.
Now the language is out, and we know this compromise is actually a huge loss for charter schools, with only a few redeeming upsides, causing the California Charter Schools Association to describe the regulatory framework as a “new reality.”
The strength of the current California charter law lies in three major points. First, new and renewing schools must be judged on their academic and operational promise or proven success, and authorizers may only deny them by issuing a finding that the schools would not or had not succeeded according to these criteria. Second, although charters are primarily authorized by the entities with whom they compete for students, charters and renewals can be appealed to the counties and the State Board of Education where they are given a fresh look. Third, the charter law includes a provision for charters to be organized as independent study schools, earning funding with student work samples as opposed to seat time, allowing a vibrant online and flexible population of schools to grow. I lead schools using this alternative funding independent study set of rules to serve a highly vulnerable population of dropout, bullied, pregnant and parenting, foster, homeless, traumatized, and special needs students through flexible centers often co-located in community and health care centers.
The new legislation dramatically limits the ability of independent study schools to create and operate resource centers. Resource centers are community-embedded places for students, especially special education and academically weak students, to come to for in-person support. This is critical for students who don’t have sufficient reading abilities to access curricula on their own. These centers will now be required to be approved by the districts in which they are located, rather than their authorizers, which may be different because students from surrounding areas can enroll in independent study schools.
Furthermore, school districts will have expanded authority to deny new charters on the basis of fiscal impact on their district finances or whether the district already has a similar program, while considering the academic needs of the students the charter proposes to serve. It also requires new schools to describe how they plan to achieve a balance of special education and English-language-learner pupils in their petitions, in addition to racial and ethnic subgroups currently required. It is meant to address district and union concerns that charters have not been serving their fair share of these students, even though that issue has already been remedied by charter school leadership in the state. New or expanding schools would be subject to a “community impact finding,” making it possible for the districts to deny schools based on a not yet defined and potentially broad set of criteria.
Charter schools would continue to have the right to appeal to the counties any local decisions to deny new and existing schools. Those denied by counties could still appeal to the State Board of Education, but only under a very narrow “abuse of discretion” determination, a much higher standard that dramatically reduces charter school leaders’ opportunity to make their case. The board would no longer have the power to directly approve new charter schools. Moreover, when the state board does approve an appeal, it will be required to designate the original school district or county board that denied the school in the first place as the authorizer for the purposes of oversight, effectively removing the role of the state as a charter overseer and setting schools and districts up for a dysfunctional relationship from the start.
Achievement-gap-closing charter schools will be rewarded with streamlined and lengthened renewals. Existing high-quality charter schools serving traditionally underserved students will be eligible for streamlined renewal and up to a seven-year renewal period. Middle performing charters—the majority of schools—will be judged based on the state accountability dashboard with the academic factors weighted most highly. This stratification is only helpful if authorizers do not use their new discretion to close good charters because they are successfully competing for students.
Low-performing charters will be presumed for non-renewal but will have the opportunity to show academic progress and post-secondary outcomes as factors for consideration. They will be eligible for a two-year renewal period if the authorizers want to give them a shot at turning themselves around. Authorizers would be allowed to consider egregious fiscal, governance, and student admissions issues as a basis for non-renewal after exhausting due process with an opportunity for the school to cure said issues. Alternative schools, like mine, are recognized by the state under a separate accountability framework. They would need the local authorizer to create the renewal process by which they’re bound.
Currently, charters must have credentialled educators teaching all core courses (English, math, etc.). A certificate of clearance by the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing for all non-core, non-college-prep charter school teachers will now be required (for those teaching art, music, or career-technical classes, for example). Existing teachers will have five years to be certified. New teachers must be certified by July 1, 2020. The commission will be required to study whether improvements can be made in the credentialing process to better align compliance with non-core, non-college prep courses and be required to develop a specialized certification based on its findings.
The biggest harm is that this bill creates a two-year moratorium on “non-classroom-based” independent study charter schools, including mine. Although the proposed legislation has some accommodations for necessary authorizer transition due to changes in law, this would effectively prevent schools that serve our state’s most vulnerable students from expanding to meet the growing needs of homeless, foster, and other disengaged youth—a population of more than 500,000 students statewide.
As usual, the devil is in the details and often turn on what the definitions of various words end up being in practice. For example, the proposed legislation removes the authority of the state board to waive provisions of the law when unintended consequences of the legislation arise. We also don’t yet know how the authorizing districts will choose to interpret and use their new discretion. If the past is any indicator, those that want to quash competition from great charters will use this law to do so, and nearly all will increase the bureaucratic burdens already weighing school leaders down. For example, the new legislation requires charter schools run by non-profit organizations, as all non-district-run charters are in California, to present the names and qualifications of their board members. Does this mean that now all charters will have to request permission from their authorizers to change board members?
The bottom line is that the California Charter Schools Association faced a nearly impossible task of protecting the independence of the state’s charter school movement against its opponents. This legislation dramatically increases the constraints on charter school growth by empowering school districts to deny new and renewing schools using highly subjective criteria. The governor has promised to take a closer look at independent study charters over the next two years during the moratorium, but in the meantime, tens of thousands of high-need, at-risk students will not be served. If I could change only one small part of what is before the legislature, I would beg for schools already identified by the state as serving alternative populations to be exempted from the moratorium. Otherwise, young people will continue to die due to lack of services. That’s not hyperbole. It’s just a fact that the bill’s sponsors don’t mind.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf garnered headlines recently when he announced vague plans for taking funding away from the state’s public charter schools. He also described charters as benefiting from an unlevel playing field for accountability and transparency. Sadly, it’s a sure bet in 2019 that when a politician calls for more transparency, he doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Let’s start with the money. That’s where politics almost always starts, and ends. The governor and school districts across the state complain that charter costs are eating into district budgets. However, state-reported data show that district revenues have grown at a faster rate than charter revenues. From fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2018, charter enrollment in Pennsylvania nearly doubled, contributing to a decline in overall district enrollment. Even so, district revenues, after deducting charter payments, jumped by 28 percent overall. On a per-pupil basis, district revenues rose 37 percent, versus just 27 percent for charters.
Talk about an unlevel playing field. Charter schools (and thus charter students) only receive about 85 cents on the dollar in Pennsylvania, compared with school district funding. Inflexible cost drivers, such as pension obligations, are the districts’ big problem, one that would be there with or without charter growth.
On the issue of transparency, in nearly all respects charter schools are subject to the same reporting requirements as school districts. State law treats charters and districts both as local education agencies (LEAs); the state publishes the same academic performance reports for both types of schools. The charter sector came together early this year to push for a new law that would strengthen ethics requirements for charter school leaders and boards. The majority Republican House passed it with bipartisan support, 189 to 7, but the governor didn’t push for the bill’s inclusion in year-end legislative negotiations.
Accountability is more complex. Because brick-and-mortar charters are solely authorized by local school districts, each district is responsible for performance monitoring. Some do it better than others. Charter accountability in Philadelphia—where half of the state’s charter students reside—is rigorous. Every charter receives a detailed and public annual evaluation covering enrollment, governance, academics, and finance. These reports are easily accessible on the school district’s website. Since 2013, a dozen charter schools in Philadelphia have been closed as a result of weak academic performance and, in some cases, financial struggle. Encouragingly, during the same period the school board approved expansions for many of the city’s highest-performing charters.
The authorizer who probably does the least when it comes to accountability is ... Tom Wolf. His state Department of Education has been critical of cyber charter schools’ academic performance—and is also the entity responsible for authorizing all cyber charters. The department has neither published annual evaluations for these schools nor established a clear set of performance standards.
Charter schools in Pennsylvania provide educational opportunity for 143,000 students. That makes it the nation’s seventh-largest charter sector. Students enroll for many reasons: innovation, science and technology curricula, or a more personalized learning environment. Others simply want safety. In Philadelphia, charter enrollment is 75 percent African American and Hispanic, as families zoned to attend some of the state’s lowest-achieving schools have sought out other options. According to a study published this year by CREDO, the charter-school research hub at Stanford University, the state’s urban brick-and-mortar charters, most of which are in Philly, produce nearly two additional months of learning in reading for the average student, per school year, compared with traditional public schools.
Despite all of the obfuscation, there is an opportunity to build bipartisan consensus and improve charter policy. Even the appearance of schools having cozy relationships with for-profit entities is unacceptable. Clarifying the rules for avoiding conflicts of interest will ensure taxpayer resources are creating opportunities for students, not founders and insiders. Adding clarity about best practices for measuring school performance, and holding all authorizers accountable to those practices, will help schools and authorizers both (and ultimately students).
It's important that authorizers not be given too much leeway to create obstacles. Local school boards have an inherent interest in not creating competition for themselves, so there have to be clear and consistent criteria—aligned to what families want in a school—for judging new charter applications.
Any reforms have to be tackled with fairness and respect for all students as the starting point. Making speeches is easy. Given Pennsylvania’s balance of political power and the complexity of the issues involved, improving charter authorizing here requires patience, trust, and cooperation.
Almost a decade ago, I wrote that “the greatest challenge facing America’s schools today [is] the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.” Unlike plenty of what I’ve said over the years, this one has stood the test of time.
The challenge is age-old, going back over a century to when the rural one-room schoolhouse started to give way to age-based grade levels. That shift made organizational sense as schools scaled up and were charged with helping many more children go much further in their educations. But it didn’t erase the fundamental fact that just because two kids (or thirty kids) are the same age, it doesn’t mean they’re ready for the same level of academic challenge.
So how can schools manage? The answer for many decades was so-called ability groups: The redbirds were ready for chapter books while the bluebirds were still learning their letters, and Mrs. Smith would spend a chunk of time with each, meeting kids at their level. This became politically incorrect in the 1990s, though, as the anti-tracking movement convinced many educators that any sort of grouping was inequitable, if not racist and classist, which was in fact how ability groups often broke down.
Now schools talk about “differentiating” instruction, which is supposed to focus on the needs of individual children, though in my experience those are often just new bottles for the old wine of ability grouping. Today, however, schools at least try to make sure that such groups are flexible, meaning kids can move up as they make progress.
A cousin, if not a synonym, of differentiation is “personalization,” all the rage among Silicon Valley types. The hope is that by focusing on the needs of individual students, we can move beyond whole-group instruction, or even small-group instruction, and instead “teach to one.”
In a series of posts this month, I’ll explore the possibilities of “personalized pacing” by going deep into two fantastic but very different models from the charter school sector: Rocketship Public Schools and Wildflower Schools. The former is famous for its personalized learning model that focuses on serving low-income students of color; the latter builds intentionally-diverse, teacher-led, micro-Montessori schools. Both are committed to helping students master the academic content set forth in state standards, but they are willing to let individual kids move at their own pace.
Today, we begin by letting Rocketship’s Preston Smith and Wildflower’s Matthew Kramer explain, in their own words, how their schools meet kids where they are. In future posts, we’ll delve deeper.
Mike: Please describe the ways in which your model differentiates or personalizes instruction versus providing all students the same grade-level instruction.
Rocketship’s Preston Smith:
Our mission is to eliminate the persistent achievement gap between children of different races and ethnicities, zip codes, and backgrounds. This achievement gap is clear even before many students enter elementary school—with the vast majority of our students starting with us well behind grade level. In order to get all students up to and above grade level standards, Rocketship pioneered a high-quality personalized learning model that permeates all parts of our school day. Unlike traditional elementary school students, our Rocketeers rotate across four content blocks every day: humanities, STEM, Learning Lab, and enrichment. We integrate a rich social-emotional curriculum across all content blocks and embed English language development standards throughout our instruction. Our teachers lead the learning process for every single student we serve in both whole group grade level instruction and differentiated instruction to meet each student’s individual level. Each day, students engage in one block of math and science instruction (STEM) and a double block of literacy and social studies instruction (humanities). Teachers introduce new concepts, provide supported practice opportunities, and engage students in small-group activities, including integrated online learning programs (OLPs). This carefully orchestrated combination of instructional methods is made possible through robust and regular data streams that highlight where students need support to achieve mastery—from concept acquisition all the way through practice and repetition. This is how we ensure we are optimizing our teachers’ talent and instructional time, targeted in our tutoring, and purposeful in our use of technology.
In addition, classroom instruction is further supplemented and supported through purposeful social-emotional instruction and community meetings, which help our Rocketeers develop the skills to thrive in class and beyond. Personalized learning at Rocketship also extends far beyond the classroom and school year. Every year, our teachers and leaders visit the home of every student we serve. When we change the dynamic from a parent in a teacher’s classroom to a teacher in a student’s home, we develop much stronger relationships with our families and a deeper understanding of how to best serve each and every student.
The Learning Lab is what most people think of when they think of Rocketship’s personalized learning, but it is just one piece of our personalized learning model. Classroom instruction is complemented with a variety of Learning Lab activities, supporting students in multiple ways as they work to master standards. The Learning Lab is like a high-quality afterschool program that is integrated into students’ school days and tightly tailored to their unique learning processes and needs. Our students’ time in the Learning Lab does not replace any time with a teacher. It augments their classroom learning by helping students learn at their own pace and develop more ownership of their learning within our extended school day.
The Learning Lab offers access to adaptive online learning programs, targeted tutoring instruction, leveled independent reading exercises, purposeful independent work, and meaningful enrichment opportunities. Our Learning Lab is a constant space of innovation and is currently evolving into an environment that includes a wider range of activities that provide our Rocketeers with the appropriate level of choice, agency, and real-world application that aligns with our learning outcomes and life success competency scope and sequence. For example, we continue to innovate on various center-learning activities that students rotate through in the course of the day. This ensures we are developing the whole child through strong social-emotional skills when working in a collaborative environment. Rocketeers are exposed to centers that focus on critical thinking and hands-on learning such as Lego robotics, chess, coding, art, project-based learning extensions of topics introduced in class, and hands-on science. This gives Rocketeers multiple and varied opportunities to master content at their level, as well as opportunities that ensure they are better able to access and master skills necessary to compete in the twenty-first century.
Wildflower’s Matthew Kramer:
In authentic Montessori programs, differentiation and coverage of core content are not opposing forces, as they generally are in more teacher-directed educational models. In authentic Montessori environments, children operate with substantial autonomy to choose what they work on each day, with whom they work, and where and how they work in a carefully prepared learning environment in which all the curated choices are good ones, supported by a specially trained adult who observes and gently guides the children as they do their work.
Montessori emphasizes mastery of a comprehensive set of skills with less concern for whether students memorize a large number of facts. All authentic Montessori classrooms include a complete set of Montessori materials (i.e., activities, learning manipulatives, and resources) that have been developed and refined over more than a century through an empirical process started by Maria Montessori and her collaborators. As a group, the materials and the associated presentations and lessons form a comprehensive, progressive curriculum that covers nearly all of the main topics covered by the Common Core State Standards, as has been demonstrated by several detailed cross-walks. The curriculum generally flows from concrete concepts to abstraction and from big picture understanding to detailed understanding, both the opposite of many traditional approaches. This basic approach applies to all subject areas.
Guides (the teachers) play a critical role in ensuring that individual student choices result in covering critical content. Guides keep detailed records of student work choices and areas of struggle and mastery. They use these records to inform their planning of what lessons they present to whom each day—generally as short one-on-one or small group presentations. They also use a series of subtle intervention methods to keep everything on track, such as a carefully designed physical environment and classroom culture that encourages freedom with responsibility, encouraging younger children to enlist the help of older children (Montessori classes all cover a three-year age span—0–3, 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, etc.) or asking a child to explain the topic they are working on to the Guide.
In addition to these authentic Montessori approaches, Wildflower is also developing technologies that support Guides as they do their observations and record keeping—starting with our 3–6-year-old classrooms. Through the use of embedded radio sensors in the environment and computer vision technology, teachers can see how much time they spend with each student and how much time students spend with each lesson. And we’re working on technology that will allow us to measure mastery of physical lessons and track student concentration levels throughout the day. In this way, technology allows for objective, fine-tuned, ongoing assessment in environments optimized for learning, not testing.
A recent report by Eugene Judson, Nicole Bowers, and Kristi Glassmeyer investigates what classroom mechanisms compel students to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) science and math courses and to complete their associated exams—and how that differs between low- and high-income schools.
The researchers first determine what value teachers believe AP experiences hold for their students and then connect these findings to teachers’ strategies for getting pupils into the classes and willing and prepared to take end-of-year tests. Survey requests were sent to all publicly available email addresses of high school science and math teachers in Arizona, as well as a listserv that was popular among physics educators in the state. For their analysis, the researchers used 143 completed survey responses. The three sets of questions that teachers answered were focused on: 1) goals teachers held for their AP students, including passing the exam, experiencing college-level work, building confidence or interest in the subject area, improving chances of college admission, and gaining confidence in their ability to succeed in college; 2) the weight teachers placed on these particular AP outcomes when pushing students to enroll and persist in their courses; and 3) recruitment mechanisms. For context, the researchers asked whether taking the AP exam was a course requirement and whether teachers encouraged all or a subset of enrolled students to take the exam. The survey data are also disaggregated by teachers from Title I and non-Title I schools to uncover any discrepancies between schools’ socioeconomic levels.
Judson et al. found that the two most prominent goals that teachers held for their AP students were for them to experience college-level work and to build confidence in the subject. Their least important objective was to improve students’ chances of college admission. Thus, when examining the outcomes that teachers stressed in their recruitment efforts, they placed the greatest emphasis on academic preparation for college and earning college credit for qualifying exam grades. For course recruitment, at least 60 percent of the teachers reported speaking with their own non-AP students, fellow teachers in prior grades directing students, and counselors advising students to enroll in their AP courses. For exam recruitment, the most common mechanism was to waive the final course exam for students who take the AP exam, followed by the school covering the cost of exam fees, teachers’ general encouragement without targeted strategies, and giving extra credit for attending exam preparation sessions. Almost all teachers who required students to take the AP exam still reported using recruitment mechanisms to obtain buy-in from students and their families.
Between Title I and non-Title I teachers, there were significant differences in the weighted values that both groups placed on AP experiences, as well as the usage of specific recruitment mechanisms. Teachers at lower-SES schools saw greater value in AP enrollment for building confidence and interest in the subject, improving chances of college admissions, and increasing student self-efficacy for future college success. As a result, Title I schools more frequently employed recruitment mechanisms. For example, 44 percent of Title I teachers required students to complete the AP exam, in comparison to about 19 percent of non-Title I teachers. And Title I schools paid for AP exam fees at a rate seven times that of non-Title I schools. Math teachers at Title I schools were also more than three times as likely to report communicating with parents in an earlier grade as a recruitment strategy. This suggests that Title I teachers perceive AP enrollment as a gateway to college in a way that non-Title I teachers do not.
The study doesn’t measure the extent to which these recruitment mechanisms are effective. That is, we can’t surmise that waiving final course exams alone causes a certain number of students to choose to enroll in an AP course in a given year. With the multitude of recruitment mechanisms that are used simultaneously—along with other factors that contribute to students’ decisions to pursue an AP track, such as parents’ wishes or a desire to maintain a friend group—it would be difficult to measure the impact that each of the proposed strategies actually has on student completion of AP courses and exams. Perhaps future research can begin to investigate this question by conducting student surveys on which recruitment mechanisms affected their individual choice to enroll and to what degree.
Overall, this study illuminates teachers’ views on the importance of AP courses, which is helpful because their value judgments inform the type and amount of recruitment that is done at the school and classroom level. It appears that teachers at Title I schools actively recruit more than teachers at non-Title I schools because they know their students need a stronger push and additional support to enroll and persist in AP courses and to complete the exams. Whether these recruitment mechanisms are effective or not, the reality is that AP enrollment and exam completion rates are increasing. Now we just need to ensure that passing rates are keeping up.
SOURCE: Eugene Judson, Nicole Bowers, and Kristi Glassmeyer, “Recruiting and Encouraging Students to Complete Advanced Placement Science and Math Courses and Exams: Policies and Practices,” Journal for the Education of the Gifted (June 2019).
Teaching students to engage with history and civics is important in a democratic society. The critical thinking and communication skills taught in social studies classes are all the more essential to students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) because they equip them to overcome difficulties interacting with and relating to peers. Unfortunately, special education teachers are rarely trained in social studies content, and a large majority of young adults with EBD self-report low or no civic engagement. This led Justin D. Garwood, John W. McKenna, Garret J. Roberts, Stephen Ciullo, and Mikyung Shin to conduct a meta-analysis published in Behavior Modification on the impact of interventions in social studies for students with EBD. Their findings underscore the need for teachers to apply simple, well-known intervention techniques for these children.
The authors looked at peer-reviewed analyses of social studies interventions that included students with EBD and met What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) research standards. This yielded sixteen peer-reviewed articles and one dissertation. In all, the combined research included 656 students, 111 of which had EBD. Most pupils were in grades six through twelve, and a little less than half were minorities.
The authors then determined the effect size, i.e., across multiple studies, the average difference in outcomes between the control groups and groups receiving interventions. The larger the effect size in a study, the greater the improvement in students’ ability to recall social studies facts compared to improvements in the control group. With the measure used by the authors, effect sizes usually fall between 0 (insignificant difference, any improvements likely due to chance) and 1 (significant difference, any improvements likely due to intervention).
The two most common interventions were, one, a form of peer-tutoring that required students to memorize social studies facts and summarize them to peers, and two, giving students computer-made charts—as opposed to teacher- or student-drawn ones—with social studies content to use while studying. The third most common intervention was a method called cover, copy, and compare, where students study facts for a set period on the left side of a paper, then cover the facts, reproduce what they remember on the right side of the paper, and compare it to the originals. This continues until the student succeeds without errors for a few consecutive trials.
The authors found that these social studies interventions were effective—especially in studies that applied them exclusively to students with EBD—but they also stress the need for more engaging ones. For studies that combined EBD and non-EBD students, the effect size was 0.48, indicating a significant difference between control groups and intervention groups, but not a large one. But for studies that had only EBD students, the effect size was 1.05, indicating a large and significant difference between the two groups and a strong, causal relationship between the interventions and improved outcomes in knowledge tests. However, the interventions did not test complex reasoning and textual analysis skills, and were, frankly, unengaging. The authors recommend that future studies design more rigorous interventions that have students debate historical controversies, take uncommon perspectives, or analyze source texts. It is not enough to teach students history or geography facts; social studies demands the excitement of engaging with the past and with institutions we take for granted, and the skills to think and talk through the human experience.
The most interesting findings of this study were how rapidly the EBD students saw improvement in their content knowledge when separated from non-EBD students for the intervention. It is rare to find such improved outcomes resulting from interventions, especially since the studies with one or few EBD students had much smaller improvements in outcomes with the same interventions. Furthermore, it’s interesting that no unique interventions were designed for the studies. Nearly every teacher uses computer-made charts, and teachers who have students with learning disabilities have been training their peers to help them memorize and summarize facts for years. So the techniques have been present all along, but they have yet to be widely applied in the area of social studies.
It comes as no surprise that students with EBD respond well to the social studies interventions. Well-structured peer-tutoring and well-designed charts are a natural way to help these children lower their anxiety levels and build confidence in the classroom. What is surprising is how, for the last decades, schools could have helped these students by applying these simple strategies, but too many didn’t because of their narrow focus on math and reading. Furthermore, future studies should design more engaging strategies or risk making learning a chore for EBD students. With the notable gains we’ve made in improving other achievement gaps, it’s time our schools do more for social studies education and make sure students with EBD don’t get left behind.
SOURCE: Justin D. Garwood, John W. McKenna, Garrett J. Roberts, Stephen Cuillo, and Mikyung Shin, “Social Studies Content Knowledge Interventions for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Meta-Analysis,” Behavior Modification (March 2019).
On this week’s podcast, Martin West, Harvard professor and editor-in-chief of Education Next, joins Mike Petrilli to discuss the results of Ed Next’s annual survey of public opinion. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines whether video technology can improve teacher evaluations.
Amber’s Research Minute
Thomas J. Kane et al., “Can Video Technology Improve Teacher Evaluations? An Experimental Study,” Education Finance and Policy (April 2019).