IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

LGBTQ+ Education Research: Why I’m Proud of the Potential

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In celebration of PRIDE month, two IES training fellows reflect on the state and future of education research for LGBTQ+ students and those who support them. Erin Gill is a predoctoral fellow in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Interdisciplinary Training Program for Predoctoral Research in the Education Sciences where she is studying the policies and practices that influence LGBTQ+ students K-12 school experiences and well-being. Laura Bellows completed her PhD in public policy at Duke University and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Virginia Education Science (VEST) Interdisciplinary Post-Doctoral Training Program. In the fall, she will join the RAND Corporation.

Erin Gill PhotoWhat excites you about education research relevant to LGBTQ+ communities?

Erin Gill (EG): There has never been a more critical moment to focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, and I am excited by education research that aids educators to counter anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and helps them identify effective practices to support the needs of LGBTQ+ youth.

Our LGBTQ+ students need researchers, policymakers, and educators to understand their lives and experiences and advocate for meaningful change in K-12 schools because they deserve schools free of bullying and harassment where they can see themselves reflected in the lessons and curricula, express themselves and their identities, access facilities, participate in school activities and traditions, and be happy and healthy. Our teachers also need support. Although many educators seem eager to advocate for LGBTQ+ students and their needs, they can’t do so if they fear losing their jobs or are pushed out of schools. Educators, whose jobs may be on the line, need research that backs their LGBTQ+-inclusive practices (for example, inclusive pronoun use, integrating LGBTQ+ voices in lessons, and facilitating discussions about identity). Research can help educators identify effective practices and push back against individuals seeking to restrict LGBTQ+ students’ rights in schools.   

Laura Bellow PhotoLaura Bellows (LB): Conversations on LGBTQ+ issues have shifted dramatically since I first came out in 2003. Today, more youth are coming out at younger ages, and many youth and young adults have rejected binary systems of sexual orientation and gender entirely. However, experiences vary dramatically across the country. In some communities, students are learning about LGBTQ+ communities in the classroom—something I never would have thought possible 20 years ago as a high school student in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the same time, some states are actively pursuing and passing policies meant to marginalize LGBTQ+ students.  In my view, this new context should guide future directions in education research. First, to understand the needs of LGBTQ+ students, researchers need to understand this changing population. Second, we need to understand the impacts of these negative policies on well-being. And third, we need to understand how schools can help support LGBTQ+ students, parents, and school personnel, particularly in states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

What types of education research do you think would benefit LGBTQ+ students and communities?

EG: Research on how location and context affect LGBTQ+ students and educator-allies experiences would help schools identify how best to support their LGBTQ+ students.

As a former rural educator, I felt that  LGBTQ+-inclusive policies and practices that work in urban schools may not work for rural LGBTQ+ youth. For example, Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) are often safe spaces for urban LGBTQ+ youth, but rural LGBTQ+ youth may not be as safe because they may lack anonymity due to the small and tight-knit nature of rural communities. LGBTQ+ students experience vastly different school environments. Some schools protect them from discrimination and harassment, openly talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom, and provide gender-inclusive facilities. At other schools, the students face bullying, never have an opportunity to discuss or express their gender or sexuality, and don’t have access to gender-affirming facilities. We need research on the state, community, and school context that affect LGBTQ+ student experiences and outcomes of LGBTQ+-inclusive practices.

What might be a barrier to conducting education research relevant to LGBTQ+ students and communities?

LEB: One major barrier facing researchers interested in education research and LGBTQ+ communities is a lack of data.

District and state longitudinal data systems enable K-12 education researchers to study a variety of questions about teachers, other school personnel, and students. Because these systems capture the entire population of students and school personnel, they lend themselves well to examining smaller populations. Yet data systems contain almost no information related to LGBTQ+ status. However, we must balance this concern with real concerns about disclosing LGBTQ+ status. LGBTQ+ teachers may be nervous about disclosing in official data systems, given past initiatives to ban LGBTQ+ individuals from teaching or portray LGBTQ+ teachers as predatory. LGBTQ+ students may also feel uncomfortable identifying as LGBTQ+ in their official records. At the same time, students are still exploring and discovering their identities. Students must be able to update their answers to questions around sexual orientation and gender identity in official systems with some frequency if such data are collected.

Despite these concerns, I am hopeful there is a path forward for creating administrative data systems that can both illuminate the dynamic experiences of LGBTQ+ populations in schools and also protect their confidentiality.


Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants.

 

Public Charter School Expenditures by School Level

How do we achieve the best education results for the best price? This is a central question among researchers and policymakers alike. In this blog post, we share outcomes from school year 2017–18 concerning public charter school spending at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to help inform the discussion on charter school costs and benefits to the broader education system.

The first modern charter law in the United States was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, the number of charter schools has grown tremendously as an option in public elementary and secondary education. In 2017–18, the United States had 7,086 public charter schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In a decade, from 2007–08 to 2017–18, the number of public charter schools in the United States increased more than 70 percent, representing a little more than 7 percent of all public schools at the end of this time period (figure 1).


Figure 1. Number of public charter schools in the United States: School years 2007–08 through 2017–18

Line graph showing the number of public charter schools in the United States for school years 2007–08 through 2017–18

NOTE: These data include counts of operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), 2007–08 through 2017–18.


Nearly half (47 percent) of all public charter schools in the United States are classified as elementary schools, 11 percent are classified as middle schools, and 28 percent are classified as high schools (figure 2). The remainder (14 percent) have other grade-level configurations and do not fall into any of these categories.


Figure 2. Percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level: School year 2017–18

Pie chart showing percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level (elementary, middle, high, and other) for school year 2017–18

NOTE: These data reflect operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia from the Common Core of Data (CCD) for 2017. School-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for school year 2017–18, whereby “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K–4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades; “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5–8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades; “High” includes schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades; and “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high). Excludes 2,360 schools categorized in the CCD as adult education, not applicable, not reported, prekindergarten-only, secondary, and ungraded.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


According to expenditure data captured in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), public schools in the United States spent $330.94 billion in 2017–18, or more than $6,600 per pupil. Reports of national school expenditures based on data from the CRDC are significantly lower than those estimated using the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) from the Common Core of Data (CCD). This could be attributed to data on spending for school nutrition, operations and maintenance, and transportation being captured in the NPEFS but not collected in the CRDC. However, the CRDC data allow for comparisons of public charter and noncharter schools at the school level. In 2017–18, spending among public noncharter schools fell just under the national average of $6,500 per pupil. Like other schools in the U.S. public school system, charter schools do not charge tuition and instead receive district and state funding based on their enrollment. Public charter schools spent more than $26.83 billion in 2017–18, or just more than $8,900 per pupil, thus exceeding the national average.

The per pupil school expenditures of public charter schools across school levels1 are different from those of public noncharter schools. This analysis compares spending between public elementary, middle, and high schools in 2017–18. (Mixed-level and other schools are excluded because they have variable grade levels and other characteristics that can make expenditures incomparable across school types.) Across school levels, per pupil expenditures among public charter schools exceeded the national average, while per pupil expenditures among public noncharter schools were closer to the national average. Specifically, for public charter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for elementary schools ($8,400), followed by high schools ($8,200) and middle schools ($8,100) (figure 3). However, for public noncharter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for high schools ($6,600), followed by elementary schools ($6,400) and middle schools ($6,100).


Figure 3. Per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18  

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

 

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


The CRDC splits school expenditures into personnel or staff expenditures (e.g., salaries of teachers and of instructional, support, and administrative staff) and nonpersonnel expenditures (e.g., the cost of books, computers, instructional supplies, and professional development for teachers). (Nonpersonnel expenditures do not include those for school nutrition, operations, maintenance, or transportation to and from school.) Figures 4 and 5 show that across school levels in 2017–18, both public charter and noncharter schools tended to spend more per pupil on salaries and less per pupil on nonpersonnel expenditures. The differences between public charter and noncharter schools are particularly noticeable in comparisons of nonpersonnel expenditures, where charter schools spent considerably more per pupil than noncharter schools, most prominently at the elementary school level ($3,400 vs. $800). The figures also show that among public charter schools, middle schools had higher salary expenditures but lower nonpersonnel expenditures than did elementary or high schools. These findings demonstrate the importance of considering school level when examining public charter school spending.


Figure 4. Per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Figure 5. Per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Thoughts for Future Research

Since 2009, the CRDC—a mandatory data collection—has collected school expenditure data from elementary and secondary public schools and school districts. The 2017–18 findings suggest that public charter schools spent nearly 200 to 300 percent more on nonpersonnel expenditures per pupil than did public noncharter schools. However, there are concerns about districts’ ability to accurately report school expenditure data, including those for public charter schools. While the CRDC is currently the only complete national database of school-level spending, the CCD has partial school-level fiscal data for about 30 states, and NCES is making an effort to increase this voluntary reporting. Future studies could include a more targeted analysis of spending among public charter schools by geographic settings, student enrollee characteristics, school size, and school type.

Civil Rights Data Collection

Since 1968, the U.S. Department of Education has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. The CRDC collects a variety of information, including data on student enrollment and educational programs and services, most of which is disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The CRDC informs the Office of Civil Rights’ overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. The CRDC collects data only from public schools (i.e., no data are collected from private schools). The CRDC data files can be found here: https://ocrdata.ed.gov/.

 

By Jennifer Hudson, Ph.D., and Jennifer Sable (AIR) and Christopher D. Hill, Ph.D. (NCES)


[1] For the purposes of this blog post, school-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for SY 2017–18:  “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K through 4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades. “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5 through 8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades. “High” include schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades.  “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high).

Does Gifted Education Access Vary by District? A Study in Washington State

Students and their teacher work over a table with a large map on it.

States and localities have discretion over gifted programs, but surprisingly little large-scale research compares the education environments of students in gifted programs to high-achieving, non-gifted students or investigates how these learning environments vary across districts. In this guest blog, Ben Backes, James Cowan, and Dan Goldhaber discuss their IES-funded exploration study, where they  use administrative and survey data to describe the relationship between gifted participation and access to educational resources across nearly 300 school districts in Washington State.

Gifted Access and Participation in Washington

The underrepresentation of low-income and minority students in gifted programs has attracted attention because identification procedures often include nomination or referral processes requiring subjective evaluation of student ability. Nationally, low-income and non-White students are significantly less likely to participate in gifted programs. To better understand who is in these gifted programs in Washington State, we are investigating participation in gifted programs by student race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status in grades 4–12. Consistent with prior studies, relative to White students, we observe Asian students being more likely to be found in gifted programs, while Black, Hispanic, and free and reduced-price lunch students are less likely to receive gifted services. Washington districts frequently use universal screening policies, and the Black-White and Hispanic-White gifted gaps disappear once statistical adjustments for prior test scores are used. We find little association between use of modifications for underrepresented minorities or low-income students—as reported by district coordinators—and gifted participation.

In sum, we find consistent evidence of disparities in access to gifted programs conditional on student achievement in Washington for low-income students, but less consistent evidence of disparities by student race/ethnicity. However, we only observe data on student academic aptitude beginning in third grade, and many classification decisions are made before this time. There may be disparities in initial gifted classification decisions for younger students.

Unsurprisingly, participation in gifted programs does affect student learning environments. Gifted students are much more likely to sit in classrooms with other high-achieving students and in more homogenous classrooms. These differences persist even after limiting the sample to high achievers. These patterns are most pronounced in elementary school. Gifted students are taught by more qualified teachers in elementary and middle school, as measured by experience, licensure test scores, and educational attainment. However, these effects are very small.

Differences Across Districts and Program Types

We find that although gifted students do tend to take more advanced courses with higher-achieving peers, there is considerable variation in the design of gifted programming across school districts.

  • Although school districts tend to assign gifted students to more advanced academic tracks, we find that these effects are mostly concentrated in large urban and suburban districts. The estimated gifted effects on access to more advanced courses are typically much smaller in the western and eastern school districts in smaller cities and rural areas of the state.
  • Larger, higher income districts in cities and suburbs operate gifted programs that provide more significant changes in learning environments. Students in these programs are more likely to share classrooms with other gifted students and with high-achieving students, and—in the case of large districts—sit in smaller classrooms with more qualified teachers.
  • The structure of gifted programming also influences the type of instructional approaches districts employ. Self-contained gifted programs—where students are assigned to specialized classrooms for most of their instruction—report using a broad array of acceleration strategies. However, about one third of gifted students participate in programs offered through services in regular classrooms, where independent study, supplemental instruction, and flexible ability grouping appear to be important strategies.
  • Well under half of districts have established gifted curricula for math or ELA. About 20% of gifted students are districts that report having a districtwide math curriculum and 25% are in districts that report having districtwide ELA curriculum. This finding is consistent with another study that surveyed districts in three states.

What’s Next?

There is a growing body of empirical literature providing causal estimates of the effect of gifted participation on student achievement which generally uses administrative data from a single school district. The results from this study of gifted programs across an entire state suggest that district-specific gifted programming effects are likely to vary substantially as the nature of the programs vary substantially across districts. This implies both that we should be cautious about generalizing based on district-level studies and that the variation in findings across studies may be indicative of true variation in program effectiveness. In the next stage of this project, we plan to investigate the extent to which this heterogeneity generates differences in the relationship between gifted participation and student achievement.


Ben Backes is a Senior Economist with CALDER at the American Institutes for Research.

James Cowan is a Senior Researcher with CALDER at the American Institutes for Research.

Dan Goldhaber is the Director of CALDER at the American Institutes for Research and CEDR at the University of Washington.

 

Improving Academic Achievement through Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategy Development: The Science Behind the Practice

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is an evidence-based instructional approach characterized by active, discussion-based, scaffolded, and explicit learning of knowledge of the writing process; general and genre-specific knowledge; academic vocabulary; and validated strategies for teaching reading and writing. IES has supported multiple research studies on SRSD for students with learning disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary general education settings. SRSD is used in as many as 10,000 classrooms across the United States and in 12 other countries. In this interview blog, we spoke with Dr. Karen Harris, the developer of SRSD, to learn more about this effective instructional strategy, the IES research behind it, and next steps for further scaling of SRSD so that more students can benefit.

What led you to develop the Self-Regulated Strategy Development model?

Photo of Karen Harris

I began developing what became the SRSD model of instruction in the 1980s, based on my experiences tutoring and teaching. No one theory could address all of what I needed to do as a teacher, or all that my students needed as learners. SRSD instruction pulls together what has been learned from research across theories of learning and teaching. It is a multicomponent instructional model that addresses affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning. Further, SRSD instruction is intended to take place in inclusive classrooms, is discourse-driven, integrates social-emotional supports, and involves learning in whole class and group settings with peer collaboration. SRSD research started in writing because Steve Graham (my husband and colleague) was deeply interested in writing, and we co-designed the initial studies. Today, SRSD instruction research exists across a wide variety of areas, such as reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, fractions, social studies, and science.

What are some of the key findings about this instructional strategy?

SRSD has been recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as an evidence-based practice with  consistently positive effects on writing outcomes.  A 2013 meta-analysis of SRSD for writing found that SRSD was effective across different research teams, different methodologies, differing genres of writing (such as narrative or persuasive), and students with diverse needs including students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. Effect sizes in SRSD research are typically large, exceeding .85 in meta-analyses and commonly ranging from 1.0 to 2.55 across writing and affective outcome measures.

Over the years, IES has supported a number of studies on SRSD, which has led to some key findings that have practical implications for instruction from elementary school through college.

Do you know how many teachers use SRSD in their classrooms?

It is hard to be sure how prevalent SRSD instruction is in practice, but there are two groups dedicated to scaling up SRSD in schools— thinkSRSD and SRSD Online—both of which I voluntarily advise. Together, they have reached over 300,000 students and their teachers in the United States. In addition, I am following or in touch with researchers or teachers in 12 countries across Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What’s next for research on SRSD?  

Many students have difficulty writing by the time they get to upper elementary school. Currently, there is an ongoing development project that is adapting and testing SRSD for children in the lower elementary grades to support their oral language skills, transcription, and writing strategy skills. The research team is in the process of conducting a small-scale randomized controlled study and will have findings soon.

Beyond this study, there are many future directions for SRSD research, including further work in different genres of writing, different grades, and involving families in the SRSD process. More work on how to integrate SRSD strategies into instruction across content areas, such as social studies or science is also needed. Despite the evidence base for and interest in SRSD, a major challenge is scaling up SRSD in schools. We and other researchers have identified numerous barriers to this goal. We also need research on working with administrators, schools, and teachers to use writing more effectively as a tool for self-expression, self-advocacy, and social and political engagement. Writing can also be an important and effective means of addressing issues of equity and identity, and little SRSD research has been done in these areas.

Dr. Karen Harris is Regents Professor and the Mary Emily Warner Professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her current research focuses on refining a web-based intelligent tutor to augment SRSD instruction with elementary students in persuasive writing, integrating SRSD with reading to learn and writing to inform, developing a Universal Design for Learning Science Notebook, and developing practice-based professional development for SRSD.

This blog was produced by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service intern at IES and graduate student in education policy & leadership at American University.

Gender-Sexuality Alliances as a School Resource for LGBTQ+ Students

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, we interviewed Dr. Paul Poteat, professor at Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, about his IES-funded research on Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs)—his motivation, what he’s learned so far, and future work that needs to be done.

What led you to focus on GSAs as a school resource for LGBTQ+ students?

Many LGBTQ+ students continue to experience discrimination at school, but schools are also a place where they can access support and resources from trusted adults and their peers. Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) have formed as clubs in an estimated 37% of U.S. secondary schools. GSAs aspire to be youth led with advisor support and meet for up to an hour during or after school on a weekly or biweekly basis. They provide a space for LGBTQ+ students and their heterosexual and cisgender peer allies to socialize, support one another, discuss and learn about LGBTQ+ topics, and engage in advocacy and awareness raising to promote more welcoming schools. In these ways, GSAs are in a promising position to reach and support LGBTQ+ students at a large scale.

What do we know about GSAs and student wellbeing? What do we still need to know?

Most GSA research has considered student wellbeing in relation to GSA presence at their school. Students in schools with GSAs report greater perceptions of safety and less victimization than students in schools without GSAs. Among students who are GSA members, many report feeling a sense of empowerment from their involvement.

Although these findings have been encouraging, there are some important limitations to what we know about student experiences in GSAs and how GSAs may promote wellbeing. For instance, GSAs vary to some extent in what they do—they are not standardized programs—and even members in the same GSA can report different experiences. We have less of an understanding of what specific GSA experiences are associated with any beneficial outcomes, especially because most GSA research has relied on cross-sectional data. We still need to identify specific mechanisms by which GSAs may promote wellbeing. It is also unclear whether some members benefit more from their GSA involvement than others.

How is your project adding to our understanding of GSAs?

Our project aims to identify specific practices and experiences in GSAs that predict social-emotional outcomes and academic performance for GSA members over time. We plan to—

  • Focus on perceived support from peers and advisors, leadership roles, involvement in advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and perceived climate of the GSA. We are looking at these processes in two ways: on a week-to-week basis over an intensive 8-week period of the school year and more broadly at three time points spanning the school year.
  • Identify whether GSA experiences—from meeting to meeting or over the school year—go on to predict greater school belonging, hope, positive affect, and self-worth, which in turn could predict better academic outcomes, such as greater class engagement and lower absenteeism.
  • Consider whether GSA experiences buffer the negative effects of victimization on these outcomes. We have been working with a diverse group of GSAs across the state of Massachusetts, in New York City, and in San Diego.

How could the data from your project be useful for GSAs and inform ongoing research? 

As an Exploration grant, the data from our project could provide a foundation to develop and evaluate programs tailored for GSAs. To do this, we first need a deeper understanding of GSAs and any naturally occurring processes within them that may predict various social-emotional and academic outcomes among members. We can then develop programs GSAs would be interested in adopting that target and enhance these processes with greater precision. On a practical level, our findings could be useful to GSA advisors and student leaders by identifying the types of conversations, activities, and structures to their meetings that could benefit their members. Ultimately, more research in this area could support GSAs as they seek to identify and meet the range of needs and interests of their members, capitalize on the strengths that members bring, and promote their thriving and academic success.


Paul Poteat is a professor in the Counseling, Developmental & Education Psychology Department at Boston College. He conducts research on the school-based experiences of sexual and gender minority youth.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research.