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January 2010

From the National Center for Education Research (NCER)

IES Researchers Study Reform Efforts in Urban Schools

Urban school districts around the country are working to improve the educational outcomes of their most vulnerable students. IES is funding research that will generate an array of proven tools and strategies for improving educational outcomes through NCER's Education Policy, Finance and Systems discretionary grant program.

One example of NCER efforts to identify factors to enhance school reform is a study directed by John Fantuzzo at the University of Pennsylvania. Fantuzzo and his research team are harnessing the Kids Integrated Data System (KIDS) to help the School District of Philadelphia identify risk factors that predict poor educational outcomes in the third grade. By integrating academic and behavioral outcome data with data on risk factors that are monitored by municipal agencies, the team has identified eight risks that (after controlling for poverty) contribute to poor academic performance and/or behavioral problems in the third grade: lead toxicity, preterm birth, low birth weight, inadequate prenatal care, being the child of a teen mother or mother without a high school education, substantiated child maltreatment, and homelessness.

The KIDS team also developed a series of maps that show the relative density of these risk factors across different neighborhoods in the city. Geographic information was also used to demonstrate the amount of cumulative risk experiences for children attending each of the 172 elementary schools in the district.

In addition, the team examined whether or not some populations had higher risk profiles than others. They found that African American third-grade boys had higher risk profiles. At the request of Philadelphia officials, Fantuzzo's team expanded this research to include data on early childhood education to see whether or not participation in early educational experiences prior to starting school could provide a buffer against the negative impact of multiple risk factors. Their results suggest that early childhood education has a positive, protective impact on standardized reading scores and truancy reduction at the end of third grade and a small impact on math scores.

For more information on the project and its early results, see John Fantuzzo's Albert M. Greenfield Memorial Lecture on "The Educational Well-Being of African American Boys."

R&D Center Focuses on Identifying Practices and Characteristics of Effective Teachers

Improving teacher effectiveness is a key component of school reform. NCER's recently funded National Research and Development Center for Teacher Effectiveness: Validating Measures of Effective Math Teaching—under the direction of Thomas Kane and Heather Hill of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth College—is identifying practices and characteristics that distinguish between more and less effective teachers. Ultimately, this information will help develop practical instruments that can be used by school districts to select, place, and retain more effective teachers.

Focusing on math instruction in grades 4 and 5, the Center's primary goals are to consolidate the various strands of research on teacher effectiveness; develop instruments for measuring teacher effectiveness and then carry out the measures to ensure that they are useable in the field; and compare the measures of teacher effectiveness against student achievement.

Some of the key measurement instruments will be designed to capture features of mathematics classes such as the mathematical quality of teachers' work, classroom climate, and how easy or how hard the topic or content is for the learner; a teacher survey designed to capture traits such as mathematical knowledge for teaching and teacher beliefs and efficacy; and a student perceptions survey.

Two urban school districts will participate in the Center's multi-year teacher effectiveness study, Boston and the District of Columbia. A third district is currently being identified. Data collection starts in the fall and will continue over 3 years.

The Center also will work cooperatively with the Institute of Education Sciences to develop and carry out more research studies that respond to the needs of education practitioners and policymakers.

For more information on the Center, including updates and publications emerging from this study, see