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A growing body of research links high-quality school library programs to higher reading scores for students. The most convincing studies are careful to account for the impact of community conditions such as school affluence or parents' educational levels. They also control for school characteristics like teacher-pupil ratio and per-pupil expenditures. Statewide studies of this type, led by researcher Keith Curry Lance, concluded library media variables alone explained 2 percent to 8 percent of the variation in reading test scores in three states (see chart).

Dropping out of school is a young person's way of "divorcing" the school system. The decision to drop out, like the decision to divorce, doesn't happen in a day. Studies suggest it is the cumulative result of a series of events and circumstances. School, student, family and other non-school factors can come into play. Each student's situation is different, and schools often don't know the details since students are not required to file "divorce papers" before calling it quits.

After-school programs and summer sessions are not the only ways to extend time for student learning, nor are they the least expensive.

Schools in isolated rural areas and inner cities are the hardest to staff, particularly those

serving minority or low-income students, according to recent data. Teachers in special education, math, science and foreign languages are especially needed. Shortages are greatest in the Southeast, Southwest and the West. With No Child Left Behind putting greater emphasis on having "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom, the competition among districts for teachers is likely to intensify the problem and present a challenge for rural districts.

The joke used to be that getting families involved in their children's education was like the weather: Everyone discussed it, but no one did much about it.

That's no longer true. Schools are beefing up their efforts--especially Title I schools, required by No Child Left Behind to provide for parent involvement at the state, district and local school levels.

In the game of reading, third-grade graduation is the 50-yard line, the place where children cross over from learning to read to reading to learn. More than a third aren't ready. Their chances for reaching the end zone (high school graduation) are already diminished. They've barely begun the second quarter of their academic careers.

Algebra is a gateway to better math scores on standardized tests, higher math courses, and college attendance. Several studies have now established these benefits. Yet in districts or states that do not require algebra for graduation from high school, many students never study it, including a disproportionate number of poor and minority children. They will be at a disadvantage when the new SAT is administered in March 2005: the math section will cover not only Algebra I and Geometry but some concepts from Algebra II.

Teaching quality is a hot topic these days because research shows that teachers have a greater influence on student academic growth than any other factor, including class size, ethnicity, location or poverty. Several researchers have reached this conclusion, including William Sanders. His value-added assessment studies in Tennessee show that the residual effects of teachers (for better or worse) can be measured at least four years after a student leaves the classroom, regardless of the effectiveness of subsequent teachers.

When it comes to helping English language learners make adequate yearly progress in school, most people agree on one point: the sink-or-swim method won't work. Research strongly supports this conclusion, and federal law (Lau v. Nichols, 1974) requires that students who are learning English get some extra help. The $64,000 (or considerably more) question is, What kind and how much?

Want to start a debate at your next board meeting? Try arguing that smaller class sizes really aren’t effective, despite the popular sentiment in favor of them. The debate on the benefits of smaller class size vs. the long-term costs and effects on the system continues to rage. Scholars and analysts have not reached consensus on whether the benefits are worth the costs, but a mountain of research suggests key positives and a few negatives.