Photo via
Photo via Homeroom: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education.

Every year, teachers of different experience levels are placed with particular groups of students, and this can result in the uneven distribution of quality instruction within schools. High-quality teacher instruction yields better educational outcomes for students, and this is especially true for immigrant-origin English Learners (ELs) who rely on teachers for broader cultural socialization. As a result, teacher placement into EL classes matters tremendously for those learners.

To better understand how teachers are placed into EL-designated content courses, Dafney Dabach interviewed 20 teachers, seven administrators, and four EL instructional coaches from seven California high schools with 10-30% EL students. She focused on teachers assigned to both sheltered EL and traditional classrooms because of their ability to compare across contexts.

In general, she finds that less-experienced teachers are more likely to be placed into EL content-area classrooms. In six out of the seven schools, teacher distribution norms were seniority-based. In other words, teachers with more years on-site “get first crack at” what they want to teach, while the newest teachers are “stuck” with classes that others do not want. There were some exceptions: at times administrators intervened with the “seniority-based” process, and occasionally more senior teachers requested EL assignments. But because EL courses were seen as less desirable, newer teachers usually staffed them by default.

According to Dabach, teacher credentialing and education policy also contribute to this pattern. NCLB requires every classroom is staffed by a “highly qualified” teacher. Because California law requires newly issued teaching certificates to include EL endorsements, this means new teachers are automatically considered “highly qualified” to teach EL courses. Their more-experienced colleagues, certified when EL authorization was optional, are less likely to have the endorsement.

You can read the full article here:

Dabach, D. B. (2015). Teacher Placement Into Immigrant English Learner Classrooms: Limiting Access in Comprehensive High Schools. American Educational Research Journal, 52(2), 243-274.


Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, competition, parenting, and sports.

Head Start gives some kids more of a head start than others.
Head Start gives the kids who need it most more of an advantage. Photo by United Inner City Services.

Head Start, the largest federal program serving the developmental needs of low-income American children, has been controversial since its creation in 1965.  There is good evidence that Head Start — on average — improves the school readiness of participants, at least in the short term.  The program also has desirable longer term effects on outcomes like high school graduation, college enrollment, health, and criminal behavior.

However, some Head Start programs may be better than others.  And, some children may be helped by Head Start more than others.  We know much less about differences in the effectiveness of Head Start across centers and across groups of children.

A recent report by Howard Bloom at MDRC and Chistina Weiland at the University of Michigan addresses these two issues.  They use data from the Head Start Impact Study, a nationally representative study that used random assignment to isolate the impacts of Head Start.

The authors found that the effectiveness of Head Start varies substantially across centers, partly because the quality of alternatives to Head Start differs across locations.  They argue that “the ‘value added’ by any Head Start program depends on both the program itself and the quantity and quality of other local options for early child education.”

At the same time, the benefits of Head Start differs across groups of children. For example, children with the weakest cognitive skills and Spanish speaking children are helped most. This results in “a compensatory pattern of program effects that reduced disparities in cognitive outcomes among program-eligible children.”

You can read the full article here:

Howard Bloom, Christina Weiland. 2015. Quantifying Variation in Head Start Effects on Young Children’s Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills Using Data from the National Head Start Impact Study. New York: MDRC.



Photo by the Lumina Foundation via Flickr.
Photo by the Lumina Foundation via Flickr.

Women now outnumber men in college enrollment and degree achievement. In 2010 women attained 57% of bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. Latino/a degree attainment follows this trend. In 2009 women achieved 61% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics. New research by Sarah Ovink explains this success by illustrating how gender and race/ethnicity combine to influence college choices.

Ovink conducted interviews with 50 Latino/a high school seniors planning to attend college. Each student was interviewed three times: during senior year, at graduation, and six months after graduation. While both Latinos and Latinas believe the family’s needs should be privileged over one’s own, their behaviors and beliefs about how college relates to the family differs by gender. Latinos view college as a way to provide for future families. Latinas, on the other hand,  see college as a way for them to provide for their families now. Romantic relationships are seen as a threat to Latinas’ success in college, and similarly, college is understood as a way to achieve independence and avoid bad marriages.

At the time of the third interview, 52% of the women enrolled in 4-year schools, while only 35% of the men did. Thirteen percent of men and 4% of women changed their minds and did not attend college at all. Since Latinas’ autonomy is inextricably linked with their college attainment, many chose 4-year schools because of their belief that bachelor’s degrees produce better results. Latinos expressed no such urgency, as degrees were not viewed as essential to autonomy.

Read the full article here:

Ovink, S. M. 2013. “‘They Always Call Me an Investment’: Gendered Familism and Latino/a College Pathways.” Gender & Society 28(2):265–88.


Allison Nobles is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, sexuality, and violence. Follow me on Twitter @Allison_Nobles.

Let’s turn this ship around!
Let’s turn this ship around!

With increased attention on the harassment and bullying faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) students, many educators have struggled with how to address the controversial topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in school settings. Fredman, Schulz, and Hoffman conducted a study to examine the ways in which educators incorporate LGBTQ topics in their curriculum and create inclusive environments for students.

They interviewed public school educators to explore the inclusion of LGBTQ issues in curricular contexts, including educator training, policies and challenges, as well as student, community, parent, and administrator reactions.

Teachers reported that, in determining whether to address LGBTQ curriculum in the classroom, they evaluate two risks: 1) their own energy and capacity to address the issue and 2) professional repercussions. Teachers questioned their energy to deal with the tensions that might arise from students, families, and administrators if they attended to this controversial issue. Additionally, they worried about losing their jobs, especially in locations where teacher unions were weaker. Nonetheless, teachers noted the importance of taking risks to incorporate LGBTQ issues in the curriculum because they viewed it as essential for cultivating a safer environment for all students.

By focusing on safety as a core value, educators felt they could get everyone on board to transform schools into a safe environment for all. To do this, they advocated working within the system to make curricular and policy changes and seeking additional educator training on LGBTQ issues.

Read the full article here:

Fredman, A. J., Schultz, N. J., & Hoffman, M. F. (2015). “You’re Moving a Frickin’Big Ship” The Challenges of Addressing LGBTQ Topics in Public Schools. Education and Urban Society, 47(1), 56-85.


Colleen Rost-Banik is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota who studies race, gender, and sexuality in education.



Photo by Brett Myers/Youth Radio via Huffington Post.
Elementary school children practice a lock-down drill. Photo by Brett Myers/Youth Radio via Huffington Post.

1. What led you to do this research?

There is limited research on the impact of community traumatic events on educational outcomes, perhaps because it is impossible to manipulate exposure to traumatic events in experimental settings. The 2002 Beltway Sniper Attacks serve as a natural experiment for assessing the impact of community traumatic events because they were unexpected and generated extreme amounts of stress and confusion over a three week period. The natural experiment is that schools farther away from the attacks serve as a control group, which we evaluate relative to the treatment group of schools closer to attacks.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

The attacks significantly reduced school-level proficiency rates in schools within five miles of an attack, especially for 3rd and 5th grade mathematics. The harmful effects were larger in disadvantaged schools that serve larger shares of racial minority and low income students. Intuitively, such schools have fewer resources with which to respond to unexpected shocks. The effects are large enough to have impacted many schools’ standing under the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was in effect at the time.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

The biggest limitation of our study, which we hope to address in future research should we find sufficient data, is that we cannot isolate the exact mechanisms through which the trauma associated with the sniper attacks harmed student achievement. Given the current data, we can only speculate about the mechanisms, which likely include some combination of school closures, disruptions to routines, stress at home and in school, and student and teacher absences.

You can read the full article here:

Seth Gershenson and Erdal Tekin. 2015. “The Effect of Community Traumatic Events on Student Achievement: Evidence from the Beltway Sniper Attacks.” NBER Working Paper No. 21055.

Image via Supriya Prathapan for Sociological Foundations of Education.
Education helps to disconnect men’s family social class from their social class attainment. Image via Supriya Prathapan for Sociological Foundations of Education.

We posed three questions to the author. Here’s what he said:

1. What led you to do this research?

Whether the U.S. has become a society more or less open to class mobility is not only of great scientific interest but also subject to much public debate. While many agree that class mobility depends greatly on education, it has been difficult to establish exactly how education influences class mobility and how large-scale social trends in education and mobility relate to each other.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

We found a gradual but modest increase in men’s social class mobility across the 20th and early 21st centuries. Educational expansion has contributed to this positive trend, although educational inequality was not reduced. Instead, a larger share of people attained a college degree, and these degrees continue to help “disconnect” family class background from individuals’ social class attainment. Once you make it to college graduation, where you come from does not greatly predict where you’ll end up on the social class ladder. And that effect explains the positive influence of educational expansion on class mobility.

Our analyses also reveal less positive developments. Unlike social class background, the importance of educational background has not decreased. In fact, parental education has become more important for one’s own educational attainment. The production of more college graduates has counteracted this trend, but the stalling of educational expansion in recent decades raises concerns about future trends in social mobility.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

Data limitations forced us to study these questions for men only. We are currently working on using additional data to extend this study to women. This is important because women’s education in the U.S. has expanded more broadly and rapidly. Also, I am working on projects that assess the relationship between social mobility and education by comparing a large set of countries to each other and by comparing states within the US.

You can read the full article here:

Pfeffer, F. T., & Hertel, F. R. How Has Educational Expansion Shaped Social Mobility Trends in the United States? Social Forces Advance Access published March 5, 2015, doi:10.1093/sf/sov045

Education researchers do less than scholars in other disciplines to seek out media coverage.

Education researchers typically want their work to be read widely. To make a broader and more meaningful impact on the public and on educational practice they often desire media attention. But do the media report on education research, especially high quality research that has been subject to strenuous peer review?

In new research, Holly Yettick of the Education Week Research Center describes how often news media cite evidence from education research that has undergone scientific peer review. She examined all news items that appeared during the first 6 months of 2010 in daily newspapers, online-only outlets, and Education Week. She also interviewed 33 writers who report on education for various news outlets.

What she found will disappoint most education researchers. In contrast to science or medical journalists, education journalists virtually never refer to peer-reviewed education research; nor do they utilize media-related resources provided by organizations like the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  She concludes that “peer-reviewed academic education research and the AERA organization are barely a blip on the radar of American education reporting.”

Why is this true? Yettick argues that education researchers, especially those in universities, do far less than scholars in other disciplines to pro-actively seek out media coverage. She also notes that education research is relatively less well funded; tends to produce more complex results that defy concise explanation; is often perceived as largely subjective; and is scattered in more journals than in fields like medicine. She concludes with recommendations about how to improve this sad situation.

Read the full article here:

Yettick, Holly. “One Small Droplet: News Media Coverage of Peer-Reviewed and University-Based Education Research and Academic Expertise,” Educational Researcher, online March 3, 2015.

penny and leonard
Women with more education than their husbands are more likely to stay married. If only Penny and Leonard had known.

We know that education can influence everything from income to political leanings, but what about marriage markets?

Past studies have suggested that marriages where wives have higher levels of education than their husbands were at greater risk of dissolution. This may reflect prior gender roles and expectations within heterosexual marriages that relegated women to the domestic sphere. With today’s reversal of the gender gap in education, sociologists Christine Schwartz and Hongyun Han reexamined how education could potentially affect current marriage markets. Using various data sets including the National Survey of Family Growth, Schwartz and Han analyzed marriage trends between 1950 and 2004 to see what education trends emerged.

They found that prior to the 1980s, husbands were more likely to have higher levels of education than their wives. Since then, things have changed dramatically: “For couples married in 2005 to 2009, in over 60 percent of couples with different levels of education, wives had more education than their husbands, and there are no signs this trend is slowing.” Additionally, they found that educated women are less likely to have marriages that end in divorce, which likely reflects “shifts in the institution of marriage away from rigid gender specialization and toward more flexible, egalitarian partnerships.”

For education researchers, this study suggests that education – and all the multifaceted values, beliefs, and lifestyles associated with it – may provide a key contribution to shifts towards gender equality and egalitarian partnerships.

Read the full article here:

Christine R. Schwartz and Hongyun Han. 2014. “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Trends in Marital Dissolution.American Sociological Review 79(4) 605-629.

Caty Taborda is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, race, health, and the body.



We posed three questions to the author. Here’s what she said:

1. What led you to do this research?

No-excuses charter schools feature extended instructional time, frequent formative testing, and a highly structured and widely criticized disciplinary system. They are boosting achievement at unprecedented levels. But missing from this conversation is what everyday life looks like inside these controversial urban schools. I went inside one school—for 18 months—to understand what success looks and feels like on the ground.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

I found that success creates a paradox. No-excuses schools, while aiming to prepare students academically for college, may fail to provide students with the social and behavioral skills they need to be successful in college. Colleges expect students to be independent—to do their homework, to go to office hours, to ask for help—yet no-excuses schools reward compliance and orderliness. Students thus do not feel trusted to make decisions or able to speak up for themselves. No-excuses school leaders know this but they feel stuck between two aims—the need to establish order to promote learning, and the need to prepare students to eventually manage their own freedoms.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

I’m now looking at teachers’ experiences inside no-excuses schools. No-excuses schools believe that effective teachers can be created; all teachers can learn to “Teach Like a Champion.” Yet these schools have high rates of teacher turnover. How do teachers’ own experiences, attitudes, and personalities influence their ability to adapt to a new disciplinary role? Can schools create successful teachers, or do they need a certain type of raw material to mold?

You can read the full article here:

Golann, J. W. 2015. The Paradox of Success at a No-Excuses SchoolSociology of Education.

Never fear: curricular complexity has actually increased since the 1970s. Image by The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street.

Are elementary school reading textbooks getting simpler?  Many people sense that something has changed—that the cognitive demands of reading textbooks are different than they used to be.  Is this true?  If so, what has changed?

New research by Penn State educational psychologist Robert J. Stevens and colleagues tackles this question.  They sampled hundreds of 3rd and 6th grade reading textbooks published between 1910 and 2000, and then sampled texts from within them.  For each text, they analyzed its level of difficulty—including the sophistication of the words, the range of vocabulary used, and the complexity of the syntax—and the cognitive demands placed on the reader—including the amount of text readers need to process, the complexity of processing demands, and whether they ask students about high-level ideas.

Early in the 20th century, there were dramatic declines in the level of difficulty and cognitive demands of curricula.  Between about 1930 and 1970, and for reasons the researchers cannot explain, the cognitive demands of reading texts barely changed.  However, after 1970, they observe a fairly consistent increase in the level of difficulty and cognitive demands of texts, especially in 3rd grade.  They attribute this increase to criticisms of classroom instruction, to increased research on reading comprehension, and to changes in the types of reading material featured in texts.

In short: “Contrary to the common assumption of a trend of simplification of the texts and comprehension tasks … the results indicate that curricular complexity … has notably increased since the 1970s.”

Read the full article here:

Stevens, Robert J., Xiaofei Lu, David P. Baker, Melissa N. Ray, Sarah A. Eckert, and David A. Gamson. Forthcoming. “Assessing the Cognitive Demands of a Century of Reading Curricula: An Analysis of Reading Text and Comprehension Tasks From 1910 to 2000.”  American Educational Research Journal