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Research Agenda

High Quality Early Learning

Within the broader context of early childhood education, how effective are Early Learning Collaboratives programs in improving Kindergarten Readiness and the third-grade literacy?


Applicable Indicators:

  • Demographic profile
  • Behavior (e.g., chronic absenteeism)
  • Intervention strategies
  • Academic achievement

The Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which provided $3 million to establish a limited number of ELCs in underserved areas throughout the state. The Mississippi State Board of Education has made increasing access to high-quality early childhood education one if its top priorities and has leveraged philanthropy to build the state’s early childhood education infrastructure through coaching and professional development and by providing guidance and support to school districts. Based on the immediate results just two years later, the Legislature increased funding to $4 million, and increased it to $6.5 million for FY19.

Correspondingly, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi in its latest report on pre-K quality as one of only five states whose publicly funded pre-K program meets nine of NIEER’s 10 new quality standards for early childhood education. In its 2015 and 2016 State of Preschool reports, NIEER recognized Mississippi’s ELCs for meeting all 10 quality standards for early childhood education, making Mississippi one of only five states in the nation that met all 10 benchmarks.

To inform these efforts and achievement gains, we seek to gain a deeper understanding of the short-term and long-term impact of early learning, as well as the interactive effect of early learning with other education initiatives.

 

College and Career Readiness

How effectively does Early College High School reduce gaps in secondary and post-secondary success for underserved students?

 

Applicable Indicators:

  • Underserved population
  • Demographic profile
  • Behavior (e.g., school engagement, high school experience, out-of-school internships)
  • Academic achievement
  • Educational technology

Considerable scholarly attention has been paid to the impact of Early College High School since the Early College High School Initiative began in 2002 in the North Carolina. The literature on the relationship between the Early College High School program and student outcomes (e.g., eighth grade math and reading scores, high school completion, and postsecondary outcomes) has been consistent, based on the extensive explorations in the states of North Carolina and Texas.

Mississippi started its first Early College High School in 2015. We know, however, that the relationship between the Early College High School and student outcomes in Mississippi has not been addressed. This is an opportunity for us to better understand the promising phenomenon of Early College High Schools in a bigger picture. Mississippi differs in key ways from North Carolina and Texas: Mississippi is the fourth largest rural state and its population has the largest percentage of African Americans. In Mississippi, more than half of all births occurred to unmarried mothers, and one in two households is headed by unmarried mothers with incomes below the poverty line. We see the urgent need and value of evaluating the implementation of Early College High School in large rural states and exploring its effectiveness on underserved student population. We intend to lay the foundation for establishing a more generalized, rigorous causal relationship between Early College High School and student success, and furthermore, how does any potential interaction effect help address the alarming teacher shortage issue in Mississippi.

We aim to explore more factors with respect to underserved (and disadvantaged) students from multiple dimensions. We would like to implement a laser-focus on the African American student population, the low-income student population, and the other struggling student populations. Through the impact study of Early College High School, ultimately, we plan to learn the causality of Early Colleges on the targeted students’ college admission and their college success. We also would like to explore more differences (and the statistical significance of the differences) of the implementation of Early Colleges between Mississippi and North Carolina (and/or, Texas). For instance, the difference in location and setting of the program sites, the culture, etc.

 

Educator (and Administrator) Recruitment, Retention, and Effectiveness

What (Value-Added) model most reliably and accurately accounts for educator’s effectiveness within MDE’s Educator Evaluation System? How are educator qualifications, licensure, and retention linked to student achievement and growth and educator effectiveness?

 

Applicable Indicators:

  • Demographic profile
  • Behavior
  • Intervention strategies
  • Academic achievement
  • School Improvement
  • Underserved population

To improve education evaluation and feedback, MDE is working to design and develop an Educator Evaluation System that incorporate multiple measures such as student performance, classroom observation, and student survey. Through this effort, we intend to seek a better understanding of what model can most reliably and accurately accounts for educator’s evaluation cycle for the state and school districts. We also seek to understand the implementation, benefits, challenges, and potential solutions of the evaluation model.

Most research on teacher effectiveness has examined a relatively small set of teacher characteristics, such as graduate education and certification. The narrow focus on commonly available data, however, is likely to restrain the success in predicting teachers’ performance. In addition, studies that estimate the relation between achievement and teachers’ characteristics have produced little consistent evidence that students perform better when their teachers have more desirable characteristics. This is all the more puzzling because of the potential upward bias in such estimates. For instance, teachers with better credentials (e.g., experience or selectivity of undergraduate institution) may be more likely to teach in affluent districts with high performing students. Therefore, we want to explore whether certain characteristics not typically collected by school districts can predict teacher effectiveness, which may include general cognitive ability, content knowledge, personality traits, personal beliefs regarding self-efficacy, etc.

On the other hand, the lack of supply of educators, the instability of educators in teaching positions, and inadequate work conditions contribute to the educator effectiveness. The dilemma of chronic educator shortage and increasing demand for effective educators is existing and needs to be acknowledged. Specially, excessive teacher turnover can be costly and detrimental to instructional cohesion in schools. Consequently, many policies have aimed to stem teacher attrition, particularly at those school that experience high teacher turnover. Yet, without a better understanding of the reasons teacher leave, these approaches may not be as effective as they could be at reducing detrimental attrition. Addressing early attrition is critical to stemming the continuing teacher shortage crisis. We want to better understand teacher attrition by researching the relationship between teacher turnover and school contextual factors, such as teachers’ influence over school policy, the effectiveness of the school administration, staff relations, student behavior, safety, and facilities. What impact do the working conditions in schools have on their ability to recruit and retain teachers? What impact do various strategies related to teacher preparation on teacher recruitment and retention? What is the efficacy of particular recruitment strategies and policies in bringing new teachers into the profession, including specifically targeted populations?

To learn more, please see pages 8-9 in the full draft of Research Framework and Agenda.

 

Educator (and Administrator) Preparation and Professional Development.

Based on pre-service training and student population served, how effective are the state’s professional development offerings (particularly those focused on early grades literacy, middle grades mathematics, and data use) among Mississippi public school based on assessment results and other measures?

 

Applicable Indicators:

  • Demographic profile
  • Educational Technology
  • Innovation programs
  • Academic achievement
  • School Improvement
  • Underserved population

Educator professional development is essential to efforts to improve our schools. Professional development is considered an essential mechanism for deepening teachers’ content knowledge and developing their teaching practices. Over the past decade, a large body of literature has emerged on in-service professional development and teacher learning. A professional consensus is emerging about particular characteristics of “high quality” professional development. These characteristics include a focus on content and how students learn content; in-depth, active learning opportunities; links to high standards, opportunities for teachers to engage in leadership roles; extended duration; and the collective participation of groups of teachers from the same school, grade, or department. Although lists of characteristics such as these commonly appear in the literature on effective professional development, there is little direct evidence on the extent to which these characteristics are related to better teaching and increased student achievement.

In addition, the professional development of teachers is studied and presented in the relevant literature in many different ways. Teacher professional learning is a complex process. All this occurs in particular educational policy environments or school cultures. The instruments used to trigger development also depend on the objectives and needs of teachers as well as of their students. Not every form of professional development, even those with the greatest evidence of positive impact, is of itself relevant to all teachers. There is thus a constant need to study, experiment, discuss and reflect in dealing with teacher professional development on the interacting links and influences of the history and traditions of groups of teachers, the educational needs of their student populations, the expectations of their education systems, teachers’ working conditions and the opportunities to learn that are open to them.

What do we know about professional development programs and their impact on teacher learning? What are important directions and strategies for extending our knowledge? How does the effective strategies from educator professional development affect student achievement in mathematics, science, and reading and English/language arts? The connection seems intuitive, but demonstrating it quantitatively and qualitatively is difficult. Accordingly, we set out to discover the features of effective professional development. We want to investigate whether professional development programs with demonstrated effective strategies and best practices for elementary mathematics teachers can be adapted to different subject areas and grade levels. We also want to explore the tradeoffs between fidelity and adaptation that are necessary to ensure program effectiveness across multiple settings.

Moreover, the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity of student population continues to grow and education disparities persist. Some teachers lack preparedness to instruct students who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, racial minorities, or English learners. We also want to study the actual skills teachers need to provide effective instruction to students from various backgrounds.

To learn more, please see pages 10-11 in the full draft of Research Framework and Agenda.