Dropout Alert: Increasing the number of course credits required to graduate from high school would raise the dropout rate between 3 percent and 7 percent a year, according to a new report by economists at Cornell University and the University of Michigan. The researchers estimate that adding just two-and-a-half courses to the four-year high school load would cause an additional 26,000 to 65,000 students to drop out annually. The findings raise a red flag for states moving to tough standards for high school graduation. They also differ from earlier research. A 1994 study conducted by the federally funded Consortium for Policy Research in Education did not find an increase in dropout rates nationally between the early 1980s and 1993, a period when states were beefing up graduation requirements.
In their study, the Cornell and Michigan researchers analyzed five sets of federal data that included dropout numbers. In each case, the researchers broke down the data by state, then correlated them with the number of course credits required at a particular point in time. “We’ve gone to all these different data sources, and we consistently find a statistical relationship between the dropout rate and the graduation requirements,” says Dean Lillard, a research associate in the department of policy analysis and management at Cornell and one of the study’s authors. “It’s sort of like a wake-up call to the research community to say, ‘We need to pay attention to this.’ ”
New Arrivals: The U.S. Department of Education has released the first findings from a long-term study of some 22,000 young children as they move from kindergarten through 5th grade. Launched in 1998 by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study is expected to provide a wealth of information on the first years of schooling. The initial report, released in February, provides a snapshot of the skills the children in the sample had when they entered kindergarten. According to the analysis, 66 percent recognized the letters of the alphabet, 29 percent knew the beginning sounds of words, and 17 percent understood the ending sounds. In math, nearly all the children—94 percent—recognized numbers and shapes and could count to 10. Not surprisingly, the older members of the kindergarten cohort tended to know more than their younger peers. And children’s overall skills increased with their mothers’ levels of education. Those from two-parent families were more likely than others to score at the highest level on the researchers’ assessments. The study also found that four out of five of the children in the sample had been cared for regularly by someone other than their parents during the year before kindergarten. Those whose mothers had higher levels of education were more likely to have been in some kind of care center, while children from homes where English was not the primary language were the least likely to have been in center-based care. The report can be viewed online at nces.ed.gov.
Library Science: Students in schools with well-stocked and well-staffed libraries tend to perform better on standardized tests, especially in reading, according to studies of school library programs in Alaska, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. “The bottom line across the states is that we’ve shown a positive and statistically significant correlation between the size of the school library and library media staff and test scores,” says Keith Curry Lance, director of the Library Service Center of the Colorado State Library, which conducted the three studies. Lance and his colleagues reviewed surveys from hundreds of schools in each of the states to gauge library-staffing levels, student and teacher access to library resources and librarians, and school policies concerning library use. They then compared those responses to state test results, community demographics, and such school characteristics as teacher-pupil ratios and teacher qualifications. The researchers say they took into account other possible factors influencing achievement on tests and were able to isolate an added advantage for those with good library programs. In Colorado, the research team found that state test scores of students at elementary schools with updated libraries were up to 14 percent higher than those at schools with older collections. Among all three states, scores on state tests were 10 to 15 points higher in schools with strong libraries staffed by qualified individuals. “This is something our schools can use as ammunition,” says Lois Petersen, school library coordinator for the Alaska State Library. “When someone comes in and asks if we can do without the library, librarians have some research that proves how important it is.” The full results of the study can be found in the April issue of School Library Journal.
—Lynn Olson, Linda Jacobson, and Kathleen Kennedy Manzo