Ideas & Findings

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Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to managing and funding state school systems, suggests a new analysis by researcher Herbert J. Walberg and his son.

In their study, which appears in the June-July issue of Educational Researcher, Walberg and his son, Herbert J. Walberg 3rd, examined data from 38 states in an effort to explore possible links between size and student achievement. They looked at the average sizes of schools and districts in those states, the states' share of school costs, and student scores on the 8th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in mathematics.

Their conclusion: States with larger schools and districts--and states that pay a larger share of education spending--tend to have lower student achievement. This holds true, the researchers say, even after taking into account socioeconomic factors and per-pupil spending in those states.

"To some extent, educators have imitated business people,'' says the elder Walberg, a research professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago where his son is a doctoral student in educational psychology. "It was thought at one time that bigger business would be better, and it was thought that it would be cheaper.''

But, for schools, the Walbergs conclude in their report, "the centralizing trends of the past half-century point in the wrong direction.''

Graduates of the acclaimed Central Park East Elementary School in New York City are more "cost effective'' than peers who attended other East Harlem schools, a new analysis suggests.

Founded in 1974 by Principal Deborah Meier, Central Park East Elementary has already achieved national fame as an education success story.

A study last year showed that the school's first 117 graduates, who were largely poor and members of minority groups, went on to earn high school diplomas and attend college at much higher rates than students at the city's other public elementary schools.

The new study, which researcher Paul Tainsh conducted for the New York-based Bruner Foundation, takes those findings a step further. Tainsh calculated the societal cost-benefits of Central Park East Elementary students' success and compared them with similar data for students from East Harlem who graduated from other public elementary schools in 1983.

He found that the per capita costs of educating students at Central Park East Elementary were no higher than they were on average for the entire school district.

Moreover, because 10 years later more of those students had high school diplomas or were attending college, they could expect to earn $624,000 more than their peers over the course of their working careers, he writes.

Tainsh also figures, based on statistical projections and interviews, that Central Park East Elementary graduates will cost less to society in public-assistance, incarceration, and health-care costs.

Disadvantaged and minority students are often underrepresented in school programs for the gifted. To remedy that problem, researchers are continually testing new and legitimate ways to identify gifted students.

One such method that has been bandied about is to ask students' classmates who they think is smart. But so far, little evidence suggests that such judgments produce valid or reliable nominations.

Recently, however, researchers working with the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented based at the University of Connecticut in Storrs tested one peer-nomination form that shows promise. The form, developed by Anne Udall, consists of 10 questions that address gifted behaviors in areas ranging from creativity in play, music, and art to general intelligence.

Students were asked, for example, "What boy or girl learns quickly but doesn't speak up in class very often?''

Researchers from the center gave the form to 555 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from three school districts in Arizona and Texas with large Hispanic enrollments. Then the form was administered a second time to the same group six weeks later.

On both tries, students' opinions were highly consistent. This was true for both the overall results and for individual questions. Moreover, researchers found no significant differences between nominations of white students and those of Hispanic students.

"While we suggest further study of this instrument using samples that reflect cultures other than Hispanic,'' write the researchers in the center's spring newsletter, "our analyses of the reliability and validity of this instrument, as well as of the gender and race issues, suggest promise.'' The study was conducted by Caroline M. Cunningham, Carolyn M. Callahan, S. Christopher Roberson, and Arlene Rapkin of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Vol. 13, Issue 39E, Page 38

Published in Print: July 13, 1994, as Ideas & Findings
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