January 2024 Research Rundown
By Madie Spartz
For our first Research Rundown of 2024—our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation— we’re sharing articles about:
- how Minnesota measures up on our reading policy
- an innovative tutoring model, and
- new enrollment data and what it could mean for school closures
Minnesota: Recommendations to Strengthen Implementation of the Science of Reading
National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2024
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a new report identifying policy levers states can use to improve literacy instruction, and identifying which states have adopted them. This state profile, part of the larger report, gives Minnesota a strong score, assessing Minnesota as above the national average in the following categories:
- Sets specific, detailed reading standards for teacher prep programs
- Reviews teacher prep programs to ensure they teach the science of reading
- Adopts a strong licensure test
- Requires districts to select high-quality reading curriculum
- Provides professional learning for teachers and ongoing support to sustain the implementation of the science of reading
NCTQ rated all policy areas “strong,” with the exception of a strong licensure test, where Minnesota scored “moderate.” Because all five areas were adopted for the first time or modified with the passage of the Read Act last year, some are still in the early stages of implementation.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
It’s always helpful to evaluate Minnesota’s progress on education policy in relation to other states, and reports like this allow us to zoom out to the bigger nationwide picture. On the one hand, NCTQ is correct in praising Minnesota for the numerous policies we’ve enacted to implement evidence-based reading instruction statewide.
On the other, passing a policy is not the same thing as implementing it—something local experts pointed out in this Star Tribune article covering the report. For example, the Read Act did not include sufficient funding for all the training it requires for teachers and staff, and the budget is tight this year, with little chance of the legislature passing any major funding measures. So, while we should be optimistic about the progress we’re making, we need to stay vigilant until we see meaningful improvement in literacy rates.
A Scalable Approach to High-Impact Tutoring for Young Readers: Results of a Randomized Control Trial
Annenberg Institute at Brown University, January 2024
This study examined the reading proficiency gains of elementary students with tutors embedded in their classrooms. The tutoring program, called Chapter One, is unique in that it provides “frequent, short bursts” of reading tutoring throughout regular classroom instruction, rather than pulling students out of class or assisting them after school. The authors note Chapter One is one of the first programs of its kind with documented success. In addition to benefiting from tutors who are embedded into their classrooms and provide real-time help, students also enjoy close relationships with their tutors, which is a proven tactic to increase academic performance and engagement with school. Tutors, hired by the district, work on a part-time basis and float between multiple classrooms.
The authors found that 70% of students who received Chapter One services were proficient in reading by the end of kindergarten, compared to 32% of students who did not participate. The results were generally uniform across demographic groups, and were consistent across multiple assessments. Through qualitative interviews with participants and host teachers, the authors identified three factors that contributed to such strong gains: 1:1 instruction, classroom integration, and the staffing model, which is considerably more affordable than traditional tutoring programs and offers promising outcomes for scaling the program up.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Minnesota students are still behind in reading, relative to pre-COVID assessment scores—and even those numbers left much to be desired, with serious gaps across race, family income, and disability status. Tutoring shows some of the strongest evidence for closing opportunity gaps and helping students recover from learning loss, but many tutoring programs are costly to implement and require students to be removed from the classroom or stay after school, which can threaten their effectiveness if not implemented properly. This program shows a promising alternative thanks to its relative cost effectiveness and design, which keeps students in the classroom and doesn’t require after-school programming. While it may be tempting to move on from the topic of pandemic learning loss, its effects will plague us for years to come if we don’t take action. Particularly as federal pandemic funds expire, it is critical for states to step up to support the maintenance and growth of efforts like this.
Exclusive Data: Thousands of Schools at Risk of Closing Due to Enrollment Loss
The 74 and The Brookings Institution, January 2024
This article, published in partnership with the 74 and the Brookings Institution, analyzed nationwide enrollment and came to a sobering conclusion: due to declining enrollment, many districts nationwide may need to consider school consolidation or closure. While the statistics of declining school enrollment in our “post-COVID” world are not news, the conversation has thus far largely avoided the elephant in the room: what that enrollment decline means for schools. As reported in the analysis, many districts have softened the blow due to the large infusion of federal relief funds during the pandemic. Those funds expire in September 2024, however, meaning many districts are faced with the difficult task of balancing budgets as they continue to lose their core source of revenue: students.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
The article found that enrollment declines are happening everywhere—urban, suburban, and rural communities—but the largest share comes from large, urban school districts. Using a definition of a 20% or larger decline in enrollment between the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years, the authors found 28 districts in Minnesota were at-risk. While several larger districts in the Twin Cities metro are represented in that number, over half of at-risk districts in the state are in Greater Minnesota. Interestingly, the vast majority of schools with a 20% or larger enrollment drop in Minnesota are elementary schools.
The data points to some harsh realities, mainly that some districts may be considering school closure or consolidation in the coming months or years. No one wants to see schools in their communities close, and district staff will surely face many difficult choices in the near future. This is especially true for districts who used COVID relief funds to retain or hire staff amid dropping enrollment. Without an influx of new students to generate additional revenue from the state, those districts might face serious budget woes. While the picture seems bleak, it’s important for districts to start engaging the public in these conversations now to collaborate on a path forward.