November 2021 Research Rundown
By Krista Kaput
Welcome to EdAllies’ November Research Rundown; our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation. This month, we are sharing research on:
- Benefits of universal free school meals,
- Fall enrollment trends for college, and
- Support associated with increased teacher retention.
1. The Effect of Free School Meals on Household Food Purchases: Evidence from the Community Eligibility Provision
National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2021
This study explores how providing universal free school meals impacts family food expenditures, the quality of food purchased, and overall food insecurity—finding a positive impact on all three. The researchers look specifically at families eligible for meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students if at least 40% of their students are low-income. They use data from the Current Population Survey and the Nielsen Household Panel, which gathers detailed data on consumer purchases.
Overall, CEP program access reduces spending on food by $11 a month. While this is a modest drop, it may also reflect a greater ability to spend money on healthier foods. Examining the dietary quality of the household grocery purchases, the researchers found that, amongst low-income households with children, the composite health score—a continuous measure comparing the aggregate health of a bundle of household goods purchased each month—increased by 3%. Finally, they also found an increase in food security, with CEP access associated with an 11% decline in the percentage of households that ran short of food money and a nearly 5% decline in households classified as food insecure.
WHY THIS MATTERS IN MINNESOTA
This study builds on previous research showing the benefits of universal free school meals and the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Unfortunately, Minnesota ranks 47th out of the 50 states in CEP participation, with only half of the schools that are eligible participating in the CEP program. To address the issue, advocates have recommended several strategies to increase CEP participation, including technical assistance and policy changes to address funding concerns. This would mark an important first step toward Minnesota providing universal access to school meals, following in the footsteps of California and Maine, which became the first two states to establish permanent free meal programs for all students.
2. Undergraduate Fall 2021 Enrollment Data
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, October 2021
New data reveals that, on average, college enrollment is down 6.5% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. The steepest declines were for public 2-year community colleges (14.1%) and private, for-profit 4-year colleges (12.9%). Enrollment declined most dramatically for incoming freshmen, down 20.8% at public 2-year colleges and 22.3% at private, for-profit 4-year colleges.
Examining student enrollment across race and ethnicity reveals that each and every group had an enrollment decline of at least 5%. The largest declines are amongst Indigenous students (21.2%), Black students (11.1%), and white students (10.6%). Enrollment for international students also declined by 21.2%.
WHY THIS MATTERS IN MINNESOTA
The large declines in undergraduate enrollment have been felt in Minnesota. From fall 2019 to 2021, enrollment in the Minnesota State system has decreased by 21,000 students (11%), with administrators indicating that it was worse than anticipated. So far, however, enrollment at the University of Minnesota’s five campuses has remained stable.
These declines in enrollment represent real students, who for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to enroll at the rates expected. If they do not go on to enroll in the future, they could face long-term consequences in the workforce and beyond. There are several benefits to postsecondary education, including improvements in health, employment, lifetime earnings, overall well-being, and retirement. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of the fastest growing occupations require some type of postsecondary education—whether it be an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or a certificate.
To increase student enrollment, particularly for students from underserved backgrounds, there have been a number of different initiatives across Minnesota. The University of Minnesota recently announced that they would offer free or reduced tuition for Indigenous students starting in fall 2022. During the 2021 legislative session, Governor Walz supported a bill that would have automatically enrolled students into Minnesota’s public colleges and universities if they met approved benchmarks, like having a certain grade point average. These and other provisions should be built on to ensure college access recovers in the wake of COVID-19.
3. Supports Associated with Teacher Retention in Michigan
Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest at American Institutes for Research, September 2021
In Michigan between 2014 to 2019, average annual teacher retention rates ranged from 33% to 100%. Researchers combined this finding with responses from teacher surveys to identify four specific supports associated with higher retention for new teachers:
- Mentoring for new teachers: Survey data indicated that 85.6% of districts offered mentoring for new teachers. Overall, teachers in these districts had a 2.2 percentage point higher probability of staying in their position than teachers in districts that did not have a mentoring program.
- Regular supportive communication between principals and teachers: Teachers in 81.7% of districts reported that they experienced regular supportive communication between principals, other school leaders, and teachers. Teachers in these districts had a 1.3 percentage point higher probability of staying than teachers in districts that did not.
- New teacher orientation: Teacher survey response data indicated that 68.6% of districts offered new teachers with an orientation to their school. Teachers in these districts had a 1.4 percentage point higher likelihood of staying than those in districts that did not offer new teacher orientation.
- Opportunity to set goals in evaluation: All Michigan districts are required to annually evaluate their teachers and it must include a student growth measure. However, there is some flexibility in the other metrics that can be included in the evaluation, including allowing teachers to set goals. In districts that did this, teachers stayed in their position at a rate 5.2 percentage points higher than teachers in districts that did not.
Overall, the researchers found that districts that serve the highest percentage of low-income students had much lower retention rates than other districts. To better understand this relationship, the authors did separate analyses. They found that increased retention in these districts was associated with two supports—annual salary increases (3 percentage points higher) and the opportunity to set goals in evaluation (14.4 percentage points higher). The latter is notable, because while it mirrors findings across all schools, the scale of the impact was much more significant.
WHY THIS MATTERS IN MINNESOTA
During the 2021 legislative session, the Minnesota legislature took some steps to retain teachers, including requiring all districts to have a mentoring program for new teachers and allocating $4.5 million for mentoring and retention grants for teachers of color. Like Michigan, Minnesota statute requires all teachers be evaluated annually and it must include an option for teachers to “develop and present a portfolio demonstrating evidence of reflection and professional growth.” Given the evidence in this report, districts that don’t already do it may want to consider also allowing teachers to set goals for themselves. Districts should also evaluate their programming to ensure that they are taking the necessary steps to provide new teachers with comprehensive orientation and regular communication.