Theme Panel: School Policies, COVID, and Student Achievement, Emotional, and Civic Outcomes

School Policies, COVID, and Student Achievement, Emotional, and Civic Outcomes

Co-sponsored by Division 25: Public Policy
Full Paper Panel

Participants:
 (Discussant) David E. Campbell, University of Notre Dame

Session Description:
Aside from health care, no other sector of society has been more affected by the COVID pandemic than education. After all, K-12 education is premised on revealing one’s thoughts, expressions, and feelings to peers and teachers in classrooms, yet the pandemic demands masking and social distancing. Where were K-12 achievement outcomes trending prior to the onset of the pandemic? What effects have various virus mitigation policies had on student socio-emotional outcomes in different types of schools? During the pandemic, enrollments rose in various schools of choice, including religiously conservative private schools. What effects do such schools have on key civic outcomes, relative to schooling in government-run public schools? More generally, are private school choice programs and private schooling threats to or instruments of the conveyance of democratic values to citizens in the U.S. and globally? These are the vital questions examined by these papers. Paper 1 applies a principal-agent perspective to a fresh examination of changes in K-12 student achievement over the past 50 years. It reveals that achievement has grown steadily over the half-century, a “Flynn effect,” with growth varying in interesting ways by educational domain, age, ability level, race, and SES level. These patterns are similar for the U.S. and internationally, suggesting that universal underlying causes are driving them. Paper 2 focuses on the pandemic and its effects on student socio-emotional outcomes. Drawing from national survey data, it examines variance in parental perceptions of the socio-emotional condition of their school-age children based on school factors such as instruction modality, schooling sector, stage of the pandemic, seriousness of community spread, and partisanship of the region. Paper 3 examines concerns surrounding conservative Protestant schools fostering various forms of intolerance. Drawing on fresh survey data, it finds that students educated in conservative Protestant schools demonstrate average intolerance levels that are statistically equivalent to their public-school peers. Finally, Paper 4 examines the perennial concern of the effects of private schooling on civic outcomes more generally. It uses meta-analytic techniques to identify and consolidate the empirical findings from the population of studies on private schooling and a wide range of civic outcomes involving tolerance, political participation, civic knowledge and skills, and community involvement. Collectively, these four papers will tell us much about the challenges faced in K-12 education and the prospects for public policies to improve achievement, socio-emotional, and civic outcomes of the next generation of citizens. The panel Chair and discussants will provide insights based on a wealth of experience in the field, in the case of senior scholars Jennifer Hochschild and David Campbell, and a fresh view, in the case of junior scholar Ursula Hackett.

Papers:

Fifty Years of Student Achievement: Agency and Flynn Effects; Ethnic Differences
M. Danish Shakeel, University of Buckingham; Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University

We use the principal-agent model to interpret the efforts of policy makers to elicit information about the rate of educational progress by U. S. student cohorts since 1971. Principals (policymakers) disagree as to whether U. S. student performance has changed over the past half century. To inform conversations, agents administered seven million psychometrically linked tests in math and reading in 160 survey waves to national probability samples of cohorts born between 1954 and 2007. Estimated change in standard deviations (sd) per decade varies by agent (math: -0.10sd to 0.27sd, reading: -0.02sd to 0.12sd). Consistent with Flynn effects, median trends show larger gains in math (0.19sd) than reading (0.04sd), though rates of progress for cohorts born since 1990 have increased in reading but slowed in math. Greater progress is shown by students tested at younger ages (math: 0.31sd, reading: 0.08sd) than when tested in middle years of schooling (math: 0.17sd, reading: 0.03sd) or toward the end of schooling (math: 0.06sd, reading: 0.02sd). Young white students progress more slowly (math: 0.28sd, reading: 0.09sd) than Asian (math: 46sd, reading: 0.28sd), black (math: 0.36sd, reading: 0.19sd) and Hispanic (math: 0.29sd, reading: 0.13sd) students. These ethnic differences generally attenuate as students age. Young students in the bottom quartile of the SES distribution show greater progress than those in the top quartile (difference in math: 0.08sd, in reading: 0.15sd), but the reverse is true for older students. Moderators likely include not only changes in families and schools but also improvements in nutrition, health care, and protection from contagious diseases and environmental risks. International data suggest that subject and age differentials may be due to moderators more universal than just for the United States.

Religiously Conservative Schools and Democratic Citizenship
David Sikkink, University of Notre Dame

School choice policies that include private schools have focused attention on the public purposes of government funding of elementary and secondary education, and whether religious schooling, particularly evangelical Protestant schools and homeschooling families, can fulfill the goals of democratic education. Religiously conservative schools may foster Christian nationalism, intolerance of diversity, inability to engage productively across social and ideological differences, and authoritarianism. These theories fail to consider changes in the place of schools in society that impact civic socialization, including the relation of evangelical Protestant schools and civic life, and increasing diversity in the goals and strategies of teachers and parents in religiously conservative schools. This paper investigates school sector differences in several outcomes of civic and political orientations, assessing graduates’ support for Christian nationalism and authoritarianism, as well as investigating ideological consistency across sectors. Using national samples of Americans, including the Cardus Education Survey, findings reveal little impact of religiously conservative schools on Christian nationalism or ideological conformity. The paper concludes that students in religiously conservative schools would not be better participants in a democratic society if they attended traditional public schools or if school choice policies did not include private schooling. It proposes that school choice plans should foster a structurally pluralist model of school organization that would model a democratic public square in a society of diverse moral communities.

A Meta-Analysis of Private Schooling Effects on Civic Outcomes around the Globe
Patrick J. Wolf, University of Arkansas; M. Danish Shakeel, University of Buckingham; James David Paul, University of Arkansas; Jessica Goldstein Holmes; Alison Heape, University of Arkansas

Political theorists long have debated which types of schools are more effective in forming democratic citizens. Theorists from Plato through Aristotle, Alexis de Tocqueville, Horace Mann, John Dewey, Amy Gutmann, Alan Wolfe, Jennifer Hochschild, and Stephen Macedo have written about the civic purposes of education and the responsibility of schools to inculcate civic values and skills in the country’s youth. A strong assumption running through much of this work is that government-run public schools are more effective than private schools at promoting civic values including political tolerance, political participation, civic knowledge, and community involvement. The “publicness” of government-run public schools is a necessary condition, or at least an inherent advantage, for schools to promote civic-minded citizens, they argue. Few of these theoretical claims are grounded in empirical evidence for support, despite dozens of quantitative studies of the effects of various types of schools (government-run public schools, public charter schools, Catholic parochial schools, Evangelical Protestant schools, secular private schools, etc.) on the civic outcomes of young adults. Moreover, Barry Bozeman reminds us that “publicness” is a matter of degree and not kind, as “all organizations are public.” We conduct a statistical meta-analysis of the effects of private schools, relative to government-run public schools, on various civic outcomes. Using robust variance estimation, we determine if private schooling generally produces higher or lower levels of civic outcomes in students, all else equal. We proceed to use meta-regression to identify possible mediators and moderators of the effects of private schooling on civic outcomes.

Framing on Facebook: Adapting School Lunch Programs during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Anne Whitesell, Miami University; Clare Brock, Texas Woman’s University

The disruptions caused by school closures during the coronavirus pandemic have been well-documented. The decentralized nature of America’s education system meant that as Congress was passing legislation and federal agencies were issuing waivers to federal requirements, states and localities were responsible for implementing policy change. In addition to changing the learning modality for millions of children, school officials were also forced to rapidly adapt a variety of nutrition assistance programs that serve millions of food insecure children across the nation. Political and environmental characteristics have a strong impact on the way that localities frame their policy implementation approaches. In other words, while the agenda is set outside of the districts, local officials have considerable leeway in how they frame the implementation of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). The characteristics of the student population, the geography of the school district, and the relationship between the state and local departments of education may all influence how districts conveyed changes in school nutrition programs to the community.
We assert that, while the implementation of changes to the NSLP and SBP were constrained by top-down directives, the framing of these changes was controlled by street-level school officials. The paper argues that on-the-ground administrators are responsive to their district characteristics and strategic in the framing they use to roll out policy changes that are often beyond their control. To test this, we analyze Facebook posts from school districts in three states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) to ascertain how those local characteristics affected the framing of school nutrition programs during the pandemic. These states are particularly useful case-study selections because they are reasonably similar demographically and geographically, particularly in terms of the student population they serve, but offer variation in their political environment. As of March 2020, Ohio had a Republican governor and legislature; Pennsylvania had a Democratic governor and Republican legislature; and Virginia had a Democratic governor and legislature. We also selected specifically for school-year reopening plans. The state of Ohio recommended multiple modalities upon reopening, while Pennsylvania and Virginia required multiple modalities. We also consider the community-specific characteristics of the districts in these states.
Early results suggest that urban and rural districts are far more communicative about school nutrition programs on Facebook, when compared with suburban districts. This suggests that the portion of eligible students a district serves has considerable impact on the efforts officials expend to communicate important policy information to the school community. Understanding street-level policy framing, particularly on social media, offers valuable insight into the factors that motivate local administrators to communicate important policy information; and the ways that these local officials can use their own understanding of the communities they serve to communicate with and more effectively serve target populations.


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