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PROOF POINTS: 10 of the most popular stories about education research in 2020

In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo, Yamarko Brown, age 12, works on math problems as part of a trial run of a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md. The new test, which is scheduled to go into use March 2, 2015, is linked to the Common Core standards, which Maryland adopted in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and serves as criteria for students in math and reading.

For my year end post, I’m highlighting 10 of the most well-read Proof Points stories of 2020. They are listed in the order of popularity — by the number of times readers viewed them on our website, The Hechinger Report. What stands out for me is how readers remain interested in basic research into how kids learn, from reading to critical thinking to collaborating with peers. This year, I put a special focus on pandemic relevant topics, from the effectiveness of tutoring to helping struggling learners catch up to lessons learned from the 2008 recession. 

Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my weekly stories about education data and research. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you next year. If you would like to receive an email newsletter and notification when the column comes out each week, please click here and fill out the form. Happy New Year  and I’ll be back again on Jan. 4, 2020 with a follow-up story to the first one on this list.

  1. Study: Boosting soft skills is better than raising test scores

A Chicago study makes the case that high schools that build social-emotional skills, such as the ability to resolve conflicts and the motivation to work hard, are getting even better results for students than schools that only boost test scores. The schools that develop soft skills produced students with higher grades, fewer absences and fewer disciplinary problems and arrests in high school. Students who attended these high schools were more likely to graduate and attend college.

  1. Why so few students transfer from community colleges to four-year universities

A survey of 800 California community college students reveals why some students managed to transfer to a four-year university and others didn’t. Red tape can stymie the brightest students who have otherwise fulfilled academic requirements.

  1. How the last recession affected higher education. Will history repeat?

A well-intended effort to invest in education after the 2008 recession left many Americans in debt without degrees. Policymakers underfunded public colleges and universities as they steered people toward them.

  1. A study on teaching critical thinking in science

In a study of middle school science classrooms, researchers found that it’s not effective to start the school year with weeks of lessons on the scientific method, which many teachers do.  Instead, the successful teaching of scientific thinking starts with a content-rich lesson where students learn to ask the right questions and evaluate evidence while they are processing information on dolphins, molecules or another specific science topic. 

  1. Four things you need to know about the new reading wars

Evidence backs phonics instruction in early elementary years along with engaging social studies and science classes so that students can build their background knowledge to comprehend complicated texts as they get older.  

  1. Student teachers fail test about how kids learn, nonprofit finds

An assessment of students at six teacher training schools found that teacher candidates “possess a shallow understanding” of basic principles of learning science and struggled to make instructional decisions that are consistent with the research evidence of how students learn.

  1. A decade of research on the rich-poor divide in education

Many studies show growing funding inequities and increased poverty in U.S. schools.

  1. Another way to quantify inequality inside colleges

Black students have much lower graduation rates than white students attending the same colleges in an Urban Institute study of higher education institutions in two states, Virginia and Connecticut. Graduation gaps persist even when Black students and white students have the same family income, high school grades and SAT scores.

  1. The science of talking in class

Teachers commonly tell students to “turn and talk” to a classmate as a way to reinforce a lesson. But a meta-analysis of peer-to-peer interaction found that the strongest learning gains came when adults gave clear instructions for what to do during conversations, such as “arrive at a consensus” or “make sure you understand your partner’s perspective.” Simply telling students to “work together” or “discuss”  often didn’t generate learning improvements for students in the studies.

  1. Takeaways from research on tutoring to address coronavirus learning loss

Individual tutoring is one of the most effective ways to help struggling learners catch up, but research points to frequent sessions. But it’s expensive and there are debates on who should do the tutoring, how tutors should be trained and how scripted the curriculum should be. According to one calculation, a school year’s worth of tutoring might make up five months of learning loss, still not enough to completely wipe out expected coronavirus learning losses for some children. 

This story about the top education research stories of 2020 was written by Jill Barshay and produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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