Four New Studies Show We Must Rethink Our Children’s Education


By Kitty Kelly Epstein


There are a number of new educational research findings that are important for teachers and parents to consider.

Especially significant are four new studies: the importance of ethnic studies in student performance, the negative impact of retaining students, how Teach for America displaces Black teachers and the harmful effects of teaching reading to children in kindergarten.

In an interesting study on the impact of ethnic studies on the school performance of students in a San Francisco high school, Stanford Professor Thomas Dee found that students who took ethnic studies classes had better attendance and better grades than their peers at the same level of school performance who did not take these classes.

His study bears out the argument made by many Black and Latino educators that students do better in school when they learn about history and issues related to people of their ethnicity and culture.

Many parents wonder whether holding children back in the same grade is a good idea.

The most recent research, conducted with a large cohort and a sophisticated research model, concluded that children who were retained in the same grade were “scarred” and were more likely to drop out of high school, even when the grade retention happened in the early grades.

This is particularly important research in the Bay Area, since a large portion of those retained in the same grade are African-American or Latino males.

(The abstract is available free at this site; the full article has a cost charged by the journal)

The Impact of Teach for America on Black Teacher Displacement in Urban Schools: Associate Professor Terrenda White finds that policies promoted by Teach for America contribute to the displacement of veteran African-American teachers, even though TFA has recently begun to recruit more diverse individuals for its own teaching corps.

The author concludes that, “TFA’s diversity initiative, while potentially praiseworthy, neither negates nor redresses the harms of its policy commitments that have disrupted the professional lives of Black teachers broadly and undermined their pedagogical contributions to children.”

The article is long and is available free through an open access journal. Reading the introduction will give you the gist.

The parents of young children will want to pay particular attention to the report by Dr. Nancy Carllson-Paige, and co-authors, “Kindergarten Reading: Little to Gain and Much to Lose”

They summarize the many studies indicating harmful results from the formal teaching of reading in kindergarten. She lists many appropriate and helpful reading-related activities.

But actual direct reading instruction in kindergarten does not lead to better reading ability in the later grades, and, according to some studies, is correlated with negative outcomes.

In considering this evidence, it is worth asking whether sometimes children may be referred to special education because they cannot do things that schools should not be forcing them to do in the first place.

Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is the host of Education Today on KPFA 94.1 and the author of “A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory and Unexplored Realities” (2012) Peter Lang Publishers.