Gladwell was right, and other research

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series highlighting recent research in education. Education News Colorado is asking experts – researchers in the field – to help sort out what’s worth noting among the many reports, studies and papers surfacing in K-12 and higher education.

This list was compiled by Kristin Klopfenstein, executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado:

“There were different reasons for including each paper, including that the topic has been in the news lately, the research challenges what we thought we knew or the project was just fun. This list is not intended to be exhaustive — it is from a narrow list of sources written exclusively by economists. Neither EII nor UNC endorses the views expressed in these papers, but they are worth a look if they touch on topics of interest to you.”

Teachers, value-added and student earnings
Chetty, R., Friedman and Rockoff, J. December 2011. The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, working paper 17699. “This paper has gotten a ton of press in the past few weeks. It is an interesting paper linking teacher quality, as measured exclusively by value-added measures, to students’ earnings later in life. While it is interesting that this connection exists, the result doesn’t do anything to inform us about why and how teachers who have greater value-added turn out students who earn slightly more as adults.”

Incentives only work if people know what to do
Fryer, R. January 2012. Aligning Student, Parent, and Teacher Incentives: Evidence from Houston Public Schools. NBER working paper 17752. “Roland Fryer challenges the conventional wisdom about how and when monetary incentives matter. The gist of his work, including this paper, is that incentives (like paying kids, teachers, and/or parents) for higher student achievement only work if people know how to improve student achievement. He finds substantial evidence that, in many cases, motivation isn’t the problem—knowing what to do and how to do it is the problem.”

When schools invest more, so do parents
Belber, A. and Isen, A. December 2011. Children’s Schooling and Parents’ Investment in Children: Evidence from the Head Start Impact Study. NBER working paper 17704. “This study finds that when schools are investing more in their kids, parents up their investment as well. Interesting finding that could — if it gets much traction — add a twist to the school finance debate.”

For-profit schools in the postsecondary sector
Deming, D., Goldin, C. and Katz, L. December 2011. The For-Profit Postsecondary School Sector: Nimble Critters or Agile Predators? NBER working paper 17710 “For-profit schools are in the news a lot these days, and this is a well-done paper that yields the typical findings on for-profits in the postsecondary sector — these schools serve more diverse student populations but many end up unemployed and with crushing debt.”

Gladwell was right, or graduating in a recession
Oreopoulos, P., von Wachter, T. and Heisz, A. 2012. “The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1): 1–29. “This is a really sobering article about how recent cohorts of college graduates are screwed for the long term. It fits in nicely with Malcolm Gladwell’s contention in Outliers that billionaires are not just smart but also lucky in terms of the timing of their birth.”

What a professor’s politics may say about grading practices
Bar, T. and Zussman, A. 2012. “Partisan Grading.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1): 30–48. “This article shows that profs who identify as Democrat have more egalitarian grade distributions than profs who self-identify as Republican. We probably don’t want to go there, but fun reading nonetheless!”

Keeping up with the latest research

How do you track the newest findings in education research?

How can you tell when a study is done well – or serving as a front for a predictable point of view?

Education News Colorado hopes this new occasional feature, Research in Review, will help.

We’re asking education researchers in Colorado to help us sort through all the reports, studies and papers making news – or circulating through our in-boxes – and figure out what’s worth an investment in time.

If you’d like to participate, or you have a suggestion for a researcher we should ask, let us know at [email protected]

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.