Students’ Performance in School Has Many Causes

Photo of students' raised handsAs students head back to school, a series of our reports show there can be causes other than academic ability that affect children’s performance. Today’s WatchBlog will test your knowledge about some of the issues affecting the nation’s school age children.

Where can students access extra academic help and food programs?

Nearly 2,400 federally-funded organizations give children food and extra academic help before and after school. The Department of Education awards 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants to improve student outcomes in high-poverty or low-performing K-12 schools. The centers we visited offered help in reading and math, science and technology, art and music, and fitness and nutrition.

Figure showing examples of activities provided by 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs

The Department of Education measures the success of these programs by whether they help improve students’ academic performance. But research we reviewed suggests the program helps improve students’ behavior, such as school-day attendance and reduced disciplinary incidents, more often than their academic outcomes. We recommended ways to improve the 21st Century’s performance measures, program evaluations, and program sustainability.

When kids can’t rely on school meals during summer break, what fills the gap?

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free meals to children in low-income areas during the summer. We found that meals served increased in recent years, but no one knew how many children received them. As a result, the extent to which the program is filling the summertime meal gap is unknown.

We also found that states and program providers had challenges with meal sites, participation, and program administration.  While there have been efforts to improve this, additional federal attention is needed.

Figure showing examples of activities offered for children at Summer Food Service Program meal sites in selected sites

Check out our recommendations to improve estimates of participation in SFSP, meal site safety, and program administration, then listen to Kathy Larin of our Education, Workforce, and Income Security team share more about what we found.

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Who is getting disciplined in schools?

We looked at discipline in public schools and found widespread, persistent disparities for Black students, boys, and students with disabilities. Using federal data on nearly all public schools from school year 2013-14, we analyzed 6 disciplinary actions (e.g., being suspended or expelled), 4 levels of school poverty, and 5 types of public schools. We consistently found that Black students, boys, and students with disabilities experienced disproportionate levels of discipline regardless of the disciplinary action or school characteristics. Some disparities were present as early as pre-school, and some were particularly large: there were 17.4 million more White students than Black students attending K-12 public schools, but 176,000 more Black students were suspended.

Chart showing students suspended from school compared to student population by race, sex, and disability status, school year 2013-14

What’s in the drinking water in schools across the nation?

Our survey estimated 37% of school districts that had tested for lead in school drinking water found elevated levels of lead. 41% of school districts, serving 12 million students, had not tested in the 12 months prior to completing our survey.

Chart showing estimated percentage of public school districts reporting lead testing and results for drinking water

Check out our recommendations to improve testing for and remediation of lead in school drinking water, and listen to Jackie Nowicki, a director in our Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, share more about our report.

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Are public high schools providing equal opportunity in high school sports?

Under Title IX, high schools must provide girls and boys equal opportunity to participate in sports. While girls’ participation has increased since the law was passed, it’s still lower than boys’. Every public school must have a Title IX Coordinator, but we found that half of high school athletics officials didn’t know who their coordinator was or had no help from them.

Chart showing school athletics administrators' awareness of and support by Title IX coordinators, 2017

To improve its guidance to schools and further improve equal opportunity, we recommended that the Department of Education collect more information on what Title IX Coordinators do.


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