2007 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows

Derek C. Briggs, University of Colorado at Boulder

Validation Theory and Practice in the Context of High-Stakes Test Use

Strong inferences about test scores must be supported by strong programs of test validation. The purpose of this project is to investigate and characterize the extent to which there are gaps between test validation theory and practice in American state assessment programs. This will be accomplished by conducting a census of state validation practices using an evaluative framework based upon the AERA/APA/NCME Test Standards for Validity. A key criterion in this framework will be the extent to which states have integrated different types of validity evidence into a comprehensive argument that supports the interpretation of test scores for specific uses. The results from this census will be used to inform a series of constructive design proposals that states could realistically employ to establish or strengthen ongoing programs of test validation. The findings from this project could serve as a first step in developing a taxonomy of threats to test validity that are analogous to threats to internal validity in the context of causal inference.

Victoria Cain, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Show and Sell: Museums, Markets and the Making of Modern Edutainment

“Show and Sell: Museums, Markets and the Making of Modern Edutainment” uses the history of museums and museum display to investigate the evolving relationship between public science education, academic science and consumer capitalism between 1900 and 1940. This project will trace the evolution of the definitions and concepts of “science education” and “science entertainment” in scientific and popular culture in this period. It will determine when, how and why the practices of education and display in natural history museums changed over time and region. It will analyze the ways in which these definitions and changes were shaped by a complex network of values and aspirations, held together by a diverse group of actors competing to dominate both science education and museum work: research scientists, school teachers, museum directors, museum curators, preparators and artists, philanthropists, government, industry and the public itself. Finally, it will explore how American natural history museums influenced science education in these decades, inside and outside of their own halls. Ultimately, this project will illuminate the twinned development of science education and edutainment and explain how the public participated in this process – an important and timely project, in light of the expanding cultural domains and contemporary controversies surrounding these topics.

Damon Clark, University of Florida

Elite Schools and Academic Achievement

This project will examine the impact of attending elite public schools (grammar schools) in the UK. Students are assigned to these schools on the basis of a test taken in primary school, and I will exploit this rule using a regression discontinuity approach, comparing those students just above and just below the elite school passing cutoff on a wide range of high school outcomes, including standardized test scores, the probability of enrolling in advanced courses and college entry patterns. I have already completed preliminary work using data from one school district and have recently received data from another. I will also compare my results to estimates based on nationally representative datasets that do not contain assignment test scores and cannot therefore implement this type of research design.

The results can inform debates in those (predominantly European countries) that operate these kinds of schools. The results will also allow us to assess whether existing US choice results generalize to other settings. While many of the “choice” schools to which some US students now have access appear popular with parents, recent studies have found that the causal effect of attending these schools is at best small, at least on “basic” outcomes such as statewide test scores. My work will complement this research by considering a setting in which between-school differences in peer quality, teacher quality and so on are even larger, and by considering the impacts on a wider range of outcomes.

M. Victoria Costa, Florida State University

Social Justice and Civic Education

This research concerns the philosophical assessment of the implications of theories of justice for the educational goal of creating good citizens. Clarifying the philosophical foundations of various forms of civic education is a necessary step for the thoughtful discussion of policy issues. My starting point is a discussion of John Rawls’ theory of justice as the basis for account of civic education, and a selective analysis of alternative theories in order to refine this account. The first part of my book will discuss the role of civic education in the promotion of social justice. It will argue that civic education should aim to develop an understanding of public principles and norms that are necessary for citizens to live together in pluralistic and democratic societies. The second part discusses another central task of civic education: how to address different types of injustices in order to encourage political debate about them. This task requires a better understanding of the major sources of social injustice, such as historical patterns of discrimination against minority groups and relationships of domination. The third part discusses what justice requires beyond the borders of nation-states and argues for including a cosmopolitan dimension in civic education.

Ravit Golan Duncan, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

A Learning Progression for Developing Understandings of Genetics

Learning progressions are a new way of conceptualizing learning as it occurs across multiple grades and as a consequence of targeted instruction and assessment around a small set of core ideas. These progressions describe the pathways that learners might take in developing successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about key ideas and practices in a discipline. The proposed research seeks to develop and empirically validate a learning progression for deepening students’ understandings of few foundational ideas in genetics. The proposed progression spans the elementary, middle, and high school grade bands (5th -10th grade). I will study this progression by following students across two target grades -the 8th and 9th grades. To instantiate this progression through classroom instruction I will develop 4-6 weeks long instructional units that will be taught in the target grades. Using microgenetic methods I will construct fine-grained analyses of student’s understandings as they develop throughout the instructional units across both grades. This work will provide insights about the ways in which learning develops over time and how we can foster such learning through coordinated instruction and assessments that are based on a cognitive model of learning in the domain.

Emine Evered, Michigan State University

Lessons in Empire: Ottoman Educational Policies and the Politics of Ethno-Religious Pluralism, 1850-1918

This project examines questions of diversity and pluralism in late Ottoman educational politics. Though ethno-nationalist ideologies and foreign rivalries are cited often for causing imperial collapse, such claims fail to recognize roles played by the state itself in promoting – albeit unwittingly – the politicization of such identity constructs. Through an analysis of late-Ottoman educational records, it is evident that educational policies intended to contain, manipulate, or otherwise affect the conduct of ethno-religious minorities’ identities actually promoted their particularization. This individualization of ethno-religious identities in a pluralistic society like the Ottoman Empire thus exacerbated problems of resistance, fragmentation, and secession. Based upon extensive archival research and previously untapped historical documents, this study includes previously unheard voices and considers how educational policies in those societies that did not maintain the nation-state as the ultimate ideal – and the nation as the ultimate sovereign, eventually failed. Also employing GIS to research and present historical data, this study creates a year-to-year mapping of late-Ottoman schooling in order to spatially analyze distributions of expenditures and schools, school types, the numbers and identities of students and teachers, relevant socio-economic patterns and processes, and the many geopolitical and territorial changes of the late-Ottoman era. In sum, this project is the first ever attempt to move beyond just the voice of the imperial state in order to understand the center-periphery dynamics involving Ottoman education policies as they were applied and reacted to in the empire’s many ethno-religious minority communities.

Cynthia Feliciano, University of California, Irvine

Gender Disparities in Early School Engagement among Young Children of Immigrants

Why are female children of immigrants more successful in school than males? How do gender disparities vary by national origin, race, and immigrant generation? This research explores these questions by analyzing differences in school engagement—children’s interest in elementary school—an important predictor of subsequent achievement. I hypothesize that female advantages in academic engagement can be explained by differences in family cultural resources, such as parental expectations, parental control, and language fluency. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K), a nationally representative sample of children from kindergarten through fifth grade, I compare children from different immigrant generations, and those from different ethnic groups, including Mexicans, Filipinos, Indians, and Vietnamese. Using survey regression methods, I examine the effects of parents’ expectations and control, and children’s language use, on gender disparities in children’s school interest. Understanding ethnic and gender disparities has important implications for targeting policies towards the groups who are most in need. This study will fill the gap in existing research that has identified some factors that may differentially affect boys’ or girls’ achievement, but has not yet examined them in a comparative framework, particularly for young children of immigrants.

Michael Ford, University of Pittsburgh

A dual-role theory of scientific reasoning

From a sociocultural perspective, learning occurs through engagement in community practices. Practices that distinguish science from other knowledge-producing disciplines are those that provide authority for knowledge claims. Recent philosophy of science has identified these practices in terms of both the material and social aspects of science, which I have distilled into the dual roles of constructor and critiquer. Under this view, learning to reason in a fundamentally scientific way requires that students engage these roles authentically—in the same ways and for the same purposes these roles interact in scientific communities.

The present study will engage students authentically in construction and critique, using a previously developed classroom activity design. The aim of this study is to identify, in detail, how and what students learn from this engagement. Two 10-day studies in high school physics classrooms will be conducted in years 1 and 2, each iteration assigning students randomly to treatment and control conditions. Video and audio records of instruction will be collected, both during whole class discussions and during individual group work, to address the question (1) How does student engagement in the dual roles of constructor and critiquer develop, and how do these aspects of reasoning bootstrap each other? Following instruction, students will be presented with knowledge claims both in and out of the content area of their inquiry. Student responses during interviews about these will address the question (2) How is student ability to scrutinize and learn scientific content enhanced by their instructional engagement in construction and critique?
This study will support a reconceptualization of what it means to reason scientifically, tying together concerns of science educators traditionally considered separate. My previous research suggests that knowing how to appropriately play the constructor and critiquer roles is fundamental to an ability to conduct inquiry. This study explores the conjecture that this knowledge also can support scientific literacy and student ability to make sense of scientific content.

Ilana Horn, University of Washington

Recontextualizing Practices: Learning to Teach Rigorous and Accessible Mathematics in the High School

Educational innovations require tremendous work to be implemented successfully. I conceptualize the problem of implementation as a problem of teacher learning and seek to describe the process of that learning in fine-grained detail. Using a comparative case study design, I will examine how 8 high school mathematics teachers learn to use equitable teaching practices as they move from formal training into their school and classroom settings. The research builds on data from two longitudinal ethnographic studies, one focused on the pre-service teachers’ learning and another on in-service teachers’ learning. Although differently structured, the formal training for both groups focuses on practices known to increase students’ mathematical achievement. The varied success of the teachers allows for analysis of the individual and contextual factors that support the implementation of novel and complex teaching practices. This study will contribute to educational research by specifying the different outcomes for the teachers in both their understanding and application of these practices, and by detailing the way teachers transform the practices as they move from formal educational settings into their school and classroom contexts. A close analysis of this process will contribute to our theoretical understanding of adult learning and inform the design of professional education.

James Kim, Harvard University

Effects of a Voluntary Summer Reading Intervention on District Policy and Student Outcomes

Numerous empirical studies indicate that minority and low-income children fall behind in reading during summer vacation, causing the achievement gap to widen in the elementary grades. To prevent summer reading losses among minority and low-income students, I collaborated with practitioners to develop, implement, and test a voluntary summer reading intervention for children in Grades 3 to 5. Although recent experimental studies revealed positive effects of the intervention on student reading outcomes, there are two limitations with this earlier work that I seek to address. For this project, I propose conducting analyses that would (1) estimate the cost-effectiveness of the voluntary summer reading intervention relative to a 6-week summer school program, and (2) examine how the variability in the treatment effect is related to differences in children’s reading skills, motivation, and home literacy activities.

Fang Lai, New York University

Parental Preference, Heterogeneous Effects of School Choice on Student Outcomes, and Peer Effects under a Preference-based Randomization: Evidence from the Middle School Education Reform in Beijing’s Eastern City District

Understanding the controversies surrounding school choice cannot be isolated from a thorough examination of parental preferences and abilities in school choice and important components of the effects of school choice such as peer effects resulting from school choice. Few existing datasets are adequate for such all-sided studies. The proposed project benefits from a unique natural experiment introduced by the education reform in Beijing, where students were randomly assigned to different middle schools conditioning on their school applications. Using a dataset containing unusually rich information of 7000 students and their friends entering middle schools in Beijing’s Eastern City District in 1999, this project examines patterns and heterogeneities of parental school choice and the resulting socioeconomic and academic stratification, identifies via random assignment both the net short-term and long-run effects of entering first-choice school on student academic and nonacademic outcomes and how these are distributed across different students. It also examines the net and distributional aspects of peer effects associated with school choice using students’ actual social peers and with careful examination of the peer group formation. Conclusions of this project will provide a more comprehensive and in-depth perspective of the consequences of school choice concerning the quality and equity of education.

Morva McDonald, University of Washington

Learning to teach literacy in hard to staff secondary schools: A comparison of different pathways into teaching

We are experiencing a crisis in adolescent literacy. More than 8 million students in grades 4 – 12 are struggling readers, 2 in 3 high school students read below grade level, and 2 in 3 high school seniors are not proficient in reading. Black, Hispanic, and low-income students are the most likely to be reading well below grade level and are also likely to be taught by the least qualified teachers. An essential question for policy makers and teacher educators is: how can we prepare more effective teachers to teach in hard to staff schools with the students most in need?

This project takes up this question in a mixed-methods study of two pathways into teaching English language arts (ELA) in hard to staff secondary schools. This study will examine the preparation pathway of prospective teachers enrolled in a highly reputable university-based program, the Mills College Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools program and Teach for America (TFA) in Oakland, California. This study will follow graduates into their first two years of teaching. Three overarching questions guide this study: 1) What are the preservice opportunities provided to prospective ELA teachers to teach literacy in hard to staff schools, 2) How do teachers in these pathways take up the practices they learned during preparation in their first years of teaching, 3) In what ways, if any, do teachers’ practices improve student learning?

Typically, secondary ELA teachers view their role as teaching literature and advanced writing skills, but given the current crisis they need to also address students’ fundamental literacy skills. Thus, I will examine secondary teachers’ preparation and practices for improving secondary students’ reading comprehension and writing abilities. Given the population of students most impacted, I will consider the extent to which teachers are prepared with and implement culturally relevant teaching practices, including those aimed at addressing English language learners. In addition, I will investigate the assessment practices teachers are prepared with and consider how they use such practices to adapt instruction. Finally, I will study teachers’ impact on student learning in the areas of reading comprehension and writing.

This study aims to dig below the surface of the large scale quantitative studies comparing multiple pathways to understand in depth the impact of two different pathways on English language arts teachers’ practices in hard to staff schools, and in turn their impact on student learning. The goal is to provide policy makers with guides for developing policies that will improve the quality of teachers and to inform the work of teacher education programs.

Carolyn McKinney, University of Cape Town

Schooling girls in post-apartheid South Africa: exploring the construction of youth identities in desegregated girls’ schools

While apartheid education was notorious for its role in enforcing social inequality, white supremacy and patriarchy, with schooling being powerfully abused to shape and distort the values, political consciousness and identities of learners, recent South African educational policy takes up the post-apartheid challenge of contributing to the restructuring of South African society and creating a democratic ethos. However, current research shows a lack of implementation of programmes to address diversity in South African schools and a dominant assimilationist approach in racially desegregated schools. While not denying powerful forms of assimilationism whereby subordinate learners are forced to give up certain cultural resources or ways of being and to take on those that are dominant, this project considers the extent to which such learners might be transforming those cultural resources and constructing new identities. Put differently, this project is concerned with what else might be going on alongside assimilation, with the gaps and moments that might be available for re-making culture and identities. One of the productive sites for the exploration of cultural re-making is learners’ language use and discursive practices. In a context where English is claimed to be hegemonic, and where African parents’ and learners’ choices to be schooled in English are often seen as assimilationist, the study aims to explore girls’ language use and discursive practices as a productive site for cultural re-making, as well as the destabilization of racial categorization through language practices. Ethnographic case studies of two suburban and previously ‘white’ girls’ only secondary schools will be developed: one will be a school accommodating sizeable numbers of black and white learners, and the other, a school where black learners have replaced the previously white learner body. The latter context in particular raises questions about the possible ways in which learners previously denied access are transforming the ‘culture’ of the school.

Sarah Meacham, Harvard University

When Script meets Innovation: The impact on the acquisition of reading comprehension strategies of teacher experimentation with America’s Choice in Boston

This study will analyze teacher decision-making around the planning of reading comprehension activities in middle school classrooms in Boston that have begun adopting the America’s Choice English Language Arts curriculum. Ethnographic research will document how classroom activities that result from these decisions relate to the socialization of reading comprehension strategies. Hence this study will produce general knowledge about the impact of instructional conditions on reading comprehension with two goals: a) to correlate discrete classroom activities with greater natural use of comprehension strategies (e.g. predicting, clarifying, and critical thinking), construal of meaning, and engagement with text, and b) to define these effective activities – their affective, grammatical, spatial and temporal structures – and their emergence and development over the school year. The routine integration of language, space, time, and artifacts will be analyzed as poetic structures that support certain orientations toward text and routes into comprehension. An important further goal of the study is to highlight the inevitable role of teacher innovation even within a scripted program and to codify the successful adaptations teachers make. Innovated activities will be compared with activities that remain closer to the America’s Choice script in the way they correlate with students’ natural use of comprehension strategies and affective engagement with text. This will provide valuable information for the district about how to make the program more situated and responsive.

Amori Yee Mikami, University of Virginia

Teacher Practices that Promote Children’s Academic Success Through Reducing Peer Rejection

Children who are disliked by their peers are highly likely to experience future school failure, high school dropout, and reduced job attainment – even after statistical control of early academic skills. Yet little is known about how and why these peer-rejected children embark on a path towards poor academic achievement, nor possible ways in which teachers can intervene in this destructive cycle using regular, day-to-day instructional practices. I propose to assess classrooms of elementary school-age children three times over the course of a school year. I hypothesize that peer rejection, in interaction with children’s behavior problems, will predict a negative trajectory towards withdrawal from class participation and disengagement from school, which in turn contribute to declining academic achievement. However and most crucially, teachers who (a) set overt classroom norms of tolerance and respect, (b) believe that peer rejection is malleable and influenced by the classroom environment, and (c) intervene proactively when children are being teased or excluded, will mitigate these concerning outcomes. This project will inform my future work on educational interventions for the at-risk population of peer-rejected children.

Raegen Miller, Harvard University

The Stability of Value-Added Measures of Teacher Effectiveness

Many parties are anxious to bring Value-Added Assessment (VAA), a class of statistical models, to bear on decisions affecting teachers. Decisions about compensation, assignment, or job-security, however, require high-quality information. The proposed study will assess the year-to-year stability of one type of information provided by VAA, the relative effectiveness of teachers in promoting academic achievement of their students, often called teacher effects. The study will exploit a previously assembled dataset including information on students, teachers, and schools in a large, urban school district over three consecutive years. The study will use regression techniques to shed light on questions about the stability teacher effects. The answers to these questions will inform strategies and tactics of school leaders grappling with information provided by VAA, the deliberations of policymakers weighing the advantages and disadvantages of programs using information provided by VAA, and the agendas of researchers interested in the technical underpinnings of VAA.

Kristen Dombkowski Nawrotzki, Roehampton University

Kindergarten in Common: Early Education in England and the USA, 1850-1975

Over the last 150 years, the field of early childhood education (ECE) has developed as an international phenomenon, and is based upon supposedly universal principles of child development. Yet, when examined closely, programs of ECE appear to be nation- and culture-specific. So, to what degree is the development of early childhood pedagogy and policy culturally relative or nation-based? How have different nations historically come to grips with educational innovations, such as the kindergarten, which claim to understand children and the learning process in a universal way? These are the questions addressed by my postdoctoral project, a revision and extension of my doctoral thesis.

The thesis is a transnational historical analysis of the kindergarten and related ECE in England and the USA from 1850 to 1965. It identifies the transnational history of the kindergarten and related institutions as the product of context-specific responses to educational innovation; perceptions of the family, experts, and the state; definitions of childhood; the professionalization of teachers; and the nature of Euro-American intellectual affinities and exchange. Drawing upon Daniel T. Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings model of transnational intellectual landscapes, it compares the ways in which the kindergarten as an educational and social welfare institution and a locus of female professional identity was shaped by the needs and interests of teachers, parents and policy-makers in different periods. While the provision of ECE in England and the USA was determined by nation-specific policy contexts, the values and pedagogies promoted by educators and educationists transcended national boundaries and were (trans)formed by processes of transatlantic exchange. The current project will extend that analysis by one crucial decade to 1975, examining not only the common origins of England’s 1967 Plowden Report and America’s Head Start and Title I programs, but also their aftermath, all within the context of the long-term history of Anglo-American ECE.

Stacy Tweedy, Washington University

In the Shadows of Hobson: Race, Education and Franchise in the District of Columbia

In Hobson v. Hansen (1967), civil rights leader Julius Hobson challenged the District of Columbia Public Schools’ compliance with Bolling v. Sharpe, the DC companion case to Brown v. Board of Education (1954). He alleged that the District discriminated against black and poor students through such practices as academic tracking, maintaining optional attendance zones for white students residing in racially integrated neighborhoods, and inequitable resource allocation. The court ordered landmark remedies in Hobson, and in the sequel school finance equalization suit, Hobson II in 1971. However, the District still struggled to produce satisfactory educational outcomes for its predominantly black, poor and working-class student population.
This research project employs the insights and methods of social history, educational research, and legal theory to analyze the interplay of the legal, social, and political conflicts at work in the litigation and in the city’s remedial measures. It treats the Hobson case and the associated efforts at educational reform that followed as issues of franchise broadly construed. The project examines how the Hobson cases, Congressional oversight of the city’s affairs, and the District’s local political culture have shaped the history and outcomes of educational reform in the city.

Gary Walton, University of Waterloo

A Social-Psychological Approach to Increasing the Achievement of Women in Math and Engineering: A Randomized Field Experiment

One of the most persistent group differences in education is the lack of women pursuing quantitative fields. In a randomized experiment, my research will test three social-psychological interventions to boost women’s real-world achievement in math and engineering. Each intervention addresses a consequence of being targeted by negative intellectual stereotypes. The first intervention is designed to buttress women’s sense of belonging in math and engineering, particularly in the face of adversity (such as social isolation) that could otherwise lead them to doubt their belonging or “fit” in quantitative fields. The second intervention is designed to buffer women against threats to their sense of self-integrity—their view of themselves as good, virtuous, and efficacious. The third intervention combines the active ingredient of the first two. Measures will assess academic outcomes (e.g., grades and retention in math and engineering) and mediating psychological processes. Participants will be male and female university students enrolled in math and engineering programs. This experimental design allows me to compare the effectiveness of each intervention strategy to each other and to a control condition. It also allows a test of the separate and joint processes by which the interventions trigger long-term benefits. Indeed, the combined treatment is predicted to be most effective in improving women’s achievement in math and engineering, because it should trigger both a more secure sense of belonging and a more secure sense of self-integrity. This research has the potential to inform psychological theory and to create novel, theory-based remedies to increase the number of women pursuing quantitative fields.

Terry Woronov, University of Arizona

Eating from the “Rice Bowl of Youth”: Gender Ideologies and School-to-Work Transitions in Urban China

This project examines the school-to-work transition of a group of working-class teenage girls in Nanjing, China. Evidence suggests that changing gender ideologies about appropriate work for women in the new Chinese economy is increasingly limiting young women to “rice bowl of youth” jobs, where they convert their youth and beauty into potentially lucrative – but very short term – careers that briefly “fill their rice bowls.” Hypothesizing that young women from working-class families enrolled in vocational and technical schools may be more likely to enter the “rice bowl of youth” economy, this project focuses on a group of graduating high school seniors. In collaboration with a Chinese scholar, this ethnographic research projects seeks to understand how young women are preparing to enter this new labor market, through a close study of their daily lives inside and outside school. What kinds of practices prepare these young women for jobs, including diet, exercise, make-up, and other forms of bodily transformations? How relevant is their school training relevant for their future work?

Our goal is to better understand the relevance of vocational education for women entering a highly discriminatory labor market. This work will contribute to our understanding of the links between gender, age, class, and education, building on the existing literature on gendered youth cultures and the school-to-work transition in the West. A close study of the academic and embodied practices young women engage in to increase their marketability will enhance our understanding of life in contemporary China, and the effects the transition to a market economy has had on a generation of Chinese youth.

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