2008 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows

Maren Aukerman, Stanford University

Spanish and English Text Comprehension in a Dual-language Kindergarten

Despite indications that text comprehension poses an enormous challenge to many English-language learners, virtually no research has compared young children’s processes of text comprehension in the first and second language to see whether and how these might differ. This year-long study examines similarities and differences in children’s approaches to first- and second-language comprehension of picture-book readalouds in a dual-language (Spanish/English) kindergarten. Specifically, I ask: How do children rely on textual resources (e.g., illustrations) and classroom dialogue (e.g., peer talk) to comprehend first- and second-language picture-book readalouds? What do children’s understandings of first- and second-language readalouds look like at the start of school, and how might these become more standard across time? Using grounded theory and discourse analysis, I will analyze video data of 30 interactive readaloud conversations in each language, as well as follow-up retellings and “pretend readings” of these same texts by focal students representing various initial levels of proficiency in the two languages. By shedding light on what children do differently to comprehend first- and second-language text during everyday classroom interactions, this study will contribute to our theoretical grasp of second-language text comprehension and will inform how teachers organize reading instruction to better teach English-language learners.

Monisha Bajaj, Teachers College, Columbia University

Human Rights Education in India: A Multilevel Case Study of Policy, Pedagogy, and Practice

In the past two decades, the United Nations and over 100 of its member states have officially declared their interest in the promotion of human rights education (HRE) and its incorporation into national curricula. This multilevel case study will examine human rights education in India to determine how differentiated motivations for, conceptualizations of, and initiatives towards HRE operate at the levels of policy, curriculum and pedagogy, and practice. At the local level of practice specifically, this project seeks to examine how caste discrimination is addressed by HRE programs in southern India and the extent to which notions of caste identity are renegotiated by students, teachers, and alumni of such training programs. Caste discrimination has been an entrenched feature of Indian society and intersects with the extreme income disparities among the nation’s one billion residents. While political, economic, and social inclusion of low- and out-caste individuals and communities in the Indian nation-state has been a salient theme for the past six decades since Indian independence, the tacit goal of many HRE initiatives is the orientation towards a global rather than national sense of citizenship. As such, this project explores HRE at multiple levels and will provide important information for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers on the relationship between human rights education, citizenship, and democratic participation.

Gustavo J. Bobonis, University of Toronto

Institutional Change and the Expansion of Public Schooling: Evidence from the U.S. Colonization of Puerto Rico, 1898-1920

Institutional Change and the Expansion of Public Schooling: Evidence from the U.S. Colonization of Puerto Rico, 1898-1920 makes use of Puerto Rico’s colonial experience under the United States during the early 20th century as a case study to investigate the relationship between democratization, governance institutions, and the emergence of public schooling in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The experience of municipal governments in Puerto Rico during the early period of U.S. colonial rule (1898-1920) provides a unique set of circumstances to examine these relationships. By the end of the 19th century, municipalities across the Island had substantially diverged in terms of their de facto political and governance institutions, as well as in the degree of development of their public primary schools systems, mimicking the trajectories experienced across regions of the American continent. Following the transfer of colonial power in 1899, U.S. authorities introduced relatively egalitarian political, governance, and educational institutions—de jure American local institutions—across all municipalities in the Island. This project will study the extent to which these institutional changes impinged on jurisdictions which had mimicked the cross-continental experience throughout the 19th century. Using unique data on individual outcomes and municipal governments’ activities, such as the 1910 and 1920 Population Census Public-Use Micro Samples and administrative data on the organization and administration of local governments, I will examine whether these institutional changes helped close existing gaps in public school provision, primary school enrollment, and literacy rates across jurisdictions with varying degrees of political and economic inequality. The study will provide clear evidence regarding the roles played by political and governance institutions in explaining why the development of formal educational systems in Latin America and the Caribbean fell behind during the post-colonial period.

Scott Carrell, University of California, Davis

Raising College Students’ Grades: A Controlled Experiment in Peer Effects

Using peer effects, this study will examine whether a fixed set of students can be sorted into peer groups in such a way as to improve student academic outcomes. To do so, we will identify nonlinear peer effects in academic performance at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) and create optimally designed peer groups using linear programming techniques. Using controlled experimental design; we will sort the entire freshman cohort of students entering USAFA over a two-year period. One-half of the incoming freshman class will be randomly assigned to the control peer groups while the other half will be optimally sorted into the treatment peer groups. Academic performance differences will then be measured between the treatment and control groups. To our knowledge, this will be the first peer effects controlled experiment in which performance differences are measured.

Wade Cole, Montana State University

Education for Self-Determination: The Worldwide Emergence of Indigenous Colleges

Since the establishment of Navajo Community College in Arizona forty years ago, dozens of indigenous-controlled postsecondary institutions have appeared throughout the world. These “indigenous colleges” contradict an otherwise general trend toward integration in higher education. In the United States, for example, the emergence of tribal colleges coincided with the closure of many women’s and black colleges. Starting from the premise that control over the provision, administration, and content of higher education is a prerogative of sovereignty, I contend that the exceptional “quasi-sovereign” status of indigenous peoples empowers them to establish—or to have established for them—separate, culturally distinctive postsecondary institutions. The degree to which indigenous sovereignty is recognized, however, varies considerably over time and across countries. My project seeks to understand the global, national, and organizational processes giving rise to and shaping the emergence of indigenous colleges. First, what accounts for indigenous peoples’ control of postsecondary institutions—what is the source of their unique sovereignty claims? Second, what explains variation in the number of indigenous colleges established, the timing of their emergence, the degree of institutional autonomy they enjoy, and the organizational forms they assume? Finally, how does their curricular content differ from other institutions, and why? Each set of questions corresponds to a sequentially nested level of analysis: indigenous control of postsecondary institutions is an issue of global scope; differences in number, timing, autonomy, and form reflect cross-national patterns in the structure of indigenous–state relations and higher education systems; and curricular composition is an organizational attribute of indigenous colleges. I approach each question with a different set of methodological tools: analytical narratives, formal case-based comparisons (Australia, Canada, Greenland/Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States), and multivariate regression analyses, respectively.

Hélène Deacon, Dalhousie University

Learning from Success: Routes to Reading for Compensated Dyslexics

Reading difficulties have far-reaching and devastating economic, social, and health ramifications; individuals with low literacy levels are more likely to have incomes below the poverty line, higher incarceration rates, and shorter life spans. I intend to examine how some individuals with early reading difficulties achieve later success in reading. To do so, I will examine how an estimated 22 to 25% of children with reading difficulties (such as dyslexia) are able to recover from these early challenges, at least to the point that they can comprehend text and participate in higher education as adults. It is clear that these ‘compensated dyslexics’ are not achieving reading through the classic route of letter-sound correspondences, and so I will examine two alternative avenues: an appreciation of the letter- and meaning-patterns in print. These routes might work independently or in tandem to offer alternative inroads into reading for compensated dyslexics. The results of this study will inform us as to how individuals with a history of reading difficulties access the meaning in texts. This foundational information will allow educators to target critical areas in teaching to ensure that all individuals achieve the efficient reading ability necessary for successful participation in, and contribution to society.

Charles Aiden Downey, University of Alberta, Canada

You Can’t Save Them All: The Moral Economy of Teachers’ Work in an Inner-City High School

This project emerges from three years of ethnographic fieldwork with the twelve teachers who staffed the vocational program of an inner-city public high school to address three central questions: How do teachers understand and experience the “failure” label slapped perennially on their school? How do teachers solve the practical and moral dilemmas their work presents to them? How do teachers sustain themselves in the face of the many threats to their teaching identities? The project asserts that stories play a central role in how teachers understand their students, the moral dilemmas an under-resourced high school presents to them and, ultimately, themselves as teachers. It fundamentally challenges prevailing conceptions of inner-city teachers as either heroes or villains with an account of teachers living between these two caricatures, offering a much more nuanced picture of the conflicting institutional, social and cultural worlds teachers confront in an inner-city high school. With the support of the Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship I will interview the teachers five years after completing my initial fieldwork to provide another chapter to many stories that unfolded over the course of my time there, fueling a reanalysis of my initial data. The result will be a readable book that offers a sobering picture of the lives of teachers in an inner-city high school– the necessary and often overlooked starting point for genuine school reform.

Brett Gadsden, Emory University

Victory Without Triumph: School Desegregation in Delaware

The central thrust of my project investigates how school desegregation proponents highlighted the inequalities between black and white schools and noted the constitutional protections denied black citizens. Victory Without Triumph argues that activists challenged many of the organizational typologies and tropes that historical actors, historians, and legal scholars have used to frame understandings of possibilities and limits of racial reforms. Thus, it explores how activists deployed legal and extra-legal arguments in their quest for formal equality and equitable access to resources, and ultimately challenged an abiding faith in the distinctions between city and suburb and de jure and de facto segregation that delineated the limits of racial reform in the post-Jim Crow era. Victory Without Triumph also charts the impact that white resistance to race reforms had on the public policy outcomes of court mandates and the ways that black communities continually assessed the merits of desegregation in the broader campaigns to expand educational opportunities for black students and achieve racial equality. Building on the insights of scholars who alternately stress the significance of supportive elite and grassroots actors in measuring the outcome of civil rights struggles, this project stresses the ways that reform, especially as law was translated into public policy, reflected the prerogatives of its detractors—as constitutive actors in Long Civil Rights Movement histories—as well as its supporters.

David R. Garcia, Arizona State University

Surveying the Future: Hispanics, Accountability and School Choice

The purpose of this study is to examine the convergence of two trends that will impact education: the diversification of the Hispanic community and the union of accountability and school choice policies. If demographic projections hold true, as Hispanics go, so will the future direction of long-debated educational policies. There is a dearth of evidence within the academic literature, however, to provide an indication of which direction Hispanics may take the debate. The issues of school choice and racial segregation have almost exclusively been framed using Black/White comparisons. In addition to segregation, the study will focus on the orientation of Hispanics toward the joint use of accountability and school choice as a reform strategy. The study will build upon preliminary evidence which indicates that Hispanics act differently from other racial/ethnic groups in school choice settings. Hispanics were the only racial/ethnic group in Arizona not to self-segregate after exercising school choice. On school accountability, the current trend in education reform is to use school accountability to highlight failures with the public school system in order to introduce school choice policies as a solution. There is evidence that Arizona Hispanics hold strict opinions on school accountability, a trend that could pave the way for harsh school accountability policies and expansive choice. This study will be conducted in Arizona, a state with a large-scale, competitive school choice system and a diverse Hispanic population that portends the future demographic make-up of the United States. The choice of context allows the experiences of the Hispanic population to serve as a backdrop where assimilation may influence intergenerational differences on educational issues. The southwest experience is of particular interest because the continued influx of Mexican immigrants creates a constant reminder of racial/ethnic decisions and reinforces cultural stereotypes among the dominant population. The study is a mixed methods design using a diverse array of data, including large-scale data, a statewide opinion survey and select interviews to give voice to the trends found in the large-scale data. The results could reveal the lineaments of educational policies for years to come.

Emily Greenman, Pennsylvania State University

Does Acculturation Lower Educational Achievement for Children of Immigrants?

Several studies have documented declines in educational outcomes, such as high school graduation, across immigrant generations. Such findings have often been attributed to the negative effects of acculturation on immigrant children’s attitudes and behaviors toward education. Very little research, however, has directly examined whether attitudes and behaviors toward education do in fact change across generations. Nor has there been a study that has tried to explicitly link immigrants’ educational attitudes to either acculturation or educational outcomes. This project uses data from Add Health, a nationally representative survey of adolescents, to examine educational attitudes and behaviors as possible mechanisms linking acculturation to educational outcomes. First, it assesses whether there is a pattern of generational change in educational attitudes and behaviors. Second, it assesses to what extent generational differences in high school graduation, college enrollment, and grades are attributable to generational differences in attitudes and behaviors. Third, it tests whether generational changes in immigrant children’s attitudes depend on the school peer context in which they acculturate. By providing a deeper understanding of the relationship between acculturation and educational outcomes, this project will help educators design more effective interventions to help children of immigrants succeed in school.

Andrew Guest, University of Portland

The Extracurriclum in Socio-Cultural Context: A Multi-Method Comparison of Extracurricular Activities and Adolescents in Distinct Social Class Communities

With an increasingly structured regular curriculum and intense pressure to provide opportunities to all children and youth, the extracurriculum has become fertile ground for hopes to improve American education. In the growing body of scholarly work on the educational role of extracurricular activities, however, most attention focuses on the nature of the activities themselves rather than on the contexts in which students experience activities. To better understand how the extracurriculum comprises a socio-cultural space, and thus has a wide range of possible effects on children and youth, my project involves a mixed methods study of the extracurriculum based on field research in two distinct community contexts: an urban school community serving an ethnically diverse low-income community and a suburban school community serving an ethnically homogeneous middle to upper income community. Drawing on perspectives from cultural psychology, developmental psychology, and sociology, I plan to compare and contrast extracurricular experiences, with a particular focus on sports programs and arts programs. Based on prior research, I expect that school and community contexts will significantly shape the nature of activity-based identities and the value of the developmental competencies (or “life-skills”) associated with activity participation. The ultimate goal of this research is to better understand how the hope invested in the extracurriculum can manifest in positive youth development across diverse community types.

Li-Jen Kuo, Northern Illinois University

Beyond Cross-Language Transfer: Reconceptualizing the Effect of Early Bilingualism on Morphological and Syntactic Processing

The proposed project aims to examine increasingly critical, yet under-researched, theoretical underpinnings regarding the way early experience in two languages shapes children’s metalinguistic development. The project will look beyond the prevalent cross-language transfer view and investigate how early bilingualism shapes the language acquisition mechanism with an alternative conceptual framework – the cognitive flexibility theory. It follows from this theoretical view that early bilingual experience leads to elevated cognitive flexibility, and thus bilinguals would show advantages in several aspects of metalinguistic development regardless of the typological affinity of the two languages they are developing. The project will include English-speaking monolinguals, Spanish-English bilinguals and Chinese-English bilinguals. Concurrently examining bilinguals acquiring two languages with different degrees of typological affinity will allow us to distinguish universal bilingual effects from bilingual effects associated with transfer from a specific language. Participants will complete researcher-developed and standardized measures of morphological and syntactic competence. Data will be analyzed in mixed MANOVA and hierarchical regressions. Findings from the study will not only substantially inform theories of bilingual cognition, but also provide educational practitioners with research-based guidelines to design curriculum and instruction that more effectively capitalize on the metalinguistic strengths of bilingual children acquiring languages with different degrees of typological affinity.

Leigh Linden, Columbia University

Experimentally Measuring Discrimination in Education with an Application to Caste Discrimination in India

Many historically disadvantaged groups around the world may experience discrimination in education. Rather than estimating such discrimination in a laboratory setting, Rema Hanna (Harvard KSG) uses field experiment to measure the degree to which teachers in a city in Northeast India discriminate against students from low caste backgrounds. This field experiment, built around an exam competition, allows us to assess the behavior of teachers in an environment in which both the activities performed (test grading) and incentives faced by teachers (the potential to affect student wellbeing) are similar to those that teachers face in the classroom. Specifically, we recruited children into a competition in which the winner is determined by their score on an exam covering the official state curriculum. One hundred twenty teachers were paid to grade 25 of these exams, knowing that their grades would determine the allocation of financially significant prizes. However, the individual tests that the teachers observed contain randomly generated information about the students’ caste, gender, and age along with the actual exams. The random assignment of student characteristics allows us to measure discrimination by directly comparing the scores that teacher award to tests assigned the characteristics of low caste students.

Paul Morgan, Pennsylvania State University

Children’s Psychopathology: Trajectories, Risk Factors, and Effects of Services

Children who frequently engage in problem behaviors are at risk for a range of negative, long-term outcomes. Examples include dropping out of school, living in poverty, being unemployed, and being incarcerated. Yet the trajectories—and risk factors for those trajectories—of children’s psychopathology are not well known. It is also not well known whether grade retention and special education—the two interventions most widely used by elementary schools—help reduce, or possibly increase, children’s risk for psychopathology. My project has two goals. First, I seek to identify the trajectories and risk factors of children’s teacher-reported attentional, externalizing, and internalizing problem behaviors. I also investigate whether these factors increase a child’s likelihood of self-reporting feeling socially isolated, angry, or sad. Second, I estimate the effects of retention and special education on children’s teacher-rated behaviors and self-reported feelings. The project’s methodological features include (a) a large, longitudinal sample, (b) measures of many child-, family-, and school-level background characteristics, (c) two measures of psychopathology with known psychometric properties, (d) both teacher-ratings and child self-reports, and (e) statistical techniques that help control for between-group variation in background characteristics. This project will contribute to the education field’s attempts to help all children experience educational and societal opportunity.

Erin O’Connor, New York University

Teacher-child Relationships and Children’s Achievement in Elementary School: A Within and Between-child Analysis

Supporting children’s achievement in elementary school is vital as children’s achievement trajectories tend to be stable after this time period (e.g. Alexander, Entwisle & Kabbani, 2001). Teacher-child relationships high in closeness and low in conflict appear to offer a naturally occurring support for all children’s achievement and an intervention for children at-risk due to family poverty (Pianta, 1999; Pianta & Walsh, 1996). No studies, however, have examined the developmental effects of teacher-child relationships on achievement across the elementary school years. Furthermore, researchers speculate that teacher-child relationships are linked with child and teacher behaviors in the classroom that, in turn, are associated with achievement (e.g. Pianta, 1999). These mechanisms though have not been examined over the course of elementary school. Because research can only inform policy and practice when it demonstrates what works, how it works, under what conditions and for which children, longitudinal studies of teacher-child relationships and elementary school achievement with a focus on interacting and intervening processes are needed. In the current study, I will examine changes in closeness and conflict in teacher-child relationships and achievement from first through fifth grade. I will also explore the moderating role of family poverty in associations between relational closeness and conflict and achievement and the mechanisms through which relationships influence achievement. I will conduct these analyses with the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development dataset. Results will demonstrate whether relationships with teachers can support children’s elementary school achievement and buffer children from the negative effects of poverty on achievement, as well as elucidate the mechanisms by which teacher-child relationships are most likely to impact children’s achievement.

Hyunjoon Park, University of Pennsylvania

The Causal Effect of Single-Sex Schools: Random Assignment in Korean High Schools

Single-sex schools have long received public and scholastic interest with their potential benefits for girls’ educational advance. Along with the rising concern about underachievement of boys in the United States, reviving interest in single-sex schools gives new emphasis on single-sex school effects for boys. Despite numerous empirical studies that have found differences in educational outcomes between students in single-sex and coeducational schools, there is always the question of whether single-sex schools have direct educational benefits not attributable to the pre-existing characteristics of students who choose to attend single-sex schools. In Korea, a lottery is used to randomly distribute students to single-sex or coeducational high schools, which creates an exceptional opportunity for estimating the causal effects of single-sex schools. Exploiting the distinctive feature of Korean education, the proposed research assesses the true causal effects of single-sex schools on several educational outcomes, including national test scores, peer culture (nature of friendship and kind of activities with friends), academic interest in math and science, and self-concept, among Korean high school seniors. In addition to the average effects of single-sex schools, the research identifies for which types of students single-sex schools work, examining whether single-sex school effects vary by student’s socioeconomic background.

Sarah Reber, University of California, Los Angeles

Evaluating the Evaluators: Using Subjective Measures of Teacher Quality to Pay for Performance

Traditionally, American public schools have set teacher pay based primarily on experience and education. Policymakers and researchers alike have increasingly advocated policies that would pay teachers based on knowledge, skill, and ultimately how much their students learn, rather than on-paper qualifications that research has found to be only weakly linked to good teaching. Any system seeking to pay teachers based on performance must, of course, define performance. Most research on teacher performance and accountability has focused on “value-added” test-score-based measures, where teacher quality is judged by how well students do—or how much they improve—on standardized tests. A variety of concerns in using such measures in accountability or PFP systems have been raised, and PFP systems based only on test-score-based measures of performance are often unpopular with stakeholders. This project will explore the possibility of using alternative measures of performance, alone or together with test-score-based measures. The study will examine whether subjective evaluation procedures that school districts already use are informative about teachers’ ability to raise achievement. Using data on principal evaluations of teachers, linked to teacher personnel records and student test-score data, I will address two specific questions: (1) How good are principals at identifying teachers who are good at raising student achievement? and (2) Do principals discriminate in their ratings—that is, holding constant ability to raise student achievement, are teachers with particular characteristics consistently under-rated by principals? Subjective evaluation procedures for PFP may ultimately be different from the existing evaluation process, but principals are likely to play an important role if subjective evaluation is used as part of a PFP reform. Knowing whether principals are able to identify good teaching and whether they appear to discriminate are important first steps in deciding whether and how to use their evaluations in PFP settings.

Lindsey Richland, University of California, Irvine

Parental Scaffolding: Long Term Impacts on Children’s Cognitive and Mathematical Skills

Parents and teachers contribute in different, important ways to children’s development of academically key thinking and learning skills. While much research has focused on identifying high quality classroom pedagogies, much less is known about the parental contribution to children’s reasoning. With relevance to mathematics education in particular, little is known about how parents scaffold children’s problem solving, how their practices are related to children’s long-term development of analytical and problem-solving skills, and whether their practices are related to the achievement gap. This project examines these questions using longitudinal, repeated-measures data from the NICHD Study of Early Care and Youth Development, a prospective study of 1364 children and families from birth through sixth grade. The project assesses mothers and fathers’ home scaffolding practices while helping their child solve complex problems at five time periods from when the child is 36 mos to fifth grade. Structural equation models (SEM) will then test the longitudinal association between parental scaffolding and children’s math attainment both directly and through the child’s cognitive skills. Ethnicity, income, and maternal education will be included in the model to determine whether the effects of parental scaffolding mediate known contributions of these variables to the math achievement gap.

Janelle T. Scott, New York University

The Politics of Advocacy Groups and Venture Philanthropy in School Choice Policy

Historically, the relationship between philanthropy and advocacy in the education of poor children of color has been complicated. Yet, perhaps at no other moment in educational history have these institutional actors been able to impact directly upon the daily lives of teachers, students, and administrators with minimal state involvement or public oversight. Funding from venture philanthropies has enabled school choice advocacy, policies, and educational management companies to rapidly expand in the last several years, especially in large, urban school districts. Research must consider the political and philosophical implications of venture philanthropy’s potentially great impact on public education. This qualitative, sociopolitical study of venture philanthropy, advocacy groups, and school choice policy investigates four central questions: 1) What is the institutional landscape — including number, size, annual spending, program areas — of philanthropies that fund school choice policies, advocacy organizations, school choice research, choice schools, and educational management organizations? 2) How do recipients of funding experience their interaction with venture philanthropies? 3) What pedagogical, political, and economic strategies do venture philanthropists value- especially for poor children and children of color? And, 4) What systemic changes result from venture philanthropy funding? Preliminary findings indicate that in the area of school choice reform, much policymaking is taking place outside of formal governmental arenas.

Paige Ware, Southern Methodist University

The Impact of an International Multimedia Writing Exchange on Adolescent Language Learners’ Literacy Development

This project will examine how an international online multimedia literacy exchange between adolescent English language learners both engages the students with literacy and impacts their writing in English. The study will be conducted across two years. In the first year, adolescent English language learners (ELLs) in the U.S. and adolescent English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners in Spain will self-select to participate as part of an after-school program. In the second year, students in the U.S. and Spain will participate as part of their required English language arts class in school. Such a two-stage, after-school and in-school, design allows for a comparison of (1) how adolescent language learners engage with an international online multimedia exchange in both types of settings, and (2) how such engagement ultimately impacts their writing in English. The study will provide a linguistically-grounded analysis of how innovative uses of technology can impact adolescents’ literacy engagement and writing development in the contexts of both after-school and in-school settings. As a step in helping close the “second-level digital divide,” the findings will document how language growth takes place when youth are engaged in purposeful writing with peers using digital literacy. For teachers seeking ways to draw on new digital literacy in their instruction, the findings should provide evidence that the type of engagement and language use generated around multimedia literacy can also lead to growth on students’ more traditional pencil-and-paper writing skills.

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