2011 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows

Yonas Mesfun Asfaha, College of Arts & Social Sciences, Eritrea

Literacy in the Making of Multilingual Education: Sociolinguistic Ethnographic Perspectives

Literacy is deeply rooted in the social and cultural practices of communities and manifestations of this are particularly vivid in multilingual contexts where unequal power relations between language groups reveal themselves in unequal access to literacy resources. Inequalities are reinforced in the daily cycles of life in classrooms and in the ways in which texts are mediated by teachers in bilingual interactions with learners. This study is situated in multilingual Eritrea, where nine languages and three scripts are used in primary education and where the teaching of initial literacy and classroom talk about texts has been shaped by specific historical, social and ideological processes. My research traces the historical development of multilingual education in this context and describes the contemporary social uses of written language and provides an account of language and literacy attitudes. It investigates the ways in which different language and literacy ideologies are articulated in classroom discourse and the ways in which these ideologies are bound up with the construction of cultural difference. Drawing on different strands of research in sociolinguistics, the study also answers recent calls for a narrowing of the gap between classroom-based research on literacy and studies of literacy in a wider social context.

Aprile D. Benner, University of Texas at Austin

School Demographics, Marginalization, & Academic Progress

Promoting school diversity has been a major legislative goal, but the unintended consequences of such policies are often ignored—diversity has empirically established academic benefits, yet it is not without its challenges, particularly regarding the socioemotional well-being of children and adolescents whose lack of demographic “fit” with their schools puts them at risk for social marginalization. This research suggests that a common school desegregation method—sending minority and/or low-income students into predominantly White and/or middle class schools—might come with socioemotional risks even as it supports academic progress. Protection against socioemotional risks, according to a recent NAEd report, can be promoted by ensuring students have a critical mass of same-demographic peers (15% at minimum). The general goal of this project is to examine whether, why, and when students who do not have a critical mass of same-demographic peers are more likely to struggle both socioemotionally and academically. I use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to explore three areas of inquiry. First, do adolescents who are at the numeric margins of their schools racially/ethnically and socioeconomically struggle academically when compared to adolescents with greater same-demographic representation? Such research will highlight the potential unintended risks of major academically-focused school reforms. Second, does marginalization initiate feelings of distress that, in turn, contribute to academic challenges? Third, does the NAEd marginalization threshold (15%) effectively capture the critical mass necessary for protection against academic struggles and emotional distress? As a departure from previous, small-scale studies that explore the critical mass question, this project uses a large, nationally representative sample to empirically identify the critical mass needed to protect against social marginalization. By elucidating the mechanisms by which marginalization affects academic success, the project will highlight critical points of intervention, and by identifying the contextual antecedents of academic challenges, the project will inform educational policy efforts that seek to better promote the full academic benefits of diversity in America’s public schools.

Jason Casellas, University of Texas at Austin

The Politics of Latino Education Policy, 1968-present

I argue that because of internal and external lack of organization, the creation of majority minority districts, and increasing partisan polarization, Latinos have been left behind in terms of favorable educational policy reforms since 1968. I examine responsiveness to Latinos on education policy by analyzing major congressional votes since 1968, including NCLB and other major bills dealing with Latino education policy. I show that the Latino population in a congressional district makes little to no difference in voting on bills that would ostensibly benefit Latinos. The key interest groups pushing for the Bilingual Education Act were the NEA and other teachers’ unions. Latino civil rights groups were absent from many of these public policy debates, and the few Latino elected officials at the federal level were remarkably divided on whether to support the legislation. Partisanship has also prevented educational reform: Democrats have arguably taken Latino votes for granted, and the Republicans have largely ceded the Latino vote to the Democrats. This prevents any sort of attentiveness to the most pressing issue affecting Latinos; namely, education.

Rong Chen, Seton Hall University

Evaluating Financial Aid Effects on College Student Dropout Risks: A Causal Inference Approach

The causal impact of financial aid on college student dropout cannot be completely understood without carefully considering the non-random nature of aid assignments and the longitudinal process of student dropout. Few existing studies have accounted for these issues, which could produce biases that undermine the precision of the estimates of financial aid effects. Building on the advances in causal inference research in social sciences, this study employs the combined use of propensity score techniques and multilevel event history methods to improve the validity of evaluating financial aid policies in higher education. Using two national datasets containing longitudinal information on students entering four-year institutions in 2004, this project examines patterns of college student dropout gaps, identifies via causal inference methods both the short-term and long-run effects of financial aid on student dropout. In addition, it also investigates how these effects may vary across students with different socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic backgrounds. The proposed study is highly significant for at least two reasons. First, it explores the longitudinal nexus between financial aid and college student dropout to shed light on how larger social structures, such as government, may play a role in equalizing educational opportunities. Second, it aims to tackle the causal inference about the effectiveness of educational interventions, an issue that has recently drawn increasing attention from academia and policymakers.

Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University

Schooling the Metropolis: Educational Inequality Made and Remade, Nashville, Tennessee, 1945-2000

My project traces how metropolitan and school policy furthered educational inequality even as extensive desegregation ostensibly sought to challenge it. As Nashville, Tennessee, a consolidated city-county metropolitan government and school system, achieved relative statistical success at desegregation, the district also built deep inequalities into how it desegregated. Understanding the roots of this inequality in political, economic, and spatial change highlights how schools were actively involved in the construction of metropolitan inequality. Federal, state, and local policy choices shaped and maintained inequality by privileging local economic elites and white suburban communities while neglecting black urban residents. Support from the NAE/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, will allow me to expand my treatment of one central figure – Nashville civil rights attorney Avon Williams – who exemplifies local awareness of the interrelationship between federal, state, and local policy in education, urban renewal, and real estate development. Incorporating the later decades of the 20th century brings Nashville’s transformation from a biracial to a multiracial city into the story of educational inequality, while also examining political struggles over funding education as the district’s student population shrank and became gradually more poor.

Leah N. Gordon, Stanford University

The Question of Prejudice: Social Science, Education, and the Struggle to Define ‘the Race Problem’ in Mid-Century America, 1935-1965

This project explains how individualistic understandings of “the race problem”—social theories that rooted racial oppression in white attitudes and made education a primary solution to racial injustice—gained traction in postwar social thought. A history of the postwar concept of prejudice, the book uses archival material from universities, philanthropic foundations, educational and religious groups, and civil rights activist. My chapters reveal why some people had more power than others to define critical ethical and political concepts for a national audience. Social scientific agenda setters refined attitude measures, emphasized quantification and theory generation, and dismissed politically-engaged research. Scholars concerned with the political-economic or social structural foundations of racial injustice, conversely, were uncertain about how to measure the “situational” context of racism and had ties to activist groups. Thus, although scholar-activists, many at African American universities, challenged the emphasis on prejudice in studies of race relations, their ideas proved limited in their impact. Highlighting vigorous debate over the meanings of justice and equality in the critical mid-century decades, my research emphasizes higher education’s power to shape national discussions on social justice and shows why Americans so often, and with mixed results, turned to education to fight racial inequality.

Phillip L. Hammack, University of California, Santa Cruz

Comparative Approaches to Dialogue-Based Peace Education Among Israeli, Palestinian, and American Youth

War is characterized by the absence of opportunities for dialogue among groups in conflict. At least two distinct paradigms of formal dialogue facilitation have emerged in the curricula of peace education programs. In one paradigm (the contact approach), facilitators seek to reduce individual prejudice and stereotypes through acquaintanceship. In another (the social identity approach), facilitators seek to raise awareness of collective action, policy, and power dynamics in conflict reproduction. Though both approaches exist in practice, no systematic research has compared the process and outcome of participation in distinct paradigms of dialogue. In this field study of a peace education program for Israeli, Palestinian, and American youth, participants were randomly assigned to one of these two paradigms of dialogue facilitation. Fusing qualitative and quantitative methods in a longitudinal design, I will examine the relationship between dialogue paradigm and four process-related factors (identity salience, emotion, use of collective narrative, and power dynamics) and two outcome-related factors (support for political violence and participation in peace-building activities). The goal of the project is to provide peace education practitioners with vital data on the distinct processes and outcomes associated with particular dialogue paradigms and to thus identify best practices for peace education programs.

Margot Jackson, Brown University

U.S. Child Nutritional Policy and the Production of Cognitive and Educational Inequality

For the 20% of American children who live in poverty, and the 23% of children who live in food insecure households, nutritional policy provides an essential safety net against hunger and its negative effects on child development. Federal nutrition assistance programs provide the benefit of steadily available nutritious food from the food groups essential for physical and cognitive development. Their effects on dietary quality and the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies are strong and positive. Furthermore, there is a direct influence of nutrition on cognitive development and socioeconomic inequality. Such evidence provides a strong rationale for examining the role of nutritional policy in the production of early cognitive and social inequality. Yet, research on the cognitive and educational effects of U.S. childhood nutritional policy is scarce. In addition, existing research largely assumes in its empirical approach that intervention timing is unimportant—that is, it does not consider when in the early life cycle nutritional policy might be most effectively targeted, as well as for how long. The purpose of this project is to examine whether the timing and duration of children’s exposure to nutritional policy produce short and longer-term cognitive and educational gains. I will examine three policies targeted at children: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs (SBP and NSLP). Examining programs both independently and jointly, I ask: 1) Are nutrition interventions most effective when participation occurs very early?; and 2) Does receiving both early and late intervention produce larger educational gains than shorter-term intervention? This research is relevant to public policy while having a strong theoretical grounding—engaging literatures on child development, life course theory and social stratification—making it well-suited to advance our understanding of fundamental theoretical questions about the dynamics of health and social inequality in the early life cycle.

Josh Kinsler, University of Rochester

Testing for Additive Separability of Student Achievement Function

Is it possible to isolate the contribution of an individual teacher in the production of student achievement? Value-added models purport to do just this by estimating the component of test score gains attributable to the current teacher. However, a foundational assumption of these models, additive separability of teacher inputs, has never been investigated. Additive separability implies that the current teacher’s value-added is independent of the string of previous teachers. This does not mean that past teachers have no impact on student performance, only that the value-added of the current teacher is invariant to different teacher histories. Additive separability would fail to hold if, for example, there exists complementarity in teaching styles across grades. In other words, the effectiveness of the current teacher varies according to whether the string of previous teachers have a similar instructional approach. Failure of additive separability means that estimates of individual teacher value-added are contaminated by interactions with past teacher inputs. As a result, it is inappropriate to use these measures for individual personnel decisions. In this proposal, I describe a methodology for testing whether additive separability is supported in the data. The empirical strategy is to estimate multiple measures of teacher value-added and then test whether the restrictions implied by additive separability hold.

David E. Kirkland, New York University

A Path to Literacy: Mapping the Literacy Practices of Young Black Men

The proposed study seeks to map the literacy practices of young Black men by analyzing original and published data from eleven well-respected interpretive studies and two recent national surveys on Black males and literacy. Using critical discourse and traditional interpretive approaches, I seek to examine the ideologies of Black male language and literacy performance in order to generate a picture of how literacy looks in the lives of Black males both within and outside school borders. In doing so, I will examine data with regards to post-feminist conceptions of complex masculinities, postmodern and pluralistic formulations of Blackness, critical geographic notions of space and human expression, and Foucauldian understandings of language and literacy artifacts as indigenous to particular moments in history. Given these foci, the study aims to update current perspectives on literacy at various developmental points as depicted in the lives of contemporary young Black men and provide helpful insights for future research, teaching, and assessments around the topics of language, literacy, and Black male development.

Michael F. Lovenheim, Cornell University

Dynamic Effects of Teacher Incentive Pay: Evidence from a Rank-Order Tournament in the Houston Public Schools

Teacher incentive pay is growing in popularity in the United States, yet currently little is known about how teachers respond to individual incentives and how these responses translate into achievement in the classroom. This paper identifies how teachers respond to the specific award incentives of a rank-order merit pay tournament enacted by the Houston Independent School District (HISD) called ASPIRE. The ASPIRE program pays teachers based on the quartile of their subject-specific value-added test scores, such that the top quartile teachers receive the largest amount, the second quartile teachers receive less and below-median teachers receive no award. Using teacher-level performance data obtained by special permission from HISD, we will study two distinct questions about how teachers respond to the incentives of the ASPIRE program. Because the tournament uses award cutoffs based on value-added quartiles, teachers closer to cutoffs have higher expected returns from increasing effort than teachers farther away from those cutoffs. Thus, we will examine how subsequent teacher performance reacts to how far teachers are from an award increase. In addition, we will use a regression discontinuity approach around each award cutoff to examine whether there are behavioral effects from winning an award. If it is the case that winning an award impacts subsequent performance, it is suggestive that giving awards throughout the value-added distribution may lead to larger student test score gains. Overall, this will be the first paper in the literature to examine how teachers respond to the specific award incentives of a merit pay system and will advance our understanding of how to structure teacher incentive pay to best promote student academic achievement.

Sarah Manekin, Johns Hopkins University

Project Abstract: Educating an Exceptional Empire: The Federal Government and the Challenge of Colonial Schooling, 1865-1910

Surveying the fifty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, Educating an Exceptional Empire explores the changing reasons why the United States government assumed the responsibility to educate all children under its expanding federal domain, the mechanisms it used to meet it, and the effects of its work. It examines the people at the core of federal policy creation and follows them to Alaska, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to explore the schools and school systems they worked to build. Focusing on a period in which the federal government was weak and its role in public education even weaker, my book demonstrates that the provision of schooling for children in the new possessions challenged the government’s administrative capacity, exposed the tensions inherent in transposing systems of “free” schools onto colonized peoples, and ascribed racial and political meaning onto these “new Americans.” By exploring the federal government’s efforts to spread education, my book reveals how decisions about schooling structured the state itself. In doing so, it illuminates the vital role of education in the historical development of the United States as a global power and unearths in that history the deep roots of tensions that animate contemporary education debates.

Melinda Martin-Beltran, University of Maryland, College Park

Engaging our linguistic resources in secondary schools: How minority-language and majority-language students can learn from each other

As the population of students who speak a language other than English continues to grow, U.S. public schools are becoming richer with linguistic and cultural resources that often go untapped. While educational research has recommended mobilizing students’ funds of knowledge in our schools, more research is needed to understand practices that build upon linguistic and cultural resources that language minority students bring to secondary schools. The proposed project will fill this research gap by investigating the ways that English-language learners and Spanish-language learners may mediate each other’s language learning through collaborative activities in a unique program that brings together students who would otherwise be separated in a mainstream high school. Grounded in sociocultural theory, this study uses microgenetic discourse analysis of student interactions audio-recorded during collaborative literacy activities to investigate how students exchange and co-construct language expertise. Transcripts, interviews, field notes, learning logs, and writing samples will be examined throughout the program to analyze language growth among language-minority and language-majority students. The proposed research will advance our theoretical understanding of second language acquisition, reconceptualized as a reciprocal, multidirectional process mediated across languages and learners, which has implications for improving educational opportunities for bilingual students. This research informs policies and practices that pursue greater educational equity for minority-language students and ultimately engage educators in the re-imagination of potential languaculture resources abundant in our schools.

Elizabeth McGhee-Hassrick, University of Chicago

How Parents Learn about Autism Treatments through School-based Social Networks

Autism is a serious disorder affecting perhaps one in a hundred children in the United States. Treatment in childhood can have a significant effect on development. Most children with autism spectrum disorders receive intensive educational interventions as their primary form of treatment. These treatments often take place in schools and require collaboration between home and school, because children diagnosed with autism have difficulty transferring skills learned in one setting to another. To manage a child’s autism treatment effectively, parents need access to knowledge, including general knowledge about autism, treatment approaches, special education law, and the availability and quality of local services, as well as monitoring capacity, in other words the ability to monitor fidelity of treatment and to adjust the treatment protocol as a child develops. While doctors can provide information about autism and its treatment, and may also help parents identify local services, parents’ contacts with teachers or other care providers as well as other parents are likely to be critical to their day-to-day management of treatment. We know essentially nothing, however, about how these informal social interactions influence parent knowledge or monitoring capacity. Research suggests that the configuration of an organization can impact the formation of parent social networks. The proposed research uses qualitative data collection and social network data from two differently organized school settings to examine the process by which parents of different social classes and racial groups learn from other parents and from clinicians, teachers, and other personnel about their child’s autism treatments and how these interactions shape the ways in which parents manage their autistic child’s treatment. Students diagnosed with autism are typically situated in two different classroom settings. Depending on their individualized education plan, they are located in self contained classrooms or mainstreamed in general education classroom settings. How might these different configurations shape the formation of parent social networks? The data collected for this research project compares the social networks of parents who have children enrolled in regular education classrooms with those of parents of children diagnosed with autism who are enrolled in various different kinds of classroom settings. Do parents of children diagnosed with autism interact with other parents at their child’s school? How do the social networks of parents of children diagnosed with autism vary from the social networks of other parents at the same school? This research will contribute to special education research by examining how varying organizational contexts in schools shape how parents learn about their child’s treatments from their interactions with others. By examining the social network processes that underlie parents’ capacity to manage their child’s treatment, I hope to identify interactional mechanisms that impede or support the ongoing treatment of children diagnosed with autism. The proposed research will advance our scientific understanding of social determinants of treatment and outcomes for autistic children, and provides new conceptual tools for understanding disparities in treatment and outcomes. In addition, this research supports the design of interventions that generate key interactional supports to help close the current gap in autism treatments for low-income and minority children.

Susan L. Moffitt, Brown University

The Politics of Bad News: The Political Foundations of Educational Accountability

No Child Left Behind and associated state policies generate and publicize evidence of educational performance in an effort to promote educational improvement. Though evidence of problems may contribute to program development, bad news about educational performance risks creating a boomerang effect that erodes support for the implementers, the implementers’ institutions, the overarching policy, and political sponsors. Prevailing scholarship examines how policy bears on practice: whether and how information-based accountability policies contribute to measures of educational performance. My project will offer a different perspective by examining how information about practice bears on both policy and on politics: how ‘bad news’ about educational practice has affected state and local education politics and the policies those politics support. My study will use mixed methods to address the following questions:
When and where have states responded to “bad news” by developing and improving programs and schools, and when and where have they responded by dismantling the policy, politics or practice?
Have information-based education accountability policies produced local and state electoral consequences?
Have information-based education accountability policies contributed to local discourse, creating room for new opportunities for political engagement and political enlightenment?
This project will inform the design and redesign of subsequent accountability policies by demonstrating where bad news has yielded development or erosion in policy and political support.

Laura K. Muñoz, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Educated Citizens: Mexican Americans and the Making of Arizona, 1870-1940

This book project examines the educational history of Mexican Americans in Arizona during its territorial and statehood eras. I argue that Mexican-descent people actively negotiated a space for themselves in Arizona society through the public schools. As frontier settlers, they utilized a philosophy of “civic integration” to claim U.S. citizenship and to preserve their cultural heritage. Employing a borderlands aesthetic, they pursued bilingual, bicultural educations for their children, so that they could succeed in American society, beyond the simpler scope of Americanization and industrial workforce programs advocated by public school officials. Arizona Mexicans imagined that their children would become vital, active contributors to the territory and, later, the state. Building upon Arizona and Chicana/o educational histories as well as new archival evidence, I validate how Mexican American youth and their parents engaged educational participation. I focus on episodes in towns and cities north of Tucson, in places such as Phoenix and St. Johns, in order to broaden the class-based analysis of the Tucson Mexican experience into a statewide history of community initiative and individual pursuit. The study features portraits of communities, families, and individuals, such as the Romo family who filed the earliest-known Mexican American school desegregation lawsuit in 1925. The study investigates public action across a spectrum from the establishment of community schools, to debates over curriculum, to normal school education, and the recruitment of Mexican American teachers. “Educated Citizens” recuperates Arizona Mexican history and allows us to reconsider the region from the perspective of a people thought to be absent from the history of public education prior to 1940.

Karthik Muralidharan, University of California, San Diego

The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a two-stage experiment in India

The Andhra Pradesh School Choice Project aims to provide disadvantaged children in rural areas of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh with opportunities for school choice that are similar to those available to other non-disadvantaged children. This is being done by offering scholarships that allow children to shift to a private school of their choice (if they wish to) in addition to the option of continuing in the existing government school. The project features a rigorous randomized evaluation of the impact of school choice both on children who receive the scholarships as well as the aggregate impact on education outcomes for all children in villages where the school choice program is implemented. This will be done by comparing the outcomes of the children and villages selected (by a random lottery) for the scholarships with the outcomes of children and villages who did not receive the scholarship. In addition to being the first experimental evaluation of a voucher-based school choice program in India, the project also aims to contribute to the global literature on the impact of school choice programs by using a unique two-stage randomization design to experimentally quantify spillovers and estimate the aggregate impact of such programs.

Fabian T. Pfeffer, University of Michigan

Education and Social Mobility in the United States and Abroad

The promise of social mobility is a fundamental American tenet. To understand how educational policy can help fulfill it, it is important to know how individuals from different class backgrounds draw on education in different ways. We know that educational degrees serve as the main channel through which children from different social class backgrounds are sorted into different social class destinations. In doing so, education simultaneously serves as a motor of social mobility and vehicle for the reproduction of status. We do not know, however, how this dual role of education differs across social classes and across different countries. This project takes into account both functions of education and provides a detailed assessment of education’s role in mediating social class mobility and reproduction drawing on a set of new estimation techniques and a range of nationally representative surveys. The project begins with a detailed study of the U.S. case. By uncovering for whom educational policy may have the greatest impact in fostering social mobility, the project increases the prospects for more effective targeting of U.S. educational policies. In a second step, this project compares the United States to a large number of industrialized and late-industrializing countries to assess whether the central role of education for mobility and reproduction is a hallmark of the American educational system or a characteristic of modern societies in general. Finally, by studying the influence of particular features of different national education systems, this project aims to detect a range of alternative educational arrangements that may serve to alter the relationship between education and opportunity.

Katharine O. Strunk, University of Southern California

Changing Collective Bargaining Agreements in California Public Schools: Why do Districts Implement Restrictive Contracts, and How do They Impact Student Achievement?

Recent media and policy attention regarding public education has focused to a great extent on teachers’ unions and the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) they negotiate with district administrations. Among other things, teachers’ unions have been accused of using their right to negotiate contracts to block educational reforms and harm student achievement. Although research confirms that many CBAs may indeed constrain district administrators from implementing some reforms, there is no empirical evidence to support the argument that restrictive contracts cause decreases in student achievement. Moreover, there is little recent empirical research that explores why unions and district administrations negotiate such contracts. Research that explores these relationships has been limited due to the reliance on a single year of data from CBAs. Using a unique self-collected dataset of California school district contracts, this study will be the first to utilize data garnered from contracts over time to provide empirical evidence that addresses questions regarding the relationships between contract restrictiveness, district characteristics, and student achievement. Specifically, I ask: (1) Are CBAs growing more or less restrictive over time?; (2) What district characteristics are associated with the implementation of more or less restrictive contracts and specific provisions?; and (3) What is the relationship between the changes in CBA restrictiveness or provisions and student achievement? This line of questioning will not only enable a greater understanding of CBAs and the relationships between changes in CBAs and important district characteristics and outcomes, but also will begin to unpack the directionality of the relationship between district characteristics and contract restrictiveness.

Xiuli Shelley Tong, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Becoming Biliterate in English and Chinese: What is the Role of Higher Level Phonological Processing?

English and Chinese are the two most spoken languages in the world. Understanding the key factors involved in learning to read these two languages is important for biliteracy acquisition. This 1-year longitudinal study will examine a factor that is little explored, but potentially very powerful in biliteracy acquisition: suprasegmental phonological processing. Suprasegmental phonological processing is specific to sensitivity to Chinese lexical tone and English lexical stress that operates above the segmental level tasks, such as phoneme segmentation. Comparable measures of Chinese and English suprasegmental phonological processing, segmental phonological processing, verbal and nonverbal cognitive abilities, and word reading will be administered to 150 Chinese-English bilingual children between the ages of 6 and 8. We will conduct structural equation modeling analyses to examine relations between lexical tone and lexical stress processing and the possibility of transfer of suprasegmental phonological processing to word reading across languages in bilingual children. This study will inform us as to how to best support biliteracy acquisition.

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