Researchers on Capitol Hill

Researchers on Capitol Hill

By Claire Chuter, Johns Hopkins University

Effective science communication happens when researchers pay closer attention to their audiences. However, researchers are notoriously bad at communicating their findings to non-academic audiences, and often assume their implications are self-evident.

Zewelanji Serpell at Virginia Commonwealth University recently opined that to be able to tailor our communications to particular audiences is crucial to have more of an impact on education policy. He notes that because researchers and policymakers have inherently different motivations, they often fail to understand one another’s form of communication. Researchers tend to seek a fuller picture, and communicate nuance and context. On the other hand, policy-makers are generally ever-aware of the expediency their constituents expect, and tend to operate on a shorter timeline. As a result, in the policy-making world, research will almost always be driven by a recent catastrophic event that has captured public attention. Serpell notes that this different perspective on research can lead to cherry-picking of evidence to fit an agenda, which is morally repugnant to most researchers.

However, because researchers cannot change this system, he advises that researchers frame their work to fit within the fast-paced, agenda-focused policy world. One-pagers that note links back to political agendas are more likely to click with those on Capitol Hill, and are more likely to lead to evidence-based reform. Along a similar vein, Alan Alda has famously used his acting experience to help scientists communicate their findings to the rest of the world. As he points out, many myths about the climate, the brain, and other fields have been debunked for years in the academic community, but continue to exist in the realms of policy and practice. If researchers in education can adapt their style of communicating to better fit the policy world, evidence-based practice may be increasingly normalized.

Chinese students’ academic performance and parenting styles

Chinese students’ academic performance and parenting styles

By Ken To, Centre for University and School Partnership, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Family is influential on students’ learning in many ways. Recently, Yang and Zhao examined parenting practices’ impacts on children’s academic performance using a large sample of middle school students in China.

The analysis was conducted using data from the China Education Panel Survey 2015, a nationally representative survey in China, and sampled 9,920 students from 112 middle schools. The survey included questionnaires for the students, their parents, their teachers, and school administrators. Students’ academic achievement was measured by exam scores in Chinese, English, and mathematics provided by their respective school administration offices. The analysis examined the relationships between academic performance and parenting styles. The findings were as follows:

•The most dominant parenting styles of Chinese parents were authoritarian and neglectful.

•The authoritarian parenting style was conducive to academic performance.

•The effects of parenting styles were more salient among children from a disadvantaged background and when the effects were from the mother.

The authors concluded there were several implications for parents. For example, they suggested that parents should strengthen their daily parent-child communication and optimally increase their expectations for and requirements of children.

Is teacher leadership related to students’ outcomes?

Is teacher leadership related to students’ outcomes?

By Marta Pellegrini, University of Florence, Italy

Teacher leaders are teachers who influence colleagues, principals, and other school members in an effort to improve teaching and learning practices as well as student outcomes and educational experiences. Moreover, teacher leadership is a process to facilitate whole school change and to promote professional learning and shared decision making.

A meta-analysis by Shen et al. (2020) synthesized studies on the relationship between teacher leadership and student academic achievement. The review included 21 studies carried out in the United States and found a small, positive correlation between teacher leadership and student academic achievement (r = .187, p < .001).

Considering the seven dimensions of teacher leadership – categorized by the authors based on the literature – the dimension of “facilitating improvements in curriculum, instruction, and assessment” (r = .21) and “promoting teacher professional development” (r = .19) have the strongest relationship with student academic achievement. The authors also found that the relationship is stronger for math achievement (r = .24) than for reading (r = .18). In the analysis of other moderators, no significant differences were found in the strength of association between elementary and secondary school, nor was there evidence that the relationship differs between the three types of teacher leadership applied in the studies (teacher leadership, teacher empowerment, and distributed leadership).

How can education technology enhance learning outcomes?

How can education technology enhance learning outcomes?

By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces schools to turn to remote teaching, education technology is being regarded as a promising tool to maintain education quality despite school closures, and this is adding to interest in educational technology in general. However, learning scientists often argue against computers’ benefits for students by saying that computers are “oversold and underused.” Focusing on developed countries, researchers from the Abdul Latif Jamel Action Lab (J-PAL) presented a systematic review to evaluate education technology and its promise.

J-PAL’s review solely included studies with large samples and rigorous causal designs to ensure review quality. In total, 126 randomized controlled trials and regression discontinuity designs were included. Major findings were:

  • Equipping students with a computer and internet access yielded mixed results. At the K-12 level, computer distribution generally had no effects on academic outcomes.
  • Computer-assisted learning programs were effective in mathematics but not in reading.
  • Customized learning experiences was one reason for educational software’s effectiveness.
  • Technology-powered nudges (e.g., text message reminders, school-parent communications, social psychology interventions) have positive but small effects on education-related outcomes. Given their extremely low cost, these interventions can be very cost-effective if designed well.
  • Compared to face-to-face courses and blended learning, purely online courses had negative effects on students.