By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University
NaYoung Hwang and Brian Kisida looked to develop a causal model using quasi-experimental methods to assess the effectiveness of subject-area specialization for teachers in elementary school. The authors compared the effectiveness of a teacher in a year when the teacher had a specialization role to a year when the teacher did not have a specialization role. This limited the study to those teachers who were both specialists and generalists within the timeframe of the study (12% of all math teachers and 36.7% of all reading teachers fit this description). However, given the relatively large sample from the Indiana Department of Education, containing 15,895 math teachers and 17,102 reading teachers, the authors were able to use this model to estimate effects related to teacher specialization.
The primary finding was that a teacher’s effectiveness was lower when teaching math as a specialist than when teaching as a generalist (ES = -0.04). The situation was worse during the teacher’s first year of specialization (ES = -0.05). The decrease in teacher effectiveness was particularly noticeable when teaching students from historically underserved populations. In math, Black students and Hispanic students both experienced larger negative effects in comparison to White students. Students in the lowest quartile of achievement also experienced a larger negative effect than students in the highest quartile of achievement.
The authors suggested that student-teacher relationships are more difficult to maintain in a specialist format, which may help to explain the differences in student outcomes. The authors then concluded that teacher specialization does not benefit students when compared to generalization, and appears to be particularly detrimental for certain groups of students.
By Andrea Ochoa, Johns Hopkins University
A recent study by Grant and colleagues evaluated the effect of implementing Restorative Practices and Diplomas Now on school climate and teachers’ intentions to leave their school. Restorative Practices refers to a schoolwide shift away from punitive disciplinary methods and toward open dialogue that allows students to make amends by processing how their behavior affects others. Diplomas Now, another schoolwide reform model, focuses on building collaborative teacher teams, providing professional development, using early warning systems to provide students with tiered supports, and incorporating all supports by providing additional human resources to accomplish the work. It was hypothesized that when implemented together, the interventions would have a positive effect on school climate by improving student-teacher relationships, providing students with relevant and engaging learning opportunities, and increasing teacher retention.
The analytic sample for the study included 25 schools from large urban school districts that were randomly assigned to either implement both interventions or continue business as usual (control group). For the school climate measure, students and teachers responded to a survey designed for each stakeholder group. The intervention was implemented over two years. Because whole-school reform is complex and challenging to implement long-term, schools varied in their level of execution. Thus, Grant and colleagues conducted an intent-to-treat analysis. This means that they compared the average effect of intervention schools to the average effect of control schools without considering differences in implementation fidelity.
The study found that students and teachers in schools that implemented both programs reported perceiving a more positive school climate than in the control group (student ES= +0.15, teacher ES= +0.27). However, the study did not find that implementing both programs was associated with teachers’ intentions to continue working in their schools. Although modest, these findings suggest that implementing Restorative Practices in conjunction with Diplomas Now can have a positive effect on student and teacher perceptions of school climate such that teachers and students believe they have the support they need to be successful.
By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University
Geoffrey Borman and colleagues recently published the results of two randomized field trials intended to evaluate the effectiveness of a self-affirmation intervention in reducing the gap in suspension rates for Black and White middle school students. Previous research had suggested that an increased awareness of disciplinary racial bias by Black middle school students leads to a loss of trust in teachers, which in turn leads to a higher probability of incidents involving disciplinary action and the labeling of these students as “troublemakers,” thus providing further confirmation for the students of racial bias and resulting in an even greater loss of trust in teachers. The intervention, which consisted of three or four writing exercises averaging 15-20 minutes in length administered over the course of the seventh-grade school year, was intended to help students—particularly Black students with a history of disciplinary action—manage negative labels that had been placed upon them by the school and instead focus on the many positive aspects of their identity.
The sample included 2,149 students across 11 middle schools, with half of the students in each school placed in the intervention group and half placed in the control group. The treatment demonstrated null effects on the reduction of suspensions for Asian, Latinx, and White students. However, the treatment demonstrated a statistically significant beneficial effect on suspension count for Black students (ES = -0.55; p < 0.001). The researchers indicate that in practical terms, this reduces the number of suspensions for a cohort of 150 Black students by 82 incidents and reduces the gap in Black-White suspensions by 67%. The researchers also noted a significant negative effect on office disciplinary referrals (ODRs) for Black students (ES = -1.66; p = 0.46), which in practical terms reduces the number of ODRs for a cohort of 150 Black students by 249 incidents and reduces the gap in Black-White ODRs by 66%. These results provide evidence that self-affirmation exercises may provide a viable path for reducing exclusionary discipline practices directed toward Black middle school students.
By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University
A recent meta-analysis by Li and colleagues analyzed results from 68 studies to explore the relationship between school discipline and self-control in students ranging in age from preschool through high school. The researchers broke the topic of school discipline into three subcategories to better understand the association of each aspect with student self-control. The first of these components was structure, which emphasizes the clear and fair enforcement of school rules to manage student behavior. The second component was support, which emphasizes the creation of a nurturing environment that is responsive to student needs and is designed to help students develop good behavior. The third component was the teacher-student relationship, which emphasizes quality interactions between students and staff as a means of managing student behavior.
The meta-analysis found evidence of a significant, positive association between school discipline and student self-control (r = 0.190, p < 0.001). When comparing the different components of school discipline, both support (ES = +0.02) and teacher-student relationship (ES = + 0.08) had positive effect sizes when compared with structure, but neither of the effect sizes was statistically significant. Despite having the strongest association with self-control, teacher-student relationships also demonstrated the highest variability of any of the predictors (SE = 0.054). In addition to the analysis of these three components, student age demonstrated evidence of being a significant moderating variable (ES = +0.01, p = 0.002), indicating the association between school discipline and student self-control is stronger for older students.
The researchers concluded their article with a discussion of the implications of these findings. Despite some caveats in the analysis, such as the inability to control for family socioeconomic status, this study demonstrated a positive association between school discipline and student self-control, which may help to inform to future school policy and practice.