What’s New in International Education Research and Policy Analysis at AERA 2018

Monica PfisterBob Rothman
by Monica Pfister and Bob Rothman

The 2018 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education,” took place April 13-17 in New York City. More than 17,000 people participated, attending more than 2,500 sessions on a broad range of topics. As in past years, the meeting featured a number of sessions that focused on international education research. The following are some highlights from the meeting:

Empowered Educators and the Early Advantage

In a session chaired by NCEE President and CEO Marc Tucker, two leading researchers presented findings from NCEE-funded and supported studies that examined the education policies and practices of top-performing nations. Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and the Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus at the Stanford University Graduate School Education, described the findings from her study, Empowered Educators, that looked at teacher policies in Australia, Canada, Finland, Shanghai, and Singapore. The study showed that these nations have well-developed systems for recruiting, preparing, compensating, developing, and retaining teachers. The findings are analyzed in a 2017 book along with case studies of each of the countries. More information and resources are available here.

Sharon Lynn Kagan, the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and the co-director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University, presented on a second NCEE-funded and supported international comparative study that she is leading on early childhood education and care in top-performing nations. The study analyzes the key characteristics of early childhood education systems in a group of high-performing jurisdictions to better understand how they support student achievement and success. The study examines systems in Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The case studies and a cross-case analysis will be published later this year. The first of two books from the study along with detailed case studies of the systems of focus will be available later this summer. More information is available here.

TALIS Video Study

Researchers from an international consortium outlined the design of a landmark cross-national video study currently underway in eight countries. The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) video study is examining teaching practices by videotaping 85 lower secondary teachers in each country teaching two lessons on a single topic: quadratic equations. The researchers will also collect and analyze artifacts from the classrooms, such as lesson plans and assessments. The goal of the project is not to rank countries, but rather to examine differences in instructional practice and correlate them with student performance. The participating countries are: Columbia, Chile, Germany, Japan, Spain (Madrid), Mexico, China (Shanghai) and the United Kingdom.

The Impact of Accountability Policies on Attracting Prospective Teachers

Assistant Professor Seong Won Han of the University at Buffalo (SUNY) presented research on the impact of accountability policies on the attractiveness of the teaching profession in countries around the world. While previous research addressed the impact of these policies on current teachers’ job satisfaction and retention, this research aimed to explain how they impact prospective teachers. The study used PISA 2015 data on 15-year-old students’ employment plans. To demonstrate the link between students’ employment plans and their career outcomes, Dr. Han cited data from the PISA 2015 teacher questionnaire indicating that 64 percent of teachers had already chosen the education profession by the end of secondary school. The research found that teacher accountability policies, such as those based on student assessment scores, are generally negatively associated with high-achieving students’ expectations that they will become teachers. The study concluded that test-based teacher accountability policies will likely not be an effective lever for raising the quality of the prospective teacher workforce. According to earlier research co-authored by Dr. Han, factors positively associated with students’ expectations of teaching careers include higher teacher salaries and higher social status of teachers.

A Framework for Analyzing How Policies Support Immigrant Children’s Well-Being

Assistant Professor Özge Bilgili of Utrecht University in the Netherlands presented a framework for understanding the role of destination country policy in immigrant students’ resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability of immigrant students to overcome adversity and achieve a high level of well-being. The policy analysis framework can be used to examine the extent to which destination countries promote immigrant student resilience through strategies such as involving families, schools and communities in providing support. In her presentation, Dr. Bilgili used the framework to present a case study of Ontario, Canada. Ontario’s emphasis on supporting the “whole child” was presented as evidence of the province’s holistic approach. Dr. Bilgili also presented more general recommendations for policies to promote resilience among immigrant children, which included developing a wider and multilayered definition of “immigrant children” and maintaining a balance between state responsibility and individual and community involvement in supporting immigrant children.

Public, Private School Achievement Gaps in Shanghai

An analysis of data from the 2009 and 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that achievement gaps between public school students and private school students persist in Shanghai despite the Chinese government’s attempts to address the issue. The study by Yifan Bai of the American Institutes for Research and Soo-yong Byun of Penn State University found that 15-year-olds in Shanghai private schools significantly outperformed those in public schools. In presenting the findings, Bai explained that Shanghai originally had a two-tier lower-secondary school system, in which students who performed well on an examination administered at the end of fifth grade could enter specialized lower secondary schools, called “key schools.” In the 1990s, the government abolished the exam and the key schools, but private schools began to be created, and more affluent students enrolled in the private schools. Currently, about 10 percent of Shanghai lower secondary students attend private schools.

Promoting Shared Values and Cooperation in a Decentralized System

Six members of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education (ACDE)—representing the leaders of Faculties of Education in Canadian higher education institutions—presented a set of ACDE position statements known as the Accords. The Accords articulate shared priorities, such as incorporating research experience into initial teacher education. They also provide a basis for collaboration across more than 60 educator preparation programs in Canada. Development of the Accords began in 2005 with the General Accord, which established a commitment to work together to advance education. The ACDE has since developed Accords in five specific areas: Teacher Education; Indigenous Education; Research in Education; Early Learning and Early Childhood Education; and Internationalization of Education. Because education governance and funding in Canada is largely at the provincial and territorial level, the Accords are uniquely positioned to provide a pan-Canadian framework for decision-making in these areas. And since relatively few teachers enter the profession through alternative routes in Canada, the Accords reach a large share of the teacher workforce through university-based preparation programs.

The Role of Education Research in Continuous System Improvement

Researchers from Singapore’s Center for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP), housed within the Office of Education Research at the National Institute of Education, presented on their ongoing research program. The CRPP was formed in 2003, and its mission has three components: to advance knowledge that promotes the improvement of teaching and learning in Singapore and the wider educational community; to provide relevant and practical responses to persistent educational issues; and to inform and spread innovations in pedagogy and practice. CRPP’s Core Research Program has collected data on Singapore’s education system from a variety of sources in three five-year cycles, including the current cycle from 2014-19. Data collection focusing on specific subjects is aligned with Singapore’s curriculum review cycle so that this research can inform curriculum reforms and new curriculum implementation. The research program incorporates surveys, interviews and classroom observations in order to provide insight into curriculum and instruction at the classroom level. For example, an analysis of science lessons at grades five and nine found that between 2004 and 2015, the focus on factual knowledge decreased and the focus on conceptual knowledge increased to achieve a greater balance in instructional focus. Researchers emphasized the importance of research timeliness, in addition to rigor and relevance, when presenting research to policymakers.

This presentation from CRPP embodied a key theme of sessions focused on the international context at this year’s AERA meeting. Across presentations on diverse topics, there was a consistent emphasis on the close relationship between research and education policy and practice. Just as high-quality research informs ongoing improvement in top-performing education systems like Singapore, it also provides an opportunity to share promising policies and practices across the wider education community.