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AERA Annual Meeting
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Educational Administration, Volume 47, Issue 5
I have recently returned from the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in San Diego, CA, 13-17 April. I extend thanks to Emerald Publishing for its generous support and encouragement that enabled me to participate.
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Disciplined inquiry: education research in the circle of knowledge”. Arguably, somewhat more abstract that that of recent meetings, this theme did not seem to attract specific mention in most of the papers presented under the auspices of Division A. Nevertheless, an elaboration of the conference theme provides an umbrella beneath which many presentations could justifiably be located. For example, the role of educational research may be seen as “a hub of interdisciplinary scholarship” and, furthermore, “education researchers can take pride in their long tradition of multidisciplinary work”. Of significant importance, “education research has been inclusive in its application of disciplinary perspectives and its respect for quantitative and qualitative methods”. An important expectation is that educational research will “contribute widely to the improvement of education policy and practice”.
For all involved, the AERA Annual Meeting provides many moments of excitement as well as the occasional disappointment. For me, the latter is always associated with the abundance of presentations in the field of educational administration and the resultant difficulties in timetabling such – inevitably presentations I want to attend will coincide. The challenge of choice thus becomes part and parcel of attendance at AERA. Perhaps, my selection of sessions this year was unfortunate because I left the conference with the feeling that, collectively, this year’s presentations did not match that of previous occasions. Admittedly, unfortunate choice may not be the only reason for this conclusion – the “grumpy old man” syndrome may have afflicted this Editor!
With one noteworthy exception mentioned below, I could not participate in Division L activities this year. This I greatly regret, not just because of the critical importance of politics and policy in our field and my desire to attend presentations in such, but also because of the calibre of many of the presenters in this division with whom I would have enjoyed discussion. Thus, my comments below relate almost exclusively to Division A presentations.
There were over 60 sessions devoted to Division A (which means approximately 250 individual contributions) and these spanned numerous aspects of educational administration and (increasingly) leadership. Arguably, one of the most frequent themes that emerged was (appropriately!) that of student achievement. The theme, in one form or another, permeated the division’s sessions and research reporting on the “correlates” of such addressed issues of importance such as leadership and school/community environments.
The principalship was also, of course, a much reported focus of investigation. Principals’ leader behaviour – particularly when it is “distributed” or “inclusive”, retention, succession, career paths, preparation, and professional development were all addressed by researchers. Likewise, concepts such as trust, mindfulness, efficacy and social justice were highlighted in association with principals and also with teachers. Data-based decision making also attracted several papers and, perhaps, reflects an increasing interest in such practices. I was particularly heartened to see the number of papers addressing social issues of importance such as partnerships, networks and collaboration. It is in this arena that one might argue this year’s meeting has made its strongest contribution.
In my Editorial last year commenting on the 2008 meeting of AERA, I singled out for mention some of the papers that impressed me. I Realised, of course, that such a practice precluded from mention presentations made in the sessions I was unable to attend. Accordingly, to circumvent this difficulty this year, I have approached several of the discussants or commentators who participated in such sessions. My request was that they identify any really excellent and/or exciting paper delivered during their respective sessions. Several have responded and a selection of their impressions (together with my own) appear below.
The theme of social networks was addressed in two very good research papers, the first by Daly, Bolivar (University of California – San Diego) and Finnigan (University of Rochester) entitled “The ebb and flow of network ties: evolution of a district leadership team”, the second by Atteberry and Bryk (Stanford University) entitled “The role of schools’ social networks in intervention diffusion”. Both papers:
[…] demonstrated the power of longitudinal network analysis through using in-depth surveys of teachers’ and school leaders’ social networks within and between schools and then applying network analysis algorithms and visualisation software. In both studies the authors were able to demonstrate the shift in professional community as teachers and school leaders changed their practice during reforms, changing whom they talked to and how often they did so.
A well-acclaimed session entitled “Student experiences, engagement and outcomes” comprised four presentations (two from the USA and one each from Canada and the UK). The papers addressed very important topics from a variety of perspectives. Their authors’ focus on student experiences – a sadly missing concern from too much educational leadership research – was most impressive. Kerr, Ainscow and Dyson’s (University of Manchester), “Breaking the link between disadvantage and poor educational outcomes: the need for special analysis” investigated how school and community social networks and indicators overlap (or do not overlap) and considered the implications of this congruence for students. Biak (University of California – Davis) reported on his work with large data sets looking for trends in student engagement in “Toward a better understanding of student engagement: evidence from the educational longitudinal study of 2002.” The portents for this approach could be quite exciting.
For their opinions and advice on sessions attended, I thank Curt Adams, Paul Bredeson, Alex Bowers, Jeff Brooks, Karen Crum and Betty Malen.
One of Division L’s most esteemed members, William Lowe Boyd of the Pennsylvania State University, passed away in September 2008. In order to acknowledge Professor Boyd’s scholarship and contribution to the study of politics and policy in education, the division sponsored a memorial session in honour of its former member. This was, of course, a melancholy occasion yet made delightfully memorable by the presence of Professor Boyd’s entire family and numerous close professional and personal friends. Many tributes were paid to William Boyd as both scholar and delightful being. In his honour and because of his close association with the Journal of Educational Administration, I shall publish an article in the first issue of the journal for 2010 (Vol. 48 No. 1).
I was delighted once again this year that the Journal’s Publisher, Kate Snowden, participated in the conference. This provided me with a valuable opportunity to confer with her on journal developments. It also enabled Kate to participate in the meeting of the Editorial Advisory Board and to conduct the Emerald Publishing booth in the exhibition hall Tuesday-Thursday of the conference.
As in recent years Kate and I were extended the hospitality and courtesy of the AERA press room and for this we thank in particular Helaine Patterson and Lucy Cunningham. The facilities provided for us are most valuable and enable us to keep close to the “heart of things” throughout the conference week.
Editorial Advisory Board
The annual meeting of AERA provides opportunity and incentive for the largest world-wide gathering of educational researchers – 13,519 (from 75 countries) registered for this year’s meeting. It is thus the best occasion for members of the journal’s Editorial Advisory Board to assemble. As in previous years a meeting of the board was convened and on this occasion eleven members participated – a particularly gratifying number. The occasion enabled me as Editor to report on the journal’s activities and progress throughout 2008 (Vol. 46) and also to discuss matters of policy and future developments.
I also made a “round table” presentation during one of the “Meet the Editors” sessions. I appreciated the opportunity thus provided to speak to many interested in publishing in the journal and also, especially, to meet authors whose work has appeared in recent issues.
Authors in Australia, Canada, the USA and Turkey have contributed the six articles in this issue.
In the first of these Michael Bezzina, Robert J. Starratt and Charles Burford address the difficulties in building a national curriculum for Australian schools and students. Although the commonwealth comprises but six states (plus territories) and a population of 21 million, the task of building an accepted nation-wide curriculum is far from simple. The authors challenge political and educational leaders to engage in dialogue at local, state and national level and, importantly, to confront and question the many “givens” or conventional wisdoms of the current division of education systems and curricula. They stress that authentic learning for the future needs of Australians is at stake.
In the following paper, William Kyle Ingle points out that the literature on teacher attrition in the USA has focused largely on characteristics of individuals more likely to leave prematurely and the type of schools in which they have been teaching. The author pursues another pathway and investigates the relationship between early departure of teachers and the extent of student achievement gains under their tutelage. A significant negative relationship is found between reading teachers’ “value-added” scores and attrition but not between math “value-added” and attrition. The author points out that not all teacher “turnover” is negative. Evidence from his study suggests that schools are not losing the best teachers from tested subjects and grades, i.e. those in which schools and school leaders are held accountable.
The third paper, set in Canadian Catholic schools, is a study of inclusiveness of non-Catholic students. “Inclusion” of students who are “different” is, of course, the rubric of a very extensive field of study yet it is one in which difference in religion is not frequently investigated. In reporting his study of Catholic high-school principals, J. Kent Donlevy focuses on the administrative actions and understandings associated with the process of admitting non-Catholic students to their schools. Analysis of interviews reveals that the inclusion of such students is dependent on the principal’s expectations, the significance of the preliminary interview, the on-going relationship between student and school, and points of confrontation with school administration. Useful guidelines emerge for both school practices and non-Catholic parents prior to students’ admission.
The next paper by Alex J. Bowers, set in the USA, adds to the developing area of data-based decision making (alluded to previously in details of the AERA program) but it differs in specific focus from much of this on-going research – it uses teacher-assigned grades instead of standardized test scores as its key variable. Analysis of grading alongside standardized test scores in core and non-core subjects reveals that two important dimensions appear to be contained within grades – teachers’ assessment of academic knowledge and their assessment of a student’s ability to negotiate the social processes of school. These, the author argues, should be assigned greater emphasis in the decision-making processes in schools.
Organisational commitment by teachers is a key theme in the following paper by Ferudun Sezgin. Using a sample of teachers from primary schools in Ankara, Turkey, as source of data, the author searches for a relationship between teachers’ commitment to their schools, their psychological hardiness (seen as a personality style reducing the negative effects of stress) and several demographic variables. From among several findings emerge a significant and positive relationship between hardiness and some components of commitment but no significant relationship between age and all three subscales of commitment.
In the final paper, Dianne L. Hoff and Sidney N. Mitchell contribute to a developing literature on bullying in educational institutions through their analysis of this behaviour’s expansion via the “electronic age”. A sample in excess of 300 teenagers (aged 17-19) in the USA completed scaled-response and open-ended questionnaires about their experiences with cyberbullying – “a burgeoning form of teen social cruelty” conveyed via any one or more electronic devices. Analysis of their responses reveals that cyberbullying is indeed very prevalent and emerges from students’ lack of ability to confront social tensions and difficulties in relationships; victims experience several undesirable psychological effects such as fear, powerlessness, anger and sadness; students are not responding appropriately and believe their schools are not sufficiently responsive to their difficulties.
Seven book reviews complete this issue of the journal.
A. Ross Thomas