For Immediate Release
November 26, 2001
Contacts: Cassandra Robinson, 301-405-4621 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UM Professors Lead Research on High-Quality Teaching
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In schools across the country, the best teachers -- those whose students are motivated to achieve despite adverse circumstances -- are always well known and in high demand. Parents and educators, alike, long for a way to capture the intangible elements of these prized classrooms and spread them around to benefit all children.
Researchers at the University of Maryland College of Education are hoping to identify these intangibles as it teams up with the Montgomery County Public Schools for a new study that examines the characteristics of high-quality teaching. Funded by a grant to total more than $4.5 million over five years, the project focuses on the classrooms of highly successful 4th and 5th grade teachers in moderate to high-poverty schools across the county. It seeks to discover how these teachers help struggling learners develop competency in reading and mathematics.
"Most studies identify a set of practices that teachers should adopt. This study respects the expertise of teachers and tries to identify and study those who are particularly successful so we can understand better the way they organize instruction, cover the curriculum, and motivate and engage students," says Linda Valli, associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at Maryland and principal investigator for the project. "By studying in-depth how these schools and teachers promote learning, we can deepen our understanding of what it takes to ensure that students acquire foundational skills in reading and mathematics by the 4th and 5th grades."
Funding for the study comes from the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), a combined effort of the U.S. Department of Education, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. IERI supports rigorous, interdisciplinary research aimed at improving preK-12 student learning and achievement in reading, mathematics, and science.
Valli says existing research suggests that high-quality teaching requires educators to frequently expand and adapt their teaching styles to accommodate diverse student populations. The new study will pay particular attention to teacher-student interactions to help researchers understand the various ways teachers adapt instruction to different students. Over the course of the study, some 120 teachers will have had three different classrooms of children.
"Teaching is a socially-embedded practice," says Robert Croninger, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of education policy and leadership at Maryland. "We have not had much data that investigates the complex nature of teaching in multiple classrooms over an extended period of time. That is what makes this study different."
Specifically, the team will explore the teacher's role in the classroom, interactions with students, and teaching practices aimed at closing the achievement gap between groups of students. Participating teachers will keep a daily log of their activity within the classroom as well as the content covered. Researchers will interview the teachers and observe their classes six to eight times a year, for three years, to see how their practices have changed over time or in response to the challenges of different groups of students. They will also discuss how school policies and procedures promote or impede high-quality teaching.
The result, says Crnnger, will be an unusually detailed, longitudinal set of data that provides valuable insight into how to enhance teaching quality and promote learning of fundamental reading and mathematical skills. "These findings could have powerful implications for the development of policies that support and sustain effective teaching practices in the state of Maryland and across the nation," says Croninger.
For Montgomery County, the study is particularly timely as the school district works to meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse student population and a growing achievement gap between low-income schools and those with more advantaged student populations. The 19th largest school district in the nation, it has seen the enrollment of low-income students doubled in the past 20 years, and approximately one-fifth of its students speak 119 different languages. >p> "There are too many people who are willing to say that high-quality teaching is doing whatever it takes to raise standardized test scores, but we are not going in with any assumption about that" says Valli. "I hope this study gives teachers a greater sense of the possibility of reaching all students."
The research team for this study also includes Maryland professors Patricia Ann Alexander, department of human development; Marilyn J. Chambliss, curriculum and instruction; Anna O. Graeber, curriculum and instruction; Jeremy N. Price, curriculum and instruction; and Rose Savitsky, project manager. John C. Larson, of the Office of Shared Accountability for Montgomery County Schools, is also a member of the team.
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