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Educational Research

 

School year calendars in the United States were initially established to conform to the needs of a largely agrarian society (Stenvall, 1997). During the latter part of the nineteenth century, eighty-five percent of American schools were located in rural areas.  Children were needed to labor in the fields in late spring and summer to plant and harvest the crops (Stenvall, 1997). Today, approximately three percent of our population participates in the agricultural economy. Mechanical devices such as tractors and harvesters have all but replaced the human worker in the fields. It seems that the traditional educational agenda has outlived its purpose and usefulness. Recently, there has been an unrelenting drumbeat that seems to be synchronized to an extended or reorganized school year. Before delving deeper into this phenomena and its concomitant research, it might be illuminating to explore the historical perspective of this revision.


The first year-round school in the United States was opened in 1904, in Bluffton, Indiana. The purpose of starting this type of school was twofold - to increase the building’s capacity for funding educational opportunities and to improve student achievement (Glines, 1995). The calendar was neatly divided into four quarters and Indiana became known as the pioneer of modern year-round education (Glines, 1995). From 1910 to 1938, a variety of extended programs sprouted up in Tennessee, Texas, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. School administrators in these states offered reasons that were a product of their era as the impetus behind this reorganization. These incentives included establishing programs in which European immigrant children could master English, a more productive use of space, and lastly, offering students around the year access to vocational training (Glines, 1995). During World War II, however, year-round educational experiments came to an end. During this epoch, national uniformity was considered essential to the war effort. The redacted schedule consequently supplied summer students and teachers to work on the farms and in the factories (Glines, 1995).


The progressive movers and shakers were slow in regaining their momentum. It was not until 1968, in Hayward, California (read Berkeley) that an official fifty-fifteen year-round school calendar was implemented. This program was established at Park Elementary School. It later evolved into forty five- fifteen plan, and today continues to be the longest running year-round educational program in the United States (Glines, 1995). Since then, interest in year round schooling has continued to increase. A consistent growth pattern was maintained from 1993 to 1998, and, in 1999, the number of students enrolled in a year-round school surpassed the two million mark for the first time (National Association for Year Round Education, 2002). From 2000 to 2002, Mississippi, South Dakota, the District of Columbia, and North Dakota added year-round schools to their educational program (National Association for Year Round Education, 2002). Typically in these refashioned agendas, instructional periods are broken up into forty- five, or sixty day segments.  Each of these time parcels, in turn, are followed by breaks lasting from three to four weeks in duration.


To further bolster their claims, year round scholars point to the Far East and note some interesting trends. Four East Asian countries (Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong) have academic years exceeding two hundred school days, and these nations are also the highest scoring countries on international tests of mathematics skill (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2003).


The restyled calendar crusade has been fueled by a frothy mixture of theoretical, as well as practical concerns. One such problematic issue is that of summer learning loss. In 1996, Psychology Professor Harris M. Cooper conducted a study that was eventually published under the title of "The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta- Analytic Review" (Cooper, Nye, Charlton & Greathouse, 1996).This exploration, with its large, representative sample size and consequent reliability, discovered that all students lose some of their math, reading and spelling skills over the long summer break (Cooper, et al, 1996). Accordingly, teachers have to spend four to six weeks reviewing previously learned material (Stenvall, 1997). Other reasons for adopting the revised schedule include using the frequent breaks to reduce teacher and students burnout, improved academic achievement, a reduction in disciplinary problems, improved attendance rates, an increased opportunity for enrichment during intercessions, and lastly, making the school infrastructures more cost effective by utilizing them for twelve months rather than nine months out of the year (Stenvall, 1997).


However, not all educators, parents and community members are on board. Many of these stakeholders argue that little conceptual learning is lost over the summer. Rather, it is surface, procedural and informational knowledge that is lost. This type of learning is not considered crucial to understanding the transmitted ideas and can easily be retrieved (Heynes, 1978). This faction cites additional imperatives for just saying “no” to extended school years. These considerations include increased salary, utility and transportation costs for the school, administrator burnout, as well as daycare difficulties for parents. Invested observers also point out that out-of-school activities, requiring teamwork, and learning new athletic or work skills have been found to be reliable predictors of academic success. Unfortunately, these pursuits might have to be eliminated or at least curtailed as a result of the altered scheduling. These same observers also argue that young people discover and explore their talents, interests, and values during the long summer hiatus and other intermittent breaks.  Children who have had these kinds of experiences produce improved reading and math scores (National Association for Year Round Education, 2002).


With this academic context of mixed messages serving as a background, I plan to explore empirical data concerning the cognitive effects that an extended or reorganized school schedule has on our young learners. My goal will be to employ scientific research methodologies that will ultimately indicate the wisdom or folly of these emendations. My initial plan is to compare fluctuations in the students’ performance on math achievement tests as they progress from third grade (under the current schedule) to fourth grade (under the year round plan) (Laureate Education, 2007). My problem statement is thus: “I plan to determine the influence year round education has on the math achievement scores of fourth graders. I will do this by comparing the children’s performance on math achievement tests during the abbreviated third grade year with their performance after a year round regimen of study.”


Research entails the use of evidence-based knowledge to search for valued outcomes (McMillan & Schumacher, 2008). Accordingly, a literature review, to augment the studies to which I have referred, will enhance understanding of the research problem and help to emplace more firmly the results of the study in a historical perspective (McMillan & Schumacher, 2008).
In the article,Year-Round Schools Look Better All the Time”, a primary source study Vanessa St.Gerard, the author, focused on the findings of Judith Jackson, a principal at a Virginia Elementary School (St. Gerard, 2007). The principal, in turn, derived her information from interviews and discussions with her staff. The author of the interview-based research study, Vanessa St. Gerard, is the editor of the Communicator. This periodical is the publishing arm of the National Association of School Principals. I therefore consider it to be a professional journal.  Ms. Jackson, the chief administrator, is clearly in favor of year round schooling. Her particular interpretation of the school calendar revolves around a forty- five days on, fifteen days off cycle. Ms. Jackson cites its growing popularity among administrators and teachers. As for the academic advantages, Ms. St. Gerard bolsters the principal’s claims with a 1996 study, “The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Scores” (Cooper et al, 1996). In this investigation, Harris Cooper, found that a great deal of knowledge was lost as a result of the long summer break. The main thrust of Ms. St. Gerard’s research therefore proselytizes the advantages of shorter, more frequent breaks. In addition, the principal believes the new schedule is beneficial to students, staff and parents alike. She also effuses over the resulting intercessions which are now utilized for remedial or enrichment purposes (St. Gerard, 2007).


A subsequent article written by Larry Cuban takes a different approach in “Reform: Fixing School Time” (Cuban, 2008). Cuban’s secondary data research explores the causes that have stifled the growth of year round education.  As far back as 1983, we are informed, the study, “A Nation at Risk” was calling for a two hundred and twenty day school year. This “call to battle”, unfortunately for its advocates, has been a distinct failure. Mr. Ruben cites three reasons:  the cost to school budgets, the lackluster research behind the reform, and the influence of conservative social goals throughout the country (Cuban, 2008). (This particular zeitgeist emanates from a country where a large majority is more concerned with the quality of time spent in the classroom than in counting the minutes and hours that students and teachers spend together) (Cuban, 2008).


Qualitative research is an inquiry in which researchers collect data in face-to face situations by interacting with selected persons in their natural settings (Laureate Education, 2007). The findings are then transcribed in a narrative form (Laureate Education, 2007). The next study I chose to review, “Instructional Review Time in Traditional and Year Round Schools, by Lynn Varner, encompasses the qualitative format (Varner, 2003). This researcher employed an interview-centered format for understanding social experiences from the participants’ standpoint, rather than relying on cold numbers (Varner, 2003).


 Ms. Varner’s exploration compared the math and reading achievement of African- American third graders. One school of six traditional classes (seventy-nine students) comprised the first dependent variable while a second school made up of ten classes (one hundred and sixty students) represented the year round dependent variable (Varner, 2003).  Both schools were located in the South. The results were largely based on the subjective opinions and structured observations of the participating teachers. Their insights were also responsible for evaluating the intelligence, maturity and motivation of the students. The investigation concluded that the year round schools started off at a faster pace and that all teachers showed a preference for the type of schedule in which they were currently working (Varner, 2003).  


 Todd Rakoff’s exhaustive secondary data review, “Schooltime”, reflects the community’s degree of support for extended school time (Rakoff, 1999). This investigator believes that school time represents just one part of the social triangle of time. The other two parts, family and work time is intertwined in such a way that decisions on school time will have integral effects on the other two. Mr. Rakoff has tracked this trend for over twenty years and he reveals some interesting findings. When asked how they felt about extending the school year to two hundred twenty days, the adult population in the early eighties responded with a resounding “No.” However, this trend reversed itself as the nineties progressed. By the time of this specific study, in 1999, an overwhelming majority favored the longer term. However, this majority was still overwhelmingly against elongating the school day. They cited student fatigue and extra-curricular activates as the rationale for their negative response (Rakoff, 1999).


A seminal, primary investigation of year round schooling was initiated by Paul von Hippel in 2007. Mr. von Hippel is a research statistician in sociology. His exploration was partly funded through grants from the Spencer Foundation and the National Institute for Child Health Development. Von Hippel examined reading and math scores of children in kindergarten and first grade in twenty seven year round public schools (Von Hippel, 2007). He compared these results to scores of students in traditional nine month schools. Almost all the year round schools were in urban or suburban areas. The children attending year round schools were mostly Hispanic and their income level was below the national average (Von Hippel, 2007).
Von Hippel, employing a largely quantitative methodology, with some supportive narrative, discovered that over a twelve month period, students in year round schools gained less than one percent over their counterparts in reading and math scores (Von Hippel, 2007). Specifically, disadvantaged children seemed to gain slightly more in reading test scores in year-round schools than they did in nine-month schools. But these same students saw no increase in math scores in year-round schools compared to traditional schools. The researcher concluded that that summer setback is a symptom of disadvantages in children’s non-school environments—disadvantages that cannot be summarily eliminated merely by rearranging the 180 days of the academic year (Von Hippel, 2007).


The article “Improving Student Learning Through Calendar Change” by Brent Davies and Trevor Kerry lends an international flavor to the list of studies (Davies & Kerry, 1999). Their piece appeared in the professional periodical, “School Leadership and Management.”


The two authors have worked as consultants to a large number of United Kingdom elementary schools. They cite sixty studies that show an improvement in learning due to the reorganized calendar. These studies can be divided into three categories. The first compares students who attend year round schools with those attending traditional formatted classes. The second section is comprised of research that investigated the phenomena of summer learning loss. The third group of explorations looked into the length of the school year with its concomitant ramifications (Davies & Kerry, 1999). Their study encompassed a wide selection of schools and students. They firmly believe that calendar alteration can have a significant positive impact on learning. Further, their findings indicate that the summer vacation was responsible for a great deal of math knowledge loss, particularly in calculations. Spelling also suffered, as did procedural knowledge. Conceptual knowledge, however, did not suffer at the same attrition rate as the aforementioned disciplines (Davies & Kerry, 1999).


By way of evaluating the studies included in my literature review, I will start withYear-Round Schools Look Better All the Time.” This inquiry focused on the interview research of Judith Jackson, the principal at a Virginia Elementary School. As such, it proved to offer a very limited context in justifying its results. Anecdotal, rather than scientific in nature, while researching an unrepresentative population, this study has little generalizability (transferability to other circumstances) beyond the brick and mortar confines of her school.
In the article “Reform: Fixing School Time.”(2008)  Larry Cuban makes great use of primary resources as he examines the reasons why year round schooling has not taken hold of the public’s imagination. His research is operationally well-defined and includes a representative sampling. He formulates a well thought-out critique of the inherent weaknesses in year round schooling implementation and logistics, as well as the non conclusiveness of the inherent studies. This is a well documented, reasoned study as to why and how the “year- rounders” have consistently failed to make their case (Cuban, 2008)


The subsequent article “Instructional Review Time in Traditional and Year Round Schools, by Lynn Varner, is another example of why some love and at the same time  hate qualitative studies (Varner, 2003). Relying on more extensive and in-depth research than the initial qualitative study (Year Round Schools Look Better All the Time) (St. Gerard, 2007), this still remains a subjective, case-specific study with time, racial and geographic limitations as well (Varner, 2003). Consequently, it has little validity or reliability beyond the particular population it measured.
Paul von Hippel’s study was a sterling example of the statistical potency found in quantitative research. Intricate and imposing formulas are used to exploit the dependent variables. Graphs, which highlight a myriad of findings, are also in evidence. The population is large and the time-frame elongated. My only lack of enthusiasm for this otherwise exemplary investigation lies in the limited socio-economic strata that constitute his subject samples, as well as the lack of distinguishing data between the two dependent variables.
The inquiry engineered by Brent Davies and Trevor Kelly is the most impressive investigation that I have encountered. Combining quantitative and qualitative designs, this is an ambitious and well documented piece of research (Davies & Kelly, 1999). This systematic investigation has a breadth (five years) and width (Texas, California, Florida and the United Kingdom) that is lacking in many of the others.


There are distinct impressions to be garnered by examining the accumulated body of evidence from my literature review. Specifically, whatever opinion the authors may bring to the table, they will be able to locate a study, or attempt to use its indecisive or flawed results, to validate their standpoint.  In addition, the majority of the studies seemed to be enervated by two common flaws. First, there is the lack of clear cut differences between the two calendars. This makes the two dependent variables very similar and they will therefore produce indecisive results when the independent variables are measured. One hundred and eighty school days sliced up into two different configurations is still one-hundred and eighty school days. It is just a matter of deciding whether it is more educationally profitable to have eight weeks off in the summer and then insert the residual three weeks’ vacation time between shorter learning periods. Or, take eleven weeks off in the summer and have elongated semesters or modules. It reminds me of the Yogi Berra adage “You better cut that pizza up into four sections. I am not hungry enough to eat eight.” The second weakness I noted is that most of the studies rely on informed opinions of the researcher or participants, rather than on the hard currency of statistics. As such, their generalizability, reliability, and validity are severely limited.


In conclusion, with the threading of so many educational, economic and social standpoints into the fabric of one issue, all with idiosyncratic outlooks of varying shades and shapes, it is not surprising that the cumulative effect on the resulting studies has affected a crazy-quilt design. This is the result of the multitude of contradictory findings, as well as the lack of controlled variables (McMillan & Schumacher, 2008).


To make sense of these non enlightening resultants, I would encourage fellow researchers to do four things. First, we should remain cognizant of the many vested interests in play, each with a particular outcome goal. Secondly, we must realize that the new timetables do not extend but merely reorganize the traditional school year. In the United States, less than one elementary school in a thousand uses a truly extended calendar (two hundred and twenty school days) (Gandara & Fish 1994). Therefore, the number of days a subject attends school must be increased to two hundred and twenty days before the data set contains variables the researcher can effectively use (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008). Third, any comparisons between schools or classes would have to control differences in teacher quality, student motivation, socioeconomic backgrounds, I.Q.  Scores, language differences, parental involvement, quality of texts and electronic media, and the number of daily interruptions each class suffers through, etc. Lastly, we should be aware that many of the extant studies, specifically of the qualitative genre, contain a plethora of subjective variables that severely limit the validity (the degree the study measures what it is intended to study), as well as the generalizability of the research (Laureate Education, 2007).


Therefore, in order to prove my initial hypothesis (“I plan to determine the influence year round education has on the math achievement scores of fourth graders. I will do this by comparing the children’s performance on math achievement tests during the abbreviated third grade year with their performance after a year round regimen of study.”), a more comprehensive, initiation of year-round versus traditional models is necessary. These would include finer-tuned research controls, including similar population samples taught by the same teachers. The refinements would also mandate that sequential, rather than concurrent dependent variables ne included. Additionally, the greater distinction found in two hundred and twenty year day calendars, as opposed to two iterations of the one hundred and eighty day mode is required to ensure statistically distinct independent variables. Finally, I leave my readers with a question to ponder. If these research adjustments are not made, how are we to authentically inform society, administrators, and teachers of the benefits to be derived from this elongated, rather than reorganized  school year calendar?  

-www.fastoutofthegate.com

 


References

Barron, R. 1993. The effects of year-round education on achievement, attendance and
            teacher attendance in bilingual school
. Doctoral Dissertation, Northern Arizona
            University. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, 3935.

Cooper, H., Nye B., Charlton, K. & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer scores: a
             narrative and meta-analytic review, Review of Educational Research, 66, 227- 268.

Cuban, L. (2008). “Reform: Fixing school time.” Phi Delta Kappa International, 241-250.

Davies, B. & Kerry, T. (1999). “Improving student learning through calendar change.” Lincoln
              UK. School Leadership and Management,Vol.19 number 3 pp. 361-374.

Gandara, Patricia, and Judy Fish. (1994). “Year round schooling as an avenue to major
              Structural reform.”
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis16(1), 67-85.

Glines, D. (1995). Year-round education: History, philosophy, and future. San Diego, CA:
              National Association for Year-Round Education.

Heyns, Barbara. (1978). Summer learning and the effects of schooling. New York: Academic
              Press.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Six “Qualitative Research
               Methods.” Baltimore: Canipe, S.

McMillan, J. H., & Schumacher, S. (2008). Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry
                 (Laureate custom edition). Boston: Pearson.

National Association for Year Round Education. (2002, February 15). Retrieved December 11,
                 2009, from http://www.NAYRE.org

Palmer, E., & Bemis, A. (2002). Alternative calendars: Extended learning and year round
                 programs
. Crookston, MN: University of Minnesota, College of Education and
                  Human Development.
Rakoff, T. (1999) “Schooltime.” Montreal, Canada. American Education Research Association.

St. Gerard, V. (2007). “Year round schools are looking better all the time.” Alexandria VA.
                  National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Stenvall, M. (1999). “A checklist for success: a guide to implementing year round schools. San
                    Diego CA. National Agenda for Responsible Scheduling.

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. (2003).Washington DC.
                 Summer learning in year round schools”, p.52.Abstract.

Varner, L. (2003). “Instructional review time in year round and traditional school
                  calendars.
”Mid-South Educational Research Association. Biloxi MS.

Von Hippel, P. (2007). “What happens to summer learning in year round schools?” Columbus
                  OH. Ohio State University Sociological Society.

 

Educational Research 2

 

  
          Peer mediation is a voluntary process where students, who are contemporaries of the disputants, intermediate in order to settle disagreements between either individuals or small groups of fellow students (Study Guides and Strategies, 2009). Peer mediators do not render decisions but instead work toward a resolution that is deemed equitable to both sides. As a result of these interventions, students learn to listen, as well as to use critical thinking skills, as they master transferable conflict resolution techniques (Study Guides and Strategies, 2009).  Types of problems that may be amenable to peer mediation include: gossip, minor physical skirmishes, harassment, vandalism, as well as racial and cultural confrontations (Study Guides and Strategies, 2009).
            The first of the four scenarios on which I wish to concentrate reads as follows: “Ten students are available for in-depth interviews. Participants will be selected based on their involvement with the peer mediation program. They will be observed over three weeks. Analysis will attempt to determine issues concerning peer mediation” (Laureate Education, 2007d).  My choice of a research vehicle to investigate this matter would be of Qualitative design. I base my selection on the fact that the context of this particular scenario will dovetail nicely with the methodology inherent in Qualitative investigations. This manner of research generally requires investigators use face-to-face situations to interact with designated persons in their familiar settings (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008). Qualitative research also describes and analyzes peoples’ individual perceptions (Laureate Education, 2007 b). The goal is to understand social phenomena from the participant’s perspective. Consequently, this specific scenario and research design seem to fit each other like a Savile Row suit.
               The second scenario is the most complex of the quartet. It unfolds as follows:  “Two classrooms of students are selected. There are thirty students in each class; each group will have similar demographics—age, sex, race, socio-economic background, etc. Classes will be randomly divided into two groups of fifteen students. Of these two groups, one randomly selected group will get training on peer mediation and the other group will not. Thus in each classroom there will be one group that is trained in peer mediation and one that is not. Analysis will occur on which groups have the fewest office referrals” (Laureate Education, 2007, d).
             During the Experimental variety of Quantitative research, the investigator manipulates what the subjects will experience (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008). One group will receive intervention, the other will not (Laureate Education, 2007, a). Many other characteristics will be controlled, for uniformity, in each group. These two assemblages will constitute the dependent variables. The Experimental mode of Quantitative analysis also includes random selection of the participants (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008). After the data is collected, comparisons between the two groups will then be numerically presented. The subsequent evaluation will comprise the independent variable. These research activities effectively complement the dynamics of scenario two. Therefore, I will rely on the presented evidence to justify my choice of a Quantitative/ Experimental research model (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008).
             Scenario Three states “A school counselor is interested in knowing how student attitudes affect the value of peer mediation to decrease the number of office referrals that are being filed for inappropriate interactions” (Laureate Education, 2007, d).  Today’s educators are constantly searching for research-backed data to justify their decision making (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008).  Action research is the locally-based process of using scientific investigative principles to provide information that education professionals can immediately use to improve daily academic practices. The steps are relatively simple. After the topic has been chosen, teachers subsequently collect data, using information gleaned from interviews and/or questionnaires (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008). The results are then categorized and analyzed in an elementary statistical manner. The educators then take immediate action to implement the designated changes (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008).
             Specifically, in order to resolve the identified problem in this scenario, (do student attitudes towards peer mediation affect the ability of these interventionists to reduce the number of office referrals?) researchers might wish to initially use a qualitative design for their action research. This includes interviews and questionnaires. After matching individual student attitudes of various ranges with their attending referrals, the researcher can then use a quantitative method incorporating simple numerical relationships to categorize and explain the results.
              The final scenario states: Peer mediation has become widely used in many schools. The feelings of those involved in the process are little known—either from those doing the mediation or those receiving it. The ZASK-R Acceptance Preference Survey will be given as pre- and post-tests to 40 students participating in mediation. Follow-up interviews will be conducted on a bi-monthly basis) (Laureate Education, 2007, d).
           Based on the above forces at work, I would utilize a Mixed-Method approach that integrates a number of Explanatory design methodologies. In this type of investigative approach, quantitative data is collected first (i.e., pre- and post tests). Next, qualitative information (from surveys and interviews) is used to elucidate and expand upon the quantitative findings (McMillan, & Schumacher, 2008).  Judging from the goals outlined in this final scenario, the Exploratory modality of this mixed- method hybrid will indeed prove to be a particularly “good fit.”  Using qualitative data (accrued from interviews and surveys) to identify the ideas and perspectives of the students, the researcher can then exploit this information to numerically quantify the findings it in the second stage of the investigation.
                        To sum up, the modern researcher, pursuing educational data, has many distinct strategies at his/her command. These overarching methods of investigation, in turn, further subsume more comprehensive approaches. This fine tuning will enable the researcher to personalize investigative tools to match the idiosyncratic demands of the problem at hand. Familiarity and expertise with the employment of all the facets of this accomplished discipline is vital. These abilities will enable teachers and other educational personnel to unearth and analyze science- based data. The subsequent integration of this information into their daily pedagogy will improve the academic performance of all their students.

-www.fastoutofthegate.com

 

References

 


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Five “Quantitative
  Research Methods.”  Baltimore: Canipe, S.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Six “Qualitative
Research Methods.”  Baltimore: Canipe, S.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Seven “Additional
Research Methods.”  Baltimore: Canipe, S

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2007). Application Seven “Evaluating
Research Methods.”  Baltimore: Canipe, S

McMillan, J. H., & Schumacher, S. (2008). Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry.
Laureate custom edition). Boston: Pearson.

Study Guides and Strategies. (2009). Retrieved on December 15, 2009 from the website: http://www.studygs.net/peermed.htm.


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