School & District Management

2018 in Research: How Principals Lead, Gates Faltered, and Teens Balk at ‘Growth Mindset’

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 27, 2018 2 min read
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2018 has been a fascinating year in education research.

If support for federal education studies at times seemed a bit touch-and-go this year because of funding threats and White House plans to merge agencies, there were still plenty of meaty findings for practitioners.

In fact, of all the research stories reported this year, readers were most interested in a look at how more than 90,000 principals guide improvement in their schools. Some of the findings are likely common knowledge—effective school leaders set high expectations for students and staff alike and support teams of teachers working to hone instruction—but it also offered some surprising tidbits, such as the need for principals to make sure parents opt out, rather than opt into parent engagement.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “expensive experiment” in improving teacher effectiveness also came under scrutiny, with a major evaluation showing no benefits for teachers. The two founders later admitted the initiative had not worked as planned.

Readers also took the warning of one study that suggested the need for caution in efforts to instill a “growth mindset” in teenagers. While teachers are often trained to praise students’ effort instead of ability to instill the belief that their skills are developed through practice, the study found this approach can backfire among adolescents.

In fact, several of the most-read studies this year focused on the importance of social dynamics and relationships between teachers and students, such as the benefits of “looping” teachers with students over several years, nurturing children’s curiosity, and helping teenagers and teachers alike reduce stress.

Educators and policymakers also called for deeper connections between research and practice this year, with IES calling on teachers to help shape the national research agenda and researchers warning of the need for more long-term, basic research on learning.

Research watchers also got deeper looks at areas of study that may influence education more in the years to come: neuroscience and genetics. Federal support for research into adolescents’ brain development is starting to bear fruit in findings about how managing teenagers’ emotions can help support their learning. And in Connecticut, Yale University researchers are working with New Haven public schools to develop a potential genetic screen for children at risk of developing dyslexia. Other problems that affect education, from dyscalculia to attention deficit disorders, are also being studied for genetic predisposition.

Much of this came as the Trump administration announced a plan to lump together some long-running research initiatives and make the Institute of Education Sciences a sub-agency in the Department of Labor. On the plus side, though, the IES finally got a new director this year when Mark Schneider took over a seat that had been without a permanent director for four years.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.