The theme of the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, held here this month, was “Diversity and Democracy in the Era of Accountability.” In keeping with the first part of that title, the gathering drew researchers from 53 nations, and all walks of the field.
Among the 12,000-plus participants, for instance, were statisticians, anthropologists, psychologists, policy scholars, and sociologists.
More than 1,000 of the participants were Canadians, according to conference organizers. To capitalize on the opportunity for intellectual exchange with the host country, the Washington-based AERA scheduled more than 10 sessions highlighting studies from Canada.
But while this year’s conference probably represented an unprecedented level of international participation for this group, one South African researcher attending a session on education reform in the United States and Canada wondered aloud to participants if the theme was more hype than reality.
“In a meeting that’s supposed to be about diversity and democracy, why are all the sessions I’ve gone to about the U.S.?” he asked.
Many of the conference sessions hit on educational innovations familiar to educators, policymakers, and researchers around the world.
One example was school-based management, a practice that gives teachers and administrators more control over what happens in their buildings. Hypothesizing that the practice might motivate educators to come to work more often, a pair of Israeli researchers decided to take a look and see whether school-based management could reduce that country’s absenteeism rates among teachers and principals. The researchers said about 10 percent of principals in the country miss at least one day of school per week.
For their study, researchers Zehava Rosenblatt and Arie Shirom tracked how often teachers were absent in 2,145 public elementary and middle schools across Israel. (They excluded schools in border communities because of their vulnerability to attacks.)
The two researchers found that teachers missed school more often in schools for Arab children than they did in schools for Jewish youngsters, and that absenteeism was a more frequent occurrence in elementary schools than in middle schools in both Arab and Jewish schools.
Whether educators worked in schools with school-based management made no difference in absence rates.
Ms. Rosenblatt is a tenured senior lecturer at the University of Haifa, and Mr. Shirom is a professor of organizational behavior and health care at Tel Aviv University.
The two researchers cautioned, however, that their findings were still preliminary.
At this year’s conference, as in previous years, the researchers also used the meeting to honor colleagues for their contributions to the field.
One of the big award winners was Gene V Glass, an education professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. Mr. Glass was recognized for his 40 years of work in promoting powerful new uses and methods of research and new ways of communicating findings.
One nonresearcher whose accomplishments won recognition at the conference was Ronald A. Wolk, the founding editor of Education Week, which is published by Editorial Projects in Education. The Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit corporation also publishes Teacher Magazine and Education Week’s annual Quality Counts and Technology Counts reports. Mr. Wolk is the chairman of the board of both EPE and the Big Picture Company, a school reform group based in Providence, R.I.
But when he gave a presentation on education research to some conference participants, Mr. Wolk told them he felt a bit like the “skunk at the garden party.”
That’s because the title of his address to the group was “Our Ailing Schools and How Education Research Could Help Them (But Probably Won’t).”
In the talk, he said research has, so far, had little impact on educational policy and practice in the United States.