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School Management, Teaching, Student Performance and Well-being

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How can school managers improve students’ performance and well-being? And what is the role of teachers? Should school managers provide good framework conditions for teachers’ autonomous teaching, or should they get involved in goal-setting, evaluation and selection of educational methods in order to get good student performance? Such questions are addressed in a major study by SFI with international and national collaborators.

SFI has been awarded substantial funding of DKK 17 million from the Strategic Danish Research Council and the Danish School Agency for two research projects on school management. The projects examine the relationship between school management, teaching, student performance and well-being, and job-satisfaction of teachers in Danish primary and lower secondary education.

Amongst other things, the projects focus on how student performance and well-being are affected by the autonomy and networking of school managers and their goal-setting, evaluation, recruiting and continued training of teachers as well as involvement in teaching methods. The studies seek to test international theories on public management, instructional leadership and transformational leadership but also alternative management models based on dialogue-based managerial involvement in teaching methods. While international theories on management and teaching may also be relevant for Denmark, the extraordinarily low power distance of this country must also be taken into consideration. Accordingly, the authority of the school manager and the teacher cannot be taken for granted; respect is something that has to be earned. The projects will also study implementation in schools of national and local school policies.

The main part of the studies is quantitative and is based on web-surveys of all 2,000 Danish public and private school managers as well as their 9th grade teachers in Danish and math. The surveys are conducted in the spring of 2011. These survey data will be combined with administrative register information on students’ marks in Danish and math at the 9th grade exam and their family background, and with survey data on students’ well-being and their plans regarding upper secondary education. The extraordinarily rich register data on students and their family background will allow taking these factors into consideration as well as studying if the effectiveness of management and teaching practices varies among schools with different clienteles.

However, the studies will also combine quantitative and qualitative methods. Qualitative pilot studies were performed in the winter of 2010-11 in seven public and private schools on the basis of qualitative interviews and observation of school principals and 9th grade Danish and math teachers. The selection of schools enables comparison of management and teaching practices in high and low performing schools and in schools of different size and student composition. The qualitative studies aim at explorative studies and hypothesis formation, as well as improving and validating survey instruments. Another set of qualitative follow-up studies will be performed among excellent schools in 2013 as an aid to interpret our quantitative research findings.

The projects are being directed by Professor Søren C. Winter from SFI. Professor Winter is an implementation specialist, and he is collaborating with the leading international scholars in public and school management, Professor Kenneth Meier from Texas A & M and Professor Laurence O’Toole Jr. from the University of Georgia. While Professor Meier and Professor O’Toole have published widely on performance effects of school district management in Texas, the Danish study focuses on the links in between by examining the roles of school principals and teachers. Other external collaborators are Simon Calmar Andersen and Vibeke Lehmann Nielsen, school management and implementation researchers from the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus, and Per Fibæk Laursen, a specialist in education and pedagogy from the Danish School of Education, also at the University of Aarhus. The projects also include other scholars from SFI in addition to one post doctoral researcher and two PhD students. 

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