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Erickson’s Interpretivism: Expanding our notions of inquiry 

Erickson put forth his worldview of qualitative research in his chapter, “Qualitative Methods in Research on Teaching” from the Third Handbook of Research on Teaching.  He refers to his brand of inquiry as interpretive.  Interpretive inquiry can be defined by explaining the ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions that Erickson supports in his writing. 

Ontological beliefs have to do with nature of the “real” world and whether or not there is an actual reality.  He argues that the reality we have come to know is actually the result of socially and culturally organized environments.  In addition, he claims that we assume that something is real but that we are naïve realists, meaning we believe in the taken-for-granted reality.  We decide the world is real so we can make sense of it.  Additionally, he explains that society and culture are concepts that, while real to us at any given point in time, are not in a concrete state; therefore, we cannot make causal claims.  This ontological stance is fundamental to the interpretivist stance.

Unlike the natural sciences that strive to find a cause for behavior and action, Erickson argues that patterns of uniform behavior are not evidence of a cause and effect relationship but instead a social construction developed through making meaning and interpreting the environment.  Meaning and interpretation cause us to act accordingly.  That action is the result of behavior with interpreted meaning, which then causes the action.  He suggests that as meaning changes, action changes, which alters reality.  Accordingly, Erickson goes on to propose that there is no actual objectivity; but instead, we are dealing with an objective analysis of subjective meaning, which he argues is the essence of social research.  Since action is not only linked with meaning but also subjective, meanings in action are local and distinct to a set of individuals and their microculture.   Essentially, reality is the life-world or the present moment of lived experience. 

This understanding of reality and the nature of human action through meaning making influences Erickson’s epistemological stance.  Epistemology addresses the questions of the relationship between the knower and the knowledge.  To explore your epistemology you must consider whether you think knowledge is attainable; and if so, what is the nature of that knowledge?  This branch of philosophy deals with the source, structure, and limits of knowledge.  Erickson argues that we can “know” something in the context of the immediate and local meaning of action.  He goes on to suggest that interpretive research is useful in answering what specifically is happening, what is the perspective of the individual, and what are the naturally occurring points of contact.  Erikson suggests we can use interpretivist research to “know”:

  1.  What is happening specifically with a specific social action in a particular setting?
  2. What does this moment mean to these particular individuals?
  3. How are these happenings organized in patterns of social actions and learned cultural understandings that shape social life?
  4. What is happening in this setting compared to another other system levels both inside and outside the setting?
  5. How do the ways everyday life in this setting is organized compare to everyday life in a wide range of settings at another time? (p.121).

As mentioned prior, action is contextual and the actions we choose are grounded in our interpretation of the meaning of behavior, which means our knowledge can be reinterpreted in a different context.  These beliefs about the context and meaning of action influence Erickson’s beliefs about methodology.  Methodology is the philosophy of methods that influences the way in which someone can go about finding out information about “reality.”  A researcher’s methodology is a result of their ontological and epistemological beliefs and will guide their choice of methods.  Erickson suggests that the techniques used in research involve the intent of the research while the methods themselves involve the data collection process.  In other words, technique deals with content and methods deal with the procedure.  

The methodology of interpretive research should answer questions about meaning making.  As a result of the desire to understand individual meaning, it is essential that the data must be collected in a social manner, with the researcher thinking both deductively by looking for specific trends and inductively by responding to the distinct character of events.  The purpose of the research itself is to make the common strange, forcing us to interpret everyday, commonplace activities and beliefs.   In order to explore familiar actions, the researcher must focus on specific understanding through documentation of concrete details.  Finally, the methodology must consider local meanings while comparing those understandings to different settings. 

He believes that the data collection method that best matches with interpretive methodological beliefs is fieldwork.  Erickson explains, “Interpretive fieldwork involves being unusually thorough and reflective in noticing and describing everyday events in the field setting, and in attempting to identify the significance of actions in the events from the various points of view of the actors themselves (p.121).”   Furthermore, although all epistemologies use narrative description as data, the use of that description differs.  While positivists will use it as evidence to help explain some other thing, interpretivists will use it as the central meaning.  The data will result in empirical assertions using analytic narrative vignettes, quotes from field notes, and quotes from interviews that will provide particular description and general description as well as commentary.

Erickson defines the work of an interpretive researcher as combining the close analysis of fine details of behavior and the meaning in everyday social action with analysis of the wider societal context.   Through a back and forth flow of deductive and inductive reasoning, the researcher will systematically investigate the phenomena of everyday interaction, the subjective meaning, and the wider social context.  In order to do so, there are several important tasks of the interpretive researcher.  They must discover the specific ways in which local and nonlocal forms of society, organization, and culture relate to the activities of specific persons in making choices and conducting social action.  In other words, they must understand the context the phenomenon is occurring in and try to figure out how the individuals in the context are experiencing it.  Also, the researcher must, “uncover different layers of universality and particularity (p.143).”   With that in mind, the primary concern of researcher is search for “concrete universals.”  Finally, the more that researcher can be specific about each context, the better able they will be to understand variation in settings.   He emphasizes the importance of reflexivity as well as the need to assess the circumstances of your inquiry.  



Erickson, F. (1985). Qualitative methods in research on teaching (pp. 119-62). Institute for Research on Teaching.

Wittrock, M. C. (1986). Handbook of research on teaching.


Applications of Social Network Analysis in Technology Leadership Research

Applications of Social Network Analysis in Technology Leadership Research

Yinying (Helen) Wang

University of Cincinnati

In response to the dearth of technology leadership scholarship (McLeod & Richardson, 2011) and Daly’s (2010) claim that social network analysis has been underused in education research, this article introduces the applications of social network analysis in the discipline of educational technology leadership. Therefore, this article is structured as follows. I begin by introducing the basic concepts in social network analysis. Next, I differentiate social network analysis from conventional statistical analysis. Finally, I explain how to utilize social network analysis in technology leadership research.

What is Social Network Analysis?

Social network analysis, according to Cross and Parker (2004), is a methodological tool detecting the patterns of social structure, analyzing information flow within the network, and uncovering the formation and evolution of network. Building on the conception that “social life is created primarily and most importantly by relations and the patterns formed by these relations” (p. 11), social network analysis uses mathematical models to measure and analyze relational structure, and its influences on both individual behaviors and systemic performance (Martin & Wellman, 2011). From the perspective of social network analysts, nodes (also called actors or vertices) refer to individuals that formulate the network; and ties (also called edges or links) refer to connections between nodes (Prell, 2011). For example, in a friendship network, nodes represent the friends, and ties represent the friendship. Ties can, either be dichotomous as 0 or 1, indicating whether the friendship exist; or be assigned with different weights, indicating the quality of friendship (e.g., acquaintance or close friends).

Social Network Analysis vs Statistical Analysis

Social network analysis distinguishes itself from conventional statistics on three major fronts. First, social network analysis primarily focuses on the absence or presence of relationship and its impact in a network (Wasserman & Faust, 1994); whereas, statisticians measure and analyze the attributes of individuals, such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, and so forth (Martin & Wellman, 2011; Masser, Alvarez, Prosperi, & Mitsova, 2012). This difference leads to the distinctive approaches in data preparation. Specifically, social network analysts build matrices. In Figure 1, the matrix indicates Adam and Cindy are acquaintances, but Adam and Bill are close friends. In contrast, statisticians organize data by subjects, as seen in Figure 2 which displays a snapshot of data file for statistical analysis.

Figure 1 Matrix of a Friendship Network


















Figure 2 Snapshot of Data File for Statistical Analysis




Reading score














The second difference resides in fundamental assumption in two analysis approaches. One of the assumptions for statistical analysis is the dependence of observation: the observation of each subject is assumed to be dependent. Social network analysis, however, assumes nodes are interdependent, which reflects the innate nature of network formation and evolution.

Third, social network analysis is conducted at both individual and network level, whereas statistical analysis detects the relationships among variables. At individual level, social network analysis computes centrality measures for each individual, revealing individuals’ influence or importance in the network. At network level, social network analysis detects network structure and examines how individuals’ attributes affect the network formation and evolution. Take the friendship network depicted in Figure 1 as an example. Adam and Bill, Adam and Cindy are friends, respectively; but no friendship exists between Bill and Cindy. According to Granovetter’s (1973) strength of weak ties theory, as time goes by, Bill and Cindy have an increased probability of forming a friendship (also called weak tie in network terminology) because of the shared attributes between Adam and Bill, and Adam and Cindy (e.g., same neighborhood, same hobby, and so forth). It is worth noting that the analysis of the relationship between node attributes and network structure requires two-mode network data (i.e., network data regarding the absence or presence of relationships and the data on node attributes), rather than one-mode data (i.e. network data).

Applying Social Network Analysis in Technology Leadership Scholarship

In this section, I explore the applications of social network analysis in educational technology leadership scholarship in three domains: organizational communication, social capital, and mixed methods research.

Organizational Communication

With the extensive use of information and communication technology in educational leadership, social network analysis can be used to examine the similarities and differences between online relationship and offline relationship. Employing social network analysis, Penuel et al. (2010) revealed the notable variances between formal and informal communication in schools’ organizational change. In the same vein, offline communication might exhibit disparities from the online communication through social network analysis. Taking this idea a step further, researchers can also use social network analysis to address the questions about how online communication within an organization affects offline communication, and vice versa. No existing literature on technology leadership has addressed such questions, but some similar studies have been conducted in other areas. An example is a study using employees’ communication on social media to infer internal organizational structure in six hi-tech companies (Fire, Puzis & Elovici, 2013).

Social Capital and Social Media

Flashback to late 1990s, Lin (1999), a prominent scholar who developed network theory of social capital, predicted the promising role of Internet in creating social capital. According to Lin (1999), social capital is “resources embedded in social structure which are accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (p. 35). In the digital age, social media stands itself out with its social features such as information sharing, collaboration, and creation, when compared to traditional online media which are simply the outlets of gathered information (Goodfellow & Maino, 2010). 

Within in the context of technology leadership scholarship, although Wang (2013) proposed the possibility of using schools’ social media to create social capital, more research are needed to unravel the mechanism of social capital generation process via institutional use of social media. In response to the increasing need of conducting network analysis on social media data, Social Media Research Foundation developed NodeXL (Smith et al, 2010), a free and open-source software for social media data collection and network analysis. Along with other network analysis software programs, including UCINET and Pajek, scholars are well-equipped with research tools to explore the broad implications of social media on social capital in education.

Mixed Methods Research

Social network analysis, as argued by Prell (2011), is a valuable asset in mixed methods research. The variables regarding structural relations generated from social network analysis can be used as independent or dependent variables in statistical analysis. An example is an investigation of the relationships between school principals’ structural position in school social networks, transformational leadership, and schools’ innovative climate conducted by Moolenaar, Daly and Sleegers (2010). In their study, a social network survey was used to collect network data for the social network analysis of principals’ structural position in their schools’ social networks; the data on transformational leadership and innovation climate were collected, respectively, through the instruments established in prior literature. Principals’ centrality measures, computed from social network analysis, were then used as the variables for the subsequent correlation analyses. The findings of Moolenaar et al.’s (2010) study were very illuminating: the more central and connected a principal in the school social network with teachers, the more teachers had positive perception on school’s climate and were willing to take risks in school’s innovation.

In addition to the mixed methods research design of network analysis and quantitative method, researchers also used qualitative method to collect network data for further social network analysis. For example, to study the influential players in state reading policy development, Song and Miskel (2005) first used qualitative data collected from interviews and archives as the source to construct state reading policymaking networks for social network analysis. Through the network metrics of centrality and prestige computed from social network analysis, Song and Miskel (2005) found that government agencies (i.e., offices of governor, education committees in state legislatures, state departments of education, and state boards of education) exerted stronger influences on state reading policy than non-government agencies (i.e., teacher organizations, education associations, higher education institutions, citizens groups, business groups, foundations, think tanks, and the media).

To date, the above introduced mixed methods research design with social network analysis has not been used in technology leadership research. This article, hopefully, provides a fresh eye to approach technology leadership scholarship with a network perspective. 


As a final note, this article serves as weak tie between technology leadership scholarship and social network analysis. The proposed applications of social network analysis in technology leadership in this article, aim to initiate the conversation on technology leadership research. The scope of applying social network analysis in technology leadership scholarship goes far beyond the above three proposed domains. I sincerely invite aspiring researchers in all related areas to join this conversation.


Cross, R. L. & Parker, A. (2004). The Hidden power of social networks: Understanding how work really gets done in organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Daly, A. J. (2010). Social network theory and educational change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Fire, M., Puzis, R., & Elovici, Y. (2013). Organization miming using online social networks. Retrieved from

Goodfellow, G. W., & Maino, D. M. (2010). ASCOTech: World Wide Web as easy as 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. Optometric Education, 35(2), 62-63.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380. 

Lin, N. (1999). Building a network theory of social capital. Connections, 22, 28-51.

Marin, A., & Wellman, B. (2011). Social network analysis: An introduction. In J. Scott & P. J. Carrington (Eds.), The Sage handbook of social network analysis (pp. 11-25). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

Masser, A., Alvarez, A. E., Prosperi, D. C., & Mitsova, D. (2012). Comparing metropolitan governance in Germany and the USA: A social network analysis. Proceedings from REAL CORP 2012 Tagungsband. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. & Richardson, J. W. (2011). The dearth of technology-related articles in educational leadership scholarship. Journal of School Leadership, 21(2), 216-240.

Moolenaar, N., Daly, A., & Sleegers, P. J. C. (2010). Occupying the principal position: Examining relationships between transformational leadership, social network position, and schools’ innovative climate. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(5), 623-670.

Penuel, W. R., Riel, M., Joshi, A., Pearlman, L., Kim, C. M., & Frank, K. A. (2010). The alignment of the informal and formal organizational supports for reform: Implications for improving teaching in schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(1), 57-95.

Prell, C. (2011). Social network analysis: History, theory and methodology. London, England: Sage Publications Ltd.

Smith, M., Milic-Frayling, N., Shneiderman, B., Mendes Rodrigues, E., Leskovec, J., & Dunne, C., (2010). NodeXL: A free and open network overview, discovery and exploration add-in for Excel 2007/2010. Retrieved from

Song, M., & Miskel, C. G. (2005). Who are the influentials? A cross-state social network analysis of the reading policy domain. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(1), 7-48.

Wang, Y. (2013, March). Social media in schools: A treasure trove or hot potato? Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 16(1), 83 - 91.

Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (1994) Social network analysis: Methods and applications. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


A Marketplace of Leadership Preparation Programs: Alternative Pathways Created by Non-Profit Providers

A Marketplace of Leadership Preparation Programs: Alternative Pathways Created by Non-Profit Providers

J. Ulmer and B. Larkin

PhD students

University of Florida 

University-based leadership preparation programs currently find themselves competing against alternative providers within a robust marketplace (Roach, Smith, & Boutin, 2011). Future educational leaders now choose among pathways that extend across multiple sectors. Colleges and universities, for-profit institutions, state and local educational agencies, philanthropic foundations, and non-profit organizations each offer an array of preparation options. Within this developing landscape, several non-profit organizations have begun to provide a set of high-profile, alternative routes to the principalship and superintendency. The expansions of alternative leadership preparation programs reflect not only existing tensions within public education, but also highlight the competitive marketplace of leadership preparation options. Just as school choice has created a set of charter, private, and virtual systems that function as alternatives to traditional models of public schooling, alternative preparation programs may be creating parallel products within the domain of leadership preparation. This phenomenon raises questions regarding whether university-based and alternative-route leadership programs are becoming more discrete from one another in content, participants, philosophy, and purpose. These potential differences represent opportunities to examine characteristics of several alternative preparation models within the field of educational leadership.

Contemporary Challenges and Challengers

“Today, principals and superintendents have the job not only of managing our schools, but also of leading them through an era of profound social change that has required fundamental rethinking of what schools do and how they do it. This is an assignment that few sitting school administrators have been prepared to undertake” (Levine, 2005, p. 5). As the principalship increases in complexity and importance, alternative route pathways continue to materialize outside the traditional realm of colleges and universities. These alternative route pathways may reflect new realities of the principalship, limitations of traditional preparation, or rapidly shifting educational terrain marked by the presence of “jurisdictional challenger[s]” that constitute an “‘alternative governing coalition’ to the traditional educational structure” (Mehta & Teles, 2011, p. 198). As such, entrepreneurial organizations attempt to transform an entire educational system through disruptive innovation (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2008).          

In an overview of alternative leadership preparation programs, Teitel (2006) identifies three prominent non-profit leadership programs operating at the national level. These organizations, along with one other, serve as the organizations of interest within this column: New Leaders (formerly New Leaders for New Schools, or NLNS); Building Excellent Schools (BES); and the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Achievement First represents the fourth non-profit organization of interest; after previously receiving leadership preparation services from KIPP, Achievement First initiated an independently-operated alternative pathway in 2011 (Robelen, 2006; Achievement First, 2012).

Most of these organizations have created extensive leadership pipelines and consulting services, reflecting their entrepreneurial nature and interest in leadership development. Though these organizations offer a variety of leadership preparation options, this discussion centers upon those that lead directly to principal certification or school-level leadership positions. Accordingly the focus rests upon the following programs: Fisher Fellows Program (KIPP); Aspiring Principals Program (New Leaders); Residency Program for School Leadership (Achievement First); and Fellowship (Building Excellent Schools).

Alternative Pathways to Educational Leadership          

New Leaders. New Leaders has attracted the most media and scholarly attention among the sample organizations (Currie, 2007; Gewertz, 2008; Harris, 2007; Johnston, Walker, & Levine, 2010; McLester, 2011). Created by social entrepreneurs in 2000, New Leaders since has trained more than 800 principals in a model that emphasizes the “multiplier effect” that transformational leaders have upon student achievement (New Leaders, 2012). 

New Leaders operates the Aspiring Principals Program, which is a year-long, paid residency that combines practice with academic theory. A rigorous selection process attracts numerous applicants; 2,600 candidates applied for the initial 150 openings (Teitel, 2006). Although entry into the program is highly competitive, the technical requirements of entry vary. The years of minimum teaching experience ranges from 2-5 years across sites, and requirements vary regarding previous attainment of a master’s degree or professional teaching certificate. Other characteristics and experiences of applications are more specific: evidence of personal leadership; learning and teaching; vision, mission, and values; systems and operations; school culture; and human capital management (New Leaders, 2012). These selection criteria emerged after a RAND Corporation study of New Leaders determined that principals can be attributed with 25 percent of the academic achievement within a school (New Leaders, 2009). 

KIPP. Since its founding by two Teach For America alumni in 1994, KIPP has expanded to 125 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Feinberg, a KIPP founder, prioritizes strong leadership in the establishment of effective schools: “if we truly do a great job recruiting and selecting a leader for a school, then technically we’re done. The school will be successful” (Newstead, 2008).  Accordingly, KIPP has developed a comprehensive leadership development pipeline that recruits from without and sustains from within to maintain its continual rate of expansion (Samuels, 2009).  The Fisher Fellowship, for example, is a paid, year-long fellowship; as the KIPP chief academic officer estimated in 2008, the Fisher Fellowship program receives more than 500 applications a year for between eight and 15 openings, and more than 70 percent of fellows are existing KIPP employees (Bennett, 2012). 

The organization’s financial model also involves consulting with external organizations through leadership development programs. Although the majority of KIPP’s leadership programs are designed for current or future KIPP personnel, administrators from other (non-KIPP) charter schools and public schools may participate in the eight-month-long School Leadership Design Fellowship. Achievement First was one such participating organization (Robelen, 2012). 

Achievement First. This college preparatory charter school network currently operates in 22 schools across two states and four cities. Founded in 2003, the organization articulates a specific theory of change, hoping that “by creating the equivalent of an urban public school ‘district,’ Achievement First can serve as proof that closing the achievement gap is possible at the district scale and inspire broader reform” (2012).  The Achievement First Residency Program for School Leadership began in 2011 with five fellows and continues to expand; the residency program reflects ongoing partnerships between Achievement First and the larger public school district (Achievement First, 2012; Bailey, 2011). In the residency year, participants spend half of the year in an Achievement First school and the other half in a regular public school in the district. In addition, training includes pre- and post-residency summer leadership development and academic year seminars. The commitment is three years, and entails one year of preparation and follow-up professional development and coaching once placed in a school. The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation awarded Achievement First $575,000 to support the development of transformational school leaders (Bailey, 2011). The grant budget states that the average cost of training each fellow ranges from $66,840 to $79,574 per resident per year for three years; when the residents’ district-based salaries are included, the cost per resident rises to $156,840 to $185,055 per year for three years (Bailey, 2011).  

Building Excellent Schools. This organization bills itself as “the solution” to failing urban schools, stating that “Building Excellent Schools (BES) is a trailblazing nonprofit that raises the quality of urban charter schools by supporting entrepreneurial individuals to design, found, lead, and sustain schools in underserved communities” (BES, 2012). Started in 2001, BES now operates 56 schools in 20 cities around the country. Like KIPP and Achievement First, BES expresses concern with the achievement gap, children in underserved communities, and college readiness. 

The BES fellowship differs somewhat in purpose and design from the previous leadership pathways. The intent of the Fellowship is to prepare school leaders not only to serve as administrators, but to undertake all necessary steps to successfully establish and open a charter school, including the submission of a charter application to the relevant district or state authorizer (BES, 2012). The initial training period for Fellows lasts 90 days (and includes a month-long residency); the remainder of the first year involves obtaining charter approval. The second year of the Fellowship represents a planning year in which the Fellow secures faculty, staff, students, and facilities; the Fellow opens his or her charter school opens in the third year of the commitment. 


Many elements of the aforementioned alternative leadership programs may appeal to aspiring school leaders, including cost, placement, ongoing support, and a clear sense of mission. In an uncertain economy, opportunities to participate in a paid residency or fellowship with a high likelihood of job placement may be enticing for many candidates when compared to the rising costs of tuition in higher education and uncertainty of attaining a school leadership position upon completion. Many universities frontload educational leadership programs with preparation inputs (such as coursework and internships); upon matriculation many graduates enter the realm of school leadership with acquired knowledge and experiences but ultimately go forth alone. In contrast, organizational programming among these alternative leadership organizations can extend for multiple years beyond the initial preparation period, thereby providing graduates with ongoing, built-in professional development and support networks. 

In addition, school leaders may also be attracted to the ideological mission and purpose of organizations such as Achievement First, BES, KIPP, and New Leaders. Common organizational themes include the desire to transform education by selecting, preparing, and supporting dynamic change leaders. These alternative pathways appear to place great emphasis upon selectivity, prestige, placement in underserved communities, and promoting K-12 students’ college readiness and attendance. Closing the achievement gap represents a regular motif, and these organizations state that they intend to accomplish this by attracting top leadership talent and preparing those leaders to embark upon a mission to transform schools. This focus on transformation echoes calls from organization theorist Peter Senge, who recommends that “the field of educational leadership must be reconstructed so that the transformation of schools becomes its central focus” (2000, p. 317). 

Though alternative models are expanding, university faculty will continue to prepare the majority of school leaders (Teitel, 2006). Alternative preparation models, therefore, provide opportunities to reexamine programmatic goals, recruitment, admissions, pedagogical design, licensure, financial support, effectiveness, and support beyond program completion. Such conversations reflect the positionality of public education as a whole within the midst of larger policy debates concerning choice and the influence of external organizations (English, 2005; Ravitch, 2010). The field of educational administration is no exception.


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Bailey, M. (2011, November 21). Aspiring city principals dispatched to Amistad. New Haven Independent. Retrieved from

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Effect of NCLB on Teacher Certification Programs

The 2012 UCEA Graduate Student Summit presented an opportunity for early-career scholars from across the country and around the world to share their work. Summit sessions allowed authors to present on a wide variety of works at various stages of writing, and to elicit feedback from their peers. At the conclusion of the 2012 Graduate Student Summit, attendees chose five papers to be presented at the UCEA Annual Convention during the 'Highlights from the Graduate Student Summit' session. Patricia Baumer, doctoral student at Southern Methodist University, was one of five authors chosen by her peers to present during this session. An abbreviated version of the paper she presented is available here. Stay tuned to the Graduate Student Column for more works from 2012’s 'Highlights' session.

Effect of NCLB on Teacher Certification Programs

Patricia Baumer

Southern Methodist University

Background. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was legislative reform that began reshaping American education in 2002 (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). The national policy provided a definition for a “highly qualified teacher” and mandated that public schools retain such teachers. Part of that definition stipulated that a “teacher of quality” is one certified or licensed through their state of employment (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).  Traditional and alternative preparation programs are the responsible agencies in each state for creating these teachers of quality (Feistritzer, 2005). Traditional preparation refers to established collegiate programs conferring degrees in education prior to employment. Alternative preparation refers to state-approved programs at institutes of higher education, school district offices, or outside agencies created to help participants earn certification credentials with a shortened time frame, minimized coursework, or both, usually concurrent with employment (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2005).  Research should focus on determining what characteristics of preparation programs create high quality teachers as defined by NCLB. This information affects decisions made by institutions of higher education and state education agencies that accredit preparation programs.

Research Purpose: This study was seen as the introduction to a series of research designed to evaluate the effectiveness of certification programs as a result of NCLB mandates and ensuing state needs. Towards that step, this study analyzes demographic shifts to see which type of program (traditional or alternative) have teachers relied on for their initial preparation. The research question has two parts: [1] has NCLB had an effect on certification trends of these programs? [2] Has there been a statistically significant change in demographics of the various types of programming?

Sample: State level demographic information of traditional and alternative certification program participants from seven (New Jersey, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and California) of the top certifying states for 2003 (Title II, 2003)

Research Design: Abbreviated interrupted time series with a statistical regression analysis

Data Collection: The Title II Higher Education Act website was a main source for state-reported information. It provided standard metrics for reporting teacher certification information from all states. Data collection focused on gathering information about certification trends from eight states identified in a 2003 U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Evaluation report as the top teacher certifying states of that year (Title II, 2003). The common variable for analysis was the number of initially certified in-state teachers from academic years 1999-2000 through 2010-2011. This data was not separated by preparation route, but could provide insight on the impact of NCLB on overall state certification trends and allow for state-by-state comparison. The state of New York did not report its data similarly to the others, so it was excluded from this study.

Additional searches of state education websites were conducted to find more detailed programming data. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) website provided two particular reports most compatible with the needs of this study: “Production and retention of beginning teachers from 1999 to 2003: A comparison of preparation routes” (Herbert, 2004) and  “Certified teacher demographics by preparation route 2006-2010” (Ramsay, 2011).  The data from both tracked the number of teachers receiving initial certification categorized by the three types of teacher education programs that prepared them: undergraduate (traditional), post-baccalaureate, or alternative.  For the purpose of this study, the post-baccalaureate route remained its own category. These programs were often hybrids of traditional and alternative routes and could fit under either parameter.  Other state websites uncovered information useful for future research, but were not included within this study. The information could not be used for several reasons: data for the entire time span was unavailable, data was not detailed or specific regarding program types, or the data was not pertinent for the purpose of this study.

Analysis: Analysis was conducted in two steps. The first step required creating a visual representation of the abbreviated interrupted time-series data with regression lines for pre-NCLB and post-NCLB years. The cutoff criterion for creating these comparison groups was year 2003, allowing for delayed implementation. Following graphical analysis, a regression analysis was conducted to corroborate or refute statistically the visual findings. A p-value of <.05 was the criterion for determining statistical significance. Analyses that demonstrated both visual and statistical significance are reported.

Findings. Findings were more significant when looking at disaggregated data as opposed to the aggregated statistics presented in the Title II Higher Education Act report. At the aggregated state level, only California and Florida showed statistically significant though three other states demonstrated visual shifts.  Examining results of the disaggregated Texas data provided more insight to the estimated impact of NCLB on certification trends. Post-baccalaureate programs showed the most statistically significant change as a result of NCLB, which appeared to have a negative impact on certification trends of these programs. There was an overall drop of teachers choosing to be certified through this route, especially amongst females and minorities.  The findings surrounding alternative certification programs were unexpected. Though there was a visual increase in the number of teachers becoming certified through this route, the statistical analysis suggested this was not due to the implementation of NCLB. The certification trend was already on its change trajectory, perhaps resulting from previous education reform legislation.

Conclusion. The main conclusion from the results of this study is that prior to making decisions regarding preparation programming, states and institutes of higher education should prioritize analysis of disaggregated data versus aggregated data.  Further state data breakdown could be between private and public IHEs to see if the impact pattern of NCLB described in this study is experienced similarly across both types.  More studies need to be conducted to examine certification trends by preparation route across subject areas and specialized certifications, such as special education or leadership. Examination of pass-rate trends compared to participants receiving initial certification would provide a better understanding of the effectiveness of certification programs, as would hiring trends of those receiving certification.  These conclusions hold true regardless of program type, traditional or alternative, especially when attempting to determine the impact of national policies. The progress of research in this field would ideally impact the outlook of all teacher preparation programs, regardless of route or location.


Feistritzer, C.E. (2005). State policy trends for alternative routes to teacher certification: A moving target. Prepared for the Conference on Alternative Certification: A Forum for Highlighting Rigorous Research. Retrieved from

Herbert, K. (2004). Production and retention of beginning teachers from 1999 to 2003: Acomparison of preparation routes. Retrieved from

Ramsay, M.C. (2011). Certified teacher demographics by preparation route 2006-2010. Retrieved from

Rosenberg, M., & Sindelar, P. (2005). The proliferation of alternative routes to certification in special education: A critical review of the literature. Journal of Special Education, 39(2), 117-127.

Title II, HEA Teacher Quality. (2003). Findings from the 2002 state reports [PowerPoint slides]Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education (2002). Executive Summary. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education (2004). No Child Left Behind: A toolkit for teachers. Retrieved from



Virtual Charter Schools: Realities and Unknowns

The 2012 UCEA Graduate Student Summit presented an opportunity for young scholars from across the country and around the world to share their work. Summit sessions allowed authors to present on a wide variety of works at various stages of writing, and to elicit feedback from their peers. At the conclusion of the 2012 Graduate Student Summit, attendees chose five papers to be presented at the UCEA Annual Convention during the 'Highlights from the Graduate Student Summit' session. Daniela Torre, doctoral student at Vanderbilt, was one of five authors chosen by her peers to present during this session. Daniela’s column entry is based upon her Summit presentation and represents an abbreviated version of a larger paper which is presently under peer review for publication. Stay tuned to the Graduate Student Column for more works from 2012’s 'Highlights' session.

Virtual Charter Schools: Realities and Unknowns

Daniela Torre

Vanderbilt University


Virtual charter schools have emerged over the last decade as an increasingly popular alternative to traditional public schooling. They present a host of new policy problems that need to be scrutinized in order to ensure that students enrolled in these public schools are receiving an adequate, if not excellent, education. As the number of students enrolled in virtual charter schools continues to increase, researchers and policy makers must begin to engage with questions of equity, quality, and sustainability methodically to ensure that children are benefiting in these new educational settings.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:

The purpose of this review is to synthesize the inchoate body of literature that presently exists regarding the topic to provide a backing for future policy making. In this article I first describe the landscape in which virtual charter schools have emerged, then I describe how virtual charter schools have grown and how they operate, and finally I discuss the sparse findings on effectiveness and how research can inform the continued development of these schools.

Research Design, Data Collection, and Analysis:

The conclusions drawn in this narrative review are based on a broad examination of the extant literature concerning virtual schooling in both K-12 and higher education settings, virtual charter schools in particular, and the movement towards privatization within the education sector. To conduct this review I began by using Google Scholar to search for terms such as “virtual charter schools”, “online schools”, “blended learning”, “cyber charters”, and so forth. The results of my initial search included policy reports created by state education agencies, advocacy pieces, books and book chapters, and both published and not published empirical pieces. I expanded my search by including cited publications and ended up with a collection of pieces that covered a broad swath of the current relevant literature concerning K-12 online virtual charter schools and virtual schools generally.

In the second step of the research process I created a framework for understanding the concepts and themes emerging from the literature. As I read each piece I added and deleted components from my framework, and used evidence to deepen my understanding of each component of the framework. Finally, I analyzed evidence relating to each component to draw conclusions about the virtual charter school landscape.


I found that virtual charter schools are only one of myriad forms of online learning. One can think of online learning as a matrix of factors that include: the purpose of online instruction, (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010) who delivers instruction, where instruction takes place, how instruction is delivered (Huerta, d’ Entremont, & González, 2006), when instruction takes place, the type of curriculum used, how students and schools are held accountable and who authorizes or manages teaching and learning (Hassel & Terrell, 2004).

There has been rapid growth in virtual schooling across the nation. The most recent numbers indicate that 40 states have authorized virtual schools in some capacity (Glass, 2009) and, about 250,000 students are enrolled in full time virtual schools.

The scant research describing the students served by virtual charter schools suggests that these schools enroll more gifted students, fewer minorities, and a larger proportion of previously homeschooled students than both brick and mortar charter and public schools (Guarino, et al., 2005; Meyn-Rogeness, 2010 ).One study indicated that minorities tended to be underrepresented within virtual charter schools (Guarino, Zimmer, Krop, & Chau, 2005) and low income, rural, and minority students on the wrong side of the “digital divide” may be at a disadvantage. States and individual virtual schools have confronted problems related to the digital divide by providing students with computers, vouchers to pay for access, and supplies (Tucker, 2007).

The rationale for states or districts to authorize virtual charter schools, or for parents to enroll their children in these schools mirrors the rational proffered by charter school and homeschooling advocates in general: virtual charter schools offer a means of “expanding educational access, providing high quality learning opportunities, improving student outcomes and skills, and allowing for educational choice” (Clark & Berge, 2005).

One of the most contentious points in the literature on virtual charter schools is how much these schools cost and how they should be funded. It might seem obvious that virtual charter schools would cost less to operate then brick and mortar schools due to the simple fact that they do not need to provide facilitates or transportation. However, these particular cost reductions may be offset by other costs particular to virtual schools such as “computer and Internet provision…technology support, and per pupil licenses for any commercial products” (Hassel & Terrell, 2004).

An important facet of virtual schools is their relationship with for-profit companies. In 2011 75% of students enrolled in full time online schools attend schools managed by for-profit companies (Glass & Welner, 2011) compared to 42% of students enrolled in brick and mortar charter schools nationwide (Miron, Urschel, Yat Aguilar, & Dailey, 2011).

Despite a lack of rigorous empirical work analyzing the outcomes of students enrolled in full time virtual schools, findings from a meta-analysis conducted by Means et al. find blended learning and asynchronous models show more positive results than full time models, although results vary across studies.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Description

The rapid growth in the number of virtual charter schools thorough the country and the number of students enrolled in these schools make empirical research imperative. The article illuminates the current virtual charter school landscape and provides a foundation for much needed additional research, which includes research on teaching and learning in a virtual context, issues of equity and access, and academic and socio-emotional outcomes.

Works Cited

Glass, G. (2009). The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved from

Glass, G. V & Welner, K.G. (2011). Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Guarino, C., Zimmer, R., Krop, C., Chau, D. (2005). Nonclassroom-based charter schools in California and the impact of SB 740 (Vol. 112). RAND Corp.

Hassel, B. C., & Terrell, M. G. (2004). How can virtual schools be a vibrant part of meeting the choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Virtual School Report.

Huerta, L. A., d’ Entremont, C., & González, M. (2006). Cyber Charter Schools: Can Accountability Keep Pace with Innovation? Phi Delta Kappan, 88(1), 23-30.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies.

Miron, G., Urschel, J.L., Yat Aguilar, M.A, & Dailey, B. (2011). Profiles of for-profit and nonprofit

Tucker, B. (2007). Laboratories of reform: Virtual high schools and innovation in public education. Washington, DC: Education Sector.