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School Effectiveness Literature Review

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5546 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The definition of “effectiveness” is not as simple as it is in the dictionaries, and there is no consensus among researchers on what constitutes effectiveness. Some scholars look at it from the “inputs” dimension, while others prefer to choose the “outputs” dimension. Others, however, seem to consider the systematic approach, which includes inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes.

The first attempts to define “effectiveness” have been made by economists, who define effectiveness as the effective use of the resources (Cheng, 1996). However, I think that the latter definition is still ambiguous, as we basically need to know what the “effective use” is. The complexity in defining effectiveness has led to the inevitable difficulty in defining “school effectiveness”.

Having reviewed the literature, I would say that the number of SF definitions might equal the number of the studies conducted in this field. However, I will address some of these definitions below.

Edmonds (1979, P. 16) defined school effectiveness as the ability of school to “bring the children of the poor to those minimal masteries of basic school skills that now describe minimally successful pupil performance for children of the middle class”. Of course, this definition is unacceptable for two reasons; the first is that the ulterior aim of this definition is clear, given that Edmonds is an African American and the date in which he defined SF (1970s) when African Americans were oppressed; it becomes obvious that the definition serves the researcher’s ethnical agenda. The second, it is out of logic for schools to consider all pupils to be from poor backgrounds.

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Cuttance (1985) views a school as effective if its pupils’ achieve higher than average level than average school. The strength of this definition lies in the notion of “comparison”. Effectiveness of schools cannot be well-understood unless comparisons between the schools themselves are taken place. The reason of my latter opinion is very simple, “effectiveness” in the noun of the adjective “effective”. Logically, adjectives cannot be understood without comparisons. For instance, we would not understand the meaning of the word “black” without the existence of the word “white”. However, Cuttance’s definition does not illustrate what constitutes the average performance and the average school. In other words, Cuttance’s definition does not have “benchmark” by which the basic features of the word “average” are given. As an illustration, let us consider the following example, if someone says “the station is behind that tall building” and that building was the only building in the place, according to your experience you might not find it a tall building. But, if there were, say, 10 buildings and the said building was the tallest or the second tallest, you are not likely to oppose that person. Hence Cuttance’s definition should not be adopted.

Mortimore (1991), like other researchers, adopt the notion of “value added”, and regard a school as effective if it promotes progress for all its pupils beyond what would be expected. To illustrate, if a given school was expected to promote pupils’ progress for 60%, but it was managed to promote it for, say, 75% then this school is considered effective according to the definition. Although this definition is quite satisfactory, some of its conditions are either ambiguous or unacceptable. For example, the kind of progress to be promoted is unclear, and the definition sets a condition of “all pupils”, and the question is what if a school promoted the progress of 90% of its pupils, would it not be an effective school?

Ninan (2006) argues that a school is effective when school processes result in observable positive outcomes among its pupils over a period of time. Obviously, this definition is semi-pragmatic, as it does not set any conditions on the “inputs” and gives little importance for “processes”, whereas the observable “outcomes” whether they were quantifiable or not, seem to be the most important. It is a practical definition in that the most majority of schools accept whoever pupil, in Kuwait at least. In private schools, whoever the pupil is, the only condition is to have the ability to pay the tuition fee, and in public schools there almost no restrictions. I adopt Ninan’s definition for the current study as in Kuwait, people mostly judge schools from their outcomes and pays little attention to their processes and almost no attention is paid to their inputs.

The historical growth of school effectiveness research

The historical growth of school effectiveness research can be divided into three waves. Each wave had its unique characteristics; the concern of the first wave was investigating the differences in pupils’ achievement across different schools (Riddell, 1988). The second wave emerged from the criticism made of the first wave and can be regarded as an attempt to amend the methodological malfunctions of the first wave. These two waves have led to the third wave, which is characterized by the use of multilevel research designs (Riddell, 1988).

The Fist Wave: Research into the determinants of academic achievement

The beginning of school effectiveness movement has started since 1960s when Coleman published his report in USA “Equality of Educational Opportunity” (Coleman et al., 1966). Coleman was interested in determining the educational opportunities that were available to different ethnic groups. In order to do so, data was collected from more than 4000 schools and the findings of standardized tests of pupils’ achievement showed that school differences accounted only for 9 % of differences in pupils’ achievement. This means, schools were not important in comparisons to other factors which are responsible of 91 % of the said differences and the factor of family background seemed to be the most important.

After six years, similar results were reached by Jenks with his colleagues (Jenks, 1972). Jenks not only argued that “pupils’ background” is the most important factor in terms of pupils’ achievement; he also found that pupils behave as principals want them to behave. In short, Jenks supported the idea of “school did not matter” and “what does matter”, he argued, are other determinants of success such as good fortune, heredity and of course family background.

As a reaction to the aforementioned pessimistic conclusions, many studies were conducted in 1970s to determine whether the latter findings can be supported. Edmonds (1979), for example, who is an African American researcher, administered several studies and the main question of which was “does school matter?” unsurprisingly, schools were found to have a considerable effect on pupils’ attainment. Also, he concluded that teachers should promote pupils’ basic skills irrespective of their racial background.

On the other side of the Atlantic, British researchers were conducting studies similar to those conducted in USA, but differ in terms of the discrimination factor which was on the basis of socioeconomic class. Like their Americans counterparts, the British researchers came up with the notion “schooling does not matter” and what does matter, they argue, is the pupils’ socioeconomic background (Douglas, 1964; Davie, et al., 1972).

Although the role of schools as social organizations could not be ignored, Coleman found that schools have little or no effect at all on pupils’ achievement. One should ask themselves about the reason of such suspicious findings, was Coleman not associated with the political left wing? Keeping in mind they tend to belittle the value of schooling and given that Coleman’s book was published by US government. Did he not seek to be famous through those findings? On the other hand, to what extent was Edmonds truthful? Bearing in mind he was an African American. Was he not defending his ethnicity? In spite of the fact that the latter questions cannot be answered, one should not undermine the value of their contributions in sparking off the literature of school effectiveness.

The Second Wave: Research into the determinants of school effectiveness

Apart from the above mentioned criticism to the first wave, Purkey & Smith (1983) distinguished the five following limitations of the studies of the first wave: (1) they lacked representative samples, (2) inappropriate comparisons, (3) errors in identifying effective schools, (4) achievement data was collected at school level, and (5) the use of subjective criteria in determining school success.

Furthermore, Cronbach (1976) commented on the results of the said studies when he stated.

“The majority of studies of educational effects whether classroom experiments, or evaluations of programs or surveys have collected and analyzed data in ways that conceal more than they reveal. The establish methods have generated false conclusions in many studies.” (Cronbach, 1976, P. 1)

In 1980s, new statistical techniques were developed and were helpful in overcoming the defects of the research conducted in the first wave. One of the most important is “the hierarchical linear model”. Moreover, and unlike the researchers of the first wave who depended primarily on using questionnaires, researchers in the 1980s used direct observation as a main method of collecting data (Verdis, 2002).

One of the most important studies conducted during the second wave was Mortimore’s study in the United Kingdom (Mortimore et al., 1988). The aim of the study was to investigate if some schools were more effective than others in terms of pupils’ learning and development. Race, gender, and family background were taken into account using a variety of different statistical techniques. Over a period of four years, of 2000 pupils in fifty randomly selected primary schools in London. The results showed that some schools were more effective at the level of both the classroom and the schools themselves. Mortimore attributed the effectiveness of the said schools to 12 characteristics (will be discussed latter in this chapter). These characteristics are considered by researchers to be one of the most complete. However, Mortimore and his colleagues themselves acknowledged that their list of characteristics should be dealt with as a framework rather than a blueprint.

There are many other studies belonging to the second wave (e.g. Gray, 1983, Madaus, 1980, Reynolds, 1982). However, Riddell (1988) summarized the lessons of this wave when he stated:

“School effectiveness studies should ensure that the outcome measures relate directly to what is being taught at the schools under study … controls for the non-random intake into different schools have to be made if the analysis is not to confound the effects of the variables under study … unless individual pupils are matched with their teachers one cannot legitimately measure school effects” (Riddell, 1988, P. 65).

The Third Wave: The emergence of other national studies

Before 1990s most school effectiveness research was conducted in the USA and the UK. Afterwards, school effectiveness research has been expanding its base in many other countries (e.g. Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and France). Moreover, international organizations have noticed the importance of school effectiveness research and started to fund this kind of research so that developing and developed countries can improve their schooling systems such as the International Bank. This wave is not without criticism, however I will discuss this latter in this chapter.

The most noticeable aspect of this wave is the attempts to establish lists for effective schooling. However, some researchers and parishioners have started to suspect the role of such lists. Elliot (1996) for example considers most of those lists as the product of ideological commitments. As a researcher, I had to ask myself whether a list produced, say, in the USA can be suitable for the Kuwaiti context, given that Kuwaiti people are culturally different from the Americans in many ways. For example, there are no ethnic groups in Kuwait, which means if there is a list that produced mainly to recommend a special treatment for ethnic groups, like Edmonds’ list (1979), would not be suitable for the use in Kuwait. In Britain, as another example, most of school effectiveness research took into consideration the socioeconomic background of the pupils’ families, whereas in Kuwait people vary from high and middle class only, as there is no low class. Nevertheless, and before going further with appropriateness of using lists produced in other contexts, I will discuss some of the most famous lists in the following section.

Characteristics of Effective Schools

The characteristics of school effectiveness have been the subject of concern of school effectiveness researchers since 1970s. Edmonds (1979) was the first researcher to establish the characteristics of effective schools. In his study of effective schools in the USA, Edmonds listed the five following characteristics of effective schools:

Strong leadership.

High expectations of student achievement.

Teachers’ behaviour that convey the high expectations that all pupils can obtain the basic skills.

An orderly and safe climate conductive to teaching and learning.

The use of measures of pupils’ achievement.

Since Edmonds published these characteristics, researchers have been examining and revising his list. However, the central elements of Edmonds’ list seem to remain the same.

In a different context, Mortimore et al. (1988) collected data from randomly selected 50 London elementary schools including 2000 pupils, and study revealed the following characteristics of school effectiveness:

A purposeful leadership.

Effective teaching.

Good communication between teachers and pupils.

Effective record keeping.

Parental involvement.

The above mentioned characteristics are quite similar to those of Edmonds in spite of the ten years’ gap between them, and not to mention the different contexts. Both of them emphasized the role of principals and teachers in creating effective schools. However, Mortimore adds an outer dimension which is “parental involvement”, the emphasis here is in two ways communication. Teachers are to report and discuss the pupils’ progress with their parents, and parents on their part should assist and support teachers. Moreover, Mortimore stated the importance of “effective record keeping”; I would argue that this factor can be excluded. Because, the process of “record keeping” is a managerial procedure, one can already consider it as a product of the “purposeful leadership”.

Teddlie and Springfield (1993) seem to give more emphasis on principals and teachers and they list the characteristics of effective school, as follows:

Stable leadership.

Good use of the academic staff.

Teachers’ behaviour.

Positive climate class.

Pupils’ discipline.

I would assume that these characteristics can logically be capsulated into two characteristics only, “stable leadership” and “teachers’ behaviour”. On the one hand, the second characteristic, which is “good use of the academic staff”, is a result of “stable leadership”. On the other hand, “positive climate class” can be achieved by both “Teachers’ behaviour” and “Pupils’ discipline” and the latter factor is the mission of the leadership and teachers.

Each of the aforementioned lists included of five characteristics. However, some studies have arrived at more than five. Most recently, for instance, the Office of Public Instruction in the USA established a list of nine characteristics based on a review of the relevant literature and titled it as “Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools” (Bergeson, 2002). These nine characteristics are:

A clear and shared vision.

High standards and expectations of learning and teaching.

Effective leadership.

High levels of collaboration and communication.

Curriculum, instruction and assessments aligned with state standards.

Frequent monitoring of learning and teaching.

Focused professional development.

A supportive learning environment.

High levels of parent and community involvement.

The Role of the Characteristics of Effective Schools: Kuwait context

One important fact that should never be neglected is that the characteristics of school effectiveness are considerably based on Western evidence. Thus, exporting a Western list of characteristics to be applied in Kuwait may only contribute in distorting the reality. Reynolds (1998, P.20) states that “we also need more on the extent to which school factors are universal and apply across all context in a country or may be context specific”. Although there are some Eastern countries in which some lists of school characteristics have been established, they still differ from Kuwait in terms of culture. Unfortunately, no scientific research was conducted in Kuwait to produce such a list, and because developing a list is beyond the scope of this study, the only option I have is to step back and rely on experience and logic in discussing those lists the next paragraphs.

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There are too many lists of characteristics of effective schools (see The International Handbook of School Effectiveness Research). For example, the above mentioned list was a result of reviewing only 50 of those lists in the USA. As stated earlier, some characteristics can indeed fit under other characteristics and seem to be common in most lists, and they are effective leadership, effective teachers and effective parental involvement.

The factor of effective leadership, however, appears to be the most important. Effective leadership was a common factor in all the lists reviewed by the researcher of this study. Indeed, experience can lead us to the notion that it is very likely to be the principal’s style of leadership which results in whether a school is effective or not. It is a unique factor in that most other factors can be argued to be the product of sound leadership. For instance, some lists talked about “staff development” as a factor that contributes to effective schools, and although this factor can be an individual effort, principals can play an important role in achieving it. To contextualize, it is often the responsibility of principals to send the educational staff to attend vocational courses. Another example can be seen in the factor of “pupils’ achievement monitoring” which is common in some effective school lists. In spite of the fact that it is primarily the responsibility of teachers to monitor their pupils’ achievement, in Kuwait, it is the principals’ responsibility to check whether teachers monitor the performance of the pupils.

On the other hand, and unsurprisingly, some studies have shown that teachers play a significant role in effective schools. Teacher effectiveness is also a common factor in the vast majority of school effectiveness lists of characteristics, if not all. As teaching is taken place in the classroom, teachers have the direct responsibility for most of the educational outcomes. The importance of teachers comes from the fact that teachers are considered as the direct tools in conveying the educational goals.

The factor of effective teachers is like that of effective leadership in that some other characteristics can be capsulated in it. As mentioned earlier, some studies have arrived at “monitoring the pupils’ achievement” as a factor that contributes to effective schools. Although principals and parents can share this factor with teachers, it is initially one of the teachers’ basic functions. “Positive climate class” as a factor of effective schools can support another example, in Kuwait, and in spite of the fact that pupils themselves should share teachers in creating positive climate class; teachers alone are questioned if they fail creating it. Thus, in the Kuwaiti context, one should investigate teachers to ask about whatever happens in the classroom, every thing is the responsibility of teachers within the class, even the will being of all pupils (see the reality of education in Kuwait).

Having reviewed the relevant literature, it is easy to claim that “parental involvement” is the third common factor among the said lists of school effectiveness characteristics. Many studies have supported the role of parents in their children progress, for instance, it is agreed that time spent with children has a positive effect in their children’s performance. Parents’ expectations towards their children have also been found to have a positive effect on children positive progress. However, this factor in particular might be considered as a confounding variable in Kuwait.

Normally, after examinations which are held four times annually, parents are asked to attend to their children’s schools (four times yearly) to be informed about the progress that their children have made. However, parents are welcomed to attend any day during the year to discuss issues that are usually not related to their progress, for instance, to ask school for a sick leave for the pupil.

Although parents are expected to attend four times at least to their children, some parents seem to follow the two extremes. Some parents may attend weekly and others might not show up the whole year. In Kuwait, it does not follow that the more a parent attend to school the more likely his or her child is making good progress. The extreme opposite is also true, some times you find excellent pupils whom parents do never appear. In Kuwait, and due to a cultural reason, a great portion of pupils do not like their parents to contact their schools as this means, to them, belittling them. They would feel embarrassed if their classmates noticed their parents come to the school. The reason is quite simple; some pupils believe that they are mature enough to do their affairs on their own. Surprisingly enough, this phenomenon can be noticed in primary schools, though it becomes more obvious in secondary schools. Moreover, the case is worse when it comes to mothers to contact their male children’s schools. To illustrate, for a female pupils in a primary school this issue might be accepted, but it is very likely to be unaccepted in the other extreme, which is a mother contact her male child’s secondary school. If one representative of a male pupil has to come, it is very favorable to be a man whether he was his father or his uncle. However, this phenomenon is diminishing, though it was considered as a scandalous in the near past especially in the southern part of the country. In other words, now, it is unfavorable issue rather than a scandalous one, although we have started to see mothers to come to their male children’s secondary schools, some pupils still appear to dislike their parents to contact the school and these pupils might be high achiever, and the opposite can also be write.

As a result, and although there are three common factors in the lists of effective school characteristics, one of them is to be excluded in the current study due to the cultural reason discussed above. Thus, this study will initially be examining two factors, effective leadership and effective teachers. However, and in order to obtain more validity for the study, the researcher intends to examine the role of aforementioned nine characteristics in the first part of the second phase of this study namely the interview schedule of university students to see whether they agree with the researcher.

Leadership in SE

Leadership has become one of the most important issues in SF research. However, there are no consistent findings for the relationship between educational leadership and pupils’ achievement (Scheerens & Bosker, 1997). According to Maeyer et al. (2006, P.125) this is because “school effectiveness research often uses multilevel models in which only direct effects of characteristics of schools on pupil achievement are modeled”. To overcome the latter malfunction, Sven et al. (2006) administered a case study in Belgium. aimed at examining the effect of ”integrated leadership” on 2 outcome measures: mathematics achievement and mother tongue achievement. Data was collected from randomly sampled pupils from the fourth grade (15 or 16 years of age) and the sixth grade (17 or 18 years of age) within the same school took tests on different output measures in all Flemish schools (47 schools). The results showed that integrated leadership had only an indirect effect on pupils’ achievement.

The strength of Sven’s et al. study lays in its control for many confounding variables e.g. mean IQ, and family background, the study was content with measuring only two outcomes namely mathematics and reading, while there has been a call for a holistic measurement. Moreover, the study did not; however, appear to fully answer what it meant to answer as they acknowledged:

“Until now, we have not gained insight into how educational leadership can influence pupil achievement through the primary instructional process that takes place in the classroom. The question to be answered is: How does educational leadership influence class practices which in their turn influence learning processes?” (Sven’s et al., 2006, P. 142)

On the other hand, Grift & Houtveen (1999) conducted a study to examine the relationship between educational leadership and pupil achievement in primary education in Netherlands. By using achievement tests, data was collected from an a-select sample of 174 primary schools the results showed a significant relationship between educational leadership and average pupil achievement, on language, arithmetic and information processing, over 3 successive years corrected for school environment.

Unlike the former study, this study was less hesitant in stating the relationship between leadership and the pupils’ educational outcomes. However, the results of this study lack generalizability due to the sampling method. Moreover, and as stated earlier, although there is a pressing need for measuring the pupils’ outcomes comprehensively, the measures of this study were restricted to the three above mentioned subjects.

In another context, Dinham (2005) conducted a mixed methods study in Australia, Aimed to explore the role of Principals in producing outstanding education outcomes in years 7 to 10 in New South Wales public schools. Data including performance in standardized tests and public examinations was collected from 38 junior secondary schools. Leadership was found to be a key factor in the achievement of outstanding educational outcomes. It is worth mentioning that the study found no differences between female and male principals. Moreover, the researcher attempted to find out how principal leadership contributes to outstanding educational outcomes. By interviewing the said principals, 7 categories were found to be responsible for what the researcher calls “outstanding educational outcomes”:

1. External awareness and engagement.

2. A bias towards innovation and action.

3. Personal qualities and relationships.

4. Vision, expectations and a culture of success.

5. Teacher learning, responsibility and trust.

6. Student support, common purpose and collaboration.

7. The core category: focus on students, learning and teaching.

The researcher gave more emphasis to what he calls “the core category” which is focus on students; the researcher elaborates this category when he states:

“These Principals and their staff recognize that every effort must be made to provide an environment where each student can experience success and academic, personal and social growth” (Dinham, 2005, P.353).

The main strength of this study is that it utilized mixed methods approach which allowed it to use different sources and types of data, which provided it with a robust pool of information that enhances the validity of it. However, the study was ambiguous in terms of the way used for sampling which makes it difficult to generalize the findings. Moreover, one limitation of this study is that principals were from one educational system namely public schools, it would have been much better if the researcher had included private schools in his study.

In their study James et al. (1996) tied to investigate whether differences exist between public and private schools in 15 Indonesian provinces around Jakarta in terms of effective management and its role in achieving academic quality (effective school) . The sample of the study covered 80% of public schools and 60% of private schools in the said provinces (the number of schools is not shown). By means of a survey and the national examinations, private management was found to be more efficient than public management in achieving academic quality. The researchers attributed the latter result to the more autonomy private schools have.

It is worth mentioning here that private schools in Kuwait seem to have more autonomy in comparison with public schools, but this does not guarantee that management of private schools in Kuwait will be found to be more effective. Research has proven that centralization might be effective in small countries (Iltokhais, 2006) like Kuwait. On the other hand, the Indonesian government appears to discriminate between public schools in terms of funding them, while in Kuwait every public school is provided with the same amount of fund.

The study is not without criticism; the researchers did not rationale why they excluded religious schools, given that religious schools were found to be more effective in different countries (see chapter 3). Moreover, the method by which the researchers found that private school management is more effective was the survey, whereas in such inquiry other methods would result in more valid findings e.g. interview or observation.

It is acknowledged that research supports the notion that effective leadership contributes to effective schools. However, the question to be posed here is what style of leadership can facilitate this contribution? To answer this question Barnett et al. (2001) conducted a survey study in 12 secondary schools which were randomly selected from the population of secondary schools located in the Sydney Metropolitan area in New South Wales, Australia, and 15 randomly selected teachers from each school were requested to complete questionnaires. They compared two famous leadership approaches (1) Transactional (ordinary) leadership which is based on an exchange relationship in which follower compliance (effort, productivity, and loyalty) is exchanged for expected rewards. (2) Transformational (extraordinary) leaders who raise followers’ consciousness levels about the importance and value of designated outcomes and ways of achieving them.” (Burns, 1978, cited in Barnett et al., 2001, P.25).

Despite the researchers admitted the complexity to determine which approach is better, they stated that they would advocate transformational leadership style. Nevertheless, they argue that further research is required in order to obtain a clearer picture.

In the same context and as an attempt to erase the complexity in determining which leadership style is best to contribute to school success, Gurr & Drysdale (2005) administered a case study in two Australian states (Tasmania and Victoria). The sample included 7 schools selected according to criteria based on the reputation of the schools. The sample consisted of kindergarten, government primary schools, catholic primary schools and secondary schools. Data was collected using different resources e.g. documents illustrating school achievements and student attainment, and interviews with a variety of people typically including the principal, school council chair


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