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Education Researchers to Study Effective Teaching, Academic Policy Through the Lens of Inclusive Excellence

The Clemson University College of Education is dedicated to improving teacher preparation and student outcomes in every classroom, focusing on underserved schools and communities. With this in mind, researchers in the college are interested in classroom practices and the effects of education policies on schools, districts, and entire regions.

Two recent grants awarded to college faculty showcase both ends of this spectrum.

Faiza Jamil, associate professor in the college, uses data from multiple sources to examine the effectiveness of district policies designed to increase the number of teachers from diverse backgrounds. Meanwhile, Kristen Duncan, an assistant professor in the college, uses more qualitative research to examine how Black educators tackle challenging discipline-specific content with students.

Jamil has earned a nearly $200,000 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation to complete her proposed two-year project, which will create a national dataset for gauging the effectiveness of state policies that seek to increase the number of teachers from more diverse backgrounds, a strategic priority of South Carolina’s Department of Education.

Jamil said that growing research evidence suggests that students learning from teachers with diverse backgrounds are more likely to report positive academic experiences and learning outcomes. However, there is a lack of data that shows just how effective state-level policies are at creating this reality in schools in different communities. Jamil will pull these data together and then use them to discover some “best” practices for policymakers, school district leaders, and teacher education programs in South Carolina and beyond.

Jamil expects data collection to be challenging, as available data within and between states are not uniform or equally accessible. Initially, Jamil will gather data from multiple sources. She then plans to work with federal government agencies to improve existing data collection mechanisms to ensure these data are collected systematically and made available to the public, scholars, district leaders, and policymakers in the future.

“There is a saying among education researchers: ‘what matters is measured, and what is measured matters.’” Jamil said. “These data are important because they can ensure that limited resources can be directed to the places where they can have the greatest impact on the learning and development of students, and they can also lower the risk of defunding beneficial programs.”

Kristen Duncan will use a nearly $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to conduct more focused research on individual classrooms. Her work concerns the specific relationship between Black teachers and their students. Addressing historical and current events in classrooms can be a fraught experience; Duncan is specifically interested in the perspectives and experiences of Black teachers during such exchanges with students.

Duncan will use classroom observations, semi-structured interviews, and teaching artifacts – lesson plans, handouts, maps, or videos, for example – to better understand how Black teachers incorporate current events into their instruction.

“We know very little about how teachers discuss current events with their students, let alone how they discuss current events involving race with their students,” Duncan said. “Because Black teachers have spent decades living in racially marginalized bodies, the perspectives they bring to this work are likely to be different than that of the majority of the teaching force. While I don’t think all teachers can or should be able to mimic what these teachers do, I definitely think this work will have implications for most teachers in a variety of contexts.”

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