Assistant Professor Lam Pham on the importance of school improvement: “I view investments in these schools as a direct way to support the students who most need our collective attention and resources”

As a student and, eventually, teacher in underperforming schools, Assistant Professor Lam Pham of the NC State College of Education has seen firsthand the ways reforms and interventions can have an impact.

It was filled with questions about why school and district leaders chose particular reforms. So, after getting his doctorate, he decided to focus his research on how personnel policies affect students in low-performing schools, with particular emphasis on policies aimed at creating and maintaining an equitable distribution of teachers. and diverse and effective managers. in chronically underperforming schools.

Pham will share her research related to school turnaround efforts in the first session of the series School Improvement: Effective Practices, Barriers, and Insights from Practitioners, which is sponsored by the University of Delaware and the North Carolina Board of Education. and will be held at NC State on February 9. The event, which will also have a virtual attendance option, will focus on what is currently known about effective school improvement.

Below, Pham shares what he will talk about at the event, the importance of addressing school turnaround, and how he hopes his research can contribute to the field.

What initially interested you in focusing your research on school improvement issues?

I began my career in education as a teacher, then as an instructional coach at a Title 1 school undergoing state-mandated reforms, and that experience continues to shape the way I think about my research. I have had direct experience with many of the interventions I am now studying, such as the lengthening of the school day and the link between teacher salary bonuses and student achievement. I remember asking so many questions about why school and district leaders chose particular interventions and whether there was evidence that those particular approaches actually improved student outcomes. Now I can help answer some of those questions.

How do your personal experiences as a student and teacher in remedial schools influence the way you approach your work in this field?

As a high school student, I attended an underperforming school under state-mandated reform, and I felt like almost all of my teachers were replaced over the summer when the school started the recovery process. Then, as a teacher, I was once again part of a school where half the staff was replaced as the school began reforms. Both of these experiences remind me that real people are living through these policies designed to improve student achievement. They remind me to keep students and educators at the forefront of my research. It’s not just about test scores or efficient use of resources. These interventions affect real people in complex ways, and my goal is to provide as much evidence as possible to uncover the many intended and unintended effects of school reforms.

What are some of the most pressing issues related to underperforming schools?

High teacher turnover rates are one of the most pressing barriers to improvement in chronically underperforming schools. The research is fairly consistent in showing that low performing schools tend to have high levels of overall turnover and particularly turnover among the most effective teachers. Without additional resources and support to retain these educators, underperforming schools tend to fall into a cycle of instability where attempts to improve falter year after year as a large portion of the teaching staff leaves. I think a very common misconception about school reform is the idea that one-time investments will “fix” problems, and they will stay fixed, when in fact there are structural causes for schools underperformers that require an improvement strategy to begin with. with sustainability in mind.

Can you share some of the research you plan to share at the Town Hall event on February 9?

I intend to share an overview of the four main components of effective reform models that keep coming up in the research literature: leadership, human capital, school culture, and improvement planning. Research points to aligned leadership at multiple levels of governance (state, district, school), commitment to recruiting and retaining effective staff, investing staff in a consistent culture of improvement, and data-driven planning as ingredients key assets for effective school reforms.

How do you hope your research will help create more equitable school experiences for all students?

I believe that research focused on supporting chronically underperforming schools is inherently aligned with the goal of creating more equitable educational opportunities for all students. Chronically underperforming schools tend to serve low-income and minority communities, and part of my investment in this area of ​​research is due to the fact that I view investments in these schools as a direct way to support students who have most in need of our collective attention and resources.

I hope my research will contribute evidence to a conversation about the systemic reasons that lead to low levels of student achievement year after year at these schools. Although my results tend to suggest that investments in schools are insufficient (there must be broad investments in the whole local community around the school), the school factors that have a chance of moving the needle require substantial resource investments over many years. When I share my research with policy makers, one conclusion I come back to again and again is that these schools serve our most vulnerable students and therefore deserve the strongest commitments we can make to support them.

How do you expect your participation in the Emerging Education Policy Scholars (EEPS) Cohort will pursue this goal?

One area I always push myself in is finding ways to hear from the communities I study. I find that one of the pitfalls of studying schools with very vulnerable students is forgetting that my view of what constitutes “effective” schooling may be completely different from theirs. As part of the EEPS, I hope to learn how my colleagues have built relationships with the schools and communities they study. How do they share results in an accessible way? How do they incorporate what they hear from these communities into their research products? What do they do when there is a dissonance between what they find and what the community tells them? I hope the EEPS community will help me broaden my thinking in these areas, so that I can honestly say that my research supports what students really need.

Can you share any projects you are currently working on?

I’m very excited to start a new partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where I’m working with district authorities to study and implement a new school improvement model. This will be my first opportunity to be on the ground early on as a large district plans its approach to reform. I am excited about this partnership as I believe it will bring important insights to inform what district leaders are thinking and needing as they launch a new school improvement strategy.

About Mark A. Tomlin

Check Also

Investigative Committee finds evidence of harassment against UR teacher

The Inquiry Committee has found partial evidence on allegations of sexual harassment by two students …