Monday, October 19, 2015
A fascinating new study by Hunter Gehlbach, et al, Creating Birds of Similar Feathers: Leveraging Similarity to Improve Teacher-Student Relationships and Academic Achievement, finds that a significant portion of the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and others relates to how closely students and teachers relate to one another. The study also finds that administering surveys to teachers and students and using the results to help them focus on their common responses and interests significantly reduced the achievement gap--by as much as 60%. Although the researchers did not study it, I would speculate that relationship gaps also correlate with negative school discipline responses, which, of course, drive down achievement. If so, this survey intervention might also have a positive impact on reducing harsh discipline responses. The abstract offers this summary:
When people perceive themselves as similar to others, greater liking and closer relationships typically result. In the first randomized field experiment that leverages actual similarities to improve real-world relationships, we examined the affiliations between 315 ninth grade students and their 25 teachers. Students in the treatment condition received feedback on five similarities that they shared with their teachers; each teacher received parallel feedback regarding about half of his/her ninth grade students. Five weeks after our intervention, those in the treatment conditions perceived greater similarity with their counterparts. Furthermore, when teachers received feedback about their similarities with specific students, they perceived better relationships with those students, and those students earned higher course grades. Exploratory analyses suggest that these effects are concentrated within relationships between teachers and their “underserved” students. This brief intervention appears to close the achievement gap at this school by over 60%.