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The researcher will conduct a qualitative inquiry regarding the perceptions of elementary teachers. This is the design of choice because the research wants to gain understanding on the phenomenon of bullying in elementary schools at a school district in Georgia. A qualitative design is best for this study because there has been a plethora of quantitative studies noting that bullying in public elementary schools is prevalent. This study will seek to explain how bullying can affect the academic performance of the victim and the perpetrator and what factors account for its occurrence in the school district. The research approach guiding this study will make use of inductive reasoning because conclusions will be drawn based on specific cases. Inductive approaches require data collection methods like observations, interviews and even surveys, in order to characterize the phenomenon of bullying in the school district in focus. Moreover, this approach will allow respondents to freely express their opinions about bullying in school.
A constructivist worldview will be the method this research will follow. There will be a dialogue between the participants and the researcher. The participants, as stakeholders in the public school system, will be able to present their personal views regarding the phenomenon being studied. This research philosophy is employed when the research method is qualitative (Daymon & Holloway, 2002). The study will be focused on the perceptions and experiences of elementary school teachers regarding the incidence of bullying in a school district in Georgia, therefore this philosophy will guide the methodology.
This research method is chosen to gain additional insight into this social phenomenon affecting public elementary schools across the country. This method is designed in assisting participants to exhibit their perspective of the world by which they live in and explain why objects appear the way they are. It also focused on understanding the social facets of the world, wherein the method provides answers for concerns such as, why people behaved the way they do, the process for the formation of opinions and attitudes, the effect of the events around people, the development of culture, as well as the differences between social groups (Hancock, 1998).
The structure of this method permits the researcher to explore, examine and assess the setting and the participants in order to explain why bullying is a prevalent problem in public elementary schools in a school district in Georgia. Furthermore, the study is selected as it provides an approach that is inquisitive in the data collection and analysis. The study is geared towards discovering a theoretical or conceptual theme for the phenomenon and not to verify existing theories, which is why a quantitative research method is not selected (Creswell, 2009).
This research approach encourages the participants of the study to use their personal experiences in order to interpret the phenomenon. The personal background of the participants is significantly considered for the interpretation of data (Leedy & Omrod, 2005). Alise (2008) pointed out that a qualitative research method requires an interaction between the researcher and the participants. Furthermore, Drisko (2008) states that a qualitative inquiry research method is a good fit for social work purposes because it is intended to learn and to understand complicated, broad systems in their naturalistic environment.
One of the qualitative research methods, the case study research design is considered as an appropriate approach for conducting this study. Ary, Jacobs and Sorensen, (2010), affirm that "a case study is a type of ethnographic research study that focuses on a single unit, such as one individual, one group, one organization, or one program" (p. 29). Yin (2009) states, "the more that your questions seek to explain some present circumstance, the more that the case study method will be relevant" (p. 4). The study will focus on the current experiences of the teachers in their training programs in the context of diversity and cultural training. Case studies are to be used for intensive investigations of a location, organization or campaign (Daymon & Holloway, 2002). In this case, the perceptions and training programs of the teachers will be examined. Yin (2009) described this research design:
The essence of a case study, the central tendency of all types of case studies is that it tries to illuminate a decision or a set of decisions: why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result. (p. 17)
The purpose of a case study is to increase knowledge in regards to the real, contemporary issues such as bullying in public elementary schools comprising a school district in Georgia. The case study is used when the research undertakes a detailed analysis of a case and its setting. Furthermore, it is also used to understand the point of view of a group that is working there, which would be the teachers in the school setting selected. This design also draws attention to how certain factors relate to each other, which would involved the root causes for the problems of overrepresentation, as well as the possible solutions for it. The case study also benefits from the development of theoretical propositions from the past in guiding the data collection and analysis (Yin, 2009). Case studies function to uncover patterns and linkages to theoretical conceptions in order to generalize concepts; incorporate varied theoretical, as well as methodological frameworks (Daymon & Holloway, 2002).
The research will be conducted among public elementary schools in the Dougherty County. The district's mission is the creation of a stimulating educational environment where students are able to pursue excellence by being responsible with their own lives and positively contribute in their respective families, schools, communities, environment, and the world as a whole. The school district believes that all children
Teacher will be chosen as based on the following criteria:
The teacher must be currently employed at PBMAS-3 site.
The teacher must have at least five years of experience at PBMAS-3 site.
The teacher must teach one of the following grade levels: 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade.
The teacher's Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS) evaluation must be at least "proficient".
The teacher must be among the top (1, 2, or 3) highest referring teachers at PBMAS-3 site.
The teachers that are selected will undergo a random representative sampling for each school.
The essential element of the data collection process is research participants' confidentiality. Participants in this study will be asked to sign an informed consent form, and a statement of confidentiality. Before and after each interview, participants will be reminded of the process by which their confidentiality will be maintained.
The initial interview selection will include a random sampling of XISD teachers, students (special and general), school psychologists, and special education facilitators. These interviews will be particularly interested in assessing the perceptions of the research participants as to the disproportional phenomenon in special education. The "General Perceptions Interview" (Appendix E) was specifically developed for this research. Anderson and Sadler (2009) described the effects of school-based curricula in the achievement of African American males in special education. According to this study, there was a need to understand the reason why there is an overrepresentation in special education classes for African American students (Anderson & Sadler, 2009). The questions that primarily need to be asked in the initial interview selection will be to determine teachers', psychologists', and facilitators' perceptions as to why this phenomenon occurs.
Furthermore, it would also be significant to understand the relationship teachers have with African American students as a result of the diversity/cultural training programs they have undergone. It would also be critical to interview teachers and psychologists about the rate of African American students' dropout in the special education population in order to further recognize the issues of overrepresentation (Anderson & Sadler, 2009). There were cases wherein African Americans were simply placed in the program because of a different pattern of language they used, which was generally devalued in the school setting (Harry & Anderson, 1994). It will be important to note how diversity and cultural trainings also addressed this problem.
It will also be significant to determine the criteria for judgment when it came to identifying disabilities of the students, and the personal perception of the psychologists and teachers (Harry & Anderson, 1994). The teacher and the school psychologist of each school according to how they understood it and what they believed about it should explain the referral and the assessment process.
The students and parents will also be interviewed as to their comparative experiences before and after the students with disabilities were referred to special education programs (Harry & Anderson, 1994). There is also a need to question parents and students if they have experienced any biased behaviors from the teachers and school psychologists. In the same way, the teachers should also be interviewed and surveyed about their experiences from those training programs and if their perceptions have changed regarding the African American students, in terms of understanding their economic, cultural, and academic background (Jordan, 2005).
Upon completion of the initial interviews, transcription will occur to better analyze and determine possible patterns for emerging theories and interpretations (Erickson, 1986).
The second interview selection will be much more restrictive. Teachers, school psychologists, and facilitators will be divided into three groups: Group A (White teachers), Group B (African American teachers), and Group C (non-White/African American teachers). The "Cultural Bias Survey" (Appendix A) was specifically developed for this research. There will be a pilot test that will be conducted beforehand in order to ensure the validity of this research instrument. The pilot test will include a separate batch of teachers, none of which will be actual participants in the actual survey.
Upon completion of the survey, participants will be categorized into three separate groups: 1) educators that demonstrate little to no cultural bias, 2) educators that demonstrate moderate cultural bias, and 3) educators that demonstrate significant cultural bias.
The final guiding question will be addressed by having participants that demonstrated a tendency towards cultural bias, to actively participate in the district's cultural bias training. Upon completion of cultural bias training, teachers previously identified to have significant cultural bias will be asked to retake the "Cultural Bias Survey." Results from the post-test surveys will be compared to the participants' pre-test surveys in order determine the significant cultural bias change in the participant.
Coding is an essential element to a qualitative research design Coding enables the researcher to identify and classify important themes that have occurred during the data collection process. Strauss and Corbin (1998) describe coding as the "building blocks of theory" (p. 101). More specifically, open-coding assists the research in establishing the mutual and distinctive aspects of the data (Miller & Brewer, 2003). An extensive analysis, using open-coding, will be applied to all data obtained in this research. To assist with this process a couple technologies will be utilized: voice-to-voice or voice recognition software and NVivo 8. Voice-to-voice will enable an immediate and precise transcription of all interviews. NVivo 8 will assist in restructuring data graphically to better investigate emerging themes and patterns (DataSense, 2010).
Credibility and Dependability
The credibility of this study will be enhanced by the data collection techniques and the five methods of data analysis. Bradley (1993) described credibility as the adequate representation of the constructs of the social world being studied. There was a recommended set of activities that should be conducted in order to secure the credibility of the research results, such as prolonged engagement in the field, persistent observation, triangulation, negative case analysis, checking interpretations against raw data and member-checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
On the other hand, transferability describes the extent by which the researcher's working hypothesis could be re-applied in another research context. The study is transferable upon the provision of data sets and descriptions that are rich enough for the researchers to make judgment about the findings' transferability. This can be achieved through securing rich data from observation records, transcriptions and survey procedure description.
Bradley (1993) described dependability as the coherence of the internal process and the way the researcher recorded and reported changing conditions in the phenomenon. A significant way to secure this would be through sufficient audits of the research processes and findings. Dependability is determined through consistent checking in the study processes.
Davidson (2009) described transcription as a process that is theoretical, selective, interpretive, and representational. Transcriptions are used in order to establish the quality and trustworthiness of the data, within qualitative approaches. Usually, they are used not only for analysis, but also for evidence of the analysis, as well as the researcher's analytic claim.
Determining the cause for racial/ethnic disproportionality in XISD's special education population cannot be determined in a completely objective, entirely detached manner. Hara (1995) noted, "In contrast to quantitative research in education, qualitative research in education recognizes that the researcher's subjectivity deeply affects the research" and "Qualitative research, thus, accepts the researcher's viewpoint as a crucial factor of the research". As a member of the XISD special education staff, the researcher has vested interest, subjective curiosity, and deep professional concern for this project. As such, this project cannot be effectively implemented without pointing its subjective nature.
A qualitative research method accepts the researcher's viewpoints and value judgments are deeply connected to the research. In this view, the relationship of researcher and what is being researched is impossible to separate. In other words, what a researcher chooses to study is related to his/her value judgment. There is a belief that research facts and researcher's value judgments or interpretations of the research cannot exist separately. Rather, facts and the researcher's viewpoint are inextricably intertwined with each other. That is to say, a researcher is considered to be an insider to the research. Philosophically, this view is based on a subject-subject relationship in which human reality is subjective. There is a belief that the researcher acts on the basis of his/her own value. (Hara, 1995)
Additionally, attempting to completely determine the cause of a phenomenon like disproportionality in a completely objective manner seems shortsighted. For example, determining what causes a White teacher to refer an African American student to special education using a quantitatively independent method does not take human, mental, subjective motivations into full account; "the psychological dimensions of human beings which are impossible to represent numerically" (Hara, 1995) can at times only be explained using a qualitative method.
I do believe that there is a relation between cultural intelligence and teacher referral rates for African American males towards special education placement. The disproportionate representation of minority students is among the most critical and enduring problems in the field of special education (Skiba, Simmons, Ritter, Gibb, Rausch, Cuadrado, et al., 2008). As a special educator in XISD, it has become increasingly evident that the district not only has a disproportionality issue in its special education population, exclusively regarding African Americans, it has also become apparent that previous attempts to resolve have had little effect.
Despite district focus, committee recommendations, research, and policy changes, the problem of the disproportionate representation of minority students in XISD's special education population has persisted. Indeed, although consistently documented, it is fair to say that the full complexity of minority disproportionality has not yet been understood, nor has a clear or comprehensive picture emerged concerning the causes of disproportionality (Donovan & Cross; Harry & Klingner, 2002), in the district. As a teacher in XISD's special education department, a resolution to the disproportionality issue is personally vital.
External validity to this research is threatened as certain generalizations were made regarding the cause of disproportionality. For example, the research conducted demonstrates a link between disproportionality and the lack of cultural bias training in the district. Although it can be said with confident certainty that the lack of cultural bias training is a cause for disproportionality in XISD's special education population, it cannot be said that it is the cause.
Internal validity to this research is threatened, as other factors may have been as effective in deterring disproportionality, as was cultural bias training. In other words, cultural bias training was a deterrent to disproportionality; however, other deterrents may have been as successful, or even more successful, in discouraging disproportionality in the district.
Limitations and Delimitations
This research narrowly evaluates the policies/procedure of XISD specifically regarding the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education. Although a review of the current literature on this topic was evaluated, and an analysis of the contemporary issues discussed, a broader view of this topic may render different results. This research specifically addresses the overrepresentation of African Americans in special educating; however, disproportionality is not exclusively an African American issue. Other minority groups as a whole and Hispanics in particular, suffer from disproportionality in special education as well. There is substantial research available that indicates a negative trend in special education referrals for Hispanic students, particularly students that may demonstrate a deficiency in English language proficiency.
Another issue negated by the project is the underrepresentation of African Americans in Gifted/Talented (GT) programs; Substantial research is available regarding this topic. Most studies indicate that African-Americans represent approximately half of their total population percentage in GT programs. Research also indicates that African American students frequently lack access to GT programs, experience low teacher expectations, lack of motivation to do the work, and suffer from peer alienation (Henfield, Moore & Wood, 2008).
Finally, another issue that was not investigated in this project is the unbalanced punitive measures taken against minority students when compared to their White counterparts. Research indicates there exists a disparity of exclusionary and punitive discipline administration against African American male students. African-Americans continue to be disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, suspension, and expulsion at rates over three times their percentage in the population (Townsend, 2000, p. 381). Research seems to be building a link between unequal punitive measures against minority students and the failure and dropout rates of minority students. Studies indicate that African American students experience academic failure and dropout rates that far exceed the rates of their White counterparts.
The limitations of this study relate to the writer, the participants, and research assumptions and bias. Additionally, the research was limited to the availability of participants and participants' bias. Finally, limits of this research are also related to the exclusionary method that was utilized when evaluating the policies and procedures XISD previously used, and presently are using, to deter the overrepresentation of African Americans in the district. In other words, this study reviewed only the policies/procedures of XISD; no outside policies/procedures were evaluated to determine effectiveness.
Informed consent serves as the actual door by which the research could enter into a research scenario. In this case, once the researcher finds a contact from the schools, this contact can direct the researcher into finding the appropriate person to obtain consent from to conduct research in the institution. Each person that will participate in the study needs to sign an informed consent form in order to be considered as participants in the study.
In terms of the ethical considerations for the level of disclosure, it is important that the researcher openly state the researcher's identity and the purpose of the study. As the project unfolds, the researcher can reveal the focus of the study, while this was not kept a secret in the beginning, the focus is only highlighted more as time goes by. It is important not to be deliberately misleading about the research project, but at the same time be careful that the divulgence does not affect the answers of the participants in the interviews. It is important to maintain a certain distance from the participants so as not to be a distraction or a factor that would decrease the credibility of the study, especially in the classroom observations. Since there are students that will be interviewed and observed in this study, it will be ethically required to obtain the parental consent of the parents to allow their students' records to be analyzed, as well as to allow the observers in the classroom.
Chapter 3 restates the research questions and objectives of the study. It also provides a discussion about the research philosophy of constructivism, which is used to guide this research method. The research methodology, qualitative study and the research design, case study are described and justified as to why they were selected method to conduct the research. The procedures for the research, such as data collection and data analysis are also discussed after the description of the setting and the sample. Issues of credibility and transferability were also discussed. Various methods that will protect the credibility of the study were also discussed. Upon the approval of this proposal, chapter four will discuss the presentation and analysis of findings.