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Research Topics & Ideas: Education

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Topic Kickstarter: Research topics in education

If you’re just starting out exploring education-related topics for your dissertation, thesis or research project, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll help kickstart your research topic ideation process by providing a hearty list of research topics and ideas , including examples from actual dissertations and theses..

PS – This is just the start…

We know it’s exciting to run through a list of research topics, but please keep in mind that this list is just a starting point . To develop a suitable education-related research topic, you’ll need to identify a clear and convincing research gap , and a viable plan of action to fill that gap.

If this sounds foreign to you, check out our free research topic webinar that explores how to find and refine a high-quality research topic, from scratch. Alternatively, if you’d like hands-on help, consider our 1-on-1 coaching service .

Overview: Education Research Topics

  • How to find a research topic (video)
  • List of 50+ education-related research topics/ideas
  • List of 120+ level-specific research topics 
  • Examples of actual dissertation topics in education
  • Tips to fast-track your topic ideation (video)
  • Free Webinar : Topic Ideation 101
  • Where to get extra help

Education-Related Research Topics & Ideas

Below you’ll find a list of education-related research topics and idea kickstarters. These are fairly broad and flexible to various contexts, so keep in mind that you will need to refine them a little. Nevertheless, they should inspire some ideas for your project.

  • The impact of school funding on student achievement
  • The effects of social and emotional learning on student well-being
  • The effects of parental involvement on student behaviour
  • The impact of teacher training on student learning
  • The impact of classroom design on student learning
  • The impact of poverty on education
  • The use of student data to inform instruction
  • The role of parental involvement in education
  • The effects of mindfulness practices in the classroom
  • The use of technology in the classroom
  • The role of critical thinking in education
  • The use of formative and summative assessments in the classroom
  • The use of differentiated instruction in the classroom
  • The use of gamification in education
  • The effects of teacher burnout on student learning
  • The impact of school leadership on student achievement
  • The effects of teacher diversity on student outcomes
  • The role of teacher collaboration in improving student outcomes
  • The implementation of blended and online learning
  • The effects of teacher accountability on student achievement
  • The effects of standardized testing on student learning
  • The effects of classroom management on student behaviour
  • The effects of school culture on student achievement
  • The use of student-centred learning in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on student outcomes
  • The achievement gap in minority and low-income students
  • The use of culturally responsive teaching in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher professional development on student learning
  • The use of project-based learning in the classroom
  • The effects of teacher expectations on student achievement
  • The use of adaptive learning technology in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher turnover on student learning
  • The effects of teacher recruitment and retention on student learning
  • The impact of early childhood education on later academic success
  • The impact of parental involvement on student engagement
  • The use of positive reinforcement in education
  • The impact of school climate on student engagement
  • The role of STEM education in preparing students for the workforce
  • The effects of school choice on student achievement
  • The use of technology in the form of online tutoring

Level-Specific Research Topics

Looking for research topics for a specific level of education? We’ve got you covered. Below you can find research topic ideas for primary, secondary and tertiary-level education contexts. Click the relevant level to view the respective list.

Research Topics: Pick An Education Level

Primary education.

  • Investigating the effects of peer tutoring on academic achievement in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of mindfulness practices in primary school classrooms
  • Examining the effects of different teaching strategies on primary school students’ problem-solving skills
  • The use of storytelling as a teaching strategy in primary school literacy instruction
  • The role of cultural diversity in promoting tolerance and understanding in primary schools
  • The impact of character education programs on moral development in primary school students
  • Investigating the use of technology in enhancing primary school mathematics education
  • The impact of inclusive curriculum on promoting equity and diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of outdoor education programs on environmental awareness in primary school students
  • The influence of school climate on student motivation and engagement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of early literacy interventions on reading comprehension in primary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student achievement in primary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of inclusive education for students with special needs in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of teacher-student feedback on academic motivation in primary schools
  • The role of technology in developing digital literacy skills in primary school students
  • Effective strategies for fostering a growth mindset in primary school students
  • Investigating the role of parental support in reducing academic stress in primary school children
  • The role of arts education in fostering creativity and self-expression in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of early childhood education programs on primary school readiness
  • Examining the effects of homework on primary school students’ academic performance
  • The role of formative assessment in improving learning outcomes in primary school classrooms
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on academic outcomes in primary school
  • Investigating the effects of classroom environment on student behavior and learning outcomes in primary schools
  • Investigating the role of creativity and imagination in primary school curriculum
  • The impact of nutrition and healthy eating programs on academic performance in primary schools
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on primary school students’ well-being and academic performance
  • The role of parental involvement in academic achievement of primary school children
  • Examining the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior in primary school
  • The role of school leadership in creating a positive school climate Exploring the benefits of bilingual education in primary schools
  • The effectiveness of project-based learning in developing critical thinking skills in primary school students
  • The role of inquiry-based learning in fostering curiosity and critical thinking in primary school students
  • The effects of class size on student engagement and achievement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of recess and physical activity breaks on attention and learning in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of outdoor play in developing gross motor skills in primary school children
  • The effects of educational field trips on knowledge retention in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of inclusive classroom practices on students’ attitudes towards diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of parental involvement in homework on primary school students’ academic achievement
  • Investigating the effectiveness of different assessment methods in primary school classrooms
  • The influence of physical activity and exercise on cognitive development in primary school children
  • Exploring the benefits of cooperative learning in promoting social skills in primary school students

Secondary Education

  • Investigating the effects of school discipline policies on student behavior and academic success in secondary education
  • The role of social media in enhancing communication and collaboration among secondary school students
  • The impact of school leadership on teacher effectiveness and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of technology integration on teaching and learning in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of interdisciplinary instruction in promoting critical thinking skills in secondary schools
  • The impact of arts education on creativity and self-expression in secondary school students
  • The effectiveness of flipped classrooms in promoting student learning in secondary education
  • The role of career guidance programs in preparing secondary school students for future employment
  • Investigating the effects of student-centered learning approaches on student autonomy and academic success in secondary schools
  • The impact of socio-economic factors on educational attainment in secondary education
  • Investigating the impact of project-based learning on student engagement and academic achievement in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of multicultural education on cultural understanding and tolerance in secondary schools
  • The influence of standardized testing on teaching practices and student learning in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior and academic engagement in secondary education
  • The influence of teacher professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of extracurricular activities in promoting holistic development and well-roundedness in secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models on student engagement and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of physical education in promoting physical health and well-being among secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of gender on academic achievement and career aspirations in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of multicultural literature in promoting cultural awareness and empathy among secondary school students
  • The impact of school counseling services on student mental health and well-being in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of vocational education and training in preparing secondary school students for the workforce
  • The role of digital literacy in preparing secondary school students for the digital age
  • The influence of parental involvement on academic success and well-being of secondary school students
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on secondary school students’ well-being and academic success
  • The role of character education in fostering ethical and responsible behavior in secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of digital citizenship education on responsible and ethical technology use among secondary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of educational technology in promoting personalized learning experiences in secondary schools
  • The impact of inclusive education on the social and academic outcomes of students with disabilities in secondary schools
  • The influence of parental support on academic motivation and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of school climate in promoting positive behavior and well-being among secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of peer mentoring programs on academic achievement and social-emotional development in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of teacher-student relationships on student motivation and achievement in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning programs in promoting civic engagement among secondary school students
  • The impact of educational policies on educational equity and access in secondary education
  • Examining the effects of homework on academic achievement and student well-being in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of different assessment methods on student performance in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of single-sex education on academic performance and gender stereotypes in secondary schools
  • The role of mentoring programs in supporting the transition from secondary to post-secondary education

Tertiary Education

  • The role of student support services in promoting academic success and well-being in higher education
  • The impact of internationalization initiatives on students’ intercultural competence and global perspectives in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of active learning classrooms and learning spaces on student engagement and learning outcomes in tertiary education
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning experiences in fostering civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education
  • The influence of learning communities and collaborative learning environments on student academic and social integration in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of undergraduate research experiences in fostering critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills
  • Investigating the effects of academic advising and mentoring on student retention and degree completion in higher education
  • The role of student engagement and involvement in co-curricular activities on holistic student development in higher education
  • The impact of multicultural education on fostering cultural competence and diversity appreciation in higher education
  • The role of internships and work-integrated learning experiences in enhancing students’ employability and career outcomes
  • Examining the effects of assessment and feedback practices on student learning and academic achievement in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty-student relationships on student success and well-being in tertiary education
  • The impact of college transition programs on students’ academic and social adjustment to higher education
  • The impact of online learning platforms on student learning outcomes in higher education
  • The impact of financial aid and scholarships on access and persistence in higher education
  • The influence of student leadership and involvement in extracurricular activities on personal development and campus engagement
  • Exploring the benefits of competency-based education in developing job-specific skills in tertiary students
  • Examining the effects of flipped classroom models on student learning and retention in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of online collaboration and virtual team projects in developing teamwork skills in tertiary students
  • Investigating the effects of diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus climate and student experiences in tertiary education
  • The influence of study abroad programs on intercultural competence and global perspectives of college students
  • Investigating the effects of peer mentoring and tutoring programs on student retention and academic performance in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effectiveness of active learning strategies in promoting student engagement and achievement in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models and hybrid courses on student learning and satisfaction in higher education
  • The role of digital literacy and information literacy skills in supporting student success in the digital age
  • Investigating the effects of experiential learning opportunities on career readiness and employability of college students
  • The impact of e-portfolios on student reflection, self-assessment, and showcasing of learning in higher education
  • The role of technology in enhancing collaborative learning experiences in tertiary classrooms
  • The impact of research opportunities on undergraduate student engagement and pursuit of advanced degrees
  • Examining the effects of competency-based assessment on measuring student learning and achievement in tertiary education
  • Examining the effects of interdisciplinary programs and courses on critical thinking and problem-solving skills in college students
  • The role of inclusive education and accessibility in promoting equitable learning experiences for diverse student populations
  • The role of career counseling and guidance in supporting students’ career decision-making in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty diversity and representation on student success and inclusive learning environments in higher education

Research topic idea mega list

Education-Related Dissertations & Theses

While the ideas we’ve presented above are a decent starting point for finding a research topic in education, they are fairly generic and non-specific. So, it helps to look at actual dissertations and theses in the education space to see how this all comes together in practice.

Below, we’ve included a selection of education-related research projects to help refine your thinking. These are actual dissertations and theses, written as part of Master’s and PhD-level programs, so they can provide some useful insight as to what a research topic looks like in practice.

  • From Rural to Urban: Education Conditions of Migrant Children in China (Wang, 2019)
  • Energy Renovation While Learning English: A Guidebook for Elementary ESL Teachers (Yang, 2019)
  • A Reanalyses of Intercorrelational Matrices of Visual and Verbal Learners’ Abilities, Cognitive Styles, and Learning Preferences (Fox, 2020)
  • A study of the elementary math program utilized by a mid-Missouri school district (Barabas, 2020)
  • Instructor formative assessment practices in virtual learning environments : a posthumanist sociomaterial perspective (Burcks, 2019)
  • Higher education students services: a qualitative study of two mid-size universities’ direct exchange programs (Kinde, 2020)
  • Exploring editorial leadership : a qualitative study of scholastic journalism advisers teaching leadership in Missouri secondary schools (Lewis, 2020)
  • Selling the virtual university: a multimodal discourse analysis of marketing for online learning (Ludwig, 2020)
  • Advocacy and accountability in school counselling: assessing the use of data as related to professional self-efficacy (Matthews, 2020)
  • The use of an application screening assessment as a predictor of teaching retention at a midwestern, K-12, public school district (Scarbrough, 2020)
  • Core values driving sustained elite performance cultures (Beiner, 2020)
  • Educative features of upper elementary Eureka math curriculum (Dwiggins, 2020)
  • How female principals nurture adult learning opportunities in successful high schools with challenging student demographics (Woodward, 2020)
  • The disproportionality of Black Males in Special Education: A Case Study Analysis of Educator Perceptions in a Southeastern Urban High School (McCrae, 2021)

As you can see, these research topics are a lot more focused than the generic topic ideas we presented earlier. So, in order for you to develop a high-quality research topic, you’ll need to get specific and laser-focused on a specific context with specific variables of interest.  In the video below, we explore some other important things you’ll need to consider when crafting your research topic.

Get 1-On-1 Help

If you’re still unsure about how to find a quality research topic within education, check out our Research Topic Kickstarter service, which is the perfect starting point for developing a unique, well-justified research topic.

Research Topic Kickstarter - Need Help Finding A Research Topic?

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Research Method

Home » Research Problem – Examples, Types and Guide

Research Problem – Examples, Types and Guide

Table of Contents

Research Problem

Research Problem


Research problem is a specific and well-defined issue or question that a researcher seeks to investigate through research. It is the starting point of any research project, as it sets the direction, scope, and purpose of the study.

Types of Research Problems

Types of Research Problems are as follows:

Descriptive problems

These problems involve describing or documenting a particular phenomenon, event, or situation. For example, a researcher might investigate the demographics of a particular population, such as their age, gender, income, and education.

Exploratory problems

These problems are designed to explore a particular topic or issue in depth, often with the goal of generating new ideas or hypotheses. For example, a researcher might explore the factors that contribute to job satisfaction among employees in a particular industry.

Explanatory Problems

These problems seek to explain why a particular phenomenon or event occurs, and they typically involve testing hypotheses or theories. For example, a researcher might investigate the relationship between exercise and mental health, with the goal of determining whether exercise has a causal effect on mental health.

Predictive Problems

These problems involve making predictions or forecasts about future events or trends. For example, a researcher might investigate the factors that predict future success in a particular field or industry.

Evaluative Problems

These problems involve assessing the effectiveness of a particular intervention, program, or policy. For example, a researcher might evaluate the impact of a new teaching method on student learning outcomes.

How to Define a Research Problem

Defining a research problem involves identifying a specific question or issue that a researcher seeks to address through a research study. Here are the steps to follow when defining a research problem:

  • Identify a broad research topic : Start by identifying a broad topic that you are interested in researching. This could be based on your personal interests, observations, or gaps in the existing literature.
  • Conduct a literature review : Once you have identified a broad topic, conduct a thorough literature review to identify the current state of knowledge in the field. This will help you identify gaps or inconsistencies in the existing research that can be addressed through your study.
  • Refine the research question: Based on the gaps or inconsistencies identified in the literature review, refine your research question to a specific, clear, and well-defined problem statement. Your research question should be feasible, relevant, and important to the field of study.
  • Develop a hypothesis: Based on the research question, develop a hypothesis that states the expected relationship between variables.
  • Define the scope and limitations: Clearly define the scope and limitations of your research problem. This will help you focus your study and ensure that your research objectives are achievable.
  • Get feedback: Get feedback from your advisor or colleagues to ensure that your research problem is clear, feasible, and relevant to the field of study.

Components of a Research Problem

The components of a research problem typically include the following:

  • Topic : The general subject or area of interest that the research will explore.
  • Research Question : A clear and specific question that the research seeks to answer or investigate.
  • Objective : A statement that describes the purpose of the research, what it aims to achieve, and the expected outcomes.
  • Hypothesis : An educated guess or prediction about the relationship between variables, which is tested during the research.
  • Variables : The factors or elements that are being studied, measured, or manipulated in the research.
  • Methodology : The overall approach and methods that will be used to conduct the research.
  • Scope and Limitations : A description of the boundaries and parameters of the research, including what will be included and excluded, and any potential constraints or limitations.
  • Significance: A statement that explains the potential value or impact of the research, its contribution to the field of study, and how it will add to the existing knowledge.

Research Problem Examples

Following are some Research Problem Examples:

Research Problem Examples in Psychology are as follows:

  • Exploring the impact of social media on adolescent mental health.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating anxiety disorders.
  • Studying the impact of prenatal stress on child development outcomes.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to addiction and relapse in substance abuse treatment.
  • Examining the impact of personality traits on romantic relationships.

Research Problem Examples in Sociology are as follows:

  • Investigating the relationship between social support and mental health outcomes in marginalized communities.
  • Studying the impact of globalization on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of gentrification in urban neighborhoods.
  • Investigating the impact of family structure on social mobility and economic outcomes.
  • Examining the effects of social capital on community development and resilience.

Research Problem Examples in Economics are as follows:

  • Studying the effects of trade policies on economic growth and development.
  • Analyzing the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Investigating the factors that contribute to economic inequality and poverty.
  • Examining the impact of fiscal and monetary policies on inflation and economic stability.
  • Studying the relationship between education and economic outcomes, such as income and employment.

Political Science

Research Problem Examples in Political Science are as follows:

  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of political polarization and partisan behavior.
  • Investigating the impact of social movements on political change and policymaking.
  • Studying the role of media and communication in shaping public opinion and political discourse.
  • Examining the effectiveness of electoral systems in promoting democratic governance and representation.
  • Investigating the impact of international organizations and agreements on global governance and security.

Environmental Science

Research Problem Examples in Environmental Science are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of air pollution on human health and well-being.
  • Investigating the effects of deforestation on climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Analyzing the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs.
  • Studying the relationship between urban development and ecological resilience.
  • Examining the effectiveness of environmental policies and regulations in promoting sustainability and conservation.

Research Problem Examples in Education are as follows:

  • Investigating the impact of teacher training and professional development on student learning outcomes.
  • Studying the effectiveness of technology-enhanced learning in promoting student engagement and achievement.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to achievement gaps and educational inequality.
  • Examining the impact of parental involvement on student motivation and achievement.
  • Studying the effectiveness of alternative educational models, such as homeschooling and online learning.

Research Problem Examples in History are as follows:

  • Analyzing the social and economic factors that contributed to the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
  • Investigating the impact of colonialism on indigenous societies and cultures.
  • Studying the role of religion in shaping political and social movements throughout history.
  • Analyzing the impact of the Industrial Revolution on economic and social structures.
  • Examining the causes and consequences of global conflicts, such as World War I and II.

Research Problem Examples in Business are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of corporate social responsibility on brand reputation and consumer behavior.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of leadership development programs in improving organizational performance and employee satisfaction.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to successful entrepreneurship and small business development.
  • Examining the impact of mergers and acquisitions on market competition and consumer welfare.
  • Studying the effectiveness of marketing strategies and advertising campaigns in promoting brand awareness and sales.

Research Problem Example for Students

An Example of a Research Problem for Students could be:

“How does social media usage affect the academic performance of high school students?”

This research problem is specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular area of interest, which is the impact of social media on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on social media usage and academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because it addresses a current and important issue that affects high school students.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use various methods, such as surveys, interviews, and statistical analysis of academic records. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between social media usage and academic performance, which could help educators and parents develop effective strategies for managing social media use among students.

Another example of a research problem for students:

“Does participation in extracurricular activities impact the academic performance of middle school students?”

This research problem is also specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular type of activity, extracurricular activities, and its impact on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on students’ participation in extracurricular activities and their academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because extracurricular activities are an essential part of the middle school experience, and their impact on academic performance is a topic of interest to educators and parents.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use surveys, interviews, and academic records analysis. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, which could help educators and parents make informed decisions about the types of activities that are most beneficial for middle school students.

Applications of Research Problem

Applications of Research Problem are as follows:

  • Academic research: Research problems are used to guide academic research in various fields, including social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and engineering. Researchers use research problems to identify gaps in knowledge, address theoretical or practical problems, and explore new areas of study.
  • Business research : Research problems are used to guide business research, including market research, consumer behavior research, and organizational research. Researchers use research problems to identify business challenges, explore opportunities, and develop strategies for business growth and success.
  • Healthcare research : Research problems are used to guide healthcare research, including medical research, clinical research, and health services research. Researchers use research problems to identify healthcare challenges, develop new treatments and interventions, and improve healthcare delivery and outcomes.
  • Public policy research : Research problems are used to guide public policy research, including policy analysis, program evaluation, and policy development. Researchers use research problems to identify social issues, assess the effectiveness of existing policies and programs, and develop new policies and programs to address societal challenges.
  • Environmental research : Research problems are used to guide environmental research, including environmental science, ecology, and environmental management. Researchers use research problems to identify environmental challenges, assess the impact of human activities on the environment, and develop sustainable solutions to protect the environment.

Purpose of Research Problems

The purpose of research problems is to identify an area of study that requires further investigation and to formulate a clear, concise and specific research question. A research problem defines the specific issue or problem that needs to be addressed and serves as the foundation for the research project.

Identifying a research problem is important because it helps to establish the direction of the research and sets the stage for the research design, methods, and analysis. It also ensures that the research is relevant and contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field.

A well-formulated research problem should:

  • Clearly define the specific issue or problem that needs to be investigated
  • Be specific and narrow enough to be manageable in terms of time, resources, and scope
  • Be relevant to the field of study and contribute to the existing body of knowledge
  • Be feasible and realistic in terms of available data, resources, and research methods
  • Be interesting and intellectually stimulating for the researcher and potential readers or audiences.

Characteristics of Research Problem

The characteristics of a research problem refer to the specific features that a problem must possess to qualify as a suitable research topic. Some of the key characteristics of a research problem are:

  • Clarity : A research problem should be clearly defined and stated in a way that it is easily understood by the researcher and other readers. The problem should be specific, unambiguous, and easy to comprehend.
  • Relevance : A research problem should be relevant to the field of study, and it should contribute to the existing body of knowledge. The problem should address a gap in knowledge, a theoretical or practical problem, or a real-world issue that requires further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem should be feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It should be realistic and practical to conduct the study within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem should be novel or original in some way. It should represent a new or innovative perspective on an existing problem, or it should explore a new area of study or apply an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem should be important or significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It should have the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Manageability : A research problem should be manageable in terms of its scope and complexity. It should be specific enough to be investigated within the available time and resources, and it should be broad enough to provide meaningful results.

Advantages of Research Problem

The advantages of a well-defined research problem are as follows:

  • Focus : A research problem provides a clear and focused direction for the research study. It ensures that the study stays on track and does not deviate from the research question.
  • Clarity : A research problem provides clarity and specificity to the research question. It ensures that the research is not too broad or too narrow and that the research objectives are clearly defined.
  • Relevance : A research problem ensures that the research study is relevant to the field of study and contributes to the existing body of knowledge. It addresses gaps in knowledge, theoretical or practical problems, or real-world issues that require further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem ensures that the research study is feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It ensures that the research is realistic and practical to conduct within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem ensures that the research study is original and innovative. It represents a new or unique perspective on an existing problem, explores a new area of study, or applies an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem ensures that the research study is important and significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It has the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Rigor : A research problem ensures that the research study is rigorous and follows established research methods and practices. It ensures that the research is conducted in a systematic, objective, and unbiased manner.

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Muhammad Hassan

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

What Are the Most Important Education Research Findings in the Past 10 Years?

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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What do you think have been the most important education research findings from the past 10 years, and what areas are you hoping researchers focus on in the next 10 years?

There is so much education research out there, and much of it is inaccessible to K-12 teachers either because it’s written in arcane academic language or because it’s locked behind paywalls.

This series will try to highlight some of the most important findings that we teachers—and our students—can use.

Today, Beth M. Miller, Ph.D., and Jana Echevarria, Ph.D., share their reflections.

You might also be interested in many curated resources on ed. research at “Best” Lists o f the Week: Education Research .

Two ‘Streams’

Beth M. Miller, Ph.D., serves as the chief knowledge officer at EL Education. She leads the research, communications, and publications teams while mostly being in complete awe of the mad skills of her brilliant, compassionate, committed colleagues:

What happens in the learning process? Why do some students thrive at school and learn more than others, and why does this variation often reflect socially constructed racial and ethnic categories? In the last 10 years, two streams of research have vastly expanded our understanding of the answers to these complex but never-more-important questions.

Stream One: Research on How Students Learn

We now know, with greater clarity and evidence than ever, that learning is a social, emotional, and cognitive process. While early “brain research” findings were beginning to emerge 10 years ago (e.g., plasticity of the brain), in the past decade, this knowledge has converged in a growing science of learning and development (SoLD) with many important implications for instructional practices, school climate, and district policy.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is deeply connected to academic achievement. We are increasingly learning that SEL can be developed in schools and that an integrated educational approach that deeply intertwines strands of social-emotional and academic development (versus teaching character as a siloed class on Tuesday mornings, for example) will be most effective.

Another key concept that has been developed through a body of evidence is the idea of mindset—how the student thinks of themself in relation to an idea or content will mediate their learning process and achievement. This insight from psychology, first developed by Carol Dweck, has resulted in a whole field of social psychology. Some of the short-term interventions have what seem like astounding results, because shifts in student mindset create a domino effect on motivation, self-efficacy, behavior, performance, and achievement.

For example, in several studies by David Yeager and his colleagues , teacher responses on a homework assignment communicating high expectations—and a belief that a student could reach these expectations—resulted in striking shifts in student academic performance over the course of a year. Teacher mindset also matters: When teachers who were trained on brain plasticity as it related to mathematics shifted their approach to teaching accordingly, doing so resulted in higher student achievement.

Stream Two: Research on the Impact of Racism in Education

Science of learning and development research can help to shift the dynamics of student experience and outcomes, but it is not enough to reach the goal we must attain: equitable learning opportunities and outcomes for all students. Another stream of research, less developed but equally imperative, is helping to uncover the ways that racism and other forms of marginalization create roadblocks to learning for millions of students and have throughout our history.

We can see this in the unequal financing of education between communities, the differences in teacher quality and facilities, and in the school experiences of millions of students. Despite the existence of brilliant students in every classroom and community, only some students will get the opportunity to develop to their full potential. In the last decade, research has highlighted how racism operates at every level of our education systems and, therefore, how to change it.

This body of research, often rooted in the theoretical work of scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings’ cconcept of “culturally relevant pedagogy” that she developed in the 1990s, includes ethnographic studies, correlational research, and quantitative large-scale studies, building a powerful body of evidence that racism and other forms of marginalization deeply and powerfully affect student achievement. Flipping the deficit-focused narrative of the “achievement gap” on its head, these researchers examine the resource gaps, opportunity gaps, racism, bias, and other processes and structures that drive differential experiences in school.

What we’ve learned might be a surprise to white people like me, but it only serves to expose the truth of what many people of color have experienced throughout their educational journey: Racism is deeply embedded in schools—by design, albeit often without conscious intention. Schools are a microcosm of our larger society. Without deep-seated, ongoing changes at multiple levels to shift that reality, racism remains a potent driver of school experiences and outcomes.

From research on the disproportionality of disciplinary practices to the impact on Black students of having even one Black teacher , we see racism—and other forms of marginalization—showing up anywhere we bring a lens to this study. We’ve learned a lot about the ways in which education policies, systems, and structures embed racism over the past decade. But that doesn’t mean individual teachers are off the hook: Multiple studies demonstrate the presence of negative perceptions and lower expectations of Black students on the part of many white teachers.

While deeply embedded policies and unconscious bias aren’t easy to shift, we are seeing evidence that it is not only possible to change these destructive dynamics, but also that this work significantly impacts student growth and learning. For example, a carefully designed training aimed at increasing teachers’ empathy for their students’ perspective by Jason Okonofua and colleagues shifted teachers from responding to behavior issues with punitive disciplinary practice to greater understanding and connection, leading to a 50 percent reduction in disciplinary actions. Other promising approaches, many rooted in culturally responsive education, from a community-center mathematics curriculum to the impact of ethnic - studies programs .

Where Do We Go From Here?

For the next 10 years, the most important work in education—whether in research studies or classrooms—will be in expanding the knowledge base where these two streams converge, i.e., combining what we know about how people learn, grow, and change with research that foregrounds the experiences and outcomes of historically marginalized students. After decades of education reforms that had little or no impact on the “stubborn” inequities in education, we have finally begun large-scale efforts to shift from measuring gaps to understanding why they exist and how we—not students—are the key to changing the dynamics. Some researchers, as well as organizations such as CASEL and the National Equity Project , are making progress, but we are in the early stages of this work. One thing we do know is that individual, incremental change will not create the equitable education system that our students deserve: Systemic changes in districts and charter networks will be needed, and we are only beginning the journey of creating the conditions at scale for all students to thrive.

One last note: We need to build on the current research base that demonstrates how disrupting racism benefits all students, including white students who will grow up in a diverse society. All students need the opportunity to experience what Rudine Sims Bishop coined “windows” as well as “mirrors” and deeply understand the multitude of experiences, histories, and perspectives we share in this country and around the world. Evidence that this learning matters—for all students—will help us create classrooms that enable us to build a better world.


English-Language Learners

Jana Echevarria, Ph.D., is professor emerita at California State University, Long Beach, where she was selected as Outstanding Professor. She is the co-developer of the SIOP Model of instruction for English-learners and the co-author of Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model and 99 Ideas and Activities for Teaching English Learners among other publications. Her blog is found at :

There are innumerable books, articles, and blogs written about what works with English-learners (ELs), but these resources don’t always reflect research-validated approaches and interventions. Empirical studies provide guidance for achieving desired outcomes that go beyond what intuitively seems like a good idea for teaching students in this population. The following areas of research are of particular importance in informing practice, especially for EL students.

Academic language . Cummins (1979) introduced the distinction between conversational language and academic language, and others more recently have discussed specific ways that academic language is challenging ( Scheppegrell, 2020 ), particularly for English - learners . Academic language is more formal and abstract than conversational language and uses complex sentence structure (e.g., embedded clauses and conjunctions), highly sophisticated, abstract vocabulary (e.g., representational democracy in social studies), and rhetorical forms (e.g., figurative language), and it is encountered almost exclusively in school.

Research has identified the critical relationship of academic language to reading comprehension, a cognitive and linguistic process needed to acquire and use knowledge in every academic-content area. As EL students become more proficient in English, they become more efficient readers and more similar to their English-speaking peers in their reading ability. Conversely, if EL students don’t become sufficiently proficient in English, they expend more cognitive effort, and their reading remains inefficient, which negatively affects achievement and motivation.

The importance of advancing academic-language development is clear. Findings verify that ELs don’t “pick up” academic language nor will the achievement gap close without explicit instruction in English-language development (ELD). A separate ELD time each day focusing on English-language instruction is critical but may not be sufficient for expediting English-language growth. In every content lesson, teaching key content vocabulary and exploiting teachable academic language-learning opportunities likely will enhance English proficiency.

Student assets . The idea that students come to school as empty vessels in need of filling has been dispelled. Indeed, students begin school with a minimum of five years of lived experiences, accumulated knowledge, and language development in their home language, and these continue to grow with each subsequent year. This treasure trove should be acknowledged and built upon as students learn academic content in school.

For English-learners, some lived experiences are culturally influenced, such as attending quinceañeras or receiving red envelopes as gifts, and others are common to their age group such as popular social media sites, video games, and sports. Linguistic knowledge in their home language can be used to bootstrap learning in English. Studies suggest that instructional routines that draw on students’ home language, their knowledge, and cultural assets support literacy development in English. Some examples of practices used in studies include previewing and reviewing materials in children’s home language, providing opportunities for students to engage in conversations around text with peers using their home language when needed, giving definitions for key vocabulary terms in both English and their home language, and introducing key concepts by connecting them to students’ knowledge or experience in the home and community.

Teachers who don’t speak the language of their students shouldn’t be apprehensive about using these types of practices. Many technologies assist in translating words and definitions, and peers can be used as supports by grouping students with a common home language together for discussions, then asking each group to summarize their discussion in English. Further, as teachers practice a dynamic interaction style with students, they will learn about students’ lived experiences which, in turn, can be used to connect lesson content to what students know and have experienced.

Capitalizing on students’ linguistic and experiential assets by linking them to content, materials, and activities has motivational and engagement benefits and contributes to EL students’ sense of belonging and well-being.

Reading foundations. Much has been written recently about the science of reading , a discussion that spans decades. However, little research specifically addresses English-learners and how teaching reading may or may not differ for this population. Goldenberg (2020) conducted a review of research on reading and English-learners. He summarizes the findings and draws several conclusions. First, learning to read is similar for English-learners and English-speaking students. EL students must learn the same foundational skills as English-proficient students. As Goldenberg says, “Full-fledged literacy certainly requires more, but there is a reason this group of skills is called foundational: It is required for the literacy edifice under construction. As with any building, if all you have is a foundation, you do not have much. Yet, a solid foundation is still essential” (p.133).

Secondly, along with foundational skills, additional supports are required for EL students so that instruction in English is made comprehensible to them. They need additional instruction in the vocabulary found in text, especially for beginning speakers who are learning to recognize new words as they are read. Also beneficial is additional repetition and rehearsal as well as opportunities to practice. Specifically, beginning readers need practice in developing oral language, primarily in the form of effective ELD instruction to boost English proficiency.

Lastly, as EL students advance through the grades, the academic language required to navigate grade-level texts and the disciplinary knowledge students need to comprehend texts become increasingly complex and demanding. Oral English-language instruction and support needs to match the level of challenge for these students, particularly in language-intensive subjects.

Future research

Developing English proficiency arguably has the greatest impact on success in school. Understanding and responding to the specific ways that academic language is most efficiently developed might offer ways for teaching ELD most effectively and result in accelerated English acquisition. Current studies show the importance of oral language for ELs to improve early literacy, but which components of the interventions were most impactful remain unknown.

Secondly, the effects of different instructional arrangements on EL students’ achievement should be explored. Debate continues around issues such as whether pullout or push-in services are more effective, the optimal amount of time devoted to ELD instruction, and whether to group ELs together or with English-speaking peers. These are areas of practice that warrant investigation.


Thanks to Beth and Jana for contributing their thoughts.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching .

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 10 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

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45 Research Problem Examples & Inspiration

research problems examples and definition, explained below

A research problem is an issue of concern that is the catalyst for your research. It demonstrates why the research problem needs to take place in the first place.

Generally, you will write your research problem as a clear, concise, and focused statement that identifies an issue or gap in current knowledge that requires investigation.

The problem will likely also guide the direction and purpose of a study. Depending on the problem, you will identify a suitable methodology that will help address the problem and bring solutions to light.

Research Problem Examples

In the following examples, I’ll present some problems worth addressing, and some suggested theoretical frameworks and research methodologies that might fit with the study. Note, however, that these aren’t the only ways to approach the problems. Keep an open mind and consult with your dissertation supervisor!


Psychology Problems

1. Social Media and Self-Esteem: “How does prolonged exposure to social media platforms influence the self-esteem of adolescents?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Comparison Theory
  • Methodology : Longitudinal study tracking adolescents’ social media usage and self-esteem measures over time, combined with qualitative interviews.

2. Sleep and Cognitive Performance: “How does sleep quality and duration impact cognitive performance in adults?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Cognitive Psychology
  • Methodology : Experimental design with controlled sleep conditions, followed by cognitive tests. Participant sleep patterns can also be monitored using actigraphy.

3. Childhood Trauma and Adult Relationships: “How does unresolved childhood trauma influence attachment styles and relationship dynamics in adulthood?

  • Theoretical Framework : Attachment Theory
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative measures of attachment styles with qualitative in-depth interviews exploring past trauma and current relationship dynamics.

4. Mindfulness and Stress Reduction: “How effective is mindfulness meditation in reducing perceived stress and physiological markers of stress in working professionals?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Humanist Psychology
  • Methodology : Randomized controlled trial comparing a group practicing mindfulness meditation to a control group, measuring both self-reported stress and physiological markers (e.g., cortisol levels).

5. Implicit Bias and Decision Making: “To what extent do implicit biases influence decision-making processes in hiring practices?

  • Theoretical Framework : Cognitive Dissonance Theory
  • Methodology : Experimental design using Implicit Association Tests (IAT) to measure implicit biases, followed by simulated hiring tasks to observe decision-making behaviors.

6. Emotional Regulation and Academic Performance: “How does the ability to regulate emotions impact academic performance in college students?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Cognitive Theory of Emotion
  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys measuring emotional regulation strategies, combined with academic performance metrics (e.g., GPA).

7. Nature Exposure and Mental Well-being: “Does regular exposure to natural environments improve mental well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Biophilia Hypothesis
  • Methodology : Longitudinal study comparing mental health measures of individuals with regular nature exposure to those without, possibly using ecological momentary assessment for real-time data collection.

8. Video Games and Cognitive Skills: “How do action video games influence cognitive skills such as attention, spatial reasoning, and problem-solving?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Cognitive Load Theory
  • Methodology : Experimental design with pre- and post-tests, comparing cognitive skills of participants before and after a period of action video game play.

9. Parenting Styles and Child Resilience: “How do different parenting styles influence the development of resilience in children facing adversities?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Baumrind’s Parenting Styles Inventory
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative measures of resilience and parenting styles with qualitative interviews exploring children’s experiences and perceptions.

10. Memory and Aging: “How does the aging process impact episodic memory , and what strategies can mitigate age-related memory decline?

  • Theoretical Framework : Information Processing Theory
  • Methodology : Cross-sectional study comparing episodic memory performance across different age groups, combined with interventions like memory training or mnemonic strategies to assess potential improvements.

Education Problems

11. Equity and Access : “How do socioeconomic factors influence students’ access to quality education, and what interventions can bridge the gap?

  • Theoretical Framework : Critical Pedagogy
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative data on student outcomes with qualitative interviews and focus groups with students, parents, and educators.

12. Digital Divide : How does the lack of access to technology and the internet affect remote learning outcomes, and how can this divide be addressed?

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Construction of Technology Theory
  • Methodology : Survey research to gather data on access to technology, followed by case studies in selected areas.

13. Teacher Efficacy : “What factors contribute to teacher self-efficacy, and how does it impact student achievement?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory
  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys to measure teacher self-efficacy, combined with qualitative interviews to explore factors affecting it.

14. Curriculum Relevance : “How can curricula be made more relevant to diverse student populations, incorporating cultural and local contexts?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Sociocultural Theory
  • Methodology : Content analysis of curricula, combined with focus groups with students and teachers.

15. Special Education : “What are the most effective instructional strategies for students with specific learning disabilities?

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Learning Theory
  • Methodology : Experimental design comparing different instructional strategies, with pre- and post-tests to measure student achievement.

16. Dropout Rates : “What factors contribute to high school dropout rates, and what interventions can help retain students?”

  • Methodology : Longitudinal study tracking students over time, combined with interviews with dropouts.

17. Bilingual Education : “How does bilingual education impact cognitive development and academic achievement?

  • Methodology : Comparative study of students in bilingual vs. monolingual programs, using standardized tests and qualitative interviews.

18. Classroom Management: “What reward strategies are most effective in managing diverse classrooms and promoting a positive learning environment?

  • Theoretical Framework : Behaviorism (e.g., Skinner’s Operant Conditioning)
  • Methodology : Observational research in classrooms , combined with teacher interviews.

19. Standardized Testing : “How do standardized tests affect student motivation, learning, and curriculum design?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Critical Theory
  • Methodology : Quantitative analysis of test scores and student outcomes, combined with qualitative interviews with educators and students.

20. STEM Education : “What methods can be employed to increase interest and proficiency in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields among underrepresented student groups?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Constructivist Learning Theory
  • Methodology : Experimental design comparing different instructional methods, with pre- and post-tests.

21. Social-Emotional Learning : “How can social-emotional learning be effectively integrated into the curriculum, and what are its impacts on student well-being and academic outcomes?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Theory
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative measures of student well-being with qualitative interviews.

22. Parental Involvement : “How does parental involvement influence student achievement, and what strategies can schools use to increase it?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Reggio Emilia’s Model (Community Engagement Focus)
  • Methodology : Survey research with parents and teachers, combined with case studies in selected schools.

23. Early Childhood Education : “What are the long-term impacts of quality early childhood education on academic and life outcomes?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
  • Methodology : Longitudinal study comparing students with and without early childhood education, combined with observational research.

24. Teacher Training and Professional Development : “How can teacher training programs be improved to address the evolving needs of the 21st-century classroom?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Adult Learning Theory (Andragogy)
  • Methodology : Pre- and post-assessments of teacher competencies, combined with focus groups.

25. Educational Technology : “How can technology be effectively integrated into the classroom to enhance learning, and what are the potential drawbacks or challenges?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)
  • Methodology : Experimental design comparing classrooms with and without specific technologies, combined with teacher and student interviews.

Sociology Problems

26. Urbanization and Social Ties: “How does rapid urbanization impact the strength and nature of social ties in communities?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Structural Functionalism
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative surveys on social ties with qualitative interviews in urbanizing areas.

27. Gender Roles in Modern Families: “How have traditional gender roles evolved in families with dual-income households?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Gender Schema Theory
  • Methodology : Qualitative interviews with dual-income families, combined with historical data analysis.

28. Social Media and Collective Behavior: “How does social media influence collective behaviors and the formation of social movements?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Emergent Norm Theory
  • Methodology : Content analysis of social media platforms, combined with quantitative surveys on participation in social movements.

29. Education and Social Mobility: “To what extent does access to quality education influence social mobility in socioeconomically diverse settings?”

  • Methodology : Longitudinal study tracking educational access and subsequent socioeconomic status, combined with qualitative interviews.

30. Religion and Social Cohesion: “How do religious beliefs and practices contribute to social cohesion in multicultural societies?”

  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys on religious beliefs and perceptions of social cohesion, combined with ethnographic studies.

31. Consumer Culture and Identity Formation: “How does consumer culture influence individual identity formation and personal values?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Identity Theory
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining content analysis of advertising with qualitative interviews on identity and values.

32. Migration and Cultural Assimilation: “How do migrants negotiate cultural assimilation and preservation of their original cultural identities in their host countries?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Post-Structuralism
  • Methodology : Qualitative interviews with migrants, combined with observational studies in multicultural communities.

33. Social Networks and Mental Health: “How do social networks, both online and offline, impact mental health and well-being?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Network Theory
  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys assessing social network characteristics and mental health metrics, combined with qualitative interviews.

34. Crime, Deviance, and Social Control: “How do societal norms and values shape definitions of crime and deviance, and how are these definitions enforced?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Labeling Theory
  • Methodology : Content analysis of legal documents and media, combined with ethnographic studies in diverse communities.

35. Technology and Social Interaction: “How has the proliferation of digital technology influenced face-to-face social interactions and community building?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Technological Determinism
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative surveys on technology use with qualitative observations of social interactions in various settings.

Nursing Problems

36. Patient Communication and Recovery: “How does effective nurse-patient communication influence patient recovery rates and overall satisfaction with care?”

  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys assessing patient satisfaction and recovery metrics, combined with observational studies on nurse-patient interactions.

37. Stress Management in Nursing: “What are the primary sources of occupational stress for nurses, and how can they be effectively managed to prevent burnout?”

  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative measures of stress and burnout with qualitative interviews exploring personal experiences and coping mechanisms.

38. Hand Hygiene Compliance: “How effective are different interventions in improving hand hygiene compliance among nursing staff, and what are the barriers to consistent hand hygiene?”

  • Methodology : Experimental design comparing hand hygiene rates before and after specific interventions, combined with focus groups to understand barriers.

39. Nurse-Patient Ratios and Patient Outcomes: “How do nurse-patient ratios impact patient outcomes, including recovery rates, complications, and hospital readmissions?”

  • Methodology : Quantitative study analyzing patient outcomes in relation to staffing levels, possibly using retrospective chart reviews.

40. Continuing Education and Clinical Competence: “How does regular continuing education influence clinical competence and confidence among nurses?”

  • Methodology : Longitudinal study tracking nurses’ clinical skills and confidence over time as they engage in continuing education, combined with patient outcome measures to assess potential impacts on care quality.

Communication Studies Problems

41. Media Representation and Public Perception: “How does media representation of minority groups influence public perceptions and biases?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Cultivation Theory
  • Methodology : Content analysis of media representations combined with quantitative surveys assessing public perceptions and attitudes.

42. Digital Communication and Relationship Building: “How has the rise of digital communication platforms impacted the way individuals build and maintain personal relationships?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Penetration Theory
  • Methodology : Mixed methods, combining quantitative surveys on digital communication habits with qualitative interviews exploring personal relationship dynamics.

43. Crisis Communication Effectiveness: “What strategies are most effective in managing public relations during organizational crises, and how do they influence public trust?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT)
  • Methodology : Case study analysis of past organizational crises, assessing communication strategies used and subsequent public trust metrics.

44. Nonverbal Cues in Virtual Communication: “How do nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and gestures, influence message interpretation in virtual communication platforms?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Social Semiotics
  • Methodology : Experimental design using video conferencing tools, analyzing participants’ interpretations of messages with varying nonverbal cues.

45. Influence of Social Media on Political Engagement: “How does exposure to political content on social media platforms influence individuals’ political engagement and activism?”

  • Theoretical Framework : Uses and Gratifications Theory
  • Methodology : Quantitative surveys assessing social media habits and political engagement levels, combined with content analysis of political posts on popular platforms.

Before you Go: Tips and Tricks for Writing a Research Problem

This is an incredibly stressful time for research students. The research problem is going to lock you into a specific line of inquiry for the rest of your studies.

So, here’s what I tend to suggest to my students:

  • Start with something you find intellectually stimulating – Too many students choose projects because they think it hasn’t been studies or they’ve found a research gap. Don’t over-estimate the importance of finding a research gap. There are gaps in every line of inquiry. For now, just find a topic you think you can really sink your teeth into and will enjoy learning about.
  • Take 5 ideas to your supervisor – Approach your research supervisor, professor, lecturer, TA, our course leader with 5 research problem ideas and run each by them. The supervisor will have valuable insights that you didn’t consider that will help you narrow-down and refine your problem even more.
  • Trust your supervisor – The supervisor-student relationship is often very strained and stressful. While of course this is your project, your supervisor knows the internal politics and conventions of academic research. The depth of knowledge about how to navigate academia and get you out the other end with your degree is invaluable. Don’t underestimate their advice.

I’ve got a full article on all my tips and tricks for doing research projects right here – I recommend reading it:

  • 9 Tips on How to Choose a Dissertation Topic


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) 5 Top Tips for Succeeding at University
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Clinical Professor of Applied Human Development, Boston University

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For the past 20 years, I have taught research methods in education to students here in the U.S. and in other countries. While the purpose of the course is to show students how to do effective research, the ultimate goal of the research is to get better academic results for the nation’s K-12 students and schools.

Vast resources are already being spent on this goal. Between 2019 and 2022, the Institute of Educational Sciences , the research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Education Department, distributed US$473 million in 255 grants to improve educational outcomes.

In 2021, colleges and universities spent approximately $1.6 billion on educational research .

The research is not hard to find. The Educational Research Information Center, a federally run repository, houses 1.6 million educational research sources in over 1,000 scholarly journals.

And there are plenty of opportunities for educational researchers to network and collaborate. Each year, for instance, more than 15,000 educators and researchers gather to present or discuss educational research findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association .

Yet, for all the time, money and effort that have been spent on producing research in the field of education, the nation seems to have little to show for it in terms of improvements in academic achievement.

Growing gaps

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, test scores were beginning to decline. Results from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, , or NAEP – the most representative assessment of what elementary and middle school students know across specific subjects – show a widening gap between the highest and lowest achievement levels on the NAEP for fourth grade mathematics and eighth grade reading between 2017-19. During the same period, NAEP outcomes show stagnated growth in reading achievement among fourth graders. By eighth grade, there is a greater gap in reading achievement between the highest- and lowest-achieving students.

Some education experts have even suggested that the chances for progress get dimmer for students as they get older. For instance, in a 2019-2020 report to Congress , Mark Schneider, the Institute of Educational Sciences director, wrote: “for science and math, the longer students stay in school, the more likely they are to fail to meet even NAEP’s basic performance level.”

Scores on the International Assessment of Adult Competencies , a measure of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, suggest a similar pattern of achievement. Achievement levels on the assessment show a slight decline in literacy and numeracy between 2012-14 and 2017. Fewer Americans are scoring at the highest levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy.

As an educational researcher who focuses on academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color , I believe these troubling results raise serious questions about whether educational research is being put to use.

Are school leaders and policymakers actually reading any of the vast amount of educational research that exists? Or does it go largely unnoticed in voluminous virtual vaults? What, if anything, can be done to make sure that educational research findings and recommendations are actually being tried?

Here are four things I believe can be done in order to make sure that educational research is actually being applied.

1. Build better relationships with school leaders

A man in a blue suit accompanies an elementary school-aged boy as they walk down a school hallway.

Educational researchers can reach out to school leaders before doing their research in order to design research based on the needs of schools and schoolchildren. If school leaders can see how educational research can specifically benefit their school community, they may be more likely to implement findings and recommendations from the research.

2. Make policy and practice part of the research process

By implementing new policies and practices based on research findings, researchers can work with school leaders to do further research to see if the new policies and practices actually work.

For example, The Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund the implementation and evaluation of education interventions with a record of improving student achievement. Through the fund, $679 million was distributed through 67 grants – and 12 of those 67 funded projects improved student outcomes. The key to success? Having a “tight implementation” plan, which was shown to produce at least one positive student outcome.

3. Rethink how research impact is measured

As part of the national rankings for colleges of education – that is, the schools that prepare schoolteachers for their careers – engagement with public schools could be made a factor in the rankings. The rankings could also include measurable educational impact.

4. Rethink and redefine how research is distributed

Evidence-based instruction can improve student outcomes . However, public school teachers often can’t afford to access the evidence or the time to make sense of it. Research findings written in everyday language could be distributed at conferences frequented by public school teachers and in the periodicals that they read.

If research findings are to make a difference, I believe there has to be a stronger focus on using research to bring about real-world change in public schools.

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The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2021

From reframing our notion of “good” schools to mining the magic of expert teachers, here’s a curated list of must-read research from 2021.

It was a year of unprecedented hardship for teachers and school leaders. We pored through hundreds of studies to see if we could follow the trail of exactly what happened: The research revealed a complex portrait of a grueling year during which persistent issues of burnout and mental and physical health impacted millions of educators. Meanwhile, many of the old debates continued: Does paper beat digital? Is project-based learning as effective as direct instruction? How do you define what a “good” school is?

Other studies grabbed our attention, and in a few cases, made headlines. Researchers from the University of Chicago and Columbia University turned artificial intelligence loose on some 1,130 award-winning children’s books in search of invisible patterns of bias. (Spoiler alert: They found some.) Another study revealed why many parents are reluctant to support social and emotional learning in schools—and provided hints about how educators can flip the script.

1. What Parents Fear About SEL (and How to Change Their Minds)

When researchers at the Fordham Institute asked parents to rank phrases associated with social and emotional learning , nothing seemed to add up. The term “social-emotional learning” was very unpopular; parents wanted to steer their kids clear of it. But when the researchers added a simple clause, forming a new phrase—”social-emotional & academic learning”—the program shot all the way up to No. 2 in the rankings.

What gives?

Parents were picking up subtle cues in the list of SEL-related terms that irked or worried them, the researchers suggest. Phrases like “soft skills” and “growth mindset” felt “nebulous” and devoid of academic content. For some, the language felt suspiciously like “code for liberal indoctrination.”

But the study suggests that parents might need the simplest of reassurances to break through the political noise. Removing the jargon, focusing on productive phrases like “life skills,” and relentlessly connecting SEL to academic progress puts parents at ease—and seems to save social and emotional learning in the process.

2. The Secret Management Techniques of Expert Teachers

In the hands of experienced teachers, classroom management can seem almost invisible: Subtle techniques are quietly at work behind the scenes, with students falling into orderly routines and engaging in rigorous academic tasks almost as if by magic. 

That’s no accident, according to new research . While outbursts are inevitable in school settings, expert teachers seed their classrooms with proactive, relationship-building strategies that often prevent misbehavior before it erupts. They also approach discipline more holistically than their less-experienced counterparts, consistently reframing misbehavior in the broader context of how lessons can be more engaging, or how clearly they communicate expectations.

Focusing on the underlying dynamics of classroom behavior—and not on surface-level disruptions—means that expert teachers often look the other way at all the right times, too. Rather than rise to the bait of a minor breach in etiquette, a common mistake of new teachers, they tend to play the long game, asking questions about the origins of misbehavior, deftly navigating the terrain between discipline and student autonomy, and opting to confront misconduct privately when possible.

3. The Surprising Power of Pretesting

Asking students to take a practice test before they’ve even encountered the material may seem like a waste of time—after all, they’d just be guessing.

But new research concludes that the approach, called pretesting, is actually more effective than other typical study strategies. Surprisingly, pretesting even beat out taking practice tests after learning the material, a proven strategy endorsed by cognitive scientists and educators alike. In the study, students who took a practice test before learning the material outperformed their peers who studied more traditionally by 49 percent on a follow-up test, while outperforming students who took practice tests after studying the material by 27 percent.

The researchers hypothesize that the “generation of errors” was a key to the strategy’s success, spurring student curiosity and priming them to “search for the correct answers” when they finally explored the new material—and adding grist to a 2018 study that found that making educated guesses helped students connect background knowledge to new material.

Learning is more durable when students do the hard work of correcting misconceptions, the research suggests, reminding us yet again that being wrong is an important milestone on the road to being right.

4. Confronting an Old Myth About Immigrant Students

Immigrant students are sometimes portrayed as a costly expense to the education system, but new research is systematically dismantling that myth.

In a 2021 study , researchers analyzed over 1.3 million academic and birth records for students in Florida communities, and concluded that the presence of immigrant students actually has “a positive effect on the academic achievement of U.S.-born students,” raising test scores as the size of the immigrant school population increases. The benefits were especially powerful for low-income students.

While immigrants initially “face challenges in assimilation that may require additional school resources,” the researchers concluded, hard work and resilience may allow them to excel and thus “positively affect exposed U.S.-born students’ attitudes and behavior.” But according to teacher Larry Ferlazzo, the improvements might stem from the fact that having English language learners in classes improves pedagogy , pushing teachers to consider “issues like prior knowledge, scaffolding, and maximizing accessibility.”

5. A Fuller Picture of What a ‘Good’ School Is

It’s time to rethink our definition of what a “good school” is, researchers assert in a study published in late 2020.⁣ That’s because typical measures of school quality like test scores often provide an incomplete and misleading picture, the researchers found.

The study looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools and concluded that emphasizing the social and emotional dimensions of learning—relationship-building, a sense of belonging, and resilience, for example—improves high school graduation and college matriculation rates for both high- and low-income students, beating out schools that focus primarily on improving test scores.⁣

“Schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” said lead researcher C. Kirabo Jackson in an interview with Edutopia . “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

The findings reinforce the importance of a holistic approach to measuring student progress, and are a reminder that schools—and teachers—can influence students in ways that are difficult to measure, and may only materialize well into the future.⁣

6. Teaching Is Learning

One of the best ways to learn a concept is to teach it to someone else. But do you actually have to step into the shoes of a teacher, or does the mere expectation of teaching do the trick?

In a 2021 study , researchers split students into two groups and gave them each a science passage about the Doppler effect—a phenomenon associated with sound and light waves that explains the gradual change in tone and pitch as a car races off into the distance, for example. One group studied the text as preparation for a test; the other was told that they’d be teaching the material to another student.

The researchers never carried out the second half of the activity—students read the passages but never taught the lesson. All of the participants were then tested on their factual recall of the Doppler effect, and their ability to draw deeper conclusions from the reading.

The upshot? Students who prepared to teach outperformed their counterparts in both duration and depth of learning, scoring 9 percent higher on factual recall a week after the lessons concluded, and 24 percent higher on their ability to make inferences. The research suggests that asking students to prepare to teach something—or encouraging them to think “could I teach this to someone else?”—can significantly alter their learning trajectories.

7. A Disturbing Strain of Bias in Kids’ Books

Some of the most popular and well-regarded children’s books—Caldecott and Newbery honorees among them—persistently depict Black, Asian, and Hispanic characters with lighter skin, according to new research .

Using artificial intelligence, researchers combed through 1,130 children’s books written in the last century, comparing two sets of diverse children’s books—one a collection of popular books that garnered major literary awards, the other favored by identity-based awards. The software analyzed data on skin tone, race, age, and gender.

Among the findings: While more characters with darker skin color begin to appear over time, the most popular books—those most frequently checked out of libraries and lining classroom bookshelves—continue to depict people of color in lighter skin tones. More insidiously, when adult characters are “moral or upstanding,” their skin color tends to appear lighter, the study’s lead author, Anjali Aduki,  told The 74 , with some books converting “Martin Luther King Jr.’s chocolate complexion to a light brown or beige.” Female characters, meanwhile, are often seen but not heard.

Cultural representations are a reflection of our values, the researchers conclude: “Inequality in representation, therefore, constitutes an explicit statement of inequality of value.”

8. The Never-Ending ‘Paper Versus Digital’ War

The argument goes like this: Digital screens turn reading into a cold and impersonal task; they’re good for information foraging, and not much more. “Real” books, meanwhile, have a heft and “tactility”  that make them intimate, enchanting—and irreplaceable.

But researchers have often found weak or equivocal evidence for the superiority of reading on paper. While a recent study concluded that paper books yielded better comprehension than e-books when many of the digital tools had been removed, the effect sizes were small. A 2021 meta-analysis further muddies the water: When digital and paper books are “mostly similar,” kids comprehend the print version more readily—but when enhancements like motion and sound “target the story content,” e-books generally have the edge.

Nostalgia is a force that every new technology must eventually confront. There’s plenty of evidence that writing with pen and paper encodes learning more deeply than typing. But new digital book formats come preloaded with powerful tools that allow readers to annotate, look up words, answer embedded questions, and share their thinking with other readers.

We may not be ready to admit it, but these are precisely the kinds of activities that drive deeper engagement, enhance comprehension, and leave us with a lasting memory of what we’ve read. The future of e-reading, despite the naysayers, remains promising.

9. New Research Makes a Powerful Case for PBL

Many classrooms today still look like they did 100 years ago, when students were preparing for factory jobs. But the world’s moved on: Modern careers demand a more sophisticated set of skills—collaboration, advanced problem-solving, and creativity, for example—and those can be difficult to teach in classrooms that rarely give students the time and space to develop those competencies.

Project-based learning (PBL) would seem like an ideal solution. But critics say PBL places too much responsibility on novice learners, ignoring the evidence about the effectiveness of direct instruction and ultimately undermining subject fluency. Advocates counter that student-centered learning and direct instruction can and should coexist in classrooms.

Now two new large-scale studies —encompassing over 6,000 students in 114 diverse schools across the nation—provide evidence that a well-structured, project-based approach boosts learning for a wide range of students.

In the studies, which were funded by Lucas Education Research, a sister division of Edutopia , elementary and high school students engaged in challenging projects that had them designing water systems for local farms, or creating toys using simple household objects to learn about gravity, friction, and force. Subsequent testing revealed notable learning gains—well above those experienced by students in traditional classrooms—and those gains seemed to raise all boats, persisting across socioeconomic class, race, and reading levels.

10. Tracking a Tumultuous Year for Teachers

The Covid-19 pandemic cast a long shadow over the lives of educators in 2021, according to a year’s worth of research.

The average teacher’s workload suddenly “spiked last spring,” wrote the Center for Reinventing Public Education in its January 2021 report, and then—in defiance of the laws of motion—simply never let up. By the fall, a RAND study recorded an astonishing shift in work habits: 24 percent of teachers reported that they were working 56 hours or more per week, compared to 5 percent pre-pandemic.

The vaccine was the promised land, but when it arrived nothing seemed to change. In an April 2021 survey  conducted four months after the first vaccine was administered in New York City, 92 percent of teachers said their jobs were more stressful than prior to the pandemic, up from 81 percent in an earlier survey.

It wasn’t just the length of the work days; a close look at the research reveals that the school system’s failure to adjust expectations was ruinous. It seemed to start with the obligations of hybrid teaching, which surfaced in Edutopia ’s coverage of overseas school reopenings. In June 2020, well before many U.S. schools reopened, we reported that hybrid teaching was an emerging problem internationally, and warned that if the “model is to work well for any period of time,” schools must “recognize and seek to reduce the workload for teachers.” Almost eight months later, a 2021 RAND study identified hybrid teaching as a primary source of teacher stress in the U.S., easily outpacing factors like the health of a high-risk loved one.

New and ever-increasing demands for tech solutions put teachers on a knife’s edge. In several important 2021 studies, researchers concluded that teachers were being pushed to adopt new technology without the “resources and equipment necessary for its correct didactic use.” Consequently, they were spending more than 20 hours a week adapting lessons for online use, and experiencing an unprecedented erosion of the boundaries between their work and home lives, leading to an unsustainable “always on” mentality. When it seemed like nothing more could be piled on—when all of the lights were blinking red—the federal government restarted standardized testing .

Change will be hard; many of the pathologies that exist in the system now predate the pandemic. But creating strict school policies that separate work from rest, eliminating the adoption of new tech tools without proper supports, distributing surveys regularly to gauge teacher well-being, and above all listening to educators to identify and confront emerging problems might be a good place to start, if the research can be believed.

National Academies Press: OpenBook

Schools and Health: Our Nation's Investment (1997)

Chapter: 6 challenges in school health research and evaluation, 6 challenges in school health research and evaluation, overview of research and evaluation.

One of the primary arguments for establishing comprehensive school health programs (CSHPs) has been that they will improve students' academic performance and therefore improve the employability and productivity of our future adult citizens. Another argument relates to public health impact—since one-third of the Healthy People 2000 objectives can be directly attained or significantly influenced through the schools, CSHPs are seen as a means to reduce not only morbidity and mortality but also health care expenditures. It is likely that the future of CSHPs will be determined by the degree to which they are able to demonstrate a significant impact on educational and/or health outcomes.

Evaluation of any health promotion program poses numerous challenges such as measurement validity, respondent bias, attrition, and statistical power. The situation is even more challenging for CSHPs, for several reasons. First, these programs comprise multiple, interactive components, such as classroom, family, and community interventions, each employing multiple intervention strategies. Therefore, it is often difficult to determine which intervention components and specific messages, activities, and services are responsible for observed treatment effects. Second, given the broad scope of CSHPs, it is difficult to determine what the realistic outcomes should be, and measuring these outcomes in school-age children (be it the actual behavior or precursors such as communication skills) is often problematic, especially when outcomes have to do

with such sensitive matters as drug use or sexual behavior. Finally, though some aspects of a CSHP (e.g., classroom curricula) can be replicated, many aspects of the CSHP (e.g., staffing patterns, local norms, and community resources) differ across schools, cities, states, and regions. Consequently, the results of even the most rigorous evaluations may not be generalizable to other settings.

This chapter examines these and other issues related to the evaluation of CSHPs. First, general principles of research and evaluation, as applied to school health programs, are reviewed. Then the challenges and difficulties associated with research and evaluation of comprehensive, multi-component programs are examined. Finally, the difficulties and uncertainties related to research and evaluation of even a single, relatively well-defined component of comprehensive programs—the health education component—are be considered. The committee felt that it was appropriate to focus on health education in this chapter, because of the relative maturity of research in this area. Specific aspects of health education research have been chosen that highlight challenges in evaluating school-based interventions, as well as in interpreting ambiguous, if not conflicting, results relevant to other components of the comprehensive program. Discussion of the research and evaluation of other components of CSHPs—health services, nutrition or foodservices, physical education, and so forth—is found in the general discussion of these components in earlier chapters.

Types of School Health Research

Research and evaluation of comprehensive school health programs can be divided into three categories: basic research, outcome evaluation, and process evaluation.

Basic Research

An ultimate goal of CSHPs is to influence behavior. Basic research in CSHPs involves inquiry into the fundamental determinants of behavior as well as mechanisms of behavior change. Basic research includes examination of factors thought to influence health behavior—such as peer norms, self-efficacy, legal factors, health knowledge, and parental attitudes—as well as specific behavior change strategies. Basic research often employs epidemiologic strategies, such as cross-sectional or longitudinal analyses, as well as pilot intervention studies designed to isolate specific behavior change strategies, although often on a smaller scale than full outcome trials. A primary function of basic behavioral research is to in-

form the development of interventions, whose effects can then be tested in outcome evaluation trials.

Outcome Evaluation

Outcome evaluation includes empirical examination of the impact of interventions on targeted outcomes. Possible outcomes (or dependent variables) include health knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors, biologic measures, morbidity, mortality, and cost-effectiveness. Interventions (or independent variables) include specific health education curricula, teaching strategies, organizational change, environmental change, or health service delivery models. This type of evaluation in its most basic form resembles the randomized clinical trial with experimental and control groups, along with the requisite null hypothesis assumptions and concern for internal and external validity. Outcome evaluation can further be divided into three stages: efficacy, effectiveness, and implementation effectiveness trials (Flay, 1986).

Efficacy . Efficacy testing involves the evaluation of an intervention under ideal, controlled implementation conditions. During this stage, for example, teachers may be paid to ensure that they implement a health curriculum, or other motivational strategies may be used to ensure fidelity. The goal of efficacy testing is to determine the potential effect of an intervention, with less concern for feasibility or replicability. In drug study parlance, during this stage of research efforts are made to ensure that the ''drug" is taken so that biologic effects, or lack thereof, can be attributed to the drug rather than to degree of compliance.

Effectiveness . In effectiveness trials, interventions are implemented under real-world circumstances with the associated variations in implementation and participant exposure. Effectiveness trials help determine if interventions can reliably be used under real-world conditions and the extent to which effects observed under efficacy conditions are reproduced in natural settings. Some programs, despite being efficacious, may not be effective if they are difficult to implement or are not accepted by staff or students. Effectiveness research is of particular concern because the results of efficacy testing and, to a lesser extent, of effectiveness trials may not always be generalizable to the real world.

Implementation Effectiveness . In implementation effectiveness trials, variations in implementation methods are manipulated experimentally and outcomes are measured (Flay, 1986). For example, the outcomes can be compared when a CSHP is implemented with or without a school

coordinator or when a health education program is implemented by peers rather than adults.

Process Evaluation

Once an intervention has demonstrated adequate evidence for efficacy and effectiveness, it can be assumed that replications of the intervention will yield effects similar to those observed in prior outcomes research trials. The validity of this assumption is enhanced when multiple effectiveness trials have been successfully conducted under varying conditions and the intervention is delivered with fidelity in a setting and with a target population similar to those used in the initial testing.

It is at this point that process evaluation becomes the desired level of assessment. The goal of process evaluation is not to determine the basic impact of an intervention but rather to determine whether a proven intervention was properly implemented, and what factors may have contributed to the intervention's success or failure at the particular site. Implementation and/or participant exposure can be used as proxies for formal outcome evaluation. Key process evaluation strategies include implementation monitoring (e.g., teacher observation), quality assurance, and assessing consumer reactions (e.g., student, teacher, and parent response to the program).

Evaluation at this level may include some elements of outcome evaluation. Desired outcomes are often stated as objectives to be achieved by the program, which can be evaluated pre- and post-intervention, and may include a comparison group or references to normative data. Random selection and assignment of participants are typically not employed, however, and the level of rigor used to collect and analyze data is often less stringent than in formal outcome evaluation. This type of evaluation is sometimes referred to as program evaluation.

Although program evaluation can include rigorous design and analyses, in many real world program evaluations the assessment is often secondary to the intervention. Such interventions often do not bother with randomized design, control groups, or complex statistics. The evaluation is adapted to the intervention, rather than the inverse. For example, pragmatic issues, more than experimental design, often determine sample size and which sites are assigned to treatment or comparison conditions. In basic research and outcome evaluation on the other hand, evaluation is the principal reason that the intervention is being conducted; pragmatic issues often yield to methodologic concerns, and evaluation procedures largely are determined prior to initiating intervention activities.

Linking Outcome and Process Evaluations

Although outcome and process evaluation are described above as being sequential, the two often are conducted concurrently by linking process data to outcome data in order to determine causal pathways. One application of linking process and outcome data is the dose–response analysis—measuring the relationship between intervention dose and level of outcomes. For example, student behavioral outcomes can be examined relative to levels of teachers' curriculum implementation in a health education study or to students' level of clinic usage in a health services study. A positive dose–response relationship is seen as evidence for construct validity—that is, observed outcomes are attributed to the intervention rather than to other influences. Numerous health education studies have established a dose–response relationship between curriculum exposure and student outcomes (Connell et al., 1985; Parcel et al., 1991; Resnicow et al., 1992; Rohrbach et al., 1993; Taggart et al., 1990). Less is known about dose–response in other components of CSHPs.

Who Conducts the Research?

The various types of school health research are conducted by a diverse group of professionals. Basic research and outcome evaluation are typically conducted by doctoral-level professionals from university and freestanding research centers, often with funding from the federal government (though such studies also are supported by private foundations or corporations). Evaluating CSHPs at the level of basic research or outcome evaluation is largely beyond the fiscal and professional capacity of most local and even state education agencies. Process evaluation, on the other hand, can be conducted by local education agencies, perhaps in partnership with local public health agencies. Many models of CSHPs include an evaluation component, and it is important to delineate what type of evaluation schools and education agencies should reasonably be expected to conduct on the local level.

Although carried out by research professionals, basic research and outcome evaluation should not be abstract academic pursuits that are an end in themselves. Greater interaction is needed between researchers and those who actually implement programs. It would be desirable to stimulate and support research and evaluation alliances among colleges of education, schools of public health, and college of medicine. Bringing together the expertise from all three sectors in school health research and evaluation centers may enhance the understanding and interaction between these sectors and produce research and evaluation methods that can address cross-sector issues more accurately. This also will lead to

developing programs that can be disseminated more easily and to reducing the number of researchers working in isolation.

Uses for Research and Evaluation

Basic research, outcome evaluation, and process evaluation are also conducted for different audiences and intentions. The first two are largely intended to build scientific knowledge and are generally published in the peer-reviewed literature. The latter generally is used to demonstrate feasibility of an intervention, as well as to document the facts that program implementation objectives were met and funds were properly spent. Such reports are typically requested by or intended for state education agencies, local education agencies, or funding sources that may have sponsored the local project. Local program evaluations of pilot programs also are used to justify expanding dissemination efforts.

All three types of evaluation can contribute to the development and dissemination of comprehensive school health programs, although it is important that they be applied in their proper sequence. Process evaluation studies are inappropriate for demonstrating intervention efficacy or measuring cost-effectiveness, just as basic research approaches may go beyond what is necessary for local program evaluation. To merit dissemination, programs should first undergo formal experimental efficacy and effectiveness testing; lower standards may result in adoption of suboptimal programs and ultimately impair the credibility of school health programs among their educational and public health constituencies (Ennett et al., 1994).


Although traditional experimental studies using control or comparison groups are appropriate for testing individual program components and specific intervention strategies, this may not be the case for the overall CSHP, which is a complex entity and varies from site to site. In a recent discussion of methods to evaluate such complex systems as CSHPs, Shaw (1995) proposed that the use of the classic experimental design to conduct outcome evaluations may be outmoded and inadequate for several reasons. First, the randomized clinical trial, with its tightly controlled and defined independent and dependent variables, cannot measure and capture large-scale, rapidly changing systems. Traditional experimental design ignores the need for timely formative descriptive data, maintains the artificial roles of the researcher as external expert and the subject as passive recipient of a defined treatment, and fails to recognize the complex nature of multifaceted programs that vary according to community needs.

Furthermore, there may be ethical dilemmas in randomly assigning students to treatment versus control groups when children's health and well-being are at stake.

It will be difficult—and possibly not feasible—to conduct traditional randomized trials on entire comprehensive programs. However, interventions associated with individual program components should be developed and tested by using rigorous methods that involve experimental and control groups, with the requisite concern for internal and external validity. In this section, some of the methodological challenges of demonstrating program impacts are examined.

Challenges in Assessing Validity

A goal of studying CSHPs at the level of efficacy testing is to measure the extent to which programs produce the desired outcomes (internal validity)—that is, to determine whether there is a causal relationship between the independent variable (CSHP) and defined outcomes such as knowledge, health practices, or health status.

Defining the Independent Variable

The first measurement challenge is the difficulty in defining the independent variable (the CSHP) or "treatment." Knapp (1995) has described this dilemma: "The 'independent variable' is elusive. It can be many different kinds of things, even within the same intervention; far from being a fixed treatment, as assessed by many research designs, the target of study is more often a menu of possibilities."

Ironically, the most successful programs—which are, in fact, comprehensive, multifaceted, interdisciplinary and well integrated into the community—may be the most difficult to define and segregate into components readily identifiable as the independent variable. It may be impossible, for example, to separate effects of the school from those of the community (Perry et al., 1992). This poses an important assessment dilemma. While it is vital that comprehensive programs be evaluated as a whole (Lopez and Weiss, 1994), it is unlikely that any individual program could be replicated in its entirety in a different community with its varying infrastructure, needs, and values. Thus, internal validity—the extent to which the effectiveness of the entire program is being accurately measured—may be high, but external validity—the extent to which the findings can be generalized and replicated beyond a single setting—is sacrificed.

Because of limited resources, one might wish to prioritize individual program components based on their relative efficacy. However, the over-

all effect of comprehensive programs may well be more than or different from the sum of its parts. Using a factorial design to examine the effects of individual components or combinations of components would require an unwieldy number of experimental conditions and large sample size. Thus, the independent variables in a CSHP not only may be difficult to define and measure, but it is unlikely that a consensus of what should comprise the intervention can or even should be reached.

Defining the Dependent Variable

In similar ways, defining the appropriate, feasible, and measurable outcomes (dependent variables) of a CSHP is equally challenging. Is it necessary to use change in health-related behaviors, such as smoking or drug use, to measure effectiveness of health education programs, or is the acquisition of knowledge and skills sufficient? If behavior change outside the school is required to declare effectiveness, this would seem to represent an educational double standard. For example, the quality and effectiveness of mathematics education are measured by determining mathematics knowledge and skills, using some sort of school-based assessment, not by determining whether the student actually balances a checkbook or accurately fills out an income tax form as an adult. Likewise, the quality of instruction in literature or political science is measured by the acquisition of knowledge, not by whether the student writes novels, reads poetry, votes, or becomes a contributing citizen.

Similarly, should appropriate outcomes for school health services be improved health status, behaviors, and long-term health outcomes, or is simply access to and utilization of services a sufficient end point? Is a reduction in absenteeism a proxy for improved health status and a reasonable indicator of health outcomes? Dependent variables used to measure effectiveness of school-linked health services have included linking students with no prior care to health services, decreased use of the emergency room for primary care, identification of previously unidentified health problems, access to and utilization of services by students and families, perceptions and health knowledge of students and their parents, decreasing involvement in risk behaviors, and health status indicators (Glick et al., 1995; Kisker et al., 1994; Lewin-VHI and Institute of Health Policy Studies, 1995). Some of these measures simply determine whether school services provide access and utilization, whereas other measures look for a change in health status and behavior. However, if improved health status and behaviors are declared to be the expectation for school health services, does this hold the school to higher standards than those of other health care providers?

The committee points out that, although influencing health behavior

and health status are ultimate goals of CSHPs, such end points involve personal decisionmaking beyond the control of the school. Other factors—family, peers, community, and the media—exert tremendous influence on students, and schools should not bear total responsibility for students' health behavior and health status. Schools should be held accountable for conveying health knowledge, providing a health-promoting environment, and ensuring access to high-quality services; these are the reasonable outcomes for judging the merit of a CSHP. 1 Other outcomes—improved attendance, better cardiovascular fitness, less drug abuse, or fewer teen pregnancies, for example—may also be considered, but the committee believes that such measures must be interpreted with caution, since they are influenced by personal decisionmaking and factors beyond the control of the school. In particular, null or negative outcomes for these measures should not necessarily lead to declaring the CSHP a failure; rather, they may imply that other sources of influence on children and young people oppose and outweigh the influence of the CSHP.

Other Issues

In addition to the above difficulties, all of the potential biases and challenges inherent in any research also apply. Serious threats to validity in measuring effects of CSHP include:

the Hawthorne effect—positive outcomes simply due to being part of an investigation, regardless of the nature of the intervention;

self-reporting biases—responding with answers that are thought to be "correct" and socially desirable;

Type III error—incorrectly concluding that an intervention is not effective, when in fact ineffectiveness is due to the incorrect implementation of the intervention.

ensuring even and consistent distribution of the intervention;

sorting out effects of confounding and extraneous variables;

isolating effective ingredients of multifaceted programs;

control groups that are not comparable;

differential and selective attrition in longitudinal studies;

inadequate reliability and validity of measurement tools; and

vague or inadequate conceptualization of study variables.

Another problem in drawing conclusions from reported research is "reporting bias"—the fact that only positive findings tend to be reported in the literature while studies with negative or inconclusive results are not often published. It is also important to remember that results that are statistically significant may not always have educational and public health significance.

Challenges Related to Feasibility

The kinds of large-scale research studies necessary to assess long-term outcomes of CSHPs are extremely costly and require extensive coordination. Since such programs are usually implemented for entire schools, communities, regions, or states, a majority of the children who participate are at relatively low risk for a number of outcomes of potential relevance. In addition, often only small to moderate outcome effects are sought. Hence, sample size needs are large, particularly when the unit of measurement is the school or the community rather than the individual.

Once efficacy and effectiveness have been demonstrated, the problem of developing a feasible program evaluation plan is compounded by the lack of evaluation expertise at the local or regional level and the inadequate or incompatible information systems for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information. Local planners often need assistance in selecting and implementing evaluation strategies and in identifying means to make existing data more useful. For school health education, there are numerous guidelines and evaluation manuals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Service's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Educational Development Center, to help states develop an evaluation plan. The national evaluation plan for the Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities Program provides helpful information for the evaluation of school health services (Lewin-VHI and Institute of Health Policy Studies, 1995). This plan is facilitated by a standardized data collection system and marks the first time that health education and health services will be systematically analyzed with a management information system that records different types of health education interventions, utilization of health services, and outcomes.


Health education is one of the essential components of CSHPs. As

described in earlier chapters, health instruction has taken place in schools for many years, and the field is reasonably well defined and developed compared to some of the other aspects of a CSHP. Health education research has been an active field, but considerable knowledge gaps exist and research findings are often ambiguous, unexpected, or sometimes seemingly contradictory. This section focuses on some of the challenges and unresolved questions in classroom health education and suggests issues that merit further study.

Effects of Comprehensive Health Education

The preponderance of school health education research has consisted of outcome evaluations focusing on categorical risk behavior, such as smoking, drug use, sexual behavior, and nutrition. A few notable studies have examined several risk behaviors simultaneously—such as nutrition, physical activity, and smoking—as risk reduction interventions for cardiovascular disease or cancer (Luepker et al., 1996; Resnicow et al., 1991) or have looked at efforts to prevent drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse (Pentz, 1989a), but there have been very few studies that evaluate comprehensive, multitopic health education programs (Connell et al., 1985; Errecart et al., 1991). The lack of evaluation studies of comprehensive health education is to a large extent the result of how school health research has been funded at the federal level. Generally, health concerns are divided into categorical areas for research and demonstration funding; the result is that funding agencies are interested in funding only research and development projects that address their particular disease area of responsibility. There is a scarcity of hard data about the potential impact of overall comprehensive classroom health education programs. Only a few commercially available multitopic school health curricula have been evaluated to test their effectiveness (e.g., the Know Your Body program). Some of these either are old and or have not made use of the methods demonstrated to be effective in categorical research and demonstration projects, which means that schools are faced with adopting programs that have not been evaluated or attempting to piece together evaluated programs.

How Much Health Education Is Enough?

There is consensus that health education programming should span kindergarten through grade 12 (Lohrman et al., 1987). However, the precise number and sequence of lessons required to achieve significant enduring effects have not been clearly defined. As mentioned previously, such determinations are complicated by uncertainties in what end points

are desirable or feasible—behavior change versus change in knowledge and attitudes. If the desired end point is change in behavior, a greater dose will likely be required. ("Dose" involves two dimensions: intensity, or amount of programming per year, and duration, the number of years of programming.) Moreover, if the end point is long-term behavior change or reductions in adult morbidity and mortality, an even greater dose may be necessary that provides more intensive programming for a longer time.

The ideal means to determine adequate dose would be to deliver the same curriculum using various levels of intensity and duration and then examine differences in student outcomes by differences in curriculum exposure. However, few studies have been designed a priori to test varying format and amount of programming. Instead, most of the evidence derives from post hoc analyses examining dose–response effects between health education programming and student outcomes—that is, the relationship between level of student outcomes and how much intervention students actually received. Despite the methodologic limitations, establishing a dose–response relationship from post hoc analysis is helpful for two reasons. First, a positive dose–response relationship provides evidence for construct validity—observed changes can be attributed to the health education program rather than to other variables. Second, results of these analyses have implications regarding the proper amount and sequence of health education programming.

One of the first major studies to demonstrate a dose–response effect was the School Health Education Evaluation project (Connell et al., 1985). Students from classrooms in which health programs were implemented more fully demonstrated significantly greater improvements in attitude and behaviors, compared to the entire intervention cohort. In addition, students exposed to two years versus one year of programming showed considerably greater changes in attitudes and practices. With regard to specific dose, there was evidence that between 15 and 20 hours of classroom instruction was required to produce meaningful student effects.

Dose–response effects were also evident in the Teenage Health Teaching Modules evaluation. This study found that changes in health knowledge as well as some priority health behaviors were related to teacher proficiency and to how well teachers adhered to the program materials, although these effects were somewhat equivocal (Parcel et al., 1991). In a third study, a three-year evaluation of the Know Your Body program, Resnicow et al. (1992) found significantly larger intervention effects for blood lipids, systolic blood pressure, health knowledge, self-efficacy, and dietary behavior among students exposed to "high-implementation" teachers relative to moderate- and low-implementation teachers, as well as to comparison youth receiving no programming.

There is additional evidence regarding dose–response from a survey conducted for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1988. This survey of 4,738 students in grades 3 through 12 in 199 public schools revealed that as the years of health instruction increased, students' health-related knowledge and healthy habits increased. With one year of health instruction, 43 percent of the students drank alcohol ''sometimes or more often," a level that decreased to 33 percent for students who had received three years of health instruction. With only one year of health instruction, 13 percent of the students had taken drugs, compared with only 6 percent who had received three years of health instruction. In regard to exercising outside of the school, 80 percent of the students who had three years of health instruction did so, but only 72 percent of those who had one year of instruction exercised outside of school (Harris, 1988).

Duration, Sequence, and Timing of Health Education

Two other aspects of dose include intensity of programming (i.e., concentrated versus dispersed) and booster treatments. With regard to the former, Botvin and colleagues (1983) found that students who received a substance use education program several times a week for 4 to 6 weeks (a "concentrated" format) showed stronger treatment effects than youth receiving the program once a week for 12 weeks (a "dispersed" format). Additionally, in two separate studies, students receiving booster sessions following a year of primary intervention showed larger and more sustained behavior effects than youth receiving only the initial intervention (Botvin et al., 1983; Botvin et al., 1995). Taken together, these findings suggest that the greater the intensity and duration of health education programming, the greater is the effect. It is important to note that "increased dose" can include two elements. The first relates to the number of lessons contained in a curriculum; the second is a function of implementation fidelity on the part of classroom teachers. Thus, a complex, non-user-friendly health education program containing many lessons may, due to low teacher implementation, result in a lower dose than will a more user-friendly program containing fewer lessons.

With regard to specific policy recommendations, there are insufficient data to delineate a requisite number of lessons across content areas and grades. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that at least 10 to 15 initial lessons, plus 8 to 15 booster sessions in subsequent years, are required to produce lasting behavioral effects (Botvin et al., 1983, 1995; Connell et al., 1985). These data, however, are derived primarily from substance use prevention studies of middle school youth. Little is known about the requisite intensity and duration of programming for other content areas or other age groups. It is also unclear to what extent general life

skills training, which targets substance use or sexual risk behaviors, may positively influence other behavioral domains. If spillover, synergistic effects from skills training or other common elements of health education programs (e.g., modifying normative expectations and increasing self-efficacy) occur when categorical programs are delivered within a comprehensive framework, the total number of lessons ultimately required for comprehensive curricula may be fewer than the sum of lessons from isolated categorical programs.

Additionally, whether these findings, which are based on a categorical topic, can be applied to a comprehensive curriculum merits discussion. It may be necessary to stagger content across K–12 and to target programming by developmental needs. For example, programming could be concentrated more heavily on substance use prevention at the middle school level, while in primary grades, nutrition and safety education could comprise the areas of focus. This developmental needs approach is a deviation from currently proposed curriculum frameworks, which suggest that health education address 8 to 12 content areas at each grade level. In view of the research that suggests a minimal number of lessons per grade for each content area, more serious attention should be given to setting priority areas for each stage of student development.

Lasting Effects of School Health Education

In several long-term follow-up studies of substance prevention programs delivered in grades 5 through 8 (Bell et al., 1993; Flay et al., 1989; Murray et al., 1989), positive program effects observed one to four years following the intervention had decayed by grade 12, or shortly after graduation from high school. Decay of program effects has also been observed for curricula addressing other content areas (Bush et al., 1989). There are studies, however, in which behavioral effects decayed but significant effects for knowledge and attitude were maintained (Bell et al., 1993; Flay et al., 1995).

Recently, however, Botvin and colleagues (1995) reported positive long-term results in a study involving more than 3,500 students in grade 12 who were randomly assigned to receive either the Life Skills Training substance use prevention program in grades 7 through 9 or "treatment as usual." Significant reductions in tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use were evident at the follow-up in grade 12, and effects were greater among students whose teachers taught the program with higher fidelity (i.e., high implementors).

How can the positive effects reported by Botvin et al. be reconciled with the null results reported in prior studies? One explanation is dose. The previous interventions comprised only six to eight lessons in the first

year and, in the Ellickson and Bell (1990) and Flay et al. (1989) studies, three to five booster sessions in subsequent years. Botvin's intervention contained 15 lessons in the first year and 15 additional lessons over the next two years. Other explanations include superiority of the Life Skills Training curriculum, including its content, format, and teacher training procedures, as well as higher levels of teacher implementation. Although the results of Botvin's study of substance use prevention are encouraging, research regarding the optimal dose and timing of curricula addressing other health behaviors is still needed. Given that achieving change in language arts and mathematics skills requires daily instruction for 12 academic years, it is reasonable to conclude that changes in health knowledge and in health behaviors also will require more instruction than one semester, the standard middle and secondary school requirement.

Active Ingredients of Health Education

Many successful health education programs employ several conceptually diverse intervention strategies such as didactic, affective, and behavioral activities directed at students, as well as environmental and policy change. Although there is considerable evidence that such programs as a whole can work, the construct validity of specific subcomponents—that is, "why" programs achieve or fail to achieve their desired effects—remains unclear (McCaul and Glasgow, 1985). Consider, for example, skills training. During the 1980s, numerous skills-based interventions aimed at increasing general and behavior-specific skills were developed and evaluated (Botvin et al., 1984; Donaldson et al., 1995; Flay, 1985; Kirby, 1992; McCaul and Glasgow, 1985). While initial results were encouraging and skills training has become an integral component of many school health education programs (Botvin et al., 1980; CDC, 1988, 1994; Flay, 1985; Glynn, 1989; Kirby, 1992; Pentz et al., 1989b; Schinke et al., 1985; Walter et al., 1988), many "skills-based" programs include other intervention strategies, such as modifying personal and group norms and outcome expectations, which also many have contributed to the reported intervention effects (Botvin et al., 1984; Ellickson and Bell, 1990; Murray et al., 1989; Pentz et al., 1989a; Walter et al., 1987). Several studies specifically designed to test the independent effects of skills training have found this approach to be largely ineffective (Elder et al., 1993; Hansen and Graham, 1991; Sussman et al., 1993). Instead, these studies indicate that modifying normative beliefs—students' assumptions regarding the prevalence and acceptability of substance use—appears to be the ''active ingredient" of many of the skills training programs. Despite the questionable effectiveness of skills training in substance use prevention, skills may be important in other behavioral domains such as sexuality, nutrition, and

exercise (Baranowksi, 1989; Perry et al., 1990; Sikkema et al., 1995; St. Lawrence et al., 1995; Warzak et al., 1995).

Similarly, although there is acceptance on the part of many health educators that peers are effective "messengers," the evidence for the effectiveness of peer-based health education is also somewhat equivocal (Bangert-Drowns, 1988; Clarke et al., 1986; Ellickson et al., 1993; Johnson et al., 1986; McCaul and Glasgow, 1985; Murray et al., 1988; Perry et al., 1989; Telch et al., 1990). The effectiveness of peer-based programs is likely to depend more on how peers are included in the program than on simply having peer-led activities.

In a review of programs to reduce sexual risk behavior, Kirby and coworkers found several differences between programs that had an impact on behavior and those that did not (Kirby et al., 1994). Although the authors warn that generalizations must be made cautiously, ineffective curricula tended to be broader and less focused. Effective curricula clearly focused on the specific values, norms, and skills necessary to avoid sex or unprotected sex, whereas ineffective curricula covered a broad range of topics and discussed many values and skills. Interestingly, the length of the program or the amount of skills practice did not appear to predict the success of programs. The authors suggest, however, that skills practice may be effective only when clear values or norms are emphasized or when skills focus specifically on avoiding undesirable sexual behavior rather than on developing more general communication skills.

Given the limited funding and classroom time available for health education, it is important that school health education programs include primarily those approaches known to influence health behavior. Providing health information is a necessary but certainly not sufficient condition for affecting behavior. Identifying "active ingredients" can be achieved through factorial designs as well as post hoc statistical techniques such as structural models, and discriminant analysis can be used to elucidate mediating variables and specific intervention components that may account for program effects (Botvin and Dusenbury, 1992; Dielman et al., 1989; MacKinnon et al., 1991).

Risk-Factor-Specific Versus Problem Behavior Intervention Models

Numerous studies have found that "problem" behaviors—such as the use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco; precocious sexual involvement; and delinquent activity—are positively correlated and occur in clusters. Problem Behavior Theory proposes an underlying psychologic phenomenon of "unconventionality" as the unifying etiologic explanation (see Basen-Engquist et al., 1996; Donovan and Jessor, 1985; Donovan et al., 1988; Resnicow et al., 1995). This conceptualization of health behavior has

significant implications for CSHPs. As opposed to commonly used risk-factor-specific interventions that deal with each behavior separately, Problem Behavior Theory suggests that high-risk and problem behaviors can be prevented by an intervention that addresses common predisposing causes. Such interventions may be not only more effective but also more efficient, since fewer total lessons may be required to alter the common "core" causes. In addition to generic interventions, it may also be necessary to apply general strategies to selected high-risk behaviors. However, most school systems do not conceptualize health education from this perspective. Instead, health instruction is broken down into discrete content areas, more akin to the risk-factor-specific approach. Additional research, particularly studies examining the effects of interventions addressing traits that may underlie clusters of risk behaviors, is needed before health education is restructured toward a more targeted model of health behavior change.

Realistic Outcomes for School Health Education

It can be argued that previous studies reporting weak or null behavioral outcomes employed health education interventions of insufficient dose and breadth. Many of the interventions had no more than 10 lessons, delivered over the course of one year, and few or no subsequent booster lessons. As noted earlier, the positive long-term behavioral effects reported by Botvin and colleagues (1995) may be attributed largely to the increased dose. Additionally, had the categorical programs for which no long-term behavioral effects were observed been delivered within the context of a comprehensive school health program, positive effects may have been observed. It is important to set realistic expectations for school health education, particularly since many of the programs used in our schools provide a dose of insufficient intensity and duration, whose effects are further attenuated by inadequate levels of teacher implementation. As stated earlier, although influencing behavior is an ultimate goal of school health education, schools should not bear the total responsibility for student behavior, given all the other influences on students—family, peers, the media, community norms, and expectations—that are beyond the control of the school. Schools should be held accountable for providing a high-quality, up-to-date health education program that is delivered by qualified teachers using curricula that are based on research and have been validated through outcome evaluation. Schools should be held responsible for arming students with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to adopt health-enhancing behavior and to avoid health-compromising behavior. If these conditions are met but behavioral outcomes are still less than desired, then other sources of influence on students must be exam-

ined for alignment with school health education messages. In addition, there may be delayed effects on behavior in later life, even if no immediate behavioral impacts are observed.

There is encouraging evidence that when school-based interventions are delivered along with complementary community-wide or media campaigns, significant long-term behavioral effects can be achieved (Flynn et al., 1994; Kelder et al., 1993; Perry et al., 1992; see Flay et al., 1995, for an exception). Therefore, although health education delivered in isolation may not be able to produce lasting behavioral effects, when combined with other activities or implemented within a comprehensive school health program, significant enduring changes in behavior as well as physical risk factors can be achieved.

There is considerable evidence that comprehensive curricula can produce significant short-term effects on multiple health behaviors, including substance use, diet, and exercise (Bush et al., 1989; Connell et al., 1985; Errecart et al., 1991; Resnicow et al., 1992; Walter et al., 1988, 1989). However, many of the assumptions regarding the effectiveness of classroom health education derive from studies of categorical programs, and it is unclear to what degree the effects observed for categorical programs are diminished or magnified when taught within a comprehensive framework. Although it can be argued that incorporating categorical programs within a comprehensive framework would attenuate effects because the focus on any one behavior or health issue would be diminished, it could also be argued that program effects would be enhanced because comprehensive programs provide extended if not synergistic application and reinforcement of essential skills across a wide range of topics. This is another area that calls for further research.


Research and evaluation of CSHPs can be divided into three categories: basic research, outcome evaluation, and process evaluation. Basic research involves inquiry into the fundamental determinants of behavior as well as mechanisms of behavior change. A primary function of basic research is to inform the development of interventions that can then be tested in outcome evaluation trials. Outcome evaluation involves the empirical examination of interventions on targeted outcomes, based on the randomized clinical trial approach with experimental and control groups. Process evaluation determines whether a proven intervention was properly implemented and examines factors that may have contributed to the intervention's success or failure. Basic research and outcome evaluation are typically conducted by professionals from university or other research centers and are largely beyond the capacity of local education agencies.

The committee believes that process evaluation is the appropriate level of evaluation in local programs.

Research and evaluation are particularly challenging for CSHPs. Since these programs comprise multiple interactive components, it is often difficult to attribute observed effects to specific components or to separate program effects from those of the family or community. Determining what outcomes are realistic and measuring outcomes in students are often problematic, especially when outcomes involve sensitive matters such as drug use or sexual behavior. Furthermore, since CSHPs are unique to a particular setting, the results of even the most rigorous evaluations may not be generalizable to other situations.

Interventions associated with the separate, individual components of CSHPs—health education, health services, nutrition services, and so forth—should be developed and tested using rigorous methods involving experimental and control groups. However, such an approach is likely to be difficult—and possibly not feasible—for studying entire comprehensive programs or determining the differential effects of individual components and combinations of components.

A fundamental issue involves determining what outcomes are appropriate and reasonable to expect from CSHPs. The committee recognizes that although influencing health behavior and health status is an ultimate goal of a CSHP, such end points involve factors beyond the control of the school. The committee believes that the reasonable outcomes on which a CSHP should be judged are equipping students with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for healthful behavior; providing a health-promoting environment; and ensuring access to high-quality services. Other outcomes—improved cardiovascular fitness or a reduction in absenteeism, drug abuse, or teen pregnancies, for example—may also be considered, but the committee believes that such measures must be interpreted with caution, since they are influenced by factors beyond the control of the school. In particular, null or negative measures for these outcomes should not necessarily lead to declaring the CSHP a failure; rather, they may imply that other sources of influence oppose and outweigh that of the CSHP or that the financial investment in the CSHP is so limited that returns are minimal.


In order for CSHPs to accomplish the desired goal of influencing behavior, the committee recommends the following:

An active research agenda on comprehensive school health programs should be pursued in order to fill critical knowledge

gaps; increased emphasis should be placed on basic research and outcome evaluation and on the dissemination of these research and outcome findings.

Research is needed about the effectiveness of specific intervention strategies such as skills training, normative education, or peer education; the effectiveness of specific intervention messages such as abstinence versus harm reduction; and the required intensity and duration of health education programming. Evidence suggests that common underlying factors may be responsible for the clustering of health-compromising behaviors and that interventions may be more effective if they address these underlying factors in addition to intervening to change risk behaviors. Additional research is needed to understand the etiology of problem behavior clusters and to develop optimal problem behavior interventions. And finally, since the acquisition of health-related social skills—such as negotiation, decisionmaking, and refusal skills—is a desired end point of CSHPs, basic research is needed to develop valid measures of social skills that can then be used as proxy measures of program effectiveness. Diffusion-related research is critical to ensure that efforts of research and development lead to improved practice and a greater utilization of effective methods and programs. Therefore, high priority should be given to studying how programs are adopted, implemented, and institutionalized. The feasibility and effectiveness of techniques of integrating concepts of health into science and other school subjects should also be examined.

Since the overall effects of comprehensive school health programs are not yet known and outcome evaluation of such complex systems poses significant challenges, the committee recommends the following:

A major research effort should be launched to establish model comprehensive programs and develop approaches for their study.

Specific outcomes of overall programs should be examined, including education (improved achievement, attendance, and graduation rates), personal health (resistance to "new social morbidities," improved biologic measures), mental health (less depression, stress, and violence), improved functionality, health systems (more students with a "medical home," reduction in use of emergency rooms or hospitals), self-sufficiency (pursuit of higher education or job), and future health literacy and health status. Studies could look at differential impacts of programs produced by such factors as program structure, characteristics of students, and type of school and community.

A thorough understanding of the feasible and effective (including

cost-effective) interventions in each separate area of a CSHP will be necessary to provide the basis for combining components to produce a comprehensive program.

The committee recommends that further study of each of the individual components of a CSHP—for example, health education, health services, counseling, nutrition, school environment—is needed.

Additional studies are needed in a number of other areas. First, more data are needed about the advantages (cost and effectiveness) and disadvantages of providing health and social services in schools compared to other community sites—or compared to not providing services anywhere—as a function of community and student characteristics. This information will require overall consensus about the criteria to use for determining the quality of school health programs. It is also important to know how best to influence change in the climate and organizational structure of school districts and individual schools in order to bring about the adoption and implementation of CSHPs. Finally, there is a need for an analysis of the optimal structure, operation, and personnel needs of CSHPs.

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Schools and Health is a readable and well-organized book on comprehensive school health programs (CSHPs) for children in grades K-12. The book explores the needs of today's students and how those needs can be met through CSHP design and development.

The committee provides broad recommendations for CSHPs, with suggestions and guidelines for national, state, and local actions. The volume examines how communities can become involved, explores models for CSHPs, and identifies elements of successful programs. Topics include:

  • The history of and precedents for health programs in schools.
  • The state of the art in physical education, health education, health services, mental health and pupil services, and nutrition and food services.
  • Policies, finances, and other elements of CSHP infrastructure.
  • Research and evaluation challenges.

Schools and Health will be important to policymakers in health and education, school administrators, school physicians and nurses, health educators, social scientists, child advocates, teachers, and parents.

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