Center for Innovative Research in Change, Leadership, and Education

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The Center for Innovative Research in Change, Leadership, and Education (CIRCLE) aims to produce influential empirical research, training, and evaluations in partnership with community stakeholders. By harnessing interdisciplinary methods, CIRCLE addresses pivotal factors impacting educational experiences and outcomes, leadership dynamics, and policy development within the PK-20 system.

To do so, the CIRCLE team strives to provide accessible, timely, and policy-relevant research in the form of policy briefs and whitepapers. In structuring our publication and submission process, CIRCLE prioritizes contributions from our faculty and advanced or former students, focusing on research relevant to education policymakers and stakeholders. Check out our regular contributors [word contributors would be linked to a new page].

We welcome submissions from guest contributors. Guest submissions undergo a preliminary screening as well as a rigorous peer review process to ensure alignment with CIRCLE's standards. We aim to publish within three months of receiving initial submissions.

Guest contributors should submit their manuscript or policy brief as a Microsoft Word document to Jacob Kirksey.

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Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 18 of 18
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    Enhancing Math Education Through Blended Learning: A District Case Study Highlighting Its Transformative Impact
    (2024-02-14) Mansell, Kristin E.; Greenhalgh-Spencer, Heather
    In 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) introduced a competitive grant program designed to assist Local Education Agencies (LEA) in attaining Math Innovation Zone (MIZ) designation through a four-year process which ensures program fidelity. The primary objective of this initiative is to enhance math proficiency levels for PreK – 8th grade students through the implementation of a blended learning model in math classrooms. Blended learning (BL), recognized for its data-driven pedagogical approach, integrates specialized adaptive software with traditional in-person teaching. This combination equips teachers with the capability to promptly assess student comprehension in real-time during the learning progress, enabling them to deliver tailored interventions and extensions as needed to each student. The incorporation of direct teacher instruction and peer collaboration of traditional in-person teaching along with adaptive software providing a formative and self-assessment component for students in the blended learning approach empowers students, fostering active engagement and increased agency in their learning journey. This policy brief presents a case study of a BL district in Texas. We analyze data from both before the implementation of the blended learning model through four years thereafter. Additionally, we assess whether more students are adequately prepared for enrolling in Algebra I in 8th grade, a key objective of the blended learning program. The focus on a single school district allowed for a nuanced examination, enabling a clearer understanding of the impacts when comparing BL campuses to non-BL campuses within the same district.
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    Enhancing Math Education Through Blended Learning: An Evaluation of Program Survey Data
    (2024-02-14) Mansell, Kristin E.; Greenhalgh-Spencer, Heather
    The Texas Education Agency (TEA) introduced a strategic competitive grant initiative in 2018 which provides funding for Local Education Agencies (LEA) to pursue Math Innovation Zone (MIZ) designation through the implementation of a blended learningmodel with an aim to increase PreK-8th grade math proficiency. Blended learning is a data-driven pedagogical strategy that fosters student agency and encourages students to actively engage in the learning process. MIZ combines the advantages of traditional in-person teaching, involving student collaboration and direct content instruction from the teacher, with specialized adaptive software. This adaptive software enhances the teacher’s ability to effectively assess student understanding in real-time during the learning process enabling the teacher to facilitate precise intervention and extension of content. This policy brief is the second in a series of briefs which analyzes the impact of the blended learning initiative in Texas public schools and open enrollment charter schools. Focusing on survey data gathered during the 2022-2023 school year, we hoped to gain insight into perceptions and opinions of those implementing the program in participating campuses. MIZ program managers were sent multiple surveys as a reflective tool for evaluation of program implementation fidelity while participating teachers and learning coaches were sent an end of the year perception survey. This multimethod survey highlights what’s working and what’s not with Math Innovation Zone implementation in Texas.
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    Enhancing Math Education in Texas Through Blended Learning: The COVID Effect
    (2024-02-14) Mansell, Kristin E.; Greenhalgh-Spencer, Heather
    In 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched a strategic competitive grant program aimed at supporting Local Education Agencies (LEA) in achieving Math Innovation Zone (MIZ) designation. This initiative’s primary focus is to increase PreK – 8th grade math proficiency levels through the implementation of a blended learning model in math classrooms. Blended learning is a data-driven pedagogical technique that integrates specialized adaptive software with traditional in-person teaching. This software enhances a teachers’ capacity to promptly evaluate student comprehension of content in real-time during the learning process, which enables the teacher to deliver targeted interventions and extensions as necessary. Coupled with direct teacher instruction and peer collaboration, blended learning empowers students to engage in their own learning process by increasing student agency. This policy brief explores the relationship between MIZ implementation and student achievement, concentrating on the second implementation cohort. This cohort who began blended learning implementation in 2019, is particularly significant due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020. It highlights how the initiative adapted and influenced education during a challenging period. Examining the influence of the blended learning initiative, despite the crisis, provides valuable insight for educational stakeholders.
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    Enhancing Math Education Through Blended Learning: A Closer Look at Math Innovation Zones
    (2024-02-14) Mansell, Kristin E.; Greenhalgh-Spencer, Heather
    Math Innovation Zones (MIZ) is a strategic grant initiative first introduced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in 2018. A novel state-initiative aimed at increasing PreK – 8th grade math proficiency, the highly competitive grant program provides funding to both Texas school districts and open enrollment charter schools using allocations through Rider 41, in the General Appropriations Act, to develop and foster student math skills using an innovative research-based blended learning model. TEA is responsible for oversight of the program, identifying and vetting curriculum providers, and providing an accountability system that requires stakeholders to demonstrate implementation fidelity. Each year since inception, MIZ has provided funding for a cohort of Local Education Agencies (LEA) to pursue state MIZ designation through a four-year process of strategic planning, effective implementation, gradual scaling, and sustainable maintenance of the blended learning model. Aimed at promoting math achievement, the main objective of the initiative is to enhance student performance in math, particularly ensuring student readiness for 8th grade Algebra I which increases access to advanced STEM and CTE courses in high school, while promoting the capacity for long term program sustainability in school districts using a blended learning model.
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    Teacher preparation goes virtual in the wild west: The impact of fully-online teacher preparation in Texas
    (2023-09-14) Kirksey, J. Jacob; Gottlieb, Jessica J.
    In Texas, becoming a teacher has many paths, and lately, online teacher preparation programs are becoming really popular. Nearly all of these programs are run by for-profit companies that have expanded rapidly because Texas has a teacher shortage. However, there is growing concern among researchers and stakeholder groups that these online programs may not adequately prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom. With minimal state oversight, the quality of these programs can vary significantly, prompting questions about their overall effectiveness.
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    Exiting High School into the New Economy: How Community College Baccalaureate Programs Support High-Demand Degree Attainment for Texas Public School Students
    (2023-08-11) Kirksey, J. Jacob; Crevar, Angela R.
    Dr. Jacob Kirksey and Dr. Angela Crevar published the policy brief "Exiting High School into the New Economy: How Community College Baccalaureate Programs Support High-Demand Degree Attainment for Texas Public School Students." This brief shows how Community College Baccalaureate Programs 1) increase the number of degrees earned by students, 2) increase the chances that a student attends any form of postsecondary education, and 3) show an 11% growth in the number of degrees earned in high-demand sectors.
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    The Promise of P-TECH: Examining Impacts of a CTE-Focused Dual Credit School Model
    (2023-08-11) Johnson, Levi; Crevar, Angela R.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    Recent Ph.D. graduates, Drs. Levi Johnson and Angela Crevar published a policy brief with Dr. Kirksey titled, "The Promise of P-TECH: Examining Impacts of a CTE-Focused Dual Credit School Model." Their study examines the effect of implementing the TEA P-TECH school model on student outcomes such as postsecondary credential attainment prior to high school graduation and postgraduate employment in high-demand jobs.
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    STEM Teacher Career Paths: Where Do They Come From and Where Do They Go?
    (2023-08-11) Gottlieb, Jessica J.; Lansford, Teresa; Mansell, Kristin E.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    Dr. Jessica Gottlieb, Teresa Lansford, Dr. Kristin Mansell, and Dr. Jacob Kirksey published the policy brief, "STEM Teacher Career Paths: Where Do They Come From and Where Do They Go?". This brief analyzes the STEM teacher labor market and how STEM teachers prepared through a university program have a lower likelihood of turnover than other teacher preparation pathways.
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    Access versus attainment: A closer look at the STEM endorsement in Texas public high schools
    (2023-04) Mansell, Kristin E.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    The Texas Legislature passed House Bill 5 (HB5) in 2013 reducing the number of math and science credits needed for high school graduation. The new Foundational High School Program (FHSP) introduced endorsement offerings aimed at allowing students to chose focused courses and electives geared towards their personal interests and potential workforce goals1. Though implementation occurred for students entering 9th grade in 2014 with those already in high school allowed to opt-in1, districts retained autonomy in endorsements offered2. Because individual districts determined which courses could be offered based on resources2, implementation of FHSP endorsements differed around the state. For students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a STEM endorsement was outlined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which requires students to complete Algebra II, Chemistry, and Physics in addition to two advanced STEM electives. In comparison to other endorsement options- Arts and Humanities, Business and Industry, Public Services, and Multidisciplinary- the STEM endorsement arguably better prepares students to attend 4-year colleges and selective universities since the graduation requirements for the STEM endorsement more closely align with admission requirements3. While all endorsements prepare students to attend technical colleges and community colleges, the lack of completing certain advanced math and science courses may limit students’ admission to certain universities. Previous research has shown that many first-year college students lack needed content knowledge to be successful in introductory math and science college courses, which may be exacerbated when students do not take advanced math and science coursework in high school4. Thus, access and pursuit of the STEM endorsement is an important factor to consider for Texas public high school students’ postsecondary opportunities.
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    Calculating CTE Math Dividends for College and Careers
    (2023-04) Crevar, Angela R.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
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    Postsecondary Undermatching in the Texas Foundation High School Program
    (2023-04) Crevar, Angela R.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
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    Six Periods a Day, Five Days a Week: Classes Students Miss Most Frequently and Cumulative Impacts on High School Graduation
    (2023) Kirksey, J. Jacob; Lansford, Teresa; Elefante, Joseph
    The impact of student absenteeism on educational outcomes has been well documented. However, few studies have looked at day or period level data for attendance trends and outcomes. This study analyzed day of the week, period of the day, and class type data from an urban California district to identify correlations between timing and unexcused absenteeism. Findings suggest that students receiving school services were generally less likely to have an unexcused absence than their peers. Students were also less likely to have an unexcused absence in a class that was required for graduation. The timing of absences for students in poverty showed a link between unexcused absenteeism after the lunch period and an increased risk of dropout. Implications include reframing how to view unexcused absenteeism in groups receiving school services, scheduling of required and academic classes, and engaging at-risk groups
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    A Matter of Course: Student Attendance Under New Graduation Requirements of the Texas Foundation High School Program
    (2023) Lansford, Teresa; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    In 2013, the state of Texas passed House Bill 5 (HB 5) which established high school course pathways tailored to student interests by labor market area via the Foundation High School Program (FHSP). The pathway options for students include STEM, Arts and Humanities, Business and Industry, Public Service, and Multidisciplinary. While the intent of the new requirements was to improve college and career readiness, the personalization of learning paths tailored to student interests poses the possibility of also increasing engagement resulting in improved attendance. This study uses statewide longitudinal data as well as data from a small, urban Texas school district to examine student attendance pre and post the FHSP. Findings show that regardless of whether a student is in the top 99% of attenders or the bottom 10%, once they start on the STEM endorsement pathway, they experience higher levels of attendance than those in other pathways. Analyses from the Texas school district suggests that positive attendance was driven via STEM-CTE courses, which had the lowest attendance rates prior to the FHSP to the highest attendance rates following the FHSP. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.
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    Bold Action for a Prosperous Future: Evaluation of the Foundation High School Program and Academic and Career Trajectories of Texas High School Graduates
    (2023-02) Kirksey, J. Jacob; Wiseman, Alexander W.; Gottlieb, Jessica J.; Lansford, Teresa; Mansell, Kristin E.; Crevar, Angela R.
    Over the past few decades, the claim that a high school diploma is insufficient education to establish a career that will provide family-sustaining wages in a rapidly changing economy has gained increasing acceptance. In response to this understanding, Texas House Bill 5 (HB 5) established the Foundation High School Program (FHSP) in 2014-15, shifting high school graduation requirements to place a greater emphasis on preparation for career opportunities, especially those aligned with local industry needs. Philanthropy Advocates commissioned Texas Tech University's Center for Research and Learning in Education to better assess whether FHSP has been meeting its goals, such that Texas high school graduation coursework requirements foster success after high school. The core question asked at the outset of this research was: Are policies that mandate and/or incentivize PK-12 and postsecondary institutional behavior in alignment with policies such as HB 5 and other efforts aimed at increasing college-readiness and postsecondary success of Texas students? Last updated June 7, 2023.
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    Innovations in University-Based Teacher Preparation: Comparing the ‘Grow Your Own’ Alternative to the Traditional Program at Texas Tech
    (2022) Gottlieb, Jessica J.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    This study explored the impact of Tech Tech and Tech Teach Across Texas on student learning outcomes. We examine students of teachers who became full-time teachers in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. Our key identification strategy exploits variation in achievement outcomes based on students having teachers prepared through different pathways from grades 3-7. Results suggest that students with Tech Teach teachers exhibited stronger math performance compared students with teachers from the other pathways. Additionally, students taught by teachers from Tech Teach Across Texas had stronger reading scores compared to other students, and this was the only statistically significant different in reading achievement by preparation pathway. Finally, teachers from Tech Teach and Tech Teach Across Texas appear to exhibit larger differences in their students’ achievement compared to other pathways in years 2 and 3, indicating that these teachers are not only becoming more effective over time but at a much quicker rate compared to teachers from other pathways.
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    Endorsement Alignment between Secondary and Postsecondary Institutions
    (2022) Mansell, Kristin E.; Gottlieb, Jessica J.; Kirksey, J. Jacob
    Texas House Bill 5 (2013) changed graduation requirements from the traditional requirement of 4 math, science, language arts, and history credits to 4 language arts credits and 3 math, science, and history credits allowing additional credits needed for graduation to be taken through CTE or elective programs. Algebra 2 was removed as a required credit creating flexibility within the required 3 credits. In addition to the change in required credits per core content, endorsement programs were detailed by TEA for students to pursue which encourages students to take courses aligned to their workforce goals. Though TEA outlined proposed endorsements at the state level, individual schools retained flexibility in which endorsements would be offered. This policy brief discusses alignment between K-12 graduation requirements and higher education admission recommendations. Policy recommendations are included.