The main purpose of this paper is to analyze the research process that takes place in both a quantitative and a qualitative research study. Two articles, one a quantitative and the other a qualitative, will be examined and reviewed. The quantitative study was conducted by Donlon (2009) to examine the effectiveness of alternative education programs at increasing the success rates of at-risk students. The qualitative study was conducted by Kleefisch (2009) to examine the perceptions held by high school teachers towards bullying and its victims. Similarities and differences between the two research studies as pertain to the problem statement, purpose statement, research questions/hypotheses, theoretical framework, literature review, research design and data collection and analysis will be discussed.
Bullying is a common act in the majority of public schools in the United States. Bullying affects the quality of life of the victims not only through poor academic performance but also through social exclusion and psychological trauma. Many studies have been undertaken to examine the effects of bullying on the victims’ academic performance, social relations, self-esteem, self-worth and depression. Many studies have studied the contribution made by teachers to bullying in elementary schools. The problem is that teachers also play an important role in encouraging acts of bullying in schools. This happens when teachers have negative perceptions towards some of their students as a result of different social and ethnic backgrounds as well as negative personality or academic traits. Teachers who have negative perceptions towards some of their students may encourage other students to victimize such students. In addition, the teachers are more likely to turn a blind eye to acts of bullying especially if they are perpetrated against students towards whom they have negative perceptions. The grade level of students may also influence a teacher’s perceptions of them. Teachers may also turn a blind eye to acts of bullying if they feel that it is the fault of the victims or that the victims are trying to attract attention. Whereas the role played by teachers in bullying has been recognized and studied extensively in elementary schools, the same cannot be said of high schools. A big gap exists in the literature concerning the roles played by high school teachers in either preventing or encouraging the bullying of their students. The study by Kleefisch (2009) aims to address this gap by studying the perceptions of teachers about bullying and how bullying affects the academic performance of the victims throughout high school and the willingness (or lack thereof) of the victims to pursue a post-secondary education.
The major purpose of this study is to address the literature gap concerning the perceptions of high school teachers about bullying. The study aims to investigate the perceptions that high school teachers have about long-term bullying and how it affects the academic performance of the victims. It also investigates the perceptions of high school teachers about the effect of bullying on victims’ willingness and ability to continue with a postsecondary education.
The study is guided by the question, “what are the perceptions that teachers hold about victims of long-term bullying?,” (Kleefisch, 2009, p.12). Being a qualitative study, the research conducted by Kleefisch (2009) lacks hypotheses. This is because a qualitative study is not interested in carrying out statistical tests to test any hypothesis. Instead, it is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the problem under investigation (Crabtree and Miller, 1999).
The study by Kleefisch (2009) is guided by a number of concepts and theories that illustrate the effects of bullying on victims and the teachers’ perceptions of bullying. These concepts and theories include: Pygmalion effects, social relationships, self-esteem/self-worth/self-efficacy, depression and aggression. The Pygmalion effect argues that the perceptions that teachers have towards a student will affect how that student relates with him and with other students. In addition, such perceptions will affect the academic performance of that student. Social relationships concepts deal with the interaction behaviors of students. Students are more likely to associate with those whom they consider having common goals and interests. As a result, ranking and classification are likely to form in the process. The theory of dominance states that students ranked high on the social ladder are more likely to bully those ranked lower. Regarding self-worth and self-esteem, victims of bullying are more likely to have low self-esteem and self-worth than their peers. In addition, students who have a high self-efficacy – the confidence about one’s abilities – are less likely to engage in bullying acts or to be bullied than those with a low self-efficacy. Research studies also indicate that victims of bullying are more likely to be depressed as a result of low self-esteem and self-worth. These students are likely to miss school and fail to participate in classroom activities. The concept of aggression portrays the physical differences between the bullies and their victims. Bullies are physically stronger than their victims and use their physical strength to dominate others (Kleefisch, 2009, p.14).
The study by Kleefisch (2009) has a distinct section dedicated to literature review. However, a lot of literature has also been reviewed in the introduction part. The literature review in the introduction section helps to lay the foundation for the study and identify the problem, gaps in the existing literature, limitations of past related studies and the purpose of the study (Creswell, 2002). The distinct literature review found later in the study adds flesh to the study by providing adequate information about the problem under investigation. This way, the reader is able to gain a deeper understanding of the problem and of the significance of the current study.
The study design is a qualitative phenomenological study. This design conducts the research using a sample that is well experienced with the problem under investigation (Leedy and Ormrod, 2005). As a result, the research design has various advantages, the chief of which is its ability to enable the researcher to have a deeper understanding of the problem under investigation. The study by Kleefisch (2009) used samples of teachers who had a long teaching relationship with high school students who have been bullied. The qualitative phenomenological approach will therefore enable the participants to reveal their perceptions and feelings towards the act of bullying, victims of bullying, the academic abilities of victims as well as the abilities of the victims to proceed with their education once they graduate from high school.
Participants and setting
The study was conducted in one rural high school in the State f Indiana (Kleefisch, 2009). The target population of the study included 54 teachers of the high school who had been employed on a full-time basis and who held one or more teaching classes with the high school seniors during the 2006-2007 academic years. The 54 teachers were identified through the teacher roster found on the website of Indiana Department of Education.
Purposive sampling technique was used to select the appropriate participants from the target population. This sampling technique is used when the researcher wants to use participants who will achieve a specific purpose (Crabtree and Miller, 1999). In this study, the specific purpose of the researcher was to examine teachers’ perceptions of bullying. However, not all the 54 teachers had had an experience with bullying in their classrooms. As a result, the researcher selected only those teachers who had a long-term experience with bullies and victims of bullying in their classrooms during the 2006-2007 academic years. The participants selected for the study were 13 in total. The setting for the study was inside the rural high school.
Data collection technique and tools
Data from the participants were collected through an extensive interview using an interview script. The questions included in the interview script were consistent and open-ended. The nature of the questions used for the interview supports the purpose of a qualitative study. The open-ended questions allowed the participants to give well-detailed responses to the questions about their feelings and perceptions of bullying and its victims. As a result, the researcher was able to gain a deeper understanding of the problem under investigation (Creswell, 2002). Prior to the interview, informed consent was given to ensure confidentiality and protection of the informants from any potential risk. In addition, the validity and reliability of the interview script were tested through a pilot study (Kleefisch, 2009).
The analysis of the collected data first involved coding which entails the classification of the raw data into categories in an attempt to find existing relations among the categories. The researcher used the NVivo 7 Qualitative Software to code the data. The coding and analysis process involved four stages. In the first stage, the interview transcripts were read and the text coded in order to identify the main themes presented by the informants. In the second stage, the themes identified by the informants were categorized into a conceptually clustered matrix (Miles and Huberman, 1994) to show the perceptions and experiences of the participants with the problem of study. In the third stage, the researcher identified the converging, diverging and marginal themes presented by the informants. The final stage involved drawing conclusions from the analysis about the perceptions of the teachers towards bullying and its victims (Kleefisch, 2009). The study confirmed that teachers usually have different perceptions of students depending on their social and cultural background and their academic performance. Such perceptions, especially if demonstrated openly, encourage students to bully the weak students. In addition, teachers’ reluctance to intervene can fuel the bullying acts perpetrated by students against their peers.
A high school education is important for any child in this highly competitive era. Despite this fact, the high school graduation rate in the United States has been on a downward trend in the past decade. Studies conducted to examine the reasons for this trend have shown that the traditional education system fails to cater to the emotional needs of many students. To make matters worse, public schools enroll students from all walks of life and with different capabilities. Students having emotional, physical and psychological disorders may find it difficult to cope with the demands of the public education system particularly because the system does not have special programs that are designed to address their special needs. To address this concern, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2001. The legislation has led to the introduction of alternative education programs that seek to address the special needs of students beyond the traditional classroom setting. Few studies have however been conducted to examine the effectiveness of such alternative education programs.
The major purpose of the study carried out by Donlon (2009) was to fill the literature gap that exists concerning the effectiveness of alternative education programs. The study aims to measure the success rates of students who initially were enrolled in the traditional classroom setting but later were enrolled in an alternative education program. The success rate was measured by “high-stakes assessments, course completion rates, student attendance rates, discipline reports, grade reports, and grade point average (GPA),” (Donlon, 2009, p.6).
The study by Donlon (2009) seeks to address a number of questions: Is there a difference in the scores of Regents exams between students who attend the traditional education system only and those who enroll in alternative education programs? What are the effects of alternative education programs on grade point average? What are the effects of alternative education programs on attendance rates, exam scores, course completion rates and discipline referral rates? What are the factors increasing the student success rates that may enhance the development of future alternative programs for at-risk youth?
In order to answer the above questions, a number of hypotheses were developed that were tested through statistical means. These hypotheses include: Alternative education programs can increase the success rates of students with disabilities, students with social and emotional problems and at-risk students by reducing their drop-out rates. A second hypothesis is that success rate is positively related to enrollment in alternative education programs. The third hypothesis is that students at risk of dropping out of high school are likely to fare better in alternative education programs than in purely traditional educational systems. As can be seen, the hypotheses are directional and alternative in nature. The researcher did not utilize any null hypothesis.
The theoretical framework for Donlon’s study was based on past studies that have characterized alternative education programs and studied the needs of at-risk students and students with different disorders. Koehler and Seger (2005), for instance, argued that the traditional classroom settings tend to focus more on the limitations of at-risk students and less on their strengths. They propose that such schools should seek to identify the strengths of such students and then provide them with support that would help them to build on their strengths in order to overcome their weaknesses. Secondly, the success rates of at-risk students in the traditional setting depend on an individualized plan that would address the unique needs of each student. However, development of individualized plans in public schools could be costly due to the large student population and small teacher population. Some studies have shown that the enrollment rates of alternative education programs have increased significantly since 1997. However, few studies have been carried out to examine the success of such programs.
Like in the qualitative study analyzed previously, the literature review in this study was used in the introduction section to lay the foundation for the study and identify the problem, gaps in the existing literature, limitations of past related studies and the purpose of the study (Creswell, 2002). A distinct part of the study was also dedicated to further literature review. This section adds flesh to the study by providing adequate information about the problem under investigation. It begins by discussing the historical background of alternative education programs and how they have evolved over time. The literature review also analyzes the weaknesses of the traditional education setting and the special needs of at-risk students and students with different disabilities. The literature review enables the reader to fully grasp the phenomenon under investigation (Strauss and Corbin, 1990).
The research design used in this study is a quantitative quasi-experimental design. According to Simon (2005), “the quasi-experimental design provides alternate means for examining causality in situations, which were not conducive to experimental control,” (p. 47). The design is therefore suitable for this study because the execution of the alternative education program has already been done. The design is also appropriate for a quantitative study because it will enable the researcher to carry out statistical tests to determine the success rates of the alternative education programs versus the success rates of traditional education system for at-risk and disabled children by measuring the test scores, course completion rates, student attendance rates, discipline reports, grade reports, and GPA of the participants. The approach will also enable the researcher to make generalizations of the results to the target population.
Participants and setting
The target population consisted of students enrolled at Genesee Valley BOCES located in New York State. However to be included in the sample, the participants must have been enrolled in a traditional school within the district as well as in an alternative education program. The 22 schools in the district were invited to take part in the study. Only 60 students were selected as the sampling elements for the study. The samples were of both gender and were enrolled in both a traditional school and an alternative education program. In addition, the samples were enrolled in the schools and programs between the years 2000 and 2007. The setting for the study was the Genesee Valley BOCES alternative educational program located within the region.
Data collection technique and tools
Data from the participants were collected through secondary sources particularly the Genesee Valley BOCES’s Student Management System, students’ transcripts, media, community mailings and websites of the participating schools. The Genesee Valley BOCES’s Student Management System provided data pertaining to the participants’ grades, attendance records and personal information recorded once students enroll in an educational institution/program. The system was also instrumental in providing data pertaining to school completion rates as the researcher could easily track the completion rates over the 2000-2007 periods. Scores for the New York Regents exams were obtained through the students’ results transcripts, media, community mailings and websites (Donlon, 2009, p.26). However, before any data was collected, the researcher had to obtain informed consent from the participants, their schools, superintendents and directors of instructional programs of the district. The confidentiality and privacy of the informants were protected by not recording their names and addresses.
Variables: The main aim of the design used in this study was to determine the causality and correlation between two variables. The dependent variable of the study is student success rate measured by students’ scores in Regents and assessment exams, high school completion rates, attendance rates, discipline reports, grade reports, and grade point averages. The independent variable on the other hand is the alternative education program.
The analysis of data involved the use of both descriptive and inferential analysis techniques. The descriptive analysis techniques (mean and standard deviation) were used to show the frequency counts of various demographic variables such as gender, age, ethnicity, length of program and school grade (Donlon, 2009). Inferential analysis techniques were used to measure the existence (or lack thereof), direction and strength of the correlation between the dependent and independent variables (Pearson product-moment correlations) as well as the differences in the students’ scores before and after enrolling in the alternative education program (paired t-test). The analysis showed that enrollment in an alternative education program significantly increases the general success rates of the students by increasing their GPA and Regents exams scores as well as classes passed and reducing the number of classes failed and the rates of disciplinary referral. However, contrary to expectations, the rate of absenteeism also increased with enrollment in alternative education programs. This calls for a further investigative study to determine the reasons behind it.
The review of the two articles has shown that the research process involved in a quantitative and qualitative research follows similar stages. However, a number of differences exist between a qualitative and a quantitative study. The first difference lies in the purpose of study. A qualitative study aims at gaining a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under investigation by studying the feelings, perceptions, opinions and experiences of the informants. A quantitative study on the other hand is mainly interested in numbers rather than perceptions and feelings. A second difference lies in the data collection techniques. A qualitative study uses data collection techniques that enable the researcher to actively interact with the informants so that he can clearly and better understand the world view of the informants, for instance through intensive interviews. A quantitative study on the other hand makes use of data collection techniques that will provide the researcher with records of the phenomenon under study, for instance, secondary sources of data. Third, a qualitative study lacks hypotheses because it does not use any statistical tests to test the problem under investigation. On the other hand, a quantitative study must contain hypotheses that are to be tested through statistical techniques. Lastly, a qualitative study analyzes data by first coding and then drawing conclusions and inferences from the relationships between the coded data. The analysis helps to achieve the objective of the study by providing a deeper insight into the problem under investigation. A quantitative study on the other hand analyzes data through statistical techniques which can either be descriptive, inferential or both. The techniques help to achieve the main objective of the quantitative study by showing the relationships (or lack thereof) between the dependent and independent variables, as well as the direction and strength of the existing relationships.
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