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June 2012

From the National Center for Education Research (NCER)

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Sixteen federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America's preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions. The White House, following recommendations from participating agencies, confers the awards annually. The U.S. Department of Education has participated in the PECASE program since 2006.

Bullying and School Climate: An Interview with Catherine Bradshaw, IES-funded Researcher and 2009 PECASE Winner

Catherine Bradshaw, a developmental psychologist and youth violence prevention researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was one of 85 scientists in 2009 to receive the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers—the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Already as a young career scientist, she has worked with several school districts to support the development and implementation of programs and policies to prevent bullying and school violence and to foster safe and supportive learning environments. Dr. Bradshaw is the Principal Investigator for two IES-funded projects: Examining Variation in the Impact of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Double Check: A Cultural Proficiency and Student Engagement Model.

Dr. Bradshaw recently took some time to answer questions posed by NCER program officer Emily Doolittle about her research on bullying and school climate and the recent media attention it has received. In addition, Dr. Bradshaw took part in a C-SPAN interview with NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley to discuss bullying, including statistics on bullying and current policies in American schools to address bullying.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in doing research on bullying and school climate?

I first became interested in bullying and school climate when I was working clinically with youth involved with the juvenile justice system. I was struck by how common violence exposure—both in the community and peer group—was for these youth. I developed a great interest in the potential for violence prevention through schools, and thus shifted my research program to focus on school-based prevention. During my doctoral training at Cornell University, I partnered with school districts and the state board of education to evaluate the impact of school-based violence prevention programs and to conduct research on risk factors for bullying and other forms of aggressive behavior.

Q: What do you feel are some of the most important findings coming out of your IES-funded research so far?

I was incredibly honored to present some of our IES-funded research on bullying and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at the 2011 White House Bullying Summit. I also have been working in close partnership with organizations like Sesame Street Workshop and the National Education Association to disseminate some of our research on discrepancies between students' and adults' perceptions of bullying. Of particular interest were our results from a 37 school randomized controlled trial of PBIS, documenting significant impacts on school climate, student discipline problems, and bullying. We also provided evidence of the variation in the impact of this tiered prevention model based on malleable student characteristics. We are currently tackling the challenging issue of disproportionality in discipline data and academic outcomes among culturally and linguistically diverse students. We are using innovative coaching and professional development models to increase student engagement and improve classroom management in order to reduce disproportionality.

Q: What are some of the challenges you've experienced in researching a sensitive and media-focused topic such as bullying?

It's difficult to translate complex issues like bullying or findings from randomized controlled trials to reporters and policymakers. The issue of bullying has gained national attention; therefore it is critical that we capitalize on this opportunity to inform the public, families, and policymakers about the research on the topic. This type of translational work requires time and dedication, as I often get called to participate in media interviews on short notice, which means I need to drop everything to respond to the request. These applied research experiences, along with my collaborations with innovative leaders from the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involved with the federal bullying prevention initiative have been among the most rewarding aspects of my career to date. These types of translational research activities are also a defining feature of the public health perspective, which is one reason I feel so at home in this multidisciplinary field.

Q: What advice would you offer to other young investigators interested in education research, especially those interested in the social and behavioral context of academic learning?

I would encourage early career researchers to gain some interdisciplinary training and mentorship in grant writing by senior researchers. I was fortunate to receive a career development award, which provided me the opportunity to gain mentorship by leading youth violence prevention researchers in the prevention science perspective, the design and conduct of group randomized controlled trials, and advanced latent variable and longitudinal analytic approaches. These types of formal as well as informal mentorship activities can be incredibly helpful in advancing your research program. I also benefited tremendously by working in close partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education and several local school systems. These relationships have been instrumental in identifying research questions that have great national and local relevance, and implementing rigorous, yet feasible, research designs. I would encourage other researchers to build lasting, authentic partnerships with the state board of education and local school districts, as these relationships will enhance the quality and significance of the research. I would also encourage educational researchers, at all levels, to seek some media and policy training, as that may increase their comfort translating their findings to practice and policy—especially when called to participate in an interview or testify on short notice.