Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Through the Grapevine: Source Dependence and Teachers' Decisions

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jason Burns, Michigan State University
How teachers use information to make instructional decisions is of concern to educational leaders and policy makers. While efforts have been made to examine how teachers seek out information with which to make instructional decisions, little is known about how the source from which teachers obtain information influences their eventual decisions. Research from the field of psychology (Heath & Tversky, 1991) has found that people assign greater weights to information when they are more familiar with its source, even when the content of that information is the same. In the case of teachers, this finding would suggest that more weight may be given to “local” information coming from colleagues than “expert” information that comes from research, which would be problematic to the degree that information obtained locally is less reliable than information that comes from research.

This study uses a survey experiment to gauge if and to what degree teachers differentially weight information based on its source. In the context of an evaluation system that heavily weights student achievement growth, teachers are given information on the possible outcomes of alternative instructional strategies from which they select the option they believe would most improve student achievement. To vary the source of information, teachers are randomly given one of three forms of an instrument that frame information as originating from colleagues, school administration, or research. Aside from the source, the three forms of the instrument are identical. Response patterns between forms in data from pilot studies suggest that teachers may indeed differentially weight information depending on its source, though results are thus far inconsistent across different mixtures of student outcomes and probabilities.