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Top Education Research of 2012: Brains, Tools, and Texting, Oh, My!

Education researchers often worry that their work never catches the attention of policymakers and educators in the field. In 2012, however, research has been in the spotlight—and occasionally on the hot seat—as practitioners grapple with justifications for the Common Core State Standards, changing views on how children learn, and ways teachers can build responsive, boredom-free classrooms.

Federal education research centers continued a push toward more collaboration with state and school district leaders to make studies more relevant, and the Institute of Education Sciences launched a new implementation grant program to encourage more study of what makes education interventions work or wash out in different school settings.

Here, at Inside School Research, a variety of different studies caught your attention, from lackluster results of a much-anticipated early-education curriculum to greater insight on teacher and principal effectiveness. Here are the most-read blogs of the past year, in reverse order:

9) "Researchers: Cyberbullying Not as Widespread, Common as Believed." Parents and teachers got a bit of good news when longtime bullying researcher Dan Olweus of the University of Bergen, Norway, found "no systematic increase in cyberbullying," and noted that only about a quarter as many students reported being bullied online as verbally harassed in person.

8) "Study: Third Grade Reading Predicts Later High School Graduation." This 2011 blog post continues to generate interest, particularly as many states intensify their focus on getting students to read proficiently by 3rd grade.

7) "Storify: Which Comes First, Math Difficulty or Math Anxiety?" Students and others held forth on how stressful math can be, in the wake of new research on the connections between fear and disability in math performance.

6) "Studies Give Nuanced Look at Teacher Effectiveness." The massive Measures of Effective Teaching Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of Seattle, gave a peek into ways to evaluate the teachers who aren't the best or worst in a district, but in the "messy middle." (A note of disclosure: the Gates foundation also supports some coverage of education innovation and industry in Education Week.)

5) "Tools of the Mind Shows Lackluster Results in Experimental Trials." This early-learning curriculum showed huge promise, but many were disappointed when a series of studies found it was no silver bullet. This may be a problem of expectations rather than effects, however; the study found Tools about as good as any other high-quality early-childhood program— just not significantly better.

4) "Are You Enabling 'Academic Entitlement' in Students?" In a study that struck a personal chord with many teachers, researchers from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., found students who felt entitled to high grades had less self control or ability to learn on their own.

3) "Study: Good Principals Make a Difference in High-Poverty Schools." This study of more than 7,400 principals found top leaders were associated with lower teacher turnover and annual growth in student achievement.

2) "Duz Txting Hurt Yr Kidz Gramr? Absolutely, a New Study Says." In a piece my own mother loves to remind me about, middle school students who often used "tech-speak"—such as @ for "at" or 2nite for "tonight"—performed worse on a test of basic grammar. No word yet on when there will be a follow-up on whether grammar skills are hurt worse than driving skills, but I'm betting on the latter.

1) "Study: '21st-Century Learning' Demands Mix of Abilities." This was just one in a flurry of new research findings this year on the need for students to go beyond arithmetic and literacy skills, to build critical thinking, teamwork, and conscientiousness for success in school and beyond.

Happy New Year!

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