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My Research

Welcome to my dedicated research page, where I, Matthew B. Courtney, Ed.D., share my contributions to the field of school improvement and evidence-based decision-making in education. Here, you'll find a collection of my published works that reflect my deep commitment to enhancing educational practices through rigorous research. Each study and paper embodies my journey in exploring and establishing effective strategies for school advancement and informed decision-making. As an educator and researcher, I am passionate about bringing empirical evidence to the forefront of educational development, aiming to make a tangible impact on school systems and student outcomes.

Nurturing Self-Efficacy for Culturally Responsive Teaching through Online Language Immersion

Purpose: This study examines the impact of an online language immersion program on the participants' self-efficacy for culturally responsive teaching.

Methodology: The Culturally Responsive Teaching Self-Efficacy Scale (CRTSE; Siwatu, 2007), the Culturally Responsive Teaching Outcome Expectations Scale (CRTOE; Siwatu, 2007), and the Culturally Responsive Classroom Management Self-Efficacy Scale (CRCMSE; Siwatu, et. al., 2015) were used to examine the impact of the intervention using a pre-test/post-test analysis. Participant reflections were also qualitatively coded to provide further insight into the program.

Findings: The intervention showed a statistically significant and positive change to participants' self-efficacy in the areas of culturally responsive teaching and culturally responsive classroom management. Participants showed growth in outcome expectancy, but this change was not statistically significant.

Originality: This study represents the second attempt to document the impact of the BaseLang Grammarless program as a professional learning intervention for K-12 educators working in schools with a high rate of English learners.

Practical Implications: Educators working with a high number of English learners can benefit from the intervention, which allows the educator to share in the language learning experience and gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day challenges faced by their students.

Courtney, M.B. (2023), "Nurturing self-efficacy for culturally responsive teaching through online language immersion", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Social Network Analysis as a Driver of Continuous Improvement: A Case Study

The COVID-19 pandemic led to short and long-term changes to the fundamental structures of many teams. As organizations emerge from the pandemic environment and begin to plan continuous improvement efforts, they would be well served to examine the impact of the pandemic on their level of connectedness. Social network analysis (SNA) is a research method that, when applied to improvement science, helps leaders understand the strength of relationships within their organization. This paper documents a case study of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), who deployed SNA techniques to strategically identify areas of growth within their network and design intentional, targeted solutions to improve the health of their network. The broader impact and generalizability of the case study, as well as considerations for replication are also discussed.

Courtney, M.B., Foster, K. (2023). Social Network Analysis as a Driver of Continuous Improvement: A Case Study. Journal of School Administration Research and Development. Accepted, Pending Publication.

Initiating School Improvement: An Analysis of Improvement Priorities Issued by the Kentucky Department of Education

Purpose: In the United States, state education agencies (SEAs) are required to regularly identify low performing schools. Initiating the school improvement process is one of the most important, yet most challenging steps. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has been nationally recognized the way it initiates the school improvement process.  This study seeks to distill findings from 476 suggested first steps issued by the KDE to create action statements that a school leader could use when initiating school improvement on their own.

Research Methods: School improvement audit reports were accessed from the KDE. Four hundred seventy six school improvement priorities (IPs) were coded using a two-tier conceptual coding protocol to distil IPs into essential improvement priorities (EIPs) that reflect the steps required to initiate school improvement.


Findings: The coding protocol yielded 38 EIPs divided among eight themes. The most frequently assigned EIP relates the deployment of a consistent improvement process with the second most frequently assigned EIP being related to the establishment of a school-wide instructional process.


Implications: Leaders of school with declining performance may use the EIPs identified by this study to inform their improvement efforts as they seek to enhance teaching and learning conditions in their school. 

Courtney, M.B. (2022). Initiating School Improvement: An Analysis of Improvement Priorities Issued by the Kentucky Department of Education. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Education, 11(2).

Developing multicultural leaders through online language immersion

Purpose: This study documents the impact of an eighty-hour virtual Spanish language immersion program on four elementary school leaders in Kentucky.

Design/Methodology/Approach: This study utilized a mixed methods approach. Each subject participated in three semi-structured interviews with the researcher and a standardized oral language assessment.


Findings: Participants expressed greater confidence when interacting with students and families who do not speak English, greater empathy for students learning English, new cross-cultural understandings, and deeper knowledge about the language acquisition process and language instruction.


Originality: This paper contributes to the literature by documenting a previously un-researched virtual language immersion program.


Practical Implications: Training in a foreign language may prove to be a valuable professional learning activity for leaders seeking to develop a stronger skillset and mindset for multicultural education.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2021), "Developing multicultural leaders through online language immersion", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 416-428.

Author 's Accepted  Manuscript

Exploratory Data Analysis in Schools: A Logic Model to Guide Implementation

Exploratory data analysis (EDA) is an iterative, open-ended data analysis procedure that allows practitioners to examine data without pre-conceived notions to advise improvement processes and make informed decisions. Education is a data-rich field that is primed for a transition into a deeper, more purposeful use of data. This article introduces the concept of EDA as a necessary structure to be embedded in school activities by situating it within the literature related to data-driven decision making, continuous school improvement systems, and action research methodologies. It also provides a succinct six-part framework to guide practitioners in establishing EDA procedures.


Link: Courtney, M. B. (2021). Exploratory Data Analysis in Schools: A Logic Model to Guide Implementation. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 17(4), 14 pp.

Monitoring School Improvement with Non-Academic Indicators

In 2017, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) set out to develop a new monitoring instrument for low-performing schools. This report, called the Student Performance Monitoring Report (SPMR), standardizes the incremental school improvement monitoring system, allowing for greater scalability and analysis by users at the school, system and agency levels. Instead of traditional academic measures, which vary from school to school and district to district, the SPMR uses indicators that are known to be influenced by multiple system-level factors; including attendance, behavior and early warning indicators. This study uses exploratory data analysis procedures to examine the relationships between these variables and established indicators of school quality such as identification for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and other federally required classifications. In sum, this analysis provides early evidence that these indicators can be utilized as standardized measures of overall institutional health by demonstrating clear alignment and relationships between the variables and school outcomes. This report establishes a theoretical framework upon which future work can be built.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2021). Monitoring School Improvement with Non-Academic Indicators. Paper presented at the Association of Education Finance and Policy Annual Conference. Online.

Coaching for Continuous Improvement

Since 2015, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has provided schools across the state with access to highly skilled instructional coaches. Primarily working in rural settings, these coaches provide a voluntary, integrated coaching model that focuses on building sustainable systems. Coaches provide a range of services, including systems design, strategic planning support, whole-team professional learning, professional learning community (PLC) LC facilitation, and fidelity monitoring. This article describes the theory of action for KDE’s Continuous Improvement Coaching program, presents two case studies of rural elementary schools who utilized the program, and discusses the key features of the program and its relevance for rural schools.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2020). Coaching for Continuous Improvement. The Rural Educator, 41(2). DOI:

An Exploration of School Improvement Priorities Issued by the Kentucky Department of Education

Since 2012, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has completed 145 school improvement audits resulting in 611 school and district improvement priorities for schools identified as low performing based on the state’s accountability system. Improvement priorities are brief statements that provide guidance to inform the turnaround process. This study utilized standard text mining protocols to determine what we can learn from the collective wisdom of Kentucky audit teams. The protocol resulted in 1768 unigrams, 4149 bigrams, and 2743 trigrams, which were ranked in order of frequency for examination. This poster reports the top twenty unigrams, bigrams, and trigrams for both schools and districts. These high frequency words and phrases give insight into the school improvement process and provide a foundation upon which schools can launch their school improvement efforts.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2020). An Exploration of School Improvement Priorities Issued by the Kentucky Department of Education. Poster presented at the Association of Education Finance and Policy Annual Conference. Fort Worth, TX.

The Education Agency as Research Intermediary

Since the late 1970s, researchers and policy makers have debated the role of research in policy making. Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, education policy has experienced a renewed interest in this topic. ESSA presents a rigorous framework and set of requirements for research use in educational decision making. This paper presents an evidence-informed model that education agencies (EAs) can follow to support schools in the implementation of ESSA’s evidence-based practice provisions. The model includes three key activities that EAs should engage in to become effective research intermediaries: (1) model effective research use, (2) build capacity in educators, and (3) promote action research.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2020). The Education Agency as Research Intermediary. Journal of Educational Issues 6(1).

Recruiting for School Improvement: The Relationship Between Teacher-Centric School Quality Factors and School Improvement Designations in Kentucky

In 2018, Kentucky began the implementation of a new school accountability system. Like other states across the nation, Kentucky's new system was designed to bring state policy into alignment with federal changes brought about by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. In addition to the creation of new school improvement labels, Kentucky's system also reports on a variety of teacher-centric school quality factors. A statistical analysis was conducted to determine if a relationship exists between these school quality factors and the school's improvement designation. The study found that schools identified as needing the greatest improvement (Comprehensive Support and Improvement [CSI]) are statistically more likely to have higher teacher turnover rates, higher percentages of new teachers, and employ teachers with lower rates of advanced education in the year prior to identification than their counterparts with either the Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) or Other designations. These findings should inform future policy making and elevate teacher recruitment and retention as a school improvement priority.


Link: Courtney, M. B. (2019). Recruiting for School Improvement: The Relationship Between Teacher-Centric School Quality Factors and School Improvement Designations in Kentucky. Educational Policy Analysis and Strategic Research 14(2).

Best Practices Guidebook: Supporting Students' Self-Efficacy

Albert Bandura's theory of self-efficacy is a commonly known social-emotional learning theory that states that learners can only achieve that which they believe they can achieve. Strong self-efficacy, associated with confidence and a willingness to take risks in learning, has been positively correlated with strong student achievement. While some element of self-efficacy is determined by the learner's psychological underpinning, self-efficacy can be developed over time through a combination of mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, and positive social persuasions. This report identifies and examines six best practices for developing student self-efficacy in the classroom. [This report was published by Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality, Inc.]


Link: Constantine, J., Fernald, J. Robinson, J., Courtney, M. B. (2019) Best Practices Guidebook: Supporting Students’ Self-Efficacy. Barbourville, KY. Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality, Inc.

Best Practices Guidebook: Professional Learning Communities

The Professional Learning Community model of professional growth and development is an increasingly popular method of teacher training. Commonly abbreviated and referred to as PLCs, this style of professional learning is characterized by its focus on small groups and individualized learning. While the PLC has nearly become a standard feature of the American public school, many teachers and administrators have reported difficulty in implementing a meaningful process. By their very nature, PLCs are unique to each school environment, but the research described in this paper suggests that effective PLC processes share a set of common characteristics. This report makes seven best practice recommendations for implementing the professional learning community model.


Link: Courtney, M.B., Constantine, J., Trosper, J. (2017). Best Practices Guidebook: Professional Learning Communities. Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality.

Teacher Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Professional Development Delivery Styles

One-hundred-thirty-one southeastern Kentucky public school teachers were surveyed with respect to their preferred mode of professional development. An ANOVA was conducted to determine if there was a difference in teacher perceptions among content related variables. That ANOVA showed no significant difference among the means for new instructional practices (M = 387), new classroom management strategies (M = 369.8), and new policies and procedures (M = 356.9), (F [2, 27]= 1.66, p > 0.05). A second ANOVA produced a statistically significant difference in teacher perceptions for the 10 modes of delivery, (F [9, 20] = 8.04, p < 0.05). Tukey's HSD tests were then used to make post-hoc, pairwise comparisons; those tests showed that teachers perceived teacher-led and teacher-driven modes of professional developments as best. A similar procedure determined that participants perceived trainers who were in similar job roles within their school to be more effective.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2016). Teacher perceptions of the effectiveness of professional development delivery styles. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). University of the Cumberlands.

Writers Workshop for Elementary Music Classrooms

With Kentucky's adoption of the national core standards, literacy in all content areas has received a new and revived focus in our state. Students of all grade levels are expected to be able to communicate complex ideas with clarity of focus that has not been necessary in the past. The music educator must be able to adapt and grow in order to keep up with the changing times. By teaching writing techniques through the music curriculum, the music teacher will be armed with powerful tools for advocacy, new assessment mechanisms for students, and the ability to achieve success for students who otherwise would struggle to compete in the general education classroom.


Link: Courtney, M.B. (2012). Writers Workshop for Elementary Music Classrooms. Bluegrass Music News, Winter 2012.

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