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Doctoral Graduate Earns National Recognition With Award-Winning Dissertation

Aug. 7, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Kyle Morgan

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Mark Riha
Mark Riha, a 2011 SHSU doctoral graduate, was presented the 2013 Morphet Outstanding Dissertation Award on Aug. 7. —Submitted photo by Darin Coin

Like most teachers, Mark Riha has his job cut out for him when it comes to keeping the attention of a classroom full of students.

On the other hand, Riha was recently able to catch—and keep—the attention of a national committee. The 38-year-old is the winner of the 2013 Morphet Outstanding Dissertation Award.

"It never occurred to me that I could even win a national award," said Riha, a history teacher at Carl Wunshe Senior High School in Spring.

Riha graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership in December 2011. His dissertation, Middle School Size and Student Performance: A Multi-Year Study, examined middle-school size in Texas as it relates to student academic achievement.

The Morphet Outstanding Dissertation Award is named after Edgar L. Morphet in honor of his lifetime career of distinguished contributions to the field of educational administration, and particularly his long and continued support of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Riha was presented the award on Aug. 7 at the NCPEA’s national conference in New Jersey.

Authors of dissertations relating to the field of education administration submitted their entries anonymously to a panel of reviewers.

Jason Mixon, associate professor at the Center for Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership at Lamar University in Beaumont, said Riha's dissertation received rave reviews.

"We provide research that you can put in the hands of people so they can start applying it," Mixon said. "Mark's dissertation was application-oriented and relates to student performance. The reason we get into education is for students to be successful, so this study has a lot of merit."

Riha researched every middle school in the state of Texas that was not a charter school. Since the study reviewed data from five consecutive school years (2005-2006 to 2009-2010), the numbers varied from year to year, but averaged 175 large schools, 300 moderate-size schools and 250 small schools. These designations were based on enrollment: small schools with no more than 499 students, moderate schools with 500-999 students, and large schools with more than 1,000 students.

"The research showed that the larger the middle school, the more successful students tended to be, regardless of ethnicity," said Riha, adding that ethnicity was categorized as white, African American or Hispanic. "The moderate schools outperformed the small schools as well."

There are several reasons as to why this seems to be the case, Riha said.

"One factor we proposed is that the larger schools have larger budgets, so they have more money to hire better-qualified teachers, provide more learning opportunities, and deliver a more varied academic curriculum," Riha said.

The study actually completes a trilogy that Riha's dissertation chair John R. Slate began with previous doctoral students several years ago.

An Academic "Trilogy"

(2009) Elementary School Size and Student Achievement in Texas, authored by Pamela Zoda, Conroe ISD

(2011) Middle School Size and Student Performance in Texas: A Multi-Year Study, authored by Mark Riha, Spring ISD

(2010) Secondary School Size and Student Achievement in Texas, authored by Brian Greeney, Klein ISD

"One was done at the elementary level, one was done at the high school level," Riha said. "What was missing was the middle school level, and since that was my area of expertise professionally, it just evolved into my working on that particular subject."

Riha received a Master of Education degree in educational administration at SHSU in 2007. After that, he worked as an associate principal at Claughton Middle School during the summer months. From there, Riha continued on his career path at Spring ISD, teaching at Bammel Middle School for 12 years and Roberson Middle School for one year.

"I enjoy being a teacher very much," said Riha, whose parents were both teachers but are now retired. "I really enjoy the challenges and the unexpected things that happen when you work with kids. Every day is a new day."

That's not to say Riha doesn't see himself in an administrative position down the road, or, perhaps, as a professor.

He is, after all, already making a difference in higher education.

"Mark's quality of work is part of what led him to receiving the Morphet award," said Slate, professor at SHSU's Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling. "In addition, he did something that is rarely done. He used statewide data and multiple years of data, and found the same outcome every year. That means he has practical information that policy makers and legislators can actually use."

Slate said that although he thinks all of his students' work is topnotch, less than 10 percent of dissertations get published. A portion of Riha's study has already been published in the Journal of Educational Research, and another portion is currently under review for the Journal of Education Policy, Planning and Administration.

Riha also recently presented the Hispanic portion of his dissertation at the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco.

Published, presented, and nationally recognized? Riha should be proud, but instead, he's practical.

"I thought that just the process of applying and getting some kind of idea of what goes into these kinds of awards was a good experience," Riha said. "I wasn't expecting to win."

 

 

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