Featured Researchers

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People for Education is partnering with leading Ontario researchers to highlight emerging research. Find out more.

Meet Maria Yau and Robert S. Brown

Our featured researchers

feat research yau brownMaria Yau and Rob Brown are key members of the research team at the Toronto District School Board. For twenty-plus years they have led cutting-edge projects to help better understand the students and programs at Canada’s largest school board, to inform educators and policy-makers and identify areas for improvement.

From inner city schooling to the social-emotional needs of high achieving students, their research has shed light on key educational issues that has had an influence far beyond Toronto.

Do you have a question for Maria or Robert?

Maria Yau and Robert S. Brown are happy to answer your questions about:

  • Why it’s important for school boards to collect demographic data?
  • Can this research be used to help advocate for particular children?
  • Are there programs from Toronto’s Model Schools for Inner Cities that might make a difference in other schools?

We will post all your questions and our researchers’ answers here on our website. Simply use the form at the top right of this page.

Read the latest Q & A with Maria and Robert

  1. The public school board where I live is facing declining enrolment
  2. What can be done to improve Spanish-speaking student graduation rates?

Learn more about Maria Yau and Robert S. Brown

School board research departments have a key role to play in expanding our understanding of what happens to students inside and outside of schools. They have access to incredible amounts of information about students, their backgrounds and needs, as well as resources and school processes. Through data collection, evaluation and analysis they can help make sense of patterns in ways that are important to the public, decision-makers and educators.

The former Toronto Board of Education has stood out among school boards since the 1970’s, when the famous Every Student Survey was used to ask questions about students’ backgrounds as well as what was happening in school to understand students’ needs and outcomes. The most recent Student and Parent Census continued the ground-breaking research tradition. The board has produced Census Portraits on different demographic groups within Toronto’s very diverse school system, and Census Fact Sheets on different topics including students’ social emotional well-being and school experiences, such as feeling supported or encouraged by teachers at school, or participating in class or extra-curriculars.

The Census reports have a large impact because so many students and parents participate in the survey: just under 200,000 in the 2011-2012 Student and Parent Census. These huge numbers give extra weight to unexpected findings, such as a disconnect between students’ social-emotional well-being and their achievement or their family income.

The patterns reported in the Census lead directly to changes in programming at the level of individual schools – like a secondary school which worked on addressing its students’ social emotional needs despite the school’s overall high academic achievement, or a middle-school which added a breakfast program. It also drives decisions across the system, from the introduction of vision and hearing screening for students, to providing comprehensive after-school programs, or establishing integrated health initiative.

The Census data has added another dimension to a series of reports called ‘cohort studies’ which track TDSB students over time, from their entry to high school to graduation and postsecondary. These cohort studies – linked to demographic data – have helped identify successes like a ten-percent increase in the number of students graduating, and important areas for improvement – such as socio-economic and racial disparities in special education, student suspensions or students’ course choices.

Research has also played a key role in major board initiatives, such as Model Schools for Inner Cities. From helping educators figure out what’s working, to demonstrating the effectiveness of the intervention as a whole, Maria Yau notes with satisfaction “over time, with additional resources and proper interventions, we’ve shown that we can make a difference for students in inner city neighbourhoods”.

The years of work generating research used by the school system has also led Maria Yau and Rob Brown into their own areas of interest. Maria Yau is a key player in an organization that builds social-emotional strength among immigrant youth, Across-U Hub, and Rob Brown is an adjunct professor of Critical Disability Studies at York University and has recently published a book, Telling Tales over Time about the power of schedules and calendars to shape educational policy.