People

Sharon Wolf

Assistant Professor | Education

Dr. Sharon Wolf is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education, Human Development, and Quantitative Methods division. She is trained as an applied developmental psychologist and studies how children’s family and educational environments shape their development, focusing on underserved populations in the United States and in low-income countries.

Dr. Wolf’s research tests the effectiveness of theoretically informed policy solutions designed to promote childhood development and learning through randomized field experiments, including cash transfers, teacher professional development, and parent engagement programs.

Selected Publications

Luca Maria PesandoSharon WolfJere R. BehrmanEdward Tsinigo

 (February 2020). Are Private Kindergartens really Better? Examining Preschool Choices, Parental Resources, and Children’s School Readiness in Ghana. Comparative Education Review, 64(1), 107-136. 

Low-cost private schools are expanding across sub-Saharan Africa and are often perceived by parents to be of better quality than public schools. This article assesses the interplay between kindergarten (or preschool) choice, household resources, and children’s school readiness in Ghana. We examine how child, household, and school characteristics predict private versus public kindergarten attendance and whether household characteristics are associated with school readiness beyond preschool selection.

Using a geospatial-identification strategy to account for observed and unobserved determinants of preschool choice, we find that parental investments—including the number of books at home and caregiver help with homework—predict both private-preschool selection and start-of-year child outcomes beyond their influence on preschool choice. We take this evidence as suggesting that investments in children support learning beyond simply selecting the presumed best preschool type.

We also find independent associations between attending private preschool and one-year changes in early literacy scores. The findings contribute knowledge to the literature on the recent expansion of preschool education in sub-Saharan Africa and globally and shed new light on the role of private-preschool attendance in early academic skill development.

Syeda Farwa FatimaSharon Wolf

(June 2020). Cumulative Risk and Newly Qualified Teachers’ Professional Well-being: Evidence from Rural Ghana. SAGE Journals, 1745-4999.

The transition from student-teaching to full-time teaching is an understudied period in teachers’ careers. This paper uses a cumulative risk (CR) framework to assess personal and professional risks experienced by 135 student-teachers in rural Ghana during pre-service training and later as newly qualified teachers and examines how risks relate to their professional well-being and learning outcomes of children in their classrooms. Higher CR was associated with lower teacher motivation and personal accomplishment. Furthermore, higher CR predicted lower child numeracy skills and socioemotional development over the school year. Implications for teacher professional development and improving educational quality are discussed.

Morgan PeeleSharon Wolf

(May 2020). Predictors of anxiety and depressive symptoms among teachers in Ghana: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Social Science & Medicine, 253, 112957.

Rationale

While teachers are heralded as key drivers of student learning outcomes, little attention has been paid to teachers’ mental health, especially in less-developed countries such as Ghana. Professional background, workplace environment, and personal life stressors may threaten teachers’ mental health and subsequent effectiveness in the classroom.


Objectives

The objectives of this study were to investigate 1) whether and how professional background, workplace environment, and personal life stressors predicted teachers’ anxiety and depressive symptoms, and 2) whether participation in a professional development intervention predicted change in teachers’ symptoms over the course of one school year in Ghana.


Method

We used multilevel models to examine predictors of depressive and anxiety symptoms among 444 kindergarten teachers (98% female; age range: 18-69) who participated in the Quality Preschool for Ghana (QP4G) Study. QP4G was a school-randomized control trial (n = 108 public schools; n = 132 private schools) evaluating a one-year teacher professional development intervention program implemented with and without parental-awareness meetings. Teacher depressive and anxiety symptoms were assessed at baseline before the intervention and at the end of the school year.


Results

Poor workplace environment was associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms. Social support also predicted symptoms, with a lack of support from students’ parents and being new to the local community associated with more anxiety symptoms. Within teachers’ personal lives, household food insecurity predicted more depressive symptoms. Finally, anxiety and depressive symptoms increased for all teachers over the school year. However, randomization to either intervention was linked to a significantly smaller increase in symptoms over the school year.


Conclusions

Results suggest that teachers’ personal and professional lives are consequential for their mental health and that professional development interventions that provide training and in-class coaching and parent engagement may benefit teachers’ mental health.

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