The Frog Pond Theory in education research

An explicitly multilevel or contextual theory in education is the  so called ‘frog pond’ theory, which refers to the idea that a specific individual frog may either be a small frog in a pond otherwise filled with large frogs, or a large frog in a pond otherwise filled with small frogs. Applied to education, this metaphor points out that the effect of an explanatory variable such as ‘intelligence’ on school career may depend on the average intelligence of the other pupils in the schooL A moderately intelligent  pupil  in a highly  intelligent context may become  demotivated  and thus become  an  underachiever,  while  the same pupil  in considerably  less  intelligent context  may  gain  confidence  and become  an  overachiever.  Thus, the effect  of an individual pupil’s intelligence depends on the average intelligence of the other pupils. A popular approach in educational research to investigate ‘frog pond’ effects has been  to aggregate variables like the pupils’ IQ into group means, and then to disaggregate these group means again to the individual level. As a result, the data file contains both individual level (global) variables and higher-level (contextual) variables in the form of disaggregated group means.

Source: Hox, J. J. (2002). Multilevel analysis: Techniques and applications. Psychology Press.
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