American Journal of Education takes extraordinary jump within international rankings
That the American Journal of Education (AJE) rose to fourth in the most recent SCImago Journal & Country Rank is impressive enough. The pace of its meteoric advancement is what caught the collective eye of its co-editors.
AJE is an independent journal, owned by the University of Chicago Press but published through Penn State's College of Education. It was identified as one of 11 core journals in education in a previous empirical study.
The late Bill Boyd, Batschelet Chair professor of educational leadership in Penn State’s College of Education, led the effort to bring the Journal to Penn State from the University of Chicago. LeTendre, and later Dana Mitra, professor of educational theory and policy, assumed lead editorial roles after Boyd’s death in September 2008.
The publication was not ranked among the top 50 in 2012. It entered at No. 26 in 2013, dropped to 32nd in 2014 and skyrocketed to No. 4 in 2015.
LeTendre believes that AJE’s rise in the rankings is linked to the decision to organize a student editorial board and launch a website: AJEForum. “As with all rankings you have to take them with a little grain of salt,’’ he said. “I think the trajectory is what really caught my eye. You will see that impact factors fluctuate year to year. The longer, upward trend is what really excites me.
“Given that it happened at the same time that the forum was being activated and getting content up suggests there is some correlation. LeTendre said. “A number of journals have a website that’s just the contents online; it’s an electronic version of the print journal. AJE forum is really different. It’s actually a website that’s open to student-created content. We have interviews with authors from the journal and related pieces, but a lot of the content is not related to the specific articles in the journal. It’s about general topics of interest. And we really think that that the more fluid framework has brought in a much larger readership,’’ LeTendre said.
AJE has been around since the early 1900s, according to Mitra, who said some of its most accessed pieces stem all the way back to those times because they are historically important pieces in education reform. “When we look at the pieces most accessed, obviously our most recent ones are at the top, but there’s also a history of classics that continue to have cache with historians,’’ she said.AJE is a peer-reviewed journal, and all manuscripts under consideration are highly vetted, according to Mitra. The journal caters to a general education and policy audience. “There needs to be something in the article that connects beyond the subfield,’’ Mitra said. “If you’re writing about tracking or if you’re writing about middle school math, there needs to be something in the manuscript’s implications or in other parts of the piece that speaks to broader issues of reform and policy. Otherwise, we typically suggest that such a piece is more suited toward a specialty journal.
“So, we aim to publish excellent research that can speak to a broad audience. Manuscripts must have implications beyond the immediate issue under study.’’
LeTendre said AJE received 289 manuscript submissions from authors in more than 30 countries in 2016, and 5 percent were accepted or are under revise-and-resubmit status. He added that 209 scholars from around the world reviewed articles for the journal.
Gaining entry in AJE is challenging. “In a journal like this, we have a high rejection rate … about 90 percent,’’ Mitra said. “We reject articles that are just not a good fit; the peer-review process further reduces the number of pieces that we publish.
“There’s a lot of pruning down to find the pieces that are high quality, and even then, we depend heavily on what our peer reviewers say in terms of whether it’s a fit for our journal, whether the quality of the research is good enough and then it could be great research and a fit for our journal but it doesn’t say anything new. So, there needs to be contribution. Those are the main three things – fit, quality and contribution – that we look for,’’ she said.
“So, we aim to publish excellent research that can speak to a broad audience. Manuscripts must have implications beyond the immediate issue under study.’’--Dana Mitra
Noting that AJE is a “peer review journal with great rigor,’’ Mitra added, “We have fantastic peer reviewers from around the world. There’s a minimum of three peer reviewers in addition to our editors which is typical for any top journal of educational research.’’
LeTendre stressed that AJE’s success is because of teamwork. “Academic journals have become very, very complex organizations with the advent of modern digital communications,’’ he said. “Editors have to think about vast new fields, some that weren’t around 10 years ago, are now very dominant in the field. You need to really think about assembling a very strong team and the decision supported by our senior editors to create a student editorial board was an excellent one.”
“The senior editors understand the history of the field, they’re well-respected scholars but they are not always at the cutting edge of research. Graduate students are trying to get their doctoral dissertations finished; they’re right at the edge of what is being studied in the field. It’s going to be their research that is published next year in a journal or in a book somewhere. That dynamic has really helped AJE take off by getting an active student board and having them interact with a senior editorial board.’’
Overall, LeTendre said AJE is “understood to maintain a level of academic integrity and a sophistication of knowledge production that is consistent with other journals in its field.’’
“The problem for academic journals has always been that knowledge simply circulated among other academics,’’ LeTendre said. “What I would really like to see is that the work these scholars are producing … is recognized and used outside of academia, for example, in public policy debates, or in debates about where local schools should go.
“I think that in this day and age that fact, and not alternative facts, continue to be the mainstay of what we talk about. I hope we can continue with the trend to increase our readership and the citation of our authors.’’
Jim Carlson (February 2017)