A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts in response to an Education Week article about how education research could probably improve schools, but won't. There were lots of great comments generated and I have been thinking about some of them.
Ivy mentioned "that the best researchers are the teachers themselves. By truly getting to know the children that they work with, they can assess what they need. It should not take third, fourth and fifth parties to get involved with that relationship between student and teacher. I think the system has made a complex mess out of something that used to be a natural and instinctive process." I do believe that in some ways, she's right. Who best knows what a particular group of students needs within the classroom walls? Who works with them each day, hopefully refining his/her practice along the way, in order to help student achievement? The teacher. I think good teachers...caring teachers...are researchers after a fashion. I applaud that.
But there is a bit of a breakdown beyond that. Some of the reasons are pointed out by Gary: not all research is good research. There are problems with the methodology, data collection, sampling technique, or other aspects. That "right mix" of factors that might be stumbled upon for a group of students isn't going to necessarily be generalizable. The next class or next year, you have to start again. Rarely do we pass the collective wisdom of teachers to the next grade level receiving students (maybe each kid should have a "user's manual"), let alone think about how developmental changes are going to impact things. Meanwhile, for those researchers who have gone and combed through previous work and conducted analyses---yes, I'm talking about Marzano, Guskey, and others---we're still not making the rubber hit the road in most places. Where the roadblocks of finding and distilling quality information for us has been done, we're reading/learning...and not doing.
It is likely that Vivek and the Repaiman are on to the stickiest point in all of this: support from leadership. This is where I see something like a strong coaching model making a significant difference in the classroom. Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce of the National Staff Development Council have been conducting longitudinal research on how well new learning about best practices is incorporated by classroom teachers. In 1996, they published the findings summarized in the graphic below.
What you're looking at here is their 1996 data. The yellow bars represent the kinds of mastery demonstrated during the training...the green is what is demonstrated in the classroom. You might think of the first set of bars as "sit and get." Someone is just presenting information. Not a great bang for your buck, eh? The second set includes demos by the presenter while the third adds in some practice by the the participants. While the presentation style does increase teacher mastery during the presentation, you'll see that none of these makes a long lasting difference in the classroom. This seems to support some of the observations made by commenters on my original post. Showers and Joyce recently amended their data. Here is the most recent version (keep in mind that the "feedback and reflection" associated with coaching/mentoring required nearly 20 cycles in order to reach the reported level of effectiveness):
Maybe it isn't the educational research that's out there on "best practices" that's the problem in all of this. Perhaps it's our plan to support the implementation. Are leaders within the public school system ready, willing, and able to provide coaching and mentoring for teachers in order to make change happen? I'm sure the answer varies among districts. All of this is a good reminder for me as I take on the mantle of "instructional coach" next year that I really can help make some change. I just need to get into classrooms and support teachers in what they do best: reaching students.