Ryan over at I Thought a Think had a lovely post earlier in the week about how Education Research Could Improve Schools, But Probably Won't. His thinking emerged after reading an article by the same title over at Education Week. (As he points out, the whole thing is worth reading. Really. Click on over and have a look. I'll wait.) All of these ideas reflect something that I've been wondering myself recently. If we know what constitutes best practices, how come they are not often used within classrooms?
My head is full of research at the moment (more on that tomorrow) as I'm gearing up for my doctoral study/dissertation. I probably have 30 different---and recent---studies on student motivation and classroom structures which support the kind of engagement and learning goals teachers say they would love to see in their students...and yet I'm hard pressed to think of a single teacher I know who actually has this kind of environment in his or her classroom. This is just one example of many concerning the disparity between educational research and the real world of the classroom.
Why things are as they are isn't rocket science, at least by my estimation. Teachers are busy with the day-to-day work of the classroom. To do it well can be all-consuming (although to teach poorly doesn't require all that much effort). I have often said here that schools aren't making widgets---we're trying to turn out good human beings. This is no small task. Where is there time in a teacher's life to keep current?
We want doctors who practice medicine according to current standards...not those from 100 years ago. I like to take my car to a mechanic who knows about current models of cars...not just Model T's. Considering the precious cargo of our classrooms, it is not incumbent upon professional teachers to make an effort to learn about---and implement---the current set of best practices?
The EdWeek article does make a good point about why this doesn't happen: "Research is not readily accessible—either physically or intellectually—to the potential users...Even if research findings were widely available and written in clear prose..., the reports would not be widely read. Most teachers are not consumers of research, nor are most principals or superintendents. And even if educators and policymakers did read all the studies in a timely fashion, schools and education practice would not change very much, mainly because making significant changes means altering value structures, disrupting routines, and teaching old dogs new tricks." (They didn't mention having to fight The Union every step of the way, too.)
This is a fair summation of things. I can attest that reading a lot of the educational research is downright painful. Meanwhile, I can't admit to keeping up with everything happening in the great wide world of education. I'm fairly focused on a few areas. I also appreciate those who have distilled this work into reader-friendly books available from ASCD, Heinemann, Corwin, and other educational publishers. And yet, how many of those books have I read but not implemented the suggestions contained within them?
The author of the article also suggests that researchers could do more to make their information accessible. This is another good point, but it would still mean that teachers (and admins) would have to make the effort to do their part with the information.
Where I'm not ready to follow along with the EdWeek article is this statement: "Finally, efforts to apply research findings are not likely to produce the desired outcomes because the educational system, like a combustion engine, will not work efficiently if any of its critical parts are broken." This rubs me the wrong way. It feels like a "Why bother? You can't make a difference, anyway." sort of statement. Yes, it's true that public education is far from a well-oiled machine. We have big problems to address and none of them are simple. But from what I've read, teachers are the most influential factor in the classroom. Just because some parts of the system as a whole are dysfunctional doesn't mean that teachers can't make a difference within their classrooms each and every day.
Seems like a good EdD or PhD candidate out there could chew on these ideas in a lot of detail. Why such a disparity between theory and practice exists in education---and what can be done about it---would make for great research. Research I would certainly be interested in reading.