Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 21
2 Focusing Our Efforts: Four Key Questions At the heart of the committee's deliberations was the issue of focus: Could the 16 members, drawn from very different parts of the education enterprise, reach agreement on a limited number of questions around which to build a large-scale research program? The early views of committee members ranged from agnostic to skeptical. The group considered a wide range of research topics, searching for those with the greatest potential for improving student learning. Over time, various members made compelling cases for specific lines of research. As the discussion matured, so did the selection criteria. In setting its priorities, the committee asked, "Which questions, had we answers to them, would make a significant difference in student learning?" After extensive debate, the committee reached consensus on four key questions that warrant intensive, focused research efforts. These topics are presented as questions from the perspective of the school. How can advances in research on human cognition, development, and learning be incorporated into educational practice? How can student engagement in the learning process and motivation to achieve in school be increased? How can schools and school districts be transformed into organizations that have the capacity to continuously improve their practices? How can the use of research knowledge be increased in schools and school districts? This list is intentionally short. The priorities it sets are consistent with, but significantly more focused than, the agenda
OCR for page 22
for education research set by the U.S. Department of Education and its National Education Research Policy and Priorities Board. To be sure, the research literature covers many additional domains of knowledge; the reform movement embodies other worthy goals for American education, such as civic responsibility and arts experience. The committee chose these topics because they lie at the heart of education: together they hold potential for significantly improving student learning. They speak directly to the problems that teachers and school officials face every day. They address the most pressing concerns of parents and the general public. They have links to substantial bodies of underutilized research. They work together as a set—they could yield a mutually reinforcing set of answers. Not least, the four questions offer a conceptual framework that could weave together many existing research programs and reform efforts. The resources and energy invested in this strategic program of research could have a high payoff for American education. Incorporating Research on Cognition, Learning, and Development into Educational Practice1 Until quite recently, understanding the mind—and the thinking and learning that the mind makes possible—has remained an elusive quest, in part because of a lack of powerful research tools. With theoretical and methodological developments over the last 3 decades, however, there has been an extraordinary outpouring of scientific work on the mind and brain, on the processes of thinking and learning, on the neural underpinnings of learning and cognition, and on the development of intellectual competencies. The new evidence has been drawn 1 This section draws heavily on the discussion of the science of learning and its implications for educational practice in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (National Research Council, 1999a) and How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (National Research Council, 1999b).
OCR for page 23
from diverse disciplines, including cognitive science, developmental psychology, linguistics, anthropology, neuroscience, philosophy, and information science. Advances in the study of mind and brain, cognition, and development provide a rich context for thinking about education. What has been learned from all of these fields offers a new understanding of human learning and the characteristics of organized knowledge that can be used to promote effective comprehension and productive thinking. Cognitive science theories and experiments help in understanding the mind's functioning and the development of competence. The physical organ, the brain, is more visible than ever before, thanks to new neuroimaging and other technologies. Neuroscientists can actually see pictures of brain changes over time and brain variations during different activities and among different individuals. Developmental scientists have found imaginative ways to study the cognition of infants and small children; their work reveals infants as active, hungry learners with strong predispositions toward language and number and the ability to make distinctions between animate beings and inanimate objects. Advances in the study of mind and brain, cognition, and development provide a rich context for thinking about education One of the most important influences on contemporary learning theory comes from basic research on how experts learn and think in contrast to the ways novice learners approach new tasks and go about solving problems. For example, one of the characteristics of expert learners is that they consciously use mental devices to keep themselves on task and to obtain feedback about their learning, including the extent of their understanding, what else they need to know, if they need to repeat a step because they didn't quite ''get it,'' and so on. These strategies of thinking about thinking—metacognition—can facilitate and enhance any learners' efforts to attain understanding (Simon, 1996). This knowledge about the efficacy of metacognitive processes indicates how marked a departure current learning theory has made from the behaviorist models that prevailed for much of the twentieth century. The earlier theories focused on the relationships between observable stimuli and observable responses; little consideration was given to the processes of the learner's mind or the social and cultural context in which learning takes place. Yet the process of explicating higher order skills and the most effective means of cultivating such skills ". . . is precisely what we need to establish [as] a scientific foundation
OCR for page 24
for the new agenda of extending thinking and reasoning abilities to all segments of the population" (Resnick, 1987a:7). Today's learning scientists have shown that knowledge is the product of both an individual's cognitive activities and the supporting human culture (Stigler et al., 1989; Bruner, 1990, 1996; D'Andrade, 1995; Cole, 1996; Shore, 1996; Geertz, 1997; Strauss and Quinn, 1997). There is broad consensus that the context of cultural and social norms and expectations influence people's acquisition and uses of knowledge in powerful ways. The portrait of human learning that is emerging from the new science of learning suggests approaches to pedagogy, instruction, curriculum, and assessment that differ significantly from those common in today's schools (National Research Council, 1999; Resnick and Klopfer, 1989). The path from learning research to effective classroom practice, however, is neither simple nor straightforward. It will require an intensive research effort, including school-based research. There are many tantalizing avenues a Strategic Education Research Program might explore. The rest of this section discusses several of these avenues. Teaching That Builds on Students' Prior Learning Recent research in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, and developmental psychology has shown that the experiences children have in the early years are critical to later learning (Greenough et al., 1987; Dawson and Fischer, 1994; Shore, 1997). Young learners are far from the empty vessels to which they have often been compared. From the first weeks of life, young children begin to develop sophisticated concepts (whether accurate or not) to explain and organize the phenomena around them. Early experience creates strong convictions about how the world operates; faced with facts or notions that conflict with these convictions, young learners may react with disbelief that they are unwilling to suspend. Children will take impressive imaginative leaps to avoid relinquishing cherished misconceptions (see Vosniadou and Brewer, 1989). Faced with adults' explanations that the world is round, for example, some children hold onto their flat-Earth theory by envisioning a pancake on top of a ball. Formal instruction does not easily dislodge students' prior understandings; only by probing for and identi- Young learners are far from the empty vessels to which they have often been compared
OCR for page 25
fying students' prior knowledge, including misconceptions and misunderstandings, can teachers use instruction to move their students on to more accurate and more sophisticated levels of understanding (see the review by Mestre, 1994). In other words, students come to school with preconceptions about how the world works. If that initial understanding is not engaged, students may fail to grasp the new information or concepts, or may learn for purposes of the test, but fail to transfer the learning to new situations (see National Research Council, 1999:Ch. 4). The challenge for teachers is to build on children's early learning and promote the growth of conceptual knowledge. Teachers need to make time to hear their students' ideas and questions. They need to be on the lookout for the misconceptions that characterize children's immature thought and frame their learning. They need to be prepared to assess children's thinking abilities, to decide when to make connections between existing knowledge and school learning and when to help the child overcome misconceptions or naive understandings. Teachers need to make time to hear their students' ideas and questions Teaching for Deep Understanding Another line of investigation suggested by cognitive and learning research involves the development of pedagogical approaches that integrate the three critical elements of deep understanding: factual grounding, awareness of the structure of knowledge in a discipline, and metacognitive or self-monitoring activities. Classroom teaching has often focused too narrowly on the memorization of information, giving short shrift to critical thinking, conceptual understanding, and in-depth knowledge of subject matter. As shown by numerous research studies, the development of intellectual competence requires more than the accumulation of discrete pieces of information. The elements of content that can be learned about a domain of knowledge are embedded in coherent structures. Indeed, the ability to discern and build on those structures distinguishes experts from novices in a given field. For example, experts in physics do not simply solve problems better or faster than beginning learners. They approach the problems differently, identifying similarities among problems based on major principles and laws of physics; in contrast, novices group problems according to the equations
OCR for page 26
that can be used to solve them (Larkin, 1983). Helping students to recognize and build on knowledge structures is a crucial goal of teaching. A student's capacity to function within a conceptual field will mature as he or she is helped to mesh different kinds of information, use them as a springboard for abstract thinking, and apply more rigorous forms of reasoning (Webb and Romberg, 1992). Curriculum can be thought of as a way to familiarize learners with the landscape of a knowledge domain or subject matter, so that they can negotiate the new terrain on their own and make effective use of its resources (Greeno, 1991). They need the kinds of learning activities that will help them talk, write, and think about the subject matter. By talking and listening to each others' thinking, learners gain the vocabulary, syntax, and rhetoric—the discourse—needed to understand and describe the knowledge structures associated with specific subjects and specific problems. They can gain greater capacity for metacognition—thinking about and gaining insight into their own thinking and learning processes. Helping students evaluate and regulate their own learning, using communication with peers and teachers as part of the process, can be effective in various domains (Carey, 1996; Treisman, 1996). Educational technologies can help students develop models of what they are learning. They make the learners' reasoning processes public and inspectable (Schauble, 1996; Chapman, 1996). Educational technologies can help students develop models of what they are learning Effective Transfer of Knowledge to New Situations There is a wealth of research that helps illuminate the relationships between teaching approaches and students' ability to make use of what they have learned. Certain methods of teaching, particularly those that emphasize memorization as an end in itself, tend to produce knowledge that is seldom if ever used. Students who learn to solve problems by following formulas, for example, often are unable to use their skills in new situations (Redish, 1996). As a consequence, students often view school learning as irrelevant. Students who have been afforded opportunities to generalize from their previous experiences (Klahr and Carver, 1988), who have learned with multiple examples, practiced their skills in a variety of situations, and discussed their ideas with others
OCR for page 27
develop a much finer sense of what might be called the conditions of applicability of their knowledge. They know when to use it and when it is not appropriate, how to fine-tune it to make it appropriate to different circumstances, and how to develop strategies for addressing scenarios that differ from the primary case [Anderson et al., 1996; Ericcson, and Charness, 1994; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV), 1997]. There are many implications for schooling in the research on transfer of learning. Much remains to be worked out in practice. A teacher's focus needs to be on helping students make connections between new and old knowledge. This means, in part, helping students approach learning situations in a deliberate fashion. A learner needs to see the relevance of the cognitive processes she or he controls, including processes of comparison, evaluating same/different distinctions, categorizing the new problem in terms of what seems familiar or unfamiliar, and so forth. The goal is to help students think about the specific challenges associated with new material, anticipate difficulties, evaluate feedback, and explain things to themselves to gauge their own progress toward understanding. Building an Environment That Supports Learning Learning has often been thought of as an individual—and perhaps solitary—activity. A number of powerful, new ideas for improving education derive from research on the interpersonal dimensions of learning, on cognition as a social process. Several lines of research on the social context of learning have been inspired by the work of Vygotsky (1978). The emphasis shifts from the individual learner to the environmental supports for learning, including intellectual tools like language, other minds, and the surrounding culture with all of its symbols and rituals that help to organize events. These things—tools, people, culture—strongly influence what a person regards as meaningful (Egan, 1997). These things—tools, people, culture—strongly influence what a person regards as meaningful Researchers who study how environments support learning and development argue that the human being at any point of development learns within the framework of meaningfulness. Researchers in the Vygotskian tradition believe that anchoring learning in specific situations taps a critical source of meaning, and they encourage connections between learning and one's
OCR for page 28
personal history. "Whether dealing in remembering, or the development of mathematical knowledge and problem solving within a cultural group . . . [we] need to ground theoretical statements and empirical claims in a unit of psychological analysis that corresponds to the lived events of everyday life" (Cole, 1996:220). Cole's is one among a variety of new approaches in developmental science to call for more attention to settings (the ecology) in the study of learning and behavior (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 1998). This represents a clear departure from older approaches to cognition that focused almost exclusively on the internal processes of an individual mind. The social perspective emphasizes the practical and social grounding of cognition in the structures of everyday activities and relationships (Suchman, 1987; Lave, 1988a, 1988b; Rogoff, 1990; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wertsch 1991; Hutchins, 1995; Nardi, 1996). It focuses attention on a number of mechanisms of learning that did not emerge in earlier studies of individual cognition, on the internalization of social processes during learning. This research also has provided insight on how learning is guided and supported ("scaffolded") by more experienced individuals and how learners play an active role in their own development (Rogoff and Wertsch, 1984; Rogoff, 1986, 1990; Resnick, 1987b; Lave, 1988a, 1988b; Brown et al., 1989; Lave and Wenger, 1991). The social perspective has had a significant effect on how classroom learning is studied, and it has produced research on local variations in classroom activities and organization (Heber, 1981; Heath, 1983; Rohlen, 1983; Cazden, 1988; Tobin et al., 1989). The social perspective has also focused scholarly attention on understudied populations of learners and revealed learning differences among children of differing social class and learning variations associated with race and ethnicity (Ginsburg, 1997; Brice-Heath, 1981, 1983). A final variant on the theme of cognition as a social process is the idea of distributed cognition. When scientists hold laboratory meetings to discuss a project and share their ideas, experiences, successes, failures, and ideas for next steps, they share a knowledge of a subject that propels the discussion beyond procedural details to the substantive issues. Professionals and scientists frequently use a collegial mode of inquiry and interaction, having found that the exchange of ideas will lead to quicker and more effective solutions than individual work alone. Professionals and scientists frequently use a collegial mode of inquiry and interaction
OCR for page 29
Distributed cognition could prove to be an important construct for developing more successful ways of organizing classrooms and instruction. It is often cited as part of the promise of new computer-based educational technologies (Pea, 1993; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1998). There is some evidence that this approach to learning can be an effective mechanism for classroom learning (National Research Council, 1999; Brown and Campione, 1994). In classrooms designed to encourage this approach to children's learning, researchers have discovered that even locating and defining a problem is often a joint enterprise (Wertsch et al., 1980). While some aspects of problem solving take place "in the head," many others take place "in the world." Bits and pieces of the approach are visible in many schools in the use of aides and volunteers in the classroom, team teaching within and between schools, and the inclusion of community members and academic or industrial specialists in school activities. There have been some exciting experiments with programs like cooperative learning, but there is much to be learned about how to translate the insights from the research on distributed learning into programs that improve student learning in the average school. Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement in Learning Motivation research studies how individuals decide which tasks to engage in and what affects the persistence and intensity of their engagement. The problem is an intriguing one: Why do some individuals persist even when they are struggling, while others quit at the first sign of difficulty? Why do some individuals persist even when they are struggling, while others quit at the first sign of difficulty? The issue is of fundamental importance. No amount of research and no attempts at reform are likely to strengthen learning unless students themselves are willing to work hard. The challenges of today's world require a level of knowledge and expertise that cannot be acquired without effort, even by the most able students. From the early grades, learners must exert themselves to pay attention, to carry out assignments, to study and review challenging material, and they must somehow be motivated to do these things.
OCR for page 30
In general, more is known about how learning takes place than about the conditions and incentives that motivate students to expend effort and to achieve special goals. Although there is a lot of research on motivation, there is no commonly accepted unifying theory or even a set of agreed-upon principles and no systematic application of what is known to educational practice. This lack of knowledge is especially troubling in light of strong evidence that the great majority of American students are not paying as much attention to schoolwork or exerting as much effort as they could. A survey conducted by Public Agenda (1997), Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About Their Schools, indicated that two-thirds of teenagers readily admit that they could do much better in school if they tried. Half of the teenagers surveyed by Public Agenda say their schools fail to challenge them to do their best. Teenagers readily admit that they could do much better in school if they tried Other studies support these findings. For the Mood of American Youth (National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1996), American teenagers were surveyed about their attitudes toward various aspects of their daily life; the survey revealed far more positive attitudes toward friends, sports, and social activities than toward classes and learning. Does this matter? A study from the U.S. Department of Education's National Education Longitudinal Survey:88 investigated the relation between eighth graders' engagement with learning (including attendance, class participation, extra-curricular involvement, and several indicators of a students' identification with the school) and their school achievement. The survey shows a strong positive relationship between the degree to which school matters to students and the outcomes of schooling, and these relationships persist even when racial, socioeconomic, and home-language differences are controlled (U.S. Department of Education, 1990). It is clear from this data, to say nothing of the everyday observations of teachers, that there is great variation in the motivation (willingness to expend effort) that students bring to their studies and, furthermore, that a very substantial proportion of children in schools expend only modest amounts of energy and time on learning. Achievement data indicate that a significant minority of children in schools expend only minimal effort on acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to participate fully in society as adults. If ways can be found to increase the amount of effort that students, and particularly young stu-
OCR for page 31
dents, expend on learning, the effects on educational achievement would be exponential. A large and potentially bewildering number of physical, psychological, social, and instructional variables have been examined for their possible influence on student engagement in learning; see Figure 1. Some of the themes that might be explored as part of a Strategic Education Research Program are discussed in the rest of this section. Expectations, Effort, and Performance For school-age children, motivation to achieve is strongly related to their beliefs about the nature of intelligence and how it is acquired (Dweck and Elliot, 1983). If they believe in the malleability of intelligence and some internal locus of control (rather than fixed aptitude and luck or the actions of others), children will try and keep trying, even if they fail at first to master the academic content in a task; without that belief, many avoid trying altogether (Elliott and Dweck, 1988; see also Henderson and Dweck, 1990). Motivation to achieve is strongly related to . . . beliefs about the nature of intelligence and how it is acquired Cross-cultural research lends support to this view. An extensive study of elementary education in Japan, China, and the United States suggests that higher achievement in Asian countries results, at least in part, from a belief in the power of effort on the part of teachers, parents, and students (Stevenson and Stigler, 1992). This study emphasizes the role of parents, noting that U.S. parents are far less likely to subscribe to effort-based notions of achievement. The researchers note the propensity of U.S. parents to communicate low standards and accept less than optimal performance. Children tend to solidify a sense of who they are academically and where they stand in relation to their peers when they are in the primary grades (Carnegie Task Force, 1996). The notions they form about their own capabilities, based on messages received from their family, school, community, and the popular media, can strongly influence their motivation to succeed and their later success. Societal messages about fixed aptitude associated with groups (by race, ethnicity, or gender) can be particularly oppressive. For example, African American students appear to resist intellectual but not athletic competition; constant messages about the academic inferiority of black students negatively affect black students' perceptions, resulting
OCR for page 38
fluence students' motivation and achievement, but there is much still to be learned about how their attitudes and expectations can be changed and the ways in which those expectations relate to children's actual performance. Motivation and engagement in the learning process are influenced by individual differences in students' development and interests, as well as by cognitive, affective, behavioral, sociocultural, and institutional factors; increased understanding is needed of the relative importance of, and relationships among the various influences. And little is known about the long-term effect on different students of instructional strategies designed to increase engagement and motivation, including those that make use of new technologies. Research suggests that motivation is related to the culture of a school and its students' identification with its aims and commitments, but more information is needed about the kinds of classrooms, schools, and school districts that achieve and sustain high motivation. A strategic program of research in the field of motivation could synthesize the many strands of motivation research, seeding the process of integration and theory building, promoting and linking theory-based intervention programs designed to increase student engagement and motivation, along with longitudinal studies of their effectiveness. Transforming Schools and School Districts for Continuous Improvement Education as an institution, like other organizations, is subject to enormous inertia, fixed in place by tradition and the political forces of school boards, community expectations, administrative capacity, unions, and finance systems. This research topic focuses on the issue of improving organizational functioning, that is, making schools and school districts more capable of learning from experience and from research, better able to develop consensual visions and plans, and more effective at adapting to changing conditions. If student learning is to be significantly improved, schools as organizations will have to be actively and constantly in the business of finding answers—
OCR for page 39
and even identifying the emerging questions before issues turn into entrenched problems. Two strands of research address the problem of creating schools and school districts that have the capacity to enhance student learning, one on business organizations and one on schools and other educational institutions. In the for-profit sector, recent research on organizational effectiveness has centered on an organization's capacity to learn—that is, to acquire and distribute knowledge and to change in response to shifting conditions. From seminal work by March and Simon (1958), an expanding literature has documented the evolution, characteristics, and processes of a "learning organization" (Argyris and Schon, 1996; Kochan and Useem, 1992) and the type of "quality management" needed to create and sustain it (Deming, 1986). Among the useful ideas to emerge is that an organization predisposed to learn will develop processes for making tacit knowledge explicit so that knowledge—observations about manufacturing glitches or service problems, about work habits, about customers and suppliers—can be gathered, sifted, and applied. The literature on learning organizations has focused attention on the idea of organizational culture. The work of industrial anthropologists, for example, has documented relationships between the way work is organized and the ability of organizations to be flexible and responsive to changing conditions. Researchers in organizational development have drawn on work in cognitive science, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to study the relationship between group learning and individual learning and between culture and cognition (Simon, 1996; Brown and Duguid, 1996; Brown et al., 1989; Hutchins, 1995). In this sense, many of the ideas underlying studies of organizational learning are very much in accord with research on the nature of learning and motivation, discussed above. None of this work is likely to produce a how-to manual for running a school or school district, but it does provide a useful framework for exploring the issues of aligning the institutional and bureaucratic aspects of education with teaching and learning goals. In addition, there are a large number of case studies from the learning organization movement that might provide fruitful analogies to illuminate the processes and problems of change in education organizations.
OCR for page 40
The second strand of research relevant to continuous improvement includes work in recent decades that has sought to identify the characteristics of effective schools (Murphy et al., 1985). Studies of school restructuring, including a number of large-scale, long-term studies, have provided insight on the effects of various reform strategies, the interactions among them, and the conditions under which they succeeded in improving student learning (Felner et al., 1997; Newmann and Associates, 1996). There is a growing consensus that policy and structural changes alone will not significantly improve student learning; capacity building at the local school is essential (Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 1996; Elmore, 1996; Tyack and Cuban, 1995; McLaughlin, 1991a, 1991b). High levels of student achievement flourish when the culture of the school and its organizational structure are compatible and are mutually supportive of the hard work of students and teachers (Newmann and Associates, 1996; Elmore and Burney, 1997). A structural change in the length of classes from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, for example, will have little effect on increasing student achievement unless teachers know and use pedagogical techniques that engage students in active learning experiences (e.g., examination and discussion with peers of primary source materials, collaborative problem solving) and students are prepared for active learning. Policy and structural changes alone will not significantly improve student learning While the literature associated with organizational development describes learning organizations, research on schools often speaks of learning communities. Drawing on theory and practice in developmental psychology and cognitive science, this research proposes that children learn best in the context of caring and collaborative relationships (Carnegie Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades, 1996). In response to these ideas, some communities are creating smaller schools (or schools within schools), where students are well known by their teachers. An associated theme is the development of a professional community among teachers and administrators, among school districts and schools, characterized by such things as shared values, collaboration, shared decision making, professional development, and taking collective responsibility for students' learning. One study of successful professional communities in five inner-city schools analyzed both the characteristics of their
OCR for page 41
professional relationships that appear to contribute to their success and the supportive structural conditions—time to meet and talk, interdependent teaching roles, the power to make decisions (Louis et al., 1995a, 1995b). Elmore and colleagues (Elmore and Burney, 1997) argue that a well-developed professional community is one of the most important elements in restructuring schools to increase their capacity to implement a demanding intellectual curriculum. Newmann and Wehlage (1995:30) identified three characteristics of professional communities associated with higher levels of student achievement: clarity of shared purpose; collaboration to implement the shared purpose; and collective responsibility for student learning (see also Ball, 1997; Putnam and Borko, 1997; Resnick et al., 1991). The sustained collaborative work of teachers, researchers, and administrators at the school and district level in reform experiments is beginning to provide empirical evidence that supports the notion of professional community. There are numerous examples of the importance of a well-developed professional community to make structural changes effective. Instituting participatory decision making, for example, produces only superficial changes in a school's power relations (Malen et al., 1990; see also Weiss, 1995). But in schools that have a strong moral commitment to high intellectual standards for students, shared decision making supports the professional community, which in turn is related to student achievement (Newmann and Associates, 1996). School size is another example. Small secondary schools in particular can have a positive influence on student achievement gains (Lee and Smith, 1995; Lee et al., 1995). Size appears to promote respect and trust between teachers and students, but the effect is most likely to be achieved in schools where teachers assume collective responsibility for student learning and there is a highly developed professional community in the school (Newmann and Associates, 1996). A professional community in a school is an obvious community, but teachers and administrators are also members of the professional communities within a school district. One Philadelphia district made an effort to develop a common culture among the professionals in elementary, middle, and high schools so that continuous support for student achievement could transcend the individual school building level (Newburg, 1991).
OCR for page 42
The idea that school districts should nurture culture and professional communities within itself is relatively new. Yet, as the literature on organizational culture and organizational change makes clear, coherence and alignment of goals and community norms are critically important for systemic reform initiatives. Schools and school districts in many parts of the country are engaged in strenuous efforts to transform themselves. There is much that is interesting, and some experiments are exciting, as the ongoing study of District 2 in New York City (Resnick et al., 1996) illustrates. Yet there is a fragmented quality to all of this activity that the existing research base cannot knit together. Education research needs to find a new paradigm if it is to produce major advances in our understanding of how schools and school districts function and how they can be made more effective as organizations. This will require the collaboration of researchers in organizational sociology, social psychology, political science, and education. It is, despite recent calls for a new academic discipline called "change science" (Wilson and Barsky, 1998:246), a collaboration unlikely to occur on its own, but which is conceivable within the framework of the Strategic Education Research Program described in Chapter 3. Promoting the Use of Education Research to Improve Student Learning At the core of the SERP proposal is the conviction that, above all else, knowledge is needed on how to get research attended to by educators. The gap between research and practice in the field of education has been well documented. Research conducted in the 1980s showed that most teachers use a narrow repertoire of instructional practices; they expand that repertoire only when they are given substantial and carefully designed training (Sirotnik, 1983; Goodlad, 1984). Teachers are less able or willing to use relevant research findings than are members of other professions; medicine and law, for example, traditionally rely on research and development to inform practice (Fleming, 1988). And, indeed, nothing in their background prepares teachers to be consumers of research, with the result
OCR for page 43
that teachers tend to be wary of research, believing—not without reason—that for the most part it has little potential for improving practice, is too remote from the classroom, fails to reflect their needs, and is not user friendly. In one survey of teachers, less than half of them agreed that education research gave them practical suggestions for improving instruction (Fleming, 1988). These findings are troubling, not least because much of the research on cognitive development, motivation, and organizational change argues for instructional practices and systemic reform models that differ dramatically from traditional schooling. But these ideas have reached a very small percentage of the children now enrolled in the nation's 87,000 elementary and secondary schools (Elmore, 1996). Some studies on this topic are characterized as "research to practice" studies; some are known as studies of "knowledge utilization in policy," and others as "policy implementation in practice." The problem with each of these formulations is that the relationships between research and its use are neither linear nor punctuated. Instead, the relationships are diffuse and complex, characterized at least by "sustained interactivity" (e.g., Huberman, 1989) and often characterized by processes labeled ''knowledge creep" and ''decision accretion" (Weiss, 1980, 1987). Furthermore, research does not provide answers to all the questions of practice (Weiss, 1998a). What counts as knowledge when it comes to improving education is not merely the work product of those who identify themselves as researchers or evaluators. Important kinds of knowledge also arise in the insights and experience of policy analysts and policy makers and among teachers and administrators in schools. The use of knowledge emerging from research, policy, or practice is heavily constrained by the interactions of the different professional communities within the local context (McLaughlin, 1991b; McDonnell and Elmore, 1991). One of the most important and consistent consensual findings in the knowledge-use literature is that the stereotypical "knowledge use" situation that people expect when first thinking about knowledge contributions to policy or practice is inaccurate. It is seldom the case that a specific social problem is solved by a decision to use the results of a research study. Naive assumptions about using research to find "what works"
OCR for page 44
across the board are bound to bring disappointment (Weiss, 1998b). Commenting on the links between research knowledge and policy, Weiss (1991:308) notes: It probably takes an extraordinary concatenation of circumstances for research to influence policy decisions directly: a well-defined decision situation, a set of policy actors who have responsibility and jurisdiction for making the decision, an issue whose resolution depends at least to some extent on information, identification of the requisite informational need, research that provides the information in terms that match the circumstances within which choices will be made, research findings that are clear-cut, unambiguous, firmly supported, and powerful, that reach decision makers at the time they are wrestling with the issues, that are comprehensible and understood, and that do not run counter to strong political interests. Knowledge use is more likely to be a process of "enlightenment" that is gradual, indirect, and interactive, characterized by incremental changes that aggregate over time to become significant structural and substantive changes (Kirst and Jung, 1991). If information passes the filters in a social institution and is incorporated into practices or policy, the original "knowledge" becomes part of a broad system, informing views of what is or is not important, contributing to an implicit framework for devising solutions, and adding to a propensity to implement or customize different practices within the institution (cf. McLaughlin, 1991b). Given these complexities about knowledge use in education (or other social systems), is there any reason to believe that research findings discovered in one context are generalizable to other contexts? There is a school of thought that challenges the whole idea on the grounds that all findings are conditional and contingent, valid only in the immediate context from which they arose. This committee is more sanguine about the prospects of social science. There is enough commonality across people, programs, and organizations to make a functioning social world. Generalization is a reasonable—and necessary—pursuit (Weiss, 1998b). In this pursuit, we believe there are two distinct lines of inquiry and one mode of operation that are strong candidates for a strategic education research and utilization plan; they are outlined in the rest of this section. Knowledge use is more likely to be a process of "enlightenment" that is gradual, indirect, and interactive
OCR for page 45
Use of Research for Policy What dissemination channels are most effective in reaching policy audiences of different types (e.g., legislators, bureaucrats, administrators, school boards)? What are the conditions under which policy makers seek research or are receptive to research findings? The research to date suggests that it is during crises that policy makers look to research for help, when the issues are new and people have not made commitments on way or another, or when issues have been fought to a stalemate. If researchers knew better how to communicate with policy makers, would they be more receptive to research? Are there intermediaries who could be effective in developing better communications with education policy makers—e.g., think tanks, advisory commissions, consultants, the mass media? Under what circumstances are advisory commissions effective? Use of Research for Practice Teacher research: The prevailing assumption is that teachers find research too unconnected to the classroom; but some teachers have undertaken research in their own classrooms. What conditions are necessary for teachers to undertake valid research: Collaborations with researchers? More control over their own time? School or school system support? If teachers do their own research, do they trust it? Do they use it? Does it make a difference to their practice? Pre-service and in-service education and training: If research findings about how people learn and how learners can be motivated are incorporated into teacher preparation, how much do the findings influence teachers' practice? Can positive effects be achieved with the existing teacher corps through in-service training? Does such training make teachers more receptive to other research?
OCR for page 46
Research-based curricula: Can sophisticated research-based learning strategies such as the development of metacognitive skills be integrated into curriculum materials in a way that produces positive outcomes for student learning? If teachers are provided with curricula that are based on solid research on learning and motivation, are there observable effects on teaching practices and on student outcomes? What sorts of research-based curriculum materials are most effective in supporting teachers' acquisition of new pedagogical ideas, new teaching methods? A Collaborative Approach to Research Donald Stokes (1997) has made a compelling case for a conception of research, both basic and applied, that would more effectively devote the country's research strength to unmet societal needs—what he calls use-inspired research. If no one quite yet knows how to improve the contribution of scientific knowledge to education, there is a better sense than before of how to find out. Huberman (1989) demonstrates the need for cycles of "sustained interactivity" in education in order to communicate to researchers the needs and contexts of teachers and to transfer new information to the community of practice. Based on an evaluation of numerous Canadian projects that involved partnerships between education researchers and practitioners from a variety of institutions, Cousins and Simon (1995) argue for a deeper partnership that involves collaboration in more aspects and phases of research and its use. It is this sort of partnership that the SERP plan envisions at the core of a long-term program of research on improving the use of research knowledge in schools and school districts. And it suggests the final group of research questions: Is research that is the product of the collaborative efforts of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers more salient to the needs of the user communities? Are the research results generated by such collaborative projects more likely to be used in practice? Are teachers more open to the results? Are the results more effectively used?
OCR for page 47
Do such collaborations help with the communication problem? Does the research get more effectively packaged so that it will engage policy makers directly? Are the findings of such collaborations easier for teachers to comprehend and integrate into their current thinking? Coda "Every Child Can Learn" The conviction that every child can learn to high standards has become the watchword of many practitioners and a dominant theme of today's education reform efforts. While it may sound bland, the statement challenges the widely held perception that some children have the innate ability to reach high performance levels while others are destined to be low achievers. It is the principle that fuels the standards-based reform movement—one of the important arguments for change in American education today. In seeking to convince all of those involved in education to raise their expectations of individual students and groups of children, however, the standards movement courts danger. Unless education reformers can demonstrate, within a reasonable time, that all students can achieve at high levels, standards-based reform could backfire, convincing even today's most ardent supporters that only some children can learn. The need is therefore more urgent than ever to ensure that millions of teachers, and millions more prospective teachers, have the preparation, tools, and support they need to provide all children with real opportunities for learning. It is not enough to say that every child can learn. More needs to be known about how every child learns. In other words, improving achievement on a broad scale requires fundamental knowledge about how learning takes place; why students are willing (or not willing) to do the hard work required for high achievement; and where students learn, that is, the characteristics of schools and school districts that facilitate and motivate high performance. More needs to be known about how every child learns.
OCR for page 48
The Challenge of Schools and School Districts with Diverse and Disadvantaged Students Students who live in high-poverty and culturally diverse areas experience conditions at home, at school, and in the community that correlate with low academic achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). The conditions endemic in many urban areas—high concentrations of poverty, family instability, crime, unemployment—complicate the process of education enormously. While test scores do not tell the whole story, they paint a bleak picture of the experience of poor children. Once a school has more than 40 percent low-income students, there are few programs that have a significant effect on achievement levels. Going to some schools risks failure in something as crucial as learning to read (National Research Council, 1998). Unless there is major change in the effectiveness of such schools, the situation can only become more critical. Demographic trends indicate that the growth of the youth population over the next 30 years will be concentrated in these at-risk areas. Is it possible to address the questions we have identified for the SERP in high-poverty and culturally diverse contexts, given the intensity of the problems facing children, parents, and schools? The committee feels strongly that this is the challenge that makes the large investment of talent, time, and resources that SERP would entail worthwhile. The program should be consciously designed to address the challenges faced by educators and students in such school systems. Successes will not only provide lessons that are appropriate for students in any school, but will be the most compelling argument for the use of research in education.
Representative terms from entire chapter: