in the state or district standards. Instruction should enable students to achieve the standards.

Coherence. The conditions of instruction should be consistent within schools and across grades. Students should be exposed to the same content and instructional practices if they are expected to achieve the same standards.

Disaggregation. Data on instructional practices should be reported by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors to indicate whether all students in schools are exposed to similar conditions of instruction.


The following two examples are efforts by researchers to examine the conditions of instruction in Chicago public schools. In one, the researchers administered an extensive survey and conducted detailed observations of classrooms. In the other, the researchers examined student assignments—the work students performed as part of their daily classroom activities. In both cases, the researchers viewed their findings against standards for effective instruction.

To find out about the conditions of instruction in the Chicago Public Schools, researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research conducted an extensive survey of teachers and students in 1994 and analyzed the information from 2,036 teachers. Researchers then observed over 800 language arts and mathematics classes in eight elementary schools and seven high schools. They analyzed classroom lessons against the subject-matter content of the test used in the district, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

The researchers found that many Chicago classrooms keep pace with grade-level expectations and test content, but many others do not. As a result, many students do not learn the content they need in order to perform well on the tests. “Especially troublesome,” the researchers write, “is the finding that students attending schools in Chicago's most disadvantaged neighborhoods are much more likely to encounter instruction that is poorly coordinated and that conveys weak expectations for student learning” (p. 1).

The study found, for example, that although instruction in early grades tends to follow the expectations of the test, the pacing flattens out by about fourth grade, particularly in high-poverty schools, and classes tend to repeat topics already taught. And the repeated lessons do not build on prior learning; rather, the lessons tend to repeat the same basic skills students were exposed to before. In some cases, elementary lessons were more demanding than those in middle or high school. The pattern exists in language arts instruction as well: there, they found, students might read more challenging books in higher grades, but they are not asked to explore them in any more depth than they were when they were younger.

The results suggest, the researchers conclude, that many Chicago

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement