As a nation, the United States has high expectations for its education system. From the earliest days of the common school to the present struggle to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population, the country has expected that education will equip citizens for economic survival and growth; strengthen the bonds among people from different racial, ethnic, cultural, and social class groups; and sustain the nation's democratic institutions. If schools are to do their part in contributing to fulfilling these expectations, they need to be extraordinarily resilient and resourceful. This report addresses ways in which federally supported education research and development can contribute to understanding and improving education.
We argue for a new view of the contributions of research to education. We do not consider research the handmaiden of any single reform effort in education, nor does it necessarily deliver tools that have immediate utility to teachers. Instead, we take a longer and broader view. We urge policy makers to support research that will outlive the reforms of the moment and will sustain and extend the capacity for learning in schools, school districts, institutions of teacher preparation, families, and communities.
THE CHALLENGE OF EDUCATION REFORM
In the past decade, hundreds of reports have identified major inadequacies of U.S. education, and there have been numerous efforts to reform schools in this country. Every state has proclaimed initiatives for reform,
and countless local programs and alliances have tried to bring about change and improvement. Intense pressures have built up nationally for renewed attention to education, as indicated by the call for national education goals (National Education Goals Panel, 1991), the congressionally mandated rapid growth of the Education and Human Resources Directorate at the National Science Foundation, and the President's AMERICA 2000 proposal for improving education (Alexander, 1991).
An earlier generation looked to the schools to assimilate the tides of immigrants who swelled the population, to teach newcomers American ways and the privileges and rights of citizenship and democracy. More recently, the movement to fully extend equal opportunity to African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities has been closely linked to education reform.
There is no question about the significance of the challenges now facing U.S. education. Part of the imperative for today's reforms comes from increasing academic and intellectual demands of the workplace. Part of it comes from low educational attainments of a significant proportion of youth in the United States, particularly those in low-income families and those of color. And part of it comes form shifts in the age distribution of the country's population.
Workforce 2000 (Johnston and Packer, 1987) focused public attention on the many changes that have occurred in the nature of work over the past several decades. Although there is scholarly debate about the finer details of Johnston and Packer's portrait of a yawning gap between the skills of workers and the technological requirements of an increasing number of jobs, the general trend toward more technical jobs seems inescapable. From 1900 to 1990, the "laborers" category of workers shrank from 30 to 6 percent of the total work force, while "professionals" expanded from 10 to 26 percent. In the past decade, jobs requiring high-level skills or training grew at three times the rate of those requiring low-level skills or training, and projections for the next decade indicate that more than one-half of all jobs will require education beyond high school. These developments have led many people to the conclusion that in the future, more and more jobs will involve judgment, problem solving, and self-regulation (Banks, 1982).
In the business sector, the need for a stronger education system has become an article of faith as corporate leaders contemplate the challenges facing them. Competitors are no longer in the next county or state—they are increasingly apt to be in another country. Employers in the United States will not confine their searches for skilled workers within national boundaries, and as a consequence this country's workers will have to compete with skilled workers throughout the world.
According to Harold Hodgkinson (1991): About one-third of preschool children are in some danger of school failure because of poverty, neglect, sickness, handicapping conditions, and lack of adult protection and nur-
turance. Most of the trends in the prevalence of these conditions are negative. For example, between 1970 and 1986 the proportion of children under 18 living in poverty increased from 15 to 20 percent (Peterson, 1991); many of these are in single-parent families. Between 1970 and 1987 the percentage of female-headed families increased rapidly—from 8 to 13 percent among whites and from 28 to 42 percent among African Americans (Jencks, 1991). Fortunately, not all the trends are negative: maternal education has increased, and the average number of siblings has decreased (Robert Hauser, personal communication).
The net impact of these trends and the effects of immigration are as follows: the high school completion rate for African Americans has risen over the years, by 1989 25 percent of those in the 19-to 20-year-old age group had not completed high school. The data for Hispanics in the same age group shows that 41 percent had not completed high school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1991a). Although some dropouts subsequently complete their secondary education through the General Equivalency Diploma and other special programs, the immigration of poorly educated adults appears to have had an offsetting effect in the Hispanic population. For the 24- and 25-year-old age group in 1989, 15 percent of African Americans and 41 percent of Hispanics had not completed high school. It is very difficult for youths who drop out of school or who experience academic failure to become self-sustaining and productive participants in a postindustrial, technologically advanced society.
To further complicate the picture, the United States has an aging population, with proportionately fewer workers to support retirees. Observers argue that if education does not improve, many of the people needed to contribute to the incomes of retirees will not in fact be productive members of the work force.
These numbers and their implications are increasingly familiar to educators, business people, and policy makers. In response, many people have called on schools to renew their efforts to impart advanced skills to the future work force. In its simplest form, the new goal can be characterized as "hard content" for all students (Porter et al., 1991): that education is not just a matter of facts and numbers, but must also promote conceptual understanding, problem solving, and the ability to apply knowledge and skills in new contexts and to real-world problems. To achieve that goal, the school curriculum in all subjects and for all students would need to place much greater emphasis on nurturing higher order thinking and the intellectual adaptability called for by the complexities of modern life.
The ambitious nature of this new goal can be compared with the goals of past curriculum reforms in the United States. In the early 1960s, when the United States was in a race to the moon with the Soviet Union, the goal was to provide an intellectually enriching education for the academically
gifted because more scientists, mathematicians, and engineers were needed. Gradually, this goal was replaced by the vision of a Great Society in the late 1960s and early 1970s—a vision of providing all students with mastery of basic academic skills.
Today's goal combines the most challenging aspects of both previous reforms: all students are to learn how to think, solve difficult problems, and have in-depth understanding of subject matter. Not only is this new goal for education unprecedentedly ambitious, it is also substantially at odds with current practice. In elementary school mathematics, for example, 70–75 percent of instruction time is spent on computational skills, with the remaining 25–30 percent divided between conceptual understanding and problem solving. And even the small amount of time devoted to problem solving contains drill and practice on highly structured word problems (Porter, 1989).
In pursuit of the new goal of achieving both basic academic knowledge and conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills for all students, many people have concluded that schools do not merely need to be improved; rather, a fundamental restructuring in the nature of schooling is necessary. Among the solutions proposed by advocates of school restructuring are national goals and national achievement tests; school-site management; schools of choice; career ladders for teachers, with new roles and responsibilities; abolition of tracking and homogeneous ability groupings for Students; outcome-based curriculum; reduced school size; smaller, stable, family-like instructional units of students and teachers; portfolios of student work replacing standardized tests; parental control of schools; team teaching; teacher participation in school management; ongoing staff development; deep coverage instead of broad coverage as a curriculum principle; interdisciplinary curriculum; community-based learning; and integration of community resources to serve students (Newmann, 1990; Smith and O'Day, 1990). Although the reform sentiment is strong, most of these proposed alternatives are not fully articulated and are of unknown merit.
The ambitions of today's proposed reforms are equal to the size of the problems confronting the nation's schools. But what is much less clear is whether these ambitions can be realized. As a society, the United States has been good at launching reforms; it has been less good at continuing them to completion (Cuban, 1990; Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988). And despite the growing national consensus that the nation faces a major problem in education from kindergarten through high school (K-12), fixing the problem—or even defining it adequately—remains a daunting challenge.
Education in the United States exists on a vast scale. Just the K-12 component involves 45 million students, almost 3 million teachers, about 100,000 schools, and annual budgets of more than $240 billion (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991b). The total education enterprise—
encompassing higher education, industrial education, and supporting organizations (from textbook publishers to state education agencies)—involves an estimated annual budget of more than $375 billion. How can an enterprise of this size be nudged, let alone turned around?
Both the scale and the decentralized character of education in the United States make the imposition of central solutions impossible. If schools in the United States are going to get better, it will require the combined efforts and commitment of all concerned—parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials. The challenge for federal and state policy makers is to create conditions that will make education reform more likely—to help schools and communities equip themselves with the tools of reform. When schools have an internal capacity for improvement, they can respond not only to today's reform imperatives, but also to future challenges. To achieve lasting and self-renewing education reform, the nation needs to enable schools and other educational institutions to continually learn from their own experience and from other resources. Research can make important contributions to this transformation.
At the present time, the formulation of education policy is running far ahead of education research. Whether the initiative is school choice or national testing, new ideas are being advanced and implemented with little knowledge about how they might work. This is not all bad: trying new approaches opens the possibility of learning from failures as well as from successes. But if new policies often fail, interest in education reform may be closed off prematurely—until the next wave of societal change sweeps across an unprepared education system. Research is essential in order to know which new ideas are worth exploring and which are ready for widespread implementation. It is essential for developing new ideas to their full potential, and it is essential for building capacity in the education system for continuous learning and renewal.
THE ROLE OF RESEARCH
The imagery that often dominates the discussion of education research assumes that researchers do studies, developers translate study findings into products and packages (such as new curricula), the products are delivered to schools, the schools adopt the products, and education is improved. This linear model represents only one subset of real-world experiences, and it creates unrealistic and unrealizable expectations for what research can contribute to education.
There are three major flaws in this image of the research-to-practice process. First, it assumes that all research is, or should be, suitable for development into prescriptions for practice. Although a large subset of education research is directed toward such ends, another part of the enter-
prise serves other functions that are equally important for the improvement of education (Weiss, 1989). Research provides warnings of problems in education, as in the international comparative studies that have repeatedly shown U.S. students' doing relatively poorly in science and mathematics. Research informs policy debates by testing the assumptions that underlie arguments on all sides of an issue, such as the determinants of parents' choices of schools for their children. Research evaluates the consequences of programs and policies, such as open-enrollment options. Research provides new insights into basic processes of individual and organizational functioning, such as the neurological networks activated in the human brain during learning or the situational stimuli for group leadership. Research provides enlightenment—new perspectives, new ideas, new conceptualization of problems, and new priorities. In other words, education research contributes considerably more than just the production of curricula and methods that can be adopted by schools.
Second, the linear image of research-to-development-to-dissemination-to-practice misconstrues the ways in which people learn. It is another version of the ''empty vessel'' image of students—students enter school empty and the teachers fill them with knowledge—that has been discredited by more than two decades of research in cognitive science. The work of teachers and principals over the course of their careers is a search for understanding and improved practice. Teachers and principals need a continuing dialogue with researchers, policy makers, and administrators about the interpretation and implications of research findings. There must be time to try new methods and approaches for the specific situations of their schools and students. Opportunities should allow collaborative inquiry to identify problems, develop solutions, and refine practices for immediate application.
A third flaw in the popular image is that it implies that school reform can be effected by research and researchers. If education does not improve, the onus can be laid at the feet of the research community: they did not choose the right topics; they did not do quality research; above all, they did not adequately disseminate their findings to teachers and administrators. There is some truth in these statements, but they are only a small part of a much larger reality. The reform of education requires the effort, will, and knowledge of millions of teachers, administrators, and policy makers, as well as students, parents, and the public. Research can help them, but they have to want research, value the insights and ideas from research, and take research ideas into account; otherwise, no "dissemination" strategy will make a difference. To date, the demand for research from the real world of education practice has been weak (see Chapter 4). Even if the relevance and accessibility of research are improved, the situation would not change markedly. There has to be a mutual recognition that the challenges that
education currently faces require not only the best research, but also a demand for and use of that research.
A central premise of this report is that reform is an organic, developmental process. In place of the linear model discussed above, we visualize the reform of education as an evolutionary process that involves new research findings, the experiences of practitioners, the course of public policy, and other forces. This dynamic image of reform calls on the active participation of researchers, school administrators, teachers, federal and state agencies, and policy makers—a community who are at once learners and contributors to the process.
A number of scholars have given thought to what such a learning community would look like at the school and district level (Fullan, 1991; Little, 1982; Rosenholz, 1989; Skrtic, 1991; Tikunoff and Ward, 1983). They argue that to develop a productive vision of education reform, it is important to see teachers and other school professionals as the instruments of new knowledge and change. Teachers' opportunities to learn have a profound effect on the course of change; when learning opportunities are shortchanged, the outcome will be disappointing. The image of the way teachers learn must cast them in an active role: they are not empty vessels to be filled with facts and skills, but active agents in the construction of knowledge (Anderson, 1980; Simon, 1974).
The idea of schools as parts of learning communities changes the conventional view of how research can contribute to improvements in education. In that view, researchers dispense their wisdom—ideally in a well-packaged, easy-to-use format—to a relatively passive audience of teachers and administrators, and the reason for building a strong infrastructure of research, development, and dissemination is to transmit knowledge about education from a central vantage point (the government or a university) to schools, classrooms, and homes. Unfortunately, this view of knowledge development and transmission does not fit the realities of school improvement. It is far too mechanical, and it places practitioners' learning at the margins of the system rather than at its center.
The research literature on school change that has developed over the past three decades makes clear that successful reform in schools takes place through a complex and lengthy process (Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988; Fullan, 1991; Gross et al., 1971; Sarason, 1971). The process has to overcome many barriers to reform, including inadequate programs of teacher education and professional development (Goodlad, 1990), severe time pressures on teachers and administrators (Goodlad, 1984), a culture of schools that does not value change (Sarason, 1971), a lack of community demand for substantial improvements (Elam, 1990; Elam et al., 1991), inadequately developed models for change, and tight school budgets. Most past efforts at school reform have failed because they did not take into account the many
complexities of the process. However, there have also been initial success stories that have helped to define some effective steps for the initial stages of reform (Crandall and Loucks, 1982; Louis and Miles, 1990; Turnbull, 1991).
The main task of reform is not to install new practices in schools the way one would install appliances; nor is it to overcome resistance to new knowledge. Instead, it is to foster learning, which is a very different and more complex endeavor. In our vision, successful change in schools requires participants at all levels of the learning community—policy makers, agency representatives, researchers, practitioners, and parents—to work together, to initiate and examine new ideas, to share new knowledge, and to test, refine, and rebuild programs. Each level of the community brings it own unique contribution to the reform effort: by working and learning together the participants can create the conditions and opportunities for increasingly effective reform.
This committee was asked to determine how federally sponsored education research could better contribute to improved education, with particular focus on the mission, organization, and operations of Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). The committee does not believe that research provides simple solutions to the problems of education practice. However, a sustained investment in research is an essential ingredient in an overall effort to improve education. Research has served and continues to serve several key roles:
Research expands understanding of the fundamental aspects of human development, learning, teaching, schools, and their environmental contexts.
Research points the way to the discovery of effective elements of curriculum, instruction, and school organization.
Research provides the best basis for distinguishing worthwhile innovations and policies from fads.
Research assesses the status of education systems and their progress towards various goals.
In addition, research can contribute many ideas about how the process of reform works and how it can be helped along. This line of inquiry includes investigations that provide valuable lessons about reform efforts that have failed, as well as those that have had some success.
In considering how OERI can fulfill its mission for education research, one can learn from many different approaches to the conduct of research, development, and dissemination in federal agencies, as well as in the private sector. From the National Science Foundation, one can see how allowing scientists throughout the country to propose their own research directions and pursue new ideas has produced major breakthroughs in knowledge
and understanding. From the National Institutes of Health, one can see how broad-based and coordinated research and development, focused on long-term problems, can yield dramatic solutions. From the commercial development of electrical power systems and worldwide air transportation, one can see that repeated iterations of research, development, testing, and refinement—increasingly complex and expensive—are necessary to overcome failures, maximize effectiveness in diverse settings, and reduce costs sufficiently to allow widespread application. From the Agricultural Extension Service, one can see that long-standing, face-to-face relationships are often essential for fostering the use of even relatively easily implemented innovations.
Learning communities would be another approach to research, development, and dissemination. They would not exclude traditional approaches, and they would not be the exclusive approach for education research; instead, they would be a new arrangement within which some, and perhaps eventually, many research and related activities would be conducted. The communities would be partnerships among researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, in which each becomes involved in disciplined inquiry and each contributes to the learning of the others.
One form of partnership would focus on sharing the needs of each group with the other groups. In this form, research would be closely informed by the needs of practitioners and policy makers, and the latter would be informed of researchers' needs. A second form of the partnership would focus on sharing the expertise of each group. In this form, research would make more use of the expertise of practitioners and policy makers, and each of those groups would in turn make more use of the expertise of researchers. In a third form the partnership could include collaborative efforts. For instance, some practitioners and policy makers could work with researchers in the design of their studies, in review of the initial results, in the formation of follow-up questions for analysis, and in the interpretation and dissemination of the results.
Our view of the structure and functioning of learning communities is very preliminary: there needs to be further conceptualization, development, experimentation, assessment, and refinement of them. OERI can help encourage and foster learning communities, but their establishment and functioning will depend on the support of all the groups involved in education—federal policy makers, state legislatures and education agencies, professional associations of teachers and administrators, local school districts, parents, students, employers, and community organizations.
This report assesses the current structure and operations of OERI and examines the ways in which it can contribute more to the understanding and improvement of education. First, however, in Chapter 2 we discuss several examples of the contributions of research and development activities to the
improvement of education. In Chapter 3 we turn to the organization, programs, and key operations of OERI. Chapter 4 presents an appraisal of the agency and the challenges that it has faced. The final chapter provides a series of governance, organizational, operational staffing, and funding recommendations designed to strengthen OERI for the traditional roles of research and for developing learning communities to conduct and use research.