Expert Researchers and School Practitioners: An Historical

Download Expert Researchers and School Practitioners: An Historical

Post on 02-Jan-2017




3 download

Embed Size (px)


<ul><li><p>Expert Researchers and SchoolPractitioners: An HistoricalPerspective on the Marginalizationof Practitioner Research and theSilencing of Practitioner VoicesR i chard Schmert z i ng</p><p>Why should teachers have to learn to read andconduct research?The case for practitioner research as an essentialcomponent of school reform.</p><p>IntroductionWhen asked if I would be interested in writing an essay containing my</p><p>advice to teachers, I was excited about the possibility. As an educa-</p><p>tional anthropologist, my first thought was to write about the role of</p><p>culture in educationits importance in building our understanding</p><p>of the way schools work and the way we deal with racial and cultural</p><p>diversity. However, as one who has spent the last 15 years teaching</p><p>teachers how to understand and conduct research, my second</p><p>thought, and the topic about which I have decided to write, was the</p><p>critical importance of training teachers to be expert consumers and</p><p>implementers of education research.</p><p>I was recently listening to my students report on studies they had</p><p>conducted in our graduate research class. All of them were or had</p><p>been teachers, and some were now administrators. As they told</p><p>the stories of the research studies they had conducted in schools or</p><p>The Journal of Education 188.1 2007 by the Trustees of Boston University. All rights reserved. 1</p></li><li><p>districts where they worked, the room was full of animated and</p><p>enthusiastic discussion.</p><p>The first report came from a former lawyer who is now an assis-</p><p>tant principal in a local elementary school. Like others in the class, he</p><p>wanted to focus his research on a problem or issue that was currently</p><p>important in his school: in his case, it was the implementation of a</p><p>newly adopted computer-based program that was expected to solve</p><p>the literacy acquisition problems of at-risk students. He explained</p><p>that the program had been selected by a central office administrator</p><p>without any input from the teachers who would be responsible for</p><p>implementing it. A classmate asked if the program was research-</p><p>basedthat is, tested against other ways of developing literacy for</p><p>similar types of students under similar circumstances. The only stud-</p><p>ies that had been done were sponsored by the company who sold the</p><p>program; perhaps not surprisingly, they all reported significant</p><p>improvement over traditional approaches. When the program was</p><p>implemented in the school under study, however, it did not produce</p><p>the expected results. What went wrong? When my student inter-</p><p>viewed the teachers, he found that most of them had been given no</p><p>training at all, and instead were expected to find answers to their con-</p><p>cerns regarding the program in an instructors manual that they</p><p>found totally inadequate and largely unreadable. Furthermore, when</p><p>the teachers were asked about the programs lack of effectiveness,</p><p>most said that they thought it might have been implemented more</p><p>effectively if they had been involved in the selection process (to make</p><p>sure it would meet the needs of their students), given adequate train-</p><p>ing, and provided support throughout the process.</p><p>The other educators in the room shared their stories of how teach-</p><p>ers are asked with increasing frequency to adopt and implement new</p><p>reforms and initiatives embraced by school boards, parents, and cen-</p><p>tral office administrators who are desperately grasping at every new</p><p>program or strategy that they hope will save them from failing to</p><p>make adequate yearly progress as mandated by state and federal gov-</p><p>ernments trying to meet the requirements of the No Child Left</p><p>2 Journal of Education</p></li><li><p>Schmertzing Expert Researchers and School Practitioners 3</p><p>Behind Act (NCLB). These stories led to the observation that the</p><p>relentless push to have every child make ever-increasing benchmark</p><p>scores on high-stakes tests was causing local education decision-mak-</p><p>ers to search for silver bullet solutions that would magically solve their</p><p>problems. These solutions were programs typically developed by self-</p><p>proclaimed experts and marketed by salespeople who claimed that</p><p>they had been appropriately tested and that they would work in any</p><p>context. Many of them were touted as what some call teacher proof,</p><p>that is, they were so self-contained and scripted that the teacher had</p><p>little, if any, latitude in deciding how to implement them. For exam-</p><p>ple, in a research report on Connecticut school improvement plans</p><p>(Lohman, 2001) it was reported that:</p><p>Many of the schools have bought and implemented, or plan tobuy and implement, highly structured, off-the-shelf reform andintervention programs such as Success for All, Direct Instruction,and Reading Recovery. These programs are used by school dis-tricts around the country to turn-around low-performingschools. Because they are heavily scripted and have to be imple-mented in a certain way, they require extensive staff training andsupplies. (pp. 23)</p><p>Furthermore, in a qualitative metasynthesis of student research</p><p>done on the relationship between high school testing and curricular</p><p>control, Au (2007) notes systems of educational accountability built</p><p>on high-stakes, standardized tests are in fact intended to increase exter-</p><p>nal control over what happens in schools and classrooms (p. 264).</p><p>Thus, what my students were finding is not uncommon; teachers</p><p>are not included in the selection process or in decisions about the</p><p>mode of implementation, and are unable to adapt the program to</p><p>their teaching styles or their students needs. Yet many would argue, as</p><p>I do, that school reform depends on the support and participation of</p><p>classroom teachers (Grant &amp; Murray, 1999; Tyack &amp; Cuban, 1995).</p><p>After completing their research projects and reading related literature,</p><p>my students were surprised to find that their post-research beliefs had</p><p>already been articulated in the literature. They not only agreed with</p></li><li><p>what they read, but also found that evidence from their experiences</p><p>and from their research projects supported the position that teachers</p><p>were not included in decision-making and then held accountable for</p><p>implementing ineffective programs in their classrooms. This led them</p><p>to question why teachers voices are not heard in the local, state, and</p><p>national debates and included in discussions about reform in educa-</p><p>tion. Why, indeed?</p><p>This paper, which grew in part out of my reflections on what these</p><p>students discovered, discusses the value of educational research in the</p><p>professional lives of teachers. I will set the context with a picture of</p><p>educational research in my own teaching, and then sketch a broader</p><p>historical context, share a few stories of teachers doing research, and</p><p>conclude with steps teachers can take to incorporate research in their</p><p>daily routines.</p><p>Classroom ContextIn the research overview class that Ive been teaching for eight years,</p><p>Ive encountered a great deal of resistance from students who are</p><p>required to take the course as part of the Masters in Education</p><p>degree. The topic is out of their comfort zone. Most have no experi-</p><p>ence in undergraduate school with either research design or statistics.</p><p>Very few have ever heard of qualitative research. Their class questions</p><p>center more around their distaste for the idea of having to take a</p><p>research class than they do around the course content or achieving</p><p>the goals and objectives of the class. Why do they have to take a</p><p>research course? What does it have to do with their being a Kinder-</p><p>garten teacher? Or a deaf educator? Or a school counselor? Why do</p><p>they have to learn statistics?</p><p>Good questions all, and at the time I had no ready answers for</p><p>them, even though I valued research and had made it a major ele-</p><p>ment of my education. Their questions caused me to question</p><p>myself: Did I really believe research skills were essential for K12</p><p>teachers? Did I think it was enough to learn to read research or did</p><p>4 Journal of Education</p></li><li><p>Schmertzing Expert Researchers and School Practitioners 5</p><p>students also need to know how to design and conduct research?</p><p>What difference would it make in their lives and the lives of those</p><p>they educated? How could I engage students in the process of doing</p><p>research? Where does research really fit into the life of the educator</p><p>and the effectiveness of schools?</p><p>Because the federal government declared in the No Child Left</p><p>Behind Act of 2001 that schools must change, that all students must</p><p>succeed, and that the decisions on how to make that happen must be</p><p>rooted in scientifically based research, teachers not only need to be</p><p>aware of research studies and research methods, but also need to</p><p>know how to speak the language of research, practice research in</p><p>their classrooms, and disseminate their findings to the powers that</p><p>be. If teachers are able to do these things, I would argue, their voices</p><p>will be heard in the very important debates on educational policy</p><p>and school reform.</p><p>As NCLB comes up for renewal, the controversies and debates sur-</p><p>rounding it take on added vigor. Policy makers from within and with-</p><p>out the educational establishment are preparing their white papers on</p><p>what is good and what is bad, and what to keep and what to scrap in</p><p>a new version of the bill. This is a critical time for all educators, par-</p><p>ticularly teachers, to become familiar with the fundamental concepts</p><p>and language of the debates, much of which is couched in the lan-</p><p>guage of research. Terms like evidence-based practice, data-driven</p><p>decision-making, scientifically based research, and adequate yearly</p><p>progress are embedded in this language.</p><p>Historical ContextMy father was born in Eastern Europe in 1902, and he died in Wash-</p><p>ington, D.C., in 1994. I have often thought about the way his life</p><p>came eight years shy of fully spanning an extraordinary historical</p><p>century. He grew up driving horse-drawn carriages and lived to see</p><p>the stunning accomplishments of U.S. science and technology, which</p><p>changed America from a land of small farms to one of sprawling</p></li><li><p>cities, produced weapons of startling destructiveness, landed a man</p><p>on the moon, and created computers with capabilities unimagined at</p><p>the time of his birth. The transformation from village to urban ways</p><p>of acting and thinkingwas, to a significant extent, guided by what is</p><p>arguably Americas most important social institutionher schools</p><p>(Tyack, 1974, p. 6). Schools mirrored the growing pains of the larger</p><p>society. At the beginning of the twentieth century, schools were com-</p><p>munity-based and rarely educated children beyond the fundamen-</p><p>tals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. As people moved to the</p><p>burgeoning cities, schools expanded to meet the more sophisticated</p><p>demands of industrialization and technological change; this expan-</p><p>sion complicated the process of schooling and opened the door for</p><p>men like Thorndike at Teachers College at Columbia University,</p><p>Cubberly at Stanford University, and Judd at the University of</p><p>Chicago to advocate the establishment of a scientific, educational</p><p>elite who would guide the rapidly growing schools and, in turn, be</p><p>guided by statistical, largely experimental, research (Lagemann,</p><p>2000). During this time teachers did not need to be experts, as</p><p>William James, a major figure in the development of psychology in</p><p>America who taught at Harvard from 1872 until his death in 1907,</p><p>pointed out. In his talks to teachers, later collected and published</p><p>(1958) under the title, Talks to Teachers on Psychology: And to Stu-</p><p>dents on Some of Lifes Ideals, he indicated that he saw no need for</p><p>teachers to be experts in the supporting disciplines of educational</p><p>practice. Instead, the experts were to be university faculty. They, who</p><p>would conduct the research (quantitative, expressed statistically, and</p><p>preferably experimental), determine what practitioners should do,</p><p>and then design the curriculum with which to do it. Administrative</p><p>elites, using results from university-based research, would then pro-</p><p>vide teachers with the curricula and teaching strategies they needed</p><p>to carry out an ever-expanding educational agenda.</p><p>Thus, the plan was that schools would be adjusted to the changing</p><p>landscape of American society through the application of university-</p><p>based theory and research. The extent to which schools were actually</p><p>6 Journal of Education</p></li><li><p>Schmertzing Expert Researchers and School Practitioners 7</p><p>transformed by educational theory and research is open to debate.</p><p>There are those who have argued that American schools are strongly</p><p>resistant to change, such as Goodlad (1984) or Tyack and Cuban</p><p>(1995), and that most of the changes in twentieth-century schooling</p><p>in America were ones of quantity and not quality.What is clear is that</p><p>there has been a disjuncture between educational research and prac-</p><p>tice that spanned most of the century. That disjuncture was aptly</p><p>described and investigated by Arthur Bolster in an essay titled,Toward</p><p>a More Effective Model of Research on Teaching (1983). Bolster, who</p><p>had worked for 20 years as a teacher in a secondary school and as a</p><p>faculty member at Harvard Graduate School of Education, noted in</p><p>his essay that despite similar intentions to improve teaching and</p><p>learning, there was little connection between the pedagogical theory</p><p>and research produced by university professors and the practice of</p><p>teachers. He attributed that lack of connection to researchers and</p><p>schoolteachers adopt[ing] radically different sets of assumptions</p><p>about how to conceptualize the teaching process (p. 295). He went on</p><p>to propose a new, more qualitative, model of research on teaching.</p><p>In the last 35 years of the twentieth century two strands of</p><p>research competed for influence in the world of educational decision-</p><p>making. One involved the proliferation of the kind of studies Bolster</p><p>called for, ethnographic (or qualitative) studies and studies done by</p><p>teachers in their own schools and classrooms, which often draw heav-</p><p>ily on qualitative research methods that include interviews, group dis-</p><p>cussions, and observations. When done in ones own work</p><p>environment these were referred to as action or practitioner research.</p><p>The other strand is large-scale, usually university-based studies</p><p>meant to assess the outcomes of educational programs (Cohen &amp;</p><p>Barnes, 1999). Cohen and Barnes indicated that in the large-scale</p><p>studies there had been a shift away from studies designed to find the</p><p>relationship among conventional conceptions of educational</p><p>resourcessuch as teachers qualifications and school facilities (p.</p><p>34)and student achievement outcomes, because such resources</p><p>were seen as potential and not actual. Cohen and Barnes went on to</p></li><li><p>say, Whether they become actual depends on teachers knowledge,</p><p>skills, and professional commitments, as well as on the organizations</p><p>in which they work (p. 35). No one is better positioned to investigate</p><p>whether these resources become actual and, if so, how they do so,</p><p>than the teachers and other educational practitioners who work in</p><p>those organizations. In fact, in the 25 years between Bolsters essay</p><p>and today, there has been a significant increase in qualitative studies</p><p>o...</p></li></ul>