|Teachers in the United States are facing various challenges and changes
in their schools, and they need research to drive the development of
tools that can help them in the classroom. Current obstacles include the
persistent achievement gaps among low-income students and students of
color; changing demographics in the classroom; and the opportunities and
potential drawbacks presented by educational technology, including the
possibility that technology will contribute to growing achievement gaps.
Unfortunately, education research has fallen short of helping
practitioners in the field develop and implement the new technologies
and strategies that are necessary for success.Educational research and development
This argument is not new. Education research has long been the subject of criticism, much of it justified. However, the real problem is that education research rarely is oriented toward education development. This must change in order for student outcomes to improve, particularly among students of color and students from low-income areas.
In other words, the problem with education research today is not so much one of quality as it is of coherence: To the detriment of teachers and students, education research rarely responds to current needs and fails to drive the development of hands-on technologies that help students.
In 1993, historian Carl Kaestle bemoaned the “awful reputation” of education research. A decade later, the former National Academy of Education President Ellen Condliffe Lagemann commented that education research has been “demeaned by scholars in other fields, ignored by practitioners, and alternatively spoofed and criticised by politicians, policy makers, and members of the public at large.”
Criticism of education research tends to center on scientifically weak or inconclusive results that are of dubious use to teachers and students. For example, one of the flagship journals of the American Educational Research Association recently published a paper that was a two-year case study of a single classroom, despite the fact that generalizing from a single classroom is widely considered to be deficient research practice.
It is not always the researcher’s fault
Researchers are not solely to blame, however. Outcomes are harder to define and measure in education than in health care, for example. Furthermore, the practices, techniques, and technologies studied by education researchers are not universal and often depend on teachers’ and students’ unique contexts.
Importantly, research and development—or theoretical analysis and practical application—tend to be tied more closely in other fields. The pathways for implementing new research insights and technologies and establishing best practices in health care, for example, are clear, well-trodden, and relatively fast. This is often not the case in education.
Without strong ties between research and development, education lacks the urgency found in other fields. Even when studies might be able to inform practice, their findings often appear too late. Researchers evaluating the implementation of a program need to observe its full effects over time, analyze the results, and submit their work to a journal and respond to peer reviews before publishing their findings.
By that time, however, the information can do little to affect the program’s implementation. For example, by the time studies credibly demonstrated that a New York City school district’s efforts to break up high schools into smaller schools had positive effects on students, the district had already abandoned the program and moved on to another strategy.
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