Reaction 5: Accountability, Educational Research Methods, and Inquiry

Captured from Brian Reiser's paper cited below.
Captured from Brian Reiser’s paper cited below.

Feuer, M.J., Towne, L., &  Shavelson, R. J.  (2002) Scientific Culture and Educational Research. Educational Researcher 31(4) 4-14.

U.S. Department of Education (2003). Identifying and implementing educational practices supported by rigorous evidence:
a user friendly guide.  Available at /evidence_based.asp.

Reiser, B. J. (2013). What professional development strategies are needed for successful implementation of the next generation science standards? Paper prepared for K12 center at ETS invitational symposium on science assessment. Washington, DC.

Clearly Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson (2002) were at odds with the policy emphasis captured in the “user-friendly guide” by the Department of Education in (2003), though they were clearly open to increasing use of randomized, controlled trials: “Although we strongly oppose blunt federal mandates that reduce scientific inquiry to one method applied inappropriately to every type of research question, we also believe that the field should use this tool in studies in education more often than is current practice…. We have also unapologetically supported scientific educational research without retreating from the view that the ecology of educational research is as complex as the field it studies and that education scholarship therefore must embody more than scientific studies.” While they leave the field open for many different communities of inquiry, the DOE report narrows the focus onto just one. This narrowing of the range of inquiry, in my view, is short-sighted and extremely limiting in three ways.

First, as we learned in Organizing Schools for Improvement, change takes time. It often takes five years for a new program or community to be built and show results. There can be an implementation dip, where the disruption of change actually makes things worse initially. As we learned at Waukesha STEM this week, the first six months of their new idea of “connect time” was true chaos with teachers ready to get rid of it immediately. Now it is one of the pillars of the way they have changed to student-centered learning. Second, the narrowing of a focus to one kind of method as suggested in the DOE report means that there are fewer questions that can be asked. For example, there is no ethical way to use randomized, controlled trials to understand the experience of homeless students in schools. As Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson state, “The question drives the methods, not the other way around. The overzealous adherence to the use of any given research design flies in the face of this fundamental principle.” Finally, it is increasingly clear that a diversity of ideas drives innovations and solutions, and “the presence of numerous disciplinary perspectives (e.g., anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, neuroscience) focusing on different parts of the system means that there are many legitimate research frameworks, methods (Howe & Eisenhart, 1990), and norms of inquiry.” (Feuer, Towne, Shavelson, 2002) We need multiple Discourses (Gee, 1990) in educational research.

The Department of Education report is meant to address the gap between research and practitioners. Feuer, Towne, and Shavelson quote the National Research Council that said, “Educators have never asked much of educational research and development, and that’s exactly what we gave them.” What I found compelling about Reiser’s (2013) paper on professional development for the Next Generation Science Standards was that it seamlessly wove theory and practice, describing the cultural shift to one line messages, giving examples of the way practice is now, and describing what it should be. For example, Reiser writes, about the “shift from learning about… to figuring out,” and “Inquiry is not a separate activity—all science learning should involve engaging in practices to build and use knowledge.” Further, when Reiser outlines the key principles for professional development, lists a series of recommendations, and includes practical examples, like the suggestion, “One fruitful way to engage teachers with records of practice is for teachers to analyze video cases of teaching interactions.” In the frame of distributed leadership, changing systems of practice happens through changing the routines, and this paper clearly brings research to bear on precisely what is being done in the classroom.

(Somewhat more philosophically, it is ironic that just as the Next Generation Science Standards are shifting towards an approach of describing phenomena first and then trying to explain it, while Department of Education clings to the old scientific model of inquiry that dictates rigid positivist methods.)

What are the implications for school leaders? I see the appeal of a one-size-fits-all, tried-and-true, what works solution, but I think most educators know that nothing with kids (or teachers, for that matter) works that way. Yet when faced with a field of educational research that seems to have a lot of internal conflict about what is considered “rigorous” research, what do you do first, on Monday, when the kids show up? I think this is why the ideas of design and professional community are appealing as a way of improving educational systems. Design, to me, is not about realizing one fixed answer, but rather is constant process of listening and testing, embedded in local context rather than seeking to minimize it. Similarly, focusing on professional community builds the capacity of people and context, rather than seeking to minimize them. Just as inquiry is not a separate activity when learning science or for educational researchers, it is not a separate activity for leaders, either.

Networked Scholars Course: Week 3 Reflection

Notes from Networked Scholars course this week. My thoughts at the end…

Zeynep Tufekci‘s article, Social Media is a Conversation, Not a Press Release: How @nytkeller and @emmagkeller flunk understanding @adamslisa:

  • How should it have been written? In one word: When trying to understand social media presence, dear journalists, don’t “peruse.” Engage. Because that’s how the medium works.
  • To understand these basic points Lisa Adams made, repeatedly, over the years, you’d have to be engaging her feed, and not just reading snippets of it and projecting it onto one’s own anxieties or issues.
  • If anything, social media has helped move us to a world in which people are no longer passive, silent subjects of journalists (or academics or other gatekeepers of public discourse). We can no longer speak of people at them, without them talking back of their own experience, and articulating their own narrative in their own terms. And how to deal with that reality, not whether cancer patients should tweet that much, is the real ethical question before us.

Sherry Turkle‘s TED talk about Alone Together:

  • We want to be in spaces together, but we only want to pay attention to the bits that interest us. I definitely see this is graduate school classes. In texting, we get to edit, delete, and retouch our voice, but real relationships are awkward and messy. A little later, “I share there for I am.” The more we connect the more isolated we are because we do not cultivate solitude. We need to teach our children to be alone.

“People who make the most of their lives on the screen, come to it in a spirit of self-reflection.”

  • Develop a self-aware relationship with our devices and others: make room for solitude.

Audrey Watters‘ keynote for C-Alt conference, Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines: Continue reading “Networked Scholars Course: Week 3 Reflection”

Book Review: Sticks and Stones, by Emily Bazelon

Side note: I used Evernote on my phone to take notes while I read. Because I was traveling and rarely reading in the same place, my phone was something always close by. I was able to type in quotes when I wanted or take pictures of paragraphs. I would love to see our students take advantage of this kind of resource gathering or curating.

Our critical friends group decided to read a book together this summer and put together a LONG list, but eventually we settled on Sticks and Stones, by Emily Bazelon. Since our group has teachers from PreK to Seniors, social/emotional dynamics came out as a common topic that applied to everyone.

I’m glad that I personally read it, rather than just listening to a summary or review on the radio. It was valuable to me to read the complicated stories of the three kids because it broke down the media sound bites that I remember. I think Bazelon does an excellent job of making it clear how complicated each tale is.

A few quotes that resonated with me:

  • As I always suspected, Bazelon states earlier on, “The internet and the cell phone don’t cause bullying on their own … and they haven’t created a new breed of bullies.” (10)
  • The FCD folks who come visit once per year have also talked about social norming, so this wasn’t new for me, but a good reminder nonetheless:  “The idea is that students often overestimate how much other kids drink and drive, and when they find out that it’s less prevalent that they think – outlier behavior rather than the norm – they’re less likely to do it themselves….. Bullying, too, isn’t the norm…. when kids understand that concerted cruelty is the exception and not the rule, they respond: bullying drops, and students become more active about reporting it.” (13)
  • “Teenagers, and even young kids, have to have their private spaces. It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them.” (13) Yes yes yes. And I will probably freak out about it when my son is a teenager too.
  • I LOVE this: Delete day! Students held an event in the computer lab for people to come in and get help deleting unwanted social media tags, photos, posts, etc. and possibly even deleting accounts on websites such as Formspring. (290)
  • “The research showed that news outlets frequently give no useful information about how to prevent bullying, even as they call it “epidemic” – false – and portray it as the biggest problem kids face today – also false.” (297) Can I make myself remember this next time a sensationalist story comes along?
  • From researcher danah boyd: “the kids who live in places where physical roaming is more restricted who tend to socialize the most online.” (306) I’m most fascinated by this from a parenting point of view. Where do I need to live in order to provide space for my child to roam? This is more of a personal link, but I like the resources on Free Range Kids.

I used to be frustrated that schools were asked to “solve” bullying. “We all need to share the load – whereas at the moment, we’re mainly asking schools to shoulder it.” (16) But after reading this, I’ve come to the conclusion that schools are the only communal organization anymore that can reach most kids in a community, so it makes the most sense for schools to take the lead on this. Arguably, the first and foremost goal of schools is to help kids grow into healthy adults. Our mission at Oregon Episcopal School specifically states, “by inspiring intellectual, physical, social, emotional, artistic, and spiritual growth.”

This may be my number one takeaway: the importance of establishing a positive community for the healthy growth of all its members.

Bazelon comes back to this at the end where she states that developing “character and empathy” (305) are the most crucial things we can do as parents and teachers to proactively address bullying, not to mention improve student success (however you want to define success).

Overall, this book has been a positive affirmation of the independent international school where I grew up and the two independent schools where I have taught. These small communities, where each individual is known and cared for, provide the foundation for all other pursuits. I realize now how much I took that for granted in my first years of teaching as I focused almost exclusively on academics.

I appreciate the candor and humanness with which Bazelon approaches this subject, which is quite messy and emotionally loaded. One of my favorite phrases recently has been “the human condition,” when I’ve been faced with messy interpersonal relationships. Maybe it helps me feel like we are all in this together.