Mike Goldstein recently asked the simple question: “Why aren’t teachers clamoring for published research?”
His answer was hardly simple.
“One reason is that researchers generally examine the wrong dependent variable. Researchers care about next August (when test scores come in, because they can show achievement gains). Teachers care about that, too, but they care more about solving today’s problems….
A second issue is that researchers don’t worry about teacher time. Education researchers often put forward strategies that make teachers’ lives harder, not easier. Have you ever tried to “differentiate instruction”? When policy experts give a lecture or speak publicly, do they create five different iterations for their varied audience? Probably not.
The return on investment for teacher time and the opportunity cost of spending it one way rather than another is rarely taken into account. In what other, valuable ways could teachers be spending the time taken up with building “differentiation” into a lesson plan? They could phone parents, tutor kids after school, grade papers, or analyze data. Much research implies that teachers should spend more time doing X while not indicating where they should spend less time.
Teachers don’t trust research, and understandably so. There’s a lot of shoddy research that supports fads. Experienced teachers remember that “this year’s method” directly contradicts the approach from three years ago. So they’d rather go it alone. Newer teachers pick up on the skepticism about research from the veterans.”
Goldstein then lays out what questions teachers committed to their practice and the art and science of teaching want answered:
“1. How to be more efficient. Many teachers want to work less without being neglectful. Or they’d like to free up time to invest in new priorities.
2. How to manage the classroom so kids behave better, thus lowering the “misbehavior tax” on learning. If a middle school teacher can “reset” the class only 3 times per period, instead of 5, that’s probably 1,440 fewer times per year that he has to deal with misbehavior. (By “reset,” I mean when a teacher says something like, “Guys, come on. I need your eyes on me. I need you to settle down. Joey, that means you. I’m going to wait until I have everyone’s eyes.”)
3. How to motivate and generate student effort, especially, how to “flip” kids who arrive having not worked hard in previous classes or years. This includes both getting kids to exert effort during class and getting them to work hard at home.
4. How to get kids to remember material that they seemingly once knew. Cognitive science has moved the ball forward here; now we need applied experiments with teachers.
5. How to best explain particular ideas and concepts. Each year, tens of thousands of math teachers try to get kids to understand the notion that division by zero does not exist.”
While there are a few researchers who ask such practical questions (and keep in mind that buried in those questions are theoretical issues), most educational researchers, given the world they live in, ask different questions. An example of that are the hundreds of research studies on the effectiveness of laptops, curricular software, and online instruction that seldom attract teacher interest but appeal to policymakers who ask similar questions.
Consider the questions teachers ask when school boards and administrators buy and deploy the latest new technology:
*How much time and energy will I have to invest to learn the new devices and accompanying software?
* What evidence is there that these new devices and software will help my students do activities and tasks to meet district standards and score better on tests than what I already do without these devices and software?
*Will there be on-site professional and technical assistance in integrating new software and hardware and when glitches occur—and they will occur—will help be immediately available?
Teachers seldom get answers to these questions.
If researchers ask different questions than teachers, so do policymakers when considering policies aimed at classroom improvement of teaching and learning.
* Will the new policy cost more, less, or the same as the existing policy?
* Will new policy be more, less, or the same in effectively achieving instructional and curricular objectives than existing policy?
* What incentives and sanctions do I have to reward and penalize those principals and teachers charged to implement the new policies?
* How do I and district administrators promote the new policy to the instructional staff and community?
Teachers, researchers, and policymakers inhabit different worlds. The values each prizes, the incentives they respond to, and their daily work situations differ. Consequently, what each considers important in their respective world prompts the questions they ask. But if a teacher is the most important in-school factor influencing learning, should not teacher questions get respectful attention and action from researchers and policymakers?