Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hey Researchers!

Hey researchers. you know what would be cool?

How about if you settle some questions for us?  I've been in education a long time and I've heard what seems like infinite variations on the same questions, along with what seems like infinite new thoughts that came out of the blue.  Every time our principal or superintendent goes to a conference or a workshop, it seems they bring back a new idea, a new structure, a new way of doing things that "research has shown" to be the shiny new penny of educational thought.

When you look a little deeper, you find it was done on 65 elementary students in NYC ... and you're supposed to try and develop curricula for your 10th grade math classes that follows this brand spanking new paradigm.

Answers are NOT overrated. The whole point of research is to answer a question, either to prove or disprove it. Research that is only about finding something new is exploration, and while it does have it's purpose, it's not what we need in this country at this time in this industry.

We have lots of new ideas. I, for one, am sick of all of them. What we don't need is more new ideas to be trotted out, forced on the students and faculty, only to be replaced when the fashion statement of the month changes.

What we do need is to weed out the bad ideas, the bad policies, and the bad science that we already are following, used to follow and are considering going back to, or that we might consider in the future.

If you simply MUST develop new ideas and new ways of doing things, please in the name of anything you find holy, write the results down and save them for the next round of research on that topic.  

Researchers!  Instead of thinking of brand new things, how about you settle a few debates?

I know. It's boring.  You want to be "Fresh!" and "New!" and "Creative!" and here I'm asking you to determine the pros and cons of Semester Block vs 4x4 Block vs 40 min (8periods) vs 50 minutes (7periods).

That would be helpful.

Do a lot of research on it. Use a lot of schools and do it with HS students.  Settle the debate we're having at every goddamned school in the country and settle it so definitively that we can all tell our principals to go pound sand if they say something stupid. And make the research available so we can actually read it?

That would be helpful.

How about Proficiency-Based Grading and Graduation Requirements?  Do they work? If so, what did they look like when they did work and when they didn't? Is this just Standards Based Grading updated with a shiny new name for the new decade or is there really something good here?

How about getting into whether we should be taking statewide tests or home-grown final exams?

How about the use of technology in the early grades; in middle grades; in high school?

Don't tell me about your cutting edge research if it doesn't involve multiple grades and a full range of socio-economic levels encompassing thousands of students taking all the courses. (At least tell me what those grades are, in a font just as large as the headline.)

Don't tell me that research has shown that you shouldn't teach the subtraction algorithm ... unless you also tell me that the research was done exclusively on k-4th graders and was somewhat inconclusive.

Why not?  If you remember, I don't teach k-4 grades and my classes really should know the algorithm.

Hattie does this kind of thing all the time and my principals eat it up. Hattie puts out results with this really precise measurement that isn't very accurate. Why is nearly all of Hattie the stuff of nightmares for HS teachers?

Because our principals can't read. They see a big shiny number and say "We should do that, too."

They don't take the time to delve into the conditions of the research and merely assume that we should be changing RIGHT NOW so they can retain their jobs.

My district has gone to a half-day inservice every week to develop new initiatives .. and that's messing up the students something fierce.  We faculty, in the meantime, are going nowhere fast, wandering through tedious and worthless makework that the curriculum coordinator dreams up. Ill-defined terms, vague promises that "This will all make sense" and exercises that belong in a 6th grade classroom the day before Christmas break, all combine to make us want to tear our hair out.

Show me something that WORKED and let me build from that.  If it doesn't work, we need to have some way of reporting that back to the same researchers so others won't have to go through the same disruption and failure.

EVERY school that tries your new idea is now part of the research; all data should be kept. It never is ... in fact education is the only field where all of the research is case-control, the selection bias is ignored, the publication bias is widespread, and the results don't ever seem to matter ... all while the subjects of the research suffer through another set of changes and failures in the vague hope by the administrators that "Someday, we get it right." I'm here to tell you that "Someday" hasn't arrived yet.

My only consolation is that we're not experimenting on my kids.

"But it's backed by research!"

Yeah, show me. Prove it.

In the meantime, I've got to get back to work.


  1. Oh I know this one well. Over a space of 4 years, we went through the 6 periods, 7 periods, modified block schedule, the trimester system along with RTI based only on State graduation test results. If they would just let us do our job without all this additional input from the supers, principals, state and federal govt, I might actually be able to spend more time teaching.

  2. And, when there is good research based on thousands of kids, it will be ignored because it doesn't fit in with administrators' idea of what should work or what is comfortable for some teachers.

  3. Possibly ... but at least then you could say "Here is the research". Much more often, the links to my work are tenuous or non-existent and admin forges ahead regardless.