Proper education of the individual is available, in our society, to the movers and shakers that is, to the cogniscenti who know where to find the best for their children and thereby groom the leaders of the future. As for the plebs, they are trapped in a time warp and a philosophical mish-mash of unsupported educational doctrine which has gripped the west for two generations now, its results able to be observed in the state of our children today.
The following article explains why, historically, we are caught in this endless loop in the public sector and why it will not be changing any time soon. Although it discusses the American situation and is dated 1998, nevertheless it is applicable throughout the west and is as current as when it was written.
Stone, J. E. & Clements, A. (1998), Research and innovation: Let the buyer beware, in Robert R. Spillane & Paul Regnier (Eds.), The superintendent of the future (pp.59-97), Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, via J. E. Stone and Andrea Clements, East Tennessee State University
Myron Lieberman (1993) estimates the dollar value of the manpower dedicated to educational research by professors and doctoral students alone to be in excess of $700 million annually. Still other education research is authored by state departments of education, by nonprofit "think tanks," by federal agencies, and by the regional educational research laboratories. Significantly, only a small percentage of published research is undertaken by schools or school systems.
The results of this scholarly activity are readily available to schools through a variety of sources. Thousands of books, professional and academic journals, newsletters, technical bulletins, and other published sources make research available to teachers and administrators, many recent publications available on the Internet.
A vast amount of material is indexed in the federally sponsored Education Resources Information Center (ERIC). ERIC includes a Current Index to Journals in Education and a microfiche library of mostly unpublished research called Research in Education.
Research in Education is available in education libraries throughout the United States. The amount of research available through these several sources is staggering, and most of it is directly or indirectly related to the problem of improving school achievement.
The idea of improving teaching through the application of science has been around since the earliest days of organized teacher training. John Dewey, for example, believed that the scientific study of child development would improve classroom instruction by suggesting ways in which teaching might be fitted to the learner (Dewey, 1916/1963). However, it was not until the 1960s that governmentally funded research began expanding to present-day levels.
The Johnson administration's "war on poverty" infused federal dollars into university research institutes and education laboratories on an unprecedented scale. Head Start (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1985) and Follow Through (Proper & St. Pierre, 1980) are prime examples. Both were designed to improve the school success of disadvantaged children and they are among the largest educational research projects ever mounted. The Follow Through project alone cost nearly $1 billion.
Has the money and manpower spent on research been justified by improvements in schooling? If the findings reported in Education Week's "Quality Counts" (Wolk, 1997) are any indication, the answer would have to be no. Despite the pressures for improvement created by reports such as the National Commission on Excellence in Education's A Nation at Risk (1983), measured achievement has stayed essentially flat. The National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in math and science have risen only a few points on a 500-point scale since 1973 (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). Of course there are isolated examples of significant improvement, but the broad picture is that the schools are (in the words of "Quality Counts") "treading water."
Why so little impact?
If there is a significant amount of research--although arguably not enough--and the findings are widely available, why is there not at least a trend toward improved achievement?
Again, researchers have an [excuse]: Good research is available but schools fail to implement it. In other words, schools talk as though they adopt research-based innovations but at the classroom level they keep doing the same old thing (Cuban, 1993). There is more than a little truth to this claim. The innovative programs publicized by school administrators are not always translated into classroom practice. Teachers have a great deal of independence in the classroom and they are taught to fit their teaching style to students' needs. Remaining with accustomed approaches is, indeed, the tendency if only for reasons of comfort and familiarity.
Another explanation offered by researchers is that schools don't know good research when they see it. They are easily drawn to familiar practices supported by weak evidence. Unfamiliar practices supported by very credible evidence are often ignored. As discussed below, there is merit to this view.
[D]uring the 1960s and 1970s, correlational studies suggesting self-esteem enhancement as a means to improved achievement led to sweeping changes in teacher training and schooling but Experimental findings to the contrary were ignored (Scheirer & Kraut, 1979).
The [scientific findings] showed that self-esteem and achievement are correlated mainly because achievement enhances self-esteem, not because self-esteem enhances achievement.
One other explanation popular with researchers is the institutional inertia warps and retards progress. Plainly this view also has merit. All organizations encourage some possibilities and restrict others. All are comfortable with certain ways of conducting themselves and uncomfortable with others. Teacher unions, for example, may resist changes that make teachers' jobs more laborious. Administrative customs may resist change that make jobs look too easy. Of course, community expectations, regulatory policy, and public oversight can all exert resistance to change.
In marked contrast to the views of researchers, schoolhouse "insiders" (i.e., teachers and administrators) say that research has little impact because much of it does not work in the real world. As they see it, schools are doing everything they can to implement the latest findings, but social and economic realities impose limits.
Implementing research is like rebuilding a ship in the midst of a voyage. Staying afloat has to be the first consideration. Rebuilding during a storm is even more problematic. Schools can and do make the changes suggested by research, but circumstances can trump even the best-laid plans. Even with successful implementations, effects are obscured or nullified by factors such as limited resources, two-earner families, increased crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gangs, television, and a host of other hindrances and adversities (Olson, 1997).
Despite the often limited benefit of research-based innovations, schools continue to adopt them--if only to keep up with the latest trends.
Which research and which innovations, however, often depends less on the quality of the findings than on the channel through which the research comes to the school's attention. School personnel are frequently exposed to "the latest" research at workshops, professional meetings, and in-service training. Typically, the teachers, administrators, and board members who attend these meetings have a limited understanding of research and/or of the findings pertaining to the innovation in question. More often than not, presenters and programs for such meetings are selected not because their ideas are well grounded but because they have a stimulating presentation. In addition, audience interest is often spurred by a regulatory mandate or incentive funding, not a burning desire for improved student achievement.
Other pragmatic considerations play a role as well. For example, attractiveness to students, teachers, parents, and other school system stakeholders can weigh heavily in research selections. So can public relations. The desire of school leaders and board members to demonstrate "progressive leadership" often plays a contributory role. In short, the selection of research-based programs and innovations brought back from workshops and meetings may be substantially influenced by considerations other than evidence of effectiveness.
The Restrictions Imposed by Doctrine
The practice of injecting popular psychological theory into schooling--often without regard to effectiveness or applicability--has been a chronic problem in American education (Davis, 1943; Hilgard, 1939). Currently, a poorly recognized but longstanding educational doctrine called "developmentalism" (Hirsch, 1996; Stone, 1996) permeates the public schooling community. Developmentalism frames teaching and learning issues in a way that favors certain types of research and disregards others.
Developmentalism is a derivation of eighteenth-century romantic naturalism. The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is the most influential of its early proponents. The works of John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jean Piaget (1896-1980), however, are more directly responsible for its present-day acceptance. Developmentalism is a view of age-related social, emotional, and cognitive change that presumes a child's native tendencies to be a fragile expression of the individual's natural and therefore optimal developmental trajectory (Stone, 1996). It conceives of education as a set of experiences that serves to facilitate and preserve that trajectory by fitting the educational experience to the individual.
Developmentalism contrasts sharply with the classic tradition in education and with the American tradition founded by the Puritans. Both sought to civilize and better the individual, not merely accommodate his or her emerging tendencies. Both classic tradition and the common school aimed to discipline natural impulses in service of a higher good.
The significance of this philosophic issue as an impediment to effective schooling would be difficult to overstate. Most public schools seek achievement to the extent permitted by students' natural inclinations. They are "learner centered."
Most parents and policy makers want schooling that impels achievement beyond that to which most students are inclined by their youthful proclivities (Steinburg, 1996). They are "learning centered."
[Hence, in the UK, the rise and hegemony of the National Curriculum].
The dominance of learner-centered pedagogy is in no small part an accident of history. Progressivism--a social and philosophical offshoot of romantic naturalism--predominated in American intellectual circles in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These were the years during which universal public education came to be public policy as well as the formative years of many teacher-training institutions.
Accepted teaching practices of that day were often harsh and punitive; thus progressive methods were a welcome alternative. The premier teacher-training institution of the early twentieth century was Teacher's College, Columbia University (Cremin, 1964). Its graduates led the development of other such programs around the country. Even today, the educational methodologies that prevail in the public education community are those that agree with the philosophic leanings of the Teacher's College faculty of the early 1900s (Hirsch, 1996).
Developmentally informed pedagogy has come to dominate public schooling but without clear public recognition of its nature and its role. Over the past 75 years it has emerged and reemerged under a variety of names. In the 1920s it was called "progressive" and "child centered." Today it is termed "reflective" and "learner centered" (Darling-Hammond, Griffin, & Wise, 1992).
However termed, it has consistently maintained that teachers should seek to instruct only through activities that students find engaging and enjoyable. Thus, instead of employing the most enjoyable of teaching methods that are known to result in learning, teachers have been trained first to seek activities that are enjoyable and engaging and to use them in ways that will produce learning. “Good” teaching has come to be thought of as teaching that is well received and that, incidentally, produces some degree of learning.
Uncertainty about learning outcomes was not considered a pedagogic weakness by progressive education's founders. Neither John Dewey nor progressive education's great popularizer, William Heard Kilpatrick, considered conventionally prescribed educational objectives to be the proper aim of schooling.
Instead, both argued that schooling should seek the emergence of an individually defined and broadly conceived intellectual development.
Dewey, in particular, wrote at length about the harm done by teacher insistence on externally defined aims (Dewey, 1916/1963). Viewed from the progressive/learner-centered perspective, research that seeks to demonstrate a teaching methodology's ability to produce a preconceived learning outcome is inherently faulty and inconsistent with the proper aims of schooling.
Despite public repudiation in the 1950s, Dewey's view remains the foundation of today's cutting-edge innovations. It has spawned a remarkable array of educational terms and concepts, and they have been widely propagated by agencies and organizations such as the U.S. Office of Education, the state departments of education, teacher-training programs, accrediting agencies, professional and academic societies, and the like.
The education community seeks to improve schooling through the use of research, but learner-centered strictures guide the adoption process. The impression created by the vast assortment of current educational terms and concepts is one of abundant variety. In truth, however, most conform to the same progressive vision of education.
As noted by E. D. Hirsch (1996), "within the educational community, there is currently no thinkable alternative" (italics in the original, p. 69). Recent permutations and derivatives include the following:
• lifelong learning • developmentally appropriate instruction • brain-based learning • situated learning • cooperative learning • multiple intelligences • multiaged instruction • discovery learning • portfolio assessment • constructivism • hands-on learning • project method • thematic learning • integrated curriculum • higher-order learning • authentic assessment • whole-language reading
How Learner-Centered Thinking Restricts Choices: The Case of the Follow Through Project
Learner-centered doctrine discourages the use of results-oriented research (Stone, 1996). Studies concerned with improving achievement typically test an intervention or treatment (i.e., an action taken by the researcher that is intended to produce change in the student). The success of the intervention is judged in reference to some predetermined expectation.
In contrast to the goal of inducing results, the goal of developmentally informed research is to accommodate schooling to the individual and to do so in a way that achieves the ends to which the individual is inclined by nature, not those prescribed by the curriculum.
One of the clearest instances of results-oriented research rejected on learner-centered grounds comes from the Follow Through project (Proper & St. Pierre, 1980). Follow Through was a huge federally funded research project of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was launched in 1967 by the Ninetieth Congress in response to President Johnson's request to "follow through" on project Head Start. Improved achievement in the basic skills of disadvantaged students was its prime objective. It remains the largest educational experiment ever.
Nine educational models were compared in 51 school districts over a six-year period. Of the nine, all but two were learner centered; and contrary to the prevailing educational wisdom, the two exceptions significantly outperformed the field.
Of greater significance, five of the seven learner-centered models produced worse results than the traditional school programs (i.e., the nontreated control groups) to which each Follow Through approach was compared.
What makes the contrast especially striking is that the outcome measures included not only basic skills but "higher-order" cognitive skills and a measure of self esteem--the very sort of outcomes that learner-centered methods are intended to enhance.
The most successful of the nine models was Direct Instruction (Engelmann, Becker, Carnine, & Gersten, 1988), a structured and so-called teacher-centered approach. Despite its overwhelming success, Direct Instruction was disparaged and largely ignored by the education community (Watkins, 1988).
A lengthy critique of Follow Through was published in Harvard Educational Review (House, Glass, McLean, & Walker, 1978), and the U.S. Department of Education's National Diffusion Network--a bureaucratic agency responsible for disseminating only the "best" research--concluded that all nine programs were valid and all were recommended for further funding.
In fact, added funding was given to the failed models on the grounds that they needed strengthening.
The Follow Through Direct Instruction findings are by no means the only research that has been ignored because it disagreed with the learner-centered view. Herbert Walberg (1990, 1992) summarized some 8,000 reports of demonstrably effective teaching methods. Like Direct Instruction, most were structured, teacher-directed, and designed to produce measurable gains in achievement.
Most could be described as learning-centered instead of learner-centered. Many employed drill, recitation, and incentives for student effort. A review of research literature by Ellson (1986) found 75 studies of teaching methods that produced achievement gains at least twice as great as those of comparison groups. Many of them were popular at one time but none are learner-centered and none are in widespread use today.
The reception accorded Direct Instruction and other learning-centered research is important because it highlights a critical difference between the public's educational objectives and those of the learner-centered schooling establishment. Public Agenda (Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994) and other public polling organizations have found that the public wants schools that produce conventionally measured academic achievement.
The public is not opposed to the goals of learner-centered schooling, but it considers them secondary to conventional academic achievement. To the public, outcomes such as improved self-esteem are attractive, but schools that fail with respect to academic achievement are nonsense no matter what else they may produce. The same priorities are embodied in state-level school accountability policies.
They focus primarily on academic gains operationally defined by achievement tests. By contrast, learner-centered research gives equal priority to "intellectual growth," enhanced self-esteem, and gains in knowledge and skills. If one or more of the three are produced, the research is taken to be informative and potentially valuable for school implementation.
Why Researchers Remain Learner-Centered
Despite the ever-growing demand for improved achievement, neither researchers nor schools are able to break away from learner-centered thinking, and for several reasons. Both researchers and most school personnel are indoctrinated in learner-centered thinking, and powerful incentives encourage them to remain loyal to that point of view.
For researchers, funding is a prime incentive. Fund allocations are almost inevitably influenced by other educators, and most of them subscribe to learner-centered orthodoxy. Funding affords a researcher time to work, and to have a reasonable chance at funding, one's proposal must appeal to the views of other educators.
For most researchers, funding is tied to institutional support. Most researchers are college faculty, and their primary responsibility is teaching. If a faculty member needs time to conduct a study, the institution must at a minimum relieve the individual from teaching.
Ordinarily it will hire someone to teach in his or her place. Research grants provide the funding for the substitute instructor. If the researcher's employer does not like a proposal, it may decide against released time. A proposal that appeals to the views of learner-centered administrators and colleagues is more likely to find support.
Grants also pay what are called "indirect costs" for the use of the institution's facilities and other forms of overhead. These are additional funds that may amount to 50% or more of a research project's direct costs for a substitute instructor, equipment, supplies, and so forth. The funds an institution receives for such costs are typically added to various administrative budgets, thus enabling substantial discretionary spending.
College administrators consider a faculty which generates big indirect cost contributions to be their most productive and deserving faculty. Grants are the key to a faculty member's career advancement at major institutions. Grants that are readily funded for big amounts (e.g., grants from state education agencies) are thus extremely attractive.
Second, there is the matter of publication. In order to advance their academic reputations, researchers must publish. Research that is not published is assumed to be of lesser quality, and rightly so. Research that is published in the most respected journals is stringently peer reviewed. Reviewers and editors do not rule out findings that are inconsistent with orthodoxy, but such reports inevitably receive much closer scrutiny and are thus less likely to be accepted. A record of successful publication also contributes mightily to a researcher's chance of acquiring more funding.
Third, there is the matter of acceptance in the schools. The learner-centered view is more attractive to researchers because it is more easily marketed to the schools. Public school administrators typically have been trained in learner-centered thinking, thus such research has an intuitive appeal.
That it may not produce intended results is a downside, but one that is frequently overlooked. School administrators are never fired or penalized because an innovative program fails. After all, how could an administrator be blamed for accepting the recommendations of scholar-experts who are supported by prestigious institutions.
Because success is defined more in terms of funding than outcomes, appeal to decision makers is more important than demonstrated effectiveness. One need only observe the indicators of organizational advancement that are trumpeted in the media to verify the truth of this conclusion. Media releases talk about money and organizational expansion, not increased student learning.
The learner-centered view is comfortable to other stakeholders as well. Its convenience and vague expectations are significant considerations to teachers. In the learner-centered view, teachers are responsible for affording a quality educational experience, not the production of measurable academic outcomes.
Learner-centered teachers consider outcomes to be governed by factors outside teacher control, thus the quality of teaching cannot be judged by results. Also, teachers find that learner-centered approaches are flexible and can be blended with existing practice without inconvenience and disruption. Factors of this sort make the task of adopting learner-centered practices simpler than, for example, implementing Direct Instruction--a methodology requiring more than the usual day or two of in-service training.
Learner-centered instruction also appeals to students. It seeks to accommodate them, not to shape them. By contrast, schooling that produces results typically requires a concerted student effort, and the time devoted to such an effort can infringe on more attractive pursuits (Steinberg, 1996).
It should be noted, however, that students' short-term satisfactions come at the cost of very substantial longer-term cost.
Lost educational opportunity may result in permanently impaired career prospects--a delayed cost that students are unable to anticipate. Lost opportunities also cost taxpayers both in failed human resource development and the cost of remediation. Schooling that permits students to waste their own time and taxpayer-funded educational opportunity is an enormous but largely overlooked public disservice.
Recognizing useful research
Research that can add to the efficiency and effectiveness of public schooling is available, but school personnel must be able to recognize it. Otherwise, there is a very substantial chance that they will be drawn into adopting one of the many fads that dominate the educational landscape. Recognizing credible, useful studies requires an understanding of certain basics of research.
Both medicine and education rely on a scientific knowledge base. Medicine, however, relies on relatively mature and exact sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology, whereas education relies on the far less mature social and behavioral sciences.
These differences in quality of research and precision of measurement are reflected in the certainty and internal coherence of the knowledge base on which the two professions rely. Competing and contradictory findings are not uncommon in the behavioral sciences; thus the matter of determining which findings are credible, important, and applicable is a formidable challenge to the educational practitioner.
[JH - Many areas of science, e.g. climate change in recent years, have revealed the cracks in the omnipotence of science, so it is not only the behavioural sciences in question any more.]
Given facts open to selective use and interpretation, educators frequently rely on knowledge that is equivocal or that may be contradicted by other evidence. Recognizing this condition, Anderson, Reder, and Simon (1995) offer the following caution:
[N]ew "theories" of education are introduced into schools every day (without labeling them as experiments) on the basis of their philosophical or common sense plausibility but without genuine empirical support.
[Instead] we should make a larger place for responsible experimentation that draws on the available knowledge. It deserves at least as large a place as we now provide for faddish, unsystematic and unassessed informal "experiments" or educational "reforms."
We would advocate the creation of a "FEA" an analogy to the FDA which would require well designed clinical trials for every educational "drug" that is introduced into the market place. (p. 24) Another limit on sound educational research is the inherent variability in human behavior. People think, feel, act, cooperate or don't cooperate, and so forth. Unlike inanimate objects, their actions are influenced by a range of extraneous variables that limit the applicability of findings.
Behavioral sciences such as psychology have evolved standards that enable meaningful research despite these uncertainties. Unfortunately, many studies ignore them and consumers frequently fail to recognize the inevitable deficiencies and limitations. Thus it is not uncommon for educational administrators, grant writers, and program developers to stretch findings beyond their intended meaning or inadvertently to misrepresent results.
Part 2, to be posted later in the week, analyses research itself. This post was more concerned with the political aspects of the acceptance of research and of which type.
As an adjunct to this article, it is useful to consider these:
Catherine Barrett, former president of the National Education Association, wrote, on Feb. 10, 1973, that "dramatic changes in the way we will raise our children in the year 2000 are indicated, particularly in terms of schooling. We will need to recognize that the so-called 'basic skills,' which currently represent nearly the total effort in elementary schools, will be taught in one-quarter of the present school day. When this happens - and it's near - the teacher can rise to his true calling. More than a dispenser of information, the teacher will be a conveyor of values, a philosopher. We will be agents of change."
[JH – step forward, Common Purpose and the Mentoring programme.]
In the March/April, 1976, issue of "The Humanist," Paul Blanshard wrote: "I think the most important factor leading us to a secular society has been the educational factor. Our schools may not teach Johnny to read properly, but the fact that Johnny is in school until he is sixteen tends to lead toward the elimination of religious superstition. The average child now acquires a high school education, and this militates against Adam and Eve and all other myths of alleged history."
Today’s late Boomers’ through to Gen Y’s failure to grasp the necessity for a moral framework behind education is largely a result of this sort of thing which has been peddled for three generations now and is taken as read by most, despite it having no demonstrably sound foundation.
Here’s another example of the quite demonstrable corrosion of values in education, which the research condundrum leading this post is but one manifestation of:
Raymond English, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told the National Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement, on April 2, 1987, that "critical thinking means not only learning how to think for oneself, but it also means learning how to subvert the traditional values in your society. You're not thinking 'critically' if you're accepting the values that mommy and daddy taught you. That's not 'critical.' "
Critical thinking or analysis, a fine concept in itself, is here hijacked into rejecting even sound values imparted by parents and asks a child to differentiate, from the experience of ages, what to throw out and what to retain. Hence the wedge between teacher and parent, with the parent largely unaware of what values the teacher is imparting on a day to day basis. And guess which values they will be? Conforming to which all-pervasive world view?
During my teacher training, we were expected to acknowledge A.S.Neill's Summerhill as the summum bonum, to accept the flawed Piaget as gospel, to study the wisdom of Erich Fromm and to adopt ‘open plan’ as the most effective route to learning. Just as Spock was later shown to have been erroneous and actually apologized for it, so the damage had already been done and make no mistake – teachers sprouting this stuff still occupy major places in schools and colleges of further education, lurking around children’s minds, spreading this guff.
The sort of teacher we're talking about, the left liberal or out-and-out socialist, was trained on a diet of this seemingly humanitarian but dangerously wrong philosophy and can point to any amount of narcissistic "research" to support it [see article above]. It's hardly likely then, that after thirty years or so in education, he or she is ever going to admit being taken for a ride. It would be to his or her credit to do so and to start to undo the damage before retiring.
What should be put in its place? Well let’s start with the liberal arts [not liberal in the modern sense of the word] and we’ll go from there but as the liberal arts lead to a more rounded and educated person, so they are held in reserve for the grooming of the elite and the chance of most of the populace to enjoy this advantage is next to zero, particularly given the cynical socialistic stranglehold on public education, on admissions policies, on teacher training and selection – it’s a fait accompli and can be seen in the illiteracy and innumeracy of our children.
Now that it is too late and will take two generations to reverse the damage, people might just be starting to sheet home the blame where it belongs whilst the movers and shakers continue to provide their children with the best available.
This is what’s happening in the wider world of politics, educational policy being just one plank of the institutionalized socialist platform to destroy the fabric of society and keep the plebs under control.
Please read Tom Paine's take on this.