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Leadership and Activism

#blog4nwp – An open invitation

This #blog4nwp guest post comes from Peter Shaheen.

The Department of Education argues that school reform ought to be driven by research. I suppose the experts there are concerned about replicable results that can improve instruction. In fact, research based reform is admirable. However, research driven reform alone is not enough. My purpose here is to suggest that there are other mechanisms that need to be included in the school reform tool kit. One of my concerns is that research based is a code word for cookie cutter and lock step. If some research works one context, it is wrong to assume that it will be equally effective in other contexts. The variables from one classroom to another make it impossible to promise the deliverable in one context will be the same in another.

One reason it is impossible is because teachers are not like prescription drugs. Our make-up is not such that if I follow your protocols, I can deliver instruction in the same effective way you do. In the pharmaceutical industry a generic may in fact be just as effective as the name brand because the generic causes the body to react in the same way. It is less likely to happen this way in teaching because there is no such thing as a generic teacher, or at that’s my position at least. Teachers come in different genders. Different ages. Different races. Different learning styles. Type A’s. Type B’s. They are not dispensed by prescription based on a patient needs. The interaction of teacher with student in one clinical trial is not likely to be reliably replicated in another.

Don’t misread and infer this position to be a categorical condemnation of research based. It is not. However, there still are other concerns, for example, what counts as research? Kathleen Kennedy Manzo argued during the 2001 aftermath of No Child Left Behind, research based was used for the following reasons:

  • Help the President’s childhood friend.
  • Help private industry.
  • Reward patrons.
  • Discredit public education.
  • Further a conservative political agenda.

Given this indictment, it is reasonable from where I stand to ask the question, whose purpose does research based reform serve? I have a hard time saying the research is ALWAYS a benefit to students. I have a harder time justifying that it doesn’t need to be. That being said research based reform can be a good idea, but at the risk of sounding like a loose cannon, the notion when taken to extremes is absurd.

I am also worried about what is not considered research based. This is the part that directly affects the NWP. The research on NWP is written off by some at the Department of Education as simple surveys taken to measure the satisfaction of teachers regarding professional development provided by NWP. Somehow that isn’t empirical enough even though data repeats itself year after year.

This failure of the many to embrace the data further confuses me when it comes to understanding the motives of the research based movements. Could it be that the NWP did not reach out to the right people and so there is some animosity towards the group? That sound too juvenile once I articulate it, but still I wonder.

We need to broaden our views of what constitutes assessment of instruction. We need to reconsider not just the standards and benchmarks that define learning for students in our classroom, but we also need to understand that readiness standards and benchmarks have to be met even before students come in our class.

My association with the NWP has put me in touch with a group of diverse and deep thinking teachers who love to complicate thinking. Efforts to reify learning by eliminating the variables of instruction and pretending measuring is the key to efficacy, is to deny the sloppy and messy nature of the work we do.

Senators , Representatives, and bureaucrats, this is an open invitation into my classroom. Stop by anytime when you want to have a dialogue, but don’t just cut funding to the best professional development that ever existed for teachers and say it is unfeasible. I want to speak with you and hear what you have to say.

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  1. Pingback: The #blog4nwp archive « Cooperative Catalyst - April 14, 2011

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