Monday, March 13, 2017

Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Research in Education | radical eyes for equity

Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Research in Education | radical eyes for equity:

Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Research in Education

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Teaching children according to their individual ‘learning style’ does not achieve better results,” reports Sally Weale, “and should be ditched by schools in favour of evidence-based practice, according to leading scientists.”
Narrowly about learning styles, but more broadly about the decade’s long tension over what research counts, this argument plays out incessantly in education. Notably in the U.S., calls for scientific teaching, research-based practices, and evidence-based policy have their roots in John Dewey’s progressivism, and then have been intensified throughout the accountability era begun in the 1980s and codified in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001.
For about a century, education has simultaneously claimed to be driven by science and research while also being criticized for failing to use our research base and being trapped in fads.
This debunking of learning styles, then, is old hat; consider Lou LaBrant lamenting in 1947: “A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods.”
And the problem rests with the Scylla and Charybdis of research: on one side, educators must resist the tyranny of a narrow definition of what counts as evidence (the so-called hard view grounded in experimental and quasi-experimental studies), and on the other, educators must resist the trendy and often reductive (lazy) extrapolations of research (within which we may place learning styles).
Let me offer here two powerful examples that I believe address this tension: the poverty materials of Ruby Payne and the “word gap” narrative.
In the wake of federal mandates in NCLB that required public schools to identify and then address the so-called achievement gap, Ruby Payne capitalized on an opportunity to provide schools with manageable workbooks and workshops.
However, after many schools and districts across the U.S. purchased Payne’s materials and seminars, scholars on social class and race began to unmask that Payne was peddling stereotypes, not providing evidence-based claims about children and families in poverty (scholarship debunking Payne as well as the Teachers College Record exchange can be found here).
The Payne phenomenon (one that continues despite her poverty characterizations being thoroughly discredited) reveals several problems with calling for education to be research-based.
First, and possibly most significantly, educational practices are far too influenced by the marketing of materials and the incessant training and re-training of teachers in the field. That market influence and dynamic is made robust since K-12 education is far more bureaucratic than scholarly.
The market influence necessarily creates the need for “new” and manageable, characteristics that often supersede the validity of those materials.
Payne’s success has been built on her self-promotion, not her expertise in Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Research in Education | radical eyes for equity:

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