The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?

The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?

The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?

The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?


This book addresses one of the most essential issues in education: how best to instruct our students. Chall discusses the many educational reforms and innovations that have been proposed and employed over the past century, and explains why almost all of these reforms have failed. The book compares achievement rates that result from traditional, instruction-based approaches with those resulting from progressive, student-centered methods. Chapters address how each of these approaches have been applied in elementary and secondary schools and how they have influenced instructional practice in specific disciplines. Systematically analyzing a vast body of qualitative and quantitative research, Chall argues that instruction-based approaches result in higher achievement overall, with particular benefits for children of lower socioeconomic status and those with learning difficulties.


This book asks an old question, namely: How can we advance the learning of elementary and high school students? It is a question that has taken on great urgency today as work and life require ever greater knowledge, skills, and understanding. I attempt to answer this question through an analysis of the literature, relevant research, historical writings, and the writings and observations of teachers, parents, and scholars. I also relied on my fifty years of experience in teaching and in educational research and consulting.

It has been a long journey, and a fascinating one. But it has also been a painful one. It was not pleasant to find, over and over again, strong viewpoints that seemed to become more crystallized and more contentious over the years. And these strong viewpoints were developed and vociferously defended not from malice, but from the best and most noble of intentions—a desire to improve the education of our children.

I have tried to look at the events, thoughts, and research of the past century to determine whether we are now doing the best that we can to improve student achievement, and if not, what we should be doing, based on what we do know.

This volume could not have been completed without the generosity and support of family, friends, and colleagues. I want to express warm thanks to my sister, Shirley Decker, who listened for many years to my early formulations and encouraged me to continue, and to my colleagues and friends at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who reacted to my ideas and suggested additional readings and people to consult; these helpful cohorts . . .

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