Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Practice and Research in Special Education

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Practice and Research in Special Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article considers possible reasons that research knowledge is not used more extensively in special education practice and suggests issues to be addressed in solving this problem. We contrast research knowledge and practice knowledge and describe factors that moderate the influence of research on practice, in both general and special education. These factors include teacher knowledge and learning, teacher attitudes and beliefs, and context. We conclude by considering various issues and alternatives for reconceptualizing the relationship between research and practice in special education.

It is logical to think that making special education more research-based means that classrooms should function more like research-replication sites. Principles and interventions should be "validated" by research, then translated, packaged, and disseminated to practitioners, who should then replicate them in the classroom, manipulating independent variables to achieve effects in important dependent variables. This "linear" model posits that information flows primarily from researchers to practitioners and that research knowledge should be directly applied in practice. This model may reflect the prevailing view in special education. However, to the degree that it disregards the realities of practice and its improvement, the linear model is incomplete. The model is thus likely to perpetuate the dissatisfaction that researchers feel about the use of their findings in practice and that practitioners feel about the usefulness of educational research.

Research knowledge only sporadically finds its way into educational practice, even when the research has produced substantial knowledge related to problems of real-world importance (Fullan, 1992; Gersten, Darch, Davis, & George, 1991; Gersten, Woodward, & Morvant, 1992; Huberman, 1990; Kaestle, 1993; Leinhardt, 1990; Shavelson, 1988; Tushnet, 1992; Verstappen, 1991). The most commonly proposed remedies have been consistent with the linear model, for example, focusing on the needs for increased research (Carnine, 1993; Kauffman, 1993; National Academy of Education, 1991; Slavin, 1989) and for more effective dissemination systems Fleming, 1988; Klein, 1992).

Implicit in the linear model is an assumption that research on student learning or behavior is equivalent to research on teaching (Cohen, 1988). It seems self-evident that if research discovers how students learn, we will know how teachers should teach. Thus, when research findings fail to be applied in practice, people tend to blame teachers, citing their resistance to change, their negative attitudes about research, and their lack of skill in interpreting and applying research findings (see Cuban, 1988, Fleming, 1988; Richardson, 1990). Researchers and others argue that practitioners in fields such as medicine and psychology are sophisticated consumers of research information; and these critics find it unacceptable that the teacher's primary source of information is "the teacher down the hall" (Kaestle, 1993).

General education literature in the past decade, however, (and more recently in special education) has reflected a growing examination of the practice of teaching, including the factors that shape practice and that facilitate or impede the implementation of new approaches in practice. With this increased attention to practice has come an erosion of confidence in the linear model. New ideas about research and practice can be found in a growing body of literature on such topics as teacher cognitions, attitudes, and beliefs; the dynamics of teacher development and teacher change; the culture and organization of the school; processes of organizational development; and the nature and use of knowledge in education (Cohen, 1988; Cuban, 1988; Huberman, 1983,1990; Kaufman, Schiller, Birman, & Coutinho, 1993; Richardson, 1990; Sarason, 1990; Sashkin & Egermeier, 1993; Shavelson, 1988).

This article discusses teacher practice and the application of educational research, with particular attention to special education. …

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