Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Closing the Gap ... between the University and Schoolhouse

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Closing the Gap ... between the University and Schoolhouse

Article excerpt

Research crosses into practice when scholars know how to make their work visible to teachers, friendly to their worldview, practical for use by K-12 schools, and easy to share. But that doesn't mean the research is good or effective.

It is common knowledge in education that no link exists between the parallel worlds of research and practice. This fact is often lamented, and scholars and classroom teachers are equally blamed for the situation.

Yet talk with enough K-12 educators and it soon becomes clear that however imperfect the relationship some connection does exist. Because while most education research never moves beyond small-circulation journals and niche academic presses, a handful of ideas have made the long leap from the ivory tower to the schoolhouse.

Of course, not all teachers are familiar with the same pieces of research. Given the lack of uniformity across university-run teacher preparation programs, state-controlled licensure requirements, and district-managed professional development, variance is the rule. Nevertheless, teachers do recognize ideas from research, and there are clear patterns in what they know.

Teachers, for instance, tend to be familiar with ideas like Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Carol Tomlinson's differentiated instruction. They recognize and often comfortably employ tools like Bloom's taxonomy, project-based learning, and the Socratic seminar. And though they may not always endorse them, teachers are often well-acquainted with curricular programs like Direct Instruction and Success for All.

So if there is truly no connection between research and practice, how can we explain these exceptions?

One hopeful explanation is that cream rises to the top. In such an ideal scenario, scholarly ideas familiar to classroom teachers would represent the strongest and most relevant work of education researchers. Such ideas would have entered practice not only because of their greater inherent value but also as a result of rational and active deliberation.

If only that were the case.

How research moves

Some professional fields have excellent systems for moving research into practice. Aerospace companies, for instance, hire scholars whose research advances a particular agenda, and those building airplanes adhere closely to guidelines informed by research. Education, however, is different. In part, this is because the aims of schooling are incredibly broad and complex, making educational "success" a less straightforward outcome than the production of a working jet engine. But it is also the product of historical happenstance, which divided involved parties from each other and endowed each with a separate set of professional powers and responsibilities.

Because of factors like local control and the tremendous scale of universal K-12 schooling, American teachers won command of the instructional core without ever gaining jurisdiction over scholarship or policy. Conversely, policy makers became well-positioned to interpret scholarship and issue general directives but failed to secure real control over classroom teaching. And academics, in part as a product of their own status climbing, were eventually relegated to seeming irrelevance in the ivory tower--raising their scholarly profiles by detaching themselves completely from K-12 classrooms (Lagemann, 1990). The result of all this is an environment highly inhospitable for moving scholarship into classrooms. And yet ideas do migrate from the ivory tower into the schoolhouse. How is that?

Organisms adapt to hostile environments through genetic mutation. Through chance and accident, they develop characteristics that better suit them to their new circumstances. As a result, they prosper.

Such is the case with education research, where penetration into the world of practice is determined less by scholarly merit than by a particular set of adaptive traits. …

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