Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Research Program of the Yale Child Study Center School Development Program

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Research Program of the Yale Child Study Center School Development Program

Article excerpt

The Yale Child Study Center School Development Program (SDP) uses an action research approach to explore obstacles to good teaching and learning in schools, and to reduce or eliminate them. Action research is among the least highly regarded of current research methodologies. Such work is still often referred to as demonstration projects rather than research. But from the beginning, 1968, Comer and colleagues found many often hidden, complex, interactive, and critically important variables that could not be taken into account without an action research approach. Much like turning over a large, damp rock in nature, the emotions and frenetic activity in social organizations, particularly schools, are not apparent until there is an effort to change them. In this article the authors begin with the current research focus, and then review why an action research approach was used. They explain how the pilot, field-test and dissemination aspects of the work evolved. The intervention methods used and the outcomes are described, as well as the experimental and other evaluation and research studies that were made possible by the initial and continuing action research approach. Also discussed are the major conclusions drawn from SDP work, and the current efforts to address what are the continuing major obstacles to good teaching and learning in schools.

The Yale Child Study Center School Development Program (SDP) used an action research approach to explore obstacles to good teaching and learning in schools, and to reduce or eliminate them. Action research is among the least highly regarded of current methodologies. Such work is still often referred to as demonstration projects rather than research. But from the beginning of the work in schools in 1968, Comer and colleagues found complex, interactive, and critically important variables that could not be taken into account using more highly regarded experimental research designs; in fact, the variables could not be seen without an action research approach.

Nonetheless, before beginning a pilot project in two elementary schools in New Haven, Connecticut, Comer and colleagues worked with several highly regarded research methodologists to determine whether an experimental research design could be used, and whether they could explore the effects of racial integration. The research methodologists concluded that an experimental design would not be possible, and that a racial integration study would not fully address the question of why able African American students were not learning well. Also, because of community concern about the exploitation of children primarily for academic benefit, Comer and colleagues agreed not to publish until it was clear that the work benefited participating students and others in similar situations. A detailed log was kept to document the change process. Comer and colleagues also collected the necessary academic and social outcome data to assess progress.

The concern about high status experimental research designs began during 1967-1968 when Comer was a program officer at the National Institute of Mental Health. The Institute provided funds to a group of prominent researchers to study the characteristics of cities that had had major race-based urban disturbances and those that had not. But before the study could be launched, the comparison group also experienced such disturbances. Comer speculates, and still believes, that there will always be forces at play that are far larger, more powerful and more complex, than a quasi-experimental research design study or other quantitative or qualitative studies alone can capture.

Much like turning over a rock in damp soil, many of the emotions and frenetic activities in social organizations, particularly schools and school systems, are not apparent until there is an effort to change them. In highly dysfunctional situations, the most highly valued research methodologies often measure outcomes of dysfunction, more than the effects of the intended independent variables. …

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