Common Sense in Education and Research
Do you remember the last time you read a newspaper article, magazine feature or full-length book that grabbed your attention and wouldn't let go until the final punctuation mark on the last page? Or how about the last time you nestled in with a book and found yourself thinking that the author had you in mind when it was being written? Maybe it was a romance novel or a tale of mystery and intrigue. Well, believe it or not, it just happened to me, and the topic was (brace yourself) educational research!
Written by Dr. James Kauffman, this slim book titled Education Deform*, challenges its readers to think about what we really mean when we use terms and phrases like "educational reform," leaving no child "behind," and making sure that all children are "ready to learn." He cautions us to refrain from allowing our good intentions and intuition (rather than our knowledge) to define educational practice, or at least to be honest about what we say we know and what justifies the instructional decisions we make in efforts to make schools more friendly and productive places for educators and students alike.
Dr. Kauffman has named chapter 7 in this book "Making Sense About Education." I've chosen to list (and in some instances, paraphrase) a selection of headings from this chapter as they convey many of the important themes that, I hope, resonate throughout this monthly column.
- Nothing works all of the time, and many things appear to have worked at some time (and at least in one instance).
- Some things work much better than others, and the best guide to finding out what works and what doesn't is science.
- Too often, educational policy is based on philosophy or politics rather than evidence.
- Both real and anticipated consequences can have profound effects on behavior.
- Important facts and skills are taught most effectively by direct and intentional instruction.
- Particular knowledge and skills are often best learned in sequence.
- The only way to know whether a program or course of instruction is working is by testing.
- Testing is useful only if you make the right comparisons for the right reasons.
- Comparisons put someone lowest or last and someone highest or first.
- Some individuals are on the edge of any criterion we set.
- A "fixed" school will still have some "failures."
- Failure of some students with disabilities to reach a standard is predictable.
- Students are never failures; it's just that they sometimes fail at certain things.
- "School reform" is meaningless unless it focuses on instruction and evidence.
- Parents need to be reasonably supportive (that is, 'reasonable and supportive') of teachers and schools.
- If schools aren't good places for teachers, they can't be good places for kids.
- Schools cannot be expected to do everything.
- A teacher can't teach all kinds of students at the same time and do it well.
- Education should concentrate on providing effective instruction.
*Kauffman, James M., (2002) Educational Deform: Bright People Sometimes Say Stupid Things about Education. Scarecrow Press. Lanhan, MD. Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.