The limits and possibilities of using research to facilitate school improvement
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The Limits and Possibilities of Using Research to Facilitate School Improvement. Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D. New York University. I. If we’re so smart why aren’t the schools that need the most help getting better?. Too much research tells us what we know already

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The limits and possibilities of using research to facilitate school improvement

The Limits and Possibilities of Using Research to Facilitate School Improvement

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.

New York University


I if we re so smart why aren t the schools that need the most help getting better
I. If we’re so smart why aren’t the schools that need the most help getting better?

  • Too much research tells us what we know already

    • Examples: Research on class size, teacher quality, achievement gap and the failure of school reform

  • It tells us what’s wrong but not what to do to bring about change

    • Examples: critiques of tracking, drop-out studies, research on the organization of high schools

  • Tells us what works but not how to replicate - “bringing good practice to scale”

    • Examples: small schools, language immersion programs


What else is wrong with educational research
What Else is Wrong with Educational research the most help getting better?

  • Educational researchers are too content communicating with each other

    • Who’s reading our journals and publications?

  • Too much research is disconnected from policy and practice

    • Policy is often driven by politics and ideology not research

  • Research is not sufficiently focused on how to address the pressing problems confronting the field of education

    • Children in poverty

    • Schools experiencing rapid demographic change

    • Immigrant students with interrupted formal education


Ii what kind of research is needed
II. What kind of research is needed the most help getting better?

A) Problem oriented research designed to benefit schools

  • How to build stronger partnerships between parents and schools

  • How reduce aggressive behavior and racial conflict among students

  • How to compensate for low literacy skills in math classes


Research that s needed
Research that’s needed the most help getting better?

B) Research to guide school change

  • How to motivate students to learn

    • Pathways research on high schools in Boston

  • Identifying the obstacles to student achievement

    • Berkeley HS Diversity Project

  • Evaluation studies of new policy initiatives

    • Schools for Black and Latino males


Iii using research to guide practice what we know about the achievement gap
III. Using research to guide practice: What we know about the achievement gap

  • Gaps in achievement are a manifestation of broader patterns of racial inequality (Jencks and Phillips 1998; Noguera and Akom 2000)

    • It mirrors other disparities and forms of inequality(health, income,employment)

    • Tends to follow consistent patterns with respect to the race and class of students

  • Privilege is inherited: Kids start school with varying levels of preparation (Snow 1997)

    • A child’s background (SES, education of parents) is strongly correlated with their performance in school (Coleman 1966; Jencks 1972)


Help educators to understand how schools perpetuate the achievement gap
Help educators to understand how schools perpetuate the achievement gap

  • Schools often exacerbate pre-existing inequality through inequitable practice

    • Poor students are assigned to inferior schools (Orfield 1996)

    • Triage approach to education (Noguera 1995)

    • Tracked into less challenging course with less qualified teachers (Oakes 1986)

  • Patterns that have been in place for a long time are often accepted as normal - the normalization of failure is the central obstacle to increasing student achievement


Racial inequality is different from other forms of social inequality
Racial inequality is different from other forms of social inequality

  • Racial inequality in education is related to historical patterns of racial discrimination (R. Anderson 1990)

    • Inequities in school funding, unequal treatment (Meier, et.al 1989)

    • Beliefs in the genetic basis of intelligence (Hernstein and Murray 1994)

    • Beliefs that culture (student backgrounds) are more powerful an influence than schools on achievement (McWhorter 1998)

  • Racial disparities in achievement are exacerbated by racial segregation and concentrated poverty (Orfield and Eaton 1996)

    • Poor minority kids generally attend the worse schools


Exceptions to patterns
Exceptions to Patterns inequality

  • Black middle class

    • Tend to perform lower than expected given SES and educational background of parents (Ogbu 1995)

    • Significant factors

      • Teacher expectations (R. Ferguson 2002) and school sorting practices (Achievement Council 1998)

      • Family influences (M. Portilla 1998)

      • School culture - peer influences (L. Steinberg 1996, P. Noguera 2001)

      • Linking of racial identity and academic performance (P. Noguera 2003, Phelan, et.al. 1998)


Exceptions continued
Exceptions Continued inequality

  • Immigrant students

    • Over represented among failing and successful students (Suarez-Orozco 2002)

    • Voluntary vs. non-voluntary (Ogbu 1988)

    • Primary vs. secondary differences (Portes and Rumbaut 1996)

    • Influence of class and cultural capital (S. Lee 1998)


Iv the new educational research
IV. The New Educational Research inequality

  • Must meet standards for “good research” (National Academy 2002), and more...

    • Must be deeply engaged with field

      • More like research in public health

    • Must challenge assumptions related to schooling and learning

      • Research on disciplinary practices

    • Must provide detached assessment of policy

      • Chicago Research Consortium

    • Must have clear links to policy and practice

      • Harvard Civil Rights Project


New educational research
New Educational Research inequality

  • Must be intelligible to policy makers and practitioners

    • Pathways research on high schools

  • Must be rigorous and open to scrutiny

    • MDRC research on school-based interventions

  • Research process may be part of the transformation effort

    • Diversity Project

  • Must be guided by theory

    • Theories of society

    • Theories of the middle range

    • Theories of change


Good research alone is not good enough
Good Research Alone is not Good Enough inequality

  • Need to find ways to engage policy makers

    • How do we get taken seriously?

  • Need to inform the broader public

    • Who is our audience?

  • Need to recognize the ways in which politics and vested interests may limit possibilities for change


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