Translating Research Into Practice
Historically, education research has not had a significant impact on educational policies and classroom instructional practices. The reasons for this persistent gap between the guidance that education research hopefully provides and the teaching practices that teachers use on a day to day basis are many, but three stand out.
The trustworthiness issue
First, as recently found by the National Reading Panel (NRP), much of the education research published in archival journals and disseminated to researchers, teachers, and policy makers is of uneven, and often not good, quality.
It is important to understand that the trustworthiness of any research study is predicated on two major elements: (1) the suitability of the proposed research design or methodology to address the specific question posed by the study; and (2) the scientific rigor of the methodology itself. For the results to be trustworthy, a study must use the appropriate methodology and apply it in a rigorous manner.
Research is terribly demanding and is it not sufficient to simply select the most appropriate methodological approach; it is as critical that this methodology be applied rigorously whether it be for quantitative or qualitative studies.
Teachers want, above all, to provide instruction that makes a genuine difference in the lives of their children. They want to use every bit of good information that helps them craft and tailor instructional approaches to meet children's individual learning needs and to elevate the achievement of their students. When teachers turn to research to inform their teaching, they expect and deserve information that is trustworthy. When the information is not, which it typically is, teachers fail, students fail, schools fail, and our Nation fails.
The teacher preparation issue
No doubt, there is a good deal of educational research that is trustworthy and has been used to inform instructional practices in a productive manner.
No matter how trustworthy a set of research findings might be, the relevance and applicability of the findings will be minimal if teachers and administrators:
- cannot access the data;
- do not understand and cannot interpret the findings in an accurate and meaningful manner, and
- are unable to develop plans and strategies to implement the research in everyday practice.
Many teachers report that they do not use educational research findings to guide their teaching practices and many report that they do not trust the idea that research can effectively inform their teaching. This is not unexpected given that it is quite difficult to apply research findings when the information is often of poor quality, lacks authority, is not accessible, is communicated in an incomprehensible manner, and is not practical.
The research to practice issue
While research trustworthiness and teacher preparation play significant roles in determining how well research accurately informs educational policies and instructional practices, a critical problem lies in our failure to identify and understand the conditions under which the results of trustworthy research can be implemented and sustained in complex, "real-life" school systems and classrooms.
While specific instructional models, approaches and strategies may be found to be effective in relatively controlled settings, there is little detailed knowledge about the factors that foster or impede application of these modalities under varying conditions and contexts, and among diverse populations of students and teachers.
We do not yet have a solid grasp of how to "travel" educational innovations, including school reform models and specific classroom management and content instructional practices because our understanding of the cultural, incentive, training, and administrative conditions that will influence this level of "scaling" remains rudimentary.