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PDQ: Pretty Darn Quick Blog

We're grateful for research like this...and can we see some more?

11/30/2011

Here's a question that a lot of teachers wonder about--and are unlikely to find an answer for in any research: How worthwhile is it to have teachers make phone calls to parents?

Former-journalist-turned-charter-school-head (and NCTQ Advisory Board member) Michael Goldstein takes this issue on in a profoundly creative piece in the winter edition of Education Next. Working with Harvard economist Roland Fryer, he found that, on average, the calls that teachers make to their students' parents "increased homework completion rates by 6 percent and decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students' attention in the classroom by 32 percent."

It's practical questions like this one that Goldstein argues ought to be of much more interest to teacher educators in their own research. For example, studies of which teacher "moves" (no street talk here...by "moves" we mean the actions teachers take in the classroom to convey a concept, check for understanding, motivate reluctant learners, transition between tasks) are most effective ought to be of keen interest to researchers, but are rarely found in any of the standard fare ed journals. Goldstein notes that an 87-page guide examining misbehavior in the classroom from What Works Clearinghouse--supposedly the nation's go-to source on what works in education--makes the largely unhelpful, sweeping suggestion that "[teachers should] consider parents, personnel, and behavioral experts as allies who can provide new insights, strategies, and support."

Further, most research fails to consider impacts on teacher time and the hard choices teachers must make prioritizing tasks. Almost all specific suggestions from the field just end up making the job of teaching more difficult (differentiated instruction!) without considering the opportunity costs of investing in one action over an alternative (e.g., planning for fully differentiated instruction versus providing extra academic support for some students after school).

The failure of teacher educators to address these tough questions likely explains the lack of demand for consumable research and the cynical you-have-to-figure-it-all-out-for-yourself culture of the profession.

Goldstein proposes a three-phase research model to begin building some evidence that will actually guide teacher practice, and his is a sensible enough proposal. But we doubt he's solved the toughest problem at hand: getting researchers to climb down from their ivory tower and eschew the academic questions which seem to fascinate only them.

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