In this follow-up to last week’s post on some of the common issues and key concerns mentioned in end-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade education reflections, Thomas Hatch highlights questions about the role of research and technology in improvement efforts.
Last week’s post showed that many reviews of the key education stories of last year and the preceding decade noted some progress as well as some stagnation and continuing inequities in student outcomes. At the same time, those reviews also often came back to concerns that neither research nor technology were having the hoped-for effects in improving education.
What research adds value?
The discussions of progress and stagnation over the past decade reflected continuing concerns about educational research, its quality and value. The championing of “value-added” research in the 2000’s was succeeded by an embrace of large-scale data sets and data mining which contributed to rising concerns about data-privacy and cyber-security (as Audrey Water highlighted with a link to the K-12 Cyber Incident Map).
In what Alexander Russo identified as one of the 10 pieces of education journalism that defined the decade, Emily Hanford may have both re-ignited the reading wars and made concerns about the lack of impact of research on practice a hot-button issue again. (We shared our own take on the problems of getting research into practice in blog posts and a podcast about our study of the 112 external support providers working to improve K-3 reading outcomes in New York City).
At the same time, Matt Barnum’s review of 8 lessons learned in 2019 pointed to some key of issues of equity, race, and poverty that research is shedding light on. The awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer also capped a decade in which the use of randomized controlled trials expanded even more, particularly in the developing world. As Crawfurd and Hares report, a systematic review of RCTs in education research found just over a thousand unique studies between 1980 and 2016, with more than half of these produced between 2010 and 2016.
What’s changed? Technology? Schools?
Even another ten years of promises of an ed-tech revolution couldn’t seem to speed up the slow pace of change in teaching and learning in primary and secondary education (as Larry Cuban continues to chronicle). Some things have changed. Students can now use their phones to access google classroom (and get texts from their parents in the middle of the day) and teachers can download lessons from a host of sites offering open and free access to tons of instructional materials (though many of those don’t appear to be aligned with academic standards). Yet, in 2019, both students and teachers still worked in the same schools and classrooms, for roughly the same amount of time, with the same instructional approaches, focusing on many of the same skills and outcomes as they did in 2009.
At the same time, questions about the quality and the value of higher education have erupted along with the development of online courses, micro degrees, and other new higher-ed entities that few had imagined when the decade began (and the “Varsity Blues” elite college admissions scandal and the student loan crisis hasn’t help much either).
For those that aren’t already depressed, Audrey Waters provides a detailed accounting of the 100 worst ed-tech debacles of the decade.
Although many education conversations in the 2000’s in the US were consumed by debates of the No Child Left Behind Act, only a few of the reviews of the last decade mentioned the Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015 or other policy developments. Instead, partisanship seems to have overwhelmed many discussions of policy and the fractures seem to be growing. It gets harder to tell the “reformers” from the “non-reformers,” and even those who thought they held similar views – Democrats, charter advocates, free marketeers among others – find themselves trying to make sense of who stands for what in the age of Trump.
But students are standing up and speaking out. One more scan for “student activism” in the news in 2019 reveals some of the people and the stories we could be following in the coming years:
A ‘new wave’ of activism on campus: Students are aggressively seeking their demands, The Philadelphia Inquirer