Using Scientifically Based Research in Schools
Use science to improve teaching. This idea has surfaced repeatedly in education literature since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where the term “scientifically based research” appears more than 100 times. Yet despite all the attention that has been given to the idea of applying science in the classroom, principals and teachers often remain puzzled about how to do just that. This month’s newsletter provides practical suggestions for reading and understanding scientifically based research and for applying the principles of scientific inquiry to both teaching and student learning.
Why apply science to classroom practice?
When a similar question was posed at a U.S. Department of Education (ED) Working Group Conference on the use of scientifically based research in education, presenter Valerie Reyna, senior research advisor at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences, offered a simple but thought-provoking response: “If you didn’t base practice on scientific research, what [would] you base it on?” (ED, 2002, p.5). The alternatives, Reyna suggested, are basing practice on tradition or on anecdotal evidence.
Following tradition (as in “we do it this way because this is the way we have always done it”), although comforting, risks ignoring new realities or rapidly changing circumstances found in so many classrooms today. Relying on anecdotal evidence poses similar risks. The observations of even a seasoned teacher might in fact prove to be exceptions rather than the rule. As Reyna observed, “We know on the basis of experience that anecdotes have turned out to be false and misleading. Sometimes they are very representative; sometimes they’re not” (ED, 2002, p. 5).
Scientific inquiry offers an alternative. “[It] is after all an enterprise that attempts to distill from the cacophony of ideas and anecdotes and impressions, the nuggets of really enduring value, and that kind of knowledge upon which you would want to base important decisions about kids, about schools and about, ultimately, ourselves” stated Michael Feuer, executive director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education at the National Academies, at the Working Group Conference (ED, 2002, p. 20).
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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